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A Quarterly Journal
Jeffrey Woodward, Founder & Owner
Ray Rasmussen, General Editor

Volume 13, Number 1, March 2019
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Rich Youmans and Judson Evans
North Falmouth & Holbrook, Massachusetts, USA

Approaching Thunder : A Linked Haibun

approaching thunder—
on either side of drawn lines
date palms shiver

Beyond burning geysers of oil, markets turned to charnel houses, among magi who worship the fire of IEDs, or trade in dirty bombs or severed heads, he is one of the tattered ones living among the desert tombs ready to slay an attacker with the jaw of an ass. He knows too much to risk a path back to the fluorescent aisles, the shiny upper floors. He's destined to wander between the games of great powers, tripwire boundaries made of words. Or maybe, as night falls, not kneeling toward any consecrated compass point but planting a flag made of shredded blue fabric fished from his fatigues he lets the wind dial direction.

flinging blankets over him─
prophet who shudders
with what he's seen

She was never sure why she let the room to him. Maybe because he resembled a biblical figure, with his black-threaded beard tumbling down like smoke, his watery blue eyes set in deep sockets. She called him Jeremiah, the weeping prophet. Every morning he came down and had the same thing, oatmeal with hot milk, then left the house and didn’t come back until supper. He paid her in small bills the first Friday of every month, and she had no idea where he got the money. Once, returning a library book, she saw him in the reference section, paging through newspapers, his moist eyes open wide, almost startled. Another time, when she entered the fabric store on Market, she saw him at the corner bus stop, talking to a well-dressed man; by the time she came out, they were both gone. In the evenings, after he finished his supper, he left again for a few hours and always came back smelling of something stale and unidentifiable. Sometimes he reeked of whiskey, and on those nights she helped him up the steps, onto his bed. That last night, when he stumbled on the steps and knocked out a tooth, she left a quarter under his pillow. To her it was just a joke. But the next morning, when he didn’t come down for breakfast, she went to his room. She found him standing by the window, his eyes fixed on the coin in his palm, as if it were a remnant of some lost civilization, or a hole into a brighter world.

wishing well
in its depths
something like a star

Like Diogenes, he had come to deface the currency. Scrubbing the notebook to make room for rant or rages. Palimpsests of phone numbers, names of medications, lines scrawled out of dream, laundry lists of necessities with quotes from Trotsky. He hid out in the dilapidated Public Library with its Pre-Raphaelite knights and maidens, its urine-soaked stacks down near the microfiche. Then out, past store windows, cursing the bourgeois desires—money, fame, and sex—to ride the Blue Line to Wonderland. Finally, back late from the city's far-flung edges—train yards, graveyards of school buses, home again to get it all down: the city—its high lit windows and echoing sewers—page after page after page—no spaces, no margins.

overheated reading room
slogans of the revolution
among dusty pages

Closing the book with a sigh, she steps out onto the patio. Her painted nails flash like coins as she moves across the hot slate tiles; she imagines unseen eyes admiring her bronzed shoulders, the curve of her calves. Her thin smile vanishes at the pool's edge. He is in the deep end, on a float pad, surrounded by fractured sunlight. His hands lie clasped on his shriveled belly. “Time for a drink,” he rasps when he sees her. “Use the good rum this time.” He purses his lips in that way he has, pinched and rubbery and moist. She imagines a heavy boot coming down on them, as if stomping an earthworm. She clenches her back teeth until the feeling passes. She walks down to the dock. In the cabana, she finds the cask-shaped bottle. It always reminds her of ancient ruins, a lost civilization. She pulls a can of Coke from the refrigerator, holds the chilled aluminum against her forehead as if soothing a fever. Somewhere she read that it took the same amount of pressure to crumple a soda can as it did to crush a man’s windpipe.

afterwards
                                       just beyond her fingertips
                                                          river flowing to bluer depths

She watches herself, under magnification, penetrate the cell membrane with the pipette. Joking about the inefficiency of sexual reproduction—she prefers the self-sufficiency of certain insects, certain amphibians. No inevitability, no design or progress to selection. Some organisms simply regress or de-evolve because their environment remains placental. When she saw him with his women there was something cloying and too close. He climbed down into a warm bath of nutrients. The pipette bores the nucleus, then the sample goes into the autoclave. These things demand precision.

lifetime crammed into an envelope
wet wings pulsing
through the pupae

Any second, it will appear. He opens every desk drawer again, finds the same things: spent batteries, keys for forgotten locks, postcards with exotic blue stamps. Where did it go? He looks out the window; 16 stories down, he sees the black limousine, his wife and daughter in the back seat. He has to hurry. He retraces his path: den, kitchen, dining room . . . back through the front door and out to the hallway elevator, down to the lobby with its soft light and fine marble. He remembers Raymond holding open the door and giving his usual welcome, the homeless man curled up on the curb, the long walk past familiar signs—locksmith, watchmaker—after emerging from his office building, stepping from behind the mahogany desk where he had spent so much time, missed so much—vacations, school chorales and his daughter's high notes, anniversary dinners where Mary waited for hours at Rafferty's brass-rimmed bar, the same bar where he had downed his first beer after stepping off the Greyhound bus years before, after having traveled all those long miles of lowlands and rolling fields, that empty Coke can rattling up and down the aisle as he counted mile markers and remembered his mother's embrace, his father's calloused grip and averted eyes, the sunrise behind the station's tower, the clock's long hand sweeping away seconds that had once seemed endless. . . . He looks out the window, sees the limousine at the head of the procession, its headlights blazing into the sun as if to uncover every hiding thing. Where did it go, he wonders; where did it go?

fingerprint rising
through fine powder
galaxy’s swirl

Here, the kitchen or hearth aims east; the bedroom window, the old apple tree aim west. A plastic handle on the bedroom window jammed, cracked off. They must have come through the cellar. Sledgehammered the door from its hinges and, after a ramshackle tour, broke the office window to get out. Wasn't there a way to catch them, rub carbon paper over what they'd touched? Or did you have to trap the stolen air, sift pure graphite into the traces of motion? Hard to discern what they were looking for, what they had stolen except for home—its intactness.

scattered on the bed
a constellation of
loose change

After she watches him pull on a sweater steeped in bar smoke—what had he said, Dan? Stan?—after he tosses a few kind words over his shoulder and quietly closes the front door, after the click has faded into the dark and all that remains is a tiny ringing in her ears, she presses her face into the pillow as if to smother herself before turning over, stretching out her arms and legs. This is the time she hates most. The morning's snow still outlines the window bars, shines under the streetlamp guarding the building's entrance. She used to love the snow as a girl: a blank canvas, full of promise and hope. That was before her mother retreated to the bedroom, before the smell of her daddy's Old Spice drifted out the door for good, before her body had begun to bend the boys' eyes. Slowly, she begins to sweep her arms up and down, her legs back and forth, just as she did on the front lawn of their old house when everything was white and the snowflakes fell like angels to the tip of her tongue—always with a gentle touch, as if inviting her to ascend.

     cold moon
with every breath
     feathers

Youmans: faraway thunder; She was never sure/wishing well; She closes the book/afterwards; Where could it be/fingerprint rising; After she watches/cold moon.

Evans: Beyond burning geysers/flinging blankets over him; Like Diogenes/overheated reading room; She watches, under magnification/lifetime crammed; Here, the kitchen/scattered on the bed


Notes:

"She was never sure/wishing well" was previously published as “Jeremiah" in KYSO Flash (August 2017).

"Here, the kitchen/scattered on the bed" was previously published as “Breaking & Entering” in Modern Haiku 48:2 (Summer 2017).

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