by Kristine Ong Muslim
Versions of these poems have appeared in the following publications:
“How Conrad Came Back,” A cappella Zoo #5, Fall 2010.
“How Conrad Fell in Love,” A cappella Zoo #5, Fall 2010.
“Conrad and His Bride,” Sounds of the Night #1, August 2007. Reprinted in The Monsters Next Door #5, December 2008.
“How Conrad Learned His First Word,” Zero Ducats Communique #2, Winter 2010.
“How Conrad Left the House during His First Day in School,” Worlds Within Worlds Beyond, October 2008.
“How Conrad Got His Revenge,” A cappella Zoo #5, Fall 2010.
“Conrad, in the Autopsy Room,” Dreams & Nightmares #83, May 2009. Reprinted in The 2010 Rhysling Anthology: The Best Science Fiction, Horror, and Fantasy Poetry of 2009 (Science Fiction Poetry Association and Raven Electrick Ink, June 2010).
“Conrad, After His Wake,” Polluto #6, January 2010.
How Conrad Came Back
Two knocks on the door. My father let him in.
Conrad wanted to talk about his trip,
but his tongue kept on sliding out of his mouth.
I told him to push it back. Hard. He did.
And the tongue was hinged back in.
He said there was too much to eat out there.
Thanks to Mrs. Kelly’s surgical skills, he looked too human
and how the girls swooned and sometimes followed him home.
My mother insisted he get some rest.
His skin flaps were starting to slough off.
I quickly wiped away the blood, and I discovered that his flesh
was like sugared sun. I remembered what Grampa said: We were
all yellow inside. That wrong shade of yellow–the color of the gods.
I smiled at the memory. “We’ll fix that later,” I said to Conrad.
He nodded. His chest gaped open at the motion of his head.
I saw something ticking inside. It was not his heart.
How Conrad Fell in Love
Over family dinner, we tried to talk him out of it.
”Stupidest thing I’ve ever heard,” my father said.
Conrad was about to say something.
I squeezed his hand to make him stop. It crackled.
“Don’t worry,” I whispered over a mouthful
of grass, earth, and dark river water. A family recipe.
”I’ll weld the broken bones later. Just don’t make
father angry.” The feral cat-dog was whimpering
under the table. Mother shooed it away.
”Conrad, honey,” mother cooed. “Love is only for humans.
You are somewhere up there in the food chain.
And that girl’s hair has clogged our drain pipe.”
Conrad bowed his head, and I knew that he would think about her
tonight, how she had clawed at him when he lifted off his face
and how she had called him a “monster, monster, ugly beast.”
I would drag that girl into the kitchen tonight, keep her alive
for a while, make her understand what monster love was all about.
Conrad and His Bride
Her flesh parted from the neck down.
He saw the familiar shade of sugared sun,
remembered what Grampa said:
We were all yellow inside,
that wrong shade of yellow–
the color of the gods.
Conrad reached inside her.
His chest gaped open.
Something was ticking inside,
but it was not his heart.
She hissed. The black flies
emerged from her mouth.
Conrad kissed her
until their lips melded together,
until he was inside her
and her, inside him,
until they were one death, one life–
a singular creature of dark magic.
It was all warmth.
This slow melting.
How Conrad Learned His First Word
The word was heal. He heard it from a televangelist
after gawking at a TV ad for spray-on stockings.
The minister had this little vial of water, this bottled
water from God himself which he would dilute to heal
the sick. And somewhere in the middle of the sermon,
Conrad began to believe the verse-quoting man. So on he went,
my beautiful brother, Conrad. He maimed people, never
to the point of death, and one by one, touched every wound
he had made, every torn limb he had brought about,
closed them up together, melded bone and flesh. Heal.
How Conrad Left the House during His First Day in School
Mother and I made sure that
his skin was patted down securely,
his eyes safely tucked inside their sockets,
his favorite bird book nestled
inside the backpack pocket within reach,
his lunchbox filled with roasted
crow sandwiches. His favorite.
We reminded him to make friends with humans.
Perhaps, it would do him good.
We wished him luck, watched until he disappeared
with the swing of the school bus door.
How Conrad Got His Revenge
Before he went out the door on his way to school,
I asked one more time: “Do you have the camera?”
My little brother nodded, grinned. I patted his tuft of hair
slowly so as not to disturb the glued flaps of skin underneath.
Yesterday, he arrived home with his right hand dangling from
its socket. I found him crying on top of the stairs.
He did not imagine that it could be that painful
when his makeshift human part was injured.
His classmates had bullied him. I knew. He insisted that
it was an accident. Pain had its prerogative; it gathered strength
in waves–one after the other–until he could not take it anymore
and finally confessed. I sewed the arm back into place.
Then I gave him the family’s camera, ordered him
to take a snapshot of whoever did this to him. “Just one shot
will do,” I reassured him. And that was enough to comfort him.
Tonight, I would develop the picture,
scissor the damned bully nice and slow.
Conrad, in the Autopsy Room
When they finally cut him up, they noticed that
the flesh underneath was like sugared sun.
It was like what Grampa said: We were all yellow inside.
That wrong shade of yellow – the color of the gods.
Conrad was only pretending to be dead.
He liked the attention humans give to dead bodies.
Must have amused him to wallow in their confusion
while they tear up his insides and find that it was all
yellow goo. No organs. Just bones and that small
round mass inside his ribcage – his new head to replace
the old one next year. It’s our peculiar way of molting.
One of them curiously poked at Conrad’s miniature head
growing inside his chest. It was still malformed, still
in the early stages of development. The head had tiny
pinpricks of eyes which would not close, eyelashes still absent.
Only one of the medical examiner’s assistants screamed.
The other rushed out of the room.
From Conrad’s mouth poured forth honey
then a swarm of black flies.
Conrad was home an hour later
and laughingly told us what happened.
Conrad, After His Wake
This is where you were grown.
Some room, brother.
A room defined by its walls
and the lack of shadows thereof.
Naturally, there is no furniture.
But you did not have to come here.
You did not have to call out Father.
You did not have to come back from the dead
to tell us that there no such thing as an afterlife.
Now you have ruined it all.
Do you hear the rattling of the branches,
the rustling of the leaves?
The trees have come alive,
and they wait for us in the yard.
Look out of the window. There.
By the river bank. See the hulking form.
Behold what you have summoned.