Charlotte Street Foundation identifies the needs and fuels the evolution of an ever-changing multidisciplinary arts ecosystem, acting as its primary provocateur. We cultivate the contemporary, the exceptional, and the unexpected in the practice of artists working in and engaging with the Kansas City Art Community
Good evening, all two of you! If you’re reading this, I certainly appreciate your taking the time to do so. While I’m working my way through my newest collection of short stories, I thought I’d periodically post recent (or recent-ish) pieces I’ve published, in the hopes that you could gain more of a sense of what I think about, how I write, and what charges me as a people-watcher, a father and husband, a bearded-nerd, and-in general-a really weird person. I’ve included two below. My apologies for your bleeding eyeballs, and thanks for your time, all.
K in the Dirt
Karen died on a Thursday in the garden, face-down in the newly-spread compost with the eyes on her back staring at me, and no one had to tell me she was going to haunt me like Jacob Marley, like a Bohemian-Toulouse-Loutrec-on Absinthe-or-medicinal-marijuana or that ghost-girl in that movie. Her parents had been believers, crazy soil-worshipping assholes (her words) who forced her at knife point to accept the Savior and she swore they had cursed her and she nearly filleted her aunt and uncle and they were unsure of who she could be, only my K was sure of everything, had no chains or rags tied around her head or a business partner named Scrooge and did possess painkilling lollipops and seven hundred friends, so many friends and homemade wine and six pairs of garden clogs and Lobular Carcinoma and wireless headphones attached to each tomato hoop in our three-hundred square foot backyard wannabe Shangri-La. While we waited for our son’s school bus to pull up, she was smiling and dead and seemed vacant and happy at the same time, and I wondered how that was possible. K had those things on her lips that hung out on tomato plants. Aphids? Weevils? Fuck knows. On our fifth date out of college, she had asked to tell me something, and after begging, she said I’m afraid of my family man they make everything move under the dirt. Everything there is. I passed her the joint and thought about that cult with the people that drank the Kool-Aid and said that’s cool because I’m an Atheist and we’re all dirt anyway, so cool. Those things, those things that crawled across her dead lips and under her chin and scurried or crawled or whatever those things do under her chin that day, and I scraped her headphones over her face to move those suckers. Thick makeup scraped away from her cheek and I saw the pale flesh and the green and yellow spots under that façade and I wondered which of our friends knew how sick she was and how long she had known and not told Hank and not told me. I remembered that I had not remembered the last time I had really seen her eyes. I knew her eyes were blue and I was sure they were the bluest thing I had ever seen but at that moment I could not remember what blue eyes looked like, and I was sorry for it. K had been in the garden for her All Clear Party last Tuesday and according to her doctor or according to her according to her doctor she was in remission and it was time to have a party to celebrate and what did I know? I had wanted to be a doctor but settled for shift manager at the best steel mill in O City and she was always smarter than me and maybe I hated her for it and loved her for everything else. Each and every one of our friends partied for All Clear, and Hank was there, and he drank more soda than he had probably ever seen and he was happy and K whispered to him and she cried and he smiled and hugged her and kissed her where the weevils or whatever-the-fuck things would be soon and she cried, and she knelt in the dark in the garden weeding tomatoes with her back to me and her tank top on and her handkerchief on her head and the two patches of hair sticking out from it and the leather strap with the cat’s eye stone and those tattoos of eyes on her back, and she dug in the dark with the bottle of wine sticking out of her back pocket, and she fell on the ground in the dark, and the music was playing, and Hank jumped on her back and the bruises on her shoulders showed up—even in the dark—in a few seconds, but she was better and red wine is good for the blood and it was a great way to feel about how things could be forever, if only there was not time.
We put her in the ground, and Hank threw a few green tomatoes on top of the box. They echoed like someone kicking a garage door. Fucking aluminum caskets. Going back to work tomorrow, and I can see Hank talking to someone in the backyard in the tall, green tomato plants. He seems to know more than I do. The glass patio door to the yard reflects the two lights above the dining room table, and I can see two eyes above the garden, and I remember that her sister touched his eyes before he ever opened them on the day he was born. She touched Hank’s eyes and kissed K on her head and said Forever, and I said What does that mean and she said Wait and see.
Now Hank is pulling weeds and I am sitting next to him in the tomato plants and he digs something up and hands it to me and says Daddy, it’s momma. I scrape the filth and clay off the cat’s eye, and remember I didn’t remember it around her neck when I found her. It is, I admit. It is. He is grimy and he smiles and looks at the eye necklace that looks back. He is holding a green tomato with a Hank-sized bite out of it and his two blue eyes look like her four did and he is sweet and the wrong parent lived. I send him off to bed and put her headphones on and try not to scream, and I sit and wait for my K in the dirt, wait for her to show up and make things right again. I wait for her to come home to the eyes in the dining room and the garden and tell me what to do next.
Taking it All In
You kick a filthy, frozen bundle of hundred dollar bills ahead of you down the chalky remnants of highway, looking up at the hole in the sky and somehow you remember your mother let you watch The Adventure Channel. The skin on the back of your head and neck peels and rips toward the roar of the void in your immediate future. Getting closer every day to that sucking, awful thing that looked like a cigarette burn on a blue sheet two weeks ago(?) on Television Tonight! but now looks like a great, big blue eye, that pupil-looking thing of space punched through cobalt blue, sucking up tree branches, napkins, shingles, high-rise apartment buildings, street signs, eyeglasses, false teeth, landmarks, lawn flamingos, Christmas lights, snow and ice and hope. Hope for those unadventurous types. You have not seen another person in four days. You have not seen another person in nine days. You have not seen another person since you left your mother’s house the morning after the guys with the shotguns and the grocery lists. You remember her muttering something and then smiling and saying Go.
However many days ago that was, you do recall (you think) laying a dishtowel over her face on the way out. In the past four/nine/forty-nine? days, these are the things you have wondered as you walk and starve: How do you still have flesh on your bones? It’s been sloughing away with the rest of the world for x days now. How are you still breathing? Isn’t that the atmosphere leaking out, like the fluid in an eyeball Mr. Donnelly talked about in tenth grade?
You think you may have been a Boy Scout. You may or may not understand dead reckoning and estimating distance. You will be below the (eye) in seven days if this is correct.
You are now at the eye. It is directly above you. You believe you were quite wrong. From here, you see that the hole in the sky does look a bit like an eye, but the pupil looks like a swirling garbage disposal, a gaping maw, a thoroughfare to something unknowable, and every bit of you and everything else Earthly will be Other directly. You think about The Adventure Channel and feel that this is your first adventure.
And then you remember what you’d hoped to. Your mother in the kitchen, cupboards bare and her on the way to somewhere, bleeding out and smiling. Hopeless but smiling.
Go to the hole, she had said, to the eye, the hole, whatever they’re calling it these days. Why not? Go take it all in before we’re done. Let it see you seeing it. Go.
You look the eye squarely in the eye and take it all in. The adventure lifts and pulls you up and it all looks back at you, and you find you don’t need to walk anymore.