Lissa McLaughlin











Copyright 2001, by Lissa McLaughlin.


325 W. Tyler, Apt. B.

Charleston IL 61920-1865






The fish lay gasping on the deck. It didn’t plan to bite but did when Allie slid in her fingers, to see how it felt. Its teeth sawing, Allie ran along the edge of the deck but Father grabbed and held on, feet kicking, worked the mouth off her hand. Gasping, the fish pouted through air then sank.

"I hate you! You ate my fingers."

"No," Father showed her. "Aren’t these yours?"

All night she watched them on the pillow. Sleeping then waking up. Washed by Mother, who could stand to cover them. Pouting and wrestling. Of iodine. She lifted the bandaid and stared.

In her dream they come closer, their pink nails turning to fan in the current. She is afraid to look. What if they touch her from where they have been? "I hate you!" she screams at her pinky, her thumb. Through green murk she waves her empty hand at them: enough.




Danny was tripping. He fell toward the floor holding out his hands, he held himself away. He ran out of breath, crashed into the floor. He ran under the bed and lay there, panting harder, hit the underside of the bed and fell back out. He galloped down the hall, up against a wall. He had nothing on. And hung there upside down, filaments of his eyes crossing and crisscrossing in front of him til he wanted to pull them out.




Danny was listening. He walked down the street wearing his walkman, one finger pushing the earphone deeper in his left ear. That ear was bigger. Things fell out. Pushing down, he barely heard a car honking. "Hey!" a voice said and right in front of him someone hit the cement. Shimmied like a caterpillar. Danny pulled the earphone out, the jingling louder than you’d expect. Ambient, full of layers. Maybe coins. Collecting them, Danny bent closer.



Danny was at his 5th H.S. reunion. In his pockets a mirror he fingered now, from his last date. Not so bad. He leaned over the table and extracted a shrimp from a plate full of discarded tails. He thought of her butt. Small, smelling of cat pee. These shrimp were delicious. He’d showered after the red-eye, his suit hanging in the hotel bathroom, straightening out. Did a line on the mirror. Opened his window to yell out to her. She took a while getting up the stairs. Afterwards, he reeked. No second shower. Why waste the souvenir? Left the hotel to spend an hour in a music store staring at old C.D.’s. Forget it. Why remember their names? That one, messing with the shrimps, loved a cigarette stuck in her skin, twisted. That one, Danny cut the web between his fingers after he charged too much for weed. Crying with fear, a blob of blood exciting to suck. He held his fingers under his nose. Still coming down. Now light hit the shrimp and refused to get off, and Danny remembered something else. Her ass rotating to beat the band. He laughed and light rushed him to his plane. He was going up the stairs when something fell out of his pocket, saucering like a hubcap too small to bother with.






Sits sideways in his psychotic chair, sprawled more warmly now, shoulder falling into the newspaper. Smiles when he sees you. His little hair neatly portioned over his scalp. Drops eyes under the forehead oddly stapled, bent blue by lobotomy. Or the magazine, whatever he uses "to slow down." "This treatment’s really working." Hand caressed to his cap, eyes squeezed with pleasure, resting. No more dizzying steps circles the mad find so conducive. Now it’s Bonetta’s turn, captivated by ugliest of hair nets, "Jim will you help me?" she lisps. Smiling cold and terrified while Jim unhesitant stands. Later on the elevator he’s eager to point to his forehead. "I knew another lady with a cap just like this. But not for fishing. It’s finally, really," he smiles. "Working."


Ganesh Pays a Visit to the Burning Deck


He feels someone glaring at him from a corner. Recognizes him right away. Always some boy in these poems to stay mad at you. No, don’t let you forget your feeble godhead. Holding his nose the boy jumps in water, Ganesh remembers not everyone has a trunk. Fire runs, already the masts decide to buckle, fold up like legs. Holds his ears against the sound. Sure someone chopped off his head and replaced it with an elephant’s, but does that make him a fool? O joy, staying furious a long time. They’re all burning up but they like it. Under the smoke he tries being small as possible. Embarrassment still seizes him, susceptible moments. He fills his trunk but the boy waves him away. Insensible to hurt? Trunk dribbling, wondering why human parts hang on. His big hands splash in water grown thick with skin.

Ten Who Knew Better

One jumped overboard to douse his torso.

Two drew closer biting a single nail.

Three wandered fritteringly through glueless streets.

Four arrived out of their wits.

Five is alive just listen.

Six has someone else’s skin.

Seven evacuated a Navy.

Eight stumbled on Seven’s wrecks.

Nine eviscerated his digestion.

Ten begs to begin again.

Brilliantly begs, squirming in the rain.




Never so big your eyes closed happily. Across them crept the profile of a cloud. Like a soft wad of flocking it lost shape then sharpened quickly. Your eyes bent where it firmed. For a long time after, your lids ached.



Where is my light

Where is it? Used to be wide as a searchlight twin searchlights delivering used cars. Eye stiff to see it, shaking plastic hands. Shudders in its lid all night long. While metal proud of everything makes long scratches as it goes

then none. Necessary to fry the littlest egg.

Where is my light it cries

twists in soft day

wanting these skidmarks back


You put them in a hole. Unaccustomed mother, you smell unrecoverable now the bright blood that runs straight from your hip to the eye-wide hole. You so proud to waste nothing shrugged, dropped each yolk, in cold air it congeals and goes silent. These were your eggs. You laid them squatting delirious with sudden wealth. I will never be empty again. Recalling this, you lag behind the house. Where the cold faces, so unlike, turn deeper against the ground.



But the drawer, pulled out, is empty


Law office: record of phone messages

Muscles a clothesline to hang extensions of the wreck

Privation’s everyone’s business

Your brief necessitates a puke

Relinquish the fetish to ensure a premium

You’ll sleep with any decision

Her face? The last car he hit

Say the judge cancels our concussion

Notice who wears the wee tie

Incident: report and reverse nametags

Glue, where the plaintiff sat

Reconciliations across lettuce

Come off it: a bill’s a gland!


Realm of Dimwits

When she first gets to New Jersey, Perky expects people to be stupid. And lots are. Whole herds of women wearing capri pants shouldn’t. A few people can only say Go fuck yourself. On the ferry to Delaware Perky sees this guy in skinny sunglasses talking to his cell phone at the top of his lungs. His tank top says CRAB: on it a nearly naked blonde woman sits astride something (probably a crab). Perky can’t see because his fat makes her squint. So everyone can see and admire him the man stands in the bow, his shorts very tight. Perky tries to laugh as loud as she can, but he ignores her. People do this a lot in New Jersey. They drive around the deer they flatten by the side of the road. One morning Perky turns on TV, the news. A show about the Mafia is auditioning in Hoboken. All hell’s broken loose on the Garden State Parkway, it’s backed up for miles drivers sweating in their fake leopard. It doesn’t matter if you have red hair skin disease your race buried or vivid as wallpaper eyes out to the side or missing, everyone jumps in their car convinced they look Italian. TV anchorpeople take to the fast lane trying to keep up. Italian Americans grouse, but once the parts are distributed everyone just goes home again. One Apache Indian with shaking hands from the Gulf War gets cast, along with a Japanese man, a rice importer with wet-looking hair and big shoulders: they both live in the Bronx, it turns out. Now the whole Bridge and Tunnel Crowd raises an uproar, Russian and Eskimo alike, but too late. If you’re simply used to being livid, this day doesn’t rate much. The Garden State goes back to simply being dangerous. Lane changes bend your stomach double. Paying tolls through the slit in the top of the window, smiling at the collector, you can use your other hand to murder someone behind all that tinted glass. To keep from being rubbed out Perky teaches herself to hug the shoulder. If a car comes too close she swerves into the bushes. It seems to work. Take my car and money, I’m too scared to remember your face, don’t kill me, she memorizes, her bumper dug into some azaleas. (If she sees a deer she also swerves. Hit a deer is the one thing she’s promised herself she won’t do in New Jersey.) One evening she goes to Newark to pick someone up at the airport and never gets out of her car, someone’s shooting up the terminal and traffic drives merrily away, leaving the airport full of stranded passengers. They probably just go to the malls. The malls are where you find New Jersey food. Chinese food hopped up with MSG, making you manic. After Peking Duck, cars scream around the parking lots, working their nerves off. New Jersey pizzas feel like wet tarpaulins. Originally a northern Californian, Perky has forgotten the weight of fat. Northern Californians drink a ton of water. They float on health. In New Jersey bottled water hails from distant sources like NYC. Some bottles claim they come from Maine, but on closer inspection admit they’re from Far Rockaway. Standing in a corner deli, Perky pauses at the Evian. You’re in New Jersey to learn balls. Noone has balls in Northern California. When have the balls ever occurred to you to turn down Evian? Don’t cheat, she tells herself. Perky swills water from Ocean City, from Amityville. And something seems to happen. It has been a long day. Perky is driving home from the strip mall where she works as a manicurist. (In Northern California only Vietnamese perform manicures. But in New Jersey whole subcultures exist of gentile manicurists, white and ashblonde. A job that once seemed dumb has become precious, Perky’s customers wise. Her old job in Aromatherapy seems a dim, dim dream.) A yellow light lies over the road. Close to the malls the woods peel back on either side like skin. No road’s supposed to be here and the deer know it. One is going in circles in the road like someone disoriented at a mall when there’s a thud. Now other deer, all the deer in New Jersey, start circling the dirty trees, gouged by bulldozers, looking for a way back in. Perky gets out her heart surprisingly light, even elated, as if after a meal of MSG. The car feels warm as she goes around but she doesn’t want to get her new capri pants soiled so she lifts her hands, tucks them in her armpits. The light has turned orange, bittersweet. Something is melting like a dark piece of chocolate. Perky bends down. She can’t forget how it stood looking backward as she hit it. She touches its hair, hoping to hear it say, Go fuck yourself, a language she has learned to speak.


Jack the Ripper’s Poem

I used to be a peanut,

But now I’m the sore nugget in the pocket of Chernobyl.

I used to like looking at clouds,

But now my head evaporates.

If you keep on distending,

I’ll have to send for my lawyer.

I want to commit vehicular homicide,

But my horse won’t cooperate.

Noone’s said you look like Queen Victoria?

Oh, to be so kind.

I don’t like tough skin,

It unpleasantly gathers.

You had better move over,

My knife wants that chair.

Please see yourself out,

I have something to do in this corner.