Conrad

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 ablution.
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.‭

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