map 19th & Minnesota

by Kevin McIlvoy

Published in Issue No. 183 ~ August, 2012

Photo by: Casey Mullins


He was seeing things.  His speech was incoherent.  The spans, the beams, the eyebars of memory had weakened, and he had forgotten most of the crucial components of lying down, waking up, walking out, coming home. He and his grandchild wobbled up the street of cars parked nose-down by the tens of thousands, their auto-asses going right up the sky over the bay. Tens and tens of thousands of hills, and, clearing the hilltops, throngs of dog-owners, two by two, holding Starbucks under their chins and bagged dog-shit mid-chest, short nylon leashes on their wrists.  Broom-sweep gusts of wind made the pavement shimmers jitter, and creased the dogs in their stylish coats.

When he saw, when she saw the cuffs of his pants float back, they both pitched forward. She felt, he thought a bird calling in the trees resembled something gone that had returned. He thought, she felt the sleepy drooliness of having a head as soft as the places upon which it rested.

She had just learned to walk. Without falling down, she polkad the falling-down polka, feet and legs and arms and hands a bijection of X onto Y, an injection and a surjection where a surjection is any function whose domain is X and whose range is the whole of Y.

Brain-shocks and after-shocks had damaged his fluency in metamathematics, which had been his parents’ language and, so, his own primary language from the beginning. Nineteen months old, his grandchild spoke in word-murphs, word-blags, in drunken sentence-spooges.

He was dancing the dance she was dancing. He was seeing the things she was seeing, and when he said “only if” she said “if,” and when he said, “For any number n, n times zero equals,” she said, “Zzzero!” When she changed the flow of her breath between her tongue and palate, he felt his own flowing alter. They nailed the words zzzero and vvvvoom, every time, sustaining the v and z sounds insecticidally.

With no plan, they had become lost one step from her doorstep. Her mother and father had said to her and to her grandfather some words about not forgetting the bananas, and about remembering to be back for nap-time. Their use of and and not had been, he felt, syncategorematic. Inside her nasal cavity, she smelled the word “annnddnnnodt.” When it leaked out of her nose, it tasted potatoey.

They had answered, “Vvoom,” and after waving goodbye, hearing the door pull shut: “Vvvvoom!”

His son and his daughter-in-law called their five-block Dogpatch neighborhood “the nabe” because of the affection they felt for it. Elderly couples lived there. Young professional couples lived there, most of them with exactly two children. The grandfather thought of the place as a kind of ark. Ninety-eight years earlier, it had escaped the quake and fire during which so many had perished in clusters of buildings shaken down and incinerated like pine needles.

I saw.  Saw, and was the same. I asked nothing of the worlds I created, of the ones I destroyed. I valued them as neither possible nor necessary.

The grandfather had been told by his son there was a park within walking distance. Passing from not-q to not-p on the ultimate, changeless pavement, losing words and judgment in stillness and in movement, what he had taken in were the sounds park, wind, walking, ants. There were wide and narrow cracks in the sidewalk, and the wind multiplied zero in them with a sound like millet seeds raining. There were ants. Buffon ants, of the species Tetramorium caespitum. They could be placed at the entry point of a maze with 32,768 paths to a food source. They would formulate optimization algorithms, and, in only two efforts, they would locate it. The ants, the crumbs so slight the wind scuppered them.

His granddaughter explained: “Rrrrblurr hrrrblurrr hrrrbub capPOO.”

He said, “Mmm-madda.” What else to say, the shovel no tongue, the spout no mouth, the brain no faucet handle.

She led him to the car grilles she liked to touch on their damp noses, to pet and pal around with. There was no end to the car grilles. Up to the sky went they. Up to the sky.

He liked, she liked when the alarms went off, the cats-in-spandex sounds, the cause, somehow the cause of bursting-full flying words, day, toe, finger, pee, vvvvvery hubcap, hamstrings, earholes, ovvvvvvveralls, door, knob, knee-zzzipper. Belly bulging with belly-bay-bay-belly-bay. Vvvvvery bulging with possible banana.

He slowed down to unpeel hers.

He unpeeled his.

“BnnNNA! Loodofe loodofe,” she said as she horned it against her face, her neck.

He pocketed the peels. “Loodofe,” he said, left pocket. “Loodofe,” he said, right pocket. He was, she was — because banana flesh and banana peel are perfection — thanking God.

I said, “You’re welcome.”

They budge-walked while they mashed the ban and the an and, finally, the na parts in their fists and ate from their palms. They smeared their fronts, their matching yellow pants, smeared the nose of one car named H, the nose of one named L, and one, 0000.

The passersby swayed a little on their leashes, their earbuds bowing their heads towards the heads of songs. They wore glasses or sunglasses, they wore hanging shit in shiny bags, they wore dogs, and their dogs looked up at the two, and plenitudes curved across their lenses. He was breaking stride with her. He was slowing down. And she.

And they. Were.


With respect to time, their rate of change of angular displacement had shifted.  With respect to location, their limbs had asked their muscles for help, and had received no answer.



After so much budging, they were suddenly unbudging.


Very still they stood.


Very still they stood.


He said, “Ah-hwooo. Hwooooo.”


She could say the word “Yeah,” and the word “Grandpa.” Why say them? Her hand unthreading his finger one turn, she said, “Hwooooo. Hwooo.”

He said, “Hwooooo. Hwooo.”

With great concentration, she said, “Hwooo. Hwoo.”

Grandfather and grandchild having a bowel movement. Together. Formally, virtually, eminently satisfying.



God knows what the parents were thinking when they sent these two out to walk together, triggering the alarms of the resting cars, asking the calm blue old lady Mercedes about when the, how the, if the feeling of cooling comes in the face and the hood and the grille and the headlights where the best, hot, bright juices pour through.



The child watched the grandfather make the stink step, a way of lifting one foot and shaking lightly, the other a lighter shake and longer. She stink-stepped, too, a glance upward at him, a threading-in, an understanding: We will be changed.


I saw.

Saw, and was never the same. To be God and to not be them has caused me to offer this, my God resignation.

When I was alone with my omniscience, my satisfaction was absolute. My self-assured distance from the larger and the smaller humans was so great that my acceptance of them was boundless. I felt they were facts, splendid facts. And my absolute closeness to them made it possible for me to be them, and to know they were not facts, not at all facts. Through eons upon eons: so many children holding one finger of the elder one and both of them pinballing around. I saw, and I did not miss a thing. And I was content in that condition.

It was good to be God in the God garden, neither cast in nor cast out.

And then, these two came.

They were at quite a slant.

The hill was a steep one.

The question was: how to return home since down was good if you were sleepy, and, if you were sleepy, up was good?

He resented the sleepiness no less than she. A perfect mercy, sleepiness. A giant injustice.

His stomach and his brain rumbled. His innermost mouth recollected concepts it once could pronounce, the cap and cup of Boolean Algebra, the truth functors. His mind in his mouth remembered the search of pseudo-Boolean operators, which caused him to reach in his shirt pocket for it.

It had been there all along. He drew it out.


The rubber tongue.


In that same instant, her hand in his hand remembered that when one odd feeling tightened around another there was a tongue you could suck with your tongue. It had a nirvana handle.

He held the handle of the pacifier tightly. He took a hit, a hard hit. He had a selfish, ungrandfatherly impulse his love for her could not override.

Another hit of the pacifier. Hhu-uuuuh. Hhhu-uuuh.


She echoed back, Hhu-uuuuh. Hhhu-uuuh. Under the veil of her gaze she was a gristly, hungering young beast. With its paws and haunches pulsing. With the muscles surrounding its mouth rippling. With teeth. Able to grow more of them.

She made the verdictive sound: Uth.



Not, after all, wanting to bogart the smooth of the wet spliff but already wanting it back, he gave her it.


Very lit, they swayed.


Very lit, they swayed.

Passing it back and forth.


Together, they said, “Sit,” and at once crashed slowly down onto the pavement as they said it.

I asked, “Here?

She nodded, an offer-answering, her tongue not entirely in her mouth. He offered me a place, the place between them where an intermediate conclusion could be placed.

I had made the world my body, mine alone. Humans lost it at the first hour of life and the last. Until then, the loss and the story of the loss mattered to me none at all.

Lying themselves down on, rubbing themselves into, moistening the pavement with the pigment of them. Curling up, forehead to forehead.

She pushed the rubber tongue into his hand. He pushed it into his mouth.

He gave it back. She put it in, but her own tongue, so thick with thistledown now, refused.

Trying to find his mouth, she nudged his cheek and chin with the handle. His scratchy neck, his nose.

His lips opened. The wind went in.

I saw. A toe-knock. A myoclonic stink-kick. A touch-landing sleep. A wings-retracting, membrane-thinning drowsing.

A sleeping.

The banana warming in his hair and hers. Ants swarming there.

Lattices of ants. Some of the car engines propelloring, some of the front doors of houses making casking and uncasking sounds, tastes of fuel in the pavement shadows, seabed odors churning, leashes tacking, snapping, a dove sailing in, resting upon, rocking against timbers.

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Kevin McIlvoy edits manuscripts and mentors writers through his website ( His most recent book, The Complete History of New Mexico and Other Stories was published by Graywolf Press, which will bring out the e-book version in 2013; his novels, Hyssop (TriQuarterly Books) and Little Peg (Atheneum), have recently been published as e-books by Untreed Books. "19th & Minnesota" appears in his new collection, 57 Octaves Below Middle C.