After the Break In


Michael Bruner & Mike M. Mollett

Photos by Mike M. Mollett
Originally published in The Evergreen Review Issue 102 in 1999.

The Walls I Think You've Met

it is no good to go completely insane over love and death but we do
we do though go insane and make ourselves and others miserable
it is no good being miserable and from here I can tell you
there is a calmness here inside with the clocks
why the importance of the hourly wage
with breathing room to stretch in too cannot be underestimated
up a thousand miles away or more I see they say

why even now I would look at my very own watch
if they would give me one
to see once again
how late it truly truly is even more often

it is no good to have to erase large portions of our pasts but we do
vainly trying almost to reactivate others
and I beat my head against the walls when I see what we will not see
and they
whoever they are
sedate me with things I think I did not ask for
and tell me about time to get better now we're looking good today
as if I don't know better about what I know about him and her
and about who I am being mad about right now
do you know what I mean
I believe you may have already met them didn't I tell you


Alphabet Soup Rules

he never had a mother you know she died when he was born
she never had a father because of the cycle of abuse
their children never had certainty and became moderns with medicine
he and she as me wondering what life is really all about in their bodies waiting

they constrain me because I feel too much
I am broken up within myself for my own good because I feel too much
I am a prisoner of my compassion and this is my only chance to escape
right here and right now
fresh peaches and bananas on the counter at my mother's
an empty doghouse and a truly righteous nausea you couldn't possibly understand
a life simply around and around watch it going
I mean they feed it everyday and say hello then put it to sleep

I am tired of their wanting some kind of closure
as if being wasn't enough no wonder already

I am not responsible for them anymore I am not responsible
for you I am not responsible for me
and it is not my fault

the orderlies tell us there is a beautiful meteor shower this time every year
the word is out you know
one scenario the shooting hard light destroys all dinosaur life as we know it
one scenario proves the calendars like the ones here on these walls
one scenario our awesome isolation and insignificance oh in time

it is no good to lack the confidence to stand proudly at the edge of the abyss
with the stiff wind at your back and
it is no good otherwise as well I suppose away from the edge of it all
not knowing what it is to jump in
that brief moment of growth and health and healing and resting
that really does happen naturally
it seems I even know sometimes when its happening in discussions with my doctors

what is the good world on your shoulders they all say
big and impossibly stupid how it moves don't we get it
right there in our faces' face where we should be able to see it
oh I know easy in and out fast how much you like easy in and out fast
to get the answer you are looking for instead of the question you are not
when you are an orderly or a doctor and the world is at your feet
the shoes do fit

this is the dream that I have when I am free
the way I want you to see him and her anyway
he and she could be waking up too like you any day now
and I gnash my teeth and I tear at my restraints and I scream out to the only God
I know about the plot lines of the comets
it is barely a spoonful but so much just the same
take this

The Calendar of Sorts Through Things

he thinks history that is shocking
his pet suddenly dead that day
an animal in the road with no words
his body too and the road kill and the crows
she also realizes that it may be too late for some things he thought he heard her say

I thought about an escape I once
was leaving my safe and meaningless job behind for a risky but potentially beautiful future
out of the official terror that eventually tells you the whole story dare to see it
but even then
they were enduring banking and insurance time with longing moments longer than this
I know he would have said to her if he could have
but she was not there he thought
and he was not aware of his thinking
about how death after time passing
breaks all lovers apart
as he drifted off to sleep that first night in bed after the break in

I worshipped him there cupping his life in his hands like a progressively crippled bird
only looking sadly at him nobody around me understood or believed what I saw
the looming metropolis as well kissing itself almost to sleep
tenses of things like time for instance bending
while hours like lizards stared laid back behind bars smoking
need smoking under cover of truth
ah smoking the force of nature
and the real slow time pictures
glossy rust red and samples from the sales people
the small corners of his life I saw where he admitted vulnerability
forced to be polite to a rude public of strangers
he thought of her privately and the force of personality too swayed jazz in the night
beginning to occur to him with a shape like new


In Tongues

she was in the other room maybe a vestibule
a cavity serving as an entrance to another cavity where she sat thinking

they had to go through with it together thinking anyway
like they always did with the police dusting for fingerprints
the embarrassing questions where the lies make the box become smaller

we have to fit around something he had said wanting to protect her
and they held each other in their own way independently
while the walls I think you've met closed in


Isn't Love Strange

they had been waiting a long time for their glasses to be filled
but the numbers they had to remember made no sense
finding more of them in the mail they said silently
looking at their fingers

they were in the morning paper
in their e-mail on the radio
at the market blowing by it could be anything in their dreams
where the crowds gathered wanting their share of the stuff
with their children leading the way knowing what they knew before they knew it
on and on they were lucky
the weather was nice and the winters not too cold
with the bills and the neighbors playing music up all night
and a sick pet licking the iron off the legs of the table because of anemia
if they had only figured it out sooner they could have saved the poor thing


How I Really Feel

honestly I don't have much sympathy for them
locked up myself he and she an illusion with a key
waking up is never an easy process and they never could really communicate
how he looked at her the morning before the break in
over and over in bed and wanting to remember
how beautiful she was at those moments she was in time
things stopped forever in those pictures she would find at the airport
under an abandoned newspaper how could he know
that someone else also had simply left it all behind
she and he at work all the time
him and her in love without thinking

then with so many things strange and stolen
there was an emptiness I nevertheless worshipped
I can tell you because it broke silence's hold on the tight fisted truth that I am over now


Undeliverable Messages

he received the letter that very morning he recalls
it was not addressed to him
but someone like him so he opened it cautiously
inside a note read friends don't forget friends like that
I miss you
terribly no return address

their usual route was utterly congested
she remembers bumper to bumper
it may have been a landslide or head on collision in the fog
probably some nut with a cause just
committed suicide from an overpass he had said which hurt me

last week they began resurfacing
I think there was a sign about it or I read it in the newspaper she replied
after some time
they were able to turn onto a smaller street they had never been on before
how often they both thought together
they had traveled this area of town and had never been there

when the phone rang last week she didn't want to get it
the answering machine hello Barbara
her name is not Barbara
tell Mitchell I love him anyway won't you
tell Mitchell I am sorry I forgot it wasn't fair
have him call me back ok bye
and I love you too

with that memory over she finds herself on the route they used to take
she notes a half torn down billboard saying what a billboard says
and fragments of a conversation in a car at a long stoplight
it's not that I don't want you to have it
I don't think it is really what
you want if you're involved and someone dies like that
the light turns green and they pull away


Looking In

it is nothing new that people keep some photographs
their secrets and their distance and their beatings from the public they hide in their routines
hide in their smiles and before they could be
until the end we all know is coming
or at least this is what she thought angrily at that one picture

leaves falling before the bride which could have been her at the time

mind you
it's nothing new that people like me go mad in the market
place bets too on the horse young man
you have to be patient with the mad
it is life up here in the saddle with the sun wild in the west
the crowds in the stands just beginning to cheer for the dramatic finish
god for now
two people waking up to the world as it is


What They Always Thought

their attractive home though not without walls was unsafe and would not protect them
their phones had no bugs but transmitted and returned silent warnings at the very least
imagine that streets elevators and hallways to their rooms were increasingly over lit
this was not for looks
there were meetings about them but their names did not come up
protected by no laws they could be reduced to nothing but photographs at any time
so you cannot be too careful with your lies
or the looks he thinks you get from the ones you love
through the camera you are

those were the kinds of thoughts they had as he stood
taking pictures of the damage
her knowing that this was about it in life
however they believed
and you cannot have much sympathy for those that believe
they just brought me my meal


About There About Time

they had been fighting before they were sleeping
there he remembered once on the road away from her
finding postcards in a store
on a rarely used road that used to be busy but now in a drawer unseen
so many sticks and stones
bones weathers glue
facing a revealing light of day vacation remains
on the beach with a wife
a fond forgotten farewell
friends calling to come along
him packing the bags and the children laughing calling
in the house behind the window looking out on a world
a possible ride to California with fifty dollars and a stranger
alone after the sound of the engine evaporating he remembers it all so to speak
an ancestor's graveyard and dogs almost biting
water in the grave and the coffin in the water
summer alone felt once then as well
rain on the road he was on
time and other days with her moved through his mind
later wheat on the dashboard
and the foundation is all that is left of Grandpa's farm before him but the barn
filled with old once important things
and large ghosts floating up past the windows and a ladder for the bed
stepping in through the webs to recapture the past
in a museum him thinking
although he does not now remember
I should take something back to remember all this by
our days here in the sunny state and the amusement park
relaxed we were I remember your facing the water
even then there may have been a roller coaster I'm not sure anymore
then or in the future now in the shadows becoming longer
the way he's been feeling with her and without


One Day and the Next Over Her Head Inside

she considers how you cannot be too careful
anywhere you are anymore
there are any number of sudden and unexpected turns of events
turning that can occur at any time
really they are just waiting to happen at the edge
she thought the next corner
around a green doorway knocking one day or the next
I mean in this neighborhood she couldn't believe it

one look from him to her
her to him one after the other and then at the same time there after intruders
him smoking a cigar on the porch looking
over the edge behind the screen under the fan circling
when now she opens the door stepping out
with the photographs the changes remain unspoken

the breeze spins the smoke almost blue tonight directly at her
she hates smoke like I do
used to work in a jazz club do coke party all night wake up at noon
sure even then never liked smoke but
did have a musician boyfriend she loved desperately
who did coke and smoked cigarettes then
they lived
together on and off for a long time before she met him and he met her
fish in the aquarium
grease in the skillet
the eyes on the face numbering about two and multiplying
the heart in the cage inside them in the evening
after dinner indeed
the world seemed to lift off their shoulders and float to their feet to dissolve
as he sat down beside her

and he said something close to but other than
hanging with you I am all the time
out-takes of myself with my words
swinging to the commands and shouting my resistance into your cave of muted lights

whatever he had said it made her laugh it feels good

the shredded banners and even the hands of the police in it
tearing the folded wallet of me to find my identity
the pipes
the trenches
the shocking noise of the machinery
the lies she knew
it was true

at the gate I wait for the sounds of the turning inside the locks you say make free
I am at the foot of the stairs to your door and I must climb you

she looked at him

it is not enough to say I have been waiting on the edge
trying to believe I have been trying to open too
it is not enough to say even that

and it is not enough to say really anything
at least that is what she had heard him say and fell in love again who knows why
in the madhouse acetylene fracture tutelage bandage
rampage coming buzzing hazed and bleeding my god
microwaves running wild their scorched fingers in ecstasy
through my freezing orgasm everything
falling perilously without parachute
wings through cloud magnetic ports divine
and landing on strips of clothes
we are dressed up in
about all you can really model yourself on
is just about anything unruly
you see lining up to find the way

there are so many signs
captured on tape you know it is love believing and waking
up that drives me mad with joy
if that makes it any easier for you
and mad with the routine walls we lean upon called have no choice
she thinks but does not realize how it hurts to be open to the lost mirror
hello in there
but I keep it mostly to myself and the people I trust like you

reaching into her briefcase downstairs later she sees the album
she wants to tell him that she loves him and she wants to quit her job
forever but does not
he is still thinking about what breaks lovers apart and how close they almost are
as he drifts off to sleep in that ocean that finds him

maybe they will meet there on a smile floating by it could happen


Scrawled Into Poured Wet Concrete

crawling on my belly through a desert of hard corridors
there is something
call them people
rocks on a mountain
ships on the surface
directed in the wind to signal one's way


While They Were There With the Television

it is not great poetry
sometimes it is everything and really more everything than there can ever be
he might have said to her during the commercial
not so long ago I took my knife in my hand
seeing how the committees based their decisions on fine personal pleasures
and thin lines of reasoning
looking into the eyes of the terrorist complying
saying I cannot tell you this you that

the meaning of course more complicated than what she recalls

why have we done these horrible things to each other out loud
and in silence to the walls
maybe to him and her in the air
in and out with the weather

sitting there just try to predict it they thought who could have
how much will fall the hot or the cold emotions moving in
it had begun innocently enough with the mirror and her friend moving out hysterically
if only I could keep it she had said
instead of the not having always following that line becoming wider
and love too you know he said there at the bottom and the top as the angle widens

photographs trying to hold the rest together there inside what they forgot to say

my guard is not my knife I've just put down
I think you see
your program is back on


Get Set Jump

they did not know they had both become aliens the day they were robbed but it's true
they did not know they had begun to wake up
and I bang my fists against my head and I strain and growl
when I see the truth unfold when no one is looking it is so beautiful

how he was thinking about having just taken her picture and how time passes away
the pleasant warm display of mirrored light and our reflection
this is what they fought for and against each day
but there in his office playing on the busy routine street of polite lying
just not being able to take the petty complaint slide into plagued soul he yells
leave me alone and at the same time to the people surrounding him
you should think for yourselves
and for once question your roles on the only committees you know of yourselves
the latter being only what I could see
him not see you not see and the employees looked confused
were they feeling that way and then killed it with reason

he thought he had found a voice he had been looking for
fighting back against the flood of clinging refugees deluging his lifeboat of soul
which was small having believed in the job for so long
early again on time staying late to finish great ordering dinner in
the custodian saying hi he barely ever looked up
but yes he thought for a moment he had found what he wanted
it was not his new job
and not the new state-of-the-art whatever it cost
or the great children or smart beautiful wife who was also searching
but maybe less tangible than this stuff
less clear in the beginning when he knew something was missing
like an honesty and a hope and a consideration he could not grasp quite
yet he just felt it once in a while like he felt it
as the years moved along on a shopping escalator with him
not all at once like seeing his face changed in the mirror one morning
with new wrinkles or something you know



and there unaware of the thoughts in the back of her mind
as she pursued one of the routine tasks that was her job
her office became strange at last
suddenly she saw the men in uniforms putting new light fixtures in
and the boss
not frozen and not all like hardened steel
watching from his office behind the blind
phones ringing saying things
and the customer looks at her and begins to cry
the song piped in through the ceiling shifts to tongues

I wonder so much about these break ins
these violations absently endured
the things that can't be said

there is a damn fine cup of coffee and liver cancer
spoken by someone about him and her at their worst
there is the lovely plant by the broken machine
which will be fixed the man is on his way someone said
where the numbers and letters go once they leave
their respective areas no one knows for sure
that is why their homes are such carefully managed histories
I love them there is the pet
mother and child outside with the big rake little rake life at its best

there is the tablecloth
a place to sit
take that


Buried Yes

to be something more than a photograph they both left their offices alone early that day
she unable to take anymore the lighting and billboards
on her way to an escape to anywhere but there
and he on his way home to her

on the way he absently thinks our jobs
these words these values like colors of belief that lead to our variously violent moments of decision
cut us off from other perhaps more appropriate words feelings concepts values and decisions

the signal turns red and really very little slows down

we have to think name conceptualize value decide unless we want to remain in the cellar
locked in a jar mute pathetic and ineffectual

see what I mean the light turns green
it is said in modern languages
in moonlight
in neon
in silence
it is said to me
along a major interstate highway
along a small narrow earth dirt road where my ancestors are
without love and without time
it is most compelling



bored with sad epiphanies someone in the near future alone and afraid at an airport
someone elsewhere alone with himself afraid of the war he is

having to fight to be happy to see the pictures that develop


Opening the Book

a small photo album under an abandoned section of newspapers like I told you
the business section alone and thinking of what leaving must be like
she leafs through the photographs an ant line on the carpet on the threshold
a branching tree in a grass lawn overexposed
a leaf falls silently before the bride she sees
there at the airport missing a friend forever and waiting
she thinks about the price of the arrangements as the orchestra
the rice in the air
the noise of life like a painting on the face
a flash in relief
her life


The Subject in the Madhouse

she considers his affection yes she does
he considers her affection yes he does
they don't think they consider each others' affection
he can't wait to see her to tell her about his new new voice
and alarmed by something she can't quite express about these clocks
she tucks the album in her purse

she would locate the authorities whoever they are but forgets



she hadn't slept
it was the break in for sure he felt it too
having returned to try to express how the lies had boxed her in
and the police and all those missing things
she hadn't slept
not until 4 a.m. or so her mind turning over and over in a shadowy place
remembering itself too often through instant replays
things appearing and disappearing
glancing at endless boxes of the unknown and where she keeps them
imagine what their lives are like in there
and can they see me open one of them myself once again
to discover an emptiness full of what it is
to not know what we really are being mortal
and will we ever be happy forever

and had she fully seen this thought (or not lost it) I might have exploded
mind and body into effervescent bubble systems popping
the luxurious bathtub of myself

I am so hungry she thought


Undercover Guard Distracted

she didn't want to take it anymore
can't we just get away
no more of those medications that made her feel
even more out of the ordinary the next day she thought
no matter what her doctor had told her about nerves
better to be asleep than lying awake he said
tossing and turning so much

he is turning inside corners of his world tonight and the race is on frustrated
he can't make an important phone call to her
the machines plea not to be turned off
his pet is there but they can't get home
he leaves pieces of himself everywhere
the mean animals are not
it's all make up they say and they want to be mean but aren't
tape is artfully applied to reveal teeth
make up cruelly applied as if melting
he can't describe the philosophy room he finds himself in
or the chase that drove him there
and he knows that this isn't exactly what is happening or happened
but he can't make the phone call
his only coin rolls away to the grating
he had forgotten the number anyway
it could be too many area codes
damn it people are waiting their turn impatiently
the men with the guns are always only moments away
he keeps pushing the wrong buttons for no reason
time is expiring according to recordings of operators
he misses her terribly
he always survives
his arm becomes numb his face is twitching
in a vast warehouse an identification official talks about photographs
and agrees with his wife that he looks like a convict and tears up his passport
the trash is full of unread memos
he is reduced to routine cleaning work
alone at a dance recital he is surrounded by love unrecognized and I call to him
but dreaming he believes it is his fate to be a silent movie
where he wants to ask for and about her all day but cannot


Some Mornings Talk

the next morning they go to buy food mostly in packaging easy to carry
and the number 6328 keeps popping into her head
she doesn't have favorite numbers and isn't one to be trapped for that matter
and this had always been clear to her
but this number 6328 and the number 76
why 76 and why 6328

perhaps they recently appeared in something she looked at that contained facts and figures
money for instance dollars bills checks credit cards or billing statements
perhaps she would see the number soon somewhere he said and phone numbers
if a friend moves invariably their new number would include either 6328 or 76
perhaps 76 and 6328 would begin to appear in conversations
god forbid they should appear in my dreams
she commented strangely in the market to the cashier
who's phone number included 76

an outstanding overdue shopping junket had netted them bags and bags of groceries
75 items
she had to count each
as she and he deposited the items into their appropriate shelf in the refrigerator or the cupboard
she had returned yogurt recalling he had picked up a quart just yesterday
NOOOO she screamed
he hugged her awkwardly but lovingly and lightly in the kitchen and they both decided to call in sick

The Mirror for Themselves Anyway

later she shows him the photo album
he having just returned from having their pictures developed

the branching tree in the grass lawn
a sidewalk bending a song along
for the children it's a party at the neighbor's with a pool and a smoky barbecue
a punchbowl and pinata
a clown high contrast
a little blurred but there it is

her hand gloved with a gold watch on his thigh
his matches on the rug
a cigarette breathes the whisper of listening
he and she a cushion on the bed
a book open wide in the light
so close to destruction the jelly spiders in the corners
imagine unexpectedly the ships in the hurricanes before weather satellites
it is something important I have been meaning to tell you
there is nothing we can do I love you and yes me too


Walls With Ears Say Hello

here is where
silence enters my cells as I strain to hear freedom
listen for now as everything dissolves into all moments

he and she leaning toward each other before they even know it


Inevitableness of Sad

but damn the next alarmed day with the back to the usual
for it is not so easy in the history of ongoing moments
eventually letters and numbers
nobody where is it going
somebody someday
this and that fortunately
with luck fresh baked meat the heat is on when you want it
as I and my teeth and chin gone staccato tense
butterfly screaming mutations
end this harmony melody smoke train cannon blast
for I have no eyes anymore I am sure
a broken static voice alone very much theater
ever riotous my god strife fireworks and death in this our reality what

is yes so what thinking he would have to tell her it is much too much
back in the truth breezed leaves pond ears small alight smooth enough for us
no win ultimately this life after ever after after all
simple authority and the manufactured peace of the front
and our controlled war of ourselves forever until it is over
new bread and sad imagination for awhile
how to shake this inevitableness of sad
oldness and the private whisper future general rack secret
blowing apart what is left for us to master as the clay

their story is simply a set up for madness back to work like that

it is too much to stay where they are he is thinking how often thinking
with the way things are
in his head she is feeling she is knowing
and in her head she is feeling he is not
while cane tapping to help in her reaching what I am recording
here in my mind as both of them
I must beat my retreat in the face of their apparently inevitable acquiescence


Inside the Television

we all record who wait poised for the words
as lust and shootout
bury the channels with another cracking rainbow telecast around the globe

just watch I whisper remotely guarding inside myself
as best I can this is weather permitting
trying to help you to see them
see me


Moving Cities

she is at the door with the keys in her hand to the house
the airport too much and of no use the way things are and work is o.k. I guess
the earth shook and the news crews were on the spot in minutes
layers of even newer soot blanketing the surrounding hills buried along with her
her desperately repetitive thoughts a roadside memorial
how many dead all wrapped up inside her
the keys opening some things more than what meets the eye you can see with
and the eye can be tricked into believing after almost another year of this no and yes

watch as the key turns in warm anything
rumblings underground the plates and forks and spoons shift
opening inside and away from a parking lot with new numbers on the surface
just on the surface
hands and voices on the shore by the market to go in her mind
this is the best world possible
these few seconds at the threshold together
where he and she are now eye to eye

his island has come back to him and on her beach there is the sunset
when a breeze and her voice asks him what are you thinking tell me what it is
and he wants to get out from under the cruel ugly giant of I know what you mean
but can only tell her dinner is ready and he is glad she is home


Saturday Maybe

the lights here have gone out for the night my loves
outside congested freeways disgusting industrial heroin detox what gives
turnpikes and highways with buildings on parts of the planet I'll never see
fatalities just occurred and a larger number of near misses than you can imagine
near conversations and ones in the making
babies crying
crimes being perpetrated and planned babies happy hats on and hats off
jungles burning movies making some stocks up and some declining
bread with mustard bread with cheese
clocks everywhere telling different stories about the same thing adding up
waging war with a salary I don't know anymore
with labor and the air fresher than usual and having your job to think about as the people
continue to fall over each other on the grass


Later Than Then

you like the ocean don't you and it doesn't have to be in the middle
of nowhere thinking we wouldn't need a car if we lived in the right city
we could walk more and take public transportation
or maybe we'd feel better in a more natural place out of the city
we could raise a family if you want with less stress
where people have a greater respect for culture and history
and we've talked about getting out more and more
it could be us it could be simply to see more art and entertainment
there is history everywhere and anyway we are on the internet now
we could ride bikes on a rural island near a busy one
imagine a sloop you've mentioned working out again
or the Amazon jungle we could make our own dugout canoe plus travel
don't be ridiculous I am going to sleep and we can talk about this later


Photos With Music

a safe cat illuminated by lightning
no one else at home
no television or radio or telephone conversation
no computer or vacuum cleaner or hair dryer
no none of that just now

a calm breeze on the battlefield (black and white)
a soft whistle through the window in a storm
peace in the valley of words and deeds
a butterfly on a chin of red colored in


See What

somewhere there are two people in a museum staring at art
hard wood floors
indirect lighting
machines regulating the environment

paintings on the walls for centuries
frames on the walls for centuries with paintings in them
it may be Venus it may be a myth
a still life with apples haystacks at dusk a watery sky bridge
Christ on the cross in Belgium in a crowd no one watching
you may have seen this
you may have been there
a pastoral with animals and old ways in the hand without noise
mutterings whispers comments to each other
squeaks of rubber shoes perfume carried by breezing by clothing
near the bronze sculpture naked
the odor of bodies in an order turning into white tights with spots

she has gray hair now he still has blonde
black striped linen
jeans he is laughing in
a painting about the painting men in suits in the paintings
with ruffles and dogs on her neck the gold and pearls
standing like a queen gray hair by green walls
they are not white none of them in this wing
terrible the marble of the hills
in the distance the city on the water
near the doorway maybe an overwhelming exit
and the history of the place down the stairs
through the hallways and the people with their maps
going in languages we do not understand
even as they speak them

this is their freedom and the ends for now of their lines for me you understand I hope


Another City

he and she never got away
each time they see something is blurred on the reverse
but it too muffles a scream as deep as would be maybe next time
and you will have your next times

so much is with them and you
where they are they have been taken in more ways than one
a phone lying loose in the bathroom and all those things missing

trespasser tumbles off floor holding mirror
suicide eliminated newspaper headline
and at the mountain where the beach is starting
and the beginning where they will be
a picture of them in her purse and his billfold
with other papers stuffed in their pockets