In Case of an Emergency

This is not a test of the emergency alert system.
I repeat.
Not a test.
So listen closely.
Our universe is a slice of bread moving through a void faster than you
care to know.
After all, how to make the perfect summer cocktail, watching the new rom-com trailer or cute animals in sweaters is definitely more pertinent to daily existence.
However, while you were distracted,
other slices of bread, which could be similar or totally different from ours, have been careening along side of our universe, weaving in and out of traffic.
Some are texting, others are drinking a forty or just stoned out of their minds.
One ran a stop sign a few light years back.
It’s actually a miracle that we’ve gotten this far on the great cosmic highway without an accident.
But buckle up folks, because you’re about to face a major collision occurring exactly NOW, or when space-time says so.
Best case scenario, the Milky Way escapes with a jolt bigger than any earthquake you could imagine, complete with hell fire, followed by a brief free fall, then temperatures hovering around absolute zero.
Worst case, it’s the end of the world.
On the bright side, its also possibly the beginning of a new one, not that you will be around to tickle its tummy.
The exact outcome is very hard to say with all these
mathematical approximations.
We tried our best.
This is not a test.
I repeat, not a test.
Brace. Brace. Brace.

Memory Haunts Me

A freight train at night thumps on a track in the countryside.

There is no railroad crossing.

There is no moon.

The street, hastily paved and potholed, is empty.

I hear a clacking and see movement against the dark landscape, like a kraken turning in the sea.

Or maybe I see nothing at all, and it is instinct that drives me to break the car.

The Mercury’s tires shriek to a stop.

The train presses by, steadily, as sweat gathers beneath my wool gloves.

I am a creature of narrow escapes.

Was this luck or a future portended?

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Nirvana

Words have never been spoken 
inside this temple 
with a glass-domed ceiling 
where sunlight falls 
in an eddy 
onto the stone floors
of sprouting moss.

The damp air trembles 
and the columns
bend at the echo
of my footsteps.

Who are you? 
Why do you come?

Secrets reside here.

I remove my sandals 
and sit in the center 
where a blanket
and a rib cage
gather dust.

You are nothing but bones!
You will fall too!
Just like she who came before!

I close my eyes
and wait for
the monkeys
to stop chattering.

When the temple has settled
and the remains
have grown accustomed
to my presence,
I bask in the stillness.

It could take a lifetime,
or three,
to reach nirvana.

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Transcend

I’m a puppet.

I dance and sing
when the strings are pulled.

I gesture and gossip
when my wooden jaw moves,
pulled by an invisible hand.

My existence is important
to those who walk with me,
yet I’m sorrowful for my smallness,
so I’ll tell you what I know.

I’m sung by the infinite string.

I’m directed by a shadow
that has many names,
all thinly veiled.

It’s an elastic syrup that
exists between our cells
and draws light into our eyes,
limited by rods and cones.

We can’t see the ancient god
who dances inside a golden wheel.

He turns like a Swiss watch,
the Vitruvian man, Alice and Atlas
of the Hadron Collider.

But sometimes my eyes can see
the strings as I sleep
in a sea of whales and sheep,
so I untie them in dreamtime.

And I’m free.

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The Clock

We cross over into
the realm of the dead in Iowa,
somewhere outside Charles City,
where a Coors can rolls
on the highway.

I veer around it and glance
in the rear view mirror
as I watch the can
shrink into
the horizon.

Silas sits in the front seat.

“Way to drink
and drive like a pro.
That shows real commitment.”

Maggie’s shoulders wag
as she laughs.

“Should we make a pit stop at
the Gas n’ Go?”

Daniel picks at the skin
on his heel and eats it.

“Up to the driver,” Silas says.

I roll down the window;
the sky is charged with
electricity.

It smells like
McCormick’s vanilla,
and reminds me of making
vanilla pound cake
with my grandma.

I ate the batter
with my fingers,
and she said,
“That’s for the pan,
not you.”

I sense something
is wrong.

The clock reads
4:43 P.M.

“What do you say?”
I hear Silas ask again, but
his voice is far away.

I tap the dash
with my finger,
where the minutes are like tar.

“Guess we could use some gas,”
I say quietly.

Daniel cheers,
“Brewskis it is!”

Silas puts his hand on mine
as I shift to fourth gear
at the exit ramp.

His touch is cold.

I look at him
and my heart trembles.

His cheekbones are hollow,
his lips curl away
from his teeth,
and the light in his eyes
is dim.

I see his expression change
into a mask I saw once
in Playa del Carmen,
all wood and teeth
with angry knife marks.

I glance at my reflection
in the rearview mirror.

My face looks like his:
sunken,
gray,
skin like yellow wax.

“I don’t love you,” Silas says,
as he licks his bluish lips.
“I was waiting for
someone better.”

And I know,
I know,
I know
it’s true.

We can’t see
the ambulance men
who look at their watches
and call our time,
but we can feel them.

Then Maggie screams.

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In Love With Ten

Wearing electric pink lip dye,
she slips the car into auto-pilot
and rummages
through her purse
while the vehicle
sweeps through the Lincoln Tunnel.

Did I forget my O-mask?
No. Thank gods.
It’s under the seat.

The car turns too quickly
where the old straw bends,
so she grabs the steering wheel
and pumps the breaks once,
then lets it glide.

Auto-pilot is a ten-dimensional bitch.

At the restaurant,
she sits in a booth aglow
with neon pink lights and Jinny,
who has recently gone hairless,
her tattooed skull oiled.

She taps on the menu screen
embedded in the tabletop.

Impossible Burger one or zed?

How about both? Jinny says.
You can have
whatever you desire.

I know, but sometimes
it would be nice to be told
what to eat.

Maybe if we lived
in the last millennium.

She selects Custom and
her order is accepted,
except she forgets to order
the special sauce.

Did I tell you Ten is coming?
Jinny says suddenly.

She doesn’t have time
to think of a response because
Ten slips into the seat next
to her.

This was a set-up.
Gods-damn you Jinny.

Ten’s shoulder brushes hers
and she bites her lip,
thanking the gods her
pink dye isn’t mood changing.

Ten is not shy.
No, definitely not.

She feels his hand on the inside
of her thigh while she
fumbles in her purse,
pretending to look for her O-mask.

No smog tonight, Ten says
as he curls a lock of her
hair around his finger.

I didn’t say it was okay
to touch me.

You’re not saying no.

She frowns and glares at
Jinny who wears a dirty smile.

Do we really need to wait?

No, she says.
Fuck it. Let’s go.

They get back into the car,
watching the remains of the city
streak by as they caress
the dark highway.

Lower the seats, she commands.

They fall prostrate.

His hands are on her now,
her tank top is off,
her O-mask forgotten,
their breath shallow.

His body clogs her mind
with memories of
how much she hates him
and loves him at the
same time.

Nothing but skin and sweat,
but the car jerks around a bend
and she topples off.

Ten laughs.
Where are we going?

10 hours inland.
She kisses him.

Where’s that? Chicago?

So am I your captive?

Indeed, Ten, you are.

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When I Lived in the Desert

Once in a previous life,
I saw muslin drapes
billowing in a room
with white-washed walls
and wooden furniture
where a pitcher of water
sat on a stand
near the door.

There in that room
I lay dying
on a bed of
rough-hewn pillows
and thin sheets
that gathered at my ankles.

The curtains caught in the
the breeze and billowed
to and fro,
so that I could see the
cobalt sky and gray clouds
lined with golden sunlight
which spoke to me.

The clouds were sad
to hear of my
imminent departure,
and wished me well
in my next chapter,
for they had been
watching and guiding me
for many years.

This was quite unlike
the greedy stares
of my brothers who
surrounded my bedside,
staring down at me,
hands inside their robes,
hoods lowered,
words hushed,
faces featureless in my
fevered mind.

Traitors, all of them.

They did not carry
the Book
under the bleating sun
through the desert
in leather sandals
so worn that were it
not undignified
to have no shoes,
I would have left
them there in the
sea of sand.

My brothers did not
burn and peel,
nor feel
their tongue swell,
their mouth turn to plaster,
watch their ribs grow
in gnawing hunger,
only to stumble into
the Sacred City some
weeks later,
a worn rag of flesh.

They did not make
this Sacrifice.

Now, when I think of
the Book,
I see my hands turning its
thick pages that crack
with dryness under the sun.

The text is in a language
I do not understand,
but I know it speaks
the Truth,
which is Holy,
and a rarity
in any day.

My brothers,
these men who look
down at me dying,
like famished dogs
fighting over a carcass,
they only want my
place at the Temple
when I am gone.

And my heart
is blackened.

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Crow in Letters

“There’s a crow up there you see?” says the ferry man.

He points to the Erie Lackawanna sign in large, red and white letters above the dock. I jab my bike between the metal railing at the stern and give the handlebars a good shake to make sure they’re secure.

“What letter is he hiding in?” I say, squinting and looking up. I cannot find the crow.

“The R.” The ferry man shades his eyes with his hand. The river slops against the wooden pylons.

“Would be funny if he was in the C,” I say.

“Yeah.” The man chuckles.

“Or maybe he thinks he is a raven. That’s why he’s in the R.”

The ferry man’s eyes widen. “Oh, yes. But that could be bad. A very bad omen indeed.”

His mouth turns down in worry, and I mirror his frown. I should think before I speak. Who am I to darken this man’s day?

My knees wobbly, I slink onto the boat and take my seat amongst the passengers.

As the ferry pulls away from the dock, I look back up at the R, but still I do not see the crow.

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The Myth of Stars

The lightening had been worsening all night, and Estran had finally gotten the call just after his second sleep.
“Sorry to wake you” the voice said on the other line. “But you must come now. The stars will appear soon.”
He had been groggy, but the word “stars” woke him out of his slumber. Tonight might be the only chance in a millennia to see them. He threw his robe over his head, which was also patterned with stars, and cinched the wide belt snug around his waist.
The backyard of Estran’s cottage opened some yards from a sheer cliff overlooking green mountains. He traced the edge, hurrying along in the driving rain, his head tucked into his hood. Bursts of lightening drove like knives into the darkness overhead, making the air smell like rotten eggs and burnt circuitry.
Estran was a good mile from the Observatory, further than most of the other Watchers, and by the time he reached the narrow suspension bridge that led to the towers, the lightening had turned deadly, striking at the ground around him like hungry forks. He gripped the braided railing of the bridge with both hands and carefully stepped onto the swaying wooden planks.
A gust of wind and rain drove sideways, causing the bridge to sway. Gasping, Estran clung to the rope, daring not look down at the expanse below, but instead squinting straight ahead, ignoring the hard rain that pelted his face. 
 
Up ahead he could see the Observatory — two towers with a facades like human ribs. The ribs were surfaced with mother of pearl, glinting in the bursts of lightening. He pressed forward, his robe now thoroughly soaked and clinging to his legs.
As he neared the Observatory, he heard the great gears inside began to grind, and the two ribbed towers opened like wings. He hurried towards the opening and slipped inside. The doors closed behind him with a thud.
 
Estran was no stranger to the Observatory, but it felt different on this night. Inside, the excess electrical energy had charged the support beams, causing them to glow like his robe. The great cavern seemed unusually large, which Estran knew was a sign that the change was readying and perception was becoming distorted as a result. He felt small, unworthy. He was not the best Watcher, nor was he the smartest.
 
A drop of water struck the marble floor just in front of his bare toes. He looked up and saw a fissure in the glass where the storm ranged outside. To his surprise, the drop rose off of the floor, hovered, then was drawn backwards, towards the fissure in the ceiling. Estran followed it, his eyes wide. So it was true. The other world could pull them in.
 
“Estran! Over here!” 
 
Cyrila stood at the rear of the cavern where she propped open a small door with her sandal. Her robe was patterned with tiny stars just like Estran’s, like all Watchers, though hers flattered her figure. 
 
“Did you see the rain going backwards?” Estran said. He looked back at the fissure. Another drop. 
 
“The rain, oh yes — you must secure yourself. Hurry!” 
Knowing she was right, Estran slipped through the door behind Cyrila and entered the heart of the Observatory. The Watchers had gathered along the padded railing that traced the curve of the dome where glass panels offered a 180 degree view of the sky and surrounding mountains. They wore harnesses over their clothes and had secured themselves with ropes tied to metal hoops in the floor. They talked in murmurs, jotting down notes in their bronze astrolabes. 
 
Taking his place next to Cyrila, Estran stepped into his harness and tested the rope to make sure it was secure. It was. He pulled his astrolabe out of the interior pocket of his robe and adjusted the telescopic instruments. He looked up at the sky once again. It was still ablaze with lightening, but Estran could see that the bolts were beginning to dance, to form a spiral. 
 
“Do you see that?” Estran said.
 
Cyrila took his hand and squeezed. She was not afraid to admit she was scared.
 
The spiral of lightening began to swirl, faster. Then, he watched as a hole formed in the sky. Suddenly, he felt himself grow lighter. The rope tugged at his waist. Stunned, Estran let go of Cyrila’s hand.
 
“The magnetic attraction is increasing.” Cyrila too was pulled a few inches off the ground.
 
“No, I think the force of gravity is changing,” Estran said. “It’s growing stronger just below the hole. This other universe must have a stronger gravitational pull.”
 
“That would mean that the ones who disappeared will not come back.”
“I think we always assumed so.”
 
Cyrila nodded, her mouth forming a hard line. Estran should not have been so callous; her legacy included one of the persons who had disappeared a millennia ago.
 
Rain slashed at the dome. He gripped the astrolabe with one hand and put the other on the glass to steady himself. The hole had grown larger, and the sky looked as if was being pulled apart by great retractors. At the edge of the hole was Lambda’s lightening, but inside was a new patch of sky — another universe, filled with tiny, still lights, so numerous that Estran couldn’t begin to count them.
 
“Are those …”
 
“Stars?” Cyrila finished, floating higher than Estran. She brought her astrolabe up to her eye to examine them.
 
The other Watchers, their ropes groaning, began to clap. “Stars!” they cheered.
 
“So it’s true,” Estran said. “There are stars in the other world. That universe is younger. It has not yet expanded as much as ours.”
 
“And to think,” Cyril said. “That once, eons ago, there were stars in our sky too.”
 
Estran stared into the other world. He wondered what it was like to witness stars every night. The people there must be great dreamers. Or perhaps they took them for granted.
He could only wait and see.
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