three sevens

Vacancy. Room 18 is still vacant. Everyone knows about it but nobody sets foot inside. I don’t think anyone can. Why don’t they tear it down? Folks come from around the world just to see the door. The town’s never been the same since that night, what, seven, eight years ago now? Still seems like last year. I remember the cameras from the news stations. Suited people from all over, moving a thousand miles an hour. I’d go get a coffee and there’d be a crew of them, hostile with one another but pleasant, like siblings who hate but love each other. They were indifferent to us locals, mobilizing to yet another place where something terrible had just happened. A routine day at the office. Make no mistake—those people are hunters, packs of wolves. At night you see their eyes glow in the distance, then a minute later they’ve surrounded you, camera lights like suns. They are tireless. And then they are gone, the sated beast shuffling away in the dark.

Fleeing. Home he fled at age seven. He remembered the vividness of the dead person in some bushes near the busy avenue. He thought it a strange place for someone to sleep but upon closer inspection saw the man’s eyes were open and drained of life, insects all over him. He returned home frightened and changed. He didn’t know where he was running to, anyway, guided only by an internal voice that told him to leave. He withdrew from family after that, told his mother he didn’t want to see her. She laughed but acknowledged the seriousness of the situation after he locked himself in his bedroom all day and night. She went to console him or offer her apologies but his indifference shook her. The next morning she found him dead in the basement, an apparent falling accident. Toxicology results indicated he’d consumed bleach from a bottle spilled nearby. It was a terrible tragedy, by all accounts. No one dared to ask aloud why the child would do such a thing. 

Relics. Ornamental blades lined the old man’s walls. His house was a relic and he was a relic, old and retired so long that he retired twice more. Then he retired from life. His daughter spoke at his remembrance, she herself old. My father never meant to hurt anyone, she said. He outlived everyone he knew and angered everyone else. Ha ha. But he had a good heart, he was misunderstood. The daughter looked out to the seven people assembled in the front yard of the old man’s house. She held a hand at her brow to block the morning sunlight. Her dress was handmade. Thank you all for coming, she said. Then everyone shook her hand and departed but the daughter remained, beginning the momentous task of leafing through the house’s cabinets and boxes, crates of paper, closets, bookshelves. She found a note her father wrote to her when she was a child and a pair of her dead mother’s diamond earrings. She found sandwich baggies with locks of hair, children’s teeth, personal letters, old photos. She found tucked in a kitchen drawer an oversized envelope filled with 20 thousand dollars cash.


The detective walks from the bar out to the heat and darkness. Sudden silence. Jasmine in the air, the fecund scent of a nearby creek. The scent of herbicide, the scent of engine exhaust. Birches scatter the wide field toward faraway hills—the trees appear as individual clusters but are one organism. Gravel and century-old pavement beneath his boots. Endless landscape awash in moonlight. Headlights approach from the distance, then the cataclysm of a tanker rig blasting through midnight. Silence returns gradually and the detective walks to the Jeep, driving south from marsh country with the wind whipping through the open vehicle.

Fifteen miles later he glides into an office park with few cars in the lot. Building C, Unit six. He parks at the entrance curb and kills the engine, then walks to the door and presses the button. The door buzzes open and he approaches the darkened front desk. A man appears in the shadows to his left and greets him apologetically. 

Sorry to startle you, he says. The lights have been out all day. Follow me. 

The detective follows the man down a hall into an office lit by a floor lamp connected to a portable electric generator. 

Have a seat, says the man. 

No, thank you, says the detective. This shouldn’t take long.

After a pause the man nods and leans over to pull open a desk drawer. The detective hates moments like this. Anything could be in that drawer. He holds his breath. The man lifts a folder from the drawer and reaches it across the desk for the detective to take.

It’s all there, says the man. Military record, current registered address. Names and addresses of family and friends, names of closest colleagues in the police force. A dozen or so photographs.

Thank you.

Destroy everything when you’re finished. I don’t want any more part of this.

The detective reaches into his rear pant pocket and tosses the small roll of rubber-banded cash at the man, who drops it, picks it up, drops it again. 

The detective returns down the dark hall and outside to his Jeep. He wraps the folder in a towel from the back and secures it underneath the seat. He drives south and east with the moon’s guidance toward a most elusive goal: the confrontation of an injustice and the finality of its resolution.

down rodeo

I wrapped the shotgun in a blanket and put it in the trunk before driving through West Hollywood into Beverly Hills with the spring sun blazing. I had to see some guys but instead maneuvered through gridlock traffic to a coffee shop off Santa Monica Boulevard where hipsters brunched and rich folk avoided the homeless. She sat at a table near the front window. I kissed her on the cheek and sat, regretting I didn’t have time for coffee. 

I just came to say hi, I said. 

She smiled and time stopped for a few minutes. I forgot about everything else, only absorbing half of what she said, spellbound, entranced. 

I have to go, I said.

She stood to hug me and I kissed her neck, inhaling her. 

Back in the devastating noontime light I steered the rented sedan toward West LA and contemplated how the room full of thieves would react when out come that shotgun.


He wrote himself into the story as a marginal character, someone who watches and listens intensely, someone who, beneath his ordinary appearance, conceals a deadly weapon. Knowing he possesses the weapon provides him with a sense of power and he scans the room of people dressed formally beneath twinkling chandeliers. None of them share his clandestine power. He is handed a bubbly drink in a flute glass and sips it, then drains it whole. Who are these people made of gold? It isn’t enough to own the world; one also has to celebrate their ownership. He pats the weapon in his pocket, feeling its cylindrical body, the antenna-like electric coils. Soon this will all be over, he thinks. I’ll be on my way home to the blue bungalow on 23rd with the giant rhododendron in front that nearly conceals the building. In an hour the bleached teeth, overpriced garments, and ornamental minerals will drop suddenly from these people to the ballroom floor, the flesh and bone of their previous owners evaporated, transfigured, only to return in part to a different place, as a different being. 

Cărtărescu’s anti-literature

After you’ve read tens of thousands of books, you can’t help but ask yourself: while I was doing that, where did my life go? You’ve gulped down the lives of others, which always lack a dimension in comparison to the world in which you exist, however amazing their tours of artistic force may be. You have seen colors of others and felt the bitterness and sweetness and potential and exasperation of other consciousnesses, to the point that they have eclipsed your own sensations and pushed them into the shadows. If only you could pass into the tactile space of beings other than you—but again and again you were only rolled between the fingertips of literature. Unceasingly, in a thousand voices, it promised you escape, while it robbed you of even the frozen crust of reality that you once had.

Cărtărescu, Mircea. SOLENOID, trans. by Seán Cotter, Deep Vellum Publishing, Dallas, 2022: 42. 

How to Dream Well, by Fernando Pessoa (1913)

Postpone everything. Never do today what you can put off until tomorrow. You don’t have to do anything today or tomorrow. 

Never think about what you’re going to do. Simply don’t do it. 

Live your life. Do not be lived by it. In truth and in error, in sickness and in health, be your own self. You can only achieve this by dreaming, because your real life, your human life, does not belong to you, but to others. Therefore, replace life with dreaming and take care to dream perfectly. In all your real-life actions, from the day you are born until the day you die, it is not you performing those actions; you do not live, you are merely lived.

Become an absurd sphinx in the eyes of others. Shut yourself up in your ivory tower, but without slamming the door, for your ivory tower is you. 

And if anyone tells you this is false and absurd, don’t believe him. But don’t believe what I’m telling you either, because you shouldn’t believe anything. 

Despise everything, but in such a way that despising feels quite normal. Do not think you’re superior when you despise others. Therein lies the noble art of despising.

Pessoa, Fernando. The Book of Disquiet, New Directions, New York, 2017: 46.


There are parts of me all over this city. A fingernail chewed and discarded furtively onto the carpet of a Cherry Creek department store. Snot blown into a paper towel now buried in a dumpster somewhere in LoDo. My spit on a sidewalk in the Tech Center, my spit in Boulder Creek, my spit floating upon the surface of the South Platte. Spit in the neighborhood streets of Aurora. My DNA lives bunched upon wasted cigarette butts on Capitol Hill, in Lakewood, in the Highlands. Hairs strewn about the foothills, hairs abandoned and sunk into the Earth somewhere on Colfax. Everywhere on Colfax. Dried piss in a men’s room somewhere in Highland’s Ranch, in Littleton. Eyelashes, dead skin cells in Fort Collins. Fragments of me transferred from money or my credit card and now embedded into cash registers across town, parts of me digitized and spent by others. McAvoy as legitimate trade. Parts of me cluttered upon the flesh and in the mouths of the wandering women of the world, all of whom I had met here or somewhere close-by, women who enchanted and puzzled the younger me, all of them now charted upon their own foreign paths. A tart drop from a nostril now dried and crusted to the bottom of someone else’s shoe, someone else’s pant cuff. Tracking my remains in all directions. McAvoy as pandemic. Somewhere, everywhere, all-where. Random registers of my being ride the wind across the icy plains, they carry their own deranged voices out to the frigid canting West Slope. Microscopic and profuse treasures, wasted and worthless traces. I think about all the parts of me dispersed across the world and I wonder where, truly where, is home.

First published 12/4/2011

Famous mathematician

Following my interview of him, he said: “I’ve got to get up from this wheelchair to shower and prepare to speak at an engagement this evening. They grow on me, the bacteria. They grow within me. I am largely made of them. The bacteria-man. I may be wheelchair-bound but I have special powers that allow me to mutate into other creatures made of bacteria. For instance, I can mutate into cows and peanut butter and women who make marmalade. I cannot, however, mutate into a whale, nor most sea creatures. I cannot mutate into birds until they are dying, infected with the bacteria of other creatures seeking to devour the life and essence of the birds. I can mutate into other humans, those that don’t make marmalade, but why would I experience that torture? I would rather mutate into a ghost but that is impossible. So my special powers as the bacteria-man are generally worthless but sometimes fun if the weather is nice.”

“Do you need any help?” I asked, referring to the shower, though I regretted the question immediately.

“No thank you. It is nice of you to ask. I have a special shower that allows me to move about the bathroom, seated in my chair, and still enjoy the spray of the shower, the seven heads of which follow me around the room via infrared monitoring devices. I move freely about the waterproofed room and am able to clean myself from all angles, destroying the bacteria on my body’s surface, at least for the time being.”

I looked at him and tried to imagine the room.

“I would happily show you the bathroom but it is currently dangerous due to one of the shower heads disconnecting from the network and going rogue, so to speak.”

“No that’s okay, thank you,” I said. “Perhaps I should be going.”

I walked out of his apartment and heard him chanting quietly: “Key misfortune, key misfortune, key misfortune.”