She spins her red thread, and it twists into shapes before her eyes, hearts and nooses. It tells her that Theseus turns out to be an asshole.
Seven young men and seven maidens arrive on the island, and Theseus outshines them all. His eyes are the sky blue of someone who believes he cannot fail, who believes he has no darkness within him. Those eyes make Ariadne dream of flight.
Theseus wonders how such a creature as the minotaur, half-beast, half-man, could be allowed to exist. Ariadne doesn’t tell him the last of the halves: the monster is her half-brother. In the evening she dreams of blue eyes, but her hands twist and turn the red thread. At midnight she dreams of mazes like arteries and veins, running red and blue.
Ariadne gives Theseus a coiled ball of thread the size of a heart. She tells him the thread will guide him out of the labyrinth.
“The poem surpasses the other literary arts in every way: in its depth, potency, bitterness, beauty, as well as its ability to unsettle us.” Jón Kalman Stefánsson
Unsettlement is a recurring theme in Tony Messenger’s debut collection ‘poems to be found in the desert’. Colonial unsettlement, traversing an uncomfortable environment,
d i s l o c a t i o n and the blurred lines of imaginary \\\borders///. \\\Boundaries/// & limits that appear, settle and dissolve.
This conflicting duality works to unsettle the reader, forcing them to ???question??? their place in the vast Australian →landscape←, an environment where nothing seems as it appears.
The epigraph for the opening section of poems comes from Ely Williams “I find that out in the desert my words wander too because here thoughts and words are things unleashed.” A warning that the collection is peppered with thoughts and words unleashed, a cryptic murmuring, a maze of ideas that circle, repeat, fade and reform. It is easy to become lost in this text, thinking you’ve already experienced an image, but a refresh and a re-read show slight differences, an erosion, a morphing of concepts.
This is the desert where the obvious is not so obvious.
The collection opens with the poem “longifolius” (the scientific name for the spiky spinifex grass that is abundant in the central deserts). The poem can be viewed as a metaphor for Australia itself. The grass grows in a ◌circular◌ clump, and as it ages its shape becomes nest like, with the centre ►dying◄ off as the grass uses all the available nutrients in the soil, the newer stems sprouting on the outside forming ◌concentric◌ patterns. The inner “►dead zone◄” is a haven for ants, who feed on the ⸙seeds⸙, and reptiles and birds, who feed off the ants. Hence the ◌circular◌ shape of the poem. Something that may appear barren is in fact teeming with life. Look to the centre not as an ⸔inhospitable⸕ place, look for details, enquire with a local pair of eyes.
You and I, we should go to the tar pits. Let’s stare at what was once life. We’ll inch closer together, becoming one creature, an unconscious attempt to metastasize in the face of ancient grandeur. I’ll wonder if they – the mastodons – ever thought about the end of the world. You and I do, all the time, but alone. Doomsday would take on the lure of a sunset if we endured it together, I’m convinced.
A conversation I sometimes imagine begins:
I’m so glad you take care of yourself. My father died when he was younger than you.
More staring at life.
I’m so sorry, you’ll say. Doesn’t everyone start there? But you’ll mean it, understand it, because,
. . . something about a man and his dog (in the grand, non-linear scheme of reincarnation) as being one in the same. Soul, that is. Ethereal transient dweller, is another. Here now, there they are: Situated between two distinct, bloody meat husks, between two separate states of existent being — at once, under one roof, simultaneously — with one foot in man, the other, a dachshund-terrier mix.
. . . is comprised of both end and endless, singular and infinite, of omniscient oblivion, bright-dark heavy-light, of both shape and void, each with their own distinct name. As a man: Brandon. In dog form, she is Mocha, among countless others (i.e., Mochi, Mookie, Monkey, Chunky, Chubbers, Chunkmonster. . . ). As mutual entity, root identity, as timeless core incarnate, a loose translation: Daielaareux.
. . . will spend seven months at the shelter, gone unadopted longer than any other dog, before rejoining herself again. Meanwhile, she cries her jaw off. Starves herself down to a coffee-boned silhouette. Even draws blood from the hand of a guileless child, to make clear the message: I will never be yours. She waits patiently for what she already knows will eventually be.
. . . remembers what, on pure impulse, will drive him to the shelter in this manic grasping for purpose, going on six days without medication. He will come upon himself, caged separate. His ovaries scooped clean. Groggy with shots to keep him quiet, stagnant, alive. Not even finding himself to be particularly cute, or unique, or enthralling, yet feeling instantly connected, just the same. Might he’ve recognized then, in those muted eyes, himself? She knows the next years ahead of them together will be nothing so glorious — that they are in no way ready or responsible enough to take adequate care of themselves. They will ingest things that will make them violently ill. They will be too poor, too careless, to seek medical help. Will endure vast chunks of boredom, chewing holes through themselves, incapable to leave the house. Will watch themselves from the foot of the bed sulk and rot away for days on end, treading the grey wash of their skull, directionless, besides down. Will be the only life force to keep them afloat, strong enough to pull themselves upwards, and eventually, out.
. . . yanks on their leash in unruly directions, and, out of sheer spite, he tugs them back the opposite way. Each will struggle to tell themselves what to do. He instructs her to obey: Sit. Heel. Eat. Fetch. Up on the couch. Now, off. But she refuses to listen. Years later, their heart crushed by a lasting love, lost — the one who used to (she now learns) smack them in private, but still loves her, despite the abuse — two months out, having still not washed the pillows or sheets, incubated with the tortuous scent of their ex’s shampoo, she has no other choice than to piss on the bed. She instructs him to: Be calm. Go for a walk. Know your self-worth. Move on. But he refuses to listen. He tells himself: No. He calls herself: Bad girl. They scream as themselves: Shut up shut up shut up.
. . . Daielaareux, in countless other forms: A bridge in New Zealand. A strip mall in Detroit. An unbuttered croissant. A great big pile of leaves. A spanned lineage of prehistoric, neon-colored crabs. A comfortable silence. An impossible dream. The 37th Annual Miss America pageant. A one-hit wonder. An impotent king. A fortuitous accident, recognized only in hindsight. The Divine Mouth taking the earth like a vitamin. A newborn horse’s first step. Another one biting the dust.
. . . forever amounts to, returns back to, self-love.
. . . just seconds before the New Year, 2018. Time hibernates. Thoughts shuffle like a deck of cards. Head loud. Skull turned inside out on psychedelics. A blubbery, sunken, self-contained mess of fleshy slop packed inside a transient shell. A dark stain on the carpet, on a mother’s pelvic floor. He rushes to the bathroom, convinced an empty bladder will cure him. It does, then doesn’t. Grime sits in every wrinkle. Gravity’s tandem held hand lets go. The universe’s veil pulled down like a shower curtain, their many forms spilling out over the linoleum floor. On their knees, hands, back, she perches on his chest and he catches it — a quick glimpse, the uncanny resemblance, atoms stacked like dodged shoved in a cage. He holds herself behind the ears, kisses himself on their wet, hot stinking teeth. Noticing it fully, this tethering between them — an ethereal cord, conjoined. He she they them are all was once will have had we become continuous as one day slips seamlessly into the next without a clock, as the crackling bursts of fireworks resound from outside, at last. They have made it, for now.
. . . in the same windowed timeline, will cease just as abruptly as its start: The man, at the tender age of fifty-six, from an untreated pulmonary obstruction; as a dog, age nine, a pack of stale Oreos left accessible at the top of the trash. And yet, both still remain incapable of saving each other, themselves, from what must be in order to happen again.
Stephen Wack is an Atlanta-based writer. He earned an undergraduate degree in Neuroscience from the University of Georgia, where he briefly interned at the college’s literary magazine, The Georgia Review. His work has previously appeared in Five:2:One, Rougarou, and Cleaver Magazine, and is forthcoming in The Hunger and New Flash Fiction Review.
Noon was first a shadowless lull in the byscape; a sudden, sunlit evenness now and then heightened by the silence of the cricketry, the dulling of the earliest birds. The woodland as a whole came to a halt at once, without a screech, as if it were of one mind in an incomputable amount of bodies the business of which was to multicull and culliply each other across time and worlds into complete transfiguration. It was rare, given this atmosphere, for even leaves to have to hold their breath, especially if –at least on land— this was an age of predators Continue reading “Welcome to the Fold by Mónica Belevan”→
“How did you let that happen? Never mind, bring me the ashes.”
The deacon dutifully brought the marble jar before scurrying away to hide behind the altar’s red velvet throne. Father Orson pulled off the heavy lid to survey the contents before tucking the jar under his arm like a slaughter hog. Continue reading “Intinction by Amy Barnes”→
1. All performers conduct a different hygiene routine: floss, clip toenails, wash hands, put on deodorant, shave, pluck eyebrows, etc. They may trade routines in a fugue-like pattern if they wish. Their tempo should correspond to the movements of a symphony.
Maybe I can calculate my way out of it? Terminal velocity, 54 m/s, @ 37,000 feet, which gives me about two and half minutes (not exactly, but considering, that’ll do). To do what? Think of a way out? Go over every detail and see if I could’ve done it better? Reassess my life via Nairobi, South B Hospital, seven and a half pounds, small bassinet in the corner of a mud-brick home, loving mother and father, primary school, high school, and Mrs Otieno telling Mama the boy’s some sort of mathematical genius. Straight to my Continue reading “First Thought by Stephen Orr”→
She said her name was Billie. Her mama called her Billie-Jean when she called her anything at all. At fourteen she was all angles and knees and steel-blue eyes. We sat in the doorway of my 1970’s shit-brown RV, the orange shag rug faded to something between mustard and burnt sienna. Dirt had settled so deeply into it that it was hard to tell the difference between the ground and floor. Continue reading “The Tao of “Howl” by KB Baltz”→
TECH NOTES: Room 2 – 6.17.2015 EMR #1421 – DOB 12.25.1981 JASMINE “JAZZ” ABRAHAM
PATIENT at lab tonight for a nocturnal polysomnographic assessment (NPSG) following complaints of excessive daytime sleepiness. Ordering physician will review data before ordering nap tests to rule out sleep disordered breathing as primary diagnosis.
PATIENT arrives noticeably sleepy. During 10/20 procedure, conversation lulls are induced by frequent microsleeps, but PATIENT is easily aroused.
The transparent eyelids of Los Angeles. The whole show of human sense … celestial mechanics suddenly unemployed … language makers with superior intellect … everyday sexual occurrences inside the supermarket … secret visions stymied by the cerebral systems … an endless sky … dead arms flay about in a great storm … the feint flash of a sticky … heavy rain. My ghastly face … these hots days … these telegraph wires … this Continue reading “CERTAIN MOTELS / MOTEL SOFA by Shane Jesse Christmass”→
Tone wakes in the middle of the night. A breath breathing on his neck. At first he assumes it’s Flint’s fitful breath. He must’ve joined Tone in bed, stretched across the arc of his back, his snout behind his head, his nose close to his ear. A grumblevoice. A shifting of weight.
I’ve been ignoring all calls since you began ignoring mine.
But “Voices” sang to me in the cacophony of critics that spend their day, my day, in my mind commenting on every thought or action I associate with my I. You, I associate with my id. (“’What id like to do to you’ would have been a better line,” one says, as another says “You’d never pull it off” and still another, “They’d assume ‘id’ is a typo.”) Perhaps the emergence of your smile draws out my words, but that information whispers too softly for me to hear over the cacophony. Continue reading “Autoi-biography by Dov Nelkin”→
Graceland, Graceland, I’m going to Graceland. So, this is how it ends? All my life I lived for time and money, tied to the world of things. Ellie said, you have to get a smartphone, grandpa. Too bad, I left my phone at home. Oh, I want to believe we all will be received. At least, I’m not alone.
“Loneliness?” mused the fellow who sat reclined against the wall of Kii-no-kuni-ya holding the letter sent poste restante. “We cannot be.” He listened to his thoughts as they spoke of their voyages and woes, frivolities and schemes. The fellow stood. “Hour’s come.” They went on the road merrily speaking the thoughts they had at the hour the Sun would rise. Continue reading “Graceland by Voima Oy and Sean Fraser”→