Amy Gerstler




I dig most those covert parts of a song

that are hardly song at all, when the singer

sucks in a trembly breath to fuel her next lyric.

That frayed inhalation the microphone picks up

and amplifies, that fragment of animal gasp


is what gets me: precursor to all creaturely music.

When we first kissed the boy took a deep,

chest-filling breath, as though preparing to dive

for treasure nestled on some river bottom. Later,

we dug up his ancestors' graves, in the name


of archaeology—unearthed encrusted medallions

and baskets. We excavated a crumbling

staircase with ass-polished banisters, chipped

sediment from a stone effigy of an infant prince

cupping his penis as he sleeps. We unsealed


caves containing stoppered jars labeled transcendent

experiences, senseless bickering, other forms of consciousness,

the voice of exceptions, and what we’ll miss most. When he

tripped over an ornamented chest with unclassified

residuum in ancient script on the lid, damaging it badly,


he was suitably chagrinned. "The style of an apology

should be simple and brief," he stammered,

all distraught, sure I was going to sack him. Black

goats wandered the valley below. As he yammered on,

I inventoried tools and maps in my backpack, tried


to look stern and not laugh, emptied my sandals.

This boy returned tenfold any affection he was given;

his earnest, besmirched face as calming to me

as the word libation. My roaring inner wish

was to dunk his fingers in strong coffee and nibble


them like buttermilk crullers back home. If I'd had

any sense I would have said so in his guttural native tongue.

If I've told you once I've told you a thousand times, it's bad form

to be jealous of the dead. Never your rival, he was simply a boy

who was hard on his toys, myself chief among them.




Interview with a dog:


Q: Why on earth did you eat that ten dollar bill? It can't have tasted nice.

A: Don't be gruff. Anything that falls on the floor is mine. Can I have a cookie now to change my mouth lining flavor? Can I? Can I?

Q: What does it mean to be runt of the litter?

A: Stomped on lowest rung. Everyday fear-bath, nonstop bow-down. Wreathed in terror-reek that broadcasts you are last of the last. I don't like to talk about this stuff…

Q: OK. I just gave you a bath. Then you went and rolled in manure.

A: Will you barbeque soon? Will you let me lick the grill when it cools?

Q: No, really. How come I get you all nice and clean and you immediately roll in something stinky?

A: Humans don't get true grooming, which only takes place using the tongue. Toothpaste, mouthwash, and deodorant are what's "stinky." Soap's revolting. Terrible invention. Why have it in your lamplit, carpeted, doorlocked lair? Dung is informative, complex—full of news flashes from the body's interior. Shit's an encyclopedia, volumes of urgent correspondence your organs wrote if only you knew how to read. What's learnt from smelling shampoo? It just causes sneezing, erases articulate fumes. Bulldozes olfactory signposts. Washing is book burning.

Q: How come you chew window blinds during thunderstorms?

A: Must break hard things with teeth—bite/ crunch/ tear when scared. Need escape hatch fast. Eat my way out.

Q: Well, that makes a certain sort of sense. But why did you roll in the carcass of that dead seal when we took you to the beach at Morro Bay?

A: To transfer ghost-cloak of invisibility, silly. Death-smell lends protection. Winner of ripest warm day decay contest is not challenged by pack peers—billowing putrefaction blasts inspire respect and great kill-pride! Meat rot bouquet is prey-smell's best medal. What don't you understand in that?

Q: Hmmm. And what motivated you to eat that postcard from Alex and chew up several of my Catholic saint statuettes?

A: Doesn't make a lick of sense to me. THERE'S THE CAT! GET HIM! (races out of room.)