Blue in the Aquarium’s Face
There was nothing but altitude below sea level.
I was blue in the aquarium’s face. Large orcas showed
monstrous fins of concern. Starfish leapt off someone’s homework
assignment down into the tank. Sharks circled back as if
trying to retrace the steps of the lost. And the coral was bleached.
I decided it was a load of laundry. The obstruction in my airway
refusing to dislodge itself. Some miserable war-drunk despot
trying to hold onto power. Each time I cleared my throat a distant
church bell rang. I thought of dried chewing gum under the pews
taking in the hallelujahs each Sunday. Of briny miracles from the pulpit.
Stained glass windows so elaborate that code breakers were brought
in to admire them. And back down in the tunnel under the water
the flash from picture takers. As I fell to one knee. The sounds
of choking and many black dots. A lone octopus with its
tentacles into everything.
It was during the Christmas high season.
I was working as a shipper/receiver
on this back loading dock
with this stoner forklift driver
named Dave who dealt weed on the side
and imagined it was still the sixties.
And the trucks kept coming in.
We busted our ass.
The manager would not replace
any sick calls.
We were a skeleton crew.
Just me and my driver.
And Dave kept going on about Vietnam
and how I should go there and how great
the people were and that it was nothing
like during the war and I kept thinking,
shit Dave, we’re in a war all our own
and all you can do is talk about
Vietnam. He was older and I was old enough
that we should have both known better
but the hours get the best of you.
And after work, we’d head of to the gentlemen’s
club down the street so Dave could clap
after each song for all the dancers as though
he were at the theatre or Woodstock
or calling a loyal dog over.
God is a Polynesian Belly Dancer
with a Neck Full of Flowers
He asks me if I can direct him to the closest church
and I cannot, we could not be farther away from each other
as though God is a Polynesian belly dancer
with a neck full of flowers
and this one is in more of a hurry than
most the rest as though parking
is not the issue and he is perhaps in need
of a serious exorcism, I look at the big black
raccoons hanging under his eyes
and think of rancid back dumpsters with the lid
flipped up, a whole family of opportunists
clawing down his face, probably not an ugly man
if you account for demonic possession
and the way his out of town thighs
lurch forward like cinder block leggings
past the Halal joint that promises
to slaughter everything
The girls Sofia recruited all came from Eastern Europe.
In search of work or a man who would pay them not to work.
That was the idea.
Get a man to fall in love with you and make things legal.
Sofia was not her real name.
The girls trusted Sofia because she was a woman.
Once they were brought over, their paperwork and few
belongings were taken away.
They were kept in one of the many “hen houses” across the city
and given a new name. Like Sofia’s.
A working name and a new wardrobe and a steady
stream of clients.
Once they were in rotation they never saw Sofia again.
They lived fifteen to a house and operated at all hours.
The men with guns never talked to them.
They took the money and made sure everyone worked.
There was a rumour among the girls that you could buy
your freedom with enough tricks.
No one had ever seen it happen, but that was the hope.
And the only police that ever came
were there for the services.
More and more girls all the time.
The new ones were the most popular.
And never new for long.
First it Smudges Out the Door, then it Smudges Out Me
The smudge on the door is here to get me,
first it smudges out the door, then it smudges out me
the raised ridges of a single thumb print like searching out
a topographical map and understanding nothing
local vegetation cut away and piled high at the local market
for complete strangers to haggle over
and to build a profile of the killer without a killing
is to go to bed with thieves
so much depends on the body that the church
hands out wafer bodies for you to tongue
and I can’t whistle for hours after that
circling the want ads with a fading black pen
knowing the job is already filled,
that some poor bastard is being ridden around
like a mule for a pittance,
his wife off his back and his new boss up on it
and when I throw the kettle on
the pipes in the walls creak and grown
and howl like the guts of
a sinking ship.
The company commander
promised an entire case of whiskey
to the first patrol to decapitate a head
from the enemy and return it to him.
Two days later a head was thrown
at his feet.
He puffed at his cigar.
Looking first at the head
and then at the solider
who had delivered
Get the man his whiskey,
To some private
who ran off in the direction
of the canteen.
The Red Balloon
The red balloon
floated high above the city
and I was jealous:
above the service charges
above the sidewalk spit wads
above the many family court
Above backed up toilets
above stale bread
the phone company, the gas company…
breaking free breaking
from the hand of
in a park,
like a sounded alarm
because the prisoner
I sideways pour the Budweiser tall can
into a waiting malt glass.
A professional pour,
just like the bartenders do.
Almost no head.
Then I sit and watch the
yellow bubbles float up
to the surface, imagine them
the air bubbles of many
tiny invisible fish.
I take a long deep swig
and think of the school of fish
I just drank down.
How they live inside me now.
In a lake of perfectly
“This is Tough, Lord Jesus!” (previously published by “Under The Bleachers”
My wife and I are at the Dollarama.
Standing near the front of a line that keeps
Some crazy woman is off her meds
and driving the cashier nuts.
The cashier is amazingly calm.
Ringing things through and smiling.
I’ll bet she’s having one of those FML moments,
my wife leans in.
Then the crazy old broad looks at the line
and yells out an apology.
She starts blessing us all.
It is a very religious moment.
She blesses the cashier most of all,
Then she goes to roll her belongings out to the parking lot.
The cashier politely lets her know that the carts
have to stay inside.
Oh bless you my dear! Oh bless you all!
I tell my wife I feel blessed
and she elbows me.
The cashier begins ringing the next gentleman through.
We are next in line.
Suddenly the crazy old broad jumps back from her cart
with her hands in the air.
IT’S THE LAW!
WHAT ARE YOU GOING TO DO,
IT’S THE LAW IT’S THE LAW!!
The cashier keeps ringing the man through.
A true professional.
I really don’t like the law,
I tell my wife.
She elbows me again.
Oh, I don’t know how I’m going to carry these outside,
the crazy old broad continues.
She has two small bags of trinkets.
Then it is our turn to be rung through.
We are blessed again before we reach the cash.
Everyone in the store is.
It is a most spiritual moment.
Water into wine and all that.
The kid stocking shelves takes his step ladder
and quietly moves to the back of the store.
Time to take an early lunch.
He is in hiding.
Not his first rodeo.
As we walk outside,
we pass the crazy woman
now standing in front
with outstretched arms
and talking to the
Oh mercy, this is tough!
This is tough, lord Jesus!
I don’t look back because I know better.
The wife keeps walking as well.
Some woman in black slacks comes over
to help the woman with her bags
and immediately realizes her mistake.
She turns and rushes off,
but not before being blessed
a few times.
I think I just had a religious experience,
I tell my wife.
Is that what you’re calling it,
I twirl the Dollarama bags in my hand
and tell her it is.
Social Justice Stays for Drinks
DANDELIONS FOR PRESEIDENT!
the terrace snaps its fingers and flutes
of champagne play us back out of Mozart’s
dreary Vienna, that is what I like about crafty
ironing board sex, the way social justice stays for drinks;
if anything is to be tortured, it will be the artist’s soul:
think Goya’s Two Old Men or Munch’s Puberty
or Vincent doing anything except sleeping
which you have to imagine was a rather restless
endeavour at best, and I had this woman with a purse
full of angry revisions once tell me that Man Ray
was a visual rapist and things grew sour between us
when I asked her why she insisted on wearing
his binoculars about like a dress of knives
which was not a very nice thing to say,
but it was my truth if not hers,
and some Orson Welles by the bar
complains that he broke too early
even though no one can remember inviting
him or me so that our host sends the whites around
to plug the poor fella for information
while I admire a stone lion with water
spewing from its mouth
and two lovers believing themselves out of sight
steal a kiss right from the register.
The Retired Miners
The retired miners
come in around four.
I sit a few tables away
breaking soda crackers
The waitress knows them all
The only recognition one can
hot coffee and a
a reward for the years
that have leapt away
like bounding gazelle:
the family albums
full of odd moments,
where did it all go?
where did it all go?
The retired miners
are all tubercular.
Each to a man
coughs up blood
into bunched tissue,
then discreetly tucks
it back into
like blood is something
to be ashamed of.
My soup growing cold
while the conversation
Another Failed Enterprise
The pipe cleaner
up my nose
I had seen a program
the night before
in the 19th century
and was trying
to give myself
But all it did
was make my
Then we were supposed
to make a cat
out of black construction
and I made myself
a wizard’s hat instead
and sat cross-legged
on the art table
would think I succeeded
where I had
“Roofers don’t wait for the sun”
My boss would always say that
as I climbed into the back of the work van.
His dirty blonde nephew sitting up front to learn the trade.
Dumber than a bag of rocks on their last fossils.
Just repeating what his uncle said:
“Roofers don’t wait for the sun.”
I once asked him if he had a girl
and he said he was too busy for one
And I could hardly call in sick.
My boss lived next door.
My basement bedroom looked right
onto his house.
We shared a driveway.
There was no escape.
And as soon as it got light,
I knew I still had an entire day
of hell ahead of me.
The immigrants paid off the books
and thankful for the opportunity
while the Newfies six floors up
carried sheets of plywood over their heads
across a single 2 by 4 stud on windy days
without a harness.
Because some fuckers
will do anything for drink
The next couple days after payday
were a skeleton crew.
Half the Newfs were in jail.
One guy bit off some dude’s nose
in a bar fight.
He didn’t come back for a while.
Which was fine with me.
I could never understand what the hell
he was yelling about anyways.
Throwing many rings of silver electrical tape
at me as I walked away.
Elliot Lake Animal Gas Chamber
The mayor was voted out because the mall
caved in and killed two people.
He also had the sadistic brood down
at city by-law build a secret animal gas chamber
out in the old industrial park.
They killed everything: foxes, racoons, strays,
Anything they could trap.
People wondered where all the local wildlife
The fox population disappeared overnight.
Then the new mayor came in
and the first thing he did was demolish
the Elliot Lake animal gas chamber.
Which made him wildly popular.
Until they found out he was secretly involved
in a corruption scandal to buy back the collapsed
mall site land for $1 million of taxpayers money
and to never tell them.
He became a lot less popular after that.
Don’t Let Anyone Ever Tell You about the Good Old Days
No one cared about your well-being.
Even the girls would not hold your hand
if you were said to be dating.
It was bleeding slaughterhouse vicious.
You were on your own.
I watched members of the football team
stuff two human beings into a single high school
locker just to see if they would fit.
And they did.
Which was strangely impressive.
Don’t let anyone ever tell you
about the good old days.
They are lying.
There is a beeping horn
and I jump out of
from the neighbourhood
have stolen the motorized wheelchair
of the old lady who lives
a few houses
She keeps it parked in the driveway
so the kids
The two that are on it
as they speed
into the afternoon
balancing himself precariously
on the rear.
Beside a bright orange flag
that waves in the wind
as the bumper sticker on the back
that Jesus loves
Cougar on Jane Street (previously published by “Punk Noire Magazine”
I was renting from some old cougar.
She had rooms rented out to at least
three of us young dudes
at any one time.
I was in the basement.
She was collecting us like stamps.
In that place along Jane Street.
We all looked similar if you didn’t look too closely.
She had a type.
Skinny with dark eyes and wavy hair.
A girl a few years older than me lived there as well.
Worked front desk at the hotel down the street.
I could never figure out how she fit in.
All us guys around to keep the cougar happy
and then her.
She liked me because I could get weed.
We drank and smoked together in the basement.
The cougar was usually not home.
She was probably out trolling the bars for
a few more of us.
I was the youngest of the bunch.
The cougar liked them young.
Maybe it made her feel younger.
To have us all under one roof.
Drinking and smoking.
Giving her money at the end
of each month.
Another State Senator Blows His Top
Robert “Budd” Dwyer
Pennsylvania state senate from 1971 – 1981
30th Treasurer of Pennsylvania
from 1981 – 1987
convicted of taking a bride
maintained his innocence,
claiming he had been
Called a televised press conference
from his office in Harrisburg
one morning in late
Stuck a .357 magnum in his mouth
painting the walls
The growling Rottweilers
off the chain
should have been your
Rocking chair locals
with loaded shotguns
sit on mouldy porches
under leaky eavestrophes
watching the buses ride
You have an hour
and use the bathroom
and stretch your
You are not
of this town is 76
Ryan Quinn Flanagan is a Canadian-born author residing in Elliot Lake, Ontario, Canada with his wife and many bears that rifle through his garbage. His work can be found both in print and online in such places as: Evergreen Review, The Raw Art Review, The New York Quarterly, Punk Noir Magazine, In Between Hangovers, Red Fez, and The Oklahoma Review.