Daniel Pinkerton's poems have appeared or are forthcoming in New
Orleans Review, Indiana Review, Boston Review, Subtropics, Willow
Springs, Hayden's Ferry Review, Sonora Review, and River Styx, while
reviews have appeared in American Literary Review, Shenandoah,
Chattahoochee Review, and Pleiades. His fiction has appeared in
Quarterly West, Crazyhorse, Northwest Review, Arts & Letters, Washington
Square, Natural Bridge, North American Review, and the 2008 edition
of Best New American Voices. He is the recipient of two Academy of
American Poets prizes and an AWP Intro Journals award, and his
fiction manuscript was a finalist in the 2006 Flannery O'Connor
In the Mutual Funds department of the midsized
financial services company, the customer service rep
fell prey, at 1:47 on a Friday, to some "bad sushi"—
not just "bad sushi" but truly diabolical sushi,
sushi harboring ill wishes, fanged and furred sushi—
placing an added strain on the remaining CSRs
slogging their way through tax season, who afterward
felt somewhat rattled, voices quaking as they fielded
calls about dividend checks and the consequences
of premature IRA distributions. One CSR, Troy,
wondered if what he had seen was truly "bad sushi";
no telltale gray coloration or briny scent implied
such a thing. Maybe he'd actually witnessed
something else altogether, a creature with jaundiced
eyeballs narrowed to serrations of undiluted bitterness,
claws that opened flesh like gaffing hooks, breath
so calamitous it billowed in a toxic brume, rendering
victims insensate. Troy wondered if maybe
his fallen colleague, in the heat of the moment,
had merely assumed whatever it was to be "bad sushi,"
calling out that now infamous phrase because
the folks in HR on Tuesday had posted warnings
to beware the "bad sushi." The "bad sushi" Troy
had seen actually looked more like a timber wolf
as it dragged its prey from sight amid the nebula
of cables beneath the CSR's desk. Troy grew curious
about the huntsman who'd been wandering the corridors
of the building all week, flannel-clad, a short-barreled
12-gauge Coach Gun flung casually over his shoulder.
There was a seafood place Troy's girlfriend had been
urging him for months to try, but he wondered, on hearing
what sounded to him like brutal regurgitations
and splintering bones, if that was really such a great idea.
Operating On Trunkville
For too long I heaved bric-a-brac into a trunk
carved by the last of a lost tribe
near the attenuated delta of a parched river
perched on a continent I forgot the name of—
in essence, a trunk not easily replaced.
Rather than rustle a sister trunk, I condensed
and pulped the stuff I had, pressing the wind,
the heartbeat, from it. Pepper shakers, human skulls,
baseball cleats. For weeks, decades,
I assailed the trunk to batter it shut. My battering
came to affect other endeavors—
my golf game, for instance, and so I wedged
my pitching wedge into the trunk.
But one night, lugging myself in for a visit,
I discovered a landscape unfolding without
my intervention and felt disowned. My first employer,
an eventual suicide, was doing some light gardening.
My grade school principal, who absorbed a little
French in the European Theatre (also, incidentally,
suiciding), was translating a letter written to me
by my childhood Parisian pen pal, Emmanuelle,
who at that very moment was ensconced
on a bench at the Jardin du Luxembourg,
reading the reply sent him by me.
The people in my trunk, all of them familiar,
grew suddenly still as Hummel figurines. I stooped
to retrieve a knife I thought I'd lost on a scouting trip.
The past ate angrily at space, so I, like a surgeon
addressing a critical swelling, sliced open the brainpan.
There was a withering sound and I was returned
to my present state: a set of golf clubs, minus a wedge,
and no recollection of how to play. It was as though
I'd been singled out by lightning. The present was sullen,
unkempt, and smelled suspiciously like a Band-Aid.
Unpleasantness On Baja
The ocean was choreographing an attack,
consulting its cabinet, its horoscope, groping the war chest.
Then, basically, some basic training.
The war chest had graduated from a training bra and was now ample.
Behind her back, the ocean, the cabinet,
the dude who played Schneider on One Day at a Time
snickered at the war chest's "sweater puppets,"
Schneider calling for some sweater puppeteering
while the cabinet said it hoped to commission a three-act,
a "Brechtian kind of thing," but with Stud Power sex oil.
Then the first wave, the ocean crawling shoreward on its belly
as it basically had been trained to do,
wondering if, since killing might be involved,
the instruction ought to have been more thorough,
then shrugging, as in c'est la vie, que sera sera.
(Eskimos have, like, a thousand words for snow,
but the French devoted an entire lexicon to fatalism.)
I lobbed a grenade and the ocean retreated.
This was, by the way, far from my native city—
not exactly a "now playing in select cities" type of city.
I was on Holiday (also, by the way, amply bosomed).
Huffing beneath, she called to mind the woman who cared for my kids
while I was away doing battle with the surf at La Paz,
heaving ordnance while wondering after the authenticity
of the "sweater puppets" of the woman who cared for my kids.
Assault after assault, the tide truly was relentless,
much like Steve Guttenberg back in the Eighties.
For weapons I deployed a push broom, a wet-dry vac,
some moist towelettes (which I'd guess is French
for "little moist towels").
How far I had fallen, lugging my wet-dry through customs
when my mother had given me, at birth, martini glasses
and some orthopedic shoes, i.e. advantages. She taught me
to tie a tourniquet and fed me her favorite entree: Manwich
of La Mancha. Then, against her will, I saved up
and bought a pair of truly badass parachute pants.
Back to Front.