[work-in-progress: Lavinia’s Travels]


Bob was among the cohort that does this sort of thing.

He woke early, before dawn, and it was one of those autumn mornings so close to the chosen time of his death that he felt he had to call Lavinia.

–I’m gonna go buy a gun, Vinnie. Down at that place next to the Dollar store. Soon as they open.

–Aw, Bob. Not again.

–No, this time I’m gonna do it. Things are just at a–at a nadir.

–A nadir. Where did you learn that word, Bob?

–Bobby’s dying.

–Bobby is a dog. He’s eighteen years old. Why’d you give him your name anyway? What fucking time is it?

–But he’s my only friend.

–What about that girlfriend of yours? Can you hold while I make some instant coffee?

–She doesn’t seem to care anymore. One day all bright eyed and we are in love, next day she’s off with some 50-year-old plumber dude who wears his cap backwards and has five NO FEAR signs on his pick up. Which is a brand new Dodge Ram 2020, by the way. And I got nothing but the Duckmobile.

–Well, that happens, Bob. We womenfolk get tired of what you asshole men say and do. God knows you study cars too much. We get tired of it a lot. You bore us with your sex. Some of us take longer to weary of you than others and some of you have qualities that somewhat reprieve you.

–Well. Nice speech. What sex? Is your coffee ready? I’m still gonna buy the gun. Or a hose pipe.

–You can’t use a gun. You are physically incapable of discharging a loaded firearm, Bob. And it’s — how many times must I tell you? — it’s either a hose or a pipe, but it is not a hose pipe?

Lady With A Weasel
Oil on Wood 54.8 x 40.3 cm

Lavinia hates making food. Let the men make their own goddamned breakfasts and suppers, she says. Barely recalls caring about meeting men, and thoroughly invests, daily, if not nightly, in amnesia for all the other fathermuckers (as she likes to call them) of her life. She consciously forgets males. She eats out at various vegetarian spots as much as she cans and eats Campbell’s Bean with Bacon soup and crackers otherwise. Her income is precarious on certain months. She lives now in a little house overlooking the eastern valley of an old industrial valley — railroads here, interstates there, old U.S. highways guiding the rest of the slugs, because that’s what they were, right, because who the hell else would stay in such a town as Lavinia’s? Her house was half brick, half wood, tiny, ensconced in silence and overgrown hickory trees.

Lavinia is writing a self-help book. It has an obscene working title and involves anecdotes about “the men she had known, and not known, in her life.”

Lavinia has several cats, but she lets them run wild. They all are named the same name: Cat. Bland but works. One cat, a somewhat blind tortoise-shell female who does not answer to that appellation, stays inside while she is working on her book — the others chase chipmunks, tease local hounds and look for other spicy additions to their diet, discarded sushi being their favorite.

When someone asked, Why don’t you keep the cats inside? Lavinia was vaguely enraged at the question and said, How would you like it if someone did that to you?


Lavinia goes into town to get a few supplies from time to time. She calls it Shankytown but that is not its official monicker. There must be ten Dollar stores here and about eight title loan shops interspersed with fast-food chicken joints and the occasional hardware or auto parts store — but the once-thriving vape shops fade now, like business flowers gone dry.

A ‘burg anyone would want to leave as soon as they got old enough to drive out of it — of course, she was born in Mobile, Alabama, not here. She told people the town sat in a valley and she lived near a wide, rather wild creek which could flood the town but the reality was much creepier, and less precarious than what she let on, as was her life when compared to the extremely rare texts she sent to her friends (and last remaining relatives).

Big 50 coming up for Vinnie in a few weeks, but at least she has no friends who would want to celebrate that number’s attainment with her. Plastic black crows in the front yard. Fuck that shit. She was so tired of life, at this point, Lavinia told herself as she took the curves of Highway 22 toward town.

She’s been shucking friends for decades, it seems. Where did they go? You could look them up. They could look her up, she once realized. And decided at that point — and for creative reasons — to drop almost completely off the social media map, or was it a more a creative playscape, a place where we chose our words to describe our realities, each and every one of us, and each of us lied, to some degree, as we took our doctored photographs of ourselves and then our porno-food shots of fabulous meals and our wonderfully backgrounded vacations and described the foibles of boyfriends and girlfriends and screamed about outrageous political occurrences and — Listen to me! (she told her inner witness) I sound like some crankified old woman. What’s wrong with me? What do I need?

Cat food, for sure.


She has a trail she walks every day, in unfashionably cheap sneakers she’s owned for decades. It appears to be a dilapidated mining trail overgrown with ragweed, but her daily walks have made a sort of path through it all. It’s near a pipeline and is very straight. Often there’s the disconcerting smell of the odorant they put in the natural gas. So we know if it is leaking. Worst thing is running into a spider web with her hair as long and curly as it is these days — one spends moments trying to determine if the mother spider lodged somewhere near one’s crown chakra — what a disaster that might be.

Arachnasana, the pose to get spiders out of your hair.

The walks garner about 5000 steps and keeps her legs feeling strong. She doesn’t much care how they look and never shaves — for whose hairless fantasies would she do that now? There was not a razor in her house.

She thought of a man she knew who so loved dogs that he let one kill a cat. Her cat. “It was an accident,” he said. “They shouldn’t have been left together. It was just a proximity mistake.”

Yeah, thought Lavinia, like me and you. He wasn’t around much longer. Nice guy otherwise, as a representative of a population of dickheads. Wore his cap backwards, had a swaggering gait.

But this one particular morning, numinously undepressed for the first time in it seemed weeks, Lavinia saw two snakes twined together in front of her on the thick grass. They swirled together, serpents without color, wove their way vanishing into the underbrush.

Smiling her only smile. Fighting or fucking?

Wait, wasn’t there some old ancient myth connected with this vision — oh no —

“Tiresias,” says Lavinia and now she laughs outright.


Jhon the writer, over Ethiopian coffee, told Vinnie, “The bad things about love…love is a bad thing.”

“You did a bad thing?” She was half-interested in him but knew it would end in a vapid cloud of byebyes.

“No! Well, no more than usual for October. But . . . where was I — the bad things about love are twofold. One is that it so often arises unrequited. That gets complicated. There are marriages where I’d guess love was unrequited by both parties. Yet they stay together years and years and years. People fall into adulteries, natch, in such loveless relationships…”

“Are you a lawyer?”

“No, I told you, I’m a writer of fictional characters.”

“But you could also be a lawyer.”

“That would make me that famous writer Jon Gnasham. But I am not he.”

“Okay,” shifting in her seat, “so what is the other, uh, bad thing about love?”

Wistful. “When you get used to feeling it either toward someone, or feeling it expressed toward you, when it goes away, you get pretty depressed. Life ain’t much worth living. Who is there to share things with? You’re alone. Like in your room as a little kid.

“The love drug is gone. Love spoils us, you are saying.”

“Something like that I guess. It makes us gentle-hearted at times. You want it to come back.”

“Even if the other person never cared for you (or, at best, only as some asexual friend they could call up and borrow money from in a personal economic crisis) — if you were madly in it for them — you’d — ”

“You’d probably do anything. Your love (even unrequited) still exists and wants to be expressed. You can’t help loving them even when your love is painful to yourself. How twisted is that.”

“You gotta break the attachment.”


“Right. Break love. But is love just an attachment?”

“Damn this is some good coffee. I’m wired.”




She wakes (dreams of skulls) at 3:33 a.m., legs a-thrash — freezing since the blanket with Der Schrei der Natur embossed on it had been dragged to the floor by two chilly felines — her mind blasting, like some demented cerebral alert, one sentence over and over. Were Vinnie’s brain a screen (who’s to guess consciousness itself isn’t such a screen?) the lower-third chyron that morning ran thus:

<<Lavinia Waters to Phil Schram: You shall not see me again>>

This was what she wanted to say to him at their lunch meeting. She could lie in bed there and see the whole experience that would occur in a few hours downtown at Liess Place, predict the conversations, even guess what his immediate reply would be. “You’re coming with to Apathyfest next month, right, camping?” And she’d nod no.

There was no better time and so it was the perfect time to snap this whole unrequited wishwash wanker out of her life. Tell him today or wait? It was assumed that he’d pop out with that usually winning (by large margins) smile of his, one corner untwisted:

O Really?–much as if she had said, “I am going to have fried aardvark toast this morning.” O really? Aardvark toast? God damn it, she said aloud into the dark room like Eddie Harris says God damn it in the song, “Compared to What.” I should put it on.

She imagines the smell of the coffee she was about to get up and brew, struggled to escape her inner dialogue and the bed.

He does not listen. Men do not listen. They look and their ears exist but they never really listen to a woman, they are waiting to speak, that’s what that expression is: patience far from understanding. Still waiting.

“You won’t see me again, I’m tired of this shallow relationship of ours, byebye!”

“So what brought this on?” She was sure this phrase would occur, and that she would meet it with silence. He would continue to fork the salad into his mouth.

He would say nothing about Mendum’s Mandalas, and his new squeeze, the curlyhaired lady who wore an LBD to work every day, to sell mandala paintings at the mall. Lavinia’s imminent replacement — well, we know this guy, he fucks everybody, so they’ve certainly done the bad thing by now. Scratch that imminent.

Many times, in multifarious ways, the bad thing that is the good thing.

“You won’t see me again after today.”

“Is this because you found Mary’s underwear last week? Whoever said we were — ”

“You won’t see me again after this lunch.”

“This is all you’re going to say today,” he mutters in her imagination. “Well fuck me.”

“You won’t see me again — ”

“So who pays the bill?” He’s angry now, probably texting the Mandala store.

She already had the bill on the table, in her imagination.

The sun would not be up for awhile. She fed the cats and made coffee and had one half of a cigarette, first in quite a long while, sitting dejectedly on the back porch in her robe. Summer’s time has certainly gone, leaves are falling, rain is about to descend from a west-moving front. She does not cry.

(c) 2019 Thomas N. Dennis

work in progress

Just Running Out the Clock

How many of us are really just
running out the clock? waiting
and scheming and then — shock
How many of us are really just
running out the clock?
working every day like a watch
awaiting sudden death
running out the clock
awaiting those onrushing clouds of doom
watching big colored screens in comfortable rooms
off on vacation in a lobby of white
flying to the Bahamas, gonna see the sights
but we’re running out the clock
we’re passengers, not pilgrims
we’re touristas to Nada


How I Got to Yoga, Part 1 of several

Mid-1999, I remember thinking, for reasons that remain fuzzy, that I needed to find “a way to get into shape.” I had little experience of gyms but felt sure, somehow, I didn’t want machinery involved in my getting into shape.

(Right or wrong, I had visions of people all wearing headphones, sweating profusely, running as if chased by antelopes.)

Weren’t there ways of being healthy that were natural and didn’t necessarily involve taking medicines or eating almost nothing? I asked a friend and he told me that he had taken up yoga a few years back in order to develop the strength to work in a nursing home lifting patients. It was all he could think of to tell me. Had it helped? It had.

This was the day of VCRs and I used a truly beautiful and useful tape created by Rodney Yee. The name of it was, I believe, “AM and PM Yoga for Meditation” and I practiced in my living room — I remember exactly where the TV was, oddly enough — every morning before work and often in the afternoons when I had time. Meanwhile, as with anything I become interested in, I started checking out books on yoga and figuring out exactly what it was supposed to be and do.

My plan was to use the tape to get my body used to the asanas or poses, as they were called, and so when I got up the nerve to attend a class — I had a studio picked out — I would at least know enough not to look like the clueless newbie I would actually be.

I found a pair of 100% cotton long-length yoga pants, pale brown in color, with an orange dragon on one leg. Somehow it seems unlikely that I found this at Kmart or Walmart, but where else did I shop back then? No Amazon to speak of. I bought a mat that was slightly thicker than other mats: the color was pomegranate. I have had a lot of mats since 2000. Perhaps I got one as a gift for Christmas 1999. And there was the outdoor mat, used on the deck, which is a great place to do your home practice of yoga, by the way.

So, along around the spring of 2001, I decided I was ready and I called and talked to Leon Bowsky, an articulate fellow some years older than me and the owner of Lotus Yoga, and he told me to come on down and talk to Linda, who taught from 6-7:30. And I did.

And it changed my whole life; at least, it’s possible that beginning a yoga practice, a yoga sadhana as it is called, brought just enough self-directed discipline to a life not known for being very disciplined

I was already attracted to the unusual nature of ayurvedic medicine generally — there seems to be a spiritual/heart element present in its modes of healing — but I read such things as the biographies of famous Indian guys like Ramakrishna, translations of the Yoga Sutra and the Upanishads — all the while doing the physical work of learning, for instance, the flow of poses involved in the simple vinyasa called a sun salutation.

[to be continued]



(not the anti-muse)


Hey did you see the anti-muse
downtown at the Arts Alliance
He was quoting that quote of his
He loves it so, where he got it I dunno:

<<God and Devil walking along
Something glittery pops up
“Oh,” says God, “it’s a bit of truth!”
“Give me that,” says Devil:
“I will organize it for you.”>>

That was pretty much his opening
and closing remark. Only a few of us knew
his true identity as the anti-muse but we
were treated for exposure later, so we are okay.


The anti-muse spoke at a punk party
the other night in a warehouse so hot you
could have roasted chimichangas in there, dude
ISYN! Next to the brewery next to the other brewery
What did he say? I couldn’t hear.
I guess I am lucky. I went home
and wrote three decent poems.


The anti-muse and I were
meandering down an alley between
2nd and 3rd avenue north in Birmingham
and he stopped me outside a dumpster
and he said, “Listen, I’ll admit it.”
and I said “What?” He said, “I try to
make people create the most mediocre
art possible whenever they do create art.”
I said, “Like, derivative, plagiaristic?”
He said, “Yeah. More to it than that, I suspect.”
I said, “Like moviemakers making redos of old movies
without going to the trouble to create anything original?”
My whole purpose, said the anti-muse,
“Is to keep us creating nothing.”


At the Friday night football game, at which it was hotter than fried woodchucks, the anti-muse kept cheering for both teams and also kept rambling on about how sports were really one of the best ways to keep people from creating decent art — the players’ traumatic brain problems — starting in high school or earlier, and continuing on, would be useful in this endeavor of his.

“Beauty,” said the anti-muse, lighting up a cigarette in an illegal area, “is never created by aggression and violence.” 

Rejection Letter


It pains us to inform you that your recent poetry submission to Merde did not reach our high levels of literary skill, and so we must reject “Poop Pee Poop.” Please don’t let this rejection keep you from continuing your literary endeavors, however. We see much of promise in this work and hope you will continue to love and subscribe to Merde at the very affordable tri-monthly rate. Your fiction submission “Fecality,” too, was not thought by Merde’s fiction editors to be appropriate for this particular issue. Please keep working and submit again (using our Submit Cash App). Again, best wishes in your future work. Sincerely, the editors.

Desultory Breakfast Chat

–How long have we known each other? 

–Eh. A few years — six years, eight? 

–When did you start to despise me? 

Big canopy of treetops outside their nooklike breakfast space. They are barefoot. Cats meander about, eavesdropping, and motorcars hiss on the wet roads down the hill.

–Who says I despise you? 

–You act as though you despise me. As though I were some nasty random person you had to endure — some buttcracking plumber, a ogling tree-trimmer, a guy begging money — a beggar — 

–Despise is a very, uh, how to say — overwrought verb. 

–So you don’t despise me? Even though you avoid contact with me. 

–Oh no no no. Not a bit of it. And you had that nasty bug! 

–Is it more apathy? I used to wake up and wonder what you were up to — or what you and I might get ourselves into in the course of a given day. It would cross my mind over coffee. 

— Huh, what were you saying? I think a plane went over — 

–I sense that you don’t wake up that way. 

–I wake up in pain, I live in pain, I alleviate the pain, I function for a while, go to sleep not in pain (a difficult task for almost all of us, n’est-ce pas?), and again wake in pain. You are just another aspect of the pain-stuffed world — you are no one special.  

[work in progress]

©  2019 Thomas N. Dennis

Desultory Aftermath of the Festival of Wights (a haibun)

phishnye2013 (2018_03_24 00_14_54 UTC)

On the third day of the festival, the day it was over, they had no more drugs, everybody was sort of hungover and there no more money and nobody was playing any sort of music. A keen wind sprang up, rustling the weird vegetation of this oddball state, and Bobby said he heard police sirens (I heard none) coming out of Chanktown. It was noon but felt like 5:59. We looked into our various rucksacks and wallets, eyeballing old credit cards’ dates as we generally felt like shit and considered our options. Rank day for sure. An absence of dankness, people looking grim. There weren’t even those few late stragglers who generally sit buzzing happily on the hoods of their vehicles hammering out “Feelin’ Alright” on acoustic guitars, guys who look like they are never going to leave. The nitrous people from late last night are gone. Calm straight people in yellow-striped vests wandering the parking lot edges and festival grounds picking up trash with pointy sticks, dragging big plastic sacks of light rubbish. “Call Momma and tell her — ” “Tell her — ” ” — that we’re out of gas, no wait, I told her — ” “Call Robert.” “Nah. That fucker is tapped out” “Call Blake” “Goddamn it my phone’s dead.” “Tell them — tell them — anything. We need money” “Goddamn it — ”

all shows are final
excitement ceiling — uhoh
no shows are final