All Posts in Issue 1: Fall 2015
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.