There’s always a chance, a terrible chance but a real one none the less, that you may never write again. That all the things you are dying to say will fall away for good and neither your tongue nor your fingers nor your mind will be able to offer you any way out of yourself again. Perhaps it’s writers block, or perhaps you will just have used it all up and for no reason whatsoever the magic will have gone the way of old record players and static transistor radios. A distant memory of a time when you knew exactly who you were and wouldn’t let go for anything or anyone. Your life was yours, as was the way you told it. Was there ever such a time? A time with no rules and no expectations? Without being able to write, you could not access any of the answers you seek. And without any answers, what are you at all but lost among the wreckage. And the minute that fear of dead inspiration finally settles into your skin, you can feel the panic in the pit of your stomach. There’s wine, there’s smokes, there’s the taking of a warm body into your bed. There are thoughts he wants to know about and thoughts you can’t express. Two days away from the pen, three days, a week, and now everything is a red fiery sunset behind the eyes of every stranger, every lover, every one who speaks to you no matter what they say, all you can hear is the mashing together of the words erupting from the mess you carry deep inside. They talk and you pretend to listen. They lament and you pretend to care but, jesus christ, you are spent. Can’t they tell your jittery mind needs your undivided attention? Your bones, your thoughts, the very life beating in your chest, so precious and so fleeting, and all they want to do is flick cigarettes into the gutter and complain about not having won the fucking lottery. People are absurd and all the while they’ve no idea they are anything of the sort. Walking the streets on a gray afternoon, as fallen leaves swirl and crunch along the pavement, I am lost in thoughts of the many things we never speak about and why we never do. Is it that the words are too soft or too sharp? Too real, too true, too irretrievable? How frightening to be revealed for who you truly are when your whole life you’ve done such a good job of covering up the scars, the failures, the claws. The secrets we keep, who are we keeping them from? Those we’d hurt? Those we love? Ourselves? I can count on one hand the number of people who understand me and the list gets shorter every year that passes away into the soundless ether. Is it me, or is it them? Or is it that people are so consumed with nothingness inside their phones that we are simply second by slim ignorant second ebbing ever away from each other. Far be it from me to say or judge, considering I’d rather be alone most of the time anyway. Humans are troubled and I’ve had enough of their self-made woes. It’s always the ones with the farthest reaches of unearned power who complain the loudest, demand the most. Tell me something that will last forever. Tell me a truth so beautiful it breaks your heart to know it and have no way to properly express it. There are feelings without words to accompany them, only tears, only screams. These are the feelings I obsess over without relent. Give me a thought that cuts through all the bullshit and electrifies the night sky with a single promise you’ll never be able to keep but with each and every drop of blood in your timid veins you will try, try to believe until your breath leaves your weakened body for the last time. When I round the corner and slip inside the coffee shop, the envelope of warm air and cinnamon mixed with coffee beans surrounds and welcomes me. I write here when I can’t write at home but nothing much good ever comes of it. It’s hard to concentrate when lives are being lived out all around you in hushed detail. Someone’s lying, someone’s pregnant, someone’s promoted, someone’s leaving. Someone got stood up, someone can’t put down the bottle. Someone is lonely and they are not saying it out loud. The elderly are crumbling and the newborns are needy and it’s all life in little coffee mugs, in little capsules of humanity huddled against the frosted window pane with it’s glittering snowflakes carefully painted into place within the white noise. But you and I, we are so much more than this. While they disintegrate in their small houses lined straight in rows like headstones in graveyards under forgotten skies, we are angels soaring high over endless snow covered hills.
Nuzzled awake by a soft sunrise sliding its fingers through my bedroom window, I’m already in deep contemplation about what to do with my stacks and stacks of old journals which now do nothing but prop up potted plants and collect dust in the corner of my writing room. So many years, so many words, so many thousands of pages of nothing more than hopes and dreams of becoming something more than just a no name writer holed up in a small room overlooking a life of mediocrity and patience. As the hourglass pours through its allotted portion one minuscule grain of sand at a time, we begin and we hesitate. We dream and we wake, we bleed and we quiver and in the end it’s just hot coffee on a freezing cold morning in mid November, baseboard heater pumping and creaking away beneath a pale blue sky, pierced by a slim line of naked young trees. The notebooks though, I have never quite known what to do with them. And as I mull it over, I keep penning more and more still, thus compounding my dilemma. Old memories and angst filled pages, I’m sure, and I want nothing to do with reading through them again but I have this strange (admittedly completely unfounded) concern that if I threw the lot of them all out in the trash at once some random waste management worker will actually sit and read them laughing and judging and cursing me all the way. This random person would read through my entire story and have all the answers I could never find because they would see all of the things I couldn’t. My life can often feel like looking at an object up so close it is impossible to see what it is. Or perhaps by unbelievably ridiculous chance, an artist would come upon the journals and make a terrible movie of their wayward story. I’d be humiliated, mortified, exposed, and get no credit whatsoever. I could burn them, page by page, one clear winter night alone by a fire sipping wine, smoking cigarettes and letting everything I’ve ever been through, cried about, tore my heart to shreds over, go up in dark clumps of exotic smoke, ember and ash. As I gaze up at the moon still hung there on this early morning, I think about how she is the same cratered moon who has been spinning about me all my life. And no matter what I do with the journals, whatever it was that moved my hand to write the things I would never dare speak aloud, moves deep within me still. I could destroy and dismember the material but the skeletons walk within me until I’m no longer. I could take the pages out to sea. Let the tide wash them clean as salt water does all things, drops of ocean, drops of tears only a woman could understand and only in the privacy of a heart worn thin but still warm, still beating. We are of fire and water, wind and earth and spirit. Little transient fools of beauty and lust, fury, vision, and bone. Dust to dust, our bodies and our stories.
Even though I write, I hold back. Even when I push people away, I don’t want to be left alone. Even when I say I’m done, I can’t help thinking of him until he finds me in dreams and takes me high above the sadness which cloaks me in every kind of weather. And even though I have feelings that don’t seem to fit anywhere in this world, I still go on searching which means there must be something in me that still believes there is a reason for all this madness. Writers. Seekers. Addicts. Cowards. An intoxicated man passes out at the wheel, killing himself and a young family in a fiery car accident on an avenue no one’s ever heard of. He didn’t feel a thing. Did they? Or was it too sudden to react or feel anything at all? Was this always going to be the way it ended or did fate take an awful turn just because some fool made a series of poor decisions? Even though I worship at the altar of the word I harbor thick fears about the things I want to say. The pressure they imposed upon me to be good, to obey, to please, to achieve. Be polite. Be sweet. Say you are happy when you are suffocating. Smile when you are afraid. Say yes when you mean you don’t know. Say yes when you mean I don’t want to but I’m terrified of hurting you so I let you hurt me. How we mess up as parents. How we mess up as kids in a world which tried its best to keep us safe from monsters when all the while it was raising them good and proper deep inside of us. Pawns. Knee socks. Choirs. Confessionals. Long after dark in a small church whose west wall is crumbling from neglect and lack of funding, a young girl stands before a newly ordained minister. In the flickering light of candle glow, through a thin veil of incense burning near her bare shoulders, the girl removes her top as the minister looks on, mouth dry, heart pounding. It is late and the church pews are empty, the holy atmosphere aches full of forbidden acts of temptation. Perversion. Serpents. Sin. As though possessed, his mouth moves down to taste her breast as she closes her eyes and sighs for forgiveness, for a way through the darkness into the light. Flesh and blood and skin on fire. He touches her where she is weak. Savior. Sacrifice. Wine as drink as body as feast. What they never tell you is that to access your divinity you have to fall on your knees for your broken humanity. To touch the golden garments of saints you must be defiled at the hands of the wicked. That the more they deny you the more you will crave. I met a writer once, a beautiful writer of ethereal skill, who told me that to get at what he really wants to say, he has to write about something else entirely. You have to write fiction to get at the truth. You need to circle and circle the prey. Stalkers. Con artists. Thieves.
And yet I am unable to recall your face. Memory blinks in and out, the fade of a single dying star in a midnight fog. Atoms circling at the center of a universe which repeats itself, rippling outward until all is what was, what will ever be. Featureless, you move within me as rib, thigh, muscle, bone. The blood in my mouth, the blood of you. My body a map of the heady taste of you. My hands as they reach for the moon, silken fingers trembling, still resemble the shape of you. Uneven cobblestone streets on early autumn evenings, we walk together in lavender light as wild geese soar silent overhead. Their black silhouettes stark against white sky. Some people suffer unspeakable deaths while others continue to exist on heels more and more uncertain. You should have been here. You should have opened your mercury eyes of hallowed vision inside the sweetness of morning bird song. You should have shone bright as the sun on a cold winter dawn. You with a glass of wine, sitting on the edge of the claw foot tub as my body soaks away another day, another year, another lifetime we thought would never end. You read for me, some mythical passage which spoke without words, only an emotion I cannot name but recognize as ours and ours alone. Nothing from nothing ever yet was born. Lucretius. De rerum natura. What was it in the movement of your voice that resembled ocean cradled in droplets of moonbeam, felt like swimming to the bottom of the earth, all creatures bowed on elegant knee, each a return to its own beginning. The haunt of you, eerily specific, the ghost of you a finger print upon a stain-glass mind. Your hand on the curve of my ivory hip, your mouth thirsty at the pulse of my neck. I was alive, eager, expectant. As our season in my palm turned red, the seal of the scar at the edge of a knife, you were gone. On a road far off, the wind catches dry leaves as they scratch and spin on the pavement. Little cyclones, little deaths dancing. As the universe begins to collapse into itself, I become aware of a face at the window of a house boarded up long ago. A shadow falling out across snow.
Coming alive for you as you stroke my tenderest places, my breathing is ragged as I try to describe how writing a perfect poem is like building to a perfect orgasm. You want it to bloom petal by soft petal opening under expert touch, you want the layers to send wave after wave of ache and heat until finally you can no longer breathe for the beauty of it all and heavenly desecration spills over upon the page, dripping from finger and mouth and tongue. Impressed by how little my need to tell stories even during such intimate moments distracts you from finishing what you started, I turn over while still quivering and you work me from behind until your desperation rattles the walls and shatters us into weightless shimmering pieces. After a few minutes of spiraling down like feathers on a warm summer breeze, all is quiet and motionless. People are needy and mostly preoccupied with themselves and I’m no different. As much as there is an impulse in me to soothe and nurture, there is a part of me that switches empathy off like a night light flickering dead as the first rays of slim morning dawn relieve it from duty. Lighting a cigarette as I stare through the curtains down to the dirty street below, you slumber peacefully and I’m content to be left alone with my thoughts about what, if anything, can truly be considered beautiful and the color of the sky after one has passed over to the other side. These moments of tranquility which shudder in my veins. These itchy fears of a life wasted on emptiness and greed, how they stay with me as if they, too, need comfort from the outside world. I have been a thunderstorm. I have been a shelter. The thing about people is they flicker on and off and there is no way to know when they’ll be dark and when they’ll be light. As I close the curtains and turn to look at you, I blow smoke across your naked body and imagine you feeding me a mouth full of diamonds, glittering in moonlight as you watch my parting lips. You with your heart full of black birds, head full of blades.
There are those with more and those with less and then there are those who have so much they can’t think what to even do with it so they build gilded mansions on hills complete with twenty seven marble bathrooms, a handful of movie theaters, vineyards, wine cellars, swimming pools, and all the rest. Meanwhile my cycle has synced itself with the full moon, which makes me feel like a magical witchy woman and only slightly lessens the excruciating pain of mind numbing cramps scorching through every fiber of my being. Women’s bodies are wondrous and ferocious, capable and soft, oscillating ever between sweet affection and terrible rage. I had a girlfriend back in college who, after her boyfriend broke up with her, got drunk and gave his best friend a blow job in the back seat of his car because she hated them both but it felt dirty and mean in perfect measure at the time. Girls grow up trying to understand the way they fit into the world and most often we do it through a strange and distorted lens, we learn early on to see ourselves from the outside looking in. No, scratch that, not looking but inspecting. It’s deliberate, calculated, critical, obsessive. Examining with a microscope, checking our pores in magnifying glass, standing in closets lined with octagonal mirrors so we can assess every side, every measurement, every angle. The body as addiction/instrument. The body as pain/pleasure. The body as weapon. Sex as power, sex as subjugation. Sex as art, sex as punishment. And in those rare, intimate, miraculous moments, sex as a love so bright it would burn daylight into being just by opening a fevered soul and breathing into its cruel desire. I remember how you were the death of me and death was all I wanted. Kill me with hands, kill me with mouths, kill me with words so obscene you could only whisper them slow like honey, and only to me. I remember, clear as the harvest moon on a cloudless night, the sound of your voice low and heavy as you pressed into me, as if I were the last thing, the first thing, the only thing that could ever take you to the brink and hold you there, until your mind went blank with ecstasy and you fell in tortured explosions into the stars above, panting and grateful, hazy with false promises of never leaving. You with your kind tenderness and confusion, so defiant yet so sincere. As we lay helpless in whatever the glow is which glistens in the aftermath of some perverted kind of sensual destruction, you thread your fingers through mine and together we hold my body until she sleeps. Body as prison, body as bedroom. A body of milky midnight skies, of shadowy lakes beneath an unbroken circle of darkening moons.
After a fitful night of tossing and turning, I finally fall into a deep luxurious sleep exactly three minutes before my alarm goes off. Feeling warm and toasty and knowing that when my bare feet hit the cold hardwood floor it’ll send shivers all through me, I push snooze and try my best to ride out another nine minutes of snuggled bliss. It’s impossible though because I’m already fretting about something which may or may not come to pass months from now and so, my mind having raced out of bed ahead of me, I decide to pull on a hoodie and socks and go downstairs for coffee. The early November morning is pitch dark, stars still twinkling in the blackness high above the naked trees. When I open the door to let the dogs out the frigid air is clear and bracing, tinged with the faint scent of frosty dew and burning sticks. There is something in the air this time of year, something sinister, mystical, and inviting. There is a dark side to everything, in nature and in us. For every lover’s kiss there is a knife to the throat, for each birth a death. You are half way across the country and although I miss you I also like the whole bed to myself and the particular kind of silence that comes only with being alone. When we have one thing we want another and one thing humans are just not good at is being content. Restlessness comes with the deal and a raw deal it is. While the dogs set about sniffing each individual blade of grass in the yard for any trace of wild intruders that may have passed through overnight, I head upstairs and settle in with my steaming mug and laptop. I’ve been getting up to write like this for over a decade now. Since the day I realized that this life is not guaranteed to any of us for any significant length of time. Death will do that for you, at least. People are stunned when I tell them I wake up hours before is reasonably necessary just to write words on a page. But I can’t understand how life has meaning if you don’t grab secret time and space to do the thing you love the most in the world. What do other people believe in? Do they even know the beauty of what it means to worship something that will only fall away? Isn’t a cold autumn morning filled with nothing more than silence and coffee and words as good a god as any?
There is an ocean which glitters in sunshine and sprays its furious foam for miles along deserted golden sands. There are women who want nothing more than to please a man and men who want nothing more than a subservient woman. There are people who will tell you to stay quiet and to lay low and these are the people who are most adamant and most afraid. We are living in a dark and vicious age, skin and bone in a constant brace for assault, while the human heart is as fragile as it is fleeting. Waiting in train stations waiting in bars waiting in waiting rooms in blue buildings with breathing machines and silver balloons. Made to watch it all play out in vivid display on big screens. The more grotesque the better, as long as we keep watching. There are two sides to everything and on each side there are knives which cut and divide us even further from each other, further from ourselves. We are bloodthirsty, prismatic, rainbows of color streaming as we fade away slowly, quietly, alone in a bathroom mirror staring into two dark eyes lined in charcoal, melting, mixing into the soot of another day, another night cloaking itself in chaotic fits of sleep. There are endless fields bending in the night wind, dry cornstalks covered in thin frost from the first night the temperatures dropped below freezing. My stomach is cramped and the coffee is sick and the words are only words if somebody reads them. There is resentment in my attempt at affection, a metallic taste at the back of my throat. You touch my shoulder and everything hurts but there is poetry in my despair. There is an empty chair in the corner of my room facing east, as the dawning sunlight streaks across its rich upholstery in ribbons of orange, I am quiet and still for a portion of time no one knows about and no one will ask. There are soft fingers, in my heart there is warm healing as if there were mourning doves, as if there were angels adorned in ivory flowers. There is a man I see in my dreams who covers my mouth as I try to scream. There is a long dim hall I recognize as escape but my legs belong to someone else and I fall, and I fall, and I fall. There is a man who wants too much from me, in his hands are the doors to a life beyond this one. In my mind I am flowing like sand through an hourglass, in my mind I am a specter, a season of moonlight gliding in streams.
Having no idea who is real and who is fake any longer, and having long given up trying to discern the difference, I decide to lump them all together as one shady lot of characters and call it a day, thus freeing me up to think about more important things. It’s late evening, the sky overhead stretches out in the deep navy of a placid ocean, as I slide into my comfiest sweats and slink away to my writing room closing the door shut behind me. The sigh that comes through me is low and cleansing. With one long private exhale I can feel the day’s grimy burdensome hands loosen their death grip on my shoulders, leaving me feeling open, relaxed, dare I say hopeful. Staring softly at a small collection of treasures nestled on a table near my favorite window, my eyes fix upon an old worn statue of the blessed virgin mother from Italy, a gift from my great aunt on my father’s Italian side. Mary’s small fingers and celestial blue gown are chipped in multiple places, as is the serpent slithering at her bare feet, and with her arms spread wide she stares down at nothing in particular looking solemn, holy, and misunderstood. I’m no longer a faithful practitioner of any religion but Mary and I get along fine, our relationship slight and distant over the years. But I do feel a fair amount of affection for a kindred girl who also mothered a child as a teenager, well before she was ready, well before she knew how to stand up for herself enough to not get pregnant in the first place – although I suppose that is where my story got real as fuck and hers, well, let’s just say a bit less grounded in physical possibility. Across the street, smoke tumbles thick and wafting from my neighbor’s chimney catching briefly on the telephone wires before vanishing against a backdrop of trees the muted colors of smoldering autumn. There are so many stories about myself I never tell and yet so many words bubbling up inside every time I hide myself away alone. Alone is when I feel the most alive. Left only to my thoughts and my keyboard. And the blessed mother, of course, surrounded by flickering candles and the deck of tarot cards I use on occasion to help me map what I’m going through in secret, things that no words can describe. For every person you have ever met or ever will, there is a secret they hold inside you cannot possibly fathom. Perhaps the stories we don’t tell about ourselves say as much about us as the ones we do.
As the light falls its lonely last rays across the emblazoned trees, I think about how many writers have tried to describe an autumn sky. That gray and shifting dome like one great marble eye curving its gaze over the earth. What does it see down here but a beautiful ignorant mess. The more I know of this world the more I retreat, hoping, maybe, that if I find the right words – tell the right stories – I will find some kind of way out, or through. Or to disappear from the world they have created and appear in the midst of my own free place, a thick wooded forest untouched, untainted, designed with pleasure, curiosity and truth in mind. A place to calm all the ticking inside which never lets up. Have you ever felt like the only one in a crowded room who wants to scream to put a stop to all the bullshit chatter but you know that would only make you seem nuts so you just pour another glass of red to numb the panic and let them talk to you about money and mergers and fancy vacations? As the planet torches itself to charred embers all around us at ever increasing speed, we photograph our dinner plates at designer restaurants and compare acquisitions and hate-like our friends and cut ourselves up and cut each other down. Try as you might to keep them happy, no one really sees you. Who will talk with you about the poetry that is so unbearably touching it makes you weep and rejoice just for the impossible magic of being alive. Who will explore the nighttime stars with you as you lie huddled together on a grassy hill in the cold of midnight, shivering and electric with hope and possibility. We are transient beings, here for such a short time and yet no one and nothing stops for a second to notice our dumb glorious luck. We dream, we wish, we hide, we settle. But somewhere deep down inside these bones of mine I am still searching which means I must have some kind of faith that doesn’t fit anywhere else but inside of me. Something which grows stronger with age, a voice, an urge which runs far deeper than the reality or spirituality or pop psychology this cheap world spews at every turn, it calls to me like the most beautiful siren. There are others who seek her voice. They are artists, musicians, lovers. They worship their gods and I worship mine. For me it’s the word. No matter what comes and goes in my life, it has always been the word.