An Episode of War
It’s important to leave the orchardin the early morning, before the bugs arrive, said Ares,
stretching and yawning after a nap. I invented, he said,
Arachnophobia, among other things – there was a girl
in Mrs. Needleman’s fourth period bio class who stuck
gum on the underside of his desk. Her name was Arachnid,
oddly enough, those were the days when new parents took pride
in a name’s ingenuity – the final moment of complete control.
Her parents owned a cherry orchard, but they were sour
and bruised after any big wind. They shared a Coke
one afternoon on the bank of the Euphrates, it was too warm
for coffee. Have you noticed the purple trees they’ve planted
at the Acropolis? How the sky is redder than it’s ever been?
(A boar snorted about the forest for truffles.)
It’s morning again, and she’s left him for a software salesman
outside of Monterrey. He took up golf and archery, abandoned croquet
but found himself in songwriting, plucking the golden mandolin he stole
from his father, who has always been unfairly particular
about sending his other-worldly possessions on loan. Anyway, one day
his neighbor, Dan – six foot eight – a man whose knees ached
from the weight and angle of his limbs, slightly knotted
from a disease which Ares referred to as “the gangle”
plucked him from the snow by the collar. Ares unbolted a bloodshot eye
and fell into a rant about advertising in baseball, these days, how
if a man can get on base and stay there, he’s worth every penny. A whisper
that screamed of sour whiskey. He said one day, when he was eight or nine,
a wolf spider crawled from the outhouse bench and bit him behind
the knee. He’s been working on his short game, he said, but it was slurred,
so Dan lowered him back into the snow, knowing full well
that once everything had melted and the sun took proper arc, that Ares
would return to the orchard, to nap in the shade of a tree, or perch in a limb
with the half-eaten body of a lamb hanging limp between his teeth.
Selene solicits a couple lunching on the patio at Luigi’sItalian Eatery. They were a sharing a sandwich
of shaved turkey, peppercorn cheese melted into focaccia
with pesto mayonnaise. I don’t have anything, she assured him,
I’ve spent too long in the woods. My granddaddy always told me
you gotta learn how to fight before I’ll teach you
to talk like a scoundrel, young lady. Sorry, I didn’t mean to
bring the crazies around, (ain’t no furies like the first),
it’s these new eyes I’m seein’ with – my first time in a big city.
The couple shifted in their seats, glanced at each other, Selene.
No way, she exclaimed, noting the stack of books on the elbow
of the tabletop, I write too! I write songs, plays, novels, I write
movie books… the key is to write only what you know, show ‘em
what you got, see if it sticks – like spaghetti, my gramma used to say.
She had a face tattoo that was just beginning to scab, a scarab
and a palm leaf. You a poet? she said. How’s this, you don’t want to know
what I done. I done just about everything – how poetic is that?
Brother, she said to the man, clearly taken aback, I been in prison
for ten years before this, outside three weeks now, and I ain’t goin back.
Take my cratered lakes, take my Mare Isularum and swim in it.
I gotta find a way downtown, she said, you got some change? you know
when the bus run? Good luck, said the couple. You know where ‘luck’ come
from… Lucifer! I’m gonna bless myself instead, brother, hiking up
the strap of her shoulder bag, closer to her neck, where another tattoo was
peeking up from her collar, also scabbed. Now all I need is two
frickin dollars for a guitar string, she slurred, finishing a can of beer
with a belch. Ah now, don’t even bother, I’ll go find myself a shade tree
and rest for a while. Later that night, thousands stand on balconies
across the city, catching the echoes of a song played from a park bench,
splitting the limbs of a shade tree with divine pallor, lunacy, a chorus
aching its way across the key of B, negotiating the entire minor scale,
until, finally, vibrating lights brought the evening to her knees.
He dipped his brush in crimson oil to paint an empty pail.How can you tell from this angle? Turn on the light, she said.
A bucket? Yes. And is that a dog? Yes. It’s a dog.
There’s flaw in your stroke, it’s convincing, it makes me want
to tube a newspaper, strike her haunch. Careful, he said,
headlines are decidedly harder these days. They laughed,
he fingered the canal between her knuckle and wrist,
she smiled, turned back to the canvas and touched it.
Strokes dried to points like colored teeth. I’ve got one, he said.
What’s the difference between wind through a pail,
and thread through the eye of a button?
She sipped a plastic cup of wine, trying to decipher chardonnay
from pinot, shrugged (if it’s not from a box, it’s probably fine).
A vehicle, she said, a co-operative attachment, while the other is free
to focus its attention on lack of contents. His mind was fuzzy
from linseed oil and sauvignon. She smiled, grabbed him
by the collar, pushed him back into the couch and knelt.
Years later, they have fallen out of touch.She calls him on a Sunday as it rains.
How could you paint an empty pail? It’s not possible
to paint emptiness, to capture absence. You’d have to be mad
to spend your life on such things. Baby, he whispers –
he can tell she is crying, he imagines the cord
wrapped around her finger, and she, in a distant city
would be wearing a summer dress, Roman sandals
laced up her calf, sunglasses pinned in her hair –
I won’t upset you, neither would I hope to paint what’s not there.
I’m trying to call attention to the hole in the bucket.
You don’t need to see the puddle to understand.
A dog scratches at the door. He stretches to turn the handle,clutching the receiver between his shoulder and chin.
Is that Maggie? Yes. How is she? Fine, just fine.
He’d given up drinking the year before, set a ringed mug
of coffee on the countertop. The dog attacked its water dish.
I guess I never thought of it that way, painting the hole, that is.Believe me, he said, I understand, but that’s how it has to be –
what else can we hope for, if not what is, or isn’t?
The dog sat watching him fiddle with the cord, smiled,tilted its head, then shook its dripping jowls on the floor.
Jim Davis’ greatest passions are being a teacher, poetry and painting. He is a graduate of
Knox College, a graduate student at The Chicago School of
Professional Psychology, and is hoping to begin the Creative Writing MFA
program at in the spring. He has recently been nominated for Best of
the Net consideration by Lascaux Review,
He has won the Line Zero Poetry Contest, Eye on Life Poetry Prize
University 2nd Place),
named Runner-Up for the Best Modern Poem by ’s Journal of Modern Poetry, and he has
received multiple Editor's Choice awards. His work has appeared in Seneca Review, Whitefish Review, Blue Chicago Review, Poetry
Quarterly, and Contemporary American Voices, among others. My first
chapbook, "Feel and Beat Again," will soon be available from MiTe Press, of which Boston Literary
Magazine said: "Canny, brilliant and unerringly insightful, Jim Davis
lives in a world where nothing is ordinary." Mesa