Category Archives: stories

Shapes of houses

We crawled in our apartment hand over foot so took to the a new house in a flourishing. Four times the necessary space. I stood at one end and he stood at the other and we talked in loud voices until we were hoarse and never heard a word.

We wanted everything king size. King size! A kingdom. The tinier we could be. To reach for the table, for the floor, for the edges— the length between one and the other was hallowed. We’d lost a longing and gained it back while we hollowed out the places we fit and felt delicate. Outside the world stayed the same but with our newfound smallness we saw the strongest man in the world, the tallest buildings ever built. We could be lifted and carried to tops of the towers. Somedays we never spoke and let the dead air take up all the space.

Of course if we’d stayed curled in the middle of our things we’d never have noticed. The thickening. Each minute we were closer to passing through doorways and noticing the walls beside. A step aside. A little stumble. Soon feeling hands and knees I didn’t own sidling up my ribcage; we slithered and snaked. Those are the shapes of houses. We grew into it. We shape our houses until they shape us.

* * *

Has someone

Has someone told you about the man in Florida I ask. In Jacksonville there is a man waiting for a good thing to happen.

People tell him to wait at the restaurants, or at the station or for a call or a message. Some people tell him to wait at the lowest of lows, down the steps, and some people say “go upstairs and wait we’ll be right there.” Others say to go all the way up, up up closest to heaven. Most often he is told to wait just one minute, hold on. He’s got two brown big eyes and he waits with his hands gripped.

He thinks of a good thing when he goes to sleep, as he waits to wake up. You know what it is to sleep waiting? On a little ledge and held-tight teeth, so he is a tired man, the man in Florida.

One day while he was waiting he got his money stolen. It was only a little bit of money, but he came to wait at the same spot as always and the man in brown stole a little money. The man in Florida went to the police who asked him to wait on the chairs that went straight up and down, and the man sat with his fingers gripped and waited. He told the police what the man looked like, where he was waiting, what little money was stolen. A lady put it all somewhere and thanked him for reporting and said we’ll do the best we can. The man thought this was a little good thing.

It took a lot of little good things to make the world go. The man from Florida would wait along the side of the bridge, the bridge that had the spires built to keep the people from jumping. The man got tired of waiting sometimes. He thought about standing on the spires, balanced as a circus act, spinning like a top while those below clapped their hands and waited and watched. He danced on the veil, spinning forever, everyone waiting and watching, watching and waiting.

* * *


The good doctor carries a gastraphete. We’ve painted the undersides of our jaws, bellies out and naked. There is no choice but to borrow the path from our ancestors. We mark the side of the bank with bulleted progress, guided by the taut and slack of the skeins of hair tied between the final five like muscles. Noon’s whiteness thrusts through breaches in the canopy and wraps the woods in the balmy threat of fever. Forward-moving we sound like the clawing of some giant beast, paused we feel the air recoil from the throbbing of our chests, and around the wrists of our detained grows a rosy garland that brightens in the writhing of our march. Day seems to rupture. Reaching the opening of widened earth, the aberrant among us are shouldered to the muddy banks. Fear kicks like a horse, the woods filled with howling from the salty ground. The good doctor raises his palms to a blueblack sky, a flock of geese.

* * *

The Port

Below the balcony is a ship. It was Sunday; we watched from the window to the harbor behind us, hazily. We learned quickly that ports make the same sounds in darkness as in daylight, each morning turned into a fine cloth. Bill next door says in two months we’ll be like babies again but I see us like babies and the way we would shriek with the noise, our fat bodies in bed and mouths open. I don’t think Bill has children.  

It was a fine Sunday. A bright sun. Machines stroll by. 


God had said to build a whale which had taken us to the port this Sunday and all the rest, for the time. The still small voice spoke between us like a current, ours between us. Most men are looking for a burden— a thing to hold on their shoulders solitary—but this was ours. Nothing to carry. We’ll make what we can.

There is an impulse at first to find a plot of land to own: green grass, solid ground. What we needed, though, was water, something you don’t own like any other thing. The rented deck of the port became a place to hold, a few slabs of wood to act righteously. We began the process of collecting—sheets of rubber and limbs to shape and paddles for forms— and built a slow pile in our home. At night we learned to sleep in the farthest corner of the room, the only place we still could move against each other but stay away from the sounds outside and from everything we were beginning to own inside. 

The light grows shorter, and each day we make it back in darkness having been made smaller by hours in water. Toward the back of our home we regrow: arms curled with the opening of the door, then stretched and lengthened to the only corner that we can still say is ours. We are longest at night. 


In months it was done. A creature built, skin and spine and cells, resting heavy on the water. A covenant completed before the open ocean with our only hands. In the early dawn we bring the shears to the deck to make the release and break the ropes that held all we had built. He takes them in his hands, brings the muscles downward with the movement of nothing that has ever been. Unlike a crash or flood there is no sound; silently it drops below the water, below the light to nothing. No movement but our own. As we stand the world stays still, barely warm, but it is everything all at once. 

We were a prism.  


He stands on the dock at night, our home empty and the water empty and no further words. Everything has faded and nothing has returned, and I feel what it is to have nothing to say or do or make. As near as I can I am behind him. 

Lay your bones down, baby. There are always plans to be made. 

* * *

A Joke

We were five: John and his wife Lydia, and Thomas the Artist, and Kevin and me. The table seats eight for foresight and we sit unbalanced at the end of the table for dinner, a bottle of wine and the first course, salad.

Our party’s noise echoes off the cabinet doors, similar words again and again in our voices. Across the table Kevin leads the conversation on politely like his grown-up hand in a child’s down the sidewalk: John tells a story about his lawyer’s breakdown in court, Kevin counters with a failed meeting earlier in the week. Kevin with his answers to the conversation. Kevin replies.

“We were thinking of taking a trip south Friday, see Lydia’s parents.” John has a statement.

Kevin starts a sentence with we. Kevin says something. Kevin keeps saying. While I take bites Kevin’s saying becomes something that isn’t saying but another thing entirely, a gradual change. His mouth is too wide. With each sentence it is wider, out and up and down, and I try in disbelief to watch to see if Lydia sees, if Thomas– Thomas who has to see– the shape-shifting. The sounds change. Each word is a morph of the noise itself and his face, contorting. The whole length of each sentence is a process of flattening– the accuracy of his features into unreal exaggerations of shapes descending to sharp lines. Sounds that started human and then flattened to shreds of gutted noise. Savage or alien the change is sickening, like watching a bone twist brutally from its place.

The conversation continues as everyone else nods toward this unrecognizable thing as though they can’t see, the horror not in their faces but in the grotesque figure that began as Kevin as my husband as human. To make it stop I want to reach across the table: I want to reform him first and then I want to tear the whole thing apart, to stop the movement of his absurd muscles and terrible jaw. Deaden the sounds. Alone I would claw at him, sharp teeth and sharp fingers, until there was nothing left of his mouth. His jaw is moving. His jaw moves. Moving and screeching with bones and tendons of a misshaped animal.

With a bare excuse I stand up, make my way around the table. In the bathroom I use the surface of every counter and door and wall to stop the temperature of my skin, running the water to not hear my pulse in everything. Closed or open I see his whole parade of selves in the back of my head where my eyes were supposed to show me the sink or faucets or floor. His thick voice was still a murmur through the door, and it came and went and came and went until a brief pause, enough silence to know how inevitably I would need to go back. Shaking into the mirror I moved to exit only to hear one final murmur, a final word.

As the door opens I hear their laughter rattle like a deep breath out in the room, Lydia with her hand placed briefly and gently on Kevin’s arm in adoration, the light in the room of an entirely different shade. The laughter rolled and boomed up to the final whimpers of praise, John and Thomas wiping their eyes in a gesture of the recognition of a man’s clever mind while Kevin nodded, proud. Around the table I faced him and something had emptied and he’d returned– my husband. As I opened the cabinet doors for the final course I caught his eyes for the upturn of his normal, average smile.

* * *


On the gravel near the water he wants to yell things: tonight’s his best Brando, falls to his knees like Stella had walked across water to put her fingers in his skin. She doesn’t speak back is the way it’s written so the air stays still– the meaning of yelling into nothing– while I’m there for a surface. I let him act anything for me.

Later he tells me a story about the African preacher who wanted to show his congregates that Jesus had walked on water, prove that he could too. I’m in the car and his feet are in the water while he yells the story about faith to me through the windows. Through the glass the sound is the same as everything we say to each other. Disbelief is not flimsy.

It was mine every way (against muscles, heavy, a tightening) until he says to take it out and carry it. It’s how we take unreal things and make them take space, a thick distance between us. Ours, though. 

In the back of the car we have our legs across the seats and our backs against the doors. No more yelling: it’s his best Vivian Leigh, her mad eyes and mad voice. Deliberate cruelty is the one unforgivable thing. The laugh next is his laugh but part of the scene. We trade: the shape of forgiveness for the shape of remorse, like the preacher who meant to substantiate a miracle. In the end the water passed overhead and he never came back. 

Still, we think, things will become fair. It is evening. 

* * *

Vanishing the Statue of Liberty

Paul told me, said his perfect lady is lady liberty, said all his perfect women rust.

“In my dreams we go camping. She takes me to the adironaks and we make smores from her torch, read together, count her steps.  She rests her arms with me in the folds. We have a witness language that only witnesses know.” 

It is like him to be wrong. Copper doesn’t oxidize.

There were others before, half-formed, winged. In the end he renounces what he’s named purity, whatever marbled whiteness it might be this time. 

“Liars,” he spits. “No woman fits inside a clam shell.”

A man fell from her crown once, I tell him. No woman is perfect if a man has died at her feet. 

This is not the right thing to say. “Men are weak and stupid. She is always there, loyal fiercely: no woman asks for human sacrifice. It is a man thing, mad for themselves. She is more perfect for it.”

And who are you, I ask, who are you to love her.

“Slayer of dragons,” he says. “Lover of France.”  

* * *

How we fortify

Having a baby is the exact same as everyone says it is. You are afraid that it won’t be the way everyone says it will be and then you go to the hospital and then you love something in a way that is a new definition of loving something, like everyone says. When you have another baby you are afraid that you can never love it the way you loved the first one but you always can. I believed everyone after the second time and we have two boys.

Once you love something this way you want to protect it with a new definition of protecting something, same as everyone says. In our house, which I liked, we unsharpened everything which was fine until they started blowing things up. I didn’t do a lot then, professionally. I was learning that it was really easy to do research on the internet, so I started doing a lot of research on building, mostly on building materials that are really strong. Most people blogging about building spent a lot of time fighting about materials or complaining they didn’t have the land they needed to really test things out, but they’re mostly really nice. I made friends with a British man who lived in Tokyo, which is also really easy to do, and he said he had an idea about building a house and asked if I would be interested in trying it out because he didn’t have a family. We weren’t going to move, so we thought we could build another house around our house which would be a stronger house.

It went really well. When it was finished I felt better than I had for a few years, and I’d made sandwiches for the workers everyday and didn’t worry about germs as much. We decided to try for another layer. It was easy to explain to the kids with matryoshka dolls because they were still learning with their hands then.

Since people are always inventing new things we did this for a while, and our houses looked like this:


Eventually the living room was not a living room but a living house, and a kitchen house and a master bedhouse and the kids’ bedhouses. I think James is smoking pot now, but I don’t know.

We couldn’t afford to do it any more but I’ve been emailing with some companies like Kmart that are interested in sponsorship so we might be breaking ground on another layer as early as March 2018. It will both be safer and convenient to live inside a Kmart.

* * *

Being better

No one is good the way I am good. 

My bones are good. They’re long. The one in my nose is not straight because I broke it with another bone, a knee bone. This is how they prove they are both weak and strong, though, and I do not consider it a betrayal. My bones have not betrayed anyone.  

I imagine how for other people they could be vessels that hold a lot of things– I think my grandmother kept a lot of fear in her bones. When I would go help at the Center it was always so much work to make sure the faucets would not keep running, because they didn’t have strength enough to turn the handles. I would think, what are you keeping in there? What have you made of your bones?

Paul and I walked through the city yesterday where a man stood still with a can at his feet. I said you have to have good bones for that– for standing that still– but Paul kept going, saying that this whole city has good bones and that we are all made of hard parts and soft parts. 

But there are parts that can boil, and run through your fingers, I think. What about those parts. 

* * *


I had to stop using water for things like bathing, or coffee, because this weird city made him worry about water and where it’d been and what it’d done. We washed in milk. 

The apartment we lived in had huge doors, beautiful and important like signs of another city. We stepped outside them once and a child had been shot, a tiny body outside our beautiful doors. The blood ran for what seemed like miles, though eventually it all washed away, and he would say things to me about how unnecessary it all was and complain about the smoke from the fires, and then we’d bathe extra often. 

The most beautiful thing is his hair now, numinous, from the milk. Not once did he ever think about the cows while he ran the milky sponge around my knees. What kind of ritual is this, I’d think. What are we doing.

The quickest way to learn the words for things is to not want them.

Over breakfast we’d run our tongues across our teeth after a night spent breathing in ash and the dryness of each other. I had unrecognizable hands, the hands of someone old. He warmed the cups of milk over the stove and I’d hold them in my hands and lean against the wall, watching him blink slowly. Mornings were quiet. To feel violently about your own body, and the body of another, and to be accustomed to it.

Eventually we began to thirst for other things: salt, and oil, and no longer for each other. On Saturday I went down to the ocean to wait.

* * *