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Three Prose Poems by Carolyne Mistake

Viennese Tourism In The Off Season

Step off bus 9pm quiet shivery, streets as empty as a threat as electric
as a premonition, new country Austria, no place yet to sleep but looking--
buildings High Gothic forever goose-stepping out of line of tanks, history
gone missing, eggy moon haloed glowing through thin clouds.
I'm festering, scattered and undetermined -- full bladder filling the space
where my spirit of adventure normally sits. U-Bahn station, West Vienna,
bathroom free and open, harmless and normal and behind a door of infinity.

Inside the wrists of the city are slit and eternal.

Blood on the walls dripping dripping sprayed a mist
blood on tiles wadded soggy paper crusted bloated bloated
in the sink yellow sticky something needles wrappers
in the toilet blood syringes blood a future blood disease
on the mirror smeared hope smeared past blood blood

Door opens, universe halted, eyes span room and new reality, I walk in exploded
this is life somewhere, this is everyday people for someone and maybe
I just missed a murder, maybe the body was just dragged off, maybe there is
an old friend convulsing on harsh Viennese sidewalk somewhere, hiding
from the neon, tucked away behind the subway station, U-Bahn,
maybe it's hard for people to be ok ok in a world so pockmarked with history.

Streets outside glowing hot pink and green, soft
neon, deep sea florescents pooling through thick night air.
Inside somehow darker. Inside walls collapsing with heavy fate rupturing
pipes and weeping through led paint.

The door tin dented like kicked like fought like locked in
my blank stare back at myself, pants down, squatting don't sit don't even look!
Needles by my feet needles piercing pupils staring staring can't stop looking

Vienna what have you done to yourself?
Vienna where are your girls?
Is your washroom breeding Bolsheviks or viruses, heroes or heroin addicts?

Blood sticking to sneakers seeping in through rubber sticking spots
red red black red damp crusting fresh old--

Outside the prostitutes shiver under early March street lights,
cars driving by, no one honks, not even whistles,
high heels click like calling a horse, click like
not running away, click like light switches turning on
in subway station bathrooms, thousands of hidden realities in this dark Spring.

Because Humans are Still Evolving
    For Chris and Amy, wherever they are.

        I Can't pretend to understand the details
        but one day the Neanderthals shed all their hair
        and stood bald and squinting at the too-bright sun
        they'd never get used to.
        And thus was birthed Homo-Sapien, esquire.

                I was 15.

I don't remember the entire story but
they had told me they were confused and heart
broken about life and so hid in the basement
of the public library, squinting under
the neon lights that buzzed incessantly at a pitch
that could just as easily been imagined
or a result of too much wax build up
so all you could do was twitch in annoyed confusion.
They wandered haphazardly through aisles,
and at one point Chris stopped, wondered
what the hell he was doing with his life,
how he came to be this pale skinny Animalish
twitching with watery eyes under something
    so unreal it was almost
and a book dropped.  Some philosophy book or
something someone had once considered Gospel,
maybe something by Marx or Ginsberg or
Whothehellcaresanyway, and he opened it up
to  some page only he remembers and the line was
the answer they needed, a fall-out shelter of
mishmashed syllables spread across the page
like an encrypted Ovaltine message his eyes,
in the anomaly of basement sunshine,
could somehow decode.

I was so jealous.  I had two black eyes and the reason
they told me the story was to say I neded
to change the way I looked for answers,
to stopp roaming the streets late at night and maybe to stop
ending up at their doorway at 3am still drenched in
midnight rain and unexplained tear and I was so, so
angry at the world for not being flat enough to walk off.
I used to hide my head under my coat at lunch I used to
walk around like a corpse hoping people would
get confused.  But they never did and I --
    But life is too short to backtrack over everything.

    This may be a flashing of forwardness but
        last summer I tried to ride my bike off the edge
        of the world.
I used to be scared that I may not die trying because
even my last moments would have been shadow.
So in California there was this one spot where the highway
curled itself into the mountain's edge like a fingernail
that's been neglected and so grows back into the skin for spite.
At the sharpest point the road almost seemed to disperse itself
into the grey of the ocean, which blended so well
into the sky as if they could not decide who was who, as if
the sky was so thick it could no longer hold itself
up any longer and the ocean's dying wish while
being squashed to death by radiant light
was to evaporate into cloud.

        When I was 10 I made the mistake of telling my father
        I wanted only to touch a cloud and so he told me to hold
        my hand out the car window in the summer night.
        "That," he said, "is a cloud."  I hated him for a year.

So I didn't ride off the cliff.  I was going so fast and right when
I hade up my mind a semi-truck wheezed past me
like a bad cough, all the light in the sky getting caught in
the exhaust pipe and blowing back out at me.  In the blinding
light I turned at just the wrong moment and a minute later
I was cruising past the RVs, past the rocks, past the tents
teetering on gravity in the ocean breeze like unambitious kites,
my momentum shedding and my retinas sweating at the sight
of sunrays breaking through the earth clouds like days.

East River Park, 5/05

East River Park by the old
Domino Factory, eating falafel and watching
the tremors of sun skid marks shiver
against each other and fade,
shiver and stretch¾
The gangsters leaning against the concrete smiling, passing
the night in hits and riffs, hipsters spooning
amidst the glaze of the Williamsburg Bridge moodlight, quiet
in the moment, the Hasidim patting one another on
the back and laughing, speaking the Holy language I
cannot translate.  I sit alone with my foil-wrapped
dinner, not crying¾
Just feeling I ought to.  I watch the Hasidim,
how couth their clothes and the way the fat one
perches his top hat on his head like
a barrel of fire begging to be tipped, wonder if
the young one wishes he was leaning
against the dead factory slit-eyed and easy, or holding
some exotic love enveloped in his arms like a secret.
The daydream of getting lost in his paeus, slipping
across his soft uncalloused Jewish skin, the serenades
of chanting and worship ¾ passion for
something greater than I, slid into every
wrinkle of sidewalk, crack of concrete ¾
squinting the last of the day onto the faces
of my disparate company, I feel unmercifully unHoly.
Allen and Jack lied to me, told me all poets
are Holy, I am Holy, my world is Holy and here
I am ¾ perverted little girl fantasizing the pants
off Holy young men, tahini smeared across my thighs
in finger trails, unable to cry at my own loneliness.
Maybe this is what Holiness feels like, I think, Maybe
Holy is an acceptance of feeling small.
Satisfied in my negative space, I share a final yawn
with the sun, throw the last
of my pita to the blind and oil-glittered
pigeons by my feet, and head home.

Carolyne Mistake shares...

Carolyne Mistake is the editor of an advice column titled What Not To Do: Advice For The Dead End Generation.  She currently lives in Pittsburgh,PA. where she writes essays on escapism and time travel. Her blog is's  motivation for her work on SHINE! remains her secret for now.