Moon Card by Janet Kieffer

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Literary Fiction  |  House: Competent But Unfitted


Moon Card


Author: Janet Kieffer

Cover photo by Pamela Smith

At three in the morning I wake as usual and I vaguely remember I will have to take the Rail Runner that day to an open mic event in Belen. When I climb the stairs back to my attic room after using the bathroom I hear a couple of urban coyotes yipping outside and from my window I can see them by the cholla cactus patch behind the house where I leave bowls of kibble for the homeless cats. One of the coyotes is scrawny and mangy like me but the bigger one turns slightly, holding a limp kitten in its mouth and growling at the smaller one and I run down the stairs and out the back door in the kitchen, and then I pick up rocks from the dusty yard and hurl them at the coyotes. A rock thumps against the big one with the kitten and it skitters away but I miss the wasted one who looks at me with eyes that glow when they catch the kitchen light. She meanders after the bigger one, unconcerned and I remember again the morning when I was a little girl and our housekeeper’s face was mauled by the neighbor’s dog.


I move to the apple crates that I draped with a paisley tablecloth in my room to grab my water bottle and spill the vodka all over myself because I guess I forgot to screw the top on the cap before I went to bed. Orange light from a streetlamp shines through my attic room window, and I gag a little and take a gulp from the bottle and when I flip over a couple Tarot cards one of them is the Devil upside down which always happens but when the Moon card with the dog and the wolf appears I swallow hard and sketch out a poem:

Canine spittle sanguinely

dripping over fresh flesh,

stretched limbs flailing with slime matted fur.

Rotting teeth, predictable

religion, fighting over helpless prey,

the violent graytan beasts

slinking, entwining my life

like sinews in my arms.

--July Sky



Deborah is on her knees praying at the train station and she follows me into the second-to-last train car and sits right behind me. Dog breath. Sometimes she talks to other passengers on the train about some famous man who lives in Arizona and is going to come visit her and I remember when she came on to a man I’d just met at the Albuquerque Zoo concert back in the summer of 2005.  I’d gone to the concert by myself all dressed up in new thrift store clothes but didn’t bring any food, and he gave me his folding chair and half a cucumber sandwich and just when I was going to read him my latest abstract poem about world poverty this woman walked up and started talking to him about Jesus and asked him if he’d been saved, and he said he had, and they started trading twisted Bible verses that I doubt even exist, and if they do exist they were chosen out of context. Deborah got to Song of Solomon and I realized that she was trying to pick up this man who was then more interested in Song of Solomon than he was my poetry and when the music started the two of them even got to raising their voices  like a couple of people at Leo’s Bar. I threw the folding chair down on the grass where it almost hit a couple of children on a blanket before I left and the man didn’t even notice but Deborah looked at me and grinned like Phyllis Schlafly.


She remembers this every time I see her and she remembers it now, sitting behind me. The vibes are palpable and I put a shawl over my head.  I shut down and the dream starts.


In it I am not yet a poet. My lost daughter Sonya who was taken away from me is a tiny baby in the dream and she jerks and tries to roll on a saltillo floor in the kitchen of a mazelike house with cavernous rooms warehousing junk, bolts of fabric of murky dyes and brass antiques, decaying furniture and vases of rotten flowers, strings of glass beads on the floor, waning flames in a giant kiva fireplace leaking piñon smoke into the rooms, the house full of possibilities but hopelessly wrecked and I wonder how I can manage it all when a longfaced bluegray wolf with the cross necklace teeters on its back legs through a door, long teeth like a rabbit’s except for its canines. It squats and put its front legs down by Sonya’s downy and malleable head, sniffing, its whiskers like pipe cleaners. A familiar anonymous man is in the background somewhere when the creature with the silver cross begins to lick my baby’s fontanel.



I have never seen her ride the train this far south, usually she gets off in Los Lunas and I wait to get off at the platform in the Belen train yard where freight trains that seem like miles long double-stacked screech and bang. When I do get off with my backpack I don’t see her and begin the walk to The Rio café.


Two young people at the café are already lined up to read and one is a Native American man who wrote a form poem about deer hunting with his father. I want to tell him to include something about a blue deer and to use free verse. Then the young woman. She is from Silver City and her hair is pink, her feral cat poem goes on forever and she chooses then to start another even though the café is empty except for two baristas. But you do what you have to at open mic, that much I have learned over the years and I am secretly glad when four or five women about my age come in through the screen door. The light is low and I cannot discern how I haven’t seen her come in but Deborah is alone at a table with her laptop open. I go up to the mic and she shoot daggers at me with her beady eyes and I know I will ad  lib the poem. For a few seconds nobody says anything while I stand there mute at the mic staring back in the near dark at Deborah and the only sound is the gabbling of lumpish blue pigeons outside in a spitting rain.

I take out my poem and begin:

Time warp of the rusty rose

slows the bloom of blood

and root, shooting pollen

into the atmosphere—

And then I change it, closing my eyes, writing with my mind:

Stupid as the pigeons outside

you glide like the drooling wolf monster

into my life with your superstition,

Your dead muddy eyes and

twisted scriptures that serve

only you, your world, your imaginary men

in a selfish, stinking mass,

You smell like ass!

She hurls her coffee mug and it hits me in the chest and I come at her in a fury I didn’t know I had or at least not since younger days and I don’t even like to remember it because when she heads for the screen door with her laptop I push her down and her head hits the edge of a glass table. The baristas and the women customers start toward her and the pigeons scatter as I leave, I’m walking fast toward the Belen train yard when I hear a distant siren but even worse dig through my backpack and realize that I left my water bottle behind.

Two freight trains pass each other in the rail yard with such a great banging and screeching of metal that I plug my ears with pocket Kleenex. Both of them are double stacked with shipping containers tagged with graffiti and I wonder what it must be like to create surreptitious art like that, maybe in the dead of night or when the sun comes up on some massive port in California or Washington. Or maybe China. Many of the containers appear to be from China. I don’t hear the siren anymore but someone might be looking for me so I saunter between some parked train cars jamming the Kleenex into my ears and trying not to picture Deb’s astonished face as it fell sideways into the table but enjoying the image none the less and still hearing the pigeons in the recesses of my brain.

An ancient Santa Fe caboose pasted with graffiti sits off in thick weeds that obscure the tracks and I climb into it. Its windows are long gone and the floor inside is veiled with the excrement of rats or mice but I sit on the floor on an old blanket anyway and try to remember when the next Rail Runner will arrive and worry that Deb will be on it, or worse that police will be looking for me because I am guilty of assault.  Thank god I don’t have any of my mushroom candies in my backpack or even my water bottle because what if they searched me on the train? The caboose reeks of urine and a small moving shadow emerges from the front of the caboose. It is a mottled kitten, tan and black and it runs from me when I try and catch it but I am finally able to grip the end of its tail. And then another appears, just like the first but with yellow eyes instead of green and I snatch that one too and put both in my backpack. They don’t seem to mind too much and I can add them to my cat colony when I get home and just then I look out of the caboose and see the Rail Runner approaching. The Kleenex has fallen out of one of my ears and the Rail Runner’s bell is barely audible in the screeching metal and banging sounds of the freight cars. I shake out the wool blanket to take with me and mouse shit scatters on the floor.  I pay the ticket agent as soon as I get on the train and find a corner seat in the front car where Deb is not likely to find me if she makes it to the train and I drape the blanket over my head and backpack where the kittens have started mewling and squirming and punching with their paws. Just before the train starts moving I feel the vibes and know Deb is on the train and I am trapped, petrified under the blanket just wanting to go home and free the kittens amongst the colony. I make it home without seeing her and after liberating the kittens go up to my room for a drink and see the two Tarot cards still face up on the table. I hate that fucking Moon card.

Janet Kieffer is the Instructor of English from the Department of Communication, Liberal Arts, and Social Science, New Mexico Tech. Janet Kieffer's short stories have appeared in literary venues in the United States, Canada, Australia, and the United Kingdom, and have been finalists/nominees for such awards as Iowa and Pushcart. A BBC World Service Award winner, Kieffer writes stories which typically concern themselves with the ecology of the human condition and which often contain a satirical flavor. Food Chain, her collection of stories, was published by Lost Horse Press. 





Submitted: January 13, 2020

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