portion of the artwork for Allison Constance Gulker's poetry

The Death of Streaming
Allison Constance Gulker

The difference between a captive
and an enemy—is in the mind.

Spending half lives near a shipwreck
on the shore of the hippocampus.

Pupils (those eternal twins, pinned)
reside in the eyes—there’s nowhere
else to go—and a ladder with rungs
only fish can climb.

Breathing becomes
undifferentiated
from labor
—so many dying salmon
locked up

in the shallows.

Made a mark. A little more

of their kind.



That lucky rider.

Coming into the town on his horse, at a trot …
the woman is there, the one he loves, the one
he wants to marry. He bends
from the horse, torso
swung low

with arm outstretched, to take her hand.

With practiced hips, she ascends.

Two riders
are one, now—her breasts to his back, her mouth
to his ear: they marry at Eventide.

The horse carries them away.



It rattles
on dusty ruts, a cart unbefitting
any sane road, any cobbled stone.
Behind the wagon doors, bodies
piled high. Bodies
twisted, wasted
in battle;
bodies with limbs
and eyes
undecided: wide
open?
crossed, or half
severed, half
shut?
Bodies with wounds
that just keep saying
the unspeakable,
trusting the living
to bear them
away.

Bodies, stiff,
entangled—a waxen sheen overriding
everything. The heaviest load carried
by man.

The driver stops for a break.

He smokes his cigarette;
takes a drink
from a canteen made of sun
blazing,
sorghum on silver;
a nun and a nurse
happen by. They peer inside
the wagon; they make the Sign
of the Cross on their breasts
one thousand two hundred
and ninety six
times.



Do not be sad.

The headache of routine will be gone soon.
Surely it is better, this return to the same road
on your own two feet

than to travel as a corpse in a gardener’s wagon …
fortunes are built, in this way, the same road,
the same road day
after day after
day after

look!

a woman is waving at you
from the roadside,
tossing a burning flower or
two.

She is so achingly beautiful,
the pain behind the eyes
is gone.



Wheels on fire
and spinning

so fast the mind swims.

The carriage takes a corner;
flaming wheels peel away
like snakeskin, like petals.
The carriage crashes,
fifty feet from a lake.

The husband and wife

spill out.

The whole world can see them now, and feel for them,

and know.



The tiger is asleep; you are careless.
One could even say heedless:
Heedless of life
and the other.
Your foot feels it first: Tiger’s tail!
it is like placing a bare heel on a burning coal.
The beast roars in its dream
and you scamper, you hot foot away.

So close to death, it changes you for days.



In a crouch, he rolled the dice, over and over.
No snake eyes. Do what you want—what you

want what you want, what you

want.



He was in the bistro,

playing keno.

He lost a little scratch,
oh who is any match for
chance, ever?

He went out the back way, into the alley:

There, amid the thick fish stench and slick
reams of garbage—was the suitcase.

It was filled with money. The bills, foot-thick,
rubber-banded green bricks.

He travels now. And has given up gambling.

They will never find him.

They will never catch him alive.



It is a time for jubilation; everyone has come.

Let them in!

A bonfire in the causeway; spirits rise and

spin:

embers on their way
to the sun.



Not a soul shines by absence; a little fog on the windowsills.
Laughter, and incense. From the latest ante chamber now

the blessed blood reunion shall commence.



She was a rare bird,
and wore an anklet made of green jade.
It looked like a snake climbing
up the inside of her calf; and the men
fell about their own feet, dazed, praying
for Providence, for timing.

Get out of her way!

they said, when she led her kingdom’s
ineluctable fact-finding expedition on
foot, and tattoos
of tearful lizards and blacksmith’s bellows
on the tops of all ten
of her toes.



Even the damaged bolts of silk are valuable.
They are to be shipped, with the utmost care
to a monastery, and a brothel.



Gaze into a puddle after the rain.
Soaked terrain, sure … yet stare
deep, deep

and there is the sky!

and water flows
down
and fire climbs
high.

Reflection of the fact there is no

death,

only goodbye.



The hide of an ox,

an indestructible thing.

Vest worn by a king.




The sun in the Phase of Si …
Heads turned toward the middle spheres of Heaven.

Bright astral light at 2 a.m.



Are your cheeks trembling?

Good!

This is half the battle.

Pay attention to the way you open

your mouth.

Make certain that what you have to say

causes no regrets.



Fire gutted the Alexandria Hotel.
He made it out with his money, and a souvenir:
The little flesh-colored Tongue of the Front Desk

Bell.



The receding waters—fairly flying

across your stairs
like sweat from all
the foreheads
whipped around
in double-take.

Memories are good.


No grieving.



Lots of scenes …

Streetcars, guillotines …
A man shooting down a bird

with an arrow attached to a string.

He is reeling this bird in

like a fish.

Now, he has gone to the place
where he thought
the bird was.

The empty string he holds
in his shaking hands.


This is grief.



Your captives are awake.

Sensing your worst mistake.

You drank the last bottle
and went to sleep.

Head on your arms. Without a sound

and one by one
your enemies like these

moments slip

out an open window … they are gone.


Forever.



Allison Constance Gulker’s Comments

I am a first responder. Paramedic.

Hence the bodies, in the wagons, in the poems.

Yet, there’s hope. I see that, also, in my work. Hence, the suitcase full of money. The reunion imagery. The wondrous couple on horseback. Their “moving betrothal,” et al.

Some of this work was born, as well, out of a recent toxic relationship from which I was fortunate to escape, with the help of my mother, the writer Elaine Gulker. She used to sing that old Paul Simon song to me: “50 Ways to Leave Your Lover.” In fact, she still sings this song to me. And plays that drumbeat. Ya know?—that instantly recognizable drum beat that everybody knows? My mom can play that complex percussive phrase with her palms tap-tapping a countertop, or steering wheel, or crown of my tiny skull. She told me she was simply going to keep drumming that beat, every time she saw me—until I kicked that consummate prick I was with—to the curb. Which I did. All’s well that ends.

Elaine Gulker, the writer, once said: “If you don’t feel like two or three distinctly different beings simultaneously, while trying to write something, your writing is simply going to fail. Sorry. It will end up being the kind of bullshit that nobody needs.” My mom introduced me to Chinese philosophy, too. Is there anything she cannot do?

LOVE YA, MOM!

Can I hit ya with a side note? Then I gotta go.

“Death of Streaming” started off as a freelance writing assignment. Yep.

Guy on this work-site portal announces, “I need The Illustrated Book of Changes (I Ching) changed into poetry. Who can do this?” I instant-message him. I say, “I CAN!” He says,
“How long? How much?” I say, “Oh, about a week and a half. Say, a hundred and fifty bucks?” He says, “Let’s do this thing.”

Long story short: I ended up having to take time off work, my actual paramedic work. During COVID. Time off my essential-worker work, just to finish the goddamned freelance writing before the deadline. Which I did. Then I cherry-picked the best of these poems. Changed them around.

Sent them off—to FRiGG.

What a blessing, what a scream, yo. Life is so strange, ya know?

And so, back to the other deal: how much money did I actually make, from that bizarre backwards-synchronistic I Ching Translation Thing?

Well … if ya break it down—about 85 cents per poem.

What’s the difference between a captive and an enemy?

85 cents.

And what is 85 cents?

The kind of bullshit nobody needs.


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FRiGG: A Magazine of Fiction and Poetry | Issue 57 | Spring/Summer 2021