At a Window in X
because the history of his nation
is tragic, the man stands at the second
storey window of a brothel in
another nation and stares into
the distance, a mix of sunshine and rain,
of banana trees and ice caps,
of volcanic ruins and island dogs.
His t-shirt is clammy from exertion.
His dick retreats into its unexcited
poise. He is thinking about his wallet
in the back pocket of his pants, on a chair
alongside the sink, and perilously
close to the hooker with one leg
up on the sink’s edge taking a first
wet swipe at the residue of their
transaction. He is thinking that if he
was still a smoker, he would be smoking
now, blowing soft rings into the dirty
window above the lazy street and
allowing the hooker to lift a few
bills from his wallet, although she’s already
been paid, and then some, because he feels
guilty, because he feels complicit
with some vast network of injustice,
because he is weak and she is poor, because
the history of her nation is tragic.
He is thinking that she is thinking
that he’s testing her, that the instant
she reaches for the pants he’ll shout,
and the brute with the huge forearms
and the Chicago Bulls cap will burst
into the room and beat her with
the electric cord that dangles from his belt,
and downstairs he will be given
a Guinness and an apology
and perhaps another girl, perhaps
her sister, who is prettier, and younger,
and more frightened, and more costly because
she is inexperienced, but she will be
experienced by next week because
the history of her nation is tragic.
Later, he’ll take his lunch in a café
on Queen Street, where he might take up smoking
again, where he might flirt with the waitress,
where he might forget about his guilt
at the window, until the next window.
Statement from a Bank Foreclosed
I am old enough now
to sublet my apartment
to the children of old friends.
What will they discover here
about their fathers whom
I’ve betrayed, their mothers,
with whom I’ve slept?
I picture them pulling
folders from the rickety files,
holding camera negatives
I was too frightened to develop
up to the light. What
would those frames contain? Lips
I deceived, buttocks I separated…
would I even recognize
which parts belonged to whom?
Would they? And what
might they imagine? The shaved legs
of an afternoon rubbing
against my cheeks in
a different zeitgeist,
a distant city. Rod Stewart
and the Faces playing
live in the Commons, supporting
a new lp, burly cops lining
the Freedom Trail, clubs
tapping their palms. A messy
one-bedroom on Hemenway Street,
kitty litter in the pages
of books left open on the floor.
Kafka’s The Castle. The Teachings of Don Juan.
And the cries
of the early evening
drifting over the buses
on Huntington Avenue.
We never thought
one day we’d be accountable
to people younger
than our selves. Smoking cigarettes
naked at the dirty windows,
watching the city’s first shag haircuts,
the city’s first platform shoes,
parade by. We were sleeping
with our professors then, we were
drinking and driving, we were avoiding
jury duty and skipping
that could change our lives.
I picture them pulling down
the guitar I never played,
its strings slack, its tuning impossible
to peg. What songs could he have played,
they’ll wonder, strumming
while riffling through drawers –
a post card from Paris
beneath socks, a statement
from a bank foreclosed. Paper clips
older than they are
beneath the sofa, on the tiles
beneath the stove.
Much has changed –
the cockroaches are gone.
In the closets
clothes that barely fit
hang unevenly. How much
of our failures can they glean
from a pair of Levis washed once
and never worn again,
the waist size on the patch
like a phone number
before prefixes? How
we’ve softened over our belts.
How we’ve thickened in our skins,
our secrets firmly
in the locked drawers, our indiscretions
faded like the covers
of required texts.
It’s almost a thrill to be probed
by these aliens, these Gaga fans
who wonder idly
who we are to tell them
when the rent is due
TIM TOMLINSON is a co-founder of New York Writers Workshop, and co-author of its popular text, The Portable MFA in Creative Writing. He is the fiction editor of the webzine Ducts. In 2011 his new fiction and poetry appear or are forthcoming online in International Literary Quarterly #15, Mandala Journal, Prick of the Spindle, riverbabble, Sea Stories, Spindle (Philippines), and Used Furniture Review, and in print in Pank #5, the New York Quarterly, and the anthologies Long Island Noir (Akashic Books), and Flashlight Memories. He has recently moved to Shanghai, where he'll spend the year (July 2011-June 2012) teaching in New York University Global Liberal Studies Program.