Sunflower Skins

September 1, 2010

Sketches, Experiment 15: Tipping

Filed under: experiments, prose — Tags: , , — Sunflower Skins @ 10:33 pm


She tipped over, like a glass at a party—see the drink splash—watch it fall—shatter. Like a curl in the air, her breath extinguishing the candles, she tipped the glass, and the remains of the wine dripped over her toes.

She looked down at the kitchen floor and sighed. It hadn’t appeared that he was coming home anyway, so she needn’t worry about the mess. Yet something lingered—a feeling of moisture on her skin, a cool sweetness on her lips—the result of her picnic lay broken on the floor, unnoticed by anyone except herself.

Summer was slipping away, like an ice cube dissolving in your hand, and she had tried to contain a small part of it, tried to represent it, or re-envision it, in—in, what? A backyard picnic as one last hurrah? A quiet evening under the stars, hoping the heat isn’t too much to bear—did she really think he was going to drink up the notion that this would work itself out? Even she knew that night had dawn and that dawn didn’t always bring light or relief. It would be impossible to recreate in one night their seven years of loyalty and love; it had slowly crumbled and this summer had seen the last of it. Now that summer was going, so was he.

She slid down to the floor, tucking up her knees and kicking off her heels. Liquid on the linoleum, swirling colours. She tipped her head down and thought, “It’s going to be alright, it’s going to be ok.”

As the colours run, the still waters of your heart break open.

August 10, 2010

Sketches, Experiment 14: The Leech Man

Filed under: experiments, prose — Tags: , , — Sunflower Skins @ 10:12 pm


He hunched across my vision, leering his disfigured, distorted body and turning the sky uncanny. Already it had become a sickening shade of orange, a Creamsicle in the freezer too long, gone gooey and gross, and I stood on the sidewalk gaping at the sight in the heavens above me. This being of supreme and magnificent evil. His humpback I recognized like the monster who lived under my bed when I was a child; his nose reaching like tentacles, squiggly squid lips feeling for any life-form or bacteria/eggs to suck up and destroy.

Destroy me with his proboscis. Exterminate the leech babies.

The day had been weird all along, sky half-awake and shadows passing like everything was gonna fall down at any second—everything just come down and the world end. Sometimes I get these feelings. And when I went outside at about 4:30, I tripped on the porch stoop like I used to when I was really little, before our house became familiar. Tripping—familiar—used to the gap. Looked up from the sidewalk—askew—tilted—I felt nauseated, my stomach bloated.

They sometimes said bizarre things about me, things I couldn’t understand. Gossipy groups discussing what will come after. I think I get what it means now, but I don’t like to talk about it. I just pat my belly and hope everything will be okay.

Even if I know it won’t be.

They said I would be the first one to see it, that I’d be the eye of the future. And that it would come in the form of a monster, of a hunchbacked man in the orange sky, reaching toward me, reaching out to me—

Upon insemination there would be a choice; at the end of the world there will be a choice, one made by the frail girl on the cool concrete. Sweat forms in droplets on her skin. Time comes together. And if she is the future, she is either the future or nothingness, and she must choose. The leech man who sucks your bloodlife away—or you destroy the seed of darkness within you and create a world better than this—

less angry than this, less disappointed and ashamed. Melt away the clouds.

I went outside and saw the leech man and he was coming for my heart. God damn him to hell if he dared reach for me.

I went back inside and ignored the omen.

Risk everything and create anew.

July 14, 2010

Sketches, Experiment 13: Dramatics & Secrets Over Tea


My o my, am I exhausted! From dawn til five o’clock shadow I’ve cleaned this house—our cozy, two-storey house, so quaint and yet so sophisticated, with old toys and new robots mingling amongst each other—I’ve cleaned this house and paid the bills and gotten the kids safely to and from school. Phew!

I throw myself down on the antique sofa to rest. Actually, we’re not supposed to sit on it; I move aside the doll collection when my husband isn’t home. I should tell you about my husband! We’ve been married eight years in October—I just love fall weddings—and he has given me the two most adorable children. They’re in kindergarten and first grade, my oldest being considered for the gifted program! He looks just like my husband, I tell you—the eyes are the same. Our youngest looks like me, but the older one is just a spitting image of his father.

We didn’t imagine we’d have both children quite so close in age; in fact, we hadn’t actually planned to have both at all. After several years of being newlyweds, my husband and I tried to have children, but my uterus wasn’t receptive—though I’m not really supposed to discuss matters of that kind. Anyway, we finally agreed to allow my husband’s wiring to be replicated for familial purposes.

The DNA sat for months and we were told that if the reproductive process hadn’t began by now, there was little chance that the cells would ever divide and create a new being. So my husband and I returned to our daily lives without hope of children. Perhaps we’d adopt? We weren’t sure.

About a year later, my unpredicted, miraculous pregnancy was predicated by an even bigger surprise: there was also a mutation from my husband’s cells, already into the second trimester! Somehow, by some trick of fate, our baby in the womb was younger than the baby in the tank, but it didn’t matter; my husband and I were thrilled.

Ooh, what lovely children we have!—so bright and clean and inquisitive. I tell them it’s good to ask questions, it’s good to know where you came from, but to mind whom you ask and when. My husband and I may disagree on some issues, but we always encourage our children’s obedience in this world. I mustn’t tell you this, but my husband nearly lost his job because of an offhand comment to a co-worker at the factory; you never can be too careful. After the close call, I wanted to relocate, for the threat of unemployment was unfair when his very creation was conditional upon being put to use—but my husband just closed his mouth and shook his head.

He told me to keep my lips sealed, and here I am, yammering on like a mad woman! Perhaps my husband is right, that he and our oldest will survive the extermination because of their encoding—because they’re encoded, because they are not human—but I just can’t imagine not having this sweet little life! If I just curl up here—on this old sofa, centuries and centuries preserved by a local company specializing in antiques before the 3000’s. They have the most interesting things. For instance, the other day I went into the store and saw a bed with tall iron posts at each corner; the salesman called it a canopy­-style—but I was too embarrassed to ask what that meant. Sometimes I feel so much more unlearned than the rest of the community. I know there are other female human beings in my neighborhood, but I doubt they get quite so much pleasure from their housewifery as I do. I simply love the old way of things, the manual way to clean a floor or to dust the bookshelf.

Imagine: If I just stay here a little longer, on this island from long ago, will I remember the old times? Beside woven ragdolls and knitted blankets, will I connect with where I believe I came from? Or am I eternally in this present—the glossy, automated makings of a dream.

I am: one of many sent through to this world from what you call your present. Maybe it would be mine—if I were not in this particular pink and green-polka-dotted dress, with this specific checkered apron—but those circumstances differ only slightly. Maybe that’s why I’m so chatty today, feeling like an old neighbour dropped by for tea.

Imagine, if that’s what we were—so close in time, our neighbouring selves—from my future-present to your past-present, one moment comprised of us in all places.

July 4, 2010

Sketches, Experiment 11: Picking Off Thugs

Filed under: experiments, prose — Tags: , , — Sunflower Skins @ 2:18 am


This isn’t what they look like anymore.

They wear black and have shields and nightsticks. They come at you like a wall. They aren’t protecting you; you are the enemy.

Gauge my distance. He is in the open street—the old wooden tabletop—and has his back to the prisoner. The protestor. She is far away, hazy. We’ll get to her in a few minutes. Systematic terror first. I could take him down in a single shot, rubber bullets flying. He looks armed, but he isn’t. Even though he stands there, green and innocent—chanting, singing, smiling at pedestrians—I could take away every right he has. Within reason, of course. But this is without reason at all.

A senseless act repeated over and over throughout the days, a continual stamping of the foot, insisting, “There is no problem here. There is no reason for an inquiry.”

But I’ve got you in the eye of my lens, I’ve got you pinned. You have nowhere to go but where I tell you, and I’m not going to tell you anything. Just move. Stumble back across the tarmac, keep your gun or your camera or your cell phone steady, disbelieving the scene you are seeing. The place is the intersection—the park—the table. The space is closing in. Cries go unanswered, seemingly unheard as stone faces march forward. Their adrenaline is too high. They must love this. They won’t hear you.

If people are asking for an inquiry, that itself is a query and should remind you of the service you swore to uphold. There is something seriously wrong with picking off civilians as thugs. If you accept this, get out of our office.

June 25, 2010

Sketches, Experiment 10: Eating Wisdom

Filed under: experiments, prose — Tags: , , , — Sunflower Skins @ 12:50 am


At the ripe age of thirteen, full of spunk and fever, I once pronounced a curse of death upon my grandmother for making me come home early from a party. She didn’t approve of “the young people drinking.” That seems so many years ago, but I can remember her expression exactly, her no-nonsense, I-can-dish-it-right-back remark:

“Honey, you’re dying as soon as you’re born. Get used to it.”

What strikes me now is not the idea that life is a struggle or that our journeys are ending as soon as they’re beginning or whatever. It’s her attitude in the last part. Become familiar with your mortality—and your chance for error and injury and dishonesty. Get to know and understand your transgressions. Accept them.

In my first high school science class that fall I learned that adaptability is one of the nine characteristics of living things. To adapt despite the weather, to turn wherever there’s sunlight.

Purple bruised wound. Accept the ability to adapt to this shitty world? Why would I want to live through this?

My grandmother’s curse has come true: she’s dead and underground by now. I am standing here in my kitchen, looking at a vase of flowers. There were a lot of people at the funeral, but the church still seemed empty. My cat jumps onto the table and sniffs at the irises and baby’s breath, debating the possibility of eating some.

You try so many ways to get around the chaos, but you keep coming back to the same realization, that once upon a time, the chaos that balanced you.

Eat your words, baby girl. Tell yourself it will be alright and continually adapt to the infinite changes. Never stop changing. And in that, be constant.

June 24, 2010

Sketches, Experiment 9: Violet

Filed under: experiments, prose — Tags: , , — Sunflower Skins @ 1:37 am


An impromptu thunderstorm; I didn’t think it would come until tomorrow. The day, so humid and sticky, bellyaching. Threats all afternoon. The air, heavy, my eyelids lowered.

Rain in patterns, on and off; bright and dark, back and forth like my mood.

Smoky eyes. My body languid, smooth. I’ve come down to the basement to take refuge from the heat. Lightening strikes somewhere, but the thunder, it’s still far off. I have yet to feel the heart of it.

My evening out, hair frizzed and untamed. Cannot conquer. But enticing nonetheless. I sit down on the cool floor. Amongst boxes of wonderful, forgotten nights when I had some company with whom to share this hot, hot heat.

I listen to the rain and study the shape of my leg, the curve of the shoe; all colours reflected in empty bottles of vodka. A flash of light and my body rumbles. Already my dress is wet with sweat, stuck to my skin. Imagine the lightening striking my skin. What colours it would make. Sounds I hear like shifting glass, and water on the streets, pounding, pounding.

What difference would it make if I were sober?

The crack of lightening and thunder and gold glitter in my eyes, feel violent, feel like a million fucking bulbs have blown apart the sky and at last brought peace to the swaying, happy house.

June 18, 2010

Sketches, Experiment 8: I’m Sorry, But I Just Can’t Eat It

Filed under: experiments, prose — Tags: , , — Sunflower Skins @ 1:20 am


The cake looks delicious, it’s true. One of those homemade, surprisingly well put-together jobs by the family “chef.” I have taken a few bites to be polite. There’s too much sugar in the frosting—too sweet, it will overpower the raspberries and ruin the aftertaste if one chooses to eat the decoration. Which I don’t. Seeds in the teeth.

I take a look at the form.

The cake, moist, whipped well, icing dripping—so enticing—each slice cut to a perfect isosceles triangle, topped with large, fresh raspberries—and served on… drum roll… dollar store paper plates. Nice presentation, folks.

Only a monster could look at this and not want to eat anything. Then I am a monster. But I have good taste.

I look around the party: the birthday girl, just turned four, wearing a Dora the Explorer sweatshirt—I fucking hate Dora; the girl’s brother, older, on his third slice of cake already—and he’s engaged with his cousin in an eating contest; a dozen senile residents slobbering over themselves and the children; the totally inattentive, self-absorbed mother, whose own mother—Marilyn Brooks—the one responsible for this idiotic display of affection. I roll my eyes at my father, but he just gives me that What-do-I-know-Look. After all, I suppose I agreed to visit on this particular afternoon. I knew what loathsome humanity I’d come across.

Yet I come across it everywhere.

In every restaurant I see it, in every mall food court. Amongst concession stands at the ball parks and amid church bake sales. You people disgust me. Look at how you consume culture! Ooh, lookie! Hotdog stand flavoured chips.

The stench of the home has overwhelmed me. Must. get. fresh. air. So what if I’m being a little dramatic today? Being around children, even extraordinarily outgoing ones, makes me feel silly myself. Even though my childhood wasn’t silly. But I don’t want to play with other children right now—I’m cutting short my visit with father because I want to play with knives.

I remember reading: If there’s one thing that I despise, it’s the sound of steak sobbing—and smiling a little smile to myself. Perhaps I’m not alone in my playful thoughts.

June 16, 2010

Sketches, Experiment 7: A Typical Caulfield Conversation

Filed under: experiments, prose — Tags: , , , — Sunflower Skins @ 4:22 pm


The opposite direction of the mummies, the left instead of right in the lobby, are the skeletons. You come into this massive circular room and there are these giant skeletons hanging from the ceiling. I guess when I was little I didn’t like to come in here a lot, like the birds or alligator bones scared me or some kind of crap like that, but I don’t remember that at all; I like them a lot, if you want to know, but that’s the kind of lousy stuff my parents would say if you asked about my childhood. Never anything normal, like how I’m doing well in school or that my birthday is coming up, but these really goddam personal things, I swear. It annoys me more than anything because it’s not true, like I said. Most kids like those kinds of things and get all gruesomely excited, while others turn peevish and whine over anything creepy, but I wasn’t one of the latter, for god’s sake.

I sometimes come here before going to see the mummies. Around the entire perimeter of the room are glass cases of smaller bones, animals like toads and snakes and fish. There’re a couple horses, an elephant. I’ve seen all of these and am not really interested in any of them right now. There’s this monkey skeleton on the other side of the big room, though, that always kills me. He’s on a branch, posed, leering at whoever looks in on him. The thing is, he looks like he’s laughing at you.

The only guy I know who’s crummy enough—cocky enough—to suppose himself among the likes of Salinger is Briton Self. Then I remember, suddenly, that he has and still does, most recently in his “statement regarding his new novel.” How could we live in a world phoney enough to presuppose itself every way, stealing from others and traversing, transgressing, transforming—making satirical, material, an empire for the senseless—? And sometimes—even currently—not even well! How could we call this art? A photograph of nature, of something somebody else already made—a block of plagiarized text, inverted from the original meaning? Shameless.

Send in your love/hate mail for Britain’s own leering monkey:

June 15, 2010

Sketches, Experiment 6: Power Lines

Filed under: experiments, prose — Tags: , , — Sunflower Skins @ 7:37 pm


When I was little I used to believe that aliens were watching over the people of Earth, protecting us. I thought they took the form of UFOs, Northern Lights, miracles (specifically in the form of speaking in tongues and other related religious phenomena), but mostly, I believed in the power lines, a stoic army standing guard.

Now, flick away my cigarette, shove hands in pockets.

The grids across America have produced such cultural phenomena as strip malls, fast food restaurants, subway systems, and used car dealerships. Mass amounts of electricity, sent at high voltages to minimize the energy lost in long distance transmissions, now beyond any nightmare I had as a boy.

I wasn’t much beyond acquiring language at the time of the oil spill, but I was perfect for producing the next generation of Thalidomide babies, war amps, PTSD patients. AIDS. Bubonic plague. Unknown outbreaks, particularly in the northeast. New York City, or what remains.

Spare some change?

Cynic, someone sneers.

I have been watching, been part of it, all along. Part of the machine, just like you. When I was little, even, I believed in something constricting. I was born into a tyrannical world—a choked, ruthless, conservative world.

Crimes against humanity?

Yeah, right. What remains.

Do I have the energy to tell this story? My exhaustion seeps like sweat and smoke from my skin. Pockmarked. Slight jaundice. There’s little vegetation readily available. If I can find something to revive me, maybe find a place to spend the night before returning to Toronto. Tomorrow.

Tomorrow I go home again. Back to my own city, where no one has missed me—but I can’t afford to be caught across the border, and urban sprawl ensures watchmen, so I must keep going. Keep walking, stumble through the alleys. Beware of strangers, dizziness, and air planes.

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June 14, 2010

Sketches, Experiment 5: Dante on the Stairs

Filed under: experiments, prose — Tags: , , — Sunflower Skins @ 5:27 pm


A staircase made of grating, a downward descent. Katabasis for the soul.

Flash, instant, my guide’s role reversed: my Dante, taking me through hell and upward to the light.

Separate what I know from what I see before me; try to imagine it differently, see this through naïve eyes. Richer from knowledge? In some ways, yes. Multiple perspectives and multiple genders, traversing different lives and letting what happened, happen. But only once; I no longer live in that moment.

This moment, on the stairs. About the jump into my lap, beside me, on the step above me. Doesn’t matter, he’s here.

Looking through my own eyes, hair and dust, glass. Reframe it. Review. Reword.

I’m sitting on the soft plush of the staircase, about two thirds up. Dante, soft and petite, his every bone I know—Dante, alert, vigilant, lying on my chest—this cat is watching my every move. He knows my vices. He doesn’t mind.

I can’t capture everything in this picture: the sound of matches and videogames, the heat from the bed, the intense comfort of my first home—but you see this space with a little bit of what I love. Finally: my Dante, myself, my art, and space: space filled and to be filled. Empty space and possibility.

June 4, 2010

Sketches, Experiment 2: Fireworks No. 1

Filed under: experiments, prose — Tags: , , , — Sunflower Skins @ 6:00 pm


And so Narcissus gazed, and loved, and in that love desired the image that was but an image of himself. And he cried, “Oh, would that I were able to secede from my own body, depart from what I love!” Wasted by his passion and consumed by grief,

strike across the pool, my hideous reflection.

Narcissus sees what he has done, sees the black water with the fire burning and the grotesque figure hiding in its shadows. There is a moment

pierced by Cupid’s arrows yet no mark appears on this once-perfect flesh.

of pure recognition, of acknowledgment and farewell, acceptance. Dissolve now, become now. And they mourn you, Narcissus. Yet the fire was pure; you were burnt by love, and though it destroyed you, it purified you.

there is no I anymore, but a flower remains.

June 2, 2010

Sketches, Experiment 1: 29/07/1976

Filed under: experiments, prose — Tags: , — Sunflower Skins @ 3:49 pm


I approach the swing set carefully, listening sharply for any indication that I’m caught. Past dark. This summer was supposed to be different, the 13th summer, longer curfew, but not a chance. There’s a rabid dog loose in the neighbourhood, a wild animal rampaging through our flower beds and vegetable gardens. He prowls across the patio, hiding in the shadow cast by the hammock.

I creep toward the swing set cautiously, my heart loud in my chest. Feels like I’m thundering something awful inside. And my shadow, ghastly. Dew on the grass. Crickets. The communal park, between our houses and pools, is less a park than a slide and a swing. Deserted because of danger, because of the humidity; heat lightning in the west.

I wipe my sweaty hands on the seat of my shorts. If Neil Haggarty doesn’t show, I’ll kill him. Mom and dad would bust a hernia if they knew. But can’t control this wild animal.

Where is he?

The neighbouring lights are beginning to brighten, windows lit up with dancing silhouettes; or, behind a curtain, emptiness grim beyond all expectations, despite all precautions and investments. The lights burn, burn inside me, see a glow arise from Neil’s house, just behind the first ring of the courtyard. The heaviness of the night – July lethargy, sweetness smells, my new perfume – only enhance the feeling that what I wait for is worth the while. He will come to me.

I smack a mosquito on my thigh. Blood. Thunder rumbles. Sleepiness and entirely alert, nerves on end, my body poised. The dog’s golden eyes, mad, stare me down, and I hear my mother’s weary, frustrated voice calling my name. I return the rabid glare, leaning against the slide the whole time.

Then I turn my back on the dog, to better shelter elsewhere. Trotting away, I lick the foam from my lips.

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