STORYGLOSSIA    Issue 29    August 2008


New Joe


by Benjamin Buchholz






From dizzy-distance high up in fluorescent video background flickering Joe dreams this mudbrick stick and donkeyshit dust of streets no one, not even little sisters stuck in a seventh-grade gullible memory of duct-taping them to chairs and pushing them over to laugh at them and then leaving because he could, would think nice, not these streets, rubble, tatter t-shirts tie-dyed and some hairy white mandress strung from telephone lines patched and spliced and webbed from electric-service thievery of who is this, the goodbad guy, anyway?

Well, Joe won't care.

Joe thinks dreams slip past muddy like Tigris mid-rain with gallow great bridges creaking on pilings in concord such cartwheels as have always thumped thump still just now over new Stryker ruts cutting banks built, berms built, mudbrick by mudbrick, dissolved in the tides of flood like time dissolveth soul, 'til these berms dust away and these shanties dust away and these people leave shadows same as Hiroshima dogs caught sunning on a few stacked stones.

Heightening Joe, heightening him, not a sense of him, but him completely, utterly, as if exploding a cicada in the burlesque of June, this stasis: he is, he is tall, he is looming. Joe all fair sandhaired and a few years near twenty but somewhat hardridden in barfight cosmetic hunched in his turret tough-eyed gray-irised hidden behind darkened sunglasses like TV commercials for Army and youthleading now now in his turret water-moves, syrup-moves, sees the ascensions from PacMan to Doom to today what were they video playing?—warrior-games, dark bloodbaths of yes I can have new life now even though I but half-tried and was maybe blithe moments master of something greater than me, while near in the street a six year-old leans out balconies become no longer balconies but gapes, and falls, and this happens fast, too fast, because Joe sees it, every turning torture of it, slowly, crisscrossing no Matrix-scifaiku shrapnel dodging of it but a darting darning punch-hole cleavering, beating her backward in the blown-wide air, all legs camelopard-tan hem-fluttering in a framing of dress the apostate of a parachute, and from three stories she flattens, holy-chested, marbleized, and Joe maynot/cannot reset.


Joe, hey, Joe!

Smoke pops, sizzles, Joes hears sizzle, spewed purple like sprayed unholy-colored carnation in Mr. Vanderhoeven's lapel, a cloud, a wry deep wheezing breath Joe cannot breathe and beneath it Sunday-scratchy collars and starchy pants and sweat and being shoulder-pulled to the narthex and the glittergold bellrope disappearing upward into what before his disquiet comingofage he could imagine a heaven to hold but as if punctuation to it Mrs. Vanderhoeven barfed dentures, let sputter on the ground flossed marbles in a stained glass shine near the tread of Joe's father's foot.

Joe, Joe!

Joe dreams mouth-moving speech as squad leader, who, whom, Latin, screams, parse it, high school, he remembers, who, accusative, come on, mount up, mount up, Joe, come, get in, we're clear, Joe come, kiss me Joe his girl, his first girl, before the playbar nightlies when he worked hot machineshop summers hating it but not backthen working with that clatter racket like .50 calibers always snick-snackering and heated, backing up, earlier, simple, simple time before knowing, just experiment, labrat-boy, kissing her, that girl, a Jenny, he dreams some copper-strange tasting remembrance of her tongue and how could anyone like it, kissing, and who, who, who was he?—who was Joe growing up at all even now, here, there, when this did not happen, even though he knew, maybe exactly because he knew, knew deep and denied dredgingly down in his soul-licorice stash because he had no twitch trigger fast enough to stop a six year-old turning into a puddle of herself. No. He had not stirred, he had not moved, he had not reset, rewound, relived: who was he?

Joe, come along now, my Joe.








Joe cleaned and unarmored and toe home within witchy twilit haze of desert fringeland of oilfield burning and salt-airing here and there where marshes once marsh-people millennia cradle-tombed now bellicose erect amongst it tri-strand and berm built from marsh-dust, gravelly truck paths punched up to motorpool kr-krunching, mortar pits, porto-pots, guylines strung whip tight to commstowers and all flown with little white flags waist high that Joe will not trip them in the hotblue suchness of nightwandering.

As if an amen Joe sits humbleleg asprawl on the near lean underneath of the lee tower close to a stretching shade slanting unto him up berm pebble sands from a black electric hum smelling shack, shine on the wipe sweat driplines of doffed goggles now knee-strapped and dangling where the dustdark hand hangs and between fingers airy half-forgotten as himpart Joe notes the absence of a cigarette.

Joe doesn't smoke.

Or a cellphone.

Joe doesn't talk. Not much to home.

Home is Vanderhoeven remote like thinkthings like cottoncandy sickle sweet but unfilling dissolving saying same things only over and over of missing and wanting and what will we do what fun will we have where will we go and I can't wait until you are back when, in truth, Joe is back, or had never been, and the now and the here and the twitchy nothing horizon blueness of Hummurabi and time are Joe. The rarer, rarer and stranger, like mistaken chord wheezed on attic organ cloth covered and forgotten when the elbow strikes it looking for fishing rods or memoirs, rarer daily the confession connection something near, true, real, spoken, written, text-messaged, instant-messaged with those Vanderhoevens he remembers from through the far fog sea of his coming ashore.

Joe thought more and more he craved, craved and needed, such thinkthings when they were less and less and so he wrote and wrote and spoke and spoke and fretted with head bulging in the burrowed bedcrease against a cool sweating canvas airconditioned inside of sleep. Now, from Baghdad southing through shot perimeters in stages day and day until here home in the bubble bristling he sits and sits and listens and listens and has come zen unwitting nearer to thee, who, whom, ever are.

Shall we speak of it, or sing, now Joe?

There, climbing toward you, a long-sung simpleness of feartruth's being:

          And here face down beneath the sun
          And here upon earth's noonward height
          To feel the always coming on
          The always rising of the night
          To feel creep up the curving east
          The earthy chill of dusk and slow
          Upon these underlands the vast
          And ever climbing shadow grow . . .[1]



Like singsong the nothought of staring 'til pink purples and purple blues and the whole thins and shines 'til it is black and besmirching a gilt aeons immeasurable smallmaking man who cannot fall even upward into aether, who cannot console himself with his simpleness, Joe has no comfort in nothought but only a sense of its utter newness and who is he-ness and Joe begins to cry.






This is not to say Vanderhoevens have no worth in the world Joe but the shellgame begins this berm sun setting stillness of within him. For some cicada soulform of what he was is the himlimit of any newness, base before belltower, Krishna/Vishnu, surely as the belltower dusts back into the risen base and all begins from the beginning of the end: but here.

Joe, have a shoulder, have this bitterblack I brewed in the TOC with the harp whirl of the mapboards glimmering in their pushpin acetate unknowing that pushpin peoplesymbols are people and pushpin towns but families and pushpin strikelines show the figure of death striding new upon a long bled bending land, no, I knew you Joe needed time space and now coffee and the sort of silent togetherness that no one who has not warred and lost can know of manfriendly unspeakable bonding. And so, after a moment, because the abyss stares equally into me from above and below and from out in the saltpan waste darkened and howling allsides unending, I will speak so that wetogether from this pebble bank break our fast and flee peace and solitude to take with us some measure of the new into the world mundane that must be lived, age-old, cicada rhythm, of doing and doing and doing and never except in strikeforce blow to the mind can it disfunction long enough to grow.


I say that first, just: Joe.

And I wait.

The cigarette absence in the airy finger space clicks.

It was a damn shame, says Joe.

I don't know what you saw, man. (But I do).

It was a damn shame, he says.

I was thinkin' of our girls, I says. I was thinkin' of them all the way back in the HUMMV as I drove, (this in brogue, thick, a show, to maybe make a little laughter, a lewdness, I'm finger motioning to demonstrate slack jawly the taste of a kiss and feeling of my mouthpart on neck and then down in the suppleness of woman that has been so far from me, us, but near me in my thinkthings 'til it is hallucinatory everywhere and troublesome) I drove thinking, gawd, wouldn't I like a little of my Annie tonight and I thought that that Joe, my friend Joe, up there in the turret a-swiveling and keeping me safe, I thought, man, Joe must be just thinking about the same damn thing about his Kim and how maybe we should go bowling just for the hell of hearing the balls crack and to taste the beer and then we'd take our two cars different ways but secrethandshake glance at each other when leaving that alley cause we'd know what would/will come next.

I hit him on the shoulder, a mooncalf chuckle punch.

Yeah, Joe says, yeah.

And I think, in the darkness, Joe smiles.



Copyright©2008 Benjamin Buchholz

[1] excerpted from "You, Andrew Marvel" by Archibald MacLeish


Benjamin Buchholz's fiction and non-fiction have done very well in the last year. "The Cabalfish," which originally appeared in Storyglossia, has been anthologized in Dzanc Press' Best of the Web - 2008. Other stories collected four nominations for the Pushcart in 2007 and two nominations for the Million Writers Award. Benjamin's non-fiction book Private Soldiers was short-listed for a Book of the Year Award by ForeWord Magazine. For a full bibliography see