Literary Arts | READ LOCAL First

Brian Staker

READ LOCAL First represents Utah’s most comprehensive collection of celebrated and promising writers of fiction, poetry, literary nonfiction, and memoir. This month we bring you Brian Staker, who received an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Utah in 1993.

Since then, his poems have appeared in numerous literary publications, including Western Humanities Review (WHR) and Otis Nebula. His art and music reviews appear in City Weekly, SLUG Magazine, and Blurt Magazine. His podcast, The Awkward Hour, features local musicians, comedians and artists. He is the author of two self-published novels: Cough and Already In Progress. Last year, he collaborated in the performance piece “DiSPLACEment” at Wellers Books with English professor/poet Alex Caldiero.

Among his work below, “Meditations” originally appeared in WHR in 1994. And The New Yorker accepted “Neil & Me” for publication, but as far as Staker remembers, the piece never did appear in print.


Tomato Plants

After the frost, and the leaves wilted on the vine,
I brought the tomato plants inside the house,
to see if they had enough life
left in them to power through
to the last, fall fruits opening.

I had missed the first night
the icy air had inched below frigid,
had neglected to bring them in.

At work, the cup of olives inside
my plastic grocery bag didn’t leak
and also the bag itself
remained intact.

Then at lunch I had to pull
my car up past the window
at the McDonald’s because
there was a delay
making my order of fries.

I ordered my Diet Coke
with light ice, but the
amount of ice in the cup
melted together into
a single intractable floe.

At my workplace,
I look at the machine
at which, several years ago
a woman was working
(I didn’t even know her name)
and found out her boyfriend
had died, I don’t know how.

She had to take time off work
and was disciplined,
and let go, and I never
saw her ever again. Later
another woman was brought in
to run the machine. At some point

the machine broke down, was
repaired. It stood silent,
betrayed nothing. Then at some point
still later, it is dismantled and removed.



The Postmaster General

What happens when postal workers take too much LSD?

The morning mail, glistening with dew even inside its envelopes, encloses a portion of the mystery of the universe—exotic filigrees and arabesques of ink. You are licking the postage of your mind. But where are you sending yourself? From what are you seeking deliverance? Will the circuitous route you must travel take you to the mystery house, never to escape (its mistress conceiving in its very design endless staircases and trap doors in order to deceive the ghosts she is certain are haunting her)?

It feels like fall has finally started with the descent of colorful leaves, letters to home. Each leaf is meticulously stricken with veins, infected with the affliction of life. The Postmaster waits for a special message stuck beneath the fly leaf of a book, a sheet not only to read but also to eat. He eats pages of many books in expectation. Without effect. But still he has his toys to play with—the Mexican punching puppets, the battlefield simulations.

Much of the mail is superfluous, ads and junk, but secrets may be hidden underneath, promiscuous missives from one address to another. The most seemingly innocent mail-piece may contain intelligences more arcane than you could imagine.

What color was the sky when you made that mudpie? When you and your lover ran through the field naked, caked with earth, glistening in the sun?

The way words adhere to paper, what keeps them from flying off the page? Who has clipped their wings? Is it the Postmaster, pasting them in his scrapbook filled with the foreskins of dwarves and his collection of postage stamps from the middle-ages depicting scenes of the plague year, death everywhere?

During his meal of archaic artichokes and human hearts, making a dessert of DNA he contemplates his many enemies, plots and counterplots, consults the oracle, stamps from an imaginary country, reads communiques from his various agents. The war is not going well. Even the clouds appear to conspire against him, with their devious shapes and the shadows they cast. And yet, there is still hope.

When your postman has leprosy it’s hard to tell if it’s really his skin melting as he hands you your mail, or if it’s the acid you’ve just eaten.

Remember the time, driving home after a long camping trip, you stopped to look at the Indian relics. Your father taught you about arrowheads and their value, worth even more than your stamp collection. You can feel one of their opaque points piercing your skin at this very moment.

Think, later, of melting toy soldiers with your magnifying glass. Now you are the miniature and the lens of the sun is focused on you.

And now look at you—all the writing instruments have run out, and you are hurriedly scribbling notes on toilet paper in your own excrement. This is all the better, for these epistles to your beloved are perfumed with your own essence. The postal service, in all its efficiency, has infiltrated the sewer system, so you can flush your letter down the toilet and be assured of prompt delivery. And your father, long dead, still receives your letters, indictments, rebukes and rebuffs, forwarded by the postal system with its occult knowledge of zip codes.

Where is the Postmaster now? Is he off with the woman you thought was yours, dancing in the field the slow, choreographed dance of the cinema?

You find yourself alone, in the labyrinthine estate of the Postmaster, left to your own devices and the ones he has discarded. In the parquet-floored corridors of power, you can roll your marbles down the hall all day long.



Neil and Me

We were at his place,
knocking back a few brews,

and all that was on the radio
was a Stairway to Heaven weekend.

Then I had the idea to go visit
the old poet’s gravesite, only he was so dead

even Neil’s heaviest feedback
couldn’t wake him up. Let’s go

poke around Wynona’s place,
he managed, the girl we named

the Rambler after. Another one of his
fume-fogged notions was to cut the lights

and engine, just glide
on the downward grade. And it was OK

until the dull thud of the animal we hit.
I kept telling myself it was already dead,

but I just can’t forget the noise
of its body dragging all the way down.

The sound didn’t stop until we crashed
into the church. The next thing

I knew, someone was telling me to keep talking,
as if it would keep me alive, while they pried

my foot from the metal. Neil
wasn’t as lucky. Oh, he survived,

but he never did find a heart of gold,
and for noise he’d have to stick to the guitar.




intimate with the inanimate   your TV family   I can see four miles   the ornithology of ideas   seizure salad   maximum overdraft   “chemotherapy, kemosabe”   fifteen minutes of flame   the futility of utility   pyroglyphics   the pall of mall   writing disease   “Kim said immortality was the only goal worth striving for”   medi(a)tations   ack(lack of)knowledgments   exocentric  trance-indental meditation   deep dissatisfaction or deep dish satisfaction?  kitchen logician   maninfestation   Lust For Light: Van Gogh’s S.A.D. Story   normalescent   thought are things   her sponsor spawns her   is this the pork you pine for?   “excramation pt.”   let’s stir Thoreau   when words collide   lamps of dubious wattage

Dark Ardor   the olfactory factory   what do you call an expert at Thanksgiving cookery? A Master Baster   the Shemp of Hemp   the Odditorium   the sound of science   the Tesla of acid   The Hall of Mere Being   a birthday is a symptom (Beckett)   the Wasted Land   pheronomes  wish list   casual paper   the ice cream man he sees irony everywhere (the Emperor of Irony)   the supplement is the source   supple mental   tantrum mantra   more choices to choose from   the salivation army   mental detritus   rain is aired/blood inside the brain/always getting lost/soaked to the skin   Efrem Symbolist Jr.   to the end of the end of time   in the heart of the artichoke heart of the country   heard heart   narrow-minded clavier   writing with a surplus   fractal hockey

write like wildfire   Mister Shapeshifter   a lifelong commitment to good writing   sic(k)  when it rains, it pours   the pin-size mind   dinosaur theoretician   pint-sized mind   I am Joe’s liver   give a dog a bone   the traction of distraction   the meat of eat   milk of magneto   nomadic monadic   snake handle   the village idiom   the cleverer of the two   statue of limitations   the oat of eat   never metalanguage I didn’t like   the tire tread of what happens   stuporific  the otherworldly philosophers  drinking from the lip of sip   “It outfreuds Freud”   absorbed in what you’re doing   Urbane Legends: Tales From the Lives of the Professors   This Book is printed on 100% acid-soaked paper  interpenetration   waiting is only one letter different from writing


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