1931 (excerpt from “Exit Music”)


The scribble on the back of this thin, over-handled photograph does not say what year it is, but only gives the child’s name and age. Little grooves of snow run down the rutted hills beyond the icicle’d eaves of this house’s porch. A similarly-styled house sits next door. This middle child with pleasant dark bangs peers warily toward the corner. Is an adult about to arrive to mess up the elements of the photograph which she has arranged? The dull doll with bonnet, last month’s gift; Buster Keaton dog; an unidentified boy squinting into the sun, his feet close together, holey skullcap kicked askew. Was he placed against his desires here? The young, brilliant developer of this scene [Hazel Marie Dennis née Elliott] has her hands placed on the roll-top desk in front of her. A teacher: she’s pretending to be the teacher: they are her class. She is trying to be in control of the situation.

Exit Music (excerpt)

At the time, I recall feeling just happy and mindless, unworried, flowing along with whatever was required of me. I did what I was supposed to do: an obedient, observant and somewhat melancholic child….

Infrequently, but always according to some Always Wrong drunkard’s timetable, Lank Elliott, GrandMomma Elliott’s last child–the one truly ever-lost dark person of that family–the confirmed bachelor–eased his Fairlane through the weeds to an abrupt halt before the ancient house of his father.


Of course, we kids were hiding behind clumps of trees or in ditches, playing at first but then seriously spying on him; we’d watch as he flicked his cigarette into the weeds, slowly got out, stretched, rearranged his pockets, spit, and rolled his neck around for comfort with that all-too-bland, impenetrable manner he had. He might then reach back into the car for his deck of cards, and only then sidle up toward the steps, his hair glistening with smelly Vitalis, his spotless white shirt catching late light. This croupy cough grumbled out before you heard “Momma? Diddy? Anybody home?” and then the sound of a wooden screen door thumping open and shut. Low greetings.

As a young English-major-to-be, I came to see how his nicknamed had been configured from the words blank, dank, and slink. Humored by everyone, cut acres of slack, Lank never stumbled around or babbled or otherwise evinced any outward signs of inebriation, even when he most certainly was. Other relatives noted this for us. Still, the smell of transmuted beer–unknown to kid noses–seeped out of the edges of his clothes.

Later on, slightly older, I was in on some Hearts games and got to know him a very little bit better. He had the odd manner, a hang-dog manner, rarely smiled, almost never spoke unless asked a direct question, and seemed to be most suited to the thick, wide eyebrows of most of his Elliott kinsmen.

It was not the only unexplained nickname we had to suss out. The adults were always ultra-careful, quick to hush us or each other when we came close to the answers.

His death? Ignominious, near Alexander City, in a small trailer. A very hot day.


© 2018 Thomas N. Dennis


The Dog’s Cure vs. the Anti-Muse

The dog goes to the vet and
is miraculously cured, uttering
a single joyous bark of hallelujah.

Look! An angel with colored hair
stands atop the yellow arcs of the meat chain,
making obscene gestures? no, it’s a hooper.

Momentarily, there are no mass shootings.
Small children for just a few seconds
do not accidentally find their parents’ Lugers
and shoot themselves or other kids,
in America or anywhere else.

The dog is cured! A boy does not shoot
a bird. A man decides to stop hunting.
Suicides fail to happen, one after the other,
(for the length of the ride home
from the vet).

The anti-Muse stumbles,
curses, feels accursed,
feels his anti-Muse powers dim
but doesn’t know why.
Can’t imagine why.

© 2018 Thomas N. Dennisbumper


told to go, I was
walking in a dark place
a woman whose face
is covered leaves
a slow queue
comes over to me
“Hi, uh, you are…?”
She removes the covering
smiling, very beautiful
and not unlike Giulia Anna Masina
but she was not
Fellini’s wife…
I don’t know
who she was
“You know me…
tell me what’s been happening…”


Tat Tvam Asi With A Shift

how can it become small

it can’t be a small thing:

to open, to split, to melt

this one time of your pawky life

when someone else matters

more to you than you:


It cannot be a small thing

when the arc-light jumps

between skin-in and skin-out

subjective becomes objective

one becomes two and the two

reunite again into one and then,

and then . . . who can know?

you roll  and you hardly know

who is who and who isn’t . . .

none of this even requires a body.

But if we keep at this continuous

smoothing of our skins together

at this rate, by next year . . . .


©2016, 2018 Thomas N. Dennis

Never Snicker at a Snake on a Stick

[excerpt: “Sacred Devices”]

– So it gets like this: you never see the person and you never talk to or text the person for awhile, whereupon a lank, easy wonder (nourished by insecurity) starts to grow: Is it that they don’t want me around anymore? Why don’t they want me around anymore? Have I displeased this person? Morbidly bored this person? Said or done something that makes them quite suddenly allergic to my existence? If only there was a way to contact them (yes, quite, a sacred device through which our voices might be transported via air waves! Splendid! O: waitaminute), a dialogue might emerge. I should learn why they do not wish to speak a word to me besides lol or ttyl (I was in the hospital, I got hit by a truckload of pharma last night) and if they tell me how I have (if I have) offended, changes or amendments might, I say might then be made to my behavior or apologies made for my speech.

– Did you always have this accent?

– Fake accent. Sorry.

– Well, longer ago, it would be a piss-and-moanfest about “unanswered letters” or “he never returns my calls” but in the 20-teens it’s: A text is sent and there is no reply. Why no reply?

– That’s it, exactly. And I am sort of feeling like a teenager in this situation. I … I find myself doing things simply to get a response, since there is no response at all, and if that is not borderline hebephrenic, well –

– Hebephrenic it is. Point made. What do you do, oh wait, what have (heh heh) you done?

– Nothing, really. But listen. Do you know how you have that friend who always complains or who is always in a funky down mood or who is always tripping off on some godawful Main Conspiracy Lane (like the afterlife, you don’t want to go there) and so you do everything you can to avoid running into them at the office or campus. You might even cross the street, going, Ah shit here comes trouble!

– I know where you’re going with this. They create the scapegoats they become, don’t they? Escape-goats? When you do run into them, they’re all paranoid, like Why don’t I ever see you anymore or Why are you avoiding me? And you say, I’m not. But you want to speak the truth, at this point, you want to tell the person –

that the reason I’m avoiding you

It’s that you are always pestering me about why we don’t get together like we used to, that’s why I am avoiding you. It’s a tautology and a Plutonic relationship at once!

© 2017 Thomas N. Dennis


[Two Rats, Van Gogh, 1884]

Death of a Dog

He woke up pre-madrugada and found his dog, dead. “Hana!” Bent down, spilling coffee, checking for sure. Held a piece of broken mirror near her dry nostrils. Gone dog. “Hana…” Slobbering, keening, hugging her scrawny carcass, he decided to enwrap her (he could barely look at her) in an unwearably ugly teal sweater his mother had given him. I wore it not once. Knowing he had to finish this before his wife woke, he carried her to the northeastern edge of the yard where, through some 30 years, other interments had concealed other pets: the rabbit (Lenny), the hamsters who somehow chewed each other’s heads off one night, and an unsurprisingly named pair of quail. He heard the garbage truck as he worked. Bits of magenta from the top edge of the sunrise. He dug until he could break roots nor rocks — what was that thick, chthonic odor rolling up? — wow — and with care laid the remains of his dog down in the hole, covering her up with sweeps of his forearms and hands, patting the ground with his weight, adding leaves and pine straw. No last words.


short-haired Dal-Lab mix

“A bed full of eye-lashes”

when she slept with you


(c) 2017 Thomas N. Dennis