Welcome to another installment of If My Book, the Monkeybicycle feature in which authors compare their recently released books to weird things. This week Christopher Locke writes about Without Saints, his new memoir in essays out from Black Lawrence Press.
If Without Saints were a bus stop, it would be a small one in Baja, Mexico outside Todos Santos. Enough dust to grit the air but not the teeth. Two giant cardon cacti like hands praying skyward, with the Pacific stretched long and cobalt behind. Single story brick building. A large plate glass window promises “Helados!”, yellow ‘H’ chipped at the base, but no working freezer is heard. Outside, an ironwood bench sits mute under impossible heat dropping like new silverware. Lost from a pocket, a tiny music box glints on the bench bright enough to be mistaken for something hopeful. Because it is.
If Without Saints were a punk band, it would be 7Seconds. Not afraid of speed, it thrashes under cheap lights at a small-town VFW, the pit churning in a cough of flannel and greased boots. Bodies flipping off stage and into arms raised high as a congregation throwing praise. The set list bends up off the stage, electric tape failing. Sweat palpitates the air. The microphone’s passed at the chorus and we all fight to sing our part.
If Without Saints were an apple, it’d live newly fallen between branch and grass, awaiting its damp thump. A family of four would not notice, backs turned, amazed by all their endless bites, a new gluttony—never was food so disposable. Eating and throwing like kings. Youngest cries, wayward Gala pinging the back of her head. “Okay, that’s enough,” father frowns, reassurances and quick hugs. At their feet, bushel bags crumpled in the weight of all that shine.
If Without Saints were a lost item, see “bus stop” above.
If Without Saints were a café table, it’d be made of blonde wood, surface glinting like pancake syrup. Two Sweet ‘N Low packets jammed under one leg. The last guy left today’s paper folded for the next diner, thinking he’s doing God’s work. Sugar caddy empty but for three crayons, two red and one miserably brown. Spread your arms wide to indicate you’re ready for the menu. Coffee hangs in the air like music. You imagine the shape of your plate forthcoming. You wonder if you’ll be full enough until dinner. Squinting into the wood, the whorls look like the faces of all you’ve disappointed.
If Without Saints were a Christmas list, it’d be written with a chewed #2 pencil. You’d make sure to include those things that made your breath hitch, but not everything, to emulate modesty. You’d leave it in front of your parents’ bedroom door as if it had found its way there by mistake, and act nonplussed when they confronted you. In bed that night, you pray they will buy everything on your list. Look out your window and see the shapes of angels gossiping in trees, your fate already sealed.
If Without Saints were a wing in a museum, it would be darkening because closing time was in 15 minutes. Glass cases filled with the bright illusion of birds. Eyes as gold as when they were alive. You press your hand to glass to see if one might flinch, offer hope. A staring contest ensues. Everywhere, the expanding silence of something large shutting down. “You and me are the same,” you’d say. And the bird’s heart would swell.
Christopher Locke was born in New Hampshire and received his MFA from Goddard College. His essays and short fiction have appeared in The North American Review, The Sun, The Rumpus, Slice, JMWW, SmokeLong Quarterly, Barrelhouse, and Atticus Review, among others. He won the Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Poetry Award, as well as grants in poetry from the Massachusetts Cultural Council and the New Hampshire State Council on the Arts. 25 Trumbulls Road, his first collection of fiction, won the Black River Chapbook Award. His latest collection of poetry Music For Ghosts (NYQ Books) was released in 2022. His memoir, Without Saints, comes out from Black Lawrence Press in October. Chris lives in the Adirondacks and teaches English at SUNY Plattsburgh and North Country Community College. Follow him on Twitter at @onebroth.