by Elizabeth R. McClellan
"God is near—
Tremble if you lack the sense to run
or cannot find your legs"
the great fear that comes to you
when you are a lone wild thing, unprotected,
madness brushing near you
smelling of sex, leaf-mold,
puddles, a pile of dogs with
bloodstained muzzles. Run.
If you cannot run,
cry, shake, skin jumping off or
crawling in place, blood rushing
all emergency systems go, guts churning
over the hard backbeat of your heart.
like amanita muscara,
digitalis, arsenic, orgasms
or dying of heart disease.
Sometimes God sucks all the air
out of all the available space.
In that dizzy hypoxic aum–aum–aum
you can realize, spark, maybe burn whole.
Sometimes your body just forgets things
like the oxygen content of air.
Pan passed out in the backseat
of a sky-blue seventies diesel Mercedes.
No room at the Mission tonight for
the troublemaker smelling of drunk goat,
scent seeping into the cots, setting off
sleepwalking, screaming DTs,
fistfights, sodomy, frantic masturbation,
a nightmare of dirty sheets in the morning.
Full moon nights are too busy as it is.
The back door is unlocked.
The blue leatherette is cool. He drowses,
dreams of verdant green pushing up
broken sidewalks, not slow decay
but singular grim purpose, kudzu barricades,
runner vines choking asphalt to dust—
what's left of I-40 gridlocked with herds,
blunt, mutilated fingers of topped trees
toppling the endless crisscrossing wires for good,
vultures raised on hit-and-run vermin
growing fat on corn-fed two-legged carrion
scuttling under trees and sky in holy healthy terror.
At the shrink ward they sent him to that time
there was a courtyard, a high wall
that let enough dim sunlight fall on the inmates
to feed the carefully landscaped plants.
(nothing poison, nothing sharp, nothing climbing).
Inside walls is never a safe place.
The doctor was used to grifters; a few
pass through any ward, toting
utterly passé personality disorders
but no diagnostic criteria fit
the bowlegged man who stank
like the petting zoo even after
multiple supervised showers
eyes yellowed but alert
possible jaundice/alcoholic DTs?
who by dinnertime had convinced
twelve schizoid patients he was God—
even the one who bragged about
his scientifically sound hallucinations
of alien plasma beings
nothing like those
poor religious nuts,
followed the little man around
like Thomas convinced.
When he asked Pan about his family,
the doctor felt fluttering feathers
brushing his bald head,
eyes watering with sudden reeks:
birdshit, old mulch, deer-sign.
He did not write
the patient appears
to have moss growing
rapidly in his beard
instead scribbling a discharge,
handwriting more illegible than usual,
lamenting his planned paper on group psychosis.
The next week two teenage girls went
over the wall, last smoke break of the night,
shimmying up a mat of ivy that wasn't there
at noon. One sprawled in the grass
of the median, didn't run, laughed
when they led her inside, never
stopped laughing. The other sang
pantes, pantes athanatos as she fled
through the park, past the mosaic dragon,
flew all the way into a different story.
The girl doesn't check her backseat
any longer, rejecting mama's safety fantasies
against solely slasher-flick scenarios,
second-hand e-mail forward wisdom.
A reply never sent:
mom, most people are raped
by someone they know
just like I was, not by
the backseat boogeyman.
Wake up and face the statistics.
If she had looked back as she tossed
her backpack into the passenger seat,
she might have seen furry moss,
sprung up overnight, a mandrake
rooted in the floor, ready to scream.
Mama never had
to warn off these dangers.
She smokes too much to scent
growth, or grass, or him.
She throws the Benz
into drive, praying
God, if I'm late to class
again I'm fucked,
fucked, so fucked,
help, oh God, oh Lord
The rearview mirror flickers, fills up
with the face of God, hung over,
bearded, goatish eyes filmy,
yellow all through.
All the air is gone and yet
she can smell him now,
reptile brain rising to strike
at the odor it never forgot.
This is how
a million media venues
made their money
prime time syndicated
ripped from your life
so you can end up
ripped from the headlines
Hitch a ride,
spend seven years
a sex slave, your head
in a homemade box. Ignore
mama's warnings about
dioxin, deodorant aluminum,
fifty ways to prevent rape
(by never going out of
your house again) head out
in broad daylight—never get
to watch that Lifetime movie
they made about you.
Pan wakes, head full of iron, pounding
all his synapses firing out of kilter.
There is a girl, screaming,
trying to scream,
eyes wide. Every protocol
requires open sky, a chase,
the hunt, not a steel cage.
He tries to speak revelation,
divine command, woo her
with some wild whoop, but his throat
locks, his prophecy all mumbles
I just need a ride lady,
will you give me a ride
No, no, no,
I have school, I'm late,
Get out, get out, get out.
Somehow it seems
a fine suggestion.
Pan tumbles out of the Mercedes,
wanders into a park too treeless
for his taste, watches grackles
run the little birds off the feeder,
sends worms surfacing,
a second chance for
today's Darwinian losers.
The girl zooms away, a sky-blue streak,
wakes up screaming a couple times
a week for a while, sells the Benz
when the barnyard odor
doesn't fade, always looks
over her shoulder for flashes
of yellow, never forgets
to check the backseat again.
Elizabeth R. McClellan is a Rhysling-nominated poet and law student who lives in a probably-haunted apartment complex in Memphis, Tennessee. Her work has appeared in Apex Magazine, Goblin Fruit, and The Legendary. One of McClellan's favorite places on Earth is Fannie Mae Dees Park, known to Nashvillians as "Dragon Park," which is a place you should go if you ever happen to be in that corner of America.
S. J. Tucker, singer of songs and weaver of worlds, was born and raised in the blues-soaked Mississippi River country of southeast Arkansas. She hit the road from Memphis, Tennessee in the spring of 2004, hell bent on chasing her dream of traveling the world to sing to her friends wherever she might find them. Listen to S. J.'s music online: http://music.sjtucker.com
Photography: Release 229/365, by Beth Salinger, used with permission.