Dark Like Jazz

My “Something Dark Like Jazz” published and up at Word Riot. July 2016.

He is the bass stripped down to a dark rhythm that hums to the backdrop of city lights and black and white urban streets and alleys, somewhere foreign to me that I want to get lost in. My thoughts around him read like the first time I fell in love with banned books and Henry Miller lovingly wrote “cunt.” I want to turn his pages. I want to read the forbidden words he paints in red. A steady and heavy cello across absurd piano strokes crash into everything I’ve judged myself on, every law I am governed by and I am intoxicated by the strangeness, drunk on this existential, loveless affair, this music. There is something cold in his quiet demeanor, something almost cruel, a hidden beat to his body, to his sex, a muted aggression beneath a tie. I imagine his eyes ignoring his surroundings, lost in thoughts on maybe statistics, maybe sex, maybe the structure of all things black and white, applying logic and reason and theory to the strange design of women. Or maybe he is seeing only scale and the black dots of notes and wanting only an outlet for himself, and maybe I am making this all up because I am looking for it too—somewhere to release it, to choke out my tired morals, or at least to have a corner where I don’t have to hide.

Self-Exam

All I wanted was the shadow

of your fingers

and cool eyes to kind of soften as

I gather my wounds in this tulip

and with you I would say

here

here

enter and close me up

 

I waited in your room

like this, folding and unfolding

my fingers over my palms as if it were

the tulip opening and closing,

bearing witness to my wounds

you know so much about, and then each time I

closed them, I saw a sort of smooth scar spreading

over old stitches, and the new ones

blended so well in these new petals.

 

The clock ticking as it

pushed into the impossible hours.

You are not coming, love.

And I swear I saw out the window an old comet

disappearing behind the horizon of the place

I fear life goes, or intimacy, or the

promise of budding in Spring in this town

that never grows–just mud and dead-ends

and bent telephone poles.

 

The next morning I had too much coffee

because my chest hurt.  The bright

rooms felt vacant, even disturbed somehow,

as if they had spent the night with me and woke up

hung over and hazy.

 

I looked down into my hands and cupped

them and closed them and imagined little

black tulips hiding their centers,

not from me, but from the world.

From love. Rejection does this.

 

And I keep waking up at odd hours

in a box made out of black flowers that press

panic down into me

–an old panic, the kind that happens

when people leave.

 

And there’s his voice

repeating in my head

speaking in another language
and then nothing,

silence and carefully chosen

acoustic guitar melodies plucking

sadness from me like grapes,

through my rooms, without words.

 

I envisioned a love story that

wasn’t really there;

he was a reflection

of the things in me

I was only learning

about myself.

 

The chest pain I am allowing;

I’ve switched to black tea

and cigarettes; to looking

into myself in the quiet noon

saying

here

here I am

enter and close me.

 

You can’t cut a heart out of someone

if you’re not holding it.

Where Did You Sleep Last Night

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.
Barbara Devries photo

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, and I love so hard and will never hate myself. Ever. Again.

“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…”

Reflecting

Memoirists are  often held up to harsh light. The needle-prodding into what is truth, what is your truth, what is the one and only truth?   And what are our memories but perceptions? I am going to trust my language, trust my memory that abides more by flashbacks in body and cognition. I can tell you I will honor my suffering, I will trust that what I went through is worth writing about and I only know that because it has kept me awake at night for over fifteen years. My mind is wired against what is expected of nonfiction writers, so I will tell my story as I have seen it and felt it, in a sort of peripheral blur of cognitive, emotional, and physiological flashbacks, along with so many moments of clarity that I could never outrun. I know what happened happened, because my body remembers it the way you might remember the feeling of water holding your body up in the ocean, the way your grandmother’s arthritic fingers traced circles on your hand and back when you were young and maybe afraid; the way rain smells on the street and the vision of those drops on the blooms by the back door where you retrieve your newspaper and Spring fills you and in that moment–you may have missed it–but you were existing between two spheres, coexisting in the memory of the fragrance of lilacs in rain in May  while simultaneously putting your body in the present moment of something new.

That is how I work–I am between those spaces yet in both at the same time, so that part of me steps back and watches on the fringe, curious.

Like the time I smelled ici perfume at Macy’s about ten years ago and it pleasured my sense of smell while at the same time triggered an old emotional state and fear response because I suddenly was aware that I had been wearing that perfume on the Sunday afternoon after church when my stepfather told me he didn’t see me as his real daughter but rather as an object of desire he would try to control himself around.

I exist between those spheres often, experiencing myself in my own skin–hungry but gentle for this day, these moments-yet with the irreparable and inexhaustible tripwire my brain has been redesigned with and an almost unadaptable psyche with a body that remembers and reads my past in words I had never been able to create back then.  My eyes know what they saw, there is auditory, and my body knows the things it felt physiologically and psychologically–the emotions made their way out much later.  It’s interesting that it’s in that psychological trauma that that is where the damage comes in–because a girl that young has no autonomy, no identity quite yet. I learned to live in many different places inside my mind. And to me all along, I believed my mind was not separate from my body.

My experience in my skin becomes,…–even if say I were on that porch with you in the morning, getting the paper and smelling the rain and flowers, it becomes not a transformation but more of a mutation I am acknowledging. Like you on the porch remembering that wonderful smell and vibrancy of spring and rain from your entire life, while also existing in the present–taking the paper, going inside, holding in your mind the framework of what you held there moments ago, with perhaps an additive from the memory. My experience with things so basic and constant like the skin on my body are the very things that trigger my mind, body, and emotions into coexisting with the past, a very immediate past becoming present. I cannot to this day draw circles on my hand with my finger because it starts as a comfort when I feel I need someone, and my grandmother used to trace just so, but the actual contact, because I am aware of it, I am aware that I am deliberately doing something to calm myself, and that is enough to transform the room.  I become utterly awake to what covers me and what doesn’t, what exposes me–and it’s not so much my body and skin as it is my dignity; it feels like an attack on my core. I grow a little small, yet I can ground myself well enough to stare into my surroundings, even respond and smile at you. You won’t notice I am going through this, I’ve had years of practice. But that danger, I don’t think that feeling ever leaves people who suffered so–I cannot remember precise details or name it, but my body knows the language so well. I didn’t have the words for it back then, and you can be certain that my voice was taken before I was old enough to even realize it.

I think it’s well, curious, that the very thing he used is also almost a metaphor to my mental dysmorphic tendencies. I was in front of his camera, exposed. Exposure. But maybe in my child’s mind anything that reflected myself back at me was numbing. It still can be sometimes. My face in the mirror–I’d stare at myself for long periods of time in my early and mid teens and then again in my late twenties, and I’d see nothing. I didn’t see flesh and bone and blood.  I was not developing into a woman. The shame maybe went so deep all that time because my own self was captured on camera, and it was out there, there were strangers as well. I think when you live so much between the past and the present, slipping through the cracks of both, and learning that you’re going to do that for a while, no matter how hard you work at getting better, because, with gentle acceptance, you have to know the survival skills you’re using are your own, and you’re still here, with both feet on the ground, even if you’re not entirely there. When these triggers come it used to be hard for me to notice them, because I’d dissociated all my life. And now it happens in a slip and then it passes and I come back, and I find myself watching other people not for how to act and what to say and do like I used to, but I am watching out of sheer curiosity–that other people can be programmed to be so…definite and real. That there are currents out there that go unperturbed and stay steady at the helm. I like knowing that–that I wasn’t all wrong and backwards and afraid all this time for nothing. That some small strain in my neuroplasticity was watching not for cues but for familiarity. I can’t say I ever found it back when I needed it, I wouldn’t have recognized it anyway, but I knew I was looking, which tells me some small part of me still remained somewhere in there.  It’s strange, the places we can go.