fiction

Gravel Gardens

They were complaining and it made sense, because who asks children to plant trees in the middle of January anyway? So they were out there with scarves up to their rose cheeks and hands shaking as they tried to wield small shovels and the whole time I’m thinking about how all the trees will die.

And then, they did. All these little sprouts withered away and the thing about sprouts is that they don’t have grand deaths. The do not crumble to the ground or pronounce death with each graying strip of bark—they just die. So we had twenty or so tree sprouts that faded away and slipped beneath the snow without us knowing they would perform a disappearing act before we saw the ground again.

When the ground showed its face again, all the sprouts were gone. All but one anyway. This kid, Julie, had insisted on planting her sprout in the gravel lot and it was cold and Henry was having another nosebleed so I said why not. But the thing is, you can’t really plant in a gravel lot so there were all these rocks in the way and she had to ask for my help and it ended up taking twice as long. So she and I hunched over this tiny tree that shouldn’t even be called a tree yet and pressed numb fingers into hard gravel until the sprout was sturdy there.

And that’s the one that lived. All the other kids were furious, of course. Julie had never smiled so big. It was still pretty cold out though, so I was sure it wouldn’t last. But Julie tried her best. She took off her own scarf and wrapped it around the sprout during recess and said it was the plant’s now. I didn’t have the heart to tell her some kids had stolen it once we went back inside so I just kept buying scarves and re-wrapping them around a tiny tree I was certain would die.

Then Julie started talking to it. Whispering, actually. Other kids would make fun and point fingers, even kick bits of gravel at her. She just looked up with this face like she was a soldier in war no one knew was happening. Then she’d jerk up the corners of her mouth and keep on whispering.

Then, all of the sudden, it was spring and I began to accept that there would be a tree in a gravel lot. We were supposed to get more trees, too. But, of course, we didn’t. Late shipment is what they said and I wasn’t looking forward to twenty more trees dying next January.

Mostly because the kids were so mean about it, you know. I don’t know why it became so important to them but seeing Julie’s tree grow was just torture. And, if even possible, a bunch of six-year-old’s began hating a tree.

In the end, it wasn’t weather that killed it. It started reaching up and the spring sunlight welcomed it. It was a strong little tree. But Kevin, with his freckled face and pudgy hands, ripped it from the lot. And we all just kind of watched as he held it in front of Julie’s face with the roots all sprawled out and connected to nothing. And I know I said that sprouts don’t have grand deaths, but Julie made it an occasion. She cried out and her voice was so raw. She left a scarf where the tree used to be and whispered to the spot one more time. I don’t know what she said, but she looked resolved when she walked away.

Someone took the scarf the moment she left.

-Lu Terlikowski

A Contemporary Beauty

Show me something hard, round, and raw—

like thick thighs and lipstick lines

and voices quivering beneath the name of God

 

Faces aglow with neon lights, drawn

taught, terrible, and beautiful into floating smiles

that make the daisy people swing

 

Show me sequined skirts ripping holes in tights

drag queen walks that stomp, click, and flicker

long legs that glow and entangle in their like

Show me a beating heart against gentle breasts:

and you have shown me God.

-Lu Terlikowski

The Cycle

The water spills and maids have soaking knees.

You tie them up and let them bleed. So slow

do leaves come falling down. Is snow always

so harsh? Be killed or kill… I choose to die.

So hang me up and let me dry. So slow

the world can spin on pointed toes and crossed

fingers until they stop. No spinning, crossing,

pointing. Stopped. The maids are cleaning still,

you killers killing. She and he and I—

we hang, suspended bulbs for all to see.

So lift me up and let me breathe. So slow

do dying breaths go breaking through the fog.

 

Replaced with new and better maids. With new

and better killers, me’s, and you’s to hang.

-Lu Terlikowski

Baltimore

The air smells of fish

and the wind is whipping

hair into faces.

 

A performer holds six knives

and slings them into the air,

smiling, dodging, and catching them again.

 

Paddle boats shaped like dragons

line the dark harbor

with paint-chipped snarls.

 

A small rollercoaster

roars with bells and

rides in bent circles all night.

-Lu Terlikowski

Dead End Meet and Greets

Watch me give away my eyes to broken glass and painted street signs—

Two-cent lipstick on broken mothers whose sequined skirts

Rip their tights and scratch their bones.

 

To the businessmen in monochromatic suits sitting in spiked chairs

Chaining their wrists to plastic keys and dreaming of jumping off skyscrapers—

But broken elevators lend no hand to top floor flights.

 

To chain-link fences surrounding basketball courts—

Big dream Jason’s who learned how to strut and shoot

And shoot again.

 

To empty alleys with crushed crack pipes and graffiti signatures

Stray cats and things and people who left and lost—

Dead end meet and greets to pass the time.

 

Eyes plastered on every brick that beat the brains out

And fingers rising from the sewer drains ripping skin and souls—

Eyes always open, watching without looking, asking for the time.

-Lu Terlikowski

Five Ways to Look at Blinds

I

 

The blinds are always open in summer

like the kind gatekeeper

for Sun, and Light, and Good Things.

 

 

II

 

A man was killing and the blinds

were broken.

The whole house— we,

were exposed.

 

 

III

 

Things gather dust when left to be.

Blinds gather sunrises and sunsets.

 

 

IV

 

Close them, they said,

close them and mourn in peace.

And so I drew the blinds.

 

 

V

 

The shuffle of blinds folding into one another—

Winter is here

and it is dark again.

-Lu Terlikowski

Guts and Glory

I lived in a dizzy world where colors were brighter and everything sang

But me— the sporadic life of stunted daisies and crushed beetles

Whose guts spilled out onto the pavement like a blackened rainbow.

I thought of ripping myself up from the bottom of my roots

But a passing gentleman reminded me I would surely die.

Now there is a woman who kneels and hushes the songs of the world—

I imagine what it might be like to swing on her ribs or dance on her eyelashes.

The gentleman passes again and warns, but I let the woman twist me up—

There is light on me, and color on me, and I miss the ground— but cannot return.

Are you still there? I ask my beetle friend. Are you? Asks the gentleman.

-Lu Terlikowski

Foreshadowing

A woman was popping her gum when my mom died.

The hospital was nearly empty–

the air was taking up all of the space.

 

I sat outside, like people do,

when they’ve been sitting inside for a very long time.

and I shut my eyes to the sounds around me.

 

Then pop, pop, pop.

hard, fast, and true and backwards

and forwards in my brain like echoes.

 

The heart monitor held conversation—

everyone else had the secrets, hushed.

And the gum filled, busted, emptied.

 

To one another— beep, pop, beep, pop.

They don’t know hospital rituals.

 

Silence—

I guess they do.

-Lu Terlikowski

Self Portrait

Tuesday morning line of plastic bottles

Each three fourths empty, evenly wasted.

Thursday night living, $14 vodka

Sliding down my throat,

And uncovering my eyes, skin, and bones.

Two stale bed sheets

And eighty- four unturned pages later,

Where did the fifth hour go?

The girl glowing in metal holes sees me

Her cigarette twists its smoke

Into people that fleetingly exist.

Numb fingers

And shredded post-its in potted plants,

Everything stuck in decay.

Stumbled walk laughter, cool breeze,

Dizzy eyes, lighter for the first time all week—

Drifting into the clouded darkness.

Fridge door open, shut, open,

Washed grapes on the second shelf

Rotting leftovers on the third— I’m not hungry. Shut.

Bloody knuckled fight with a wall, ripped nail against translucent skin,

Wrecked bikes, ocean drifts, dying fish,

And mold growing in the fibers of my sweaters.

I lay on a stained carpet in the dusty sunlight, hollow—

An empty thing waiting to be any thing else.

Curled, then spread palms up on a closet floor,

Praying that the static will drain from my veins.

 

-Lu Terlikowski