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Carol Novack Contact Sheet


Carol Novack


Coal Dust

Pink paper clouds flutter above Lila’s crib, stirred by late summer breezes that swoop down from the mountain-tops like vultures, taking us all as we sleep. We have no idea we’re being taken.

Yellow birds tangle in tendrils of wire, twirl through the clouds, whisper dust of flowers into Lila’s translucent ears. She coughs delicately, at first only quivering baby coughs. The coughs grow like tumors invading her baby mouth. Her brain is too new to enunciate pain. They say that babies cry for many reasons, though we know the reason, even if we cannot utter it. Of course, we can barely articulate our own pain. We are incomprehensible, not comprehending.

Wrapped in cheap, synthetic sheets, humid from sweat and bothered by accidental encounters with my husband’s dense body, I sense the discordant waves of air, waves of our daughter’s coal black hair burning. The flames in the heart of the planet rise, creatures disappear; we cannot see or hear them. Comme il faut, their deaths cannot touch us. We cannot feel that far into the significance of weather, into the flesh of species foreign to our homes and hearts. Every night we hear the Devil Man’s tongue wagging, feel his ice hot breath tear through the veins of this house and its residents. Devil Man says WhoWhooWhoWhoo, asks so politely, Who is coming to get you?

Should we listen to the news when it repeats itself like a recurrent nightmare, regurgitating the poisonous contents of its feeding tubes? Can we hide our baby from the news? The news is as mesmerizing as barkers at carnivals: peel off the layers to find the Devil Man’s bones. The man always has perfect, white teeth. Or so they seem. There is no such color as white. The news tells us there is such a color and we want to believe.

Why pray? I ask my one and only. Why did I let you bring me to this diseased town, so far from concert halls? I do not ask. He is so sure, holding his daughter tight, says God is watching over us, everything will be alright. Lila continues to cough through the service and her eyes glaze gray. In the church she is not alone. There are so many babies, black and blue from trying to get rid of the black coal, un-growing to nothing, their veins bursting from their tiny heads. The pastor talks about Job, and I want to shoot him. I always do. My husband tells me how wise the pastor is. I want to shoot my husband too.


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