I arose from sleep to a cavalcade of chrysanthemums outlining a path to a pond. Wind called a familiar name through the catalpa stems 

I couldn’t understand beyond nostalgia. Wind called a familiar command cut like a jigsaw by the stem bodies. 

I couldn’t obey because I didn’t have the rest of the pieces. 

I knelt at the flower heads. Opened my palms underneath them. Their floral crowns spread like the blades of a helicopter that could airlift me out of here. I begged the flowers for sleep. 

In this marsh. As the preyed on. 

They rustled on my hand and the moon glinted through the trees, wilder as I stepped closer, like a piece of torn white tulle I remembered without remembering who wore it. 

The soil gave way to reveal a path of ribcages leading to the pond’s shore, a dark figure kneeling at the pond wearing a yellow, stained cardigan and long white stockings. 

The moon, that beaming voyeur, silent apostle, peaked at me through the stocking’s vertical slits. The figure touched the flowers at the pond shore, flicking dew drops off the petals, making its dark choices

Breezes of bright green sprites waxed and waned, flitting above the water, falling as frothy spittle from Earth’s deep sleep. Or a season passing in the seconds. 

I wanted to leave, but my feet followed the figure. 

At the pond shore I knelt in the mud to touch its shoulder. Its body folded like the shadow of an accordion, and when I walked back all the ribcages except the one I was standing on bloomed open. Loud belches growled around me. 

I smelled the smell of my daughter’s sweat, dew, and blood after she cut her leg falling from a tree branch. 

I exhausted and went to sleep. Every minute, I woke from sleep clutching a new bloodied bandage decorated with cartoon characters. 

The marsh practiced its muscle memory on alchemy and me. 

Only I never had a daughter. 

I rose the next morning to a painful bump on the tip of my finger, a single ant and a single ant bite.


I open the glass door into the light pollution. I taste meat. On the mall’s open mouth, fungus-crystals dagger. 

Saw palms cover the threshold to every store and the smell of my childhood drips from the ventricles. 

An eyeless man tries to sell me a single hissing speaker, faking the high hat’s sizzle with his toothless mouth. 

I move to accost him and his sweater falls to the floor, a cresting wave of fleas. I walk into my grandmother’s smell coming from a burning candle kiosk. 

A rattlesnake is eating a rat inside a cage made of the bones of finches. I walk into the smell of my childhood bedroom and the store is filled with garbage and novelty t-shirts. 

My first pair of drum sticks is on sale and it’s covered in spores. 

They are laughing from the grime, those salespeople. 

Leather dress shoes burn in trash cans being swallowed by the mall’s walls. A small radio dressed like a rock broadcasts the sound my childhood dog being hit by a car on repeat. 

Over a score of faintly heard violin trills, I puke out a year or two from putrefaction. 

Flora waxes and withers from underneath the tiles covered in my puke. 

The fountain at center of the mall is filled with spiders crawling over the edge toward me. Nothing scares me anymore, so I run away from the throng laughing. 

An circle of light without origin sifts like a parade from store to store, changing colors, searching for something. 

Or someone. 

I hide until its dark again. 

I throw obscenities into the void. 

Security guards made of grape vines form human bodies for my seizure. My mother asks me something about the coming desolation, but every time she speaks the PA chimes about a sale and I miss what she’s saying. 

I watch the vines on the wall fall off from the vibration of the mall closing in around us. 

Inside the lungs of the mall, white ibis saunter as the fleshy walls close with every breath. In unison, they dip their orange scaly legs into the tiny open spaces in the fountain filled with spiders.  

Their feathers flux to my heart beat. I hear myself aging inside my swelling ear drum. I take off my shirt because I’m so sweaty. I look into my black hole belly button. I watch a zoetrope about my own uselessness. 

Inside me, the mall is growing. Inside the mall, the customers are flowing down a drain. 

The mall is almost empty, almost incapable of housing me. 

I run to the threshold to escape. In the doors between inside and outside, my chasmic heart sits on a sun-lit platter. 

I stare into the west-facing entrance’s sky-light until it hurts. 

Wet, sun-bleached loam is blowing in through the open glass door with beach-ridden indifference. 

I walk to the white of it. A white ibis pecks at my heart. The white ibis pecks inside my belly’s black hole. 

As I am about to die, motorcycles with no drivers enter the mall-body and ignore the animal crossing sign. They run over four ibises and four motorcycles slide on the tile into a cloud of blood and feathers. 

I fear and hate confusingly. 

I peer at the carnage from a hidden eye inside the cracked shell of an ibis’s thin beak. 

They are poking tiny holes in my heart with a surgical precision. The white sun spittles into me through the tiny holes. 

I welcome it. 

They are my masters now. 

I, the anointed, know what it’s like to swallow rage.

Author photo credit: Mark Farag

About the Author

Ryan Bollenbach is a writer and musician living in Houston, Texas. He formerly served as the poetry editor for Black Warrior Review in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. He reads poetry and prose for Heavy Feather Review. His writing has appeared or is forthcoming in Sink Review, Painted Bride Quarterly, Snail Trail Press, and elsewhere. Find his tweets @SilentAsIAm, more writing @