Breadcrumb #241


Inside my body is a body
where I keep my body.
Inside the room I hold my body
– prone, dying fish, wanderer
exhausted –
with the hands of my other
body & listen for the sound
of the living breathing
through the walls. Outside
the window. Smoking on the fire
escape. Once I escaped
the first hole I dug for myself
I watched the sun descend
into the hole that is the other side
of the world & spent
my whole life chasing it
by moving deeper into my body.
When I entered the room
I walked through the door
of your mouth with my mouth.
We breathed together & our breath
gave life to flowers. I once
read a story of a man
who grew a fir tree
in his lung. Our bodies
are worlds & these worlds
war as worlds do. They live
& die. They toil against their walls.
So much in us struggles
with so much in us. If there is truth
at all, it must be this. You hung
frames on empty walls
in an empty room. The frames,
filled with pictures of you
in other rooms. When finished,
you held your knees to your chest
& waited for them to fall.
I was just outside the door.
The importance, I wanted to say,
is that there is anything
worth breaking. I opened
the door & brought the outside
with me & it felt like all
we don’t know feels –
silent, trembling, a thin
vibration rippling the dark water
of the sky. I found you
when the room balanced before
the idea of becoming the ruin
of a room. We live here, now,
in this act of balancing. Here,
where all things
extend toward all things
but never touch. Isn’t it
beautiful? All night
we hold each other
without knowing
we hold each other.

• • •

Breadcrumb #206


Here he is, for what might be the last time again, at Lewton’s Earth Snacks, corner of Alexander and Kempf. 

    Tonight, in the Pasta Products aisle, Dale’s examining a six-dollar box of armadillos and cheese. He turns it over to check the nutrition facts and mission statement. Farm-to-fork, gluten free, non-animal enzymes—and something nice happens with the proceeds. All good, Dale acknowledges, and he switches to face the cartoon beast on the box’s front. 

     This little gray fellow is in fluorescent bike shorts. His pupils are fully dilated and he’s beaming. He’s unaware that, as Dale’s steely, prophetic ex once said on some pot-peddling acquaintance’s porch while buttoning her coat, “Nothing’s static.” 

     Dale gives the box of armadillos a shake, as if to reset the thought, Etch A Sketch-style. Now, a decision: Classic Cheddar? Blanco Cheddar? Cheddar Jack? Bitin’ Buffalo? 

     “Armand’s,” Kara had said earlier, her disappearing arm dangling from the bed, her bony finger tracing splits in the hardwood. “Just get me Armand’s, Dale. I don’t care what kind.” So he went.

     These days, Dale’s wearing his keys more often than his underwear. In the car, he’d actually told his trusty air freshener, for what must have been the seven-hundred-fifty-two-thousandth time, “Everything will be fine.” Alas, the hanging fir had no response. It was, itself, long faded. 

     Really, it was something of a miracle that Kara was hungry at all. The doctor had noted last week, in a particularly clinical moment outside her room in the ICU, “Well, your sister’s dying.” This was in direct response to Dale when he’d probed: “Why won’t Kara drink her kombucha?”

     Translated, it meant, “Nothing’s static.” 

     “You can’t write this shit,” Kara had said on the first ride home. “I’m dying with no tits. I think Susie Hampton told me this would happen in fucking second grade.” Only the shitty can tell the future, she’d added. Then, she’d mused up her tombstone—laughing, coughing. 

     Hospice made her curse more; made her limply embrace clichés. She was freer than the fragrant, college kid kind of free she’d subscribed to for much of her years. Dale had even caught her throwing out her dream-catcher her first night back. The sight was almost adulterous. It had made him jump. 

     At Lewton’s, Dale exhales. 

     “Okay,” he says. He’s choosing Blanco Cheddar, and he hopes she will like it. He has to hurry home. If he’s too late, she might refuse it. He hustles to the register. His rain jacket’s making some noise. 

     The cashier at Lewton’s tonight looks familiar. Dale can see in this gentleman’s face a sense of happiness likely sought out by the designers of mac and cheese mascots. Fitting, he thinks. Swap out Armand the Armadillo for a significantly fleshier, jollier Percy the Person You Pay. 

    Last time Dale was here, Percy was in training; this was two, three weeks back. And as if by magic, Percy is now much thinner. Not sick thin, though; not Kara thin. But thin—like a handsome bust easing out of marble, quite frankly. 

Dale can see in this gentleman’s face a sense of happiness likely sought out by the designers of mac and cheese mascots.

     “Evening, sir,” Percy says. “Will that be all?”

     “Yes,” Dale says, and he fumbles for his wallet, but he can’t stop staring at Percy, and though he doesn’t have much time he asks him how the job’s going and if he’s lost some weight. 

     “That’s very flattering,” Percy says, bagging up the Armand’s, and he gets real candid. “You know, it’s funny you mention those two things together like that, because ever since I started working at Lewton’s, I’ve been feeling a lot better. I’m new in town, and I got myself a membership at the Y and all, but I don’t have much time to make use of it. My manager and I, we’ve got this joke that it’s all the stocking and receipt-ripping that’s got me sweating. But you know, sir, it’s just so funny you noticed, and so nice, because I can’t quite figure it out for myself. Guess this place is the real deal, huh? Receipt in the bag?”

     “Sure,” Dale says, and he wants to hang in Percy’s tale of health food store mysticism for a while longer, but he can’t, really. He’s got to get home. 

     But when he picks his nose up over the counter, he notices a dog, just lying there at Percy’s feet. 

     A German shepherd, like Lollie, the old one he and Kara had had as kids, all amber-eyed and regal. It was Mom who had let Kara name Lollie, Dale remembers. A stupid name, but he smiles.

     The Lewton’s dog is no Lollie. She’s old, unleashed, on a fleece blanket, panting in front of a box fan, kind of stinking up the place. She’s in transition, Dale notices, one that runs counter to Percy’s transition; to Kara’s transition—in that she looks like she’s getting fatter. 

     “She’s a beauty, ain’t she?” Percy says. “Guess she came in here a few weeks ago. No tags on her, and she’s not chipped or anything. She was very sick, sir. Emaciated. Covered in mange. Ernie Lewton, bless his heart; he fed her, put her on that throw, gave her some air.”

     Percy guesses that Ernie tosses the dog a ball after closing time. Dale can see it, bouncing down the yellowed tile, knocking over bottles of supplements. He sees Ernie, an old man, dutifully fetch it himself.

     “She’s kind of with us now, you know?” Percy says. “We call her Lucy.”

     Dale thinks he might ask about Ernie’s potential adoption plans regarding Lucy, because he’s curious. “What’s the point of rehab?” Kara had intoned just yesterday. Dale, too, wondered. 

     But that’s when the door to Lewton’s opens. The bell sounds and in walks a family; the kind that might have a few bumper stickers on their minivan. A mother and two girls. One’s maybe eight; the other, thirteen. The eldest is in muddy soccer gear.

     Dale wants to leave—needs to, even. But as he slowly takes his bag from Percy, he’s watching the family meander around Lewton’s. “You can each get one treat,” Mommy says in exhaustion. Her mind is probably somewhere else, like picking up her husband’s vitamins and getting back in time for “Survivor.” This clan subsists on such moments, Dale thinks. He just knows it. 

     What Dale doesn’t know is this: Soon, Soccer Girl’s going to approach the register and ask Percy about an energy bar, and in doing so she’s going to see Lucy, panting on her blanket, getting fat. And when she sees this dog, Soccer Girl will scream. She will scream in pure, unapologetic love for this creature, and Percy will tell her Lucy’s story—but no, her name’s not Lucy, it’s Sandy, and she ran away last year, and goodness, we thought Sandy was dead.

     And Dale’s going to watch Soccer Girl’s weepy collapse, a scene so alien in its joyfulness, in which Mommy and Sis gather around in disbelief; in which Percy reaches for his ghost belly so as to mount the booming yuk he lets out in the image of everyone who’d ever said, “Well, would you look at that?” 

     Paul Simon’s going to come on the radio. It’ll be a sickeningly synchronistic number: 1972’s “Mother And Child Reunion.” It’s a song that had often played at the sleepy café where Dale used to work; a song that went on once in the car as he unyieldingly kissed Steely, Prophetic Ex; a song that Kara always hated, and one which, now especially, foretold of an approaching truth, assuming you believe in Heaven. 

     Dale’s going to get real overwhelmed and run out; Blanco Cheddar Armand’s rattling around at his side, his rain jacket noisier than ever. He’s going to speed on the way home, cutting through puddles, shouting all the way to his air freshener, “Everything will be fine!”

     He’ll be eager to tell the whole town of this inverted Bermuda Triangle at the corner of Alexander and Kempf. He will dream of erecting a new sign outside Lewton’s, one promising not just Earth Snacks, but instantaneous best case scenarios. “LEWTON’S,” he imagines, “A PLACE WHERE THINGS GO TO GET STATIC AGAIN.”

     But when Dale enters the bedroom—all wet and breathless, saying, “Kara, come with me”—he will find that she has gone already, on her own terms. 

     He’ll drop the bag and sit at her feet. Lewton’s will close. Then tomorrow will start up, yanking its own leash; every hour fraying it. 

• • •

Breadcrumb #184


"Shit, shit, SHIT!" Exclaims the tech at the receiver.

    The klaxons start ringing out and after a second there is a flash on the dais in the middle of the receiving bay. Now a confused young man is laying there screaming where there was until recently, nothing.

     "Who authorized this kind of transference?" I ask my tech, feeling both bewildered and impressed.

     The quantum computers are good, but they can't be that good. Even with proper calibration they shouldn't be able to differentiate between organic and non-organic materials. Even the new pseudo organic BT9s and their successor chips aren't 100% during a transfer and those are allegedly crucial for an uninterrupted stream of consciousness.

     Now I've got a subject flailing around and screaming. Poor kid may never be normal again.

     "Um..." The tech stammers. "I don't think this was authorized. I don't see any scheduled transfers on the log for today."

     The screaming intensifies.

     "Will someone please shut him up?" I yell to the guards and menials milling around outside the receiver, waiting for instructions.

     I turned from the frenetic scene unfolding and look my tech in the eye. "If we have no scheduled transfers then how did our distressed little friend end up here on my receiver?"

     The screaming now becomes a whimper as the young man behind the glass whirls around breathing heavily with a terrified look on his face. The guards approach him weapons drawn and order him to face away with his hands in the air. The man complies, wincing and whimpering with every movement. He then lets out a pained bellow as soon as the guards grab his arms to cuff him.

     I've read the theoretical abstracts from the early days of the program. I've seen the videos of test animals fused with their collars. I've heard the screams of rhesus monkeys desperately tearing at their diapers, unable to take them off. I understand what he must be going through more than most. I feel sorry for this young man, I really do. It's an unfortunate circumstance but he did arrive, unscheduled and screaming, which is going to be a problem. A problem and far too much paperwork.

I’ve seen the videos of test animals fused with their collars. I’ve heard the screams of rhesus monkeys desperately tearing at their diapers, unable to take them off.

      "Trace the source of that transfer!" I command the tech. "I need to get this reported to the DOE as soon as possible."

     I'm secretly impressed though. We successfully transferred a full live human body. The real question is to see if we also transferred his consciousness. I lean out of the observation room yelling to the guards. "Bring him to the closest containment room, I'd like to ask him a few questions."

    Now that I observe the man behind the one way mirror, I can safely assume he's in his early twenties and relatively normal, physically speaking. He's wearing jeans, a white tee with a flannel pattern long sleeved shirt over it. He looks incredible uncomfortable. I suspect it's because he found himself in a highly secured area with armed guards yelling at him. That and a transfer that wasn't... perfect.

     "What's your name?" I ask as I walk into the containment room.

    He's sitting on a metal chair with his hands cuffed behind his back. He looks up with wide teary eyes and says nothing.

    "OK, we can get to that later." I continue. "Due to various security reasons, I cannot disclose my name. I'm sure you'll understand. Let's start with something else. What's the last thing you remember?"

     "Why does my... my... my shirt hurt?" He whimpers confusedly. "It itches and burns so much."

     That's good, I think to myself. That's damn good. The young man seems to have an understanding of language, physical pain and the ability to coherently convey those feelings. We're making much better progress than is currently projected.

     I press again. "What's the last thing you remember?"

     "I... I was wandering through the Stata building after hours on a scavenger hunt, ya know? Taking photos of cool tech to make a collage for a club challenge. I..." He hesitates. "I broke in after hours and stumbled into this wicked awesome looking room.

    He paused to catch his breath and scratch his left arm against the back of the chair. The action makes him wince in pain.

     Poor guy.

     "Fuck that hurts!" He continues, talking through clenched teeth. "Stumbled probably isn't the right word, more like trespass into the coolest looking room I could find. Breaking and entering really. I remember turning on the lights, bumping my head and then actually stumbling around. I think I bumped into a whole bank of buttons or levers or something. I finally fell on a cold hard thing while an intense whirring sound built up. I remember an extremely bright flash, my stomach lurching and then that guy pointing a gun at me."

     He nodded his head at the guard in the back of the room. This causes him to curse and flinch again. Just then my tech burst into the room with an urgent look on his face.

     "Ma'am!" He says. "We traced the source of the transfer."

    "MIT?" I reply.

     "Y... yes." He stutters. "How did..."

     I cut him off. "Our little friend here gave up the goose. Inform the DOE of the transfer and its contents. It seems a congratulations is in order for the professors in Boston. That and perhaps a few project terminations."

     I turn to the young man. "We'll get someone from the medical team here as soon as possible. You're just going to have to sit tight... what was your name?"

     "Mason." He responds.

     "Mason." I continue. "Sit tight and try not to squirm. I understand that forced molecular integration between your skin and clothing is excruciatingly painful."

     I turn to the guard. "Try and make him as comfortable as possible."

    I address my tech again. "We need to lock this site down until the director is informed and the launch point is secured. It's going to be a long, long night. I'll be in my office drafting up the report if you need me."

    I wonder if Mason will miss the old "him." After all these transference events leave no clones.

     Poor kid.

    As I walk to my office I absent-mindedly scratch my right forearm under my jacket. I keep forgetting how seamless it is between my skin and the silk. I never forgot how much it hurt. Even after all these years.

• • •

Breadcrumb #178


There would be no services for Mr. Paterson. No flag-draped coffin strewn with roses, no white-robed choir singing Amazing Grace, no tear-choked homilies. For him, the road to perdition would be as quick and matter-of-fact as that of a lump of cookie dough rolling down a conveyer belt to the bake oven. Alone and unheralded, Mr. Paterson would meet his maker at dawn tomorrow when the Crematory fires reach 1100 degrees Centigrade.

    On the night of his death former neighbors gathered on the patio of the house that stood behind to his. Word travels fast in a small town, and one by one they drifted onto Mike Joyner’s breezeway trying to make sense of it all. They turned their chair backs to Mr. Paterson’s darkened windows and sipped Seagram’s VO on the rocks from squat crystal glasses, conversing in low tones. 

    “It’s true,” Mike was saying, “he was in his mid-80’s and beginning to show his age, I could see that.” Mike always spoke in low gravely tones. He rubbed the condensation off his glass with large construction-worker fingers and paused for a moment,. “But he really seemed to be doing pretty well, I thought. I was surprised as Hell when the Coroner showed up.” 

    Joyce, a faded hairdresser with stringy dishwater blonde curls who lived around the corner shook her head sadly. “I think he just gave up.” She frowned, gesturing toward his house, “Last winter he told me that he cared nothing at all for his mortal coil.” Her statement met with shocked silence. “Really, he did.” She gestured at the dark windows, “It was one night last October. We were talking about Margie and how everyone missed her. I know he was trying to move on but he was struggling. He sure didn’t expect to drop dead of a heart attack, though. Nobody does.”  

    Mike gestured angrily. “How can you say that, Joyce? That’s disrespectful.” He and took an angry a pull on his whiskey and looked away. 

    Joyce stood up for herself, “Well, he did! He did say that -- I’m not making it up. I never said he didn’t care about his life, I just said that he told me he didn’t care the trappings – you know, his mortal coil, that means his body. There’s a difference you know. I don’t think he’d care that he didn’t get all trussed up and have people come and stare at his corpse.”  

I never said he didn’t care about his life, I just said that he told me he didn’t care the trappings – you know, his mortal coil, that means his body.

     Adelle looked disgusted. A carefully dressed third-grade teacher from the end of the subdivision, she couldn’t keep he mouth shut. “Well I think everybody cares. He cared too, he didn’t mean that. He deserved more, you know. More respect for a life well lived. I mean, he’s just gone. It’s not right, he was our friend. I knew him and Margie for 20 years. I think he cared. He deserved more.”  She swatted a mosquito away, bangle bracelets clanking together dully. 

    Joyce banged her glass down on the ceramic tile table, “Hell yes he deserved more, but he didn’t get it, did he? I’m just stating the facts. I’m just saying maybe he didn’t care so much as we all think he did, what with Margie gone and all.”

     Adelle disagreed.  “I guess I just don’t see things the same way as you.” Silence again. Mike’s solar lights flicked on one by one as twilight crept over the gathering and softened the outline of Mr. Paterson’s empty house. 

     Rosie, a retired piano teacher from across the street, broke break the tense silence. “Well, I suppose it doesn’t matter that much. He’s dead and gone now, and his wife Margie before him.” She crossed her arms over her ample bosom. “They didn’t have kids, no family to speak of, so what does it really matter?” She adjusted the top to her pantsuit.

     "It’s a matter of respect,” Mike grumbled, tapping his thumb absently on the arm of his plastic lawn chair. “A man who’s worked long and hard and done his duty deserves a little respect.” 

     Jack, the cable TV installer from the next block laughed, “I’ll drink to that, respect for the working man.” He raised his glass and threw back a swallow of VO. The oaky tang tasted sweet in his mouth.

     Rosie nodded, “When you don’t have kids, you don’t have anything.” She repeated, almost to herself. 

     Joyce looked sly, “Well, I wonder who’s going to get his money then. He must have had a bundle put away, who do you suppose he left it all to?”

    Jack laughed again, whiskey kicking in, “Not me, that’s for sure. Probably the Goddamned government will get most of it. They usually do.”  He pounded back more VO and held his glass up.  

     Mike rose and picked up empties, “Who’s ready for another?” He tallied nods and started for the back door, then stopped and turned around, “Oh wait a minute. I do remember someone. That young gal who visited a him few times, what was her name? She was here for Margie’s funeral, and then came back to see him a couple of times after that.”

     Rosie brightened, “Oh yes, I remember. A nice girl. Brown hair, quiet. A niece I think, I remember her now, what was her name, Jeannie? Janie? Janine?”

     “Jane.”  Jack jumped on it, “Yes, her name is Jane. Nice figure, I remember her because she helped me out with an insurance question I had about my boat coverage.” He looked around the group, animated. “She’s in insurance, I recall.”

     “Well,” Joyce hoisted herself to tired feet, “Good for her. She’ll probably get it all then. At least that’s better than the Goddam government.” She tugged at the back of her too-short shorts. “I wonder if she’ll sell the house. He was a good neighbor I’m sorry to see him go.” She peered into the gathering darkness at Mr. Paterson’s abandoned house and shook her head. “Well, I gotta go. Got a lady coming in early tomorrow for a perm.” She yawned and stretched, reaching each arm out to form a human Y. “Thanks for the drinks, Mike. Call me if you find out anything more, Sure is a shame about him. See you all later!” Joyce turned and shuffled down the driveway, flip-flops slapping blacktop. She waved over her shoulder and melted into the night. Lightning bugs blinked here and there in the darkness and a forlorn silence settled over the
little group.

• • •


Breadcrumb #177


oceanic zephyr           petrichoral
              and instant coffee    diesel tenor of
freighters in Manila Bay
our linoleum room is garlic and talcum
and the permeations of a never­closed window

hills around the city ignite
a thousand distant votives to commemorate
the nightly devastation of ever
being known again by darkness
you splayed above the sheets in my t­shirt
bathed in twelve floors of violet halogen
from the call centers and karaoke resto­bars

I will leave never knowing
the hills’ exterior gaze
a cataract of lightless water
eight empty trucks leave the city
a storm rolls through at last
in our kitchen the roaches thrive
despite our rituals of ammonia
and scattered laurel

• • •