The tomb guardians in Paris
The power of underground living is to make emergence grand. They’re four-footed animals with human faces. He has more haunches, her forepaws are thinner, they came up from the tunnel in a blaze of sycamore. The first time they had sex in Paris he said, “It’s not open enough.” She worries it’s not variable enough. They come on the visiting sheets. Long hairs twitch at the tips of his ears to a thinner sound, crouching at the cornice, so unlike his own. Keeping serene faces they eat the city, bad noodles, fancy macaroons, they prepare what they know how to say, pasteurize and spread it around like dust.
Now the judges breathe heat from the sweep of their robes into the morning that opens from under the earth, so torqued and baked that half the remembered beauty of the tomb is coolness. They think of themselves
and marvel they do marvel
Can they again out of long curious eyes
As if it were the judges who drew out his ears and her spines
(Which are really upturnings of her vertebrae)
As if it were space invaders who flattened and molded their faces
As if the Impressionist police attached their enjoyable parts
As if their parts were the gifts of another country
they think of the judges weighing belonging and becoming. From their folds flows judgment of all minerals, mysteries, demands, places before they die.
In her tomb she has the bowels of an old woman. In her tomb everything is scratch-and-sniff. Punishing her difference, she speaks softly not wanting to be heard speaking, and he asks her. They eat, they say, “Look at this,” but not about terrible things—even “terrible” names what’s already happened as natural and complete. Repeals sensation. Is for satisfaction—monstrous births, dogs’ heads on human stomach and thighs, the drawing copied, someone’s cousin who said he’d seen it—the snake judge hisses, “Take a picture, it’ll last longer.” Multiple plates with fingerprint lines.
The sibyl sits very upright. Surrounded with black her eyes fix front. They’ve stumbled over what’s left of her hair bound back from her startling forehead with a black rag. She stares like a sore in a flank. They could be forgiven for watching to see her mouth open to reveal something plain: what they can guard in this far land. They can’t ask anyone else if her mouth will open, if their mouths will open. Nothing is possible to say civilized. Nothing is ruined. Nothing is private. He opens his wallet and takes out a tense moment.
Here saying, “Do this or we won’t care,”
are outfits everyone wants to see
Here are animals they want to see
Here are human and animal parts no one wants to see
No one wants to see that
Someone is mixing ruining and arriving
That person has a bad ticket
That human is practically an animal
Passages blow up the inside if they don’t let off steam
Oracular speech has rotted and loosened the sibyl’s teeth. They see what dragged her away by its effects: how far, how few, how old. Annals of distortion seem everywhere, begging the tomb, the homeland, not to dry up. The female tomb guardian makes her bubbling, hissing sound after someone passes. Until he looks, she can’t rest.
Distance measures their squints. Why not stare? They’re monstrous, they’ve betrayed themselves. Everyone can see their pigments, their fascination, half-sketched plans, ill-made foundations, conversations they should have had a long time ago from gutter to gutter. The buzzing starts up again in her meaty, clayey head. She barks. The dog judge snaps, “Belly down.” Guess what the male tomb guardian may be thinking, may be wincing. Predict her drag on him over time, her paws scratch metal sniffing first one, then the other sound of a kiss on his long tufted ear like peeling Velcro. Configuration makes certain positions more comfortable. Claiming she’s trying, it works, fountaining between them.
What’s necessary may change with the shape of the body: anger gropes clay into spikes, horns and color and catches it there. The sibyl has a little black and white dog under the table of her sufferance. Her missing teeth say, “Ne bouge pas.” His muzzle must keep back her prophecies. “We’re mouthpieces too, we flute and fart, hot breath of the underworld continues through us,” to say we’re really all distortions finely cracked all over, miraculously whole or freed, creating a provenance for their experience
dislodging: a little tower of money and a golden unicorn folded from paper on top. See, splendor. The air wobbles and thumps, overcomes her with even the simplest directions. Feel it gray and lacy in the belly. The sibyl, whatever she contains, is old and in her age an outer planet, wildly. The underworld is a relationship.
Buildings and people erode from a new but complete state into battlements of swaddling static, flanked by dogs, half dog. The Impressionist police are shaking them up to move on, working frantically to preserve the light. One night there was nothing on the wall but the wall. Little bright ships descended and crudely docked. They can be patient. They have an itinerary.
The female tomb guardian has an ocarina-mouth voice and a hard-baked voice. Stones throw her paws in her secret hunt for instructions she couldn’t possibly inhabit. They look in real estate windows for something to guard together: imagine sticking yourself where you don’t belong and softening. They lollop to another museum of big courtyards that drink human sounds. A hand study fills her hollow with leaping: here, like her, an absorbed creature turns and grapples. Peep and lamp this, prey, pity, alight.
The cock-headed judge shrills, “Make sure you fit in smoothly,” and she worries it’s too much. The male tomb guardian likes Ingres because his people are more smooth than human. The old, sick, sure, tired clay; the clay that can’t rise; in showing love for this, half-sadists, half-ashamed, they visit the earth as if each state completely replaced the one before it and never would produce the one after it. Frozen into startled, stenciled paper, danger-colored, caught in a transporting beam of degradation, they only see where they’re transfixed, the spills of ecstasy or failure. What human parts are in the temple? in the forest? What human parts are in the bundle, the animal, or the building? What human parts are the tunnels themselves?
Flattened and mortared where fewer humans look, the space invader glares from its scraped and faded touchdown saying: EVERYONE EVERYWHERE EVERYONE EVERYWHERE. Tangerine color. BY RIGHT OF BEING HERE. She crows. His hackles sting him, but he takes a picture. She makes an earnest tongue effort to belong, to treasure, picturing the slide of animal head into human neck. In the exhibit of art by female humans, he and his male friend take pictures of each other. “So depressing,” he says /
she feels the convexities of her face hairline. Like centuries visiting hard. From high up they can see the feathers in the pavement. Can read the feather alphabet. A letter just to them. Like centuries falling like snow
They agreed to grow old and keep watch together
Seeing trying and failing anger as wonder
What being old makes up for in fear together
Traveling to an old country to see it forever
What interest parts her eyes, tweaks her insides, drags her pussy along the ground, deep tremor. The day that stops growing is normal and human. The more it diverges, the more it distorts. They look at everything this way: how will it transform us? INVADE ANYWHERE YOU BENEFIT. Who said that? They look around. “This trip is a test,” the dragon judge reminds them in a totally different voice. They can’t figure it out, so they have sex again, squirming and squalling like good animals. He has trouble getting to sleep and photographs the black outlines. The black space invader trumpets DUMBASSES! with an extra noise.
Breakfasts are sweet buttery times, clay can be easy: his forehead smoothes in this life seeing the tail trails they make in dust the color of the painted dead, contours and hurtles seeing her stiff-legged standing on end. Four hooves planted, colors race along his sides as he breathes to contain his air.
At the train station her head swings, one eye bulges out like a plate. No expert would recognize her now. Slowly she becomes interested and her proportions return but they have been, she’s been a scratch and convulsive grasp in this life now, she can’t say, “That’s not how I really am,” or, “That’s a departure.” Chunks of old mortar, spine like a formalized wave. Someone knock-kneed proceeds like clockwork. Mumbling loose-mouthed former humans’ feelings fill and wear them like savage coats. ALL TO THE GOOD says the blue space invader who wants them to invade the moment striped with misery and glee. Who says YOU BELONG WHERE YOU WANT. She doesn’t tell him to look to the niches for judgment, the tug of the new place, clumps of hair sticking to misfortune and neglect, only sweet things, the human or human parts a picture needs.
“How did you imagine Paris before you came?” purrs the tiger-headed judge. They check “personal.” The tray of sugar cookies fizzes with wasps, the boy on crutches has a shirt that says, “Emotion and Desire” carving them into his partly human consistency, shouldering him out of alignment. In this life she can’t look at transformation or decay without cheating. BUT CHEATING’S OKAY. Who said that when they were hungry, when they were slewed, when they were footsore, when they were full of malice?
Allegiance is the matter. The gardener says he wants “to perfect the art of the rotten apple, but many people don’t like it,” as they bark politely. This is more about holding open, spreading with fingers. He tries to give decay another life, he says, but she wonders if that too is cheating or okay and pads around the corners of slumping fever into the garden. Someone to tell her again. She says, “It’s better. This way no one imposes their taste on the other.” He says, “You always have to find a moral.” You can travel with someone and squirt them into your eye to refresh it. It’s better, it’s worse, it’s about you, the judges murmur, they murmur the moment in which you see it before it becomes real forever. You harden.
It’s cheating, it’s okay, it’s ugly, it’s adorable. Ripples of tongue and chest pressure and stomach upset, convolutions of fucking and sympathy sleep, disturb their clay compactness. That day, the paste they made of themselves, the many steps reshaping their hindlimbs, the city proud of its nightly blue; the stop-motion line, the claymation lovemaking, cheating to call out ugly. Cheating to call out sweet, not sexual, short-circuit.
The Impressionist police are out in force with their lights, stone filigree, and blurting. One tomb guardian smells another’s neck and glands. Their misplaced reactions. What’s to be done with them? Render them, a red and yellow sap running through the clay land, the larded and rich and seamed and stone-poor. She offers her front paws. He assembles his face from its curves. They lean together and the words they creak are not at home.
The Idea of Key
Maybe the situation hasn’t come along
that will turn the wards
of the victim in me. Think of it:
fear / the magic circle.
Worry / complete me.
Halting, because I’m reaching,
the cheapest metal memory slots
into stiffness. Be patient.
Key delivers the calm of inside
and outside to the lock. Vibration waters
the bowels and turns nails to claws.
Say it were to happen.
Say it did. Claw key, lock click.
I key between thinking about being old,
seeing old, being inside old,
being a young woman seeing old
women thinking about their doors
all the damn time, thinking their locks,
receptors, plaques, how they plan their
routes with or without relief.
The movie in which I grow old
is the same movie in
which I make my list
and throw it away, the idea
of key in branches, on
sidewalk, in hurry.
Teacher, feel my disgust.
My savage comers don’t
know a key when they
see one, don’t agonize
a social contract, what someone
else glimpses from the car
and passes. Walking and practically dead
the dog or door of my age
on its chain: dear Old Me,
do you know what it is, this machine,
how it operates, how it ignites?
Burning the want of safety, little
guilty Old Me, your ruined stomach
and deadbolt—in your sex dreams
the streets are thronged with people.
Every problem over sixty is locked
and every tool imagined, the key itching,
knowing you have it. Grin
weakly. Falter. Lock
in your sequence, finger
bone like a key that snaps off. Self-
preserve. Use this to develop helplessness,
enough keys, enough doors to pant
with curvature against
thinking about being helpless.
Not of seeing it from behind
a new door. Not in
front of the door, like
being a woman. All the non-
Lean smell of brass turns
you over to the narrow vertical of you
the chain allows. Do the night lap.
I think about every problem
trembling for its key: if you fear it, is
it only a dry fear or passionate, wet fear,
dear Old Me, a dog without knowing.
Is it in your whiskers. Your wheedling breathing.
Sundogs over fake Providence
We had to move to a one-room apartment with our bed right beside the stove. We went to the landlord’s to plead with him. His wife had made a big pot roast and their son was eating but they didn’t offer us any. Almost like a log cabin—stewpot, rough beams. We sat half-collapsed on the bed as if at ease. Lots of black-and-white dogs. One kept licking my cheek and ear and later, James acted like he thought it turned me on. I was worried that our bed would catch fire and because he didn’t have a studio—dog martyr, linoleum tongue clean.
This is the Providence with the neverending section you’ve never seen, wharflike tiers and archway, terraces and fudge shops, labels on wooden drawers. But long bus rides in the fog past luxury hotels and dangerous neighborhoods, foggy in danger, the Providence that strands me at an all-night diner / Keno parlor near the service road I know I shouldn’t walk down. Fear of rape, something I have. Parks in the crotch of streets and three-story wooden buildings that people live in, they say three-family holes. The driver and I are alone with the bus, I’m helpless, I have to ride around the whole route.
Choose the why we’re at. But the other options don’t melt. Other anthems don’t mix. Choose our weakness by weakling together, restless, not pleasure. I’m a bad animal whose cunt is the wrong shape, no one could take joy in me.
The bakery’s on a corner. Little butter stars there, the place to take newcomers. Is the day cold? Its outside is dark blue. I give myself orders. I make my way back through netted, deserted streets, threading the bank, mini-lawns, winter dust, neat squares of familiarity around each tree. A coiled hose. I know the way. I know how to get around it.
Dog in the pit of bed-burnt ignorance looks up and out. It’s lower than light. There’s a mass between it, not happiness, not dying. A mass of lighter color in the ground rears back and rises up.
Made to lie here, live here. There’s a spider problem over the very bed while we’re at it, a problem with damp lying at the edge of rolling my head from side to side. In this city we have more sex, more pests, then we put our shoes on; extrapolation is the enemy of fantasy.
What makes me do archways, back bridges, straining between embarrassment and abandon? Caught covering my gap? Fleecy, unregulated, dogs don’t know how long they’ve been places. Breath of fresh stink or surprising air, coolness or wetness, they make a poor witness. Dog martyr in bed you should know better, piece of pavement shit make up your mind, go on with your dog self. It’s not that I fake it but that I live up to it. Putting on the dog the fresh dog. You can’t learn any more about the city awake like that, reflective, dry like that, would I treat a dog I liked like this.
Most of your time you’re in a forest primeval of your own fur and they’re telling you it’s a kitchen: you can only stand it if you’re part human. Feeling of gagging sends the thrill straight down. You partly understand. It’s terrible! Slick floors your claws work over, dizzy you loosen, contract, what you thought you wanted but your sluggish body including cortex LOVES the sensory attention. It’s great! It’s overpowering, thick with your sheddings I’m telling you, I’m powering, to be good, to be afraid. You love to be afraid and good, it’s great! You know everything! You deserve everything! Flushed and licked and humped by shame it’s comforting, it’s a solution, you think it’s the world but vicious PAIN in the back of your head floods your dog circuits changing your drives’ positions! It’s terrible! Four and a half minutes pass but you don’t know it, all you know is I’m telling you good dog children obey, bad dog children need terrible, terrible training, but if you could shit all over the house, piss on legs, smell dead others, fuck humans, everything would be so great! But the future is a dim room full of COWERING! Human-wolf hybrids wired with longing shame and reward, it’s great, like fucking another dog in the yard the world with holes, you know it’s there, you feel outrage, it’s great! It gives you secret power! Trained to live it lowly you don’t make anything because everything is shit and the only thing a dog can make is shit! And the only thing two dogs can make is more little dog robots! Soft like snacks! The world provides, you feel ecstasy and thrust and squirm in the moment that exists, someone screams at you. It’s terrible! What made it happen? Now the spine switches, mysteries shake my body, when I come to myself I’m your robot and you act like I should listen, you say “should,” I believe you, abase myself, replace myself with your belief. It’s great that you have all the power now! Roiling fur, fur hurricane, so great to roll, to smell your wastes! So fascinating! When I’m chasing you it lasts forever but I don’t know it, I have no choice, it’s seamless, shameless, so exciting. Constant power panic yodeling whimpering. The LOWEST! The DESERVING! Only occurring to myself later, licking your scabs industriously, industrially, and going to sleep and snoring like a motor, really rolling now not waiting for anger. Everything human is forced, dogs and robots only act, domesticated artificial victims. Plainly longing for surrender, giving to the sphincter that should’ve known better. Porquería, pig bottom wallow in dog agitations, grind on the floor till you come—it’s great, the place on the pavement where one dog shits and all the other dogs shit too. Flabby after everything happens TO it the dog is destroyed! It’s so great! Dog eyes are always bigger than dog stomach and then dog throws up—it’s terrible!—bringing power and shame to the muzzle, complete with drool and froth and relief and the smell of reinforced memory!
The city of Karen
Somebody needs to point out the problems with this. There are animal problems: it’s not all delicious and it’s not all true, and it’s all the other animals who don’t care about you. We like dogs because they care what we think, what we do, not just whether we hurt them or can, and because, like us, they feel self-pity—look at those lower lids rolling red, the deliberate exposure.
When someone is dying not only they but everyone around them take to the streets. Turn helpless, forgetting yourself. Forgetting again. Caught in the act, driven into the body trap, caught and released. For minutes at a time, the walls appear brisk and the dogs erect today. Jaw that unlatches momentarily forgetting, like using the old names of countries before you remember that you know perfectly well. You do nose perfectly now, turning over, you don’t pry the sore, you pry cautious,
it’s not a joke. We are professional dogs. We wear the dog suit, which may smell comforting inside, which you may have used to chase tent caterpillars before realizing there’s no point to chasing them, there are too many to chase, to make it a chase, they’re too easy, bristly, basic, soft, nutritious, successful.
Coolheaded except when you decide to be a dog with alacrity, anachronism, the people who live in the city of you are not you. Boy do they. What dog ever. No eager dog narcissist. Lost in discomfort, the half done-something-wrong consciousness, the front half; sleep-lax hemisphere; anxious compensatory waking. Romance it is that thinks it’s happening for you dog you you lucky dog.
“I realized I didn’t like her,” said my mom, making it no less true, making it no more pinnacle, just recognition of habitat. Overrun city filled with wailing and fasting, what you asked for before you stopped asking for anything; what you thought other people and other animals should want.
newly created …
not disenchanted. If you lay
the red surfaces
together they may regenerate.
They have some give if you
get to them in time,
the siren says. Concern
reddens and tightens
your brow as the siren
passes. What’s going on under
the wrinkles could be any color.
If you lay the surfaces together
you may be startled by pleasure.
May think of frostbite
to calm yourself, your circulation
may return, the siren may …
There are nicks in …
Women with extra heads
They convene in a squat house that whispers to itself. Whispers follow them in—HAIR HAIR HAIR HAIR HAIR HAIR HAIR HAIR—cluster around their platforms like sweepings. Each balances her first head on her neck and her other head on the pull-out handle of a black-wheeled compact suitcase, efficient like a familiar trundling behind her. There to work as day swims into its darkness, all their nights pulled tightly back or greased, their boxes stuffed with light and hair, perfectly functional, practical lunches.
SKIN SKIN SKIN SKIN SKIN SKIN SKIN SKIN. The extra heads at rest on the long table neck out their marker tattoos, ritual turquoise or blue precisely spreading. Along the instructional hairline no pearl of sweat; a matte severe complacency below. The heads are all women but a few of the women are men, carrying with equal brusque tenderness. So casual; you would never think of the eyes as open.
I like box as a synonym for pussy because it’s both a thing and a place. Most of the people with heads’ outlines linger, their own hair kissing and parting. Think what it is to have a thing, similar to wanting, you want it but you don’t want it. Or. The heads aren’t secrets but well-rooted, professional quality. Extra-membered, over-membered. No word on what happens when one head wants one thing and the other, another.
Sometimes they also want extra hands, coming to a complicated chemical pass. Convincing the hairs of others, their heads advise them, coach, exhort and warn; make red or curly demands. Their tattoos rain themselves out. Without the humility of the helpless or attached, for them speech takes place, is action and blinking, smacking, their tongues fold up like gum. What’s it saying? What are you trying to tell me?
One of the women makes her friend up as a zombie bride: great care in a cavern of toiletries and reddened lace. See her recline behind NAILS NAILS NAILS NAILS NAILS NAILS NAILS NAILS. Their heads alternate. The bride lounging upright as her friend gently deteriorates her. Back in the stockroom, oils slosh; the extra heads approve this closeness. One looks at her pink-haired other with loving pride, the squat house full of loving pride after closing time, handiwork and fruit flies driven by the pulp of her costume and her evening’s plans.
Wiser heads than this have hovered at the stump, artificial as breathing. Uranium wellwater wetness crosses on their lips. A speculum-like vise holds them for trimming: submissive to practice, otherwise restless, craning to gossip or conjure. Their women briskly place them and gaggle for lunch. Flat eyes follow them; flat ears burn them. Someone’s talking, flush with their plastic.
A head without limbs lives by description and emphasis. Hot melon dropping description. Wary, but not cautious. They decide everything together in the hollow theater where the hair is dug in, if you sliced them open you’d see it, tight on the inside, the mischief of it dispersed with a smell like when the straightening iron hits, all behind a bright ad with blue contacts. It would kill them. They mean you to take them literally: put your best head forward.
What would you do with an extra head? Do you want or want one? They convene; they coven up. No counter can they reach. Fix their women up with their womanly gazes: how can I enjoy what you have that I don’t. What we share: sensational.
for Caroline Young
The Lydia Davis book lies next to the dishtowel
and is warped by it, the dresser receives
the spill of water that stains it, a pilgrim
stripped of music (misreading) walks a poorly
interpreted street, the bed was so clean,
the shower so soft, the lights such obedient
plants, unfolding, raw-smelling, safely and freshly,
things subside so rarely, more often they pour
thickly, more often overhang and cry
and rub off and crowd, more often I will develop
a swift disease like a palace under construction,
humps of red brain clay, red anthills.
My fears will become clamorous streets
dented with flood, will flood in heavy rain like
the sign says. The room’s a cloud like a supine face
exhaling with light in its mouth. The water
that I think of as warping lies over vegetation
and wood rotting in various slow, undemanding ways.
It’s hard to write about relief and cleanliness without
acting like thinking I deserve more. More than.
Two bulky silhouettes, male, waver at the top.
I decide to walk the other way, away from them,
because there’s no one around, meaning no one besides;
in a form of quiet, branches wait without
resistance, so rare in the midst of busy sickness,
droplets squatting on the veneer of the floor
all night, resting from thinking, waking
and bathing in strange smells. Later somebody will
say, “late in history,” meaning now, will say, “The history
of __________ contains the answer to every question,” with
the blank a mumble, a crowd all muttering how abrupt
and terror-stricken lives are, with no rooms, no showers,
no dog claws, no dog bed, no paintings propping walls
and floor, walking the wrong ways. One of those
_________ Street signs where the blank is a family name
confuses the hell out of me—traps and anxiety, offers
of rides from unknown men—I can’t say, “Probably
nothing will happen to me.” A sound is raining but
it is not, dumping buckets of scrap iron or temporary sleep,
a kitchen with few dishes, much coffee, offshoots,
watery symbols. I gained a small inside (mishearing).
I did not hang or decay or dream.
Kate Schapira is the author of TOWN (Factory School, Heretical Texts, 2010) and several chapbooks with Flying Guillotine Press, Portable Press at Yo-Yo Labs, Cy Gist Press, Rope-A-Dope Press and horse letter press, as well as her own kitchen-table imprint, In Hand Books. She runs the Publicly Complex reading series in Providence, RI.