5.2: breached surfaces | Richard Wayne Horton — poetry, flash fiction, & hybrid proseforms
WALKING TO DALLAS (unpublished chapbook)
At the horizon rooftops
Jitter angles angels
On noisy wheels of light
Oh sweet arrival
Play backwards gospel
Racket and roll
I found this map in an attic
From the window I looked down
At the road drilled by cars
And beyond its metal blood
The long low ups and downs
Of grass, the more and the less
Till pink and blue house boxes
Rode the wave of the hill
Above dinosaur bones
At roadside I hop a fence
And heel down the slope
To a creek crack cut
In grass-natural as dragonflies
Flick here and are gone
I walk among bleach trinkets while
Green-eyed water argues routes
Beneath the concrete utopia
It’s older here
I crawl into a side-tunnel
That squeezes my ribs
Till I reach light
Beneath an iron grating at curbside
Dogs bark A ball bounces
A car rushes by, its radio spilling AM
“…drivin me outa my miiiiind…”
I go back, worm-ooch
To the bigger tunnel
Follow it to the opening at the creek
Crawl out to walk along limestone shelves
Watch out Watch for surfaces
Water Air Wall Wallop
I look up at empty skies
They’re an invasion route
A 7-mile high flash silver cumulus
Comes walking on threads of rain
What have I called?
Two Inside, outside Terror
If I am both
What I see is as much me
As my bones
I did not make Dallas up
I am Dallas
If I am both of two
I fall into the earth
On water On air
In the narthex I see
White steps to the choir loft
As the churchdoor coasts closed
And shut off the ratchet
Of earth movers
In the housing development nearby
The pop of hammers
Chalk dust rising whine of a saw
I enter the cool dark kissed
At the door by holy water
Behold the nave the cave
Cave canem beware the god
The votive candle pleromas
Dispute precedence each
More lonely more only
Than the others
Who are all pretenders
Knee on the kneeler
Earlier I walked
A mile and a half
To buy a 49-cent paperback
On the cover Raskolnikov
Smoke darkened ikon of a murderer
I’ve killed the place I’m going
But will still go
And dare it
STICKS & BONES (Meat For Tea Press, 2017)
I walk through the carpeted living room with its dusty closed blinds and Dad’s desk pushed against the window trapping the blinds that can’t open now when you pull their strings. The lamp with a bad posture looks over insurance ledgers.
There’s a heavy wet smell of heated canned corn and canned spinach. Pork chops have been hurt badly. The food is in its final stages now, the corn glistening in a pool of pale yellow juice from the can, which is in the trash, already thrown away. The spinach is a lonely wet pile with the pork chop bone poking it grotesquely.
Ha! Ha! Ha! From the TV den, dad raring back laughing so hard it gets his cigarette cough going. Kah! Kah! Hand on his mouth, forehead bunched.
Mom inserts a potato chip in her mouth and the mouth mashes down, moves from side to side as the chip is crushed and macerated. A wave travels down her throat as she swallows. Her eyes stare like those of a doll. On the TV, a red nosed clown walks into a pole.
I sit down to eat. My face, a pimpled harvest moon, hangs over the plate. The food wonders if I’ll abandon it. The trash can is an approaching open mouth.
There’s a dog at my feet, whimpering, peeing in ecstacy, its tail beating the floor. I drop my hand to its ears, and it goes insane with joy.
I’ve given this account of things to my high school counsellor, who remarks in amazement, “These confessions are a cry in the dark! This is it! The lode! So long I’ve wanted to save you, and now, boy, you’ve come clean!”
On the way home, the school bus crashes. I don’t know if I should include that in this essay.
ILLNESS OF THE PIONEERS
Doctors assign the name “schistic rigor” to the condition of a settler, a Missourian perhaps, who experiences the misfortune of hearing a joke.
The first symptom is “okurancy”:
the settler eyes the joker, amazed at the pretentiousness of speech itself. He is already doomed. The joke has settled in his blood.
The second symptom is “translation,” usually manifested as animal torture.
The settler, with mouth awry and eyes starting from his head, seizes some heretofore favored pet, visits some unspeakable torment upon it, and proceeds to the next stage of his illness, rigor itself, accompanied by gustatory schisis, popularly known as laughter.
The horrified family drags the returning breadwinner from the wagon, binds him to a kitchen chair, and applies caustic poultices, until his symptoms abate.
It is expected that he will then try to infect his family by retelling the joke. They begin loudly singing hymns while holding their ears.
Hard as it is to believe,
“joking saloons” have recently been established
in some towns.
ARTISTS IN THE UNDERWORLD (Human Error Publishing, 2019)
“Your granddaddy is a fussy, snooty man. He didn’t want your mama marrying your daddy back in nineteen hundred forty three. They all lived in a big mansion in town and we were trash to them.”
“The Big House?”
“Yealt! I had come up with your mama from San Antone where your daddy had met her at the Air Force commissary.
Your granddaddy didn’t even want to let us in the door. Your mama was 17 and had already been married and divorced once. They were Catholic so to them that meant she was ruined.
“We had walked from the bus station downtown and we were tired. The old man stuck his head out the door and said every blamed room in the house was taken by your aunts and uncles who were still teenagers living at home.
“While he was holding the screen door open, talking, I took my taped up suitcase and turned around and started walking past the bird bath in the front yard toward the curb,
“And that made him shout, ‘Here, now! Here, now! You just come on back hyah! We’ll put you up somehow! Where did you think you were going?’
“So there he was yelling at us.
“And all the Hunts, you know, have persimmon mouths, pressed together and turned down. Even when they smile, it looks bitter.
“So there we were, moved into the house, but they didn’t like it.
“When we took a bath later that first night, Mammaw told us not to run more than an inch of water in the tub, and both of us try to clean up in that. All the kids bathed that way, to keep the water bill down.
“Your daddy wasn’t due home on leave for another week and all during that time the Hunts tried to convert your mama so the Church would let her marry a Catholic, but she wouldn’t convert.
“The old man said he wouldn’t mind if we cleaned the house a little bit while we were just sittn’ around wait’n, but he found fault with everything I did.
“Now listen here! I cleaned house for rich bastards all through the nineteen thirties when your mama had to live in an orphanage because as hard as I worked,
“I couldn’t feed my kids.
“One day your dad walked up the front walk in his uniform,
carrying a duffel bag. The next day at the church the priest refused to do the marriage.
“Immediately the Hunts jumped on us and yelled, ‘No! No! No! Don’t get a civil marriage without God!’ But the courthouse is exactly where your mama took your daddy.
“They had to walk there because the old man wouldn’t let them use the car. They came home married and the Hunts gave them goggly frog eyes and made persimmon mouths.
“At the end of the week your daddy had to report back for duty, and your mama and I were forced to stay with the Hunts for the rest of the war.
“we could have gone overseas and got shot instead.
“Now just suppose…
“That a forty-one year old woman whose blond hair had turned brown, on its way to turning gray,
“Should decide one day to go sit on a park bench with a good view of the street, and should wait there
“’Till she saw an expensive but very old car come poking along ten miles under the speed limit because the prissy 45 year old man driving it didn’t want to waste gas.
“Suppose that when she saw this car,
“The woman opened her purse and took out a pistol,
“Then waited till the car slowww-ly turned the corner,
“Then pointed the gun at the back window, and shot a hole in it,
“As the car pulled caaaarefully over to the curb and parked, observing all the parking regulations.
“Wouldn’t that be a fine way
for a forty one year old WORKIN WOMAN…
“To spend her lunch break?”
DREAM IN WHICH QUEENIE THE DOG GOES COMMUNIST
Note to dog lovers: Queenie the dog recovered from the dog bites she got from Bet, the other dog. She didn’t become a Communist. Now quit thinking that. Dreams are dreams.
The man on the radio in the living room sounds scared, trying to talk quiet like he’s in hiding. His words come like pebbles against a window.
“The Reds have almost got us now. They’re everywhere.
“They’re walking into your living room right now, looking at the sign on the wall that says God Bless This Happy
Home and reaching for it to rip it down and stomp it with jack boots.
“They’re sick with rage, mad, rabid.
“Rabid dogs, that’s what they are!
“They arrived in the night while you slept. They came on transport trucks. Mad dogs!
“They could be anyone.
“Your neighbors could have turned in the night and decided to greet the dawn as Communists!”
Robby’s sitting in the living room at David’s house. The spring on the screen door came loose and the door hangs open. Chickens walk around outside worrying the hot red dust, scratching and pecking. Edna, David’s mama is in the kitchen making biscuits.
David walks in the door with the .22.
“I almost got that rabbit, but he hopped just as I was shootn!”
He falls on the other couch.
“Whoo, it’s hot! Look at Queenie! She’s so hot she’s about to fall over! Here, Queenie! Here, girl!”
Robby looks at the doorway where Queenie has just struggled in. A second look. Queenie isn’t right. She stands swaying and red-eyed next to the screen door, strings of saliva dripping from her mouth.
The radio guy says, “A new day!
“A new day…
“As a Communist!”
Queenie ignores David, her old master, and takes a trembling step toward Robby, falls over, gets up. The red meat of her right hind leg is exposed. She’s too giddy to lick it, and parasites have come, maggots, come to suck the sweet tit of decadence. As she sways and stumbles toward him, he climbs up and perches on top of the couch back. She moves closer.
The radio guy says, “They move in…
“For a meaningful discussion.
“That’s what they say it is. ‘Just a meaningful discussion, pal!’
In the kitchen, Edna pulls down the oven door. The biscuits look up at her,
Waiting for instructions.
BALLET FOR MURDERERS (2021, Human Error Publishing, 2021)
THE MURDERER MEETS THE TERRIBLE CHILD
The murderer has outwitted his pursuers. He sits on a gravestone as the sun rises one more time over the cemetery.
He starts hearing a voice nearby. There’s a kid out there messing around among the stones, talking to himself.
“My parents are being good today. They came out earlier to watch me. I told them the conditions were right. But they only shrugged.
“I have special gifts!
“I can push subtly upward and float above the grass between the stones. You stones! See how I surmount you? Now I permit myself to drift to earth. I don’t have to, but I choose it. I’ll walk to the house and climb the steps just as a normal child would do.”
The Murderer listens. The kid makes a quiet ratcheting sound. The Murderer thinks it might be laughter.
“I will impress my parents. See? I’m stepping off the top step and floating outward continuing to make walking motions. Hah! Steps are not for me!
“My parents–what are they doing? They’re walking back into the house!
“IS THAT HOUSE BETTER THAN ME? IT IS A GRAVE, DO YOU HEAR?
“They’re gone now, but still I hang in the air. They can’t stop me! Slowly I rotate forward. Rotate. Revolve. Revolution. The rule of revolution is that you cannot look into the sky when it is below you,
“Or it will become hungry.
“You’re still here. You don’t ignore me as my parents do. Come with me. I’ll show you something. Oh, I’m so excited!
“Now we’re on a hill. Look where I’m pointing! A panorama! There are fields over there full of wheat. Take my hand.
We step from the hilltop and now we’re flying!
“As long as you clutch some part of me, you won’t fall to your death.
“You didn’t know that, did you?
“Let’s play a game! What if I were to become like a cloud and start to dissolve?
“Yes, hold on tighter. I like that we’re better friends now.
“We’re passing over the wheat, very low. I brush my hand against it. See? Like that! Now I will show you an orchard.
Do you like peaches and apples? We will drift among the trees. Try to pick an apple! I can!
“What have you done? You’re clinging to that tree! You’ve broken contact! Now you’ll miss it! You look silly back there hugging a branch. Good-bye. You were a bad friend, and now you won’t get to go over the cliff with me.
“Now I’m going over the cliff!
“There is a deep blue space below. If I were a normal child I would be afraid. Being afraid might be fun. But it’s not for me.
“The expanding shape below is fascinating. Now I see the sparkle of the waves. Oh, look! Rocks! I’ll stop just short of them and begin slowly
“I wonder what it would feel like if I were to swallow the earth.
“Hello there, you walking on the beach. Should I swallow it? No?
“I’ll rise now and go home. I had a conversation! Oh, I’m so sociable!
“Here I am again at the orchard. The wanderer’s return. Look who I’ve found! You’re still here, bad friend!
“You used to be a murderer.
“If you knew all the things I’ve been, you would be impressed.
“I know where there’s a path to lower places. Come with me. This is fun! Come on!
“I will allow no more disobedience!
“I must say, for a murderer, you’re awfully frightened.”
IN THE LOWER PLACES
Now, reader, you will hear with surprise an account of the Murderer’s progress in the lower places where his guide, the Terrible Child, impresses him with his special abilities to pass through stone or metal walls by merely leaning against them till they submit.
Also through fires do the two souls venture,
They come at length to a chamber where ardants, or eyes, or little flames innumerable,
circle in a gallery. Or perhaps their circling itself is the gallery.
Or perhaps there is no gallery.
The Terrible Child remarks, “I have joined their rout at times and made to eat them, but they had no taste or meaning.”
At that, the Murderer says, “I will go to them.”
The Terrible Child says, “Take my hand then.”
They rise and join the rout, the Terrible Child indifferent but the Murderer possessed, for the ardants are portals.
They are souls. They are love. They are knowledge. They are eyes.
They have found him.
He has found his downfall.
Eternal love for what he has killed.
Ballet for Murderers by Richard Wayne Horton
My recent direction has been toward shorter proseforms with strongly focused speech dynamics.
Most of the poems in the my new, unpublished chapbook, WALKING TO DALLAS, are a reimagining and reframing of two long Dallas poems that I’ve been composing since the 1960s. I’ve published transitional versions of these two root poems, but the first and last poems in the chapbook featured in diaphanous micro 5.2 are newly created. The second poem, also featured above, imports some lines from its root poem, but is substantially expanded.
My first chapbook, STICKS & BONES, serves as an introduction to the genres and moods I’ve explored since the 1970s, which are often dark or absurdly funny. From the first, I played opposites–rich resonance achieved with the sparest of language. My work has become increasingly short, not as a goal in itself, but because explanatory prose is an unwanted invasion. When I stopped using it, the voice took over and the important parts of the piece moved forward.
ARTISTS IN THE UNDERWORLD, my second book, is essentially two books. The first, ARTISTS…etc., is a set of published dark genre short stories. I think they’re kickin’, but the second book, A LONG MOMENT IN THE SOUTH, is what interests me more. The flash fiction units are chronologically arranged (early to mid-1950s), and the reader begins to know the characters as the set moves on. Voice is once again completely in control, and side stories or events in the subconscious can sometimes be implied without words, which makes the piece more insidious.
My third book, BALLET FOR MURDERERS, is told in short prose poetry units, and set in 1950s to 1970s America. In the 17th century a penny ballad, sometimes alternately spelled “ballet,” the kind sold on the street, might tell in verse a simple story of a thief or murderer pursued through many an adventure until finally “attached” (taken into custody) by authorities. I wanted that simplicity, even crudeness of narration, but with a downfall more apt than corporal punishment.
KRYSIA JOPEK interviews Richard Wayne Horton:
When did you begin writing and publishing? What was your initial genre?
I began writing in the late 1950s, just to play around and try things. In the 1960s I developed a grabby kind of realist style, using it on journal entries. I spent the entire decade of the 1970s at UT Austin experimenting with all genres and lengths. In 1976, I connected with a set of gonzo Austin absurdist and late Beat poets, and began publishing poems and short prose around town and in little lits. I did write longer stories but often broke them up into titled micro-chapter-like sections, each with its own pop. I was trending toward what would later be called flash fiction or micro-fiction. It seemed like my poems were really stories in lines, so I either put them aside or reformatted them. I keep junkersand promising torsos around for years, picking at them ’til they finally decide to pop.
I’m curious how you know when you’ll write a poem versus hybrid or fiction. Is it just intuitive, organic (content fitting form)?
The piece manifests in the form that’s organically right for it. I shepherd that along. Maybe “the voice” writes the piece, and I let it have its way. Maybe I ride the voice or channel it. When I write line poetry, it’s because I want to build connections with shorter units. A set of lines could be called an event unit. A space between event units creates a pause to let the event arrive, or to transition. Some event units can be quite long. Others can be only one line, or even one word. There are poems of which I’ve fashioned both a prose version and a line version. I have prose poems arranged in event units: blocks of prose separated by blank lines.
When did you find yourself drawn to writing hybrid and why?
In the 1980s, I began being impatient with stories that were only stories. I joke in one of my pieces: the point is not the point. But I also came to despise form and artful language for its own sake. The piece as it plays out has to activate something outside itself, some unstated dynamic in the reader. In recent years I’ve had a discussion with Joshua Michael Stewart about what my short prose pieces can be called. Flash fiction? Prose poetry? A hybrid of poetry and prose? The language is flensed, bone-like, like that of poetry, but clean as it is, it carries an attitude and sets up a rich, often hyperreal event with cinematic imagery, dialogue and action; something that seems like it’s happening right next to the reader.
Can you describe your writing process from idea to finished piece of writing? What are your “writing habits”?
I compose in every free moment when I’ve got an idea or project. Otherwise I read or check social media. I cannot write from prompts. In a sense, I don’t make pieces up, and I certainly don’t use imported plot structures such as might be taught in a course. Perhaps I hear news or gossip that suggests a piece, or I take a trip to deep memory, bring back an incident, and fashion it into a piece of writing. I wouldn’t relate to a teacher’s composition idea, but if I had to, I could find a similar idea that I could develop. It could be that I might break all of the above rules if I suddenly discovered an open path to create a piece I really like. Rules are not for obeying. They’re for understanding what might be done.
What authors have influenced your writing and how so?
King James Bible–beautiful craziness in golden age English. I read it many times for the language and archetypes. I’ve continued to think of the creation story through the lens of Platonism, Gnosticism, Seneca, Ovid, and Jung.
Poe, Stoker, and pulp horror mags–fun with Eldrich lingo and drama. Crudely effective spotlighting.
Whitman–-narrator talking intimately to the reader.
Hemingway–taking clutter and pose-prose out of the telling: foregrounding the act and talk. Collateral damage for Hemingway: his own poses are fairly plain.
Spillaine, Hammett, Bloch, Cabrera-Infante–clean tough action lingo. Hammett and Hemingway met in Hollywood in the late 1930s. It’s unclear who influenced the other the most.
Benn–pathology shock poetry, a kick-in-the-head thing I’ve played with in a couple of my pieces.
Trakl–color and image-coding combined with unexpected richness that makes it through the chopping knives of his editing.
How has the publishing world changed from the beginning or your writing career? What do you think about these changes?
It seemed to me, as a frequently-rejected writer in the 1970s that U.S. poetry in many prestigious journals tried very hard not to be likeable. Snarling in my writer’s garret, I pointed to the arid, impeccably-crafted, prize-winning poem with its touches of gentry humor, then the critical squib afterward, while pretending something deeply moving had taken place in the poem.
Though I sometimes laughed at the excesses of my Beat and absurdist poet friends in Austin, I hopped aboard their movement to get around the blockage and find a home for my outsider lit. Life goes on. I think the Beat movement really stimulated a rising acceptance of diverse modes of expression and engagement in U.S. journals, even prestigious ones. Some still have a house style, or they favor a style exhibiting markers of writing degree programs, but alternative venues are not hard to find. Gotta keep your day job, though.
What are you trying for as a writer?
Voice truth, which forms both a subliminal and material connection with the reader.
Richard Wayne Horton writes short prose, hybrid forms, and poetry that sometimes have a hyperrealist, surrealist, or gothic feeling. He was nominated for two Pushcart prizes and is the 2019-21 Massachusetts Beat Poet Laureate. He has published three books: Sticks & Bones (Meat for Tea Press, 2017), Artists in the Underworld (Human Error Publishing, 2019) and Ballet for Murderers (Human Error Publishing, 2021). His work has appeared in Southern Pacific Review, The Dead Mule, Meat for Tea, Bull & Cross, Danse Macabre du Jour as well as in other journals. He currently resides in Western Massachusetts
Richard can be contacted via Facebook: www.facebook.com/people/Richard-Wayne-Horton/100010550442058/