Apart

Unless she focuses,
the universe reverts
to void.

Unsettled by emptiness,
she creates an apartment:
oddly familiar walls and couches coalesce,
and stars gather into the shape of a black cat
tiptoeing over to embrace her shin.

But then she exhales
and the room recedes,
and she crosses into another scene,
searching for something real.
Behind her, walls crumple
and spring up when she looks back,

and she builds entire cities,

but no one shows up.

Having invented a sky,
she erects a skyscraper
just to approach an arbitrary inch
she has an odd hunch about,

and once there
she hears a disembodied voice
wheeze a word
that might have been her name,

if she had one.

Renata?

The voice haunts her for centuries,
till she forgets all but
the echoing ache.

Sometimes she makes mirrors,
but they never reflect her.
Sometimes she makes humans,
but they are only machines.
If only she could create another god…

Is that what she is?
Rinalda the god?

Yet she feels like a prisoner…
horribly trapped in fact,
in fact
suffocating in place,

strangled but breathing…

Her mannequins surround her,
hissing and beeping
and jabbering in a language
she doesn’t understand.

With a hand-wave she banishes them.

Is this a jail for gods?

Only once,
looking up from her own thoughts,
she glimpses an arc of faces around her,
faces she knows from some other time—
perhaps from before her birth—
and in that instant
she meets an old man’s grieving eyes

and glimpses another mind,

a real mind,

and something almost makes sense

before the ghost turns away.

Our Lady of the Streets

[Author’s Note: This version of the story is now obsolete. A new and improved form will appear in my book Unearthlily. I leave it here because I like certain elements of the old version.]

The city’s rectangular eyes towered over me. Banks and offices whispered to each other forecasts of my movements. They knew I was lost and trying to escape them. Where the city wanted me to end up was anybody’s guess. Probably the same place where everyone ended up, and where my family, transformed beyond all recognition, would be hungrily awaiting my arrival.

I kept my movements erratic, preferring the small-aired sidestreets and alleyways. Stores leered at me. A sewer drain gurgled a recognizable melody, something sweet and sad, trying to lure me.

Then the alleyway ended in a brick wall.

I yelped and fell over myself trying to run. But it was too late: between me and the streetmouth was a little girl in a frock, with a rose in her hair.

If she was a real child, the streets would literally eat her alive—unless they killed her first. Not my problem though. I pocketed my hands and hurried past with my eyes averted.

But her fingers like five steel cables closed around my elbow.

I had no choice but to turn and look.

She was incredibly old, with a scrunched face and a single tooth. She had small confused eyes and seemed to have already forgotten what she wanted to ask.

Then her face lifted off from her skull and smoothed out like a photo of a teenage girl uncrumpling, with eyes like tiny red lightbulbs. Then her entire head collapsed and reformed as a glossy black vortex grinding inward. I watched my own frightened reflection sucked in.

She spoke, and her voice was like rusted machinery.

“You waaaaant to fuuuuck meeeeeeeeeee?”

I did not.

At her place she kept the lights off and played porn on her face. Was she trying to make it easier for me? Could something like her feel pity? Her bed was wide and cold as a bay, and she was gently trying to push me down onto it. I thought that if I co-operated she might stay gentle, so I lay down for her, but the mattress was sandy and wet and strewn with trash, and pebbles and loose screws dug into my back. I winced and tried to adjust myself, but she was already climbing onto me, and she was heavy as a building. I felt crushed into place by concrete and steel, with the mattress foaming and swirling around my head. Slowly she winched her architecture down over me. Her face had split into a city square with flashing billboards. By now bridges lashed together my knees, and my sagging jaw was filling up with high-rises. Skyscrapers crawled all over my body and trains ran straight through me, carrying sleepy commuters that stared out from my torso bored, as if she weren’t out there bearing down on me like an infrastructural sky, all her vast cabled machinery bouncing hard and heavy on my radio tower. Up through the tower pulsed a painful red sun; inside its sphere was my screaming face. Then the sun burst, and a mushroom cloud as thick and brown as gravy rolled over her harbors and meatpacking plants.

I was going to be a father.

The Chief Managing Director Has a Few Requests

1

I want a dirtier sunset

with tar and molten waste!

Got it?

Give me sewer pipes that spew
and rusty black scaffolding
dewed with distillate of pollution!

You like that?

I want streets that crush
and lives that kill,
steel that never starves
and glass cages for the shills
so that they may swelter in luxury!

Give me enslaved and huddled masses
yearning to be me! ME!

Ahahaha!

So… I know you’re all wondering…
just what is it that I want most
of all the things my big, big money could buy?
I want… I want you to drive two hours to work!
Yes! And two hours back!
Every! Fucking! Day!
I want you to believe there is no other way.
I want you to forget…
Forget what?
Listen buddy,
Today’s surplus population
may be tomorrow’s source of oil,
but that wasn’t my decision!
Although I do play tennis with the guy,
don’t try to make me feel guilty!
Maybe if you want to live,
you should try working a little harder—
otherwise what use are you to us?

So give me rotting things!
Give me executions!
Give me things I threw out windows
and give me things I ruined!
I want things I… stepped on…
Give me…

Aw, christ…
Take it away!
I’m hungover, I…

Shut! It! Down!

DOWN!

Goodbye!

2

Give me…
Give me brunch!

I want a lamb’s skinned raw head ringed by citrus discs of stained glass!

I want two soft warm fat bread-rolls with crusty nipples smeared in bloody beef gravy, the cow’s memories coming through in an exquisitely brownish taste!

Which reminds me, darling,
It’s time for your behind that could feed a family for a week
but which satisfies me for only three minutes…

Thanks, baby… say, do you do you?
You do do you, don’t you?

And just a little shot of…
Wow! WOWOWOWOOOOOW! Yeaaaaah!
And back to work!

3

Towers collapse!

Nerve gas fries minds!

Bullets burst through baby eyes!

Drones vomit napalm on beings of shit!

Victims of my victims blow loud crowds clean!

Tanks pulp peaceniks into puddles shuddering with final rain!

High-rise rat-hives scream with flame fusing mother and child into coal!

Spears of grey light fall into bombed-out churches and impale the slaves groveling in snow!

Trucks hurl the walking trash flapping their shattered arms through a blizzard of broken glass!

Black fullmoons explode above your fecal ghettoes and rinse the human filth from the smoking rock!

Heart-split stars flare and x-ray millions of human skulls and ribcages with blue fish-hearts palpitating in shriveling membranes!

Skin crawls from muscles shrinking back over bone charring down to the brain seared to dust sucked up into the holy and the perfect white!

And then: Nothing.

Nothing…

And shh, baby, it’s no use
Kill me and I would only return
in new and splendid forms—
History ends with me!
MEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!

Bwa-hah!
And I get everything that I want!

In Broken Water

In broken water trees bend
until their knees touch the ground
above the blazing and the bloody crown
of the day fading in the city’s glass flanks,
washing windows with flame
and swathing in halos faces,
such faces,
vast smooth and immaculate faces that beseech us,
but what they want takes our entire lives to give,
and even if we wrested those lives back
the transaction would remain infinitesimal
under these miles of cloud-circled red
grading into black cold,
a cold on whose far side
all is drained and incomplete
as the fading memory of an idea
that once lit all existence—

it hurts now to remember—

but still farther wavers
an older, stranger light,
and a fluttering of voices
circling at the moment of birth.

Trust me you don’t want this dream to end.

Followed

[4:33 A.M.] O: ok im comin thru

I put on my headphones and went out to our tenth-floor balcony. Just a few blocks away was Toronto’s towering downtown—a deluxe crystal growth all the colors of credit cards—but the street below me was rough shit, an acned wasteland strewn with used needles, haunted by 3-D shadows and dumpster lurkers that scattered before the headlights of police patrols. There was even a dark humanish shape lying on the grass beside our driveway.

But no O. Why was she taking so long?

It was strange: when she got home, chances were we’d continue our grievous fight from before she left, she’d cry silently and I’d claw my skull, then we’d sleep back to back and avoid each other in the morning… but as I scanned the street, all I thought about was holding her and kissing her sweet head and rejoicing just because she was alive.

I texted her. It went unread.

Suddenly my music seemed stifling. I was reaching up to my headphones when someone grabbed my arm and wrenched me to one side. My heart leapt into my brain and exploded, this is it, I’m dead, and I swung around to face my executioner.

It was O. Still hauling on my arm.

“Come on! Come on!”

I resisted. Even tried to pull her down.

“Jesus FUCKIN Christ O, what’s wrong with you??”

“Come on! There’s no time!”

Then I saw she’d left our entrance door wide open, and I relented and hurried out with her.

About ten doors down, blocking the entire hallway, was one of the largest men I’d ever seen. His body looked inflated, bulging up against his hoodie and baggy jeans, while his head was tiny, a dark boil riding the massive ripple of his chest. His massive arms hung limply at his sides.

He was just far enough that I couldn’t make out his face.

O raised my hand high like I’d just K.O.ed someone.

“This is my HUSBAND, OKAY???”

I looked at her in disbelief. This dude could have crumpled me with one hand.

He didn’t answer. Not a twitch. Just the arms hanging like butchered pigs, and the bottomless stare out of a face I couldn’t see.

I hustled O inside, bolted the door and put my eye to the viewer: nothing… nothing… nothing.

O was in the kitchen drinking tapwater, long-legged in a ruffled short skirt, two big eyes visible over the cup. It had been a while since she’d looked like a priceless treasure to me. I took the glass out of her hands and embraced her tightly.

“He was in the elevator. On the ground floor. Just standing inside with the door closed.”

I drew back.

“And you got on anyway?!”

“I was so tired… I just got on and pressed our floor number. He didn’t press anything.”

“Oh my god.”

“He was looking at me the whole way up. Not saying anything, not smiling, just staring, staring… So I said, ‘Look, I have a husband, and he’s expecting me RIGHT NOW, okay?’ …No response. His face didn’t change. We reached our floor, he got off after me, I ran to you.”

“And what’d you think I was gonna do? He’s like three times my size!”

“I…”

“When you left the door open, you gave him his chance. If he’d come in… What were you thinking?”

She crossed her arms and looked at the floor.

“Never mind, I’m glad you’re okay,” I said, though I could feel our closeness already dissipating. I’d blown it again. I was unsheathing our ten-inch meat knife. “I’m going to check whether he’s there.”

In the viewer’s fish-eye I saw only the neighbor’s door and bare walls. I stealthily unbolted our door and eased it open.

He was in front of me, lying on his side on the carpet, supporting his shrunken head with one craggy hand and gazing up at me, his mouth gaping and his tongue lolling out sideways. He looked like he’d been violently lobomotized.

I waggled the knife at him and tried to say something menacing. No words came; I squeaked, then slammed the door.

He knocked.

“We’re c-c-calling the police!”

The doorknob wriggled.

“WE’RE CALLING THE POLICE!”

And he finally spoke.

It was like hearing a well speak, a toneless bass wind groaning up a long stone throat.

“Ooooookaaaaay,” he said.

When the cops arrived he was crosslegged by the elevators. Without getting up he began ponderously arguing with them. One came over smiling and asked to speak to us in our apartment.

“I arrested this guy last week. Broke into the home of a Chinese woman. Not a young one, we’re talking maybe… sixty. He found her in bed, but just… stood there. Looking at her. Watching her call us. Didn’t do or say squat. Then we come… and he goes along peacefully, no problemo. In the car, I ask him what he was doing there. What he wanted. He said… God told him to rape Asian women.”

O and I exchanged looks. She shifted over to lean against me.

The cop took details, shook my hand, patted O’s shoulder, and left. Clutching the butcher knife, I roved the apartment, checking the street, the viewer, the lock.

“I feel bad for him,” O said.

I chuckled and kept pacing until she asked me to stop and be with her. I found a safe place by our bedside to stash the knife, then we wrapped ourselves around each other and lay there quivering, with nothing to say. It was starting to get light.

Cradled over Cold Rails into the Twenty-First Century

Hi,
I come from your planet,
just another sperm walking this flooded toilet,
frankensteined from genetic alphabet
and then evicted from the womb.

I was injected with crucifix,
taught by volunteer cops,
and sentenced to the hamster wheel,
and managed into corners
and hammered into place,

while oceans gagged,
and insects coughed,
while we all boiled together.

Until finally,
I bolted my eyes,
barricaded my head,
shut my ears in the cupboard,
and locked myself out of me.

I pickled my soul.

I killed myself to stay alive.

Now I float over brutal tower blocks.
Now I tumble rattling after garbage trucks.
Now I yell through gulls and ventriloquize the sky.

On hills and in valleys,
in deserts and on coasts,
the human builds its iron nest,
the world does not smile back.

Message From The Devil (Vibrations in a Red Crystal)

“It was Lambros. I went out with her food and he had her leash and was taking Sally out the back gate.”

“Lambros? That boy with the huge forehead?”

“His kid brother.”

“That little shit.”

“He was laughing the whole time, pulling on Sally. She didn’t want to go, she was looking back at me and whining, but he dragged her into the trees.”
“Seriously? Why didn’t you follow him?”

“Christie—you have to let me tell the story.”

“Oh, so I can’t ask about what happened to my fucking dog?”

“Of course I followed them! I ran as hard as I could!”

“Okay! I’m sorry, all right?”

“It’s just that I tried to jump the fence. And my foot caught. And I fell on the gravel. Which gave Lambros even more of a head start.”

“Fuck.”

“Yeah, I know… Anyway, I caught up by the footbridge. Sally was nowhere. Lambros was on the railing, grinning like he’d just played a hilarious joke and now got to enjoy the grand treat of watching me bumble through. And then I see it: right beside the creek there’s a circular hole in the ground, with a ladder set into its side.”

“A ladder. In a hole.”

“Yep.”

“And how did we never notice it before?”

“It wasn’t there before.”

“Are you sure?”

“…no. I’m not sure of anything anymore.”

“Did you try calling for Sally?”

“Well, by the way that asshole kid was smirking at me, I figured he’d thrown Sally into the hole. I’m not going to lie, I wanted to do things to that kid’s skull that would have put me in prison for a very long time. And right away I thought about Maria and Bruce’s—“

“Oh my god, their cat.”

“Yeah… But I figured I could deal with Lambros later. Call social services on his parents and get him committed or whatever. Something nasty and satisfying. But I pushed it out of my mind and climbed down the ladder after her.“

“But she wasn’t down there, was she? What did Lambros say?”

“So. I climbed down. It was warm and almost dark. I was in a sort of large room, there was junk everywhere, old electronics, busted couches. Twisted metal wire. Like somebody had been hoarding in this weird hole. I call out Sally, Sally! Nothing. I walked around a little, found a passageway. Another room: the same deal, maybe less junk. Dim light that I couldn’t find the source of. And only two exits. Around this time I stopped calling for Sally and just listened. I guess I got a little nervous. I started wondering who had dragged all this shit down here, and whether they were still around…”

“Eric…”

“Please listen. Because next the rooms got cleaner, emptier. The trash disappeared. The paint looked newer and brighter, and there were windows way high above, too high for me to look out. Then I heard people, lots of them, some kind of market, somebody yelling out prices. I went through another passageway and came out into a street I didn’t recognize, in a city I’d never seen before.”

“ERIC…”

“And there were all these people rushing past me. But something’s wrong with their faces. Their eyes were split four ways, like… like quartered golf balls. And they had noses like red cucumbers. White gloves. And big hanging mouths and rows of teeth like sharks do. Their throats were full of teeth.”

“Okay so there are two possibilities right now. One is that you’re completely insane and who knows what the fuck you did with the Sally.”
“You know what, it really could be that I lost my mind. I totally agree with you.”

“The other possibility is that you’re the biggest tool who has ever existed.”

“Christie…”

“You think I’m an idiot?”

“I don’t think you’re an idiot.”

“I have a Master’s!”

“I know.”

“Here’s what really happened: you thought this like scrawny sixteen-year-old kid was going to whup you, and you made up this entire fake story which no one in the world would ever believe—nobody I know, nobody who has ever lived would fall for it. You’re a coward, AND a liar.”

“Sure, I am a coward. You’re right.”

“I don’t give a shit! I just want my dog back!”

“I was a coward when I climbed down into the scary hole, when I went through all those rooms, and when I went into that strange city with the weird people. I was a coward because I was willing to risk my life to avoid the fit you would throw if anything happened to your precious irritating shitting yapping idiot dog.”

“It’s starting to sound like you’re the one who got rid of her.”

“I couldn’t. Too much of a coward.”

“…”

“…”

“There’s an easy way to settle this, isn’t there? Let’s go look at the hole.”

“We can’t.”

“Let me guess: it’s not there anymore.”

“I can’t explain it either.”

“Your story’s so full of shit, man. How did you get out of fairyland? Did the hole like, close behind you at the last minute?”

“No. I went the other way. The people ignored me completely, they didn’t seem dangerous, and anyway in a few minutes they were all gone. I was alone in the street. I could see deserted high-rises for miles. The sun was too close and too big, it went down between two condos as if it were welding them together. Then I heard a crack, and the street split in half and began to fall apart, but jumped back into place. I hauled ass in the other direction, up a hill, and the sky seemed to sort of melt down and flow toward me, washing away the buildings as it came, and then washing away me… Then I wasn’t in the city anymore. I felt like I was nowhere. Like I didn’t have a body. I felt like a network of vibrations in a sort of red crystal that went on forever, underneath everything, vibrating. I felt like red lightning crackling everywhere at once superfast, but in a space so big that I could never branch through it all. But all that energy was swirling toward a center, to a tight black bubble, inside of which was this intricate lightshow — our entire universe, sustained by this awful red energy. The last thing I sensed was that the universe had not been created by a kind God. There had never been a God, only a Satan, and the evil he had planned was bigger in conception and in time than anything we could understand. All the evil we humans have ever experienced is only a by-product of his ultimate plan. And when I saw this, I woke up by the creek. And the hole was gone.”

“Do… you… realize that if you had just admitted to losing Sally, I would have been mad, but I would have forgiven you? Someday? But by lying… I mean what… what are you even trying to accomplish? Are you actually insane? I mean literally insane. Because how could you ever think I would be stupid enough to believe you?”

“Christie, I just came back from a first-hand encounter with the absolute evil at the center of existence. You think I still care whether you leave me?”

Something yapped.

Christie cried out and ran to the window. The garden gate was swinging open: Lambros bustled through with Sally in his arms. She snuffled his neck, licked him under the chin. Christie gave me a quick look that compressed twelve years into less than a second, then opened the window and called smiling to Lambros. In his soft voice he explained that he’d found her by the creek. But when she leaned down to take Sally, he looked in at me and grinned, baring rows of teeth, like a shark, all the way down his throat.

I skipped sideways into the bathroom and locked the door. I sat on the tub and put my face in my hands, and laughed. Briefly.

The Witness

I trembled as the metal pterodactyl bobbed and struck.
I watched screams being buried under courthouse trees.
I put ear to wall, and heard the hive’s heart humming.

Baffled, I turned to my mother
and stared into her red sunglasses
reflecting molten-glass apocalypses.

I opened my monitor and writhed inside.

I fragmented in parking lots across the divided states of hallucination.

Then winter wrapped white sheets around my face,
and reality’s severed legs inched back to its corpse,
and I slammed
into the absolute truth
of the floor