Be[tween a Railroad and a Hard Place]

by Kyle Hemmings

In the knothole of a bed, Izanami and I rock our bodies, approaching the speed of flutter, as if we can take flight, become wings of the same bird. Izanami once said to me: I wish I were a tiny bird so I could fly into your eye and nest inside your brain.

I’ve been dreaming of albatross and clairvoyant winos ever since, of the secret turf of larks, red-browed pardolates, robins, spiraling, hungry, almost suicidal in their mirth.

Izanami always makes love with her glasses on so she can fly through the clouds forming on her lenses. The floor shakes, threatens to form cracks we can fall through while, outside, the new aero-train thunders past my apartment. 120 m.p.h. is the speed of someone’s future, stillness an obsolete afterthought.


After we gather our bones and feathers from the sheets, Izanami will return to her husband, a man who loves his oblong reflections in train stations, a man who doesn’t believe in the second coming of Beat poets or the suicide of post-modernists on red and yellow magic pills. His legs are toothpicks, says Izanami, who buys his underwear on sale, but the stretch is always too loose.


Old man Taichi’s feet trudge harder up the stairs, coming to collect the rent. “Three weeks late,” I tell Izanami. Taichi pounds on the door. Izanami cups my mouth, shakes her head to mean no. Her voice is a trill. Her eyes behind the glasses—dying sparks.


I imagine his breathing, reinvent its roll and pull, as if he is standing in the room, waiting to pick up our bodies, our stiff legs and broken wings, and toss them to garbage collectors who stifle city terrors under industrial face masks.


Izanami’s mouth is open and lopsided. She jumps from the bed and squirms into her ripped jeans, escapes through the window and down the fire escape. She melts into the cytoplasm of the street life below, the three-syllable mantras of the chestnut venders and the moon-eyed homeless. A horse goes clomp clomp.

I rush to the desk, stuff bills into an envelope and shove it under the door. Taichi climbs down the steps, the rhythm of a tired streetwalker. At night, he dresses in drag and feathers.

I sit down at the table and compose a song of words that endlessly break and rearrange themselves. The song will float out the window and Izanami will hear it as if by some fine-tuned radar and it will stay with her while she lies coiled in the trap of her husband’s embrace. Maybe we are cave swiftlets. Maybe we are each other’s nest, our words turning to eggs that will never hatch.

Kyle Hemmings lives and works in New Jersey, where it is still winter.

Back to Issue Three: Spring 2009