fiction

Recurrence

We’re moving to Paris, we said to each other in astonishment about where we were. Only where we were was London and it was bleak and gray and confusing and I was trying to make sense of the subterranean rail system as if I’d never been anywhere before, let alone there. The map on the small screen in my hand was moving around like the carpet in the hotel lobby in Fear and Loathing. The film. I don’t remember what the carpet did in the book, because whatever it did was in my imagination and that was years ago.

Ali Smith commented on the suicides that take place each year on the north line out of King’s Cross, I recalled, aloud, as if that’d help us navigate and we maneuvered like two lost fish, our foreignness silvery and glinting amidst the hurried throngs, side by side and single file, slant formation, a desperately rhyming dance of happenstance through crowds and corridors and around corners and finally up some stairs at the top of which we emerged into noncommittal daylight and stepped our way past a woman with such judgment in her eyes she stood out from the blur and we couldn’t help but notice her glaring harshness and contempt like we were about to walk some plank and she knew it and enjoyed not telling us with her mouth, only her look.

We left her behind us like so much else but carried her look along and felt heavier for it, stepping out onto a walkway under construction or re- at the edge of a wide bridge high up some few hundred feet over a green-black river I thought shouldn’t have a name but surely did and was speckled with all manner of vessels going this way and that and lined by tall mirror and gunmetal buildings rising from its foam and filth banks. I noticed that part of our path consisted of a vehicle-sized rectangle of steel of the sort they lay awkwardly over giant potholes or trenches cut temporarily through streets for the laying of pipe or power only this had nothing beneath it but a long drop into that terrible water. We took our first halting steps with my mind full of wondering why we couldn’t simply stop, sit, and think this over… And that’s where the story begins, always.

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prosetry

Cipher

Thunderstorms again, and with each flash I count the miles between soul and spirit, closing fast, thinking of what if and what to say.

Between you and me, I miss it. How’s that for a start.

A start, but will a last act follow before it’s curtains, you ask? Yes, certainly, without a doubt, though I’m afraid it’ll just be words again.

Words like a bottled message to a someday later me you might someday later one day meet, if we’re lucky, if I ever get on a plane again.

It’s striking, again, and I wait for the rumble after the flash of thought of trying to alter present conceptions of self by internally revising past interactions as though changing my own remembrance translates to changing minds I can’t even know are set and past presents which no longer are, astonished by the supreme lack of profundity in that.

And out goes another batch of words rattling around in another bottle and I imagine the thunderclap is the glass shattering against a wholly different façade, somewhere out there again, out between fact and wish.

It’s a matter of is and isn’t, grays and approximates, selves swathed in raincloaks, shelters sought, the way I speak to you—to anyone—from angles, the same way I cast glances at the anyones on the train, around the city, in the corners and cabinets of my memory and imagination, and always have, there and here, never straight on, active onlooker obscured by obliques with only partial truths to tell and all the rest nestled between the lines, again.

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fiction

Date Night

Those two over there, yeah, the table in the corner right there. Before you got here he said: “Are you more of a wine girl or, uh, martinis? I’m not much of a wine guy but I’d maybe go for a pinot grigio.” The waitress has come by their table three times already. Oh, no, don’t be sorry. I was enjoying myself, doing a little eavesdropping, just hanging out, killing time, etcetera etcetera. When they sat down he opened his menu and remarked that it was much longer than what he saw online as if making a pronouncement about a new land he’d just set foot upon, his crew of weary sailor-explorers in tow. Then they were talking about some tabloid scandal, hard to say which one, hard to say it matters—“I never really followed up,” he said—really said “followed up”—“but from what I can tell, he was totally in on it.” She said “yeah.” That’s the only word I’ve heard from her, might be the only one she knows. Yeah, aren’t you funny. Look if you can, at the earnestness of his expression, look how vacuous. It’s astounding. I feel like we’re on safari. How does a face get so empty? I know I’m being judgy, I know, I’m probably just trying to impress you with the astuteness of my observations and my charming prattling commentary. It’s really not cute. Does “judgy” end in -ey or just -y? Ah but now here comes their food and wait… wait… yep, their phones….

Anyway, I’m just dodging, to be honest. Funny how people say things like that, like “in all honesty,” “to be honest,” “full disclosure,” and then don’t tell the truth. It’s like a blatant pretext for a lie. But it’s kinda nice to know the truth’s not coming, so you don’t have to ferret it out. I’m not lying, though, just talking to keep from saying anything. Or getting lost in my thoughts and having a noticeable detachment sort of driftaway. That’d be uncomfortable. At least I assume. And you’d need ferrets. No, it’s not you, not at all. Well, sort of. Sort of you. That looks delicious, what they got. I should ask her if it is. I bet she’ll say “yeah.” It’s mostly me and sort of you. I’m not sure what that means either. It’s this. Me. And you. Full disclosure. And I’m afraid if I go down the path I feel is before me—us—it’ll be almost impossible to keep from going at it too… I don’t know… fervently. I was gonna say “hard” but that sounds weird and it’s not a matter of forcefulness. Like that time I was typing away and the period key popped right off the keyboard. I couldn’t tell where one thought stopped and another began. Just think of all those endings lost. Yeah, I really did. I know, happens all the time, not that interesting, but thanks for indulging me. I know that’s not what you’re saying, I am. Let’s put a period on that. Very funny indeed. He just sniffed his wine.

So here’s the thing, a very serious thing. The thing is I’ve had a thing for you since… I don’t know when. Kidding, kidding. That’s what he probably just said to her, right after the sniff and a slow blink. Then we’d end up like them, photographing our food and talking of scandal. Have you heard of the impostor complex? It’s a cognitive-behavioral thing. Did you know that thesaurus.com lists Siberia as a synonym for “limbo?” and “nada” as a synonym for “cipher?” Yeah, that was her name.

You’ve always made me a little nervous. I’ve been told my emotional intelligence is too high. That’s probably why I have to listen to music when I paint, so I don’t sit there and analyze each and every stroke for what it may probably not even remotely mean, falling down a wormhole of self-awareness with self after self after self flitting by and Matt Fucking Damon waiting on the other end on some unsustainable planet—did you ever see that movie? Or film, I guess, film. Let’s be sophisticates, yes. Did you know that was his middle name? No, that’s not all it was about. It was about time and love and alternate realities, parallel universes, shit like that. I think. And the end of the world. Then I think at times like this, times of pointed, scatterbrained observation and hyper-present-ness and unnecessary explanation, of something I read recently about advanced pop criticism. That it sits too firmly in the now, pulling all the rest of life and thought and time to the pinnacle-present. It’s like Buddhism gone wrong. Or wild. Or one aspect of it, flashing its tits on spring break and calling it a phase. Or an experience, yeah, funny. Like that, it’s like that. This is, I mean. Oh, yeah, no, not like that. Of course, no. There are too many people around and I have no such expectations. But, later, if you were to find yourself inclined… No, I’m kidding. It’s totally different and absolutely the same.

“Look, it’s nothing obsessive or overwhelming, just an enduring, definite thing. You appear without conscious intent, you show up in dreams, playing roles of a romancer of sorts, a close companion, a secret lover,” he says, and I wonder why I hadn’t thought of that, imagine he must’ve read it somewhere—or heard it, more likely—and I’m afraid to say so to you but just then our food arrives, breaking up the flow of thoughts and words and I’m glad there’s now something other than my foot to place in my mouth.

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fiction

Seasons’ Spell 4

Part 4 of 4, the end. Reminds me: “The temptation towards resolution, towards wrapping up the package, seems to me a terrible trap. Why not be more honest with the moment? The most authentic endings are the ones which are already revolving towards another beginning” (Sam Shephard). Another beginning, a new beginning, or the same beginning, like part 1. Then part 2 and part 3.


He has written a note and left it on the table. The window, now closed and locked, is doing its time-weary best to stand against a wind that creeps disregardfully through the cracks and gaps and spaces, frosting the eight frames’ edges and inadvertently softening the view of a bitter, fuliginous gray sky hanging over leafless brown-black branches, if anyone were there to see.

The oxalis is long-dead but its empty pot remains on the sill, pointless and inert. The curtains have been removed, the tablecloth is gone, and the chairs are tucked in, left behind as if to commemorate shared comforts, and also loss. The photograph is gone but a faint rectangle of long-shaded paint remains on the wall in its place, and the only sounds in the house are the occasional wintry creak and groan of tired timber and the wind’s solemn, discordant breaths. The note sits on bare maple nicked and scratched.

I love the you I’m sure you’ve become even though I’m not there to know and see, he wrote.

*

And spring returns, and the house remains. The trees, the hills, the sky, the night, the day—they all remain with time, ever changing, ever the same.

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life, poetry, prosetry, Uncategorized

Neon Dahlia

Tempting as it is, to turn inward, write of long Winter and why

capture in ice outshines

the languid motion of sharing

tempting as it is, you are the subject not I.

A linguist of worlds

using your machine to stitch together discrepancies

you see no undertow

only thick muscles of rowing souls, garnering energy toward shoreline

and I envy you, Neon Dahlia

your simple, productiveness

how from nothing, comes nothing and still ..

you toil

unaware you are treading water.

I could tell you

look here, can’t you see? The futility

but I already know your answer;

what is futile, is in the mind

all else, just imagined sabotage

here in this seized moment, is the bare humus of your life

you live only once, don’t you want to fill it with all the experience you can gather?

your arms aching with fullness like flower sellers under hot tarp, salvage hunger with each purchase.

When we offer our wares to others, in rosary of conversation

people catch your drift, their eyes lit by your straightforward certainty

it’s all worthwhile, prophet.

I once told you, you could be a preacher, a cult-leader, a milliner of minds

you could repair holes in fabric like a peach grower will

tend bruised fruit carefully until they heal

under affection.

It’s all about faith, you radiate certainty

whilst I, gather mud for drinking and sloshing

in my opaque jar

like an unlucky fisherman will

repeatedly cast into shallows.

All my life I thought I knew

deep water

and the only thing I knew

was fear and habit, giving in to safety.

Take a risk, you urged

planting your runner beans, spinach and kale

in straight lines like braided hair

gleaming against fecund soil

and my fingers already felt

I had lifted the world by its rudder

held on long enough to solidify, all possessed calcium

it was impossible to find a way to cast as you did

watching the silk of your net, catch sunlight and fall

glittering into emerald tide.

The funny thing of course

you are afraid of water

and I, a prodigious swimmer

often likened to merfolk

coming from an island, I thought by speaking loudly, I could ward off choked demons

caught by the foot in gullies and rivulets

but they only submerged like setting sun

will drink up light and diffuse emotion

becoming part of me

as surely as you

set an example

unable to emulate.

This is the green bark of us

defined by lines of growth and pause

long enough to extinguish, tentative pathway.

You have your courage

buried in a tinder box deep within

it needs no flint to ignite

whilst I, scrabble and flounder for matches, in deluge.

Fate ridicules the human

who thinks themself free of need

believing they can exist without

the certainty of man-made God

and reassuring bleating call, of others of their kind

gathering their flock tight, before darkening storm hits.

We all beseech uncertainty

when trembling, frailty picks herself from floor and witnesses

that vulnerable moment, nude and dried, by calloused hand of self governance.

No

I may not share your peace of mind

nor ever, the nimble way you stay

calm like unbroken water

in face of specter and uncertainty

your heart beat steady, like a bow needless of guide.

Mine is the anxiety, of my generation

thwarted by ourselves and that throbbing vein

dearly seeking for meaning, in tea leaves

your glow only brightens

the further out, you wield

that impossible certainty, you polish

with the soft foot fall, of early Spring

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fiction

Seasons’ Spell 3

Part 3 of 4. Read part 1 and part 2. Or don’t, it’s up to you.


She sits at the small square table by the half-open window, now in his chair, trying to feel his angle, again wearing the white sun dress but now with gray wool leggings below and a crimson cardigan unbuttoned above. Her hair is down and a single silver strand glints in the gradually approaching dusk. The sky beyond the window is sharp and cloudless, and the fading embers of day are being pushed down over the edge of an uneven horizon of autumn treetops now turned red, orange, yellow, brown, pushed down by the ever-deepening purplishness of evening’s onset. The sweet, pungent aroma of decline is carried into the room by cool air like an offering of resting peace.

She has before her a torn-open envelope which moments ago contained the letter which is now on the floor beside the chair, her left arm hanging at her side above it, hand limp and useless. Her right hand is in her lap and her heart beats slowly, as if out of pure, ignorant reflex, knowing nothing else but beating, and she’s looking, staring out the window to her right, crumpled. The oxalis is wilting and the corners of the tablecloth are as still as painted life.

The house, too, is still and silent, as if it holds the breath that has just been removed from her lungs. There is only the autumnal near-nervous whisper and swish outside, its indifference providing some cover for the dull, pointless beats of her heart. At least it’s not winter yet, she thinks, breaking free from her trance, at least these beats don’t sound like a hammer on cold steel. Because they will, the longer I stay, they will. And in that thought she realizes she does not feel lonely, she feels alone.

It’s the sound. The quiet is different when you’re alone, she thinks—you can hear it like a living, breathing, watching, thinking thing, a bigger thing than you by far, teeth and claws and eyes and all, virulent and terrible. Deafening, near-deathly—the quiet of aloneness, not lonesome presence, only absences drowning out all else, keeping you disclosed and defenseless because it knows no one is coming, knows it has you all to itself, knows how piddling and afraid. How does it know these things, how does it get through like this, she implores, at the edges of frantic, heartbeats hastening, feeling cornered and muted by the vacuity around her. Everything is so loud when there’s nothing in it.

The menacing quiet begins to recede, its work seemingly complete, giving way now to Silence, a silence which she is certain radiates from inside her, pure and terrifying. The wonderland has closed in, closed off, worn thin, turned colors real and sorrowful, but almost apologetic in a last gasping, pleading breath of beauty, a tease of remembrance and a hint of hope for yet another chapter, another turn, at least another page, just one more page, and for a moment she begins to dare to believe that that page has already been composed and lays helplessly, cruelly on the floor beside her, written for her rather than by. She steadies herself, steadies her heart, and closes her eyes and turns inward to face the Silence, seeking its source, much as she had once turned outward to him, opening, she had thought, to the source of Love like an alchemist to her prima materia.

It pains her now, all of it, everything around and within—the crispness and the clarity, indescribably profound in its extraordinary this-ness, teeming with absolutes, the colors, the smells, the turn, the radiating silence, the tease and the hint, the faded coffee stains on the tablecloth, the chipping, peeling paint on the sill, the sight of her own empty chair, as if it is she who has departed, now haunting her own home. What does it mean now to be here, to be where they once were and were They, she wonders, but she cannot make herself move. He has taken the life with him, she thinks, feels, knows, all the life, so she just sits, one hand hanging and the other dead in her lap, dark eyes seeing straight through to nothing, astonished it has come to this. I did everything for you and you just took it, took it.

She brings her right hand to the table and traces her index finger along a familiar groove felt beneath the tablecloth, halts, lays her palm flat on the envelope, and reaches without looking for the letter on the floor with her left. Once retrieved, she summons her right hand to help fold the letter back up and return it to the torn envelope as if retracing her steps, maybe even rewinding time, then places the mended missive on the table before her and smooths it flat. Winter is in the air, she thinks, inevitable and portending, but the details have yet to be written.

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fiction

Seasons’ Spell 2

Part 2 of 4. Read part 1 here.


She sits in her chair at the same small square table by the same open window, a sultry, hazy sky beyond, air like bath water in both hue and temperature and stillness, air soaked up by the same hills and trees, same curtains, same oxalis, same tablecloth, now still and languid, though, same newspaper, but now laid flat, flat and folded on his side of the table. It’s how she feels too, she thinks, folded and flat, as she looks around the room with an almost purely peripheral gaze, almost at the paper, almost at his empty chair across from her, pushed in, then completely out the window, staring without seeing into the spaces around her.

There and with those thoughts she sits in her white cotton sun dress, a favorite of his, her thin arms crossed, long black hair held loosely up over her slender neck and lithe but sturdy shoulders. The day is waking hot and thick, soon to swelter. The heat’s ubiquity acts as a level, she imagines, aligning her with and to all the rest, and she feels ok enough, sort of, tells herself, for the moment, perhaps, looking up at the photograph on the wall above his chair, the small, dark-framed black-and-white photograph of a sidewalk along a foggy Paris avenue from the Past. It has been hung high at standing eye level so he, tall as he is, can give it a for-granted glance or even stop and peer in for a moment when he comes to sit or stands to leave. Sometimes he will gaze at the photo, lingering, caught, she often mused, by the cimmerian figure of a girl and her little white dog about halfway to the image’s vanishing point, standing and looking back at the viewer between a row of bare trees to the right and a corresponding line of store- and housefronts to the left, together forming a corridor of sight with the sidewalk as its floor, leading straight to the girl. Its origin unknown, he has carried this photo with him for years, and where he hangs it is home, marked.

It must’ve been winter there, she fancies each time she looks, or late autumn, perhaps. The trees are bare and a cold-seeming mist hangs, obfuscous, and a presence of something about three paces short of sinister seems to lurk, just a sense of what if, what if the frozen moment were allowed to play. What would we see? He never talks about the photo, never describes it, never says anything more than that it’s “one of his favorites,” keeping the rest, whatever it is, to himself in his customary self-keeping way. He has never been to Paris, she knows that much. It’s something from inside him, she thinks from time to time, and then placed on the outside, hung on the wall, open to view and most likely best left untrammeled by common language.

It is summer Now, though, no matter what it was in Paris or inside him Then, and her gaze drifts to the window and out to the sky, still thinking of the photograph, losing herself in the vapid, smoky blue marked with incidental clouds, some whisping, some cottoned, all hanging above inert treetops and a thought occurs as a crow swoops through the frame. Chekhov and necessity. “If a pistol appears in a story, eventually it’s got to be fired,” he said, she recalled, and it stuck with her the way her arm feels stuck to the table in the heat, the way she feels stuck now, though she knows implicitly that the stickiness has no meaning beyond itself, and is glad for Chekhov, glad someone has thought thoughts before, glad for thoughts of function and relationality, for necessity, for something more concrete than morals or principle. She sits, ruminative, and time hangs, floats, drifts, slow and quiescent, detached from space.

The dog barks outside—three times, two, then one—and she rises from her seat, draws the curtains, and slips on her shoes.

*

Afternoon now, late, but still not dark, and she sits on the sill in her white cotton sun dress, feet bare and dirty and knees tucked up to her chin, looking, just looking, and hearing without listening to the low, unpunctuated hum of the World. Her gaze drifts down from the clouds—fewer now, and their sky deeper and bluer and yellowing with early sunset—and settles absently on the hills and treetops extending as far as Forever and she wonders where he could be. Wonders, imagines, begins to fantasize that he’s lost in the great wild wonderland on some great wild wonder-adventure, even worries a little, for comfort’s sake, oh familiar and trusty concern, hoping he’s safe and well-fed and thinking of her, longing for her, hoping against a deep gnawing knowing that it’s just foolishness, but a sustaining foolishness nonetheless, she tells herself, her thoughts becoming as boundless as the emptiness she’s beginning to sense within and without. He should’ve been back by now, should’ve been back, this is not like him. But something more than nothing tells her he’s not coming, not all of him anyway, and in her mind their wonderland begins turning to mere land, coarse, tangled, verdant, and overgrown, as if a switch has been flipped in a dimly-lit room and the thin gauze of their swoon-myth evaporated.

No, no, breathe, she tells herself, breathe, remembering she needs a reminder, something essential and constitutive, a mantra against the nothing around and rising dismay within. She inhales and hears it fill her, thinks about the air in her lungs, how it’s hers and she’s captured it, how it gives her shape and for a few seconds she’s an origami swan floating there in the viscid air, then it’s expelled and she’s folded and flat again, like the newspaper still on the table, still untouched. She swings her feet to the floor and leaves the window behind, padding off to busy herself, must stay busy, make sound, motion, life, something against this slow summer crawl of time, this boundlessness. He’ll be back and it’ll be ok, like Before, air in and out, remember.

In the evening he returns, just past dusk, and a pale midsummer moon sits low in a star-flecked sky of majestic blue-black through the window. He is troubled, solemn, and distant, not himself, not at all. She is in her chair again; he does not sit, leaning on the doorframe instead. A few small words are exchanged, a few small glances, then he goes off to bed. She remains at the table, feeling smaller than small and still breathing small breaths, and the world Out There comes In Here and suddenly it seems that there are strange trees growing right up from a grass-covered floor, ivy snaking up the walls, and dark bushes in the corners with little eyes glinting from within, the room’s lamplight hushed and outshined by the night sky ceiling. There is a long howl somewhere off in the distance and a slow-stammered hoo-HOO-hoo-hoo in the branches and she feels the crickets in her bones. Afraid to move, almost afraid to breathe, it is all finally too much for her, and then she goes too, to join him, small steps with small, bare feet, almost silent, hoping the truth won’t hear her and follow and she can at least have the night.

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