Friday, June 26, 2009

Bluefin tuna

Dear X.,

I now get your elaborate tuna joke. When we dined on bluefin tuna the other night, yes, I enjoyed your exquisite meal. Your preparation was excellent, as was eating in your metallic blue-hued dining room, stamped out like a trendy downtown eatery with a one-word name. Truly a five-star dining experience for which you should be commended. As you know, I’m often petitioning for generic environmental causes. Save the whales, recycle your newspapers, drive the speed limit. Door-to-door canvassing, stuffing envelopes, letter-writing campaigns. Bluefin tuna was swimming around the back of my head, but I couldn’t think why. After some home research, I found high mercury levels, overfishing to the point of elimination. You got me there, I’ll say, even as I enjoyed the buttery-soft meat, prepared on a rice bed with jalapenos and avocado, slivers of radish and mango, and sipped well-chilled Napa Valley pinot grigio.

Perhaps the next time I come over, you cans serve me foie gras, sea turtle eggs, or another culinary travesty. Perhaps I’ll bring a bucket of red paint, go Jackson Pollack on your walls to show my distress. Maybe I’ll have you bound and gagged, force you to a river cleanup project. Or take you to crime-ravaged neighborhoods to plant trees.

Best, Y.

Thursday, June 25, 2009


He lounged in the kitchen wearing boxers and t-shirt. She dropped the Help Wanted section before him. He harrumphed, said, the same old, same old, woman. She opened the refrigerator, shook her head, said, there’s nothing here, just like yesterday. He shuffled through old newspaper on the table, asked, now where’s yesterday’s crossword, I hadn’t finished. She ruffled through papers on the counter, moved an old paint can, bug spray cans, said, all we got’s beef jerky. Six-letter word for swarming insect, he said, second letter “o.” A job, you, so we can eat. He looked at her, pointed his pen at her, a job, you, I’ve worked all my life. But not this part you haven’t, her teeth tearing at the jerky. Pen us a country tune, why don’t you, he said, but mind your dental work there. I’ll die if this is all I eat. He rolled up the Help Wanted section into a tight ancient scroll, used it to swat at a buzzing lumbering fly. These flies, she said, they’re eating something, as she swatted at it with her free hand. He followed it, paper aloft like a sword, as it landed on her forehead. Don’t you dare, she said, as she watched him grin, his arm held high.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Highway of Death

Z, alive, looked up into a grey sky, heard the searing sound of warplanes. His face felt like it had been carpeted, his right leg was in stinging pain from cuts and gashes. He sat up and saw wreckage around him, a gridlock sculpture, burning husks of cars and armored vehicles, metal debris everywhere. The air was full of smoke. Fires burned, the sounds of flame like rustling flags. Tornado-like plumes of smoke spun in place off in the distance. Dead figures slumped over in car seats and lying prone on the ground, their skins baked brown or black in color.

In the smoke a figure walked toward him. A silhouette shaded in fuzzy black, arms at sides. Z stood, waiting for the figure to emerge.

It’s all dead bodies and dust, the figure said. He stopped, the smoke lifting from him, revealing a man caked in black, small lakes of blood scattered on his head and face. He stumbled. Z wanted to grab him, prop him up. But he was afraid, looking at a ghost.

Did we win? This was all Z could say. He knew it was absurd. They were leaving Kuwait. The bombing was constant, like breathing. But victory--it was what had been beaten into him. Ever since he had been conscripted.

Of course. The man laughed. Look around you. Don’t we always win?

A series of planes swooshed overhead. It was like an alien invasion in the movies. His wife H left at home in Baghdad. A life interrupted. He hadn’t seen her in months. Was she still alive?

How do we get out of here, is what Z wanted to ask next. Or, why are we still alive. But these were impossible questions.

The man pulled a pistol from his coat, held it to his head.

For Allah, he said. For Saddam. For our eternal glory.

He pulled the trigger. The man’s head exploded. His body fell to the ground.

Z winced. The gunshot rang in his head for several seconds then abandoned him. He dropped to the ground, felt inside his jacket for the picture of H. It was slightly wrinkled, but the image was pristine. She was frozen in smile. A clear glass ball dangled at the base of her throat, the silver strand of necklace an orbit tracing her neck.

He knew he had to return home. He stood, saw tanks and vehicles approaching from the south.

He kissed H’s face, returned the picture to his jacket interior. He searched for something white amid the debris he could use as a flag. But there was nothing that wasn’t metal or fried.

Z fell to his knees, repeated his wife’s name over and over, his voice drowned out by the buzzing of invisible helicopters.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009


Brake lights were the road before her. Turned down the radio; sirens wailing, the city’s song. She had too many chores: laundry, grocery store for bread, milk, bakery for son’s birthday cake. Now 12, soon he’d be driving, wanting a car. Seemed like he was just born: headed to the hospital and, yes, stuck in traffic, a sitcom plot. Her husband—now someone else’s—fiddling with the radio as she took measured breaths. But it was always his way of calming her—if he were in pain, he’d stammer, sweat, be completely useless. Stopped on Madonna’s “Like a Virgin”—perfect comedic irony, he showing the slightest smirk. She remembered wondering, was she going to give birth in the car, in traffic, would any of them survive? But they made it; seven hours later, so did her son. Five years later, she came home from work early, found her husband with someone else. Horrified then, she fell to the ground, leaned against a wall as hurried movements, her husband’s and the other woman’s voice spun around her, a slamming door. Later she realized, just part of the comedy. Like the birthday party, when they’d both be there. The car inching along, she repeated, bread, milk, cake, over and over, so not to forget.

Saturday, June 20, 2009


Before school, he ate square waffles, using his fork to reduce the grid one unit square at a time. Tapping his foot, numbers accumulating in his mind, until his mother said, stop. She the only one able to halt the numbers, his father an empty set since birth. Crisp morning air, 582 steps to the bus stop, license plate numbers to multiply and divide on the way. During math, the teacher would have them do sheets of problems. He’d finish first, counting teeth tapping until the teacher called time. Some days he’d skip the bus, walk home. Leaves falling to the ground, too many to count, gentle flying carpets he wished he could ride. The older kids 716 steps ahead. He’d duck behind bushes and parked cars if they turned around, afraid of their Einstein and egghead torments, pinning his arms behind his back, flipping him to the ground laughing. He wanted to tell them, I can’t turn off the numbers—they’re worse than anything you could do. He counted down sidewalk squares. His house would come into view—91, 90, 89—the sun overhead a hazy orange ball ready to crash through the roof, his mother standing on the porch, furled eyebrows, counting negative minutes beyond when he should’ve come home.

Friday, June 19, 2009


In the night beyond last call, he walks along the road, the world in outer space darkness, his brain a sputtering top from drink. Passes another man, other than the occasional passing car, the only sign of life. The man wears jeans, a white shirt, stops, his dead fish eyes, says, grilled zucchini, walks past. Excuse me, he’s seeing him walk away, what was that? The man didn’t stop, so he followed him and as he picked up his pace to a jog, so did the man. Hey, did you say, grilled zucchini? The man stopped, turned to face him. Yes, grilled zucchini. So, what does that mean? It means, grilled zucchini. Do you like it, not, or what? That’s got nothing to do with it. You’re intoxicated. So are you—again, nothing to do. He stood shaking his head, a cool breeze kicking from the west, spinning turning to aching. Snow’s coming, the man said. It’s June. I didn’t say today. I need to go, he said, I need to walk. Grilled zucchini, the man said. Perhaps we could agree to disagree, he said, before I go on about the Buddha on the road. You’ll remember, won’t you? How could I forget? Into night, points in an expanding universe, endless road.


Who's idea was it to start a blog, and then go on vacation? No worries, though, because Blogger can do automated posting. I have some short pieces of mostly fiction scheduled to beef up the archives.