Aaron Anstett's collection, Sustenance, was published by New Rivers Press. His
second book, No Accident, was selected by Philip Levine for the Backwaters Press
Prize and is forthcoming in 2005. He lives in Colorado with his wife and children.


Against the lingerie-color sunset,
orange and pink and filmy as a negligee, two dogs fight in a liquor store parking lot, mouths on throats, blood an inkling in the neon advertising bargains on imports. Their long shadows go slo-mo in the skittering gravel and spin under dust's little weather systems. Customers seem to glow, sidling past then leaving with purchases.

Even the curtains move
woozily in a room the knockout gas has seeped through, making the rug and the lampshade and the couch smell like medicine. A man whistles and tilts, does a dance called "My Whole Body Feels Like an Arm I've Slept Funny On." He believes he's an iceberg. He thinks he's a thundercloud. Suddenly he sings, "Oh, I could die right here, in the delirium of air."

Footprints in a prison yard's snow,
different sizes of the same shoe in loopy, raggedy patterns, fill with those drifting hieroglyphs falling a long way to shine all night in the floodlights. They scroll in horizontal lines like a stream of arbitrary numbers. Snow fills the nest a bird has built bit by bit by bit (burnt matches, newsprint, hair) in the fence's concertina wire.

Rags soaked in so much fuel
the basement boiler seen past them looks shimmery catch fire. How leisurely flames stroll unfinished wallboards. Through attic windows, angled daylight, speckled with dust, shines on a dictionary with pages stained yellow, orange, and purple with pressed summer wildflowers.

The antique pornographic film
projected across a kneeling man's unclothed back, bodies doing what along his spine, stays nothing more than light that might well ceaselessly travel, swift and immaterial, when he rises and steps aside, but here someone's sudden, outstretched palm lifts in front of the rays: two torsos splayed out on the fingers and sepia splashing the gallery walls.

Who is it holds film
up to sunlight beside a parked car in a desert, squinting through each frame threaded between her thumb and forefinger? The engine ticks, and a few lizards flit from cactus to cactus, making time seem to stutter. She stands in a long, flowered dress, seeing far purple hills with one eye and something that makes the expression on her face change and change and change with the other.

Dusk, shadows
grown long on the freshly cut public park grasses, the few children not called home yet run faster from swings to slides and back again. The many-colored lights of televisions sparkle through house windows all around. One small boy hears his mother then lies down and plays dead, level with the lit horizon and bigger than the distant, scribbled mountains.

Ceiling fans burn
drinkers' cigarettes quicker, adrift in ashtrays, held dreaming between fingers, pressed trembling to lips. One woman shakes hers toward her listener, punctuating points she makes, their faces softened in the long, wavery mirror. One hour, the drink special's over, but who can tell the time in here? The clock between two vodka bottles runs, what, 15, 20, 30 minutes faster?

Noon, a woman
walks from her front door to the mountains, through foothills, where trees run to scrub, then, higher, to aspen. Air thins, and she stops to rest, imagining the purely skeletal repeated figure journeying in scrolls: one person at separate times and increased heights. She stands near a pool of water at the summit in barely enough light to see the house she's traveled far from.

A man puts his hands
on his wife's face as they sleep. She presses her wrist to the back of his neck. All night they coil and wreathe like the letters of the alphabet of a language whose last native speaker died long ago, their blankets, kicked away and pulled back again, writing and erasing them. After the alarm clock, she moves to say something. He puts a finger to her lips.

Hair waving like lake grasses
fish flicker through--a body standing upright under water seems a body in a larger, larger room--arms held up and forward like a sleepwalker's, who leaves the house in nightclothes to drift through a meadow, head tilted skyward as if searching a ceiling for cracks. Wound around the legs, rope's woven through the cinder blocks it takes to anchor this one, who sways like someone hearing distant, beautiful music.

The body,
surface area inches above the water's, rises and slides over the lip of a claw-footed bathtub, around which floorboards, beneath their checkerboard linoleum, weaken and leak. Single drops spatter a bare carpet downstairs. The body's fall shakes a few photographs from a table. They, too, climb, a few, like the body, face up. On the water's level, ascending finish, the letters of an inked note run.

The tattooist's tattooed hands,
in increasingly ink-splotched surgical gloves, lift from and lie on a man's stripped chest. When they lift for the last time: a heart directly above and same size as the real one, pierced with an arrow from whose point three tattooed blood-drops drip blood, all wrapped in a banner lettered with a woman's name, despite the warning.

Buildings, people,
street-level neon gleam in the moving mirror a bus window makes in a sunlit city. How much eyes must see in each filmed frame: drinkers through a bar's open doorway, one shoe on a sidewalk, scattering pigeons, and their beaks, heads, fat bodies lifted on oily wings. Checks Cashed, Bail Bonds, Good Food, Tattoo flash, letters backwards, across a passenger's sleeping face.

Back to Front.