Submit to Southword





New Irish Voices
Poetry chapbooks by
Roisin Kelly & Paul McMahon



Liberty Walks Naked
by Maram al-Masri, trans. Theo Dorgan



Chapbooks by Fool for Poetry
Competition Winners 2018

Not in Heaven by Molly Minturn
Bog Arabic by Bernadette McCarthy




Richesses: Francophone Songwriter Poets
Edited and translated by Aidan Hayes





Munster Literature Centre

Create your badge






Arts Council



Cork City Council



Foras na Gaeilge



Cork County Council







Jon Boilard

Jon Boilard was born and raised in Western New England. He has been living and writing in the San Francisco area since 1986. His stories have been published in literary journals in the U.S., Canada, Europe and Asia. One was nominated for a Pushcart Prize, another won the Seán Ó Faoláin Award and several others have earned individual small press honours.





Small Deaths


I want to taste your lips. That’s what she says to me. Rain outside sounds like rocks and I’m a good two days into a real shitface and her husband is upstairs with a skinny Russian girl and a spoonful of methamphetamine. There’s a fight on the big-screen television. Cornfed Callahan is punching the hell out of some Samoan-born kid from New Zealand. Then he goes back to dancing away and letting the kid chase him around the ring with haymakers. Peppering him with left jabs and right leads. Frustrating him with a 15-inch reach advantage. It’s the second round.

Marie goes to the fridge to get me a beer. We’ve been secretly fucking off and on for a year or so. She actually carried my baby until June when she started to show and then some doctor down the Peninsula spooned it out of her.

It rattled me even though I understand her reservations.

Her fears.

Since then we’ve been on ice.

Not like the old days, Irish Pat says to me.

I snap out of it. He’s talking about the fight.

These clowns couldn’t hang back in the day, he says.

Big men used to go head to head, he says.

Ali and Frazier, George Foreman, all the great ones, he says.

It’s true. Irish Pat would know. He fought Roberto Duran in the Civic Auditorium. He pounded Wilfredo Benitez in Tucson, Arizona. He went after a championship belt in Tokyo.

But that was a long time ago.

This makes me sick to my stomach, he says.

He sneezes and spits blood into an ashtray.

Then we polish off what’s left of the Old Crow. Then cop sirens wail and the old horn of a fire engine flares up and gets smaller until the rain is the only thing again. Old cars crawl along Taraval Street with bat-eye brake lights blinking. Then thunder like an empty dumpster dropped into a deserted parking lot. I like that she wants to taste my lips. I know she means it.

She returns with a cold one and takes a sip of foam before handing it over.

I had a dream about making love with you again.

That’s what I say to her.

It’s not even true. But she believes me and likes that I had that dream.

Then we go to a hotel near Ocean Beach. The one where that singer from LA overdosed. Eventually the night manager knocks on the door and asks us to quiet down. He says it sounds like wild horses. Marie and I have a good laugh over that one and then we start in again.

Did you feel that, she finally says.


It’s another lie. I didn’t feel anything at all. I never feel anything anymore; it’s a blessing and a curse. I move across the bed and pretend that I’m satisfied, try to quietly do it myself.

She cries.

Look at me, she says.

She speaks with a French accent that is exaggerated when she’s overcome with emotion.

I look at her.

Why are you crying, I say.

Because it was beautiful.

I know she means it and after a while she sleeps and I slip out.

I drive drunk and the streets of the Tenderloin District are black as cats. Early bird transvestite hookers wave. The puzzle of unlit alleys smells like ass. The curb rises up and punctures the rusted underbelly of my El Camino. So I park there. Then a yellow cab almost runs me down. Then a bouncer turns me away with the unconditional shove reserved for unwelcome people. Then I make it to the bar in the next place without even catching the name. Maybe on the corner of Leavenworth. I sit on a stool next to a guy who looks like Willie Nelson. He tells me to stop eyeballing him. A shot of Bushmills chases a pint of Guinness chases a Jack & Coke. I say some things and the Mexican prick pouring drinks says he’s heard enough out of me. Then I’m outside where the rain is gone but the fog is a familiar old blanket.


Then they buzz me in and look me up and down, trying to figure out if I’m a cop of some kind. The girl says something to the man in Chinese and he disappears and she says, Okay. She tells me what we can do and how much it will cost. She has a pretty face but teeth like corn nuts.

Her name is Ruby.

Back there, I say.

No no never back there.


Okay you pay now.

I give her three twenties. She leaves and comes back with change, takes me to a room.

You get in tub, she says.

I take off my clothes and get in the tub that has a dirt ring around it.

I wash you good, she says.

Dark water swirls in circles. She washes me good and then dries me with a damp towel kept on a metal hook. Then after a while she becomes angry because she cannot finish me. And because her jaw has popped out of place; occupational hazard I suppose. She fixes it herself, both hands strategically placed under her chin so that her palms connect to form the bottom of a “v”.

You drink too many beer, she says.

Yeah I had a couple.

Not my fault, no refund.

I tell her maybe we should try that other thing.

You pay two hundred for that, she says.

I ask her if a credit card is okay because I don’t want to use all my cash and I have in my possession some stolen plastic.

Credit card okay, Ruby says.

She hands me the towel to wrap around my waist and takes me down the hall where a couple other girls are lounging on a couch watching Channel 2, which is showing highlights from the fight. Cornfed dodges Tua’s rushes like a toreador and scores points with a jab and occasional combinations. The crowd at Mandalay Bay boos. I can imagine Irish Pat’s disgust.

The girls look bored. They look up at me bored.

Ruby runs my card. I sign something.

She speaks in Chinese, the bored girls laugh.

I told them you big one, she says.

More laughter.

They jealous, she says.

We return to the room. She uses a silver kitchen timer from Walgreen’s; it’s shaped like a miniature tea kettle. Then I’m watching myself in the mirror. She’s watching the clock. Then she gets really mad and throws a fit because I’m still not even close and she’s getting tired, worn out.

I tell her not to fucking worry about it.

Relax, I say.

Something wrong with you, she says.

Yeah all right.

Not my fault, she says.

I know.

No refund, she says.

Can I try back there.

No no never back there, she says.

All right.

You want other girl, she says.

Sure what the hell.

She slips off me and grabs her clothes from the floor.

One of the bored girls from the couch comes in after a few minutes.

You pay two hundred, she says right off the bat.

I already paid.

More for me, she says.

I give her the credit card.

Follow me, she says.

The first girl is on the couch chewing a drumstick from Tommy’s Joynt. She giggles.

You take care my big one, she says.

Then they speak to each other in Chinese. And here’s the thing: I’m being set up and I know it and I don’t even fucking care.

You too big for Ruby, the new girl says.

She runs the credit card. She doesn’t even tell me her phony-ass name.

You make her tired, she says.

I sign something.

Now she jealous, she says.

She holds my hand back to the room and closes the door with her tiny foot. It occurs to me that she is barely an adult, which shouldn’t surprise me as I had spent some time with Asian whores when I was stationed in the Philippines—before the Marines kicked me out for good. Dishonourable discharge. Jesus Christ. A rare moment of clarity: It seems I have come full circle.

I can’t fucking do this anymore.

You get in tub, the new girl says.

I get in the tub however reluctantly now.

I wash you good, she says.

She washes me good.

I take good care you, she says.

Silver stretch marks around her belly and small breasts.

I run my finger along the white lines that signify childbirth.


Then I close my eyes tight and when I open them she’s long gone and a couple skinny-muscled young guys with dragon tattoos come in and start to work me over with wooden clubs. Back in the day I would’ve given them a run for their money but not anymore; I’ve gone soft in my old age. Neither one of them speaks a word of English. I simply curl up in the tub and wait for them to stop. Then they put me out in the street with my clothes in my hand and I get dressed. I get sick on myself. I want to catch a taxi or the 38 bus but my cash and credit card are missing. Then an old black tries to bum a smoke off me and I rabbit-ear my pants pockets and he laughs.

Irish Pat picks me up on Van Ness and Pine in his cherry 1973 Cougar.

You look like fuckin crap, he says.

The top is down and the red interior smells like Armor All and cheap cigars.

You look like you went a couple rounds with the champ, he says.

I tell him about getting rolled by the Jackson Street Boys.

He knows all about that kind of thing and doesn’t offer any sympathy. He tells me Cornfed won a unanimous decision and managed to keep his facial features intact. He threw 674 punches, 300 of which found their target. Tua on the other hand couldn’t get his left hook to land flush, connecting with only 110 of 413 punches. All three judges had Cornfed winning by at least six points. Irish Pat says it was a good decision but a dogshit fight. He says there was some drama at his party because E couldn’t find his wife; Pat gives me one of his looks because of course he knows I’ve been banging Marie behind E’s back. I picture her alone in that hotel room. She always worries that if E discovers our affair then he’ll kill her or me or both of us.

Fuck that guy but he does have nuts enough for it.

He runs guns for the local chapter of a well known bike club.

Then Irish Pat fiddles with the radio dial until he finds something he likes: Neil Young singing “Old Man”. He drums the dashboard with his knuckles. In between songs the deejay says they had to rush Tua to the emergency after he got woozy in the locker room. There was blood in his brain. The doctors did what they could, worked on him for an hour or so, but he died in the hospital. The deejay refers to it as a small death in light of all that’s going on in the world. He’s talking about the war. Terrorism. Genocide. The Gaza Strip. Hurricanes and floods. Disease.

Holy fuckin shit, Irish Pat says.

Small death my ass, he says.

Cornfed is fucked, he says.

That kind of shit can ruin a fighter, he says.

He thumbs the power button on the radio and we ride in silence.

And I think about all the small deaths that have in fact ruined me.


We make an illegal left and take Pine to Gough to Grove and turn right. It’s a dark night and too cold to have the top down. San Francisco chill soaks my bones. Irish Pat hits the gas and the 351 Cleveland grumbles to life so we can take the upcoming grade. My head snaps back against the vinyl seat and between restored Victorians and low-income apartment buildings and serpent-like power lines the Pacific Coast sky is dangerously low and black and empty.

©2009 Jon Boilard



Author Links

Jon Boilard home page




©2009 Southword Editions
Munster Literature Centre

Southword 6 Southword No 7 Southword No 8 Southword No 9 Southword No 10 Southword 11 southword 12 Southword No 14 Southword No 15