Friday, October 8, 2010

To Styx

If someone saves your life
Before the pills take effect,
Expect to be jerked from bed
And sent into an ambulance.
It is helpful to remember
Your social security number
And your death wish,
As the emergency technicians
Inquire about both.
So be warned that
A bottle or two of pills
Doesn't necessarily bring death,
Even if you eat them with a cup of poppy tea.

You're an opium addict, my father says. I agree with him. I sleep in the poppies, I say, and my bed unfolds in the morning.

On this side of the river is Limbo.
On the other side is death.

My cousin brings me to a strange land with a collar around my neck meant for horses. I don't know if horses wear collars. I always thought they wore harnesses. But in this dream, I wear a decorative collar meant for a special horse, white lace with a black pendant in the center.

I model the collar for my family. It doesn't flatter you because it's meant for horses, says my mother. My father has changed his name from Ken to Mike. He says, I kept two letters the same. I wouldn't recognize him except for his insistence that my thighs are fat. I don't stay with my family. Along the way to the hotel, my cousin tosses basketsful of flowers in front of me.

Between Limbo and the Stygian shore
I blossom into my thighs.

This land doesn't exist on any map. The closest approximation in literary terms is Israel, but the glyph of a name that represents it preceded Israel's formation by millennia. At one time it was possible to get there through the River Styx. Then the underworld became an unfashionable destination for travelers, and ambulances would come to round them up before they entered the water. At first the emergency technicians met with resistance from the travelers, but, after they saw that nothing could be done to stop the workers, they no longer put up a fight.

The Stygian shore remains closed to travelers,
But the strange land on the other side welcomes
Those who cross the river
Despite the discouraging sign that says all saved.

Copyright, Jennifer Chesler, All Rights Reserved, 2010

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Dead Animals

Fanny Flatule sits next to the Russian Blue who is giving birth. One of the kittens is dead. Its skin is blue, not blue like the mother, but blue-skinned translucent. She picks it up and puts it in a box for her friend Pete who is an artist. He makes lamps and stuffed animals out of animal corpses. He'll like this, she thinks. Fanny's mother comes in the room wearing a caftan. You've always looked good in blue, says Fanny to her mother. I can see the veins on your forehead, her mother says to her, ignoring the compliment. Yes, says Fanny, I was worried about Edna. Edna comes from a sturdy line of purebred Russians, says her mother. But purebreds are notoriously delicate, Fanny says. Pah, says her mother, spittle flying out of her mouth. What's up with the dead one, her mother asks. I'm giving him to Pete who makes dead things into art, Fanny says. Pete won't go out with you, her mother says. Oh, mom, I don't care if Pete wants to be my boyfriend; it's enough that he has sex with me because I give him dead animals, Fanny says. You're worth more than trading carcasses for sex, her mother says. Her brow furrows. She wipes her mouth with her hands and removes the white mucous built up on her lips. Let's measure the dead one's paws and compare them to the other kittens' paw widths, the mother suggests. That'd be fun, says Fanny, always happy to share in activities with her mother. They take the box and place it on the work table. There is a cardboard cutout of a paw glued to it. They put the dead kitten's paw on the cutout and measure it with a ruler. Grab a live one, says the mother. Fanny picks one up and measures its paw. It's one centimeter bigger than this one's left paw, Fanny says. But did you measure the right or left paw on the dead one, asks the mother. The left, says Fanny. Of course, says the mother. Fanny is pregnant with twin girls. Her mother says, We need foot cutouts for when the girls are born; one might have bigger feet than the other. If one or both are dead, I don't want any measuring, says Fanny. Birthing is hard work, says the mother. What's that supposed to mean, asks Fanny. It means that you might, my dear, might not even know where your babies are after you push them out of you, the mother says. Oh, I'll know where they'll be right now, says Fanny. And where is that, asks her mother. On my chest, says Fanny. Your chest of drawers, asks the mother. Mom, stop joking around, Fanny says. Well, I know how you like to display trophies, says the mother. These babies aren't trophies, Fanny says. Tell Pete that, says her mother. He'd not even be the least bit glad if they were stillborn, says Fanny.

Copyright, 2010, Jennifer Chesler, All Rights Reserved

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Death Match Interlude

'Drogen 'nide for the roaches. Laughter. Musta breathed in deep. Ha ha ha. Thought he was gonna get death off 'im, he gets the 'itter 'mond smell 'stead. Baines, these shower shows, balls, I tell ya', shoulda seen Emond Strauss for coffin shoes. Coughing. 'Drogen 'nide. Laughter. Rolling, I'm rolling. Musta had the wrong name.

You're fucked in the head.

In the head, fucked, ha ha ha. Baines, the head.


You fucking scumbag. Fighting. I'm going to kill you.

Lay off, lay off. You're going to kill me.

You'll wish you were dead.

Baines punches Boris who crashes against a cart of blood-filled vials. The tubes smash against the floor, the blood spraying a red fan into the air and onto the wall of the hospital. Boris lashes back at Baines, but Baines ducks.

I don't wish I was dead yet.

Baines slashes Boris' face with a jagged vial. He wipes the blood from his eyes with his shirtsleeve and blindly staggers away from Baines. Baines pulls Boris towards him and slices across his neck with the broken glass. Blood gurgles from his throat.

Bai --

Copyright, Jennifer Chesler, All Rights Reserved, 2010

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Olive and Sea Nathan, Chapter One

"Hey, you made it here on time," says the shipmaster. "Good thing, 'cause, well, you know . . . " He trails off. "We's done set out a year early," Sea Nathan says, "so as to meet your deadline." "Good on ya'," says the shipmaster. "Always hate that bloody business." "Yes, so's us," says Olive. "You can take your sack and head to the C bunk." "Thank ya'," says Sea Nathan. "By the way, where'd ya' come from?" asks the shipmaster. Olive and Sea Nathan laugh. "The desert," Olive says. "We's walked through the desert." "Holy fuck, that's a mite far," says the shipmaster. Some sailors surround him. "Newcomers?" asks a surly one. "That's right," says the shipmaster. "Here, let me take your sack," the sailor says. "We's fixin' to be just fine," says Olive, "But thank ya' anyways." The sailor's eyes follow them up the plank to the ship. "They need to bathe," he says. "I bet they head for the showers. Let's go." He and the other sailors meander to the shower room. One extremely large one, Boris, directs the others. "You all hide out 'til we know if they're in there," he says. "I'll go check." He tiptoes to the door, opens it, and looks in, leaves, locks the door. "They're showering!" The sailors laugh, run to the back of the building, and begin turning dials on contraptions lining the wall. Olive and Sea Nathan scream from the shower. The sailors turn the dials again. Their screaming abates. They go at this several times, erupting in laughter, until Sea Nathan comes out with a towel wrapped around his hips. "What in the hell are you boys doin'?" he asks. "We's pumping in some gas," says Boris. "Ya' imitatin' me," Sea Nathan says." "How did you get out of there?" Boris asks. "I's got my ways," says Sea Nathan. "We didn't travel this far to be here this early for no torture." "We do it to all the newcomers. Don't feel singled out," Boris says. "We like to give you a feeling of imminent death." "We's had it on the way here," Sea Nathan says. "Yeah," continues Boris, "we rigged it up especially for people who just get here." Sea Nathan falls to the ground. "Get medical!" says Boris. A team of masked technicians run toward Sea Nathan, followed by a couple of men holding a stretcher. The towel falls off Sea Nathan while they lift him. It lays on the ground. Olive comes out of the shower room, dressed in a seaman's uniform. But Sea Nathan, the sailors, the technicians, they have already left the scene. She picks up the towel and returns to the showers to collect Sea Nathan's uniform. The sun is no longer visible, yet it is not yet dark. The light is dim. Olive walks towards the bunkhouse, her head down.

Copyright, Jennifer Chesler, 2010, All Rights Reserved

Olive and Sea Nathan XIII

"Ya' think we're gettin' out of this sand soon?" Olive asks. "Up aways, if you look from the mountain like I did last night, ya' see there's a stop to the desert, but not what follows from it." "And ya' didn't tell me this when we woke?" "I's didn't wanna get up your hopes." "Not get up my hopes? Woo-wee!" Olive says. "Sure 'nough did see some palm trees from the mountain though." He laughs heartily. "Let's us believe you weren't seein' things 'gain." Olive says. "I told you not -- " Sea Nathan stops himself. "Yes, let's not believe," he says. "that, when we get past the shrubs, it'll be a veritable wonderland." "Now you's makin' fun o' me. I can tell," says Olive. "I ain't pokin' fun at ya'. I'm just speakin' the truth in a nasty way, 'tending it'll be one way when it'll be another." "I never knows with you," Olive says. "I just never knows."

Copyright, 2010, Jennifer Chesler, All Rights Reserved

Monday, January 4, 2010

Olive and Sea Nathan V-XII

Sea Nathan puts the sack on the ground and pulls out a shriveled apple. He holds it up to the sun and examines it. "You sure I ain't gonna get sick from it?" "I've done eaten five of 'em. You don't see me sick," says Olive. He sits on a rock and puts the apple in his mouth. "Tastes rotten," he says. "Tastes rotten, but it ain't," says Olive. Sea Nathan chews the fruit slowly. He reclines on the rock as though it were a bed. "We's gonna be restin' plenty with you and your slow ways," Olive says. "Don't matter," he says. He takes off his wool sweater and exposes his brown flesh to the sun. "You's gonna keep watch to make sure I don't die 'fore I wake?" he asks. She glares at him. He laughs, then falls asleep. Olive takes a stick and scratches at the earth absent-mindedly. She rests her body on a flat rock amongst the cacti and falls asleep. Her thin form melds one to one with the flat slab of stone so that she might be laundry left in the sun to dry. When she awakes, the sky is red. Red at night, sailor's delight; red in the morning, sailors take warning, Olive thinks, poking Sea Nathan with her finger. "We'd best be on our way," she says, "even though it's gonna be night." "I's gotta rest some more," Sea Nathan says. He closes his eyes. "You old sack o' bones, get up. Got to go to the shipyard, we do." "And if we don't get there?" he asks, raising his head from the rock, "Then what?" He faces west and squints in the glare of the sun. "They's gonna find us." "They ain't gonna find us. But don't worry. We'll get to where we're goin'." "We don't even know the day no more," she says. "I do," he says. "It's Tuesday." "Yeah, but Tuesday o' what week, month, year?" Olive asks. "It's Tuesday, the 18th of March, 1972," says Sea Nathan, "You tally the days 'till we's got to be there. I ain't got time but to sleep."


The beige scrub grows to Sea Nathan's knees. He cuts his right hand, a scratch down the center of the palm, while he puts on his boots. "Fuck," he says and sucks the blood. "Olive, Olive," he says, "wake up now. Time to get a move on. Olive, Olive . . . " Olive rolls her head towards him on the flat slab of rock. "Time now?" she asks. "Time," he says. "If ya' say so," Olive says. "I say so," Sea Nathan says. They walk. Sea Nathan drapes the diminished sack over his back. "If it was April," Sea Nathan says, "we'd be cuttin' them prickly pear fruit. Just another month." "Still got to get out the spines," says Olive. "Always the painful part," Sea Nathan says. ""Cept we's got them pliers now, don't we?" asks Olive. "Them's for breakin' free o' the law," says Sea Nathan, "not for pickin' spines out o' fruit." "Break free from the law to gets killed anyways, don't it make no sense," says Olive. "We's got a chance to work for the rest of our lives, should we get there on time. That's different from waiting for a bucket to shit in your whole life. The law might not kill ya', and then you're waitin' for the vegetable next to you to give you his pan. I tell ya' that shittin's the hardest thing 'bout prisonment." "I'd rather be shittin' in a pan than dead," Olive says. "Shit in your pan then, Olive. I's not goin' back." The blood on his hand dries to a crust. He picks it off and brushes it from his skin.


"Damn the skeletons," Sea Nathan says. "Why, they all dead in a line and thrown atop one 'nother," Olive says. "And not one of 'em died with a flask in his hand," he says. "Don't it cross your mind that some other man or woman found the flask 'fore ya'?" Olive asks. "No, it don't cross my mind 'cause they ain't been none afore us." "How'd ya' know, huh?" Olive asks. "Don't cross my mind 'cause none there is -- will be." "Ya' don't say how ya' know, Sea." "I see at night the 'ginnings of the end, and knows we was born into this world with our father teaching us one thing to survive, not to think of a past that may not have existed, and there ain't none past that ain't not existed." "Without a past, there's no 'ginning," Olive says. "It seeps into me like a slow poison," Sea Nathan says. "I feel it in my veins. I think I see the 'ginning 'cause it's close to the end." "You can't say that," Olive says. "You can't say that," she repeats.


"You 'member them prisoners in the outfit," Olive says. "They's like us, finishin' our sentences at the end. How you think they's gettin' to the shipyard? No way but to walk. And we thought we was gettin' away," Olive trails off. "You can't say you see a 'ginning and no past at the same time, 'specially when you gots in your mind them prisoners. Maybe one of 'ems got a boat o' their own. We could work our way 'cross the sea and start over someplace where we get our teeth back." "You and your damned teeth. I don't give a shit about your teeth." "I's got to have somethin' to chew with," she says. "You've gots to have somethin' to chew," he says.


"Like gum," Olive says. "Yes, like gum, if such a thing still existed. Well-set teeth thwart even the richest sailor, Olive. Ya' can't have hopes like that." "My teeth done fell out, and I wants new ones." "I understand ya'," he says with a nod. "Let's see what we have on these here corpses then." "Let's see in their mouths," Olive says. "That's where I'm aimin' to look now," Sea Nathan says. "Nah, these teeth done firm set. These here I could pry loose with pliers. What d'ya want?" "I want some that are already fake," she says. "We'll find 'em soon 'nough. Rest assured," he says. "You always got to think of the hard way," she says, "'instead o' comin' up with the latest innovation. You's got to be a dentist to put teeth from one mouth to another."


"How is it that you managed chewin' them dried apples? That's what I wants to know," Sea Nathan says. "I done sucked 'em like candies," Olive says. "Ha!" "What do you mean laughin' at me?" Olive asks. "Nothin'," says Sea Nathan. "You's got to have meant somethin'." "Olive, I's laughing 'cause I know you know how to suck," says Sea Nathan. His head drops to his chest and then raises back up again. Olive glares at him. "We'd best get on this project then," he says, reaching from mouth to mouth in the gray predawn light of morning. "Look here!" says Sea Nathan. "I done found a set that pop out." "Well, fancy that," Olive says, "someone else who ain't got teeth got some put in 'fore they died. Now there's at least two of us. Ha!" "I wouldn't categorize myself with someone dead," Sea Nathan says. "It's bad luck to 'sociate with a corpse. Bad 'nough your mouth is gonna be smellin' of death more than it does already." "At least I got me my teeth back," Olive says. She reaches towards the rock where Sea Nathan placed the teeth, holding the dentures in her hand as if to warm them before popping them in her mouth, as if by holding them and warming them the teeth won't be tainted by the corpse-mouth from which they came. "I's got teeth!" she says, smiling at Sea Nathan. "Them teeth's too big for your mouth," he says. "Don't matter me none," Olive says. "Ain't no mirror but you."


The two urchins make their way through a path cleared in the field of corpses. They are sunburned yet cold. "Hey, Sea," asks Olive, "who you think done laid this here path?" "I think the path 'peared on its own. The bodies fell one by one, side by side, in rows so as to leave room for the living to pass." "Ain't so simple as that," Olive says. "They's been dead a whole lifetime. Just skeletons now. Can't talk. Can't tell us nothin'. They's in formation for some reason, not just that they's courteous to you and me." "Wasn't bein' serious, Olive. I don't know why there is this path." "You think someone come before us who is still alive?" Olive asks. "I don't know," says Sea Nathan.

Copyright, 2010, Jennifer Chesler, All Rights Reserved