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Book Excerpt: Clouds of Hungry Dogs

Clouds of Hungry Dogs

When the old man begins to talk,
he goes on for hours and hours,
and no one can understand a word he says.

But it’s different in his head,
because that part of the world is still pulling
the Closed/Gone Home signs away from the doors,
while the trumpets scream victory.
Every word is a lightning bolt that grips
the attention of a long desert where good men hide like tired stray cats.

It’s as though every wisecrack from above
is a steel-toe boot on the glistening dance floor.

He can see the six-year-old counting
the money he stole for a cab ride to Toronto.

He can remember the prostitute
with a heart of different orphaned birds getting together
to take back the power lines and landfill monuments.
Always so concerned with keeping both hands
on her grandmother’s wheelchair that she didn’t care
about her sunglasses being crooked every hour of the day.

He tells everyone about her. Everyone in turn
nods as best they can, and wonders if he’s worth filming.

Does he remember the woman who laughed
every time the baby came into the world stillborn,
and made a living in her twilight years by chewing apart
unopened soup cans?

Yeah, she’s in there, too.

No one knows how much time this guy
put into fearing a life worth the madman
who gets to run on and on about it.

Never married. Spent a lot of time losing things
that weren’t even his to begin with. Started a novel
in his teens, realized J.D. Salinger had stolen it from his dreams,
and quietly put it in a drawer when he finished it during retirement.

Did every single car on the GW Bridge really stop all at once?
Did everyone really get out, and trust the frozen water to break their fall?

He says it did. He sees it as clearly as the son he never had,
but often runs into,
when his luck is so vivid that he loses his hands
trying to touch the train it’s riding.

Newlyweds are always heading to the coast in his stories.
Farmhouses are always falling to man-made nature instead.

If someone even wanted to understand him,
if someone even wanted to try to pretend they could,
that might make a difference.

It wouldn’t make up for the life he didn’t have,
but it would do something.

It would give his endless cast a chance
to break all their messy, hopelessly stable patterns. 

Case Closed, Minnesota

Photographs of her great-grandmother
are aging badly in a Case Closed, Minnesota storage locker,
and someday she’s going to be willing to murder
the motherfucker who won’t let her get to them.

For now, she just remembers the one
that nobody still living in her family likes to talk about.

The one that may as well have been created
by turn-of-the-century, Midwestern magic.
No one knows who took the damn thing.

Dirty hair in a black and white cemetery valley that was muddy,
grimy and beaten valentine bloody by a sun
as big as a city made from old issues of National Geographic.

Barefoot, carefree just enough to shy away from broken glass,
and you can definitely see the stains all over the scissors
in her left hand. You can easily assume she was trying to find
the right hymn to clear her mind.

It’s the same photograph that kept her up at night
when she was a little girl. She kind of
wants it back, in a drawer somewhere.

The other photos,
the older and uglier ones,
the crisp, calm ones,
she can take or leave them.

She wants to know if there really was
a stain on those scissors. And what the pattern was
on her homemade dress.

For some reason,
and more and more,
trying to remember the pattern
makes her cry so hard
that her stomach turns, and she shakes so hard
that someone inevitably records it for prosperity.

She’s faintly aware of being a minor celebrity,
and she wonders
if that could somehow clear her of any charges
that would come out of what she would have to do
once she got to Case Closed, Minnesota.

She never met the woman,
and has no idea if any of the other photographs of her
were taken after that one.

Nothing but fields and the country road behind her.

And she has no idea where her great-grandmother
was going with those scissors, that goddamn dress,
or that filthy hair. 

Friends, Family, and the Reunion Committee

It wasn’t polite to ask
what’s up with all the blood
around her mouth,
or why anyone would drive an ambulance
to a Mid-Atlantic dream wedding.

Someone whispered something
about how a fire truck would’ve at least
given people an excuse
to break out their phones.

And it wasn’t good form to tell her
that blue wasn’t in season that weekend,
or to ask her where she’d been
for the past ten years.

People cringed.
Two guys fell in love all over again.
Infatuation can sink a cruise liner
worth of sweet boys.

The weather didn’t account
for the kind of person
who can live with their lungs
full of cement/bonfires for a decade,
and still know everything that’s going on
with friends, family, and the reunion committee.

So the breeze stayed pleasant,
while the sun kept a respectful distance.

And she sat in the back,
folding her arms,
daring the minister to talk
about the dress instead of peace.

The ceremony gently raged along
on two legs,
one knee three nuclear power plant miracles
bigger than the other.

After a moment,
everyone felt a little disappointed
that she wasn’t doing that housewarming
party circa 1996 thing with her eyes,
or even licking her lips.
So they settled on how much they were
going to drink or try not to drink at the reception. 

Clouds of Hungry Dogs is now available from Kleft Jaw Press