Thursday, July 12, 2012

Caleb Puckett

The Screening

With the flip of a switch the golden streets steam and all of the cacophony of evening traffic
coalesces on the warped porch of a pink bungalow in North Hollywood. Across the street,
a hitman waits in silence and slides back his pinstriped jacket to remove a cigar and packet
of matches. Meanwhile, the hero inside the bungalow boils an ear of corn as he watches a
melodramatic coming-of-age movie about a teenage delinquent. In a projectionist’s room a block
away, a livid manager wags his flabby finger at a lethargic boy who appears to have just sneaked
a cigarette instead of minding the reel. Taken aback by the sudden accusation, the boy confesses
to his indiscretion and swears to make good tomorrow evening. With this revelation, the manager
clenches his teeth and rattles a pocketful of change and keys, as if their clinking will charm this
informant into giving up the whole cabal of slacking teens responsible for a marked downturn
in business. Fearful of further coercion, the boy nervously backs out of the projection room and
bangs into an abandoned director’s chair. And somewhere along the long, shiny line of flickering
fear, he wonders if someone has rigged the fight between the hitman and hero. Somewhere
within this suspicion he identifies a strange burning smell. This is the point where the director,
wrapped securely in his pinstriped suit, expects us to sympathize with the protagonist, or at least
shudder enough to justify the price of the tickets he plans to print and dispense to the members
of the Academy who see the world reflected in the greasy sheen of a popcorn scooper. This is the
point none of us must miss as we practice our routines. This is the point none of us should miss
even as we recline on our secondhand chairs this evening and stare at the patterns on our rented
ceilings in an attempt to imagine the lives each projected shadow leads inside of those relentless
smoke rings.


The Rainy Season

Once the creek sprouted a tree of rebar and turned minnows into sparrows, this old canoe became
our humble house on the plains. Downstream, we know that the dam will inevitably transform
into a wall cloud welcoming tornadic activity. Downstream, we know that the broken dock will
inevitably turn into a letter outlining our unpaid insurance premium. Downstream, our faces will
inevitably twist upside down with troubling thoughts about the future of our crops and ability to
secure a living in this capricious world. Downstream, we will inevitably understand that sandbar
where we come to rest makes for a paltry plate of sustenance. In the rainy season, the best we
can do is muddy such metaphors and attempt to divine the rising debris. We both look away—
interrupting lines—compromising the sheen before us.


Catch and Release

Impaled carp heads steam on twisted fence posts near Trinity River. Rivulets of red dirt
swirl around concrete pilings spray-painted with the ardent words of boys now mellowed by
fatherhood. Beneath the bridge, Pedro’s calloused hands bait a hook with a plastic worm as
he imagines the slant of his cast into the wreckage below. Life courses in the helter-skelter
chambers of a submerged car that has now rusted to the point of near obscurity. Pedro knows the
healthiest ones always dwell in its tangled spaces, feeding, breeding and resting in the darkened
muck where careless fisherman cannot go without cutting their lines and losses. He will catch
and release a few catfish this morning, quietly observing each moment of urgency and mercy
before heading home to unknot Chita’s seven years of remorse. For the moment, Pedro remains
still and patient as the wind picks up force. His aim must be true if he hopes to court this little
lie for a little while longer. Pedro, Jr., had misjudged so much about Trinity River. Pedro, Jr.,
had felt that strength trumped all virtues, save curiosity and courage. Pedro, Jr., remerges on this
date each and every summer. For all his lack of seriousness, Pedro, Jr., had looked exactly like
his father. Pedro has observed him, much older and careworn now, squinting past the surface
glare, searching for the right angle. The line floating between them is thin, transparent and lightly


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