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Category: Kevin Prufer

The Newspapers

How they tumbled down the snow-filled streets,

how they slept in battered vending boxes

and hung from dowels in the public library.

How my father kept the memorable ones in his closet,

among the dying shoes.

Then the power went out. The TV closed its eye

and the house felt strange in the new silence:

a hush of snowstorm.

Because there was nothing else to do,

I went upstairs to read.

In his closet, I found an old newspaper

in a language I couldn’t understand.

There he was in uniform, just below the fold—but where?

And who was that other man by his side?

I did not hear what my mother said in the kitchen

that made him throw his wine glass at her,

cutting a stain on the wall behind her head.

Let’s go to the museum, my father said,

Let’s get out of here.

He smelled of wine and sweat, familiar and good.

Newspapers fell from the clouds,

clotting the rooftops and the branches as we drove.

At the museum, a giant brain turned on a gear.

Press a button, he told me. Now try another one,

and for once I did exactly as he said.

Colored bulbs glowed on the surface,

temporal lobe, hippocampus, neural highways,

the great brain moving in the silence—

but who was that other man by his side, a rifle

propped carelessly against his shoulder?

And what had become of the gun my father held?

He was casually checking his watch.

She’s cooled down by now, he said,

but I was still pressing those buttons, I couldn’t stop.

Thoughts blinked on the surface,

bright networks of gold and blue,

the brain humming as it glowed in the vast gray room.

Back home, my mother wouldn’t turn from the stove

or look at us. The house smelled good.

I quietly stowed the newspaper with the others, behind the shoes,

then came downstairs for dinner.

She’d cleaned the stain away.

That night, I couldn’t sleep. My brain kept turning.

Pinpricks glittered like cities viewed from an airplane.

From downstairs, a muffled conversation,

then the TV changing channels

and, much later, the noise of sex.

To think he has been dead twenty years now

and she can no longer feed herself. I am 48,

typing this on a hot June night

1000 miles from there.

from The Art of FictionFind more by Kevin Prufer at the library

Copyright © 2021 Kevin Prufer
Used with the permission of The Permissions Company, LLC on behalf of Four Way Books.

Blueberry

She wanted to play with the blue parakeet,

so she cupped it in her hands, then let it perch

on her index finger

until her father said the bird was tired,

dear, it gets tired, it’s just a little thing,

so she made it rest an hour

then took it out again,

letting it balance on her shoulder. Sometimes

it tried to fly,

but its wings had been clipped

so it fluttered to the floor and hid under the table

until she lifted it again, stroking its head,

while her father said,

it’s late now, the bird needs to sleep

and so do you.

The bird would survive a week.

+

It is wonderful to be in love,

said the drone to its target,

but the target

was talking to his daughter.

In love, in love, in love,

said the drone fluttering at the target’s window.

It had a hot engine, a propeller’s low pulse.

It took twenty pictures

which it sent wirelessly

to the Central Office,

pictures of a man in a well-lit dining room,

his black-haired daughter,

and her blue parakeet.

+

He was, the investigators believed, a very bad man,

so they observed him

with the attention of a lover.

Everything he said, their drone recorded, compressed,

and sent on to the Bureau

where such information

was processed

for the prosecution.

+

Before she returned it to the cage,

she let the bird peck at a pile of seed

she held in her palm.

The bird

ate just a little. Blueberry, blueberry,

she said, stroking its feathers,

while her father

spoke tersely on the phone,

then studied the map

he’d spread on the table,

a map the little drone

tried to photograph through the window.

+

In her bedroom,

the cage was an empty head.

But when she opened the door

and the parakeet hopped inside,

the cage was alive with thought.

And when she covered it for the night,

the feverish cage

imagined first the apartment

and its tempting windows,

then the sky beyond them,

the pulse of heat on sun-dappled wings,

the vast

and heavenward distances.

+

Darling, her father said at her bedroom door,

I’ve got to go out for a bit. But I’ll be back very soon.

So the girl fetched the parakeet

and turned on the TV

while the drone

followed her father down the street, hovering above his car

as he merged onto the highway—

+

The blue parakeet balanced

on the girl’s finger, looking toward the black windows.

Then it hopped onto her shoulder,

its quick little heart

flickering in its chest. Blueberry, blueberry,

she said, posing it on the chair’s back, the mantel, the book shelf,

until the bird fluttered to the floor again

and hid among the newspapers—

+

Don’t forget I love you,

the drone said as the bullet found its victim

and her father slipped the gun back into his pocket,

walking calmly down the dead man’s driveway.

I love you,

as he pulled into the street, I love you

as he turned left onto the highway ramp toward home,

the little drone

right behind him.

Click, click, click,

said the part of its brain that takes pictures

and sends them on to the young men

at the Central Office—

+

When he got home,

he found his daughter asleep on the sofa,

all the lights on, the blue parakeet

catching its breath

on the curtain rod.

She’s so light, he thought,

carrying her to bed, light as a thought.

He loved her too much.

+

And the young men at the Central Office

put away the lovesick drone.

And her father put on his pajamas

and turned out the lights.

In the middle of the night,

the parakeet returned to its cage

where it knew it would be safe.

from The Art of FictionFind more by Kevin Prufer at the library

Copyright © 2021 Kevin Prufer
Used with the permission of The Permissions Company, LLC on behalf of Four Way Books.

Archaeology

I went to the basement where my father kept his skulls.

I stood before the metal utility shelves. Skulls to the ceiling.

I looked into the eyeholes. I looked into a cranium’s tomahawk hole.

Down there, it was nothing but his lab. I held

those skulls like empty pots. What did I know about Indian pots?

Some days, we went to the bars. I swung my legs from the barstool

and drank my Coke. Some days, he dug the fields.

Then it was skulls in the sink, skulls in the drying rack.

The fields are full of skulls. You have to know where the plows

turn them up. What did I know, then, about digging?

The dark inside the eyeholes. He wrote his notes on them

in indelible ink. 2.7 pounds. 2.5. The fields are full of pots.

It’s true. He told me, packing his shovel into the Volkswagen.

What did I know about Indians? He kept a lab in our basement

because the university was too cheap. I went to the basement

where he kept his skulls. I looked into their eyeholes. I loved

their weight, but what did I know? When I lay in bed,

they glowed down there. It was many years ago. I closed my eyes

and the skulls talked in the basement. Indian pots. Teeth.

The noise of sex from his room. At the bars, farmers told him

what their plows turned up. I drank my Cokes. Cheap university

without a decent lab. The skulls spoke a language no one knew.

Look at this, my father said, rinsing another one in the sink.

This one took a bullet to the head. History, then, was silence.

from The Art of FictionFind more by Kevin Prufer at the library

Copyright © 2021 Kevin Prufer
Used with the permission of The Permissions Company, LLC on behalf of Four Way Books.

This program is supported in part by a grant from the Idaho Humanities Council, a State-based program of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this (publication, website, exhibit, etc.) do not necessarily represent those of the Idaho Humanities Council or the National Endowment for the Humanities.