The Night Catches Us Both in Silver Hands
In the fairy tale “The Armless Maiden,” a miller's daughter loses her hands as the result of a foolish bargain her father has made with the devil.
who can say what deals my father made, and with
which devil? these are my woods now, a thicket of
sterile hallways, bitter apple in the air, these
machines, my owls, my foxes—all hushed
footsteps and new moon eyes. this room,
my witch’s cabin nestled in the copses,
one I could not build with my own fingers
but built nonetheless, the bed I crawl into
to crawl into myself.
I sleep and wake, sleep and wake. she is my only
dream, the angel bearing pears in the shape
of pills, a morphine drip. before I was delivered
to this forest, I was wrapped with bandages—
armless, useless, poisoned, dead. I need her
to remind me what kind of heart could beat
under these wet stitches and weeping drains,
I need her to shoo off the villagers who flock
to gawk at my bald head, these meticulous
amputations, as their teacher recounts
what I allowed the devils
Men of Letters
“…he…did not want this book to become ‘The Story of My Penis’; it needed to focus on the
novels, not sex and gossip.”
— Laura Marsh, “Philip Roth’s Revenge Fantasy,” The New Republic
A man writes a story about a man who wakes up as a hundred-fifty-five-pound breast. Another man writes a story about the man who wrote the story about the man who becomes a hundred-fifty-five-pound breast: This is not about a man who becomes a giant breast, it is a cheeky take on Kafka, it’s a sly joke on mother, it’s groundbreaking, it’s hilarious, it’s his best book to date. So what if the author is a bit obsessed with what’s in his pants?
A man writes a story about a man who keeps crashing into women—students, babysitters, the nubile young wives of his closest friends, Catholic schoolgirls in their Catholic skirts— girls for whom the act of undressing is like the bursting of dams, breasts ballooning everywhere, an eruption of flesh that cradles and swallows. More men write about these women, or rather, about the men who want to crash into the women. There is much crashing. The women always like it. Unless they are married or mothers. Mothers don’t much care for crashing. Reminds them of what made them mothers. Makes them want to put their heads in the oven.
A man writes a story about a man who sits upon the toilet and waxes on about the movement of his bowels. The process of excretion, writes the man, is animal but majestic, like wolves baying at full moons, the scent of blood on the hunt, the fat of marrow slick on the lips. He understands what it’s like to give birth. The visceral rapture. The majesty of the body, the majestic act of creation. A goddess might burst fully formed from his head. Or from somewhere else.
A man writes a story about the man who wrote the story about the man who became the giant breast. “It was a thrill just to hear this great man pee,” he writes in the authorized biography. This man who rhapsodizes about the man who wrote those stories about the men, doesn’t write about how much he, himself, likes to crash into schoolgirls, about how he is a bright yellow bus driving drunk.
A man pens a love poem about an imagined dark beauty he calls Bliss, comparing the sound of her peeing to the spilling of honey. Later, in his memoir, he writes about the Sri Lankan girl who cleaned his toilet, the one he dragged stiff and unyielding into his bed. “She kept her eyes wide open all the while,” wrote the poet, whose poems are read in high schools and whose poems are read at weddings. “She was right to despise me.”
Laura Ruby is author of eleven books, including Bone Gap (HarperCollins, 2015) and Thirteen Doorways, Wolves Behind Them All (HarperCollins, 2019), both National Book Award Finalists. Her short fiction has appeared The Florida Review, Pleiades, and the Beloit Fiction Journal, among other magazines, and she has poems published or forthcoming in Clockhouse #8, Poetry Onl, Sugar House Review, and Fantasy. She teaches fiction writing at Hamline University and is an MFA candidate in poetry at Queens University.