Kyle Hemmings

Uncle Amazing

When Miss tHing was just a letter in the alphabet, her uncle was a language all to himself. She wanted to learn it, but the vowel-consonant-vowel was too complex for her to grasp. He was amazing. He twisted within the hula hoop, the dizzy heat, a sizzling barbecue and everybody’s mom in attendance. At night on the beach, he could swallow fire or made it look like he could. Miss tHing could never understand how he got away with that trick without remaining speechless for life. He taught her how to spread an even line of mustard on all beef hot dogs or how it could be mistaken for suntan lotion. That was a no-no. Then the unthinkable happened. He drowned in a huge tidal wave while trying to save her. When she came up for air, she realized she had swallowed his words. From then on, there were fish inside her head. She could never understand what they were saying, but she knew they were hungry.

After Bagdada

Is something the matter? says the Major of Conquered Sands to army nurse, Miss tHing. Every mother's son, says Miss tHing, looking up and squinting at the crenellated walls of Target Village. Every Mother's son. She remembers the items found on last night's civilians, victims of a fire fight: half-crumpled packs of filter-less cigarettes, rings with semi-precious stones, watches with saw-toothed bands, chewed belts, a hickory cord wrapped around a shriveled, dismembered finger. In the distance, the peeling of bells and a donkey's bray. Some children were fighting near a wheelbarrow. The screech of a homemade rocket.

There is a smell of sewage and sinkhole drifting in. They are thirty kilometers from a recently discovered nuclear plant and under a vulture's swoon. Stepping over the slain, the soldiers who refused to be taken alive, the Major of Conquered Sands emits a scent of camel and burning leather. Miss tHing leans her ear to the lips of each corpse, the bodies still as pumice. Each, she believes, has a story to tell. Pfc. X whispers that he never grew tall enough for his father. Pfc. Y tells her that he lost faith in Mistwalkers and Dragon Quests, years ago. Pfc. Z asks her to close her eyes and give him a kiss. She does it with eyes open.

The hours out here are endless; the wages never enough. The fumes follow Miss tHing for weeks at a time, linger in her mouth, over the food she eats. She comes from a good family. In her town, there are few reports of drug lords or bug eyed men rawboned for loose change. The failed gasps of their victims. The nights are hollow-eyed but women get their beauty sleep, faces oozing with South American honey.

She follows the Major towards the truck. His steps are giant. She's almost breathless. Now she understands why the sky is a stillness of, a mass of yellow to white. It's the color of bone to bone. Back home, she will trip over her summer sandals, forget clothes at the Laundromat, smile blankly at people she went to school with. She'll turn down any weekend marriage proposal and switch to diet Pepsi. Back home, she will sleep for days, drop stolen items in the shafts between.

Chicken Legs

She’s needy for grilled cheese sandwiches and still hooked on Miss Marples and The Thursday Night Club, but I love her despite her chicken legs. We're in Saint Agnes' Nursing Home, which is an island, no, a peninsula connected to the world by a thread. Even though my dementia is slippery, comes and goes like the wood nymphs I swear live out back, I know there are no live chickens in the cafeteria. But Miss tHing, whose eyes are still watery blue, claims her chicken has run away, most likely is in the cafeteria, trying to free the eggs from the fridge. In my room, wheelchair to wheelchair, I turn to Miss tHing, me, wanting to say How did we ever get this old? She could talk for hours about her husband, her favorite rooster, the winter her chicks froze to death. But the stories come out in fragments, in islands of loose faith. I hold her hand, and looking into the raw whites of her eyes, streaked with jagged islands of red, I know where that chicken is.

Kyle Hemmings is the author of three chapbooks of poems: Avenue C (Scars Publications), Fuzzy Logic (Punkin Press), and Amsterdam & Other Broken Love Songs (Flutter Press). He has been pubbed at Gold Wake Press, Thunderclap Press, Blue Fifth Review, Step Away, and The Other Room. He blogs at http://upatberggasse19.blogspot.com/.
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