A person can be internally consistent and absurd at the same time, like a comedy skit. Our imagined summaries make us lifelike, or so I heard on television. Don’t mind me, I’m just looking for permission, filled with suppositions about self-preservation through simple perseverance and tricky transposition mixed in blender-wise with kind attentions to the scratches on the table and the streaks on the glass as though I really believe I’d dissolve my fears if I could only embrace the imperfections of my style. Style—ha! When I set out to write I expected each stanza would begin with an abstract observation followed by a loosely corresponding question but here we are in the middle of yet another goddamn paragraph because I don’t stick with anything and slip on Freudians—a fact which you, conscience, always somehow saw as something akin to sin. In the end it was a party that pulled Styron out of his second round of depression, a fucking party, can you believe it? You could tread upon enlightenment and suggest all human achievement amounts to an elaborate mating game, though some pleasures, you’d surely concede, are incrementally higher than others, while others still are far. Sometimes, for instance, you sit nude before a keyboard looking for a compelling way to resist invisibility and silence through the publicizing of one’s life’s truths—a foolish pursuit, no doubt, when you’re so overwhelmed by unreality that you cover your face and refer to yourself in the second person because distance and non-knowledge appear to offer the only way through. But who knows the unwritten rules till we write them and then reject the limitations of language, opting for the ubiquitous lure of second-rate visuals of ritualized identity since it sometimes seems skin is all the world cares to acknowledge in the first place.
Tears in the morning at the slightest provocation—the inconveniences of sensitivity, the troubles of necessity, and the opportunities to oppose it. The rain falls or it doesn’t, and coarse tabloid judgments are hurled at everything in between. I grow weary of trying to be definitive so I set the glass on the windowsill and avert my eyes from screens, doing my best impersonation of choosing stillness.
Miłosz observed the inescapable influence of historical context at a time when that context was quite literally governed by historical context’s inescapability, suggesting that acceptance, meaning, and possibility are dependent upon the extent to which our expressions of them reflect the zeitgeist with “scientific exactness.” Today, limits on time and attention breed anxious “musts” which branch out in all directions and frequently send us headlong into tranquil, violent, and utterly mundane abysses of pure diversion. Are they one and the same? Chaos and authority? Meaning and meaninglessness? Escape and captivity?
In the twentieth century, it was the dialectician, with his towering rationalisms and tunneled threads of theoretical consistency, who controlled the rhetorical landscape. Now, it’s the petty carnival ringmaster megaphone-spouting from every angle of every corner but I keep talking in code for lack of anything expressly geometrical to say, at once both caught and cozy in little brick and A-frame languages of home and shelter. To you I simply said part of what I felt, more or less knowing it would stack up and you’d understand. It could’ve been this way but it was that, or is, or however.
The ground outside was littered with crab apples the day I found a dead dove in the grass behind the house—is their tartness merely a feature of our gustatory perception or is it absolute? This is the kind of thing. I can fight it or sit it out or I can reason and wait, again, for peace.
On the edge, or closer to it than realized, freely mistaking association for identity: near/gone, ok/not, me/you—who am I to say life is other than what one writes? This is my code, it’s what’s under the hood, my piece/peace for flexing fake emotion and unlearned nostalgia when my fuck-you energy is out on the town like an average dromomaniac splashing around in his own little personal puddle of poshlost left over from a three-days-ago downpour.
For all the effort at wakefulness, I find my solace lies in sleep—what depth is deep enough to escape the carnal thrill of words? I hope you’ll stay and read each line twice, once for identification and once for all the stories you’ll tell yourself later, layering response after response to question after question, need after desire onto person after image, brushing sophistries over underlying truth with the brightness down and exposure up and contrast set on apprehensive frequencies that cause the sort of muscle twitching we’ll all mistake for action.
The world is only as large as you can comprehend; I understand, now, what I was doing all that time when I wanted to be awake—where does this end, where does that begin? It takes a village to meet such needs and the body count is high and rising, overtaking composition on principle if not by sheer volume while, really, the only question worth answering is whether the headstand is for me or for the moment’s desire for inversion, whether what’s sought is an end or a beginning.
For a good twenty-five minutes she some young unknown sits in a blue Camaro parked with the engine running on the street in front of my house putting on makeup in the sun visor mirror while I contemplate the tree leaves and the idiosyncrasies of conversational American diction—they are changing color, the leaves, imperceptibly, as if each night deep in the middle under dark and cover yesterday’s foliage is replaced by today’s, fickle as interests and grammar. It’s the second time this has happened, this curbside dolling by this same someone on the way to someplace from somewhere else, once on a Saturday night, now on a Sunday morning, the only immediate difference being that I am no longer consumed by the small problems of sanity as I try to imagine what possessed her and for whose benefit these last-minute preparations are made.
Eventually she drives off—“in a small town everything is quickly over” yet some of us like to wrestle with incidental eternity as if it’s the converse though I usually wear Vans to front on the fact that I’m a poor hustler because I don’t know why, don’t know why there must be such fear in me, such small town awareness, here, made up, then gone, the intoxicating thrill of necromancy wafting superfluous like bad analogies and perfume on careless breezes before the maddening ice cream truck jingle monotony of ease, comfort, and simplicity snuff out these little conquests of attention. Let’s start this story over. Welcome to the city, to the refuge and the pulpit, where whatever gets rid of the terror will get rid of the wonder as well and, well, it’s fair field and no favour to suggest we here are tethered to the past by knowledge like anywhere else though the future grows up through cracks in the concrete like imagination and young women in blue Camaros who stop on side streets to put their faces on. But that’s just so much distraction. Where did you go, normalcy, and what will you be wearing when you read this, I wonder, superficialities of attitude and style subverting any comprehension of why honesty full and brutal is so hard to imagine out on the town without rejection while a life of sufficiently partitioned duplicity is well within reach. Yes, let’s start this story over, this time without the constraints of contradiction, each part and every to its fullest free and ready to embrace the impermanence of some great singularity.
Sometimes I’m alive. Look at the sky. Feel the breeze. Read Dante. Write a poem. Love/lose someone. Have hope/despair. Good morning/night. Enjoy a meal. Ponder existence. Learn a new word. Paint a dream. Hold your breath. Ride a car. Drive the train. Run. Be here. Get somewhere and make it strange. It’ll be hard to take anyone along with you on this, he said. You have no faith in medicine. No, oxygen—the peaks are craggy and daunting and altitude sickness will make fools of the best of us.
Sometimes my mind is a run-down tenement with a sparkle inside where best friend and worst enemy are principia interchangeabilia. It’s not art that’s at stake, it’s identity, slipped in with faux-Latin. It’s not art, it’s identity. I do not so much insist on that as acknowledge it, I swear, though there was a time when insistence was all I had and let’s not go back. The question is now, whether to hide behind or live through. To live through identity, live through creation, or get mixed up in the matter of the mortar for adding more bricks to the wall.
Sometimes seeking specifics, I wonder: how often do you like who you are? Fact is, I like who I am to you, enjoying the pleasure at being a cause. Seeing myself in the reflection from the liquid in my cup one morning as slivers of sunrise slipping through the cracked blinds marked my multiform alliterations with what was left of dreams of humble harmless hands around my neck slowly squeezing the life into what I write, I again chose to remain out of focus, glad nothing is still a thing sometimes.
When was the last time I just watched rain fall without feeling the need to be understood on others’ terms? In youth I learned to notice and, like you, I learned silence from the talkative, flipping back and forth between metaphors and delusion leaving snowdrifts of sawdust in my head because nothing is traceless. Nothing is traceless—I say it twice for double meaning, leaving less to the imagination, sickened as I am by our constant struggles over goodness, as ridiculous as the time I traipsed through NYC in flip-flops feeling perfectly alien and all in.
Not wishing ill but feeling it, Styron feared feeding the evil person within and therefore starved himself by swallowing his perceived failures and eschewing the sustenance of his success at touching people, for better or worse. There’s such a thing as writing to prove your sanity, I confess. I was the one who killed them, he and she, the two of us, perhaps, but it was only a dream and in the dream I stood hesitating in a small room of a three-steps-down-from-the-street garden flat with my finger on the trigger of a gun that belonged to someone, a gun which had just a moment before put a bullet in her. I pointed the gun at him as if to say here please take this before there is no going back to prove anything, counterfactualizing the past before it happened and that loathsome duality was rendered single, killing me.
We left the bodies in the bathtub and I left by the back door, plunging into the dark, blue-green water of the small harbor there, alone. Submerged, I opened my eyes to navigate the subaqueous opacity, white boat hulls floating above, a forest of black dock pilings all around, and green seaweed rising from below slowing the going as I swam through the underwater labyrinth of my final moments of freedom without coming up for air or needing to. Now, I wondered with resigned disillusion, how to negotiate the terms of my latest armistice: wonderment, fear, and awe, all in the same held breath—that’s the future, gray, my second favorite color, though more so from familiarity than appeal. Gray is cover and blend, possibility and lack, the native hue of indecision and liberation. Give me blue or absence, all in or all out, I thought, kicking my foot flippers to keep from sinking deeper into darkness and pulling myself forward with cupped hands, anything but this in between, clutching both and going nowhere, on the run from the ghosts of us.
This, here beneath, is both my refuge and my pulpit, where I float and drift through embryonic muteness, where my voice bubbles and rises to the surface, giving me away, a blessing and a curse. Soon, my body will follow, ill-made as it is for such environs, and I will rise while there’s still time, still time, time still to believe in the strange virtues of freedom and evasion within the context of an undetermined certainty that our days are toe-tagged and body-bagged and on those tags are the names of our teachers and the volume of our ingratitude, right down to the last gasp of asking why we can’t stay.
It’s windy tonight, and fateful. The trees sound glad. If they were more consistent, they’d sound like the sea, I think, and I feel it: be happy, choose to be, choose rare, true, and free.
It’s far too early in the evening to say here accept this and good morning, let’s be hopefully oblivious to whatever may lie ahead, maybe, maybe no, not by night. What you do is for yourself, so no worries, though, maybe. We’re all in our heads anyway, curators of our own realities—or so I’ve heard and at times repeated. I am making my anyway down the still sun-sizzled sidewalk carrying fear in a ragged black duffle to the pawn shop on the other side of the overpass to swap it for the awful, uncertain of the deal I’ll get. Are you afraid of dying? a billboard asks in terms so uncertain I swear it’s trying to sell me something dark and pointless and cliché like tears in the rain but the sun is still up and the sky is clear though our humanity’s tearing at the seams, overstuffed with what divides. The forecast called for an 80% chance of fate, and the rest of life will precipitate from the choices we make, or so I mumble under my breath, feeling ashamedly hyperbolic. Sometimes I have eggs for breakfast, though, and I’m much more matter of fact. Sometimes the shadows cast by spells from the trees outside make me think about how thinking about you as I lay right there beside you in bed the night before left an aroma on me that the simple sometimes not so simple plunge of sleep did not wash off, a residue which in the fresh fleshy light of morning has condensed into a thin film over my entire being that if I were a scientist I might cheerfully analyze and classify. If I were a shaman or a healer and this duffle contained strength, grace, and dignity, on the other hand, I could write to you and create a small space for us, a universe within a universe, a small space of space where the sense of time is utterly independent and we are merely supporting characters summoning essences to mix up in our rituals. Rise, fall, rise, fall, rise—and on and on and on and around till death marked the final up or the final down. Such would be the tempo and tenor of us, the trajectory of our necessary indifference to “them.” We’re still who and what we are, though, thankfully, retracing faint dusty dried up traces of what were once slippery existentialisms like soapy bathtub bottoms for collecting shower thoughts, thoughts to turn to pictures, pictures to turn to stories, always to turn to stories. A right turn, and then a quick left, just past the corner store, I’ll see you there, maybe, maybe no.