A woman looking for birds found as well a perfect temperament. It was alone on a park bench, feeding the pigeons. Because of its nature, she couldn’t tell the temperament’s age, or even its sex, really. Yet, there was something about the way it tossed seeds that made the woman want to squawk and peck them up, something she restrained herself from doing, thank The Bleeding Savior, who was smiling at his post within eyesight, as usual. There was one in every public park then to remind us of who we were and what we should be doing, two things that could have been spelled out more clearly from the start. A little man was assigned to come out of the bushes and prick the savior whenever he stopped bleeding. This kept our woman composed. Yet, do you know what she did? (It might be time to drape the cheesecloths over any little ones about.) She sat beside the temperament and told it stories of her flowery youth, each involving birds in some sordid way.
The temperament’s seeds stopped flying, and the pigeons dispersed.
Encouraged, the woman stood invitingly and was thrilled when the temperament stood too and walked with her right past The Bleeding Savior, just as if nothing were out of the ordinary.
In her garden apartment, the seeds were flying once more. A hundred dirty birds jostled their way through the window, and still she had no idea what sex it was, something The Bleeding Savior would have to consider before doling out her penance.
Then you forget some of it all, maybe most of it all. And when the pictures start to go you start asking some questions. Why now? Why this? What am I doing in this dirt? Everything is different because it’s exactly the same and you don’t know it. You think about it, no, you don’t think, not in your head, somewhere inside your body. It’s mounting up and coming together: A woman complained; a man got to his feet.
“I’ve wanted to tell you where we come from,” she said. When the wind was just right, her hair made throatlike tunnels of itself and imitated birdcalls. What was it saying?
He spat toward where a pelt was spread out in the dirt. The road was littered with those who didn’t make it. Though she took every precaution, no precaution would be enough.
This was how it was.
A single face remains, across from yours. You’re with each other all day and it keeps happening. From inside some sort of bag comes the sound of a creature scratching. It’s a real performance. You hold back and touch the edges. You edge around until you plunge in and finish it off. You think about it, no, you don’t think. It’s mounting up and coming together: A man and a woman step onto a platform.
He is like a thickened shadow; she, a head of broccoli. They couldn’t find them in the house. They searched for a depression on the couch or a disorder among the towels. She takes the letter out of her purse. She opens the envelope and unfolds the paper. He has put her name at the top. There is a word she can’t decipher. The man’s throat begins to swell and his body to itch. “When I was born,” he coughs, “there was no place to lie down.” She folds up the letter and puts it back in the envelope. It’s easy to come to the wrong conclusion about people.
This was how it was.
Caged together, their features are the same. They toast good health without looking at each other. The woman wants to go home, but she is already home. On the white painted bolt of a door that is never opened, a thick line of tiny black grains. They mount up and come together, forming dirt that spreads into the room. You are alone with your face. Then you forget some of it, maybe most of it, and start asking questions.
Lydia Davis’s “Breaking it Down” in Conversation with Daniel Grandbois’s “Unlucky Lucky Days”
We women got on the boat, but it seemed there would be no journey. The wind wanted to go someplace else. It was less unpleasant than you would expect. Until we discovered that we had shadows.
We pushed them together against their wishes. Caught them. Made them prisoners. Put them in a dark cabin. The sun came in through the cabin’s hatch and woke from the shadows a Person.
Waiting for it to stand up, I rolled a baby tooth between my fingers. It patted dust off its clothes and grabbed the ax, but the ax kept slipping out of its hands. We felt both attracted and repulsed by it.
The door swung out upon its hinges.
Dropping the tooth in a jar, where it dinged around before settling down, I sent Sally to see which way the wind blew. But it merely walked past her, its head hovering above, as if coming down through us like a railway train. The flies followed.
For a time we could not tell who any of us were.
Aging proceeded at the usual pace. Cobwebs grew in the slivers of light between The Person’s fingers. It collapsed on the deck, and the dust blew away to hard land—where such dusts always build their cities.
Russell Edson’s “The Very Thing That Happens” in Conversation with Daniel Grandbois’s “Unlucky Lucky Tales”
Body of Christ
Still attached to each other, the hind legs washed ashore. The mass looked like driftwood until the hooves came into focus. There were no cuts in the flesh, no rips or tears, which gave the impression that this was the whole body. Blind. Brainless. Bipedal. I wanted to hold it. I tried it on in place of my right leg, which I’d lost in high school, and secured it with the leather belts I’d made in shop. Formerly, my right pant legs had all been pinned up; now, they were unfurled, but rather than slit them to accommodate my new hind legs, I cut them off and sewed them lengthwise to form another leg for my left side, using one of my canes as a core. My left became my front; my right, my rear, as my body was transformed into a less than perfect centaur. Having lost the use of language, I began kicking at things to let my feelings be known, but this was as useless as ever.
“All who’ve gone up have withered in His light.”
Down in the fluid, the light was diffused and, so, less personal, but up there, drying out under His gaze could only be taken as a judgment from God.
“I don’t care, Daddy. I’m going.”
“What about your mother?”
“She’s done her work.”
The vicissitudes of their surroundings pushed them together against their wishes.
“So this is it, is it?” said her father at last. “Fair and foul are near of kin. You’ll be a mother soon, you know.”
“Not up there I won’t.”
“If the good Lord could hear you.”
“I thought He could.”
The irony was lost on them both when her father responded with some irritation, “Let us pray He can’t.”
And indeed, she did dry out but not before finding a friend more than willing to share his moisture, and not before passing on to the offspring a clever way to keep it, though this would only be the beginning of their struggles with Him.
“That was a wicked wish you made,” said a deep voice in the thicket.
A shiver went through her. “Which one?” but the voice’s owner was already gone.
Evening came, and the animals lumbered up out of the sticky mud. She could hear them crashing in the undergrowth, as they worked their way up the hillside. One gave a loud groan and fell down. Another chased her until it was tired and then curled up and went to sleep. Wild males, they were, with nuts and twigs caught in the folds of their skin.
“Oh, just look at this mole on my neck.” She squatted to see herself in the sun-reddened puddle. “Don’t you even know your own daughter?” she complained, fingering the mole. The water only stared past her. Exasperated, she took the finger from the mole, put it in her mouth and gave three whistles, but an awkward complication arose, and no sound was emitted.
“You don’t know when to do the right thing at the right time,” she berated herself. And, as if to prove the point, she went down the hillside to meet those things called men.
Exchange voices with a sleeping face, feeling neither hope nor fear. Push through, emerge, trickle into the wasp’s nest to admire the wind. Hat in hand, I wait for it to happen.
That voice tired, droop into mud. Exchange with a sleeping face. Any of them. Push through. Trickle into the rat’s nest. Hunger, thirst, bitterness, fighting. Still smelling, I’d like to go.
That rose shriveled, droop into mud. Exchange once more. Push through. Emerge, trickling into the sparrow’s nest. Throw irregular shadows across the plain. I wait below, peeling a dried gourd.
Droop. Exchange. Emerge. Trickle. Your voice confused with the rain. The sky blows down into seas strewn with faces. Dim shapes always fading from time’s dim log. You never even noticed Heaven.
Jorge Luis Borges’ “Selected Poems” in Conversation with Matsuo Basho’s “The Complete Haiku”
The growths, the brutes, the walking nightmares, staggering, shuddering, mouth-wracked. This arm, this hand, this voice see darkness in cold water, the meaning of nothing.
Withdrawn into ground, poor, desperate house, my flesh, dragged off the roof, burning, shoes full of blood. Dust, clay, oil and stone open inward to rooms of ancient nations.
Singing their final stanzas. Not one deed lost amid the plunderers and thieves. Sprouting from such corruptions, sweet kingdoms of Mineral, Vegetable, Animal.
Walt Whitman’s “Leaves of Grass” & Allen Ginsberg’s “Howl”
An odor of salty dust clung to my hands, disturbing the tranquility of our home. Mrs. Harvey had made her deposit, and the objects preserved sat now on burning hot concrete with their little mouths half open, waiting for a careless mouse.
She’s a beautiful woman, and I am lucky to have her. Closing the screen door, she promised to be back. Then, from inside the house came the irregular footsteps of someone moving a cinder block or a crate.
Near season’s end, a mouse must have stumbled onto the scene, for the bell dinged, and the little ones began hacking at their invisible shrouds and squeezing through the breaches— button makers, astronomers, comedians, florists, prison guards, you name it.
Mrs. Harvey placed two glasses of lemonade on the table beside the porch swing. “Smells like a grass sandwich after sundown,” I remarked pleasantly, as she sat down to join me. “The crop, I mean, dear. The crop.”
Antoine Volodine’s “Minor Angels” in Conversation with James Tate’s “Memoir of the Hawk”
An error in the wilderness.
No doubt it is.
A big fat jelly out of its bowl. A great big slop out of its trough. Listen to how it goes whump whump and tries to sing Hallelujah.
Highly unnatural. Sounds like a penguin flopping in the cat-tails. (He fumbles about in his pocket.)
Gracious how it wobbles!
Gracious, yes. Perhaps if I were to lay my hand lightly on your—
Mercy! What was that?
(Silence. Cooing. Faintly.)
But what are we standing here for? May I offer you a seat? You look very high off the ground.
(Before she’d first fed her cat, she never would have accepted.)
Could I have your name again?
(He takes her hand. She does not move a muscle. Disease, drum-playing, taboo, bamboo and vice. Moments with nervous fingers. The woodpecker’s neck and lolling, laggard lizard-tongue. They replicate the error in the wilderness of the kitchen.)
(Afterward) I suppose you wouldn’t be in need of a small load of dung?
Mac Wellman’s “The Hyacinth Macaw” in Conversation with Samuel Beckett’s “All That Fall”
(Seven feet with unusual shoes on them near a well)
We might let them sprout and then put them in the ground.
The time is not ripe.
I hear footsteps at night and think they are looking for someone.
The moment will come.
So this is not a dream?
There are too many things lying around. Corned beef in a tin. A little sack full of nuts in the middle of the road.
Then it’s a trash heap!
Mind your mouth and tend to the feet.
(Removing the shoes) Oh, why must they smell! (Odor streams out in a bruised cloud) Let’s douse them in kerosene and be done with it.
I think you had better go down to the pond and throw rocks at the frogs. That’ll cheer you up.
Are you trying to distract me? It won’t work. I may be unhappy, but—
I feel cold air on my foot.
It can’t be! Have I said something I shouldn’t have?
A whole wheelbarrow full of surprises, and now it’s over.
We must rotate them in the sunlight, pumice the calluses, clip the nails!
We must go back.
(One after the other, they climb into the well. When they emerge from the other end, they are not people any longer.)
Mac Wellman’s “A Murder of Crows” in Conversation with Samuel Beckett’s “Rough for Theatre I”
Afraid what you were thinking might have come true, you look out the window and see into another window just across the way. Like you, the ape is all tangled up in his diaper.
Diaper: David Shumate’s “The Floating Bridge” in Conversation with Russell Edson’s “The Tormented Mirror”
Daniel Grandbois is the author of the story collection Unlucky Lucky Days (BOA Editions, 2008) and the art novel The Hermaphrodite: An Hallucinated Memoir (Green Integer, 2010), illustrated by Argentine artist Alfredo Benavidez Bedoya. His work has appeared in Conjunctions, Boulevard, Mississippi Review, and Fiction among others. He plays in three bands Cessna's Auto Club, Tarantella, and Munly.