Brian Clifton

The Old City

We carried our bodies through the old city

to the abandoned mall. Its shattered windows
sunk their shrapnel teeth in the moon.

You were crying. Yes, you were crying.
I kept saying I wouldn’t hurt you.
Behind us, cars exploded

into thousands of tinier cars.
They dragged the bodies within them
through the night like a hive tossed
between two boys, friends

meaning to test each other’s courage, never to harm.

The mall glowed in the red wake
of traffic. The world was warm,
so I wanted to take

off your clothes and mine, let them fall
on the earth’s muscled back.

I said I wouldn’t hurt you, and I didn’t
for a long time. For a very long time

the sky shook out its fur above us.
It ribboned from the streetlights

dotting the parking lot. Our bodies,

once asleep, were now bees
bursting from the mouth

of the hive that housed them.


The Introvert’s Guide to Parents

Your mother is 20 feet away when she turns into a flock of hummingbirds. They shoot at you from her emptying clothes. When they pick you up, their wings make the sound of a machine with a human limb caught in its teeth. You’re too high to drop safely. So, you let yourself dangle as the world goes on without you.


Your father moves through this space like a cloud—tearing himself apart and trying to reassemble himself without instructions. One moment, he’s a jaguar unspooling the golden thread of his body, the fur on his face matted with gore; the next he’s a butcher emerging from the stainless steel doors at the back of his shop, apron stained pink. No matter what, you always recognize your father by the blood—the one thing his body never gets right.


At the grocery’s self-checkout, you scroll through the produce tabs to price your items. You remove your items from the scanner and place your items back on the scanner. A line forms. Your mother sits in front of you, an open bag of ice between her legs. Cube after cube, she drags the ice across her teeth.


You hold your father in your hand. He is slightly taller than your index finger, but his hunger is endless. He eats all your health food. He eats all your ice cream. He runs to a dumpster and eats it. You are so embarrassed. Soon your father starts to eat people. He eats buildings, etc. He unbuckles his belt and leans back. He wants to watch the game, but he’s eaten it.


A hundred women row their canoes to you from the sun going down or coming up behind a lake that sprawls across the plastic tubs of butter. You have to stand there a long time if you’re going to learn anything. Your mother has died. Your father has died. You rub your eyes and grab the last ingredient.


Brian Clifton co-edits Bear Review. His work can be found in: Pleiades, CutBank, Guernica, Prairie Schooner, The Journal, and other such magazines.