Morning World, Mourning Whirl

Parabolic stories told in whispered corners of a broken-down house, where the moonlight creeps in like a suggestion and stays there, wandering, before dissipating just enough to let you sleep.

Ego fears and slipping between a version of yourself that you left behind and an uncertain future you find yourself barreling toward.

Approaching something like stillness, and training yourself to be okay with it, without trauma and learned internal violence.

Of entering conflicts only when needed, and even then with a distilled serenity, a weightlessness, and the calm that comes with being accustomed to terror.

Half-dreamt landscapes that won’t fill all the way in on waking but which leave impressions, visions of themselves, like an image burnt into a cathode ray tube, searching for the cells that make up this generational hurt, this wandering sorrow.

And it all seems so trivial now, the shouting matches, the screaming tears, doors slammed and feelings hurt, set against what we’re now fighting, all of us, collectively.

It’s in talking past the severed connections and getting at something like communication.

Not the way it was, but maybe the way it could’ve been.

Now it’s in sipping strong coffee in the morning, awake before anyone else in the house, and cherishing this newfound quiet as much as you don’t trust it.

As much as you fear it.

It’s being able to just sit, and breathe, and appreciate your cat as he sits in front of a window, unmoving, and the stillness of the morning world around you, the mourning whirl of grief coming in slow now, like the delayed pain of fingertip on stovetop, and wondering about the original order of things, if there ever really was such a thing.

And maybe it’s even making your own order, if you can, in the honey-drip stillness of a too-early morning, before the alarm hits, before the birds can really process things, awake in the undark, processing last night’s dream and the belief that it’ll fade followed by the reality of it fading.

Like a shadow yielding to light.

Anagram Days

Days like magnet letters on a dusty refrigerator, speckle stains of barbecue sauce and ketchup like culinary crime scenes as an animal collects leftovers from where they’ve fallen–from a midnight sandwich or sunrise coffee-and-bagel.

You can learn a lot about someone from the stains they leave behind.

It’s collecting bruises in a ten-dollar-a-class dojo, swishing trial size mouthwash in the dojo bathroom because it always burns your mouth and helps distract you from the pain of the mistakes you’ve made.

It’s coming out in muddy brown dusk with sky the color of pre-tornado, leaves more like slush than tree structures, coming into the night that’s just now arriving, with lighter fluid in one pocket and a matchbook in the other, only feeling comfortable when you have the capacity to make fire at will, not even for nefarious reasons, just reveling in the fact that if you could go back in time, right now, even as you are, and show this to cavemen, you would be God to them. God in ripped jeans and scuffed-up sneakers.

It’s learning how to lucid dream and astral project, alternating every other night, living then living again, then taking off work for an entire week to do nothing but sleep, actual sleep, deep sleep, nothing but darkness and time to fill you all up.

It’s all about variety.

So the other day I was walking home from work, same route I always take, straight down Fourth, sun staring at me over the hills, feeling like a forlorn traveler from biblical times, not even one of the memorable ones, and I saw this, felt it, until the setting overtook plot, brought me back, to an old man with wild eyes in the middle of the street, pointing his finger, wearing flip flops and socks, accusing the man he was pointing at of stealing same, and the other man was looking for help, looking for a way out, so I got between them, got between as others watched or took out phones–not to call the police but to record–people watching people, an American pastime, and I assumed an authority that came from nowhere, that I gave myself, in order to do what I thought was right.

The old man called me a faggot.

But hey, there was no violence, and it ended with him flip-flopping his way away down the middle of the street while cars honked and tried to go around him. The guy I helped remembered my name a week later when I happened to walk past him again.

So that was cool.

To get home and to be lighting this cigar that we are looking at right now, in crystal-prism clarity, smoke trailing into clouds, and we can roll this CLOUD into the rest of the neighborhood, collect PARKED CARS and TREES so that they will all be one and we can gather this here, now, in our backyard, the one we pay taxes for, and build a bonfire, yes, a great big one, one that has STICKS and LEAVES and BITS OF PAPER that we have FOUND.

So what do we have?

An arm, a leg, a couple eyes. Two ears. Some other appendages. Hair, toenails, and an awful lot of capillaries. Enough inner piping to plumb a city. Cells that are themselves self-contained living things. Neurons and tissue that somehow contain memory. An aching-longing for connection and understanding in a vast, uncaring emptiness that’s occasionally decorated with the odd flower here, ray of sunshine there. And that?

That is okay.

Fuga, flight. Fugere, flee.

Because when I wanted Clair de Lune coming from a Bluetooth speaker on the beach, waves coming close but not quite reaching, sun behind gray clouds, the whole nine, I wanted it with him and not with you. Because when I shiver it’s from the foreignness of your touch, the wrongness of it, like raw egg sliding down your spine. Because when you’re gone I write out envelopes to his address, stamp them, mail him not nothing but the absence of something, one a week. Because when my head’s on the pillow that still smells of him, thoughts hazy and hypnagogic, I wade out into the sea, up to my neck, and feel the weight as I breathe in, one two three. Because when I wander these streets now, hills covered lovely in fog, the mist that dances on grass blades, I see nothing but particles bouncing at different wavelengths, random specks fluttering from here to there, ever separate. Because when I turn your head away from me in bed, turn it till you’re looking at the ceiling and I can be sure you don’t see me, not even from your peripheral, I make the faces that drove him over the edge, the faces for him but not for you. Because when I say fugue you say what, but when I said it to him it could be found in the French, or the Italian, from the Latin fuga, flight, related to fugere, flee.

button

What She Will Do

She will make you watch for allusions in shows, books, movies. She will cause you to chew a little slower, to un-hamfist your fork and get your elbows off the table. She will alert you to the mounds of garbage mountain-ranging through your apartment, the clothes un-hampered and wrinkled. She will teach you what cumin is. She will show you how to follow a recipe. She will convince you to get slippers, to not walk barefoot through a home of garbage. She will say hey you should clean up this garbage home. She will get you to clean up this garbage home. She will drink your tea and read your stories at night, blue-and-white flashing police box outside the only light to read by. She will take you to an Asheville drum circle where you will dance and frolic. She will smell of the ocean and of furs, many furs. She will kiss your nose after she comes, a tiny present for what has happened here between you. She will will shebears to come for you if you ever piss her off. She will smell of cinnamon and the must of her pillow, which will not go away, even after the wash. She will check your phone and find nothing. She will ask what you have deleted. She will say you’re a fuck and she can smell it on you. She will not believe that the smell is her smell, that it always has been. She will be able to get around your garbage home without once looking at you: a magic trick. She will run the sink loud enough for you to not hear when she’s “freshening up.” She will not know that you can hear her retching, the quiet drops into porcelain. She will water down your bottles of hard cider, put her socks in the fridge. She will come home to drop her things and to drop her keys and to drop on the couch. She will be dropping all the time. She will say do you love me, say not ask, in her sleep, on the couch, on the floor, wherever it’s horizontal. She will make biscuits for a small army, eat one, give the rest to the squirrels. She will make them happy squirrels. She will break her key off in the lock, close the door, lock you out. She will not answer the door no matter what you say, what you do. She will hang your belongings from rope outside the windows: an art installation. She will have men over to sit on the other side of the room, tell them to wait for their appointed time, make them leave. She will try to do the right thing. She will say I can’t hear you this is a soundproof door, I don’t need you, come back tomorrow. She will Eternal Sunshine you, then remember, then Eternal Sunshine you again. She will let you in. She will ignore the garbage mountain ranges, the piedmont of dirty clothes. She will put her elbows on the table. She will hamfist her fork. She will have something on as background noise, feed-swiping, coming up for air when necessary. She will fall asleep there, somewhere it’s horizontal, and you will put a blanket over her. She will rest.

button

Demarcation: An Interactive Story

The world flows from darkness to light in degrees, blink by blink. Snowflakes the size of your eyes fall from a sky whorled in impressionistic hues. Aurorae blaze the night into a multihued day. Dried blood asserts itself in the lines of your palms, lines you once had read for signs of health and vitality as a child. The fact that you were once a child is incomprehensible to you. This is no longer a world of children, or of the old, because this world has no past and no future. Only an endless present, the way the snowy hills run off in every direction you look. Your left ankle is painfully twisted. It hurts to put any weight on it.

What do you do?

Check your pockets.

Call out for help.

Twist your ankle back into place.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In your pocket you find a ticket for a movie you saw last year, the last one the two of you saw together. It’s been ripped haphazardly, so the title’s incomplete. This was her ticket, but you traded with her so she could add a complete one to her collection. It seems a lifetime ago that these things happened. Besides that: a matchbook, half the matches gone, snatched from a bar. Some crumpled-up receipts.

What do you do?

Start a fire.

Call out for help.

Take a step.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Your words bounce off of snow-laden trees. They ride along the howling wind and into the hills, the mountains beyond them. An inhuman growl rises up in answer. It comes from everywhere. Darkness closes in before light can travel, before sound can follow, before even thought can come. It envelops you and takes you away.

GAME OVER

Try again.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pain like sparklers flickering in the night. Where your foot once was is a gnarled claw leading up to an iridescent, shelled body. The pain is gone and so is the snow, the hills, the night. You are at the bottom of a deep, vast ocean, all sounds piped in from a location out of sight. Your eyestalks twist and turn on their own, like fingers probing for a lover in the dark. You open your mouth to speak, but only a muted, ancient rasp comes out.

What do you do?

Search for food.

Burrow.

Snip your eyestalks.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

You dig out a small hole and replace the snow you find with kindling, the receipts, the ticket. The fire doesn’t last long, but it’s enough to bring the feeling back to your fingers, warmth to your cheeks when you lean in close. You’re struck by a preternatural urge to put your injured foot in the fire, as if you haven’t eaten in weeks and before you sits a feast. The longer you stare at the flames, the stronger the urge becomes.

What do you do?

Indulge the urge.

Call out for help.

Look away from the fire.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The moment you turn from the flames, an inhuman growl echoes out into the night. It comes from everywhere. Darkness closes in before light can travel, before sound can follow, before even thought can come. It envelops you and takes you away.

GAME OVER

Try again.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

You gather protozoa and diatoms into your mouth. Your movements are instinctual. You have done this for millennia, and you will do it for millennia more. The farther you wander out onto this abyssal plain, the less you remember of your human life, the world of air and land and beings that creep in the soil. You sense a shift in your consciousness, a clear demarcation between your previous life and the one you’re living right now. You know you have only two options. That you have always only had two options. This is your life.

What do you do?

Stop to remember.

Wander.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Your mind and body flicker through the interstitial: first foot, then claw, then foot again. Ocean, forest. Home, wilderness. It all stops in the in-between, at a place unidentifiable to your senses or any concept of time or space. You feel as though your body is incomprehensibly vast and connected to the ocean floor, spread out and undulating with the current. You try to move, but you have no parts to move. You try to look around, but you have nothing to look with. The ticket, her face, your claws and eyestalks, these are like watercolor dabs on canvas to you. The sound of nothing is all around. Far above, the sun shines through infinite water, golden prickles finding you all the way down. All the way down.

END

button

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Your claws fade with the force of the current; iridescent shell gives way to flesh. The water’s density leaves you as the ocean evaporates in seconds. The ocean floor turns to snowy ground, but no more flakes fall from the sky. Your body warms by degrees as your feet slide into the steps you took to get here, like a film playing in reverse overlaid atop its forward-playing self. The trees move aside to let you pass. There is no growl. There is no sound. The snow gives way to bare earth, then verdant grassland. Your memories are stories you can choose to consult. But for now, you don’t choose the memories. You choose to walk.

END

button

Playing in Reverse

They put us in charge of a petri dish in fifth grade life science. Made us mayors of our very own amoeba city. At home I set the microcosmopolis on kitchen counter uncluttered by hospital bills, unplugged the toaster to make room for my microscope. They consumed their prey the way I imagined the disease was taking my father: closing in and around, enveloping, like a nurse encircling him in curtain on bad days when I’d “just have to come back tomorrow.”

I did my homework in the waiting room. When it rained, the drops became paramecia; a hidden universe, something you couldn’t see but knew was there. I asked Dad if amoebae could contract AIDS, if he thought they’d have hospitals and single-celled doctors and nurses and sons. He looked out the window and laughed so I couldn’t see his eyes. Sent me off with a buck to get a rice krispy treat.

Mom took to sleeping on the couch, blanket as shawl. She’d go out only to drive me to the hospital, stopping in front of the entrance and letting me out. Said she had things to do when I’d ask. After a while I stopped asking. I showed Dad the sketches I made in between sips of water I’d help with, Dad’s lips contorting to find the straw, cheeks caving in on themselves. He’d pencil in party hats, villainous moustachios.

Dad’s face had a tributary system of veins running down the edges of his eyes, pooling in bags, skin melting like an ice cream on the sidewalk with gumballs for eyes. I asked Dad if he fucked another man like I was asking for an extra bag at the grocery store. I filled in some cilia, labelled cell walls. He asked where I’d heard that, but his voice quivered. We looked out into the rain, at the drops racing each other to nothing down the window.

In the onset of summer I watched puddles evaporate from the outside in. Dad was a hundred pounds, subsisting on grapes and coffee, the only things he could manage to keep down. The wrinkled hand of evolution had brought us to shore, onto land and out of our burrows, into the trees and out of them again, through huts and under blankets in hospital rooms, taking in energy and putting out our own, teeth chewing and eyes seeing and voices carrying. Withering in beds but telling stories anyway.

Together we wrote a story about an astronaut marooned from his ship, still in radio contact with the rest of the crew but with no points of reference to guide them to him, only endless black punctuated by a few blinding pinpricks in all that emptiness. Of space-swimming with no propulsion to help, just drifting wherever. Another about a man who lost his face, condemned to a life of wandering endless countryside in search of it, all the land indistinguishable to him, just one big canvas his steps would paint on. We wrote fast.

I was home when they called. Mom picked up, told me to go in the other room, play with my science experiment. The silence of her listening as I eavesdropped from the kitchen. As I took a napkin and brought darkness to the petri dish. Mom’s breath like a punctured tire letting out its air. Me grabbing the matches from the cupboard they were hidden in. Running the tiny flame around napkin’s edge till it was burning from the outside in. The fire fizzling out in spots but me putting more napkins on, paper plates. The fire rising. Catching the curtains and travelling upward, like opposite raindrops playing in reverse.

button

Crowley and Cel

Crowley catches chickens. Their webbed feet drag stereo wires and plastic bags, dinosaur eyes never see him till it’s too late. He’s that good. In a minute-ten he’s got them plucked and washed in a rain bucket, beak jibber-jabbering as he takes them to Cel. Cel welds pieces of the world together, disparate pieces who might never otherwise meet. Crowley always brings a chicken and a piece: another thing for Cel to work on. In the evening they dip into their pond, trash bags as floaties, mounds of things people left behind all around them. All sorts of things can be left behind.

They sprout potatoes in milk jugs, only eat the ones whose root systems find a way out. Only the strongest for Crowley and Cel. They live in an old pickup, though what it once picked up no one knows. Once a cycle, when the moon’s full, Cel will bring it to life so they can hear the songs from the world outside, the ones sung for no one.

In the pickup, at night, their arms will graze like branches in the breeze. Cel will wake to see it’s only Crowley, scoot away in the cab, adjust the coat that is his blanket. The feathers Crowley plucks go into the jacket, into the bags that are their pillows. The feathers always find their way out, turning their pickup into a metal chicken.

Cel makes skirts of cardboard, headdresses of plastic cut to streamers, and they dance around the fire, singing songs they’ve made. When the fire dies, they paint their faces with the ash, still warm. They swirl clouds onto their cheeks, eddies down their necks. Crowley prints his hands on Cel’s chest. Her eyes carry light away.

She erases her face with pond water. When her face is gone, Crowley can see who she really is. Together they erase their arms, legs, eyes. The chickens gauge their progress, pecking at nothing. Crowley and Cel become the water in the pond, the sunlight that warms it. They disappear.

button

Before Thought Comes

They could see the lake shimmering a mirage of far below moon out the window of the common room on the locked ward. On their plates filets of chicken, perfect domes of rice, salads with halved cherry tomatoes, salt and condiments on the side. Dwayne was a street man, twenty years, collecting meals like these when he was too tired of the cold, of the bottles he’d empty and let roll down the floorboards of the foreclosed he found that night: an empty rolling down an empty. Of nights crawling into windowless rooms so police flashlights wouldn’t find him, boots clacking mud on stoops as they rattled door knobs. And Elyse, still in the gown they gave her, blue eyes going gray but still piercing, trailing now over Scrabble letters not yet placed, on her wrist the watch she wore when it happened, hands ticking nothing, its face half gone from where it made contact with pavement, stuck forever on 2:32, and the way her words came out in a whisper, lips pursed after her story, of what they did to her, nodding and looking back to the letters, tallying her score on the backside of a sheet on coping mechanisms, the pencil short enough to be deemed safe for use. The way they’d sit at the heads of the table at mealtime like some rich couple, cold and distant, and the kids just passing through, ODing on heroin or sleeping pills or memories, they’d populate the side seats, so young these kids, thinking their lives were over at 23, withdrawing hands shaking as they’d drain milks like the ones you’d get in grade school, the juices they’d trade for the milks, cups of ice they’d chew just to have something to focus on, something tactile and real. Or the pre-packaged pumpkin pie they’d pass at Thanksgiving, and filling out the next day’s menu “just in case,” those three words a gentle way of saying you’re not ready yet, Dwayne and Elyse past even this formality, just being handed the things instead, memorizing the entrees, side options, both of them circling the same thing, like the birds outside, out the window, orbiting the park bench where the man drops the bread, every morning, at 8:40, and the way Dwayne and Elyse will prolong their breakfasts, never speaking, just to see this man again, the passing-through kids always rushing off to group, or their rooms, or shaving in the hallway, supervised. Practicing what they’ll tell the doctor, reciting, writing it down so he’ll see they must be let go, Elyse dictating to Dwayne when her hand shakes too bad to write, Dwayne’s coffee bean eyes steamed over, seeing loopy alphabeticals on dashed paper, learning to start his letters from the bottom up, to build on what he put down before. Taking their pages to the trash, confettied and clinging to plastic lining, bits of words only, Elyse coughing out a laugh when Dwayne does this, taking off her watch, tossing it in with the paper, then her socks, and his, and their clothes, and sprawling out on the table in the common room, fingers on bodies as the mirage of far below moon comes in, before the RNs notice, before the doctor’s called, before thought comes and clings too deeply to the moment.

button

What They Say

They say she was born in the mossy overgrowth of a cabin given to the elements, during the monsoon season so the tide was way up when she came into the world: a blanket of water not yet tucked in. They say she muddied walls into murals and sang so the birds couldn’t tell if she was one of their own or not. They say her pulse traveled the lines of the vines and hummed on the roots so even the burrowing beetles knew the way she was feeling. They say she sharpened sticks with her teeth and set fire to what she spat. They say she never hunted, but cooed the animals to the traps, that she pet their furs into muddy clumps as they cried and let out breath. They say she leapt from cliffs without a sound and entered the water in silence too, like a call and response that was all in your head. They say she broke the bones into shards of dust and projected them into the night, when the wolves were out but not quite howling, only half-crying so she wouldn’t find them. They say she’s the vein in every leaf and the slush that gathers in the toes of your boots; the chill that the fire can’t banish. They say she collapsed trains to their sides like wounded horses, wheels blinking light into her eyes as they spun and her bare feet eased themselves into dirt; the way her teeth shaped the night.

They say the day she found him in the ditch the sun didn’t rise for fear of blinding her; she collected him onto her shoulders and glided through filmy water so his arm trailing waking waves looked to be connected to its underworld self, and she had no reflection to speak of. They say she fed him sweet seeds and burrs that stuck in his stomach for years till his body eclipsed hers, the nest she crafted for him. They say she let his blood into the water, on the rocks she brought for him, shaped to hearts. They say they took turns splintering the rocks for fire, first him then her. They say the rain dipped low to grass and swam away back and past clouds, thunder erasing itself and putting something else in its place. They say the night blanketed them for forty years or more, with the stars inside winking away and the rumble of the ground coming from everywhere, till the roar was all you could hear. They say when the day finally broke neither of them could be found, only felt, in the way you might dip toes into water, distorted under there, larger, and the way water makes you feel bigger than yourself. Like a soul’s puppet made real.

button

Whirling in a Bottle

With your hand above water, the bottle’s a spaceship leaving home with a crew of sand grain people who climbed aboard when the lip scraped bottom.

When I open my eyes underwater I see only the shadow of you, like the you is implied somewhere else I can’t see.

The stars are flashlights held by impossibly faraway children, shaking when they laugh.

We swim like porpoises but maybe not so graceful.

The water sloshing in our spaceship doesn’t look the same as the lake at night from satellite view.

When they drain your lungs for the first time it won’t look the same in the IV bag as it does from the probe’s camera where we can see the polyp growing larger by the day even though you’ve never smoked.

I’ll take you out where water meets sand so you can watch your feet melt to stumps, errant grains of sand sticking to the cool sickles of your calves.

When you pick them off, your painted nails will be rubies that don’t last.

It’ll be a time so innocent I’ll think your cough is the beginning of a summer cold.

If we look carefully at the screen, those cells are just another harmless part of you.

Grains of sand whirling in a bottle.

We’ll be in a room way up high, a room with a satellite view of the lake.

The little lights of your machines will be stars dancing in impossibly distant, impossibly tiny hands.

There’s something to be said for seeing the way the waves break and chasing after them anyway.

For holding your breath underwater, legs kicking.

For dumping bottled sand out neatly on the shore when we get back.

And the way the tide takes it out.

Out.

Way out.

Farther than we can see.

button