Fiction by Paul Cunningham: an excerpt from The Middlecirclehole


The Boy Named Awn

This is my 7 AM body and you cannot read a backyard like hold-in-your-hand book pages. You have to read it like an Internet web page because it’s constantly being revised and flooded by all that want to participate. All that rain. All that rain that gets down in the soilmeat under the mulch and sometimes it all slides down the hill that faces the backporch. Everything collects at the bottom of the backporch stairs. Night crawlers ooze out too a lot of the time. Coil-nerves. Dead rabbit parts—couple times. Raccoon parts. Never know what to expect oozing out of the ground with a mouth froze open or lifeless eyes making a seize on me. I tell the other kids at school about this stuff and they say I have satanic addictions but I just like to describe things as they happen because I like to describe. I think it’s important to describe. I think it’s important to describe with detail what we see. How do you know what you know if you can’t describe? That’s all I was doing. Dead things come out of the ground in my backyard when it rains. It’s a splendid, splendid yard of nervy capillaries.

No lie.

The grass frames my body well I think. I always lie down out here. It sucks at first because of morning dew all over the grass. I’ll lie down quickly—always massacres my shirt but it takes longer for the thickness of my jeans to absorb it all. Once I can ignore the dampness, I begin to think more clearly. Usually about space. I’ve always been interested in space ever since third grade when I made a diorama of all the planets. When someone typically makes a diorama, they stand up the shoebox on its long-part side. The open-part of the shoebox then faces onlookers like a house window would. The open-part is typically vertical. That’s how I made my first diorama. It wasn’t until after my first solar system diorama that I started thinking about how most people think about space:

Space is blackness. Space is emptiness. Space is stars on blackness. Space is nothingness. Space is the unknown. But no. Not just. Not just those things. Space is the steps I take from my bed to my bedroom door. Space is dependent on what I do. Space is unknown. But unknown until. When you look up the word “space” in a dictionary—any dictionary—the definition might be better if it read:

space (n.) unknown until

And the until is the most important part of all this. And unknown until is the reason I turned the floor of my bedroom into a map of dioramas. Instead of making a shoebox diorama with a vertical open-part window, I made lots of shoebox dioramas and made sure they all had horizontal open-part windows. An audience would have to look down to understand the dioramas, so putting them all on the floor made sense to me.

A bedroom is a diorama. A house is a diorama. A mass of land is a diorama. The ocean floor is a diorama with its own series of dioramas. Earth is a diorama attached to a line that signifies its orbit. Mercury is a diorama attached to a line that signifies its orbit. Venus attached to a line diorama. Mars attached to a line diorama. Jupiter attached to a line diorama. Saturn attached to a line diorama. Uranus attached to a line diorama. Neptune attached to a line diorama. And my teacher says that in 2006 some scientists known as the International Astronomical Union decided that Pluto was no longer a planet. But there is still a Pluto diorama on my bedroom floor because I think it’s odd to suddenly negate Pluto—just like that.

But you have to read it all like an Internet web page and always anticipate changes. You have to anticipate things like the sudden negation of Pluto. Certainty is doom, I guess. This is my backyard and I am lying on my back. I grew up here. I only knew here and I only knew that until. I only knew my backyard until I was forced or permitted to leave my backyard. In leaving a place you are given an opportunity to collect from the surroundings of that place. Build memory from the surround. The surround is important—the branch out is important. The collection and transference of data. You map things out in your head and once you return to your (0,0) origin you may choose to transfer everything from your mind to paper. You knife-carve these symbols into anything you can to make the map in your head something physical. The rest is still memory though. A place during night is not the same place during day (?) I have knife-carved all of me into this Awn—into this 13-year-old boy’s voice just so you know. Awn. I am this voice. Hear that? I am a 13-year-old boy named Awn. A place during night is not the same place during day (?) my mother named me Awn. SPELL IT WITH ME: A-W-N. A place during night is not the same place during day (?) SPELL IT WITH ME.

Even the softest tuft of hyacinth ground becomes the softest horror once nighttime.


Once nighttime we begin our opposite-thinking.

Once nighttime we think our opposites and we think them good.

Once nighttime it is certainly not daytime.

Once nighttime there is nighttime and nighttime is of course the opposite of daytime.

Once nighttime we are lonelier.

Once nighttime the human becomes a revulsion-mirror of any daytime place.

Once nighttime is hours knife-carving into human.

Once nighttime the establishing shot: blood-heaving hyacinth pump-ground.

Once nighttime we all touch ourselves as moon strokes the blood-heaving hyacinth pump-ground. Pile of shit matted with Nature. Hair and hair and hair and leaves and grass.

I’m in my room.

“In My Room” by The Beach Boys—a song I hear my mother play sometimes. I sometimes hum along. I hear her through and in her bedroom walls. I hear her through and in my bedroom walls and in and through her bedroom walls. I hear her—a collapsed torch.

I look at and study our opposite-thinking and I think of equations I’ve read about in books. It is actually a forever-nighttime for us. Without our sun it is forever-nighttime. With sun—we know the place affected as “day.” You take away that sun and you take away your own “day.” We call that takeaway our “night.” Night is our takeaway and our opposite-thinking. That takeaway helps us build time. Time is our meat, but I think it should be the woods. But time is our meat. Time is our pile of meat matted with Nature. Our hair exhausted into our pile. Our pile. It is our pile. We’re time. We’re meat.


Our mounds of bruised flesh. Our shaved pornography. Our shaved pornography promised freedom and given time instead. Our shaved pornography haywire. Sick on forgetfulness.

Pile of shit matted with Nature.

And mother is coming out here dripping with my morning. I am lying here. I am lying? My back practically written into the wet vibrations of my ooze-ground backyard. I hear her already as I do each and every morning before I go to school. I hear her so close to me. I hear her heartbeat break the slowness of morning. Footstep. Footstep. Footstep. Footstep.

How long have you been out here? and

You don’t even have shoes on—come inside and have some breakfast.

She makes a seize on me. She moves me—microarchitect—from my private backyard of architecture. She moves me out of the sunlight and into the lesslight inside the house. I count my footsteps along with her footsteps. I measure space.

I sit down on the table inside the kitchen.

I sit down on the table inside the kitchen and she looks at me like she’s going to spit in my face. Her foreground body against the kitchenroom. Pulling me into her. Her foreground making a seize on me. The kitchenroom burns. The long burn making a seize on me. This—my (0,0) origin—seized by so many stainful ones.

I sit down on the table inside the kitchen and she puts her hands on my shoulders tightly. She looks at me and realizes she’s making me feel uncomfortable. She stops looking at me. Temporary fear. The words begin to come out of her after a long time of me waiting on top of that table. She opens and pours. Mother’s circlehole:

I’m sorry for being abrupt right now. I don’t know and

I’m not feeling well. I haven’t been feeling well for days.

I feel awful all of the time.

I feel awful whenever I leave the house.

Whenever I go outside for even a moment.

I ask, Do you think it could be the sunlight?

She replies, I don’t know.

I ask, You don’t think you could be allergic to the sunlight?

She replies, I have this rash all over my shoulders—under my eyes.


Where did you hear about a sun allergy anyway?

I say, My teacher.

My teacher from my last grade.

Her sister had a sun allergy.

Mother responds, Well, no.

No, I don’t think I am allergic to the sun.

And I don’t think your teacher’s sister had a sun allergy.

I think your teacher’s sister had skin cancer and your teacher was just trying not to scare you. But sometimes it is safer to be scared.

And I don’t think this is the sun.

The sun makes you feel good.

I think this is germs.

I think this is people.

I think I’m going to start growing our own vegetables.

I don’t think we’re going to buy vegetables from the grocery store anymore. At least not ‘our’ grocery store up the street.

I think I’m going to start growing our own vegetables outside in the backyard.

We have plenty of space out there.

We have plenty of space for a garden out there.

I want you to help me after school.

Can you help me go to the store after school and pick out some seeds?

I reply, Yeah, I can.

She says, Good.

Eat some breakfast and get to school.

And don’t walk home today.

I’ll just pick you up and we’ll go straight to the store.

Mother exits because of her body—because of its body. The sun, that is. I am convinced. She walks away from the kitchenroom and it’s as if her body is withdrawing from the sun. I was staring at it all morning. These eyes up in it. Her body. Terrifying myself with my own ideas and architecture and fear of blindness. That’s how I spend every morning of my life before school. Tempting blindness. Dreading the architecture.

I walk over to the window above the kitchenroom sink. The sun-through-tree movements outside. The sun-through-tree movements make me blink a lot. I feel like I might collapse. I feel like it’s measuring me. I feel like it’s wrapping a belt of its own language around my dimensions. It hugs my (0,0) origin with its warm lips. Tightly. Seeping through my animal. Yanking down my garland-insides—a melt. I feel warm inside. I feel too warm inside.

The sun makes you feel good.

Tippy toes, I stand up taller. Look down out the window and over at the bottom of the backporch stairs. No dead things oozing out this morning. Nothing rising. No stories this morning. The sun hangs there. The sun hangs there above the bottom of the backporch stairs. The bottom of the backporch stairs is baked brittle brown from days of harsh time and sun. Wrinkling, the face of the bottom of the backporch stairs. Wrinkling, my mother in that space.

Eat some breakfast and get to school.

I imagine my mother off to my bedroom to look over my dioramas while I’m at school. I wonder if she thinks I’m weird like the other kids at school think I’m weird. I imagine her doing anything to get her mind off of whatever is making her body feel so bad. Looking down at my weird dioramas. I sit down in a chair and readjust myself over and over and over again. I keep readjusting because the sun-through-tree movements keep making me squint.

Squinting makes wrinkles.

I turn my body. I sit facing away from the sun-through-tree movements.

Feel it on the back of my neck though.

Feel it burn down the back of my neck.

I dip two almond biscuits into brown Marsala wine.

I taste its leather gag.



paul-cunningham-pic“The Boy Named Awn” comes from the beginning stage of a larger fictional triptych called The Middlecirclehole—a work inspired by the poetry of Aase Berg. Awn is a boy growing up during an era in which the sun has become a source of toxicity—an era in which nighttime is recognized as a safety zone. “The Boy Named Awn” is written from the childhood POV of Awn—a subject who later struggles to cope with the many obstacles of daylight.

Paul Cunningham is the author of two e-chapbooks of poetry: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (Pangur Ban Party, 2010) and Foamghast (NAP, 2012). He manages Radioactive Moat Press and edits Deluge. His writing has appeared in The Destroyer, Aesthetix, DIAGRAM, Witness, A capella Zoo, and H_NGM_N. He is currently pursuing a MFA at the University of Notre Dame.