Caleb Puckett

Mechanism of Desire

They called the burglary a crime of passion in the newspapers. Door ajar and no alarm. Someone smashed all of the display cabinets in the curio shop and took only the antique tops. Monolithic toys. Monstrous shadows setting mines on the sidewalks. The strip mall became a parade of glass slivers and splintered shelves cordoned off with yellow tape. The earth went around as always, slightly off center, dizzied by millions of invisible orbital crosscurrents and blinded by stardust. Someone smashed the cabinets last night and the bits of evidence—ceramic figurines, silver spoons, pewter paperweights, et al—projected themselves onto the moon and were beamed back as the barcodes that you and I identify with the condition of our youth locked into the sale aisles in a bid to make due. Penumbras between slats. Cold coins turned warm in pockets rubbed against countertops. Last night I dreamed that I found a loose top spinning down the sidewalk in front of your doorstep, a refugee from the growing world of box knives and invoices that escaped the curio shop. I thought, revolution has been proven false, but the world still resists static positioning. Tops slope downward to stay up, to maintain equilibrium. Needles in the camel sand of the sun, to be metaphorical. Eye of Isis encased in the British Museum, to use a case in point. To swoon and recover at once in the midst of it all. The minute I picked it up I understood why you circle mascara around your eyes: that pirouette mimics the arc of a dancer and my desire is the feigned surprise of a man who has been counting his credits in caper films. Twist the key and twist your smile as the apparatus implies forward movement. Clownish Deus Ex Machina—waddling brilliance. Caustic colorwheel. What gauges this aging face wrinkled like splintered windows? What lies within the whorls of the newsprint thumbprint that indicts itself with seeming indifference? A crime of passion cannot happen when the curator-cum-shopkeeper of these curiosities leaves no traces but panicked insurance claims. They said that the most frequent customers suspected foul play. They read the tea leaves in their Victorian porcelain instead of the newspaper. Our collection of antique toys, so we say, has no connection to this dissembling break whose true object seems to stem from a vendetta. They said that certain receipts will help reconstruct history. Can we say that we know any better?

A Systems Analyst

          The mortgage on the house crowded with her Tarot cards is met by hours spent navigating the currents of office spaces, understanding the ceaseless articulations among computers in cubicles, tracing the machinations of fate lines and desire lines, hand to mouth, mouth to mind, mind to mouse, circulating white papers that announce results and predict trends that confuse most users who nonetheless nod with knowing grins and pursue their lives in the spirit of well-guarded ignorance. White noise, in this realm, is a matter of vast speculation given the scientific stamp of surety at your behest. You have studied the statistics for all of the trends and feel that probability has become a friend. Yes, you feel yourself on the brink of greater things, feel at last that mystery has become subject to your commands, captivated by your whims. All of the flowcharts and votes of confidence suggest that contentment will coalesce within a year or less. You are only 26.
          She doesn’t care to hear about any of it. Never bring work home or mix work with pleasure. It’s a dictate. Results speak for themselves, she says, never one to eschew the pat phrase, the wisdom that comes from predictable language in the face of meaningful vagaries. All of these plans and intentions, all of these omens and innuendos, all of these suggestions that you have faith in are nothing if not momentarily comforting illusions because they are subject to chance, change, revision. You are only 26. Life tends to mutate and stability is often prohibitively expensive. Once you place your hands on absolutes, she says, you have altered some aspect. Influence cannot occur without a certain amount of resistance to work against. Such contrasts are needed to mark failure and success. Human enterprise, this time arriving in the form the Two of Coins before The Last Judgment, is much older and ultimately trickier than programming. Did you forget? You slump your shoulders, withered by her warning. As long as the mortgage is met, what else can we hope for? Mastery of one realm is no guarantee that slavery has been averted in all of the others. She says your name badge contains many unfavorable anagrams. “Systems Analyst” alone, for example, contains “Sty stay, less man.” You split the deck with noticeable effort and manage to affect a knowing grin.

In Concert

Banners scroll into themselves with the wind rolling in from the south as traffic signals splash elastic colors onto the glass, girders and stones of the historic downtown. Brilliant buses arc around the famed public gardens as car alarms chirp in chorus in the parking lot encircled by a growing knot of manic tourists. Polished chrome doorframes fan the flames inside the stadium as ticket takers exchange priceless passes and terse greetings with a blur of faces. The band staging the reunion concert exchanges cornucopias of bottles and false prescriptions backstage as their engineer plays with the available acoustics and detects a hint of rain. The clouds pull back as nostalgia takes its cue with a blinding wave of pyrotechnics and the first notes of the first single from another era’s hit record begin to play. But a block away the half-light begins to buckle down any inkling of an option. And outside of the halfway house the slightest movement from a better present to the best future seems impossible. And the streets empty with a jingle of keys and the hollow punctuation of locks. And dinner is dispensed with little ceremony from behind a steel table flanked by stoic attendants. And all talk is an exercise of minor declarations and careful deference as the director circulates among the clients. And memory becomes an absolute whittling down of sound and imagery until one can begin again from absence. And by midnight desire must occupy a white room with self-seeking and muffled pleading a world away from the throng of dizzying influence where nostalgia breeds demons and buses cart them away to the next city of grinning victims.

Caleb Puckett has pieces in The Oklahoma Review, Projected Letters and Starfish, among other publications. Otoliths will publish his collection Tales from the Hinterland this (northern) summer.

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