Andrew Glass and Paul McCullough shared with us their work this last Tuesday. To hear Andrew’s show, (though in rough quality), please look through the audio box on the page.
Here are both of their pieces:
Andrew Glass – The Father
I beat the dog because I didn’t know what else to do. In his jaw he held a chipmunk. I hit his head four five times before he dropped the rodent and bit at my fist. His teeth scraped the skin from my knuckle but I left him dazed and he left me alone. The chipmunk’s breathing was slow but when I picked him up he bit my thumb. He ran away through the air, this chipmunk who gave me my thin scar, and ran under a tree.
The linoleum floor of the storage room was a light yellow color, an off white before decades of clay and pests. Above the mice piss were boxes of canned food, each one marked ’96, ’98. Bottles of two-liter soda, now filled with water and also marked by year, lined the walls. The only thing unmarked were the MREs, because they never got any worse than they already were.
A doorway without a door revealed a narrow passageway ending in the water heater. The floor was charcoal gravel. Two-by-fours stood out, sentinels against the cinderblocks holding up the walls. Everywhere else in the house these bones were hidden by the drywall and the conservative eggshell paint. The passageway smelled like a winter coal mine, the way the dust stuck in your mouth.
The only light coming from within shone off the copper pipes. Copper pipes that carried warm and cold water that would kill a lamb by the time it reached the sink and shower. Last year, when I was the only one with sheep, I carried a beatup white five-gallon bucket in, filled it with the less toxic water and struggled it out of the house and to the fence. It took three trips in the summer.
Now I turned the water on and watched it fill the hose, an inchworm moving slowly. My father had told me that now that we had more than two sheep my way was inefficient, causing the need to invest in the hose. He said God hated the lazy but he hated the wasteful even more. The sheep also required an electric fence and the purchasing of our own shears. As he read books on sheep care I scooped feed and dosed wormer and cleared out the little white hut for my two sheep that now housed eight.
My four panels of fencing stood useless, leaning against the back of the house. It could only house two sheep. And now another fence was up, one we weren’t allowed to touch. One that the sheep slid under, buffered by their thick wool. One that sparked as it touched the branches of the trees I climbed when I was young enough to climb trees.
I now stayed inside now when I wasn’t feeding the animals. After the grass was gone the forest had been cleaned to the height of a horse’s head. Summer honeysuckle and briar houses and poison ivy had all been eaten through. Box turtles and frogs no longer were found hidden in the brambles. The stick, hanger, and plastic bag I had jimmied into an insect net were useless.
My first memory was of catching Tiger Swallowtails in an Idaho field while my father was gone. We put them in jars and placed them on a windowsill. I remember perfectly the mason jar in the sunlight, the yellow wings flapping feebly against the still air in the glass.
My father didn’t want to pay a professional like I did last year so he had me hold down each sheep as he used the shears to hack at the wool. He joked that he would use it for my head but I lost my grip and the sheep twisted, losing a section of skin on its leg. My father cursed and he cursed me for not holding tight enough, even when he brought the shears within centimeters of my fingers. He said he wouldn’t cut me but when the sheep jumped I saw the cut along his palm.
The dog would chase the sheep, barking and nipping at their feet. When I would shout and hit my father said the dog was only playing, that if the dog was serious the sheep would not be able to run. He talked about how he would teach the dog to herd sheep but all he did was pat the head against his thigh and smack his nose when his fingers were nipped.
It was raining one day when I was young and I walked with my father. We came across a puddle where the water was draining, and even as the rain fell the fish were jumping for breath, the small stick dam being broken by the onset of the flood.
They were squirming on the wet grass and were too desperately trying to reach the pond. I grabbed a ripped cup along the path and scooped the fish. I ran them to the pond where I dropped them in and they straightened with relief, swimming calmly.
My father told me they would die because the pond I put them into had oil and there were two fish with their white bellies pointing to the sky.
When his sheep didn’t sell he cut their throats and tied their back legs with rope. He hung them upside down on the tree where I would make mudcakes as a child. Using West Virginia skill and a kitchen knife he cut open the stomach and removed the guts, laying them to the side for the dog to eat. He pulled the skin off like plastic wrap and spoke of lamb steaks and how I needed to learn how to butcher. The meat stayed on the back porch and was cooked by the sun until it was a grey maggot soup falling between the wooden slats that even the dog stayed away from.
When I turned the handle a thin stream of water came out of a hole in the green plastic, covering my side in a thin mist. I told my father and he covered it with duct tape. The water flowed from underneath the tape. The hole grew as more tape was applied.
The last sheep was bleating that night. It rang out against bare tree trunks, coming out at every direction. When my father and I ran to find her everything was a washed blue. I ran through the trees following each echo until I walked near her. Her bloated sides heaved, showing tears of red absorbed by the wool.
“Coyotes,” my father said, knowing it was a lie.
He placed his hand on the curly crown of her head and talked to god. He told her she would be safe and would live for years to come, would produce young and be successful. I remembered when he put his hands on my head and told me the same things, but her breathing was slow and forced and her eyes weren’t full and even my father continued to talk in whispers, his voice stronger than hers.
I stroked the short hair of her face as my father felt the bleeding tissue, pine nettles sticking to his fingers. He had brought an x-acto knife and told me to watch because he said I wanted to be a veterinarian. I watched as he cut through the layers of wool and skin and muscle and tissue and her screams were somehow quieter than the ripping of the membranes. I watched as her fluids and organs spilled out, and the stomach spat out its half-digested vegetation. I watched as he cut through the womb and pulled out a limp white rag with clear liquid still pouring out of its nose.
He placed it under the body of the mother. He said that they went to heaven and we could take care of the bodies in the morning and I should tie up the dog. He went to get the gun but he never came out of the house, and the dog pulled on the chain when the wind came from the woods.
In the morning I found that the hose was merely a skin, the hole becoming a long laceration along its snake body. I told my father and asked him where my beatup white bucket was so I could bring the sheep water but he had no idea. I walked into the woods and covered my mouth and eyes as I came upon the mother and neverborn.
Upon her body were black butterflies. Their thin wings with blue edges flapped sluggishly in the heat, their coiled tongues reaching in the thick red liquid. As they walked they pushed past the small dark flies, elephants among herds of deer. Their wings flapped as they moved slowly, making tiny breezes that pushed the flies off course.
The neverborn was pulled from under its mother. It looked perfect except the twisted neck and bubbles forming in its nostrils and brown leaves stuck to its curled snow hairs. A single fly rested on its eye and its white belly was pointing towards the sky.
The bucket was full to the brim with brown water and fall leaves, and as I dumped it out I saw a drowned chipmunk. Its body was bloated and I couldn’t make myself look to see if it had a scar on its side. I scratched a hole in the ground by a tree and covered it with a rock.
I told my father about the butterflies and he told me that we should get the shovels and cover the bodies before the dog got any ideas.
The grave was shallow and the butterflies stayed even after the dog dug it up and dragged the vertebrae across the yard.
Paul McCullough – an American dreams
We are buying a lie.
We can live on earth
without being told
how to think,
what we’re worth,
why we should drop bombs and lands far away
so that we can enjoy our TVs today
and destroy all chances that our children had
to someday grow up to become moms and dads.
We’re buying out highs
which really are lows
in a prize that don’t come
or the guise of nice clothes.
The pleas of the poor are tuned out with static
fuzz-humming loudly, or BANG automatics
BANGBANG go ahead, cowboy —
shoot that girl down
’cause she’d never fit in to our perfect white towns
and she’d never quite get it:
why USA owns,
I’d say, most of the world,
or made them our clones.
Go right ahead! Remain absurd.
Label the “Others” with hateful words
without ever looking beyond human skin
to the pain that is bottled and kept deep within
’cause they have dreams too,
and families, and lights
and the end of their tunnels
but few human rights.
This prejudice exists
past the walls
that divide desperate Mexicans
and Texas town halls.
Oh yes, this is everywhere –- it’s a disease
which brings hope for progress down to its knees
to pray to, or blow, those drones with the power
to level mankind at any old hour.
I will stand tall. As some said before,
better die on your feet, or else live like a whore.