Noise Pulled into Notes

“Still, we ignite anyway,
becoming love in
a time of fire, almost
touching our lost
fingers in a collapsing
swirl of sparks—”

–from Brendan’s poem “Love in a Time of Fire”

I’ve been sitting on these words, so many words, and I have been lost on them and yet breathing them for too many seasons. Brendan’s poem above unblocked me, so here goes a start to what I am centering around:

 

 

It’s Just You. And a Pulse. And breath.

 

Carl Jung said

“The highest and most decisive experience of all…to be alone with one’s own self…whatever you choose to call the objectivity of the psyche…the patient must be alone if he is to find out what it is that supports him when he can no longer support himself. Only this experience can give him an indestructible foundation.”

I have been spending the last several months to maybe even since last winter when I wrote an essay about a little black flower, Papa Hemingway, and the circles we center around and travel and leave lost footsteps around. Here’s a clip:

“…Walcott’s old and tired voice deep in my own chest it seemed as he read: ‘I broke my own heart too. It’s broken and gone…you were my little black flower…’   And just like that, breathing was suddenly harder to do. My throat hurt, my eyes stung. I stopped walking. I stood there on the sidewalk staring into a sort of what I call a “shiver” of what was keeping me—a glimpse. Emotions rolled to the surface and my heart continued a forgotten ache. That line, that one line (I bit my glove off and replayed the audio) “I broke my own heart, my little black flower…”  The tears were a relief and I walked home with a hole in my chest. I replayed it over and over, pacing the warm wood floors, an eagerness growing in my body….”

Later in the essay I wrote “love doesn’t exist when it cannot get in or out-what keeps you are the black petals surrounding your center–and those petals are what you had left out of all that you had and lost , that kept you going.” –They are the pieces of you you spent your life giving away, letting, and taking from, cowering from yet hovering over your gutted pearl someone took from you and threw into the ocean, leaving you the shell sucking up silence like the ocean–an emptiness you would forever try to fill, your identity and worth words others use freely towards their own foundation.  You spend a lot of time losing yourself in what you thought you would be versus what you had become, and then that black flower dies and blooms again wild and new, into what you are becoming–constantly becoming. I am my own Black Flower. We all are.

I thought I had to find love from someone to fix this. To be the something that would pull the noise I am into notes. But love never belonged to me as my own, so I put it in a box-designed, painted, framed and absolute–so absolute that I couldn’t fit inside it right–loose in all that room. I thought love meant something was wanted from me that I couldn’t part with because there were so few pieces left. I was too small for what I Read More

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Tell Me Where Did You Sleep Last Night

The Wolf

I first saw him when I painted the library black. Space Black” from Sherwinn Williams. Black lamps, black shades, black shelves, black desk and chair, black frames, black pictures. Radiohead’s A Wolf at Your Door” was playing. The only song I couldn’t stop playing. I was manic, keeping myself awake with speed and caffeine because when I shut my eyes the voices came. And when I shut my eyes during the day there was the black creature with a red eye behind my dead grandmother’s armchair long ago given away, house sold. But it was there, on that brown carpet behind the green back, watching near the outlet in the wall. Just a flash. But a flash is enough when it comes to that shit. He was hungry in my paint brush. He was angry. He was at the apex of his prowl.

Or maybe it was before that. Yes. On the rooftop in a bigger city, high on Ecstasy.
Alisha spinning around me in her magenta-red hair and Dropkick Murphy’s t-shirt, singing her love for me. The stars had heartbeats. She kissed my lips. I giggled to hide my terror of the existential leap I was imagining myself taking to the sidewalk. Still wet with cum from the guitar player, rocking on the rough shingles of the roof. This was my third trip and this time my chest was beating wild, my body electric, hers far away and too fucked up to save me.
Then after the painting extravaganza, years after the nights in the mental ward squeezing my sweaty sheets in my fists and praying the Hail Mary” over and over as fast as I could, in case that might work. In case that might save me.
And for years the beast slept. He hibernated as I read my way through brain disorders and chemistry, how-to books and my own pen scratching out my secrets on napkins and notebooks. I had all this energy building, and it came in the ink, it came in the walks I forced myself to take, the dreams I forced myself to forget, the memories I forces myself to accept.
He stirred.

I stirred.

As I started touching the world again with new fingers, something fierce swelled in my chest like a tight balloon. I adjusted and I made more space for it, and it filled my body. I saw the eyes in the mirror–mine–but his.

I met him in the form of a man constructed of straight lines, code, discipline, and the beauty of geometric figures. Cold. Ruthless. Aggressive. Wild. I saw my nature in his words. Just words but all these eloquent words, I gained my nerve, my own sharpness came into focus, my body singing alive, my brain all electric. He had become my 8-Ball. I stretched him across my chest and let myself come through it. And there I was. A woman. He had to go then. I had what I needed–validation that I was of substance.

The wolf follows my heart. My fucked up, dirty, clean, curious, submissive, dominant, angry, wild heart. I thought those things were nouns and I had to live them. I thought I was the stained bed sheets. I thought I was only the experience of leaping off the levee into the waters. I thought I was a creature giving my vulnerability in exchange for release and power. I thought I was the pills I swallowed. I thought I was the diagnosis in the bin. I thought I was an anger. I thought I was the rain that fell on my chucks when I searched for peace in the woods. I thought I was the den to the very wolf I was.
We are creatures–our geometry bottled and shaken. I am a mess. I am in love with the world in my teeth. I will keep my fangs and my instincts about me.

“My girl, my girl, don’t lie to me, tell me where did you sleep last night. In the pines, in the pines, where the sun don’t ever shine, I will shiver the whole night through…”


Books Early 2017

…to read about these epic finds go here to Ampersand Books and LitHub Bookmarks

Here are the links to some reviews of the ones I’m really excited about reading:

  • Future Sex (essays): Emily Witt on Love and Sex and Orgasmic Meditationzxxxssssssssslithub review:  “…Does the title of Emily Witt’s new book Future Sex refer to her own, or everybody’s? The answer is wonderfully complicated. Despite the intriguing sex-toy-centric cover art, Future Sex is less an exploration of technology and futuristic pleasure toys than it is a fierce and fearless foray into how our culture’s views about connection and intimacy are changing—and whether or not Witt herself is getting any in this brave new world that has such orgasms in it.However, Witt doesn’t ignore tech in her essays, which include one about that greatest of digital commodities, porn, and how social media shapes what we see as erotic. So it’s fitting that we managed to connect via smartphone through the ether while she was in Brooklyn and I was in France….
  • A book of essays exploring modern sexuality focusing on Internet dating, Internet pornography, polyamory, and avant-garde sexual subcultures as sites of possibility for the author.”–lithub

 

  • For the Woman Alone by Ashley Inguanta —ampersand books
  • (my personal favorite): Enigma Variations by zxxxxxxxxxddddAndre Aciman link here

  • “A novel divided into five novella-length sections, each focused on a different erotic obsession and possibility….”
  • and
  • The project is one of recognition and revelation within the reader: the book wants nothing less than the dissolution of your consciousness into its pixellated moments of psychological precision … the third section, ‘Manfred,’ grows a little tedious. Unlike Aciman’s steamy first novel Call Me by Your Name, most of the skin-to-skin contact in Enigma Variations occurs in the narrator’s head, and in ‘Manfred,’ Paul wallows longwindedly in the agony of delayed avowal … Intriguingly, as we witness Paul repeatedly rearrange his life around a new magnetic north, it becomes clear that his bisexuality abets his serial monogamy … Aciman has captured Paul’s bridge life delightfully well.
  • A Woman Looking at Men Looking at Women  –Siri Hustvedt

    Siri Hustvedt’s essay collection–A collection of essays on art, feminism, neuroscience, psychology, and philosophy from prize-winning novelist Siri Hustvedt.a-woman-looking-at-men-looking-at-women_siri-hustvedt_cover

“Siri Hustvedt, an authoritative and independent-minded writer on the arts and sciences, brings the felt experience into her smart, stimulating and hefty new collection of essays … What’s exciting about Hustvedt’s work is her desire for us to see the world anew … Hustvedt does not resolve her many questions, but her exhilarating conclusion testifies to the virtues of doubt … the strength and lucidity of Hustvedt’s good thinking calls us to have confidence in our own instincts, to be alert to delusions and inherited traditions, and to realize that many truths are fiction, and only exist to the extent that we believe them.”–lithub review

  • The Refugees by VIET THANH NGUYEN:

    The Refugees, is as impeccably written as it is timed … This is an important and incisive book written by a major writer with firsthand knowledge of the human rights drama exploding on the international stage — and the talent to give us zxxxxxcinroads toward understanding it … There is no effort to avoid the identity of ‘refugee’ — this book interrogates the term on political and spiritual levels, and the results are saturated with pain, memory and beauty … In this collection, towns are altered by war, relatives by time. In some stories, decades pass between letters home to Vietnam, as in ‘Fatherland.’ There is a thorny dissonance between past and present. The living protagonists are often forced to carry traumatic visions with them as they try to make their way in a new country … Nguyen is skilled at making us feel the disorientation and alienation of these characters navigating displacement … The Refugees is a surprisingly sensual book, despite operating in difficult political and emotional terrain. Nguyen crafts sentences with an eye toward physicality and a keen awareness of bodies and their urges … In an era where writers and readers debate who gets to write what, it is refreshing and essential to have this work from a writer who knows and feels the terrain on an intellectual, emotional and cellular level — it shows. Nguyen offers stories of aftermath, but also of complexity. He gives us human beings weary of pity and tired of sharing rehearsed stories that make them seem like ‘one more anonymous young refugee.’ In topic and in execution, The Refugees is an exquisite book.

(featured image http://sissyjupe.blogspot.com )

The Center Cannot Hold

The sun has set and I am standing on the back porch, leaning over the railing.

I hear the screen door creak, his heavy boots sliding.

“Are your friends picking you up tonight?” The nicest question he’s asked in a while. He’s imploring about non-essentials. Something is coming. A faint alarm spins my gut.

He leans against the house under the yellow glow of the porch light and I turn so my side is toward him—I don’t want my ass in his view, and I can read his body language this way. His arms are crossed over his plaid belly, hands under his armpits. He’s nervous.

Hesitating, “Amy, I want to tell you something.”

“What? ‘Is Jeremy going to be there?’”

“No. I trust you.”

Silence. The crickets are loud this spring. I hear the frogs mating out back behind the pole barn. Beyond the tree line, a semi’s headlights float.

“That’s a surprise,” I smile weakly at him. He smiles back and makes room for himself.

“Amy, what are you going to do with your life?”

My smile ends. I look down at Kurt Cobain on my black t-shirt, and hear ‘nothin’ on top but a bucket and a mop and an illustrated book about birds!’ I look into the railing’s grain.

“I don’t know. Why?”

I cannot fully absorb this question.

Silence.

The atmosphere has changed; I feel my body instincts alert my senses… but this pressure is different—his presence isn’t to harm right now. His voice is closer, but he is not.

“I want you to know something—something I think you need to hear—you have so much potential in you, Amy–so much more than in anyone I’ve ever seen. You’re talented, you’re smart, you can do anything. There are so many things about you that you can use in this life and you don’t even know it.”

I turn my back to him and watch the tear seep and spread into the wood. Come on, Lori.

“I just wanted to tell you that, because you don’t know. Because you act like you don’t care. Because I see you wasting your talents and time and you’re so…I…”

The pressure is starting to push itself down on my chest and make way for something I am not ready for—to look at him, to see him, to hear his words as human. He wanted to say what I’d chased after from him over a decade ago, on that nappy carpet, me crouching behind the owl lamps, spying on my new father, giggling until he turned his greasy nose in my direction and blew smoke in my face. My wet hair, my itchy nightgown stuck to me.

And I felt a forgotten piece in me move-an isolated bubble in my chest rising—a shape of a silent center I can’t quite feel, and then I felt it start to grow into a globe–a planet–a world of loneliness, the ocean where I had sucked up all the silences in the shell of what I was becoming, the land masses the million faces I was dividing into, shifting each continent of myself either away from or crushing into each other, dismantling. Only the beginning of how I masterfully destroy. But that anger doesn’t bubble up here. It is stripped away, and so is my guard, and in that slip of a bare moment, a kind of shared sorrow I’ve never heard of floats between us-I saw it. I’ll never forget what I saw in him that night under the porchlight-a shame and grief so deep, so big it cut through me into that lonely center. I saw him saying he was sorry; almost as if he were saying leave, get away from here, this is not meant for you; there is nothing that can be done to repair the damage I have done, so I will give you away. Maybe you’ll make it. Get out of here.

My sorrow is him. All I had ever wanted was him to love me. I wanted to be his daughter. All the years of my girlhood spent in the dirt in the garage watching him with engines and tools, pretending I liked Deep Purple, asking what a socket wrench was, who was Led Zeppelin, how do I bait a hook…and he couldn’t love me like that. And he knows it. And I know it. And that very fact hangs between us like a breath on frost. The shared sorrow from opposite sides of the ice.

This center he had pressed, it is the only thing left I do not hate about him. And I have denied that center ever since.

The moment passes and I remember my defense—that he is despicable. That I was naïve for allowing this. I thought I’d fear him looking at my body again—but my chest is hurting, trying to swallow that earth, that world, that small center I cannot hold.

Beneath his sickness, beneath his ghost-like existence, beneath his perversion and depression, there is something in him to speak past all that, step on what pride he had left, to tell me what he sees in me-as a human. As a person. Maybe he wanted to, as a father, give me something no parent had ever given me—hope.

I can’t look at him anymore. I cannot bear seeing someone in so many pieces who has broken so many things there are no words.

Headlights, then bass. “Lori’s here.”

“OK. I just wanted to say it. Have a good night.”

“Thanks,” I say without looking at him and trot down the steps toward the car, heart pounding.

“Hi my Jo-Jo Bean!” Lori smiles, her bouncy self turning down Tupac and putting the Buick in reverse. Night slips around me, the only light from the dash. She hands me a cigarette.

“Hey turn that up,” I say and smile. As if nothing had happened. As if I could forget this.

 

Reinvent Yourself Endlessly

Every time a professor asked me or my peers what my poems meant–I never quite knew how to answer. They’re comments led me around and around the center of how I always felt about it but couldn’t word,  I just acted like I already knew. That’s why it was written–those were the words to what it was, what the truth to me was. It’s not that I didn’t know but that my body or mind seems to piece things together with words and images before I can catch up. My first poem I ever wrote was Vapor in 2005. And I’ve held onto it. It’s even been published. That poem still holds true–it’s some kind of core belief I have but I didn’t have a rope down into that well to truly grasp it. I am writing to you guys tonight because this is happening again in a way–I don’t know what I am thinking until I write it down; I have to write to a someone, and I hold you guys with affection, because I am not willing to write to just myself. I don’t know why. Maybe it’s my honest attempt to stop escaping myself. Because I try to be as honest as I can on nights like these. I’m so tired, but I can’t stop feeling words that are coming that I am trying to prepare for. I’m not eating, I’m not sleeping. This is what happens every time before something real is written, and I don’t know what it is but I know my fingers will type it out for me.

Everything I have written so far–planning my grand, tragic memoir–is/was really, I am realizing, a desperately structured narrative so I could validate it the events, find order in the chaos, and so I could actually feel for the girl in the story because I have a hard time doing that for myself. Or I did. That’s changing. I am changing, and everything I’ve written–none of it is going into whatever it is that I am compelled and pulled to write. What pulls at me has been pulling for almost a decade, but it’s even stronger now, the words waiting, because I have been watching it unfold and the words only gradually come.  Call those vignettes, that attempted narrative structure, a healing process, call it a coping mechanism, call it a perceived truth (as all truths seem to really be), it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter because how I write it and how I remember it has been two different worlds. The memories and images, feelings (mostly physical, body feelings, frozen emotional states of the past, etc.) and events of course are as true to myself as I can be. But my life is not a linear, chronological tale-it is a history of flashes out of order. And the flashes are what I look to when I write, involving my one fail-safe–my senses and body memories. I’m more tied to the smell of lilacs, tractor oil, Old Spice, the weeds along the path to the baseball games I went to all summer when I was a girl, the milkweed, trains, the iron ore at the dock, old books, the perfume I wore when I was being abused, the feel of water and wet skin on me, physical alarms and instinct, than I am tied to actual happenings or events. And that is a blunt truth: dissociating your whole life–you live in fragments, just like how I remember it. And I have changed and do so constantly into something that makes me feel alive–and I never really felt alive before, not for this long of a period. I am in love with the simplest things like blue, deaf mornings in the winter, the way the telephone wires reflect in puddles, the smell of a storm coming, white seagulls on dark clouds Read More

Rummaging Pays

I have been rummaging through all my words, all my pieces, all my prose and thoughts and themes and connecting vignettes and essays and poems for years—rummaging like a garage-saler on dexi’s frantically looking for that one thing, that illumination, thee connection, the answer to what is going to contain it all and make it flow and shine in a brilliance I need to feel. And I need to feel it because I need to know, as only writing has ever shown me, who I am. It has occurred to me over extensive self-examination, watching myself, paying attention to my body and thoughts, voice, and what excites me and what tires me—studying form and reading memoirs and pieces I “should” read as it is “recommended,” looking for groups, swapping with friends tired old pieces, re-editing instead of remaking—I even got to the point of ALMOST paying for a “coach” or editor to help me make sense of this unorganized fuckpool of words. I know what I am saying, but I don’t. And I was getting so tired of it that way, I realized I had been forcing myself into a direction, forcing myself to hold that narrative arc, to find chronology, to have a somewhat steady or at least an almost healthy-sounding pace and tone, keeping it on an even keel.

And then it occurred to me.

I am going against my own grain.

I asked myself what I do love, what writing and reading makes my heart pound and makes me excited and nervous? What kind of writing was I doing when I wrote that exciting as hell essay that Word Riot published? Why do I feel like I am smothering as a writer when I have so much meaner things to say, blunter, more crude, more REAL—because life is that way. Dirty and beautiful. That is the kind of writer I am, and not being that way was killing me. And trying to force all of this into the memoir genre was doing it. Because I assumed maybe that’s what I was—a memoir writer.

I looked around and rummaged through all my things. Again.

And again.

And noticed, first, that I hadn’t felt nervous energy and excitement in what I had been reading and writing in a long time–not since I wrote “Something Dark Like Jazz” for Word Riot. That was like a brain orgasm, the whole process.  And I decided I am never going to not write like that again. Granted a lot of my pieces (essay chunks and vignettes) similarly made my heart pound–well-thought out ones as well as muse-infused ones, but those were written a long time ago, I just kept rewriting, pulling up the doc, deleting an extra comma. That kind of crap.

So I wrote down all the things I have read that blew my mind or caused that nervous feeling–writers, books, poems, musicians, pieces from blogs and sites and journals and I wrote down all the ones that made me excited-some, thrilled–that that kind of writing was possible. Then I also considered the fact that I have PTSD, I have a history, my memory has large blocks that are missing. I know those parts of my story by my body memories and old flashbacks I am not afraid of anymore. Why then would I write a chronological story?-and one that can’t be contained in just a window’s view of it because there’s too much, spilling into autobiography. As I  finished my list, I looked up their names and where they’d been recently published and who was published alongside them. Who they connected to, and then I’d find other pieces I liked, (all essay basically, and well written fast-paced articles), and peculiar things kept happening, like finding Radiohead, Jack White, and Joan Didion on one page…whaaaat. All of this spun  into one thing, one direction, one answer–they were all essayists. I have been writing my memoir in what I thought were unfinished chunks I couldn’t connect to with a simple “and then one day…” etc., -and some of those chunks have been published stand-alone.

My god. I’ve been doing essay all this time, thinking I was doing it all wrong, and it wasn’t just fitting me somehow, studying the shit out of memoir “how-to’s” out of desperation in an uninspired, shitty mood. Later on I perused The Essay Review and read David Lazaar’s essay and several others. I fell in love eighty times in one reading session. I. Have. Found. My. People.

Amy

Not to Touch the Earth

I’m standing on the roof of a four-story building downtown in a city. I’ve just taken Ecstasy. I don’t feel ecstasy. I feel what I learned later to be verging on a psychotic panic. I’m going to jump off if someone doesn’t stop me, if someone doesn’t touch me.

The sky is clear. Alisha spins and spins, her arms out “Amy, oh Amy I love you,” her red hair flashing.

I tell her she looks like Satan.

I feel like the roof is going to tilt and my body will let itself slide to its death. I’m too embarrassed to speak; the stars pulsating in time with the veins in my temples.

It intensifies. I feel the depth pressure when I look over the edge and then run back to the center and fold, wrapping my arms tight around my legs. Alisha is sliding all over in smooth colors. She’s scaring me. And then suddenly I am fire; I am bottomless.

I am I am I am.”

Fucking Sylvia quotes in my racing brain. And then I see her head stuffed in the stove and I hear the blade wretch back on my wrist. Suicide. The very word gives me metal chills, the way the “-cide” sounds like a knife slash on cold teeth.
I can’t take it. And now I start believing I am going to die. It has been per-ordained from a higher power that my heart will stop. ….Now

Alisha’s laugh peals through the air and I choke down my fear of the word. It must be obvious, this affair I’m having with “suicide”–so now it feels like a major question on my lips, but I can’t get up and tell her. She’s holding her breasts through a Dropkick Murphy shirt. The moon high over the rooftop glints on the barbell piercing under her lip. Ed, her boyfriend, makes me think she is a suggestion to a woman like me. Nonsense. Ed. I feel a wash of compassion for Alisha. And then the memory of Ed Norton’s forehead creases, “I am Jack’s raging hard-on.”

I’m a train. I need the ultimate climax in everything I do until I’m repelled by fear—that is all that I have learned about myself, living out here. And that new fear –it’s hard to scare me. Alisha takes my hand and pulls me through the thick air and into the stairwell and kisses my lips, “Let’s go,” and I hold her hand and crash into another night.

I find myself rocking in the dark wet grass behind my apartment. I don’t know how much time has passed since the rooftop. A few people are here and there, bottles of booze and clear baggies of coke. My head spins and then stops, spins and stops. Someone comes out of a threshold somewhere, and I think it’s my dead father, no, I know it’s him. The familiarity I felt when I turned to look over my shoulder was real. The moon shine’s down on a large, flat, white face. A choker with spikes. I am alarmed at this apparition, and then at this ease of myself seeming to slip between reality and delusion. I feel the blood in my temples pound. I’m tearing at the grass, desperately making piles under a calm facade. My roommates are having a party inside and after what seems like hours of confusion, I see clearly, a thought. An act. I have an idea.

I feel myself stalk. My arms possess waves and my hips are on rails. Lily comes to me and she hugs my face and dances in the square of light coming from the kitchen window. “Rider’s on the Storm” is humming and rolling through the house. I scream for Bill to play “Not to Touch the Earth,” and before I realize I finish asking, it shakes me to my core—that high organ keys sounding like an Atari ghost chasing me and I smell brown smooth leather boots and jackets and “Wake up GIRL, WE’RE ALMOST HOME!” And we are dancing. Or we were. Or I just thought we did. Because in another moment I am alone in the quiet grass, easing out of a scare and into a numbing. Not a fine numbing. It used to be fine until it started mattering. It’s easy not to feel. I lie down and let it, inhaling anything that might fill me—be it words or fantasy or pills or gin—until I am brimming with and drowning in just a reflection of myself, pooling into a glass the man I have sex with takes a drink from. Electrified flowers. Naked shoulders.

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The Gray Areas

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My post after considering “Kerry’s Word Family Post” at Real Toads.

I am going to run with this idea because there are two things I want to write about (and each one is a prompt from someone or someplace else).  I am going with an ambiguous scene between two potential lovers, also using the word family of “Ambiguous.”

here goes, not sure what I’m going to do ….first draft :

We are in that grey area aren’t we, I am asking. In the beginning it was easy-applying the hard fact of you to a tender space in my toughened gut, not as a salve, but as if it had belonged, all along. And I question now if what had belonged all along is really only the part of me you brought out, and I hadn’t seen it. And to resemble what is in your eyes–that is something.

Calculated and cool, punctual and all equations, coming through the theater doors up the aisle from me, I see your dark silhouette from this empty stage with the curtains left open for you  –the dancer sitting at the lip of the stage, shoes off, hair undone, audience dispersed, incandescent lighting turned to the stark overheads that show every blemish, every wrinkle. You see me this way and I hold my breath, the ever-present fear a lover will see nothing and you have made up an illusion, a self-evident pill you must swallow that you may have stopped being honest with yourself. It happens, when you depend on someone to charm you–as you age the real charm is the ambiguity and complexity of being an honest, real, flawed, disordered, loud, quiet self.

I see myself clearly through your eyes, and as I am only learning to love and appreciate what I have become by my hand’s design, you, though have I never admitted, have rendered me speechless and swelling when
you value my worth in comments you do not realize you are making–as if you know deeply that I already know these things–that I am smart, that I understand, that I …am maybe beautiful. We do not question each other, but challenge only ourselves. To be better.

You move toward the stage and then it is not a stage but we are on a steady plane and no one else is there, dropping my notions of romance and love long ago, I merely want to be seen as an equal, exposing every scar, every embarrassment, every vulnerability, every secret of a strength to you. Not for you. To you. And that is the difference–your reactions are yours and I am not to be measured by them. I am not asking you to accept me, I am saying this is me, these are the facts, these are the equivocations of all I’ve been through, all I’ve felt, and beneath those there is much more, as the evidence cannot lie, and maybe

maybe,

maybe you’d like to see what happens within a mind and body when it decides what to do with all these fragments and parts that make up my mind and heart. Maybe you are curious how I love. You missed the recital. But maybe.

I’ve watched you watch me for a while now. And we still circle the arena, perhaps both a little too cautious for something that feels far too good.  And this distance, and stance, I find I am not pulling myself together because myself is this solid thing now, sutured together at the many people I thought I was. And you’re the first person that sees me. You see me. And it’s enough to catch my breath, knowing I am not invisible. That I am somebody.

And the dance of words begins, every secret we tell is behind the letters–hidden in word placement in the sentence, in the alliteration and roots, in the tone of voice, in the cadence, in the best words not chosen so as not to reveal too much.

I cannot tell where these conversations stop and I start; I cannot tell if you worded my mind into collective adjectives or if I want to kiss you.

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Beauty Walks a Razor’s Edge

I once sat for two hours watching him creep up on a skunk to catch a shot. I got lost around him, the way he stole time with a naturally sedated articulation and spread it out like night, talking about politics or to whatever was turning in his hands at the moment. Taking a drag, taking a sip, and sauntering back and forth with the pace of an old man on Sundays. I loved him. I envied him without jealousy.

published at Longridge Review

…My weariness amazes me
I am branded on my feet
I have no one to meet
and the ancient empty street’s
too dead for dreaming…
–Bob Dylan

He is standing at the end of the dock with a cigarette hanging from his dry lips. Late July sun is rising, warming his bare feet on the planks of warped wood–just inches above the water. His spirit belongs to older generations–an ancient part about him that sent him away from cities and busy people, never trying to chase or capture time. Maybe it was because of the rheumatoid arthritis; he had it since he was seven and now, at thirty-five, he’s found where he belongs–taking each day slow and steeped in chamomile, never knowing or planning for the next flare up.
He tinkers with cameras and foods and clay until they make sense in his hands, creating masterpieces in the long afternoons of tea and painkillers. On summer nights he sat outside his house, smoking in the dark, capturing fireflies with shutter modes, trying at it every time he noticed the camera buried somewhere on the counter.

He embodies that Beat-look–aged blue jeans worn thin at the knees and seat, torn and meticulously patched, fitted and worn white t-shirts, shaggy hair. He doesn’t go without his “old-man-hat.” He doesn’t give a damn about troubles or answers; he likes to watch the way things move and find their way. I once sat for two hours watching him creep up on a skunk to catch a shot. I got lost around him, the way he stole time with a naturally sedated articulation and spread it out like night, talking about politics or to whatever was turning in his hands at the moment. Taking a drag, taking a sip, and sauntering back and forth with the pace of an old man on Sundays. I loved him. I envied him without jealousy. I loved how he drew me into that world of his–like we were kids again behind that old red fence full of knots and spy holes, waiting for Spaghettios and blowing up frogs.
Mike has already had his hips, shoulders, ankles, and knees replaced. It comes and goes; it worsened when he reached his twenties. His bouts in his youth were shorter and he remained somehow elastic and tireless. I couldn’t keep up with him. Now they stretch and tear, and he gets so tired. When he cried to me I knew there was something so deep in him that I could never understand.

0000wwwww

…I was in another lifetime
one of toil and blood,
I came in from the wilderness
a creature void of form
“Come in,” she said, “I’ll give ya…
shelter from the storm…”

“Amos, I feel so fucking stupid, how I feel—but shit I don’t think I can do this again,” These are his words before another surgery. I silently cry too and tell him to find the Swimlot, and that Gram’s is watching over him. He always called while in Pre-Op.
I listened to him over the phone and watched him when we were together—amazed at how this wild boy had been defied by his own body. He was beautiful. Sometimes it got so bad he’d be in the hospital, worn away to his skeleton, his eyes protruding out of his hollow face. He was embarrassed when I saw him. Some days he couldn’t get out of bed, or turn doorknobs and steering wheels. But some days he could fish with me until the sky turned navy blue, and teach me again how to clean fish. His streaks of health, we learned, were becoming more and more sparse, but when he rounded back out into a healthy body, he picked up where he left off—as best as he could.

mike1

When his wrists are swollen, he fills space with dreams. He wants a sailboat, and he’s taking me away, out in the ocean. He tells me this as he sculpts his clay and I sit among my notebooks and laptop, writing the story I can never finish. Sonny Boy Williamson, Ali Farka Toure, and Billie Holiday take turns breezing through my yellow curtains, out my kitchen windows and down my stairs. I make him tea and tell him about the cherry blossom trees in Japan. He talks about oceans and masts and ropes while creating a sculpture with his very own, private signature—a kind of howling in metaphor in the sinews of his figures.

“Amos, we’re gonna do it someday. Man, just picture it—out on that water, the clearest, blue-green water. Just watching the sea and breathing in that air. And we’ll do just this, like we always have.”

…Not a word was spoke between us,
there was little risk involved,
…Try imagining a place
that’s always safe and warm…
”Come in,” she said, “I’ll give ya
shelter from the storm…”

I think he started sculpting for two reasons: initially, he was left immobile and looking for things to help the time pass (he has also become a chef, he tailors his own clothes, plants gardens, fires his pottery), but I think he also came to a hard conclusion about his situation—optimism is bullshit, you have to take what you get and appreciate it. He wracks himself blind with depression when his body gets so weak and he is so ready to take on the world. He can’t work; he’s on disability. He lost Lindsey, the girl he wanted to marry. He became addicted to his pain meds and put himself into Detox. The American Arthritis Foundation did a full spread on him and his sculpting in their magazine.

With Mike, every moment was almost captured like a photo in my mind. In southern Wisconsin, he and his family lived in an old farmhouse atop one of many of the green rolling hills dotted by islands of looming trees. We were about fourteen then, watching the storms come in in panorama, lightning miles away, the sky purple and green and then that yellow Wizard of Oz-ish hue. We’d watch and then sneak back into the brush and smoke cigars.
I remember the time we raced to my house in another storm. He had about a block on me. I ran as fast as my short legs would let me, splashing through growing puddles in my PF Fliers. The seat of my cut-offs was slimy in mud—we’d gone hurdling down the muddy slopes of Suicide Hill and splashed into Bay City Crick. It was a jungle down there. The spray-painted remainders of ancient sewage canals were broken bridges that loomed over the stream and bury themselves into the wall of the ravine. I imagined hieroglyphics and secret codes whispering to us. When we crossed them, every step could have fallen away from us, so we silently made our way, testing each other for nerve. Then it started to pour. Rain showered down through the canopy of leaves and thunder cracked.
“Yes!” we screamed, and made our way up the muddy path. I kept slipping and sliding, grabbing for vines and thorny branches to pull myself up. Mike was just ahead of me. When I busted out of the scratching brambles and woods, Mike had spiked it down the street, racing me to my house.
The rain stung my skin. My wet ponytail slapped me in the face—side to side—as I pounded the sidewalk. The storm put that yellow shadow on everything, making the grass and lilacs blot in electric color. I saw his skinny legs leap up to the front porch, and he waited for me, panting and soaked through his white t-shirt.
“This is friggin’ awesome Amos!” We paced on the porch.
“Should we go back?” My heart was pounding.
The door opened and my older sister, Nikki, appeared through the gray wires of the screen door. “You guys are gonna be in trouble. When dad gets home he’s gonna see you all wet and you’re gonna get it.” She disappeared. Inside I heard Cindi Lauper singing the theme from The Goonies. We went in and sat down on the carpet, reeling with excitement. Thunder echoed down the avenue.

…Suddenly I turned around and she was standing there,
with silver bracelets on her wrists
and flowers in her hair
She walked up to me so gracefully
and took my crown of thorns
“Come in,” she said, “I’ll give ya
shelter from the storm…

In a flash of chrome our banana-seat bikes tore us down Highway 2 towards the lake. The entire small town of Ashland swelled on a hill, rolling down into the point of it–the moody waters of Lake Superior. Pedaling downhill we took a short-cut behind Frankie’s Pizza where a gravel trail wound through the dense green. The crickets and cicadas filled our ears against the rush of air from our speed. And then, abruptly, the trees canopying over us cleared and there it was—the small field of thistle and weeds that led toward the stone ledge that dropped four feet to the water below.
Mike and I had no need for words. Our lazy summer days were filled with them. He was my cousin and my best friend, and to be eleven without permission is, I think, the last enchantment of childhood. We dropped our bikes and ran toward the ledge, the milkweed overwhelming us with that bitter wild scent. The blue sky seemed to span around us, leaving me and Mike in this world. His hazel eyes flecked in the sun as we grinned at each other and held hands. This was ours. This was our place. This was our moment; and we knew, somehow, that we’d never forget it.
Tank-tops, cut-off shorts, chucks and all—we swung our tanned our arms and counted out loud, looking only at each other, giddy.
“One….Two…THREE!”
I remember soaring through the fishy air, I remember the feel of his hand in mine, and then looking straight ahead at the same time we jumped into the cool, green water below, limitless.

This last August our families camped together in Delta, Wisconsin. Deep in the forest on an inlet of Spirit Lake, all was black in and outside of my cabin at four in the morning. I woke up and waited for Mike to meet me at the screen door. I heard a whippoorwill. Pine and birch and a smoky oak soaked the atmosphere. It was chilly. I gathered my fishing pole and gear and waited on the porch in the dark. I lit a cigarette that glowed the rails and hanging life jackets in a blinking red. I could smell the pond scum still dripping from the vests. The lake was barely visible, lit by the moon and stars in hazy electricity behind the black pillars of trees. In the distance, I heard his steps crunching on the gravel. I saw a faint red glow bobbing towards me. I smelled kerosene and coffee.
“Holy shit, Ame, you got up.” His grin was a casual half-smirk but his eyes were alive—we hadn’t been able to do something like this together in a long time.
“Coffee.” His gear and thermos clanked together and he picked up some of the bait.
“Where’d you get that?”
He held up an ancient lantern, “Some rummage sale a long time ago. Works great.”
He led the way into the darkness. I couldn’t remember the last time I was outside when the only light for miles around was from the stars. We whispered to each other but stayed mostly quiet. I took in the smells and sounds and dark shapes and fresh air as much as I took in Mike, limping ahead of me in a red glow.
The surface of Spirit Lake was covered in thick wisps of steam that lent to its name. A fog drifted around the upturned rowboats and shaky dock that had been there since we were kids. The fog pooled and spread and slipped around us. We slinked into the rowboat and the warm water bogged and recoiled against the hollow tin. I watched Mike’s silhouette against the backdrop of scattered diamonds, turning down the lantern, barefoot on the dock. He handed me the coffee and poles and untied us. We dipped in and over the water. The oars screeched and creaked. We went slow, listening to the oars and to the fish that flopped from the surface. I told him I’d row. The night before, at the fire, I saw his wrists and ankles were swollen ends to his skinny limbs.
“Nah, maybe later.” He breathed in deep. A loon landed close to our boat and we watched it. Its call echoed across the black lake. We sat and fished.
“Hey Amos, you know what?” The cigarette between his lips smoked into his eyes and he squinted and rowed a ways, leaning back. “Even with all the pain, all the….shit, all that I can’t do and will never do—all the shit you’ve been through–all the fucking hell, you know? I don’t think I’d change a damn thing—about life.”
It was a common, out-of-nowhere comment, both of us always comfortable enough to speak our hearts and minds at random. But this time it stopped me. The water bogged against the side of the row boat; I could hear the blue gill slapping against each other in the krill.
My mind instantly went through a million conversations between us—both of us thinking we’d never make it—him physically, me mentally. All the tears and the begging for help from God, yet to each other, over the phone. The late-night conversations beginning with his cooking advice and my musical barrages, to astronomy and philosophy and what Gram’s death meant. I saw my best friend, hardened and beautiful, the wild, charming blond boy who forever steals my heart. He hadn’t broken, nothing was taken from him. He had grown into a man in such a short time, and I still believe there is nothing he can’t do. And he made me feel–in a large moment of my life–brave and strong, like a person of substance—like him.
He looked over at me, one eye still squinting in the smoke. He grinned, knowing I felt the gravity of this, too. He said, “I know you know what I mean. Man, I love ya, Amos.” He brought up the oars, I dropped anchor, and we fished until well passed dawn.

…I’m bound to cross the line
BEAUTY WALKS A RAZOR’S EDGE
someday I’ll make it mine
If I could only turn back the clock
to when God and him were born
“Come in,” he said, “I’ll give ya
shelter from the storm…”

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