Exposure № 037: Tree Three

This week we mourn the trees lost in Hurricane Irene with these beautiful photos by Byron Barrett.

An Incomplete Biography of Dr. Hurley, cont’d: A Medical Man?

During Dr. Hurley’s Snake-Oil Cure‘s recent research trip to  Ireland, we uncovered some artifacts related to Dr. Seamus Hurley’s past. For our previous entries in the biography of Dr. Hurley, click here and here.

An Sciobairín, Corcaigh1, 5th September, 1855

My dear Dr. Cornish—

Your estimation of this fellow appears to have been sadly confirmed. Though his ministrations have led to success in the past and, I admit, several of his patients have changed sufficiently in hue and temperament during the duration of my stay to prove that his methods are not wholly without merit, I would discourage in the strongest terms his admission into the College2.

After my initial expedition, I made a supplementary call on the clinic in Cill Orglan3 where the ‘good Doctor’—as the skeleton crew at his ‘Baths’4 calls him—obtained his medical training. Although there is a record of one Séamus O’Herlihy5 exiting their program of study (frankly, a program from which the College ought to withdraw support), none of the physicians there was able to provide any further documentary evidence of O’Herlihy’s existence. However, most claimed to have known the man. What contradiction!

As to the fellow himself: the good Dr. Seamus Hurley has no more skill treating dysentery or female hysteria than he does letting blood. He is, my friend, a quacksalver! His skills would harm rather than heal our esteemed organization in the eyes of our countrymen. The College, as we all know, has been through a difficult period, and though we are in dire need of physicians, we must not allow the vagaries of recent years6 to benefit the Hurleys of the world!

Forgive my harshness. I look forward to reconvening in Dublin and to being rid of these potions and notions, these brittle Germans and Englishwomen looking for health and succour in meaningless tinctures and Oriental mumbo-jumbo

Respectfully, your friend and colleague,

Ciaran O’Sullivan, M.D.


  1. Skibbereen, Co. Cork
  2. The Royal College of Physicians of Ireland.
  3. Killorglin, Co. Kerry
  4. Dr. Hurley’s Restorative Baths & Spa, in Co. Cork.
  5. The Irish clan name O’Herlihy was often anglicised as ‘O’Hurley’. Seamus Hurley would likely have been a common name in the West Cork/Kerry area of Ireland at this time.
  6. Unclear.

Exposure № 036: Tree Two

This week we mourn the trees lost in Hurricane Irene with these beautiful photos by Byron Barrett.

Exposure № 035: Tree One

This week we mourn the trees lost in Hurricane Irene with these beautiful photos by Byron Barrett.


’m here, Sarah.

I made it, all the way. Two taxi rides, two shuttle flights, one long-haul, one city train, one national train with three connections and a fifty-minute walk. I’ve been awake for about thirty-eight hours. The last time I slept it was fitful, worrying about not being able to sleep. It feels like there are tiny spiders with scratchy claws wriggling around behind my eyelids. My head is compressed, packed tight; I’m so exhausted I feel nauseous. I haven’t had a proper meal in two days. My veins are filled with caffeine and my throat is raw from smoking too much in a dry environment. I’ve walked down airport concourses, underground steps, pedestrian walkways, through these ramshackle streets that I know you remember. My feet are blistered and I feel sorry for myself.


But I’m here now, at our beach. I travelled halfway around the world. I made that ‘big effort’. (I thought you might appreciate the irony.)

‘Our’ beach. Isn’t it funny how we appropriate a public place, an ancient, indifferent place like this, the silent sand and murmuring sea, simply because it holds some specific memory for us? We first expressed love for one another behind that sand dune so now it’s our sand dune; nobody else’s. It has passed to us by some indeterminate right. Never mind all the other people who smoked a joint there, or made love there, or sat and closed their eyes against the wind’s caress. They play no part in our history. They are erased by our arrogance and innocence; by me, and by you.


I’m writing in a notebook I bought when we landed here, however many hours ago that was. It’s blue, with a picture of that shitty television star on the front. You know the one: the quiz show host with the buckteeth and sleazy sunglasses. We used to watch that programme in the apartment, ironic, amused or drunk. I passed the apartment on my way to the beach. It’s not on the route from the train station; I detoured, I strung it out. (Why am I telling you this? You know the layout of things.) There was a line of washing hung out the front: big jumpers, floral dresses, the clothes of someone younger than you, less affluent. The outside of it, the balcony, had a homely air: potted plants and disembodied bicycle wheels, a dirty dog basket. I didn’t see the new tenant. The area hadn’t changed as much as I presumed it would.

I’m putting this on paper, as opposed to merely running through events in my mind, because writing helps me to structure things properly. Because I may send this to you, my distant valediction. And because I have decided to kill myself.


I have a confession: I borrowed your personal stereo. I must look ridiculous, at my age, those foolish plastic earphones looping around my crown, but I wanted to listen to something while I wrote. That’s my second confession: I’m listening to Leonard Cohen singing Hallelujah. I know, I know; I can picture your smile right now, a smile of sadness and vindication. You were right, Sarah, in all of it. I am that self-indulgent caricature I denied having become. My life is a bad TV serial on constant replay in my head, a paperback repository of cliché. I’m an indifferent observer of my own fall, and I hate it and love it at the same time.

Admitting this gives me a sickly power and makes me curse myself with a violence that surprises me.


The volume is turned down low – I wanted to hear the sea also. That roiling, soft-grey sea we remember, rearing horses trampling one another into oblivion, the sibilant call of the deeps and the leaks an accompaniment to the music. I have sand in my hair and spray on my cheeks. The sea can make you feel dirty and clean all at once. It’s a huge, beautiful thing, an exhalation of the moon. The melody of the song floats over the secret pulse of an ocean rhythm and I remember when you first played this for me. I laughed and called you pretentious; you had his novel in your bookcase and the album in vinyl. You got us cold beers from the kitchen and we listened to this song three or four times. It seemed to fit: the sweet aching, the cruelty and yearning for love.

What was that novel called? I could never remember. You had to remind me several times.


I’m counting back to when we knew this place together. Eight years… three months…however many days, I don’t remember exactly. If this were a movie, I would wistfully declare in voiceover, at this point, how life was almost perfect then; how I now realise, looking back, that things could never be the same.

But that’s not how our lives went. Our time here was good, it was exciting and airy; we were delirious on infatuation and poverty, on endless possibility. But going home was better. That formalised and concretised, it gave a shape to our feelings. The house, the dog – no kids, but that was a sensible decision, I think, at our age – the good jobs and beautiful furniture, the invigorating hikes and lazy nights watching old movies… These things sound boring, like the tired excuses of someone saturated with life. But they were all nice. I thought they were nice. I was too self-absorbed to realise that nice was not enough for you.


I found this in an old wallet, stashed at the back of my wardrobe, a few weeks ago, purely by chance. (Now, there’s a sign…) I’m sure you will remember these lines: ‘Dust and sand in whispers dance on the wind like a slim ballerina.’ It’s dated October 23rd, ten years ago. You always admired the haiku as a form – another pretension I teased you about – and wrote that here, on this beach. Here, where I sit now. The same dust and sand, and I swear, Sarah, I hear the same whispers.


This place is empty now and I am alone, alone with the song and the whispers, that sharp grass jerking into the wind. There are no funfairs, no rifle-range or bumper-cars, but it still feels like a seaside town: dirty and lonely, with the smell of nostalgia and the sweet sound of faded laughter. You would laugh if I were to say that in your presence. You’d tell me I was sentimental, I lived in the past. You’d shout to make me understand how the present was rotting like over-ripe fruit in a bowl because I refuse to eat the fruit, I just want to observe it. I want to write about the fruit, paint it, take photographs, discuss it, formulate theories as to why it was putrefying, anything to fill the days until nothing was left but a nauseous, syrupy mess, and I could indulge myself in the one act for which I still feel passion: the embrace of regret. I would regret the disintegration of the fruit.

I miss you. I hate myself and ran from you and miss you.


It’s dark enough now. I’ve removed my shoes and socks, my shirt and jacket. I’m sitting in light cotton trousers, a t-shirt, barefooted. (Yes, the t-shirt also makes me look ridiculous.) I have no cigarettes left. The air is that murky blue of gathering dusk; the sea is slate-grey, flecked off-white on the wave-tops. I’m scared of the cold, the thought of that heavy water sluicing down my throat. My lungs rebelling, rejecting, acid and diaphragmatic heaves, more salt-water pouring down. The immensity of it doesn’t frighten me, just the all-enclosing cold.

Sarah, I’m sorry. You were right to leave me. I am narcissistic and brittle. I’m the malevolent three-year-old despot observing the universe as it revolves around him, the seasons for my changing. I would have broken your heart, sooner or later, or dragged you down into my mire, or made you bend so much to accommodate me that you would no longer have been you, but a parody of yourself, or of me, it doesn’t matter. This is my final stupid, selfish, wicked act. I know it is all of those things.


It’s shushing me now. It’s soothing me, a fortifying lullaby. Hussshhhh…

I have done bad things, but they seem insignificant when I listen to it; all the bullshit and pettiness, all the times I turned traitor and tore the heart from your dreams, don’t seem to matter when I stand on the cusp and give myself up to it. I can’t forgive myself for this, and you shouldn’t forgive me either. But the sea… It is too great, too terrible, too impassive; it is sublime and dangerous, whipping the breath from me. It breathes clemency over my forehead in divine clouds of grey. I close my eyes and the spray kisses my eyelids.

I will go towards it now. I am forgiven.

Dr. Hurley’s Digest, Week 25

Poetry, fiction from editor DLR, and more, in this week’s digest, sponsored by Hurricane Irene. Featured this week was Boston-based cartoonist and poet Al Gundy, regular Oilers Kevlin Henney and Tony Healey, and some new poetry by Brenda Mann Hammack and Michael Fitzgerald Clarke!




Interview with a Detective

Softly, the patter. His eyelids opened. Above him the ceiling revealed a square of light, a bruised blue behind the raindrops falling against the glass. He gargled the sandpaper at the back of his throat and twisted his neck sideways to read the clock. The numbers were unfortunate. 11:16 a.m. He was due at the Idlewild at midday.

Crumpling to his feet he rolled from left to right. A convenience store polo shirt and a plastic badge reading Hi, my name is: SAM lay beside him on the floor. He kicked idly at the shirt and almost collapsed, seasick, back onto the bed.

Finding his feet proved both metaphorically and literally easier than it should have. This, he knew, was a bad sign. He shaved poorly, dabbed cologne onto his face and dressed in his only suit, a dark blue, shapeless cut of cloth, before exiting his apartment by 11:51.

*      *      *

The rain had let up. His skylight had been the victim of a passing shower. He parked across the street, slipped his car keys into an inside pocket and pushed open the door to the Idlewild.

An L-shaped bar greeted him. Shining glasses unironically, the bartender glanced in his direction; on the long upstroke of the bar sat a woman in her early forties, staring distantly at the glass in front of her. Neither of these was his subject.

His eyes finally came to rest on the short end of the bar. A man was perched on one of the tall barstools, vigilant but deeply settled, as though he did not want his presence to be noticed. Crossing the room, a forgotten scent emanated from the woman, who was now swinging a hand across her torso as though conducting some silent symphony.

He reached the end of the bar and his eyes locked on the stranger, his subject, the detective.

“My name is Sam Butler,” he said, proffering a hand.  “I’m here for the interview and—sorry I’m late—.“ The stranger completed his handshake.

“Yes, from Adventure & Intrigue magazine.” The detective crossed his legs in a manner almost feminine, tugged the cuffs of his white shirt another half-inch towards his fingertips, and tilted his head approximately forty-five degrees to the left.

“Dimmer than a thirty watt bulb at midnight,” he said, thumbing in the woman’s direction as he gestured for the bartender. The young man, close-shaven and handsome, placed a tumbler in front of Butler and moved away in slow motion.

No doubt an out-of-work actor, thought Butler, as the detective picked up a decanter and poured. The light was low but he could make out an autumnal copper stream tinkling and twirling into the glass. The detective’s eyes seemed to glow under the soft lamplight; the colour of his irises matched the background of heavy drapes.

“So what does your readership want to know?”

Butler paused, withdrawing from his pocket a small, black box. He made a May I? motion with his hands and the detective nodded. He pressed rec and said:

“Why do you come here? To the Idlewild?”

“For the atmosphere, Mr. Butler.” He made an expansive gesture and glanced at the conductress. “The smells and colours, the lights at midnight. People tell you what you want to hear by candlelight.”

“And what about real life?” asked Butler. “Pastimes, women—“ glancing at his left hand. “How does life square up to your career?”

The detective laughed. “I don’t go to the cinema or collect stamps. And I’m not married.” His face creased in the right spots. “I come to the Idlewild.”

He leaned in conspiratorially and said: “In subdued lighting the heartbeat slows to almost nothing. The Idlewild, by that reasoning, hardly exists at all.”

Leaning back he took up his glass to drink. Butler did the same, attempting to interpret the words now passing between the bartender and the woman. She was pouting, unpouting, blinking too slowly; he began to appreciate the detective’s assessment of her.

The detective unwound his legs, tied them in the other direction. He straightened and said towards the Dictaphone: “We are all actors in tiny cages, Mr. Butler. We have such a small arena in which to perform.” He paused for no reason. “We are small cogs in a large machine. It’s just that—I would rather be the oil.”

He leaned back for another sip. His aquiline nose and severe jaw were filmic, cast angular shadows on the deep green curtains. He wore his tie loose. Beneath his suit jacket Butler imagined the outline of a pistol like a poorly wrapped Christmas present.

They could hear the conductress’ voice simpering at the other end of the room, as though transmitted through a tin-can telephone. She was pretty in a leonine way, honey-coloured hair pulled back from her forehead, skin stretched tight over high cheekbones. I tipped the remaining whisky into my mouth.

“You’re trying to get to the centre of my philosophy, Mr. Butler.” It was not a question. “You are a poet? A newshound?”

“A writer.” He bobbed his head in agreement and poured again, first for his subject and then for himself. The stream of liquid caught the candlelight and made a perfect arc before coming to rest. A literal spirit level.

“All the great writers in the world, each great detective, they understand one thing: Every production of nature has had a history.” Butler didn’t argue. “Every complex structure is the summing up of many contrivances.”

“Is that what you do? Deconstruct? Decontrive?” He shrugged off the question, picked up his glass and leaned back into his seat.

“In my work I am turned into a sort of machine. A machine built for observing facts, extinguishing lies and grinding out conclusions.”

After some verbal arithmetic Butler said: “Well my job is to extinguish facts, grind out lies and observe conclusions.”

“Newshound…” murmured his companion.

Through the glass sides of his tumbler, the detective’s sharp lines were made bulbous and clownish. As he watched the man taking a drink, Butler imagined oil derricks dipping and rising. Small cogs in a large machine. He placed his glass on the formica counter. It cast a flickering candlelit shadow in one direction; in the other the bar lights produced a stiff, stark phantom.

The detective lifted his glass and made a small circle with his left hand. Half-hearted ice cubes chimed. “To the oil,” he said.

Butler raised his own glass and accepted the toast.

*      *      *

The moonlight shone into his room as he replaced the dark blue suit on its hanger and clawed the convenience store shirt from the carpet. His shift began at ten. Pulling on the shirt and pinning the badge to his chest, Butler lay down on the bed and looked up through the skylight. He was little more than shadows bent around corners.

After his shift, he sat between a shaft of sunrise and an off-white wall typing up the transcript of his interview. The editor at Adventure & Intrigue could hardly be expected to believe this David Lynch dialogue. At the top of the page, he added the title:

We Never Sleep: An Interview with Detective Allan Pinkerton.

A Café Fable

A candy, in cellophane, sanguine and pearly,
relaxed in a little cafe.
A patron was pacing,
voracious and spacious.
He graciously ordered a salad his way.
The saccharine suckable he had rejected,
affected, suspected, “I wasn’t detected?”
To which the salubrious salad selected
reflected aloud from its tray:

“A lightning bug’s listlessly lit when it’s larval.
A glare is a glow past a glint.
A mountainous Mediteranean marvel
has much on a minuscule mint.”
The candy was sweet, but was equally brittle.
It called to the cold and calumnious vittle,
“While treating a treat like a trivial tittle,
you’re little more lucious than lint!”

The savory claimant was rosy but paling,
descrying the diner’s return.
“A fan of the clam, as I am,”
said the patron,
I’ll offer your chowder escape from its urn.”
The chowder he’d chosen was hardly astounded,
its ego unbounded (and grounded, it sounded).
It laughed, “Is the rounded confection confounded?
Then listen, you loser, and learn:

“A hut is a habitat hard to get lost in.
Few legs have been sprained from a sprint.
A blistering bowl of the best out of Boston
outmatches a mini’ture mint.”
Contusing contumely to our contender,
who rushed to affront its officious offender:
“Superior soup, when explaining its splendor,
displays not a splendorous splint!”

That delicate dainty was crimson and ashen,
but managed inspirited thought.
When back to the counter the customer cantered,
‘twas but a burrito he bought.
And this, to the disheartened hopeful, was vicious:
“I’m fully in favor of being ambitious,
but you’re as deluded as I am delicious,
and idiots ought to be taught.

“A reed can’t reverberate like a recorder.
A soloist can’t like a quint.
The succulent sustenance South of the Border
makes muck of a minimal mint.”
That comfit discomfitted, jarred by rejections,
was done with dispensing corrosive corrections.
It loudly responded, “You lordly refections
should stifle and stick to your stint!”

Our spited aspirant was flushed and was livid,
its hope in the hopper, and hollered in pain.
The topper: its favorite noshery shopper,
with gusto, approached the assembly again.
He said to the vendor, “My dinner was dandy.
However, the handicapped hope for the handy.
Your crowded consumer requires the candy,
from off of the register plane.”

“Requires the candy?” the candy repeated.
“You offer an obvious hint.
The delicacies you adore are depleted.
You’ve but a diminutive mint.”
Its bawling abashed and bewildered its buyer.
He had, by his lozenge, been labeled a liar.
“You are the deserving dessert I desire,”
he squeaked with a squat and a squint.

“The various victuals I have devoured
have put on my panter their print.
Offensive emissions can be over-powered
by one self-administered mint.”
“Then I,” said the candy, “you truly require!
Behold your definitive defunkifier!
Your swaggering supper will suffer the ire
of this ministerial mint!

The Albatross: August 3rd, 1766

(Note: The following is an extract taken from the accounts of that Pirate and seafaring blaccard known as The Albatross.)

August 3rd, 1766

“…as we were, and hunted like dogs. I ordered about, and for the Ruby-Susan be pointed Southward, to go on account t’ward the Bay of Biscay and to lay anchor awhile in Gigia. There be the port of El Musel, and safe haven to be had. I gave the order to strike the colours should we cross paths with lawmakers, but we were unmolested by that scurvy – not that we would have surrendered, you hear! I would no sooner have ordered the colours be shown, in truth, than I would point the end of a musket at my own heart and pull the hammer!

But we had no trouble until a storm blew onto us. I saw the shrouds torn to shreds, as if the winds had claws and the mainmast nigh snapped in two. Rain and thunder lashed the deck, and the gale had such ferocity I thought the sprogs would be run down the scuppers I did! In storms as that you see the water run green, churned up from the ancient belly of Poseidon. My first-mate observed a swordfish come from a wave that crashed abaft, in length as big as two grown men, and throw itself upon the decking thrashing and writhing in the wet. No man went near it, holding on for life to the ship for want of being washed away. Another roller struck the Ruby-Susan then, and took the beast back overboard, into the storm…”

Scritch’s Sonnets

At first, Scritch hides mimetically, weather-split,
scabrous trunk against a backdrop of woodbine,
gallica rose, but, confused, portrays photosynthesis
as a species of necrotic mold. Its animal guise
is, then, undermined by a similar failure to note
a thickness appropriate to membrane to coordinate
sinew and bone.  Once anatomy theaters boasted
stark Edens where cadaver Eves posed, enacting
the transgressive moment for medicine, metacarpals
and sterna exposed.  In the garden, not Leiden,[1]
the gargoyle has forgotten why it’s hiding.  Who
knows if it really is meant to be seeking, if all
questing, like subterfuge, causes other problems.
Do aphid-riddled apples bestow lessons untrue?

In the chimney, Scritch discovers a lost world
where leathern prehistorics nurse grievances
only comprehensible in mouse-bird romance.
Not even sweeps (traumatized larvae) could unfurl
such fantasies of hollow earth or antipodes.
Silurian becomes Mesolithic. The lower Scritch crawls,
the closer it comes to indignation at such pitfalls
of design that leave pockets of flue gas to corrode
its lungs, which scarcely hold together as is.  It can
feel itself degrading like compost.  In this midden
between walls, children once were tamped
to haul brushes, the fires beneath them intended
to embolden claustrophobic nature.  Like soot-fall,
Scritch descends, creosote addled and clawed.

[1] Skeletons posed as Adam and Eve by an apple tree in the anatomy theater at Leiden.