If you love, adore the moon. If you rob, steal a camel.

Stories for the Long Silk Road

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Steve Prusky: Out of Polonia

Stan and Celina were reared fenced inside the Polonian hamlet of Hamtramck on Andrus Street. Pole Town, as Hamtramck residents call it, is a two square mile Lilliputian burg darkened by the Gulliver sized shadow of Detroit. 

The pair emerged from their immigrant mothers’ wombs to the New World in 1949 and 1950. They were both born at Detroit Osteopathic Hospital in Highland Park. They were inaugural Baby Boomers. From birth, they were groomed and dubbed first generation Polonian Americans. They grew up in as clannish an atmosphere as any other immigrant ethnic groups in Detroit: Albanians, Lithuanians, Catholic Poles and Polish Jews, a few block long pockets of unassuming Czechs. Stan and Celina were as fluent and literate in Gdansk Polish as they were in English. They grew up fed a dual diet of old country culture and the novelty of the Free World. Their émigré parents nourished them on Chopin, Kielbasa, Warszawa dills, Kud nad Wisłą, Three Kings Day, Easter Monday in competition with the iconic Americana of Gun Smoke, Aretha Franklin, “That Was the Week That Was,” and full color news clips of the made for TV Vietnam War performed almost live each dinner hour. Their Palonian heritage exiled them to Hamtramck: a transplanted European enclave surrounded by prosperous, liberal, tempting, but off-limits America.  

Their cliquish second-generation peersPomazaniec‘the anointed’ Stan spitefully called them, ostracized them, denied them social privilege outside Ham Town. The anointed lived in the nicer parts of Detroit. They flourished on the fringe of their ethnic Hamtramck roots as if the town was an Indian reservation and they the vigilant cavalry hemming the hostiles in. They were aloof, nearly immune to old land cultural mores by bloodline longevity. They languished in second-generation hierarchal privilege by luck of birth. Most shucked the old country ways and adopted the liberal freedoms of the US as if Palonian tradition had become a cultural infection no antidote can cure. They considered themselves Americans first, distant Polonians last, a quantum no return leap past their roots. Stan and Celina walked a tight rope equidistant to Polonia and the world outside Hamtramck. 

Socially excluded by the anointed, it was natural Stan and Celina turn to each other. They remained heads together mates, intimate as lovers, mutually protective of each other to a degree well beyond even the basic tenets of marriage. 

Early Saturday morning they stepped out from Kaminski’s corner market on Caniff and Joseph Campau, each of Stan’s arms slaved to two weighty grocery bags for Celina’s mother while Celina kept pace beside him.

“Mamma’s cleaning the house up all nice and neat right now for tonight,” Celina said. “Probably needs my help. Let’s take our time going home.”

Stan suggested, “Let’s stop at Simanski’s used book store up on Conant, and see what he’s got new. There’s nothing in these bags that’ll spoil.”  Celina nodded, grateful for Stan’s ability to productively waste time. She slipped her arm in Sam’s, surprising him with her gesture of affection. They slowly strolled down bustling Conant Street like new lovers oblivious to all that is wrong in the world, but Stan could easily find fault with every corner of Hamtramck.

Since he could recollect, Stan remained focused on a path out of Polonia. If he stayed, a low paying factory job would be the extent of his future. He felt no obligation to tithe the social dues of subservience his generation and their immigrant parents believed they owed. He was anxious to meld with the fast moving current of upwardly mobile 1960’s America. Stan had no wish to be a Polonian in denial, he simply wanted to jump a few rungs on the ladder of upward mobility, surpass the status of ‘the anointed’ on the first round. Stan was determined to be first generation American, not first generation, or second, or third generation American born Palonian. On the other hand, Celina timidly accepted her ethnic fate. She struggled to balance her staid old country upbringing with the startling self-confident aura of impetuous America swimming laps in an Olympic pool of prosperity. 

A little further east on Conant, after the bookstore and two twenty-five cent paperback novels Celina liked, they came upon the smell of fresh butchered animal blood in Kieslowski’s Meat Market. They gazed in awe at the macabre display of Kieslowski’s amply stocked storefront window lined with tripe, lamb chops, ham hocks, blood dripping beef ribs stacked chest high. Stan stepped in Eliezer’s Kosher Deli next door and bought a small round of soft Camembert and two Pierogies to share with Celina. “Sorry for these paltry lookin’ things,” Stan said, “the Jews should to stick with making latkes, let us Poles make a proper Pierogy.” They threaded through the maze of sidewalk kiosks stocked with every trinket imaginable and staffed with aggressive Polish speaking attendants prepared to swindle any one that took the hook. The couple sat on the slat bench in front of Koszniak‘s Bakery to eat. Stan observed the activity on Conant Street like a practiced Baudelerian flâneur. He listened to the din of kobieta bickering with the butcher and sidewalk vendors hawking cheap black plastic bead rosaries and nickel plated St. Christopher medalschains were extra. “We have to get out of here someday, don’t you think?” Stan said. A focused bapʨa scurried past, late for weekday morning Mass. The tail of her Babuška flapped in rhythm with her escalated pace. The long city block possessed every accoutrement an imported version of old Polonia requires. Each soul contently ambling past the duo appeared certain life in Hamtramck is simply . . . life. “Pole town I mean. Look around us; you’d think this street is no different than a Warsaw open air bazaar catering to peasant farmers in town for the day.”

“I’ve never been to Warsaw.” Neither had Stan. “From intimate to belligerent so quick: Where did that come from? Why such a hurry Stan? I can’t leave. My family’s here. I’m happy near my family. Go where?” Celina asked.

“Any place that doesn’t resemble this signed in stone copy of the old Poland.”


Saturday’s were cultural re-affirmation day for Celina and Stan’s families. The two clans were members of the Polish Century Club. At dusk each Saturday both families crammed in their rusting second hand station wagons and went to the Century Club Hall in Mardi Gras moods, as if the day before Sabbath was Fat Tuesday and Sunday Mass Ash Wednesday.  It was July 3, 1967; a few weeks until the Detroit race riots and mad dog insanity reigned unchecked for three days, five complacent months prior to the ‘68 Tet Offensive, seven months before the first Super Bowl; a year until the first man stood on the Moon. Celina had matured into a curvy, graceful olive skinned Polish Venus at eighteen. Stan, gangly and uncoordinated during puberty, turned into a vigorous, sinuous hormone afflicted nineteen-year-old alpha male three months earlier.

Celina’s mother had the house in order by the time Celina got home with the groceries and two twenty-five cent worn thin second hand paperback novels.

“What timing.” her mother scowled.

“Sorry matka, books--you know I read.” Her mother snorted disapproval at so frivolous a purchase. “Books! Books! Why buy books? Go to the library, but no late fees. Save for the Mass tithe basket, clothes, college,” her mother scolded. Stan’s family gathered at Celina’s for drinks before their weekly exodus to the Hall.


At the Century Club later, the women freely clucked the latest community gossip in Polish. They fretted over the parish priests that drank too heavily from the sacrificial wine casks before they incoherently flubbed through weekday Mass in Latin to the few believers present. Whether the silk robed men were drunk or sober, none of the faithful understood the ancient language anyway.
“Billie Jackobilski is in the Hamtramck jail again for fist fighting, drunk on Stoli vodka at Raymond Dregovich’s bar on Joseph Campau,” Stan’s mother railed.
“The old Reichold Chemical plant in Ferndale had another explosion, killing Tadeusz Szymanski and five others,” Celina’s solemn mother mourned. “Thad left three kids and a wife behind. Those who can not afford to help long term must contribute to a one-time collection for the family.”

“Yes, of course,” Stan’s mother agreed without thinking which of her husband’s skimpy paychecks the donation might come from.

The women nipped from a purse size bottle of Madeira Celina’s mother sneaked in as if the sweet liqueur were eighteen-carat liquid gold: the Club didn’t stock Madeira at the bar. The tired, labor worn fathers, ojciecs, many partisans during the Nazi occupation of Poland, later outlaws when Soviet tanks thundered in, lazed about drinking beer, joking, poking fun at their wives plumping bottoms and thickened waists.

The club gorged on Smalec Hors d’Oeuvres and a full course snowball dinner served from the festive trough of New World prosperity. Stan pecked at the old fashion polish dishes, silently pining for pizza, hot dogs, hamburgers and fries instead.  Celina, soft spoken, mostly silent, dutifully traditional, spoke only Polish at the table. She slowly relished each mouthful of the old homeland dishes. However, no staunch Polonian influences could stop Celina’s overwhelming chemistry from radiating post pubescent female youth. Nothing man made could prohibit her hormones from multiplying, spilling over, gravitating toward Stan. 

Celina sat on Stan’s side of the long fold out table during the communal feast. She helped clear the table, sat back down, angled her chair to face Stan and confronted him with her fresh new woman-hood. Her long, straight black hair shined. Its tips kissed her waist. Her smooth shaved legs emitted a corona like the howling moon. Stan smelled her pheromones a room away. Her autumn brown eyes narrowed to a visual swoon, oozing rich hormones in his direction. Her mini skirt rode up her muscle-toned legs when she sat facing him. She provocatively crossed her right leg over the left; her skirt crept higher, revealing a quick peak at her fluid inner thighs. She angelically stared at him as if she had just reconfigured the four virtues of the Australian Southern Cross. Both families spotted her inviting body language. The mothers excitedly cackled and cooed. The men shared glances of approval. Stan looked up from Celina’s naked legs to the reflective pools of heat in her eyes. She proffered him a Mona Lisa smile, amused by the hypnotic testosterone swelling his eyes.

The adults sipped drinks after dinner; Armada Cream Sherry for the women, the best Polish vodka found Stateside for the men. 

Sam and Celina stayed at the table and continued facing each other. Sam, distracted by Celina’s less than subtle innuendos, paid no attention to the blathering adult’s gathering at the bar. He was so taken by Celina he would have ignored the second flood, or a gun to his head. “I’ll get beer,” he volunteered. 

“None for me,” Celina said. She crossed her left leg over her right, slower than before, as if her limbs spoke paragraphs of her intent. Sam, her lone audience, watched the choreography of her molten thighs, smiled, placed one hand on her knee, caressed her cheek with the other and kissed hershe kissed back. Stan hurried to the bar to fetch a Pabst for himself and cream soda for Celina. Those left at the table sat silent in Stan’s absence. 

Celina absorbed all the implications of his soft touch, his kiss, the pleasant mingling of their tongues. She leaned back on her chair as comfortably limp as surrender gets.
The band started up. Excessive drinking and shameless laughter took place. The crowd danced to traditional Polish Polkas, mazurkas, Chopin etudes with an occasional brew of pop music stirred in for the teens. After guzzling the first beer, Stan wandered to the bar for a second and took a seat while he waited.

Celina got up and slowly flowed across the dance floor like a female Moses in command. She sauntered toward Stan as if her desire had parted the Red Sea for her to reach the other shore. Her black three-inch heels chiseled her taught calf muscles and sculpted her slightly exposed inner thighs, as if she had resurrected Michelangelo to polish them marble smooth. Her skin tone looked recently poured like glistening fluid amber.  Her short tight black skirt revealed every shapely bit of her as if there was no need to undress her ever and expect more.  Her black Chiffon top accented her raven flowing hair like a brook of jet black endlessly spilling from her crown.  Her eyes were two ponds of brown mist, her lips a pout.  She sanctioned he take her hand to dance. “C’mon Stan, playtime is over.  We’re both grown up.  Hold me,” her low throaty voice was as lust laden as a sultry invitation could be. There was no doubt any one in Pole Town would deny this night belonged to them. Her arms surrounded his neck, possessively clutching him. She looked up to him, kissed his cheek. He wrapped both arms around her waist, resting his hands on her hips, kissed her forehead in reply. His testosterone level leapt over tall buildings, the Alps, the Statue of Liberty, yet he knew tonight that there would be nowhere to land. They held each other close, slow dancing through each waltz, love ballad, slow paced étude. They drank together at the bar between dances. They kissed, slid their barstools close as if their mutual lust had permanently welded the chrome steel legs permanently together. Celina whispered Stan an invitation between drinks, “It‘s time they put you and I to bed,” she said. Stan hesitated. He wistfully breathed in her ear, kissed the nape of her neck. They held each other, drank arm in arm.  He smoked his first cigarette with her. Celina asked Stan dance a polka with her.

“It’ll be the last dance for a while, I got drafted. I leave for the Army next week.” Stan said. 

The Red Sea closed. Stan began to drown as if he was Pharaoh’s first charioteer in the chase to corner Moses.  “So that’s what’s wrong with you! It explains this afternoon on the bakery bench. When did you get the news?”

“Yesterday’s mail. You had to know this was coming. I’m nineteen. Everyone my age is going. Celina, I have no antidote for this. Can you take a chance and wait?”

“Oh, of course I’ll wait. Is there another choice?” Stan had no options. The war was an affair practically every American male his age was bound to inherit. “Kocham cię,” Celina said. Stan could not reply. 

Celina left Stan sitting cold at the bar. Her high heals quickly clicked across the polished wood dance floor like raindrops tapping tin. The sea parted again as she crossed to the other shore. The waters imploded head on closing close behind. Stan felt as if she abandoned him in a dingy back alley with no light to guide him to the street. Although Stan’s affection for her glowed bright, the shiny chrome gleam dulled with his admission. Stan sat at the bar the rest of the evening staring at the top shelf liquor. Celina sat on an uncomfortable seat in a row of like seats single girls used while waiting for invitations to dance. No one asked Celina; it was obvious she only danced with Stan. She whimpered, wept, well beyond the last dance, the last drink, her last glance at Stan as he left the Hall with his family.


Stan left for basic training the following Tuesday. In league with five other bay windows on Andrus Street, Stan’s mother immediately hung a two-foot long vertical silk red, white and blue banner decorated with one blue star in her front window.

The Army did not discriminate; all ethnic groups were welcome.  Even first generation U.S. Palonians got invitations to this war. No second generation ‘Hybrids’ ostracized Stan in the Army. The possibility of violent death in combat tends to promote equality among all those facing it. Stan arrived in Hue just in time for Tet. It was the year of the monkey in Vietnam.

Both families kept on living.  They habitually observed the traditional Polish holidays. The Saturday evening family gatherings at the Hall remained a sacred re-assertion of Polonian heritage. The matkas partook of their obligatory nips from hidden bottles of Madeira, gossiped, exchanged old country recipes. The men cajoled their wives for their bulging waistlines and swelling bottoms, swilled Pabst Blue Ribbon and Stolichnaya Vodka, gratefully feasting on their Polish homeland meals. The anointed prospered, moved to the suburbs while Conant Street continued to be Polonian. Celina clung closer to the old country ways. Stan got out of Polonia and never returned. His mother sewed black ribbon diagonally across the blue star banner in her bay window, walked to St. Florian’s church on Poland Street and lit a candle before she prayed.

A native Detroiter, Steve Prusky has lived in Las Vegas  since 1987. His fiction, photography and poetic work have appeared in Camel Saloon, Bactrian Room, Foundling Review, Eunoia Review, Orion headless, Assisi Online Journal, The Legendary, Whistling fire and other publications. 

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Donal Mahoney: Mike Fitzgibbons and His Morning Paper

For 35 years, Mike Fitzgibbons had never missed a day driving off at 4 a.m. to buy the newspaper at his local convenience store. Snow, sleet, hail or rain couldn't stop him. There was only one paper being published in St. Louis at the time but Mike was addicted to newspapers. He had spent his early years reading four papers a day in Chicago--two in the morning and two in the evening. He worked for one of them and enjoyed every minute of it. However, an opportunity to earn more money as an editor for a defense contractor required his large family's relocation to St. Louis. Mike needed more money to feed a wife and seven children.

"Words are words," Mike said at the time. "Being paid more money to arrange words for someone else seems like the right thing to do." 

Writing and editing were the two things in life Mike could do well enough to draw a salary. It broke his heart to retire many years later at the age of 68 but it seemed like the best thing to do. His doctor had told him he might have early Alzheimer's disease and that he should prepare for the future since the disease would only grow worse. Mike never told his wife or any of the children about the problem. His wife was the excitable type, and all of the children had grown up and moved away, many of them back to Chicago where all of them had been born. Each of them had acquired a college degree or two and had found a good job. Most of them were married. Mike and his wife now had 12 grandchildren and were looking forward to more. 

"You can never have too many heirs," he told his wife one time. "Whatever we leave, it will give them something to argue about after we're gone. They won't forget us." 

After the doctor had mentioned the strong possibility that he had Alzheimer's disease, Mike decided to have the daily paper delivered to the house instead of driving to the store every morning to buy one. And on most days that seemed like a good decision. But not on the infrequent days when the deliveryman soared by Mike's house without tossing a paper on the lawn. 

The first time it happened Mike called the circulation department and received a credit on his bill. He did the same thing the second time, managing to keep his temper under control. But the third time occurred on the morning after the Super Bowl. For Mike this was the last straw. Three times he told the kind old lady in the circulation department to tell the driver Mike was from Chicago originally and in that fine city errors of this magnitude did not go unanswered. A credit on Mike's bill, while necessary, would not suffice. 

When his wife Dolly got up, he asked her, "How the hell can I check the stats on the game without my newspaper?" She was only half awake. Mike was a very early riser and Dolly, according to Mike, was a "sack hound." 

A kind woman, Dolly had always tried to be helpful throughout the many years of their marriage, so Mike understood why she eventually suggested he drive to the QuikTrip and buy a paper. Then he could read about the game and check the stats, she said.

"That's not the point, Dolly," Mike said. "I have a verbal contract with that paper for delivery and they are not keeping their side of the bargain. A credit on my bill is not adequate recompense." Mike loved the sound of that last sentence as it rolled off his tongue. He always loved the sound of words whether they were floating in the air alone or jailed in a sentence or paragraph. 

What made matters worse, Mike told Dolly, is that without his newspaper he would have no way to check on the obituaries of the day. The obituaries were Mike's favorite part of the paper. Back in his old ethnic neighborhood in Chicago, the obituaries were known as the Irishman's Racing Form. 

Back then, many retired Irish immigrants would spend the day reviewing the obituaries in the city's four different newspapers. Finding a good obituary primed them for conversation at the local tap after supper. The tap was run by the legendary Rosie McCarthy, a humongous widow who did not suffer any nonsense in her establishment. But she did offer free hard-boiled eggs to customers who ordered at least three foaming steins of Guinness. Eggs were cheap in those days. It was rumored that Rosie had to buy 10 dozen eggs a week just to keep her customers happy.

"Rosie knows how to hard boil an egg, Dolly," Mike had told his wife many times over the years. And his wife always wondered what secret Rosie could possibly have when it came to boiling eggs. 

One reason the obituaries were of such great interest in Mike's old neighborhood involved the retirees wanting to see if any of their old bosses had finally died. Some of those bosses had been nasty men, so petulant and abrasive they'd have given even a good worker a rash. There was also the possibility that over in Ireland, the Irish Republican Army might finally blow up a bridge with the Queen of England on it. The IRA had been trying to do that for years. Many bridges had been blown to smithereens but not one of them had "Herself" on it. 

"The IRA keeps blowing up bridges, Dolly," Mike would remind his wife. "You would think one of these times they'd get it right. They know what she looks like."

In addition to reading four newspapers a day as a young man, Mike had had other hobbies during his long and tumultuous life. He had bred rare Australian finches for decades and had won prizes with them at bird shows. However, after his last son had graduated from college and moved away, Mike sold more than 200 finches and 40 cages because he no longer had a son available to clean the cages. Five sons had earned allowances over the years cleaning the cages at least once a week. All of them ended up hating anything with wings. One son had even bought a BB gun and would sit out in the yard all day while Mike was at work. That boy was a pretty good shot. No one knows how many woodpeckers and chickadees he managed to pick  off. 

After Mike sold his birds, he took the considerable proceeds and plowed all of the money into rare coins. For the next ten years he collected many rare coins but when he retired he figured he may as well sell them because none of his children had any numismatic interest. Not only that, none of them would have known the value of the coins if Mike died. Some of them were very valuable--the 1943 Irish Florin, for example, in Extra Fine condition would have brought more than $15,000 at the right auction. Mike loved that coin and kept it, along with all the others, in a large safe in the basement. Guarding the safe was a large if somewhat addled and ancient bloodhound. Mike had bought the dog from a fellow bird breeder when it was a pup. The bloodhound wasn't toothless but he may as well have been. He wouldn't bite anyone no matter how menacing a robber might be.

"I love that dog, Dolly," Mike would tell his wife every time she suggested that euthanasia might be the best thing. "That dog, Dolly, is as Catholic as we are and Catholics don't abort or euthanize anything," Mike said.

When Mike finally sold all of his coins, he had a great deal of money that he viewed as disposable income. Dolly, however, viewed it as an insurance policy in case Mike died first. Mike had a couple of pensions but he had never made Dolly a co-beneficiary. In fact he convinced her to sign waivers so the payout to him would be larger. Dolly didn't want to do it but signing was easier than reasoning with Mike. His temper seldom surfaced but when it did, things weren't good for weeks around the house.

"I get mad once in awhile, Dolly, but I always apologize," Mike would remind her. 

Mike finally decided to put the coin money into guns--big guns--although he had never shot a gun in his life. He refused to go hunting because he saw no sense in killing animals when meat was available at the butcher store. The kids used to joke that maybe deer and pheasant were Catholic, too. 

Some of the guns Mike bought were the kind you would see in action movies. Mike always liked action movies. The more the gore, the happier Mike was. But he had to go to action movies alone because his wife hated gore but she liked musicals. No musicals for Mike, although he would always dig into his pocket to give her the money for admission, complaining occasionally that the cost of seeing musicals kept going up. 

"I don't want to spend good money to see a bunch of people in costumes and wigs singing songs together when Frank Sinatra, all by himself, sings better than any of them." Sinatra had a good voice, the kids thought, and it probably didn't hurt that he was Catholic. One of them once suggested to Mike that it might be nice if they played a recording of Sinatra's "Moonlight in Vermont" at church. Mike didn't agree or disagree because he thought some sacrilege might be involved.

Mike remembered his gun collection on the day the deliveryman had failed to throw his newspaper on the lawn. He decided that the next morning he would sit out on his front porch at 3 a.m. with a big mug of coffee and the biggest rifle he owned. When the delivery van drove down his street, he planned to walk out to the curb, rifle in hand, to make sure he got his paper and to advise the driver of the inconvenience his mistake of the previous day had caused.

"There's no way this guy's a Catholic," Mike said to himself. "Three times now he has skipped my house with my paper."  

The next morning things went exactly as planned--at the start. Mike was out on his porch with his rifle and coffee at 3 a.m. when the van came rolling down the street. Mike got up and strolled down the walk toward the van, his rifle resting like a child in his arms. Mike couldn't have known, however, that the van driver had been robbed several times over the years and that he carried a pistol in case someone decide to rob him again. When he saw Mike coming toward him down the middle of the street carrying a rifle, the driver decided to take no chances. He rolled down the window and put a bullet in Mike's forehead. 

One shot, dead center, was all it took, and Mike, still a big strapping man, fell like a tree. 

The next day the story about the death of Mike Fitzgibbons made the front page of his beloved paper and Mike himself was listed in the obituary section. The obit advised that friends of the family could come to the wake at Eagan's Funeral Home on Friday. It also pointed out that a Solemn High Funeral Mass would be said for Mike on Saturday at St. Aloysius Church, where Mike had been a faithful member and stalwart usher for decades. 

Two days after the funeral, a neighbor was shoveling snow for Mike's widow. He happened to look up and saw the missing newspaper stuck in the branch of one of Mike's Weeping Willow trees. Mike had an interest in Weeping Willows and had planted a number of them over the years, too many some of the neighbors thought for the size of his property. This was the first time a newspaper had gotten stuck in one of the trees, his wife said. And it would be the last time because she had canceled the subscription to the paper the day Mike died. Like her husband, Dolly was a woman of principle and she thought canceling the paper was the least she could do in his memory. She had never read the damn thing anyway.

Nominated for Best of the Net and Pushcart prizes, Donal Mahoney lives in St. Louis, Missouri. He has worked as an editor for The Chicago Sun-Times, Loyola University Press and Washington University in St. Louis. He has had poetry and fiction published in a variety of print and electronic publications in North America, Europe, Asia and Africa. Some of his work can be found at http://eyeonlifemag.com/the-poetry-locksmith/donal-mahoney-poet.html

Friday, February 1, 2013

David Rawson: A Week of Magic

Every morning in the kitchen, before I leave for the puzzle factory,
my father performs a magic trick.
I was told that if I wanted to know my future, I should ask
the lady who lives in the tree.
As we drove back from the Irish pub,
listening to Rage Against the Machine’s cover of “Maggie’s Farm,”
two-pint Guinness George looked up to the stapled lining of my Olds,
and said, “Damn. That girl’s a BITCH.”

Monday, I drank the rest of the orange juice as my father
Put a toy car in his mouth and swallowed.
I asked her, “Lady in the Tree, why do you live in that tree?”
Hearing past your voice, past my question,
the am-I-wasting-my-time kind.

Tuesday, he took my last twenty dollar bill out of my wallet
and rubbed it between his palms until a finch came out.
I won’t leave my wallet on the kitchen table anymore.
She threw an acorn down to me, and I caught it between my
palms. She replied, “I supposed it’s as good as any other tree.”
What we didn’t do: go out to the bridge so you could see blue
night whales and hear lostgods calling through rock.

Wednesday, father took all the removable compartments
Out of the refrigerator and walked inside.
I opened it, and the fridge was empty. When I opened a cabinet,
father’s arm reached out to hand me cornflakes.
I called up to her, “No, I mean why live in any tree at all?”
She sang Lover went away, and he never came back
Wonder what they did to my lover
He sent me letter til a year ago
Wonder what they did to my lover
He wished that he could come back home
Wonder what they did to my lover
He promised me marriage and a big back yard
Wonder what they did to my lover
Mama tells me not to wear his ring
But I am waiting on my lover
Father brought home the banker’s son
But I am waiting on my lover
Brother brought home the quarterback
But I am waiting on my lover
Sister brought home a sailor man
But I am waiting on my lover
My niece petted your black hair and asked if you liked apple juice.

Thursday, father took my coffee mug off the counter and
shook it gently with both hands, chanting the name of my mother.
I began to hear the sound of coins rubbing against each other.
I counted the coins that night. Exactly twenty dollars.
I asked the lady in the tree, “Do you know how I will die?”
She lowered a bucket on a rope, and I put in the red shoelace
from my right shoe. As she pulled the basket up, I said, “And maybe
you know where my mother is.”
Pretending to like AC/DC.
I regret putting Neil Young’s “Heart of Gold” on your mix tape.

Friday, my father asked me why I work at the puzzle factory.
I like factory work, watching all those boxes on the belt, studying the covers
and the number listing of pieces, wondering how long it takes
to put a puzzle like that together. Father spilled my box of Trix on the floor
and sat on the linoleum to sort through the colors.
In ten minutes, I could see a cereal portrait of my mother.
This is not magic, but the way her cereal eyes looked on the
floor of our kitchen made me feel more than any number of toy cars
my father can eat.
The basket fell to the ground, and my red lace slithered out
into the grass a fully formed snake. It came for me,
and I ran. Icould hear it whispering my name in the tall grass.
I still cannot listen to Gary Jules or watch Fight Club.
The smell of cigarette smoke and leather makes my mouth dry.

Saturday, as my father levitated a few inches above the floor,
A pack of playing cards fell from his pocket. Every card
was the queen of hearts, and they all had Mother’s face.
I looked back, and the snake had grown to the size of a horse,
and the lady in the tree rode the snakehorse,
but he moved slowly on his new legs.
Above my own breathing, I heard her say, “I see you dead,
young man. That is your future. You die like the rest of us. You
must come to me with good intentions. You come to me with love
on your tongue. I am your mother. My tree is your mother.
The beast I ride is your mother.”
When I hear your name, I am behind a camera. It is November,
we are in a park, and you are holding signs for me.
I’m making a still-frame movie for a class.
The signs read Ugly and Fat and Alone, and we laugh because we will never
be any of those.

Sunday, after my father pulled ten feet of handkerchiefs from the toaster,
I asked him why his mother left.
Sometimes he makes bad jokes like, “I made her disappear,” or,
“I sawed her heart in half and couldn’t remember how to un-half her back.”
On Sunday, he said, “Son, that was so long ago.”
And you, wrinkling your nose to the sun,
ducks mid-flight behind you.

Silk Road Mantra

by Suchoon Mo

bury me not

in the lone Silk Road

I go and go

from west to east

I go and go

from east to west

bury me not

in the lone Silk Road


As of June 25, 2015, The Bactrian Room is closed to submissions.


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