prosetry

like a shadow burned into a wall

It was a week of work, my first in over two months. Funny how you can tell what kind of day you’ll have in the first ten minutes of wakefulness. Is sensitivity something we learn? It’s hard to emulate the idiomatic and constitutional, but easy to hide behind it.

Thoughts of authenticity the other night after watching “Atlanta” connected themselves to others about lived experience, my life, and Charles Johnson, who is from the town in which I now reside and will be here again to give a talk in May. This is apparently worthy of transcription.

Self-conscious self-criticism always “kept me honest” while I sought ways to raise myself up out of the everyday, confused, predictably romanticizing “just making it” and being afraid of dependence. Writing isn’t the application of forms, it’s unfolding. I’ve made my truths, fiction et non, and still going.

Really I’m not my past, but I can get back to it like Theseus to Ariadne. Peter and the Wolf gave me a glimpse of heritage as a child and I made it my own mythology. Peter was the violin and my middle name and all was quiet, all was well.

Russian fur hats and black boots and military jackets and good-natured young boys and protective grandfathers I never knew, if I had to pluralize. Now I write prose poems because they’re somewhere between rap and short stories and because I’m from somewhere where that makes sense, working for a living and working on a novel about belonging that I might should maybe call The Clew and the Minotaur but I won’t tell you who’s who.

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poetry

Brexi(s)t

when you want to live
but, at the same time,
you also want to die
you do neither:
you merely exist
like dirty laundry
and electricity,
like abandoned cars
and stagnant air,
like unwritten rules
and unused ink,
like your potential
which you feel certain
will remain
unfulfilled
whether you live or die.
but you also exist
in the same way
that tomorrow’s newspaper exists:
you need Tomorrow
in order to Be:
and you’ve got stay alive
if you want to read the headlines.

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prosetry

Span

Maybe one day we’ll meet and neither of us will know what to say for no reason other than. It’ll sound like the weaponization of awkwardness, imagined future meeting imagined present, imagining all those incomplete sentences and overanalyzed gestures, till I go and spoil it with answers (I imagine) because I love to believe and love even more to explain—at least till I go and hate myself for it later—and you cut me off, knowing how things play out, to talk about finding words that are fuller and fewer and sharper and less noisy and I say I tried, answering, exaggerating, for this lifetime I tried, knowing you know better.

You’d roll our eyes, and I’d peculiarly change the subject, or seem to. Chapter V, “Beta, The Disappointed Lover,” I’d say, dangling it out there to speak for me less noisily. It was marked, you’d recall as if on cue, by a folded up printout of Wisława Szymborska’s Nobel address, of all things, and we’d get on about how neither of us remember doing that and about how dragging two Polish poets into this like this is like the start of a joke only Polish poets would find funny. And there I’d be, a little disappointed you didn’t have more answers than I but happy to be on the same page. 111, I think it was.

For now, as I sit in a quiet café across from the presumption of you, I distract myself from thoughts of our little rendezvous with seemingly comparable thoughts of starting a literary magazine out of the blue with a troupe of fringe-dwelling strangers called The Against because sometimes a little carnivalization is better than the silly sum-seeking rum-running of being for something before burying my nose in a worn copy of the Oxford Companion to Music that I got for a few dollars at a summer book fair at this city’s greatest bibliothèque of the humanities for no reason other than that they were there, library and book, and me, full of pent-up irony, as though it might contain answers to questions I don’t yet know I’ll want to ask.

The air outside is cold and the cold outside starts to remind me inside of all the fancy things I thought before I started sticking to the present and ceased to ruminate in caffeine-whiskey pools upon my moony captivation with the lofty side of experience like it was a new neighborhood in a new city I might move to. Laferrière said “the more I try to get close to myself, the more I’m hiding something. There is nothing more fake than real life.” I think I’ll stay here, it’s the only way to get anywhere, speaking of dualities. It’s only life. It’s only everything. I’m only me, now and then. I only stop so often because it’s so hard to begin, but beginning’s like holding an unread book, you just want to carry it around a while, inobjectively, reveling in the elementary allure of possibilities and all their exquisite contradictions.

I close the Companion and look across the small table at your empty chair. Never have I envied you, never have I even feared, only imagined a certain oneness, a wholeness of experience of the sort they say we find in sickness, in violence, in the invasive presence of others, in words.

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prosetry

Insight

The blind old gypsy man grabbed my arm as I walked past and said quietly, “You’re in pain.” I said, “How d’you know that?” avoiding looking into his milk-glazed eyes, and he replied with a wry smile, “Anyone can see you’re suffering. It’s obvious to a blind man.

His friend across the table said to me in a broad accent, “Why? What happened to you, girl?” The blind man and I replied at the same time. I said, “Nothing.” He said, “Everything.

Several seconds passed and it was as if the earth had got stuck on its axis, skipping on its turntable, the same intense moment fluttering on repeat before lurching forward to where it’s supposed to be. The old boy dropped my arm and I scuttled away, trying to shake off the sensation of what felt like a snake writhing up my spine.

In the safety of the ladies toilets I stared at my reflection in the dirty mirror, seeing myself with my own eyes looking at my eyes with my eyes. Was I that obviously broken? How can it be that those closest to me with perfect eyesight couldn’t see how much I was hurting, but this blind stranger could? I thought then of the old saying that the eyes are the window to the soul and then thought about why I always wear sunglasses, even when it’s dark, even when it’s raining. I always thought it was because I didn’t want people to see that I’m drunk or hungover, but maybe it’s because I don’t want anyone to see my pain, maybe I don’t want anyone to know me. For reasons that I couldn’t quite grasp I felt certain that that encounter would go down as one of those highly significant, if not pivotal moments in my life. I wanted to talk to this man some more. No, I didn’t want to: I needed to. I had so many questions. Too many.

I rushed back out to the floor but his table was empty. There was no sign of his friend either. Just an empty whisky tumbler and the frothy remains of a Guinness dripping down the inside of its glass. I pushed past the crowd at the bar, out the door and onto the street. I looked up, down, across the road, frantic. There was nothing, there was no one. It was as if they’d vanished.

I haven’t seen the blind old gypsy man since, but I can still feel the weight of his bony, weathered hand imprinted on the skin of my left forearm, its peculiar temperature that was neither warm nor cool, his grip so surprisingly heavy, saturated with a lifetime of wisdom, the gentle squeeze that said, “I know you,” and the fingertips that said, “I know.” And I know for sure that that strange old gypsy man is the only living being on this earth that truly knows me.

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