East of Eden

East of Eden

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Marc Vincenz has published over thirty books of poetry, fiction, and translation. His recent poetry collections include The Little Book of Earthly Delights, There Might Be a Moon or a Dog, and A Splash of Cave Paint; his newest, The Pearl Diver of Irunmani, is just out from White Pine Press. His work has been published in The Nation, Ploughshares, Raritan, among many other journals. He is publisher and editor of MadHat Press and publisher of New American Writing. 


East of Eden

From WTP Vol. XI #2

To the Outer Banks

Trudy’s cousin, Adogo, had one of those old tin jalopies with twin outboard engines and flew like a swift along the Irrawaddy Delta. We roared past the coal-soaked islands in the bay where the palm trees wept black. You’d brought the last of your champagne and your pickled herring, freshly baked bread and handmade butter. You were brimming in surprises. “And you won’t believe what’s next,” you said as the craft rushed into the inlet. Minnows were nipping at the surface. “Strawberries and cream,” you said. Of course, the strawberries were canned and the cream was a little sour, but we whetted our lips with them all the same. The island we landed they call the Island of Purity, mostly a destination for enthusiastic tourists in flamingo-pink hats. You entered through a tunnel into this encapsulated garden. Even the beach down on the shore was an enthusiastic, unbleached, natural tan. 

“The scrubbers,” sang Adogo, laying out the tartan beach blanket. “Dirt imported from the Far East, or so I understand,” he crooned, pouring the champagne. 

That night we ate under a cloudless sky staring at the vastness, and thanked our blessings for our taste buds, for our non-cathartic eyes, the sensitivity of our fingertips, for the winking moon, for being luxuriated in this cleanly cleaned world.

The Storms We Keep

“If it’s about work, don’t come to me,” Trudy said, washing her fingers in foamy soap. It was one of those dark and stormy nights. The world was awhirl behind our walls and within me. I knew she had a head like a fish concentrating on getting the job done tout de suite, so I was inclined to angle for advice. “Salmon is in the oven for dinner,” she said, turning her grimace into a smile. It was as if an ancient Mesopotamian god had smashed a gong. 

(The jazz was always in there working its way out. And, of course the mackerel were there nipping at my heels, anchovies at my knees; there were moray eels wrapping themselves around my waist and pipefish skimming my neck for morsels of old vocalizations.) 

And we ate, in silence, listening to each other’s jaws mashing all that incriminating evidence.

The Marriage of Gin and Teriyaki

By the river at one of those skewer places, down near the Greek Emporium (it’s the same spot Camilla goes to buy her shoes) you propose after all these years, make a toast to absent mothers, float yourself above the smog and into the turquoise, the between-spaces, then a steady but swift descent like the spinning whirligigs, you kiss me on the edge of my lip. No ring, as such, but a dribble of pork slathered in peanut sauce.

Up the Sliding Scale

At best it lifts the real self-professed up the jolt and jar into the manager position, where for an instant they can swivel and survey the workshop floor, the backhanders and backslaps, the nudges and the eye-fray; like kestrels in the yard, and over the laundry line, at the steep incline up into the meadow, a mouse leaps clump to clump thinking he is in the know; and when she swoops in for the kill, how sharp are her eyes, her talented talons; at least this is how she thinks of herself; competition too may be borne on the work floor, in the lavatories, in the canteen, behind the factory, below the fire exit, or on rainy days at the corner of the delivery lot.

Slip of the Forethumb

Some paper somewhere in a sheaf of others—others somewhere in the shadow of others, even those with snarling edges and crumpled corners turning over upon themselves—was my resignation. The sub-manager handled them like cards. He might have been a croupier in a Las Vegas casino. He shuffled me out in seconds and stood me in front of the air conditioner. He breathed into my neck and I could smell his cheap cologne. It was sweet and sour at the same time and found its way to your nostril hairs and made your stomach turn. “Enough is enough,” he said, “you, comrade, dwell within a tin-roofed shack where all the meaning resides. We do not accept your resignation. Unconditionally.” At this point, I was shown into the antechamber. Seventeen others sat in their flexible orange chairs all bubbling up, all waiting for their own sheaf of paper. Somewhere across the rooftops, I smelled wonton soup and it carried me elsewhere, to the shores of ancient Cathay where under a spell, a young woman lowered her parasol for an instant to witness the power of the sun. 

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