A Reading From The Book of Ash

by Jess Stoner

Everybody but Noah knows he could use a new bird. On his shoulder a parrot, on its shoulder a Kalashnikov relic. I wonder aloud if we arrived at the wrong time. Or if it was the box of wine before we docked. Noah tells me to tell the sun it is her fault. I tell him the sea has sent us someplace else, that we shouldn’t have abandoned the kraken. Noah tells me to repent. I tell him fuck you. Noah thinks I’ve been over-served.

Before there was a parrot we were someplace else. And there, the People began to multiply. They outnumbered electrons. There was no place they hadn’t tracked on land. And the San Francisco Giants won every pennant in those years. And everyone who had a kid wanted their kid to be a San Francisco Giant.

But these People didn’t know the Giants drank watermelon-flavored vodka and forgot to pick up their kids from daycare. And the People, they shouldn’t have collected their cards and hoped their sons would grow up to wear black and orange hats and tell their wives to get them things from the cupboard.

Some people wondered how long this could continue.

Soon some people began to see. And they thought their children should think of engineering new backbones and band-aids. The People wouldn’t let their kids play with these kids.

Around this time, Noah’s boss told him that he robbed machines, that he thought about dry humping trees. “There was a slope,” he said, “and what had been gradual has become soft underfoot.” Noah’s boss no longer believed in the virtue of bent knees.

But for some reason his boss liked him and made Noah eat lunch with him and told him he should drink Schlitz to combat plaque, have skittles for brunch, that Whole Foods would infect his belches.

Noah told his boss he also thought this but really he did not.

Soon the graffiti in the hearts of the People became heavy in their hands and they wanted.

In the flesh is the breath.

Soon the heavy in the hands and the People and the Giants something began.

Their belches in their flesh.

Some of us thought it might be time to go.

Noah would soon become someone who knew. And Noah knew his boss might find his hidden flaxseed. So he quit.

This happened as the heavy became a gospel in the People’s hearts.

Noah knew that he was nervous and that the nerves’ best medicine was bathing.

Like every day there was wine with him then. So he made an inventory:

Unicorns are fictions that do not need bathing. Griffins are unfriendly but even though a drought would lead to extinction they will still not bathe against their will.

Things that creep should not be washed.

But the bandaids. But the Giants.

Only his sons and their wives would be worthy.

And Noah’s wife. She loved to get sloshed clean.

But what he most needed to do he could not do in the tub.

In his in-slab safe room he counted his canned foods. There would not be enough.

Noah was not ready.

Noah’s wife decided he was right.

She had always wanted to have a daughter who would marry a man who hit a walkoff for a team that was once in a burough. But she would not have a daughter or a Giant for a son. Noah would not want her to be disappointed by this.

So she began collecting. Lured deer into her backyard with mushrooms she marinated in leaves. She liked their impermanent horns. Their velvet marked her backyard their home range.

And she encouraged geese to arrive, had always wondered what it would be like to stumble through a gander to serve sensual drinks to men in cleats. She did not tell Noah this. But she wanted her backyard to have true things and these are what the geese would be. She liked things that were not cloven but capable, and with a running start and a preposterous tail wind she thought her geese would be safe. She would build a fence if Noah could have a project.

Once she had these geese she needed more: minnows in bowls, ducks who did so to the rhythm of the crickets, and the grasshoppers the glory of their nostrils. She wondered how they were when they were squashed. She wondered how they would be when the world was not wicked.

Noah’s wife knew there might be room for other certain things:

Rabbits tiptoed the things they do at night.

The flamingos, gregarious, would not outlive others. Anyway, they sleep in hemispheres.

Shrimp who swim backwards.

Cuttlefish. Are most intelligent. But invertebrate. Oh but they are mollusks. She shouldn’t hold that against them.

She wasn’t keen to hold what was cloven.

Without these conversations with herself and her dancing partners in the backyard she might not have been able to not think about the Giants and a borough in a previous place.

She decided on the cuttlefish: she secretly includes them, they have letter-shaped eyes we need for ink.

While his wife was doing all of this, Noah waited.

And then something happened.

The Giants’ World Series was interrupted.

Because the birds. They began to attack.

From somewhere above they had come upon charcoal briquettes.

Unbeknownst to the world the birds had been gathering bark and sugar and raiding graves for bone char.

The birds were angry because our attentions were no longer focused upwards.

They began to attack because too many people knew of false grass and not the actual cloud.

As they swooped through, the charcoal disintegrated and covered everything with an inviting ash that made everyone want barbecue.

The People became hungry.

All they wanted was to eat.

They forgot the Giants.

The graffiti in their hearts became ash and their hearts perfumed with need for picnics.

And the People began to attack.

Noah saw this and built quickly a ramp for the minivan, installed a sunroof so that its inhabitants could look upwards.

This took only a day, but by then the neighborhood had gone insane.

Noah was worried for his three sons. He picked them up in the minivan.

The cinders kept coming down from the sky.

The People even began to eat the Giants.

They ate each other.

They licked the graffiti off each other’s hearts and then the walls and soon there was nothing to keep them from grinding up the ashed-on sidewalks as a salt-rub for whatever they could grind.

The People even began to eat the Giants.

Noah watched this happen as he moved his canned things to his minivan.

He would have to do something.

While he waited he bathed more often. With his wife. And they knew they were safe without a whiff of what the People wanted.

But what about the backyard?

Noah knew the animals were not safe.

He made his above ground pool into a pond and forced each thing to douse itself.

Because if the creatures didn’t, their neighbors would want them for dinner.

Noah’s wife was terrified.

She and he knew it was time to go.

What was familiar was no longer.

Because what was familiar became dinner.

The People who picnicked on others became fat and dragged their limbs that became appendages that became their next meal.

The People trudged along, having forgotten even the graffiti. They began to drown in their own charcoal remains.

The wind picked up and the ash became air and those that were left became ravenous.

Noah knew he would have to make room in the minivan for the occupants of his wife’s backyard. So he did.

He built a sprinkler system onto the van that would reuse the water and keep it clean so that there would be no part of it that would smell like picnic.

Inside the minivan, Noah and his wife and his sons and their wives and the backyard were the last safe things they could see.

And so they drove away.

They drove over the ashes that made the People need brisket and they drove and drove and soon so much in the world had been eaten the tires spun over the powdered leftovers. The surface of the world had become the bottom of a grill. The tires slipped and slipped and finally Noah and his family were floating

Jess Stoner’s novel, I Have Blinded Myself Writing This, will be published by Short Flight/Long Drive Books in February 2012. Her choose-your-own-adventure poetry chapbook, You’re Going to Die Jess Wigent, is forthcoming from Fact-Simile. She writes book reviews for Necessary Fiction and her prose and poetry has been published in Caketrain, Everyday Genius, Alice Blue Review, and other handsome journals. She lives in the sweat and brisket of Austin.


Comments are closed.