Carlisle is certain of the robbery. Burglary. Theft. He will look up the distinctions later. He thinks that burglary might have to do with breaking and entering, robbery with holding someone up, and theft with—what? Maybe it was taking something against no resistance, like a chocolate-covered peanut from the bin in the grocery, or the dirty pair of earbuds he found the week before, draped over a low-hanging tree branch.
The year I had Novi felt like it must have been the first year when all the women in Los Angeles adopted Christian Science attitudes toward birthing. Not Scientology, mind you—I had spent years getting the two cults or sects or whatever confused. But the one that now was creeping into the thought of dabbling Buddhists, well-educated ethical humanists, and atheists with children who attend Unitarian churches. The one that found divine beauty in kids with scarlet fever and otherwise eradicated diseases. Every other pregnant woman I encountered whispered and spit about interventions, and all of them had a birth-plan. My grandma would have said they were looking the gift horse of western medicine in the mouth, yanking on those perfectly good teeth without even a squirt of novocaine.
“Sergio,” Dean Kippler said, “I’d like you and Dr. Sanchez to head up the trip to Spain this summer.” No small talk. No ‘how you doing?’ Just an announcement phrased as a request. I knew what he was thinking. My selection made perfect sense. After all, I was the university’s only European History professor. However, if he had looked at me, he would have seen that this was not the same as telling me to teach a course outside of my specialization; this was not drafting me to chair a committee that was a colossal waste of my time. He might as well have asked me to walk a bed of hot coals.
The oblong mirror mocks my reddish cape,
the gray hair lying neatly butchered on it.
The tidy barber, a pudgy guy, now shapes
each inch, or so it seems from where I sit.
Some people want to make something creepy
out of ventriloquists, as if their occupation
could legitimately be accosted, whereas funeral
directors get a pass, perhaps because the very
same people who speak ill of the honest thrower
or effort at display
or notice of me except
as I make shadow and motion,
a spider hangs below the soap bar.
The butterfly lands on my hand in an attempt
of curious deconstruction. I stand perfectly still as it explores
my wrist, climbs up my arm curiously, seeking
the source of attraction, some hormonal secretion
or new deodorant that smells like butterfly love.
alone among these houses
empty as summer schoolrooms;
as any fast-abandoned place,
this one by chance or luck
left overlooked for us, cramped
dark, and narrow, filled to overflow
with alabaster oil jars, centuries
dry, tipped sideways and discarded
among overturned furniture;
chisel-marks on unfinished stone:
as if they had forgotten something
small, and easily misplaced
as if they were called, suddenly, away –
Ladders, a small crane,
a wealth of power tools,
on one side
and a tree on the other.
The winner is clear
from the first buzz of a chainsaw.
Keller was late to the party, later even than the Phillips had come to expect. He’d neglected to wrap Rachel’s gift before leaving and had to stalk the house for paper and ribbon, settling on a vaguely festive red bag mashed inside a kitchen drawer.
The hallway mirror told him the chowder stain across his breast was more apparent than he’d realized. It was his only jacket; he’d have to find a dark corner of the ballroom and hope no one came too close. Then, as a grace note on the evening’s already stammering shuffle, he found his station wagon still loaded with cement mix. By the time he unloaded everything and pulled into the road his collar was soaked, his skull squeezed tight. He wished he’d remembered a flask.
My Bubbe came over from the other side packed in steerage like a sardine when she was eleven, then headed straight to a shirt factory. She had no choice. One of twelve children, she never learned to read or write, she spoke broken English and had to go through a lot of hardship in her lifetime. By the time I came along Bubbe needed a cane, she walked side to side and stopped to rest after every few steps, but she’d seen things other people hadn’t, and knew things they didn’t know.