Archive by Author

In the Swing of an Axe

3 Feb

Too many believe things

begin. A high arc over the head

cutting cold autumn air. I’m trying

to say that life isn’t disease—no one

germ starts anything.  Muscles

in the shoulders tighten, and the sun glints

off the axeblade held perfectly in this

second. Right now is many forces

pulling many directions. The downswing falls

and splinters dig deep in calloused hands.  Ask

the dead how they died and they will say:

It would take a lifetime to tell you.

The axe works its lever action and cracks

into hard wood. Reddened leaves fall

to the ground. This happens again and again.


What We Know but Cannot Say

2 Feb

The names in this story have been changed to protect the innocent.

One of the first sentences I can remember my friend Sky uttering is the question, “Are you of the homosexual persuasion?” The answer, in truth, was not exactly no, but I didn’t know him at all. He was a willowy black kid with spongy dreadlocks and enormously thick glasses, and his voice was deep and fruity. Later I would discover that he was a genius — the only real genius I’ve ever met, a brilliant artist who  read physics books in his spare time, just for shits — but at this moment he was just another person I’d met in my first weeks in college. So I told him no, I was not of the homosexual persuasion.

He looked at me very intently for a moment before saying, “I guess I’m already in love with one straight boy, so I won’t be falling in love with you.”

As you can imagine, I didn’t really know what to make of that.

Eventually I would meet this straight boy, a former child actor named Patrick, and I would see why Sky was in love with him: he was tall, shapely, had an actorly touchy-feeliness that I found weird but which would turn a lot of people on. He made lots of eye-contact. And he seemed — seemed — as queer as a three-dollar bill. It’s hard to say precisely what gave Patrick this misleading aura of gayosity, but whatever it was, it was there in spades. Sky seemed to think he could make Patrick gay, and in stages: first by hanging out with him a lot, then by showing him gay pornography, and finally by convincing him to let his girlfriend fuck him in the butt with a strap-on. I’m not actually sure if the final part of this plan ever actually happened, but he spent a lot of time on the internet trying to find affordable strap-ons that would fit Patrick’s girlfriend.

Then, of course, Sky broke his rule about not being in love with more than one straight boy at once when a freshman named Joel moved in down the hall from the dorm room that Sky & I shared. Again, you could see why Sky would fall in love with him: Joel had long, golden hair and sensitive eyes the color of pressed olive oil, and he was constantly shirtless, showing off a slender and well-tanned torso that Sky found irresistible. So Sky, having failed — I think — to convert his friend Patrick to homosexuality, undertook to change Joel.

This involved a battery of persuasive techniques. Sky laid out the plan for me beforehand: First, we would get Joel to smoke weed. Then, once we had him smoking weed, then we would begin probing his sexual history, and drop hints about how much fun other drugs were. Once we had determined whether he was as sexually free as he seemed — Joel had a way of coming on to everybody he ever talked to, without even meaning to; he just thrived on turning people on — we could proceed to attempt to pique his curiosity about sex with men. Well, Sky would do that; my job would be to convince Joel to take ecstasy with us. Once we were all on ecstasy, Sky and Joel would get it on, and I would . . . somehow accrue some benefit, I’m not sure.

This plan in fact worked exactly how Sky laid it out, as preposterous as that might sound. After much prodding and goading, Joel smoked weed with us. He enjoyed weed. He enjoyed the bodily sensation of it, and talked about it a lot, to the point that I didn’t always want to hear it. Joel and Sky and I smoked weed together one million times, and once we had done that, when we had the stony rambles, Sky probed Joel’s experience. Had he kissed a boy? No. Had he ever, like, touched a boy in that way? Well, sorta, maybe, kinda, at BBYO, but it didn’t really go very far. Had he ever thought about doing more? Yeah, sure.

Meanwhile, I talked up the merits of ecstasy, which I had taken exactly once but enjoyed so much that I’d become something of an evangelist on the subject. I talked about how it was like the body high of weed but better, et cetera, et cetera. Joel was, for the most part, resistant. But then came the rave. You remember raves? Everybody goes to a big warehouse and takes as many uppers as they can afford to buy and writhes around going, “FUCK! This music is awesome! You’re hot. And I’m hot. Aren’t people all so beautiful? Also, I think you and me are great friends. Wanna make out for a while?” This was one of those, set to take place in a warehouse somewhere on the outskirts of Los Angeles. Sky became fixated on this rave. He took a job on campus so he could save up and rent a hotel room for the three of us, where we would crash afterwards and Sky would put his moves on Joel. That was the idea, anyway.

So we went out to the rave. Actually, we went to the hotel room, took the E, and Sky shooed me away. At first I was put out by this, but within half an hour or so it had begun to seem really wonderful to me, so incredibly great that Sky and Joel were finally gonna hook up, and I was just so happy I could be a part of it that I went over to the pay phone in the 7-11 parking lot across the street and called my friend Meg and told her all about it for a while, until she said she had to go and I said, No, great, you have a great time doing what you’re doing, and she said, I can tell you are, and then as I hung up the phone, there was Joel by my side, bouncing up on his toes and going, “So. Sky’s acting really weird.”

“Weird like how?”

“He said he wanted to blow me.”



“Did you let him?”

“Yeah,” he said, “For a while.”


“Couldn’t get it up. I just ended up massaging his scalp for a long time, and then I said I thought I would come find you, and here I am.”

“What happened to Sky?”

“He said he was gonna call his friend Patrick.”

And that was that, really. We never made it to that rave, though eventually Joel and I would take in a few out in the desert near Joshua Tree. Sky never again mentioned to me the possibility of hooking up with Joel. He went back to cruising the net looking for strapons for Patrick’s girlfriend.

Eventually, Sky got too heavily into LSD, flirted with joining a cult, dropped out of school, actually joined a cult, and vanished from our lives, just as quickly as he had arrived. He was so odd that I sometimes have a hard time remembering that he was real. I find myself thinking that I made him up. But he was very real. Sometimes I think it was me who was imaginary.

~~ joseph