BREAK • by Bill Vernon

I stack my trousers and shorts on the bank, wade in below the Main Street Bridge, and a carp clamps onto my right leg. I guess carp don’t bite, but this one sucks for all its worth and I think about hickies.

Making a mark on my calf?

I fall in love and hope for a little impression. Then I’m afraid she might not want to let go forever.

Tires and motors crossing the bridge growl at us. Buildings glare down over the levee. Behind one of those windows I’ve been pretending to work. Now it’s lunch time.

A bike tinkles hello on the paved trail ashore. Its rider laughs.

I wave back and think: am I a pervert? An exhibitionist? A pessimist? A selfish bastard.
I shake a leg and try to get loose. Then I’m sorry.

Regret is the form of self-abuse I most enjoy–even if my mind grows hair and warts and my soul goes cross-eyed.

I remember reddish-gold sunsets.

I remember politicians openly screwing whoever lends them an ear. Every syllable that politicians speak is foreplay.

I remember suggesting that my father invest in Enron.

I did not tell him that it was a bullshit market. That bears were baring their buttocks.
My father understood, went out on a balcony eleven stories up, screamed he wasn’t gonna take this anymore, and made a leap of no-faith.

Okay, the river is washing my wingtips, a finny friend is sucking my flesh, so I inform my father, “Dad, a poet told me you can’t say anything meaningless. Everything means something. Blah, blah, blah.”

He slaps my face. “Son, that fish latched onto you is a bottom feeder. You ain’t gonna get nowhere with it.”

His calluses sting.

I believe you love everybody you hate, and you hate everybody you love.

I say, “Pop, I knew you couldn’t fly before you took off.”

This thought emerges: they make crucifixes to fit every size.

Then this: Once upon a time a man rode a dark horse into the White House, herded the aides into the oval office, whipped out his gun and made them reveal their thong underpants. There was no smoke when he fired.

I yearn for that innocent time before killing and maiming became the national sport. Ignorant naïvete? Yes!

“Get that goddam fish off your leg,” yells my wife (telepathically).

“That’s not a fish out of water.”

“I don’t allow nothing with gills in my house.”

“We’re in love,” I complain. “She won’t leave me alone.”

“Get her in bed and she will.”

Here comes a vision of us lovers in the bathroom. We swim up the gushing tap water and spawn.

I will make her into lots of lox. Smoke her in a spa. Preying mantises devour lovers so why not me?

Yesterday my brother Herbert came over driving an SUV as big as the whole out of doors, a private pipeline plugged into the gas tank, and I thought, My God, the halitosis. The waste. The comfort on wheels. America’s debauchery.

There’s a synchrony of atoms. That’s why all of our computers at work could be sabotaged. It was a virus, a chorus of illnesses, a leprosy of bytes, like a radio playing popular music.

From the center of the river, Canada geese hiss, bob their heads, lower their necks and chase me ashore.

Goddam their rejection! If they were swans, I’d impregnate the most beautiful one. I think they plan to join me here and crap on my shoes.

I take a lox from my suit coat pocket and find–Goddam!–tiny bones. I never counted on bones.

When is a chad not a chad?  A vote not a vote?  A dimple not intention? What does IS mean? Where are those WMDs? These fundamental questions still bother me.

I recall an old photo of children without shoes, standing in dirt by a stone building with a priest on one side holding a cross. “Pick me out,” my Nana said, remembering a rich childhood in County Mayo, which she’d fled in the 1930s.

I remember a priest refusing to give her daughter my mother a ride home because being alone with a woman like that wouldn’t look proper. This was after she’d stayed late at night cleaning up his church.

“He’s a holy man,” Mama told me.

Yes, Mama, certainly holier than thou. Or me. Or anyone.

Something like road rage has got me. I’m bit on the ass by a goose, goosed in the ass by a swan, bit on the leg by a carp, slapped by my father, insulted by my wife, unloved by the new generation of priests, misled by the great statesmen of our time, genetically trapped by my parents, sentenced to unending stupidity by God, and rapt in the throes of my hormones.

Can you feel it? A climax approaches.

“What the hell are you doing?” asks a gentleman in blue, a badge on his chest, a gun on his hip, a sneer on his lips, a club on his belt, and balls of consternation in his mind.

I spread my arms and feel myself glow. “Sir, an angel just told me to inform all civil, military, political, religious, and non-denominational authorities to, and I quote, ‘Build ye a church on this holy spot. It is the will of the Highest, and as a sign of this truth, I give you three prophecies: the Pope will suffer pain. The Pope will die. The next Pope elected will not be a woman. Take bets on it.'”

The Pope ain’t the only one gonna die either. Hear what I’m saying? Know what I mean?

Bill Vernon, an ex-college English professor, has four published poetry chapbooks, and individual poetry and fiction in online and hard-copy journals, most recently in Switched-On Gutenberg, The Externalist, Wanderings, Aethlon, Fourth River and NEBO. His novel Old Town, published by Five Star Mysteries in June 2007, concerns urban sprawl’s threat to his native southern Ohio.

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Joseph Kaufman