THE JOURNEYMAN

Art: The Fool by Andrew Swartz: The Wooden Tarot

Copyright Abigail Swire 2006

This piece was my crowning achievement as far as poetry goes, written during a particularly intense summer that could not be prosed. Editors don’t like this piece. I don’t care.

THE JOURNEYMAN

No one really knows where to begin — the story, the song,

the first kiss. But like taking a walk, you just

start where you’re standing. One hand, you

lay your cards on the table. Queens and kings, messengers…

cups and swords. You drink, you are sliced and spun. The Fool —

tipping over an edge where the ground may or may not rise to meet you.

All of us orphans of a sort, from one couch to another waking,

falling from one minute to another, a family patched together

from the odds and ends of broken things — mothers,

fathers, sisters and brothers (that’s just how things are now)

with cut-up feet, burning down the streets.

In a northern city you cleaned my nails with the edge

of a milk carton on the train, the drumroll of languages keeps time —

skyline recedes, the gray Hudson below, a single ferry trailing froth…

through the stations on the J line, I remember Canal Street, I

read it in a book. Krasavica, you say,

and I was afraid of the place where the tracks end.

Yeah, you might run into T — there, she says. He might

beg you for change (laughing). He sleeps in a folding chair.

And this is the one she turns to when things go bad, her Voice

of Reason. He wants to make a new life. Go to the clinic.

“And this is the guy I took to the prom.” He wants

to come to her. She downs another glass of wine.

“I don’t think so.”

We look out from her rooftop, over the permanent haze, the

smoggy jungle breath of monsters. 

Our animal sons climb the rails, laugh.

How can you tell them there are no monsters?

I wish there were no monsters.

Seeing you again…how little had changed, how looking

at you felt the same. I really believed you never thought twice

about it… and then like some angel or fiend speaking through you

you said, you said…well, I will never forget it.

She holds her hands flat over mine.

You hold your hands flat over mine.

She’s getting a ragged-hearted tattoo, something patchy and

pink — something, of course, with wings.

She’s handing me the black-and-whites of what was lost, him, him;

He took a gun and blew out the color.

It’s a pinprick nagging that sits on your stomach, something

with a bad taste that won’t go down and won’t come up.

Tell me your worst moment, one of them. Something not too

personal. The lights are out. No, it was morning, and it’s all

personal. In words it sounds worse than I ever thought it would,

makes me wish it wasn’t true or I hadn’t chosen that story. Where

are my sunglasses now?

“It’s ok.”

It’s not ok.

But every frame is the place where you begin, and the place

where something ends

and it leaves me wondering…

“Just ten minutes more,” you say, sleepy.

The blinds make ribbons of your beautiful face.

But I am still Alice, falling and bouncing off the walls, trying to

grab onto something.

“Ok, then. Just ten more minutes.”

Excerpt: The Factory

Image “Bad Girl IV” by Rafaelll90 on Deviantart

“In the labs, you know…”.
“…saw a grotesque thing with legs.”
“Know how to engineer babies…”.

There would always be talk. The less people knew about what went on in other departments, the more crazy the talk. It was always hush hush. It was only safe to gossip, then laugh about it. 

“Back to work,” the supervisor said, rolling by on an old-fashioned pair of skates strapped to his shoes. “Less banter in the ranks.”

Truth is, I didn’t want to know. It was a good place, it was forbidden to ask questions or snoop around, and thinking too much cut down on the easy way we had of singing and whistling and working.

Still, half-truths would trickle out, bit by bit. Advanced munitions. The spontaneous combustion of a worker who burned right through his bed. Quarantine trucks moving, what? A whole department disappeared due to infection, replaced the next morning by another group of gray-faced scientists. Delivery trucks only came and went when no one was outside and at night.

Each city controlled its own surveillance and worked on other things, like DNA, weather, and time. When they tried to engineer time at the Factory, it set the whole place rumbling. We had to duck under tables.