Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Michael Peterson - Wild Dogs and Alley Cats

She stood in a brown room, looking out towards the green terrace across the way. It had an old school Oriental feel, like the veranda of some samurai warlord’s paper manor. The lush greens spilled out over and through the pattern carvings in the fencework. In the glass, Emily Bauhaus could see Darcy’s reflection as she hunted for the can-opener. Darcy seemed to be leaning over that fence towards her with a puzzled but determined expression, only to turn away.

To her: “We should probably talk about it before we get home.”

Darcy’s reply: “I actually think that’s the worst idea ever, but thanks for trying.”

The house didn’t look very lived in, from here. Emily turned, let her sandal squeak on the hardwood. Everything was brown and orange, everything matched. She’d never been in a house where everything in the room matched. The blue skies in the desert print even lined up with the accents in the lighting fixtures at the same height. She sat back down next to the tower of easy listening CDs, watched Miller and Connie shuffle around Darcy’s ankles.

Darcy seemed made for glasses but never wore any. Her skin was dark as stained cherrywood, but paler as it reached her too-slender fingers. A perfectly round head that softened her features, made her look forever amused, even at her most tired; hair in a bun torqued tight with a socket wrench. She wore smart suits, razor-sharp creases in loose trouser legs that gave her angles like a graffiti drawing, that snapped like sails in the wind; wide lapels blooming from beneath her jacket and white vests over unreadable black shirts. She always had an Archie Digest rolled up in her pocket.

Miller was a Pomeranian. Cognac was a Bichon Frisé.

Emily picked at her sandals. The sandals were cute, and apparently the salmon color was in (unintentional), but wearing them all the time was leaving her soles the color of asphalt, even out of the shower. She’d been marked up for the last week, had carried the shadowed soles for a hundred miles. “I just think that if we wait until…”

“Nothing happened, Emily.”


Nothing happened.”


There had been a prison outside her window.

She could look up and over the shredded cinema-red fuzz of her cubicle wall through the grimy upper pane of one of the office’s tall windows, and it would be rising like a monolith. It was tall, some twenty stories, and triangular. The dull ecru of parking garages, with thin arrow slits for cell windows, and occasionally to nothing at all, like vents, like the whole building would begin to rotate and gather speed for lift-off. It dominated the window’s view, blotting out the older Brooklyn-style towers that were all fire escapes and crenellations and tiny buttresses.

Outside, it was surrounded by a wide quad that cleaved the intersection leading to her office. It was ringed waist-high with planters, gardens of red and white. The glass entrance way, a dissonant cube, glowed eerie lights from its lobby after dark. A co-worker called it “out of Demolition Man.” From her window, or the window she was closest to, its wall was coming apart. There was a diagonal patch in the wall, a parallelogram of the same concrete, that looked built in. There were fleck holes like it had born a shotgun blast, or a giant moth. And one square stone was dissolving in oddly geometric Tetris shapes, laying bare the copper wire and dry wall beneath so you could almost picture fingers poking through into the air.

Sometimes the window’s blinds tilted just so, blocking each of little cell vents, and the building looked like nothing but a solid wall into nothing and forever.


They were rescue dogs, and so they required extra care. Emily watched Darcy flick the needle’s tip. Later, they’d walk them amongst the suburban cicadas.

They’d quit the night before spring break. Spilled out the doors, a riot of two. The bus ride in was slumber party giggles, coming back it was the occasional snap of a turned magazine page, metronome in silence. The sand burnt, mosquitos were everywhere. They exploded against neon beer logos. They never paid for a single drink. Darcy now fulfilling a promise she’d made, pulling pee wipes from a special tube beneath the sink.

“This place is so sterile.” No dust, even on the high top of the china cabinet.

“They’ve got another living area upstairs, Emily.” A long sigh. The knees of those trousers swiffing across the tile and hardwood. She’d been wearing some impractical designer bikini top and redneck cut-offs. “Some people like to have a nice area to entertain, to look nice when they have company.”

She remembered a story she had read or seen or dreamed. The girl lived in a pool with the water drained, rain tap-tapping on the half-drawn tarp. Some bishie rapper catching the sun reflecting off the tile. Cut off from narrative drug, the web of creative souls, the Oneironet; finding again herself, finding her dance. The greatest dance in the world, a dance that could split bones and rain fire. The corporate-owned island, she was a lost princess, and her sister the sister in the pirate’s candy hold, filmed and degraded and forced to lick her way free. The Good Ship Lollipop.

They’d had to sign waivers. She’d signed with the wrong hand, it felt like someone else holding the pen. So drunk, so funny, like watching herself in a movie. The volume way down, the laughter echoing from far away.


Crash! of the pins. Music louder than The Kink Factory. In blacklight, everyone’s faces recede, their skulls glow beneath their skin. Cosmic!

“Yeah, we’ve known each other since we were in diapers.” Darcy talking to one of the Karaoke girls. The alley cats. They were lovely in their wide hips, their fearless single-mindedness. This one was already drunk, she was a lifer, had been up to the mic a half-dozen times. Cycling through country-western hits of the eighties. She had no voice, but between the two standing amps her mournful gravitas broke your heart. Two of her men had already stood her up today, and she’d collected another, who kept sniffling his left nostril. The skin of his face was loose, and it looked like an insect was trapped just beneath the bridge, trying to turn around and exit. “We’re moving in together in the next couple weeks. As roommates, I mean, ha ha! No, it’s funny, we just left our crappy jobs, too, so it’s like starting fresh. It’s exciting!”

I leaned against the photo booth, crossed my arms beneath my breasts, watched the leagues watch the kids watch each other. Everything had been moving all week so fast, slingshot particle accelerator momentum like you’re flying, and maybe she was a little fucked up but damn everything was exploding…

She used to check her MySpace on the hour. At a WiFi hotspot in a Texas truck farm, she had a panic attack, shut herself into a bathroom stall and dry heaved, dragged her nails through the crooks of her elbows.

Easing herself into the photo booth. Watching her eyes open and close in the preview window, she was no longer real.

“Oh, my dogs are barking.” Karaoke girl, sitting down, bottles knocking like wind chimes. “So, how’s your spring break been? Did you go wild, get your beads and booze and boys?”

Darcy’s laughter was natural, unforced, unaware, with matching blue accents. “Oh, please! Would you believe it, those guys were actually down there? I mean, what kind of girls…” What kind of living with loving with life and love with yourself? Where are you from, have you done it before, how is it, how was it, good, yeah, you enjoy that, huh, how do you feel, holy shit, do you even know where you are right now, hahaha, Jesus, so good, you’re so hot, you’re so beautiful, you’re so lovely, how much we got left, you were so perfect, how about some more, how about different, how about me and he and I and you and her and them and us and shit they’re falling they’re spinning they’re out out out?

It was supposed to be funny at first. When did it stop being funny? When did she start dancing, splintered free of the world and adrift, tucked into someone else’s corner? When did her straps spin in the air, the covers rise and fall like a tsunami, the dusty light filter in through the blinds on dark curves and a surprising pale, the camera’s lens get so big, the dogs turn on each other, teeth clawing hair, nails on softer bellies, the lasers spinning, bad rock on the video screens, the balls rolling like thunder, everything smelling like wet smoke, the boxes packing, the highways screaming, this bus heading on into the sun with the stained shirts at the bottoms of their bags.

Michael Peterson - Gepetto's Children

[Excerpted from a novel in progress:]

Somewhere in Georgia, a committee decides to tidy up its charts. Gone are the towns of Roosterville and Hemp; bid farewell to Cloudland, Five Points, and Hickory Flat. A son is heading home after thirty years, a daughter looks for the family she never knew; but these homes are fiction, now. Storybook villages called Box Springs and Aonia, empty fields once named Damascus, named Lost Mountain. Somewhere in time, Hadley is telling Hemingway that he’s made a mistake. Asks him if one cock and bull story is as good as another. Blink and you miss Zetella, you miss Poetry Tulip. Scholars start warring over the Cardenio rumor. One giant becomes a windmill again. There was no room on the map for Po Biddy Crossroads. I’m somewhere in Columbus, looking for you, when we’re in two different Macy’s in the same mall. All these displays look the same and my phone’s bleeding minutes all down my fingers as your voice gets farther and farther away.

Here I am sitting in a dying Ford pickup with you, listening to tapes from before I was born. Listening to Bobby Thomson’s bat connect, tinny through the busted-ass speakers. Sounding more like a dropped pencil. Bandage around my temples, watching you take pictures as I drive. The inside of an office under construction, tiers like a temple; the girder skeletons of an elevated rail station, the inevitable pier system when the waters flush these streets away into nothing.

Mornings in Chicago are thick with fog, like a wet towel down the throat, and we’re looking for sunlight in window reflections and gleaming on the ever-exposed scaffolding. Behind us is Boston, off-road city where students climb through tunnels and large fathers knock down buildings like they can’t bear others having toys. Ahead of us is Los Angeles, disintegrating before we can reach it. All our colors are smearing together, graywash speedlines as the truck struggles into second gear and your camera dances from your wrist like a too-full medicine bag.

From your other wrist still clinks! the broken handcuff loop. Me still wishing I was on the other end of the splintered chain. The frost is giving way outside, and the snap of the air plucks at the cords of each guitar lying in our truck bed as we roll on from the red light chapels and holy-blessed wankrooms of Gainesville to the twitchy-moving pens and typewriter racket of Portland.

We left the city then, so soon after I had arrived. We broke free of the city's tangle and emerged amongst the sprawl, miles and miles of big box stores and car dealerships into infinity. Where everything was drive-through and thousands of new cars stood like soldiers at attention. And then there was row after row of self-storage units, stock’n’go carrying cases by Kenner and Hasbro and Mattel. Somewhere Eastward of Eden, my past was locked away inside an identical pod; where the metal starship walls breathed air conditioning fog. My antique British bicycle, your found art installations, the longboxes of comics and milk crates of VHS tapes. Our impermanent record.

Noise walls locked the highway into a straight Hot Wheels track, and we rolled on. The gray panels blurred, the road was a tight rope, a superstring in a dark cosmos, and then it was giving way again, broken fencework falling back before pool and patio neighborhoods, sitcom suburb snout houses with a chicken in every pot. And on past Starter Castles and McMansions, on to where the trees weren’t all fenced by eight by nine curbwork. Out past pork chop lots with electric pylons and cell towers reaching from the ground like fingers.

We’re always in by curfew, looking out at factories looming over cornfields and tract housing; making love quietly, anxiously, then rolling over to watch the sunsets we’ve recorded onto our iPods. Afraid to meet each other’s eyes, confident that nothing exists past these roads, these identical motels and their bolted furniture. Waiting to wake up, always waiting.

Sing a song to Baudrillard, whose maps were the world. Raise a glass to Kafka, or at least to Magritte. There are people writing love letters to Roy Orbison, where they wrap him in clingfilm. A grifter steals and flees to Mexico. Japan builds the robot armor it saw run amok in its youth. Disney has a town, Muppets have AIDS and kids are reading “Mary Worth.”

It’s late at night and my arms are outstretched; the tide is coming in and it sounds like your screaming voice.

We remember these days now and forever as the best of them. The pain is romantic, the poverty is ennobling, and the loneliness is spirituality. Everyone is clever and good-looking, every moment is meaningful; we are myths and legends in our own time. We’re entitled to the world and indebted to no one. Our veins pump music and we ever breathe fire. We’re the coming body politic, with all the wisdom our buttons can share.

We are sorcerers and you can never contain us.

We are dying already.