Donna Gagnon

Donna Gagnon

Donna Gagnon Donna Gagnon lives in Haliburton, Ontario Canada. By day, she works at the Haliburton Forest & Wild Life Reserve's WoodShop. At night, she writes poetry, short fiction and plays. Her work appears at The Fib Review, Shot Glass Journal, SmokeLong, Every Day Poets, Short Story Library, Rumble, Bewildering Stories, Pen Pricks Microfiction, Smokebox, Wingspan Quarterly, Twisted Tongue, Gold Dust Magazine, in Gatto Publishing's Short StoriEs e-anthology and in three anthologies published by The Write Idea. A collection of interlinking prose poems, Two Double Beds in a Comfort Hotel, appears in New Writings in the Fantastic, edited by John Grant (aka Paul Barnett), published by Pendragon Press. Her one act play, Deception, was presented at the Toronto Fringe Festival in 2005 and was produced by Borelians Community Theatre at their first-ever Canadian One-Act Play Festival in May 2010.

With her husband, Doug Pugh, Donna co-administers the international online writers' forum The Write Idea. In her next life, she'd like to be an opera singer.

Gone for Less

his heart on a shelf, no sticker
indicating selling price

reflected in a shop window:
little-girl eyes swimming, a
tongue licking lips, finger twisting
hair against a fevered face:
can I, can I, huh?

this ain't no puppy,
no doll-faced toy, it's really
a heart, thick, thumping
twisting on display

>deep inside her pockets
there's melted chocolate,
a few songs, bath salts,
lavender soap,
poems scribbled beneath the last full moon

she stares at what she wants
in the window,
her fingers play with what she has
to give, the things inside that
might or might not
be enough to buy
this heart on the shelf
in this window

she hears a voice that tells her
it could be gone for less
so she walks in the door
and she pays with a smile, a gentle kiss
to this heart as it's lifted off the shelf
and placed into her hand

The Writer

he writes:
there have always been voices
in my head – they
speak of wonder, promise heat

he writes:
I've kept this secret in my head
because escape would be inevitable
if I opened my mouth
and spoke this truth

he stares at me
I am naked under the sheets

he cries

I am forbidden to touch
he pays me only
to get undressed, lie in his bed
and read his words

Turning

grown women should be forbidden
this ownership of mirrors
for they tell stories
that never ring true

grey hair screams
stressful tribulation
crinkled skin weeps
notes of pain

step away, turn back from this reflection
of years that have passed in a blink
smile, turn up the volume
scare your son, scare your daughter
in our dreams, we can live our misbehaviour


leave this fear behind, dance
close your eyes, laugh
angst is all that's stopping us
from reaching those great heights

everything looks perfect from far away

step away, turn back from pointless introspection
time ticks and the mirror don't care

A Set of Instructions for Making Something

she is a cold hand down your shirt
surprising your sleeping skin
chill on heat stirring into your gut

she is a spoon, spinning,
churning up lost memories
writing a new recipe of possibilities

odd how you have forgotten this
how strangers can sometimes hear your voice
gaze wonderingly into your eyes
recognize the things inside of you
that you thought you'd successfully hidden

succumb to recognition, allow it to create surprise
relish the rush that travels through belly to crotch
listen to your mind tick, count the ways moments have
of progressing from banality to sharpness
smell the new spice rising from a stranger who is

a cold hand down your shirt
surprising your sleeping skin
chill on heat stirring into your gut

she is a spoon, spinning,
churning up lost memories
writing a new recipe of possibilities

eat this meal, she says, placing it at your feet
taste tomorrow

Unfledged

etched into the lines of his calloused palms
are invisible traces of an uncontrollable hatred
look closely at these hands; long ago
they lost the ability to touch and feel.

sit across from this man, my father
he once loved a woman, took her in his car,
fucked her in the garden, the kitchen, on the front porch steps
and they had four children

stare into these dulled eyes of a man who tried
to control and organize the world into something
he might understand, that could bring him peace
when inside of him, all was chaotic madness


the newspapers blamed the heat and the alcohol
on that morning after he snapped and made me
an orphan, an only child, a bitter shell of
what I might have been

twenty four years later, the hands you see here,
his white prison hands reaching out to apologize
to me and my dead brother, murdered sisters, strangled mother
still do not know how to touch or feel

forgive me, he whispers and I stare at
the lines on his palms, seeing their blood, hearing
their screams and I stand, turn my back and
walk away to where I might finally forget

Pavement Cracks

everything in town is broken
somebody pulled the tower down
all transmission has stopped

police guard the intersection
directing traffic
'cause the lights went out and
no one remembers how to wait their turn

kids walk ten miles to school in the pouring rain
since rust took the buses

no more books in the library
Murphy's Bar ran dry
gas pumps burp air and toxic fumes
lightning hit the church steeple and
burned God to the ground

some blame anarchists
some blame terrorists
some blame immigrants

I stand in silence on Main Street
staring into this asphalt abyss
pondering sins of omission
waiting for morning

it takes forever

One Night in September

Dylan walks to the centre line
on a darkened street at three a.m.

insects flutter under harsh street lights
someone slams a door
a baby cries and dust drifts silently
painting pools of grey on black

Dylan's just a boy but he feels like Methuselah
waiting for death that will not punch in

planes crashed today and buildings fell
his parents have not come home
he kneels on the road, looks up into sky
filled with ash and past and terror

he screams and slaps his palms on the pavement
rages against what he cannot understand
and a car pulls up slowly behind him

Dylan feels the hand before it touches
stares into watery blue eyes

you can't stay here, son
the old man whispers
can't watch another one die

come with me, we'll grab a coffee ...

years later, the pain receded, the images
blurred by fresh sunshine and new smiles,
what Dylan chooses to remember are
the last few words his rescuer spoke
before taking him back home:

there's always more, my boy,
when you have nothing

Hunger

it started with breakfast in bed
sourdough, freshly toasted, steaming yeast
topped with spring sweet strawberry

moving on, we went deeper
with lunch on the patio, BBQ-burnt burgers
dripping mustard on the grass

sundown required chilled Chablis,
elegant water crackers, topped with
slivers of pungent Stilton

the day closed with our tongues
licking salty flesh, fingers softly caressing
bellies full of passion

The Geometry of Triangles

PART 1

spellbound
I watch this man
juggle ... he tosses words
high and wide

love      adore      forever

oh
so
carefully
he balances the weight
of one woman
against others

yes, he has his reasons
taken separately
they all make sense

but I cannot determine
if I have a place
in this triangle

am I the peak?
or do I hold down one corner?

I watch him
juggle
and wait to see
who will be the first
to fall

PART 2

with a sharp needle
I draw blood on his hip
trace a shallow polygon

I know the rules:
there are six kinds of triangles
and before morning
his skin will be tattooed
obtuse, acute, scalene,
isosceles, equilateral and right

over coffee, we will discuss
various angles
and degrees of desire

PART 3

despite evidence to the contrary
I do not believe in the existence
of a perfect rational triangle

perhaps in empty, unfeeling space
one could believe in this geometry
but when one loves

it is pointless

The Dress

crinkled red
lace high at neck and cuffs
buttoned down the front
hemmed just above her knees

apples, he said
touching her breast
smiling into a kiss that
tasted of sake

that night, red
became her favourite colour

goodbye, he said
turning into the night
with a frown that
smelled of regret

that night, black
became her only friend

miles later
eons past love
the dress lies forgotten
wrinkled red in a box

when she hears he is dead
she finds the dress
clips a square of fabric
travels to stand beside his box

between his cold fingers
she slowly tucks red cloth
reminds him of spent passion
moments shared and lost

that night, red
is the colour of forgiving

Intelligence of the Hunted

The doe stood out there
a silhouette on the Canadian shield
planted on mid-winter frozen rock, she
sniffed the frosty breezes

she could smell your lust

you had come to me that afternoon
waving the government license to kill
stomping cold snow from your Kodiaks
in front of our dying fire

I watched as you cleaned, caressed, crooned to your gun

when had pursuit become a sacrament?

with binoculars, I tracked your moves
followed the chase of preyed and hungered upon
saw you stop
stilled, blurred like an old photograph
your weapon mounted on your body

I cried when your bullet felled her
she kneeled
her pain forcing a scream from me
her eyes reflected what had been happening
in our bed at night
when you tried to raise heat
in me

I wondered if you would shoot me too
if they issued permits for that


Resolution

here are the handcuffs
there is the chair

sit on the floor, there's a good girl

[metallic click, wood cool on skin
and bone]

here is the problem
there has been talk around town

don't argue with me, I know

[mouth opens, then closes fishlike
fighting for air]

here is where you belong
there will be no more ...

you are mine

[thinking: what language is this?
feeling: what?? what???]

we will wait together until
there has been a confession

tell me why and tell me who

[beer cap twists, air escapes,
face leans in and whispers]

here ... take a swig
there's more in the fridge

we can sit here
for as long as it takes


This is What Happens When That Happens

I.

it
was
just one
more phone call
answered that morning
just another voice, not for me
I
was
the boss'
assistant
doing the job well
smiling, eager, oh so helpful

those
words
you spoke
went sideways
became important
to everything that happened next

II.

There was a girl here this morning. Knocking, peeking through the living room window, smearing the glass with her fingertips, shielding her eyes, staring, tapping, yelling my name. How does she remember my name? I don't remember my name. Why was she here?

III.

hold
on
watch your ...
do you know
who I am? take my
hand, get in the car, I will drive

IV.

Yesterday, there was wine with lunch. There are a few bottles left in the basement. Good wine, that. And I had cheese. It tasted ...

It tasted ...

Yesterday, apples landed on the roof. I heard them begin to fall. Yes, I heard them fall. But I don't know where they went. They must have rolled ... have you seen the apples?

Today, a girl knocked on the door.

V.

your
eyes
open
look at me
we were lovers once
it was your voice that made me fall

VI.

Sometimes, I know ... roll down the window. Oh, the air. Drive to the ocean. There are whales.

We drank sake ... small, warm, white bowls that you held so carefully while I poured ... the first night, yes? It was winter. You were my Christmas.

VII.

all
we
tasted
bending in
celebration of
spirits saved from drowning themselves
in
muck
washed
downhill by
thoughtless choices made
before we ever spoke and knew
sand
was
spilling
faster than
either of us could
make excuses for where we were

VIII.

It doesn't matter. The fish still swim and the people walk past each other saying nothing. It all ends. We forget so much.

I remember being a coward. It rained and I wasn't ready.

IX.

there
are
two ways
to see this:
everybody wants
a happy ending, die sleeping
warm
safe
dreaming
of sex with
centrefold beauties
or you can read the last chapter
of
this
story
we started
writing in hotel
beds, telling each other sad tales
of
where
we'd been
before tumbling
gratefully into each other

X.

You were the wind. Spinning through my dusty head, clearing corners where I could breathe without choking.

Walk with me. I see the whales.

XI.

on
this
cold beach
dig your toes
into the sand, mark
our last journey with conviction
know
love
grows once
only truly once
and we will end it together

XII.

Let me unbutton you. Those breasts ... yes ... apples. That's why I hear them ...

Every time you answered the phone, it was ... operatic. Secretaries aren't supposed to be intriguing. I had a wife. Kids.

I am old. I have forgotten so much.

XIII.

sun
shines
your voice
echoes hot
tracing down my skin
this is why I haven't slept since
word
came
that you
were losing the plot
let's swim until we've written the
end
rest
content
floating in
our salted wounds, the
whales singing deep wordless goodbyes

XIV.

Growling, I came into you and we rolled, sated, sweating into sheets stiff with starch. Was it yesterday?

I wasn't looking for you or love or someone to show me my soul. Whatever I said to you on the phone, it wasn't memorable. It wasn't important.

Is it raining? I can't breathe. All I can taste is ... apples and ... salt.

IMAGINE

Part I

Grade Two ringleader Sally grabbed kids and forced them to play Batman & Robin. John watched her for a month of recesses. She'd make a great Catwoman but she always had to be Robin.

John wanted to be Batman but he was too afraid that she'd turn him into the Joker. So, he stood beside a big maple tree in the schoolyard and waited.

The Batman episodes ended in winter. Sally wore a thin coat then and spent her long minutes of enforced time outdoors stomping on the frosty pavement. She stared at the ground as she paced, waved her thin arms back and forth and talked to herself.

'Green eggs and ham. See Spot run. Black Beauty is gonna die. In the name of the Father and the Son and ...'

He had to do it.

'Sally.'

The bell rang. Sally looked up.

'Yes?'

Long lines of children formed at the school door. A tall nun began shepherding them back inside.

John took Sally's hand.

Later, no one could say they'd seen a man take the child. But Sally had her first kiss that day and said it was 'delirious'.

For a few years, the nuns prayed every night for Sally.

Part II

smile
once
Sally
just for me
show me those eye teeth
you're such a pretty little girl

play
here
Sally
stay with me
we can watch TV
and cuddle on the couch awhile

you
are
Sally
just for me
sweet, smart, perky girl
sleep here and we will share our dreams

Part III – Strong Opinions



Sally's eyes ... always deep, always dark. John wished that she would sleep without closing them and he could spend the night staring into their depths.

But every night, Sally's eyelids fell and she went traveling in her mind, leaving John to keep watch, listening to the sounds of her whispering breath.

She smelled of peppermint and damp earth. For breakfast, she'd eat raspberries and giggle as she picked the seeds out from between her teeth.

'Berries aren't just imaginary, are they?' At home, they'd had bananas sliced up into their cereal bowls. The raspberries had surprised her.

'No. Black Beauty's imaginary. But berries are real.'

'That horse is NOT imaginary.' John laughed at her stern pout. 'I read that book seven times already and that makes him real.'

'If a horse you read about in a book ...'

'Seven times.'

'Seven times ... is real, then what's imaginary?'

'Bishops.'

'Bishops are real.'

'Nope. They're pretend people. Priests are real 'cause they do stuff like put little white circles of bread on your tongue every Sunday. But Bishops just sit there.'

'Sometimes I just sit here.'

'Yeah, but you don't wear a stupid hat and say dumb things when you open your mouth.'

'Dumb things?'

'The Church is not a democracy. He is our leader. We bend to His will.'

'What's dumb about that?'

'I might only be twelve years old but I know there's hardly a chance something called God is gonna actually bend people. That's ridiculous.'

John thought about the word ... bend ... pushed his chair away from the breakfast table and sighed.

'Time for school, Sally.'

Part IV

give
me
one more
raspberry
and another glass
of Orange Crush 'cause I'm hungry
turn
on
Lassie
that dog's kinda dumb
but Timmy's cute and I'm real bored
sit
here
and be
quiet, 'kay?
tomorrow I have
a math test and I'm gonna fail

Part V

... pedophiles use cognitive distortions to meet personal needs, justifying abuse by making excuses, redefining their actions as love and mutuality, and exploiting the power imbalance inherent in all adult-child relationships.
- Lawson L. (2003 September-November;), "Isolation, gratification, justification: offenders' explanations of child molesting", Issues Ment Health Nurs (6-7):(24): 695-705, PMID : 12907384

The front door slammed and Sally quickly closed the textbook.

'John?'

'Hey, kiddo. How's the studying going?'

'I hate math.'

'It's only numbers.'

'Stupid numbers and stupid fractions and dumb multiply divide stuff.'

'You have to pass the re-take test, Sally. The nuns are only going to believe ONE sick note, you know.'

'Damn, damn, damn.'

'Don't swear.'

'Fuck. Crap.'

'Sally ...'

'Bug off, penis breath.'

He'd never hit her before. After he'd backhanded the side of her face and she'd run upstairs to cry alone in the bathroom, he made a pot of coffee and wrote her a note:

'It was for your own good. At least you didn't say cunt. Love, John.'

He poured the coffee into a Thermos and went for a walk. It was getting dark but there would probably be a few kids still playing in the park.

Part VI

stand
there
let me
touch your hair
press myself against
the freckles on your skinny arm
lick
salt
from your palm
sniff skin, imagine
that you are everything I love

Part VII

Didn't anybody miss her? John took her away to another town, prettier than the one where she'd lived with her parents, and there were loads more books to read in the house now but wasn't Mom scared that Silly Sally's bed was empty every night? She'd been gone a very long time. Four whole years.

They'd forgotten her. Easy for some, Sally figured. They'd never really liked her a whole lot. Good riddance and thank Christ she's not here anymore sitting in front of the TV with her finger up her nose, asking all those godforsaken stupid questions.

There was a wet pile of tiny raspberry seeds on the kitchen table.

'You saving these?' John asked.

'Yup.'

'Dessert?'

'Nope. There's butterscotch ice cream.'

'Right.'

'I'm gonna plant them.'

'Okay. But I think you need to dry them first.'

'Yeah. Just leave 'em there for a few days. Then the spit'll evaporate or whatever.'

'Easier to buy some canes, I think.'

'I'm not crippled.'

John laughed. 'C'mere.'

He picked her up, threw her over his shoulder, fireman-style, and ran around the room backwards.

'Stop! My head's gettin' dizzy!'

He tossed her down onto the couch, dropped to his knees and listened to her pant and giggle.

'Ya know, sometimes I think you're getting a bit too grown-up for this stuff, Sally.'

'I'm only twelve. Long ways to go yet before I'm growed up.'

'Good,' John said. 'Good. Promise?'

'Swear to God and hope I die.'

'We need to get you away from those nuns.'

'I want to go to China.'

'Later, baby.' He leaned over, lifted Sally's white blouse and pressed his mouth to her belly.

'Hey! That tickles.'

'Good,' John said. 'Good.' He took her gently up the stairs to bed.

Part VIII

birds
sing
sky is
blue sometimes
I love raspberries
math is stupid and so's Phys. Ed.

let's
go
China
is waiting
Blue Willow plates, girls
with tiny feet and big straw hats
John?
do
you want
more tickles?
'cause I'm hungry now
make me some of that pork chow mein?

Part IX – Summer of 1969

Red paint, a framed poster of Chairman Mao and a large coolie hat (which Sally had decided would make a perfect shade for the ceiling light) transformed the young girl's bedroom into a pit of heat. They'd hung a black curtain over the window, installed stereo speakers in all four corners of the room and were now listening to The Beatles 'Get Back' for the sixteenth time in a row.

'You're going to wear it out.'

'Probably. Then we can listen to Strawberry Fields a few times.'

'Or maybe Crimson and Clover.'

'Oh yeah!' Sally pinched the nearly burnt out roach end between her index finger and thumb, pursed her lips and sucked in.

'Hold it.'

Eyes widened, she stared at him, nodded, held her breath.

'Blow out. Slowly.'

'That song. Tommy James. He's really saying 'Christmas is over, Christmas is over', isn't he?'

'Sure, kiddo. Sure.'

'Hmmm ... thought so. Crimson and Clover my ass.'

'I have a surprise for you.'

'Uh huh. Again?'

'For your birthday. A trip.'

'I'm already trippin', John-o-boy. Time to light some candles.'

Sally jumped off the bed, stuck a taper into an empty Chianti bottle, lit a match and held it in close in front of her eyes. 'Oh, wow.'

'Here. I'll do it.'

'Ouch.'

'Yeah. Fire burns, doesn't it?'

John took the dead match from Sally's hand.

'You love me, right?' Sally dug her fingers into John's arm.

'Of course, baby.'

'Then take me to China.'

John pulled an envelope out of his back jeans pocket. 'Okay.'

'Really?'

'I sold the car and bought us tickets. We leave next Thursday.'

Part IXa

fly
so
high then
fly some more
watch the colours swirl
listen to the tremolo slip
hum
low
against
your sleeping shoulders
my John-o-Boy, don't ever leave
me
oh
alone
lost in time
without a ticket
back so I can plant the berries

Part X

A Canadian passport was issued in the name of one John Scott, birthplace Gormley, Ontario, born December 29, 1934. A child, Sally Morgan Scott, age 13, was also named in said passport. At Toronto's International Airport, the pair boarded a CPAir flight to Shanghai. And that's the last official record of Sally Scott's existence.

* * *

'Mom, the Turtles are on. Can I watch? Please?'

'Only if you finish your breakfast, Li.'

Liang sighed and shovelled two more spoonfuls of dry granola into his mouth. He gulped down half a glass of orange juice and ran off to turn on the television. 'Heroes in a half-shell. Turtle power!'

A child was not something Juniper Morgan Bao had ever dreamed of including in her life. Horses, a castle with huge turrets, yes. Acres and acres of raspberry bushes, definitely. But a child, Christ no. But Liang arrived and surprised her with his ability to make her smile.

She poured another cup of coffee and went into the family room to sit beside her son on the floor.

'Colour TV didn't exist when I was a kid, ya know."

'Shhhhh! Mom, April's just about to ...'

'Okay. I'll be quiet.'

* * *

there
are
moments
when your voice
thunders from nowhere
and I believe you are not dead

there
are
moments
when music
filters into night
and I believe that we once loved
there
are
moments
when what you
did and why you did
brings fear back into my cold heart
makes
me
wonder
who I am
why I am, what I'll
do wrong to my most precious son

Part XI – Musty Notebooks, Disturbing Photographs & Badly Folded Letters

There is a battered metal trunk in Juniper's attic. A well-worn, well-traveled case that she'd uncovered in the spider-webbed darkness at the back of an old barn in Gormley.

J - S C O T T is stenciled on the top of it and she wasn't sure, at first, if that meant John or Jack or Jason or James. John-o-boy had two brothers, she'd discovered -- Jason and James. And his father's name was Jack.

He'd tried, over the years, to tell her what he was all about. At some level, she knows he was one man in a million but he was also one in a sea of very sick fish. The understanding didn't come overnight. It took years after he deserted her in Shanghai before she was able to put all of the pieces together. Despite all of the filth and incomprehensible details of the things he'd done to so many children, Juniper sits, late at night when she cannot sleep, and filters through the paper she keeps in the trunk in her attic.

February 8, 1981
I should burn it all, John. Perform a necessary ritual on a full moonlit night behind the Gormley Post Office. Send it up in smoke. Breathe the toxic fumes of you one more time and then walk away.

But I do not know how to let you go. I cannot say goodbye.

October 4, 1965
She is a light. And I am the moth.

October 6, 1965
There have been others. Yes. But there will be no more. Only Sally.

October 19, 1965
I am her father. I will be her teacher, her lover. She will be my saviour.

* * *

'Mom? Mom.'

Juniper opened one eye. Liang stood shivering beside her bed.

'Bad dream, Mom.'

She lifted the covers and let him slip in beside her. Cuddled together, Juniper sang a lullabye and they both fell back to sleep.

Part XII

have
no
fear child
you are safe
this life is magic
sweeter than Pop Tarts, bright as noon

here
with
me there
are good dreams
ice cream, TV, games
and I will hug you when we're sad

have
no
fear child
this is love
pure, innocent, true
until the very end of time

Part XIII – Shanghai, 1969

I
don't
recall
much beyond
heat, smells, temples, parks
dripping blood on The Bund one night
John's
eyes
went dark
he dragged me
across a bridge, threw
me into the Huangpu River
gone
just
like that
disappeared
because now I was
not-child, not-loved, not Sally Scott
John-
o-
boy please
not my fault
come back, I cannot
swim, I have lost my coolie hat

Part XIV

Juniper took Liang back to Shanghai when he was nine years old. His father could not come to Canada that year for his negotiated visitation time. His son was required to be present when his nai nai took her last breath.

Jin Bao greeted her at the airport with nothing more than 'Ni hao' and a very slight tilt of his head. He took Liang's hand and they were gone.

A quick taxi ride took Juniper to The Bund. She walked one mile down, one mile back, and another mile down again before she felt able to stand on Waibaidu bridge.

'This is where my life fucked up,' she said. 'Not in the schoolyard, not in that house with you, John-o-Boy. Here. Blood dripping down my legs. I trusted you. But when they fished me out of this river, trust was gone. Fully and completely. Gone. I became a woman without even knowing what it was like to be a child. I loved without being aware that there were consequences. You spoiled me, John. Forever. Please take me back.'

'There's no place called that, Sally.'

'What?'

'The place you call 'back'.'

'John.' Juniper turned.

'Lance.'

'That's a stupid name.'

'Yeah. Dumb, isn't it, kiddo?'

'Not half as dumb as Juniper.'

He laughed. 'Suits you. They've got berries, don't they? Juniper bushes?'

'Where did you go?'

John/Lance shrugged. 'Away. I'm sorry.'

'I thought you were dead.'

'I was. That's why I'm someone else now. And you died, too. Right?'

Juniper cried that night. On the bridge, in the taxi, on John's bed in the Peace Hotel. John undressed them both, and lay on top of her until Sally returned.

Part XV

lying here with you
listening to the rain
smiling just to see your face

cannot be right

but I could not ask for more

looking in your eyes
seeing all I need
everything you are

cannot be right

but it is everything to me

here with you
here with me
is where I'm meant to be

in this moment
I could ask why
but it would not change a thing

I could not ask for more

Part XVI

'I can't promise you.'

Sally stared.

'There are no guarantees.'

'Yeah. I promised. Once. I know they can't be kept, John. I grew up.'

'What I do, what I am. It can't be changed.'

'How many have there been?'

John shrugged.

'A hundred? More?'

'Probably.'

'I have a son. He's nine years old.'

John stared.

'I have a trunk. At home in Toronto. Locked in the attic. I searched for you. All I found was an empty house, smelling like cat piss, and a big ole dirty barn out back. Your father died.'

'The trunk.'

'Yeah. You were in there. Black, white and ugly as shit. I've been through everything inside it, John. Over and over and over again.'

'Pictures.'

'And hair. Some fair, some red, all wispy ... locks of childrens' hair.'

'Notebooks.'

Sally nodded.

'I loved them all.'

'I know.'

'I loved you best.'

'I know.'

'We could ...'

'What? Go back? No we can't. You already said there's no such place.'

'Start again?'

Sally smiled. 'I think we have, John. Yes. That.'

Part XVII -- Tales Told in a Hotel Room

once
long
long long
time ago
there was a young man

something dangerous was done to
his
heart

it broke
into three
small pieces of black

only he knows what caused this mess
but
he
doesn't
remember
does he? so he went
searching for bandages and found
a
child
playing
Batman and Robin
in a Catholic school playground

she
fixed
something
for a while
and he was happy
loved, loving, careful to be kind

we
could
still be
there, smiling
playing games, singing
except ... the child has now grown up

Part XVII -- Tales Told in a Hotel Room, Part Two

My heart? I'm not sure that's what got broken, my love. Am I broken? Faulty. Yes, perhaps I'm a somewhat faulty form of man. I've never felt sick inside. I feel no compulsion to jump out of a window because I feel ashamed of who I am or what I've done. I am not crazy. Things in my world have always seemed to be perfectly formed. It's all right. I love. I teach. I care.

You are my first woman.

* * *

we
hear
beating
we follow
the sound, blindly on
drifting across open seas, eyes
wide
shut
until
something hard
wakes us and we scream

fear
stops
hope but
there's still that
beating rhythm, so
we do what we must do to hold
it
tight
closer
absorbing
each note into skin
until it becomes our own song

Part XVIII -- At the End of the Day

in the reedy river
sadly I drowned
watching evening twilight
one last time

I fell in love with a swan
black as thunder
who could not save me
from time or thought

in the reedy river
I remembered this
as time goes by
there are no promises
there is no right

there is only night
at the end of the day

Part XIX -- Call Me Al

'Who are we?'

'Now?'

'Now. Yesterday. Tomorrow.'

'Sally. John.'

'Lance. Juniper.'

'Lost. Found.'

'Al.'

'Al?'

'Yeah. Why not?'

'Names. Labels. Nothing really.'

'Right.'

'Long lost pals.'

'Soul mates.'

'Crazy people.'

'The last of?'

'Doubt it.'

'Can you get dope in this country?'

'Yeah.'

* * *

'This little piggy went to market. This little piggy went home. This little piggy ate roast beef. This little piggy ate none. And this little piggy ...'

'Chose to love little girls.'

* * *

'We gotta go.'

'Where?'

'Home.'

'Okay. I'll just press a button and, hey, presto!'

'Seriously.'

'Here we go ...'

'Nope. Didn't work. Those lights are still out there shining on the water.'

'Damn.'

'Tell me it won't ever be over, John.'

'It will never be over.'

'No. Don't go all teachery on me. Decide. Make a choice. We both know this song is tearing us apart. It'll turn us inside out. Christmas is over.'

'Crimson and Clover.'

'Over and over and over ...'

'La la la la la.'

'That's not the song. And where's the tremolo?'

John rolled over and blew a raspberry on Sally's naked belly. It echoed through her liver, through the mattress, hit the floor and settled oh so gently somewhere the ceiling.

'Sometimes, I dream.'

'A world without love is no place to live.'

'I'm just another cowboy on the run. In the rain. Blinding my eyes so I can't see the wrongs I've done.'

'God, I need to see the sun.'

'Stand at the window and wait.'

'Yes. Let's go home.'

* * *

when
we
get there
together
we will light a fire
remove the past, sweep the ashes
down
stairs
find air
sweet, fresh, clear
call each other friend
turn on the radio and sing
one
song
two notes
la so la
we've got it right, kid
ain't nobody gonna say stop

Part XX -- Home

(on the plane)

All the blues and the greens. So clean. So new. Hey, Sally.

Yes.

It's been lonely.

Yes.

I need ...

What?

One love. One life.

Yes.

* * *

(in the taxi)

Bob Marley.

No woman ...

No cry.

Oh.

I remember.

In this great future, you can't forget your best.

Burning through the night.

Yes, there must be burning. You said it.

Everything's gonna be all right.

* * *

(in the bathroom)

No crying.

No.

No tears, no fear.

No.

I love you.

Yes. Yes.

Where'd you get this soap? It's ... fruity.

* giggles *

* * *

(in the attic)

This is ...

Yes.

I remember when ...

No.

No.

Open it. Don't look inside. There are no more tears. Right?

John sat on the dusty attic floor. Placed one palm on one side of the trunk. Placed his other palm on the opposite side.

You're hugging it.

Yes.

You have to let it go.

Yes.

I brought the matches.

Once upon a time ...

You were a shocking young man.

I am an animal.

Yes.

But I'm all right.

Now. Yes.

I'd do it all again.

Probably.

And that doesn't scare you?

You don't scare me. There's freaks everywhere, John.

He opened the trunk.

Do it.

We're two of a kind.

In search of a dream.

Sally struck a match.

Well, kiddo. Now what?

Part XXI

The dust settled.

The sun came up.

Two people awoke and held their heads heavy.

All those years ... they were just oily marks on the pavement.

'Lots of blood and tears, eh?'

'So many good intentions. Gotta count for something, right, John?'

'Love counts. Lots.'

'Yes. There's that. Lots of books written about love. Poems. Movies.'

'I love you.'

'Yes. I love you. Oh ...'

'What?'

'I'm hungry.'

'Raspberry pancakes?'

'Right on!'

'There will always be raspberries.'

'Here's hoping.'

* * *

wrong
is
never
absolute
there are shades of right
as long as you love and tilt
just
so
slightly
towards the passion
red is grey and yellow's white when
eyes
gaze
through dark
without fear, without
preconceptions instilled by church
or
state

without
raspberries
there is nothing left
worth singing about in this world

don't
let
your life
pass you by
weep not for the me-
mories, time goes by despite us

Part XXII – Promise Me

Say you need me.

I need you.

That's all I want.

Say you love me.

I love you.

Lovely words.

Yes.

That's all I need.

* * *

When is Liang coming home?

* * *

August 15, 2009
Jin, perhaps Liang now needs a father.

Please keep him.

He must stay with you. I will send money.

Muse-Pie Press  •  R.G. Rader, Editor/Publisher •  Passaic, NJ 07055 •  musepiepress@aol.com

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