Thursday, April 03, 2008


He lay in bed after she left and shifted uneasily from the cracker crumbs. He let his hand drift over his penis but before it was even half erect he gave up with a sigh. Heaving himself up and out of bed he staggered until he righted himself and went into the kitchen to throw the used condom in the garbage on top of banana peels and old coffee grounds. He felt weird walking around his house naked so he put on boxer shorts, dress socks and tennis shoes. He made a batch of noodles for his lunch the next day. He lit a cigarette and on a whim tapped the ash into the boiling water. "I'm sure I won't even notice" he thought.

Monday, March 10, 2008


We separated all our things. I let her have all the pots and pans that we bought together, the French press, the rice cooker. I hid in the bathroom as she rooted around in our . . . my bedroom. I could hear drawers opening, furniture dragging, the closet door coming off its track like it always does and thumping on the floor. Muffled cursing. Finally we were in the front hallway. She was making two stacks of books mine and hers. I'm keeping "The Fortress of Solitude" I said. "You don't even like Lethem that much" she said without looking up. "Besides I bought that book in Europe at the train station in London, it has sentimental value." "I like Lethem all right" I said leafing through the book and turning my back to her. "Seriously give me my book" her arm snaked around me to grab the book. I held on and turned around into her kiss, slightly sour and tasting of orange juice and cigarettes. "I'll let you keep VanderMeer's City of Saints and Madmen" she said placing the book carefully on her pile. "How about that?"

Saturday, March 08, 2008


We buried him today. Does it make me a horrible person that I was bored at the funeral? There were forty-five rows of folding chairs - twenty two on the left twenty three on the right, twelve chairs in each row except for the front rows which had nine chairs on the right and six on the left. I know this because I counted them all, five times. It's not even that I was uncomfortable because it was a funeral and the body of someone they kept trying to tell us was our friend was lying in a wooden box at the front of the room, open for display like muffins or scones at a coffee shop. I just can't sit still. I kept adjusting and readjusting my tie. I know the lady next to me was watching. I imagined her naked and the two of us fucking in the bathroom for a few minutes. Then I felt bad. Not because I am a prude or anything or that a corpse could make me unable to get it up. I just knew we wouldn't be fucking in the bathroom later and that made me sad. There were forty-seven lilies in the right flower urn and I think forty-three in the left. I wish I hadn't worn a suit jacket, I felt all prickly and I wanted to get up and go to the bathroom all through the service. Now that I'm home I wish I had a sweater on but I don't want to get up off the floor. I poured out all the alcohol in the house as soon as I got home. I'm not sure if this was a reaction to the funeral or not. I think maybe I just wanted to make a statement, say something that I couldn't voice at the funeral. I don't think it was even about the beer and whiskey, I think it was the lack of something I really wanted. Like I was pantomiming not talking to him, kissing him, waking up next to him with every bottle I pour down the black yawning mouth of the drain. There were thirty four bottles in all.

Monday, March 03, 2008


At times he felt that his breathing had become an insistent nagging thing. He began to see his lungs as these twin bullies that rose him, chest heaving, from sleep and into a grey smear of a world. The sound of air whistling over his palate or out from his nostril began to grate like fingernails on a chalkboard. A consistently taunting metronome. He began to hold his breath as long as he could. Anytime he spoke it was in great gasps and spurts. He wished that he could just absorb oxygen out of the air as he sat, inert like the continental shelf, sloping down off the coast into the green slumbering depths . . .

Monday, February 25, 2008


the slow crackle and hum of fading radio stations breath frosting up into the sky the late night filter of wan yellow streetlights asphalt brittle and slick stumbling the taste of whiskey bitter on the tongue fingers too cold to fumblingly unbutton coats hands grasping pushing pulling saliva warm and bitter with cigarettes keys dropped and kicked off porch sudden laughter biting lips till blood comes breath harsh and insistent from the lungs

Sunday, February 24, 2008


Hey! Hide your children and send all the grandmothers off to bingo because I feel an ocean of syllables welling up like a sea level volcanic shaft spewing molten lava into sheets of hissing steam! I've got things to say and people to kiss! Banks to rob and constellations to name! I've got some god damned discoveries to make and I am going to take you with me. AND I WILL NOT SPARE ANYONE'S FEELINGS!

I've got synapses tearing themselves apart burning to spill off my tongue and roar from my pen! I've got a bus locker full of ciphers and codes I am going to pass to you and secrets beneath the floorboards of every farmhouse in the tristate area that I am going to reveal in a Oh My GOD! What A Cliffhanger! No Fucking Way Are They Going To Commercials Now! sort of way.

I want to say things that will make birds circle back around in surprise and then burst into accompanying song to fill in all the gaps when i take a breath. i want to eat great mouthfuls of wolves and grind polar bears between my jaws. I'm going to beat Batman at chess and call Superman a dick . . . because he is . . . really.

I want to kiss you hard on the mouth, our bodies crushed to one another as we trigger the detonators and leap from the thirtieth floor, our smiles flash in the sun as we fall and disappear WITHOUT A TRACE!

I want my picture to be in history books up there with Sirhan Sirhan and John Wilkes Boothe, but when children read the small text next to my name they will find that my target of assassination was boredom and apathy, and that I was the most successful assassin ever! 2 for-fucking 0!

But I don't want to just do things that end in the creation of galaxies and the collapse of supernovas. I want to do quiet things like sip coffee while I watch you read the morning paper, your lips moving along with the words you are breathing. I want to be responsible for the narrowing to a pinpoint of existence that happens when i lie in bed my face buried in the nape of your neck and knowing that all the pens and all the inkwells in the world would not be enough to write a more perfect moment. I want to hold hands and . . . not . . . say . . . a . . . word!

I want to write all this down for you in a book made entirely of CAPITAL, CAPITAL letters.

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Thursday, August 30, 2007

The Apocrypha of the Midwest
by J.M. Shiveley

"I stick my finger into existence, it smells of nothing. Where am I? What is this thing called the world? Who is it who has lured me into the thing, and now leaves me here? How did I come into the world? Why was I not consulted?” -Sǿren Kirkegaard

I. He once met a woman outside a gas station who told him her lover had killed a dragon She said these things while spitting out sunflower seeds into a paper cup and asking him if he would give her a ride. She was trying to get out of town and anything would do as long as it was going her way. She swore that the Sun owed her a boon and she would put in a good word for him if he would just give her a lift. Her words spilled out of her mouth and stained her shirt, all bruised light and neon cacophony. He looked at these words tangled in her matted hair, struggling under their own weight, and wished, not for the first time, that he could forget that he had once been John Cohen, Messiah of the Midwest.

II. Sitting next to her he felt every moment as if it were his last. This was not some waking dream brought on by caffeine and cute coffee shop waitresses. He felt this swelling of the world dying as it traveled down his throat every morning as he ate his usual breakfast of toasted tofu and bean curd spread. He had been this way since the age of nine when a regrettable accident involving two hamsters and a shop-vac drove him to Sartre and away from pet care of any kind. It wasn't a sense of lack of accomplishments, as countless counselors and psychiatrists had suggested. In fact, he believed that his fears were nothing more than self-taught paths but then again he had been self-diagnosing since the fifth grade. He looked back to her earnest face and tried to recall the thread of their conversation. Something pretentious most probably, he thought with his smile never wavering. So he did as he always did in these moments when the offal of conversations was hanging between his knees, he left certain phrases hanging as if they were too big for him to put into words. As if he was struggling with ideas that no man had caressed before. In the middle of this, a singular phrase escaped from the semantic tango they were weaving, "Has anything you have ever done made your life better?" Did I say that or did she? He thought for a bewildered moment before noticing that she was waiting, no longer amused but instead not even the girl he had started the conversation with. "Has anything you've done changed your life in any way?" she asked again, a small smile on her lips and her hands toying with his copy of "Thus Spoke Zarathustra" that, until moments ago, had been a shield but seemed more like. . . nothing.

III. Sometimes he would wake up in new places and could not remember how he had gotten there. The air would drip and he'd roll over, letting the embalming gauze of sleep take such irritating questions away for a few more hours. Other times he'd wake up immediately and run to the nearest hardware store, buying cans of dusky blue and basil mint green paint with which to start mural treatises that always ended with self caricatures.

IV. The coffee tasted of day-old cigarettes and hair spray but he didn't mind as long as it was warm. He sat in a back booth at Ziggie’s and watched as if at a Broadway production the lives unfolding within the stage-like container of the smoking section. The smoke would curl against the glass and then part to show tattooed lovers looking more tender then they ever would on the streets. What was it about plexi-glass walls that made people feel safe? The curtain would drop to be opened with the next recycled gust of air conditioned breeze. Hicks with enough food to feed small countries would chomp silently, their grunts more meaningful than anything he had ever written. Then he'd look down and as always see that he had unconsciously been drawing on his plate. The ketchup and mustard swirling together to capture whatever collage of faces the smoke screens had shown him, all set to a pure border of salt.

V. He used to ride the bus but never had any destination. He sat in seats that he knew hummed with the settled peace of ancient pyramids reincarnated as ergonomically molded plastic. Looking up he basked in course tongued graffiti prayers scrawled with felt tipped markers and even coarser fingers. For awhile he measured his years in bus stops.VI. Despite what you’ve heard, he did laugh outside a friend’s apartment before going in to pretend like they knew him. And in most respects they did.

VII. He used to like to take naps in drain culverts with his feet slanting up towards the sky and eyes squinted to haze the day away. Sometimes he'd move with the changing shadows but other days he'd bake in pagan abandonment. Rats seemed to like him but kept a wide berth, noses twitching in shy acknowledgement. Other days, when it rained, he took dominion over the trees in the park and lived in a musical bower of swishing green and splattering bark. Each tree would offer embraces that he called home.

VIII. Rivers opened in the night as he slept in the bed of his '65 El Camino wrapped in a poncho against the chill desert night air. Water groaned forth from the deeps and he never stirred. In the morning he found his car had floated to the top of a mesa, ate a breakfast of warm Pibb and Oreos and held court for two lizards. He also received three holy visions, intercepted forty-three prayers and inadvertently fulfilled the prophecies of sixteen major and minor world religions. But he was used to this and instead asked some sage brush which was the most scenic route off the mesa. The bush only whispered hollow bracken and dry gullies in response.

IX. At times he liked to wander beneath bridges seeking the warmth of vagrant barrel fires with their smell of leaking balloons and glow like the prow of a sinking ship. He'd look into the shadows of grimy faces and only see celestial choruses connecting whole star chart possibilities from runny nose to infected eye to hidden beauty. For the time he spent there they were his congregation and he their very own barrio Messiah. They knew he stood for more than cheap rhetoric and parlor tricks, but he just warmed his hands, felt their eyes and moved on down his Path.

X. When he dreamed, he'd find himself wandering through a fiery nightmare landscape that he somehow knew to be the center of America. All around was blighted earth, cracked soil and abandoned cities finally drifting into rubble. The sheer weight of the air toppling spires. He could always tell in these dreams that he was being hunted by something dark and mechanical and that if he would just turn around he'd see a crowd of hopeful faces following him. An exodus of starved eyes all depending on his leadership, his . . . then he would wake and stare for a long time at the volcanic ash beneath his fingernails.

XI. Other times he would write his thoughts on the back of paper napkins. His loose hand scrawling things like, "Lost in the sway of gentle deaths I stumble up my mortality" or "The sum of our difficulties is the tour of our reality", but then again there had been a time when napkins and mass consciousness had meant the same thing to him.

XII. He met another messiah pumping gas at the Sinclair station, the one with the dinosaur on the logo that reminded him of Danny the Dinosaur. His face was the wax paper marvel that galleries only dream. He said that this was not his full time job and on the weekends he worked as a proper messiah healing ills and calming the masses with his synthesizer and backup vocalists all carted up from Tijuana. For a moment John felt relief, but then the man started talking about a pilgrimage to Branson to see if Andy Williams was really as slick as everyone said he was. Instead he spent the afternoon in a laundromat where old women stared into drying cycles claiming they could scrye his future amidst the tumbling whites and darks.

XIII. Three times a week he walked through a town-Pop. 142-and every door he passed had writing on it. Warning signs in every language of the world and he knew he could understand them if he just tried. On every doorstep was a child eating a pomegranate and at every shutter a watchful eye. But in truth, he had never felt more at home and knew that was why he must not stay.

XIV. Once he had a conversation with a crazy man who said, "I never met a running man who walked slower than I did" with an air of mechanical platitudes and pre-washed wisdom. The man sat in a cubicle and raved out of the corner of his mouth while typing insurance reports and faxing estimates. John could just hear an angry seashell murmur from the crazy man’s headset and he wondered how long it would take before it ate him.

XV. As of late he was eating more. For a time after his emergence as messiah he had stopped, but that proved to be just a phase. His mother would always ask him about it during their once-a-year birthday phone calls and he began eating just to quiet her. Food tasted different for him. Each bite held ancestral memories. Whole generational slideshows shot across his eyelids, each bite a static experience. Sometimes he wished for the days when a cheeseburger had been just a cheeseburger. But it was what it was so he took another bite of his danish hard luck story.

VI He dressed himself as the early morning sun filtered through the mini-blinds striping his shoulders with shadows and light He buttoned his shirt from the top down covering his lungs, appendix scar, heart and assorted ribs The rough fabric caught at his nipples It was at that very moment as he tucked his shirt into his pants uncomfortable with his early morning erection that he realized he was going to die And in that knowledge he rejoiced, for it had not yet happened.