All content copyright 2021 by Jefferson Hansen


[This story appears in my collection Cruelty (BlazeVox).]

The interior of my skin sags. My fingers and toenails grow yellow and crack and split. Time is the slow, weak pulse in my kidney, the effort to raise a single finger. The tick-tock is for another world, the one of cares and concerns, the one I left and long for, the one from which I have been banished.


            The raccoon has grey fur.

            The raccoon has a facial mask of black and white.

The raccoon’s front paws scratch the outside of my skin. 

They scratch the underside of my skin, too.

            A mask never smiles, is frozen as a corpse.


In the afternoon block clouds rise—grey and dense as rage. I cannot tell if they are outside me or inside. The animals all grow quiet, waiting and wondering, I guess. Like me.


I went animal before I knew it. In my mother’s womb. And I fled from that reality, as we all do, in the distractions—distractions lasting a lifetime. Oh, the stories. Oh, the poems. Oh, the songs. Oh, the promotions, the brilliance, the one-of-a-kind deal, the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that all means bunk, now.


Those eyes I wanted so much to fall on me—


I laugh.


Yesterday I saw a butterfly flit and fly, scoop and lift its way about the crevices of a window. I may have imagined, but none of that matters, not anymore. 


Some say decaying neurons create the image of butterflies. 


Some say a lot of things. No matter. I saw a butterfly: pick the significance.


            Raccoons may be intelligent, according to some studies.

            Raccoons may remember tasks for up to three years after first

            figuring them out.

Raccoons sink their claws into the skin of my ankle, crawl up my leg, and I stop caring.

A live raccoon rests on my head, sniffing, coalescing a world for itself, indifferent to me, to me, to me.

My concerns no longer hit any other’s sensation, perception, radar.


To sag is to stretch; to stretch is to accept time, real time, not the time clock, not the punching or the tick-tocking. We are all sagging fruit, growing moldy, and by the time we cave we are no longer fun to eat. 


I am overripe and stink like apples and cheese left in a warm, small apartment.


People hover around—I used to love and be loved—and I feel obligated and dutiful even though I stopped caring more than an eternity ago.


Some boundaries are absolute. Or so I think.


            Raccoons have a voluminous braincase.

Their front paws are protected by a bone-like layer that becomes pliable when wet.

The raccoons on the outside want in, and the raccoons on the inside want out.


(We humans all have a totemic animal whether we acknowledge it or not. It is the life of us. It will be the death of us.)


I see the butterfly again. I idly watch it flit around, in and out of the sunbeam. Raccoons sit in each corner, itching their snout or twitching their eyes, watching me as just another object.


To decay is to live; to live is to decay.


I always said I would go with no regrets. (Clouds block and bank white, deep grey, charcoal.) I always said I would go with no regrets. (In that distant, other world, that I can see glinting at the horizon, I could have been more and now it doesn’t matter.)


No regrets. (I hear a slight breeze and imagine a few dandelion spores tumbling away.)


No regrets. (I stink as my room did in 6th grade when I missed school for over a week, and my mother grew tired of cleaning out my bucket.)


No regrets, I say. No regrets. That is another world, another world.


Stay away, please.


No regrets.


I say.


“I ground my teeth until they ached.” I forgot everything but white.


            (This is the

this is the           

this is the

raccoon speaking.

We are all of us

all of us

all of us