A Quarrelsome Query
“U, ma man, ma main man, how’s it going?”
“Morrie, it’s Q.”
“. . . oh . . . ummm . . . hey, Q . . . numero uno, how’s living the dream?”
“Morrie, you can drop the act. I know you’ve been avoiding my calls. I had to tell your secretary I was U just to get through.”
“Q, baby, you wound me! I haven’t been ducking your calls. I’ve just been busy, real busy. You know how it is. I’m out there, every day, hitting the pavement to find you work.”
“That’s just the thing, Morrie. I haven’t had a new gig in years. So what are you doing for your thirty percent?”
“Q, come on. I work my tail off for you! But you know how it is. Things have settled down over the last hundred. There just aren’t that many new opportunities out there.”
“That’s a load of shit, Morrie, and you know it. Maybe it’s time I talk to another agent, see if Caroline thinks there’s nothing out there.”
“Q, now, you don’t mean that.”
“Why wouldn’t I? No new work? Caroline got her client X-games. And I see people spelling it ‘X-treme.’ They’re fucking headlining X! X! Fifty years ago, that no-talent tepee couldn’t get work if his phonic depended on it. He was begging E to take jobs with him! It was pity work! Now he’s the fucking up-and-coming.”
“E and X have a good thing going. Is that what this is about, Q? You don’t like working with U?”
“No, I’m not complaining about working with U. But come on, Morrie, I don’t need every job to be with U. Jesus, you get U solo work without me all the time!”
“Look, Q, I’m not gonna feed you a line here. We both know U is a better collaborator.”
“Fuck you, Morrie. What about qi? Sheqel? Faqir? I nailed those! And qwerty!? Find me someone who can work like that with W!”
“Q, you gotta understand—those were indie projects. When you told me you wanted to branch out from the normal trends, I told you it wasn’t a good idea. But I did what you asked. I pulled in some gigs for your ‘experimental’ phase. That may have made you the toast of the town with a few groups, but it just alienated you from the mainstream, made you come off as pretentious.
Now X? He stayed true to the brand, bided his time, and people came to him! He wasn’t pushing for the new age shit or trying to impress his fringe friends. You made me shoot us in the foot!
And U? If you had played ball like U did, I could have had you on supporting roles with the big guys: R, S, T.”
“You want to talk about supporting roles, Morrie? You’re going to pull that shit with me?! While you were doing such a fine fucking job for U, I got passed over for cucumber! Fucking CUCUMBER! How is that even possible?!”
“We talked about this. They were going in a different direction. You just weren’t a good fit.”
“NOT A GOOD FIT?! NOT A GOOD FIT?! MY FUCKING NAME IS THE ENTIRE FUCKING FIRST SYLLABLE! That asshole C had to do an impression of me just to make it work!”
“You’re missing the point, Q. You were on the verge of something big then. That gig was peanuts, beneath you. Let C do his little impressions on the small stuff, save you for the major deals.”
“ . . . small stuff?! Cucumber is huge! The health nuts ran with it. The sushi people put it in everything now! Hell, the trophy wives put it on their eyes!”
“No one could have seen that coming. When that job opened, cucumber was a nobody green vegetable that tasted like water and grass. Zucchini had the market.”
“Well it doesn’t have the fucking market anymore, Morrie! You know what I hear every time I see that word? I hear C, that smug shit, ordering another margarita as he’s sitting on a beach, thinking about the royalties rolling into his bank account!”
“All right, fine, Q. You want me to spell it out for you? C was a media darling, spending all that time working with H on charity. And you? What were you doing? You were filling the tabloids. No one would touch you. I did damage control, for what it was worth. But Q, they had pictures! We were on the verge of something big, man. Was it too much to ask you to keep your descenders off of j and i’s tittles? They were lower case, for punctuation’s sake!”
“That was a set-up and you know it! How was I supposed to know they weren’t capital? You know lower case these days—they doll themselves up with a stroke here and there, and you can’t tell it’s not an ascender! I wouldn’t be surprised if C was behind it. Next time I see him, I’m going to close his counter and turn him into nothing!”
“Q, Q, Q, okay, take a comma…so what if C made good on a longshot? That’s all paragraphs ago. I’ll get you some new work, Q. You just need to be patient.”
“Patience. You tell me to be patient while you let everything go by. Why isn’t it Qtube? Q-mail? The Q-phone? I pulled in QWERTY myself, got in on the ground floor, then where were you? Where was the follow-up? Everyone’s getting a piece of the tech action but me.”
“I got you QQ!”
“QQ? QQ?! You want to talk about alienating?! You put my name twice on communist Facebook! I’m double-shifting for socializing socialists and I didn’t get so much as a nickel in overtime! Thanks a million, comrade! Now no tech group will touch me!”
“It’s the age of tweets and fame, Q, brand recognition. We needed to get you out there, get some exposure. No press is bad press.”
“Oh, really? Maybe I should run that little theory by N. His agent was getting her thirty percent putting him on anything no one else would touch. Look where that got him? He’s damn-near cornered the market on negatives in a dozen languages, there’s an entire word referenced by his name that people can’t use, and he spent over a decade constantly working for fascists! Was that your plan to get me recognized?! Is that your ‘brand recognition’?”
“Hey, no one’s saying N’s agent did right by him. But it was the Third Reich too. You see T and R being type-cast now? It was work in a slow economy and international exposure.”
“ . . . ”
“Look, Q. We waited out some bad press and I’ve been easing you back into the industry. Give it time.”
“You keep saying that, Morrie. I’m tired of waiting for you. This just isn’t working anymore. Goodbye, Mor . . . ”
“Wait, wait, wait. Q, come on, don’t be hasty. Look, I…yep, here it is. I got a gig for you right here.”
“ . . . ”
“Now, remember—it’s good exposure and money in the bank until we get a bigger gig. This is just a transition.”
“And it’s Disney! We’re talking A-list company here!”
“ . . . ”
“For a new ride they have. Major press!”
“I swear to congees, Morrie, you better not be pitching me sign work for Quidditch.”
“ . . . ”
“Fuck you, Morrie.”
Dark and tasting
of bitter and dirt
it thrives in the heart’s cellar
which looks like it
cooked or shredded
if eaten raw.
Its pink turns her hands
my mouth its rootdark
twin, its rhyme.
She says we’ll dye everything—
hair, shirt, ocean,
tooth, elbow, husk—
red as womb that underheart.
She says she’ll cut my hair
the way women do
when they’re flush with flood.
hoarder of vitamins,
its leafcrown a dress
Hannah tosses aside—
she feeds me strand
by nourishing strand
sap paints my neck
all tongue its wake
wet as blood, rootsweet.
Lavender globe, oversized lollipop, bobble-
headed dancer, I desire your frowzy shazam.
So glam, even after death. Bleached and fragile.
I kept your desiccate heads in a vase for years,
transposing meadow into hipster décor.
All you require is dirt, rocks, sugaring of sunshine.
I’d like to find a phalanx of you and lie below,
mooning over a purple planet sky. Discard modern life:
groceries, desks, screens—their companionate plumping.
Hitch to the caterpillar’s scam and cocoon to you,
stalk-latched, dreaming wings. Proboscis to sip you clean.
For Stephanie Bernhard
Night hangs its dark laundry
from the spruce and magnolias’
white knobs bob in thin wind.
A child, far off, shouts once.
Bike wheels on gravel. Click
of kickstands. Muffled cough.
And now, fireflies, their lust
a most efficient luminescence,
syncing and unlinking,
like revelers at a party’s end.
Fewer though. No migration
for these beetles, every pavement
a disaster. I could add: fewer
toads pouncing from the lawn
mower’s skirr. Fewer bird songs—
all sparrow now, all starling.
Far off a car door slams.
A man’s voice, then a woman’s.
Laughter. Chirp of locking doors.
A cat slinks through grass,
its teeth augury. Its body stand-in
for every engine of extinction.
Japanese beetles fret birch leaves.
Dropped keys sing on concrete.
The fireflies spark and spark—
oh haunted dark, fever of fewer.
This unbearable getting used to.
Tuxedos and Evening Gowns
When I open my bedroom door, there’s always someone inside, dressed to the nines. I’ve tested this phenomenon a couple dozen times so far. I don’t know where these bedroom people come from. My room doesn’t have windows. There’s only one way in or out. I can shut the door on the windowless room, wait a few minutes, open the door, and voilà. They nod appreciatively and walk out. I get the impression that they’re waiting for me, waiting to be let out. But it’s not like some panicky incarceration. These people are always calm and collected. Their tuxedos and evening gowns are pristine. Their hair and makeup is flawless. They’re waiting, but not quite trapped.
They rarely say anything to me, these people in my room. Sometimes they offer a polite “good evening” or “nice weather we’re having.” Whenever I try to talk directly to them, they just smile and look somewhat uncomfortable, as if their politeness can only extend to the most rudimentary phraseology. I say, “Pardon me, could you please tell me why you’re in my room?” I’m not sure why I bother with these niceties—there’s something about their fancy clothes that encourages civility, I guess. After about one week of good manners, I drop the decorum and insist: “Tell me right now! How did you get in here?”
These people shudder at my lack of grace, and their voices quaver as they say “good day” in a hurry. They brush past me, their expensive-smelling colognes and perfumes lingering in the air. They appear more agitated now, but they never break from the politeness. They always close the door behind them, and I’m left in my dimly lit hovel with my stained mattress, 90s band posters on the wall, IKEA side table, alarm clock on the blink.
I try to follow them out, but they catch a never-ending series of buses and trains, and I always lose them after the fifth or sixth transfer. I sleuth for a couple weeks. Every time, they vanish into midday commuter crowds only to reappear on some distant bus as it chugs forward, leaving me on the platform by myself.
I decide that they’re embarrassed of my hoodie and jeans. If I look like I belong, maybe I’ll be able to make all the correct transfers. Maybe I can attend whatever swanky party is waiting at the end-o’-the-line. So I dress myself to the nines—tuxedo, shiny leather shoes, bowtie. I trim my beard. I gel my hair. I look gooooood. I stand in the middle of the room—I want to sit on my stained mattress, but I can’t risk messing up my new clothes. I watch the door, and I know somebody will let me out soon. I will nod at this person and say “good day” in my most polite voice. I will leave the room, and I will know exactly where I am going.