October/November Update (*In the Mines* Tour Part II)

FOG pre-show rehearsal
[Rehearsal at Midcoast Music Academy. Photo credit: Genevieve Johnson.]
Before diving into the goofy details of the past two month’s cavalcade of performances, I find that it’s necessary to play a little catch-up vis-à-vis recent publications. Since last July’s printing of “Small Shiny Fish” in Canada’s Broken Pencil, I have published my first poem in over ten years (“Jack Pine in Breeze” in Gibson Fay-Leblanc’s Deep Water column), my second (prose-) poem in ten years (“Thomas” in Winter Tangerine, which is not only stunning in its totality but also includes a festively-creepy reading of the piece), and a short piece continuing the anti-pastoral upbringing of Regan (“Chestnut v. Buckeye” in the new online ‘zine Muskeg). And on another order of magnitude, my full-length collection Blue of the World is all but finalized and ready for printing—due entirely to the ceaseless effort, faith, and vision at Tailwinds Press—in anticipation of a Spring 2019 release, while my novel Our Shadows’ Voice progresses along a similar path with the diligent souls at Fomite, who are aiming for a Summer 2019 release. So all in all, it’s proved to be a busy season in my grey, asbestos tower.

But back to the continuing life of In the Mines

Engine (1)
[Traditional Biddeford preparation. Photo credit: Alexis Iammarino.]
After a respite of days following our Rockland performance in a desanctified church, Scott, Genevieve, and I reconvened our act for a performance at Biddeford’s Engine, where in our matching Dickie’s coveralls we explored the permutations of longing and fuckupery to a room of pie-eaters and confused children. It was exciting to feel the songs begin to tighten and shift in ways both organic and unexpected, and in addition to the two songs on the record on which she sings (“Cold Coffee” and “Brier Island Blues”), Genevieve also joined us on a rendition of Townes Van Zandt’s interpretation of “If I Needed You.” Meanwhile, the world’s worst classic rock cover band did their loud and sleazy thing in the street right outside the venue. Like the man says, “You can’t always need what you get.”

The following week, I got to take a solo part in the annual Waking Windows Festival in Portland, where I took the opportunity to read a selection from The Opposite of Prayer, which has gone regrettably neglected since its release this spring. In a fortuitous turn of events, I actually got to perform right before this guy read his manifesto, proving to be an even greater than anticipated one-two punch of fan-boy dream-come-true and utter amazement at the raw talent exercising itself in real-time. Then I watched Ivy Sole take down the house. A very good day for sensual weirdos.

[Yeah, I don’t know either. Photo credit: Patrick Kiley.]
The beginning of October brought the three of us back together at BCA’s Cyclorama for the Boston Art Books Fair, where Pilot Editions—publisher of In the Mines as well as several of my other books—was in resplendent attendance. Because of certain logistical circumstances, we had to rearrange some of the songs for a more stripped-down performance, swapping out my multi-sectional electric setup for a new standard-size acoustic bass. Which was totally dope! Further rearrangement also included Genevieve’s vocal contributions on every song, thus solidifying her as a permanent member of the band (and also solidifying the reality of this actually being a band, albeit one without a name yet). Throughout the years, I have had my reasons for having reservations about doing anything in Boston, but the Cyclorama show proved all my angst baseless. It was a great turnout that yielded enough book/album sales to more than cover our gas. Also: excellent post-show pizza.

All of which leads to the present and this past weekend’s show at FOG in Rockland, where our expanding set of songs and stories were accompanied by our man Jason Goodman on drums and the unflappable Nina Noah on cello, and while Genevieve’s violin debut on “Howard Says” was foiled by a last minute broken string, it did pave the way for her mandolin debut (made possible by kismet and the identical tunings of small stringed instruments). It was thrilling to hear how new people’s acts and ideas could bring these songs into new and surprising sonic territory, a point made especially clear on our first-ever performance of “Lauren,” transported from an aching chamber piece into a sensual trance locked down with a surprisingly apropos hip-hop beat. The love evident in Rockland was kinetic, and hospitality of the FOG staff was unparalleled, as were their cocktails and post-show vittles. If every performance could begin with a baller Old Fashioned and end with a chicken pot pie, I’d be a fat and happy man.

FOG soundcheck
[Soundcheck in Rockland. Photo credit: FOG Bar & Cafe.]
Since we have no further events scheduled (yet) in support of In the Mines, I guess this marks the end of this leg of the “tour.” But hopes are for more New England shows in the coming months, as well as an actual multi-date tour in New York (and maybe Pennsylvania, too). I am more than open to suggestions and invitations, so don’t be shy in contacting me about scheduling an event in your hamlet or burgh.

As always, thank you for reading and for sharing and for your daily incentive to continue working in spite of the In-House Critic’s constant suggestion to stay in bed and sleep each entire day away. If you are a current Patreon subscriber, thank you for keeping me flush with prescription meds and cheap whiskey. If you are not a current Patreon subscriber, please feel free and, in fact, encouraged, to tantalize me with chemical reward by becoming a member today. And if your view of the future looks as dire as reason dictates, thus rendering any kind of subscription unfit to warrant consideration, perhaps contemplate making a one-time donation and getting the equivalent rewards (handmade things, small-run booklets, etc.) for one month.

You are the surprise twenty-ounce pour when I’m only expecting a pint.


September 2018 Update (In the Mines tour, Part I)

Rawgland (2)
[photo courtesy of Steel House Projects]
[Not that two performances can really be called a tour, but for the time being, this is the best my compadre Scott and I can do: traveling to one town or another for a single performance before returning home to grumble and snort through our daily rituals, waiting until our next chance to talk and sing at you.]

Portland (2)
[photo courtesy of Alexis Iammarino]
After convening at my house in Saco for a steaming feast of empanadas and too much George A Dickle, we performed our release event at the Apohadion Theater in Portland, Maine where: my almost-wife Genevieve made her on-stage debut singing backup on two songs, two songs were transformed into grungy anthemic rockers due to the guest drumming of our buddy Will (pictured above playing some jaunty keys on “Howard Says“), and I in my incidental hangover gave what might be the most tongue-tied reading I’ve given in years (thanks, George A Dickle, you rye-steeped bastard). Overall, a succulent welcome into the world for our new creation.

Rawgland (1)
[photo courtesy of Steel House Projects]
The following week’s show in Rockland was a much smoother, and thus a far more celebratory, event. The venue—a desanctified church that Steel House Projects’  Donna McNeil has converted into a home and occasional performing space—proved to be one of the most acoustically rich spaces within which I’ve ever had the fortune to perform. Our soundcheck was surgical, our outfits were boss, and our dinner was salad. The closest thing to a heckler we had was a bottle of champagne being popped mid-set. Our chops were tight and our flubs were jazz. It’ll be a tough row to mow for any future show to top this. But I am completely willing (in fact, eager!) to be wrong.

Rawgland (3)
[photo courtesy of Steel House Projects]
Our next performance from In the Mines will be Friday, September 14th, at Engine in Biddeford (8 pm). If you are proximate and free, we would love to see you seeing us. And if time and geography conspire against you, there are still copies of the project’s limited pressing available directly from Pilot Editions.

As always, thank you for reading and for sharing and for your daily incentive to get up, get moving, keep working, keep trying. If you are a current Patreon subscriber, thank you for keeping the carrot just beyond this homely beast of burden’s reach. If you are not a current Patreon subscriber, please feel free and, in fact, encouraged, to dangle sweet reward just beyond my prehensile lips by becoming a member today. And if your view of the future looks as dire as reason dictates, thus rendering any kind of subscription unfit to warrant consideration, perhaps contemplate making a one-time donation and getting the equivalent rewards (handmade things, small-run booklets, etc.) for one month.

You are the modulator tremelo-ing my keys so very, very sweetly.

Repost: Interview with Salt alums Scott Sell & Douglas W. Milliken


[The following is a reposting of an interview Scott Sell and I did with the Salt Institute for Documentary Studies, the graduate program where we met thirteen years ago. The text has been edited slightly: several of the links have been updated.]

Now and again, we’ll be sharing interviews with alums of the Salt Institute for Documentary Studies at MECA about new projects and undertakings. Today, we talk to two Salt ‘05 alums, Scott Sell and Douglas W. Milliken, about their collaboration on In the Mines, a linked album of music and book of short fiction. Douglas and Scott also share some reflections on what they’ve been up to since Salt, what they’ve carried with them from the program, and some work of fellow Salt alums that they’ve been excited to see and hear out in the world.

1) Tell us a bit about your new project.

Scott Sell: Doug and I have been collaborating on projects pretty much since we left Salt in 2005. Although we didn’t get the chance to work together outside of our writing class at the time, we began sending each other letters and short stories by mail as a way to keep in touch. When I moved back to Maine a year later and started writing songs, Doug quickly became my producer and de facto band mate. We since have created a short film, recorded a split album, performed several times, and generally been good creative soundboards for each other.

Douglas W. Milliken: It was definitely apparent early on that our stories and characters inhabited similar–perhaps even the same–desperate world. It’s exciting to see, in this new project, these same characters achieving even a measure of saving grace.

SS: The new project, both a full album of music and a book of short fiction, is an intertwined work. Eleven songs. Eleven stories. This first edition of 100 handmade books comes packaged with a CD, digital downloaded included. Artworks by artist Richard Iammarino (my dad-in-law) reproduced throughout counterpose the worlds imagined by these stories and songs. The books have been handmade by top pal and fellow Salt alum Patrick Kiley, who runs Publication Studio Hudson in Troy, NY.

2) How can people follow-up or learn more about your work?

SS: Check out Bandcamp for the digital album at https://scottasell.bandcamp.com/album/in-the-mines, and Publication Studio Hudson for the physical book/album combo: https://publicationstudio.biz/books/in-the-mines/.

There will also be several performances in Maine this summer and fall: a book/album release at the Apohadion Theater in Portland on August 19th, CHURCH in Rockland on August 25th, and Engine in Biddeford on September 14th.

DWM: Many stories can be found at https://douglaswmilliken.com/publishedwork, although within the context of this book, representative stories might be “Fandanguillo” and “Integers.”

3) Give us a taste of what you’ve been up to since Salt.

SS: After Salt (and a bit of time working as a production drone at PBS in New York City), I moved back to Maine to work for the Island Institute as the William Bingham Fellow for Rural Education on the island of Frenchboro (year-round population: 65), teaching in the one-room schoolhouse and working with the town’s selectboard on municipal projects. I also went back to school, at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism, to add more video production skills to my storytelling toolkit and soon after returned to Maine again to work once more for the Island Institute as their in-house filmmaker. I also got married. I now live in Rockland and work as a producer and editor at Compass Light Productions, a non-fiction documentary film company in Camden and have no intention of leaving Maine again.

DWM: While I grew up in far northern Maine, I didn’t really intend on sticking around. I guess sometime geography lays its claim on you. I worked as a horticultural specialist for the first few years after Salt and have since bumbled gradually into a position where I can spend more time on my writing and less as a seasonal laborer (landscaper, carpenter, LL Bean warehouse ghost, etc.). Now I’m freelance writing and editing full time while taking a “vacation” each fall to work the apple harvest. In that time, I’ve published a novel, a half-dozen chapbooks, and have a new novel and a full-length collection of stories due out in early 2019, all in addition to the regular work of hunting down magazines to print individual stories.

4) What have been your biggest takeaways from your time at Salt?

SS: Listening to people intently is the most important thing, as is learning how to stay neutral when it matters. And although working on something and seeing it through alone can be deeply satisfying, a collaboration with someone or a group of people is a whole hell of a lot of fun and the reason I keep doing what I’m doing.

DWM: Agreed. Our writing instructor, Jen Andrews, told us as our first lesson as storytellers that no matter the subject, no matter the people involved, our primary objective was to tell our stories with integrity and grace. In all the work I’ve written since–whether the characters were flesh-and-blood real or only real in my imagination–I’ve tried to treat them with this same level of compassion.

5) Are there any projects by Salt alums that you’ve been particularly excited to see out in the world?


SS: Galen Koch’s audio storytelling initiative, The First Coast. I’ve always loved Maisie Crow’s work, especially her photography. Some of Adam Kampe’s audio stories–another 2005 Salt alum–show up at Third Coast, too.

DWM: Patrick Kiley—who is the publisher of In the Mines as well as several of my other books—has been doing some amazing work with his imprint Pilot Editions, from art books to activistic pamphlets to the first English translations of Walter Benjamin’s sonnets. Samantha Broun has been behind some groundbreaking work with Atlantic Public Media, including her very personal radio essay “A Life Sentence.” JR Sheetz (who first introduced me to Salt and one time joined me in making a keyboard lose its mind) never fails to knock me speechless with his uncanny photography.

In the Mines: Released

in_the_mines_cover-1-1000x0In their first-ever unified narrative effort, longtime friends and collaborators Scott Sell and Douglas W. Milliken combine their stock of down-and-out and sometimes lucky characters into a coalescent shape. Eleven songs. Eleven stories. One singular world of yearning, fear, and the perdurable ache of loving right and loving wrong and, worse yet, not loving at all no matter the effort, will, and cost. Where eagles mate in mid-air. Where the cows have annexed the living room. Where the farthest ferry runs and all roads at long last mercifully end. This first edition of 100 handmade books comes packaged with a CD, digital downloaded included. Artworks by artist Richard Iammarino reproduced throughout counterpose the worlds imagined by these stories and songs.

Available August 19th, 2018 through Pilot Editions (Publication Studio Hudson).

Stream and/or download the digital album.
Read the excerpted story “Fandanguillo.”
Read the Salt Institute’s interview with Scott Sell and Douglas W. Milliken.

August 2018 Update



Now that the tumult of moving and settling in has come to a sort of end—allowing me to once more work on new writing and acknowledge the publication of new stories (such as “Small Shiny Fish” in Issue 80 of Broken Pencil) and prepare for the release of a new collaborative project with the inimitable Scott Sell—well, it seems as good a time as any to resume my progressive list of things that might very well be influencing me at present.

1. Aunts

Okay, this is a little more involved than just aunts—nor do my actual aunts have anything to do with this (sorry Kris, sorry Janice, although as you’ll momentarily see, not so sorry)—yet in what I’ve witnessed, aunts take the brunt. Because there’s this thing that comes up in a certain kind of literature, often written by men of a certain age, wherein (a slightly-older female relative who now and then is a cousin but I’m just to go ahead and say) an aunt fucks her teenage nephew. [This is discrete from the cousins-in-love scenario central to my novel To Sleep as Animals as in that instance, the sex occurs between consenting adults, thus creating a very different set of problems.] In the instances of overly-attentive aunts (and I am intentionally not citing the books and authors), both the boy and his aunt consider the encounter somehow instructional: it is never portrayed as an episode of incestuous statutory rape so much as a learning experience among loving members of a family.

Needless to say, this is supremely fucked up. But that’s not the thing I’m interested in.

Conjecturally and sometimes evidently, these same male authors would tell the story differently if the genders were reversed, if an uncle or adult cousin, say, took his teenaged relative off into the woods for some intensive learning. The conclusion, then, would appear to be that it’s okay for aunts to fuck their nephews and for nephews to fuck their aunts, although there’s never any sort of argument presented, just the story told without too many complicating questions asked. So what was going on with the men of our parents’ and/or grandparents’ generation? Were aunts in the first half of the last century problematically generous with their affections? Were boys, for whatever reason, fantasizing overboard about their mothers’ sisters? Or is this another example of men and boys doing whatever they please, then later reconstructing the events to convince themselves and anyone who will listen that it’s what all parties involved wanted, no matter how much anyone protests after the fact? Which leads to a bigger question: how early do boys learn the fine art of gas lighting to ensure they never get punished for taking whatever they want?

IMG_20180718_192423_4862. Fishing

This one is not nearly as nuanced as the aunts thing. It’s simply this: fishing has come up in a lot of the stories I’ve drafted in the past six months or more. Which is fine, as there was once a time when I loved to fish, would in fact seek any excuse or opportunity to engage with some water, even if it meant catching and releasing the same fish over and over again, even if it meant catching nothing but leeches and ticks. But it’s been fifteen years since I took the sport seriously, and honestly, I cannot tell you when I last saw fit to cast a hook into a stream. So what all at once has me fixated on brook trout and swift river water? Why is this the useful device I’m returning to again and again to move these stories forward?

3. Lungfish’s “Pray for the Living

That’s all, just the song. It’s really good. And it’s a great example of backing vocals—no matter where in the mix they might lay—in fact being the lead (and if you don’t know what I’m talking about, you should listen to “Gimme Shelter” with a little more attention to the ratios of passion between Mick Jagger and Merry Clayton). But mostly, it’s a great example of a really good song.

4. Carl Sagan’s Contact

I do not read science-fiction nearly as often as I’d like, partly because too much contemporary sci-fi forgets the cause and origins of the genre (it being a means of exploring contemporary social and political concerns by placing them at the safe remove of the future/space/another dimension, not simply as a means of having aliens blow shit up or to trick men into watching “galactic” soap operas), and partly because the majority of what I’ve read fails to exhibit any sort of literary finesse. So of course Carl Sagan would be my ideal sci-fi author: a brilliant scientist, a compassionate humanist, and a genius at communicating complex ideas in a coherent way. The end result is a novel that’s riveting, easily devourable (I took down the 400+ pages in three days), and oddly…plausible. Add to that the sense (though maybe not the fact) of having learned something about radio telemetry, quantum mechanics, and advanced decryption, and you very likely have the perfect science-fiction novel. Also, incredibly, it’s possibly the most convincing argument for the existence of a capital-G God that I might have ever encountered. Make no mistake: the film is great (he and Ann Druyan originally wrote the film treatment before Sagan expanded the idea into a book). But with more nuance and more room to stretch out and explore, the novel is a distinct and distinctly-deeper pleasure.

Okay, enough shallow meditation on space, incest, and fish. As always, thank you for reading and for sharing and for your daily incentive to get up, get moving, keep working, keep trying. If you are a current Patreon subscriber, thank you for keeping the carrot just beyond this homely beast of burden’s reach. If you are not a current Patreon subscriber, please feel free and, in fact, encouraged, to dangle sweet reward just beyond my prehensile lips by becoming a member today. And if your view of the future looks as dire as reason dictates, thus rendering any kind of subscription unfit to warrant consideration, perhaps contemplate making a one-time donation and getting the equivalent rewards (handmade things, small-run booklets, etc.) for one month.

You are the subwoofer to my whomping 808.

July 2018 Update

Arborvitae and Japanese maple stretching to touch across the backyard.

After waking up to a mixed bag of animal behavior, I read the following as part of my first email of the day, from one of the organizing forces behind the anthology A Short Affair, which includes my story “Heart’s Last Pass”:

[We] held our first public ticketed event in support of the anthology last  week at leading contemporary gallery Hauser and Wirth in their Somerset site with a live reading of Heart’s Last Pass by acclaimed British actor, Russell Tovey. The event was held against the backdrop of a landmark exhibition of works by Alexander Calder and the response was really fantastic. We will be publishing a podcast of the reading shortly, which I will be sure to share with you!

Maybe not so surprisingly, the part of this that got me most excited was the idea of my story being shared amidst a bower of Calder’s mobiles slowly turning in the breath of the room. But also: British people hearing and enjoying my work! My grim view of life in America might not be universally pleasing in this particular hemisphere, but at least I can count more and more on an international audience’s appreciation of our particular national brand of prevailing violence and systemic marginalization.

Because our world right now is so blatantly a cartoon hell, I could easily go on ad nauseum off that last riff, but I want to put off the belly-sick of the world for least a few more hours this morning. So here instead is an instant photo of the dim home-space wherein I am working this morning:

The perpetual shadowscape of the interior.

Between preparing for the ever-encroaching move to our new house and having to evacuate the premises every time our current (final!) landlord wants to show our current (final!) rental home to a prospective buyer, I have been pretty delinquent in sharing most of my recent professional goings on. With that as your warning, prepare for a list of way-too-much, all of which happens to be contained variously in one family.

With so much of my life right now centering around houses and homes, it seems only appropriate that a story about a scattered family and rogue-cows-as-home-invaders should be published now. The kind and too-generous folks at The Forge recently published my story “Mascara,” along with a brief conversation between myself and the magazine’s founding editor, John Haggerty, about how such an unlikely and fragmented story came into existence. This story is also a part of In the Mines, a collaborative project with the musician and documentarian Scott Sell (more about this below).

In an ongoing exploration of the bold absurdity of American innovation, Alexis Iammarino—a long-time friend who I had the pleasure of interviewing for The Chart several years ago and who is, incidentally, Scott’s wife—has recently released an anthology of work originally collected and presented in 2016 for the multi-venue exhibition Hole History: Origins of the American-style Donut. The book of the self-same title includes some staggering work from around the globe, including original (gross) drawings by an illustrator of The Simpsons, an infinite-regression-as-sculptural-donut by my legal fake-wife Genevieve Johnson (pictured below, sans donut), and “The Binding Stitch,” a short story I wrote about the audacity of claiming ownership and, consequently, power. The book is gorgeous and wonderfully strange, and was physically manifest by the giant floating brain at Pilot Editions (who is also responsible for most of my book projects existing in the world.

The salad harvest of the fake-wife.

And as further evidence of my permanent symbiosis with Pilot Editions: this coming August will see the release of the multi-disciplinary musical/literary project In the Mines, assembled and produced in collaboration with Scott Sell and Patrick Kiley at Pilot Editions. The complete unit will include eleven original songs (written by Scott and recorded/produced in my living room this past January) and eleven short stories, all of which will be woven together by Richard Iammarino’s uncanny silver-pen drawings. With so many individual styles and tastes involved, In the Mine somehow defies expectations and is, in my view,  the most cohesive book project I’ve been yet involved with. I am exceedingly eager to share this with you.

Japanese maple, extending into nothing.

As I leave you with these too many things to mull over, I would once again like to thank you for reading, for sharing, and for your constant reminder as to why I spend so much of each day struggling to translate my heart and my head into language that resonates and makes sense. If you are a current Patreon subscriber, thank you for keeping me accountable to this life I (and now we) have chosen for myself. If you are not a current Patreon subscriber, please feel free and, in fact, encouraged, to join in the fun of passively whipping this mule into motion by becoming a member today. And if your view of the future looks as dire as reason dictates, thus rendering any kind of subscription unfit to warrant consideration, perhaps contemplate making a one-time donation and getting the equivalent rewards (handmade things, small-run booklets, etc.) for one month.

You are the mentholated Lidocaine to my unfortunate rash.

Portrait of the author as a Russian of antiquity.

June 2018 Update (a house among homes)

IMG_0018As much as I’m enjoying this monthly and ever-changing list of influential things (be they global as an inadequate world leader or as proximate as a buddy’s excellent garage band), circumstances dictate that I break from the routine for a month or two. There are multiple reasons for this hiatus, but the one of most pressing and distracting concern has had to do with housing. Barely three weeks ago, my partner, Genevieve, and I found out that we were being soft-evicted so that the current owner of our home could sell it. We responded by making her a more than generous offer on the house, but with dollar signs flashing in her eyes, she turned us down in hopes of a bigger payoff. So our hidden swamp-side haven among pines—complete with trickling asbestos and frogs swimming in the basement mire—will soon be some other dingbat’s problem to solve.

It’s a particularly acute ache to lose your home, especially when it’s due to someone else’s uninspired greed. But that ache has been tempered to no small degree by a rapid change in fortune, as Genevieve and I are under contract to buy a startlingly awesome house. With my infrequent employment and uninterest in possessions, never have I anticipated actual homeownership. Yet all signs indicate that the next phase of my life will be lived in the quiet lawn-sprinkler whack of suburbia. I’ll take it.

As you can imagine, my heart and brain are in a totally justified state of flux: beyond an animal need to shelter myself and my weird little family, what’s driving my day to day actions is a mystery even to me. With that in mind, I am subbing out this month’s list of influential things with a draft from my full-length collection Blue of the World, forthcoming in the relatively-near future with Tailwinds Press. The piece, “Under the Wing,” has never previously been published and acts as the first in a sequence of four stories following Cuth’s grim passion. This might also be the oldest piece in the collection, which translates into a certain specific sense of relief for this long-nurtured orphan having finally found a good home.

Before sending you off into Cuth’s incapable hands, I’d like to thank you for reading, for sharing, and for your constant reminder as to why I do what I do. If you are a current Patreon subscriber, thank you for buoying my confidence over these past several months. If you are not a current Patreon subscriber, please feel free and, in fact, encouraged, to vicariously buy me a recurrent re-esteeming sandwich by becoming a member today. And if your view of the future looks far too thermonuclear for any kind of subscription, consider making a one-time donation and getting the equivalent rewards (handmade things, small-run booklets, etc.) for one month.

You are the pony to my pasture.


Under the Wing

After all the ugliness at the office over the politics of haircuts and presentability and how he ultimately loses his job, Cuthbert has to make a few stops—the after-school program where he volunteers, the hardware store—before going home. It strikes him as funny while he navigates his city’s streets, avoiding traffic and dodging pedestrians, that he should be in any sort of hurry. Does he not suddenly have all the free time he could possibly want? Cut loose from the obligations and responsibilities of work, is he not now free to pursue the remains of his life at a rate he enjoys and prefers? He’d even emptied his desk in a rush. Why wait? He resigns in person at the end of his session at the after-school program, then buys a length of rope and drives home.

The house Cuth rents is on the edge of a neighborhood of simple but sturdy houses, timber-frames and stone-foundations. Not so much the suburbs as what the suburbs reached to envelop. The sort of homes one would be more likely find far out in the country, not just a few dozen blocks from town hall and the county courthouse. Beautiful old houses all done up with manicured yards. Tall trees and tire swings. Forsythia hedges ready to bloom. Cuth’s place is at the end of a cul-de-sac: though the road continues on as a gravel scratch through some scrub and pines into a meadow strung up in high-voltage lines—the sort of ephemeral road used by the municipality for maintenance purposes alone—as far as Cuth or anyone else is concerned, this is the end of the line. Parking his car and gathering his rope—breathing in the ripe early-spring air—Cuth stands in the cool stirring of last fall’s leaves and new birds flitting among the bushes, among the trees, small piercing songs lacing through the afternoon’s diminishing blue light. Then he mounts the porch stairs and steps inside.

This is the sort of place where a family is meant to live. Big kitchen. Big den. An upstairs full of bedrooms. An attic to store old toys, old clothes, an extra bed, an extra kid or cousin. If his sister and her daughter ever came down to visit, this would be perfect. They could stay forever and he’d never know. Somehow, they’ve never made the trip. The kitchen has two cast-iron skillets and a single aluminum pot for boiling water, a couple plates and knives and a ticking refrigerator, mostly empty. The den has a chair and an end table next to the chair and on the table: a book. Unread. Upstairs is a room with a typewriter perched on a stool. In another, a guitar leans against a folding metal chair. It has never struck Cuth as odd that he lives alone in such a huge empty space. A cathedral or a tomb. It has never struck him as odd that he’d want to.

In the back half of the house is what Cuth assumes an architect would call the Great Room. Large fireplace gone mostly unused. A bank of windows overlooking the back lawn and, beyond that, a dense stand of maple and birch. A ceiling vaulting high enough to create a sort of balcony or overlook of the second story’s hall. Forming an X above everything, two heavy rough-sawn beams span the air to intersect and where they do, a large glass globe of lamp hangs from a chain. But Cuth’s not interested in the light. It’s those girders he’s got his eyes on.

It takes a few attempts to toss the rope up and over the intersecting beams. Everything else follows with the ease of muscle memory: he’s always been good with knots. He secures the rope to the X above by means of a simple gliding bowline. He drags a chair in from the den and, on tiptoes, installs a classic 13-loop noose. Cuts the extra rope with a kitchen knife. Arranges his neck into the noose. He conducts these tasks with a sort of detached ambivalence. Efficiently, he is getting the work done. He plays with how teetery the chair is: pretty teetery. Then he just stands for a moment and stares out the bank of windows surrounding his cold fireplace. Grass, greening from grey. Bright buds on the tips of branches. The movement of birds. No regret or sorrow, no bitterness fluttering in his heart. Just the vague sense that it’s all a waste. The white and purple splashes of crocuses sown wild throughout the yard. All of it’s wasted on him.

“Not too bad,” he says, and starts to tip over his chair, but in his pocket, his cellphone rings. Vibrates, actually, and chimes an electronic tinkling. He forgot to turn it off.

In this way, he is grateful that he paused long enough to admire the view. Briefly, he imagines swinging by his neck, the world fading, cooling but also somehow warming as if into sleep, while in his pocket something buzzed and sang. Ting-a-ling-ling. Ting-a-ling-ling. Cuth fishes the phone from his pocket to turn it off.

But it’s Lindsay calling. The girl who manages the food co-op. Woman, really. Dark hair always dusted in a fine spray of flour. A baker. Always looking tired but also happy, maybe giddy with the weight of her exhaustion, most likely having been baking bread since long before the sun claimed the sky. He wonders if she’s calling about his volunteer shift. Or perhaps he has a balance on his account. A minor debt unpaid. Pretty Lindsay with flour in her hair. Cuth flips open his phone and says hello.

“Hi Cuthbert. It’s Lindsay.”

“Hello Lindsay.”

“How are you?”

Cuthbert looks down at himself standing atop his chair at the center of the room, strung to the girders, and shrugs. “I’m fine. Yourself?”

They talk for a few minutes. He precarious with the rope around his neck. She probably in her kitchen. Drinking tea. Flour in her hair. When he hangs up, they’ve made plans to meet for dinner in an hour.

It’s hard work loosening the noose. Cuth puts the chair away in the den and goes upstairs to shower. He leaves the rope right where it is.

The restaurant where they meet is a sushi place where the customers all kneel at abbreviated tables, hanging lamps wrapped in brittle painted paper. Cuth is surprised at how comfortable he is on his knees. They eat small pieces of fish and drink hot sake and green tea, and they talk. She’s a good talker. A good listener, too. He had not expected someone who works with her hands in the dark quiet hours of morning to know what a voice is for. He’s glad that she does. It makes it easier to maintain his quiet with her. Later, over small bowls of ginger ice cream, she asks him what the most incredible moment of his day had been—“What gave you pause, made you sit up and take notice of your life?”—and he has to admit, it’s a pretty good question.

“After I was done work today,” he says, looking off vaguely past her, above her head and to the right, “I stopped at the place where I volunteer. It’s a program for grieving children. Kids who’ve lost their parents. Mostly you just act as a friendly adult, you know, very casual, just make them feel safe and comfortable. So I was drawing pictures with this one little girl, and she’s drawing a little horsy in pink and purple crayons, and when she’s done she holds it up to me and says, ‘Look, this is the mommy.’”


“Then she ripped the picture in half and said, ‘And this is the baby.’”


“I guess that was pretty good.”

Throughout the restaurant, since before they arrived, there’s been music softly playing. Like mournful birds in the rushes alongside some barely rippling pool. Songs older than sound. After a moment, Lindsay asks, “What were you drawing?”

And his answer: “Carrots.” He scrapes his spoon along the empty bottom of his bowl. “Tons of them.”

But later that night, while lying awake beside Lindsay in her warm bed, in her warm blankets and clean sheets and the clean scent of laundry and hair and girl, it’s not the horsy he thinks of but his view from the noose. Greens and grays and splashes of purple, splashes of white. The tall naked trunks of trees and whatever lies beyond. All of it wasted on him. Hiding just behind his closing eyes. It’s what he will think of every night that he lies beside her, every night for six more months until once again he sleeps alone and has lost what’s left of his hair to time or to incident and has no one to talk to anymore but that great X in the air of his home, unchanging and unrelenting, negating everything beneath its twin wings.