All Posts in Issue 1: Fall 2014
The Telephone Pole
Am I reaching.
Is this call connecting.
Are you free right now.
Am I reaching out.
Would you like to go sometime out.
Do you like poles for telephones.
Am I reaching sometime out.
Would you like for me to wear a red dress.
Would you like to play a game of battleship.
Sometime would you like to get Italian.
Is your battleship located at coordinate A-28.
Are your wires long.
At what time will I receive your battleship.
Are your wires long and hard.
Do also you like often to touch a tree.
And do also you watch at night.
Do also you watch the corn and the wind.
Do your wires trail off into the corn.
Into the night do they trail off.
Are you there.
Are you there into the night trailing off.
Do you also feel then that something real is this.
Have never you loved anyone like me.
Did I hit your battleship.
Do you dream like I dream.
Are your wires long and hard.
Did I hit your battleship.
And do you know the way to home.
Could I ever sing one song
that doesn’t sound like sinking.
6am on the hill
God at the top of His
blessed new day hops
up on His dawn
mower and prunes
the clouds to make
way for sun My god
I say, marveling He
chuckles obligingly She
passes me the lighter It
gets hot as the rain
begins to fall like a grass
wind or an itchy salt
bath of follicles I don’t know
the right way to praise
this world High on the hill
I shout Sorry
God I knew a
Observations on Emily Dickinson
1. Emily Dickinson was obsessed with the brain. In her work it represents the curious intersection of body and the ethereal Self. The brain is both organ and the synthesizer of identity. Dickinson creates and explores entire worlds within the scope of this organ – for example, in #280 she describes a funeral in her brain, and the bustle of mourning rituals. Entire processions take place; there are crowds and even the unfolding of plots. The paradox of the brain is its dual nature as both physical (the organ) and intangible (the faculty of thought). This paradox becomes something discomforting due to Dickinson’s reductionism: a person is boiled down to the various parts of Heart, Body, Brain. This discomfort stems not so much from the grisly anatomical connotations, but for its insinuation that the vehicles of our humanity are finite. The Heart will stop, the Mind will deteriorate, and the Body rot – and our personhood, so couched in these specific organs, follows suit. Even our individuality will decompose, and this is a kind of death more complete than we are comfortable imagining. The death of the body is the death of the self.
2. “I mostly write about disgusting, violent things. I’m really liking it.”
“Are you in that class on Emily Dickinson?”
3. Dickinson’s use of the dash is a precursor to modern free verse. It carries the movement on even after the verse has finished, a travelling or unraveling of thoughts that acts as a natural, stream-of-consciousness bridge from one isolated line to the next. Nothing is ever finished with a dash. It is dissipated or transformed. The dash allows a thought to exist beyond the words written on the paper as an indication of the magnitude of thought that exists behind the poem. It is the vector for a thought to return to the psychological landscape from which it first emerged.
4. It amazes me she even allowed visitors near her… ecstasy is such a precious thing to inhabit in the presence of the distractions that live downstairs. I would not want to have known her, only sat on her porch and known that genius was having its way upstairs, and I could drink my tea, alone, down here, and never see her face, but know her by the sound of creaking floorboards, a rustle of quiet cotton, maybe by watching the birds on the lawn. And my unstable and lonely, all that could live up in the attic with her, too. Great writers are like that – they carry the craft for the rest of us, the mediocre, who are happy just to sit downstairs on the porch
Applebee's Falls Apart
The Pancake Palace used to rule over a weedy quarter-acre lot on highway 16, past the Midwest’s Largest Shoe Store but before the Citgo that Mrs. Hodgkin’s son held up last April after Amanda Shepherd cheated on him. Now it is an Applebee’s. The new owners are an old couple from out of town that no one knows. They put up the neon APPLEBEE’S sign, but couldn’t afford the neon apple to match, so instead they painted over what used to be a neon pancake and glued on some green fourth-of-July glow sticks for the stem. It doesn’t look awful.
In the back booth closest to the kitchen, Kitty and her daughter Dora sit and pick at the layers of a bloomin’ onion. When it was still The Pancake Palace, they would come every week for free-bacon-Wednesday. Now, suddenly without this ritual, they are making due.
“Mom, why is it eight dollars for an onion here when at the grocery store they’re 98 cents? And why are there old black and white pictures of Applebees’s that aren’t this one on the wall? And why did they put us in the worst spot when there are so many open tables? And why—“
“Honey,” Kitty says, lifting her head ever so slightly from the bendy straw sticking out of an electric blue fishbowl-sized margarita. “Drink your milkshake.”
Dora does so gladly, in the same moment noticing the trail of little red lipstick smudges on everything her mother’s funny thin lips have touched: they wind down her straw, sweep faintly across the edge of the large glass, and can just be detected on the palm of her hand from when she brings it up cough her cigarette flem into. The same thought must have also occurred to Kitty, because she takes the opportunity to smear on more Riche Red.
“Can I get you gals anything else?” the 20-something waiter asks, seeming to pop out of nowhere. He asks the question the same way a Ken doll would, despite his greasy black hair and savage neck acne. “Refills? Another onion to munch on? Some desert maybe?” He winks at Dora.
“I’d love one more of these,” Kitty says with too wide a freshly-painted smile. The drink has dyed the inside of her mouth blue. “Dora, you want one more?”
“Then just the Fruit Punch Sunset Beach Tea for me, dear.” Bland Ken nods and smiles back as if Kitty is Barbie and winks at her this time. Dora wonders if his eyes work okay.
“I have to go to the bathroom,” Dora says, scooting desperately out of the red leather seat. Her mom mumbles something like “okay honey,” and keeps her eyes locked on lackluster Ken as they small-talk about the recent snowfall and what the new owners have done with the place (not enough) and if greasy Ken is legal.
* * * * * * *
“Jeremy, stahhhhp,” Kitty is laughing too loudly when Dora returns. Her mother’s blonde-streaked bob just barely reaches to her shoulders and the true gray roots are almost visible, but not quite. Dull Ken, apparently Jeremy, is sitting on Dora’s side of the booth, staring into her mother’s copper-colored eyes. He takes a sip of his own fishbowl now resting on the table.
“Do you guys want some more unlimited breadsticks?” he asks, blinking crazily. Kitty laughs like she’s forgotten what words are.
“Huh?” Dora asks, now standing at the end of the table. “That’s not an Applebee’s thing; that’s a different restaurant. I’ve seen the commercials.” Jeremy shakes his head flippantly and stands to get up. Kitty shoots her daughter a nasty sort of glance.
“What?” says Dora, powerless. “Olive Garden has unlimited breadsticks, not here. And why do his eyes keep twitching like that? And why was he siting with you and drinking while he’s working? None of it makes sense.”
“Honey,” Kitty says with all the weight in the world. “Do you really think the world makes any sense?”
This is a bit much for even smarter-than-average Dora to handle at thirteen. Not sure of what to do, she takes her place back in the booth and returns to her milkshake, slurping it up in big, fast gulps. At the bottom the rainbow sprinkles swirl and begin to loose their colors, waiting to be sucked away one by one.
* * * * * * *
Soon enough Jeremy is back, his eyes now unable to remain open for hardly any time at all, carrying another onion bloomin’ in the middle of a basket of Olive Garden breadsticks. He has also brought back two more blue bowls of alcohol. After setting it all down on their table, he sits down next to Dora and rejoins them. He smells to her like sweat and something that has been left in the refrigerator for way too long.
“You hadn’t for blue them said isn’t no yet?” he says with a completely straight face. Kitty throws her head back to laugh, but Dora just stares at him, confused.
“What?” she asks. How many fishbowls has he had?
“For you no hadn’t yet blue them said isn’t,” he says more slowly through cheery, yellowing teeth. Dora looks at her mom.
“I don’t get it. What’s going on?” She asks, but the others only go on spewing gibberish. Kitty’s laughs are growing louder and more theatrical and Jeremy’s eyes now seem to be glued shut to his stupid smile.
Just then, one of the framed photos of an old Applebee’s falls to the ground and shatters somewhere close behind their table. Dora gasps, but no one else in the whole restaurant seems to notice it. Another photo across the room falls, and more glass flies. She looks around for verification, but no one has even looked up.
“Mom, didn’t you hear that?” she asks Kitty. But her question is met by the most exaggerated laugh yet, her mother throwing her head back so far that Dora worries it might fall off.
“Breadsticks Unlimited Breadsticks Unlimited!” Jeremy screams. Dora hasn’t even noticed that he has left, but here he is again, the very picture of insanity. He lays eight more baskets of Olive Garden breadsticks on the table. Another picture falls.
He sits down next to cackling Kitty this time and begins to touch her face softly. “You,” he coos, feeding her breadstick after breadstick. “You.” Smash goes more glass.
Then, the music starts. At first it seems to flow out of nowhere, but Dora soon realizes that it’s coming out of every crevice in the brick walls, an inexplicable swelling of a heartbreaking string symphony. But, once more, only Dora seems to be aware of it.
“What’s going on?!” she asks no one this time. “It doesn’t make sense!” Kitty and Jeremy ware kissing now, a revolting mess of blue tongues and low chuckles.
Dora throws her hands up, looking around the room for help but finding none. An elderly couple two booths over is going at some Chicken McNuggets with painful urgency. A group of pierced teenagers is building precarious towers of condiment bottles. A father and his twin sons, all three with flushed red hair, are piling ice cream into their mouths and crying. The music grows louder with every second that passes.
“Craaaaaack,” goes the wall next to her, a gigantic fissure opening up. Not one person flinches at this loud destruction either. Pieces of the brick crumble into what’s left of Dora’s milkshake. Kitty and Jeremy are now in the process of taking off each other’s clothes. Overhead, the hanging lights flicker, faintly swaying back and fourth.
“Stop!” Dora shrieks, unable to think of anything else to say. It feels as if the back pockets of her jeans are glued to the seat, forcing her to stay and watch the world fall apart.
Out of the corner of her eye she sees the old couple finally turn to look at her. However, there is no real comfort in their faces. Finished with their meal, the pair looks utterly lost. Peering closer, Dora sees that the old man has a tiny crack running down the left side of his face. It streams in and out of his forehead wrinkles, through a gray eyebrow and gently down the cheek. The woman too, she notices, has a similar type of slit traveling across her thick freckled arm. Dora searches the room and to her alarm finds that everyone is slowly fracturing this way. There is no blood, she observes; behind these growing openings is only darkness. No one shows even the slightest indication of pain.
At this point the music makes any more pleas useless. Maybe Dora should run out of the restaurant, or shake the others to try and make them see, or call somebody good or 911. But the tragic music and tragic people and the senselessness of it all, together with the crowd’s mutual apathy, make any course of action seem ultimately futile—so she stays sitting.
Above her the ceiling suddenly opens up and giant pewter tiles begin to come crashing down. Dora dives out of the booth onto the floor just in time as one threatens to flatten her. Lying on her stomach, the smell of syrup wafts up from the red carpeting. Kitty and Jeremy are now copulating underneath the table. Violins take over the melody.
Turning over as to not witness the potential conception of her newest sibling, Dora gazes up through the large gap in the ceiling. It is night, and by some absurd grace stars are visible even against the hanging fluorescents that remain. For one moment, looking into the handful of faraway light and listening to bows drift softly across strings, she thinks maybe a person can accept the chaos if it were always this beautiful as it is in that second.
Then she feels a crack. Looking down, she finds it is in her right hand, beginning at the pinky, twisting across the palm, ending in a sliver below the thumb. She does not cry out; it doesn’t hurt. Actually, the fracture feels warm, and somehow, she thinks, like coming home after a long trip away.
The walls have split deeply enough so that the entire building begins to shake, the whole place threatening to give way. Music still sails through the air, mixing with the smell of smoke coming from the kitchen and the icy January breeze. Kitty and Jeremy have finished, and are holding each other tightly as they too began to crack. Dora sees the redhead twins sheltering themselves under the bar, holding hands.
The sight of the twins make her think of being that small, even though she still doesn’t feel so big. Birthday parties and ice-skating and freshly made peanut butter cookies float across her memory, mixing together in a pretty, pleasant way. She feels the crack in her hand crawl further up her arm, and another start at the base of her neck. She closes her eyes and makes herself see more good things: John Deere, their dirty beagle, welcoming her home after school like he had missed her more than anything. Winnie-the-Pooh wallpaper that lined her first bedroom. Her mother before one of her dates, standing in front of a mirror in a red dress from Goodwill, looking like she walked straight out of a magazine. Another crack lunges across her stomach.
Just then Dora feels someone touch the hand that is still whole. She opens her eyes to see Kitty lying next to her, a crooked opening running down the center of her face, Riche Red clinging to the edges.
“I—“ Dora begins in a shaky voice, but Kitty cuts her off.
“Shhhhh,” she whispers kindly, kissing her on the nose. Dora imagines the faint red print her broken lips have left there. Though Kitty is silent, the look in her eyes says, “I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry.”
Examining the crack in her mother from up close, Dora can see that beyond it, where the spongy insides of a person should be, there is nothing. If anything, from this near it is possible to detect in the blackness a faint collection of tiny, distant lights.
You would think that at a funeral home, the primo place for people to contemplate their own mortality, that a part of that thought process would include taking into consideration the finite amount of meals left in a person’s life, and that whoever is running this thing from behind one of the many closed doors who doesn’t suddenly have one less family member could spread some fucking mayonnaise on the dozen subpar finger sandwiches. The food here is shit.
The onslaught of casseroles has begun before we’ve even put Owen in the ground. We’re a casserole family now, isn’t that something? One day you’re sitting at your desk at work, or letting your legs dangle off the kitchen counter, or driving to the bookstore thinking, “Hey, you know what I haven’t had for a long time? Green bean casserole. I could really go for some of that. Wow, that sounds really good right now.” Then the next day your brother is dead and the overwhelming urge flows over you to smash half of the glass casserole-cradling dishes and sprinkle the broken shards into the other casseroles and see how comforted that makes everybody feel. But you don’t do that. I won’t do that.
At what point are you supposed to give the casserole dishes back? Nice glassware like that people just don’t give away, even at times like this. What’s the statute of limitations on post-mortem Pyrex returns? Is it more socially acceptable to redeliver the scrubbed-clean dishware before all warmth has left the corpse, or only after you forget the way his face lit up when he found his birthday presents hidden in the dryer last summer?
Ugh, and the deviled eggs. They smell like rotting—like my brother is rotting in the box one room over. Maybe some sadistic employee of the funeral home is doing this on purpose. At least my brother is not splattered with little paprika-colored beads of blood, because there was no blood. There was only water. There was only so much water.
Everyone is sipping coffee out of cups that don’t even keep your fingers from being burned, because that’s the thing you do at a funeral, that’s what you do with your hands instead of pinching yourself to make little bruises as a distraction from watching all the people do default things. Why do they all want to be more awake? Maybe they are trying to wake up. I don’t think the coffee pots are big enough for that.
The desserts, though: on point. No one risked bringing a celebratory-associated cake, so kudos to you friends and neighbors. Can you imagine the sickening frosting-scribbled sayings, anyway? “Greatest Condolences.” “We Miss You Already.” “What A Shame The Lifeguard Had To Use The Bathroom Right Then.” “Bit Of Bad Luck, Really.” “It’s No One’s Fault.” “The Sister Probably Should Have Been Paying Attention But We Can’t Blame Her, Of Course.” “These Things Happen.”
An image of a sheet cake with glaringly white vanilla frosting comes to mind, across it, in a 5 A.M.-hung-over-at-the-bakery-daze, some high school student has half-heartedly written:
I clutch my knees in crowded rooms.
I sleep through the days like they aren't there.
I can't dream of anything in the din, the crash of bodies
in this Cape Cod colonial. An early moon lies
on my neck like a wet compress. I lap up the pond
of porter on the counter-top. I spy droplets
on my lover's thighs. Outside, men fry. Their sockets
bulge. They stare into the sun. They breach my gaze.
I glaze over. A baritone slinks out of the wreck.
I bare it all to a man clutching a cold Black Shack
& I sink back into what is on draught. His shouts shrink
to whispers in the clatter of the room. What burnt man,
in denim, doesn't dream of the body of a boy
on the brink? His eyes sizzle on the shore. I see him
crush & curl on the cobbled streets of the only place
that will let him live. I see the men I've loved as years
that will never happen. I hold them up
like they will make the universe.
Agency versus Fidelity in the Act of Translation
I recall to my mind some words of John Felstiner from his essay "'Ziv, That Light:' Translation and Tradition in Paul Celan." In his essay, Felstiner expounds upon his experience of translating a poem of Celan's, "Nah, im Aortenbogen":
CLOSE, IN THE AORTIC ARCH,
in the bright blood:
the bright word.
weeps no more.
all that was wept.
Quiet, in the coronary arteries,
Ziv, that light. (98)
Felstiner uses the word "quiet" in place of the word "still" in German. He discusses his process for choosing the word: "I need a word meaning motionless as well as soundless. 'Quiet'? yes, that would do. But the symmetry between Nah and Still requires an adjective of one syllable. 'Calm'? 'Hushed'?" He then asks "why not 'still' itself? The adjective fits beautifully, and also we can hear the adverb 'still'... Keats's Grecian Urn, Eliot's music in Four Quartets offer rich precedents for a grammatical ambiguity I think Celan's poem also presents us with. Yet still in German has no sense of something prolonged, enduring..." and then Felstiner asks something which, when I came across it, resonated within me: "ought I to add that idea?" (107) How much agency does the translator possess in their act of translation? How much are they permitted to presume for themselves? How much of my own voice can I explore while still achieving fidelity?
In Why Translation Matters, Edith Grossman quotes Octavio Paz: "When we learn to speak, we are learning to translate." (75) If we are in accordance we must acknowledge that our every attempt to speak, to write, to learn is an attempt to construct the vocabularies for our inner-lives, to build identities and relate ourselves to the world in which we reside. So what happens when we try to translate the work of another? If one cannot be faithful in the act of translating their own inner life, how will another's language be treated faithfully? Will it not be an inevitable bastardization of the writer's original text? The act of preserving another's intention runs the risk of becoming too "seamless," (a harsh word for a translator according to Edith Grossman) of falling into the shadows and not allowing one's own voice to thrive in the work. On the other hand, a translator insisting upon his or her own voice may become overbearing and we suffer the loss of the original author in the piece. How does one walk that line?
These questions make me think of the first time I well and truly considered the power of translation, of the multifaceted complexity of carrying over the words of another. It came when I read East of Eden, in the form of the Hebrew word Timshel, originating from the story of Cain and Abel. The character Lee speaks of the word and its different translations. He explains that in the King James Bible the word Timshel is translated into "thou shalt rule over sin." In this version, the word is a promise from Jehovah to Cain, an advocacy for predestination. In the American Standard, the phrase becomes "do thou rule over it," and here it is a command from Jehovah to Cain to overcome his base temptation. Lee expresses confusion in the differences between these two translations and then speaks of his experience with studying Hebrew, in an attempt to better understand the original Hebrew text. His studies lead him to discover what he believes to be the closest interpretation of the word Timshel: thou mayest. Placed into context, the phrase would then become "thou mayest rule over sin." This becomes significant for Lee, as he surmises that it must inherently imply "thou mayest not." In his own words: "'Thou Mayest'! Why, that makes a man great, that gives him stature with the gods, for in his weakness and his filth and his murder of his brother he has still the great choice." (Steinbeck 301)
In the context of the novel, this dialogue is instrumental in assisting the character Adam Trask in finding a newfound purpose in his life, saving him from his own self-destruction. It assures him that no matter how deep the roots of his sin lie, there still remains the chance of redemption, and what's more to the choice to choose that path for himself, the path which has been obscured for so long.
I turned the word over, seeking to understand it not just for the meaning but for its structure. Timshel. There is force in that first syllable, Tim. The English translation captures that force as well as its antiquity, "thou," and with that antiquity comes authority. The auditory force in Tim is found in "thou" as well. It engages the lower register of the voice and insists that one take their time before allowing it to fully leave the mouth and enter into the world. The second part, shel, moves softly, and expands upon its utterance. It spreads into the air and fills the space, and also contains that feeling of necessary prolonging. To my ears it is appropriate that the word should translate to "mayest." "Mayest" holds breadth. "Thou shalt," and "do thou" are too linear, too directed. One phrase predicts the way which will be taken while the other commands the journey. "Mayest" allows for freedom. Together, "Thou mayest" is endowed with a mixture of authority and benevolence, appropriate for the gift that it offers: choice.
The choice is the greatest gift afforded to us: "Thou mayest," and "thou mayest not." It gives humanity an agency that surpasses all beings. Timshel gives us the option to accept what happens to us and let that become the central meaning of our existence. Yet we have the agency to refuse this and instead subscribe to one of our own making. In a sense, this is the supreme gift given to the translator as well. The translator is the humble passageway of thought through language. We strive to explain the internal life and in working to translate another's work we may dilute our own for the sake of achieving that lofty ambition of fidelity to the original author. Yet, to read, to comprehend, to translate is to build; the greatest gift given to the translator is the freedom to construct their truth by experiencing fully the truth of another. One has to adapt to the work, destroy it, love it for its strengths and weaknesses, and learn it as intimately as possible in order to give it its full due; it is the closest reading one can give. We are gifted a choice as to how to approach the work, with the most desirable result being a perfect melding of the language of the original writer along with the identity of the one translating. Of course, nothing is perfect, no matter how hard one tries. Yet, in that futile aspiration one will find beauty being created.
Edith Grossman cites a quote from Spanish philosopher José Ortega y Gassett: "Human tasks are unrealizable. The destiny of Man--his privilege and honor--is never to achieve what he proposes, and to remain merely an intention, a living utopia. He is always marching toward failure, and even before entering the fray he carries a wound in his temple." (67) That fidelity may be unreachable, but it is honest and true and demonstrative of the thorough effort of the translator. When I approach my own work, striving to achieve clarity, and to sift through the pieces of my inner world, I hope to find what may well be my own truth. It could possibly never happen, but I will move closer each time I do so. When I approach my translations, I hope to come close to give that writer the fairest treatment I can. And if I am ever in doubt, I will remember what Adam Trask said to his son Caleb in the final passage of East of Eden. Caleb Trask kneels at his father's bedridden form and asks him for forgiveness. Adam places his hand upon Caleb's head and says but one thing: Timshel! (Steinbeck 601)
 Nah is the first word of the poem, "Nah, im Aortenbogen." Felstiner switches it with "Close."
Felstiner, John. Ziv, That Light: Translation and Tradition in Paul Celan. The Craft of Translation. Ed. by
John Biguenet and Rainer Schulte. Chicago. University of Chicago Press, 1989.
Grossman, Edith. Why Translation Matters. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2010.
Steinbeck, John. East of Eden. New York: Penguin Books, 2002.
With Our Special Guest, Steve Buscemi
Steve Buscemi is in rare spirits today
Steve Buscemi is a Brooklyn boy
With taffy eyes and dumpling skin today
I am in an aromatherapy shop
With Steve Buscemi today
And we have been drifting and
We are so cultured
We are brown bag cartographers
Consumerist ethnographers today
Steve Buscemi, we are standing in the
Essential oil section, I say
And you are dripping eucalyptus into your
Worldly ears, you’re a prophet, Steve Buscemi
I have your face in a heart locket, Steve Buscemi
Please: can you tell me how to heal, I say
If I wrap myself under your collar
Can you remind me
How to resign myself to infinity, Steve Buscemi
Steve Buscemi is closing off
Steve Buscemi is inching away, he is in aromatic
Panic, he is glistening
With ochre glaze and closed-captioning
Phrase, and he feels betrayed,
He’ll buy me anything I want, he supplicates,
He found otter milk soap, it smells like snow
Please, he’ll fill my arms with things that smell like home
He’ll wreath my neck with rocks to keep me safe, says Steve Buscemi
But I want to know, Steve Buscemi
Do you know the scent of God, Steve Buscemi
Are you gripped with the absurd
Are you wrapped in vines, do you ache
With your duty to mankind, we
Are slipping, we are bruising something
Hidden, can you share your philosophy
Can you rip out my mentality
Please stop crying, please stop screaming, Steve Buscemi
Steve Buscemi is losing his shit in the incense
Section, his teeth are stripped and streaming
You’re crazy, he tells me, is this a fucking
Joke to you, you’ve felled me
His hands are jittering into time holes
Steve Buscemi has lost track of himself, Steve
Buscemi is knocking everything off the shelves
He’s started an electrical fire, he’s burning sage
Steve Buscemi and I are set ablaze
In the aromatherapy shop today
He’s completely snapped and it’s my fault, I’m afraid
And I hear him howling but I’m uplifted and I have
Shifted, my mouth is full of jasmine smoke
We will be relics of an open day
Steve Buscemi I know you’re hurting
I can hear your flesh crackling but Steve Buscemi
Our ash smells so good.
Something That Makes Me Different Is That I Love Being Miserable
Fun Fact: You tried to get me wet for thirty
months – i was too busy
not eating to notice. Did you know –
this page was once a humming tree?
A scraggy tree is full of bugs.
It fills up with flames and begins to buzz.
Did you know the buzzing is the sound of the juicy wet
bugs dying? Fun fact: they die easy, but there are always
more. O sweet something sing. Something that makes me
different is that I have never been full.
You tell your friends after that my clit is like a cracked
seed in some Sahara.
They laugh and I agree this is amusing because a fun fact
about me is that I only drink water. I get so thirsty
that eventually, I have to go to the hospital, where they wrap me up
in paper and tell me my electrolytes are off. We are pressed
between the sheets. My electrolytes are off, I whisper.
I’m hard, you say – your finger flicks inside me
like a moth smacking itself to death
against a sconce. Fun fact:
first, a flower is invisible.
Then, it turns pink and begins to buzz.
Once I pressed a leaf between the pages
of my Norton Anthology – it turned thin
and veiny like a cock or anorexic.
Around the leaf, a puddle spreads out,
blurring the words of the dead
white men I love.
I love you skinny leaf I killed to keep
from humming – O sweet something sing – you can't see
a bug's mouth unless you look – and why would you?
Did you know that I am inside the swarm?
Fun Fact: A bunch of bugs land on a flower.
They eat and eat and it makes them super horny.
They cum like sixty billion more bugs and die.
Your hands are the hands of a delinquent boy scout –
They strike at the flint -- strike, sweet
misery – strike at the center of me – fill up
the empty. I know you want to hear the music.
I know you want to see a cracked seed burn.
The first time I had a panic attack I was four.
I had the perfect day then I realized I was dying.
My mother found me crumpled like a big pink tissue
sobbing I have a body, I have a body.
Every day I wake up and say “I wish I was skinny” –
but what I really mean is “I wish I was a poem.”
Then I hang out with my friends Anne Sexton and Sylvia Plath
They get all their wishes because they are dead forever.
The only thing better than an armadillo is a pink armadillo.
The only thing better than a squash is a ripe pink squash.
The only thing better than a bottle is a poem in a bottle
A poem who is a genie who thinks only of you.
Why marry a woman who is not a pink woman?
Why read a word that is not pink?
In a poem there is no difference between being and becoming.
There is no reason not to want the prettiest thing.
Sowing in the Motherland (Which I Have Abandoned)
Floods are so common there that I was born with an ocean tattooed on my feet:
Excuse my drowning, I am shallow.
Scoured cicatrix of words not of my mother tongue and unknown to my mother, who had no childbearing hips, slips off my tongue- unbraiding pre-Raphaelite hair (a rip-off of sharp hay) honey-sealed (impassable for fingers), adorned in olive oil, collapses heavy on the lips – first ever lover's; This inexorable Tongue, a terrible gallop of echoes - a language unzips your chest: “Hey.” Rest. Like a vulture I seize the tongue wet with sighs in my mother tongue: Mother – boy, nurture the azure of my sangue. I hold it like I would hold a snake, this mouth-blade of bleached sighs and past goodbyes that moistened my thighs: I wrap it around my finger – your tongue, my umbilical cord - and I wed the past again. I hold the limb of you against my naval, then pull it by the head up - unzipping to debride. Inside: I am pink and gold. You fold the tongue against my lung. Sighs unfurl into the Type O Strawberry Blonde. Stop. You cannot breathe against my chest. Smoke the sugar of it all - You have finally consumed your past. It will choke you.
about the moon, so she grew, she
blew up and lit up and fixed me
with a look.
So I came as close as I could.
I lay my back against the grass. Here I am.
The mouth of the earth waters and I thirst
for the stars of three summers ago.
For the stars that were shared.
A branch reaches down to pull me up.
We just shake hands.
Hurt Me Here
Burning flesh smells like cooked meat. Noah knows because he takes a lighter to his arm, and watches as it eats away at the hair and skin. It hurts like a motherfucker. He rubs salt into the groove afterward, clenching his teeth.
His mother doesn’t ask him about it the day after. Noah wraps it up in gauze, secures it with a butterfly snap. Ron asks him about it. Noah says, “I burned myself.” Ron snorts and pushes Noah against a wall, and opens the gauze. He looks at the wound. “That’s fucking nasty,” he murmurs, and bites around it, creating a red ring around the pit of the burn.
They smoke in Ron’s garage that evening. Ron rolls a joint on the floor, the cold seeping through the rug, in through their jeans, and into their skin. When he’s done, Ron lifts the joint to his lips and wraps his mouth around it, pulls in. He lets the smoke out after a while, watching it as it drifts up to the ceiling. Noah smokes next, the two alternating in the quiet of the garage.
Ron pulls in another drag, then stubs out the mostly dead joint. He slowly blows the smoke up before dropping the snubbed end into the bin. He reaches over to Noah. Noah doesn’t move as Ron cups his face, turning his head. Ron presses his lips on Noah’s neck, careful and sweet, before he pulls aside the collar of his shirt, and bites his shoulder, hard, hard enough that Noah wonders if it’s bleeding.
“You better not having fucking rabies, man,” Noah says.
“Got rid of that shit ages ago,” Ron says, and Noah laughs.
Ron’s funny, Noah thinks.
Noah follows Ron up to his bedroom–his parents are out for the night. He sits on the bed next to Ron, thighs touching as they stare out the window, eyes dry. Then Ron turns to Noah and pushes him down into the bed. The bed is more comfortable than the cold floor of the garage. Noah stares out at the small plastic dinosaurs relegated to the closet in the corner of the room. They are bent and some are missing parts, all tangled together, sharp ends and sharper teeth.
Ron pulls off Noah’s shirt, flips him over so he can bite along his spine. Noah stares at the dinosaurs. Stares until they blur out of focus and all he can see is the dark green spot where they used to be.
Ron murmurs into Noah’s spine, “Can I burn you?”
Noah pauses, pressing his face into the pillow, which smells like sweat and Ron’s shampoo. Whispers into it, “Yeah. Yeah, okay.”
Ron reaches into his back pocket, pulls out his lighter. He flicks it, watching the flame for a moment, and then holds Noah’s arm above it. He moves the lighter a bit, watching as it rolls on Noah’s skin.
Noah doesn’t say anything, but when the flame begins to burn past the oils of his skin, his eyes water. Ron moves the lighter in a tight circle, pressing the fire up into Noah’s arm, creating a mark small but so indelible it radiates through his bones. Noah whispers, “Stop.” Ron flicks his thumb off the lighter, and slips it into his back pocket. Noah sits up, bare feet hanging off the edge of the bed. He cradles his arm to his chest, and looks.
It’s ugly: pink and raw and peeling at the edges, fresh skin trying to escape the pit. The center looks wet. Ron smiles when he sees it, and leans down. Before Noah can jerk his arm away, Ron’s biting around it again, ringing it, a house surrounded by a white picket fence. Noah chokes on a sob. Ron looks up at Noah’s face. “Shhh,” he whispers, holding Noah’s head in between his hands. Tears run down Noah’s face, and he can do nothing to stop them, just grab Ron’s arms, and hold on.
The one time Ron came over to Noah’s house was alright. Ron walked in around midnight, idly glancing over the place. Noah’s mom was sitting on the couch, sipping beer and watching TV.
Ron said, “This cool, Noah? With her, or whatever?”
Noah just shrugged, said, “She doesn’t notice.” Her slumped figure seems molded into the aged couch, her lumps mirrored in the padding.
Ron had shrugged too, followed Noah into his room.
Ron left a particularly horrific bite mark on Noah’s inner thigh. So perfect and intense that Noah could see each separate tooth mark. He traced it in the shower the next morning, watching as water sluiced over it.
Noah used to bring home girls at first. Girls and girls and girls: pretty girls, happy girls, drunk girls. High girls. He would bring them in, arm slung around their shoulders. Pull them into his bedroom as they giggled and posed questions about his mother. It’s fine, it’s fine, she doesn’t mind, he would murmur into their perfumed necks, repeating the words until they were placated.
When he brought home his first boy, he was burnt out of his mind, a pile of ashes wrapped in a dry carcass. The boy had his arm slung around Noah’s shoulder, and he was pressing wet kisses on Noah’s neck. He didn’t ask about Noah’s mother. Noah slowly stumbled his way to his room, the boy letting Noah lean on him heavily. The boy closed the door behind them, the sound echoing through the apartment, unsettling the dust on the crooked floorboards.
Noah stops bringing people home after he brings Ron.
The burn on his arm is swollen and puffy, full of pus. Noah is tempted to poke the bulb with a pin, but he’s more chickenshit than anything so he leaves it be. Noah wonders why injuries get swollen. Like they’re trying to put themselves further out there, like trying to point out to everyone: this is where I’m hurt, this is where I’m sore. If you want to hurt me, hurt me here.
The next day, Noah goes over to Ron’s. They sit in the garage, huddled around a space heater on an old rug. They split a bowl, and then Ron drinks a beer while Noah smokes a cigarette.
Ron puts down the empty bottle, and pushes Noah to the ground. He doesn’t do anything for a while, just sits next to him, stares down at his face. Noah doesn’t ask why. Noah waits, feeling the nubby rug against his back. It smells like spilled beer and weed, and he watches Ron. Ron leans down, kisses Noah’s mouth, bites his lower lip. Leaves nasty hickies by his collarbone because Noah hates them.
Ron leaves a truly horrific hickey on Noah’s cheek, near his hairline. Noah feels him leave it, tells him, “Stop, you’re ruining my gorgeous face, man.”
Ron just bites at the spot, and says, “Nah, nothing could ruin your gorgeous face,” before leaning down to suck and bite at it further.
When Noah gets home, he stares at the hickey in the mirror. It’s fucking disgusting and deeply purple, red emanating from the mark like fire. He pokes at it, prods it with his fingernails. Leaves moon-shaped gouges in it.
The next day, Noah can’t even pretend to hide the mark along his cheekbone, so he goes to school with his hair pulled away from his face. He knows when people see it, watching as their eyes slide across his cheek to the bruise. His homeroom teacher downright stares, so he flashes her a smile and rests his chin on his hand so she can get a better look. At lunch, Ron and Noah sit on the back steps, drinking boxed chocolate milk and smoking cigarettes. Ron laughs at Noah’s face and says, “You know concealer is a thing, right?”
“Yeah, well, I’d rather just have a huge hickey instead of a crappily hid one,” Noah says, leaning his head onto Ron’s shoulder.
Ron runs his hand through Noah’s hair, and Noah closes his eyes.
Noah goes out some nights, on the weekends, meeting up with friends he hasn’t seen in weeks. They meet in abandoned alleys or fields, warehouses. Noah watches as they take shots, scrunching up their noses at the taste. Then they head out, arms slung over shoulders, voices drifting through the air. Usually they hit up a party. Noah separates from the group, off into the thickest of the crowd, letting people surround him. Takes a small pill out of his pocket, sticks it on his tongue and swallows. He stands, still, and waits for it to hit. The bodies around him sway and jostle, and he lets himself be moved by the crowd. He closes his eyes, the flashing lights reflecting on his eyelids.
When it hits, and he opens his eyes, and the lights are swirling and bright. Noah feels like he could forget anything, everything. The music thrums through him–he’s a conduit, sparks running along his veins. The world feels like an inkblot around him, rich and vibrant and alive, moving how he moves, the thrum of heat pulsing through everyone like a live wire.
Suddenly there’s a boy, a blond boy, in front of him. Noah smiles, the grin stretching his muscles up into the back of his head. The boy walks over, and kisses Noah on the mouth. Noah feels the boy’s hands on his hair, at the back of his neck, and then moving down to his hips, pulling him in, closer. Noah smiles into the kiss and the boy murmurs, “Hey, wanna get out of here?”
“Okay,” Noah replies, eyes closed. The boy takes Noah’s hand, leading him through the noise and the warmth, until a door opens with a horrific creak and the cool air sinks deep into Noah. Noah still feels incredibly warm, as if the cold is only quickening his pulse. The boy presses Noah against the cold wall of the building next door. Noah shivers, and the shiver seems uncontrollable, shattering its way through his body like glass against the floor. The boy presses his mouth against Noah’s. His tongue feels like heaven, or angels, or something else Noah doesn’t believe in–but right now, he could. He would form a religion of tongues, if he could. The boy takes Noah’s hand again. They walk out into the night, Noah smiling at the boy, the pavement, the sky. The boy seems charmed by Noah, and why the fuck shouldn’t he be. This is the Noah he always wants to be. The boy rests a hand on the back of Noah’s neck, a hot brand.
They come to a crummy apartment building, the bricks faded and some crumbling near the edges. Noah wraps his hand and fingers more fully into the boy’s. The boy mentions something about a third floor walk-up, and then they’re taking the stairs. The stairs creak under their weight and Noah thinks he hears the thumping of a headboard against a wall. But none of that matters because Noah revels in the feeling of how warm the boy is, a human ablaze. Someone who could burn a person to ashes and still leave them whole.
He’s being pushed, back, back, hitting the wall of the boy’s bedroom. A warm hand grips the back of his neck, and they’re kissing again. Noah thinks he might be making noise, but it all seems to buzz outwards from him, dissolving into the air before he can tell whether he’s said anything. The boy presses his chest against Noah’s, and god, that feels amazing. Noah feels like he’s living in a burrito, or a pile of blankets, or he’s tucked in a nest.
The boy slams Noah’s head back into the wall, biting at his neck. Noah is vaguely aware that there are going to be more hickies tomorrow, but at the moment, that seems sweet, almost reverent. A hand grips the back of his skull, and he’s going down, down, until his knees crack onto the floor.
It’s not always Ron, but it usually feels like it is.
A few hours later, Noah wakes up in bed with the boy, curled a few inches from him in a tight ball. He retrieves his shirt from the corner of the room and zips his jeans. He uses the toilet in the small bathroom before staring at himself in the mirror. He has deep purple bruises beneath his eyes, and his lips are chapped. His jaw is tight, sore, and his ears are still a bit red at the tips. Noah runs a hand through his hair and winces when he comes in contact with a bump roughly the diameter of a golf ball at the base of his skull. He presses at it, tenderly, watches his face contort in pain. He splashes water on his face, sipping some from his cupped palms and swishing it around his mouth. He spits it out, sticky spittle hanging from lower lip. He wipes it off with the back of his hand. His jacket is slung over a chair, and he picks it up before leaving the apartment.
The stairs groan underneath him as he goes.
Because his mom is home, Noah walks to Ron’s house. Ron says that Noah’s mom freaks him out; he won’t go over if she’s there, and Noah can’t say he disagrees. So he goes to Ron’s. When Noah walks through the door, Ron stares at the hickey on his neck and whistles lowly. “That boy did a number on you,” he murmurs, “I don’t even go that hardcore.”
“Whatever, I think he was on coke,” Noah mutters. “He fuckin’ smashed my head against the wall too,” he says, feeling around the back of his scalp for the bump. It’s tender and raised. Noah folds himself into the chair where Ron’s sitting. They barely fit, not since middle school–Noah’s more on top of Ron that anything–but Noah refuses to stop, despite how their bony hips fit together. Ron runs his hand through Noah’s hair and drags his fingers over the bump. Noah winces slightly; Ron murmurs a small apology and wraps his arms around Noah’s waist. Ron rests his chin on Noah’s shoulder, the tip of bone digging into muscle. Ron kisses the inside of Noah’s neck, but then just leans and hugs tighter. It’s on the edge of too tight, almost painful, but Noah leans back into Ron’s chest, letting the back of his head hit the headrest. The back of his head is sore, and the pain in his arm is flaring up again, but Noah can only really feel Ron’s heat.
It’s getting late- almost 4am, but they like to wait until the sleepiness becomes its own mind-altering substance, when the edges of everything become softer. They fall asleep on the rug in the garage, facing each other, Ron cradling Noah’s burnt arm close to his chest.
Head to head with him, Summer
to Fall, and we can’t hear each other.
I hurt. I call it off.
But walking through Vermont, I cannot
help but imagine our life
in a Colonial home, maybe off
of Route 7, yellow, with brick
accents and room for the kids. Oh,
and his thick
Israeli hands withdraw
after minutes of clasping my Black,
fat hips which he saw uncovered
at the lake and still held firmly.
my face into his neck and inhale. I lie.
I hurt. He likes
my body so I write him
poems, delete them, have sex
with people that aren’t him, and his thick
Israeli beard still catches my eye
from up the hill. I swig. I yell.
I will not continue to sin against myself! Oh!
And I just don't want to be alone!
And I want to be able to say this!
I don’t want to be alone.
I want to be able to say this.
Scientific Awakenings in the Great North East
Standing in a drizzle, equidistance between each of their homes, the man and the woman speak, but struggle to find the right words. The man takes his cap on and off, almost touches the woman's shoulder, and says, “Seeing you now. Missing you here, before you leave.” She replies, “Yes, your voice. Right in front of me. And these feelings.” The woman fiddles in her pocket with the lipstick she had worn, in hopes that the man would notice, and recognize that he loves her and loves her, the way a folk singer might. The man says, ”Your hair, your lipstick. Wow, your voice.” He puts his hand on her shoulder. The woman looks down, fluttering, sees her reflection in a puddle, and notices the bags beneath her eyes. “Seeing you now, I know I’ll miss you, even before you leave.”
Thomas Circle 8:49AM
The women, in knee length skirts are under 5 foot 5, sighing
into their bluetooth defibrillators, do not move quickly enough for my taste,
cannot be brisk enough for risk of ripping skirt or being
afraid of all these people on the street, do not speak to me
on the bus or even at the coffee shop, I am not
their cup of tea.
The women have taken great care, in glossy bathrooms, tiles
still white and mirrors in 3 different locations, to
silkify their hair, their skin, their nails, ward
the pain of pale faces on display, and glow
beneath the awnings on 13th. I think they can’t see me;
when I ash on their boots, it’s not malicious ‘cause I have nothing to do.
How Birds Are Born
And the hair appears
in the fist, even
though I never
will it. It is simple.
The twining brain tells
the hands, plainly, “The hair
is not useful there. The hair
would be of more use
as parts of a bird’s nest––
How silly the black
squiggles cowlick over
the skull–– this is not
important.” And like
clockwork, the hair
is in the fist again.
The hair is dead.
I am dead.
The hair a collection
I, myself, a collection
Somewhere, a bird spills into the sky––
legs branching toward
the distant ground.
What shall I name myself today?
I look again. Still cocooned in the fist
is a tomb of dry, black curls.
The twining brain tells
the hands, plainly, “Birds would be born
in a nest of us. Worms would be
fed of us–– this is important.”
The hands open.
Somewhere, a bird quilts a nest.
Once the ground. Once the ground, I opened. Sillies, once the ground & it’s hurt of quick light. Once I was a rooted thing of blood. Just another organ of ground–– my belly full of greens that never were quite mine. When green broke open, half-digested, into blood, the pieces left of me berried across black, pitch ground. I turned roadkill once & there I stayed because the light of hurt never looks back. Roadkilling, the equalizer, feeds a hungry, hungry beast–– a Sillies beast that opens things to rot on hard, hard ground. Berried blood evaporating in the beast’s own air. I exoskeleton wish often but my soft rooted in animal body–– a body always searching for green & green safety. I, an open belly, am ghost of many (deer-chipmunk-bunny-frog-possum). I, an open belly am full of blood & lives & once thought the ground held it all. A roadkill dream: Once the ground. Once the green. Once remembered. Once bodies unopened. Once simple decay in ground. A Sillies dream. I am opened by the hurt of quick light again & again & again. My once rooted pieces of whole turn half then half then half then half then half–– littering a berried ground of ghosts who selfishly wish for soft surfaces to sneak into. A surface berried with rot like jewels. A cyclic blood. In every unopened belly of living, there is a pit of death too. Rooted in life is so much hurt–– a hurt to open. Perhaps, this is why asphalt is closed to roadkill. Bellies lie fallow on asphalt ground like smalls of water on spider webs. Sillies, our country of ground was always shrinking while beasts grew to disrupt green. Sillies of now, sillies of ghosts, we blindly saw the sweet of green & grew to need it like a god. Green is bleeding now & berried in landscape is the nothing of the hungriest beasts. Who has been the Sillies, Sillies? Once the ground, I unopened. Once the ground, the infinite belly of Earth. Once the ground, once I babies. Babies of mine–– we all roadkill ed. No mercy by the hurt of quick light. We once family, rooted to ground–– green ground. There is too much that paws can not mend. Now, we silently rooted to the dead, dead air. Oh, the vanishing green, where are you hiding? Sillies, we must find it before we all roadkill. So much of life is hurt when there is no under- ground, instead, berried ground of miscellaneous tails & guts & furs & opened belly–– once, a body. A body that was never quite ours. Sillies, perhaps it is Sillies to wallow in too much life. Perhaps there is supposed to be nothing, Sillies. Here is my open belly. Here is my babies open belly. Here is decay–– a warm, warm belly. The hurt light comes again & again & again & we are smaller than before.
“ `ffffff kj oip noinppi tyhgnajfrq pwxyz. nbv twt 222 665 hijwvuk “
What may look, to the untrained and unexperienced eye, like a typical button mash on a standard computer keyboard, was actually an unfortunately intentional sequence. It isn’t a code. It isn’t a message. James L. Pedagon, its author, had very meaningfully typed each and every letter, and number, and whatever else had come to mind at the moment.
You see, James L Pedagon was high as fuck when he typed that. With no other recourse, poor and unsuspecting James had lit up and fucked his life forever hereafter. Everybody knew as soon as it happened.
James used to be quite the equestrian; his horse, Lord Goring, was his close partner through many a successful jump.
James used to teach basic math to preschoolers.
James used to be an avid student of the flute and Schopenhauer.
Fucked. From this moment on, James is no longer in any condition to do
Joanne had said never to smoke as an escape. It seemed like a paradox now. Everything seemed like a paradox now. Lord Goring was right, haha.
“ Haha, wait, haha. ”
He is a demon. James had become a demon, perhaps the Devil himself.
For the rest of his life, people will see him and know exactly who he is and what he is. They will tell their children to look away from James the Demon because, of course, everyone will know him. They will know him for the deep scratches on his skin. His shoes: always the same. His fingernails: a mess, except that one. And his eyes. His bloodshot, dazed and confused, demonic EYES are always the kicker. Don’t look, Watson. That’s what happens. James the Demon. He used to work with kids. HOW? I don’t know.
Is there a way out of his seeming fate? Is demonhood the only option? Can James turn it all around, right now, and have the world open its arms back up to The Prodigal James ever again?
James is fucked. Forever. Fucked. Forever.
There’s nothing anyone can do. One strike rule, and James will have many more strikes. One and done, more and demonhood. James the Demon.
Nice to have known you, James. Such a good boy, gone to waste. Could have been President of the United States, could have steered the great ship of democracy and shined the light on many a foreign shore.
James, do you even know how to make coffee?
I Am The Piece of Elevated Sidewalk You Stumble Over
I will buy a sausage, egg, and cheese from McDonald's.
They will forget the egg and I will not tell them.
I will eat half in my car and think it's a good compromise.
About 3 minutes later, while driving, I will unwrap it and begin eating the remaining half of the sausage, egg, and cheese.
I will ask myself, "What am I doing?"
I will not know how to answer.
I will not stop.
I will taste onion and I won't feel good about it.
I will eat the rest of the sandwich and feel proud when i don't taste onion again.
I will try to imagine the contents of the meat I just ate.
I will convince myself that I have to vomit.
I will chant: Breathe in, I am here, breathe out, I am here.
I will feel distracted and a little more calm.
I will scratch my head and realize I haven't showered in 3 days.
I will listen to the radio and realize that I really, truly enjoy 80's punk music.
I will say "I want to die" when I pull into the driveway of the college i'm attending.
I will park my car and pull back my greasy hair into a ponytail.
I will re-do it several times and each time it will look no different than the first attempt.
I will be the first in the classroom.
I will be 30 minutes early.
I will sit in the back row all the way to the left and i'll like it.
I will not talk and i'll like it.
I will nod my head when my teacher says things like, "okay?" or "right?"
I will imagine a romantic relationship with my philosophy teacher.
I will tell myself that I have 'daddy-issues.'
I will not care.
I will smile at people who don't smile back.
I will commit to reading when around people.
I will feel alienated and I will know it's mostly my own fault.
I will not care.
I will look stupid all day.
I will want to bury myself under a picnic table.
On the way to my room, I will hope that my roommate is in class.
She will be knitting on her bed and listening to Serge Gainsbourg and I will think, "I want to die."
I will stand in the doorway and smile like an idiot.
I will not know how to behave.
I will say stupid things.
I will say I'm going to library.
I will get high in my car and feel paranoid.
I will think about good things to say to my roommate and other people.
I will fuck up every conversation I ever have with anyone.
I will announce that I'm autistic so people perceive my strangeness as out of my control.
I will get a tattoo as a form of passive self-mutilation.
I will cut off my hair to feel something like 'excited.'
I will look at my phone and see that it's only 2:00 PM.
I will sigh and think "I want to die" when I remember that there will always be tomorrow.
Parental Discretion Advised
From Monday to Friday, nine to five, my job was to look at porn. By that I mean I used to work the day shift at the Whitney on the Upper East Side, and I have seen a lot of weird things pass as art. Weapons in showcases. Black and white videos of people pacing an empty room. Large paint splatters, like pigeon crap. What looks like a first grader’s attempt at drawing his house. And every time they brought in a new exhibit, I thought I could have done that, but that’s just it, isn’t it? I could have, but I didn’t. Someone else did. And now they’re probably living the good life. Maybe not Vacation House Along The French Riviera Good, but Attending Gallery Openings With An Open Bar Good, and that’s better than what I had.
What I had was five days a week of staring at four walls filled with things I could have created, but didn’t. A constant reminder of my wasted potential.
The summer I got divorced, the Whitney—all four floors—had just opened their Jeff Koons exhibit. He mostly does sculptures that look like they’re made of that balloon material. But they filled the third floor—my old station—with porn. Giant larger-than-life oil on canvas paintings so real they look like they blown-up photographs. The recurring naked body of a blonde lady and Koons himself, either with his face buried in some part of her or staring point-blank back at you with this smug smile, and all his teeth are showing.
And my job was to look at that all day. To look at that, and to watch people look at that, which I admit was kind of entertaining when it was a family with small children. Except nine times out of ten, I got yelled at for not issuing a warning. During times like these, I pointed to the small sign painted in thin black letters in the doorway: PARENTAL DISCRETION ADVISED.
Sometimes parents shrank away, covering their kid’s eyes, but sometimes they used these so-called signs as fuel for their fire and lecture me for a good many minutes more on the preservation of innocence and childhood. Sometimes they asked me, rhetorically, “If you were a parent, would you be okay with your kid being exposed to this?!” In these instances, I could have said a lot of things. Yes—obnoxiously, flippantly, for one thing. No—apologetically, shyly for another. I could have been a pretentious asshole and lectured back about how deeply submerged our culture is in media, where images far worse than these are readily available.
But I liked those parents best because the truth is I’ve thought about this a lot. If I had kids. If I had kids. Would I cover their eyes, skip this gallery altogether? Or just let them look? Would they even want to? Would they be museum-going types? Would they be curious about art—spectators or creators? Would there even be two of them? Boys or girls or both?
For a boy: Jon—without the “h.”
For a girl: Sarah—with it.
After my divorce, my therapist thought I needed a change of pace, so now I work the night shift. There are no people to discourage from using flash photography. There are no people, period.
Once, I stood naked in front of a Jeff Koons painting on the third floor. I stripped down completely, fingers clumsily untying my uniform tie, kicking my khaki-colored pants from around my ankles as Jeff Koons stared down at me. My eyes bleary, maybe a little confused. His, full of intention. My thick neck, a double-chin. His one. My stomach, obstructing view of my lower half. His, close to the bones, structured. My arms, shaking, weighed down with flesh. His, toned but not overly muscular, spread out in ecstasy but also as if to say Look at all I’ve done.
I stood there, goose bumps piling onto my body. I read the painting plaque. Jeff Koons is divorced too. From a former porn star who was also a member of the Italian Parliament. Now he’s married to another artist and they have six kids. At night, I think about what their names might be.
A Log A Leg
Last night, there was a party in the woods. A word-of-mouth kind of party. If you can find it, you’re welcome. People came in droves—populating the quiet darkness with shouts and song, someone lit a bonfire, someone brought a keg—up the north trail, just beyond the edge of the woods, on top of the ridge, where you can see the little dipper. None of us can find the big one, and we spend a long time walking in circles, heads thrown back in vain. These were people we didn’t know, Clara and I, but drunkenness is a great equalizer, a friend finder, sometimes. Sometimes not: I think I see Clara and the unknowns walking back into the trees, and I run after, calling for her…
Once I woke up in a car in pitch darkness, when I was young. My sister and I were tangled in the backseat—our legs some kind of sailors knot so that we could both sleep “comfortably” during a road-trip. When I woke, I did not know where I was and could not feel my legs. If you spend long enough in darkness, your eyes adjust. You stop seeing the imprinted colors on your eyelids—what light has left behind—and shapes that dissolve and reform themselves into to people or beasts. There are some things you only believe in the dark: I forgot my sister and our parents. I truly thought I was dead.
As I am running through the trees, someone puts a Beyoncé song on at the party and I trip over a log. A leg. I trip over, what is in fact, a leg. I found a body alone and inert. I couldn’t move for a long time—suddenly in the car again, the feeling gone from my legs, thinking, “this is it”. There is blood on my hands, but I can’t tell if it is mine Not the same clothes, not even the same hair, but undeniably, I was seeing my own face. My body. What am I doing out here? As I sit with myself, crouching over wondering, listening to the echo of Beyoncé, there is a noise close by, a cellphone ringing. Pacing, maybe I am just imagining it. Maybe, I thought, if I stay long enough, she will reanimate. Or become someone other than myself. The noise is getting closer, so I run.
“Just off the switchback”, I call down to Clara whose uneven breath marks our steps up the sun-speckled trail. “Just here, I swear.” I do not tell Clara that I found myself lying dead in the woods, I lie and say it was some other girl. How do you explain that? Today, I don’t see blood on the leaves.
Curious. I wonder how does one get rid of so much of it?
Zoe turns to me “I wanna see his dick…for research.” I’ve heard it all before. Before this bar, before she vomits on the floor, before we are kicked out. Everything is done for research, this is our excuse.
The bartender is high on cocaine and shifts anxiously from one foot to the other. He is telling me about his French girlfriend. “I moved. All the way from Barcelona. For a girl and a shitty job. The fucking French…” That’s a long way, I say. But I don’t really think so, not as far as I’ve come, and I don’t even have a shitty job.
“I just wanna see it “ Zoe whispers in my ear. The bartender shifting so quickly now it looks like he is dancing as he pours more purple, green and flaming poisons. Then a moment later, the lights are on and whatever Zoe just drank is all over the floor. She didn’t get to do any research, but life is full of second chances.
We meet Dylan. A strange kind of frat boy who has done everything—fencing, sailing, rapping, math club, poetry, cooking, French, model U.N. –but is interested in nothing. He tells us that he picks up girls by writing raps based on their names. He has a brand on his ass, smashes bottles, and dips us on the dance floor. Zoe slaps him in the face, I’m not sure why. She storms away and then falls. They start making out. Mercifully, neither remembers the vomit.
Later, two French boys walk us home. They tell us we are pretty. That we are very young to be here. That we speak so well. It is so surprising to meet a smart American, one says to me.
They always tell us these things. As if by force of repetition they would become true. We are their exceptions to the rule that all Americans are tasteless, foolish and materialistic.
I am always the smartest American you have met, the prettiest, the best at French. You tell me the best way to learn is to have a French boyfriend, this too I have heard already. You can’t have met many girls. Or maybe you’ve just met too many. I smile too much. I laugh too much too, and probably give you the wrong idea. But its all for research, I mean, that’s what I’m here for right?
He falls in love with the actress because she’s a different woman everyday. When she leaves the house in the morning she’s his wife. In the afternoon, she’s someone else. When she returns home at night she’s his wife again. One day she’ll be a brunette, the next a blonde. One day she’ll have a southern accent, the next a Cockney. She gives him time to think about worthless things. She makes money and sees results; a finished product. He’s stuck thinking about a novel he cannot possibly write because he wasn’t there at the right time or place and hasn’t seen enough interesting things in his life and doesn’t have the stamina to pretend each day that he has.
I am one nasty carpenter with one nasty mouth. I am currently building a giant wooden udder the size of a giant loaf of bread. I have transcribed thirty-seven naughty phrases into different languages on each teat. I will place it inside of the elementary school (which I built) and force all of the children to look at it. I will convince them that if they do not appreciate my carpentry that they will die of the black plague.
If you are in need of romance or romance advice, I am unavailable. I cannot find you a hot date. I cannot teach you how to woo another. I cannot assist you with romance of any kind; I must focus on my woodwork.
My woodwork is very special. I make everything with my hands. I have made a gallery of noses and on each nose I carved the names of all of the trees that your grandfather has made out with/slept with/cuddled/ killed. I have multiple stacks of paper and on each of them is a sonnet about my love for wood.
If I could marry any kind of wood I would marry Knotty Pine because it is the naughtiest of woods. When we are together I feel extra popular! I like feeling popular! It means I am the man/woman of the trees. I can build whatever I want, like an airplane full of jokes or a termite full of pantyhose. I just really like stuffing things with pantyhose.
I am also a bachelor/spinster of some sorts. I have the contact information of every type of wood in my cell phone. Every day I call one up and plan a hike/date/boat ride or plan to slice him/her in half. If the woods are lucky I will wrap them up in pantyhose and call them beautiful lady.
This is just business, so I would like to keep things casual. I am looking for an assistant not a person to kiss on the mouth. I am looking for people to buy my woodwork and anyone who would like to discuss my woodwork with or without me. If you are interested write me a letter, since that is the most qualified form of communication these days.
the man/woman of the trees.
How you left me
The cold wind blew the tiny frock,
My little feet throbbed with pain each time I stumbled over a jagged piece of rock,
The pale sun hung high in the sky,
Its barely warm streaks of light seemed like a promising lie,
My hazel eyes stared at the crimson drops of blood on the ground,
My heart beat accelerated each time I imagined the intensity of the wound,
It was eerily quiet,
Not another soul in sight,
Last night, this barren ground was a battlefield,
It was here that the future of the unfortunate was sealed,
They say my brother was among those who were killed,
That his blood was mercilessly spilled,
I moved on, walking past the dead,
Lost in the memory of my brother reading me stories in bed,
I had been dreaming happily when they dragged him out of the house,
My sweet dream became a living nightmare when they raped his spouse,
They say he is here somewhere,
Lying in this terrifying place that resembles Satan's lair,
I call out his name, waiting for him to respond,
My brother knows I need him, we had always shared a special bond,
I stumbled yet again but not over stone,
I looked down, fell on the ground and let out a soft moan,
I cradled his head in my frail arms, tears falling all over his mangled face,
His image swam before my eyes, my poor brother who had been the epitome of charm and grace,
The brother who would never hug me again,
The brother who had been brutally slain,
The sun hid behind dark clouds,
I could now hear screams and shouts.
I walked in the descending dark, clutching the head to my chest,
Determined to find a nice place for my brother to rest,
The silence was broken by a single gun shot,
I recited all the prayers I had been taught,
For the third time, I stumbled and fell,
This time, I would not rise again, I could tell,
My tiny fingers tightened around the head,
My hazy vision full of my brother reading stories in bed,
Saoirse’s crush, Richie tried to give her a golf ball but he gave it to her by whacking it at her face and now Saoirse only has one eye. The boy had a mean backswing, which led the ball to fly, which led her to the emergency room, which led her flying in a flapping hospital gown to the operating table which led her to emerge two hours later with only one eyeball in her possession. They had let her hold the golf ball in her hand the whole time.
It is a little pale pink ball. It must be a specialty design but whatever symbol is printed on it is faded now; looks like a loop, like a knotted ribbon, or like fingers being crossed. Maybe a breast cancer awareness ball. Soft with dust, warm with sun when the boy placed it on the tee in his backyard and aimed for her. Its surface is dimpled with round divots scooped by some miniscule melon baller. It fits in the palm like a perfect scoop of strawberry sherbet. There is no other like it.
Over her recovery, Saoirse has cupped the ball in her hand so constantly that she doesn’t think of it anymore. She hardly recognizes it as an object foreign from her body. Like placing a cold hand on a warm forehead, and feeling both the sensation of warmth on the cold hand and coolness on the warm forehead, she touches the lightweight ball and registers the feel of her fingers. She reads the bumps like inverse Braille. Sometimes she dreams that she is inside the small globe with Richie and there are no windows but it is lit from within and the inside-out dimples serve nicely as places for them to sit.
The first day back to her fifth grade classroom after the accident, Saoirse is more concerned about her acne than her eyepatch.
“Saoirse! You’re going to make me late!” her mother cries from the front of the house.
“Take the car, I can walk!” Saoirse shouts. She remains at the bathroom mirror. She has a stick of brownish concealer that she smears over her spots but it doesn’t distract from the mountainous landscape of her T-zone. She wants to look nice for Richie because he sometimes says her acne grosses him out. Then, sliding the golf ball into the pocket of her shorts and her eyepatch over her socket, she leaves for school.
Fortunately, her classmates find her eye injury more outrageous than her everyday acne.
“Do you have a real hole in your face?”
“Whoa, can I see?”
“Richie pulled your eye out with a fork, right? That’s punk rock.”
“Wait, what happens if you stick your finger in there?”
Saoirse is encircled by her class at recess and she smiles and tells them all about her eyelessness. She saves her bravest story for Richie; about how she got through the pain remembering that the last thing her poor eye saw was his pretty face. But Richie sits on the opposite side of the schoolyard and so she nobly excuses herself from the eager crowd and, feeling round and whole, she approaches him, golf ball securely in hand. She scoots up next to him on the bleachers. He is hunched over and only glances at her shoes.
“Sorry,” he says.
“I still have the golf ball you gave me,” she begins, sighing delicately.
“Huh? Oh yeah. Did you tell your parents that it was me? That I did it?”
She stops for a moment. It had slipped her mind that her parents didn’t ask how she was hit in the face hard enough to warrant going to the hospital. “A lot happened at once. They’re probably going to ask eventually.” She says it to herself as much as to him.
“Can I have it back?” he asks. “It’s not mine.”
Saoirse feels her story slipping away. “Why…why do you want it back?”
“It’s evidence, you know?”
Saoirse had thought she was sitting very close to him but she tilts her head a little, puts out a hand, and she cannot reach him. He is messing around with a football instead of looking at her. This entire conversation he hasn’t asked her about her eye-hole at all.
“I don’t want my parents to know what happened. It’s their ball,” he mumbles.
Saoirse thinks fast. “I don’t think you want it.”
“Because. We were thinking of what prosthetic eye to buy and I had to figure out what size I needed and they ran out of fake eyes to try out but I had the ball and…”
Richie finally looks up at Saoirse and there is disgust on his face, but this time it’s not because of her acne. His two perfectly functional eyes dart from the pink ball in her hand to her eyepatch. Saoirse stiffens as something like realization washes over her. Richie will go the rest of his life seeing the world as he would like to, but she will have to live half in darkness because of what he did to her. He allowed her only ten years with two eyes and she wasted some of that time looking at him.
“You know what?” she says, “You can have it. Here.” And she pops the golf ball into his shocked mouth and walks away.
I keep breaking cigarettes in my left pocket
They are fixated on my left breast
There is tobacco spilled in pocket and my mouth
The boys make their own cigarettes
And they say don’t put that trash in your body
But it reminds me of boys
I miss them
They last longer then the taste
I taste them in the smoke
You are quick and bright and loud
And I am quite bold and proud
And if we hit like I think we will
We’ll make a storm strong enough to kill
But if we drop
You’ll turn to ash
And I’ll freeze over smooth as glass
I believe that, no matter how hard one tries, thinking about an event will never make it materialize.
My friend once told me that when she wanted to cry on command she would think of her mother dying. We were in second grade. As an aspiring actress, I too desired this skill. Thinking of every way my mother could perish, I tried to squeeze tears through my eyes.
I felt like a bad person. How could I not be sad at the thought of her death? Then it occurred to me that perhaps my friend was the bad person. Who thinks of their parents’ death for fun?
My acting professor tells me that people are afraid to fantasize about the worst thing that could happen to them, a common technique for emotional preparation. The reason I couldn’t force the precious tears from my eyes was because I couldn’t really think about how my mother would die; I couldn’t picture it.
“People are superstitious. They’re afraid that if they let their mind go there, it will actually happen to them,” she said.
I know this not to be true. I have learned that thinking about you won’t bring you back. Cycling through every possible way I could apologize won’t make you forgive me. Desperately insulting you in my mind won’t lower your self-esteem enough to make you want me again.
A simple fire will do the trick. She will shoo us from the house, rid herself of distractions in making her perfect Thanksgiving meal. In our unrenovated kitchen. Our little time capsule of the 1990s. Formica cabinetry, buckled hardwood and memories of my parents’ faded love. The place where she has been trapped since the home’s purchase. Grease will set fire. Fire will encircle her and her flesh will burn and bubble. And she will give in. Release herself to the flames charring her thin, pale skin, feeding the flame that was meant to feed us. Her freckles and moles, the soft folds of her stomach will melt together in the heat. Into this world she came, out of the world she will leave, alone.
Be careful what you wish for.
Why? What good will wishing do? What harm will I suffer from wishing? Stepping on a crack won’t break my mother’s back. I have learned that my tears mean nothing to you anymore. I’m sure that eventually I’ll realize it’s for the best. Until then, I’m not afraid anymore to tempt fate.
You and I Are Not Safe
"There is something predatory in the act of taking a picture," wrote Susan Sontag in her collection of essays On Photography (1977).
When thinking about being preyed upon, getting photographed is not at the top of my list of my concerns. I’m much more inclined to fear serial killers harboring Freudian hatred or lingering stares on public transportation or the man checking my driver’s license as I buy cigarettes before the break of dawn. I hope he didn’t memorize my last name.
"To photograph people is to violate them, by seeing them as they never see themselves; by having knowledge of them that they can never have..."
Sontag proposes that the camera’s ability to violate is akin to a gun’s. But, she writes, “The camera/gun does not kill.” Ultimately, the pull of the gun’s trigger is the violator, but the gun must be manned in order to operate. So who is the real predator: the photographer or his machine?
For example, take Garry Winogrand’s 1972 photograph entitled New York City (Woman in phone booth, leg up). Several elements of this photo are immediately notable. The woman central in the photograph is physically confined in a phone booth; its beams are reminiscent of a cage or cell. One beam blocks the majority of her face. Her left leg is bent, almost revealing her crotch, which is placed nearly at the center of the photograph. She is surrounded primarily by men. By photographing a woman making a phone call, an intimate act, Winogrand toys with the concept of privacy in public. The way in which she covers the phone with her hand gives the impression that she is telling a secret. Possibly, Winogrand is mocking her presumed privacy in a communal space. The photo’s canted angle is haunting, suggesting that something is wrong. Perhaps this is Winogrand’s attempt to demonstrate the violations committed against women’s personal space. His career-long obsession with candid, anonymous street photography, however, leads me to believe that he is a peeping Tom, willing to intrude on women’s personal space without hesitation.
“I think she was inviting it,” a classmate of mine says regarding this woman’s desire to be photographed.
An argument can be made that the camera itself is the predator, for it cannot see as a human sees⎯ even if I photograph myself, and control every conceivable aspect of the photograph, the image will still be mediated through the camera’s lens. The violation lies within the camera’s limitations. I find this depressingly true while on evening walks. A beautiful, dusky Vermont landscape might lie in front of me as I ramble up to Jennings, but when I attempt to snap a picture with my phone, I am left with nothing but ambiguous dark shapes; a mere semblance of the scene I see. The camera is objective. It records pure data in the form of light hitting film. Is this why Sontag writes of its predatory nature? The camera does not flatter; it makes no niceties, because it makes no choices. That is the photographer’s job.
What happens when the photographer and subject are one and the same? One of the main devices I have used in my time as a photographer is self-portraiture. A key detail in my photographs is that the pneumatic trigger that sets off the cameras shutter is always visibly in my hands, evidence of my control over my portrayal.
I follow in the steps of many female photographers who decided that they would not allow others to deem whether they were worthy of occupying the space within the frame of a photograph. Tina Barney uses self-portraiture throughout her collection Theater of Manners. This series is a rumination on the lives of her wealthy family members. As an audience, we are invited into the photographs by saturated colors and familiar family customs, yet alienated from her upper-crust world. The subjects of each photo display a mix of spontaneous emotion and simultaneous awareness of their audience⎯ much like our daily social interactions.
I find myself consistently returning to Sheila and I, taken in 1989. In it, Tina Barney sits next to Sheila, who is featured in a variety of her photographs from this particular book. Both women are seated in separate plush chairs that look as though they’ve been moved from their ordinary position in the room; they are pushed close enough together that their arms touch. The room is filled with rich jewel tones of red and green. This is merely a cursory description of the photo’s various set pieces.
Sheila leans slightly towards the camera while Barney sits back in her chair, one hand propping her head up. Shelia’s mouth forms something of a half smile— maybe she has been caught in the middle of a sentence. Her hands join together in her lap; if her habits are at all like mine then she had just been playing with them in the moments leading up to the photo being taken. Her fingernails are neatly manicured and painted red. A gold watch adorns her wrist and she wears blue socks, no shoes. Barney holds the release cable in her left hand. She looks straight into the camera, through the lens and into the world. Her expression is stern; she is thinking about something particular, but… what?
Although the photo is clearly staged, the photograph appears a true documentation of the relationship between these two women. In this way, the photo is different than the average family photo. It is a snapshot of them, existing together, unlike a vacation photo in which a stiff smile is plastered across each family member’s face. This tension between what is real and what is staged is exemplified within the image. Which is more “real” or “true”? The photos from this collection that give the impression of spontaneity? Or the photos in which the subjects address the camera and the audience is under no false impressions that the photo is staged? Barney’s intentional blurring of the line between performance and reality begs the question: in some circumstances, is the viewer actually the one being preyed upon?
William Has Never Read A Short Story About Brazilian Wax
And god forbid anyone ever forces him to do so. All he knows is that in Brazil, they calculate the rate of inflation based on the current price of the Brazilian wax. Weird that this shit is even capitalized. There’s not much more he needs to know, but she won’t shut up about it. One can only guess how thrilled he was to hear from his pal Jimmy that she made a great fuss about it a few days later to about thirty other victims.
“See, so I’ve seen The Vagina Monologues, but I didn’t really get it,” Chrissie announces to her 3rd period health class when the topic of “becoming a woman arises.”
“It was somethin’ to do with angry chicks who don’t like to shave, but like that’s about it. I went to it with my ex-boyfriend and his mom. Like what even. The worst part: He suggested it. Just like that time I tried to watch that super freaky ghost hunters movie with him on Halloween! He got so freaked out that we had to put on Brokeback Mountain. Which he brought! And don’t say he’s gay ‘cause I know he’s not. He said it was hot when I got a Brazilian wax. No homo would say somethin’ like that.”
“And what does this have to do with “becoming a woman,” Chrissie?”
“Huh, good question, Ms. B.”
Ms. B is an award-winning writer of Romantic Fiction. In North America, romance novels are the top selling genre of book. She read that on the back of the door of a bathroom stall in Boston when she had a urinary tract infection and had to take a piss every 10 seconds. She forgot to drink her usual gallon of cranberry juice that morning. When she pees, she never looks down. When she fucks, she never looks up. Both would just all be too much for her. Sometimes she recites lines from her own books, narrating the whole backwards, yet necessary phenomena that is her sex life. ‘He moves his hand down the center of my pants but just when things start to get hairy—NOT SEXY—he whispers, “Oh, honey… Aren’t you missing something? Or rather have too much of one thing?” This one has yet to be published for obvious reasons.
The whisperer is based on a forty-five year old window glass cleaner and he likes things spic and span on both the inside and outside of his affairs. Some people are forced into this line of work, but he chose it day one of the career fair. It was the obvious choice. Let’s put it this way: how many people can say that their line of work requires them to fly into the sky on a day-to-day basis? Be above it all. Not only that, he is responsible for making the city shine bright over everyone. So bright that the beams of light wriggle their way into the iris’ of streetwalker big and small forcing them to look away. He has the power to move people with the help of his waxy tools. He likes his women like he likes his windows: filth free.
Joke’s on Chrissie! William said “Hot” the day before they broke up because he burned himself lighting the cigarette meant to filter out the Brazilian bullshit she incessantly hurled at him begging for some sort of reaction. And let the record show, he put on Brokeback Mountain not because he’s gay, not because he’s straight, not even because he’s afraid of ghosts! But because he likes the goddamn cinematography more than some campy gotta catch em’ all ghost crap. Why is that so hard to believe? It’s refreshing. He enjoys the feeling of being cooled off by Jake Gyllenhal’s icy smirk against the grassy fucking fields of Canada’s—not Wyoming’s—wide-open plains! He is all about the natural and she gives him nothing to work with.
My hands are latexed yellow. The sink is full
of soap and scald. Mother is somewhere
refrigerated, waiting to be emptied
of her contents. On the counter there is so much left
over from the feast
plates and forks and stacks of bones
the kind you’d never feed
the dog because they’d splinter
in the throat. I think
of Mother, how she loved
to feed our bodies and to watch
each belly bloat with family
recipes. Just yesterday she asked me if I knew
how to make a rue, and I said, no,
and she said, shame on you
for never hearing a word I say.
Then her laugh. Now the rue is sticking
to the plates. I use her sponge—it’s made of steel—
watch the saucers shed their patterns. No
ivy, gold, or chirping bird to speak of. I
say I’m sorry to the flies, I have to
throw away your
feast before you lay
eggs. All over
the counters, threads of yolk
lead back to what contained them. Mother
hated the painting where eggs could walk,
and ears held knives, and sparrows
were the size of people. It’s hell, she said, it’s a living
nightmare in a frame. I scrape it up, the shell
she broke with just one hand. Like in a movie.
I put the pieces in the drain and flip
the switch that turns the muck particulate.
The foulest things
these hours. How meat is breaking
down inside me. Not inside
me. A stomach growling
to an empty room. A face
sinking in its ossified frame. Here
in a hundred years
lichen will hold every surface
under dusty dapple. Beaks will strike
the patternless tiles. Stirring, Mother
asks if I can make a family
recipe. I shake
my head. I will never know
where to start. She almost cracks
a smile, but no. She cannot even
look me in the eye. The temperature is falling
in the sink now. The smell is rising with the time
and the populations
of bacteria. They must be so glad to be
feasting, helping decay progress. I turn
the tap to burning and wonder
at the incremental devastations of their lives.
The Fugly Duckling
The fugly duckling goes to class
It watches the other ducklings take notes
and does not take any itself
The fugly duckling goes to dinner
It watches the other ducklings eat food
and eats itself into a food coma
The fugly duckling cannot ride a bike
but instead watches the other ducklings
ride their bikes to class
The fugly duckling is fuck ugly
The fugly duckling likes to do drugs
The fugly duckling makes whale noises when speaking
The fugly duckling walks through the park
and tries to smoke a cigarette
but gets too many dirty looks and goes away
The fugly duckling writes an essay
but does not proofread or edit
and turns it in anyway hoping for the best
The fugly duckling brushes its teeth
every night before it goes to bed but still
wakes up with a bad taste in its mouth
The fugly duckling breaks the mirror
and changes its outfit before going out
but still ceases to impress
The fugly duckling takes a selfie
and takes a few more and deletes all but two
and thinks about posting one but does not
The fugly duckling listens to music
and hides away to relax after a long
day of being so fucking ugly
The fugly duckling did not do the reading
but follows along in the discussion
well enough to give the illusion that it read
The fugly duckling smokes weed
so it does not have to interact with others
and watches Beverly Hills, 90210 instead
The fugly duckling likes to sing
when it is alone in its room and
maybe when it is too drunk to care
The fugly duckling used to play guitar
but got too tired of practicing
and sold the guitar to its brother
The fugly duckling does not like its home
It wants to move away but
it does not know where to go
The fugly duckling wants a tattoo
to look a little less ugly but
it is too broke to get one
The fugly duckling wants to live
in a mansion and be rich and beautiful
and help others that feel as ugly as it does.
The fugly duckling is stalked by the Big Bad Wolf
and has night terrors for weeks
and cannot sleep in its own bed
The fugly duckling has a hard time concentrating
and thinks it should leave school
but does not want to go back home
The fugly duckling is broken and alone
and wishes to find more ugly ducklings
so it can start a support group
The fugly duckling still feels like a child
The fugly duckling wants to grind its teeth out of its head
The fugly duckling moves to Swan
The fugly duckling goes to the market
and says hello to its friends the Three Little Pigs
and doesn't feel so fucking ugly for a while.
PARAMUS FURNITURE HOMESTORE EMPORIUM ONCE-IN-A-LIFETIME EVERYTHING-MUST-GO LIQUIDATION SALE
90% off on Sofas, Armchairs, Loveseats, Kitchenwares and more! We’ve got way more furniture than we can handle! This stuff’s exponentially accumulated at an alarming rate! Hurry over and take it away! We are practically trapped in the store! We are trapped in the store! Furniture- blocking all exits! Everything must go! Send Help! Please!
All is simple and clear. There is this looming mound of earth – sand, soil, rocks, bones, insects, reptiles, and vegetation – which, when unified in large quantities, seems to humans deserving of the name mountain. It appears as the result of a giant's hands squeezing the stuff of earth into his fist and then letting go and dusting the remnants off of his palm to sprinkle the top with rounded boulders. Yet I also know that this formation can be explained in scientific terms: a volcano collapsed here millions of years ago. The top simply slid off to become the Tucson Mountains while the rest remained to become the Santa Catalinas. Earth shift and erosion dug out a valley in between the two in which humans decided to nestle, calling it Tucson. Weathering slowly shaved the corners off of the rocks of the Catalina Mountains, giving them their rounded shape I see today. These explanations are held in my mind simultaneously as one, and I do not question them. My hands rest on granite and gneiss and dust from a giant's palm.
And this looming mound of earth, that is so much and yet, relatively, so little at the same time, is not separate from me, not a simple place upon which to rest. It encompasses much of that which is me and I it.
I am seated 6000 feet above sea level. The pressure of hundreds of square feet of space below my feet gives my toes a prickling sensation as they dangle off the cliff edge. I feel the curious urge to do what is most simple – to allow myself to fall, utterly under the control of gravity, into the rich emptiness that hovers before and beneath me. I am surprised by how little fear is evoked by this idea. Instead I am comforted as this thought is equally accompanied by a sureness that I am steadily seated on the rock, even as the wind lifts my hair from the nape of my neck and nudges me steadily towards its destination.
Rippled mountain peaks, appearing quite small from my height, spread before me, like sand dunes blown by a strong but unsteady wind. The scar of a valley sucks the edges into it, jaggedly making its way in a diagonal to my right. A very dull yellow-ish pervades but is dappled by greens, darker in some places, thickest in a particular patch to my lower left. In a few spots, this color has been wiped away to reveal the graying whiteness of stone, a similar color to the winding highway that wraps itself around the mid-section of one of the peaks. Dark blue collects in a few caches. Beyond the last mountain, the flat desert is covered in a foggy sky-blue, and the farthest reach of visible horizon is coated in a light wash of blue that denotes distant mountains and fades up into the white that hovers over the landscape. Several clouds imitate the mountain shapes from their positions high above.
All around me sit car-sized chunks of rock resting comfortably on the shoulders of the supporting stone plate that protrudes from the mountain edge. Smaller rocks balance on top of each other. Some of these stacks rise to more than four times my height, and it is impossible not to believe that the dozens of flattened granite slabs were lovingly, tediously, carefully arrange by some very strong being with a passion for tidiness.
Two black specks rising up the side of a thumb-like formation 350 feet away from where I sit are a pair of rock climbers. Upon reaching the top, one sits, drinking from a metal water bottle, while the other busies himself with gathering supplies before carrying on. Their voices reach my ears as clearly and intimately as if I were there among them, exhilarated after a good climb. They talk of coffee shops and mutual friends and car troubles, and as I close my eyes I am there with them, undeterred by where the rocks drop off, living and breathing as part of the very mountain itself.
The card I chose for my friend had a black and white drawing on the cover: a night scene along the Bosphorus, the straight that connects the Mediterranean and Black Seas. On the left was a mosque with two tall, pointy Ottoman-style minarets; in-between them was the outline of a moon. Several dark buildings were drawn along the water’s edge, and in the distance could be seen seven more tiny minarets. The sky was blackness washed in a soft wave of white, like the mist that so often blurred the edges of Istanbul at night.
There is a word in French, ténèbres, which is a noun referring to darkness or obscurity. It is always plural – les ténèbres – accounting for a multiplicity that English does not see. There are layers to darkness, rather than it being a single, unified force.
When I was nineteen years old, I returned to the Grand Canyon eight years after my first visit. This other time, I had been with family and family friends. We had taken pictures at the lookout points, rode a raft down the Colorado River, and read a children’s book about a mule. After the sun had set, we had left the edge of the cavern and gone to dinner.
This second time, returning with one of the family friends I had been with before, a girl of my own age, we arrived just before sunset. We could not stay overnight, so we were glad to catch the view before nightfall. For a while, we stood with the other tourists, taking pictures of the red-orange rock, the spindly fir trees, and the remnants of snow on the edges of the gap.
When we walked to a section with less people around, I decided we should walk off of the path, closer to the edge. There were no fences, but I had noticed a small sign earlier that asked visitors to stay on the path. I figured we could tell anyone who noticed that we hadn’t known it was not allowed.
After slowly making our way down a slight decline, my friend and I edged out onto an extension of rock and sat a few feet from the drop-off, a mile of empty air.
We returned to the path when the sun was nearly all set, giving ourselves enough light to climb back up the slope. As darkness fell – or, really, as darkness seemed to rise up from that deep opening in the earth – we continued following the path along the edge. Once the final red streak of sunset had faded from the horizon, every tourist had either left in their cars or gone into nearby restaurants. We continued walking until it seemed time to turn around, as our fingertips and noses tingled with cold. But before leaving I wanted to look at the canyon one last time. I walked to the wooden railing, six inches from the abrupt drop, and leaned out, steadying myself with my hands on the rail. I looked into the darkness, expecting to see nothing but the purest black, an expanse of unified nothingness. Looking into the Grand Canyon at night must be the very definition of the dark, I thought. However, what I saw was not solid blackness. It was layers, deep and far away, yet perhaps in hand’s reach. I could differentiate thousands of them as my eyes adjusted to the lack of light. The canyon at night felt more intimate than during the day. I had the feeling that I, too, was in the ténèbres, just as the rocks were.
Istanbul at night is layered in darknesses, too. Something about these layers – that they are unknown and not fully knowable, distant yet near – draws me in and comforts me in their complexity, makes me lean closer as I did at the canyon and feel as if I am part of something larger as I find myself obscured by them as well.
If you watch the Bosphorus late enough at night, you will notice huge blocks of moving darkness unlike those around them. These are the large freight boats, carrying in the necessities of the city. They are built only for utility, paint peeling off their outsides, and Istanbul lawmakers decided that this side of the city was not one that they wanted to be visible. By safety regulation, these carriers can only enter the waters of the city during certain nighttime hours, sneaking in, as it were, so that the imports and exports exchange occurs while the people dream. They are only visible to those who watch the black nighttime waters long enough to discern what is in them.