Note: There is language in this excerpt some readers may find offensive.
Excerpt: 'Sharp Teeth' by Toby Barlow
Let's sing about the man there
at the breakfast table
brown skin, thin features, white T,
his olive hand making endless circles
in the classifieds
"wanted" "wanted" "wanted"
small jobs little money
but you have to start somewhere.
a quarter mile from where they pick up the mariachis
on warm summer nights
two miles from La Serenata de Garibaldi's
where the panther black cars pause on their haunches
while their blonde women eat inside
wiping the blood red
mole from their quiet lips
"wanted" "wanted" "wanted"
he circles the paper
then reaches for the phone
breathes deep, begins.
"job was taken already, good luck"
"you got experience?"
"leave a message"
"you sound Mexican, ola, you Mexican?"
"call back Monday"
"mmmn, I don't know nothing about that"
Then his barbed hook catches. A thin gold vein
is struck. Buds of hope crack through the dry white earth:
"oh sure, come on by, what's your name?"
His father was not a man but a sleepy bull
with sledgehammer hands and a soft heart.
He once brought a dog home from the pound
Sipping coffee by the phone now
that little yapping note of hope still rings in his ears.
Anthony smiles, remembering the way
the puppy sat between his father's strong legs
as they stood looking down like gods
at the cowering little creature.
They laughed. The pup relaxed,
wagged its fat tail.
His father was kind to the dog, to the kids, to his wife
until a week later when he went through the windshield
on Sepulveda. Hit so hard
it didn't matter where he landed.
And after that nothing was kind
it was every man for himself
and there were no men
just a widow, some kids
and a dog who went back to the pound,
taking his chances with no chance at all.
C'est la guerre.
Pondering his path,
Anthony wonders now,
if maybe that dog
wasn't just some real bad luck.
"Packs of thirty or forty at a time
like gauchos in their own damn ghost town.
They come from the hills, up from the arroyos.
We don't know how many, estimates vary,
but each time they come in
a few house dogs go back with them.
Anytime you got toy poodles breeding with coyotes
it's gonna get interesting."
Calley is so white, he's red
with blanched features pickled and burned.
He shows Anthony how to wrangle, how to pull hoops, slip a wire.
They sit at the firing range. "You'll be shooting tranqs,
but might as well practice with live rounds." Calley shows
bite marks on his hands, legs and arms.
His breath bites too: coffee, cigarettes, and just plain old rancid.
"I'll ride partner with you for a bit, but with all the cutbacks
they're making us all ride solo now."
"What happens if I hit a pack?"
"Hit a pack, hit the radio." Calley pauses, draws on a smoke
the red in his eyes almost matches the
blood vessels spidering across his face
It's a foggy, milky, bloodshot stare,
but it still holds a mean light.
He rasps, "You like dogs?"
"Mmmn," he nods. "You won't."
The "animal control" logo makes Anthony wonder.
Animals have no control, they run, they fuck, they eat,
they kill to fuck, they kill to eat
and they sleep in the noonday sun.
Anthony's not afraid of the dogs,
he's not afraid of the work,
he just hates the other guys.
He sits apart, trying to stay clean.
Perhaps over time he will become like them
with their permanent stains and bitter dispositions.
But Christ almighty, he thinks,
I hope not.
Sharp Teeth. Copyright © by Toby Barlow. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved.