The Poet by Ariel Beller

Steven Falconer Roadside Fiction

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Photo by Steven Falconer

‘The Poet’ by Ariel Beller

When I was 15 I thought I wanted to be a writer.  I’d wanted to be an archaeologist, an architect, a soldier, a musician, in that order, before settling on the idea of being a writer.  I dropped out of school and for the next four years, didn’t do much writing.  When I was 19 my roommate moved out and I found myself, for the first time in my life, alone with a place of my own. 

So I started over.  I bought food.  I bought clothes.  I bought a typewriter and some paper.  And I became a poet.  I wrote in a notebook which went with me everywhere I went.  I was exploring this urge long put off.  There was nothing else to do.
This lasted about six months.  It began with two dishwashing jobs, ten hours a day.  Two months later I got a full time job as a line cook.  The job paid two dollars more and I had more time on my hands.  I copied my poems into a black velvet notebook, typed some of them out, and gave them a title.  The title was: The Intimidation of 89 Unresolved Issues.

The idea of publishing never entered my head.  Though once during this period an acceptance letter came through the mail, a reply to something I had sent long ago and forgotten.  Something had gotten noticed and the neighbour girl, Hanna, brought her mother down one night to read it.  They beamed and glowed and so did I for I was the poet.  Some time later, Hanna would come down with her friend Lucy to graffiti my coffee table (a door laid over two cardboard boxes) with pastel crayons.  This made me angry and they laughed all the more as I cursed them in my bathrobe.

I had a girlfriend named Diana who seemed to come over whenever.  She was 17, a junior in high school.  At some point she began shooting heroin.  She would come over acting all goofy with some friend of hers.  She’d pull the curtains.  Scratch her face.  Writhe.

My best friend lived upstairs.  I’d known Warren since I was 9.  And he lived up there with Hanna.  They were junkies at the time.  So one fine sunny afternoon I brought him down to inspect her.

‘She seems pretty high to me.’ he said.


About this time Diana’s mother gave me a call.  She said she knew I was harbouring a drug addicted minor, and would have me arrested if I didn’t cooperate.  I said fine, mother, what do you wanna do.  She said I know she goes to your place, and the next time she comes over I want you to call me.     

Diana came over with her friend that week.  But they didn’t stay long.  Within 15 minutes they’d fled giggling down the hallway out the basement door, into a narrow alley, and out onto the street.  Her parents and two policemen were in my place a few minutes later.  They were in the poet’s home.  And they weren’t very impressed with my table.  But we seemed to be on mutual terms.  It was agreed that the daughter had barely gotten away.  And I was a fully cooperative citizen, a poet even, with a good heart and everyone’s best etc in mind.  They caught her a week later.  And she went to rehab for about a month and came out clean as tap water.

The next time I saw her she told me she’d been shooting heroin and I told her I’d been fucking someone named Claire.  So I stopped fucking Claire and she stopped shooting heroin.  It was an even deal we came to loudly in a coffee shop oblivious to an audience of eight or nine other people.

People seemed to come over more often after that, various rather intense and weird coffee shop people.  And other downtown sorts: junkies, schizophrenics, trumpet players.


Mal started coming around with the coffee shop people and Mal was beautiful and a speed freak and a cokehead though she’d laid off recently and had gained 10 pounds or so.

She’d been staying with Jonathan Barr whose sister I’d been with briefly a couple years before.  Jon was drunk, and tired of Malory, and after verbally abusing her with his trumpet playing friend he decided to leave.  The trumpet playing friend decided to sleep on my floor, and Malory and I took my bed.  After a few minutes someone started knocking on the door.  I knew it was Jon coming back for Mal, and he’d probably missed his bus.  He must have knocked on my door for like, 10 minutes.  I saw his trumpet playing friend crawling on all fours.  His crawling seemed vulgar, worm like.

‘What are you doing?’ I said.

I sort of kicked him to one side and told him to be quiet and to not answer the door.  Jon stayed out there in the hallway, knocking occasionally.  I pictured him out there in that whitewashed cement basement hallway, his back against the wall, drunk, regretful.  Mal stayed with me that night, and for the next three weeks.

Mal was 17.  She’d been with over a hundred men so the rumour went.  Her eyes were of such a clear, cut-glass blue that they seemed to stand apart from her face.  Her complexion was soft and darkened with an ounce of Native American blood.  Her hair was shortly cropped and fluffy brown.

And Jon was tired of her, so I adopted Mal.  She was broke and homeless and beautiful.  I was one of many men who have, and would be, charitable to Mal.


After the first week her panic attacks stopped.  She would hyperventilate and sob with a look of vulnerable terror on her face.

‘What are you afraid of.’ I asked.

And she would sort of hiss the word, ‘Everything.’

And I would hold her for awhile.  A year later Jon would tell me that these attacks happened with such frequency that he didn’t know what to do with her anymore.

But Mal seemed to thrive while living with me.  She talked about getting into modelling again, she’d stopped doing drugs, (she couldn’t afford them) and she smiled a lot.  She may have been in love.  At least I think I made her feel safe.  We spent a lot of time drinking cheap beer and having sex.  I asked her one night if she’d shave her pussy for me, you know, just the lips, for something different.  When I came home from work the following evening she was there on the couch, squirming.

‘I did it.’ she said.

‘Did what?’

‘I shaved it.’

‘Really?  Let me see.’

‘No.  It feels weird.’

‘Come on.’


I kicked off my shoes and tore my pants off.  I pulled her grey sweat pants off.  Tore off her shirt and straddled her.

‘Where’s the patch?’ I said.

‘Patch?  You didn’t say anything about a patch.  I feel like a fucking nine year old.’

‘You don’t look like one.’


Diana hadn’t been coming around.  Later I learned she’d been put under house arrest.  I hadn’t seen her for a month and wouldn’t see her for another two, so it was nice to have Mal around.  But she simply never left the house.  She often talked about money that was due to her from an old modelling gig.  I came home from work every night and she was there, she’d been there all day, and I have no idea what she did, but she gave the impression of having done nothing at all.  There was nothing wrong with that.  But I wasn’t writing, and I felt that I should be, and I’d gotten rather used to living alone, and controlling, to an extent, the people who hung around my place, at least in the daytime.   

I came home from work one evening and she told me she was going to stay with her mother for a couple days to sort out some business.  She’d written me something.  I had a real coffee table now and she told me it was in the cabinet, to read it after she left.

It was a story about her in the third person.  The girl in the story had fallen in love.  But who knows what the guy felt.  I’d showed her things I’d written so she was using this creative approach.  The whole thing seemed a little childish and I wanted to be rid of her more than ever.

When she returned a couple days later I told her.  I told her I needed my space and she could go and stay with my friends Blaine and Danny for a while, they were just up the street.  I’d called Blaine the day before and asked if he wouldn’t mind doing me a favour: take this girl off my hands.  He said sure, a couple days was no big deal.

I enjoyed a week of solitude.  I read and typed out poems from my notebook.  And one night after work I stopped by to see how they were doing.  Mal was running around the place with this air of guilt about her.  Danny was there with us but Blaine was at work.  It was pretty clear she’d made herself at home.  And I found out a couple weeks later she was fucking Blaine.  I went home that night and never saw her again.

A few weeks later I had Diana back, and she thought it was pretty funny that I’d been fucking Mal.  She almost seemed pleased that I’d been fucking someone she knew to pass the time.  We lasted another 6 months or so, until I met a girl from Minnesota.  And I broke up with her one night, and she went pale and collapsed to the floor.  I tried to hold her but she pushed me away and ran out the door.


Two years and two girlfriends later I saw her on the street.  The sight of her made me nervous but she was all smiles.  I happened to have my girlfriend’s car with me and I drove her to her place and we talked like old friends.  While we were driving I reached into the back seat and gave her this wooden statue I’d found.  It had an inscription that read, Cada loco con su tema.  We went up to her apartment where her roommates were just waking up.  The place was littered with empty beer bottles and I played with the giant beach ball in front of me.  She seemed happy, and she gave me her number, but I never saw her again either.


Did you like the story? Opinions? Praise? Please leave a comment below

Hampstead Heath


Ariel David Beller was born in Portland, Oregon in 1976.  He moved to London in 2001.  Previous work has appeared in Exquisite Corpse, YAWP!, Hangman, Tears in the Fence, The Wolf, etc.  He received the Michael Donaghy Memorial Prize in 2006.


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9 Responses to The Poet by Ariel Beller

  1. Lola

    A strong voice and vision in this piece.

    The image chosen to accompany it, on the other hand, belongs elsewhere.

    • Roadside

      I thought the image evoked visions of what the female characters might have looked like. You can thank the photographer for the image – he also is responsible for the cover image which I think is superb.

      • Lola

        I agree with you about the cover image, as it happens, but that is not the point. I am not dissing or thanking anyone for that or anything else. You can thank him for it, and I presume you have, since you are the one who chose to use it.

        Since this is not a children’s story or a Harlequin Novel, I do not actually expect to have the characters illustrated for me. I think the writer did a fine job himself.

        The softly romantic nature of this image is not at all in keeping with the tone of the piece. It’s, in fact, distracting and suggests a simplistic reading of the story.

  2. oleg

    I liked it very much. Actually its a bit like one of my stories. Here is a link

  3. enri

    Fun is like good script for a film

  4. I didn’t get much sense of growth or development of any of the characters. I wasn’t totally sure why the story was written. I didn’t get the punch that I often get at the end of a story that makes me think about the characters or plot line in the days after reading it. I enjoyed the read but I dont think that it will stay with me.

    • Roadside

      Thanks for your thoughts, Orla. I know that often there is a twist or moment of realisation in much of what we read but I feel that Ariel presents this as is and that maybe we can accept it without looking for a moral or understanding that we are almost preconditioned to expect.

  5. garreth keating

    Enjoyed the story, don-t really see that it needs to have a point as it involves lots of young people taking drugs, which in retrospect, as in the end of the story, often is viewed as a pointless activity.

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