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Mike Linaweaver

Are You Alright

   9 pm

black as hell
 the wind throws up the night against stiletto stars and twists leaves into origami messages for Shinto gods
maybe it’s Autumn
 maybe winter is drawn down in grey lines over everything
 the dead seasons have their charms.

the clock turning bones of hours and days are empty. voids.

It’s cold outside, colder than you ever thought it could be there are ghosts in the bell towers those crumbling voices counting out the hours

   9:05 pm

the phone rings

I hesitate
I don’t normally answer calls from unfamiliar numbers
on the third ring I pick up

“hello”…ending it on a high note

at first nothing…then static like an out of tune radio little bits in the snow police chatter codes paramedics conversations between adulterous lovers brief consonants a fear of word’s completion airwaves flotsam time stretches. I’m a petty voyeur listening in.
only a few moments pass seconds then a voice
“Mr. Lawrence?” distances cold
…more static then the voice again a woman
“Stay on the line.”
an order static then another voice another woman
story of my life
“Mr. Lawrence?”
“Yes?” annoyed now

the woman speaks deliberately this is rehearsed near by her supervisor is standing probably with his (her) hand on her shoulder moral support you can do it never gets any easier
I listen
and don’t listen
a few moments and she stops talking
silence no static bits of loose adultery

I have a plant named Ferguson
he sits on the dining room table in a small terra-cotta pot with a cake plate underneath I don’t know what kind of plant Ferguson is but I know my mother had the same kind of plants when I was young they hung in pot holders suspended from the ceiling in every corner of the house long tendrils hanging to the floor
Ferguson doesn’t look well I can’t remember when I watered him last

the woman… “Mr. Lawrence?”
“Yes?”… staring at Ferguson
“Are you alright?”

I hang up and go to the kitchen for a glass of water after a full glass Ferguson perks up there is still life in him more than the rest of us more than most
I go back to the kitchen drop the glass in the sink breaking it I ignore it and take a Newcastle from the ‘fridge open it with the butt of my lighter the first long swallow tastes nutty I finish it and grab another

      post meridian

the phone rings I know even before I look that it is my mother I always know when it’s her she is predictable

my mother was raised on a farm she rode horses in the summer and drove the high school principle’s corvette during the school year I always thought this second part was strange he might have been unscrupulous or a pederast apparently I was wrong my mother was raped long after the principle came to dust it was the local preacher a devout Lutheran against the will of my grandfather who wished to avoid the embarrassment of a trial in such a small Swedish community she pressed charges nothing came of it at least the punishment didn’t fit the crime the preacher was transferred to a Lutheran church near Kansas City

she graduated high school in 1966 and immediately flew the coup she flew all the way to Salina in a Chevy wagon my grandfather gave her 30 miles she went Salina was a city rather than a town or maybe it was a town rather than a village in Salina she encountered the first African American she had ever seen in real life I asked her what her impression of this person was she said
“I wondered if he knew Martin Luther King.”

the phone stopped ringing
the kitchen was a mess the kind of mess that gives my mother nightmares I don’t like to wash dishes so they tend to pile up I don’t like to wash laundry so it tends to pile up I don’t like to clean out my car so junk tends to pile up in it I don’t like to deal with problems so they tend to pile up

the phone rings again its my mother she will keep calling so I give in

“Hello”…ending it on a high note
“Mitchell?”… my mother’s voice she is upset holding back earth
shaking sobs her mascara runs when she cries and she cries often

after a moment of dead silence

“Yes?” “Are you alright?”

I hang up

It occurs to me I have no daughter no reason to pick up around the house I finish off the Newcastle and leave the bottle sitting on the counter edge above the trash can in the dining room Ferguson’s condition is continuing to improve still life in him more than me more than the rest of us I feel good about that plants don’t like neglect any more than people do

a dream comes back to me recurrent though I couldn’t say how regular it tells the future more or less prescience is a curse and if there is a GOD its enough to make you hate him (her) GOD is a kid with an ant farm I read or heard somewhere no reason to think that isn’t true

the joke is on us

dreaming I’m in a hospital basement the morgue several people in scrubs faces covered by surgical masks eyes all a dull blue like the banana seat bike with tassles on the handle bars I had when I was a kid hands sheathed in latex rubber gloves no apparent allergies I know it’s the morgue only because I know nothing indicates there is no contradiction a small room cinder block walls painted a flat sea green a single light hangs in the center of the room an interrogation light from old war movies swinging gently above the prisoner above the table common in morgues the world over a white sheet covers a figure a man approaches the doctor takes me by the arm directing me towards the table I don’t want to I must I know if I tried to pull away the grip would harden to stone no more choices left never any to begin with I look at the table the sheet the oblique figure obscured beneath there is horror in the world nothing moves but the war movie light the doctor isn’t breathing doesn’t blink empty blue eyes empty world the smell of alcohol and something else in the air demons the others recede they don’t breath blink shoulder to shoulder they form up backs to the wall opposite the table not the slightest tremble

the doctor releases me at the edge of the table there is no time here a great distance stretches its wings behind me the doctor goes to the head of the table carefully pulling back the sheet there is no going back heavy noise in accompaniment grinding slow hollow drowning a billion tons collapse into my chest I can only watch no crying out no turning away

the sheet removed reveals large block letters the multi colored type everyone had as a child they spell out ARE YOU ALRIGHT?

end transmission…
I hang up…

something on the stereo in the living room portishead Beth Gibbons says nobody loves her and I think it’s probably the junk kick

I sit down on the couch pull the tray from beneath roll a joint with the last of the weed the smell of kief floods the room this isn’t INTERZONE the smoke my mind is limp after a few hits then paranoia the weed was a mistake I need something else I go to the kitchen for another
Newcastle opening it the phone rings

      post meridian

it’s my sister
I answer and say hello ending on a high note
“Mitchell, are you alright? Why did you ha…”

I hang up

my sister had terrible nosebleeds as a child I was always afraid of her in high school she played varsity soccer her position was right wing she didn’t get this position because she was great at the game she had a wooden right leg that helped she gave up a college scholarship to Queens College for a cocaine habit I was always afraid of her she kicked the habit by going to Japan to be with my parents
the myths say Japan was formed when a god dipped its sword in the sea and the drops fell back forming the islands I always thought this was beautiful

      post meridian

the phone rings
“Hello?”…ending it on a high note

I hang up

I married my daughter’s mother I have no daughter I met her in a bar with a couple I met the week before I couldn’t remember their names so made up names she was beautiful then maybe now we hit it off from the start I kissed her that first night I think I saw the sun after that for a while in a few months we moved in the sex was good domestic I found a union job called myself a revolutionary joined the Communist Party in the end she caught a meth habit like Hitler her hand never shook though she never pinned medals on Nazi youth I walked away my daughter only five months old I have no daughter I stopped seeing the sun don’t look up don’t play games don’t delude yourself THE TRUTH IS ALWAYS RIGHT IN FRONT OF YOU

devil dreams the world is collapsing like a diseased lung cancerous seeping in at the corners all pupil and murder wind and coyotes howling at the edge of town the refinery lights up the sky pushing off the clouds

remember the fall days unencumbered everything uncoupled from its shoring the pieces of us is what’s left of we I spread them like playing cards in the street ghosts rising on the mists ashen and distant in the street lamp light

there is nothing left but the weeping deep bellied hollow sounds of sorrow only trees the timekeepers know the songs between us


the harrowing birth of my daughter into the light and madness of white walled hospital rooms
there she was this small thing wrapped the Russian way in swaddle like a worm only her pink eyed face peeking through the history that never began knowing there is nothing but hers is the only story I care to read

murderous time
enemy of all
little girls
are born goddesses


I loved her

I see her playing in the front yard door open
I’m cooking dinner while she plays with her chocolate milk spoons plastic plates and pots non hazardous molded food in the dirt at the edge of the sidewalk

we are both cooking

I check on her every five minutes asking, Sis, are you alright and she says yes, I cookin and holds up a plastic pan full of dirt

when dinner is ready I go to get her still cooking in the same spot digging holes looking up when a bee passes lazily overhead
dirt round her mouth
in the bottom of her chocolate milk
she pours a capful into her pan

I say, Sis, have you been eating dirt
no, she says and smiles
she has been eating dirt
I bend down to her, Sis, that’s icky

daddy, she says, I want you to play with me

I wonder if she was thinking of me when she ran into the street

another joke
thanks God

I hang up
6 a.m.

I’ve fallen asleep on the couch a habit of my late father
                  and hated by my mother

I arrive at work
Gerald nods says nothing as we enter the plant

no one speaks to me they sit staring into their coffee mutter to each other while I’m not looking some are vulture necked needing a look the kind that causes accidents while slowing down to look at an accident on the interstate

these disingenuous know nothings with fat wives and fat kids at home sweating TV lies Maury Povich DNA I’ve got you on the spot bullshit pock marked teeth crammed with sunflower seeds and the bullet casings of wasted lives filling their trailers and oil boom shotgun houses cigarette smoke pooling at the ceilings thick with working class colloquial dialect burn marks in the sofa the recliner the floor their forearms a reminder that love always hurts

they watch me ignore them without blinking
I hate them just a little

I clock in as Dyllon approaches to ask questions
I clock out pick up the phone call my boss in the office on the other side of the wall

I’m leaving I say
“Why? Are you alright?”

I hang up

always hang up
don’t stand on this side of everything loitering as trash the millions you
of this
you always collaborate

I am the saddest window let me stay here a little bit longer when I wake she will be gone
she will go past tense
this little girl
filling up the empty
she will go
she is already gone

the oaks are barren rattling their empty selves into the wind when I come home is less here than there was whimpering against the cold shallow hounds whipped up in grey moving over the wheat fields howling empty bent prairie grass turned red with motive with weapons
with the season

I can still see her silhouette framed against the evening shadows ghostly blowing bubbles when it was summer petting the horse up the street when it was evening jumping cracks in the sidewalk with daddy falling down each time just to make her giggle in crystals
I miss her
this little girl
that was

come home
I need you

I might still be dreaming this lie
this shallow watered crossing
I will lie to everything
if it keeps her

the boss says he fired me told everyone but me and stumbled back to his square world purple faced sweating I’m indifferent there is nothing to feel everything is real in this cartoon

I hang up

again there is a knot in me I know
its name
no time to sit around so I clean and make messes and clean again
and swallow pills

I’m coming apart
and then its over
it always was

I hang up

and the cool blue fades to nothing
so useless as this

I didn’t breathe when I was born so they didn’t hear me tell them I didn’t want this its not their fault
they couldn’t have
this end

I loved her and hated being here and all the cruelties still whisper but she knew nothing of them and I’m glad of that

the days multiply
I forget them like I forget my wallet like I can’t find my keys like I can’t tell which way is north anymore and its been forever with the blinds closed no cracks in the armor the snow comes and comes and its just this simple I wonder where I’ve been there is nothing before reborn into this wicked moods and the river is frozen and the bridge to Lindsborg creaks with a hundred years of dead bandits and striking mill workers museums now on the muddy banks up main street someone brought me maybe my mother with her broaches and her cooing muffled whimpers signaling at every stop sign going straight

they stand me up near the front with people shaking my hand saying things I don’t understand their language there is muted laughter occasionally from near the piano sipping punch blue haired angels make their way dipping their glasses at the sign of someone they know these people know death because its close I wish
I do wish

I want them to leave stop standing so close to me echoing their stories their bloodlines where we cross paths

they smell like old gold mixed with the others the spilling of minds climbing over each other I’m still passive stone its not time to weep I say I won’t weep in front of them I don’t want their cheers but absence I whisper to my mother to let me go but she keeps calling me her baby baby this
baby that
this is my first born she says
and she was mine so little
and now
looking over her shoulder she hustles their gaze to the simple small box standing on a throne of red velvet all the trimmings and she is proud but I won’t look even though she tells me I have to

the coffin stretches for years

she is crying a theatre moaning folktales history lessons exchanging recipes with the like minded trying to pretend it offend it eliminate it cry and scream like she wants but doing it with poise a born butterfly graceless in a waltz at church empathy is a show for what they call the less fortunate

you know God
he is out there
shifting the gears

they told me this in Sunday school when I was a child I wore a brown pin striped suit with a matching off white turtle neck the only suit I’ve ever worn so well I fit in

I never met him (her)
that phone is broken I assume
or I wasn’t given the right number
another joke
so what

when it comes to this madness it wants more than her simple braids I spent twirling on Saturday mornings while she watched cartoons roughing up the waters on my insides stirring a hurricane she called them funny names I forget the way she made up dialogue her own telling story of acorns mud pies birds with broad tails squirrels organizing for winter alphabets sang songed along like sailboats all hers

it wants every pale leaf on every last branch so easy to give it
so easy
leaving it all
lying on the floor

and I wanted one more time to lean into her to brush the bangs from her eyes with my cheek kiss her carry her warm childhood heart shielded from the cascading loveless void away from here away from this mindless poverty of machines and gnashing factories fallow winter fields into the far off shimmering wonderlands
sorrow is a blindfold with an executioner’s wit

into the empty
marrow of bones
creeps the dying art

a million memories of a single tree fall in the icy haze sliding against the dull shadows the waking body of Buddha silent and still arms outstretched like legends of unspoken uncultivated long dead languages

how can you breathe
in this cloudy room
gulfed by these
maligned scarecrows

I hate clocks for their honesty
dates fill the graveyard
this will never end
its always been
this way

I would bury her deep behind the sky this frail thing with knobby knees looking like my sister’s did if only I could remember

her name


Mike Linaweaver is a poet and socialist activist from Central Kansas. He lives in Corpus Christi, TX. Mike has participated in social movements ranging from women’s and LBGT rights to education reform and the labor struggle. His poetry has appeared in Red Wedge Magazine as well as the Canadian avant garde site His work deals with themes of love, alienation and death. He has been a unionist industrial worker for most of his life.