Mark Howard Jones
It certainly looked like a pig, standing with its one flank to the wall, as we approached the farmyard on foot. Two suspicious men in dirty overalls came out of one of the farm buildings to meet us.
I showed them our official papers and they seemed unimpressed. They looked at me and my colleague with suspicion. The farm dog came out to sniff around me but didn’t seem to want to make friends either.
The men stood watching me. I smiled, inviting an explanation, until one of them jabbed a thumb in the pig’s direction.
“It just appeared last night,” said the first of them. “But there’s something strange about it, I’m sure.” The pig snuffled and grunted, as if to agree. “Its eyes don’t seem like a pig. Somehow.”
I nodded. “And you’re sure it’s not one of your pigs?” I asked him.
“We don’t keep pigs. We farm cereals, mainly,” he said, as if I was a simpleton. I nodded. A schoolboy error on my part: unforgiveable, given my rank and title.
“Yes. Yes. I see.” I desperately tried to cover my error, then covered my head against the rain that had started to fall. I turned to my colleague and mustered as much authority as I could. “I think we should do some tests then, don’t you?”
He nodded and went back to our vehicle to get his kit.
I went over to the pig. It didn’t seem spooked at all. My colleague joined me and we knelt beside it. The pig still seemed unconcerned.
“Its eyes, they said. Well, let’s take a look,” I said as I tried to peer into its face. “Hmmm. It’s no species that I know.”
Then the pig looked straight up at me and spoke. “What, don’t tell me you don’t recognise your own brother after all these years, you swine?”
The pig trotted away to the middle of the farmyard, squealed loudly, and stood up on its hind legs with great difficulty.
Then he laughed and ran across the muddy yard to leap up on the grey stone wall, legs lengthening as he went, hair sprouting on his head. He squatted on the wall for a moment, shining in the rain, then dropped down the other side and ran off into the woods, laughing.
He’d always been a bit of a prankster, my brother, but as I watched him disappear among the trees, I couldn’t help licking my lips and thinking how tasty he’d have been if he’d stayed a pig.
It had been a tiring walk, so I sat down on the long grassy slope to rest beside an outcrop of rock. The view was magnificent, with steep green hillsides tumbling down to a silvery stream at the valley floor.
I leaned my back against a large outcrop of rock, sticking out of the side of the hill like a huge granite thumb hoping to hitch a lift elsewhere. I’d just shut my eyes for a moment, to relish the relative silence, when there was a sudden bleating “Hello” from above.
I’d thought I was alone. Annoyed, I opened one eye and looked up. A small sheep had stuck its head over the edge of the rock and was looking down at me. It opened its mouth and repeated the long bleating “Hello”. I snorted to myself, shook my head, closed my eyes and rested my head against the rock again. I’d had a touch too much sun, of course, but I’d be alright now that I was in the shade.
After a few moments, I felt a nudging at my arm. I opened my eyes and there was the sheep again. “It’s me. It’s me,” it kept bleating. I pushed it away and it bleated in complaint.
The animal wasn’t going to give up and, as soon as I’d closed my eyes again, it was there tugging at my clothes with its yellow teeth. I snorted with exasperation and was about to get to my feet and resume my journey when it said “It’s me. Don’t you recognise me?”
I felt obliged to give some sort of answer. “But I don’t know any sheep,” seemed to fit the bill. The sheep bleated a laugh, or laughed a bleat, and then said: “It’s me, your sister.”
The sheep opened its mouth wide and, sure enough, there was my sister’s face peeping out from inside, damp with ovine saliva.
“What are you doing in there? Sheep don’t eat people, do they?”
She laughed and her wool shook in the sunshine. “No. I just fancied a change, that’s all. Thought I’d spend the day as a sheep.” It seemed like a perfectly reasonable answer.
I nodded, sagely. “I see. Are you comfortable in there, then?” I couldn’t imagine she was, as she’d been nearly my height when I’d seen her last and that small sheep must have been quite a squeeze for her.
“Perfectly. I think I’m going to stay like this for a while, in fact. Do you think Mother will be pleased to see us when we visit her next?” she asked.
I sniggered inwardly. “Oh, I shouldn’t think so,” I said calmly, remembering the blood-stained rags, stuffed under the carpet for tidiness.
“Well, I’d best be on my way. I’ve got some way to go,” I told her. She tried an unsuccessful smile, then said “Alright. I’ll see you soon then.” I made as if to walk away and waved. My sister turned and began to walk back up on to her rock, not noticing that I had turned and begun to follow her. I’d decided that I wanted to spend a few more minutes with her after all.
Shortly afterwards I continued my walk, anticipating dangling my toes in the silvery stream ahead. The sun was beginning to dip, losing the heat of the day. “How generous my sister is,” I thought, tugging my new sheepskin cloak tight around me.
I’d been saying for months that I felt like a change but this wasn’t what I’d had in mind. Not at all. I wasn’t at all sure that I was happy with my new colour. Before, I had been a shade of bloodshot pink. I hadn’t been entirely happy then either, it was true, but it now seemed more appealing than this dingy brown.
I investigated the face in the mirror, snuffling at it to gain information. It was me, I seemed to know it, but it looked like next door’s Labrador, especially the ears; floppy and uninterested even in loud noises.
The nose was wet and the eyes had a conniving look in them. But that was no proof at all, as I’d always looked that way.
I decided that the one positive thing I could do was to get rid of all the extraneous hair around my jowls.
My huge, paw-like hands fumbled with the razor. I dropped it and bent to pick it up, knocking against the landlady’s precious collection of coloured bath salts in their glass jars. Two dropped to the floor and smashed.
The tiny coloured beads sped in all directions across the bathroom floor. I cursed to myself and proceeded to trample them underfoot as I struggled to retrieve my razor.
Suddenly I seemed to have twice as many feet as I used to have. How odd, I thought, and began to chase my tail, which deliberately annoyed me by staying just out of reach.
After a few minutes of fruitless circling, the landlady’s voice wormed its way through the keyhole. “Mr Barker! Mr Barker, are you alright?” The knocking continued. “Let me in. Mr Barker! Let me in at once!”
I reached up to undo the bolt with my awkward, heavy paws. “Alright, alright … just wait a moment.”
The landlady sounded shrill and confused. “Mr Barker, what’s that noise? Have you got an animal in there?!” The door began to open.
I growled to myself, squatted down on my haunches and bared my teeth ready.
It’s nothing personal
‘It’s nothing personal’
I overhear one half
of a couple say
as I linger a little
too long in the
of the grocery store
‘We’re just different people’
red yellow blue green
and gummi bears
“Very different’ she says
I throw everything in
my cart and sigh
as loud as I possibly can
still not certain of my
Everything is Relative
“Seven confirmed cases and 17 more awaiting confirmation,” said the voice from my computer as I folded a white lace shirt that, I thought, just did not look right with corduroys.
I stand there, tilted head staring at my bed, thinking. Striped sweater.
“By comparison, last January there were only five suicides in the Army.”
Everything is relative.
“Hurry up, Chris. I’m hungry.”
“Right after I die,” he passively said back, not removing his eyes from the screen or his thumbs from the control.
the divorce was finalized two weeks ago
an amicable split
which is to say
we were both tired of looking at each other
after so many years
a week later
I got laid off from the factory
where I’d been employed
the last twelve years
being the industrial euphemism
for amicable split
except the factory didn’t catch me
fucking other factories
I was alone, broke
I had shed everything
that had come to define me
everything I loathed
hoping I could find a way
to like what was left behind
within a week
I was searching
for a new job to hate
a different woman to despise
no one was hiring
and the women looked right through me
words without definition
have no need to be spoken
lying on the hotel bed
mattress like plywood
vinyl shower curtains
in the bug-smeared windows
I stared at the far corner
near the ceiling
what looked like
a splotch of dried puke
but it’s no projectile vomit
more than likely
some undefined person
splattered the ceiling with
the contents of his skull
the stuff from his gullet
I’m a long way from that…
I’m a long way from
defining myself with that word
Life By Any Other Name
The taxi driver hit the brakes hard. “Shit!”
Derrick was thrown to the right of the cab, his head glancing the window. He registered shock rather than pain, alarmed by the chorus of horns, screeching brakes, and skidding tires around them, some obstacle on the road ahead.
The traffic recovered, veering around the object. The driver nudged into the left lane of cars, angling in his seat for a good look at whatever was blocking the road. “It’s a body.”
Derrick gaped. A man lay on his side in the orange-stripped crosswalk, a dark pool of blood spreading about his head, his right arm jutting unnaturally out from his side. A gray sneaker lay close to his right knee, something unbearable about his white-socked foot. A hit-and-run. Why wasn’t anyone stopping? Derrick was just about to jump from the taxi when the driver sped off.
Derrick grabbed his umbrella, lunging its steel tip between the two front seats. “Turn back!”
“He’s dead already.”
The driver shrugged. “It’s your fare.”
As soon as the taxi turned around, Derrick thought to dial 9-1-1.
Incredulous, Derrick scanned the accident scene. There were still no emergency services, and the traffic continued to move around the body, ignoring it. So he’s dead? the emergency dispatcher had droned. Derrick threw the driver a twenty and rushed from the car, abandoning his belongings.
So much blood. Queasy, Derrick could see tire prints on the victim’s crushed chest, smell blood and burning rubber. He looked around him again, horrified by business as usual. What was wrong with everyone? No-one gave him or the body on the ground more than passing glances. He fell to his knees, wanting to lift the man in his arms and carry him to the curb, but worried the smashed body parts would stick to the road and he’d be left with only bloodied pieces in his hands, like a butcher.
He stood again, his skin pulling away from his blood-soaked clothes, not wanting to make contact. A vehicle sounded too close. Derrick whirled around, just in time to see the white Jetta, a young, pretty brunette in the driver’s seat putting on lipstick, barreling toward him.
The Jetta tossed Derrick high in the air, dropped him hard on the tarmac. He lay paralyzed in the crosswalk, kitty-corner with the body, his shoe touching that white sock. He waited, his heart banging hard. Why wasn’t anyone coming? He tried to shout, but couldn’t muster his voice. I’m alive, he screamed inwardly, help me.
The clouds opened, and rain fell. The rain tasted sweet and felt good on Derrick’s face, helped him stay conscious. He wondered how long he’d have to lie there, if anyone would notice he was still alive, if he’d make it.
Meanwhile, the traffic snaked around him and the other guy, like they were nothing
THE QUIET FLOOR
“You’ve got your
whole life ahead
of you,” she said
to me, but I
never really feel
Sometimes it seems
like all there is,
is this moment
and it is going
to go on
on the quiet floor
of the library
and it sounds like
tinkling wine glasses on a silver
Velvety black lashes
and jewels that shine like
dewy eyed girls dreaming
of life-sized pink doll houses
and boys with dimples.
Ambition smiles her toothy grin;
every tooth like a small perfect sculpture.
Alabaster and impeccably lined
like military men at muster.
Her eyes luminous like
Tarot cards reflecting in her fringed
like unknown planets
waiting for discovery.
Ambition smirks and slinks past in her
barely there couture,
her flawless décolleté,
her hips swinging to a beat
that sounds like jungle drums
and torrential downpours.
Her bared feet, slight,
clicking like hooves
on the marble floor.
over her extraordinary shoulder.
Her eyes streaming
with silver smoke.
Trailing behind her
like rope to the drowning.
You reach, grasp,
only to hear the cynical
mirth of Ambition as she, again,
slithers through your grasping fingers.
Charles P. Ries
By Bruce Dethlefsen
83 pages / 59 poems / $15
Fire Weed Press
Send Check or Order To:
422 Lawrence Street
Westfield , WI 53964
Bruce Dethlefsen doesn’t write many books of poetry. It’s been six years since he came out with his second book, Something Near the Dance Floor by Marsh River Editions. And one doesn’t see much of his poetry in and around the small press, but my-oh-my, when he decides to show us his good stuff, he comes out swinging. In this, his third and largest collection of poetry, Dethlefsen does most everything right. He is a master of drawing word pictures that are at once narrative stories, melodies, and free association free-for-alls.
The book is broken into five sections that broadly define the thematic mood of Dethlefsen’s mind: migrant, knots, poet warrior, secrets, and autopsy. There is great kindness here, and a mind with a very wide reach.
Here are two poems from Breather. “Playing the Field”: “you hover / you say I’m not your first flower / your first lover // you lower yourself / how hoverly / how loverly / then leave // oh bee / my honey boy / oh baby mine / come back to me”. And “When Somebody Calls after Ten P.M.”: “when somebody calls after ten p.m. / and you live in wisconsin / and you’re snug in your bed // then all’s I can tell you / somebody better be missing / somebody better had a baby / or somebody better be dead”.
In Breather, Dethlefsen flows from the concrete to ethereal. He orbits around the collective unconscious like a Jungian astronaut – his interior radar big enough to find meaning in both the great moments and the small nuances of life. This is the blessing of the mature poet – one who has lived hundreds of lives and can bring this diversity of experience to us as a numinous pool of images to soak in. Breather is an exceptional collection of poetry.