Issue #60

Fall 2016

Burping Birds

by Luis Garcia

I am reluctant to explain to you why I am back here. The reason is so absurd it is difficult for even me to believe. That I am a changed man requires I not tell you so, and to explain would, because of our past, sound beyond absurd, which would, by a turn, equal lie.

An amusing and perhaps beautifully written sentence fragment lies hidden in the tedium of Chapter 33:

Presents nudity in such a way as to create the appearance that sexual contact is imminent, i.e., display of contact or intended contact with genitals, pubic area, or female breasts orally, digitally or by foreign object...

and I am at the moment trying to figure a way to work it in to a story.

What if I told you that, beginning four months ago, every time I sensed a belch I felt a dry sort of fluttering in my chest and out my mouth came a sparrow (Passer domesticus, specifically), would you believe me?

Being averse to the Christian propaganda that floats around back here along with the well-thumbed King James Bibles, plus the one or two read and reread trashy, dogeared, torn sections of cheap drugstore novels considered contraband, I have killed large chunks of Time reading the available portions of Chapter 33, for pleasure, and have begun to wonder, and am surprised and even embarrassed by my naïveté of what exactly Chapter 33 is. Is it out of a book? Is it itself a tome? Is it part of a work of several volumes? If Chapter 33 deals with prison rules and regulations, what does Chapter 1 deal with? Chapter 2? I have decided to figure this out as soon as I am out of confinement.

I remember how, when we first moved into our little house, how we discovered that the living room walls’ thick paint was not only thick paint but painted-over wallpaper, and how when we took that wallpaper down we found more painted-over wallpaper before we got to the actual wall you set to wallpapering with your photographs, way underestimating how much masking tape you would need. The walls in here are similar, only there is no wallpaper but layers and layers of paint of slightly different colors.

The little birds come out alive and well and apparently unharmed and hop happily onto my finger, ruffle their feathers, look at me quizzically, but then soon fly off, for they are by no means tame.

I was going to write to tell how so far I have had only one celly, who was occupying the cell when I arrived; how he was a Latin gang member classified as a “keep away,” meaning keep away from the general population for rioting and hurting others; how his teeth were clean but misshapen and chipped and misaligned and could have benefited from childhood braces; how he bore scars on many parts of his body; how he told me several stories of fighting, and pantomimed as such; how he did not touch me, but how when he used my general position to demonstrate the objects of his stories’ foci, I could feel issuing from him a sort dyslexic frustration; how I told him stories in return; how his eyebrows went synclinal whenever I used polysyllables; how his plans for when he gets out included caring for his three-year-old daughter by smuggling drugs into prison through associations he has made during his stay here, for a big turn-over profit, he implied, which he referred to as “The Lick”...

I was not going to mention it, but at this point I need to, because I am stuck — cobbling together a story about a reality show about the making of a documentary about a family addicted to watching the reality show about the making of the documentary of themselves. I know you have offered to be only my typist, but still: Any ideas? I no longer have a celly and am happy with my newfound peace and quiet; how the chaplain visits my cell door weekly and offers me a Bible; how I tell him I am not Christian and how he asks Then what are you? and how I tell him If anything I’m Buddhist; how he gives me the Bible anyway and says Here is a King James, Read it; how I have taken to reading it aloud for hours at a time to myself in a mock British accent all Monty Python-style; how I find this activity endlessly amusing...

Inmates are not allowed to keep pets of any sort — mice, spiders, snakes, etc. — as explicitly stated in Chapter 33, and consequences include up to thirty days in confinement. Mice and spiders vie for the most commonly kept pets. Guys here have mice born in footlockers. These mice know nothing but peanut butter, saltines, cornbread purloined from the chow hall, chocolate chip cookies, duplexes, Marias and running around the dorm under bunks inside makeshift hamsterballs fashioned from discarded Gatorade bottles punched with holes for air. Guys pit their spiders to fight; betting on the outcomes is big — lots of Ramen, mackerel, zoom-zooms and wham-whams to be won. Snakes are rare but not unheard of, birds even more so. Chapter 33 says nothing specifically about birds. to kill Time I share stories in Spanglish through a vent with a guy I don’t know in a cell downstairs; how I count bricks and screen holes for fun; how I know exactly how many bricks and screen holes there are in here; how I learned how to make origami with decorative paper the Audubon Society sent me with instructions...

I want to write a story about a footlocker mouse, like, “I was born in a footlocker...,” but that is all I have, so far. my passerine eructations suddenly stopped as soon as I got here; how I cannot for the world burp no matter how hard I try...

Last time I was back here it was winter. I’m not sure you remember; you tend to remember things differently than I do. But last time it was winter, and back here there are no heaters, and when the exhaust fans were on I wore my single sheet and blanket like a cloak. There were several obstacles obscuring my view outside. First there were the bars of my cell door, and then in the hall’s opposite wall’s window where my view mocked there were two layers of tightly woven mesh, and just beyond that horizontal slats made it so that the distant trees and even distanter clouds were not but vague ideas. Sometimes I dreamed of blizzards I have never experienced and woke shivering to my celly’s snore. this time it is summer; how it is HOT; how even Beyond Hot is an understatement; how this time I have no such view; how this time it is only a wall; how this wall is painted a mindnumbing institutional colorless color that tries to call itself beige but is not beige; how I stare at this wall for long stretches of Time; how this color has none of the intended soothing effects; how...but decided to not go any further than that.

Burping birds? You think it is difficult for you to believe?

I am not sure we are even together anymore; the both of us are guilty of being noncommittal. But still you swim from dream to dream in me. In this way you have gained access to my most sordid corners. And there, I am not sure which words, which images are yours and which are mine. I am over trying to figure it out. Because here we are, being someone new, being someone torn, being someone incredible.

Author Bio

Insect Pattern

Born and raised in Miami, Florida, Luis Garcia is an avid spearfisherman and outdoorsman. He studied Fine Art at Florida International University, and then later spent 8-1/2 years in prison, during which time he filled many, many pages, longhand. Now self-employed, he volunteers as a speaker and a teacher at rehabs and other institutions. This is his first ever publication.