OK this one is hard to admit. Each time we meet I am drenched with sweat. I sprint up to a clearing in Pan Pacific Park, having kicked twenty klicks (he taught me this expression). He lies back on a picnic blanket fingers laced in red wraparound shades and tells me that he’s bummed he hasn’t had time to call with how busy his film about my life story has kept him. Brad asks about the times I fired guns, passed out, fought men and took home girls with bruised legs who wanted to wrap me in papyrus, and escape in a cocoon of poetry and lies. We passed around a Pinot Noir from New Zealand with a screw-off cap and recounted the time we sang karaoke with Thai Elvis at the Palms in order to save the world from terrorists. Finally, we mastered our own language of curse words and cool until the sun revolved and he faded into the eyes of women who drank him dry until morning and I remained.
A dry leaf from a winter garden pressed between the pages, just before the paper yellows and chlorophyll crumbles into dust, marking yet another page in our lives. You remember a piece of string from your shirt, candy wrapper from your appetite, toilet paper folded into a bulging cover, grains of sand from a desolate beach. You reached for what was important because you needed to read and remember. You think about listing the books you’ve branded, a leaking pen for Poet in New York that left smudges deeper than ink, than blood. A fingernail for The Arabian Nights as though in sleep you would not twitch from the dread and hope of an empty bed. And no bookmark for Naked Lunch, dog-eared, page bent back, random works spewing to people on subways, on street corners, sounding like hello, fuck you, please help me. No. Listing books will not do. So let’s remember those tales without authors, the incantatory chants of mysterious knights roaming woodlands for monsters, wicked step mothers combing root cellars for children. These tomes we remember with sharp tongues, dry tongues sticky with epitaphs, wet tongues. And what about the authors hidden behind the lambskin and papyri? Their endings are our passages, echoing down a hall we close on a shelf before returning to lives indelibly marked with bent corner, a tassel in the velvet spine, a leaf stain upon the page that tells us we have lived and lived well. Or that we will conquer mountains of air on words that form translucent ladders to the constellations of our adventures. Remember and it will be. Step from the book and do not fear. Your place is kept here with me. You will not be forgotten.
-- A former U.S. Army interrogator, Martin Ott currently lives in Los Angeles and still finds himself asking a lot of questions. His poetry and fiction has appeared in more than 100 publications, including Confrontation Magazine, Harvard Review, Los Angeles Review, New Letters, Notre Dame Review, Prairie Schooner and Zyzzyva. His book of poetry, Captive, won the 2011 De Novo Prize and will be published on C&R Press in 2012. He has also been nominated for two Pushcart prizes and his short story manuscript “Perishables” has been a finalist for the New American Fiction Prize.