Joe Fletcher

Prester John


There was a chain hanging from beneath his kimono.

It was moist and thick with algae and dropped


between his bare feet and snaked across the cracked

concrete floor, disappearing into a backroom from which


escaped the sound of Donizetti’s “Don Pasquale” and in

the gloom of which I glimpsed a birdcage and a dented tuba


resting upright on its bell. His face was caked with greasepaint

and beads of sweat gathered on his brow and his temples; his


blond hair curled in sweaty loops. His eyes were squeezed shut.

He stood motionless, save for tiny jerks of his wrist, around


which was wound a leather leash that was fastened to

the collar of a naked baby crawling behind the crosshatched


mahogany strips of a lattice. Through an oblong window

the avenue was darkened by clouds. A golden retriever


slurped from a puddle in convulsive gulps. “Are you

The Norseman?” he asked, his eyes still shut. “I am he,” I replied.


“Fucking liar,” said the baby in a resolute voice from behind

the lattice. The man nodded, slowly. I imagined pinching


the baby’s smooth stomach, pinching and twisting and

stifling its howls with a lace-fringed pillow, stuffing


its limp body into the bell of the tuba and tossing it into

a Minnesota lake at the end of autumn. “Where have I


seen you before?” inquired the man, squeezing his eyes tighter,

as if reversing his gaze across the murky shoals of memory.


“This isn’t the first time I’ve crossed your threshold,”

I proclaimed, gripping the rubber shaft of my putter.


Then something began to pull the chain from the backroom.

His eyes flew open and he looked at me for the first time,


like a peasant on the gallows whose hood has fallen off,

and who recognizes his mother jeering from the crowd.
































































A white fur throw over the couch, and a boy


pinching his cheeks to pinken them a bit, enliven his


only relative being. It’s not  magic, it’s work. Gendarme


clenching Genet’s tube of petroleum jelly. For the head,


not the hair. Pink the poetic ideal, but it’s always


a bit more tan than that. Sweat behind his ears, buttons


and unbuttons his shirt. Playing the role of a character


who plays a role. How’s the body?, the gendarme wants


to know, when did your father first make a woman


of you? Officer, most men stuff a specter: woman


is only a theatrical illusion, furnished by degrees.