is it now?
The alarm rings: 6 am. You roll out of bed. You put your pants on one leg at a time. Now bend and give your wife a kiss; she rolls over. You make lunch, and you sign a permission slip. You eat breakfast. Grab an umbrella, just in case. When you go, you turn off the porch light and lock the doors. At the corner store, you hold the door for a lady who doesn’t look at you or thank you; you think that though you should be grateful, you don’t fit your life. Cracked leather bites your heel, and you think it’s time for a new pair of shoes, and then the rain begins to fall, and then you walk through a dozen puddles. Your feet are soaked. Your toes cramp as you step it out to make the station in time. The seven-thirty train will be leaving soon, and if you’re not on it, you won’t make it to work on time, but
it wouldn’t matter
still you run.
You wait in a long tunnel, buried in grey-coated bodies. Now recite your plan for the day under your breath:
meetings, research, interviews
A man looks up: he thinks you speak to him. Nod him off, rock, and repeat your list: again. Your train appears in the long dark. The mass of bodies condenses at the platform’s edge, the yellow line unheeded and
if someone inhaled, swelled just that much
those in front might topple onto the tracks.
once when I was young I crossed a street diagonally to save time
Yes, you crossed diagonally, when, for a few short seconds, all lights were red, and everything stopped, but you didn’t make it. The train cries to a stop: doors open and bodies are exchanged. You crossed diagonal and you were struck. The drivers waiting at their red lights hadn’t your logic, and you enter the train. You were struck. Do you remember that for the rest of that day, you had a terrible headache, and that night you went to the circus?
The train pulls out; you hold a chrome handrail against the jostle.
circus tent like a pyramid
or like the church where your great-grandmother took you on Arkansas summer Sundays, pitched next to a truck stop. They stood in a mass that day too, a great mass of broken bodies, waiting to be healed. Sometimes they wailed; they wept or fell to the dirt floor. The train rocks, your great-grandmother swayed; she swayed slightly, right, left, right, her left hand knotted on her heart, her right hand clenching a kerchief up in the air waving, her cheeks split by tears.
Remember each church you’ve entered? The first when you were one—the last time you saw your father—a red brick church in a Denver suburb, the parking lot’s black asphalt wrapped up a slight hill; the second, a brown-shingled church with white walls and a long blue bus. You rode the blue bus to church for Sunday school when you were five, and they told you God is everywhere and that began your habit of looking over your shoulder, again and again. And then Arkansas: a huge tent, discolored white canvas, only in the summers. Then no more churches except those you made. You made churches in the hollowed-out bellies of juniper bushes, under blankets pitched over dining room chairs and couch-backs, in open air as you walked to school. Interesting. You remember each church, but not each circus; you just remember going to the circus that night. You crossed the street, you were hit by a car, you went to the circus. Normal. You were eight
the only time in my life
and you remember going to the circus, and the elephant?
I can’t be sure there was an elephant
you can be sure there was an elephant.
was it the same trip to the circus?
Yes. You’d seen elephants other times, other places, sure, but that night at the circus like a church, there was an elephant that broke rank and butted its broad forehead into a pregnant woman’s ribs. She fell to the ground but got up immediately. She was okay, but her baby was coming. The train veers into another tunnel, and you are pressed against the glass.
I don’t think there was an elephant because you don’t know from where the memory came. Perhaps from a story you’d heard; your mother went to a circus when pregnant with you, and she was knocked down by an elephant.
Just as good as any memory all become fiction in remembering.
The train emerges from the tunnel; you repeat your plan for the day again: again: again. You think you hear an echo: again: then you think that woman mimics you in hushed matins: again: but, see, those around you are busy in books or thumb talking or listening to private music or asleep. It’s your stop. You enter the stream of commuters exiting the train at the platform below the building where you work. You turn right and head for the escalator and lobby and office of the rest of your days. You chose this job so you wouldn’t go home dirty; you chose this job because mother would have approved because it paid more than the one before, or for the health insurance, and a baby on the way; you chose this job for the title you wear for friends, because this job is, as you travel along your ecliptic, a job to have. Not everyone can doctor not everyone knacks invention or hawking luxury homes or speculating. You speculate that you chose this job because this job had been chosen for you, and you are supposed to agree. Now nod. It’s only a job and no matter the job, when you complete a task, give an honest effort, you feel good. You’ve always wanted to do your job well; you’ve wanted to be held accountable and others the same.
There is a window across the hall. The office across the hall has a window, and through your open door, through his open door, through the slanted blinds, you see a billions drops of rain. You sit with a file before you, a project that may get you out of the office, into the rain, or a proposal that may tether you to the desk; you have a lesson to prepare for those who come after me must be taught you remember your teaching so well. The file remains closed and you in your damp gray socks scry the pattern of wear on the soles of your brown leather shoes. Look here—you teeter when you walk, at times heavy on your heels, listing to the right, but this up-and-coming pattern suggests flitting, bounding on your toes, rapid movement to and fro. Why do you scamper? Your trail would confuse even the best trackers; your shoes have multiple uses, multiple wearers is someone tracking me? Maybe you/not you. A co-worker walks by, and she asks you a question. At first you don’t hear her; at first you think it is you thinking loudly
Should I buy a new pair of shoes?
Was mother knocked down by an elephant?
Would anyone would be able to track me if I ran?
“What? What elephant? The pitch is happening tomorrow instead of Friday … will you be ready?”
Sit still… stare… and slowly smile yes at her. Show some teeth.
It’s your lunch hour; you haven’t divined the truth about shoes or about the elephant or about running; there are too many truths truths that stretch from out there to somewhere behind the self. You power up your computer: you Google your fifth-grade girlfriend’s name. You can’t find her small digital feet. Irritated, the phone on your hip vibrates: a text from your wife. You close the browser and return to your life. Your daughter is sick; you need to pick her up from school. Now close the files, slide on your worn shoes, and list your way, heavy on your heels, down to the lobby and back out into the rain. You hail a cab it passes by. You forgot your umbrella. In the distance, the clouds have broken. In the distance, the sun shines down. Make a run for it: the subway. You sprint to catch the next outbound train. You can’t make it. Every day you try, and every day you can’t make it. You always have to take a later train. Your sport coat is soaked. The sunshine never gets any closer I run away from it your path is deeper into the forest of confusion.
An old man in a dirty suit frayed at the elbows and cuffs sings on the subway car. He beats an old tin can and in a baritone sings. He beats and beats and sings, and, remember those hot summer nights when your big sister played records? You sit in her room and she plays records and you lust through magazines stolen from your stepfather’s liquor cabinet. Your sister lies on her back on her bed twining the coiled phone cord around one hand as she talks on the phone all night long. The man beats and beats and sings and the train rocks while you remember sneaking out when your parents weren’t home. You run down dark alleys and meet friends who are up to no good, and you are in. Again. The man sways left, and right, and beats and beats his can and turns and comes up the aisle. You smell him before he gets to you bourbon vomit lavender and he looks you in the eye, his voice quieting. You’d wait for nights when your parents were drunk asleep, remember, and take their keys and climb into the battered black ‘79 Cougar and drive as far as the gas takes you and they always came to get me except he beats the can for the last time. He moves on – they move on – and you are alone. Again.
The man sings and sings as long as the train rolls down the tracks, the records spinning, your sister chatting and both of you hear the car grinding up the gravel drive, and by the time you get to your daughter, school will be over. You’ll never make it. Again. Call your wife; she tells you that you disappoint her, always and forever it’s unfair she uses infinity twice once is heavy enough, and the train doors open and you follow the minstrel onto the platform at a stop not your own. The doors close and the train slips away carrying your bag with it. You can’t get the elephant out of your head, as if everywhere you go, the elephant lurks. You mount the steps to the street, pausing for a few seconds on each, looking, listening, and then you step to the next: again. As your head breaks the surface, you scan the surrounding street. You cannot find the elephant. You don’t even know is there an elephant? You find only the same wet afternoon: crowd and cabs and delivery bikes cutting in and out and slicing puddles. You take the last steps; you survey all hiding places for the elephant again. There is no elephant. You point yourself toward where home should be and you begin. Again.
The last block after the bus stop and the rain has subsided, the sun clouded over, but you haven’t noticed. You accomplished nothing, today, at all. Again. Again, Again. Yet you were immeasurably busy. You walk up a quiet street in front of trim-and-polish magazine houses with wide bay windows and iron driveway lamps fashioned like lanterns. You turn up your walk; the lawn has been cut I didn’t do it but you didn’t make outside on the weekend. The fresh cut grass is too short and the wind can’t make it sway, the wind that won’t whisper, the wind that has no voice. Your hand turns the nob.
That evening you sit on your couch, your bed for the night, and you stare at a piece of paper. Make a list of what’s really important: begin at the beginning:
1) who is the elephant 2) is the sun in league with the elephant 3) who am I
This is not the right list. Begin. Again, at the beginning: again.
- I want my daughter healthy 2) I want my wife to be happy 3) why do they follow me
Not the right list either.
- where do we come from 2) did God send the elephant 3) am I the elephant
You write list after list into the night the list is never The List and no answers come. The rain doesn’t let up. Maybe tomorrow you will make it. The curtain is gaped, the window speckled with raindrops, but in the distance, the clouds have fled as they always do. You lay down on the couch. Do you know what time it is? is it night?
You lay awake and you half-dream about the world ten years before. You were just graduated or just married, or starting an old job or ending a new, a harder worker, a better listener, or just a little naïve, for the first time I think I am still just a little naïve. The darkness goes on forever, and after a forever, stars come like pin-pricks. You can’t stop the light from sieving in. You have to get up. You put your pants on one leg at a time; you bend and give your wife a kiss; she smiles. You make lunch, and you sign a permission slip; you eat breakfast. Leave the umbrella; you won’t need it. You turn off the porch light and lock the doors when you go. At the corner store, a lady smiles and holds the door for you; you thank her. A car horn pulls you out of the dream I know what is real but you were long submerged, and it is difficult to return. You aren’t sure if this was real or that is real I know what is you have trouble unknotting the when. You feel emptiness, wistfulness, the pang for what’s passed: you want to go back in I know. Close your eyes and try to fall back into the dream.
On occasional afternoons, you notice an intermittent haze: again. You feel oddness coming on as you wander the halls at work, as you recline on Sunday watching football. Again. You sit in the break room in your undershirt and begin a conversation. You can’t tell if you are talking, or you are listening. It’s been weeks, months; you’ve descended many times; you realize that, sometimes, you are both talking and listening. And then someone says that’s absurd: you need to be careful, saying such things. You converse again, another day: again: again. Sounds like good advice. You paw oatmeal across from your wife: you’re talking things over with yourself, don’t you see? Your daughter looks on, fearful: again. If you’re not careful, they’ll find you out you’re so right and you slowly nod.
You stand before a mirror. How’d I get here? You had a frosting of stubble, so you came in to shave. But the man in the mirror has a full beard; he is gory, dirty. He has large dark eyes, large dark secrets.
Perhaps this is he, the man who converses with me.
You stare at him and him at you.
He doesn’t give anything away. No, no he doesn’t. Let’s take care of this: raise the blade, but the blade alone isn’t sufficient for the task: our mind’s not right. Outside the rain falls as it has always fallen. The streets are long submerged and the buildings have disappeared under the waterline. The bathroom is unlike ours. I know. The curtains are rose, the tiles white, the towels bloody peach. A long gray submarine slides past the window. Can’t you feel it pinging us, pinging the metal in our blood and bones, resonating against the plate in our head? Like where we’ve been, here we un-belong.
I must walk to the front door before the submarine gets its fix. Look at me! I wear only a tangled beard. A yellow rain coat hangs on a hook by where my dirty hand, with its long jagged nails, grips the nob. I take the raincoat off its hook and pull it over my shoulders, and it hits me at the knee as I button its three silver buttons. Water thrashes the side of the house. Open the door…the waters will part before me and the submarine will run aground against a brown brick colonial. I’ll walk into the valley of flapping fishes, comfortably beside myself. There are others—other fish, other women, other men, gasping for breath. I’ll walk through the parted waters and gather these fish and fling them into the walls of water to the left and to the right. I’ll strut into this unknown world—butfinally the right world—yes, finally…Tell them all I’m coming. I’m coming to give breath to those who have none.
Again and Again and Again
From where she watered her petunias, Sarah Crittenden watched a bearded man in a yellow raincoat creep out the front door of her friend Mildred’s house. Every few steps, he bent and reached with both hands, giggled, and threw his cupped hands randomly left, or right. With each bend and heave, he was more enthusiastic, eventually pirouetting down the street into the sunrise. She watched Raincoat’s dance, her garden-gloved left hand sideways in front of her face blocking the sun. Eventually he turned down an alley, and Sarah went inside to phone Mildred to make sure everything was all right.
Ken Farrell’s work is forthcoming/published in Pilgrimage, Watershed Review, Sport Literate, The Piltdown Review, The Offbeat (poetry prize selected by Heid E. Erdrich), and elsewhere. He holds an MFA from Texas State University, an MA from Salisbury University, and he has earned as an adjunct, cage fighter, pizzaiolo, and warehouseman. Ken lives in Texas, busy revising and shopping poetry and fiction, and he recently began his first novel, a tale about a world where ghosts serve on juries, the sky is off limits, and shards of souls are commodities. Ken can be found online at: kenwfarrell5.wixsite.com/mysite facebook.com/PoetKenFarrell