… it is often our mightiest projects that most obviously betray the degree of our insecurity.
– W.G. Sebald, Austerlitz
Afternoons, just past lunch when her 5 yr olds slowed slightly from digestion-inspired fatigue, were when Ms. Newsome turned to the trusted circle rug. Her band of little humans would gather round sitting “Indian style” and awaiting the days letter. Today’s letter was K.
From the large foam border running the north wall of her classroom she dislodged the foam letter K. It was a dimpled purple with proud battle scars where students had bent or bitten or tugged its sans serif ends over the past few years. It may have been her best investment thus far as a teacher. Every one quieted quickly in hopes they might get to hold the mystical letter or be the first to offer up a word whose beginning it graced.
Ms. Newsome held it with two hands above her head. “Class, today’s letter is the letter ____?”
“K!” they shouted in surprising unison as they filled in the space she’d left hanging in the air.
“That’s right. The letter K. Can anyone tell me a word that starts with K?”
“Kite!” little William Sheffeld blurted out.
“Remember to raise your hand and wait to be called upon.” Ms. Newsome walked the tightrope between encouragement and discipline like a big top performer.
“Katie, would you like to give us a K word?”
“Cut.” She spoke so softly the class was still waiting for her answer.
“Would you please say that louder so all your classmates can hear, Katie?”
“Cut.” If anything, the second attempt was actually softer but her classmates had quieted, a haphazarded show of support.
“That’s very close. It has the right ‘kuh’ sound but cut is spelled with a C.”
Katie had curled up inside herself like a potato bug.
“Anyone else have a K word? Yes, Douglas.”
“Korea. North Korea.”
Oh, how they never ceased amazing her. She was proud to be their teacher. Before she could affirm his answer, Douglas began to speak more.
“Do they have first-strike capabilities yet?”
“Douglas, I don’t think– ”
“What’s a ‘first strike’?”
Before Ms. Newsome could identify from whom that question originated, know-it-all Samuel Klein was answering:
“That means they can launch warheads able to fly over the whole ocean and hit American cities.” With perfect timing, tomboy Lisa Sands said: “KAHHBOOMMM!” She smacked her cupped palms together to great effect. Katie began to whimper.
“Now class, I need you to focus.”
“Kashmir begins with a K!” Was that shy Francis?
“Does Caliphate start with a K?”
“Douglas where did you learn– ”
“Khomeini starts with a K!”
“So does Kykes!”
“CLASS!” Ms. Newsome screamed.
Their wide-eyed stares full of fear and disorientation like she’d set off a flash grenade. Silence but for Katie’s sniffles as she tried to halt her tears.
“Return to your desks. Place your heads down. And close your eyes.”
They scurried into order. Their desks in five rows. Each row with three students. They had all turned their heads to the right, away from Ms. Newsome as she switched off the lights. For the remaining 86 minutes of their school day, not a word was uttered. The only sound was the awkward squeak of the letter K being pressed back into its foam setting.
The metal that pierced his heart was 5.6mm, more commonly referred to as a “22.” I pulled the trigger. We were 9.7 feet apart. The last thing he said was: “I’m going to rape your wife and daughter when I’m done with you.”
His brother had been sent to jail that morning on trumped-up charges. The judge had wanted to “make an example” (his words) upon sentencing. The prosecutor had pulled the kind of legal jujitsu not often achieved on the public dime.
Our whole relationship lasted 37.8 seconds from the time I heard the broken glass downstairs until he stopped breathing. A small blood stain remains in the grout between the kitchen tiles where he expired. No chemical known to man will remove it.
He had a son who is 4 years old and called his father by the name, Papsy. The mother is “no longer in the picture.” I believe the child now lives with his grandparents.
It was the first time I’ve shot someone. The first time I’ve killed someone. The state and the justice system called it “self defense.”
His brother is 17, but was tried as an adult. Basically, he took the fall for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Not even an accomplice so much as the right look for the part.
My neighbor is a prosecutor. We have the same last name.
Paradoxically, it is this willed closure or neatness of finish that the true artist needs to resist, fending off the urge to smooth out the rough surfaces of pain, necessity, and accident.
– Mary Kinzie, Introduction to Iris Murdoch’s The Sea, The Sea
We all start out innocently. One or two strays—orphans, really—you let them into your life. Maybe you keep them for your own enjoyment. Hidden. Maybe you gift them to the right person. Rarely, because of their condition, you sell them. But it never ends there. You’re always on the hunt. You lower your standards. Start accepting the ones with permanent markings, viewing these minor imperfections as desirable as you run your fingers along their forlorn spines. Sometimes they’re not even your type. It’s a grey area, but what isn’t? A line you straddle between collector and middleman. You always want more. A deep sacral desire drawing you to new, used, hard, soft… whatever remains. You’ll spend your last dime for more and you won’t raise an eyebrow at the ones others discard. Lost in the system. Not really even on the radar. Their value long overlooked by the newest “goods and services.” You care for them. In your own way. It’s a bit lewd. Some might say unhealthy. But these books need you.
You are writing behind a screen. Two screens. Some call them eyeballs. Somewhere behind them electrical charges speak in a silent voice that churns thought into word transferred to letter and back to word on paper or screen. Another screen. There is always something going on in the background. Some of it you control, most of it you don’t. And none of it is seen or understood, but we trust that the outcome will mostly speak to others. Does it speak in tongues? Will it slip in through their eyes and proceed through the reverse electrical transformation. Stored. Saved. A memory of what you said/wrote. Some say the world will end in fire. But really it will be noise. The endless cacophony of a billion voices and all those words scrambling to get a foothold over one another, desperate to find a friendly eye or a considerate ear to enter. Desperate to rest.
The television was on. It had been on for hours. Years. It was there. TV on demand, a great freedom. Hasn’t Burroughs said there was more freedom today than ever before. Wasn’t that like saying things were more like today than they’ve ever been.
– Lynne Tillman, The Complete Madame Realism
Justice–a fool’s game,
a veneer of fairness
sprayed over a rough reality.
Survival is the only
Law of Nature, the only
Competition you can trust
We can build a
Better Tomorrow but
we can’t forget the underlying
support structures subsist
of different material,
a darker, unchangeable
Essence that will never conform
to an Ideal anything…
Wasting your breath annoys
fat people and teaches pigs to
sing acapella melodies never
recorded on the face of this yurt.
Go forth and testify.
Breed on white discontents as
you eat drink and be Mary;
Lancelot will remember your deeds,
Christ will dream your past
and cobalt canaries will whistle
sweet unthings down the garbage
shoot of time as clocks unwind
succubi lulled into satiated
still-life poses you yearn to
imitate because art doesn’t need a reason,
it just needs an outlet–
a pressure release to spurt/gush
Its ecstasy into form.