Litter, by J.M.M. Carlson



neon lights flutter nervously

in the oily sky

in predictable dystopian fashion


an interminable flow of men coalesces and

like sand particles scattered by the water jet of

light, disappears again, back into

bubbles of silence converging and dying

screams fill the air

an undertone of whispers beneath


she flickers into existence under the green, yellow, pink beads

dark skin under uv lights

and surveys the scene—all as


expected. She ticks off

neat ink-jet printer

boxes of experimental input in her mind


and sits down, ignoring the damp,

fades away fiercely.



he needs to find her.

A scientist, grasping nervously

At his bag

(it’s a satchel)

Defending himself mentally against the sleazy

Greasy stream of unsanitized life,

Fluttering like the unholy wings of a moth,

The legs of a semi-anesthetized caterpillar,

Right against his ear


he needs to find her;


his money is running out

(well not precisely his money)

So thus it’s more like…his life


he needs to find her;

For life, he has heard, is her trade and her dealing.



A blue day

light pokes the thick filthy smog

like an annoying sibling

dismissed (but not quite)

with a slap of the hand


car alarms wail


a woman leans against a trash can (was she there before?)

a sheaf of white papers on the other side

a rusty paperclip

strangles ideas into a coherent body


but the wind picks the sheaf up


laughing, she chases it,

freely frizzing hair

blowing in the wind of other worlds

and pins it with a flying foot

leaps and rolls, hard, in a moment of forgetfulness

beads of red blood absorbed by her hair

matted against concrete


and stands back up.


Checks the world. All normal. Vanishes.



he waits at the garbage can

every night in the flicker-flash of surrealism

we chase each other around the throughways of time,

he thinks sardonically,


old thought-experiments

n sifi movies

blur in’s head


sometimes he likes to change phonetics

2 make the ages pass quicker

Summon the future into his daemon-circle

Sleek white metal crudely sketched with chalk


but then he remembers

why would he want to make time fly?

he’s almost not quite already

a corpse

his organs to be given to the needy;

whose bones were mangled in a screech of force and shear;


to be recycled

into some plastic plowshare


and he goes home as water droplets

sizzle away from cool trashcan metal in the sunrise



she used to notice the

people as they passed


one woman

large sunglasses and merely scraps of bird

down for hair

clinging to the inhospitable crags of experience in the woman’s head

fallen down on a bench next to the trash

can every visit

(but my visits are untimed, so purely coincidence)

One day the woman was gone of course

I’d gone before her birth that time


But she stopped looking

She wasn’t quite sure what they were testing for

In this vaporous evanescence

With its piercers-of-clouds and its towers-of-fiber singing in the alleys

And its gleaming, gold-studded people waiting in the dark


So she thought she’d not draw unnecessary conclusions;

Leave it alone


Not romanticize an experimental setting where

they were probably just testing weather conditions anyway

and no one cared about the constants; air, h2o,

some collections of adenine and proteins and

fallopian tubes and aortae and nitrogen and lysosomes

and sweeping tides of hydrochloric acid

burning durable soft membranes


probably just weather

and this rain of oil



“Oh,” he said,

Standing at a certain garbage can

In a certain city


he got there early;

she got there late


it is twilight for

the Chinese-food-restaurants

whose fluttering lights

beat at the burning purple

pavement reflecting above


and they stand there

in gray fedora

and navy leggings

and beaten dress shoes

and business jacket

sweat and life steaming out their pores


and pass the time

until there is none left for him


“Listen,” he says


“You’re not…”



She sighs, vanishes

(into the elevator inside the high-rise next to them)

(as he walks away,

Chalks it up to another wasted day)



she decides to change the time a bit

to avoid this

nonsense and his floppy mouth that

tears at the corners of hers


but he follows

“I have math,”

He shoves a sheaf of papers at her,

“I know what you’ve done,”

Eyes bright with the offspring of his mind,

A blossoming litter of ideas,

Choked under the suffocation of no-time, and,

At the same time, pressed to perfection


The best thing to do is walk away


“I need a way out.”

Silence drapes

“I’ve got six months to live.”

its elegant

“I know you’ve got the medicine.”

arm over

“You’re from the future.”

her bow-shaped mouth


“Sorry, sorry I can’t help you

Try again later”

The lady vanishes

(for real this time)


The gnarled corpse-like hand of hope

Leaves bruises on her muscled arm

And contorted face




She visits

Six months later

Hops around days, weeks, months

Pacing endlessly,

Filling a radius of half a year

With pointillist dots of light

An Ishihara test for the life-blind

Nowhere is he.

Death peeks out of the emptiness,




she goes back

for death is a cheap plastic jacket

with shells of blue and reversible green

and it does not keep out the rain

or the wind

sweeping dust over vast plains


gives him a pill

and jumps away


shhh don’t tell

a child’s brown eyes

scorning death

wink at him

ever after

from the crevasses of dirt and litter


between the sidewalks



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