Critical Thought: Buddha

There are two things that come immediately to mind when it comes the act of my writing prose or poetry. The first is listening. I can only force so much in a conscious sense. I listen to the voice telling this story or poem. Sometimes it takes detours and that’s okay. Sometimes the detours become another story and I realize that I’ve been telling the wrong narrative. If I don’t listen to the voice, the piece stays on one street, becomes flat. The other thing, perhaps more peculiar to me, is that I often use celebrities as main characters. This puts the reader in the weird position of reading about someone he or she knows about, but doesn’t know personally. So I try to invent the details of the celebrity’s personal life. And in this overlap between the public and the personal, something surreal takes place, an emotional truth is reached. We find that this celebrity, who we may have admired from a distance, is very much like us, vulnerable, needy, capable of making wrong decisions. Yet, the mythic quality of that person is still left intact.

Kyle Hemmings is the author of three chapbooks of poems: Avenue C (Scars Publications), Fuzzy Logic (Punkin Press), and Amsterdam & Other Broken Love Songs (Flutter Press). He has been pubbed at Gold Wake Press, Thunderclap Press, Blue Fifth Review, Step Away, and The Other Room. He blogs at DogPunk & Psychedelic Stinky Cat.

Sweet Round Buddha

Moe Tucker is talking to her father from a payphone inside the hospital. She repeats that her mother, a heavy smoker, divorced for two years, has just died. Moe Tucker says she was just sitting up in bed a month ago, and although, somewhat confused and bloated from a failing heart, she could still remember the words to Peggy Lee’s “Fever,” or “Is that all there is?”


Moe is 16 years old.


“She was just tired,” the father says. In a different part of the world, he's unrecognizable and remarried.


Moe shakes her head to mean “yeah,” then realizes the father can’t see her. It’s funny, she thinks, how the silence between them can travel long distance, then fade into somewhere, a place she has visited too many times.


She decides she will not go home tonight. She will not sleep alone. The house will be too cold, too silent, too pregnant with the mother’s absence. Everything has become too permanent.


She calls her friend, nicknamed Mutton, and asks if she can stay over. The friend says It’s okay.


In Mutton’s room, the friend is playing records at low volume: The Juju’s, The Alarm Clocks, The Benders. Moe is lying sideways on some shag carpet, playing with her hair, staring into space. She says to the friend, “Let’s bake some honey apples.” Lately, she’s been having strange compulsions. The friend gives Moe a flick of the eyebrows, a twist of the lips. She tells Moe they must be quiet, so as not to disturb the parents.


In the kitchen, they core the apples, fill them with honey, orange juice, and chopped walnuts. After heating them, Moe sprinkles the tops with nutmeg. She places the apples in the broiler for a glaze.


They sit facing each other at the table, each taking an apple. Mutton mashes hers with the back of a fork. She makes a joke about having sex with an old man, all that winkly dimpled skin.


Moe reaches for the friend’s hand. “You mustn’t do that,” she says.


Moe explains that there’s a right way to do everything, like cutting a baked apple into neat quarter pieces.


“My mom once said that if you don’t do something right, it will haunt you forever.”


The friend shakes her head sideways, and wears some weird smile.


“It’s just a thing,” says Mutton, “it can’t feel.”


“No,” says Moe, “it’s not just a thing.”


Moe knows this from browsing through her brother’s textbooks, a section here and there on Hindu philosophy, or from the strange auras a desk, a chair, an unmade bed, might take in the silence of an afternoon, when Moe feels she is no longer part of the world.


“Well, can that apple talk?” the friend asks with a smirk, a tilt of the head.


“Yes, it can,” says Moe.


Moe leans her ear against the apple, imperfectly round as the world. She can hear a voice, tiny, distant, the words, almost indistinct. It could be hers, or her mother’s. And there are many things that come and go. She knows that someday she will outgrow her wet crushes on boys in tight pants and girly bangs. But this she knows: that voice has traveled underground and through dense walls. It has remained silent for years within years. It has traveled through many miles of hard space. The voice says “I’m part of you.” And Moe suddenly is no longer hungry, no longer full of space.

by Kyle Hemmings