Sometimes you talk to me like you’re sending thoughts from underwater, strange deep-sea aquatics coming up for air and you probably hope they’ll sprout legs in less than evolutionary time so they can wiggle up on dry land and track me down, collect their intel, and scurry back to tell you what I thought, late-carried messages, forever later, doesn’t matter as long as you get something because you won’t say so but you don’t think I say what I’m thinking and I find that marvelously ironic.
I think maybe I just don’t listen closely when you’re way down there like that and probing, distorted beneath the surface, and that’s my way of not playing along, of doing my best to make sure it takes that long for your words to sink in when they’re not cutting right to. And I tell you so, start to—you think…—but it’s loud in here, and hot, and the louder I try to be the hotter I get and I wonder why we came here in the first place when it’s a cool dark quiet night but we’re in here like we didn’t get enough bright hot noisy day. To stay mute, it seems, drowned, and I really don’t want to fight with you, at least not aloud.
It’s different at night, I think, everything is—told you that, earlier, once, before it was, and now that it is I don’t even consider saying I told you so or asking what you think because of the overheated yelling so instead I stop and look away in that way you always say is my way of vanishing and I always say I know which really means just let me vanish, except for the first time you told me, now that was a thing. Remember? You called it and I came right back.
WHAT? REMEMBER WHAT. YOU’RE MUMBLING AGAIN.
Lovely, now you’re a smidge annoyed because I’ve gone from “vanished” to “difficult” in your color scheme of me, so fuck it, I continue being what you’ve decided I am for the moment and take a slow sip of beer while looking at you quite obviously out of the corner of my eye so you’ll notice as you sit there watching me be what you’ve decided, then I slowly put the glass back down on the thin cardboard coaster with the whale on it and ask with an overdone sense of nostalgia if you knew my grandfather was a whaler, which he of course was not and you know it.
Your grandfather was an insurance man and you think he was like Wallace Stevens but without the poetry and that’s what killed him.
You say it plenty loud for me to hear, but not yelling, just firm and clear and so unlike the things you think and I wonder why those things can’t be like this too but all I say is I know, that’s my point exactly.
Ah and there it is, your full-blown stoicism, rueful and trimmed with disdain, refusing to say another word or flash much of anything human because human has cracks in it as if cracks will only encourage me and we can’t have that because we both know they will.
I lean forward to get you out of my periphery and put my elbows on the bar, crossing my arms like I was told my grandfather did when he sat like that, the verysame whaler-suit-unpoet grandfather, and I remember reading a book about generational cycles which I enjoyed because it was interesting ok? isn’t that enough? it was interesting and it lent some convenient credence to the part of my person-myth I always believed was my grandfather reincarnate. So maybe he liked it. I grow weary with talk but never ever with thought which makes me think talking is an exercise, especially with you now, like it’s a test, but I don’t know what of or if it’s a nighttime thing or a daytime thing or neither—well, both, I mean, not neither. I’ve surely grown tired of hearing myself speak both day and night, not reaching you, been tired of finding words to cover thoughts like pillowcases for nightmare heads resting and that simile doesn’t even make sense because the words don’t cover they open like the nightmares and that’s the kind of shit I’m talking about. Or not. Not talking, thinking. Because you wouldn’t want to hear it and I don’t need to.
Thinking of thinking, there are certain books I simply will not read any time other than night, certain brain patterns and postures, certain ways of speaking that are purely nocturnal and I wonder if that scares you. If my place, night, scares you, supposed day creature you from the deep dark waters valiantly pretending not because you’re really a lot like me, precisely because, my stubborn contrarian and loather of mirrors. It’s as if some things can’t stand the sound, others the light, most both, not because they’re too muted or fearful but because they demand something more than graph paper for straight lines and whale coasters on which our banalities might rest, sweaty, the real shit around us that’s all lit up and loud in daytime, where you thrive because of all the cover, underexposed in the midst of that overexposure, while I thrive at night when it’s turned down low and thoughts have space and lunar rovers.
Fuck, telling stories is hard—I don’t know how they do it, I venture to tell you, putting a cap on our silence, a silence prevented from being too loud by the din of voices not ours and music and glasses clinking and laughter laughing having far better times than us, sort of changing the subject neither of us outright stated and you tell me I should just try outlining or take a class and I think for fuck’s sake why don’t you listen, I understand that you hear. Seagulls hear, squirrels hear, but people are supposed to listen, right? It’s one of those people things we do when we’re being peoplely people instead of the animaly ones.
Eyes roll this time because I said it, not the whole thing but the whale’s portion part about why don’t you listen, and I ask you to be careful before they roll right out of their sockets and onto the floor—it’s dirty down there, I say, and you’d look weird without eyes, though it’d be much harder for you to give me that glare, yeah that one right there.
The pretty barback smiles at me—perhaps she caught some of us—and in the miniscule kaleidoscopic of fully imaginable possibilities her pretty smile triggers I realize I don’t know what I’m doing with you, what this story is we’re telling ourselves and no longer adding to, just retelling and replaying and shorter, briefer, more careless all the time, you from the concealments and smoke screens of day, me from the freedom and aversions of night and I remember for a few days previous I was taken by the thought that what’s not said remains unreal, that the unreal drops its un when spoken and that’s why I’m obsessed with inner, I thought at the time, and with night and silence, I think tonight, but I suddenly tonight now want to test that whole theory-thought and bring a little supposed unreal to real to see what new real it might create and I tell her her smile made me see stars whether it was meant for me or just comes with the job territory and oh now you’re suddenly perked up and listening, your unreal made just as real as my real was just made un, without either of us saying a single word to each other.
Here we go, I say to the smile, I might as well be yours.
I’m cheating a bit, you know, because this was originally published last summer on my personal site, Art & Insolence. Don’t tell anyone. Or do, because a writer without readers is like a chicken without eggs, nobody knows which comes first. I promise that doesn’t make any sense, but you probably catch my drift.