All Posts in Volume 72
I have a cold and it is not cold outside today
so I am half certain that I am dying.
I mutter snot prayers into Kleenex.
Horoscopes. Yahtzee. Augury.
Something is rotten in the
steak from last night that cost too much and bled too little.
There are only a few terminal illnesses
that I can name.
Tuberculosis. Cookie dough. Living.
I know them from the sympathetic
cardboard display by the Broadbranch Market cash register
that eats quarters and promises cures, backlit by the Slushee machine.
I attend a college that has no science course requirement
so serves me right if I can't name what kills me.
H1N1. Fingerprints in the dining hall Raisin Bran. Lice.
If I went back in time I would be inconspicuously useless,
incapable of anachronism.
I couldn't build a socket or a circuit or recreate
a Science Fair potato clock. But people would love
the way I wash spoons with hot water. I go to the gym
where I think about how good I would be
at churning butter though I spend most of my time
on the elliptical which teaches me how to run
as effectively as a carousel teaches me how to ride a horse.
If I visited the rosy-cheeked stinking ancestors
I could collapse onto a horde,
half of them with undiagnosable cancers and the other half imagining.
Life back then is life now is as charming
as a tetanus shot and as useful as a pedestrian bridge.
I avoid STEM classes to prepare myself for the incurable.
Go ahead and crown my mourning bedside crowd with mob-caps.
The Slushee machine is clogged with butter.
I am walking backwards into the valley.
I lie atop my unyielding mattress and pull
the duvet up under my chin and look down at myself and pretend
I have no body.
Without my net of sinews and slush of muscles
there is no surface of me to rest condemnation upon.
I hope for a Richter 7 that would knock
me off my lofted bed without returning me to myself —
for forgetting the brain by animating the body
offers sweeter relief than shrouds do.
My automatic arms would move of their own accord amidst calamity
as food topples off pantry shelves
and IKEA chairs pitch themselves onto their sides.
I was the kind of kid
who in the bath would tie up my two Bikini Barbies
then when the water cooled I would undo the knots and say I saved you.
This was damp ceramic escape for all three of us.
I've learned to go upright since then
and by that I mean that I am mourning
the end of that easy adrenaline self-severance.
I overheat now under the merciful duvet,
muffling my unsavory parts with blinding cotton.
I'm Just Glad to Be Here
“I stopped the bleeding.”
Starting my physical assessment.
“Starting my physical assessment.”
Checking for DOTS.
“What are you looking for?”
“Deformities, Open wounds, Tenderness, and Swelling.
Checking for blood.
“So they’re bleeding from two places.”
“It’s not working.”
“Applying more pressure.”
“I’m going to pass.”
“Don’t say that out loud.”
“I’m going to fail.”
“Don’t say that out loud.”
“I stopped the bleeding.
Are you paying more this year?”
Do you still want the job?”
Quiet People Are Stupid and They Don’t Talk Because They Are Not Capable of the High Thought Processes That We Know* To Be Associated With Talking
No one quietly became President of the United States.
No quiet Vanderbilt ever built the railroads,
And no quiet son of Fred Chase Koch ever cracked oil into gasoline
Or pays your congresspeople their good, fine, American salaries.
The only reason I am in front of you now,
Is because I am a reformed quiet person.
Yes! I was once like you,
But then I became better.
And that’s what happens when you become a better person:
You talk more.
All of the greatest people in the world were great speakers,
And all great speakers are great people*.
Quiet people are rare, thank God, and unnecessary for a well-functioning society.
Their upbringing is a universal travesty.
Quiet people were breast-fed by quiet-breasted mothers,
Usually for far too long.
The sperm that produced them is generally among the slowest and most disappointing.
Everyone, especially the ovum, is shocked when the quiet sperm manages to develop
Into a quiet fetus.
Yes! I was a quiet child.
And I also used to kill cats for fun.
I never spoke up in school,
And I never, once, honored the holy Sabbath.
If you don’t think that’s important, you really don’t belong here.
The first thing that I noticed when I started to talk more,
Was that people started to listen to me more.
Sometimes people didn’t even know what to say back to me,
And that was how I knew that I was finally better than them.
Most people who listen to me are absolute idiots. (Not you, of course)
So if everyone could please take the hand of their neighbor and join me in a silent prayer,
In which we may all singly condemn the least productive members of our society,
The quiet people.
Close your eyes, too, please.
In language class, they give you a close-enough new name so it’s like close-enough being born again. My name is. My name is. They want you to repeat it to yourself so you’re sure of who you are. What’s your name? What’s your name? They always frame it like a conversation so you think with this new language, you will never be alone. Nice to meet you. Nice to meet you. Nice to meet you. We were partners before we were anything else. Paired up when everything else was pared-down.
The good language class instructors will cut the middle-man. They will point to a chair and they will not say the word in the language you know, they will name it something new to you. This eliminates the need to translate. This eliminates the need to think too much. Thinking too much leads to self-doubt and panic. It’s a kind of brainwashing, I guess, this re-learning. Every language class textbook has the same general lesson plan. You learn the words for the things they think count, like numbers so you can tell the time and the name for the place you’re in so you can locate yourself. They figure naming things makes them less scary so they give you the names for school things and train station things and kitchen things, the things they think surround you.
To continue this illusion that with this new language you will never be alone, they teach you words like mother and father and friend. You can’t yet say you’re a published poet / award-winning bowler / volunteer firefighter, so you learn to define yourself in relation to generic others. Daughter and granddaughter and friend and girlfriend. Is there a word for a regular at a coffee shop, and what do you call the boy you bore your bare self to? You can name the day of the week it happened, and the time, and the place but you don’t have words for why it still matters.
They teach you who / what / when / where / why fairly early on, so you know it’s okay to be curious.
In language class, they teach you words for the things they think you do so you know what’s normal. Waking up / getting up / brushing your teeth and not scrolling through social media / masturbating / singing Whitney Houston in the shower. You wake up at 6, but don’t get up till 7. You have eggs for breakfast every morning. You ride your bike twenty minutes to work. I know the outer lines of your days.
We’ve barely learned how to do things yet. We know what we are and how to be. We know emotions. We know how to feel basic things, like happy and sad but not the one where you’ve heard bad news and you feel frozen all over, and heavy, or the one where you’re both happy for your friend but also like you maybe want to leave an iron on their face. Or the one where it feels like you’re covered in ants, except the ants aren’t moving around, just trying to hold you back like they’re the people and you’re Gulliver, and where did ants get rope anyway? So maybe they’re spiders with webs, and the feeling is that the only way to get them off is to never stop moving at a steady pace. Is there a way to say you feel like you’re being pulled wildly in so many directions that you’ve never been more still?
We know temporary states of the body, too, like hungry and thirsty and tired. But is there a word for wanting to be full of something different? Like wanting a landscape inside you? What’s the word for when you finish something—it’s kind of like accomplished, but emptier.
A Couple More
A couple more minutes means not really. I hate crying in bed or when I have a cold. The act of becoming foreign. Movies make it nice but sometimes feel like dissociation. Falling out of love is my least favorite part of loving. The mountains alight purple-brown every day at dusk. As if in a play. Sometimes rain dims. Occasionally the sensation prevails. How much of it is always a metaphor for death? Hums in the common living room mean it is past evening and it is not the weekend. The sky has a way of glowing velvet here. Nature doesn’t let you forget about your problems. Good friends often attend meals together. They say strength in the blood makes for a good neck. Sometimes I wonder if anything is worth saying but usually the saying is what helps me back onto my feet. Language makes me feel funny. If people still wrote letters. I see when you’re online and then I know some part of your life. Ownership floats around.
In Praise of Being “That Blonde Bitch”
Hello! I am the newest member of the club
Of the Blonde Bitch Clan (BBC for short)
Because of this, I am nervous
I am nervous that they will find me out
Because I am the fakest of them all
I am that fake blonde bitch
Some people might think this would help me fit in better
But this is not the case
Because I am one big lye
(You could make ten bars of soap with me)
It’s the way the brown grows in on my lemon-shaped head
It is Muddy, Thick, and just Plain Gross
What if they think I am part of MTPG?
¡Ay, mi madre! ¡Dios no lo quiera! ¡No!
No one has yet to ask me what inspired
This drastic change of lifestyle
Not that I would tell them the truth
I don’t want to say Justin Bieber’s decision to go blonde reassured me
But it reassured me
I cannot tell you the exact day I made the decision
But I can tell you what I was wearing
A black, semi-shear dress and boots
Velvet and over the knee, my mud hair
Sitting on top of it all
It is now day seven of being apart of the BBC
And I can’t say things have gotten much better
I look in the mirror and my inner-photographer gets the best of me
“NOT ENOUGH CONTRAST” she says
“YOU LOOK LIKE A WAFFLE” she says
“But in a cute way?” I ask
“No, in a soggy without syrup way”
She really hit me where it counted
If I can’t convince myself
It’s only a matter of time before the others find out
And spit on me or throw dirt on me and say things like
“You dirty hippy!
Go crawl back into the ethnically ambiguous hole
From which you came”
I will do my best not to cry syrupy tears
But I cannot make any promises
I will continue to wear hats
Well into the summer time
When they ask if I want to go swimming
I will say I am allergic to water
With a very serious face
When they ask if I want to go to yoga
I will say I have already reached enlightenment
So it really wouldn’t do me any good
When they finally ask me why
“DON’T YOU TAKE OFF THAT STUPID HAT”
“I HAVE PERPETUALLY BAD HAIR DAYS, OK”
And that’s the story of how
I am no longer a member of the Blonde Bitch Clan
But at least I can finally
Scratch my head
And wash my hair
Without anything getting in the way
Once upon a time I was employable now I am God
of a beach town. I stagger to the stern and bid the sea
good-night. Wave trembling and mute, the dock refracts
my song across the bay and sings light off to the lighthouse.
The moment of first landing in a foreign city is a perfect
realization of forlornness. My tears are rain, my exhale fog.
My mortal enemies, the gulls, think they have won.
Their bodies burn and turn to salt in my revenge.
It is written I shall be capricious. A sheep has jumped
overboard and the vegetables are getting very dry.
My eye is never weary of the dark green waves. O drowsy,
grey and salt, under the ill-fitting coat of the sky,
the sheep struggles on the altar of sacrifice
and I’m holding court on the beach again.
Text in italics from Retrospective of Western Travels by Harriet Martinaeu (1838)
The day the bookstore caught on fire
I was busy arranging marriages
between dead poets.
The plump white cat escaped,
Barely. Here are some words
I almost heard once through a wall:
Fastidious, flammable, dust.
If Shelley wrote six volumes and Keats
has disappeared without a trace
I’m making the investigation a priority.
I’m still looking for a fire extinguisher
or a bucket of milk.
I’ll write this in archival ink
so as to make it outlast us
like a prehistoric insect in an amber
asylum. The black bug crawls up the damp
Windowpane. The rain has become quite insistent.
Puffs of white fur are burning
and dust is once again becoming dust.
Meeting, An Opera
I can’t talk long.
I’m just on my lunch break.
I thought about calling you,
And asking if you would want to meet somewhere else.
I thought maybe you’d want to meet somewhere warm.
No. This is fine.
It’s right between us.
This is fine.
That doesn’t sound good.
Travis: don’t try and take care of me—
No, no! I just think that.
The cold sort of carves you out and leaves you empty, right?
And that coat looks real ratty.
Why not go somewhere else?
Somewhere warm? //
Whatever you want, Travis.
Whatever you want.
// Here is fine.
You are so full of shit.
I’ve only got an hour.
They expect me back.
Empty churches are weird.
They make all the noise in the world –
Holy screams and hollers –
But without any sound at all.
Empty churches on a Tuesday afternoon in March
Are very weird.
You are so full of shit. //
What do you want, Travis?
(T tries to kiss P. P pushes him away.)
Stubborn as an ox.
Let me care for you.
I know you need it.
(He tries to kiss him again.)
I thought you—
You came to meet me.
On your lunch break.
Not for that, Travis.
I told myself you wouldn’t come.
And then you did. And so I thought…
What the fuck do you want, Travis?
My mouth is stuffed full of words
(Jumbled like alphabet soup),
And I can’t find the strength to spit them up.
This is hard for me; harder than you can know.
I still love you, Phil.
Can you see that?
I miss tracing the lines on your body:
The run of your hip like the lip of a
Brimming wine glass.
I miss tracing the lines on your body
Before you wake up and ruin me
With shrugs and nudges and pushes away.And scurry off to work.
I still love you, Phil.
Can you see that?
You are so full of shit.
We’ve turned this over four times before.
My teeth are caved in:
They don’t have anything for you anymore.
Phil, I still love you. I still love you.
What do you want, Travis?
By this church on a
Tuesday afternoon in March.
Give me more than “I still love you,”
Or I’m gone. I’ve got to get back to work—
It sits low in my gut
And makes me feel like
I’m going to shit myself.
You don’t know. You don’t know!
I’m gone. //
I know you’re sick, Phil.
The coughing, bringing up cancer-blood.
Not good, Phil. Really not good.
Disease of the lungs;
Shallow, empty breath.
How’d you guess?
James called me and James told me.
Last week. Not good, Phil.
You need someone looking out for you
If you’re sick. You need someone around.
And I still love you, Phil.
Like I know how.
Don’t try and take care of me—
Do you know that most mornings
When we were together –
When you would leave for work early
And abandon scattered-me in your bed –
I would make myself oatmeal and honey?
Because that’s all you had in your kitchen.
And no matter how many times I would
Make myself breakfast, I would always
Find that box of oatmeal full, full, full.
More than I left it the day before. It was magic.
Is that where all your money went to?
You’d always be working and
You’d only ever have oatmeal.
But endless oatmeal. Endless oatmeal.
Don’t worry about it, Travis.
You’d only ever have oatmeal. //
That coat! Looks like you sighed
All the warmth right out of it.
Always working, but you haven’t
Bought yourself a new coat in years.
Look: I know your wallet is empty.
The well’s run dry. I get it.
And hospitals aren’t cheap.
And doctors aren’t cheap.
I get it. So take this.
My love to you.
Full and rich,
Like the chocolates
You’d never give me.
(He tries to give him a wad of cash.)
What the fuck are you doing?
This thing I’m giving you.
It’s what I owe you.
I feel it heavy in my gut.
You’ve got to eat more than oatmeal
If you have cancer, Phil.
Oatmeal’s not going to keep you healthy.
Oatmeal is magic.
It’s the only thing
You know why?
Doesn’t try and
Take care of me.
It just fills me up.
I know you!
I know your demons
And your darlings.
I know you!
I know you are sick.
And I know that your
Apartment gets cold
With all those windows.
And I know that the only
Spoon you own is rusting.
And I know that you won’t
Buy yourself a new coat
Even though that one is
And I know that, for whatever reason,
You won’t spend money on things
To keep you full and good and warm.
If you can promise me
That you have the money to…
I’ll leave you alone.
But hospitals aren’t cheap, Phil!
I have to get back to work.
Where does all that money go?
Where does all that money go, Phil?
An empty pantry, but ONE endless,
Magic box of oatmeal.
Don’t reject me, Phil.
I’m not an easy thing,
You can blow off.
There’s more in me –
More I feel I owe you.
Why do you still love me?
I declared war on you
And my bedframe
Every night you came to me.
I left my convictions there
When we ended things.
I wasn’t good to you, Travis.
I wasn’t good to you at all.
I know that in my gut,
I can feel it swell in my
Stomach every time
I think of you.
But I still love you anyways.
Why do you still love me when you only know my mattress?
Understand this, Travis: your love is based on a lie
That you’ve made for yourself – that I could
Give you something more
Than you already have.
That’s as unfulfilled, but vital as the air.
I have nothing to give you.
I pounded you sore, sour
I pounded you reeling
Even when you asked me not to.
I pounded you hatred—
And you took it,
Even when you asked me not to.
I pounded you
Trying to hollow you out.
I still love you.
Try to explain it if you can.
I still love you.
No, you don’t. //
When I left you, scattered in my bed,
Early every morning, making endless
Bowls of oatmeal, I would come here.
I would leave my bed to come to this church.
And I would sit here for hours.
Until I spotted you on your way home.
Then I would run back
To hide on my couch,
To cough my way
Through re-runs of “I Love Lucy.”
Day bleeding to day,
Week wheezing to week.
What are you talking about?
There is no work.
There is no work.
There is no lunch break.
There is no money.
There is no work.
All a lie.
An empty thing.
Nothing on me.
Nothing to give me.
I’ve kept it all together:
The doctors, the knives,
The gasping, the fluid.
There is nothing for you to give me
Because there is nothing that you owe me.
Because your love for me is a mistake.
It’s all a lie,
An empty thing!
Then why do I feel this thing
Press from my inside out?
Why do I feel this thing
Playing checkers with my bowels??
What the fuck are you talking about?
You’ll take this.
You’ll take this
Thing I’m giving you.
You’ll take this!!
(He forces the money on him. He wrestles him to the ground and shoves it into his mouth, or his coat, or his pants. Anything.)
I’m fucking gone.
I have something growing in me.
That you gave me.
I can feel it – it’s a bull, stubborn like its dad.
I can feel its horns scraping against the inside of my intestines.
At first, I thought it was a beautiful thing
That you would come back to me for.
A beautiful thing that would make you kiss me again.
But now I see that it’s a lie:
An empty creature that keeps me full. //
Take the fucking money.
Take the fucking money!
Was someone here this whole time?
It doesn’t matter.
Those mornings I wasted
Dreaming of you at a desk
With a laptop and a ham
Sandwich for lunch.
These things I thought full
I am now finding empty.
Every day, my stomach grows
In time with your betrayal.
Here! Here! Feel it kick!
The monster that you planted in me
This voided beast that drains my life.
(He presses his stomach against P.)
You’re fucking nuts!
I loved you. I loved you!
I gave you money because
I still loved you!
Now, I am lost. I am lost…
You’re fucking nuts!
I loved you! I loved you!
(Church bells. End.)
A Brief History of How My Tongue Was Shaped
It was 1956 when my grandmother, Momo, was sent to the U.S. She was a light-skinned princess from San Salvador sent to Poplarville to learn English. Momo met Donothan O. Byrd at the community college. They played cards and traded cigarettes in the cafeteria. He was a Mississippi boy born and bred. He fought for our country. She talked funny, but she had light skin. She wasn't black. They married in '57.
It was 1980 when my first cousin twice removed made it out alive. It was the Salvadoran Civil War. He, Manuel (we call him Meme) was meeting with his comrades. He was a socialist. He was with the FMLN. They all worked inside. They had eyes and ears. They met in secret. It was 1980. He left the meeting early to check on his baby boy, Manuel (we call him Memine). His comrades, even Quique (especially Quique), were taken. They were shot and mutilated. Twelve bullets per body and an arm too. An old-fashioned roadside assassination. Meme, he made it out alive. It was 1980.
It was 1992 when Rodney King was taken out of his car and beaten to the ground. It was 1992 when Los Angeles caught fire. Mom, Anita with her light skin and chestnut hair, and Dad, Hector with his brown skin and Mexican tongue, held Diego, their baby boy with dark hair and olive skin, close to their chests. They wouldn't leave the apartment's walls. Mom had forbidden Dad from going out after that bigot yelled, "Go back to your country!" at his brown skin. It was 1992 when the rooftops fired their rounds.
It's 2015 on Día de los Muertos. I, Julia -- daughter of Hector and Anita, sister of Diego -- have a white face and auburn hair. Nobody here knows how my tongue was shaped. Nobody knows about '57 or '80. Some know of '92. It's 2015, and I have no chocolate for my pan de muerto.
Kiss and Tell
We say we won’t
kiss and tell tall
tales we’re wont to miss
the sick we picked
parted mouths and pricked
our tongues totally tattered
trace sores with our tri-
linguals lapping to taste
the buds we bore
each other bare to bone
on the floor we chose
a terrific tongue lashing
a tidal wave, heavy-
weight title to tell all
Translation from Canzionere by Umberto Saba
Non dormo. Vedo una strada, un boschetto,
che sulo mio cuore come un’ansia preme;
dove si andava, per star soli e insieme,
io e un altro ragazzetto.
Era la Pasqua; i riti lungi e strani
dei vecchi. E se non mi volesse bene
-pensavo-e son venisse più domani?
E domani non venne. Fu un dolore,
un spasimo verso la sera;
che un’amicizia (seppi poi) non era,
era quello un amore;
il primo; e quale e che felicità
n’ebbi, tra i colli e il mare di Trieste.
Ma perché non dormire, oggi, con queste
storie di, credo, quidici anni fa?
I can’t sleep. I see a street, a stand of trees,
that press upon my heart
where we went to be alone together,
the other boy and I.
It was Easter: the slow strange rituals
of the old. What if he didn’t love me
what if he didn’t come tomorrow?
And tomorrow he didn’t come. An ache;
by dusk a throb.
it was not ( I later knew) friendship,
it was love,
the first; and what happiness
it brought, between the hills
and the sea of Trieste.
But why can’t I sleep tonight, with these
stories of, what, fifteen years ago?
Dedicated to Juan Gelman
You / who suture human souls
with your hands / when mute sky /
could not sew back the pieces /
only you / pull back darkness / to reveal darkness
where nothing / when we reach out / can be touched
what noises do you hear / from the other side?
what downturned mouths utter
over your shoulder?
bones have mixed / with sediment
and who / have your shoes touched? / and how many? /
you’ve let them climb into you /
reach into your heart’s cage / and beat screaming / against it
Dear [ ] I miss you
You are funny and warm
full of light like a rich falsetto
rolling your ohs your ahs You make
my pen move Just kidding
This is an email but I still love you
Your name is Fanny B in my cellphone
Our conversations are neon pink and lively
We laugh we make the time
great Do you remember
that day on the boat It was like summer
I didn’t know life could be so bouncy
Resting on the rails My hair whip-slapping snake
-like Our feet leather-bound
I told you look at that bleeding fish
over there I’m that bleeding fish
over there but that Me is a pretty Me
in a God-way The color of the trail
red like cars and christblood
how it didn’t blame anybody
In the black eyeball of that dead fish is my body
looking at you holding our gaze
in my hands I’m that dead fish over there
Looking at your hands and your veins bubbled
and thick Dear [ ] you don’t understand
me when I get that silly But still
I wanted you to understand me [ ]
I told you (you looking at my fish-self)
that when our eyes touch its like
A five-headed fire groping for tree grass and body
saying help I am hurting I am burning
Pulling knife threads out of wet green cactus meat
and putting each of them back
A mirror in mid-shatter glass on glass touching
itself in a shiny rain saying I’m glad to be
rid of my body but touching it knowing it felt
That was a good day. Dear [ ]
every morning (when
my pillows are cold) I look for you
in my inbox You aren’t there
only pizza real estate low price high quality pharmaceutical pills
We should talk soon
Dear [ ] I miss you hard
I miss when you were soft for me Your voice
like wind on strings an A note looping around
Yes that’s how I feel Dear [ ] there is art
at our museum The one we made ours
when we were breathing in sync I was
at our museum walking breathing and it was only us
on the walls only us only in pictures of oil swirls of together
This is an email I will not send you
pictures of my body Please understand
that I understand that I sit on top
of your email lists (your material commitments)
Dear [ ] I will write to you tomorrow
when I have tomorrow experiences
and I hope to hear from you soon
You are heavenly like sweet bread
Anticipate my email thank you please
Sincerely, Sincerely Yours, For Today, For the [ ] Time,
Until Tomorrow, The Day After, Saturday, Sunday,
Until We Lose All This Foamy Language, Until
Your Picture Blurs and the Wind Goes Dull,
Until These Typing Bones Dry Stale, Sincerely,
A Chime in Budapest
The bread comes to bed with us,
and rises with us too.
In the morning we shrink
and bathe in the sink
First I wear white, and then
nothing (but you).
There's still blood in my shoe.
St. Stephen’s been skinning
achilles up to step
But in Kun Utca’s heat, zealous and dumb
His dome tastes like
the dark weight of a plum.
We said that we’d go find some figs,
We loved three times before lunch
and twice before bed.
Cities and Memory
“As this wave from memories flows in, the city soaks it up like a sponge and expands. A description of Zaira as it is today should contain all Zaira’s past. The city, however, does not tell its past, but contains it like the lines of a hand.”
In Temporia, time runs dependent on objects. Upon entering the city’s limits, it seems quite ordinary. You are the same age you were at the town before, at the city’s outskirts. Your watch runs not a second fast or slow, the time zone remains the same. If you walk through quite quickly, without stopping for a coffee or to sit at a park bench, you will exit with nothing but a fleeting sense of the place, the knowledge that you walked through something, some blurry and indistinct shadow of a city.
However, (and I do not know what cosmic bend caused this, what wrinkle in time), upon touching a specific object, time folds, crinkling and bending, sometimes stretching or weaving, and you are transported to a moment in the object’s life. If you stop to sit upon a bench, expecting to rest and admire the flowers, you may instead zip through time, to another moment in the bench’s life, when a girl sat and wept, or an elderly man wrapped in blankets laid down to rest.
Not even a croissant bought from a corner bakery is safe, as the butter folded in it may bring you to a cow being milked on an unknown and distant farm, or the flour many years back to a field suffering from drought, its earth cracked and sore.
Those who are in a hurry to get someplace, or who simply have no desire to live another life, avoid Temporia or walk through quickly and stiffly, dodging even the slightest brush of a branch or a sip of water from a fountain. However, even the stones embedded in the street below their feet have a history, and many find themselves lost in strings of connections and time.
There are also those who make pilgrimages to the city, perhaps desiring to live in a different century, to escape their lives. There are also those who go to find someone lost, who are in search of a specific red-checkered sunhat that will bring them to their grandmother kneeling in her garden in late spring. Finally, there are those who go to touch every object in hope that one will eventually string them back to their past selves, to the day that their father kissed them on their heads and quietly shut their bedroom door.
“This is the foundation of the city: a net which serves as passage and as support…Suspended over the abyss, the live of Octavia’s inhabitants is less uncertain than in other cities. They know the net will only last so long.”
Blood flows out of you when you prick your finger on a pin, skin your knee tripping over a rock, or donate it to the Red Cross. The blood that pearls up on your fingertip is brushed against jeans and disappears. The blood left on the sidewalk might evaporate on a hot day, reentering the atmosphere. The blood you donate exits your body through a tube, then is collected in a bag and pumped into someone else. Your body feels the loss for a bit, gets the spins, then regenerates, producing more. That surplus you had goes to someone with a lack, and balance is ultimately maintained. The same can be said for spit, as it travels down the drain after you brush your teeth, flows to a treatment plant, and reenters the environment as water. The same holds for sweat, urine, tears.
In Statera, however, the system is different. The city runs on these excretions, using its citizens’ blood and tears as power. On the outskirts of the city, there is a massive aquamarine lake, a collection point for all its residents’ tears. The tears are burned as fuel and power the cars, radiators, and washing machines.
The city runs most, efficiently, then, when everyone is crying. On the day of a national tragedy the transit system runs most smoothly, the trains are all on time. In the winter, when everyone is just a bit melancholic, the garbage is picked up promptly, and the Internet never slows down.
There is also a vast system of pneumatic tubes that crisscross the city streets, collecting the citizens’ blood and shuttling it to a power plant. Days when there is a five-car pileup on the highway, then, are marvelously efficient and well run. Hospitals are major suppliers, as are children who nick themselves in arts and crafts, who fall off their bike and get a bloody nose. On days without accidents or deaths, however, the lights are constantly flickering, the stoplights malfunction, the bathwater turns murky and grey.
Because of this system, the citizens of Statera find themselves torn, their bodies the fuel needed to power a city that they, in turn, need to live.
“In Chloe, a great city, the people who move through the street are all strangers. At each encounter, they imagine a thousand things about one another; meetings which could take place between them, conversations, surprises, caresses, bites. But no one greets anyone eyes lock for a second, then dart away, seeking other eyes, never stopping.”
As a child, I always wished that I could touch someone and transmit my feelings. I felt that, if only I could touch my teacher after I skinned my knee and spread the feeling, she would know how badly it really hurt and I would no longer be alone in my pain, both of us suffering. This desire isn’t limited to pain. When I get an A on a paper, I wish I could touch my best friend and the feeling would be diffused between us, both of gleeful, sharing exactly the same emotion. If we could live like this, I believe that conflict would be greatly reduced. A couple would both be happy at the same time, I would know how much my grandfather’s arthritic knee hurt and wouldn’t begrudge him for not going on walks with me, we would never again be alone, suffering in solipsistic worlds.
The residents of Emelia are receptive to shared emotion in the sort of way that you and I both feel cold when the air conditioning is cranked up too high. When they are separate, they exist as we do, alone in individual worlds. However, with one touch, an emotion or feeling is transmitted. Because of this, at any given time there is often a larger sensation or emotion to the city. During large festivities with tightly packed crowds, all it takes is one sullen, tired child to bump into a stranger and set off a chain effect that turns the mood of the crowd sour and morose. At a funeral, if one person isn’t truly grieving and in fact is secretly quite gleeful, hugs a relative of the deceased, the whole sad event quickly turns cheerful.
The residents of the city are thus understandably terrified of a day when a chain reaction is set off that touches every single person in the city and imbues them all one emotion, glee, confusion or pain spreading across the city like a disease. Because of this, there are some that live their lives quite alone, fearful of touch and connection, waiting for the day when this massive wave of feeling strikes.
Cities and Names
“Only this is known for sure: a given number of objects is shifted within a given space, at times submerged by a quantity of new objects, at times worn out and not replaced; the rule is to shuffle them each time, then try to assemble them. Perhaps Clarice has always been only a confusion of chipped gimcracks, ill-assorted, obsolete.”
Diluvia is a small city on an island. The region around the city is moist and tropical, with dark and heavy plants that grow from every crevice. The environment is unsteady and at times violent, with whipping winds and massive waves that rise up from the shore. Nothing about Diluvia is made to survive. The island itself is on a fault line, and the city directly abuts the shore. Every few years comes some new natural disaster, sometimes an earthquake, other times a tsunami or a monsoon. The towering waves inevitably wipe out the city, leaving behind nothing but foundations and rubble. The inhabitants of Diluvia, perhaps because they truly love their city, or perhaps because they simply don’t know where else to settle on such a tiny island, rebuild exactly as they remember it. New stones are placed on top of the shattered remnants of the old, streets paved over again.
Looking at the wall of a house, you can see the strata of Diluvia that have once existed, been wiped out, and rebuilt, like layers of sediment. However, nothing can be rebuilt exactly as it was, and over the centuries, the city has slowly begun to bend and morph. The walls are no longer straight, but veer off at a sharp angle. The streets lead into each other, a jumbled web. And through the passing of time, after each natural disaster the generation that rebuilds Diluvia no longer knows how it looked at the very beginning, and builds it in their own vision of the city. Because of this, Diluvia has become twisted and strange, rising at odd angles and curves, and the city, which everyone prides themselves as having remained exactly the same since its founding, is nothing like what it once was.
Cities and the Sky
“For some time the augurs had been sure that the carpet’s harmonious pattern was of divine origin…but you could, similarly, come to the opposite conclusion: that the true map of the universe is the city of Eudoxia, just as it is, a stain that spreads out shapelessly, with crooked streets, houses that crumble one upon the other amid clouds of dust, fire, screams in the darkness.
Caelia is utterly dull, an average city with a mid-rate educational system, prefabricated buildings, and overall, a vaguely beige quality. The residents of Caelia, who are equally slow and passionless, are painfully aware of their mediocrity, but don’t know what to do to change a city that has been so deeply uninteresting since its birth. In such a mundane place, with equally mundane people, there is nothing to grab onto, nothing with which to pull themselves up. They are jealous of other equally boring cities that have somehow spawned a famous author, or were struck by a meteor and instantaneously became valuable. One man, who for Christmas received the gift of a star named after him from the International Star Registry, decides that the way to bring give Caelia value is to buy it a star. They identify the greatest and brightest star in the sky above them, purchase it for a low, low, price, and name it Caelia.
Instantly, the city becomes electric, alive. They call themselves “The Starry City”, and tourists flock to see this city that has such a direct line to the heavens. The residents of the city, too, are pulled out of their mundane existence, and begin to blossom, discovering passions and interests, wearing bright colors. They look up at their star overhead and thank it for this gift of light.
Something Caelia may not have grasped is that stars die. In particular, the most massive stars burn up their fuel supply the fastest and explode in a supernova after only a few million years of life. Smaller stars die too, but much more slowly, over trillions of years. By some twist of fate, the immense and glowing star that the Caelians chose burned out only a few years later. After an enormous flash in the sky, they looked up and saw nothing. Their star had vanished.
Although Caelia had become a thriving city full of innovation and excitement, the loss of their star cast them back into oblivion. They believed that the star had catapulted them into fame and success, and without it they felt there was nothing keeping them from their previous beige existence. Its inhabitants halted their exciting lives and returned to their prefab homes, and Caelia returned to the way it was, no longer a starry city, scarcely a city at all.
“He feels envy toward those who now believe that they have once before lived an evening identical to this and who think they were happy, that time.”
There is a hidden city that is built and exists only for a specific few. Selenia is found only on maps belonging to a married couple. However, there may be many other similar Selenias that exist exclusively for other people, cities that we cannot know about. Within Selenia are two identical, but slightly offset cities. The wife lives in and moves through one of the Selenias, the husband, the other. Both have the same streets, the same restaurant they both love, the same red brick house they share. However, it is important to understand that these cities are separate, running slightly off from one another. In her Selenia, the wife may at any point be several minutes ahead, or sometimes a bit behind. Because of this, she can call the husband as often as she wants, but the phone in his Selenia will always ring at a slightly different time, and thus he will always pick up to hear a blank dial tone. She will always arrive home at night a few minutes after he has fallen asleep.
Lest you misunderstand, let me make this clear. Selenia may sound like a city of nightmares, and perhaps for others, if similar cities do exist, it may very well be. However, in this city, the wife and the husband are exceedingly happy. They live in the same house and are married. The wife makes dinner and leaves it in the fridge, and the husband finds it. The husband brings home a nice bottle of wine, and by morning, they have both enjoyed it separately. The wife gives vague but positive updates about him to her friends at brunch, and watches him sometimes as he peacefully sleeps. He is comforted by the sound of the shower running and the shadow behind the steamy curtain, the knowledge that she is just beyond. In Selenia, they never fight about the upcoming election. She never makes the ticking nose with her mouth that he hates so much, or at least he is not around to hear it. She is never angry because he doesn’t know how to turn on the TV.
In Selenia, the husband and the wife are happy together, separately. They have occasionally tried to go on holiday to France or visit parents, but every time it has erupted into a furious fight over the restaurant, and they have cut the trip short and hurried back to Selenia, where the wife wakes up peacefully to the sound of the husband’s car starting.
for he has much been prayed for
I ate an entire centipede, swallowed it whole. It is my weakness of
that I always think the ocean is just over the mountains and the
inside my throat when I thread my phone charger down until it
my small intestine and I get on my knees to squeeze the lemon and
seeds come out, and spit up a hex and cook it into your dinner and
you were out on the highway in Salinas Valley feeding pea soup to
migrant farmers while I lay in my creekbed reconstructing my
the train station was hot like an indoor pool
The train station was hot like an indoor pool. I stepped over a
puddle of milk,
and went down into the guts which smelled like chlorine. Sometimes
I miss this
with a timbre that is socially unacceptable— the view of the port and
and the electric billboard. I would have napped with my head on
at one of the highway turnouts, but I was a tender fuel pump and
full of artifice.
If I could I’d take my devotional candle with me on the train, light a
under the bay burn my skin to a crisp and blow it out with my dying
I’d arrive on your doorstep with smoke coming out like a
someone who wants to lick the pavement in sf as badly as I do
who wants to die like kelp in sand at ocean Beach w/ me.
I do not know what unit to measure mud with, but if I did I’d sit you
and tell you all about the mud. As it is this will have to suffice—
telling you about the geraniums and the dome lights telling you that
I am trying to confirm my existence, and this is how it feels:
in the dining hall at 1pm the Saturday after Thanksgiving I made
eggs is my favorite way of worshipping god; telling you that
the basement kept flooding but I kept tacitly letting people in I kept
walking around the lake at night and thinking that
Oakland is fast and sincere like Sinai telling you that
I collectivized my mourning and turned it into a grocery store
that sold canned soup and green melons.
I remember how the smell of my mother’s lipstick would fill up the elevator.
I remember “Shamana”, a 25 year old alcoholic poet I was in love with when I was fifteen, chase after the taxi I got in that night.
I remember taking my friend to see Scratch the Floor, who were performing on Halloween’s Eve. But he got really drunk and cut his finger somehow. I remember looking at it and smiling. We rubbed the blood on our faces as the moon shined down and intoxicated people surrounded us, banging their heads, not questioning what we were doing.
I remember going to second base with the base player of that same band in this gallery’s shitty outside bathroom that had a colored light bulb. Red light spilled out the gaps of the old wooden door. There was a girl waiting outside, wanting to pee the whole time.
I remember a biker offering me straight tobacco, extending my hand, snorting it, feeling it tingle in my nostrils, and having to sneeze twenty consecutive times.
I remember my first cigarette; I was five and my grandfather let me have a drag.
I remember going on a drive on January the 1st with my drunken friend who was wearing a Santa hat.
I remember making out with this guy at a party in the ruins of an old restaurant after talking to him for the first time for two minutes. I remember he was wearing a sex-pistols t-shirt and was either actually a good kisser, or the vodka that was flowing through my veins developed a likeness towards him.
I remember waking up the next day with bite marks on my inner thighs that apparently weren’t his doing.
I remember the first time I got high. I remember feeling like my heart was going to break out of my ribcage.
I remember when I rode on my boyfriend’s new motorcycle for the first time. I remember the hand breaks didn’t work, nor did he know how to drive it.
I remember having to take twelve pills a day and mother discovering that the dose was too strong a year later.
I remember my friend Mikhail, who was so drunk he was tripping over his feet, pick me up unexpectedly to carry me over a huge muddy puddle while we were making our way home through the darkness. I remember clinging to his denim jacket, hoping he wouldn’t accidentally drop me into it.
I remember going to the woods to pee on so many occasions, they all blur together. I remember wiping the tops of my shoes with a leaf and feeling disgusted.
I remember being mistaken for a prostitute on the side of the road, twice. The first time, I was 14- crossing a bridge at night. A man and a woman in their thirties, they didn’t bother getting out of the car. The second time, I was 16- sitting behind a bus stop during the day. It was only a single man that time, also in his thirties. I remember he parked his jeep, waddled over, his stomach fat getting in the way of his thighs, and sat down next to me before going into his pick up speech.
I remember looking my reflection in the eyes and cutting my hair off when I was twelve.
I remember my friend’s father trying to kiss my breast in the elevator.
I remember feeling the needle go through my tongue.
I remember the look in my mother’s ivy eyes when she found a broken piece in my bag.
I remember making out with this girl on a rooftop, whose name on Facebook was “Slaughtered Vomit Pig”, right after we finished the bottle and threw it down- fourteen stories.
I remember having my heart broken for the first time.
I remember having so much dried blood on my legs that I couldn’t take my tights off the night I broke my nose. I was four. I don’t remember the pain. But I remember I was in a lot of it.
I remember losing five hours of my life after that last sip of strawberry skittles vodka at the Tbilisi Open-Air Festival 2012, apparently including a five minute walk to the entrance, security guards checking me and my bag, me showing them my ticket, getting stamped, getting photographed, and falling asleep in front of the stage on the grass.
I remember my mother yelling at me for wearing makeup when I was in middle school.
I remember thinking that I was going to die. I remember hearing the car hit the motorcycle. I don’t remember falling to the ground. I remember the motorcycle crushing into my leg and not being able to lift it off.
I remember watching my mother get ready to go out.
I remember the sirens and the crowd of people surrounding us, studying us silently.
I don’t remember them helping, or moving, or speaking.
I remember teaching myself how to paint my eyes.
I remember the first time I had sex.
I remember making out with a guy that was nicknamed “God” and how terrible it was.
I remember having to take so many tests that the natural anxiety we have towards needles completely disappeared.
I remember piercing my own frenulum.
I remember lighting a cigarette the wrong way.
I remember the way my mother smelled before she would go to sleep.
Looking out of the car window from the backseat, my eyes try to take everything in as my lungs subtly adjust- or readjust- to the city breeze. Even though it’s June and the air feels hot against my skin, it enters my lungs as a cool current. I close my eyes and face the window, letting the air hit my face, the speed my father is driving makes it impossible to breath in at times. My feet stick to the soles of the black flats I am wearing. I take them off and put my feet up on my seat, because I can do that here. It’s my father’s car, not a friend’s, or the school shuttle or a public bus. I could drift off to sleep and there would be no consequences, no stops would be missed or bags stolen. The safest place in the world- my father’s car- where I have taken many naps and created thousands of childhood window drawings.
My mother is sitting in front, twisted in her seat so she can talk to me. She says everything with a smile, laughs at everything I say and disregards things that normally would upset her. She always looks exactly the same; the one constant that remains unchanged. We pass through a graffiti-filled tunnel; I smile because I know most of the artists.
It’s hard for me to understand how quickly buildings seem to multiply in Tbilisi. They take over parks, forests; even children’s playgrounds. Half the town is made up of construction sites and the other half with, hollow houses that stick out awkwardly with their newly dried paint amongst the old Soviet structures. People don’t have money for expensive new apartments, and those who do already own more than one (the others locked up for future children or renters).
I missed the magical spring period, when everything turns bright celery green. Instead, I’ve arrived in mid June, just as the edges of leaves are curling into brownish yellow from the scorching heat. Everything about Tbilisi seems and looks different- is different- even if the difference isn’t visible at first glance, because time and distance leave nothing untouched. Nevertheless, I feel as if I never really left. My lungs are used to this air, and my skin to this sun. The feeling of belonging here is stronger than any other emotion I have ever experienced. Knowing what street leads where, exactly at what second one neighborhood ends and the other begins, which bus runs on schedule an how late, which stops are closer to your destination. Knowing that no matter what, there will always be a bed you are welcome in, a light left on, understanding how the city breathes, what it has for breakfast and lunch, what it drinks, what it smokes, what it wears, what it’s talking about. Knowing that any stranger in the street isn’t truly a stranger, because of how many things you know about their life: like where they bought the clothes they are wearing, or what kind of sheets they probably sleep in, what neighborhood they probably live in, and what kind of desk they sat on in elementary school (because you sat on the same kind), a wooden one with metal legs and curse words etched in ink, and because of the small size of the city, that you probably have been in the same bus or subway car at some point in your life.
We just passed another new Dunkin Donuts. It’s only been a year since the first one popped up, and now they are everywhere. It’s not surprising after the commotion they caused. Dunkin Donuts were the only form of sustenance anyone ate for those first seven days. People walked around with perpetually pasty fingers and sprinkles stuck to their lips, contaminating everything with sugary stickiness. People of all ages hoarded them and stuffed their mouths with the sweet circles, probably thinking, hoping they would magically ingest “Americanness” along with them. Mothers desperately fed them to their children, families had them for dinner and breakfast, they were carried around as presents, the whole city painted a mélange of white, pink and orange. So many donuts were purchased in the first week; they had to close for two days to restock. Tbilisi ran on Dunkin.
The closer we get to home, the more my emotions rise.
As the car turns onto our street I see the familiar shops and vendors. They have crates of vibrant vegetables, fresh fruits and spices in every shade of yellow. The space their shops are in used to be garages that people sold for three times the normal price, because they were on the street and could be turned into shops. The man in the shop is watching a Turkish soap opera in his tiny television, attached to the wall as he weighs carrots. I can see the bakery, its transparent walls offering a peak inside, where a man is bent into the giant, old-fashioned clay “stove” that’s used for making traditional long Georgian bread tonis puri or lavashi.
Coming back from Bennington, a small town in which a car is needed to get a pack of cigarettes and the sky is almost always filled with constellations, having everything at the tip of my fingers feels comforting. My street recognizes me as I recognize it. We have shared so many days and nights, experienced kisses and fights, seen and done and cried. We have painted on each other. I with spray-paint and it with mud. As I get out of the car and start walking toward my building I notice my footsteps, which are still engraved in the pavement outside the local grocery store.
An ice cream truck stuck in traffic the driver starting to get anxious no bored going home to a household plagued by white noise or is that a different household a different driver on their way home to a household plagued by white noise whose sound bustles up the stairs paint chipped stairs to a door that is kept open to hear the white noise bustling up the stairs through the open door with a lock but isn’t lockable into a room of large furniture nothing but large furniture corners filled by the furniture with drawers that stick but whose wood smells good and reminds them of another room with furniture and shoes shoes on the floor a suggestion of how they were taken off one in front of the other back stepping out one in front of the other toes touching heels toes touching heels
( on a floor scuffed by large furniture )
Black Earth, Wisconsin
It’s a long drive from the airport. In the backseat of the car I take comfort in the low hum of my parents’ voices and look out the window as the highway blends with thoughts of wherever I’m coming back from this time.
And then we’re here: Black Earth. To strangers the name sounds straight out of Lord of the Rings or some other dark fantasy land, but really it’s just what the Native Americans who were here first noticed about the soil: rich and dark.
For a small rural town in America’s Dairyland, Black Earth lives up to all possible preconceived notions. The town itself is surrounded for miles by red-barn farms full with saggy-skinned heifers waiting to give up their labors for cheddar, parmesan, and provolone. Fields sprouting corn and hay and soybeans stretch on for miles; you’ve never seen skies so wide and blue or smelled anything more rancid than the fresh manure continually being spread from acre to acre.
Thanks to the arctic glaciers that carved their way down the state ten thousand years ago, Wisconsin is not as flat as its other Midwest friends. Hills roll on and on, some cut high as mountains, or so I used to think. They are sheltered by quiet miles of forest, visited yearly by groups of neon-clad hunters in the fall.
Lots of kids wake up at dawn or earlier to milk before the bus comes. Every spring my old high school, a one-story brick building shrouded between cornfields, hosts Drive Your Tractor to School Day, and several giant red and green monsters can be seen resting in the parking lot from eight thirty to three. Girls wear cowboy boots under their prom dresses and boys have crew cuts; normalcy works as currency and the social scene is straight out of every American high school movie—someone is always throwing up in the bathroom, we are always reading The Scarlet Letter, we are always losing the big game. America’s heartland is composed mostly of clichés.
We’re turning into town and here it is: THE MIDWEST’S LARGEST SHOE STORE. In a village of few more than a thousand people, the Shoe Box takes up two blocks and employs a significant percentage of the population—a set-up similar to an old mining town, but instead of coal the local currency is Nike’s and bedazzled UGG boots.
The gigantic building glows with neon lighting all hours of the day and night, complete with a ten-foot cowboy boot on the front lawn and other foot-centric décor that comes and goes with the seasons. In front, facing the highway is a patio designated for Brat Frys and Girl Scout cookie displays, where cheerleaders do summersaults for cerebral palsy and the 20-foot welcome sign reads “Shoes 4 U!”
Inside, the walls are plastered inch-to-inch with sports memorabilia: plaques and signed photos, helmets and framed jerseys, ticket stubs and laminated newspaper headlines from the biggest big games. The owner, Steve Schmitt, also owns the local minor league baseball team and can usually be found wandering the store yelling at the staff to hustle. Some believe it a right of passage to be shouted at by him while either working or shopping there, and others make the drive to Famous Footwear to avoid it.
Even so, the most bizarre thing about the Shoe Box are the birdcages that hang throughout the store, in them chirping parakeets, tri-colored finches, and at the back one beautiful crimson macaw. She watches over as customers try on sixes, six-and-a-halves, then sevens, every now and then repeating something she hears, and I can never remember her name.
Coasting down Main Street we pass the bank, the bar, post office, and the library. Two more businesses have closed since I’ve been home—the only little restaurant, the Luckin’ Booth, where my brother served slices of pie to every local over 65, and the Meat Market that smelled (understandably) like a fridge full of dead things, but was worth braving for the gumball machine. My Black Earth has been dying since the day it was founded, but with every new loss I worry more about losing all of her someday, of coming back to suddenly find nothing at all.
We take a right then a left and arrive in a cul-de-sac. At the end of the circle sits a white-paneled house with a drooping oak tree in front, and as it appears a sigh of relief leaves my body. Beyond the house the town ends and the cornfields begin, Black Earth creek coiling through the middle. Whether the stalks are green and high, brown and dying, or the field is flat and snowy, it’s certain that the view is gorgeous and the air smells like shit.
Mountain, Sage, Obsidian
Rolling steppe of sage.
The road a mile West
motions. The dead here
don’t seem dead. The living
alive, look to mounds of obsidian
on the sand, and the Sierras,
West look like tired old ones.
And here, it’s all mutual.
Soft and slow, never stopping
but still and quiet, only
with the house finches on the rocks,
asking how we got so loud.
Two gulls above
the street and café
and blue sky.
to write down
Look up again.
One gull has left.
The other there
alone on the wire.
I put the Windex in the water I put the pepper in the cookies and it was not poisonous but I thought I’d killed my sister. My father said: When Sue told me, it was like hearing that you’d put a gun up to her head. I was eight years old. I said: I tied the bear up and set the dogs loose I hit my sister when she called me stupid I bit the boy next door when he wouldn’t play legos because he said I couldn’t make a good enough spaceship. I hit the pillow against the wall when the principal was a sexist asshole I got cold when you tried to hug me I walked away when you were eighteen I never spoke to you again I always let somebody else shoot the chickens when they had been torn up by foxes or raccoons from the night before (they usually came a bit before dawn). When the duck broke its leg, my father broke its neck, boiled and plucked it raw to give to the neighbors for cooking. You can’t make a cast for a duck, my mother told me. You have to end its misery. You have to be the responsible one.
I killed a spider once, I drove a herd of calves onto the trailer and rode them to the butcher. We had named them, and then we fed them and then we held them every day. Simon had just begun to trust me.
Who has the right to torture? Who has the right to conduct night raids, strip searches, waterboarding, who kills the duck to feed me dinner who shoots the man who might have shot me first? Is it violent for a lion to kill an antelope? Is it violent for a lion to kill a lion? Is it violent for a woman to kill a lion? Is it violent for a woman to kill a woman? Is it violent that I hit my sister and bit my friend, is it violent that I put Windex in the water, is it violent that I pay taxes?
I shot the duck I hit the girl I walked away I tied up the innocent I ate the meat I drank the milk I drove the calves I drove the truck I held the knife I cut their throats who will cut mine? I hit the spider with a book and wiped the book off with a paper and threw the paper in the trash. Who tortures the inmates in far-off prisons? I am not my money. Somebody else does it somebody else will go to hell for me, I’m clean I’m clean and my hands are in water and my soul is in water and my money is yours, my money is not me my money means nothing to me I can pay for something and then it isn’t mine.
I buy the torture of foreign men and women. I buy it and take it home to my father. Dad, I say, just look what I’ve done. I killed the duck this time. I held him underwater and he told me the truth. He was crying, that’s how I knew it was true. He would say anything to leave that room, so I shot him dead and brought him home for you. Preheat the stove. We can invite the neighbors to dinner tonight.
There's a Bull in My Kitchen
There is a bull who lives in my house. He is gentle and majestic, and coal-colored with an olivey sheen to his coat. His shoulders make it hard for him to fit through doors. Sometimes I worry he’ll kill me in his sleep, his horns are just so long. Sometimes he tries to turn around around and then breaks the china with his tail. Sometimes I bring him to bed with me, and sometimes he fits better in the kitchen.
A devil stands on my shoulder & I never want to shake her off no matter how hard she digs her claws into her perch, twists her hoof, kneads her paw. She makes me wince into smiles & cackle at the spite seeped below the surface. When my mouth sandpapers blood, she spits belladonna blackened by bats spattered on my breath. She flaps her wings & flicks her tail, envenoms every love song so what was sweet bitters—stale mugwort boiled in pewter. When I hunger for affection, she sinks our teeth into fresh flesh ripped to shreds in our wake. Where some leave hickeys, we leave scars—bloodstained moons swollen at dawn. Her sonar pricks at jinxes & rebounds with hexes of her own design—jet-green flashes—I imbibe her elixir, puff out embers from my lungs. At the demon’s hour we emerge with blades laced with melted mercury—tattoo ink for all who dare. When I awake from slumbering she hovers, sharpens her nails with her fangs, licks her lips—crimson bluish wine; my piss witch readies for her next embrace.
I remember graduating, with a smile like a chasm across my face.
I remember bounding home in a big yellow dress. It was huge, sun-sized, light all around my body. A weightless feeling like everything was all behind me, and only good things ahead. I remember coming home in a state of bliss, smiling at the sky the whole way home like it'd done something for me, something special for me, little old me. And then, when I got closer to the house and saw it burning, and saw my mum and Yuki parked outside of it wailing. I remember that too. My mum running her hands down her face, tearing her hair down. Yuki white and motionless in his stupid black suit, numbly clutching that black briefcase with his Chopin, in it, with his etudes in it. And I'm like what the fuuck—a long drawn out bellow of disbelief. Oh how I hated them on that day.
I come running across the lawn, my big legs thumping right through Mrs Wu's begonias. There is smoke and this awful smell. Half the neighborhood's there, spectating. Mum and Yuki at the center of it all. I come at them like I'm coming for them. I'm losing it, I'm already flying off the handle because I just can't believe what they've done. I want to take my mother in my arms and slam her back through the burning door. All my stuff's in there. What happened, I demand to know, and with that question I pin the blame right on them, sharp. My mouth is forming a big howl, and I feel my body slam into the ground, face first, and there I am ripping out clods of earth and grass with my fists.
It transpires that what occurred on this, the day of my high school graduation, but also unfortunately of Yuki's incredibly important audition, is that my mother, so wound up, so derailed by the stress of her eldest son's upcoming performance, and also by the rift that this caused with me, her second child due to the fact that in order to transport Yuki to his recital she had to miss my graduation, decided to break the hard habit of ten years and smoke a large Benson out of the front room window, while Yuki changed into his concert-wear upstairs. When we left England, my father decided that his Benson & Hedges were the one thing he couldn't live without, and ordered them shipped to him in bulk. Never mind his mother and father, dwindling away in a London suburb, his siblings. Never mind his friends from work, our house on the hill. I found out later that my mother also left a lover behind, which explains her bitter quiet, and her tight-lipped exclamations of love for Yuki and I during the first few years of our immigration, words which seemed so lined with hate, which seemed as though they were dragged from her mouth with a fishhook. Once we arrived in the States my father went to work for a bank and we rarely saw him, as he was often sent abroad—which seemed to defeat the point of our moving in the first place. Yuki and I were convinced that he had started another family somewhere far away. “Don't be ridiculous” my Mother said, “he can barely handle this one.” And she moodily stared down at the empty table, while massaging Yuki's shoulder, so hard that it left a red mark. True, we were left very much to our own devices—the three of us, my mother very much alone in a strange Californian suburb, without friends and unable to work due to visa complications. It was as if we stopped existing for our father when he went away. My mother missed him, but said things about him to Yuki and I that she never repeated to him. She had always painted, in our house on the desolate hill in the UK but now she'd stopped. She said she didn't want to get paint on the floor. The entire house was carpeted, and the act of tearing it up or covering it seemed far beyond her in those days “I didn't sign up for this!” we heard her howl at our father on one of the rare nights of his return. Yuki and I heard the noise of his answer, muted through the bedroom wall. Whatever he said to our mother must have enraged her, because she knocked over the nightstand, Our father came thundering down to the kitchen with our mother in hot pursuit. My father's black hair standing on end, his eyes wild and closed off—the usual stare of complete denial. “Leave me alone!” our mother begged, although it was clear that she wanted the opposite. She moved towards him, and he backed away. “I haven't done anything!” he protested, and my mother hurled a butter knife at him. It clattered at his feet. He went away the next morning. That night, my mother stalking my father through the house and hurling knives, so desperate to be heard, really heard, dissolved into one of many, their anger coming through the walls, furious, helpless and inevitable. She punched him once, on the side of the mouth, and he said nothing—merely withdrew, told her to stop getting so upset. Told her that she wasn't making sense, that he couldn't understand her when she became so emotional. “Jesus,” I said to Yuki, “Whatever you do, don't let me end up with someone like Dad. I need someone who'll at least hit me back.” Yuki didn't reply, only gave me that long-faced look which suggested I'd said something truly idiotic. His name isn't really Yuki, it's Eugene. Yuki means snowflake, among other things and is a girl's name. It's not even Chinese, it's Japanese. I gave the name to him. I think I was punishing him for being a piano prodigy, and for being half Chinese like me, and for being very beautiful unlike me. It wasn't his fault. The name stuck, and even my mother started to call him Yuki. “We're half Chinese,” Yuki protested. “Chinese. You can't call me that, it's Japanese.” “Yeah, but we all look the same don't we,” I snapped, “so who cares?” “You don't mean that!” My mother cried, from the front seat of the car. “Quiet whitey,” I snarled.
My mother went into my father's office, and nicked the cellophane around his imported carton of Benson's with her fingernail, peeled it off slowly. She shook a cigarette out of the first packet. She took it into the front room, and cranked open the window. She lit it with the stove lighter. She smoked it, and felt like she might faint from the pleasure of it. She did all this while venting to my Aunt Helen on the phone, crying, the tears very quiet and very warm. The white muslin curtain went up in flames, which reached all the way to the ceiling before my mum even had time to stub out the offending cigarette and scream. The sleeve of her cardigan also caught on fire, and then the rest of it, so that as she ripped her clothes from her body the curtain flame travelled through the room. Ultimately all she could do was drop the phone and run into the next room, up the stairs and into Yuki's room. She then dragged her eldest son (one arm in, one arm out of his jacket) back down the stairs. They both simultaneously remembered the piano, or as our father refers to it, “the thing that cost more than our house,” and perhaps, bearing those words in mind spent the next few minutes trying to drag that heavy shining creature from the burning house. As they are both fairly small people and the piano weighed about 400 pounds they accomplished nothing, and it was only as they lay slumped in defeat over the unmoved piano that they realized that they had not yet rung for a fire engine. This had just been accomplished, my mother and Yuki having run out into the front yard to watch in terror as the house grew hotter and hotter, when I arrived. On the way out Yuki had grabbed his briefcase, and my mother, two of the sofa cushions. Having failed with the piano they were determined to have something, anything. I got nothing. My beautiful feeling was gone, and I was just an overweight eighteen year old in an oversize yellow dress, lying facedown on the ground, losing everything.
CARMEN Woman in her late twenties/early thirties. A stay-at-home mother with two children and big dreams. Cares about her children and thinks they are of a new generation. She is not going to lie to make them feel better.
MIGUEL Carmen’s husband. He takes pride in his life and the way his family lives. Considers himself a realist and secretly loves to win. He would never do anything he felt was against his children’s best wishes.
A living room (stage right) connected to a kitchen (stage left). The living room is complete with a couch, desktop computer (with printer), and tan carpet. The couch faces the audience in the center of the room while the computer and printer sit stage right with the swivel chair to accompany them. Everything is modern, sleek, and organized. There is presumably a large screen TV where the audience is. The entrance to the house is located on the wall opposite to the audience, stage right. The kitchen is a neat collage of blindingly white tiles. On the counter is a fridge, a microwave, a toaster oven, and various kitchen tools that a family of four would own. This is where the stove and sink are located. There is an island counter in the middle of the room, providing a square walkway for the family to roam. The cabinets are all a fine azure color. From the kitchen there is a doorway to the rest of the house.
(Everything is dark until the computer screen abruptly provides a white light. MIGUEL is sitting at the computer. His face is illuminated as he scrolls down with the mouse. He puts his head in his hands. The rest of the light slowly fades in from the windows and indoor lighting. A key is heard in the door. MIGUEL nearly jumps out of his chair then begins frantically clicking, closing whatever windows he had open on the computer. The doorknob turns as MIGUEL sprints into the kitchen. CARMEN enters. The swivel chair by the computer is still spinning slightly. She stares at the chair and, quietly as she can, takes an umbrella as her weapon.)
Is anyone here?!
Oh, yes! I am!
(lowers the umbrella and walks into the kitchen)
My god, Miguel. I could have hit you or something! I thought you’d be at work by now.
(CARMEN begins to take items out of her purse and place them on the counter. MIGUEL is staring at the island counter blankly.)
You know that moment you see in movies where a character is walking into some hallway that they know is dangerous and they have to choose something to defend themselves. The character always chooses something dumb like a lamp or a pan and I think “What a horrible choice! This is your life you’re protecting! Unless the danger is a cat that’s not going to be very helpful!” I was in that same situation just now and I chose the umbrella. That’s pretty useful, right?
Maybe. You’ve seen more movies than me.
(walking into the living room and looking around)
Lets see… a letter opener… a shoe… I really think the umbrella was the right call. Do you think that says anything about me?
You’re in a good mood today.
It’s a good day. I dropped the kids off, grabbed an iced chai latte on the way home, and upon knowing that there may be a stranger in my house I made a reasonable choice. An umbrella… just like that Batman villain that Donnie loves so much. What’s that one’s name again?
I think I’m sick.
(rushing back into the kitchen)
Oh no! Sick how?
Sick to my stomach.
Really? I feel fine. We all ate the same food last night. Was anyone at work sick? Maybe you got a bug.
I don’t think so.
Well why are you just standing there? C’mon. Sit down. Come with me.
(She puts her arm over MIGUEL’s shoulder. She directs him to the couch facing the audience. He sits still as she tosses several blankets over him and walks into the kitchen again. MIGUEL is unfazed.)
You sit tight. Watch some TV. I’ll make tea.
(She puts water on to boil. MIGUEL does not touch the remote.)
What kind of tea do you want?!
Are you sure your stomach can handle it?
(CARMEN comes back into the living room and sits next to MIGUEL. She looks at him. He looks down. She picks up the remote and hands it to him.)
(looking at her for the first time)
(MIGUEL turns on the TV, which the audience can only hear the audio of. CARMEN leans her head on MIGUEL as he flips through the channels.)
“…with only four easy payments, plus shipping, plus—“
“…people who have tried Protenza agree. Start living the life you deserve to live. Start living Protenz—“
“…I’m not leaving you here! Not like this!” “You have to! It has to end now! End it now! If you don’t, nothing will ever—”
“…schools across the country have now banned the site, leading to hundreds of protests across the country. Protestors believe Azure is an art form but the board of education is sticking to their—“
“…going to take someone's eye out. Besides, you're saying it wrong. It's LeviOsa, not LeviosAR!”
Ooh! Keep it here. I haven’t seen it in so long!
(MIGUEL turns off the TV.)
Hey! I said I wanted to watch that!
Carmen! FX only plays movies that are relevant to other popular trends and rides the wave!
Who cares? It’s been a while since…
I am not watching fucking Harry Potter! I would rather die than watch god damn Harry Potter right now!
Sorry for the suggestion, I guess.
Miguel, are you okay? I don’t want to put you on the spot, but are you really sick? You’re not yourself.
And who are you?
Are you really just Carmen? No one else?
Who else would I be?
That’s what I was asking you.
(with new intensity)
What were you looking at on the computer?
I wanted to check the traffic before I left for work. I usually check the traffic on NEWS22.com but before I could even get to the traffic page a headline catches my eye. “Azure Fans Protest Board of Education’s Quick Decision.” Azure? What could that be? So I clicked on it and read the entire thing. Then I went to Azure.com.
Why would you go on a fan fiction site, Miguel?
So you know what it is.
Yes, I know what it is. Why were you reading it?
I don’t know. I guess I was curious. It was on the trending list… But you’re right! It’s all trash.
(The teapot begins to whistle slightly. CARMEN stands and begins towards the kitchen.)
Why are you so rude today?
Because you’re Azure.
(CARMEN stops in her tracks. She takes a deep breath, then continues towards the teapot. She takes the teapot off the stove. MIGUEL walks to the computer and sits on the swivel chair. He opens a page.)
“Azure’s work has become my life’s passion. She blends erotic stories and direct conversation with aspects of our favorite characters, finding an erotic connection to them that we never knew was there. It is a bizarre mix of passion, understanding, and conversational truth, resulting in an entirely new literary genre. Azure is an inspiration to us all!”
(spinning around to face the kitchen)
I’m sorry I’m not as easily seduced!
How did you find out?
I told you. I went to the site. It’s a nice bright blue, by the way. I was looking at all the places I could go on the site, all labeled with buttons, but one button didn’t look like the rest. It didn’t seem like it should be there. It said “edit.” I was sure there was some sort of misunderstanding on my part. Maybe the site was a sort of forum for fans? Maybe they were allowed to write and edit their own strange fan fictions? No. I tried to find some way to explain the “edit” button, but I could not. I had to click on it.
Did you change something on the site?!
Yes. I had to make sure it was you.
(coming into the living room)
What did you change?!
It doesn’t matter.
It absolutely matters! Tell me what you changed!
Because I have created a new genre!
You can’t be serious! The only people reading these are immature teenage girls and anyone else who is curious enough to look for a second. You’re can’t be proud of this!
Why not?! You may not be aware, but I worked on this for three years! There is a theory to it! Hundreds of other writers agree that this is the future of literature. This is a turning point!
Or your twenty seconds of fame.
I don’t care what you think. You haven’t read any of it.
I read enough.
Harry fucking Potter! I read that one.
That was one of my first.
I don’t think I’ll ever watch that movie again. Wingardium Libido-sa?! It’s horny nonsense!
You know nothing about literature. It’s constantly changing. For a long time respectable literature was only textbooks and information. Novels were the fan fiction! Narrators were unusual! And stupid, small-minded men like you are still getting in the way of forward movement!
Oh?! Then tell me, what are you doing that is new?! What about you work is different than all the other bullshit fan fiction out there?!
I break the fourth wall in my fan fiction.
You didn’t read the whole story did you?
I didn’t make it through.
(CARMEN sits at the computer and pulls up the story.)
“Hermione looked up at him with passion in her eyes. Harry pulled her closer, elevating her lips to the same level as his…”
“…Harry tilted Hermione’s head slightly to the right and gently whispered, ‘Wanna try something different?’ Hermione was feeling his intentions below…”
Oh god. No! Stop!
“‘Yes please,’ she whispered back. Harry took something out of his pocket: a parchment. ‘Hermione,’ said Harry, ‘would you like to read my erotica?’”
“…Yes, that’s right, erotica. For this story is erotica and as an erotica writer I will not ignore the usefulness of my genre. It would be undeniably contradictory if my own characters could not get off on the very work they are a part of. If you would rather look at pictures and videos you may, but the writers of this degraded genre cannot deny it’s vast importance to their own sexuality. Erotica is just as much for its writer as its reader and as such it would be unfair of me to be dishonest about how I am turned on. I must treat my reader with the same respect that I treat myself. I am tired of erotica writers coming up with gruesome, lustful acts when they themselves do not partake in those acts and have no understanding of them. Just like any good authors we should write what we understand. Anything less would be a betrayal to the readers that adore them. Too long has the premise of erotica made people think of shame and the weakness of the female sex. Erotica is for men, too. The idea that through pictures and only through pictures can someone ruin a perfectly good pair of underwear is unreasonable and simplistic. People will masturbate however they please. If my characters had launched into each other and made love, or watched a film, it would encourage the idea that I myself am executing a pointless action by writing what I write, and I refuse to buy into such a hypocritical mindset.”
People get off after a wall of opinion like that?
My work is not about finding something you can orgasm to. It is about using those feelings—that intensity of lust— to enhance the experience of literature. This is about art, Miguel. This is my art.
You can’t be serious. For ten years now we’ve been married, happily I might add, and then I learn about something like this. I mean, we have kids, Carmen. We have kids to look after and I don’t know if this is good for them.
This is good for the world. Art is good for the world. I’d like to think that my own husband is supportive of how I express myself, right.
I just… It’s so hard to express how… How could you possibly keep this from me for so long?
Because, Miguel, I always knew you were just another member of society. Every day you go to work and I stay at home and clean or take care of the kids. You make money, provide for the house, and you like it that way. You’re very traditional but my life is too traditional. My day is always the same. Sometimes I see a movie. But three years ago I got bored. I went on the internet and found something extraordinary. Hundreds of people writing stories about Harry Potter and Twilight and The Simpsons and Breaking Bad and House M.D. and all of these people understood their own dark attractions to the characters. They had a good enough grasp on the characters that these movies and shows have created in their minds that they could put them in new exciting situations they had seen nothing like before.
(stroking the cabinets with her hands)
There was an honesty to it I had never felt before. I knew I had to be honest, too if I wanted the world to change, so I became anonymous and honest through art. I bought new paint for these cabinets that day. Azure is what they called it at Lowes. Bright beautiful blue. It’s very sensual, don’t you think?
I… I can’t believe it. You think this is beautiful? Maybe some people read your stories because they think it really is art but you would not have gotten this much attention if it weren’t for the fact that your stories are controversial! It is today’s issue and tomorrow’s joke! In fact I almost thought your stupid story was a comedy with all that direct address shit you pulled, which by the way only works in a comedy! Comedy is ridiculous and based in honesty so it makes sense if the narrator breaks the rules for the sake of being honest. The comedic author goes out of his way to gain that right and you think you can just throw something like that in any sort of story despite how off-putting it is?! And, by the way, when you do break the fourth wall in that impromptu lecture who is the narrator?! You or J.K Rowling? Because those are her characters you’re taking and throwing anywhere you please to mean whatever you want! It is a gruesome act. Please, PLEASE, stop acting like this is beautiful because the fact of the matter is that when people are honest it gets ugly.
Art can sometimes be ugly.
What did you change?
I made your site a deep dark blue. What did you think I had done? Released you name?
Actually, that’s what I was hoping for. Now that you know I don’t really care who knows. You’ve helped me realize that no one will read my stories if I am anonymous. I have to be direct. I have to stand up for what I believe in.
No. You can’t be serious. Our kids…
…will be proud of their mother. I will start a new age of literature! I will break this absurd society!
Your Harry Potter story. It wasn’t the only one I read.
Oh yeah? What else did you read?
The Batman story. There’s no way you couldn’t remember the name of the Penguin. Not after all that detail on the functions of his vibrating umbrella!
It’s not funny. You’re no comedian! I don’t even know you anymore. Did I ever know you?
(as she sits down on the couch)
I was just trying to fit in when I was a part of your society, but you know what they say. Out with the old and in with the new. You belong in the old and I belong in the new.
(She smiles and turns on the TV)
“This just in: the board of education has announced that they are allowing Azure.com in high schools. This decision comes after the Board of Education’s office received over one million letters from citizens insisting that Azure is art.”
Over one million. About time.
(walking to living room exit)
Fine. Out with the old.
(MIGUEL exits, defeated. Blackout.)
Yellow is the Grinning Color
Summer brings yellow to Judea
bursting in thorns and cedar needles that cover
the dry bones of Jerusalem stones
Summer brings yellow of dryness and growth
yellow that pricks the parks painted in goat blood
drip drip of yellow on Jerusalem rocks
white-pink like jam in a belly button
Summer brings other things too
missiles and kidnappings and such
though we in the yellow don’t dwell on such things, though
to genteel gentiles this sounds far from holy, and
A crown of thorns sounds like cruel and unusual; but
as kids we wore them for bracelets
grinning yellow against our bronze and beige skins
liking the pain cuz
Jerusalem breeds masochists
This is not surprising when you remember that
The Holy of Holies has always banked blood money
Summer in green mats on a yellowing dirt,
horizontal walls outside the Gaza vertical,
waiting on the Jerusalem mansion to voice its aesthetic decisions:
Should we leave the schools standing?
Or would that make too much of a contrast?
Flatter is better with
fewer limbs in sight
Either way they all bleed yellow between blocks of concrete rubble
Summers with pupils anchored to the redheaded anchor on the living room screen
Will there be a ground invasion?
Now the Bibis and El-Sisis sit on their mahogany, waving flaccid
at the cameras
Pretending to be hard like the lead they’ll drop
on children shields who at a word will bleed yellow in concrete rubble
Who at a word will bleed yellow on the embargoed beach
Children in asbestos dust
And the masses sit in the A.C., clapping
their thorn jewelry against the yellow-beige drip
Jews grinnin’ cuz
Jerusalem breeds masochists
Now the pundits,
now the internationals,
now the Pope and the reformists and the
John Kerrys of the world,
“The holy land will know peace; the Jerusalem of old will be renewed;
peace and all this when the Word is heard”
And we in the yellow try to decipher foreign words
and ward off depression
Then I Jew breathe
remembering both dick-waving and peace-mongering
are history sterilized,
Purell spreading like fire on yellow cedar
carpet-bombing minds with
Velcroed on easy as gonorrhea
There was never any peace;
we live in a city of tombs,
every corner named for murder
and this is the truth, inescapable like the prospects of any Gazan:
The pink of stones is red in reality,
blood is fertilizer
for Jerusalem bones
and yellow is the grinnin’ color
Jerusalem has always been a city for sword-makers and money-changers
Walled in keeping the yellow on the slopes of Gehenna
And The Holy of Holies’ has only ever housed slaughter
Me: I am in this meeting house
And the weeds outside are painted acrylic,
Crisp and obtrusive. It hurts me sometimes
To look at the world when it is so lovely.
There is someone speaking here,
In this meeting house.
But it does not matter; I do not have to listen.
I can let my eyes drag me outside,
Past a window where everything becomes
Color and water-soluble.
You are supposed to be here
But you are not.
Where are you and are you covered in paint?
You: you paint sometimes
But not often enough to call yourself a painter.
So is your world as colorful as mine
And when you skin your knee do you bleed yellow?
When I look at the world when it is so lovely,
You do not see the same. There is no Big Dipper
There. There is no spot of white there on brown paper.
You drag your way through the landscape
Of your evenings: that is mountains that have no end
That you have painted pasty beige.
You are supposed to be
But you are not.
Where are you and are you covered?
Me: I am in this meeting house
And the weeds outside won’t stop growing.
I am tired and sometimes the smell of the
Painted ground makes my feet and face hot.
I am lucky and you are not.
I am blessed as I splatter prayers
On the wind just like Jackson Pollock.
By day the bark peeled off in long hot
strips. By night the cats’ tails disappeared again
into grass. The voices ran them down, calling
and recalling the glade. By day the heat
of stretched-out cat bellies and, by night, cigarettes.
All day it rained, but it was only at night that the rain came
awake on the asphalt, and I pushed my chin
to the windowsill to breathe it, and the old tree spoke
in its sleep. I suppose I couldn’t ask for anything more.
But there were cracks—
Through the stone where the grass grew out. Through the night
where a scream spilled out. Every day I woke up planning
to steal a final strip of bark from the tree,
but by night I was looking again
for the troublemaker in the garden
and finding her with a twisted leg.
In spring the tree was cut down and falling.
Cut in the middle and taught about light
past its bark and into its bite. Into the soft red
apple-meat of wood. In spring I came home
to find the fence new and white. And I guess I didn’t know
that things would keep happening like that.
By day the bark peeled off in long strips. And when
it finally came, the slender evening rolling itself through
the gravel, the cool dark climbing down from the branches,
the streetlights quietly selected the moment
to turn on, saying gently, This is night, this is.
They said, This, the time when you breathe.
They said, This, the cat in the grass. And now
that the tree hasn’t spoken in years, the streetlights grow louder.
They say, Here’s the only tip I have for a lost thing like you
still hunting that cat through the weeds and the mud:
If you hang onto anything, hang onto me.
My Cat Is in Love With Breakfast
My old cat yowls and yowls long after I have fed her. She gains no weight, despite our best attempts to worm her. It has been weeks like this; her hunger eating her hollow from the inside.
I fill her bowl with dry food, and she comes bounding down from the hayloft looking like the lions I have seen on TV. Wild-haired and following her longing to its soft-spot: the food bowl, or jugular of some sacrificial antelope. She leaps onto the desk in the barn and beats her hunger to its source and then hunches over the dusty bowl, her ancestral haunches and scapulae arched up against the sky, and lowers her muzzle to fill her aching belly.
The food does not fill anything in her. It can’t. But it fills the bowl in any case and she will wait for it all day, hollow as a bell rung out and yowling on my lawn. She talks to God about her hunger. I keep thinking if she talks just loud enough, the angels will lighten up a little and help us out. Maybe wet food would do the trick.
She rolls on the hot stones of our long lane. She howls her empty gut up to the sky, demonstrating something about blind devotion, or a cat’s uncanny ability to stretch out lengthwise to almost three times what seems to be their normal size. She cleans herself all the while, waiting like a Baptist in her best shoes for the white horse to come and take her away. She wails at the weather and waits for me instead, I am less beautiful but more reliable than the angels, to come to fill her food bowl again, while she grows thinner by the day.
When we argue cats or dogs, my sister never hesitates to bring up the “Cats will eat your face” argument. She is staunchly in favor of dogs, and so I have grown up a die-hard supporter of cats. I accept the scientific fact that a cat will eat my dead body if my dead body and she were trapped in a house together. Some scientist must have proved this by dying in a shitty Brooklyn apartment with her video camera turned on. The cat would eat me first, before the shoes or linens, old tissues, photographs, whatever a dog would eat in order to sit beside my un-marred body while I rotted. I find the cat scenario more comforting. Every natural creature should hunt down anything that might make it whole, and eat it as soon as it is dead, especially its face because the last thing I want on my dead body is some face reminding people of the person they thought my body was. And if it fills her belly even once, then I have been of use to God, who could not bend his great big body low enough to reach us while we starved.
Outside, my old cat is eating breakfast. She sighs and rumbles like a tiny, satisfied train car. The deep shadows carving out her spine pool wider than they did a week ago. I think I must be watching her die.
In Halifax, Nova Scotia, a man walks into a bar. It sounds like the start of a bad joke, and it is. In Halifax, Nova Scotia, a man and a woman walk into a bar. It sounds like the start of a bad joke, but it isn’t. One is Scottish and carries his stress in his shoulders and a thick accent in his throat. A wall around his heart. One is Irish with laughter in her eyes and lined hands for holding. Her heart is a wrecking ball. In Halifax, Nova Scotia, a man and a woman walk into a bar. It sounds like the start of a bad joke, but sometimes the sound of a bad joke is the same as the sound of falling in love. In Halifax, Nova Scotia, two ships sail into the Narrows, and no ships come out. It doesn’t sound like a joke. It doesn’t sound like anything at all. 9:04 the morning of December 6, 1917, and there are no words. Two ships pass silently in the Narrows, then collide. No, this isn’t entirely true. Two ships in the Narrows are on the path to collision. The first ship sees the second and signals once, says we have the right of way. The second ship hears the first signal and signals twice, says we are not moving. We will not yield. The first ship signals once more, says please. The second ship signals twice, says no. If two ships make signal sounds but don’t seem to hear each other, did they even make sounds at all? It sounds like a philosophical question, but isn’t. 9:04 the morning of December 6, 1917, and there are no words. Two ships pass silently in the Narrows, then collide. One is Norwegian and is not carrying wartime explosives. The other is French, and is. The result of this quiet collision is the biggest man-made explosion the world has ever seen, not counting the aftermath of the atomic bomb that hasn’t been invented yet. 9:04 the morning of December 6, 1917, and the world is in shock because it is experiencing something new. Because it is experiencing something it doesn’t have words for yet. 9:04, and the woman who walked into the bar at the start of her real life a few years back is also experiencing something new. She does have words for it. Her words for it are AH and motherfucker and goddamn, because the new thing she is experiencing is childbirth. AH, motherfucker, she says. She breathes goddamn goddamn goddamn between contractions. It echoes the goddamn goddamn goddamn of the men jumping off their ships a few miles off the shore. The men on the SS Mont-Blanc curse the French government for charting the path from New York to Bordeaux through Halifax. The men on the Mont-Blanc curse the need for highly explosive cargo. To flee the flames, they leap from the stern of the ship and think of their wives. They picture their wives in blue dresses with high necklines and tight sleeves, sitting by the window, awaiting their return. Straightening the stems of the daisies in a glass vase on the kitchen table. Pouring burnt coffee into dainty white teacups. Opening up The Local, the black and white world unfolding before them. Before 9:04, one sailor said to another, my wife can’t bake bread. It sounds like the start of a bad joke, but is actually another way to say, I miss her. At 9:04, he pushes off from the railing and pictures his wife with her face in front of the orange glow of the oven waiting for the rise and fall, the rise and fall. When they hit the water, the sailors think of their children, all runny-nosed and muddy-shoed. Storing gumballs in their cheeks and getting sticky handprints all over. The captain is waiting for a son. The cook is waiting for a wedding. His daughter finally found a man who deserves her. His daughter and the man who deserves her are waiting for her father to return from his expedition to say I do. They are all waiting, and 9:04 the morning of December 6, 1917 feels like the longest minute in the world. The sailors aboard the ship with highly explosive cargo are waiting for 9:05, and for a world for their children where such weapons are unnecessary. They are waiting for a little bit of kindness, for relief. Somewhere in Belgium, citizens are waiting for relief. They are waiting for the SS Imo to come with supplies from New York because this is 1917, and the war has been happening for three years now. There are German soldiers in Belgium and northern France, and their boots are muddy on the ground and their thoughts are with their own wives in blue dresses and their own children who have or have not been born yet. The soldiers are waiting to go home, and the citizens are waiting for home to feel like home, for the SS Imo to bring a sample size of sweetness. Herbert Hoover is not yet president of the United States, but somewhere in America, he pats himself on the back because this relief organization is his child. The sailors on the SS Imo just wanted to help people. One sailor can’t swim. This sounds like the start of a bad joke but is actually the start of a small tragedy. He says help me to a friend who can’t hear him because he is already swimming into the smoke. Or away from the smoke. It’s everywhere. Help me. The sad sound does not echo. If the world had walls, the explosion blew them down. The world opened up. The black and white world unfolding before them. Help me, says the woman in childbirth. Goddamn goddamn goddamn. The amount of energy released in this single event is roughly equivalent to 2.9 kilotons of TNT. The explosion, that is. The Mont-Blanc is blown apart. Wild and directionless. The 90mm gun of the ship is found with its barrel melted entirely away three and a half miles north of the explosion on the shore of Albro Lake. Its anchor in the backyard of a man who lived two miles south in Armdale. It crashes into the roof of the garage he just painted. He is silent for a while because he has never experienced something like this before, so he doesn’t have words for it yet. He thinks maybe someone is playing an elaborate prank on him. Or maybe this is a hate crime. His neighbor always hated him. Then he thinks maybe he is dreaming. He says to his wife, honey am I dreaming? She says no. He is confused, then annoyed. Goddamn. The impact is felt for miles. Right before 9:04, the fire from the ships is visible from land. It hurts not to look. The smoke floats through the streets and curious people living their curious lives gravitate towards the windows. Like them, the man who walked into the bar carries his stress-ridden shoulders to the glass. Street lamps and shop windows shatter through Halifax. Glass from the windows blasts in as the baby coming out of the woman blasts out. The world is concaving, and the baby is crowning. Head, then shoulders. People lie bloody in the streets, faceless. The baby is brought into the light. People are going blind. The man with the thick accent in his throat now has glass in his eyes. Help me, he says. It echoes the help me of the nine thousand people who are injured. A street lamp swings down and pierces the cushy skull of an elderly gentleman strolling by. Help me, he says to a woman whose skin is being singed by the fires that catch all up and down the streets. Help me, she says. A tree falls on the young couple sitting under it, and they say help me to one another but the words are muffled. If a tree falls in the forest and no one is around to hear the victims’ cry, did they even make a sound? It sounds like a philosophical question, but it isn’t. A school teacher is crushed by a fallen support beam, and she says help me but everybody who is there to hear it is already dead or otherwise joining in the helpless chorus. Help me, help me. Help me, says the overworked twenty-something year old man, ash-covered and on the assembly line in a tin can factory that has been shaken to its core. The square glass windows break out of their grid, and the young man is trapped under rubble, and nobody is getting canned tuna anytime soon. What kind of a world is this baby coming in to? Goddamn. Two thousand people are six feet underground. For days after, coffins line the streets of Halifax because people die and mourn and get rid of their dead faster than the earth can take them in. The lucky ones walk between the stacks of the deceased like in a dream, like in a very bad dream. At least the funeral parlors are doing okay? It sounds like a bad joke, and it is. Sorry. The lucky ones are sorry for a while. And silent. There are no words anyone can say to make this better, so instead the lucky ones don’t say anything, just sort through the debris for bodies that can still be identified and books that haven’t been burned up. The lucky ones walk into bars and don’t sound like the beginnings of bad jokes and don’t tell bad jokes, just drink. The lucky ones go to the one grocery store that’s still kind of standing, except they can’t buy canned tuna. The lucky ones visit their living, breathing, beautiful neighbors. To get to these places of sanctuary, though, they have to maneuver through the maze of caskets. There are so many cadavers that it is confusing. A few are buried in mismarked graves. When an unnamed man down the street from where this story takes place goes to visit his wife, he is actually visiting his butcher. He is still a lucky one. The man in the story is not a lucky one. The man is not anything anymore. He is a memory to the woman. To his son, a name for the silence. AH, motherfucker. Goddamn. The man is dead, and the baby is born. The woman is silent because this is something she has never experienced before. She holds her bloody baby in her bloody arms and doesn’t say a thing. 9:04 the morning of December 6, 1917, and there are no words. Then 9:04 is over, and everybody is asking everybody else if they are okay. In Irish, there are no words for yes and no. Every answer is an echo of the question before it. Are you okay, the sailor says to the friend swimming around him, and his friend says, I am okay even if he’s not. Are you okay, the neighbor of the man in Armdale asks him once he sees the anchor. The man in Armdale says, I am okay even though he hates his neighbor. Someone in the States asks Herbert Hoover if he is okay, and he says yes because he is in America and to him, it’s just another day. Are you okay, the widows in blue dresses back home get asked when the news comes through the folds of the black and white world, and they say they I am okay. The cook’s daughter gets asked are you okay by the man who deserves her. She is the only one to say no. She is in France, and in French, they have words for that sort of thing. In Irish, there are no words for yes and no, but there are 43, 741 other words. Still, the woman holding her baby doesn’t say anything because there simply aren’t words for this new life.
I learned about sex in the strangest way.
Every night, I used to ask my mother to tell me a bedtime story. I wanted fairytales. Once upon a times and happily ever afters. I wanted princesses with hair braided by birds and princes on invincible white horses. I wanted the whole damn cavalry. Ivory-coated castles and kind old men with wooden staffs and wrinkles at their eyes and magic up their sleeves. I wanted spectacular. Stories about the sun and moon and all the celestial bodies in between. About the stars, one for each of them so she’d never stop telling me stories. I wanted to know about the earth, its origins.
Instead, every night, she told me about my own.
It was a simpler time, she’d say. Airports and airplanes were less vigilant places then. People believed in the kindness of strangers. I did, she’d say. She was flying from England. “From” and not “out of” because she was trying to get away. She didn’t have a destination in mind, just a paycheck and a passport. I figure she had a few other things too, but she leaves them out so I’ll know she was brave. She’d say she knew she wanted to cross oceans, time zones. She bought a round-trip ticket to New York. She’d emphasize the round-trip part because she wanted me to know it’s always okay to come home, but when she’d tell the story, she held the return stub in her hands.
Twenty-two is a lucky number for us, she’d tell me. Because that’s where they met. Aisle 22. He was a kind stranger—that’s all I’m told. Once, when I was eight, I asked for a name. Henry, she told me. I knew she was lying—knew she didn’t know—but sometimes when I felt afraid, I’d whisper Henry into the walls at night like a prayer.
This is where the details get murky. This is where I get spectacular. This is where I get origins. This is where I get the collision of celestial bodies. Bits smaller than the stars in the sky coming together to form something brighter than the constellations, she’d say.
I was conceived somewhere over the Atlantic. Created in an airplane, a heap of metal parts that just as easily could have malfunctioned, driven by a pilot who could just as easily have fallen asleep or ill or from the sky. I am here because of a woman’s wanderlust and restlessness and because of a stranger’s boredom on a seven-hour flight. I exist because of a moment of escape over open ocean, conceived in no particular time or place and with no inherent intention. I do not believe in inevitability, but for my mother’s sake, I believe in heroines and the kindness of strangers and sometimes even happily ever after because we are doing all right, aren’t we?
Even my mother has her kryptonite.
In college, my mom lost her virginity to a boy she was already in the process of losing. The gesture was supposed to make him want to stay.
No one is special.
Once, I attended a lecture that was supposed to alleviate the stress of the college application process. The admissions counselor stood in slacks two sizes too big at the front of the room and told everyone to write down their favorite number. We had about twelve seconds to think about it before she made every single student in that room read their number out loud. There were a lot of ones, some fives, a handful of thirteens. One other person said twenty-two from the back of the room, and I craned my neck to see who it was, wanting to trade tales about the number twenty-two after the meeting.
After we’d gone through everyone, the admissions counselor stood at the front of that room and said, You see? She demanded to know why no one had chosen a number greater than one hundred. She demanded to know why no one had picked pi, or a fraction, or a negative number. She supplied us with the answer: No one is special.
No one is special. You are not special, and neither am I. If we were saving ourselves for “that special someone,” we would be waiting our whole lives. If I asked every boy who entered my bedroom what his favorite number is, it would always be whole and less than one hundred.
What if sex were actually like this?
Once, I dreamt of a society in which, when you decided to lose your virginity, you had to submit a formal request. There was a waiting period that could be as long as two weeks, but in the dream, my mythic boyfriend and I got lucky. We were rushed to a small white room in the basement of our local high school. There were two standard twin-sized beds with bleached white sheets but no pillows. The one on the left was made and pristine, the paper-thin toothpaste-white blanket stretched tight, tucked under the mattress. A shocking contrast to the bed on the right. In the bed on the right was Mrs. G, a substitute teacher I’d had once or twice in middle school. She was known for being a little eccentric; I recognized her by her unmistakable curly red hair, which frequently got caught and tangled in the large, neon, plastic, ‘80s-style earrings she wore daily. In the dream, I ruminated on the fact that the last time I’d seen her, she was not pregnant. The last time I’d seen her, I was not sexually active and she was not sweating profusely with her legs propped up, screaming a string of expletives. How things change.
Timing is a really remarkable thing when you think about it. In the dream, I undid the cold metal button on my boyfriend’s jeans. He traced my spine with the zipper at the back of my dress. A man I could only assume to be Mrs. G’s husband was holding a thick stack of flashcards and reading them out loud, one by one. There are 7.125 billion people on the planet. For two people to find each other out of the 7.125 billion people on the planet—that takes some pretty impeccable timing. That’s what I was thinking about when we started kissing. In the dream, my boyfriend did not have a face because in real life, he did not exist. In the dream, I didn’t find this strange. Instead, I kissed his ambiguous, amorphous face and thought about the pretty incredible timing of two people falling in love, with each other, at the exact same time. A baby is born every eight seconds. He slid a sweaty palm across my thigh. Our uncertain bodies started to compress together. And then someone yelled, “Push!” and someone else said, “It’s coming!” and he did and he did and it did and she yelled and I yelled and there was crying and I wasn’t sure where it came from.
This is how it actually happened.
It’s high school. It’s early in the fall, when the leaves begin to burn and crunch. It’s the homecoming game, and there is a wide receiver who has to sit out on account of a shin splint. He’s really fucking angry about it, except for there’s a girl in a denim mini-skirt with his letterman jacket wrapped around her dainty shoulders, still sun-kissed from the summertime.
And even though he’s not playing, his team is doing all right. Hell, they might even win. The teenage boy is so distracted by the prospect of maybe winning that he is barely thinking about the brunette in the denim mini-skirt and the way she crosses and uncrosses her legs. Barely.
They lose the game. They stay at the bottom of the bleachers as the cheerleaders cartwheel and whirl and split off the field. Yes, they are very pretty, but all the teenage boy thinks about is how it looks like their too-high ponytails are tugging at their skin, wrestling it over their skulls, like a face-lift too soon. And then they’re gone, and so are the hot dog vendors and the cotton candy pushers and the other sports fans with their foam fingers and extra large diet cokes (oh, the irony). And then it’s just the teenage boy and the brunette in the denim mini-skirt. It’s just him rubbing his bad leg—the left one—and sighing and thinking he could have made that last pass, thinking his body failed him and he failed his team. Is there such a thing as the Transitive Property of Failure? It was his body that failed the team—leave him out of it.
The teenage boy has a loss on his shoulders and a knot in his stomach. He needs to be cheered up. He looks like he wants to be cheered up. He knows he looks like he wants to be cheered up, sitting next to a girl who lets her hair run loose, tumbling over his letterman jacket, who just wants to help somebody and who has an inability to say no.
And just like that, the knots in his stomach are not knots—they aren’t even butterflies—they’re motherfucking eagles, and the brunette in the denim mini-skirt is crossing and uncrossing her legs until she’s not anymore.
Kindness is letting the stranger sitting next to you on the subway fall asleep on your shoulder.
There is a man reading a menu on the subway. It’s one of those laminated one-page, double-sided ones that are some unnecessary length longer than a normal piece of paper. Nothing fancy. It has a black-and-white checkered print that is supposed to remind you of diner floors from the fifties and girls with flouncy ponytails and poodle skirts. Sock hops and jukeboxes. High school sweethearts, two straws and a milkshake.
There is a man reading a menu on the subway the way that people read bibles during their morning commute. It is fascinating to see what people do during their in-between time. He is tracing the individual itemized listings with his index finger, following the string of dots to the prices. He is whispering the words under his breath as he goes along and it sounds like a prayer. Cheeseburger. Lettuce, tomato, onions. For bacon, add fifty cents. Maybe food is his religion.
There is a man reading a menu on the subway and he is crying and his tears are rolling off the laminated covering. He is starting to sob. He is close to throwing a tantrum. He looks like a child. No, he looks like someone who needs his parents. These are not the same thing. Maybe Sal’s was his dad’s diner. Maybe Sal was an earnest and hardworking gentleman who loved nothing more than grill grease and his son. Maybe Sal spent many slow afternoons chasing his son around the bar stools and maybe Sal’s son—the man with the menu—loved nothing more than watching his father flip burgers during the dinner rush. But maybe Sal’s initial love proved not to be a lucrative profession so he had to board up and close down. Maybe Sal’s diner was the man with the menu’s sanctuary, and so now this last laminated menu is his touchstone.
There is a man reading a menu on the subway and he is turning it over and over in his hands like he’s going mad. He has been on this train for almost an hour and the menu only has two sides and is printed in a font larger than the kind you’d find in a book. Maybe he is trying commit to memory. Maybe he is just trying to figure out what he wants to eat for dinner. Maybe the man with the menu is always the last to order when he goes out with his friends and he is just trying to be prepared. Maybe the man with the menu has a date tonight and he wants to be sure of his recommendations to the girl he finally mustered up the courage to ask out. Everyone speaks in extremes. Everyone claims to be the most indecisive person on the planet, but somewhere someone really is the most indecisive person and what if this man with the menu is him?
There is a man reading a menu on the subway. There is a man reading a menu on the subway, sitting next to a girl who, in sleep-deprived stupor, has started to doze off, collapsing onto the shoulder of the stranger’s menu-holding hand. The man stays still until the girl jerks awake on her own, avoiding eye contact.
There is a man reading a menu on the subway, and he is kind.
How religious are you, exactly?
I did not grow up religious. My mother and I never went to church. We had one bible in the house, and we used it to prop open the broken window in our living room. The closest I got to a prayer was whispering Henry over and over at night, but I knew it wasn’t for him, wasn’t a hope for his manifestation in my life. It was an acknowledgement of my mother’s lie, born out of love. It was a testament to how much she loved me.
I do not believe in grand miracles. My mother’s insistence on telling me my origin story every night might suggest that she was inclined to believe in such things, but I chose to look for miracles in more manageable bits. While she basked in the improbability of my life, I celebrated the small certainties. My most prized possession was a watch that was synced up to the atomic clock in Boulder, Colorado. I loved math for its assurances. I wanted to be an axiom, an accepted truth. I wanted to be simple as two plus two equals four. A right angle, a sure and dependable thing. I wanted to be able to be plotted on a graph. A point on a line.
In college, I took a theology class that focused on the Book of Genesis. I learned that in the beginning, before God created heaven and earth, sky and sea—before God himself became a separate, autonomous being—there was believed to be one amorphous entity. Some people believe the original sin happened long before Eve and the apple; some people believe it was our separation from that great big ball of glowing energy that did us all in. Religion is just an attempt to get back to that level of connection.
When I dream about a boyfriend who doesn’t exist in real life, his amorphous face always radiates glowing energy onto mine. Once, I asked a boy in bed how religious he was. I wanted to know if I was connecting with someone who was connected to something larger than ourselves. He misunderstood and told me that the process of giving a blowjob would be the same, circumcised or not.
My mother hates the expression “Like mother, like daughter.”
I told my mom that we are actually quite alike. She told me, “Be better. Be like me, but better.”
No one is invincible.
Every time a boy touches my right breast, I think about my mother. Home alone at four in the afternoon with the sunlight beating in through the slits in the window shades. Watching Dr. Oz. Learning how to perform an examination on her own breasts. Discovering a lump. Riding the N train by herself between rush hours to the closest specialist. Being told it’s cancerous. Reading medical journals and books by doctors written in layman’s terms, wrapping them with supermarket fliers so her daughter doesn’t see.
Every time a boy touches my right breast, I think about calling my mother and telling her that we are more alike than we had previously thought. I think about the biopsy. The cold gel that caused goosebumps to ripple across the surface of my skin. The needle with the numbing cream. The long metal tweezers that made a sound like a stapler every time the doctor broke off a piece for the petri dish.
But no matter what the results say, I am all right. I am all right because my mother is all right. I am all right, and the boy touching my right breast is all right. We are all all right, right angles. Sure and dependable things.
I never rinse my mugs out anymore. I like the rings of coffee stains, like the shorelines that shift in the sand throughout the day. The insides of my mugs look like cut-open tree stumps. Dendrochronology is the act of telling how old a tree is by counting its stilled wooden ripples. Maybe my insides look like the insides of an unwashed mug look like the sliced stump of a tree. Maybe someday somebody will cut me open and count.
Here’s the thing.
There is no inevitability. There is no destiny. No one set path, just a few fixed points—people, places, epiphanies—that we’re supposed to hit along the way. Because we are all just people forgetting things to put on grocery lists and trying to get that one song out of our heads. We are all just people learning to tie our shoes and putting on our pants one leg at a time. Trying to figure out the best way to spit gum out: into a piece of paper first or directly into the trashcan. We are all just people waiting for news and whispering into the walls at night. Wrapping secrets in supermarket fliers and reading menus and being indecisive. When you reach your palms to the sun, does a bright, pulsing red not bleed between your fingers? It does for me.
It does for me.
Reasons to Love
The boyfriend was carrying something cumbersome like a UPS box or a birthday cake when I said, “infomercial.” Maybe it was because there was no THIS SIDE UP FRAGILE sticker or because he didn’t like whose birthday it was. Maybe because he didn’t care or because he cared too much about the game, he flailed his arms around and propelled his stick figure body forward.
“Oh, fiddlesticks!” he said on the way down.
Bonus points because steps were involved.
My turn: I asked if he remembered falling off the track in Mario Kart, how a creature on a cloud brings you back up.
“What if we had that for everything we let fall?” I said.
“What do I have you for?” he said.
We never stop playing Infomercial. We play Infomercial on the road. We threw our duffel bags into the boyfriend’s red Volvo from ’88 and headed west like most stories. We want to experience the World’s Largest/Smallest/Best. We are in it for the extremes.
The world’s extremes always seem to be in the most random places. The boyfriend is brimming with impatience, so much so that every time we passed a congregation of sheep in the middle of nowhere, I think he’s going to bubble over.
“Are we there yet?” he always wants to know.
I buckle my seatbelt.
Sometimes he asks before we’ve even started.
Sometimes he says, “infomercial” when I’m driving. If there are no cars on the road, I let go of the wheel. As we sway in the machine of metal parts, I wait for the invention that will save us. A robot that will chauffer us. A contraption of rubber bands to keep the steering straight. A spray bottle that will squirt water every time I let go.
“What’s going to keep me going?” I ask.
“What do you have me for?” he says, taking the wheel.
The World’s Largest Ball of Twine is in Cawker City, Kansas. There, a little boy in blue overalls tugs at his mother’s hand and asks, “Why are we here?” She stares at him blankly for a few seconds before he reconsiders his question. “Why do we care?”
It reminds me of a conversation I had had with my mom. I was six, and she was tetris-ing dishes into the dishwasher. She told me she loved me. When I said it back, she told me I didn’t have to. For months, I thought that was the most delightful thing I could tell someone.
I love you.
I don’t have to.
But I do.
The World’s Smallest Post Office is in Ochopee, Florida. The woman inside the World’s Smallest Post Office is named Shannon. Shannon has groundhog hair but looks happy anyway. We don’t ask, though. Instead, I ask the boyfriend, “Do you want to mail any postcards?”
He blinks twice. “To who?”
The boyfriend stands quietly outside the World’s Smallest Post Office. His idle hands hang limp at his sides. Inside, I write a postcard to everyone I don’t have to love.
Postcards cost 49 cents a piece. When I’m through, the boyfriend forks over a five and a ten and tells Shannon to keep the change.
The World’s Smallest Church is in Oneida, New York. Cross Island Chapel sits at the center of a September pond. It seats two people. “Come here,” the boyfriend said. His body seemed to take up a little more than half of the 28.68 square feet. “Infomercial,” I said, and my small body met the small body of water. Bonus points for self-inflicted infomercial.
He couldn’t invent something to keep me dry. We went to a Walmart and bought a scraggly blue towel for $3.95. Then we drove around trying to find a World’s Best. The boyfriend wanted burgers. On Yelp, A.K. Greenfield was all for a bar and grill in Providence, Rhode Island. Five stars. Six, if I could, he said. But Mary Joe Simon claimed the World’s Best Burger is in Houston, Texas. That’s where she’s from, though, and we decided she must be biased. Hillary D. made a claim for the cheeseburgers sold out of a truck somewhere in Wisconsin. I believed her. A fair number of people posted about a veggie burger not far from where we were.
“It doesn’t count,” he said.
We gave up trying to find a World’s Best because no one on Yelp can agree on anything.
The World’s Largest Peanut Butter Cup was in Bennington, Vermont. They ate it, though. Can you imagine? The feeling of having the World’s Anything inside of you. Do you feel imbued with importance now?
I bet it’s like being in the quietest place on Earth.
The quietest place on Earth is in Minnesota. The room has negative decibel levels. In the room, you become more aware of your own small sounds. Your graduated breathing. Your granular heartbeat. Your stomach, grumbling. The boyfriend wanted to come in with me, but I said no. Wanted to flood the negative space with my own liquid sound.
The car ride out of Minnesota was a quiet one.
Somewhere on the I90 between Springfield and Boston, the Volvo broke down. Just sputtered to a stop in the middle of the highway. I thought it was part of the game at first.
“I didn’t say infomercial,” I protested.
“Is this funny to you?” he asked.
The tow truck driver’s name is Kyle. He has swimmer shoulders and immunity to the cold. Big guy. His body is 23 years old. He acts much older, though. This might be because Kyle has a son. We don’t ask what Kyle’s son’s name is, but Kyle tells us he is in the one-year stretch of sleepless nights. He says this in response to the question, “Do you like driving? Moving around?”
Kyle is not racist because his girl is Puerto Rican. Kyle doesn’t regret anything, but he tells us to wait as long as we can to have kids. He says this after I ask the question, “Where’s the furthest place you’ve ever had to tow to?”
“Las Vegas,” he says.
“How’d you like it?”
“Loved it.” Long pause. “Wait as long as you can to have kids, ya hear?”
Kyle has dyslexia and dropped out of high school. Kyle has had the most experience driving the trucks, so he gets sent to all the fatalities. Mostly deer. Once, a moose. Once, a family of four.
“You don’t get used to it, but the shock wears off,” Kyle says, then pulls over to the side of the road to leak liquid gold.
I used to think there were two types of people. The people who, when they have to pee, are sometimes too lazy to get up to go to the bathroom and so hold it a while, and the people who lie if they claim they don’t fall in the first category.
Now I know there are people like Kyle who aren’t lazy and aren’t liars but who will make of the world what they need.
Another thing I know now: people jump off bridges because they’re there. When the boyfriend and I reached San Francisco, we witnessed an accidental suicide. When the flashing lights and the voice recorders interviewed the person after, he said he didn’t know what came over him.
“I’m not an unhappy person,” he said.
Studies have been done on survivors, these victims of spontaneity. The decreasingly shocking thing they hear is “I’m not sure why I did it.”
I can relate.
At the Motel 8 that night, the boyfriend and I are watching the news, illuminated by the small square television screen, which is fuzzing white around the edges. The news anchor with an ’80s hairdo and red lipstick stuck at the corner of her mouth asks the world what we can do to stop these incidents.
“If this were an infomercial,” I begin, “what would it be for?”
“Each other,” he says.
But I imagine a world enveloped in nets, to keep everyone from falling off the edge.
Drunk Girl is cool. Drunk girl is confident. Drunk Girl is hot. Drunk girl can’t lose.
Drunk Girl remembers nothing of shy, nervous girl. Drunk Girl is the blossoming of someone much less interesting. Drunk Girl is who’s been hiding inside boring girl all along.
Drunk Girl thinks, “This is fun!” and studies the new, unusual dizziness weighing down her limbs. She tells her friends, “It’s like waking up every second,” and they laugh at Drunk Girl’s newness.
Boys love Drunk Girl. They look at her and tell her about high school, their favorite TV shows, how cute she is. Smart, witty words always fall right out of Drunk Girl’s mouth without her even having to try. Drunk Girl’s lips are magnolias waiting for the bees to come and suck them dry. Boys kiss her and she feels like she deserves it, like at long last she is seen. In the morning she is nervous, quiet girl again but at night Drunk Girl is in charge and without fear.
Drunk Girl will never be like her mother, who has been sober 16 years. Drunk Girl is stronger, has more will power, just isn’t like that. Drunk Girl drinks because it’s fun and feels good. She would’ve started drinking sooner if she hadn’t been so terrified of getting caught. Drunk Girl feels sorry for her mother, who couldn’t handle just one drink and now hates going to bars.
Drunk Girl is nineteen and living in New York City for a little while. She is afraid of walking the six dark Williamsburg blocks to the Food Bazaar, so she takes shots of vodka before leaving.
In this city everyone thinks Drunk Girl is older than nineteen so they let her buy alcohol and welcome her with open arms into neon-lit bars. When the bartender with the biggest boobs Drunk Girl has ever seen asks her what she wants, Drunk Girl panics then asks for a gin and tonic even though she would really love something fruity. In that club she kisses a boy who tastes like chicken wings and holds her face. A few days later they go on a date where he doesn’t pay for her coffee or ask her any questions. Drunk Girl loves to tell the story of making out with a stranger in New York City, especially during drinking games with friends.
Drunk Girl buys bottle after bottle of wine from a smiling man in Midtown just because she can. As soon as she gets home she opens the treasured vessels ceremoniously, oh-so carefully. She is amazed. Some nights Drunk Girl splits the bottle with her roommate and some nights she drinks until the world becomes padded and pillowy and quiet. On those nights she lies in bed and marvels at the paralysis of everything: her body, her thoughts, her worries, her cares. Nothing anyone says to Drunk Girl can hurt her when she is insulated so. Rose, Chardonnay, Zinfandel; it all goes down bitterly divine. Soon the taste fails to matter. Just get it down.
Back at school, Drunk Girl loves making all the mistakes she has never been allowed. One by one she crosses them off the list in her head: fights with roommates, boys who push too far, hangovers that consume whole days. One night she is throwing up in the bathroom stall, swimming in and out of consciousness, sobbing hard and fast. She does not know what she is crying for, but she knows that it hurts. She thinks maybe it is everything. Drunk Girl is sorry for everything. Her friends find her lying on the floor, tears dripping onto the blank white tile. They put her to bed.
In the morning Drunk Girl calls psychological services to ask for help because she is scared of what’s inside of her. The voice on the phone asks her if it is an emergency. Drunk Girl says “no” because she is mostly not thinking about jumping out the window, but cries into the receiver.
Drunk Girl is put on anxiety medication. The little white pills taste bitter and hopeful.
Drunk Girl goes home for the summer and she and her friends enjoy their new grown-up game together. Movie nights become parties; everything becomes a party. Under June, July, August sun everything is given new meaning; anything can be made more fun with a flask and some carelessness. Wine coolers are stolen from basement refrigerators on a regular basis. Raspberry, lemonade, peach, lime. These taste good and sweet and go down without resistance.
Drunk Girl never has enough alcohol on hand. She starts taking beers from friends’ houses and storing them in her bottom dresser drawer, for emergencies. On bad nights she fills an opaque cup with ice, pours beer in and watches the foam. She drinks it on the front porch, looking out at the other houses in the cul-de-sac, temples to delusory gods, and waits for the warmth to spread.
Drunk Girl prefers root canals to family functions. She would take an aching mouth every time over barbeques, baby showers, birthdays. Now, though, if she can find the cooler full of beer she can stand to listen to her uncles talk about engines that no longer run and grandparents who allocate their eternal disappointment. Drunk Girl is one hundred percent convinced that chugging four watery Miller Lites in the bathroom of a public park is poetic. The buzz between her ears makes every pointed comment softer, more gentle. Everything is a joke and the punch line is that none of it matters. The only downside, Drunk Girl thinks, is that time moves no faster when you’re drunk. The world is kinder but the party is never over any sooner. She wishes things would end sooner.
Drunk Girl asks her older cousin to buy her two handles of vodka and a box of Franzia. They meet in the mall parking lot outside a Dick’s Sporting Goods store. Drunk Girl tells her cousin that this isn’t just for her, oh no, she and all her friends are going to share. But that is a lie. The two girls share a forced laugh, make a joke about being alcoholics, and go their separate ways.
Now when Drunk Girl gets home from work at 4pm the fun can begin. Her parents are not home, so she mixes drinks at the kitchen table. Anything sweet will do: Diet Pepsi, orange juice, Gatorade. By the time Drunk Girl’s parents come home she is off somewhere else, floating all alone. Day after day this repeats. Some nights one of them will take Drunk Girl to the grocery store or out to dinner, and the blurry world is all brand new. As long as you can keep your balance, Drunk Girl thinks, no one even notices.
Drunk Girl hates being sober, can’t stand it actually, so by August most days she just drinks. No one knows.
Drunk Girl has to drive into town, even though she is drunk. After little contemplation she decides that this is okay, that she can take the back roads and be fine. Drunk Girl knows she is not drunk driving. That’s what middle-aged men do after bar time ends; this is very different. She is fine.
She is fine until swerving onto the gravel shoulder too quickly, yelling, “shit shit shit!” Stopped on the side of the road, Drunk Girl looks all around, but there are no other cars.
Back at school guilt swirls around Drunk Girl like flies: loud and biting and dark. She can never find the words to tell other people how this hurts her. She is guilty of deserting her parents, costing them every cent they’ve ever made, making her mother cry over the phone. She is so sorry.
On a Friday night, Drunk Girl loses her virginity. She is wasted and sky high but it still hurts. Three days later the boy tells her It’s Not Gonna Work. She is sorry then too, for being so young and stupid. The next night Drunk Girl drinks seven beers, throws them up, then drinks two more. She tells her friends, “I can’t even feel it.”
Drunk Girl loves weekends. For her they start on Thursday night and go ‘til Monday morning. She learns that if you start in the afternoon, as long as you take it slow the buzz lasts until bedtime. She learns which liquor gives her the worst hangovers and which brands are cheapest. She learns exactly how much to drink so that no one can tell. It all comes down to patterns, formulas, to paying attention. It also comes down to waiting: when she can buy more, when she can mix the next drink, when she can get out of her head. By now most of the time she just lies in her bed with a bottle of cheap wine. One glass, two, three, four. Oops, all gone. Are you drinking? The roommates ask. Just a little, just a little. Monday nights are hard, okay? So are Tuesdays, Wednesdays. Then it’s the weekend. Why wouldn’t you want to feel good all the time, if you could?
Drunk Girl does not feel like going to class, but she can’t afford to miss another. It’s 3:30 and she just wants to be able to come home and relax (drink). In the fridge is a 5th of shitty vodka and half a bottle of blue Gatorade. The thought crosses her mind that she could take a sip before class, just to loosen her up. Drunk Girl hates how self-conscious sober her always feels, hates feeling wrong all of the time. She pours the liquor into the bottle and shakes it around to mix. She sips and tastes metallic. She sips again. Not drunk—just loose. More relaxed.
In class her mind can’t hold onto words being said by the professor or anyone else. She looks at the faces and wishes someone, anyone would look back at her, but no one does. Drunk Girl feels suddenly desperate. She screams, but only inside. She is terrified of being called on, just wants to leave but is glued to her cold plastic chair. She resolves to never do this to herself again. But she does.
Drunk Girl can’t talk to anyone. She watches the others around her and marvels at the way truths fall out of their mouths like it’s the easiest thing in the world. No matter how hard she tries to let the things that hurt her out, the words she says feel empty, hollow, false. Drunk Girl is shielded from the rest of the world, but slowly realizing that the barrier works both ways, and she is trapped inside.
When Drunk Girl is really drunk she can’t worry about saying the wrong thing so she says everything. One October Sunday night her mind throbs with all the things she wants to say but can’t; they are poisoning her from the inside. They are gnawing at her brain, killing her, begging to be let out, so Drunk Girl steals vodka from her friend’s room and chugs it down quick along with Dr. Thunder soda. She drinks until she can’t see, can’t remember her name.
Drunk Girl stumbles to her friend’s room, fat wet tears streaming down her face. Drunk Girl can’t remember what she said then, if she said anything at all. In her mind she was yelling for help, just like she had been doing silently for months, maybe years. Help me, she cries, falling onto her frightened friend. I Need You To Help Me.
Drunk Girl is very sober at a Monday night Alcoholics Anonymous meeting. Her friends told her she should go and since she doesn’t want to feel so sad she is here sitting in the stale classroom, wondering how everything went so wrong. Also at the meeting are one transfer student, a junior boy, and five or so old white men from town. Drunk Girl’s knees shake and her hands fold in and out of each other repeatedly. One of the men reads off information from a laminated piece of paper and then come the infamous twelve steps. The Only Requirement to Be in AA is the Desire to Quit Drinking. Drunk Girl has no idea what she desires, or even how she got to this room. She is twenty years old. She cannot possibly be an alcoholic.
Sober Girl doesn’t touch any alcohol for a week, just to be safe. She listens to the old men’s stories and makes it two weeks without a sip. She does not go to parties, she goes to bed. She does not tell her parents or anyone else besides the friends who sent her there, who don’t understand but at least pretend to.
It’s not fair, Sober Girl often thinks. Everyone else can drink and she can only watch. She’s still not even 21. She should’ve been more careful, she was so stupid. She never even got to try most of the real, adult drinks. She will never order at another bar. She will not have a glass of champagne at her wedding. She is unarmed against the sterile, awkward world.
Sober Girl is notoriously un-fun. She will now have to tell people that she doesn’t drink and be the girl that she always rolled her eyes at before. I don’t want to be this, she desperately wants to tell them. She wants to be Drunk Girl again more than anything. She wants to get out of her mind that worries and calculates and sees every little thing. Sobriety is a life sentence. She is now trapped, forced to be present 100% of the time. She has lost her ability to escape. Sober Girl is forced to feel it all, and it hurts. The world is so sharp in places that she can hardly take it. There is no longer any place to hide.
At one AA meeting a beautiful blonde woman somewhere in her 40s comes and talks about boat trips her family always took. Everyone was drinking, she says, they drank all day in the sun. She says she has been sober for less than a year. She says she couldn’t stop drinking after the boats docked again. Night after night, bottle after bottle, she says. Her eyes are wide as she looks around the room. She is crying. “I wasted so much time,” she says.
“I’m proud of you.”
“I’m happy for you.”
“You’re really strong.”
“Good for you.”
Everyone tells Sober Girl.
Sober Girl has had no alcohol for months now. She goes to parties and sips soda, juice, water. She calls her mom on bad nights, which have been less and less frequent. No one gives her a hard time, if they even notice. The world makes no great shift, but inside of Sober Girl certain storms have finally subsided.
The fire sent burning sparks in the smoke filled air. Bangles were broken, a dry tongue ran over chapped lips, a baby was torn away from a feeding breast. The fire rose like a serpent, coiling and uncoiling, as ten pairs of hands grabbed a slender arm and pulled. Silent tears, louder than bomb explosions were shed. Blood flowed freely as flesh came into contact with the broken glass bangles, leaving an angry red trail of protest all over the sand. The fire was restless now, as if dissatisfied with the human it had just devoured. It was moving in for another kill. The shroud was wrapped; the quiet funeral rites interrupted by the accelerating thudding of a beating heart. The fire finally lost control. As she burned, I watched.
(Interview with The Guardian, 2013)
Oh my god.
I just can't keep up with the affection
loaded with irony.
I'm at this point where I don't want to act.
It's about trying to be a naked,
marvelous, magnificent classical composer.
I was this little projector—
play it in the house.
All watch and have nightmares.
Refuse to go on any kind of medication.
I was the lesser celebrity?
Well, celebrity is a creative expression.
I got caught up in that bubble that exploded.
I thought it was real. I believed in all that magic.
I was still trying to live in a big splash with Cher.
Some folks in the media think that we're not in on the joke.
I love it.
I’m a Doberman; let the dog work—
I can't get used up.
I am open to the world.
Outside five kids are yelling about Pop Rocks
on Sunday Morning after eating candy corn
for the first time in years I kind of like the taste of chalk
I don't think I'll eat it again not even on Halloween
I want to be something fun like a mop or a dog
What's it like to never have to wipe your butt
None of my panties fit me right they always go up my butt
I haven't been small since I liked Pop Rocks
when I was five and pretended to ride my dog
like a horse and under the table I'd sneak him corn
dressed up like a murdered bride on Halloween
I hid him from the kids while eating candy chalk
but candy can't make sidewalk murals like my chalk
sitting alone with my dog while he tried to sniff my butt
When Mom came home we made popcorn and watched Halloweentown
Mom once told me a scary story about Pop Rocks
disguising drugs that's why you don't eat opened candy corn
that's why my only friend is my dog
I was eighteen when I wasn't there to bury my dog
I came home and made him a plaque written with chalk
I bet it tasted sad like candy corn
He'll never come back to sniff my butt
To keep the flies away we piled rocks
over his grave but it wasn't fun like Halloween
For three years in a row I was a witch for Halloween
This was until I was three I didn't have a dog
This was back when I hid Warheads and threw rocks
towards blank walls back when I loved chalk
drawing hearts and square bodies back when I had a small butt
when Mom wouldn't let me eat candy corn
I have no passion for candy corn
I always went for Twix on Halloween
I guess now I'd worry about it going to my butt
I guess now I really miss my dead dog
watching me draw pointy-headed people in chalk
I'm still afraid of Pop Rocks
I wish I was a happy corn-munching dog
fleeing Halloween and leaving tracks in chalk
biting the butts of men who sell Pop Rocks
on the fly. His forehead
dripping the water of
one ruffled leaf dripping
the water of one rain-
heavy branch behind him
And Walking, and Walking
Kick the head off
a dandelion, think
about your pets.
Trail, trail. It gets so
fast. The triangle
of your head to my
head to the sun
can’t widen anymore, but I can
brace it with quiet,
What do you look like.
Lacunas in clouds where the city peeks through,
I’ve got a God’s-eye-view from this plane.
I’m an atheist because the beauty is better
when I think I’ve seen it by chance:
a man blowing his soul through his trombone,
Christmas Eve in New Orleans: fireworks and
bonfires on the levee: smoke and
sparks swimming out like minnows.
Marlboro packs burnt into black roses.
I’m an atheist because it’s funnier
when I think I shouldn’t laugh:
Jackson Square where people get palm readings under palm trees,
janitors find wads of cash on the street, wheel chairs are decked out like
Harleys, pigeons peck crumbs out of cracks in the ground,
and I hear ship horns, French horns and saxophones.
Somewhere I’m Dead Looking Down At My Still Alive Self
So you’ve got a stone in your soul?
Walk long enough, you’re bound to
get a pebble in your shoe.
scent of pine, feel
of flattened pinecone,
how drizzle in the puddle makes it bubble.
Icicles are jail bars. They melt off the walls.
Snow retreats from the field.
annoy you for no reason:
the man who clears his throat on the bus,
the girl who reminds you of Splenda
in tea you like black.
Pick a flower. Slip it under her door.
When the glade can’t take anymore
it makes a bouquet of itself.
The New Pangaea
What the end times brought forth was
a family reunion unprecedented, the buffet
fit for megafauna. The last time we managed
this was, God, years ago. In simpler times,
before the meteorite crashlanded.
I did not feel so divided from you then.
But alas, here we are! Once more.
It is so good to see you. It is so good to
see at all. The star-nosed mole cannot,
but he is still in underground attendance.
Uncle Frog -- now Aunt Amphibiana --
is gestating infants inside of her mouth.
Cousin trees go wild for musical chairs!
They are running quickly on root feet
but the weather, as always, is winning.
Delightful Domain! A throbbing barrage!
Camel and wombat pose for a photo.
The mosquitos are thrilled! There is
so much to eat here. The foliage dances.
Everyone is drunken and biosphering.
Who, you protest, will be guest of honor?
But you know it is little human you.
They lean over the stroller to coo and coo.
This avian avalanche, Insecta influx, it all
comes down to the Homo sapien hurrah.
We felines and we fungi have never
felt more alike, and of course, we are
all falling apart together. Mother is
close to brain dead, but by all means,
keep going. It is simply too spectacular.
We are boarding an ark now, grasping
hands and entering our last-ditch torpor.
I do not know if we will make it.
What else is the heir to breath?
Contained in wings that flip off night.
Light is light when there is absence of shades.
Shade is shade when light objects.
Fighting with fitted gloves on the floor,
you tempt me to drop your weight
Balanced on my shoulders. I can’t
talk, or hear, with one of your
many bastards banging on the,
basement door. I let in, what you
left out, I let in, what you let out,
I let in.
I walked to the top of the mountain.
Bare feet on black pavement, pushing my bike
as the hill was too steep. Early summer.
Early evening. The sun had not set and my heart was still
racing, an unreasonable thing, but inevitable.
Sourceless momentum that carried me
past the parking lot and up the green path, past construction’s
orange signs, following it until there was nothing to follow.
I stood at the foot of the tall stone steps.
Carved out of time, some necessary blurring
of the true and the story of it. I carried my dead authors
in my hands, inhabited this landscape with their ghosts.
That day I’d cut my finger while slicing a bagel in two.
Plastic gloves, serrated knife, a customer whose face
I can’t remember—nor which came first: the intake of breath
or the blood—the way it turns red at the first touch of air.
On the steps I faced the lion—as if he, too, were my mirror.
It was by then nearly dark, the forest heavy green.
I told the mountain I’d come back.
I meant it. How easy it would be to find endearing
the things I used to want.
The standing in a field. The looking out.
Tommy Chang Consumes Us All
Tommy Chang, he doesn’t have a right hemisphere. His entire brain grew on the left side. What’s on his right side? Nothing. Doctors are afraid it’s a black hole that will slowly expand until it consumes us all.
But Tommy Chang isn’t worried; all Tommy Chang can see is colors, so it really doesn’t matter.
Tommy Chang goes to sleep in a different bed every night. Or maybe it’s the same bed, Tommy Chang can’t really tell.
Still, Tommy Chang is happy. Or, he’s what you call happy. He’s smiling, so he seems fine.
Anyway, back to the black hole. It’s been growing relevant to his head for the last several years, but, seeing as Tommy Chang’s head isn’t getting any bigger, there’s a chance that the black hole won’t grow and consume us all.
But now doctors are asking, what happens when Tommy Chang dies? Will Tommy Chang decompose? Will the black hole decompose with him?
Nobody’s talking about killing Tommy, of course (he’s only seventeen). But everybody’s curious. And the chances of Tommy Chang dying before he reaches eighteen are pretty high. Everything’s so crazy these days, ever since Nixon.
Once upon a time, I asked Tommy what he thinks about. Tommy looked at me, and said, “One is a really big number.”
Fucking hell, Tommy Chang, I guess you’re right.
In the beginning, there is a stretch of black, punctuated by flashes of light. When the light leaves again, the color beneath my eyelids is blue and sharp. I reach out, feeling for chair legs, something to pull myself up. But the marble is cool and musty, so I give up and lie there, listening to the flip and brush of pages. Out of the darkness, arms grab and swing me up, my legs a ticking clock. His face shatters into wrinkles and smile, and rough hands push the hair away from my eyes.
In the afternoons, Nonno and I sit in the garden. We like to lean against the well, mossy with an iron tang. We watch the gardener cut the tallest grass with a scythe, and he reads to me about the second war of independence. When I get bored, I take the wooden lid off the well and peer inside. I can barely see to the bottom, where my face distorts and pulls, a mirror girl. Absentmindedly, he reaches up and tugs my ankle, pulling me back down.
“Piccola, not there. Tell me who Camillo Cavour was.”
“Because he’s historically significant in understanding Italian unification.”
“Why can’t I look into the well?”
“Oh. Because. Because a little girl, just like you, fell into the well and never came out. Just don’t lean so far in… Giuseppe Garibaldi?” He grabs my nose, laughs, and goes back to his book. The water is flat and black. I look for her, but all I see are flashes of me.
When I wake up, he’s gone. He comes home in the late afternoon, when my nonna is already twisting her fingers and worrying at her rings. He has a gift for me, hidden inside a massive cardboard box. We run away into the bamboo trees, and when he opens the lid, hundreds of snails spill out. I place them one by one on the stalks, and watch as they slip down, leaving behind slick trails.
The candies spill out, clicking over the counter. Each is marked with little black numbers, and I line them up into colors and categories, refracting into a mosaic. Nonno eats the blue ones at breakfast. Nonna Luci has to make him, forcing them through his pursed mouth.
“Why can’t I have one?” I ask. It seems unfair. He won’t eat them, and orange is my favorite. Nonna Luci inhales sharply. Nonno laughs, a laugh that cuts at her face, making it fall.
“These are just for your grandfather.”
“They’re special candies.”
“Why does he get special candies?”
“He needs them.” My nonna’s face is flushed and red, particularly around the eyes. I continue, even though I know they must be bad, that these candies don’t taste good.
Mom clutches my hand and squeezes just tight enough that I stop.
The orange ones are for after lunch, and he eats three of them with a tall glass of water. My nonna stand behind him and tries to speak to me, but I can see her watching the path each candy makes from hand to mouth. Sometimes he hides them in his pockets, maybe for later. I don’t know when he eats the white ones. I’m not there.
We go back to Bologna for the summer. In the taxi, Dad pushes his fingers, taut and white, over the leather seat. The gates open, and my nonna strains out the window like a demented Juliet, calling my name. The house is very cold. Nonno’s study is closed. Mom helps me unpack my new bag. It’s blue, and has bunny ears on top. I leave it in my room, because it’s new and I don’t want to make it sad yet. We drive out to a new house, where Nonno lives now. It’s in the country, and filled with other old people in wicker chairs lining the walls. When he sees me, he tries to get out of his wheelchair, and a nurse guides him back down. Dad takes the handles of the chair, and the three of us go for a walk.
“Do you like the new home?” Dad’s face has this new tint to it. It’s still ruddy, with the little lines intersecting, but all of a sudden there is a quivering, as though his face could slip, and beneath it would be something entirely new.
“I like your new nurse. She seems…capable.”
“Papa.” Daddy’s eyes, then his whole body, seem to collapse in.
“Go a little faster, will you?”
The road is sharp and winding, and Nonno shouts to go faster, faster. Dad starts to run, and I sprint, but the wind stings my eyes and I can’t keep up. He’s steering the wheelchair like a racecar, over gravel and twigs and roots. Nonno yells to Dad, tells him to let go, but he keeps a taut grip on the chair, and
together they fly past the trees, out of sight.
I go back to Italy to help get Nonna ready before she leaves the house. She’s moving to a smaller one, something more manageable than a crumbling façade and sprawling garden. I pack up the things I want before we shutter it, just some books and a Madonna from the kitchen. When she goes out to the store, I wait until I hear the crunch of gravel and the clang of the front gate, then try the knob to his study. The heavy doors stick, then suddenly split open. It is still dark and hazy, and particles of dust hang suspended in the crack of yellow light from the window. I open the glass a little more and lie down on the musty floor, listening for the sound of the wind, and the way it makes the pages flip.
For Carlo Scarpa
Carlo, how you played the card of
artifice. You knew only of the
ancient, the gold seam in the stone, the primordial
Expert stonemason, crafter of
tricks. You built
watery geometry, stairs under circle.
The seam of a square extends and
touches the wall.
You returned, not
under pork and cabbage, through wet
tomb, but down a flight of
Sendai. You beat
time, the lean line of history.
You rest in a column in Brion, in
St. Mark’s. The concrete
cracks. A hand extends.
The Hannaford’s Bench
It might tell you that these people could be in an ant farm,
if the ants were slower, and smoked,
and looked as if they forgot where they were going.
Carts rumble past, children scream.
Bodies carry produce back to the mountains,
the cars follow telephone poles like a river.
When there are no bodies to hold,
the bench imagines better colors for the stretched-out grey.
It knows what smoke coils through its slats.
Once, before it was touched, cut and bolted down,
before the warehouses, and the metal teeth before that,
and the forests before that,
it didn’t sit through highway whispers, pale skies.
It was a whole body, trunk and limb and leaf,
and still able to hear the birds.
“Was it that I was really in a state of clairvoyance, and that I knew that death does not exist- that
those two little cold images of wax were not my children, but merely their cast-off garments?
That the souls of my children lived in radiance, but lived for ever?”
Isadora Duncan recalls finding her children, Deirdre, 7, and Patrick, 2, after drowning with their
nanny in the Seine following an automobile accident. For Duncan, regarding them as “cold
images of wax," the grotesque is a matter of texture. Thirteen years earlier she is in Paris, being
caressed by a devout Rodin following a performance, in whose hands
“marble seemed to flow like molten lead...he ran his hands all over my neck, breasts, stroked my
arms and ran his hands over my hips, my bare legs and feet. He began to knead my whole body
as if it were clay, while from him emanated heat that scorched and melted me.”
There is an inherent animism in the works of both artists: Rodin in his ability to reveal
carnal postures and lifelike energy from clay; Duncan in her regard for nature and the divine.
Entering a Duncan class after studying classical ballet, one feels enlivened by the imagery with
which her gestures are described; that one may be reaching to pick a flower, swaying with a tree,
one may be rising with the sun or bowing reverentially to the earth pulling her down. Her style of
dancing was one of the first to regard the force of gravity, and posed a stark contrast to the stiff
lifelessness which so dismayed her in the Parisian classical ballet academies:
“The ballet school taught the pupils that [the] spring was found in the centre of the back at the
base of the spine. From this axis, says the ballet master, arms, legs, and trunk must move freely,
giving the result of an articulated puppet. This method produces artificial mechanical movement
not worthy of the soul.”
Duncan regards this “spring” as not the lower back but the solar plexus - the heart centre,
and the “centrifugal force” which allows light and energy to come up through the chest.
Although in dance it is necessary that the energy travel upward through the body, the ribs and
chest are more flexible than in classical ballet, and with regard for gravity Duncan dancers take
on far more naturalistic human postures than in traditional ballet. This type of movement, not at
war with gravity, allows for what one may already associate Isadora Duncan with, and that is
skipping: skipping down a stage as freely as one would do at the beach or in a field if one was
met with a sudden surge of elation or was inclined to skip. However, even with this sense of
freedom Duncan’s choreography cannot be taken as an opportunity to flail. In skipping, the legs
and feet must retain their fluidity, as there are no stark positions to take as there are in ballet.
Duncan technique arms always correspond with the movement of the chest in a naturalistic way,
and all “lines” of the body are direct rather than counterintuitive: if the eyes are up, the head
chest and arms are also up, sending a tremendous amount of energy upward.
Isadora’s aesthetic also has a certain hellenistic sensibility. Aside from her performance
and rehearsal garb of the tunic, Duncan’s resting pose mirrors contrapposto in sculpture. Duncan
would scour the Louvre with her brother, Raymond, sketching and studying the Greek vases for
inspiration. It is fitting, then, that she would eventually find Rodin, Pygmalion-esque in his
artistic capabilities, whom she refers to as “the Great God Pan himself.”
How, then, does such an artist, who strives to release the light in one’s soul and conjure
all that is alive in nature, contend with death? The shared death of both her children and their
carer plays like a Greek tragedy in suddenness and spectacle. However, the motions and poses of
Terpsichore have no place in mourning. Friends and relations were abhorred to find that she’d
had her children’s bodies cremated, “to remain hereafter but a pathetic handful of ashes.” She
was disgusted by the performative mourning rituals of the day, seeing in it the artificial gestures
which she despised most in dancing: the reluctant and unconscious funeral procession, the
expected dropping of one’s head, even the repetitive gesture of bringing a hand to one’s eye to
wipe away a tear, calling it “useless ugly mummery which makes Death a macabre horror instead
of an exaltation.”
In the throes of her grief Duncan conjectures that perhaps the souls of dead children
return discreetly to the home of their mothers in death:
“What is this flesh but a house, large enough, perhaps to contain many unsuspected guests. They
lodge in the subconsciousness, when the body is rich enough to nourish them, and each day they
clamber for predominance. My children whom I have grieved for, lamented and longed for, are
perhaps safely lodged within me, saying, ‘Why do you not give us voice?’”
The body is the house and encasement of the soul. However, when the body is trained to
express the whims of the soul, how can one readily accept the space between the two? This
jarring division brought Isadora to a state of stillness, one bereft of the aliveness of her radiant
“When real sorrow is encountered there is, for the stricken, no gesture, no expression. Like
Niobe turned to stone, I sat and longed for annihilation in death.”
Stripped of artifice, Isadora’s stillness is a reflection of her unwavering devotion to
naturalism. All attempts at touching the divine in her dance were undermined by the great wave
of weight, darkness, and grief that overtook Isadora following Deirdre and Patrick’s deaths.
However, almost fatefully, her wish to join her children was granted in a similarly strange
automobile accident. In Nice, France, on September 14th in 1927, Isadora zoomed away in her
lover’s car, only to have the decadently flowing scarf she was wearing become trapped in a
wheel, effectively snapping her neck. Duncan was a Soviet citizen at the time of her death,
having fulfilled a life that proclaimed her an outsider from a young age and saw her scour Europe
in ardent aesthetic appreciation.
Deirdre and Patrick’s deaths posed one of the most salient questions of Isadora’s art: the
limitation of the human body, and whether there is true unity and alignment with the soul.
However, Duncan's genius still lies in the ability to dance between the threshold of the ethereal
and the physical. For her movements are not a test of “stiff and commonplace gymnastics”, that
do not extend past the arch of one’s foot, but an extension of intention and energy, using the body
as a channel for the soul that transcends the earthly limits of the mortal dance. The tragedy was a
stretch in the direction of the divine, to ascertain a celestial connection, and into the earth, to the
realm of time and human suffering:
“Behind the mask, with any clairvoyance, one can divine the same uneasiness and suffering.
Perhaps in this world so-called happiness does not exist. There are only moments."
He buries himself inside myself
the way we buried the lone patient—
a ward of the state—quick
with as few sentimental words as possible.
NOTHING INHUMAN IS ALIEN
The absence of red on your door—red for blood, for healthy organ, for Do Not Resuscitate—was the reason I crossed its threshold, to intubate your mechanical lungs. I opened the mouthpiece, removed the blue-plastic bronchi, & bagged the atmosphere into your trachea. You were flat-lined, as in dead opposite of labile, with the spittle of tongue lolling down your chin. I tinkered with the circuits of your respiratory system while a woman, who you once mistook for your domestic whore, cracked your ribs like branches & leaves rotted beneath her hands. The turbidity of your urine hissing from your sheets nearly caused our own asphyxiation—we found reprieve through your heartbeat—we grew tired of our labor. The Charge Nurse, Monarch of this realm, signed your departure & had you whisked alive beyond our walls in the haze of sirens & flashing lights.
No Longer Yours,
In The Market for God
It’s the decisions that ruin it for me.
Buying a drink, I wonder what I will enjoy more. An orange Vitamin Water or an Orange Gatorade? Cherry Coke or Dr. Pepper? I imagine myself sipping, tasting, saying “aah.”
Two months ago I made a decision to turn my will and my life over to God. A few weeks later I changed my mind.
My usual decision is Yellow Vitamin Water. It is the only sports drink which contains caffeine. It’s the only one that gives me that boost. It tastes like fruity soap and I have gotten used to it. I will keep the bottle for water. There are already half a dozen of them in my room. Somehow I am convinced they will all become useful to me.
I wasn’t always in the market for a God, but events in my life convinced me I might need one.
“It doesn’t always happen in one moment,” they told me in the program. “A spiritual awakening can come slowly.”
So I believed them.
They let you choose your own God in Narcotics Anonymous. All they recommend is that it be loving. I had some difficulty with that. In order to choose God I had to choose to be loved. All at once I realized how long I had chosen not to be.
A routine is supposed to help. Pray in the morning, pray at night. A ritualistic setting of intentions. I couldn’t wrap my stomach around it. A counselor told me he used to jump up in fright whenever someone walked in on him praying. That I could understand. I always feel ashamed when I’m caught in the act of reverence.
Whenever I pray all I can think about is how stupid the voice in my head sounds.
Walking home I catch myself thinking about Dana. The Vitamin Water is half empty. It swings in my hand like a bomb. The street is lined with dandelion stumps that have started to shrivel up. I look at the sky and tried to think about God. Instead, Dana’s face erupts into my mind and I think: “You’re a pathological liar. You have an untreated mental illness. And I don’t want anyone else.”
I recently terminated my friendship with Dana. The goal of the decision was to stop thinking about her. Had I known it wouldn’t work I might have saved myself the friend, and the effort. I round the corner and cross the street to the gas station. I withdraw twenty dollars from an ATM and quietly tell myself that things will get better.
A therapist told me in rehab, “When you talk to yourself, use the voice you would use to talk to a kitten or a puppy. Be gentle with yourself, and kind.”
So I direct the voices in my head at other people. I imagine whole conversations until I realize it’s been hours since I’ve spoken.
I feel most at ease speaking in front of a crowd. You can gauge their reaction collectively, by the grunts and sighs and shuffling feet. Say what you will about 12-step meetings, but the therapeutic value of a captive audience is undeniable. It’s an open mic night for feelings. Most people get nervous when they speak, but not me. I like to watch the room absorb my words. They disappear as I speak into a faceless mass that will swallow and forget them. It’s not at all like the way words hit a friend and well up in her eyes, and you wonder, did I do that?
I get home and call a guy from NA so he’ll talk me out of buying weed. I have ninety minutes before class and twenty dollars in my pocket. We chat for a few minutes, then he asks me about my God situation.
I explain that I chose beauty in rehab. It seemed less cliché than love. After a while it ceased to work, and I had to go further. I decided that beauty was an expression of all the positive forces in the world, and ugliness an aspect of the negative. As I pour out this monologue, I can feel myself berating myself. It’s the best I can do with words, and I’m convinced that I’m lying.
“I have to do what makes me more beautiful,” I tell him. “That’s what God wants.”
He advises me to take a walk. That’s what he’s doing. I say it helps just to talk.
“I’m glad you called me,” he says. “I needed to talk too.”
This is one of those coincidences that recovering addicts love to attribute to God. But I’m not lenient enough with myself to say I’m “recovering.”
We talk for long enough that I no longer have time to get high and come down in time for class. So I hang up the phone and take a quick nap instead.
When I wake up I feel like I’m at the bottom of a ravine. I should have fed myself when I bought the drink. But two decisions in one trip is too much. There is nothing in my body.
Sometimes I wish I could get hit by a bus. Not killed, just grazed. Enough to keep me in bed for a few weeks.
Then no one would worry if I was happy or successful or sober. They’d just say, “he got hit by a bus and lived, what a lucky guy.”
This is my idea of God’s mercy.
I wanted to tell this thought to Dana, but I had denied myself the option. I shared it at a meeting instead. Many people agreed that it would be quite pleasant to be divinely incapacitated. They’d had similar thoughts themselves. I was understood, but not as I wanted to be.
It’s the difference between getting a laugh from a whole room full of people, and getting a laugh from the one person in the room whose opinion means the most to you. More should be better, but it’s not.
Dana would understand that.
What I miss most about Dana is her perception. It was a warm blanket over my frayed nerves. Never mind how frayed hers were. My idea of a good conversation is one where you know the other person is staring at the same patch of ground as you. We spent hours staring at her floor. She knew how to be safe. It mostly involved not moving.
It’s nice to sit with someone who’s as preoccupied with their own death as you are.
In bed, I take a swig of water from a bottle that once held yellow Vitamin Water. I have come to think of drinking as changing water. Like I’m a car in need of an oil change. My water’s gone stagnant.
I call eating “feeding myself.” I think, “I need to feed myself today.”
These are terms I use in my mind. Attempts to integrate them into conversation have failed. But I am determined to find a person with whom I can use my own words, or at least a deity.
There is a prayer in Narcotics Anonymous that begins, “Take my will and my life.”
It’s part of this thing called the third step. “Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood him.” There are twelve steps in total and the third is where a lot of people give up.
Before I did my third step saying this prayer was a constant source of guilt. I seemed to be saying it with my fingers crossed behind my back, or silently shoving in the word “don’t” at the beginning.
Once I’d decided to commit to the God premise, the prayer became invigorating. It was like wedding vows. Only they weren’t for life, just for now. The words grew stronger in my mouth each time I said them, and lost most of their potency once spoken.
I thought God would leave me alone once I started getting high again. But some decisions are easier to take back than others.
The last time I saw Dana I told her I was in love with her and I couldn’t make it stop. Then I went to the store and spent fifteen minutes picking out a bag of chips. I think it hurt her worse than me.
I Was Masturbating in a Public Restroom
I was masturbating in a public restroom which I believed to be empty when a man poked his head over the wall of the neighboring stall and asked me what I was doing.
Intent on maintaining my privacy, I replied, “nothing,” an answer which did not satisfy him.
“You don’t come into a place like this to do nothing,” he said.
I responded by asking what he was doing, since “nothing” was clearly off the menu.
“I’m tryin’ to take a dump, but wouldn’tcha know it, I’m out of toilet paper. You wouldn’t happen to have some in your stall, wouldja?”
“I’m sorry but I only got a few shreds left to myself and I need them to catch my jizz.”
It was a dingy park bathroom, the kind that only gets cleaned or re-stocked once a year, if that.
“Aaaah, so you’re jerkin’ it!” he replied in a tone of immense satisfaction. “I get it now! The heck’re you doin’ somethin’ like that for in here?”
“I’ve got a bus to catch. Figured I’d do something nice for myself before I leave.”
“Let me ask you something,” said the man, whose hands still clutched at the green plastic barrier. “How’doya make do without any porn.”
“It’s easy,” I said. “I just use my imagination.”
“Really?” the man trilled incredulously. “I can’t do that, nosir, never could. I just can’t never imagine anybody nekkid, you see? Had me a real holy upbringing and it musta messed with my head, ‘cause every time I try to picture myself a nekkid lady in my mind’s eye, I find myself blurrin’ out her titties and her privates with some of them censorship circles, ya know?”
“Well, that’s awful decent of you,” I said.
“Sometimes if I push real hard, I can get rid of them censors, but then when I do it’s all like Barbie parts and them titties with no nipples and that just don’t do it for me no sir.”
The man’s hands slid from the stall divider and I heard the sound of ass cheeks pressing against porcelain.
“Really?” I asked, drawn into the conversation in spite of myself. “Because I can’t help but imagine people naked. Whenever I’m walking down the street, man, it’s everyone, not just the hot chicks and the pretty girls, but old ladies too. And dudes. Dudes, walking around with their wing-dings out. Old dudes, ugly fuckin’ dudes, and I can’t stand it. It’s like a curse.”
“Well I sure wish we could switch curses,” said the man in the neighboring stall. “Sometimes I can’t even see my own wanger. Right now, for instance. I’m sittin’ over here on toppova big pool of my own excrement, and there’s a big black bar hoverin’ over my peener.”
By this point my erection had deteriorated considerably. The man returned to his business, and I attempted to return to mine, but it wasn’t long before his voice chimed in again.
“So, uh, you reckon you’re gonna finish any time soon? 'Cause I could really use them scraps of TP if yer not. I been trapped here a couplea hours already, so if you could make a run to the bodega and grab me a roll.”
“Well you’re not making it any easier for me to get this done with,” I replied.
“Aw shit you’re right aintcha. Here--” the man tossed a bottle of ranch dressing under the divider. “Have some lube.”
I wasn’t exactly too keen on slathering my weiner in buttermilk ranch, but the appearance of the dressing reminded me that I had a cone of french fries tucked into my breast pocket. I poured some ranch on them and ate in silence for a while, then the man spoke again.
“Let me ask you somethin’” he said. “If you’re really so imaginative, then what’dya reckon my peener looks like, huh?”
I was completely flaccid by this point so I decided to humor him.
“Uh, well. It’s probably about average size. Nah, maybe a bit below average. With some good-sized veins. And, uh, from the tone of your voice, I bet you’re circumcised. You can always tell.”
Any second now this guy would be coming over the stall wall to ring my neck.
“Right on all counts!” he crowed from the neighboring stall. “That’s quite a talent you got there. Say-- could you take a look at this girl I like and find out if she shaves her pooter? I’m tryina make an informed decision.”
“Look, I don’t really--”
“Say no more, pardner, say no more. You don’t wanna go invadin’ no one’s privacy.”
The man peeped his head over the wall again. I put my hands in my lap.
“But say-- couldya do me one last favor there pal? Could I maybe get a snap of your peener? Ta help with the imaginin’ n’ such?”
“No!” I yelled with surprising force.
“Aw come on! I already show’d ya mine, so to speak.”
“I think that’s a bit of a stretch--”
“Look, I’m askin for your help brother. That’s all. ‘Tain’t nothin’ gay about it or nothin’ unless that’s your-- to each his own. But it’d help me out with my mind problems. Give me somethin’ to visualize when I’m out there. Like a good luck charm. If I had me a nice polaroid of your peener to carry ‘round, maybe I wouldn’t have to go seein’ all them censorship bars.”
“Yeah man! I ain’t gonna make you go snappin’ your peener on no cell phone where Uncle Sam can get in and take a look at it. Shit’s for real you know.”
He raised his eyebrows, then disappeared behind the wall. I heard him rustling in his pockets. A few seconds later a polaroid camera slid under the barrier.
“Just one good snap, man. I ain’t askin for no fancy angles or whatnot.”
I wasn’t exactly into the idea, but I’ve always had a thing for antique technology, and I was dying to give that Polaroid a go. So I picked up the camera.
“There ya go brother, that’s it. Dontcha fret. I ain’t about to go jerkin’ it to ya or nothin’. Seems that’s more your thing than mine,” he chuckled. “No pun intended.”
I figured at this point the only thing that’d shut this guy up would be the sound of a camera shutter, so I positioned the Polaroid above the toilet bowl and clicked it. The picture slid out and I shook it dry. My penis looked even more bizarre on film than it did in person. I was mildly horrified. I slid the picture and the camera back over to the neighboring stall. A few seconds later I heard an ecstatic whoop.
“It’s gone! The bar over my peener’s gone! You saved me mister!”
He held up the Polaroid triumphantly over the stall wall.
“I’m gonna git outta here right this minute and start imagining this here peener onto every man, woman an’ child that I set eyes on.”
He left his stall, neglecting to flush or wipe, and tore out of the bathroom.
I decided to resume my previous activity and found, to my surprise, that I was harder than ever.
Mother's grief measures
The width of two hands
Pressed into sunburnt concrete.
Were she to open
The ground with her hands,
See my pasts sleep
Beneath as infants.
The Minstrel, Thief,
Gypsy the Owner of
Many and Girls who keep
Secrets to be nurtured
In limbs of mandrakes.
Anemone blood on The rope of a stillborn:
Flaking rust on
A spigot. Pasts in code, so
missed and asleep but not dead, asleep but not dead.
Was It My Mother That Ruined My Marriage
The ceilings in England are too low for my husband. Every time we visit my mother, Andrew leaves injured. One time, he walked into an exposed beam. The splinter in his forehead was disgusting. After, he vowed to never return. Six months later, we divorced. Roger is tall too. Mother is dead. Problem solved. Maybe.
Walking with You, Finding a Pair of Nikes
Looking down to my Nikes, Stefan Janoski’s, fresh
barely chewed by the days since they found me
at the corner of our high school with only one faint
fray in the leather. Fresh, a present from you.
Tonight, I sat in a dark auditorium, listening to echoes,
echoes of a man reading poems on paradise. I looked
down to feel what my auricles felt, touching, vibrating;
instead I saw my Nike’s. Black, a swoosh, meshing into
the light and shadows birthed in the stillness and quiet
of the open room.
We walked in rain, in December, in Marin through quiet
streets where we didn’t say much, smoking, coffee
and cigarettes held in our hands — our hands like vices.
Tall bay trees walked, stood and waved in rain and wind as
we peer to the creek — now river — twenty feet below
us, a muddy flow reminding us of growing up.
We look. Back in the auditorium, paradise is spoken for you.
The rain gets harder in Marin. And, standing like a sign or
foreshadowing, a pair of turquoise Janoskis, new,
seeped in the rain, heavy with silence. You take them
with you. The rains dry on the pavement and the Janoskis.
You wear them when you leave.
Back in the auditorium, the poet still speaks.
Still searches for the paradise, asking where it lingers
or not. Asks why. A good question.