Dream Downstream and 2 Prose Poems

Dream Downstream

prose poems: Dream Downstream, Appetites, After All

my kid brother says
fuck this, i’m running away
he looks at me with big eyes
you can help me get a gun, yeah?

don’t be ridiculous
i can’t milk clients for that kind of shit
(and you wouldn’t last an hour on the street)

i can’t take it, he says
welcome to adolescence

i’ll go to the country! he declares
babycakes, this ain’t dharma bums
you can’t make yourself a pack on a stick

and cartwheel trains into the woods
where you’re alone with the wolves
and a can of beans, cracked open over flame

they will find you

i’m a boyscout, he says (which has everything take on a different light)

he shows me the bag he’s packed:
a rubber-banded wad of one-dollar bills,
a whittling knife, fruit leather, slim jims
twine and nail scissors
duct tape, rope
bandages and a pack of syringes

a thickly handled blade in a leather case, a compass

they’ll never find me

i’ll fashion bows, net minnows i’ll hunt-and-gather,

flint-and-steel my way to freedom



boeuf bourguignon, stew simmering three days in cast iron, in wine and in bacon fat carefully rendered from a thickly-cut slab, the air brewing around us, a fist clenched in air, heavy moans inside an empty house. forgetting to draw the after-dinner blinds, illumination of bodies, of his finger-traced outline of my hourglass, of a pitcher of water. a morning that is long into the next day, a slow descent into daze from doze, a tumbling that pulls into sensory fever. then eggs baked in cream and herbs pulled from the outdoor garden, buttered toast soldiers dipped into yolk. richness to brimming, missing the train to lie down, missing the train for my wide open bed with sheets pulled taut over the backboard. falling asleep to dusk, entangled, lips and palms delicate into the scoop and curve.

reveling still in his disbelief, his you’ve fed me so well.


After All

I felt a fool waiting down here all alone. Before I left to meet you, I’d stalked the aisles of the liquor store. The fat man who opened the door to me grinned so widely, so shy-making, looking up at me from under long lashes. His eyes took in the hair-band, the pumps, the cream stockings, the edge of the garter belt peeking out from below the pencil skirt. “Well, aren’t you just a doll,” he’d cooed into my curls as I sidled by.

I’d splurged on cigarettes, and then, after smacking the pack thoughtlessly against my open palm, I’d given it to the next few fingers that reached forward with a paper cup. I regretted it once I reached the sand, of course- sat sucking in and blowing out the wind between pursed lips, and thinking, goddamn, what was that?

In the dawn of summer, everyone had taken turns sitting me down and trying to talk the Marine out of me. But all it really took was a few months of stress, built up through long workweeks where I spaced out in front of the foreclosure database, in my dark cubicle surrounded by manila folders, and whenever I came in and up for air, I thought desperately, is this all there is?

My mother says now, You didn’t really mean it. You weren’t ever going to join. You said, You don’t have it in you.

But you never knew me well enough.

When you left that morning, you said, I’ll be back next week. You’ll see me coming in over the ocean. I’d walked that beach where lizards ducked their divided tongues between stones. My lips were swollen with the wine which had turned sour with waiting. I hid bottles among the dunes and opened myself behind the tall grasses. You know how I’ve always hated the beach but there I was. In another world, it’d be a testament to you. But I sat there all day, hair in my eyes, sand in my teeth, until the sun sunk way down below the dark water.

You know I’m scared of the dark- and it wasn’t enough, knowing the moon would follow me home.

The week before, I’d layered up a mango and prosciutto salad, and picked up the phone to hear, “Where are you? I am in Milan and we are going to Venice in an hour.” It sounded like The Stranger, sounded like fried meat and potatoes on the beach.

Yes, I was that girl looking at guns in the library, committing them to tracing paper with pen and ink. And yes, I’m the one who cleaned my windowsills with turpentine because I liked the smell. And yes, I’ve been writing a letter a day since May, and yes, I’ll write you (anyone!) one if you’d like, and I’ll maybe fill the envelope with pressed flowers or sequins or hand-copied recipes, to show how much I could love you if you’d let me.

Nothing that is real is not eternal. I had that dream again, one of those dreams where you seam-ripped a precise cut down my back and pulled out a string of interwoven veins, all spider-like and glistening. When you put your hand in again, you felt up my spine carefully with a thumb and forefinger, and then plunged your fingers deep into the seductive mess of muscle.

It is not courage if you are not terrified.

It wasn’t enough, knowing the moon would follow me home. The road was dark, the cab was darker. I’m afraid you were Icarus after all.

-Claire Phelan-