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The Bugging Watch & Other Exhibits

The Bugging Watch & Other Exhibits is under a porch, is between the fridge and the cupboard, is hiding among the coats and sweaters in the tilted closet above the basement stairs. Its shapeshifting and heartbreak is nightmarishly microscopic and horrifically asymptotical.

The Bugging Watch & Other Exhibits is under a porch, is between the fridge and the cupboard, is hiding among the coats and sweaters in the tilted closet above the basement stairs. Its shapeshifting and heartbreak is nightmarishly microscopic and horrifically asymptotical.

The series magnifies the lives of Harlan and Toland, a pair of raggedly mismatched lovers, presented through the observational “exhibits” and primary-sourced excerpts from their first-person datebooks. Their story is a commonplace arc: simpleton boy loves complex girl, without condition or apology, and their love is finally made concrete by her death (variations of the theme: Forrest Gump, Paul Simon’s “Lorraine,” Madam Bovary).

Harlan’s autistic world is centered on a reactionary hoarding of skills and tiny limbs and creatures, second only to Toland, whom Harlan holds on a high pedestal in the absolute gravitational center of his perception and care. Toland notes in her datebook,

I am the heroine, and from the time he sees me, Harlan sees nothing else. Many would, they say, but Harlan has “problems.” He finds a poof of curtain on an old rod, and he sees me. He runs to catch the bus, and the sidewalk is a rugged cliff falling into a flickering sea that is me.

Harlan’s attempts to save and maintain the “convalescing” Toland are excruciatingly scrambling and futile: “And in all the mason jars in the world set Harlan to cure his broken Toland, and lined up with labels the things Toland touched. But Toland touched everything, and all the mason jars were not enough.” Kim Gek Lin Short establishes the slow drift of realization as footnotes slowly outweigh and overtake the entries of Harlan’s datebook, titled “The Bugging Watch.”

Short’s prose poems have the exactitude of obsessive compulsion, yet the imagery and dimness of an opiate trip sponsored by Lewis Caroll – “And the tiny book became the word for rainbow and spilled into Harlan’s many gloved hands.” She frequently stretches the parameters of grammar, rearranging conventional syntax to just off kilter; her written style as surreal as her yarn-and-insect imagery. The result is a terrifying, ungraspable split-level love story: futile, sad and beautiful. 

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