Ashley Lily Scarlett 2015
I hit the station and the bell went off soon as I ran my card. Got right in the train and it was some people playing music on the front car. Very nice people. I gave them two Sacajawea dollars. Wonder if it was more insulting than gratifying to receive those. Probably thought they were quarters and then when he finds different might not be all that much better.
Yeah you see the Rastafarian banana that kid is holding. It is high as fuck.
There’s a new hand attached to your limb, with no reason to ignore it; you were torn down without realizing it ’til the second it happened.
~ink, markers, torn magazine paper
When the moving vans took away a life
bundling it in storage, turning out fly swabbed light
when the house stood empty and of us, nothing remained
her death seemed to have resisted claim
yet she was no more there than mouse who leaves behind footprint and soft down of hair, gone beyond the floorboards
her family cleared out and dusted her remains, placed away in a china cabinet for someone
many years from now to produce a much touched pawn ticket, and re-varnish
would they thrive without her?
in time, will her children recall the best of her?
or those days she stood tired and grumpy, keeping warm by the oven avoiding world’s bidding and invite
it was her shame
to waste so much time
if she had known she would have stepped from waxen kitchen like fire bird, gathered them in her arms and driven to the coast
to watch the rise and fall of life crashing on wave
and smell the turn of life, brimming with wet salt
she would have seen within her the burgeoning canker and cast it like a bottle of cobalt blue
out into the surrendering molt of waves, hoping it would lose itself and not return to erase her, premature and cruel
a reminder we are visitors
to this shore
not long in our stay
often missing our purpose, locked away in effort and grind, mowing lawns, picking up, wiping down, staring out into the immaculate disorder
she would have said to her children, take your shoes off, wriggle your toes in, feel the sand, the undone clasp, the undone movement
into life and laughter and sorrow, creating lines of wonder on our cheeks, run and run until your bird chest burns
scream into the sound
cover yourself with sun and never
come up for air
(image from: http://www.saidthegramophone.com/archives/2010_06.php)
Inspired by Mark Renney’s poem, Any Orders Before Time, here’s a story about Bukowski I wrote a while back…
He let me hang around after the poetry reading when I promised to pick up his tab. We’re at an outdoor bar, sitting on unsteady stools or I’m drunk. I tried to match him whiskey for whiskey. Patpong Love Bar: and he’s reciting an old poem about prostitutes ‘that make you want to tear up paintings and break albums of Beethoven across the back of the john’.
‘Women of such significance, such beauty,’ he calls out to the emaciated whores on the steps of the bar next door, who are giggling, wondering whether they ought to try their luck, knowing I’ve already laid claim to him, this ugly man, but cash is cash. ‘Society should realise the value of the whore,’ he says ‘those who make it almost an art form…you feel liberated and human again for a mere $3.’ He raises his arm to make a point and knocks my whiskey off the table.
‘How much do they pay you, my beautiful pussies? How much would it cost me to feel like a man again,’ he asks the tallest of the three, the one whose eyes slant upward, eyeliner thick and precise. But she’s not a she, though that no longer matters. Not to Charles, not tonight.
He mumbles about the drudgery of everyday life, its pathos a familiar refrain in his poetry and stories. ‘The problem was you had to keep choosing,’ Charles says, ‘between one evil or another, and no matter what you chose, they sliced a little bit more off you.’ He leans in close, I think he will kiss me; I open my mouth slightly, and he says, ‘The truth is: the free soul is rare.’
As he drinks, the cracks between his monologues widen and I fear that one of us will slip through. And what if gravity disappears? Charles will hang on to the flame tree above us and spy my purple knickers under my black dress as I ascend, swallowed by space. He will move on to the women quick-witted enough to grab hold of something rooted to the earth.
Then he asks if I’d like to fuck and I’m embarrassed even when it’s ridiculous to play coy now. I drop the pretext of drinking and stare at him. I want to trace his face with my tongue.
3am, my phone says, and in three and a half hours, dark will give way. I tell Charles I want to leave now. I hate seeing these streets gutted by light. We walk over to a cab on the corner and shake the driver awake. An extra 100 baht and he’s keen to take us back to my flat.
In my room, Charles is suddenly tentative; while I shed my clothes, he escapes to the kitchen for a bottle of beer. We are both swaying and I wonder how we’ll get through this without hurting each other.
I sit on the bed naked, there’s no reason to feel awkward in the presence of a man who worships women. When he comes to stand in front of me, he caresses my cheek then gently pushes me down on the bed. We kiss and I smell booze and famine. He pinches my nipples hard with his fingers, cups my breasts, and sucks cries out of a mouth that has long been mute. A gentleman, he kneels on the rug, and covers my cunt with his mouth.
He enters me. I feel him lose control. I cross my legs around his back and grip his thighs, urging him deeper. His cock has gone crazy. I scream but the sound is muffled. It erupts from deep inside my belly. He comes then, shuddering violently on top of me. He raises his fist and I think he will smash my face, but at the last moment he brings it to his mouth to smother a moan or a cry. He has been away too long and still too close to death.
Later, he lights a cigarette and out the side of his mouth, ‘Did you fuck the poet or the man?’
‘Does it matter?’
‘Yes, it matters because if I fall in love with you, I want to know how it started. You might be one of the knives that stick me,’ he says as he rolls over to sleep on his side. ‘There’s an old one stuck into me in 1955, you can take its place.’
Lying next to him, I bite off the chipped end of a nail as a question carousels in my mind. In his last novel, Pulp, written as Charles was dying of leukemia, he wrote about a gigantic, glowing bird that had come to claim him. Death approached and he didn’t blink:
Then, as I watched, the Sparrow
slowly opened its beak.
A huge void appeared. And within the beak
was a vast yellow vortex,
more dynamic than the sun,
I stare at the back of his head.
He knows what’s on the other side, what happens to the soul when it’s evicted from its body. If there’s such a thing as a soul. I shake him awake and my ferocity disturbs his slumber. ‘I need to know,’ I say, ‘I need to know what happens to you after. Is there something or nothing?’
Bukowski turns over and looks at me with such understanding I have to suppress the urge to punch him in the face.
art by Christine Wu
Bukowski quotes taken from his novels Ham on Rye, Women, and Pulp. Also from his poetry collections, The Pleasures of the Damned and Love is a Dog from Hell.
Notes from the Shrink’s Chair: Jimmy/Antonia
Dedicated to C.J., my heroine and a true bastion for bravery
OPEN SCENE: Right of frame, gloomy lighting. Dr. Strange sits at his oakwood desk, large and reclining, as he peruses his patients’ files. He furrows his brows, thick, under a mop of greying, greasy hair; he rubs his hands through it, a habit he has curated over the twenty years in his profession. A tell, if anything. He is clearly frustrated, stupefied, as to how he should proceed in his current state. A file, new, sits at the forefront of his desk; after a moment’s hesitation, he leafs through it.
STRANGE – takes out a voice recorder from his suit pocket. Turns it on.
Seventh of September, 2014. Patient James Connington, otherwise known as Jimmy to his family and friends. Fifteen years old. Heavily depressed, suffering from acute body dysmorphia. Tendencies towards self-inflicted bodily harm. Burns on forearms, bruising found on upper thoracic region and extending limbs. Heavily injured due to unreported reasons.
Latest diary entry, as follows.
CUT TO: A boy, sitting at a desk, on the opposite end of the frame. Scruffy-looking, wearing a football uniform scored with grass-stains and tussle. He kicks his football cleats off, spreading mud and dirt all over an otherwise clean, white carpet. He scribbles into an old exercise book, biting his lips as he struggles with his work. He hears his siblings playing behind him, and as a reflex, covers his notebook with his arm, protectively. Once he is sure that he is alone, he begins writing again.
Momma caught her today, just as she was about to leave the house. She had that beautiful necklace I picked out for her, the one that matches her eyes at it catches the sun. And that soft, suede lipstick, the one she wears with that dress I like. The pink one. She looked so beautiful in it, as she always does. So light and airy, like one of those story-book elves as she danced around my room. Enchanting, how free she can be. As if none of life’s rules applied to her. Like gravity; she didn’t agree with it, so she never let it buckle her down.
Anyway, we were about to go to church. Momma saw her sneaking out of my window, as she always does when she stays the night. She hates going to church, (it makes her feel like a phoney), so she never goes with the family. Anyway, Momma. Momma screamed hellfire when she saw her. She looked possessed, almost demonic with rage. I never heard her use words like that. Especially not on a Sunday. Next thing, Momma pushes her out the window. Just like that. It didn’t take much of a shove, she’s so light. There’s nothing to her. And from my room, you could see her lying on the grass. Strewn all over it, all of her spread across the lawn. Like a china doll. Pieces everywhere. The necklace crushed by the fall.
I didn’t linger. I had to go back upstairs, brush myself down, get ready for church, and pack my things for football. There’s a big game next weekend, and coach has been riding my ass about it for weeks. Saying things like: ‘Boys, it takes one to dismantle a team. Just one. And it is only men, men who can play this game. Because men know better than to pussy out when it hurts. Men know better than to stop, because men keep on going. When no one expects them to, when all odds are against them, only true men will cross that final line and take home the gold’. Coach never knows when to stop, when enough is enough. Never with her.
They were in the locker rooms, both of them. Coach and her. After football practice. I usually get changed there, on Sundays after practice. There’s this bar on the other side of town that only opens on Sundays. It’s called Antonia’s, by the way. The bar. Poppa drives past it when he goes to work, and sneers at it every day: ‘That fag bar, always full of goddamn fruitcakes. Goddamn scum, what fucking animals’. She doesn’t care about what Poppa says, she loves them all. It’s her favourite bar, because everyone there is just as outrageous as she is. And she’s friends with all the busboys, the kings and queens – And she dances with everyone: complete strangers, both men and women. She doesn’t care who they are, what they’ve done to get them there, at that bar. Because to her, it’s home. Antonia’s.
JIMMY (voice faltering)
She was slipping on her stilettos, as coach brushed himself up behind her. I saw him in the mirror behind me. I was packing up her things, her makeup, her kit. She was roaring to go, fired up as she always is. But I turned cold.
JIMMY (hysterical, sobbing as he recounts the rest)
His hands were wrapped around her throat, I couldn’t breathe. He pushed me to the ground, and pressed my cheek to the tiled floor with his muddy cleats. ‘This is what you were made for’, he hissed, as he stroked my back, ‘men like me take, women like you give. Make your choice, boy. What would you rather do? Would you rather give or, would you rather take?’. I lay there, silently. It wasn’t the first time, I thought, and it wouldn’t be the last. Unless I did something about it.
CUT TO: Dr. Strange, sitting emotionless. He pauses the recorder, sighs, and takes a sip out a hip flask. He continues:
Seventh of September, 2014. Coroner’s report – patient James Connington. Adolescent Male, Caucasian, mid-teens. Cause of death: asphyxia, constricting force applied to the ligature on the upper occipital region. Compressive narrowing of laryngeal and tracheal lumina observed. Ligature mark on neck is deeply impressed; it’s composition: superficial abrasions across the front and nape of neck, indicates the implementation of a thickly textured material. Most likely a rope. Will compare fibres to those found in the Connington family’s workshop. Severe Internal haemorrhaging in lower torso and abdominal area indicate heavy assault. Lipstick stains across his cheeks, across his face. Prominent bruising on face and forehead under thick cosmetic foundation. Also indicating a struggle. No fingerprints or biological fibres, or any forensic clues found on subject. Perpetrator, still at large.
CUT TO: Black.
END. Continue reading
Image by Christine Renney
In the early morning I cannot find myself. Stalled in front of the bathroom mirror I lean in close but I am not there. At first it was for seconds but now it is minutes. How many? I do not know. Twenty? Thirty? More? And when at last I do begin to reappear my reflection is blurred and hazy and, razor at the ready, I am forced to wait until once again I am clearly defined. I could of course dispense with the mirror but I am not yet prepared to do that.
In the beginning it really was not very elaborate. I would find myself on the edge of a group, nodding along because I wanted to fit in and it was so much easier and I always sided with the majority. Each morning before work I studied the newspaper, particularly the sports section and the previous night’s television reviews in preparation. It really was very subtle and I did not consider myself to be lying at all. Although I did not watch the reality shows and soap operas, I kept abreast of the latest exploits and was able to join in. And despite my disinterest in football I followed the sport vehemently from afar and managed, without watching, to convince. I feigned enthusiasm for a chosen side and impressed with insightful comment and impassioned opinion. But of course, it did not stop there. It was not long before I was unable to deny the lies. In fact, I had started to research in order to add gravitas to my tall tales. Gradually, it became very complicated and all consuming and had I wanted to watch the football and the soap operas I simply would not have had the time.
Determined to control the lies I worked diligently in my spare time. My chief preoccupation was travel; the places people visit, holiday destinations. I professed to have been everywhere or at least wherever my colleagues mentioned. The places where they had already been or intended and planned to go. I offered advice and suggested itineraries, even restaurants, painstakingly unearthing the tiniest detail to ensure that my lies appeared authentic and were infallible. When my colleagues returned, and having acted on my advice, they shared their experiences of a particular excursion, museum, art gallery I had recommended or simply commented on a local dish I had mentioned, it all seemed worthwhile and I would feel warm inside. I relished the elation and it was good. I was sharing, involving myself with others and how could that not be positive?
I am changing, beginning to look older but it is more than that. I first noticed this in the mornings whilst shaving. I struggled for an analogy, a way in which to define it. The best I could manage was watching a film and not recognising the actor but knowing I had seen him countless times before, although I did not fully realise this until midway through. I would lean in close and study my reflection until I became so tense my every muscle locked and I was unable to move. I was concerned that I was stretching the truth too much and too far and that I risked discovery. But I could not resist a new destination and I added constantly to my repertoire of the most frequently visited of places. I began to keep a ledger, a journal of sorts, a record of my bogus travels. I compiled a list of dates for each and every visit and their duration. This included nine months backpacking in Australia with a friend from university, plus four months on trains with a girlfriend, travelling across Europe. I have even allocated time slots and gathered information on places I have not yet had occasion to use. I read the guides and the literature and I scour the internet for photographs and anecdotes that I might use.
My determination and diligence is rewarded and the feedback from my colleagues continues. I have no reason to believe they suspect and yet each morning, in front of the mirror, I am forced to linger for longer and longer.