Frida Kahlo, in a loose robe that allows for a phantom glimpse of her breasts, poses against a background of fussy flowered wallpaper. In a further incongruity, she wears enticingly low on her hips the sort of cartridge belt a Mexican bandit would wear in a Hollywood Western and clutches with two hands a six-shooter, the barrel of the gun pointing down like an arrow at her etcetera. The expression on her face is one of bland indifference, but her eyes are huge and round and stare darkly back at the viewer with justifiable suspicion.
The movie was called To Hell and Back. He played himself, Pvt. Audie Murphy, the most decorated soldier of World War II. On the screen, he single-handedly stormed blockhouses and machine-gun nests while lesser men cringed in foxholes or got hit by bullets and crumpled. I was only 8 when I saw the movie, but I remember it was in black and white, and that he was small and stammering and had a baby face, making his battlefield exploits seem all the more remarkable. Years would pass before I realized the guy sitting behind me who kept crossing and recrossing his legs and kicking the back of my seat would, in one fashion or another, always be there.
A former getaway driver who has retired to a cabin in the mountains is forced by the Russian mafia to undertake one more job. I have seen this movie before, I know how it ends – with a car chase, a gunfight, a towering fireball. And still I sit there and watch the movie as if it weren’t merely noisy static, but a keyhole through which I can see everything.
Mr. Slow Death
It’s as though under my skin I have swarms of hungry insects with razor teeth biting, scraping, whittling my bones. People who have seen me gasp in pain when I stand up sometimes suggest I try heat or ice or specially formulated creams. I nod just to be polite. What is broken in me can’t ever be fixed; it can only be calibrated. Meanwhile, a figure in a long black coat lurking at the edge of my vision greedily sucks on a cigarette, then expels a mouthful of smoke like the monster in a fairy tale.
Love Is Strange
I have paper cuts on both hands from turning the page. And did I mention the discovery in a drawer of fangs and a moustache or that a cow once floated with casual flair over my village? Within days, all the streets had been rearranged and given scientific-sounding names. Then it was her and me on a raft in a typhoon painting angels on the ceiling.
Napoleon in Rags
It was the season of mists and fogs. He had been forced by necessity to pawn his one good pair of pants. Now that he couldn’t confidently appear in public, he sat sulking in his underwear at the kitchen table. He couldn’t remember, Josephine wasn’t there to remind him, what it was like to live in anticipation of making love. Adversaries swooped around him like moon-crazed bats. If he had had a suicide pill, he might have taken it. The world only ever really pays attention when there is a panic or a traveling guillotine or when all the soldiers have syphilis.
Into the Woods
I yelped and jumped back. I hadn’t seen the the snake until I almost stepped on it. Even now I couldn’t tell you what kind of snake it was. One moment it was stretched out on the trail; the next it had vanished into the underbrush. I just remember its skin was shiny black, like a bad luck streak or rain-slick asphalt. The rest of the day, when anyone spoke to me, the words were full of holes. I felt strangely vexed, as if I had discovered a dead man with my face in the woods, black dirt under his nails.
Poetry for Dummies
Amy Lowell bet someone $100 that E. E. Cummings, who had just graduated from Harvard, would fail in his ambition to be a poet. She died before she could collect. The pallbearers were smiling beneath the kind of ski masks that stickup men wear. Then the street became space to fill. The drunk sons of Bukowski crawled out of a manhole, faces pitted with old acne scars. Demons in attendance screeched so loud the Internet had to cover its ears. I learned from them how to sing like a nightingale with a toothache. Now I’m life-size but dead, and infection falls as blood-red rain.
Howie Good, Ph.D., a journalism professor at SUNY New Paltz, is the winner of the 2019 Grey Book Press Chapbook Competition for What It Is and How to Use It, the 2017 Lorien Poetry Prize from Thoughtcrime Press for The Loser's Guide to Street Fighting, and the 2015 Press Americana Prize for Poetry for Dangerous Acts Starring Unstable Elements. His other books include The Death Row Shuffle (Finishing Line Press), The Trouble with Being Born (Ethel Micro Press), both 2020, and Gunmetal Sky from Thirty West Publishing in 2021. His prose poetry collection Famous Long Ago is forthcoming from Laughing Ronin Press.