I Told Charon

by Chris Buchanan
Flash fiction, 2015

I told Charon when the ferry ride turned out to be longer than I expected, I told him – it’s not the voices that make the Sirens attractive. None of us appreciate good singing that much. And it’s not just because we’re sailors. Men might be closer to beasts than the rest, but we’re not dogs. We don’t just spend some time on a boat and then throw our pants off and lunge into the sea the moment we hear a high voice. There’s more to it than that, I told him. He had a skull for a head; he just looked at me for a second while his fingers silently rotated the coin I’d given him.

See I dived in before I’d heard their voices. I saw them there on the rock. And I won’t pretend I hadn’t seen their long hair. Good hair. And after a few strokes it became obvious that they were naked, and after a few strokes more they were swaying. I was doing the front crawl; apart from those few glances, I had nothing to go on. All I was sensing was salt, cold, seaweed.

I jammed my fingers in my ears, right, breathed, opened the eyes and shook my head. Took one look at the tits, the hips, then I dived underwater to see the horrorshow underneath. I wanted to know what was there, didn’t I?

People who go to sea say ‘indescribable’ a lot when they don’t want to describe something. It was mostly black, lots of parts to it, a lot of thickness, a lot of tendrils, something round and flat that it was all trailing away from at the surface. Something like wide muscles. No sound. No faces on it.

Their faces were up top. I went up, don’t know if I breathed even, just went back up. Their faces were up there. Just women’s faces, is all they were. Like the Cyclops is just a big ugly man. Just women matted together here, at the tails, like rat kings.

One of them saw me emerging: the brunette. I caught her eye.

Slug Guts, or Entosthia Gymnosalianga

by Chris Buchanan
Poetry, 2013
From the collection Growing Up Too Fast

A boy spread strawberry jam on his toast, his father watched
and they stood a minute.
How come strawberries taste wet and bitter, he asked,
but jam is good and sticky?

The father looked over the tinged brown glasses he kept
from another century.
Because strawberry jam, he brass-rasped, nearly wept,
is raw slug slurry.

The stuff of ground, slain slugs is just too delicious,
so we call it squashed berries.
We grown-ups say it’s jam, tar our lives complicit
in sweet, shared atrocity.

Slugs’ organs are too tasty not to eat, the boy heard
and stale nose-breath eased onto him.
Strawberry jam is a clever word, lad. An old word.
A good word. A euphemism.

The father’s rusty eyes, round, brown, rested
and the boy glanced about.
His fingers stuck to the jar’s surface
where the juice had gotten out.

His flecked red tongue firmed in his mouth, clinging
at stained teeth like a prisoner.
The residue in his throat sucked, unreasoning,
begging for slime and moisture.

The father said, they bury the skins in the mud. His eyes
seemed heavy on his skull.
Each speck is scraped from flesh, slid off knives
’til the jam men’s pits are full.

The father’s iron, scratched hands scooped the toast
and the jaws did their lifework.
There are always good words, groaned his hard throat
with pip cracks and red slurps.

The boy reeled, reading ingredients, his father fed
and they stood a minute.
There were clever words in the kitchen and there was bread.
The jam was good and sticky.

Old Muse

by Chris Buchanan
Poetry, 2012

Lately you’ve been on my mind.
I’ve been thinking of you
the way old speakers think of great speeches
and hold a smile at the wall, surface satisfied.

The kind of thoughts that start with smells
and grow with every thinking,
blue or bronze flat skies that grow beautiful
by what’s in front of them

and meals that become favourites,
films filed down as hidden gems,
mistakes maturing into tragedies
and memories murmuring to bits.

Do I get on your mind like that?
Do you talk about me as though I were
funny, and romantic or something,
and thoughtful and not

the kind of guy who’d talk to you
when you weren’t listening
and would paint you onto vases, later,
with silhouette arms that are just too

long, and really, you could be anyone,
anyone special?