Three Introductions

Kevin Sampsell

Young Dart

(for Emily Kendal Frey)

Emily Kendal Frey learned to drive in a cul-de-sac. Her uncle Donnie, a former NASCAR driver, taught her when she was fifteen. He knew the importance of turning left. And turning left. And turning left.

For each subsequent lesson, he told her to go ten miles per hour faster. Eventually she wore a helmet and then a rubber jump suit with decals from corporate sponsors: PetCo, Sprite, Dairy Queen, Advil. She was going 90 miles per hour, sometimes skidding the little Dodge Dart onto the sidewalk, ripping strips of grass and flower beds into the air, but never hitting any of the houses. The neighbors looked out of their windows in fear and thought about calling the police but Emily would just smile at them and give them the thumbs up and they would smile back and hang up the phone.

When her car broke down, her uncle Donnie showed her how to fix it. They lied down next to each other, on the ground, underneath the car on those little rolling mechanic dolly things, and he showed her what went where and what needed to be replaced and what needed to be tightened. Emily felt a Zen-like calm when she was on that dolly, and some nights she even slept on it. Her legs would twitch in her sleep though, and she would unwittingly scoot herself down the empty streets throughout the night. By sunrise, she would be several blocks away, no idea how she got there. She would pick up her dolly and carry it under her arm like a giant skateboard and try to figure out how to get home. She had unusual thoughts during these walks. Disjointed images and phrases—things about dogs and tombstones and lemonade stands.

She decided to write down these thoughts but became frustrated with them and threw them in the trash.

One day, some kids at school told her that they read her poems in the NASCAR poetry review newsletter. She didn’t know what they were talking about. “It must be some other Emily Kendal Frey,” she told them.

When she got home that afternoon, her uncle gave her a hug and told her that he had found her poems and sent them to the NASCAR magazine himself. He had his copy opened up on the kitchen table, seven short poems and a photo of her, leaning on the driver side of her Dart, with her helmet on.

Robot Arm

(for Evelyn Hampton)

Evelyn Hampton used to have a robot arm. From the years 1997 to 1999 she would rob banks with it. I’ll explain how in a minute.

But first, you must know this. She was not born with a robot arm. She had a regular girl arm for her first crawling, toddling years. But then there was a terrible accident involving her dad’s fancy car. It was a DeLorean, that futuristic automobile from the 80s, with its doors that electronically opened like metallic condor wings, preparing for flight. Evelyn liked to open and close the doors and sneak her hand in at the last second to get a piece of hard candy off of the floor mat. She did this only when her dad wasn’t looking, or else he would yell at her, “Evelyn Hampton, stop messin’ with the car doors! You’ll wear the battery out.” But she did not listen to her father and one day she was going for a record—ten times in a row snatching the candy. The doors opened after that 9th time and she placed the candy back down and took a deep breath. When the door came back down she had indeed completed her challenge. Ten times in a row. She had beaten the machine soundly and without breaking a sweat. She held up the candy and let out a victory yawp. Suddenly, a deranged child mangler came out of the bushes and hacked her arm clean off at the shoulder. Evelyn collapsed against the car as the axe-wielding maniac ran down the street, never to be seen again.

Evelyn spent several weeks in the hospital before being released. They fed her grapefruit and Wheat Thins and chicken strips but her arm would not grow back like the doctor said. On Christmas morning of that year, Evelyn awoke and found that she finally had a new arm, grown out of the space where her old one was. But this one was metallic and heavy and had four hands branching out of it. They seemed like angry hands, always poking and grasping and making fists. She felt controlled by this appendage, those cold hands and twitchy fingers. That is when her crime spree began.

It started with simple shoplifting and pick pocketing, but then one night she saw a late-night infomercial where a man in a lab coat said you could buy real human female arms for three easy payments of $12,000 each. This limited time offer included an emery board for your new fingernails and a free gold bracelet. Evelyn started robbing banks. She enjoyed this very much, each hand holding a gun at the patrons, guards, and tellers. She was known as the “Robot Girl Bandit.”

In 1999, the robot arm began to lose its aggressiveness. It started to write poems at night while Evelyn was asleep. It tried to hide the poems under the mattress but Evelyn found them soon enough. She felt every cell in her body humming with recognition as she read them. She sent them out to get published and were picked up immediately. The poems appeared in Robot Melon, Robot Guitar, Robot Housewife, Robot Chainsaw, and the Robot University Review of Literature.

On New Year’s Eve of 1999, the robot arm committed suicide. By that time, Evelyn had enough money to buy the real human female arm. When it arrived, she followed the instructions and had it working in no time. It is a fine arm, one that looks like it’s been alive and happy for a long time. It looks like the arm of a poet.

Papa's Coin Slot

(for Bryan Coffelt)

One time, maybe it was a couple of hours ago, Bryan Coffelt sat in his papa’s lap and pointed to a new tattoo that he had not noticed, one on the old man’s muscular right arm.

“What’s that, Travis?” he asked his papa.

“It’s a coin slot, son,” his pop said.

“And what happens if you put a coin in there?” the younger Coffelt pressed.

“Give it a try,” his pop said.

Bryan smirked skeptically and held up a penny. His dad laughed and said, “Not that. Copper will kill a geezer.”

Bryan pulled out a nickel.

“It costs more than that,” said Papa.

A sad, thin dime was pulled out.

“More,” said his dad sternly.

Bryan reached down and lifted his pant leg. He brought up a fifty-cent piece. He kept all his big coins in his sock, where the neighborhood bullies could not find them.

Papa smiled and closed his eyes.

The big coin went in easier than expected, with a slurping sound. Papa let out a sigh and then waited. A faint smell of manure drifted, wafted, fluttered, and then filled the room. A small stallion appeared on the old man’s arm. It squirmed a bit, like it was being born out of the man’s armpit. It slowly galloped and bucked around his arm, like an animated cartoon. It looked crazy.

Bryan felt his face stretching into a wide smile. He told his dad that he was going to start a new literary journal called Coin Slot Stallion and it would be based in Moscow, Idaho. He asked his dad if he could feed the stallion. Papa smiled and nodded toward a ziplock bag of hay. Bryan grabbed the bag and pulled some out. He was unsure about what to do with it.

“My mouth,” said Papa. “Put some in my mouth. When I eat the hay the stallion will go back into the coin slot.”

Bryan fed his pop and watched his face grimace and his throat gag several times. The stallion still danced around his arm, paying no attention to the coin slot. “Damn that beast!” Papa shouted as he clutched his arm, somehow trying to calm the animal.

Suddenly, a spit of blood came from the coin slot and a shrieking sound came out of nowhere. The coin slot pulsed now, as if it were trying to breathe around all the blood trickling out.

In just a matter of minutes, three tiny colts were born, no bigger than spiders. They were groggy and dazed and they slid down Papa’s arm until he held them, delicate and alive in his large hands. The bigger stallion, still in an animated state, watched serenely from Papa’s upper arm.

Bryan rushed out of the room to get a towel and some water for his dad. When he returned, the stallion was gone and his dad was pale and out of breath. The colts nuzzled quietly in his hands. Bryan leaned near his father’s face and asked him what to do.

“Write some poetry about them,” Papa said, “and read to them until they are grown up. Read to them like they’re your flesh and blood.”

Kevin Sampsell is the author of the memoir, A Common Pornography, and the story collection, Creamy Bullets. He works with books and introduces authors at events in Portland, Oregon. The stories here were originally written as introductions at a reading in the summer of 2010.