Dust Bunny City (Disorder Press, 2017)—a book of words by Bud Smith and drawings by his partner, Rae Buleri—reads like a drunk conversation with a compelling, familiar-feeling storytelling stranger. This book is the kind of wandering-eyed stranger who beckons or mumbles hello, but doesn’t speak to you directly or force you to stay. This book is the kind of stranger whose voice is magnetizing, yet weirdly ethereal, and utterly impossible to describe in the sober light beyond the bar. Above all, this book revels in evoking the indescribable, making mysteriously palpable those moments for which you had to be there. “People miss what they miss,” Smith declares with a shrugging profundity in “83rd Street,” suggesting both layers of miss: oblivion and longing. “And they do it on loop their whole lives,” he writes, “My wife and I kick our feet. We are happily oblivious, too.”
The book itself is divided into two layers: “Tic Tac Toe”—which relates some of Smith’s oddly enlightening drunken exploits with Buleri—and “Orange Peel”—wherein Buleri embarks on a business trip to Asia and Smith chronicles a period of three weeks without her. “Tic Tac Toe” gives us a peculiar panorama of Smith's and Buleri’s lives in their city (with location-based titles like “75th Street”, “78th Street”, and “94th Street”), a panorama that is equal parts gritty and gauzy, its edges softened in a gleeful beer-soaked glaze. Smith tells us about the time he and Buleri won $8.50 in a horse race at a bar that serves free candy. He tells us about the street-side restaurant with slanted sidewalks and checkered tablecloths where he and Buleri split cheeseburgers, where a woman once sat and played a game of Tic Tac Toe by herself. He tells us about an elderly couple—“eighty-two/both of them/I can/always tell/when someone/is eighty-two years/old”—as his drunk-glazed ethereal gaze looks on, watching them, “walking/straight/through/rushing/traffic.” The love between him and Buleri rises up from these lines without needing to be stated, like the fog of a summer’s rain on steaming asphalt.
The second half of the book explores the shifting emotional counters of Smith’s existence in Buleri’s absence, the unsettling sensations he notices anew, and the various things he misses. In “Get So Alone, So Easy”, Smith tells us about his “open-faced aviation style” fan with a “rinky dink wire cage,” how during August nights when the temperature rises and falls, she usually gets up to turn the fan off. Without Buleri, however:
The other night, I got drunk and put the fan on. Around two a.m., I must have gotten up and turned the fan off. I knew this the next morning because the fan was off and my hand was bloody. Skin on my ring finger pulled off at the knuckle.
In the tellingly titled “Day Before,” Smith drunkenly wanders into a greeting card store and asks if he can buy a big Welcome Home sign, only to be told, “No one sells them any more.”
so of course, I went back to the apartment
and painted WELCOME HOME! on the living room wall
which looked great until the next morning
when I was sober and noticed
that I’d spelled WELCOME wrong
and HOME too
And of course, the other layer of miss resonates, on repeat, like the whirring of a desperate fan:
I kiss your picture…I turn your hot iron on sometimes/just to keep the circuits going…and it’s not true love/unless you’re/foaming at the mouth.
I read this book in the midst of an out-of-state summer teaching gig that forced me to live apart from my husband for six weeks. I read the whole book in the first week, then read it again in week three. During those weeks of missing things, of squinting strangely at the world around me, these poems and drawings helped soothe my loneliness. And then, in week six when my husband and I reunited, Dust Bunny City was the perfect book from which to read aloud:
on the night stand
the fan whirs
my wife stirs
shuts it off
under the sheet
Meghan Lamb is the recipient of an MFA in Fiction from Washington University and the 2018 Philip Roth Residence in Creative Writing. She is the author of the novel Silk Flowers (Birds of Lace, 2017), the poetry chapbook Letter to Theresa (dancing girl press, 2016), and the novella Sacramento (Solar Luxuriance, 2014). Her work has been featured in DIAGRAM, Passages North, Redivider, The Collagist, Nat. Brut, Black Sun Lit, and elsewhere.