Saturday, September 29, 2012

Belly, part twelve

[This is another fragment from my short story Belly. To start at the beginning, click here]

“And that’s when I start to think, maybe I’m hearing them, and seeing these things for a reason. Maybe there’s a message in it all.”

“What kind of message?”

“You know, maybe I did get it mad, the universe. Maybe it’s showing me it’s got some control over me after all. Maybe it’s making me see things, see everyday things in a different way, so I can learn from it. Or maybe others are seeing the same thing. Maybe the world’s changing, or it will if we don’t do something. Maybe we’re changing, evolving, and I’m getting some kind of advanced warning about it. If I could only make sense of it, I could tell people about it. See if there are others. But I can’t.”

“You shouldn’t try to make sense of it. There’s nothing to be learned from it. None of it’s really happening. It’s something we need to get rid of, with therapy, with treatment, with medication. That’s what you have to understand first. The universe doesn’t send people messages. Not like that. No such universe exists.”

“How do you know? Last I checked, you’re not an astro-physicist. And you’re definitely not a priest.”

Friday, September 28, 2012

Belly, part eleven

[This is part eleven of my short story Belly. To start at the beginning, click here.]

“Young Jonas believes I’ve got a purpose to fulfill. I’m not sure what it is. Something cosmic, or religious, or spiritual. Whatever you want to call it. Young Jonas still believes. There’s this dream. Something ridiculous. A bad B-movie script. Worse than that. I’m in heaven, I guess, and it’s a full out battle between the angels and devils, or whatever the evil forces are. It’s not guys with horns and capes or anything like that, but you know who they are. And I’m right up in the front lines leading the charge, like the Archangel Michael, but I’m a kid. Who knows how my mind came up with such a thing, but it did.

“And that was a long time ago now, but young Jonas still believes that kind of crap. He’s here. He never left. He’s hidden away, but he’s here.”

“Grown-up Jonas, me, I lost my faith in that stuff many years ago. Since my 20s. I don’t know what finally did it. Losing someone. Losing more than someone. Spirit, purpose, good, evil, they all went too. And after the years, and the disappointments, and losing other someones, you have to justify it to yourself somehow.

“I justify it by seeing the world as pretty indifferent. There’s no kindness in it. Why would it care about any of us, or for any of us. It’s all blind luck who does well and who doesn’t. There’s no one up in the sky keeping score. Rewarding the good, punishing the evil. It’s all random events. There’s no reason to anything that happens. People get pushed onto their particular paths, and they bump into other people along the way, but who they bump into isn’t preordained. It’s dumb luck, like I said. Or blind luck, same thing. Throw in deaf luck too.

“Young Jonas is here though, and he squirms when I say that. And maybe I say it to make him squirm. Or maybe I say it as a challenge. Prove me wrong. If there’s someone or something out there, prove me wrong. Yeah, maybe I just want to get whatever it is mad, so it shows me I’m wrong. Take the Lord’s name in vain, blaspheme, whatever. Just to see. Prove me wrong, god dam you. Prove me wrong.”

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Belly, part ten

[This is part ten of my short story Belly. To start at the beginning, click here.]

He thinks it's one voice, but as he listens to it speak its words, it seems to multiply into many voices speaking together. They sound not unlike his own voice, but not exactly like his voice either. Some have a higher pitch, some lower. Some sound much older, some younger. Some are smoother, some more raspy.

Despite these differences, they all speak at the same time, or almost the same time. Their words follow milliseconds after each other, and their timing drags out the sounds they make ever so slightly, so that the words reverberate in Jonas’ ears and stay with him a little longer than they otherwise might have. Most importantly, their voices, joined with each other, are clear and strong, as if they were coming from close by.

They say to him, "The next time you hear them, those voices, not ours, close your eyes. Close your eyes, like you’re doing now, but not too tightly. Just tight enough for you to see the black. And when you see that black, look. Look for the colors there, running within it. We’re there, inside those colors. You can be too, and inside those colors their voices won’t reach you."

Then they stopped speaking, and as he let them go, he let his eyelids rise. The newspaper was just a newspaper again. Its newsprint, and the stories and photos made up of it, held firm. And then he realized, he had reached his stop.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Belly, part nine

[This is another passage from my short story Belly. To start from the beginning, click here.]

He still doesn’t know us.

He can’t. It’s not the way it works.

It affects how he takes what we say.

It can’t be helped, and we’re learning from it. We’ll make adjustments.

We’re on to variations of a theme now.

What’s the theme?

Time, and it’s relevance to how he sees the world. Or it’s irrelevance to how he will.

What if he doesn’t want to?

We always come back to choice, don’t we?

It’s pretty important.

We only give him the sparks of an idea. He has to choose how to react to them. And we’re overdue for another reaction, so ask another question.

Jonas, what if what happens, doesn’t happen for one reason, and it doesn’t happen only one way?


He hates the way the newspaper pages keep spilling on his thigh. He can’t stand the sound of them turning, and so constantly, with its crinkle and swish. And when he hears the sound of their voices come back to him again, he hates it all even more.

No one taught this man how to read a newspaper on a train. Some one taught Jonas. Brother Joe, in high school, while waiting for the morning bell to ring. He showed Jonas, and the other kids, how you fold it, vertically, length-wise down the center, and then peel the pages back. Jonas was impressed by the ease of it, the grace of folding the pages back, then opening it up at that reduced center, then moving on to fold more back.

It’s as if the man wants him to read along. Or they do. So he does, glancing down at the headlines there on page A15. But the words don’t want to stand still for him. They keep hopping around to different places, rearranging themselves, and sometimes changing shape to new words. “Killed” becomes “survived”, “won” wants to be “lost”, names and genders switch places.

And it’s not just the bolded words in the headlines. The smaller words in the blocky paragraphs below move too, their letters fall away like grains of sand sliding through glass, and new words take their place.

And it’s not just the words on the page, it’s the photos too. Someone bloodied becomes the same person unsmudged and smiling, or a different person altogether finds themselves in an altogether different place, or maybe the same but in much different circumstances. Their uniform and weapon have been swapped for a t-shirt and sign. Wartime is peace, angry protests are cheerful gatherings, a flag-draped coffin becomes a cradle meant to display the new year’s first newborn.

And it makes no sense. And it’s all too much. And Jonas closes his eyes to shut it all out. And just then, as the blackness takes him, he hears another voice pipe in through his ear buds. A different voice.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

And they come, like leaves of grass. And they'll go.

And then I'm here,
and when I’m not here too

They walk past me,
and I see it in their faces,
the generations,
and their generations,
when they walk past me,
the worse-off
and the better,
they come too,

And they come,
and they come,
and in their faces
there are shades I can't name,
but every one of them is,
and everyone of them is

And in their hearts
there are whispers,
whispers that speak in shapes
I can’t measure,
but they whisper
and they whisper of their pains,
and they’re not like mine,
and they’re not unlike mine either,
and through them all,
they have, and I have
stayed strong,

And they’ve come here
and their strides have covered,
they do cover,
not distances,
not years,
but those joys and sorrows,

The joys and sorrows of many
and they came from those many days
and those days flowed out
from many places,
from many places
that are now one, and that one
will go too,
into many,

There will be many
and into many
it and they will go,

And when they go there,
they’ll go everywhere,

And when they go,
everywhere will be
one place
and nowhere,

And it’s from there
they’ll bring me back,
and it’s to there I’ll go
and I'm going there,
and I’m going there
again, with each of them.

[Union Station, Washington, D.C., 9/23/2012]

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Belly, part eight

[This is part eight of my short story Belly. It's a work in progress, so expect some things to change as I progress further into the narrative, including the order of some of these passages. To go back to the beginning, click here.]

“No, it’s gotten worse. I don’t just hear them, when they speak I’ve started to see things.”

“What kinds of things?”

“Changes. Changes in things that shouldn’t, or shouldn’t so fast. All at once.”

“I’m not following you...”

“Time lost its grip. On me, on them, on the world. Peoples’ faces. I saw them all. I saw all their faces, at every age, at the same time.”

“Whose faces?”

“The faces of the riders on my train. Standing in the aisles, sitting all around me. Every one of them. Their faces all started to change.”

“For how long?”

“Until I got off the train. I couldn’t make it all the way to my stop. It was too much.”

“I can imagine. And the voices caused this?”

“I don’t know. They asked me something. Something about the past, present and future. What if it didn’t exist?”
“And I guess you saw that.”

“I guess I did. I wish I could un-see it. And how do I not see it, ever again?”

Friday, September 21, 2012

Belly, part seven

[This is part 7 of my short story Belly. Click here to start at the beginning.]

And an image flashes in his mind. An image from his childhood. An image of a crowd. So many bodies crammed in such a small space. So many bodies with angry, uncomfortable faces. They’re not pushing each other, no, but they seem to be pulling themselves in. They seem to be trying to maintain some sense of self, here, where they’re just another face and body among so many.


Star Trek. It’s like a scene from Star Trek. He must have watched it when it was small. Or his brother watched it, obsessively, and he only half-watched, caught in the middle of one of those far-away states he has.

He’s always done that, since he was a boy. Fell back deep into his thoughts and let his body continue on doing whatever mundane things it does. And his body does them quite well sometimes without him. It keeps doing whatever it’s supposed to and leaves him to his mind. He’ll find himself suddenly much farther down a sidewalk then he thought he was, with no recollection of the time it took for him to get there.

And though he’s not fully there, it doesn’t mean his body stops taking in the sensory data it’s supposed to accumulate. It doesn’t need him there to keep on seeing, hearing, smelling things that he’s not even half-aware of, or maybe not aware of until much later, when he feels he’s sensed something before. Is it deja vu if you can’t remember the first time?

And that’s what’s most frustrating, he can’t control when these memories resurface, or figure out where they fit when they do. Like this scene from Star Trek. He can’t say what episode it was on, or what season, or who guest-starred. He can’t even say what the stupid story line of the episode was. But he’s looking at this train full of commuters, and suddenly he sees that shot of a group of people jam-packed in a room. They’re supposed to be aliens on some over-crowded planet, but it’s not hard to tell they’re just a bunch of extras in bad costumes crammed onto a sound stage in Hollywood.

It’s like that here, except on Star Trek, their faces didn’t move.

The memory’s not important. The feeling isn’t either. This feeling of wishing they would all go away. Not in a bad way. Not to harm them. Just to move them away from him. To beam them off to some other planet, or ship, or dimension. Or maybe it would be better if he was, beamed away.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

And the bay

And the bay, not purple
but purple
in this light, addresses
all who pass by it
with its uncountable,
jelloing tongues. “You
didn’t come here to stay. You
came to put on calcite
layers. To let what’s inside
grow, or change,
or become, what you’ll become
when you no longer come

Most don’t listen, they watch
the wind
make a dead leaf hop.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Belly, part six

[This is part 6 of my short story Belly. Click here to start at the beginning.]

To see life in its totality is a very special gift.

He won't appreciate it.

He'll learn to. He has no choice.

Yes, that's because we won't give him any.

These things don’t always go as planned, he might surprise us.

Then ask.

Jonas, what if there were no past, present or future?

The human face, it never held Jonas’ attention with the same intensity as a clock’s. That softness, the malleability, its odd colorings, and utter variability, it all unsettled him. And the eyes, there were the eyes. They had such depth, and held such secrets. What might hide behind those eyes? He couldn’t look anyone in the eyes for more than a few seconds. He only managed to deal with his customers by keeping his eyes fixed on the merchandise he showed them.

That’s how Jonas normally feels, but today, right now, after hearing the voices again, he can’t help but stare at the passengers clogging the aisles. Their faces, each one of them, seem to be strangely blurring. Rubbing his eyes doesn’t stop the sensation, in fact, it gets worse as he continues to look. Their features seem to be moving. No, not moving, shifting. It’s as if there were many faces inhabiting a single head.

Everything else about them is unchanged, from their scarves and buttoned up collars, down to the tips of their leather gloves and wool mittens, but their faces have been put into continual motion, a motion that is speeding up. It’s as if someone was flipping through the pages of a picture book, and that picture book was filled with portraits of a single man, or woman, taken every moment from their first gasp of air until their last. Ah, but these pictures follow no particular order, and they're in 3-D.

Jonas tries to focus his eyes, to force them like a thumb into those fanning pages and make them stop on just one, any one, but it doesn’t work.

If he keeps his eyes closed for long intervals, the faces slow their movement enough that he can make out individual features. A cleft chin sprouts a lawn of stubble. Two piercing green eyes cool and darken, while cracks radiate out over patches of skin drained of their color.

Eyes back to the watch. Keep looking at the watch, even if its numbers are stuck. Stuck doesn’t feel so bad now.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Belly, part five

[Another passage from my short story Belly. Click here to start at the beginning.]

"What do you hear?


"More than one?"

"Yes, there are two. Definitely two. They're similar, but they’re clearly different voices."

"Are they male or female?"

"Two men, I think. But it's hard to tell. They don’t seem quite human. "

"Are they speaking to you?"

"They mostly speak to each other, but sometimes they address me by name."

"Is it a running dialogue?"

"I think so. I don’t know. It feels like it’s a part of something much larger. An ongoing conversation. I only hear them for a minute, and then they’re gone again."

"Can you make out what they're saying?"

"I can usually make out the words, but when they’re talking to each other, they sound muffled. It's like I’m in one of those stupid sitcoms, hiding behind a wall, with a glass to my ear, eavesdropping on the neighbors. When they ask me something directly, the words are clearer, but what they say doesn't always make sense to me. "

"Are the voices friendly?"

"They're not hostile, but I wouldn’t say friendly either, no. Not even necessarily to each other. They're more dispassionate than anything. It's as if they're dissecting a corpse on an examining table."

"Are you the corpse? Are they talking about you?"

"Yes … maybe … I don't know. Would that be good or bad?"

"It's not good or bad. I'm just trying to understand."

"So am I."

Monday, September 17, 2012

Even more Belly (part four)

[Click here to start at the beginning with part one]

Jonas’ life involves quite a few circles. First, there is this “circle” he travels around each morning inside the Loop. The elevated track the train rides atop runs due north and south until it reaches the edge of downtown, and then it turns abruptly to skirt the city center’s perimeter with a clockwise path. From the air, the route might seem to sketch out an exclamation point, or a thermometer, or a clock’s pendulum arm held still.

Yes, make it the arm of a clock. Time pieces and their round faces are the other circles to figure prominently in Jonas’ life. He makes his living as a salesman in a small clock shop. Every inch of its walls, from floor to ceiling, is taken up with a variety of second tickers, some standing, some sitting on metal shelves.

It’s crammed full of stately grandfathers, would-be mantelpiece squatters, less serious cuckoos, and assorted novelties. Their exteriors are made of glass and precious metals, mahogany, and less sturdy but more colorful plastics. Their precisely geared innards push pendulums, cause small brass hounds to chase a rabbit, and tickle a black cat’s tail to twitch back and forth.

While working there, Jonas sits behind a glass jewelry case filled with smaller items: wrist and pocket watches, alarm clocks, timers and stop watches. When no one’s in the shop, he’ll let his gaze fall on their small faces for one second each. He counts aloud with their little and bigger hands, as they glide and tick around and round to lap up numbers and notches, tracking our oval about the Sun.

His fancy for time-tellers didn’t come solely in trade for a middling pay check. He’d had a fascination with them since he was very young. When and how did this start? He can’t say really. Maybe he was born to it. He does have a vague memory of a waltzing animated, grandfather clock that might have cast the first spell, but he’s not sure if he’s made it up to justify a neat trajectory from his past to present.

He knows quite well the first time, at Christmas, he strapped the black leather of his Micky Mouse watch around his too-thin wrist, and waited for those two very unrodent-like arms, fit with their precious white mitts, to converge up at twelve o’clock. He’d never not wear a watch after that. There was magic and dependability in the constant but invisible circles they traced.

Now, with his current watch strangely refusing to give up its fixation on a seven and two zeroes, and with an impenetrable black pushing in against the window beside him, time’s once comforting grip on him slackens. His memories begin to feel borrowed. To Jonas, they begin to feel less real than a mouse with white gloves, red pants, yellow shoes, and a cartoon smirk.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

gods come in all sizes

These tiny gods come and go
as easily as they please
in their inconsiderable

as easily as gnats
or flies through screens

and they’ll please,
but not easily,

and only if you don’t try,
to hold them too close
to your fruit-like heart,
on knotted strings
and silvery chains.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Belly, part three

[This is the third part of my serialized story Belly. Click here to go back to the beginning]

And he’s on that train again. And time has passed, or he’s passed the time, but he can’t say how long, or how far, or if he’s gone forward or back. His watch still sticks at the same time. It won't move from it until he steps off the train. Then it finds the right time, on its own, without any winding.

And the voices have come to him again. And they’ve gone.

This train. He sits on this train. Steel rods are its bones, and a molded plastic dyed the color of tan flesh sits upon them. Jonas sits upon the pixelated blue felt that sits upon that molded plastic. And he fidgets. And he waits. He waits for the voices to return. They don’t come every trip, but most. And those sometimes, those sometimes when they don’t come, those very hard sometimes, it can be worse. The waiting.

He’s tried to distract himself through the waiting, with books and newspapers, crossword puzzles and magazines. He’s found that the insulation of sound piped through two small ear buds soothes him most. He doesn’t listen to music, as much as voices, other voices, any voices, just not their voices. Mostly clear voices. Voices he can hold onto. Voices that don't ask or tell him to do anything.

And within the seconds and fractions of seconds of silence that glue these broadcast voices’ words into sentences, those sentences into paragraphs, he knows theirs, as narrowly cast as any can be, will sneak through to him. It doesn’t matter how tightly he presses the ear buds into his canals, or how high he raises the volume, they’ll find a way in to him.

A crackle, and a hiss, a hum and a palpable silence, and then he hears them, but not clearly. No, what they say is not ever clear. It’s not as if they were in the same car, or train, or city. Their words must come from far away, and it’s as if they pass through a thick ooze, but when they reach him, he feels them pass into him, and settle as an ache in his bones.


Do you think he knows about circles?

He must, he seems quite fond of them.

And how they have no beginning or end?

Well, unless you break them.

Let’s break his with a riddle. Jonas, where we’re leading you, is not where you’ll be going.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Continuing on with Belly (part two)

[Click here to start at the beginning with part one]

There are lights here, small white, plastic globes of light floating down either side of a steel blue center. They're not bright, but to Jonas’ straining brown eyes they burn intensely.

Ears, he has ears too. And they work, though they might not be working well, if they’re hearing strange voices. They have nicely rounded tops. Jonas always though his ears his best feature. And these tops are tucked neatly within a knit cap. Not the bottoms, the bottoms are unobstructed so they can receive their sounds. And they do. And they’re working. They received a sound quite like the landing of a cushion of water when he awoke. After hearing those voices, as his mechanical keeper made another violent thrust forward.

Jonas takes a deep breath, his twin nostrils gulping the stagnant mix of sweat and snow-wet wool. And as that air fills his lungs, he comes fully back to the jostle of the boxy car in which he's stuffed. To this train that carries him through his daily circles.

“The time. What's the time?”

What's the day, for that matter.

Jonas’ left wrist wears a watch, but it’s been pinned till numb, and won't lift up without the aid of his right hand.

“Seven o’clock.”

He thought it was seven the last time he looked.

Square with rounded corners, the window beside him is backed by an early winter morning’s black, and gives out no clues if he’s gotten any farther on this journey.

“Does it matter?”

It doesn't. Suspended above the invisible scenes of troubled city blocks, Jonas lets his mind slip back to where sharp voices dull to mumbles, their words softening to the sounds of distance and long ago. His head falls forward, returning to its “yes,” and and the disturbance those voices caused go with it, back into darkness.


That was simple enough.

And not very rewarding.

True, but things will pick up. It’s good enough for now. He won’t get through the next one so peacefully.

Sunday, September 09, 2012

Back again to Belly

[I've been struggling with my story Belly for many years now. I think this will be the last attempt to get it right. I'm going to plow through it, start to finish, and see what comes of it, rather than continuing to tinker with it piecemeal. So, here, yet again, is the first part.]

Can we ask him a question?

Yes, like before with the others, but let’s keep it simple. We don’t want to frighten him too soon.

How about the time? It’s simple enough to ask someone the time of day. Unless the person you’re asking is a stranger. Then, they might not give the answer as freely.

We’ll likely always be strange to him. It can't be helped. And the things we’ll show him stranger still. He won’t keep much of us, or them. No more than the whiff of decaying leaves he’d take from a walk in an autumn wood.

No, but we’ll remember, and we'll learn from him. We always do. Let’s ask him as if he were a friend. Perhaps it will help him accept us. The time, Jonas. Can you tell us what time it is?


They’re just voices. What else could they be? God? A devil? Or an angel and a devil? Those cartoon appeals to conscience perched on his shoulders? Ridiculous. Too ridiculous. But more ridiculous than hearing these voices, hearing them for the first time, now, on this train? Hearing them indistinctly yes, but still hearing them.

Jonas, half-asleep, heard them. There’s no doubting he heard them now, for the first time, when it all starts and ends. This moment of a single movement: when his head, once so deadly heavy, jerks alive with a backward nod, as if it were taking back a “yes.”

Voices, but whose voices? And what would they want? What could they want from him, Jonas? Were they real? They could be. But they could be the remnants of a dream he had in that moment. A dream that retreated back to the depths without him when he woke.

Or they could be the trailed-off fragments of a conversation. A conversation he’s misremembered, or mostly forgotten. A conversation, perhaps half-taken from the television he left on at home, the night before, as he fell-asleep.

No, to Jonas these voices sound much more, much more like something from inside. From inside but also far away. They sound. They sound like a voice he’d hear. A voice he’d hear while reading a story. The kind of story he reads, but doesn’t like. The kind of story that troubles him with the details, and the uncertainties of others’ lives.

But this is his life. It’s Jonas’ life, and he thought he already knew all of its details. He thought there weren’t any more surprises in his story. He thought. He thought, his story was writing itself now. Writing itself in expected ways. Uninspiring, but certain, and expected, and not comfortable, but not disturbing ways either.

These voices are disturbing. Very disturbing. If they’re real. Are they real?

Continue on to:

Saturday, September 08, 2012

this town believes

this town, it seems believes
a subway is the way
the struggling move through it

one man says, or yells, looking back
and forward, side to side, in anger's eyes,
I learned what I needed all I needed

to know about myself in that cell
be strong, always be strong I don’t care
for them, or their excuses

another’s dressed like a pirate he says,
I used to be a reverend I know it,
and I’ll tell you if you seek him

no matter where you are no matter how
far down the wrong road you’ve gone,
god will show you a light to get back to him

this town is struggling  to believe it

Thursday, September 06, 2012

How the world sounds, when left alone

Twelve or twenty, they’re black,
and wordless they fly with one mind
about the spire. My eyes try

to catch one that doesn’t, but can’t. I hear
a hum. It’s not quite musical, but it is
strangely pretty. Secretly, I know I’m not

meant to hear it. Last night, as I slept
I heard a voice I don’t know, or didn’t
recognize. He wondered, back where I couldn’t

see him, how to break it to us. The birds
and beasts, not like us, he said, he sensed,
know exactly where death takes them.

Wednesday, September 05, 2012

Not from these parts

They might be new, these trills
within the broken sun. Or I might be
new to it. A tall woman

with tight orange curls slides down
the wall face to sit on the sidewalk.
I walk past her, and an awkward look

gets passed to me. I’ll mistake it
for a smile, another newness
I’ve brought with me into it.

Sunday, September 02, 2012


I’m the old man who can’t tell time any more
what lies ahead ... any way he tells it,
what he’ll tell it is always
how he’s become more or less himself,
less the more ... he sits
a broken dish
down, and watches the hours run off
the end of his spoon ... it’s the same way,
the exact same way
his medicine slops, when he tries to
stop his palsied hand from pouring it ... oh, how
he’d like to run
off or away or on and on about it
after learning the moon doesn’t turn
blue waiting for her cow ... she turns her face for you
not to see her giggle
at the thought of how a cow might plummet