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January 19, my birthday
I create a midnight poetry reading. I litter the city with flyers, yellow, pink and light blue, the colors of baby’s breath, reassuring, comforting colors, but in the end I am the only one attending. The wooden folding chairs from the thirties that the county bought for audiences after a stage was added to the back of the one-room schoolhouse seem to ask: Where are the children? Where is the audience? Why are you sitting in the dark mumbling obscurities to yourself, and calling it art and fulfillment?
February 16, my mother-in-law’s birthday (she is 96 years old)
It’s cold and rainy on the carnival midway. Only the masochists are out, and the desperate, the recovering alcoholics who are terrified by the idea of going into a warm bar, the meth heads who have blown up their homes, blown up their mothers who were sleeping on the couch with aggravated expressions frozen on their faces. I’m here with my kids. I buy them blue popsicles, and they eat them in the rain, avoiding mud holes when they can. I’m fulfilling my responsibility, teaching them about life.
I turn on my laptop. The tiny fan keeps me warm. I have a hundred messages from people who want me to like them. I don’t even know them, but I like them. I like most people. Out of all the people I’ve met in the last five years, only one stands out as obnoxious, a dwarf albino epileptic. I didn’t dislike him for any of those qualities, only his insufferable arrogance.
All I can do is mixed race writing. My mother was Albanian/Armenian, my dad La Raza/Eskimo. I can’t write White, though my boss tells me that technical writing is not a mixed race thing, and I need to fix on one language. He thinks my strength is Armenian. He has bought me a plane ticket to Armenia and booked me a hotel for a week. He tells me that Armenian women are the sexiest in the world, all that hirsute swarthiness. I sit on the plane. My carry-on bag complains ceaselessly. I hear its muffled voice directly above me. My neighbors hear it too. They despise me.
I sell my poems at Wal-Mart. I have them written by young adults in Bangladesh who have fled the unsafe conditions of the garment industry. Their pain translates admirably into literature. I pay them better than the clothing factories. They are imaginative. They write the poems in colonial cursive. I claim the poems as my own. It’s not plagiarism. They are my employees.
When I slide my license out of my wallet to hand to the cop, I see the heart at the bottom right corner, red, like Colorado itself. A river flows red through black canyons. I sleep in a vacant school nearby. My wife and I huddle like bats on a cavern’s ceiling.
That heart on my license, that cheerful valentine, represents the brief period after my death when my organs will fly hither and yon, packed securely, held close by messengers, to bring joy to families desperate for organs. In this way I endorse the concept of community, no matter how much I mutter, under my breath, about the general stupidity of humanity.
The cop doesn’t tell me that he’s got a borrowed kidney. He gives me a warning and sends me on my way.
I gaze through triple-thick windows. I have no thyroid, and often worry that I will freeze to death. I often feel that I am freezing to death.
My children find me pathetic. They visit me and, as they leave, I see their thought balloons: I never want to get that old. If I get that old, someone please shoot me. I should buy a gun now to have it well in advance for when I need it.
I didn’t raise them to be gun people—they’re not gun people, so the names that enter their heads are only names: Glock (sounds deadly but messy), Walther (didn’t James Bond have one?), Lugar (harsh, Germanic), Colt (go out like an old cowboy, blow yourself out of the saddle)
The horse gallops off as if he’s seen a snake. There you lay, quickly becoming a Georgia O’Keeffe cow skull. Bye, Dad! Have a nice day! and the thought balloons: What does he do with himself all day? They could ask the staff, but don’t.
They find my incontinence pitiable, but its sudden warmth is like a hint of Spring at the end of a long winter.
Work by Mitchell Krockmalnik Grabois appears in magazines worldwide. Nominated for numerous prizes, he was awarded the 2017 Booranga Centre (Australia) Fiction Prize. His novel, Two-Headed Dog, based on his work in a state hospital, is available for Kindle and as a print edition. His poetry collection, THE ARREST OF MR. KISSY FACE, published in March 2019 by Pski’s Porch Publications, is available here. Visit his website to read more of his poetry and flash fiction.