Tuesday, March 26, 2019

Jake Marmer, excerpts from Cosmic Diaspora

The Revenant, image by Daniel Y. Harris

excerpts from Cosmic Diaspora


wasn’t the light of the unpronounceable name
wasn’t the shadow of another future, burning fingers
but the way the craft
encircled her body
with intimacy so ultimate
it could only be achieved by a machine
as it mimicked
the splintering
emotional carpet
she unrolled every time
the noise dropped for 8
seconds, when she was utterly alone
and as all space settlers
this knowledge
you’re being disassembled
into a diaspora of atoms that know nothing
of each other’s existence
before coming together again
like water poured into a new glass
without any objective guarantee
of continuity

Circle Maker

vocabulary of light –

all of his metaphors, self-referential
without footing
without gravity or grammar   ideas or things
he reads
light –
so closely, nothing’s recognizable – 
how else to accommodate – the unfolding?

“I know all of the laws,” he broods,
“not to mention superstitions but
none seem to apply to me
I invented the ideal compositional form –
at once womb and loophole
coincidentia and enjambment
but the form’s contours
shattered like a Lurianic carafe,
the energy slithered
into a side-project

and this is my only origin story –

…fucking bullshit!”

curtain draws him open
a sentient being, pure space wave
he dreams of someone invisible to talk to

Second Invisibility

I look between my fingers
where your fingers are –
I know they’re –

I am the body who translates the invisible
there’re others like me
but you – how many of you are out there?

all I know are the brushstrokes
across my body
your language

last night
there was a touch
of another –
a third hand painting
across me

I accepted it as yours
but from deep inside, watched
wholly random
the two of you –
unaware of each other
can I hide my thoughts from either one?
who am I in consent and concealment?

last night
I learned I am
as invisible to you
as you are to me –
as both of us to this, third hand –
I am the voice who translates the invisible
I am the voice whose hunger is a language

No Eyes

not a telescope but a phantom limb
stretching towards the invisible –

is how the experiment’s outcome
was described to me; my consciousness, a small
price for this new form of travel –

I was told I’d have to become
a mythic being with no eyes
concealed and revealed
in the garments that are not –

calligraphy of life’s post-script –

when I woke up blind and wanting
it was not my hand that reached across
cosmos to the stars we so wanted to see towards
the outside we were so desperate to find –

instead, their hands went into my corpus
my memory bled unto their fingertips
I could speak no words but laced
their echoes, in patience & sorrow


in the beginning, a burning mirror to erase
the dream of semblance, created
the dream of the missing alef,
which became the breath
of Elohim, the edge
 of your song’s void

Telepathy Session

when she said she could read my thoughts
I didn’t think: scribal ant colony and its crumbs of vapor
didn’t think: memory as a body that lies uncreated
my mind, a tunnel, ancestors
out of the zoharic riddle that hid them
as if they themselves were the conundra

“is there a difference between telepathy
and hypnosis?” I asked

“between reading and writing?” she echoed

—Jake Marmer

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

JD Nelson, Selected Work

Encomium Moriae, image by Irene Koronas  

underlined saxon

to show us the newspapery good bread is the wasp

it was stapled or outstapled and finished for work
that one in the egg book

the timer ding stuck

this is the dearth vadare

the tree is real
& under one cloud

earth is a blind pog
& these are the eggs of saints

the clown worm rex
has the complete apple

western moo or moon shot
& now earth is wet

 —JD Nelson

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

David Alpaugh, Eat My Shorts

Eat My Shorts
(and other minimal is mmmms)


You’re gonna love it!
G’wan! Take a bite...

Mmmmm. You’re so right.
Tastes like... rattlesnake!

Hot Pants
An ice cold bottle of beer, preferably Pauli Girl

Lagavuolin (Cutty Sark if you’re the stereotypical cheapskate)

Toreador Shorts
Jose Cuervo (neat)

Cargo Shorts
Rolling Rock Beer

Bourbon & Water
Givenchy Ticker Tracks for Men
Cambridge Distillery Watenshi Martini (with a whiff of vermouth)
A sip or two of Frangelico

Note: There are so many kinds of shorts—we cannot possibly cover all
of them here. email a jpeg of your butt-ware, and we will get back to you
within 30 days so you can sip “beverage divine” with your gourmet meal.




                                                   How do I love thee?
                                                   I’m no good at math—
                                                   But I have a sexy black negligée
                                                   And I just took a bubble bath!

                                                                 AN OLD CLICHÉ”


                               Is a sixth sense for detecting binoculars
                               Embedded in their DNA?
                               The moment we raise Wingspans or Bushnells to our eyes
                                  They fly away.


                                 The Prince so wanted to be King.
                                 The Queen so wanted not to Die.
                                 Dame Fortune stung a double sting.
                                 Neither got what they wanted (sigh).

—David Alpaugh

Saturday, March 9, 2019

J. Karl Bogartte, Illegal Reflections…

Shadow is a magical pet, image by J. Karl Bogartte

Illegal Reflections…

It is true that sometimes metamorphosis comes only later in the evening, when your ribcage is far too light for such heaviness of blossoms, and too dark for springtime with its incisions and unsettling incandescence.


A centuries-old staircase of the anesthetic sundial. Aspects of solar-branching to project your otherwise illegal reflections. This makes you ill at ease for a time-exposure. She spread out her rags and molting in the earth with condolences, mazing into an entrance of scintillating black fur for analogies of undivided attention. Pleasure is a radiant solution, spread with a knife.


A white-eyed slandering into mist, to bring them wildly into focus again, when streetlights followed each journey out of itself, out of scalpel-sense. There is no freeze-frame to show it, when the film fires up a childhood interruption, a moment of celluloid dripping on the window… All the objects devoted to their faces were soon disheveled by unexplained words, enflamed with wasps and the precious cargo of cautious mint. An unexpected evening arrives, a skeletal ménage à trois. When your blindfold is removed…


There is speculation around the frame of decisive moments, petals to cloak the whispering sewing machine of pollen-covered torchlights. Your face to a blindman’s bluff. The sensation of mourning, cursing with vertical disentanglement.


Throwing sepals for the joy of secret messages, fanciful erasures, frantic wondering what is… You chose another birthright, leaving history to itself. To begin again and again, without ever beginning. The author is unknown. The fur of animals embraced, speaking through your mind, as lightning tree rooting, as breathing bodies transparent, seeing through levels of living through. The sun erases, the moon through your bones.


The qua of desire and resistance, how could you reverse your point of view, how could, you, window beneath the skin fostering medical liquids, with green lions and Orpheus in shambles. Your body burns with Egrets and tender velocities. The escapades of memory and heteroclite deviations compete, with monstrous and fanciful sundials. Silkworms incanting in unison, desirable to silence the world.           


Hubris and detritus, anomalies running rampant with vipering whispers, amorous ubiquity. Where sudden Tiliqua festivals in orphic mirrors driving out of soil, incubating unthinkable scenarios for imps an“I came here only for this…” to see…  as the château guards have left…  Only visions remain. The critique is a traveling circus, light rooted in fire. Fire is night, a species of rendezvous, with marvelous hind legs. Makes love following pain receptors into the glow of humorous webs. Friction sensitivity is high…


The armature of lucidity, rancid flower, all that throws the navigator for a loop throws the wing full of brighter passages... there is also you, and others, your others, together, to embalm to emulsify in molecular eyes, flickering flashbacks, spinning herons for intrauterine slime. Still, adoration persists.


Somewhere, light on a mirror points to a shadow, that knows you intimately, always finds you, like one breath finds another, the pleasure of struggling enacts a corona of debatable lampposts. A biological theory of magical properties brightly growing out of ontic fabulations and erotic intercessions, polished to last a lifetime, like a herd of traveling clocks. It cannot be avoided. Those interposing conundrums in search of the most precious stones, those that travel inconspicuously… 


A mumbling savant keeps the chronologists at bay, takes apart those lost Huron consternations, planting morning glories for clarity. A lovesick girl who is perpetually lighting candles… A sorceress without mercy, with training wheels for archival balance. Your transparency enables that luminosity of over-riding concerns, being seen through, for a vast landscape that doesn’t know you. Imagines you. But who you are. The absurd brilliance of re-inhabiting your body with no precedent. Mumbling… Imprinting…


She let you in, to the mirror, the fiction, into shadow. For her you were seahorse and Saracen, tail first and cabal, pool-like and sleight of hand… 


The antlered guardian is a tiptoed dwarf veiled in royal chemise, espionage, dipped in ink and wolf-shaped. To be torched into transparency.

—J. Karl Bogartte

Monday, March 4, 2019

John Matthias, excerpts from Acoustic Shadows, Section IV, “Acoustic Shadows”

Acoustic Shadows, John Matthias (Forthcoming from Shearsman, May 2019)
Acoustic Shadows, book cover image by Jean A. Dibble

excerpts from Acoustic Shadows
Section IV, “Acoustic Shadows”   


            . . . and it’s not analogical at all—
for in mirage you see the line of troops that isn’t there
and vanishes at your approach, whereas

Great-grand-sire Albert C. could hear the voice
of Ambrose Bierce from far away, deep in an Indiana outfit late
to join in the advance, but, like Grant and Sherman,

not the cannonades & fusillades that slaughtered thousands,
would have signaled strategies obscured in shadows
of the mind obscured by inability to hear

cannonades and fusillades that shattered adjuvant brigades.
No one heard the screaming wounded, Rebel yells, although
they saw well enough, in terms of awe and terror, all—as if some

silent movie, not yet technically achieved, played before the eyes
of Edward Shiloh, named by Albert C. for the balls-up horror of the
battle before Chickamauga and retreat to Chattanooga after that.         Sidebar 1

Albert C. enlisted at sixteen, McComb, Ohio: Company K,
65th Ohio Volunteers. Ambrose Bierce, born in Meigs County, same state,
and just a little older . . . It is possible they met.

It is possible they met through an acoustic shadow, which allows
a man at great distance, now and then, to hear quite well what a man
up close to the event itself cannot—

For example, me; for example, now.
And maybe Albert C. just there, just then; Biercings audible enough,
but not the roar and crash of civil war.


Ambrose Bierce, we need you at this hour!
But not in the version of The Old Gringo, Carlos Fuentes,
and the movie—no acoustic shadows—staring

G. Peck and J. Fonda—box office failure I’m told—for which
some text from The Devil’s Dictionary
on a billboard all illuminated by

archaic gaslight might well serve anticipation.
Almost arbitrarily I put my finger down on Valor:

“Why have you halted,” roared the commander
of a division at Chickamauga, who ordered a charge: “Move
forward sir at once.” “General, said the commander of the
delinquent brigade, “I am persuaded that display of valor
will bring them into collision with the enemy.”

We need you, Ambrose Bierce, man who disappeared.

Sidebar 1

Short news story, graphic
with the highlights of
a major one, something
incidental, conference
with the judge, lawyers,
sometimes the parties in
the case, which the jury
doesn’t hear. Listen up.
What I saw at Shiloh, Shiloh,
wasn’t what I’d name my
own offspring for, I can
sure tell you that. Came upon
the dregs of failed advance,
several thousand wounded
and defeated, beaten, cowed.
Deaf to duty, dead to shame.
All unconscious of their clay.
You may have built a family
on this chaos; me, I built a
style: None escaped, least
of all the earth. Bits of iron
stuck out of every tree,
knapsacks, swollen biscuits,
blankets beaten into soil
by the rain, rifles bent and
splintered stocks, waist-belts,
hats, heads, arms and legs, a
a foot left running by itself,
an ear pinned to a wagon by
a broken bayonet, eyes of
one clutched in his open
hand as if on offer to us as
we passed him by and heard
the bugle-call, “assembly.”
“All rise,” says the bailiff
when the justices march in.
What justice for the dead?
No one rose, your honor, once
they fell upon the field, though
many prayed to god, the devil,
or (like me) the dictionary.


A file of troops is not like a line of verse
or a mirage in its advance/retreat and shape-changing

Stones River

A troop is not a trope though Grant and Sherman
sought to make a metaphor of early blunders
rather than to face a fact in plenary: a little boy with
wooden sword playing among casualties
and lost to what they both could hear and see but
then forgot—
A. C. Matthias & Lt. Ambrose Bierce,

child private and the brash volunteer recently
promoted to the tent of General Hazen as the new
topographical engineer, riding out alone to take the
measure of terrain, the good fields and bad

the good and bad possibilities of an advance, retreat

a retreat observed by the child with a wooden sword
an advance likely to become retreat

a treat for Christmas or his birthday, a wooden sword

although the engineer carried his sophisticated tools
he wrote, Common paces 18:

50´ = 2 7/9´ 2 7/9´ = 2´ 9 1/3

& preferred to pace rather than to use the chain
but liked his compass, leveling stick, circumference,
with the brass plates and tube to mount it.

Mountains were the worst for both of them, the enemy
dug in, entrenched. “Taking the high ground” was not
a figure of speech like shadow in acoustic shadow.

It was not a situation where one wanted to encounter,
for example, grape shot from artillery. Some commander might
insist one take the hill—

some commander like the one they called “Oh, No!”
or “General Prayerbook,” the “Christian Officer” who managed
to outflank himself, his actions covered up at first but

called in good time “The Crime at Pickett’s Mill.”

Before that my forebear wrote: We are very poorly clothed
I have one blouse in rags, one pair of pants all full
of holes, and one pair of stockings which are always wet.

I feel sometimes that we ought to give the Rebs the South.
And we may have to do that anyway with generals
like our own who do not manage things. I advise, I do,

all men to stay at home, hiding if they must. We
forage here for all our food. Some have died of thirst.
The news is that Jeff Davis is in Murfreesboro—

while jumping backwards over time and space, the voice
jumping an acoustic shadow, his who had enlisted as
he left Ohio, trudged south from Elkhart—

These were men.
They crept upon their hands and knees. They used
their hands alone, dragging their legs.

They used their knees only, their arms hanging idly
at their sides. They came by dozens
and by hundreds, made gestures with their hands,

spread their palms upward in a kind of prayer.
But there was no help for these men
except for the child who walked among them

with a wooden sword and seemed unable to speak,
Unable to hear. He made unholy sounds—
Gabbling like a turkey, chattering like an ape—

All the wounded took this as the voice of doom, Goddamn
death itself, dandified in costume, toy soldier come
to life, bearing upsidedowndrawn cross.


God damn the Goddamn damn.
Edward Shiloh used to shout, stuck on an “opinion.”
Was he his father’s son?

Dear Son, wrote Albert C., dedicating
William Hinman’s Story of the Sherman Brigade.
Carefully preserve this book that future

Generations of descendants
read and profit by it. I pray your generation
may know peace. But this is a story

of our suffering and tribulation. As Edward Shiloh
cursed and tore his hair, I’d open Hinman’s book
and align my lead soldiers in configurations based on

battle maps: Shiloh, Stones River, Chickamauga
and Resaca. I collected hundreds of these poisonous toys,
and sometimes even licked them with my tongue,

loving them so much I’d want to taste them. I’d make
the hills and mountains, placing objects
underneath a carpet, then set up artillery and units of

reserves at the rear of both defenders and
the ones who would advance into the gatlings & grapeshot.
Then the cavalry at unexpected angles for

anticipated hit and run. With care I would align
Albert C’s poor infantry, lines and lines of them, and then
some snipers in the trees. Finally, gray defenders

took their places in the hills. E. S. M.’s stone house was
on San Juan, named for yet another battle. Shiloh on San Juan.        Sidebar 2
I think my grandfather had a kind of writer’s block.

He could no more advance against his obstacle than my
lead version of his father could. I would never proceed to
the battle. I’d set them up according to my strategy,

which sometimes took me hours with the maps.
Goddamn the goddamn damn.
The house was so big, and I was so far away, that

sometimes I’d see him in a window where the walls
turned back on themselves, outflanking sense,
but not hear the blasphemies. I was in the library,

surrounded by three thousand books. Do not lend was

stamped on the Ex Libris plate of The Story of the Sherman
Brigade. In Van Wert, before the family moved
to the capital, his books outnumbered those in public

collections. I loved the smell of them. I still do.
Edward S. outlasted all of his contemporaries
on the court, setting records for tenure. He was remote.

His opinions are still read today. He killed himself
by jumping out the window where I’d watched
him pace and curse. At about the same age Ambrose Bierce

disappeared in Mexico. Or so they say.

Sidebar 2

Dear Justice E. Shiloh—
fuck you and your Jingo
vets. Ambrose Bierce here.
Here, there and up your—
well, whatever. I know
full well you never got
beyond some kind of
scout camp in Ohio,
but I knew your old man.
There was a brave hombre!
You, I’ve no idea. You were
Commander-in-Chief of what?
United Spanish-American
War vets? You, who never
fired a shot, were never
fired upon. Here’s a bit I
wrote just for you. You
and John Marshall, your
son; John Edward, your
grandson, and even Ian
Bendoly, your great-grandson.
I was no leftie, Commander-
In-Chief, far from it, but the
Loss of the Old Republic that
T. R. and you and Hearst
achieved—talk about “fake news.”
Said Citizen Hearst, my boss
at the time: “You write the stories,
I’ll provide the war.”
You fell for all of it. Granted,
you were young. But when you
were very old you still believed
the shit you thought when
you’d recite “A Toast to the Flag,”
in much the spirit Maoists waved
the “little red book” when your
grandson was in college.
Before the Journal made me
change my tune, I said “the
warmongring press has already
broken out like a red rash
in the papers, whose managing
Commodores are shivering
their timbers and blasting
their top lights with a
truly pelagic volubility.”
Here’s the opposite of
an acoustic shadow: noise
precedes events, sound moves
faster than light, blather,
blather, bosh, and blah blah blah.
Watch this column for
another sidebar soon.


My mother used to claim, “It jumps a generation,” and
that is, unlike mirage, analogous—I mean it’s like the notion
of acoustic shadow in its way.

I will explain. Or maybe I already have
but failed myself to hear, as a result of concentrating
on the explanation in the way “Oh. No!”

actually outflanked himself in spite of Bierce’s
work as master of topography, frogs of leaping neurons
all befogged by conscious thought and not the fog

of war, attempts of will to jump the synchronizing
synapses, crossing over Oostanaula River in the night,
or jumping now a generation. It was the habit of

a magpie Song of Self derived from cuts and clippings.
We were our own press agents, Edward S. and I,
with scissor blades made for just the purpose of assisting

young poets and distinguished jurists in pursuit of
newspaper reference, blades almost the length of swords
that now reside among my fireplace tools on the

imitation Delft tiles that I unsheathe now and then
just to poke and prod a winter fire.
We both, Edward S. and I, would cut and slash,

pile the clippings in a box or paste them in a book.
My father didn’t do this; his was the generation skipped.
Oostanaula River was below Resaca. 

On a visit in my youth, I skipped stones across it.
Albert C. and Ambrose Bierce did not have
time for such child’s play—

nor to download and print out a clipping from
abroad telling me again it skips
a generation as it skips across the sea out of

entombment in the etymologies: “deadline,” for
example: a pile of mortal men beyond which
no advance is possible. Cf. “Lime pit,” dug by survivors

after battle into which the rotting dead were heaved.


Albert C. downloaded a small ball and masticated wad
to hold it in the barrel while he peered
around a tree looking for an enemy to shoot.

But he was shot himself, his forearm left all dangling
from the elbow. Hillman writes that
Corporal Matthias, who was scarcely more than a boy

Was wounded fighting only fifty yards from the
Confederate lines, but Albert C. himself
has written in the margin: Our position was a mere

Twenty paces from their stone fort.
So his last battle was Resaca. The wounded arm
lasted, hanging paralyzed, for many years,

as he practiced medicine, sometimes riding
with a sidearm out to vaccinate
Ohio skeptics against smallpox and against their will.

In time, they cut the arm off at the elbow. He put
it in a bottle of preservative and wrote
a will, Goddamnit, saying that the arm must be

buried with the rest of him. Ambrose Bierce,
also wounded and experiencing hallucinations, migraines,
double vision, and the PTS they didn’t understand

when they told him, “Goddamn it, pull your socks up,
soldier!” didn’t march with Sherman to the sea.
For a while, he couldn’t see to march.

Nor could Albert C. “get a grip on himself,” as he
Was told—unable to move his hand or feel his arm.
“I’ll wait till I see what I hear,” Edward S. would say,

preparing for an oral argument, putting down the brief.
He’d come downstairs, exhausted, browse
Among his books, thumbing favorites absent-mindedly,

while I, waiting to hear what he saw, continued crawling
on the floor and moving toy soldiers in accordance
with the paragraphs about campaigns that I

only understood as fiction, sometimes confounded by
some facts my Grandfather mumbled when he
took in all my strategies—“Father, Johnny, wasn’t

where you’ve got him there. He was only twenty
paces from the stone fort of the enemy . . .
You’ve put him too far back. Goddamn lucky

(blasphemies of a judicial origin applied)
“he saved his life to start our clan.”
Later, “Bitter Bierce” as he was called when

he began to write, was quoted in the Hangtown Gibbet
or the Weekly Howl saying, for example, in obits:
the cause of death was galloping Christianity of the

malignant type . . . or: After church last Sunday afternoon
a Chinaman was stoned from the steps of the
First Congregational Church. Other Christians drove

a crowbar into yet another’s abdomen out of
sheer amusement. One arm was riven from its socket
by some great convulsion of nature. As the deceased

was seen enjoying his opium pipe and his usual health
just previous to the discovery of his melancholy
end, it is assumed he came by his death by heart disease.

This was San Francisco, where Bierce arrived, marching
to the sea in a direction opposite of Sherman.
By the time I pulled his Devil’s Dictionary from the shelf

of Edward Shiloh’s library, I could laugh at “Regalia”—
the Justice had so much of it that I’d try on,
admiring myself in the mirror on his closet door:

Knights of Adam; Visionaries of Detectable Bosh; Ancient
Order of Modern Troglodytes; League of Holy Humbug;
The Blatherhood of Insufferable Sloth; Associated Sovereigns

Of Mendacity; Dukes-Guardian of the Mystic Cesspool;
Order of the Undecipherable Scroll—“the distinguishing
insignia, jewels and costumes of such”—

and many more along with Edward Shiloh’s Mason’s
robes, his Captain’s uniform as failed soldier
in the Spanish War, and in the backmost darkmost

depths of secret walk-in closet’s secrets—Reliquary:
arms and legs, ears and eyes, fingers, teeth,
the beards of many generals, a penis, a pancreas, a spleen.


Splenetic, sometimes,

Albert wore his sanguinary arm just like a gifted relic,
hanging at his side. There wasn’t much
a doc could do, even with both hands, for the sick

in Gilboa or McComb, towns where he set up
his practice having learned most of what
he knew from a long convalescence from the wound

in Nashville, Jefferson, Cleveland and the office
of a Dr. Dean where he apprenticed when
still a patient himself. But for diphtheria, typhus,

even measles, there was little to do but watch.
Dean told him, “They feel better when
I walk in their door, but then they understand

we can’t do anything but be there.” It was
Dean who told him, “Pack a gun when
you vaccinate in the countryside. That way

they’re less likely to keep you from their kids.
The hell with stupid parents. If they want to
die from smallpox, let them die.” Bierce would

have liked this last remark and maybe even have
quoted it in his Town Crier column, or under his                  Sidebar 3
pen name, “Ursus,” in the Grizzly Papers as he

started being read. Even Albert C. read him
in Ohio, knowing him as veteran of the
battles he himself had fought and knowing him as

former resident of Meigs County. In McComb
and Gilboa, Bierce was read by some
who knew him or his reputation: One paper

called him “wise, witty, lively and severe.”
Another was shocked at the “Rabelaisian audacity
of his homicidal prose.” Albert C.’s books

ended up among the hundreds that I browsed
on Edward Shiloh’s shelves. Right next
to Hinman’s The Sherman Brigade, Bierce on

Shiloh, Chickamauga, Coulter’s Notch, Resaca,
and the hanging at Owl Creek Bridge.
His journalism flayed the privileged and the

stupid and the blind, especially if they happened
to be Christian. Albert C. was Christian
but not dumb. He wanted to be paid. He had

a card for patients headed “Your Physician,”
reading thus: He is a friend when a friend
is most in need. He does not like to disturb the ill

by collecting through the law. Make him feel
that he’s appreciated. Promptly pay
his fee. He is a skilled and tired and busy man.

A copy of this card marks a place in Bierce’s
book. He’s drawn and doodled in the
margins of his card: A wading marsh bird with

a long beak holds a kind of dangling banner
saying: “Ambrose Bierce. I met him after Chickamauga.”
It marks a place where the handwriting changes

in the margins of the book itself. There’s a story called
“Killed at Resaca,” and A. C. M. has written his
familiar and insistent “Twenty paces from the enemy.”

E. S. M. has written under that: “Not killed, but gravely
wounded. In and out of hospitals for months.
He always said he’d lied about his age.” Blood ran from

the doctor’s practice and from Bierce’s books: In one
story swine stand on the bodies of the dead
and wounded, eating off their faces, one by one. 

Sidebar 3
Some telegrams (later to
be known as “tweets”): For
example (dictionary): Realism,
The art of depicting nature as it
is seen by toads; the charm of suf-
fusing a landscape painted
by a mole; a story written by
a measuring worm. Reality, I
say, is the dream of a mad
philosopher or what would
remain in the cupel if one
should assay a phantom—or
the nucleus of a vacuum: Rear
in the military is that exposed
part of the army nearest to the
Congress while To reason is to weigh
probabilities in the scale of
desire. And then there is Ink:
a villainous compound of tan-
nogallate of iron, gum-arabic and
water, chiefly used to facilitate
the infection of idiocy and
promote intellectual crime. It
may be used to make reputations
and unmake them, to blacken
them and to make them white, but
it is most generally and acceptably
employed as a mortar to bind
together stones in an edifice of fame,
and as a whitewash to conceal
afterwards the rascal quality of the
material. All of this for you, A. C. M.,
E. S. M., J. M. M., J .E. M.: Gilboa, Columbus,
Elkhart, South Bend, other towns of
the great American Midlandmind
unhinged on hinged porch swing
& madly swung by some phantom
swinger pushing patent medicines
and shouting arm, to arms, to arms.


Bierce courted an unlikely girl. Who would have guessed
he’d be smitten by a debutante, and even swear
to friends he was in love? “Love” in his Dictionary: “A temporal

insanity that’s cured by marriage.” It’s not even clear
that he enjoyed sex, though Mollie did—and
possibly at first she liked his tales. Eros, for him, manifested

in his monologues, although eventually he told his stories
to his drinking friends and the pages of his books.
As Railroad Baron Jingoes took up absolute command,

he brooded, gasped for breath when asthma hit him
in the chest like bullets from a firing squad. He felt the full
force of panic, something Albert C. treated efficaciously

in Edward S. and might have treated in his friend from
Chickamauga. But who would start another war so soon after
the catastrophe that nearly killed the Union? Cuba,

the Philippines, Dewey’s battleship . . . Bierce told his
wife about “A Horseman in the Sky,” “Four Days in Dixie,”
“One of the Missing,” “Coup de Grace.” When he met

Teddy R., the Rough Rider told him that his story called
“The Son of the Gods” inspired him on San Juan Hill,
up which he crawled on hands and knees like all the others

gasping for their breath, no equestrian at all, a question
maybe for E. S. who ended up with all the books
but never learned their lesson. Nor did I when I abandoned              Sidebar 4

toy soldiers on the carpet and put on the uniforms. Death
to the Old Republic, I might have cheered: Hurrah
for the Empire being born and my grandfather’s trek

as far as training camp, but not beyond. It was a short
kind of war. Unlike Albert C., he never fired a shot,
was never shot at. Still, I loved the uniforms.

As for the Reliquary, Bierce omitted one left arm.
The Dictionary, though, lists the ears of Balaam’s ass,
The lung of the cock that called Peter to repent,

a feather from the Angel of Annunciation, and the head
of Saint Dennis, arrived in Canterbury to explain
that it was seeking a body of doctrine, but thrown into

the Stour. Another head was ordered straight from Rome.
As for the arm, my own belief is that it took on life
and spent no time at all as relic in the closet, but after

amputation gave, ahead of its time and fully avant-garde,
a Fascist salute. Viva la Muerte was in fact a slogan
of Falangists. Oh severed arm, you had your own ideas

in spite of the will and determination of Albert C.
I see you stand up on your hand and walk toward the
horizon. Which side are you on? the old labor movement

song enquired. I ask again, but cannot hear a reply
as I see you wave, salute. Eventually I hear
when the acoustic shadow lifts: Didn’t I say, old boy,

Viva la Muerte, Viva la Muerte, Viva la Muerte.

Sidebar 4
. . . a bar where I ordered Sarsaparilla,
not the straight shot of whisky that the
gunslingers downed before a
shootout on some dusty crossroads
in a movie set, or, acoustic shadow,
in slow-mo, TV. Me, I grew up with radio,
and that seemed miracle enough.
Half-asleep, I’d half-hear the extra
innings of a baseball game, waking in
the morning half-remembering who won.
On radio there’s no acoustic shadow,
and you either listen or you turn it off.
I’d turn off kids outside my room
who called me to go biking down the glen.
More and more, I stayed up in my room.
I understand, long after, that family
members were “concerned” about me,
that is, about my isolation from a normal
childhood. They wanted me out playing
with the others on the street. I did
that now and then, but something was
always missing. I tried to see what
it was, but only later heard it. It was
a summons to the past. Every other kid
was looking forward, only I was hearing
back. The voices grew familiar, but
broke up in storms with inexplicable
noises, sometimes static simply due to
awkward fingers on the dial. Who had won
the game? Who had won the war? Who
conquered history and parsed the past?
I did, now and then, have the sense I’d seen
some things before the words arrived to
tell me what they were: The breasts of
the girl next door, the boy with a
broken nose running home without
his bike shouting some abuse about
the bully down the glen. The sound,
the sense of it, came late. Many things
I saw confused me, and so I shut myself
in my room to listen, waiting for a
door into the basement, time. Down
there my father shoveled coal, my
mother washed my dirty clothes
by hand. But when they rose into
the present and I saw them with
the others, why did they strike poses,
war-memorial like, why were they
walking in broad day? I listened to
the radio and opened wide my eyes.
“Infidel,” said Ambrose, reading
from his book: “you who fail to revere
the cenobites, vicars, rectors, robots,
fufis, pumpoms, acolytes, imams,
beneficiaries, clerks, confessors, beadles,
fakirs, fakers, motherfukers, parsons,
Persons of Importance, priors, padres,
canons and divines. You hear, my brother,
who will wait to verify, you sleepy eye?”


I’ve ordered the CD from Netflix, put it on, but turned off
the sound: and there he is, Gringo Viejo, complete with
acoustic shadow. It’s clear there’s another war, there always

is, and massive casualties, there always are. Mexicans are
falling off their horses, people getting shot. Some
hacienda’s set on fire, and there’s the hero, or I suppose

the anti-hero, Bitter Bierce himself, Mr. Peck straight
from his gig as Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird.
This time crows and vultures do the mocking, Oh, and

there’s the Virile Revolutionary, straight from central
casting, and his Poncho Villa cadres, all very fierce
in their sombreros. Jane Fonda’s the schoolmarm, come

to teach the kids of Mirandas, teaching, or so it
seems, the poor who have inherited, if not the earth,
the ranch. Peck’s a little old for her, but she allows

one kiss. There seem to be prostitutes following
the progress of the volunteers, and plying their trade
from an empty railroad car. Jane takes some

lessons from them in art of sex, ends up of course
with the “General,” self-appointed, leaving Gringo Viejo,
Bitter Bierce, as father figure, not a lover.

To figure all this out requires no sound at all, unlike
those battles where acoustic shadow led to
catastrophic military errors. And this is how the past

comes at us, overwhelming us in image without
sound: old photographs, portraits, battle maps, nightmares
and silent films. I’d sit with others watching

home movies in my grandfather’s house, and the
oldest would say: Oh, there’s Granny Crouch, there’s
Uncle Jim. We kids would shrug at these unspeaking dead,

walking there as if alive. We watched them talking
to each other, but of course we couldn’t hear.
What did they say? What does Fonda say to Peck

and the Virile Revolutionary who, I think, may
be the black sheep of the Miranda clan who had owned
the expropriated hacienda. Me, I’d rather

sleep with the pretty whore than the schoolmarm.
That’s what Bitter Bierce does in the end, gifting Jane
To “the revolution.” At least that’s what it looks like.

There are photographs of Albert C., but no scenes
with him in the movies. We only know what he said
from his letters and his dedication of

The Sherman Brigade. And there are newspaper clippings
in a box. We know what Bierce had to say
from his published stories and his rants. We don’t know how

he ended up, and it’s only speculation that he went to
Mexico at all. Still, why not think so? Writing this, I see that
the Virile Revolutionary’s shot Mr. Peck in the back.

Jane is horrified, holds the dying man in her arms. If
I turned on the sound, I’d know what they were saying.
She maybe calls him “father.” Peck couldn’t

get his pecker up, although the whore let him feel
her breasts. Jane’s “real” father died in Cuba
in the Spanish War. I can tell that from a flashback

without sound. Or did he? Maybe he just left
her mother for sexy Cuban girls and disappeared in dust
left over from the Spanish War. I turn on the sound

and Las chicas cantan, girls and whores. Shadow
blows away in a wind that gathers on the dry
horizon. Jane will bury Bitter Bierce in what

was meant to be her “real” father’s grave. Peck
died at sea in Moby Dick, but this time no such luck.
This time he’s Bitter Bierce, not Ahab.

Though already dead, he’s tied up with the virile chap
who is, like revolutionaries everywhere, eaten by the movement.
Villa has them shot together, son and father one

is meant to think. What’s a girl like Jane to do? She knows
little about Cuba, less about the Spanish War. Villa has
the gringo and the bastard Miranda shot together: what fun,

the end of a story, end of an Hacienda’s line.
Unlike the others from my own Hacienda, I’ve no
love of Edward Shiloh’s memory, just his house

and library, both now destroyed or lost along
with all my toy soldiers and his uniforms.
The war he trumpeted, like William Randolph Hearst,

was the end of something beautiful: The Old Republic,
saved by his own father, Bierce, and others
from Ohio and Indiana, ripe for betrayal by the

New Imperialists. Remember the Maine, they sang.
But Las chicas cantan. It’s a different song
and one I’d rather sing. The Filipino jungles look

to me like those in Vietnam. In both they used
the water board, often just for fun. What would the good
doctor, A. C. M., have said about it all?

I’d throw his severed arm at the whole jingo lot of them.
The movie ends with Jane and Bierce’s body on
a bridge over the Rio Grande. It’s sunset, of course.

We are the stuff that beams of light are
made of; the stuff of reams of paper printed with
the ambiguities of words. We don’t

hear very well. At least not what we see.

—John Matthias