My ex-husband hired a Private Iowan to follow me day in and day out. He latched onto my license plate to see where I went, hid on the backs of quarters to see what I bought. He stood outside my window all summer, swaying in the breeze and pretending to be a corn stalk. He got a job as a news anchor and covered the election, stared me down in my democracy. He dressed up as Buddy Holly and lay motionless on my front lawn, came back the next day as The Big Bopper. His finale: still-bloody hawk’s eyes on the porch, blazing with rapt gaze. I could, if I looked closely enough, almost find my husband in their pupils. He sat somewhere nearby, talons sunk tight around a branch, blind and alone.
I shave everywhere three times a day except my upper lip
because I want to look like a sea lion. I want to look like a sea lion because everyone loves sea lions, and if I could pretend to be one I would have an excuse to balance a ball on the tip of my nose. I want to balance a ball on the tip of my nose because that is a skill very few creatures have, and skills that very few creatures have are lucrative if marketed well.
I go to a market after shaving, to learn how to market well. All I find are fish. I eat some with the bones and all. The fishmongers clap for me and are amazed I do not choke. I think that maybe all my shaving is turning me into a sea lion at last. I stay at the market all day, to practice not choking. The next day I return, and the next, and the next too. Soon I grow fat like a sea lion.
I go to the park and watch the dogs, to learn how to bark. I think that a dog’s bark and a sea lion’s bark are so similar that one must have copied the other. I practice my barking at the park, with the dogs, and they look at me funny. I shave one, to see if a sea lion is underneath. It is not.
I go to the ocean, where I submerge myself at intervals. I practice my fish swallowing. A couple appears and takes photos of me, practicing my fish swallowing on a medium fish. I practice shaving with sharp rocks and I talk to the other sea lions. None of them balance balls on their noses. They look at me funny when I say words like lucrative or marketing, so I bark at them instead. When I bark, they do not look at me funny. This makes me happy, so I decide to forget English altogether.
Ted wants your birds. They are for his children: Ted’s children are worms. They did not start this way. Ted’s children drink bird’s blood. This is how they became worms.
Ted’s family lives in a pile of bread crumbs. He imagines he manages an imaginary menagerie. Ted has never imagined doing anything else. His father manages a more successfully imagined menagerie.
Ted’s worms think Ted is a failure. You are a failure, they say in unison.
Ted’s worms paint their bread crumb pile with bird’s blood. The bread crumbs sing a bird song and the worms sing along. Ted does not know the words to the bird song. The worms know the words and everything else Ted does not. Ted does not know he is imaginary. The worms have created him out of branches. Ted is a portal for bird’s blood. He cannot exist without your birds.
Ted needs your birds.
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The Professorial Anteater Rises Above and Beyond His Working-Class Background by Justin Brouckaert
(originally published September 21, 2020)
“Consider the anteater,” the Professorial Anteater says, in front of a class of hundreds for the first time. His voice, too nasally, is lost inside the hallowed walls of the hallowed hall. The pointer slips from his long foreclaws & a single drop of sweat stains the collar of his newly-fitted suit.
The Modern City Anteater is Nocturnal
He imports his ants—fresh, not frozen. He eats them with a glass of wine, a book of poetry, Tchaikovsky on the record player he wishes was antique, an inheritance from a grandfather who might have taught him to lower the needle with grace. The Modern City Anteater paints best in silence, lives best in the quiet hours before dawn, before he sleeps through the bright day & wakes to meals delivered to his doorstep without fail, express from Colombia or Brazil. For nights on end, the Modern City Anteater loses himself in his work, productive in the absence of human noise—so productive, in fact, he occasionally wakes in the early evening to an empty porch, realizing with dread he’s mismanaged his deliveries, that in his flurry of creative output he’s forgotten to renew his order of imported ants. The Modern City Anteater considers drunkenness unfashionable, but on the nights he must lumber outside to his apartment courtyard’s one small patch of grass & forage for sour insects in the city-tainted soil, the Modern City Anteater drinks to forget.
The Suburban Anteater Dad is, at Worst, a Serviceable Youth Basketball Coach & a Middling Sculptor of Impressionable Young Minds
He doesn’t yell, at least—not when the young men launch reckless 3-pointers mere seconds into possessions, not when they mock his inability to properly demonstrate a bounce pass. When his guidance is met with insult, he takes the offending young player aside & addresses him with patience & respect. Do not as I do, nor as I say. But ask yourself: How would I feel if my team only remembered me for this one single act? The Suburban Anteater Dad places both claws on the young player’s shoulders and stares into his eyes. Ask yourself: How would I feel about this act defining me? says the Suburban Anteater Dad. My family, my species, my place in the world?
The Young Anteater is Uncomfortable in His Body
He dulls his claws & folds them to his wrists, wishes they’d retract. He trims & clips his brush feather tail. He Googles edentate, opens & closes the tip of his snout, dreaming of what it means to chew. The Young Anteater is embarrassed to run outside. He spends evening after evening lumbering on the treadmill’s slowest speed, knuckles pocking rubber. The Young Anteater is portly. The Young Anteater wears glasses that never stay up. It is no laughing matter—many young anteaters never learn to laugh.
The Angry Giant Anteater Takes the Subway
His every step is a dare, a reminder of his size, how much of this small space could be his if he wanted. When young men in baseball caps stare too long, so lithe & smooth & tiny, he hooks them by their ear buds & yanks the cord from their phones. What the fuck do I look like to you? he asks. An anteater, they say. The Angry Giant Anteater lifts himself off the gum-stuck floor & flexes. You’re goddamn right.
The Bachelor Anteater is Capable of Love, Though He Rarely Pursues It
His friends & coworkers mate for life, but the Bachelor Anteater can’t break from his hardwired custom—or he can’t find the one to break it with. His affairs are brief, though not meaningless. Afterward, as she drifts to sleep in his apartment, he lies awake imagining the weight of a newborn on his back. Juvenile claw marks on the furniture, coarse hair sheared short or dyed in rebellion. He dreams of a different routine—the bed shifting with the familiar mass of another slowly climbing up to meet him. It’s wrong to feel this way, the Bachelor Anteater knows, but worse to feel it alone. He plans to tell her when she wakes, to risk himself, finally sharing the twin burdens of doubt & hope that haunt him, but when he opens his eyes to sunlight, she is gone, leaving nothing but her imprint in the mattress.
Good Christians Want to Save the Scaly Anteater, the Anteater’s Cousin, Who is Hardly an Anteater at All
God’s finest handiwork, they call him—the lurching, cat-sized pine cone. The tiny, toothless dog dragon. The shingled dinosaur that stumbles, ungodly, on its two hind legs.
The Scaly Anteater wanders foreign cities in search of kinship. We can help you find others, whisper cruel, sinful men from the shadows of their stores. We can tell you where.
When he’s easily pried from his scaly ball—an impenetrable defense against lions & tigers, predators without tools—and sees the pot of water to boil his scales, the knives to pierce him, the vials to hold his blood; & when he imagines how the cruel, sinful men will sell his body, the ways he will be crushed & inhaled as aphrodisiac & cure, the Scaly Anteater, for the first time, tries to pray.
The Impoverished Anteater Isn’t Proud of his Past
Though he misses the power of standing so tall, propped against his brick wall in his alley, customers completely reliant. He misses controlling their bodies. He misses knowing his dope was surfing through their bloodstreams. He misses staring the men away from his tail, the way they looked at him when they realized he, only he, could make them whole.
The Country Anteater Finds Peace
It’s not true the air is clean—he can still smell fire across the savannah—but he finds comfort in the fresh, pure dirt that flavors his meals: mounds of wild termites he crushes & swallows, ant hills he rips open with his claws. He is happy & he is alone, one anteater body in a massive world, & despite the lurking predators, he’s not afraid. When the night is soft & the space is wide, he toes his own invented line & begins to amble, at first with blissful leisure, then picking up speed, faster, faster yet, as fast as he’s ever moved, his claws churning dirt, eucalyptus and baobab blurring in his periphery, faster, he is sure, than any man or beast has ever moved, a speed he is sure he wasn’t meant to reach & he is certain, in that moment, as he breaks the laws that once ruled his body, that he runs with flawless form.