from The Fatherlands



There awakes a slight man with his hind legs kicking at the foot of a marble bust. It is the bust of a long ago morning, chiseled in the form of a deformed and feverish boy. The eyes are made of mist and prophecy and in them is reflected a father’s beasts of fancy, howling and pacing at their own discretion. The sun then loosens and breaks the good day open and the bust crumbles to a pinch of sand. A woman walking by in a peculiar fashion scoops and pockets it for a later time, a time when the hours themselves will be melted down for the glass of a transparent death. The man crawls after her, seeking a match, one to strike against the sleight of his own hand.


Just before nightfall in the square, a boy empties his pockets: a silver ring, a paper gun, the blackest of lint, and a palm-sized manual on the art of forgery. He flips to a back page filled with his father’s name, finding the signature copied out in various approximations. Out loud, he begins reading down the page, over and over enunciating the name of his father in voices as varied and false as those signed. At the far end of the street a woman sits between two lamp-posts, listening to the boy’s utterances mingle with the moans of a sick man in an unlit window above. In a minute, the doors to each home and shop will lock and the echoes will fill the square, ceasing only if the eyes of this boy and this woman themselves lock within the bewitchment of both.


“This was once the house of my father,” says the man. She stands there barefoot and thinking of things not far enough away. “Come in,” she indicates with a nod, “only for a moment” adding in a language he once studied. Across the kitchen table, he slides a photograph. It is of a young boy, no more than nine, standing with his bicycle, his arm in a sling, a toy pipe in his mouth. “And these others around him?” she asks, feigning an interest. “His brothers, none of which survived.” He turns toward the head of the table, where bread soaks in the milk of a glass bowl. There are ants in the far corner of the room, a pile of dishtowels on the floor. When he turns back, nothing but her outline remains in the chair. He then hears her moving about the house, muttering in a language all her own that she has resigned herself to many things. He decides he will go down to the basement in search of a hammer, for the shadows have come loose from the floorboards and he will spend the rest of the hour nailing them back into place.


On a ledge overlooking the neighboring town’s river, a man sits strumming a mandolin. He is bare-chested and wearing a skullcap, as is his usual dress at this hour. From below, a soft woman designs an episode composed of light, stage blood, and the vocal chords of a country pig. “It’s been stabbed in the throat!” she yells up at the man, referring not to the pig but to the wooden boy she carries in her arms. To the man, this could only be for the good—for all dolls, whether wooden or of some other substance, serve only to perpetuate the deterministic philosophies for which he himself once argued. For the woman, this alone was reason to weep, yet on this day it is the doll’s fate which saddens her and makes for high tragedy. The doll’s face resembles none other than the hardened face of their own boy, who, in an episode along the river, pushed himself from an old bridge that connects one kind of pain to another.


In the courtyard just outside, the boy kicks his ball against the wall. From the guesthouse window, he hears a murmuring of misunderstanding between the two of them. His father has arrived hours early and the woman politely explains that the house is in no shape to receive them just yet. A vinyl suitcase, a smaller version of his father’s, lays open on the stone bench, its boyish contents strewn about from when he dug out the ball moments earlier. The father’s voice breaks off while the woman’s words run some syllables longer and then narrow in the space of a breath. “How the world hides inside a moment of silence,” the boy says to himself and at once the thought makes itself at home in the child’s mind.


The play, a comedy in the old manner, called for a father, a woman, and a boy. Thousands would make the journey to audition but decades would go by and still the roles remained open—until one day late in the springtime of slim fortunes three were chosen. Several weeks have passed since and the cast—father, woman, and boy—have yet to receive their scripts. When they do, they will find in it no lines, no acts nor scenes, but rather a detailed account of the elaborate process by which they were chosen over others, along with an appendix listing by name the many fathers, women, and boys that through the years had been turned away. After reading the script, the father will take off his glasses, sit down on the terrace and light a cigar, rattling the ice in his empty glass and aging at the rate of compromise. He will turn various theories of acting over in his head and in turn grow suspicious of himself by the second. While in the next room the woman, reading her script in the tub, will spot her name among those in the appendix. At first, she will worry that she will be found out. But she will quickly remind herself of a promise she once made, and with regard for little else, she will unplug the drain and rise in the splendor of suds upon her skin. And in a room several rooms down from them both, the boy will hiss into a mirror and turn away and collapse onto the bedding, for by then it would have been for anyone a long day of play in the theater’s dark recesses.

P0001_112113Michael Trocchia‘s debut collection The Fatherlands, a series of thirty-three prose poems and short fictions, is forthcoming from Monkey Puzzle Press (February 2014). His poems and prose have appeared in journals such as Mid-American Review, Asheville Poetry Review, Open Letters Monthly, Camera Obscura Journal, and Prick of the Spindle.