Duncan Tierney

This is the one that has not been destroyed, which is also the one that should have been destroyed. Things are papercloth here, built recklessly, unsummed, and lustless. I watch the mannequins watch me. This is their home, after all, even if I am their king. There is now beauty in this place made to test the hot of ugly. I am famine or hunger or life. 

This city is sonless. The air continues a long history of ungodded light, but not here in the extra. A new town, which is the shell of a slightly older town, in which there was a copy of an absence of nothing. Before I existed alone besides the mannequins, when people were still around, they built this place. To test the bombs. I don’t know what they meant to test them on. I think on how far from the city center’s sand turns to glass and how far from that people hear the sound of the aforementioned transformation. Now, this city—me and the mannequins are the only thing left. Think of how bad jazz ends, with a fight between the band and the silence of opiates. That’s kind of what this town is. This town meant for destruction is the only town left standing.

There is, for some reason, a collection of fireworks here in one of the homes. Remember that. That is important. I am the priest here. Remember that, too, though it would be hard to forget. Unless, of course, you are a mannequin. They can’t keep it together. Bastards. Heathens. Rightless youth. 

I’ve faced them forward towards my pulpit, the felt-tip morons, for continuity, and on and on and on. I say we have fun, and so we do. Because I say we do, and I am the only one with thoughts. This is the fourteenth sermon in the past five days. 

This is a place made to be nuked, and I think that’s why there are fireworks here. One of those towns they set up to see if bombs will work in a sufficiently nuclear fashion. A joke from the architects. I think it’s funny because each shade of paper has remained. The drywall shacks. The false offices. I’ve left the fireworks unsaid to the silent congregants. Unsaid to my pals. Unsaid to my late-night lovers of fabric and woodboned origin. The fireworks would come after the homily. I would light them within a paper house, and they would fall on me (pill-filled at this point), covered in some black ash. I’d be one of the mannequins after the fireworks or the fire or the house collapse, or the pills killed me. Only smelly and dead. Not just unalive. Dead. Dead, dead, dead. It goes unsaid. To the crowd. This is an acknowledgment of land and the past and the part we played. A song the mountains don’t sing because, well, no shit, they don’t sing it, even when we pretend they do.

Mostly, the congregants sit in plywood chairs. The mannequins. Things from old grey spaces, too. Aged by the sun and my rickshaw performances. The chairs are uncooked and dry like teeth. I didn’t make the chairs that they sit in. Those were made before me. 

Someday, I say that my congregants will be found by a nose from a face and be so damp with gray and humdrum. Those who find these artifacts will know only that they are so bored and boring that time and decay tells them to fracture and scream. 

I say that I have lived here on this Earth since before it was here, but there were similarities between the old things and this. Heck, I couldn’t do much about either but smile or kill myself, and because I whip this last clause out like a new scream of neon, they laugh and are laughing. I am crushing today. 

Mirth. More like muirth. I think to myself. I almost say it aloud but stop myself. I think I shouldn’t say that allowed because I do not know what it means. Saying something like that would make me look like a fool.

Unknowing of this last useless thought that has been included in my own head and would surely ruin the mood, they grip shoulders so hard their burst grips yore; their knees break forward towards the exposition of their shared past. I do not laugh because I’ve known nothing ruddy about a wedding and because this is not a wedding anyway. In the dirt, they are still and sunbaked, but I like them laughing, and so it is so.

I tell them about once. I tell them about once. I tell them about once in the before when I saw Lucifer in the teeth of a turnstile. Tell them about once when I righted myself self-piss stained for another lump of days, then another, then another. This was before the boats threw bombs till the only town left was the one that was not supposed to be. There has been no time since then. My concrete headrest was a place in which Neon lived despite my best damp efforts. The congregants love it when I speak, and if I would allow myself to, I would love it too. 

I tell them about when I stood on a bridge, a sophomore, nothing but an onlooker keeping me from being licked by gravity. There was a woman down in the street below and also seven rats. I tell them from the bridge, I saw an oil slick and called it God. I tell them that there was no woman, that that was just an overused metaphor intended for salvation and actually meant reliance. I tell them I thought ends were rest. Restlessly, I say it. They laugh dumb and mechanized. I’m so funny they’ve forgotten when the joke ends. I’ve convinced my squat-faced friends of nothing about life. I’ve actually convinced them of nothing, which is a bummer. That’s literally the only thing I am trying to tell them does not work, that that’s what led me, as a prop, to the bridge. It convinced me when I was convinced. It convinced me as the crux and the steeple.

One in the front, who I’ve named Marlon, stares back unwavered. I do not know why I named him that. Marlon is not worthy of his name. His staring has interrupted the silent laughing of the audience. Really killed the vibe.

I hate this particular mannequin. Young and brash and stupid. Daring me, his creator. The ironic thing about youth is that it is only impossible to relate to because it has never changed, and I have. Nothing’s more irritating. Stupid Marlon. Arrogant yuppie fuck. Little shitbird.

The crowd is silent now. Destitution usually floods their coffers if it is not beaten back or turned sage. They slurp on sadness through gasps as if they aren’t sure which air’s more urgent. I had them slurping down pretty clich, gorbling my useless gaff. They were losing their virginity at Woodstock, and then this little shit, Marlon, goes ahead and ruins it, and I am what I was then on the bridge in the before—before even I saw the oil slick. I was a smack of teeth on the street about to be heard. A vagrant, destitute. A jailbird. I was a man in a desert worried about the judgment of a mannequin.

I’d try to ignore him if I had not already done so for unmoored days. I’ve lived him through every color, scent, and sound I know, and still, I have made him exist. I cannot stop recreating Marlon, silent in the front row. Tonight’s homiletics were to be pre-show to an evitable surprise of colors, which would turn me into one of them. I was to be transubstantiated into something unalive. And now Marlon was mucking that up.

I want to be violent with him, as I want to eat, as I want to be unable to see, as I want to wander on the same straight path until the Earth curves under unblistered feet. I want to punch him the way I want to bite the wind when I am in a conversation I can’t hear. But he is metasticized to me because I believe him to be correct, and here in this place, I have nothing else to subsist on. I want him to know he’s wrong, but I have no reason to give him that would make him think he is. There is logic in using absence as a crutch.

I cannot say anything that does not need to be known in your bones for it to be known. I cannot tell Marlon that afterbirth smells yellow. I cannot tell myself that the oil slick does not need to sing to be heard. I cannot tell him that I think that his proximity to me, the way he is facing, and the fact that we have struggled against one another means that we both know there is something to struggle for. 

Usually, now is the part of the speech that I repeat each day. I tell them of a time I gnashed crimson when blue would suffice, chewed rocks when there was candy around. I tell them I made a home of my pain and, in doing so, thought I took no pain from the world around them. Then, the boats still hurled bombs. That the point of the mantra is that it is done ‘til it is done. That we repeat repeat repeat, like rosary beads or skincare. 

But today, of course, Marlon made it impossible, which, on some level, I realized, was necessary.

And anger, like most things and unlike other, less dispersed things, disperses. That was a good thought. I liked it well enough.

The reason, I said to Marlon, the reason I said that I did not bounce my head off the concrete under the bridge, the reason for a dark sky tonight, was because sometimes concrete gets warped by the seasons and leaves off enough height for an old oil can to fall into that shallow, and that sometimes someone sees the trash there, and cares enough about continuity to dispose of it, even though it will just fall into another divot, which leaves an oil slick visible from an overpass. Whether you’re lucky or hopeless, sometimes, when you see things, you get to know what they look like without having to turn them upside down and squint. Sometimes, when on a bridge, you get to see that there is no metaphor for a good axiom, that the process of being saved is fine without a story.

I tell him, once, honestly, about the woman. I tell him, without preaching now. Quietly. That I once knew love as an act of faith, and that I used to know faith as an ideology that clothes itself in terrycloth to swim. And that that was what got me to a bridge and that on that bridge. On the bridge, when I saw the oil slick, I was young. Like him. Hopeless. 

I told his silence that I did not know the name of the room I’d stayed in or the kindness that had been provided to me that I deserved. That there were those who helped me. There’s a lack of black ties at a funeral home and the absence feels like concrete when you let it. That for too long, it was easy to see no veins in any of this desert.

And on that bridge, I say, to the silence I have either observed or created, on that bridge, I got to to see something shift. I got to see that I knew that the best way to sleep on a couch is not to, because when you wake up heavy enough, you cannot hear through the down of the pillows. You’ve sunk in, and your hips are tight. Or I have, and you probably would too, Marlon. 

I say that in order for me to know that, a lot of people had to give me couches to sleep on when there was no way for them to know whether or not I deserved them. I got off that bridge and lined up my friends in this desert and met and knew Marlon because, on that bridge, I realized I had yet to believe in a single thing and had still gotten to know a fair few floors and hot meals and the grip of laughter on my spinal cord. I got off that bridge, lined up my friends in this beautiful cathedral, and let Marlon sing silently, because we know what we know of boats and bombers, and we yearn despite. We continue to negotiate in here this gleeful stupid absence. Yearn sallow and proud again, sick and regardless.

Duncan Tierney lives and works in South Florida. He has had previous work published in South Florida Poetry Journal, JAKE, and the Meniscus Review, and has been selected for the Kenyon Review Workshop.