Tag Archive: kuntz


Blood Orange by Len Kuntz

She wants to go back to before, back to the beginning, prior to this secret death, long before the twins were snuggled inside her womb, a pair of bocce balls, grapefruits sprouting limbs, becoming gangly, alien-looking in medical film, later floating inside her embryonic soup like plucked chickens, as if pretending to be astronauts tethered to nothing, gravity inconsequential, and her feeling their slide and glide all the way up to her ribs, Jim, her husband saying, “Hey, they just moved, didn’t they?”, her thinking they should never have married let alone gotten pregnant, let alone with twins, her a twin herself, always copying Claire’s style, dying her hair blood orange in high school because Claire did, piercing her navel, lip, clit, now married-Claire, perfect-Claire, already bringing over baby gifts before the twins are even hatched, scads of matching baby outfits, Seuss-striped pajamas and miniature spoons, Claire thinking of twins—the concept of twins–as rare, precious, a kind of unbreakable bond between them, no different than the covenant of marriage, Claire happy in hers, Jim now lifting a butt cheek and farting into the sofa, him pale, bloated, dull as alabaster, an unremarkable future staring back through a reflective square in the television’s right hand corner, it becoming a kaleidoscope, then a camera, clicking away at their beige walls and carpets, their beige ambitions, nothing ever ventured, nothing, really, ever gained except an ordinary existence, a death sentence she feels sluicing down her thighs as her water breaks.

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How We Got Here by Len Kuntz

We wear hand-me downs and each other’s shoes, even if they’re too tight and pinch.  To save money, father buzzes our hair down to bristles with shears that rattle and sometimes catch patches of skin.  We eat in silence, the only sound metal chinking on plastic plates, food being chewed and swallowed.

After supper, we lay on the shag carpet watching black-and-white TV, listening to a family that’s nothing like our own, hearing how happy they are, noticing what a fine car they drive, how big their dining room is.

At night we three sleep on the same mattress.  We never dream, or if we do, we never say.  In the mornings we rise before the sun and make it to the fields, row after row of the same bushes, flocked with blood-red berries glinting against green.

We work on our knees, filling the flats as fast as we can because it’s cash money they pay here.  Afternoons, we stand in line with the other migrants, wilted and sweaty, each person taking his turn, handing over a punch card and receiving berry-stained bills in return.

Years later, one brother steals a car, another brother robs a convenience store, and I break into a house.

Now we wear orange uniforms, sit in similar cells, stroll in sunlight for a single hour each day.  At night we lay in cots.  We imagine freedom, beaches with chalk-colored sand, a skiff bobbing on waves.

We could be coy, but instead we are caught up crosses, warding off evil.

In the corner the band plays vintage Cassidy and you say, “Do you remember when you sang to me under the street lights?”

There was a time when I would have mistaken this for an impasse, a treaty, but now I stride off to the bar and order a triple. I keep telling myself, No one’s to blame. Everything should come with an expiration date.

The blonde guy you hitch to has highlight reels in his eyes. He holds his gin like a derringer and you seem to like that. It takes less than a minute before you’re lilting, laughing. Another four and his hand has found the lower part of your back, that space where your spine lifts up into the skin like a corded straw—knotted kite tail—tug of war rope.

You make sure to touch his cheek. There’s a stray eyelash. You offer it to him on your forefinger and he grins before blowing, grins before blowing, then blows.

I inspect the ceiling where the strobe lights are hooked. The walls are papered with crimson tattoos of Warhol and Reed and Norma Jean. They would look good on fire.

Love isn’t supposed to be so wicked. The heart needn’t be tested like this. And still I throw the first punch, the second, and all those others until people pull me off of him.

A Trip to the Keys by Len Kuntz

Is that you?  I think it is.  Your lips, bottom bigger than the top, both swollen pulp I used to suck or paint with my tongue?  Your heart-shaped jaw I used to stroke?  Your ears I stuffed with homemade promises?

There was the time I confessed.  I said I’d never forget.  I found a constellation on your skin, a series of freckles and faint moles, tiny footprints, connect-the-dots, a code I cracked using fresh blood.

We were heroic–the way we could hold our breath, bend our licorice bodies, stare down words.

If that’s not you, then you have a doppelgänger, a twin you’d failed to mention.  This one has hair beyond the blades, thick as shag.  She’s lifting her face to the sun similar to how you would push away from your pillow, morning breath not a matter, grinning, saying, “Hello, Love.”

Of course it’s you.  And him.  And me–spying on the pair of you, the couple, husband and wife, so much more compatible in the flesh than photographs would lead one to believe.

Is it creepy that I’ve come all this way to watch?  It must be.  I’ve been a bit out of orbit since your final triage.

I see him untie the rental boat, pulling the buoys on board.  His chest is hairless which explains your fixation with my opposite one.  The sun’s ripe.  You sip a pink drink.  Your bikini is sky-white and slight.

I suppose if that is you—and now the smug smirk confirms so—I would do the right thing and shout for you (both of you) to jump, get off the boat, swim to shore fast.  But on the other hand, since it is you, then the gravity of justice must right itself, meaning—among other things—that you deserve the package I’ve planted beneath your bed, the big bang coming any second.

I know you are dancing.  It’s Tuesday here, too.

What I do is, in the morning I put Rage Against the Machine on full blast, until my eardrums are bleeding, and I run.  I sprint hard for an hour, until I’m about ready to vomit.  Sometimes I do puke.  Those are lucky runs.  Puking takes my mind off of us, how we had a schedule of making love every Tuesday morning.  We might do it later on that night, but Tuesday was an appointment we always kept.

It’s three hours later where you are.  You’re dancing Brazilian.  You’ll be wearing something in red, light fabrics, a tie string or two.  The men there will have beautiful dates, but they’ll find themselves distracted.  You won’t notice at first.  The music will have seeped through you by then, that and the cabernet.  Your teeth will be white cream in the strobe light wash of other colors.  By closing time, you’ll pick a man, any man, like choosing some random card for a magic trick.  It’s Tuesday after all.

I take two pillows and make a down body to rub against.  I kiss the one on top.  The cloth tastes like dust, like stuffing my mouth with moths.  I know how pathetic I am, but it’s Tuesday.

It’s Tuesday and I’m flaccid and in a few hours the dial will slip into Wednesday.

I call my sister.  “Derrick,” she says, “you’ve got to get a grip.”

I say I know.

“She wasn’t even good to you.”

I say I know that, too.

“She was actually a real bitch.”

I hang up.

At a bar, I sit at the counter.  The women can smell the wounded and they hover and ask what all my necklaces are for, say am I some kind of rock star and laugh while fingering a pendant of their own, waiting for me to play.

I ask, “What time is it?”

“You going to turn into a pumpkin pretty soon?”

“Something like that,” I say.

“You’re so stinking cute, I could eat you up.”

“Right here,” her friend says, washing her lips with a meaty, blue-veined tongue.

I order five shots.  I cock them down one after the other.  They’re liquid bullets.

“You best not be driving,” the bartender says.

I shake my head.

When I turn on my stool, there are new girls.  “What was her name?” the blonde asks.

“Lilly,” I say.

“That’s a stupid name.”

I push through them.

“We were going to let you take us home!” one calls.

I stumble down the streets lit no better than the bar.  At an ATM machine I wait for the guy to finish.  He gauges me warily.  I say, “I’ll give you my card and pin number and you can have everything in my account.  It should be about nineteen thousand dollars.  All that for your car.”

“You’re drunk.”

“I am, but it’s a good deal.  Look,” I say.  I slot my card, punch in numbers, grab his hand and write the same four numbers, 2222, just over his knuckles.  I give him the five hundred in twenties and the receipt showing my balance.

“Dude, my car’s a piece of junk.”

“Exactly.”

“You’re not going to screw me over somehow, close your account?”

I nod toward his wreck by the curb.  “You’re already ahead.”

“True.”

He tosses me the keys.

I get in, roll down the window and ask, “Hey, what time is it?”

He says, “Three minutes till midnight.”

I gun the engine.  My foot slams the accelerator.  There’s hardly any traffic on the West Side Highway.

When I get to pier, I’m counting seconds.  I almost roll the car while cornering but I’m still zooming.  The wheels rattle hard on the warped lumber tiles.  I can see Lady Liberty in the distance.  I keep my eyes focused on her as the car explodes through railing.  Soaring over the Hudson, I wait for the woman to give me some kind of sign, to at least tell me she understands

The Dark Sunshine by Len Kuntz

She says, “Your kisses are starting to give me paper cuts.”  She says she dreams in black and white now, no different than a dog.

In bed we stare at the walleyed moon but it does not look back at us.  A sheath of cloud cover sleets by like a lost ghost.

“Tomorrow we should look for lost children,” she says.

The little girl went missing on Tuesday.  Neighbors have formed search parties.  Tomorrow is Saturday, a day off for me.

“It’s not your fault, you know,” I say.

“No, of course not.”  But she looks worried.  Her pupils have no light left in them.  I’ve been wrong all along: my wife dreams must all be in   black, not white or shaded spots at all.  I try to coax her.  I say, “We could stay in bed and make love all day.  We used to do that.”

She eyes me like a disappointed moose.  “Yes, we did.”

“We should look for the girl.”

“Yes, we should.”

Behind the AM/PM, the lot gives way to a field of crunchy brown ground and weed grass.  Thistles catch in my socks.  Brush rakes spiked leaf tips across my calves and I wish I’d worn long pants.

“What if we find her?” she asks.  What if she’s dead when we find her, she means.

“It will be horrible but it will also mean the start of closure.”

“Do you always have to be a shrink?”

I don’t answer because I’m not sure what that answer should be.  I wish I could turn it off.  It’s no picnic being me.

We look for hours.  We call out the girl’s pretty-sounding name.  We take turns.

That night we sit on the porch under the belly of a bleak, black night, a smattering of itching to glimmer.  My wife has her knees drawn up under her chin.

“We should make up a new version.”

“A better ending?” I say, realizing after the words are out that they could be taken as uncouth and cruel.

“Yes.”

As she rocks back and forth, the moon arrives and seems pleased.

“You’ll have to start.”

I know what she’s thinking, that if she begins, the story will end badly.  The girl will have died a gruesome death.  She’d gotten close herself when she was a little girl.  In a way, my wife went missing, too.  She and her sister were playing Hide N Seek in a field.  Laura, my wife, was older but slower.  Laura called “Ollie Ollie Oxen Free!” over and over, but the tall wheat grass had got her, taken her someplace, and Laura’s sister was never seen again.

I reach out to hold Laura’s hand now and she lets me.  This is good, I think, a resetting.

I pull my wife close; breathe in the smell of her hair which is like warm bread.  I kiss the scalp where she’s parted her hair.

I begin.  I whisper, “The girl came out of the tunnel dizzy but happy to see so much earthly sunshine.”

Putting You Away by Len Kuntz

I put you to sleep in blue ice, fragrant with vodka, an odor our daughter used to call sour grape juice.

Now you are a sober stare, a startled Barbie doll.  There are no words, no going back to beaches and midnight love-making under eucalyptus.

It has to be cold, yet you don’t shiver.  It must be something to witness what I’m doing, but remain helpless.

You do not breathe or blink or call me criminal.

You stay beautiful as that day I took this photo, when you drew back the shower curtain and I snapped you from the neck up.

Now your neck is frosted, your face too.  Fog is taking over.  It leaves a smudge of blue, smothering your face, and the memory of you, sealing both in ice, thereby pardoning me from the pain of having to provide a proper goodbye.

Answering Machine by Len Kuntz

He is holes and rings.  The cavities covering his body are eye-shaped, almond-shaped, pumpkinseed cutouts.  She says not to worry, that she’s only going away for a week.  “It rains there,” she says.  “All the men are waxy and have bad teeth.”

While she packs, he takes a bath.  It is like watching a kaleidoscope or an ant farm with all its tunnels, the way the water sluices through him, gushing past his gleaming organs and thrumming aorta.  He gets a hand mirror for a better angle but no matter how hard he tries, he can’t see the holes in his head because they are up high on a shelf.  When he tries shampooing his hair, the sudsy soap slithers into the craters and out through a spout near the back of his neck.Oh boy, he thinks.

He thinks she should not be going on this trip.  He thinks he might call Bradley’s wife and get her up to speed.  Bradley can get any woman he wants.  He has a one already, why does he need two?

The clues were not a crumb trail but blatant, like someone who had marked their path in the woods so as not to get lost.  A few things he found were: panties in fire engine red; citrus perfume; plum bruises inside her thighs; a pouch of mutant pebbles, all shaped like chubby hearts.

At the door he blurts out, “Bradley’s going.”

She tells him it ended months ago.  She says, “If you don’t stop this, you’ll give yourself an ulcer.”  But there’s a thing she does with her eyes, the way they skid sidelong when she’s lying, and they do that now as she leans in for her goodbye kiss.

Afterward, he goes back into the bathroom just as the last slug of the water gurgles triumphantly down the tub drain.  In the mirror he sees how the holes have widened, melding into each other to form a single gigantic window.  Now he is only an outline, like bread when people eat out the center, leaving the crust intact.  He looks through himself, out the glassless window.  He sees the room service cart, a shiny silver dome on top and unfinished food congealed.  A foot away the mattress is moving.

When the phone rings the next night he hears it but cannot lift his arms because he doesn’t have any.  His hands are faint glimpses of what his hands once were.  His legs are the same way, as are his pelvis and penis.  He doesn’t own an answering machine, so the telephone won’t stop ringing.  He counts each one like an insomniac might count sheep.

If he’s still there when she flies home, she’ll say she called but he never picked up.  She’ll ask if he ate while she was gone.  “Look how skinny you’ve gotten, you’re almost invisible.”  She’ll say there’s another trip in June.  She’ll yawn wide as a grizzly, then kiss him dry-lipped with her eyes wide open and whisper, “Sweet dreams.”

Cinema by Len Kuntz

Until twenty three, my mother could beat me in arm wrestling, her bicep the size of a hamster, so puny, no more than a clump of hamburger meat sagging down the middle of her bone.  Cackle and squeal she would upon each petty victory, cig smoke train-chuffing from her mouth and nose and ears.  “Pussy,” she’d say.  “Pussy,” and mean it.

All those years, I’d lift weights and drink protein shakes.  I’d baby-bawl, I would, and say prayers, but nothing worked, not until I put that mirror in my mouth, glass the size of a doll’s compact.  Palm-to-palm, our arms lanced like a mating eels, we followed a similar trajectory until I parted my jaws with the mirror on my tongue, played Mom a movie, a biography, of her beating me—head hand face arm chest leg groin–her fists blazing, nails ripping, working out her own black victory.