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Black Swan Green, by David Mitchell


Do not set foot in my office. That’s dad’s rule. But the phone’d rung twenty-five times. So I went in. But the person on the other end didn’t answer.

The last six steps I took in one death-defying bound. We crossed the crossroads by Black Swan and went into the woods. The lake in the woods was epic. Granddad’s Omega’d never once gone wrong in four decades. In less than a fortnight, I’d killed it.

Powdery moonlight lit the attic room through the snowflake-lace curtain.
Her windpipe bulges as her soul squeezes out of her heart.
A silent roaring hangs here.
Not going anywhere.

Hugo received my telepathic signal and looked up at me. I half-waved. Hugo wore a thin leather cord around his neck. I wanted one.

A pause. Wrong numbers and crossed lines happen all the time. Don’t they? Short pause.

In came the hot gassy dirt. My lungs flooded with it. The smoke leaked out, a genie from its bottle. “And that,” said Hugo, “is all there is to it.” The first torrent of vomit kicked a GUUURRRRRR noise out of me and poured on the muddy grass. But Hugo’s not even looking at me. My cousin’s sobbing with laughter.

In my parent’s creamy bedroom I sat at Mum’s dressing table, spiked my hair with L’Oreal hair mousse, daubed an Adam Ant strip across my face, and held her opal brooch over one eye. I looked through it at the sun for secret colors nobody’s ever named.

“Thirteen,” I said, guessing he thought I was still twelve.
“Thirteen, are you? That a fact?”
“Thirteen. Ancient.”

New leaves oozed from twigs in the hedges.
Seeds thickened the air, like sweet gravy.
Dewy cobwebs snaptwanged cross my face.
Hate smells of burnt dead fireworks.

A vaportrail gashed the sky.
But the sky healed itself. Without fuss.
The crows’ beaks were daggers. Their oily eyes had cruel plans.
Rain turned the world to whites and grays.
I’ve never kissed anyone.
Dawn Madden’s eyes are dark honey.
The tulips are black plum, emulsion white, and yolky gold.
Were Mum and Dad ever like this, once upon a time?

The wind riffled the ten thousand pages of the oak tree.
The old lady’s rivery eyeballs chased the words across the pages.
She jabbed my heart.
Once a poem’s left home it doesn’t care about you.
The poem is a raid on the inarticulate.

Beauty is immune to definition. When beauty is present, you know. Winter sunrise in dirty Toronto, one’s new lover in an old cafe, sinister magpies on a roof. Beauty is.

Druggy pom-pom bees hovered in the lavender.
A July afternoon yawned.

Cars’re rooms. So are woods. Skies’re ceilings. Distances’re walls.
Wombs’re rooms made of mothers. Graves’re rooms made of soil.

That music was swelling. A bored dog barked a garden or two away.
I lay back on the armless sofa. I’ve never listened to music lying down.
Listening’s reading if you close your eyes. Music’s a wood you walk through.

I sucked Mint Imperials in case I met a suntanned girl who’d take me upstairs to one of those saggy houses with seagulls screaming on the ridges, and draw her curtains and lie me on her bed and teach me how to kiss. The coins in my cagged fist rattled like silver bullets. Space Invaders first. Then I saw this lush girl. Magnets don’t need to understand magnatism. I took a long piss, wondering if girls’d like me more if I had more scars. Which girl’s carrying the other half of my kid, deep inside those intricate loops? What’s she doing right now? What’s her name?

I smiled back.

It’s epic being up at the crack of dawn. A red setter raced ghost-dogs through the bellyflopping waves on the shore.
Do spirals end? Or just get so tiny your eyes can’t follow anymore?

“Only total space cadets say ‘epic’ anymore.”

Grimy windows rectangled misty gloom. The exact color of boredom.
Too heavy and too gray not to turn into rain. Autumn’s fungussy, berries’re manky, leaves’re rusting, V’s of long-distnace birds’re crossing the sky, evenings’re smoky, nights’re cold, autumn’s nearly dead.

Photos’re better than nothing, but things’re better than photos ’cause the things themselves were part of what was there.

Julia received my telepathic signal and looked up at me. I half-waved.
“Much louder without carpets and curtains, isn’t it?”
The echoey house asked its far corners but no answer rebounded back.
“It’ll be alright in the end, Jace.”
“It doesn’t feel very all right.”
“That’s because it’s not the end.”


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