Tom Laichas's recent work has appeared or is forthcoming in The
Rupture, Disquieting Muses, Stand, Ambit and elsewhere. He is the
author of Sixty-Three Photographs from the End of a War (3.1 Press,
2021), and Empire of Eden (The High Window Press, 2019).
In my city, they live in their billions. They obey no human law. They are born from gelatinous sacs. They eat other creatures alive. Animalia is a horror show.
Animalia threatens hygiene. The squirrel looks rabid. The lizard carries salmonella. Lyme disease has crossed the Mississippi, heading west. The brown recluse hides under the sill, her venom worse than a black widow's.
Some neighbors wash their walls with insecticidal soap. Some smear ant bait along the baseboards. Others call extermination companies.
The neighbors wheedle and beg: Please, they say. Please. I heard something. There's rats in the crawlspace. Can you come now?
We must protect our homes and families.
These are our chartered streets.
Union Jack St
Cut short by the beach, Union Jack is a stub of a street, shaved close to the city's scalp.
I walk toward the tide. It's just after dawn. At the last tall townhouse, a ladder leans against a wall. An extension cord dangles from the second floor balcony.
A garage door opens. There's a man inside. Caught in his own clothes on his own property, the stranger follows my gaze with his.
Will he say hello? Will I?
This early, silence is best.
In every season, lesions open on Courtland Street. In a city of sixty thousand streets, many are worse. Maintenance crews are small. Courtland waits its turn.
It's a long wait. Year by year, malignancies pock the pavement. Streetflesh oozes from open wounds. Asphalt scree scabs the gutter.
One morning at 10, the Bureau of Street Services (Resurfacing and Reconstruction Division) closes the street to through traffic.
They start work. Into each abscess, a rubber hose extrudes thick black unguent. In an eighth-inch layer over the grafted skin, the crew sprays a slurry sealant consisting of water, asphalt emulsion, aggregate, and additives. They pack their gear and move on.
Now Courtland's surface is smooth to the touch. We drive with delight, afloat on the placid roadbed.
Two streets away, another block blisters. A wound gapes, and winter rain, like a reptile's toxic saliva, dissolves the interior tissues. The front passenger tire hammers into the pit. No city is ever wholly saved.
Sounds carry. The heels of shoes on a sidewalk. The crow's aww, the pigeon's ooo. The metallic blink of the streetlight. Don't Walk. Don't Walk. Don't Walk.
Three blocks from here, the Pacific Ocean inhales and exhales, breath drawn and released.
On mornings like this, I hear my own pulse. My heart draws blood into itself, then releases that blood to my body.
Blood's not the same thing as ocean, but they have a history. This close to dawn, in such quiet, they remember what it is to speak and to be understood.
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