Sweet Sweet Dreams

Clutching for the sky, I slide down alongside the rain as I imagine your kiss turns bittersweet, from sugar to some sort of chemical, like swallowing mercury. The crickets are still buzzing loudly in the darkness of early morning, crackling in the grass like fire. As you disappear I find myself alone again in a crumpled bed, strewn with white linen I have to kick my sticky legs free from due to the unbearable heat.

Unsure if the sweat which slicks my entire body is brought on by the thickness of the humidity which sags through the window and soaks everything damp, or night sweats brought on by either the advance of age or the increase of drink, I peel off all my clothes and lie naked at the center of the bed. The center of the universe beats at the center of my body, as though my heart were located somewhere closer to my navel than my chest.

The mind wanders in these predawn hours. I consider the lost works of Sappho, words lush with pleasure-pain, ripe, swollen with longing, even still, made haunting through their absence.  Their suggestion becomes obsession with interpretation, extrapolation, possibility. Perhaps this is the single common human desire. Our want of the wanting. Our desire for the desire. Our thirst for the neediness and greed.

Sweet-hard thoughts of masochism, sadism, wanton women, hungry men. The feral, the animal, the degrading, the way only pain can satisfy the deep psychic cravings tucked within the folds of our darkest secret pleadings. Imaginings of orgies in days long gone by, humanity, divinity, perversions of beauty and sin, lost to the ruins of time, air, salt, sea. These musings blur into the blue haze of the dewy morning glow.

As my skin cools, sleep descends all around me, slows my breathing. Each desire becomes the mist of the dream. Each dream, a white paper boat I watch set out upon the dark and unrelenting waves.

 

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Photo by Engin Akyurt

Skies Like Scars

Say, everything is going to be alright. Mean it but be unsure of yourself, just enough that I can feel it weighting down my limbs.

Hold me close, almost too close. Feel how I can’t breathe. Afraid to breathe anyway, not sure I remember how. There was a time. I am almost certain of it.

When the air wasn’t so tight.

When I could taste the sounds of cars rushing on the highway late at night, when I would hum with the quick pulse of my machinery.

When my veins were the color of soft pewter
and I didn’t even notice
them.
Or stare.

Say, you are so lucky, you’re an angel, made for this.

Say, it only hurts at first, say, but that’s okay.

And it does.
And you’re not sure if it is.

But you let it burn
for as long as you can in case
you don’t know yourself well enough yet

to know better.

 

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Photo by Anthony Tran

Underneath

Perhaps you thought the words would save you, from what you did not know. If you could only locate the right ones. The ones more precious than any of the hundreds of thousands you had written before in the clouds as they soared by overhead, into a pale gray distance you dreamed to explore.

Morning dawns in your chest, pinks and blues and lightning bolts. I have a dear friend who shares my bed, stalks my mind, and I refuse to believe that he needs me for anything.

Anxiety. (Generalized.) The shaking spreads itself through everything and you are fascinated by its smoothness, obsessed with your inability to collect it back in. Watch over it, wade into it, like an oil spill, black ink slides out across the vast dark ocean of the void.

We open our hearts and touch our lips to one another for want of the emptiness. Thirsty. You are the taste of sunlight falling through trees, the secrets which twist and ache to keep.

Under lock and key, the tongue keeps hidden inside your stifled breath. You tap at the keyboard just to feel your heart beating. Almost surprised, almost, unlikely. There are multiple lives you live all at once and they each ring separately in your ears, hoping to be the one who is heard.

It is hard to tell. It is difficult to hear the answer among the answers.

Above all else. Beyond all the noise and the rattling which exhausts your veins with trembling. When it is very hard to see, I don’t know how the words can save me.

But still, even inside the madness, something believes I should believe.

 

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Photo by Vino Li

Flinch

Surrounded by vague-eyed people who don’t mean anything but the possibility of deadly infection to me, my hands are shaking because I’m nervous but I couldn’t tell you why. Haven’t even ordered my large coffee yet, let alone sucked any of it down. Well, maybe I could try to explain but I’m pretty sure you wouldn’t want to hear it, or you’d say you did but once you do you’d wish you never got into it with me in the first place.

I guess I’m just generally like this, just like this in general. Skittish, maybe you might call it, I mean, that’s one of those words that means exactly what it sounds like.

Jumpy.

Eyes which dart around the room looking for something that isn’t there, but could be. At any moment. The walls could shake, the towers could fall, the glass could break in case of emergency.

In the tight air of the coffee shop, sifting fragrant among the brown paper bags of ground coffee stacked neatly on the corner shelf, the various assortment of berry muffins, and the beat up burnt orange over-sized soft leather sitting chairs arranged too close in a dimly lit corner around low tables by the window, there is a kind of tension, an uneasiness I’m sure no one else detects but me.

All they can see are the lines on the floor which mark a safe distance and whatever those watches are that people wear now which tell you everything but the time. All they can smell is dark roast beans and frothy milk, while they can’t see past the ends of their pierced high-rise noses.

Do you see? I can. I can’t help but look and the more I do the more I see that unsettles me.

That’s why I’m so nervous.

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Photo by Annie Spratt

Smile, Girl, It’s Not So Bad

Died of breast cancer. She was 57. Overdose. Dead at 34. Found dead in river. Her remains were discovered. Suicide. She was just 20 years old. Wife of… mother of… daughter of… We will sacrifice your children for the economy. I know it sounds harsh but, honestly, what do you expect? What is life when we have businesses to nurse back to health. Don’t worry so much. We will serve you alcohol until you are blue in the face and run out of money. Casinos now open! where the house wins once in a while and you lose everything repeatedly, the only toss up is whether it happens slowly over time or all in the blink of one night.

This is why I shouldn’t open my phone first thing in the morning, everybody knows that. It was a good weekend spent steadily ignoring everything and everyone else but you don’t want to hear about that. You don’t want to know how I spend my days and nights, you want to know if how I spend them adds up to anything you might want to take with you when you leave here. When you leave me. You want to know if it leads up to anything. Where is this story going? Where is the tension? What is the point?

You and me both, man. Sipping my coffee with sugar and cream and a running tab of the deceased ticking away on the screen. Here is the story behind the story, it is not finished and we avoid reading it let alone writing it. What does it mean to be a woman alive in the world today? Where are we headed if not straight toward the fear of the annihilation of our bodies. Our psyches. Our spirits.

And maybe you will close this tab and forget all about me and this story. Maybe you will decide my ‘content’ is too unnerving, bothersome, ‘pessimistic.’ Rude. Rude of me to say what’s on my mind if it isn’t a little prettier. A little more palatable. Come on, smile, darling. Cheer up. It isn’t so bad. And even if it is, kindly don’t be such a burden; don’t add to the atrocities by, you know, reminding us.

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Photo by Annie Spratt

The Otherworldly Contemporary Author to Be Obsessed with Right Now

Little dark clouds are forming out over the horizon in low clusters, as the purple hills off in the dewy distance lay themselves down before the pale morning sky. The sun just barely skims the trees while I sit sipping coffee on the grass of a small park on the outskirts of town. The air is still and smells of the empty kind of clean, and it feels good to be alone even in lonely times like these.

I am lucky to feel this way, of course, some are not so lucky by far. Perhaps out of guilt, perhaps out of solace, perhaps in the name of a new way of making art, my latest obsession is the contemporary author Ottessa Moshfegh, who is making a splash because her works are oddly gripping in their merciless dark humor, focus on the aimless, and as she describes in her own words,

“My writing lets people scrape up against their own depravity, but at the same time it’s very refined… it’s like seeing Kate Moss take a shit.”

Makes me wince to have that image shoved at me but there it is and it is a very keenly self-aware thing to say. She’s right. I’ve just finished her 2018 novel My Year of Rest and Relaxation in which the nameless narrator is a young woman, hip, pretty “like an off duty model” living in NYC. Both of her (very cold, very emotionally detached) parents have died and she lives more than comfortably off of her lavish inheritance on the Upper East side of Manhattan. She’s depressed and riddled with existential angst and ultimately decides she must not only start her aimless life anew but be completely reborn, transformed into an entirely new person, not on the outside, but on the inside.

In order to do this, she decides, she will need to hibernate, as in spend four months essentially unconscious, sleeping. She finds herself a lunatic doctor willing and ready to prescribe exorbitant amounts of drugs to “cure” the narrator’s made up “insomnia.” The whole thing becomes something of a high stakes artistic experimental endeavor to see if one very messed up girl can start over anew by essentially sleeping her way into a new kind of existence.

The final page of the story describes a scene which occurs on 9/11. I’ll not disclose the ending but suffice it to say there is an epiphany which takes place in such a way as to shock and arrest the reader into (perhaps) feeling lucky to be alive, even in a life which often feels overwhelming, aimless, useless, and terrible.

The whole experience of the book was like looking into a dark tunnel, reaching for the poetic black void, seeking to escape into what feels like freedom but also terror. Looking for a hand to hold but never quite touching it. Whatever this feeling is, be it longing or simply the nature of humanity to reach, to search, to seek, I have it in me. And to read of it in such a bizarrely crafted  story made me feel both more and less crazy, both more and less alone.

In an interview with the New Yorker, Moshfegh reveals that an artist friend once told her,

“Whatever it is that you’re going to do, you can’t just fit into the mold—you have to break the mold, blow people’s minds, do it perfectly, and then not care . . . Because if you care you’re not cool, and if you’re not cool you’re shit.”

Moshfegh, of course, cares a great deal. In fact, she goes on to explain her perspective on creating while describing why she ended a relationship with an ex,

“He told me in the middle of an argument that being an artist was something that weak people indulge in, and I made him leave, because I guess what I feel is the opposite of that . . . I think art is the thing that fixes culture, moment by moment. I don’t really feel a reason to exist unless I feel my life has a purpose, which is creating. So I feel—I’m not going to call it pressure—I feel I have a karmic role to play.”

Writing strangely as karma. Writing, even if it is dark and nearly shapeless, as the point, as the purpose. This is intensely fascinating to me perhaps because I was brought up to believe there were very clear lines between what was ‘good’ and what was ‘bad,’ what is worthy and unworthy, worthwhile and a waste of one’s energies and skills, moral and immoral. But the mysterious Moshfegh inverts everything I have been taught to believe about what I am “allowed” to do with writing, with creativity, with art.

It is so rare for me to find an author who truly sinks her claws into me, who will not let me get away from her madness so easily, but Ottessa Moshfegh is such a creature. Meanwhile, I toss my empty coffee into the trash, brush the grass from my shorts, and head off into this life I’ve got pulsing through my slim little veins, a life of nothingness, wilderness, bliss and grime and grit.

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Photo by Kinga Cichewicz

I Walk Right Through You

I bite my lip and hold my tongue as the fog rolls in, thick, heavy, white, like a translucent apparition wrapped around the stained glass hallways of my mind. The air coming in through the bedroom window is so damp it wets the sheets I’m spread out on, they are gummy against the stickiness of my bare skin. I shouldn’t leave the window cracked open but I can’t write if I feel trapped. It wastes the a/c and causes the glass to frost over with cool mist so I can’t see the outline of trees, just a greenish blue glob of darkness beyond the droplets of sliding pale blue sky. I shouldn’t smoke indoors but I do, I shouldn’t drink so much but I’m fairly certain by now that fuck everything is a new kind of pop religion counterculture. The only logical reaction to a 24/8 nihilistic news cycle, yoni eggs, Gwyneth Paltrow, and the ridiculousness of ‘self-care’ touted on social media platforms built to sell you back to yourself over and over again for cheap. You thought maybe I could entertain you, keep you company, stand at the center of the ring underneath the pink satin lights of a candy-striped summer evening. Drink champagne with you. Dance for you. You thought maybe I would make you feel safe and seen and heard and worshiped for a while. As I stood before you naked, blank, stared off into a distance where I exist only as light, only as sound, a distance I knew you would never see because your heart is closed while your eyes are hungry, lazy, ignorant. Your mouth, warm and affectionate, twisting your hips in the hopes of opening doors. When I leave you, the discomfort is stale on my gums like the aftertaste of the last crumpled cigarette from the bottom of my bag. It will do the trick in case of emergency. In case there is no other way out, you always have me, you figure, which is good enough for now. But even as I walk the gray stone streets of this unfeeling city, heavy with chunks of glass buildings lodged in my chest, underneath the rubble I can still feel you. The pulse of your hopeful devotion keeping time with my heels on the pavement. The faintness of your tattered heart, oblivious, still quietly beating.

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Photo by Kevin Laminto

The Beautiful and the Damned

The morning is balmy and close, hot already in the early shining rays of summer sun. As I watch the buildings begin to glisten in the light, a wet fog pulls in nearly obscuring what I know to be there, angles and lines which have been there for as long as I can remember. Tracing my gaze over his face as he sleeps in perfect breathy silence, I wonder who I am sometimes and how I got here into a place both familiar and unknown. There has always been a part of me which was detached, sifting, both here and away, both touchable and untouchable. We are born into a game which has two sides and no way to win, only ways to keep kicking the can down the road. Only ways to keep flipping the coin until it all stops for good. Today, heads. Tomorrow, a tailspin, perhaps, or the same old thing underneath what you wish you could bring about but haven’t the skills nor the energy. Having little tolerance for sleeping in, I pull my ever lengthening strawberry golden waves into a knot, slide out of the warmth of our bed, and tip toe off to the kitchen for coffee. The salons have opened up again and my favorite one calls and leaves me voicemails which I ignore. Come back in, we’re open! A cheerful pleading desperation. As if by making an appointment for a haircut I’d have cured something no one yet knows how to cure; soothed a fear no one can bear to feel shocking through their hearts minute by minute; affirmed a truth we all know is fabrication. We are not okay. We have not been okay. So very little of what is happening is okay. I drove by the other day on the way to the liquor store and saw the tiny salon parking lot overflowing with cars. Ah, yes, the herds are herding, the flocks are flocking, all trimmed and tweezed, waxed and highlighted back into a perverted kind of normal which I increasingly despise.

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Photo by Daniele D’Andreti

When I Think of You

Time is running short and the day is closing in faded pinks and blues like an eyelid over a dying world. I could not chase you without the strength and so I let you go. But I never forgot what you told me, in the quiet light of midnight fire, about beauty, about the value and nobility of listening to the harvest moon. It is wrapped within the silence, this is the way I feel you now inside my skin. Untouched, untouchable, and pure. My way of moving through the world is at times waif thin, at times so quiet you could swear we had never even met at all. But you remember when you see my face in the mirror beside you, a ghost of the way we once were, radiant, magnificent, two voices tangled in laughter down the hall as we passed through one another into the rest of our lives. When I am alone, I light a cigarette and fill my lungs and the air with pain, sweet, burning pain which crushes out the embers of illusion. I cannot get you out of my head and yet I know my heart is only the more tattered and torn for it. Perhaps what we savor the most is the dread, perhaps it is the poetry which breathes the aching in our ribs. Little cages full of roses and water. In my mind, your hands encircle my throat and hold me beneath the ocean waves. You, like a baptism by drowning. You, like blood in a vein, a body pulsing with pleasure, sound, and magic.

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Photo by Mahir Uysal

May I Tell You About the Rain (audio)

May I tell you about the rain? It is now falling softly upon the grassy lawn outside my bedroom window, as the sun is gently trying to peel through a rough scatter of deep purple gray clouds. I can see the yellowed melon rays glinting along the drainpipe which runs down the corner of the house across the street. I can’t explain why but there is this very real fear inside of me, throbbing in the center of my bones, that if I cannot tell you about the rain, I may as well not exist at all underneath this skin which tingles at even the tiniest idea, the smallest suggestion of the sound of poetry. Sizzles with the heat of anticipation, possibility, and dread, the clasp of an invisible hand around my heart whose fingers subtly press, squeezing tight enough to pump the veins full of fresh crimson concern. I am alive with the rain, I am alive for it. The rain, meanwhile, with its wide ancient mind set upon other things, has moved out across the fields away from me and I can no longer hear its tiny drops on the hot pavement. But the scent of its memory comes in a gauzy wave through the window where I sit, coffee in hand, head in an alternate universe. I miss all the things I have not yet written about. I carry the rain inside when it goes away. When I tell you about the rain, I am wondering if you can hear what I am saying. Are you able to listen beneath the listening. Do you understand that the rain is not a substance but a sensation, that it is an experience with which I am deeply involved, in which I am eternally invested. Some may read this and call it madness, obsession, nonsense. I am well aware of that kind of thing by now. But I feel it is important to note, that in one’s single precious life, there should be a very important difference acknowledged between what one is simply aware of and what one is willing to give one’s self over to completely, heavily, dramatically, wholly. What altar at which one deliberately decides to worship. And if you have paid me any mind at all, and I do hope you have because I truly do wish to exist, you will understand that I’ve yet to find anything, living or deceased, more worthy than the rain.

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Photo by Esther Ann