I missed your birthday. Happy Birthday. Please don’t reply saying “it’s fine, silly”, or “yeah, you prick”. Not because I don’t want your reply, I’d treasure that more than life itself, but I’m trying not to exist. Thanks. X
In the last year of Elementary School
I had a crush on a Hot-Girl
She would smile at me
I thought she liked me
My brother had a girlfriend
(A thing that eats food off your plate
and smiles when it sees you)
He was buying her a bracelet
So I bought H a bracelet
Mother thought it was “adorable”
I brought it to school
I told my friend D
He told everyone
In line on the way back from lunch
Some other Hot-Girls turned around and asked me
If I got H a bracelet
“She doesn’t want it”
“She doesn’t like you”
Everyone in line was staring at me
H was at the front of the line
She wasn’t looking at me
The bracelet felt like a hunk of lead in my pocket
I just wanted to get rid of it
I wished my hair would grow so fast
That I turned into a sofa
Or a large bed
And movers would come wheel me away
But I became transparent instead
And everyone could see my body filling with tears
From my toes to my throat
I don’t know why I did it
I walked up to H
and put the bracelet in her hand
She didn’t say a word
I went back to my place in line
Everyone turned away and giggled
This set a paradigm
For my relationship
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Who was that girl, covered in cheap thrill?
the one who got so happy when you looked her way
who drew you paintings
kept your dirty shirt
pushed you on the swing-set even though we both weighed too much
days of over-size flannel and Doc Martens
Smashing Pumpkins versus Hole
you said I looked like
you didn’t resemble
while the studious exchange students with excitement hangovers
wouldn’t climb out of their window and meet in the high weeds park
even by then I knew how to have sex in public without my skirt getting wet
who needed second base?
go all the way and work backwards
you weren’t the wrong choice were you?
wearing eyeliner and forgetting birth control
all then, a bad trick in adolescent undergrowth
slurs are girls with provocation
before social media calumny
inking who gives the best head
who has the firmest … grasp
you have me laid open in your sweat shirt like a dissected stag beetle still able to feel its shell
sent me crayon colored tapes where you exulted my willingness
I sang on my knees like Marianne Faithful with a throat-full
thinking you filled me with more than noise
riding our bikes after, sore between the legs
slow were the socially awkward who did it right first time, soothing off their spectacles for CEO jobs
while we daughter’s of descending dusk
carved deep our error
in the inside of our doughy thighs
the days a road lay empty as a girl’s hands
saturating smell of popcorn
fantasizing backward to the beginning
illuminated by glow stars on the ceiling of his room
habits inching across failings
how can a song collapse a heart?
wishbone shaping the way like Baba Yaga’s dance of skeletons
we who didn’t need food
ran ragged on empty
female cranberry bogs filled with ire and specter
and one day we were no longer young
staring down at boxes of cassettes and letters tied with pieces of the past holding up a manikin who could once have been us
now unsure in twilight of age
as time will betray all but deepest memory
adhering despite all attempt
Read something in a dream last night that was better than this so I revised it—this, not the dream but in the dream I could plainly see the words and world and almost taste them both, so when I woke up I exhaled and did.
Did it, I did, pushed the air back out of mostly empty lungs like backward going for comfort first, starved of art and full up on food and shelter after years of choking down silence for dinner and only really making sound in sleep, remembering how someone I know and daresay might as well trust said it might be hard out there to find good old fashioned neuroses and interesting conversation and so I closed my eyes and stayed inside and pictured people all around and everywhere frozen with the scream face. At the table, at the corner store, down on the avenue, crossing the street, driving, in bed, everywhere muted terror and I felt ok.
Then I remembered and the story happened. Two times in New York one night, time one in some small seedy hotel room from horror films and horror thoughts and the not so distant past—old of structure and worn and soiled from top to bottom and inside out, more like too much had happened, though, than too little cleaned. The big wet spot on the bed—just left of center—had been made by an almost steady drip from a crack in the ceiling up above which felt like the firmament pressing down, the world pressing down, ready to break through. I was there with at least one other, some other standing silent seeming far off away from me in the shadowed corner, not benevolent, not malicious, but instead a being of perfect indeterminacy split 50/50 good and bad and making my neck hairs stand. Yellowing light like old book page paper corners and just as thumbed-through fuzzy crept through lowered and downtwisted jaundice blinds as if their decay and nicotened filth was in fact the source of the room’s meager illumination, aside from a whitish slice of hallway light wedged beneath the door. The bed stood an inexplicable most-of-the-way across the room like it was edging toward the window and I didn’t blame it, its featureless brown wood-like headboard a good foot off the wall, an accidental screaming statement of incidental significance and I wondered why and, as usual, how I’d ever get out without motion and how I’d move without sound.
Later in a car, parked, motor off, windows up, and cold. Vastness of a nighttime parking lot, the verysame nighttime night, but time two this was. Same part of town, though, still unfamiliar, tall scrapers looming all around and a snaking river nearby reflecting scattered lights, the water at least eight shades darker than the black-orange sky. Trying to get hold of him, that’s what I was doing, because I needed help, and there I sat in that car in the middle of that no man’s land scrolling thumbwise and hopelessly through some absent someone else’s misleading tangle of contacts, a glowing rectangle of scrambled names and numbers in my hand and I hadn’t the faintest sense of where to look or how. Or maybe that was just my head. Not in it, just it, because for the death of me I couldn’t tell who was who or even if any of those seeming non-whos were, if they were anything more than entries on an endless catalogue of indistinction, known and unknown no ones even more silent than me.
All I needed was his help, just his help with that fucking leak—ah but here I am telling it bolder than I felt, bolder by far with the angry voice and firm tone since we have appearances to maintain when there’s a low-hum of almost white-noise terror gripping, moving, consuming with psychopathic eyes, the kind of eyes that pose threats and all you can think to do is yell back and shout them down but they freeze you and grab you and hold you there and then it’s you with the scream face and no way out, no sound.
That leak, though, I could even hear it from the car, from the lot, over the river, over the city, that water drip drip drip slow steady drip dripping from the ceiling back at the run-down yellow-brown-dying room in the building at the lot’s looming fringe and all that seemed around me were a scattered smattering of empty cars and an equally empty goddamn fucking ticket booth and that wide and snaking river with its mocking shimmers and there I was faking bold with searching scanning fearful eyes projecting solidity like how we talk our way out of jitters from the retelling of a nightmare as if it’s really something as elemental as sound that’s gonna put us back together and save us.
But that wasn’t the dream. That’s just a story, another story from another dream from another night and through that story I, teller, wondered if the dream is where I found it, if those were the words I read and, waking, knew this waking state couldn’t top it
and if in between this waking state and the next twilight moonlight recess I’d without intention find a way to stop it
and still be around to say I did, after being quiet for far too long.
Image by Christine Renney
The man pulls his house along with him, wherever he goes. It is cumbersome and unwieldy but he is young and strong and full of vigour. He has attached ropes to all four corners and whenever he needs is able to turn the house around. But he is thankful to be in a country that is big and flat. The landscape can be desolate and harsh but it doesn’t matter because the man can always take shelter in the house.
The distance between places is vast and he is often on the road for weeks, even months, before reaching a settlement. But again, it doesn’t matter because the man hasn’t any intention of stopping, of staying put. In fact, it is when he is forced to pass through the populated areas, the townships and such, that he is at his most anxious. It is then that he wishes the house were smaller and not so heavy, that pulling it along wasn’t such a slow and gruelling task.
The people watch him from inside their own houses, staring through the windows, scrutinising his progress or they stand out on the pavements, huddled in small groups, talking quietly and conspiratorially.
They call him a freak and a parasite and it is the latter which baffles and troubles him the most. He doesn’t feel that he is a parasite, but quite the opposite in fact, whatever that might be.
Out on the road he is constantly tempted to turn the house and himself around. But he suspects that, if he did, eventually he would grind to a halt. Also he needs to buy supplies from time to time. He has considered setting the house down outside of a settlement and walking in with his rucksack. No-one other than himself would be any the wiser. But travelling through the villages and the towns is unavoidable and he can’t help feeling that if he were to do this it would be the beginning of something else.
When he traverses the populated areas the man tries to keep calm and stay focused. He tugs a bit harder and toils for longer. Dragging a house along a road is a noisy operation. Out on the open road he stops hearing, becomes immune to it. But amidst the people and their houses his every movement is blaringly amplified. He watches the bystanders as he works, and studies their faces. He is alert to each flinch and every grimace registers as he ever so, ever so, slowly makes his way. If he could he would continue throughout the night but of course he can’t. And when at last he takes to his bed, although bone tired, he is unable to sleep. He can still hear them, the towns’ people or the villagers, shuffling around his house, ever vigilant, ever observing.
On the road the drivers are much more vocal. They don’t whisper and shuffle. The man and his house are an obstruction and he is often the cause of lengthy traffic jams. When the lorries are able at last to manoeuvre around him, the drivers are angry and sound their horns loudly. They lean red-faced from their cabs, gesticulating wildly.
Almost oblivious and head down amidst the dust he can’t really hear what the drivers are shouting. They are yelling names at him but he is pretty sure they aren’t calling him a parasite.
When he is able the man pulls his house off to the side of the road. He waits for the lorries to pass, until the road is clear, and he is able to gaze out across the landscape.
Though only 29 she had the eyes of someone who had been
staring at walls too long on her knees
her pupils, dark as they were
glazed over with loss of expectation no longer reflected
I wore the skins of effort, and the boots of climb, in my hands I carried keys
how can you have given up already? My inner query voiced
you can learn very soon and very young that there is nothing. Her dark eyes reflected in response
I wanted to gather her up and save her
I was after all, the one who tried to save people, it was the only thing I knew to do
and I couldn’t even save myself
the pockets of my dress, opened outward and everything I claimed
fell behind me like voices caught in a well
I knew they would accuse me of exploitation, “You only saved her because she was beautiful, you’re an old pervert, there’s always an agenda with your choices”
could they be right? Who will defend the mockery of the mute
did part of me hope upon saving her, she would turn to me and?
peel her orange skin like a locust and reveal her lacquered center?
I didn’t dare think on it. I wasn’t as they thought, an old pervert, glut on the lust of youth, sipping through a straw, the firm skin of minors
I’d never had expectations, what did they look like? Ink marks on paper, a map, a set of rules, runes, signifiers, the last message left in Roanoke
where did they go? Those four and twenty souls?
If I had been her age I might have put on Dreamweaver and lying on Indian pillows, we’d sip our Mathilde and smoke ourselves licorice into sleep
If I had been her age I might have reached over drowsy and foolish and lain my hand on her mango hip bone, jagged as it was, rising from her clothes
and if this was a fantasy, she may have turned to me, her heavy-lidded eyes, perfumed with fruiting intensity and let me inside
where ribbons of everything she’d seen in 29 years, hung like unworn dresses acting as flags on empty ships
and if I were walking her long strip of velvet behind me gathered twice about her neck like a looping string of pearls dipped in midnight, what song should I have sung?
she who lay beneath me purring herself into pleasures chasm, stretching herself about me like an elastic band with limitless rebound
then in that moment, our fingers, clenching and unwinding, pouring deep and still like frozen water catches its breath before tumbling forward
her voice in my ear, hot and fast, all the things never disclosed
it wouldn’t matter then what others thought
they on their high horses unable to stoop and reach in, the breast of earth and plant their hearts
the flicker in and out of light and day
her back like well oiled marble come alive, arching and soldering
her hair, matted and sticky, flung beyond the sheets, causing forests to make way, for her cry, an unseen bird among the trees, low throated and unceasing, releasing alabaster sorrow and pent-up cellos of crime
she would no longer stare at walls unseeing
she would learn in her youth, the rush of spring and renewal vibrating against her could feel
good and real, a returning silhouette, ushering memory to fresher climb
and I, who fixed people could
lie next to her smile, feeling in the air
a cage emptying
my own and hers
found in azure lake
dreaming of escape
kneeling until ground seized by
termagant gave way to infinite space
filled with starlight
She was wearing that little face that she makes when she has a Big Question to ask a Grown-Up: like she’s worried and uncertain but so curious and excited to learn the truth, all furrowed brows and wide eyes, the face that only an inquisitive six year old could make.
“Auntie, what happens to all the tears when you cry? Where do they go? How do you get new tears? Are there lots of tears in your head and they fall out of your eyes when you’re sad? Can you ever run out of tears? Where do they go?”
Into a tissue
The sleeve of your jumper
All over your pillow
Into the toilet bowl
Onto his shoulder
The ends of your hair
Into a box of popcorn
Onto your pet’s fur
Mixed with the bathwater
Into your glass of Chablis
Hospital floors and church floors
Down your legs and into your shoes
Onto letters and photographs
And birthday cards and newspaper articles
To the ground
To the sky
Back into your eyes
“Auntie? Are you listening to me? Can you run out of tears?”
Yes. No. Yes and no.
You can feel like you’ve run out of tears sometimes but trust me, there’ll be more left hiding in you somewhere for another time.
“If I cry too much will the room fill up like the sea like it did for Alice when she cried too much?”
No, baby, that won’t happen. You might feel like you’re drowning in your tears but I promise that the room won’t fill up and the tears will go away and you’ll be okay. I promise.
“Well just in case it does happen and I don’t have a boat, I can just hide in a big bottle like Alice did!”
No, don’t ever hide in a bottle. Hiding in the bottom of a bottle is for cowards. You just have to learn to keep your head up and swim as hard as you can until you’re home and dry.
“I sort of know how to swim…”
You’ll learn, sweetie, I can promise you that. And if you don’t learn on your own, I’ll teach you. I’m a really good swimmer now.
“Are you as good at swimming as a mermaid?”