THE BELGIAN COAST michael o'brien


Up before the birds and sun. Before light soft promises. Shadowed movements - birds, foxes, trees. My head the same but in its usual spot. The sky softly forgotten. The sun and its being. I write notes by phone light.

Becoming a mustard farmer this autumn morning. I gas myself and then save myself and give my self a medal for surviving. I pin that big shiny bastard right into my heart. I give myself a brass band ceremony.

     heavy eyes
     one by one


The child has found his electric toys. He has soft light hiccups. They make for weird but good percussion between bleeps and bloops. I’m told hiccups help expand one’s diaphragm. My diaphragm is the size of the Belgian coast. This is why I have no friends.

     milk dribble
     separated by an invisible line 
     the pine plantation


     aztec nightmare a beast looks back at itself

The sun learns how to breathe. A thirteen step course - with videos uploaded daily on youtube. The sun breaks. I head to the library to return a book on Queens Park football club. Breezy day. Trees in full turn. Dry for now. Coming to the point in autumn where the sun is strong enough to remind one, in a melancholic way, of summer. A child grips a hammer. No soft warm days for at least six months. The brain before a dream. Feelings of mortality gripped in grey hair. Yup.

Michael O’Brien lives in Glasgow, Scotland. He is the author of As Adam (UP Literature), Big Nothing (Bones), and The Anabasis of Man (Yavanika Press). You can follow him on twitter @michaelobrien22

3 POEMS tom snarsky


In heaven all the sleeves are long enough.

No one will bankrupt you for being

Between jobs. The animals all know you

And wish you well. It’s considered rude

To even mention capitalism. The frogs

Are all in one lovely key, and sometimes

They write poetry and sing it to the pond.

There’s a wide idea of what constitutes

Love and meaning. So few people are

Looking for answers they turned off

The internet. No one’s looking for love,

Only at it. Nobody says “saccharine

Pastoral” and means it. Here your heart

Feels like a reed bent parallel to the other

Reeds, over some generous body of water.

*first line borrowed from Kristi Bergner

Broken Rectangles

The pain is maddening but it doesn’t let up. This is the story of ontological novelty. Like finding a peeled fruit, whole, in your bed. Wait on as its own opposite. Or a command to keep going. The window of the dream is closing, closing. No one lifts a finger off their own pulse. I let a flower go for every day you’re not here. I’m counting days like rabbits in the spring.

The Idea of Purple

Just trying to steal my way through living
I’d tell you a joke but then / we’d both die
I’d like to refuse the pink light but it won’t
Let me / There’s already too much sugar
In the bowl / Lay your hands on my ugly
Shoulders & strum / The black guitar of
My present-tense fear fr the future / All its
Ramrod-straight ideals & its ecological
Disasters / An immortal fugue has begun
To play for the wounded among us / An
Infinitely recast majority in the candlelight
/ Scraping all the dead flesh off our backs
/ Wandering the highlands without a clue

Tom Snarsky teaches mathematics at Malden High School in Malden, Massachusetts, USA.


Everyone who dies goes to Hell. When I died, I learned that there was no Heaven. There was only Hell.

Satan's here, and he punishes everyone.

If you ever get to talk to him, or read his memoirs, you can find out all about the history of Hell, all the different iterations and improvements he made over the centuries.

Man is the greatest source of despair, he wrote in his memoirs once. Twenty minutes with a person can give you twenty ideas for new, terrible tortures.

I read the memoirs in between being flayed, being burned with lava, being slowly crushed under massive, freezing cold boulders. This was an early innovation Satan came up with. It can't be torture all the time, otherwise it gets predictable and constant. The best torture comes in waves. Fits and starts.

Everyone has a job in Hell, but all the jobs are terrible. Boring, repetitive, physically and mentally draining. People who liked to sleep in late when they were alive have to wake up at five thirty. People who liked to wake up early work from ten until eight.

My job is to read the memoirs. I sit in a hot, stuffy box with a bullet-proof glass window. There's a sign on the box that says: INFORMATION. New souls come to me every day, every hour, every minute, seeking some kind of explanation. Asking for directions, or recommendations. Asking for it all to be a dream, a terrible nightmare.

But I can't answer. I just have to sit there and read Satan's memoirs.

I've tortured history's greatest torturers, Satan wrote. But the best ideas always come from children and addicts. From knowing too little, or knowing too much, I guess.

Animals go to Hell, too. Hell is full of snakes, bears, weasels, elephants, cats. Insects, too. Spiders everywhere, long columns of them destined to wriggle through pools of even smaller spiders and parasitic wasps that bite their legs and poke at their eyes.

Children are forced to struggle for their parents' attention. They get left behind on field trips. They get picked last for the kickball teams. Then they have to eat the spiders covered in smaller spiders, swallow them whole and feel them crawling around in their guts.

I spent so much of my life trying to turn off my brain that now it has to be on, all day, every day, just really concentrating. Really thinking about things. I think this is part of my punishment. But I'm often not sure. Which is also part of my punishment, maybe.

Sometimes I have to fill out little reading comprehension quizzes. Sometimes I have to proofread a thousand pages. Sometimes I have to write my own thoughts and memoirs in the margins, forced to believe that someone might want to read them.

I like to think of the living world as a test market for Hell. We crowd-source new tortures and pains and free up our own resources down here to make things worse for everybody, Satan once wrote. Every new day in the living world reveals a new way to cause misery. Often times, in Hell, the living surprise us with their inventiveness.

Every day, in Hell, a billion people are sent a letter informing them that they've been allowed to leave and go to Heaven. This was just a test, the letters say, and God has seen the good in you and wants you to join Him in the light of Heaven.

Demons dressed like Angels show up and escort them upwards into new, terrifying chambers of Hell. It's a whole production, and the reveal is personalized for each soul. A billion unique chambers for a billion unique people.

For some, the newly revealed Heaven is just a new annex of Hell, and God is revealed to be a slave to Satan -- they see God himself, exuding a holy light of infinite forgiveness, but he is shackled, and he renounces each soul who comes before him.

I've been tricked. I will continue to be tricked. So will you.

I could lie and say that my task is carried out begrudgingly. That it brings me sorrow to bring sorrow unto others. That it brings me pain to inflict pain unto others, Satan says in his writings. But, as it often is with man, the joy that comes from hurting others is the closest thing to Heaven that anyone could experience.

People fall in love in Hell, just so Satan can intervene and break their hearts. He lets them organize wedding ceremonies, put down deposits, invite all their friends. Sometimes he doesn't even have to get involved the happy couple starts to argue, starts to worry about whether they've found the right person, whether this has been a trick all along. People are left at the altar just as frequently as people are dunked into boiling oil, down in Hell.

Everyone is born with this infinite eventuality looming below them, Satan writes. Some people never experience hope up in the world of the living. These are the most challenging ones to punish.

Sometimes Satan lets people go back into the world of the living. It's like reincarnation, only they are born into broken, deformed bodies, and every night, in their dreams, the truth is revealed to them. Sometimes their bodies are fine, but they suffer great emotional pain, mistaking the futility of escape with hope.

Some people in Hell are doomed to not remember anything. But I am doomed to know too much. To knowing all the little tricks, all the secrets, how high the electricity bills sometimes get and how many of the walls are just painted to look like brimstone to save money.

Some people, like me, end up unsure about whether Hell is such a bad place after all. They wonder why things don't seem so bad for them. Why they seem so special. Among the living, this is often a positive thing, the result of inheritance, privilege, or sheer luck. But in Hell, even the most narcissistic break down after a few hundred years. And if they don't, they start to wonder. This is also part of Hell.

Zac Smith lives in Boston, MA, where he likes to walk his dogs. His stories have appeared in Hobart, X-R-A-Y Lit, Philosophical Idiot, Soft Cartel, and other very sweet online journals. His twitter is @ZacTheLinguist

Call for Submissions

After a brief hiatus, Muskeg is back and reading submissions. You can find our guidelines at the bottom of this page. We aim to respond within a couple of weeks, and we update depending on how much good stuff we receive. Send a reasonable amount of work and money and beer to muskegmagazine at gmail dot com. We're also on Twitter now @MuskegMagazine. Thanks. We look forward to hearing from you.

W. Davis Traven: Supermarkt

W. Davis Traven was born at 66° 0′ 0″ N, 34° 37′ 0″ E and spent much of his early childhood there. In his teens he began publishing the slapstick-nihilist periodical Ø, which is still published diurnally in Paraguay.  Currently he is head of surgery and poet laureate for the seizure ward at Yuasa-Exide General. Traven has just released his second memoir, Donde Son Las Dos Cucarachas from which this excerpt is reprinted without permission. 

Douglas W. Milliken: Chestnut v. Buckeye

Not everything was always a travesty. There were some mornings we’d wake up to discover deer milling about the yard, usually five or six but sometimes a dozen of them browsing for sweet clover or foraging fresh rot from the compost, you know, going wild on our domestic larder. Now and again in the fall or wintertime, they’d be a little farther along in the small orchard of witchy trees we kept, balancing all wobbly on their hind hooves to nip punky apples from the limbs. Those times, if they got spooked—like if my fat old dog got out and started barking and chasing after them—they’d stagger all drunk, almost crab-walking as they stumble-ran for the pines. I remember, most mornings they’d show up, we’d just sit there and watch them, my mom and the Dickhead and me, none of us talking while we sipped our coffee or whatever, chewed our cereal, all three of us gazing steadfast through the fly-specked kitchen windows. Which I guess was as close as we ever got to wholesome family time. No one talking. No eye contact. Tipper Gore would have been proud. When he got a bit older, the Dickhead would buy horse feed from the grain store and slosh a little here and there in the grass like a tasty candy treat for the deer, I guess so maybe they’d stay longer, come more often, I don’t know. But that was a long time after I’d gotten out of there. Still. Such a tender act for the same mirthless cocksucker who once whipped my naked calves with a snapped serpentine belt because I tripped over the Bartles & Jaymes he’d parked in the grass. Who forced my brother Ro out of the house at sixteen after years of threats and pistol-waving and tedious innuendo. Who got drunk and blew dope and slept around like the most boring and predictable chestnut, swaggering home blood-eyed and stinking to gift Mom some new dose of v.d. The Dickhead’d watch their bay necks extending through east-lit mists—their black and unreadable animal eyes—with an admiration verging on love. It’s the closest example I can recall of the Dickhead caring about anything that wasn’t him. Spilling sugared oats in the grass. The tending to wild dumb beasts. Yet each November, when the time was right, he’d without fail shoot one lured buck through its elegant, tawny throat. Blood so red it looked black against the fur while powder-burn hung blue in the air. The obvious result of the Dickhead’s love. A man has got to eat.

Douglas W. Milliken is the author of the novel To Sleep as Animals and several chapbooks, including The Opposite of Prayer, and, most recently, In the Mines. His stories have been honored by the Maine Literary Awards, the Pushcart Prize, and Glimmer Train, as well as published in dozens of journals, including Slice, the Collagist, and the Believer, among others.

MiRo: 3 poems


Shortly after receiving a meaningless award, Knud Halvorsen was caught sexually abusing a goldfish
in the anus.
Pleading his innocence in court he argued that he "didn't even like fish".
Later on he claimed that "fish didn't even have rectal canals".
The judge was having none of it and sentenced Knud to death by electrocution.

That Day In The Forest

Rhubarb Pete spoke backwards and seeped deeper through
the floor boards.
They were moist in the forest and after dark.
Damien Doper ate an orange.
Earlier that day he had seen seventeen kittens sitting on the
rim of a vase.

The Special

I like your cat, he said.
I’m in no mood to watch a cat fight tonight, I replied.

MiRo is a surrealist from Worcestershire, England. He uses automatism to write. His debut booklet “Cold Water versus Tropical Fish" is available now from his website. MiRo has previously appeared in Philosophical Idiot and forthcoming editions of Picaroon Poetry and Formercactus.

Based Mountain: 3 poems

untitled 1

cats ran thru / his brain / inside the / tongue / of his jordans / when i / look for / large money / on the internet /cats run / and thru / a brain / a jordan / a internet / a large money / a brain / i cringe / and / suppress the urge / to crush / my head / dead

o'hara poem ft. nba jam

i light / a cigarette / i was supposed to / quit / reading / sci-fi books / spend friday night / with a / nba jam /console / you / are / basketball rim / i / always miss / you / grab / rebounds / always / i / burn / with / dry ice /midnight / i run / with / fairy-floss / is it / the shoes? / i get / into / a bed / re-read / jack vance / think / of / a / smiling moon / 

untitled 2

so / you do / a politics / but / a politcs / hurts / people / walk / alone on grass / where / dogs shit / we / never /walk on  / toilets / were a shit / walks a sewer / maybe / a toilet / no / one / believes in / hurt / my head / goes blank / on television / a balloon / red / or / orange / no / matter / the joke / on / television shits / on / our heads / are / a toilet / for reality / according / to a / television /

based mountain is a poetry doer from sydney, australia. also an editor at soft cartel mag. see @basedmtn for tweets.

W. Davis Traven

S.C. Johnson Wax

Flee streetward
and trip 
in splintered wood and gravel 
a bloodied shriek
elbow deep
in coffee-colored pits 
of muddy rainwater
gazing out 
dead grass
the post office 
and diner
brick lined walks
banks and cafes  
liquor stores 
the tailor’s
and watchmaker's
all dark by 9
skirt the edges 
of bright haloes
pooled on the ground
while wearing
the haunted 
of the fool
iron wrought or dull chain 
black pitched roofs 
send smoke
as far as the eye goes
concrete bloom 
and bust
creeps the
deserted gray plains
though no one notices and
all of them 
drifting through the 
dripping fog
“I want to be free
release me”
the curious:
may sit down at first light
and grieve for time 
slipped through the cracks
until finally bombarded
by ceaseless pangs
they run 
beneath the house
‘neath the porch
out into  
the cape
or bay
or neck
hurling book
and hex
under glass no more
shadows loosed
to run shudders
this world
and maybe the next

in the thick
soup of 
latest night
though finally
they sink
to the earth
incapable of 
their burden
to only weep
raise their eyes heavenward
and written in mockingly large letters
across the sky:


in earnest 
rapt by spiteful fits 
we chase the beast
an endless string 
of annular days
to clutch but 
chaff of
spent moments
bent and wetted
for blitzkrieg
If there is no
buried deep somewhere
within this  flickering realm
is there
any chance for
those who 
idly long to
one day shed 
these bacterial sleeves
find some small measure of relief?

may we all  
be left to stare 
at the wall 
with no greater wish
than to self-destruct?
or be compelled 
to watch 
be casually unsheathed
the oblivious
the healthy
and well-scrubbed? 
is our singular consolation
they will all die away
seething in their mother’s milk

for now
I am content to
set a foot on the 
to tap or swing
and drink
until I fall asleep 
in my favorite chair
and dream up
some sort of other terrible peace 

W. Davis Traven was born at 66° 0′ 0″ N, 34° 37′ 0″ E and spent much of his early childhood there. In his teens he began publishing the slapstick-nihilist periodical Ø, which is still published diurnally in Paraguay.  Currently he is head of surgery and poet laureate for the seizure ward at Yuasa-Exide General. Traven has just released his second memoir, Donde Son Las Dos Cucarachas from which this excerpt is reprinted without permission. 

An Interview with Dan Darling

From the publisher:

John Stick, zoo keeper and giant, just wants to sit alone in a dark room with his pet tarantula. However, when ten thousand birds fall dead from the New Mexican sky, the woman he loves, an ornithologist with severe facial deformity, begs him to decipher the cause. He grudgingly agrees, a decision that plunges him into a tangle of weirdness as old as the American Southwest. Stick’s investigation reveals that the birds’ mass death is an offshoot of a much larger conflict. On one side, the Good Friends, an underground railroad for undocumented immigrants, wants Stick to oust the man they believe responsible for killing the birds and persecuting immigrants. This same man leads The Minutemen Militia, which covets Stick’s expertise in handling their genetically mutated immigrant-tracking monsters. Meanwhile, a beautiful animal theologian tries to seduce Stick into believing his existence is key to balancing an off-kilter universe. Shady characters whisper of chupacabras loose in the desert. The exsanguinated corpses of strange beasts begin to turn up, some of them Stick’s close pals. At the center of it all lurks an enigmatic antagonist who, so they say, has harnessed the power of God in an ancient hot springs and is using it to herald doomsday. Stick’s journey upends his stable life, shakes apart his fragile relationships, and sets him on a collision course with his family’s secret ancestry. Ultimately, as chupacabra-like monsters, Minutemen, and Good Friends head toward a final showdown, Stick must make a hard choice about his own identity and values.

Archaeopteryx by Dan Darling is an ambitious book: the scope of the story, the seriousness of the themes, and the melding of disparate genres bring to mind similarly ambitious postmodern efforts by Pynchon or Wallace. But the comparisons end there because Archaeopteryx feels sui generis: it’s a work of hard-boiled magical realism that never loses sight of real-world stakes. It’s a detective story that explores the impossible (vis a vis the corrupting limits of human greed and hubris) while staying profoundly indebted to the spectacular and mundane particulars of place: the cities, towns, dead-ends, mountains, deserts, plants, and animals of New Mexico suffuse this book and the lives of its characters. Dust, sand, and sun figure into the narrative as much as the ulterior motivations of its characters who struggle to find answers or just peace of mind. Even as Archaeopteryx leads us down the dark, plot-driven alleys of detective fiction (who or what killed the birds? Why? And how is that related to what follows and who can be trusted to provide answers? And what's up with all these exsanguinated animal carcasses?), it is also an unsettling meditation on the evils of human nature.

Muskeg talked with Dan Darling about Archaeopteryx and what’s in store for John Stick and his pet tarantula. This interview took place in March 2018.

Given its huge scope—it takes in so much, pulling from so many places and literary traditions—we’re interested in the genesis of this book. Where did the initial idea come from, and how much did it change from start to finish?

I originally wrote the book as part of my graduate dissertation, Blood Heist. The story followed John Stick and his best friend Spartacus Rex as they literally robbed a blood bank in an effort to sell the blood on the Mexican black market. Once I finished my MFA, I re-wrote the entire novel with the same protagonist and a few other similar characters but with a totally different story, point of view, and style. The revision sprung from an inexplicable mass bird death in Arkansas that I’d read about many years before. I transplanted that event to New Mexico and let the protagonist and the event lead me through a fresh story. So, it changed drastically.

As a native of Albuquerque, NM, was it important to you to portray that city and its surroundings in a certain way? How much did you fictionalize it to serve the story? It’s obvious that your knowledge and (dare we say) affection run deep.

I want to be the Salman Rushdie of Albuquerque. It’s my hometown. It’s the belly-button of New Mexico and a nexus of postcolonial hell. But it’s also heavenly: the skies are so blue they’ll break your heart. The mountains are so purple and majestic that they’d make President James K. Polk declare war to conquer them (which he did). I feel a deep conflicted affection for the place. I did fictionalize aspects of it, but otherwise tried to capture Albuquerque’s soul as loyally as possible. I did extensive research in books and on foot into the natural elements of the landscape, geography, and wildlife. I also tried to make the routes of the characters drivable—my in-laws did a driving tour of locations from the book, including my childhood home, which appears in the novel.

At the same time that I attempted to capture the essence and details of Albuquerque and New Mexico, I compiled much of the conflict that has to do with immigration from across the Southwest. Texas, California, and Arizona have much more contentious relationships with migrants from the borderlands. I transplanted them to New Mexico because I wanted to dramatize the injustice migrants face—it seemed timely. Part of a writer’s job is to scream into the face of tyranny. In our case, tyranny is orange, a chronic liar, and loves to cheat on wives. Also, even though New Mexico doesn’t see as much migrant traffic across its southern border, my state has suffered a long history of tug-of-war between colonial powers and native people. So, even though the part of the story that focuses on immigration is fictionalized, it’s also true.

Tyranny shows itself in Archaeopteryx in different ways. Migrants are targeted by militiamen who view them in the flat, stereotypical terms of fanaticism. It struck us that Stick is viewed similarly—he is a giant and an unwelcome disturbance in what people would like to think is a just existence. Melodía, with her deformity, avoids people altogether because she can’t bear their scrutiny. This book takes a hard look at the cruelty humans inflict upon one another. It doesn’t seem very optimistic…but Stick keeps acting in optimistic ways. Or is his hand being forced? For a book with this much humor (and love), it’s surprisingly dark.

Yeah, it’s dark. I’ve been on this intellectual bent over the past 10 years or so. “Good looking” people have it much better in our world. If you’re tall and handsome or thin and pretty, your life is by default better. People treat you better. You have more opportunities. People give you more benefit of the doubt.

I’m not at all interested in good looking people. First, looks are racialized: white culture promotes the white as a default of beauty. Second, good looking people generally don’t have to see outside the lines drawn by the status quo. The status quo loves them. Therefore, as a trend, they reify their own power because they have no reason to do otherwise, especially in an age that looks down on empathy as weakness.

I’ve stocked this book with folks who exemplify antitheses of the good looking. I did it on purpose to give the rest of us a peek into their world. I also did it because I’m sick of TV/film/internet culture, which vilifies the ugly and celebrates the beautiful.

Stick, despite being in so many ways a pessimistic person in his thoughts, does do stuff with the understanding that action = outcomes. I assume that’s what you mean by “optimistic.” Stick is a guy who’s suffered for decades, but by the beginning of the story he’s found peace in his life and self-respect. He knows the rest of the world sees him as “other,” but he also knows that he’s an alright person. The story, ultimately, is about how much it takes to erode this feeling of being “alright” with himself.

Does this erosion subvert some of the tropes of detective fiction? Stick is tough in some ways but extremely vulnerable in others.

Detective fiction is all about toughness. Every story is a tug-of-war between the toughness of the dick and the forces seeking to break through that toughness. Marlowe is a perfect example. This book is sort of the opposite: how much does it take to erode Stick’s softness and replace it with a tough view of the world?

At the same time, he is a dude who’s exteriorally hard, but yeah that’s surface. He’s a kind, sensitive giant deep down.

Exsanguinated animals turn up pretty early, so it isn’t much of a spoiler to reveal the existence of chupacabras in Archaeopteryx. Can you discuss the influence of borderland folklore on your imagination?

Sure! How come you already know everything about everything? It always seems like I study something for years and Muskeg already knows it all. Hashtag Smiley Face.

I’m influenced by William A. Calvo-Quirós, who argues that the chupacabra is a manifestation of NAFTA and neoliberalism’s grip on the heart of our southern neighbors. A member of my dissertation committee, Jesse Aleman, turned me on to this writer. The argument is that the chupacabra is a creature of folklore that turned up around the time NAFTA was signed. It’s an organic metaphor for the corporatism, sponsored by the US government, sucking resources, labor, and money from Mexico. I plunked some chupacabras into this story because one of the major themes is the exploitation of people, both documented and un-, environment, and animal world by amoral corporatism. The chupacabra, in other words, makes capitalist injustice manifest in a concrete agent within the story.

Archaeopteryx is only the first installment of a larger story. Can you tell us anything about where we're headed? Or would that reveal too much? (Personally, we're hoping to see more of the vivid supporting cast like Spartacus Rex or Tanis, who claims to be, among other things, an animal theologian.)

It's the first book of a trilogy inspired by Anthony Burgess's Malay trilogy, which tells three related stories with different protagonists. Stick will appear in the next two books, but he won't be the protagonist. However, all three do have the same antagonist. The next one follows Jimmy Xiang, a juggler with the fastest hands in the West, as he undertakes twelve great labors to save Albuquerque from the plague of chupacabras. Tanis, Abby, and other characters will feature in that one, though it swarms with new people, too. The third is about the final showdown between Albuquerque's villains and heroes, led by a magician named Rasputin, a detective with an extraordinary sense of smell, and an orphan with a permanent bloodstain on her foot.

You can buy the book here and here. Muskeg encourages you to support your local independent bookstore whenever possible. 

Dan Darling is obsessed with the desert. Born and raised in Albuquerque, New Mexico, he studies the people, the creepy-crawlies, and the geography of the sacred dry spaces. Before earning his MFA in creative writing at the University of New Mexico, he worked as a juggler, a bartender, an IRS agent, and a professional magician. Dan has traveled to over 20 countries and speaks several languages. He’s now an award-winning educator of writing and literature at Normandale College.

His first novel, Archaeopteryx, hit the shelves in November. For information on readings, events, and more, visit

Gregory Lawless


(Microphone distortion): Hi. Hi, I’m Michael. I know that’s not the way you’re supposed to start a story—

WITH INFORMATION. But, hey that’s my name.

Alright. So there I was.

A.                Child.

I’m talking really small. I mean, I’m the size of a skin cell and—


And MY FATHER! Well, he’s just standing there, thundering like a watch.

            You see.

I had sold a priceless family heirloom on the black market.

            IT’S TRUE! A painting that cost like a million and two dollars.

But I only got 500 for it.

I was 8. Okay.

I was 16!

                        And I needed some money to pay for my BAD DECISIONS…


I’m not gonna get into my bad decisions.       


basically they all involved                               ERICA.           

                        More on HER later.

Anyway I’m like this infinitesimal little shard of butter and my DAD is making his lawyer face, like:

            Like, his face is saying I’d rather be working than dealing with this stolen ART business!

You know the face.

            I wish I had a scarf to twirl around up here.

                        Know what I mean?

(Whispering) Why are you laughing?

Okay. Did you ever—were you ever for sure certain that:

                                    YOUR HEART WAS SWEATING!?

But Erica said we could take all the BLACK MARKET MONEY

            and buy pot.

P. O. T.

                        I said no no no no no way.

My dad would kill me.

            And then flashback-forward here he is KILLING ME!

I mean not yet.

            Or literally.

A lot of people don’t know what that word MEANS.

Right now he’s just looking.

                        Um. I can hear someone’s glass clinking. Against what I don’t know.

Isn’t that funny?

                        THE THINGS YOU NOTICE.

And my dad is way bigger than me and rich but he’s upset about this painting.

I say Dad.

                                    I’ll find it.


He was always at work.

Erica picks me up that night. And she says we can’t get the painting back.

Let’s Run Away!

                        We went to the movies.

Remember the one with Martin Short where he’s an amnesiac sculptor who yells and screams whenever he sees dust?

Yeah right.                                                       So four hours later.

I say MOM.

I’m on the phone. That’s why I’m holding my sneaker to my ear.


I say. Could you buy me a painting?

                        And she says don’t whisper I have a migraine. Send me some electronic mail.

Thank god for mom right?

            Sure. I send it away. And                                 ERICA

who’s not my girlfriend exactly but like CLOSE

is scratching her initials on the usher.

As though he won’t even notice.

                        We’re still at the movie theater somehow.

SO LATER: I mean YEARS. I didn’t know what to major in in college and my RA says

what do you like?

            That is such a tough question.

So I told him the story I’m telling you and

he says


So I do.

Gives my father something else not to talk about.

Thank you.

(Sticks microphone in his mouth to drown out applause).

Gregory Lawless is the author of FAR AWAY (Red Mountain Press, 2015) and DREAMBURGH, PENNSYLVANIA (Dream Horse Press, forthcoming).