I dreamt she was terribly thin, horribly thin. I staggered to the river, tubes trailing my arms like kite strings. There they all were, bowing like bad children. Midget City sang a dirge: “Jolly Dolly’s gone as an old dog bone!” Pop-eyed Paul caterwauled. The gravedigger spat, leaning on his spade. That’s her in the open piano, soft as a newborn elephant on red satin. She who laughed like a burning bush. She who fell through the oak floor of her wagon. It took four to love her, twelve to lower her sarcophagus. General Gus spouted the usual crap: (“Forty angels have descended to haul away her lightest self to that Freak Show on high...”) He didn’t know her. None of them knew her. Tenderhearted, my ass. Walrus, more like. A Gillette blade voice that whittled your heart to bite-size. But it had started to snow & so I wished our giant a place in a giant land, where she could feel small.
The father cried when I asked the bride to dance. We twirled & she laughed, nervously. The groom breathed on me. I uncurled my tongue like a storm sky (I had a speech prepared): “Run.” He let out a dulcet mew. The bride spun still. I reached below her pleats where the world begins. I lowered her to the parquet. Quiet breathers circled us. She moaned—splayed, her pink core splayed— a she wolf in heat. The guests parted for me. What else could they do? My fingernails were knives; I had a Ming emperor’s eyes. I’ve heard them say, through their chimneys, “All who are not us are enemies.” So. Hours after the party, the forest quiet but for the hounds. They will not find me among the acts & portions of the world arranging itself in the lead-blue dark. I am a mushroom, a white destroying angel on a whisper of grass, trembling with what I have done. So happy I’m odorless.
She lit her fifth cigarette. I went at the cold olives in the jar. Would she leave her teeth in all evening? I held up an olive. “Olives are fruit” I said. She just kept at it, talk talk talk. An old man stepped in through a tear in the screen door. “I’m the Austrian Underwear King!” he said. “O shut up, Grandpa,” she said. With his drooping moustache, he resembled an SS officer who’d come upon a miraculous & pointless innocence. His scalp reeked of soy sauce & old-timey hair lotions. He & I stooped over the rug, inspecting a cluster of ants. Lifting his army boot —to stomp them, possibly—he declared, “To make humans they killed a god. Cut his throat, mixed the blood with dirt.” He sized me up. “All right,” I said. He grinned toothlessly, placing his boot on his knee. I was supposed to know, I think, why he didn’t stomp the ants. Red & black ants were battling to the death, as in the Bhagavad-Gita, & the sun was coming up.
The linen factory on our hill leaked greenbrown sludge into the river. Local kids started acting weird, hunting the feral dogs that trot the sidewalk like skinny mariachis, the same dogs that chase & kill the tail-less alley cats we feed, which kill the marvelous geckos that stand on our ceiling staring like philosophers, & which eat red ants. This hot summer evening, my wife & I lean to watch red ants drag their goods—leaves, bugs, pebbles—out of a hole onto the grass. Isn’t that backwards? I say. Maybe, says my wife, they’re returning what they stole. Out of the ground ants haul a dead dragonfly, greenbrown. It rides their backs over the sidewalk like a missile being shipped to some Area 51 under a parked car.
I, last of a species of nasty creatures, mumble a ceaseless monologue. I never glimpse her but a musty aftertaste hangs in the air, perfume a child’s doll might daub behind the ears of a mouse. The state troopers at her door watch me like hungry cats. Sometimes they break into song! Creepers thread her wrecked windows. The goat paths that led me here have grown over. I am in no hurry. As if the earth were about to happen but something gets in the way: a meteor, or Hitler rejected from art school, or Anna Karenina leaping. Behind the stone column a loom squeaks, a suture between worlds.
I smiled at a man & he offered me heroin. “No, thanks,” I said. He told me his life story. He’d deserted his wife in Bangladesh. His hair was feathered & his pants sharp. “You pulled yourself up by the bootstraps!” I said. He grinned. A dog squeezed past sniffing scraps. I followed the dog. He had a weeping sore for an ear. He ate a pile of cigarette butts. “Yuck!” I said. The dog looked over. Sadly, I thought. “Aw,” I said. “Doin’ OK, ain’t you, boy? Pulling yourself up by the bootstraps!” The sky swirled like soup in a bowl. Umbrellas floated back & forth like spores. A typhoon turned out of a single dark point of origin, size & shape of a tongue. I smiled. The typhoon, albeit menacing, was just doing its thing. It had started out as vapor puff, & by the looks of it was making quite a life for itself. I thought I heard fish singing. O angel of history, your face is turned away from the future, after all. We are alone. I looked under my jacket & laughed. How long had I been wearing a bomb?
Anatomy textbook pages swirl in the street like flower petals. As if—under a sun reborn—some opera were imminent. Enough to make a man burst into tears or start a fight. Storm clouds toe the horizon, vaudevillians in slate blazers. Here is my neighbor, walking his old dog, the very dog that’s kept me awake for months, barking at nothing. I once considered poisoning her. Tonight her beauty —her kindly wet eyes, her proud white muzzle— grips me. “Pardon me, sir,” I say, “but is your dog calling out, Dionysus, Dionysus?” He smiles. “Friend, she’s crying, Grace, Grace.”
John Wall Barger is a Canadian poet currently living in Dharamsala, India, with his wife. His poems have appeared in The Cincinnati Review, Rattle, The Cortland Review, and The Montreal Prize’s Global Poetry Anthology, and are forthcoming in Subtropics. His second book, Hummingbird (Palimpsest Press), was a finalist for the 2013 Raymond Souster Award.