Three Verses
by William Michaelian

Verse 1 — Night Along the River
An old man sat on the ground, watching a fire. He had an onion, a pepper, and one slice of bread. When the fire had burned down, he placed the onion in the coals and laid the pepper across the tiny grill he’d made of chicken wire. After the pepper had roasted on one side, he turned it over, repeating the process until the pepper was done. The onion softened. He removed it from the coals. When it had cooled enough, he cut it with his knife, then laid big pieces of the onion and small pieces of the pepper on his one slice of bread. He raised the food to his mouth. With the first bite there came a rush of saliva. After three more bites, the food was gone. To distract himself from his hunger, he stirred the coals, then looked up at the night. Stars. Millions of stars. Vast, lonely distances. Nearby, along the river, the deep voice of a bullfrog, followed by a splash. Eucalyptus lining the banks, long branches hanging over the slow-moving water. Silence.

Verse 2 — The Extra Toe
His brothers each had ten toes; he had eleven. Using an old hatchet he found in the barn, he chopped off his extra toe. When she heard him scream, his mother ran into the barn. When she saw what he had done, she picked him up and carried him into the house. Miles from any doctor, she cleaned the place where the toe had been and finally stopped it from bleeding. Exhausted, the boy fell asleep. She returned to the barn. She found his extra toe, covered with dirt and blood. Crying, she wondered what to do with it. She wondered what to do with herself, her life, and her husband who drank. He would come home, maybe today, maybe tomorrow. She would show him what their son had done and he wouldn’t care. He would light a cigarette, look at them both, and say nothing. He might even smile, or laugh. There was no telling what he would do. And so she made up her mind. If he did laugh, she would wait, and when he was asleep, kill him. She would kill him, and kill him, and kill him.

Verse 3 — Old Maids
At the state fair there was a pretty girl wearing a new dress. Her boyfriend was with her, and his friend, and his friend’s girlfriend, who was also pretty, and who was also wearing a new dress. The couples were holding hands and laughing. They were in the big covered area where the farm animals were, and one of the boys had just stepped in something left behind by an enormous Holstein cow. The cow’s caretaker, a serious-looking farm girl, was doing her best to clean the boy’s boot. Finally, she pulled it off and took it to a faucet in the animal cleanup area. While they waited, the two couples sat down on a bale of straw. When the girl returned with the boy’s clean boot, she found the two boys and two girls kissing. They had their eyes closed, and were giggling and sighing and rubbing their hands over each other’s thighs. Embarrassed, she put down the boot and left without making any noise. She went back to her cow. But its big sad eyes weren’t enough anymore. Not anymore.

William Michaelian’s newest releases are two poetry collections, Winter Poems and Another Song I Know, published in paperback by Cosmopsis Books in San Francisco. His short stories, poems, and drawings have appeared in many literary magazines and newspapers. His novel,
A Listening Thing, is published here in its first complete online edition. For information on Michaelian’s other books and links to this site’s other sections, please go to the Main Page or visit Flippantly Answered Questions.

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