Spring 2021

2019

2018

2017

Auckland Shorts

By Alexandra Marie Stinson

Storm, Wanaka, 1920s-1930s, Dunedin, by George Chance. Purchased 1999 with New Zealand Lottery Grants Board funds. Te Papa
© Storm, Wanaka, 1920s-1930s, Dunedin, by George Chance. Purchased 1999 with New Zealand Lottery Grants Board funds. Te Papa

Land of the Rising Sun

 

We thought Honolulu had been nuked, as if that could happen without at least a twitter feud first.

 

Wind pinked our six faces off the back of the ship we called ‘a boat’ to the dismay of the loyal crew. The mushroom cloud on the horizon –tang orange looming eerie on my line of sight. My sunscreen smelled of banana boat as I lounged on the white strappy plastic chairs I always got my sandaled foot caught in like a striped web.

 

In low tones we begged one other:

‘Would we make it to Yokohama?’

‘Are we going to drown like the micro monkey Quentin brought on board and they tossed off?’

‘Will we suffocate?’

‘Is everyone dead?’ someone screamed.

‘How do nukes work?’ another of us offered through clasped hands.

 

Strip me asunder one half port, another starboard. One for the version that heads to heaven. Put the other half back on Oahu with the rest of them.

 

Cupping my fingers caked in sun protection, it offered nothing against a nuke. I inhaled the ever-stailing air. I always assumed a moment minutes from an arduous death would be elegant; my inhaling was clumsy. I wanted to huddle. Nobody wanted to huddle. I wanted to touch bodies, touching my own knees, interlacing my fingers again, near my lips. I wondered if this was the last scent I would smell before we all pass out – if we were lucky. I wondered what the cloven hooves of hell looked like.

 

It occurred to someone that the boat wouldn’t sink like Titanic. That’s not how nukes work.

 

‘Is this even a nuke?’ someone breathed.

 

The sea solid below us. The air above us, gossamer.

 

I breathed in my hands. Some showed their hidden tattoos. Nobody kissed secret valentines. We all stood firmly six feet apart, nobody prepared to extinguish. We anguished for those on land. Sunk into chairs. The lines around everybody clarified, all the hairs on every person. I thought I saw their souls.

 

The bomb cloud got bigger, and I could taste rocky and Bullwinkle. Hysteria reverberated into my ribs, feet. Faces cringed. Then, on the surface of the water a fully-formed heliotian orb. And on lawn chairs our mouths exploded into smiles. Split our teeth, didn’t cut them. The calluses of our palms made a thunderstorm, a few of our eyes made lightening.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ericaceae

 

We drove sullenly to rural Wisconsin in a car that looked like it was found in an ikea back room near the cobalt blue china. We passed celery juice bars and industrial “mill city” as industrial as our forged metal rings. Some wore overalls and beaters and others drank black water swampy with fulvic and humic acids, bodies skin and bones and gum and fike.

 

Wild yam was tinctured in black gin by fingernails hardened drippily in onyx thick shellac oil spill, feet padded by lunarlon nike heels and snakeskin pleather. Tits to talus in syrupy dark, these punks still dove into the river to collect equisetum arvense and astragalus and blue vervain. Tails shaved off some of their eyebrows so some could draw them in precise. Others had faded scalps, undercuts, mullets; someone begged me to shave their head day-of. I did it into the trout creek, my own wild locks braided earlier in the day by someone half my age.

 

Some say if a tincture stalls, you put a little lock of hair in it. We threw away the fodder anyway. Wild lettuce was better than clindamycin for chin acne, I swear to you. All these other youngsters with freckles and braids and tattered overalls and yoga pants fabricated from plastic bottles they’ll tell you about red clover and elecampane and poke root with gleaming vigour, the sheen of the plant harvest lucid inside the fractals of their freshly dual- decade- year-old eyes. They deserved this information, like I didn’t have thirty years ago. They deserved it like mother’s milk – their eye teeth puncturing milky oat pods, no veneers like me. Cereal milk sap saturating their biofilm cause someone in the back said cellular theory is over and it’s all bacterial theory from here on out.  It’s all microscopic tartigrades in drain water and post-biotics to go with the pre and the pro. The future is tinier than the ipod mini, and it is imperative that you structure your water or put it out in the sun.

 

Claimed by her apothecary, somehow always nightgowned and candlit  - the neighbourhood medic named Erica C - the one who gathered us all there - told us stories about the wild ginseng that paid for this vast land. That repopulated the stream with trout as we gathered only enough roots and leaves and flowers to go around. ‘Nervines are usually aromatic,’ she’d say. ‘You can test the strength organoleptically. Same goes for ginseng.’ She had a free supply of ginseng from a sexy prison guard and a slender man on a silky quarterhorse. She had gallon jars of it, tasting like you’d just bit into the root.

 

Storm clouds came and went, and we were all wet, and all ten of us jumped into the river on someone’s blow up air mattress and we all chewed sweet Solomon’s seal roots and felt our bones collectively smooth out. Thunder came and nobody found queen Anne’s lace. Everyone mistaking cow parsnip for the other carroty one… we were all new to this. Our jars with rusty lids stuffed full of enough black walnut hull to de-worm 70 dogs.

 

The wildest of us told stories of stolen seeds from corporate trash bins, native corn pilfered from a guy propagating his grandfather’s high protein corn under silk netting.

‘You know Solomon’s seal can help you in court?’

‘Careful underneath the elderberry… if you’re not careful, the fairies will take you away.’

‘Goldenrod will bring you riches.’

‘Mullein listens.’ We talked of mullein flower oil for ear infections, and creeping Charlie and ghost pipe and night gardens with crepuscular pollinators and smelly plants pollenated by flies. Spider webs gossamer on reeds around us.

 

Plants and seeds were lost and found like the lotto tickets some of us spent childhoods scratching for, our voices ebullient talking about genome sequencing tree bark. We got tinctures for her uncle’s bone spur, some for her dad’s back, for her brother’s broken heart. Her sister’s postpartum. Her yoga instructor’s colitis. Someone’s lyme, to move their lymph, to bring the fever to a boil and a little something to drop it back down low.

 

American oxygen was the stuff plants breathed out.

 

Through some kind of torpor stupor we went back towards the city driving in unison, only just  one of our feet pairs driving. All feets bare and touching jars and all the raw material in the trunk for drying fragrant of lamiaceae and juglone, tannic, iodine, and acidic alluvion soil. Ericaceae had given each of us a ginseng vile: pale and lucid juicy I felt mine like a charm. I wanted to put it on my neck by a chain like Angelina Jolie had someone’s blood. The passenger in the back flipped through an old magazine. There was no traffic. We stopped for a coffee and sun chips, one blind piss in a gas station. We lit tobacco-less damiana cigarettes that turned the backs of our vision pink, and activated the vagus nerve. I could feel the coenobium from the repopulated trout stream still brushing up against my skin. I could feel my lymph,  ‘the waters of the body’ coursing, bifurcating in every direction: pulsing, pinnate, vibrant, healed.

 

 

 

Electric Pirate Acid Test

 

He was out riggin' Texas tea before I was born. Almost sliced his hand off clean to pay for medical school so he could travel the world chasing both natural and viral disasters and perform those emergency tracheotomies like in the movies with the knife and the straw. He got to take gang bullets out of people’s stomachs and all sorts of knives out of arms in Oakland. Wore spectacles as round and thick as a coaster for an ice cold pissy corona. He listened to The White Stripes on his Gen 1 brick connected to the speakers through the FM transmitter. One day, when I was twelve and halfway across the country, his body melted in the sun at forty years old. Melted. No face left. They said it was from sleep apnea and sleeping pills. They said he had one beer and a bike ride and his post-malaria body couldn’t handle it anymore. There were rumours it was a wax double. 

 

Before the melting, we were having breakfast at a greasy diner with a nice arrangement of Christmas cactuses and a ficus. An unruly mass of morning glory vines peered into the window. He told me about the models he had purged of tape worms. They’d take the little tiny boogers from dealers keeping tiny little vials in the nippled pocket of their jeans, so they “could eat whatever they wanted and keep getting skinnier.”  Now, twenty years later, it’s all dirty sprite and apetamin. I wondered how he would have dealt with Ebola. I couldn’t decide whether or not to swallow my buckwheat-spelt pancakes or spit them out. The night before, we ate gleaming tangerine salmon eggs on crostini. I wondered if I had little worms now. I’d eat a worm if he gave it to me. I think. He started ordering religious magazines a while before he died. For his mom, I think.

 

In the tenderloin, I once saw him hand a man a little drug baggie of dusty mullein flowers and leaves instead of a pill for his dry racking cough. Pointed to his rib, said he said put one of the whole leaves on there. It will heal it overnight. Said he’d check on him the next day. Always following protocols. When his patient got pinworms and the drugs didn’t work, he slipped her peach pit. Told me to always save the seeds. Watermelon. Peaches. Avocados. He taught me the difference between liquor and liqueur driving by an off sale shop in the boonies. We went tubing on a bitter lake riddled with pesticides and algal blooms. He said it was teeming with life, opportunity, let’s take a sample. He said you could put all the tainted soil in a centrifuge and it removes all the pesticides, but all the microbes die.

 

At the funeral, I wanted to take the cocktail shrimp shot glasses and make a grass fire. Send a smoke signal. Find him. Gossamer, his death. I could puncture it with a knife, a hidden katachi. I could wrap it around my fingers like ethyl maltol, invisible cotton candy. But it was slippery, it wouldn’t absorb into my skin. I watched his obscured body go into the pizza oven to make him the correct dusty Dalton ratio to assimilate him back to earth’s organic salinity. East of Eden; north of Salinas. His tech breathed like him post-mortem: the citron lights on his putty grey computer hard drives faded in and out humanly around me tucked away in his 1992 bubble gum and plum sleeping bag next to the space heater for the bay area nippy summer nighttime cold. I took his blue rasberry sunglasses and gold bullion from his floorboards as my funeral gift party favour. His sister told me he traded real indigo Levy’s for beluga caviar and vodka in Moscow in 1999, and he bought Tesla stock in 2007. Liver spots on his face he looked like the moon. None of this was left to me.

 

One of the last things he told me was that there was a cobalt molecule in vitamin b12. Said you can never have enough of it. He said the color blue was meant to be unseen, unlike the highlighter yellow of the sun. Blue was inside things, the only color not absorbed by the sky. Said the shade of blue will change with HDR, hypothetical color space expanding like the galaxy. ‘and so will a lot of other things with it.’ I found some nootropics in his pine drawers. Each of his kayaks were named after different rovers. And he said we’d be mining the moon soon before leaving for his last trip to what I thought was Azerbaijan. For some medical version of an AB data test in the wild. He had three hours to pack before getting into the chopper.

 

Coincidentally, it was the same distance it took for me to get from my house to his. I watched his weathered rock climbing fingers plug in the code 161829 to his home security system when I was last in town. Snuck into his house after he stepped into the air. Spend a few weeks there, in the secure fort made from a shipping container, yard of non-vasular bryophytes, mosses, and liverworts. He came home early and complimented me on my sense of adventure; we had Szechwan green beans and pineapple rings that night and he gave me a bunch of textiles. San Francisco bay, like him, was intangible. I couldn’t touch it. All the plastic wasn’t really plastic. And anything that was, was made of recycled bottles. Wifi was the air we breathed, lianas and flavanoid colored polymer wires one in the same. Power lines just another stand of eucalyptus planted to prevent erosion and quash the malaria numbers. The shark infested waters glittering with the sand and the diamonds from decaying phones. Aloes and palms like western high fives from a distance. Untouchable.

 

And at twenty three, I circumnavigated the globe from sandy San Diego with his emerald green variegated backpack and got a tape worm from gorging on a few raw cucumbers in Lhasa. I took the feisty gourmand around the world with me till I could find some black walnut hull. Then, I made the thing walk the plank. Then, I did in requiem. I dove from the sky into the artemisia field where his emergency chute didn’t come out twenty years before and he had to cut with an opinel. Calyxes absent, no soft chalice to catch him. Maybe I’d hit the red clay ground hard enough to raise some ochre hell. Raise all the gangsters. I want them dead or alive.

 

 

 

 

About Alexandra Marie Stinson

Alexandra Marie Stinson writes about the colour, shape, and texture (morphology) of the plant world. She has a background in journalism, political science, and ethnobotany. She is currently in the 2020/2021 MCW class working on a poetic, fragmented literary fiction novel.