Bough Down by Karen Green

BOMB 122 Winter 2013
BOMB 122

The doctor wears his pink shirt with the sleeves rolled up. I see his flaws clearly before he gives me the shot which will put me to sleep until after the holidays. He is making a mercy call, and the needle is part of my invention. Pink is a new color I am seeing.

The Googled pills are all different colors.

I don’t know how not to imagine submission, even after all this. Someone says I need to be contained but I think he means constrained. I let him take away my sight and my hearing while he applies pressure in another language. He is very kind about assessing my needs, but there is a strident protestor type inside who recoils and starts assembling contempt and mirrors.

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What dreams the support guys have:

Their sensible shoes wear out, they have the code blues, patients eat their own fingers down to the first knuckle; there are contraptions to keep hands down, mouths shut. They dream of consequences. They have their McSanctuaries to dream in, and yet. Faux-science is replaced with newer, quieter faux-science. The machines chirp like fledglings, they don’t beep. Some souls are so lost they make their own privacy, they don’t need walls. The support guys are trained to say, Why do you ask? They are trained to know when to train a patient to say, Why do you ask. In their dreams they forget how to treat people, they forget how to work the machinery, how to deflect, manipulate and regurgitate accidents, they kiss their patients on the gurney while it rolls away, they run in slow motion to catch up, there is nudity under the lab coat, they beg for forgiveness in tongues. They remove the wrong eye, the one that sees.

The movers say it is fire season, they’re used to it. Acres are burning and the concierge comments on the beauty of the sunset, the eye shadow palette of the apocalypse. I took ashes to the hotel in a hatbox. I left the murder of crows rotating from the studio ceiling, I left too many holes in the wall. The support guys have replaced the cells in my brother. I’m coming, wait for me. I’m sorry I missed your call. I have to make a stop to drop off paperwork. I cut my hand and the papers are bloody. I tell the life insurance guy, It’s not what you think.


A bloom of contaminates in the ocean is called a red tide. Before I knew better, I swam in one. The sea was a chowder the color of dried blood. I got out when I saw the fish, bobbing like croutons. This is the consistency and hue of the sky as I drive north, using my windshield wipers to clear falling ash. Singed animals come down from the hills and run alongside the freeway.

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Here there is a farm smell. I watch the bright white origami reflection of an egret skimming the river. I hold grudges. I sit myself down to dinner and wonder aloud at my own place setting.

The black dog will not lose my socks for me again. I thought I had given everything away, or lost it, but there are more and more boxes to unpack and her fur flies from all of them. She bobs and weaves elsewhere, she has a Jumping Cholla in her paw, she grooms a new dog’s eyes with her black-spotted tongue. I hear she has her own box of toys and nobody fights her for them. I was the first human she ever trusted and then I forfeited her, I let the losses metastasize, I didn’t say goodbye.

I thought I had said a dignified goodbye to the doctor, but I do not delete grievances as planned; I press send. I solicit advice on Friday nights when the meds don’t work, then quibble over the bill. Once a patient, always a patient, he jokes.

September again and

I take your parents to the lighthouse, I do. There is nothing but September fog to cover our shame, and your father laughs just like you, at the opacity. I want to eat the laugh, I want to rub it on my chest like camphor, I want to make a sound tattoo. I also want to bash these two small people together and see if a collision of DNA will give me my life back. Last night we had a lightning storm, unprecedented. It scared me to think about who might be conducting it.

After they leave I take your last blue pill, but dream about someone being put to death as punishment for putting themselves to death.

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Home is where I take up such a tiny portion of the memory foam; home is a splintered word. His pillow is a sweat-stained map of an escape plot, also a map of love’s dear abandon. (When did he give way, at which breath?) Forgiveness may mean retroactively abandoning the pillow and abandoning the photograph of someone with curious eyes, kissing my toes, poolside. I paint my toes Big Apple Red. I don’t know what to do about the shock of red nails on clean, white tiles except get used to it. (And when he gave way, was there room for feelings or the words for feelings?) While I brush my teeth, I can see him in my periphery at the other sink. The outline of him lulls and stings. (And when he gave way, was it the end or the beginning of suffering?) I draw his profile near, I make him brush his teeth with me, he spits and makes a mess. I could love another face, but why?


Some of these streets I know very well. The ocean looks bigger, big enough. I recognize individual cows, unperturbed by weather. People I went to high school with look at me quizzically when I laugh. The garbage is gourmet here, and I think I know the guy digging through it. I smile, then unsmile, trying to make a change.

There is a church bell in town made out of the mortared skulls of everyone who ever had a migraine. At night I know where the sound comes from, how it was born and where in the body it reverberates. Every hour on the hour it tells me what I did and do wrong: You did not see that cloud or that fluttering lid as portents, you did not decipher the acrostics, you left the house, you live in the past, you left the house.

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Karen Green is an artist and writer living and working in Northern California.

Annette Messager by Bernard Marcade
Messager 01
Two Poems by Joyelle McSweeney
Jm Tan
Tour by Klaus Kertess

The story’s “contents” are spun from actual events: in August 1973, Klaus flies to Los Angeles to meet his then-partner, Lynda Benglis (referred to as “Her”), who was to drive cross-country with him back to New York. Instead, he drives back alone, lost in a disputatious reverie circling around language, Gertrude Stein, modernist literature, mapmaking, and the act of writing.

Heidi Julavits by Fiona Maazel
Heidi Julavits Body

“You can renovate your soul and change your behavior and lie to yourself, but maybe the face is the last frontier of truth. There’s only so much that plastic surgery can do for you.”

Originally published in

BOMB 122, Winter 2013

Featuring interviews with David Lang, Oscar Murillo, Rude Mechanicals, Cristian Mungiu, Mark Z. Danielewski, Fanny Howe, Alix Pearlstein, and Tony Feher.

Read the issue
BOMB 122