From “dark fiber” by Brittany Laurent

We will have to reckon, I guess, with our taste​​ 

for the way the city has gathered itself​​ 


in layers, like a canyon. We want that there​​ 

can be a map of desire, that some places​​ 


are liberated and others forbidden.​​ 

The last man​​ pours a kettle onto the floor,​​ 


proceeds to mop.



The Generalists





It was like a painting in the sense that at​​ 

first it was hard to tell what was going on.​​ 


What had sounded like yelling was rough music​​ 

changing pitch as blood rose and fell in​​ our ears.​​ 


By the time we arrived much had already​​ 

spoiled. We knew then that something always would have​​ 


gone unspoken.



The Passersby





Unhappy in the ways it is right to be,​​ 

people here pray eagerly to gods of time,


of the hours and the minutes.“Don’t you like it

at all?” These buildings are famous for losing


people.“I must. Or I’ve gotten used to it.”

A flock of angels: their mouths open in song


and in hunger.



The Postulants





Thick twists of smoke rise from conversations in​​ 

gardens where flowers are dry but not yet dead.​​ 


Madge, Howe, Anita, Bobbi, and Dee gather​​ 

the herbs necessary for my father’s musk.​​ 


Good of them, especially so because they​​ 

had not known him very well, very long, or​​ 


even by blood.



The Chemists





In the cold months: the burrowing sound of mouse,​​ 

squirrel, and pigeon in the walls. The building


hisses at us, its current fare.  “I’ve lost all

my earrings.”  “How?”“People bite them off my ears.”


Our lights do not allow for vision here, but​​ 

only mark distances. We navigate these​​ 


dim rooms by touch.



The Incumbents





Suddenly my mother’s voice telling me to​​ 

“lance the boil.” I am half asleep. Those who would​​ 


populate my dreams have filed in, are waiting​​ 

cool and​​ expressionless to be given parts.​​ 


the phone rings and is at my ear. I am to​​ 

meet them under the triumphal arch at dawn—​​ 


failing dawn, 6.



The Sturdy Beggars





Outside a little pornographic theater​​ 

called Plato’s Cave, one man clears the​​ stairs with a​​ 


shovel made for digging. Another scrapes the​​ 

sidewalk with the short end of a 2’x4’.​​ 


The men have the sharp and defiant aspect​​ 

of their tools. Later they must soften with this​​ 


salt in their skin.



The Ushers





Face as puffy as a jacket from crying,​​ 

the docent walks expertly backward. She says​​ 


“The Sun City,” but it is night. I am in​​ 

a movie palace suddenly bright with a​​ 


daytime scene: back in my body, clutching its​​ 

balled coat, remembering what is growing cold​​ 


in the​​ pocket.



The Holidaymakers





Her lips move but do not seem to form the words​​ 

she speaks. It is as if her part has been found​​ 


unsatisfactory and dubbed over by​​ 

another person. We sit over hot plates,​​ 


near to the unlit cloakroom, under antique​​ 

photos of when they rebuilt the cities as​​ 


they used to be.



The Recordists





She wanted to love him and found her reasons,​​ 

which explains also why she no longer does.​​ 


He would watch all day the blinking lights of a​​ 

currency exchange in line with​​ the others,​​ 


leave the line at 5 and go sit at a drink,​​ 

his face like a university building​​ 


that had been shelled.



The Counterfeiters





I see at once something I can understand​​ 

in her bottom row of teeth: crooked, the dry​​ 


parts of her smile crackling in her mouth. Pigeons​​ 

on leave from their usual loiter perch on​​ 


the sign above its strange lettering. One bush ​​ 

from the row has kept its leaves through the winter​​ 


in vanity.



The Flatterers





His was a good face on which to watch the​​ crest​​ 

fall. The room was hot with shit and matchsmoke, lit​​ 


by a south-facing window, its sill bothered​​ 

by bugs of 2 and 3 parts. The pane itself​​ 


is smeared hopelessly by paint. The color does​​ 

not match any of the gray-blue walls. I point​​ 


out​​ the cracked tile.



The Contractors





Something exactly right at the opera​​ 

with their concern for singing above all else.​​ 


The soprano’s face was made with a hammer​​ 

out of lead. Their cloth castle shudders, and 2​​ 


in the ensemble mime enthusiastic​​ 

talk of other things. Their expressions belong​​ 


to our own time.



The Liaisons





“You’re not making this easy.” She cannot trust

her whisper—have the others heard?“Well I’m not


trying to make it easy.” From an unseen

drawer, he produces his collection of


rattles. They make no sound at all in his hands.

“If I could,” he hums, “I’d give my love to what


never had it.”



The Appraisers





“He’s too shy to ask for a ransom,” she kids,

meaning me, embarrassing everyone but


herself. The others​​ leave into a downpour,

washing the crust of that day’s taste from their mouths’​​ 


corners.“So what should we do about him?” she

asks, referring to a problem that I had


well forgotten.



The Extortionists





Fumbling about, leaving manners to the light,​​ 

we find and thrill to each other. There is the​​ 


mournful sensation of something permanent​​ 

having been done in a dream. To see in each​​ 


building if its tenants sleep or wake at this​​ 

hour (and if so what kind of light) is to see​​ 


much else besides.



The Inamoratas





She runs her lithe fingers through the sugar bowl,​​ 

explaining the latest wrinkle while we eat.​​ 


There will no longer be a clock in the room​​ 

where 1 of us is to watch the other read


from the book of names.“History is a place

where we​​ will meet again, but first we go our


separate ways.”



The Conjurers





These periods of complete fantasy are​​ 

followed by others of intense forgetting.​​ 


Women with faces that are all lips and brows​​ 

jockey for position in the crosswalk. Their​​ 


men​​ keep several steps behind, picking up​​ 

litter; taking small, ragged breaths. Time stood still,​​ 


but not for long.



The Rustlers

Maxwell Paparella lives in New York City. His writing has appeared in Art Papers, BOMB Magazine, the Brooklyn Rail, Screen Slate, and elsewhere. More of his work can be found at

Brittany Laurent (b. 1992) is an artist and educator based in Brooklyn. She is a graduate of the MFA program at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago and is the co-founder and librarian of Flatbush Commons. Her work can be found at