Sympathy for Bowser
Bowser, you confuse me. What are you?
Your legs are Cretaceous, maybe triceratops,
but scaled. Where were you in Eden
time? Did you rediscover your legs at the gate
beneath a flaming sword? How complicated
it must be for you. You might scoff
at cherubim, but will forever be bruised
by one who eats mushrooms, feathers,
and fire plant. How absurd this situation!
If you look at your belly, what do you see?
A crocodile easing into the Nile’s sunset,
or a catcher blocking the winning run?
How did you get so spliced? Tail of stegosaurus,
fury of orange dragon! I do not understand.
What god assembled you from spare parts
in the Villain Bin? How does the Princess feel
when you grab her? With reptile hands cold
on her jaw, does she fall weak with swoons?
Does she call you Bad Boy and tug
at your tail? When you kiss her she opens
her eyes and regards you. Bovine slug, she thinks.
Hair of a collectable troll! Octogenarian
eyebrows! Worst of all, close-set eyes!
But my, how his tongue plays in my mouth.
I can feel the sulfur in my throat.
In moments like these, you remain lost in her
peachness, considering yourself quite progressive,
a Feminist at heart. It is Mario with his infinite lives
and infuriating impulse to sacrifice
who always plays the two-dimensional
savior. It is he who domesticizes
Toadstool and makes her greasy
with dishwater, with plumbing,
with managing the struggling pizzeria.
You watch from behind the Last Castle,
forever awaiting Judgment Day
when he will come and take her back. Parapets
and turrets will enclose you, cannons report
in your heart. At the end of the World,
you stand on a tower carving your own cross.
Something like spores snows from your eyes
and covers your Kingdom in darkness.
You whisper an adult prayer, a Villain’s
Lament, for someone to press reset.
To whom it may concern:
Due to factors still being investigated, the Ministry regrets to inform you of the ongoing inflation of wishes. While the press and other non-governmental agencies have blamed this on an interior struggle for control, we can safely say that the threat results from an external force.
You may have noticed the shrinking of fallen stars. If you remember that winter not so long ago, it seemed that fallen stars were the size of houses. The degradation has now progressed from the more manageable apple-sized stars to our current state of affairs. Unfortunately, the rumors you have heard are true. Fallen stars have shrunk to somewhere between a sunflower seed and a dust mote. We would like to remind you of official policies to watch the ground before you as you walk. It is best to both tread and breathe lightly if you think a fallen star might be around. Ingesting a fallen star without making a wish can lead to physical complications, e.g. confusion, extreme bouts of buoyancy, dizziness, tremors, dissociation, heightened blood pressure, delirium, body aches, etc. If you see someone exhibiting these symptoms, do not apprehend them. Instead, contact your nearest Poison and Overdose Department as quickly as possible.
The Ministry also regrets to remind you that our water supplies are becoming contaminated with zinc and copper. Please refrain from casting your wishes into public water sources. Official policy is to keep your coins in your pocket. Doing this, we believe, will enable you to select your wishes more carefully, consequently raising the value of the wish in the stock market and helping assure the stability of our homes.
We at the Ministry encourage you to evaluate the status of your wishes. Due to the constantly evolving nature of this situation, please refer to the enclosed manual for suggested survival tactics should our wishes turn on us. If you have access to newspapers, the Ministry would like to remind you that keeping abreast about the wish situation will help your wishes become less vague or complicated, thereby not only helping your wish to come true, but also providing an environment where all our wishes can return to prosperity in these troubling times.
Please remember: A Saved Wish Saves All.
The Ministry of Self-Defense
I fell in love with a twenty dollar bill last Saturday evening. I pulled it to me and inhaled Denver's mountain air. After some talking and touching, we decided to go out. I tried to stay away from banks but I got caught stealing glances. The bill began to change, so slowly at first that I couldn’t figure out which was its backside or its face. It might have been the dim lighting in the bar, but it seemed to have two faces, then four, then twenty. My arms clutched at bills swirling like propellors en route to a vacation I could never afford, but some still managed to flutter outside. The harder I tried to keep up, the more it split. I was holding eighty shiny faces, all silver hair and Mona Lisa smiles, and, before I knew it, two hundred of its shrunken children shimmered as they slid between my knuckles and rolled away from me.
I crawled under oak tables, over hosed ankles, and finally chased them all down. If I caught one, the coin divided itself further. When I collected them all again in my hands, they spilled out and divorced into fifths. I found it hard to hold every bit of change in my arms by the end of the evening. I knew we had once shared the same values, but I saw parts of that original bill sparkling in a gutter begging someone else to take them home.
There are certainly other options. I’ve made them in every variety: hearts of stone, glass, wood, fruit. You name it, I’ve tried it. I’m unsure of what is right for me. I’ve got this disease. It’s causes are unknown but it’s effects are easy enough to explain. I’ve got a hole where my heart should be. That’s pretty much the whole kit-and-caboodle.
I’ve created some good hearts and some bad ones. Glass is definitely the worst but it is easy to see through, which some women find attractive. A stone heart is too heavy and cold. I once built one out of cotton candy on a whim. It melted far too quickly and ended up migrating to my throat, where it caught and I had to eat it out. It was a nasty business, believe me.
A golden heart is much too easily dented. Plus, there’s the element of the value of the thing. It’s enough to make anyone reconsider before giving it away. I think most people want this type though. The modesty is the hardest part to get right.
The problem with making your own heart is one of isolation. Most people’s hearts are sewn into their being’s fabric by arteries and veins. It’s impossible to build a heart that integrates with the body in an organic way. Getting the materials for a natural heart is basically impossible. I could go Frankenstein, but I’m not that crazy. I could take one from a pig or a cow but that seems unbecoming. In short, I don’t think it’s going to happen.
I spend a few hours every day working on my possible heart. I have this nice little space I’ve cleared out in the garage with all my tools and supplies. Today is a special day. I’ve come up with a new theory.
I think I’ve gone about it all wrong. All my past efforts have been created with elements outside of myself. I’ve done a lot of self-exploration and found a few things here and there that I might be able to use. I’ve got a few great memories that have faded a bit over time, some abstract things like the feeling of success and comfort, and to top it all off I decided to throw in a few songs I’ve written. I’m excited.
I sit down at the bench and get to work. I start on the memories. I throw them in and stir. They aren’t something I like to look at too much. They feel like they’re from a different person. I stir them around and dice them into fragments. I don’t really feel any different after having lost them. Just a little lighter.
For success, I use the top of layer of skin from the palms of my hands. I peel it off with a paring knife and slice it into strips. I look at my calloused skin floating with a few moments from my third birthday party. It ties it all together pretty well.
As a kid, I had to learn to make my whole body beat instead of my heart. I lay on the floor in our living room and would make the smallest vibrations. I’d press my hands together and feel the charge I got from rubbing my fingers against one another. I’d softly stomp the ground and beat feeling into my legs. My eyes would roll around and I became excellent at wiggling my ears. There were some consequences, but there’s always something to talk about at parties.
I had a rough time of it at school. When you don’t have a heart, the insults can crawl in there and set up shop. I’ve been called a lot of things: heartless, the boy without a soul, the miracle that never mattered, scumbag, sleaze, freak, dog. I spent a lot of time in the nurse’s office taking aspirin and playing hooky. She had to have known I was a faker. I guess she felt bad for me.
My telephone rings. “Hello?” I say.
“Hey, it’s me,” Kate says. “I think I might be able to help you out with your heart troubles. Are you free at any point today? I think I could really help.”
“Sure, but I’m kind of busy at the moment.”
“At it again?”
“Okay. Well, how’s 11:30? You be done by then?”
“Sure. See you then.”
“All right. Bye.”
I get back to work. For comfort, I take the sound of my father’s voice. I’ve held it in my throat and lungs for years now. It’s something that shocks me when it escapes. I usually have to swallow it down which is this whole big deal. It resonates pretty well with everything else in the mix. This is looking pretty good.
I knew the songs were going to be the difficult part. I couldn’t take them out of myself so I have to play them in. I take my mandolin and strum the chords and sing the melody. I pretend that I have a heart when I sing. I even get a bit choked up. I play one song and then start on another. One’s sad. It’s about how my dad felt in his coffin when I touched him. And then the other one is a bit happier. It’s about leaving a place and just driving.
I let my mixture mingle and go to the kitchen for an apple. It’s 10:50 right now, so my heart should be mixed and set by 11:45 or so. I figure my heart will be ready in time for lunch. For today, I made a mold. I usually just chip away at whatever I’m working with, but starting a heart from the outside instead of the inside is a thing of my past.
I crunch into my apple and walk back out to the garage. My heart has firmed up a bit. I stir it again and warm it slightly with a candle. I think a heart has to be a soft thing. I study the way everything works out. It looks as if things are going well.
It was really difficult for me to find a girlfriend. I had a terrible time of it and mangled myself up pretty good. Most people, they just give their heart away and it eventually returns to them all busted to pieces. I want to know what it’s like to have to put a heart back together so I can build a suitable one. How do you fix all the cracks: plaster, stitches?
I had my first girlfriend when I was seventeen. I gave her my virginity. Before the end of the whole business, she took my eyes away. She said I had wandering eyes. I told her that eyes are known to wander if they’re taken away. She really didn’t get me. I got them back from her a few months after the break up. Let me tell you, I got tired of stumbling into love and was thankful to have them back.
She gave her heart to me one day. I remember the way the sun slid through the oak leaves above us. She laughed and sang a little. She fancied herself a singer but had terrible taste in music. Just awful. She looked at me and said the only words that matter, “I love you,” then she wept a bit. She reached inside of herself and brought this beautiful heart out. It was shiny and new and smooth as riverstone.
I held her heart in my hands and brought it to my mouth. I closed my eyes and kissed it. I remember the way it tasted, inexplicably, like gabardine. When I opened my eyes I found the string attached to the back. “Just for safe keeping,” she said. Then she stopped crying and began laughing. I put her heart in a box and left it by the windowsill. My Little Badge of Passion, I called it.
When she left me, she did it over the phone. I had her heart inside a locket at the time she yanked it back, so I knew it was coming. Before she hung up, I heard the swish of fabric and a man’s voice. The man was no doubt making a suit out of her heart. Something he could wear on a stroll with her.
I eventually got over it and I’ve been in love twice since then. It’s a great thing, love is. I don’t think I’ve ever done it properly, but that’s what happens if you don’t have a heart. It’s tough to love without the heart. I usually jump in and say sink or swim. This creates a funny predicament where it’s possible to do both. You sink to the depths of your love and find a home there. Then you’ve got to swim through the moments and hours you spend together. Love is a big place to explore. It has no ceiling but does hide a door.
So far, at one point or another, I’ve lost my eyes, ears, tongue, fingers, legs, hair (although that’s perhaps unrelated), nose, and even my liver once. The reasons have been varied, but my lovers usually do it to keep me away from something. I’ve never really shook the whole heartless label.
I’m slightly afraid of giving it away too readily if I finally get one. “Look at me! Who’s got a heart now!” and then I’ll throw it to the first smiling stranger. I guess I’m afraid of getting it hurt. I think I’d be okay with it though. That way I know I cared enough about something to feel so bad afterward.
I get my mold ready. It has four chambers. I want to put the songs at its center, cover it in comfort, lather it with my memories, and then house the whole thing in success. It needs to be mixed together but still separated to function properly. A heart is at the center of things, sure, but it’s got to have its own thing going too. I put everything in the mold the right way and let it set.
I have to strike the perfect balance between cold and hot. I put it in the refrigerator for five minutes and then take it out and put it over the candle. I repeat this three times then allow it to sit. I can smell it if I really strain. It smells of honey and sandalwood. Not too bad, I think.
My doorbell rings. I open the door. Kate walks in and says, “Hey, how’s it going?”
“Well. I think it’ll be ready in about ten minutes.”
“Great! Do you mind if I watch you do it? That’s got to be a personal event,
so I understand if you’d rather do it alone.” She purses her lips when she looks at me.
“No, that’s fine. Some encouragement couldn’t hurt.”
“What’s this one made of?” she smiles a little. She squints her eyes and cocks her head to the side. “I hope you didn’t try to make it with rhinestones again.” I chortle a bit. “It always makes me giggle when you snort,” she says.
“Yeah, yeah. I’m not going to try anything like that again.”
“What’d you use?”
“Little of this, little of that.”
She arches an eyebrow. “You’re not going to tell me, are you?”
“It’s a surprise,” I say. “Want to come on back to the garage? Can I get you something to drink? I just got the best apples I’ve had in a long time, too.”
“Actually, I’ll have a whiskey on the rocks, if you don’t mind.”
“It’s 11:40 in the morning, Kate. Are you sure? Is everything okay?”
“It depends on how you look at it. Just fix that drink and we’ll talk.”
“All right.” Kate’s been single for a while and both her parents are in good health. She does have an older cat. Maybe he died or something. I pour up her drink and serve it in a high ball. “Sorry, I didn’t have a tumbler,” I say.
“Don’t worry about it. I like it tall and tight.” She slugs a bit of it back.
We walk to the garage. “You’ve got a mold, huh? Fancy.”
“Yeah. Listen, what’s going on?”
“I just got back from having my heart examined. Turns out I’m heartsick. They don’t know what caused it. They think it’s been brewing inside of me for a while now.”
“Oh my god,” I say. “What are you going to do?”
“Sit and wait for it to stop, I guess. What am I supposed to do?”
“Kate, listen, I’m sorry.”
“No, don’t be. I just needed someone to talk to today and knew you’d be up to
something. Is your heart ready?”
I take a peek at my watch. “Sure is. Well, here goes nothing.”
I crack the mold open. Inside is a heart perfectly marbled and put together.
“It’s beautiful, Lou. It’s just great.”
I hold it in my hands and test its heft. I can tell it’s solid work. Everything seemed to work this time. I take off my shirt and open up my skin. “All right,” I take the heart and position it before pushing it into my chest.
“Wait a second. I’ve got to tell you something.” She takes a drink of whiskey and looks at the floor. Her eyes flash back and stay on mine. “I think I’m in love with you,” she says.
“I don’t know what to say, Kate. I really don’t know. I mean, I don’t know.”
“Just put it in.” I watch her smile expand behind her glass.
“Okay.” I take my heart and set it in place. I don’t feel anything. “Another
“That’s okay,” Kate says. Something happens and my heart starts getting hot inside me.
“Hold on, this is weird.” I look at Kate and my heart gets hotter and hotter. I realize my heart is breaking itself into place and I’m suffering from the friction of a disintegrated heart. I open my mouth and pour out everything inside me. An orchestra with my father’s voice at its head roars from my mouth. My muscles revitalize and my body feels like it’s going to blow apart. I feel my heart explode and course through my arteries and veins. I sing everything I’ve ever done or had and a light begins to shine out of my fingertips. I shake.
Kate stands up and runs over to me. She hugs me. I can feel her heart slide into place with the hole where mine never was. It's strength combines with my emptiness, and, as she kisses me, I can feel the tears rolling down the bridge of her nose and moistening our lips.
She stops kissing me and everything quiets down. She folds the skin covering her heart back and exposes it. The splotches of heartsickness dim from their black and recede into the red of her heart. With heart still exposed, she takes my hand, tugs gently, and says, "Follow."