It rains and we rummage a dead man’s pockets for cigars, for matches dry enough to strike against farmhouse walls. We always kiss the window when the ladies march by. This is Monkeytown! we cry. All hail the Talking Dog! Here’s a painting, your face in a killer’s mirror. Next, you’re a chimp grinning and humping a chimp-faced wife. The handbook says a dog walks into a bar and orders a beer. Wordless, the bartender folds his newspaper and smashes a buzzing fly-god then pours the dog his draft. Blessed is the knife in a philanderer’s heart. So say the ladies of Monkeytown. But we say: blessed is the cuckold whose only crime is dying easy at the start of a war.
My west-leaning house told a greyhound to send its shadow into the rabbit field. There, my firing squad lounged in clover. Five boys breathing the thick air, talking about home, the sun bent on roasting us alive. A bumblebee hovered so near my eye I felt a tiny breeze. I kept it a secret. The soldiers yawned, stretched, and put their boots on. Call my lawyer, I told the greyhound. But it was late summer now. The dog was drowsy, the offices closed for August, phones stored in a refrigerator so the earpieces would be cool when the lawyers came back and got ready to talk about justice. I stood and looked at my shadow. It was close to noon and it would stay that way for the rest of the summer.
When the black train leaves the station townsfolk want coffee. What they get is a handshake, a new day, more work. A landscape painter sits at a boxcar door watching hills fade. He wants coffee along with a dream of windowsill pie staining his teeth the perfect blue. He tells the moon what he wants. He sleeps on a haystack, counting yellow stars painted in his head. In the perfect blue distance, a dog whistle. A faithful retriever hears and starts the truck her master taught her how to steer. When she stops for me, I jump in back, watching her sad eyes in the mirror. I tell her how I finally read the bible. How I loved Jesus but cried because I wasn’t convinced. Coffee and pie can save us but it’s late. So bury me tonight. Use the root cellar if the moon is bright. And if a traveler taps your door with a true cross made of twigs pour him what would’ve been my cup. Dead men will tell their lies to any dog bound for the promised land.
The National Photographers’ Union flocked downtown to the Wild-Eyes Motel. They got drunk and built a giant pinhole camera in the parking lot. Now, they’re driving it around in a jeep, cursing our quality of light. Meanwhile, my son’s teaching me to close my eyes and say everything I see in Spanish so perfect a blind Mexican could see it. We talk about moving to Chihuahua. For the better light, not the dogs. He says a Latin superhero hovers the block while I count the day away at my Treasury table. “Snap a picture,” I beg. “Es imposible,” he says. So there’s just his translation to rely on. The woman in the yellow house won’t say yes, won’t say no. We talk and smile through her screen door. She knows I’m a government man. And she has a daughter to protect. This girl never blinks, makes us believe she can’t see. Or sees everything. Who knows what’s true? What I’m failing to describe doesn’t do any of it poetic justice. Look, my boy once woke from dreams and told me if only all the money could be gathered up and burned, then remade with a picture of the girl in the yellow house our gross national product would be Truth and Beauty. People would, he said, be made happy by this surplus even if they claimed they weren’t. It’s far-fetched and it sounded better in Spanish but all the same, I offer this prayer: Hide your eyes, little girl. For the photographers seek to unmask you and all the other superheroes hovering our blocks. They want to tell you what it means to be blind or to see everything. Pity them. They wish they could shut up and see in perfect Spanish. I pray for the morning I find your face on my dollar bill.
Philip Brooks grew up in the Chicago suburb of Highland Park “as an aspiring melancholiac. To that end,” he attended the Iowa Writers’ Workshop as a fiction writer. Several of his stories appeared in Gordon Lish’s “defunct but really swell” The Quarterly, others in Willow Springs and The Kenyon Review. Some of his poems have appeared in recent postings at Elimae.com and Wigleaf.com. He lives in Ohio with his wife and son.