My mouth is dry from cigarettes and wine and as I fumble my arm around in the dark reaching for my water glass, I knock the full thing over and listen as the liquid I desperately need down my throat now trickles down the bedside table instead. Fuck. It’s two in the morning and my veins are thundering blood through my thin body like the threat of a thousand wild horses set to stampede across my chest. I get these weird sensations once in a while. Palpitations or so they say, mostly it just feels like fluttering ruptures which are not unpleasant, just startling. I think about thinking and when I do, I do it too hard and can’t seem to make it stop. I meditate in the mornings, I think it helps but my mind wanders to places it shouldn’t and anxiety creeps into the tiny cracks where anxiety had previously let me alone, hence the wine and the cigarettes and the various attempts made at poetry or whatever else comes to creative mind. A lot of people are making those cut apart collages these days and sharing them online. We jam foreign objects together hoping to disintegrate the distance keeping us alive. We dabble and we try things and we make a mess and glue it all back together only upside down with glitter and we take pills to help us sleep all the while the rocky stars peer down, unfeeling in a cold vast place we will only ever dream about but never see up close. In times like these when time both races past and stands still as death all the same, it’s hard to tell if the ache in my bones comes from sitting too long in one place hunched over myriad books, notes, and screens or because every time I skim through social media feeds my chest contracts and my shoulders end up hung tight from my earlobes. Such a shit show, such a crying shame of a situation every which way you look at it. Staring at the dark wooden blades of the ceiling fan as they whirl in a silent circle of blackness, I can just make out the dim lines where hazy blue moon glow sharpens their rotating edges. If I hold my breath, I can hear the faintest movement of the air splitting itself to let the slats of the fan pass through. That’s what I need. Something which cuts through the noise and allows the thinness of my soul to slide on through. I move a warm hand underneath the blankets and place it on my bare stomach. My heart quickens at my own tender touch. I stroke my own skin, feel my own body. I bite my soft lip, and turn my head to take note of the time. My eyes and the dark halls of my strung out mind, still searching.
Tracing the outline of a tiny penciled in flower in my notebook, I’m listening to some guy speak stale office speak on a video call as my mind drifts out the open window into the honeyed springtime air of late afternoon. It’s a little after three and I’m already fading into fantasies of a smooth glass of wine in the back garden as the setting tangerine sunlight glistens along the water beaded stem. My mind just stops these days. Where I used to go, go, go on to the next, now I am halted in body and spirit by a peculiar feeling I have never known before. A feeling like an uncomfortably extended dramatic pause. It is the sensation of a life suspended, suddenly stilled, thrown into stark relief. An inability to move as the rest of the world appears to be rushing by without so much as a sideways glance in my direction. I am left behind. No, I am being left behind; it is a process I am forced to watch happening over and over and over each day. Rewind and repeat. While there are those who fetishize a return to normal, there are also those of us who know that would be a terrible mistake. We wonder how we got here in the first place. Too many wrong turns down dark and ruinous roads. We always think we will see it coming or at least have some inkling, some clue, how far in which direction we should go. But there is no should and there is no road carved neatly along a path not yet taken. Pouring a coffee, I exit the call and sink down into a pile of books wondering where to begin a thing which has long since already begun and ended a countless number of times before. This life, they’ll have you fooled well into believing it is a straight line when nothing could be farther from the truth. How often the future ends up tossing you three steps back even as the ghosts of the past loom larger in your mind than they may appear in the rear view mirror. I remember the first warm Sunday afternoon of the season, driving fast with the windows down, swaths of sunlight rushing across his face, cast down through the trees which line an empty old riverside town. We laugh as we race the back roads just to feel like we’re getting somewhere. To make the rings around our circuitous lives stretch and blur until they finally disappear.
Morning sun intrudes. The blank screen glows dull in comparison while neither offer a lick of inspiration. Stick figure cursor blinks, blinks, blinks and some things never seem to change. Before I even think to do it myself, he brings me a second cup of coffee and when he kisses me I drown in that beautiful mouth. There are some kisses which need nothing else before or after. He knows this, and I love this madly about him. The coffee is strong as I sip while gazing out across the tree tops, they bend this way and that with the rush of a strong gust of cool wind. It’s all too bright, it all causes my eyes to change. The spring breeze sweeps in across a handmade Italian statue of the blessed virgin, curtains billowing into the quiet study. I think about all the women I have been. All the women in me. There is the cusp of something in the smallness of the hours I try to curl my fingers around. Something to grasp, something to take hold of to pull me up out of this hazy confusion which seems to have overtaken me. Writing is impossible. The words, each and every word is tough as nails. The days stretch out languid before me. I fill them with books and try to imagine what comes next. I think perhaps too hard, perhaps not hard enough, about the things we can control and the things we cannot. Everyone seems to draw their own conclusions. Anger and fear overwhelm so I shut everything down. Close the media feeds, click off the screens. Video faces of friends, bored and alone making cocktails, making no plans for nothing at all. The distance between this fresh morning and the rest of what is to come is impossible to measure. We are unsure in the handling of the minutes inside our daily lives. We are empty pages, hesitant. Walking alone out onto the edge of nothing certain yet to come.
Tearing through my shredded mind in an attempt to calm my nerves enough to get even a few words down on the page, I feel the claws of my thoughts peeling back my insides like piercing the fleshy innards of a ripened fruit. I don’t know what the substance of the mind is made up of but in this moment, for reasons inexplicable, I imagine it pliable, fragrant, seeded, slippery, and sweet. Blinking back tears which never seem to fall, screens flash all across the neighborhood, the shriek of bloodshot cartoons, the absurdity of protesting mobs, blue and orange charts, plots, graphs, curves measured out on dotted lines meant to quantify the exact number of and projected increase in the local, regional, and global death counts. Real tears break in real time in a fake panorama world. Sun rise, sun fall. There is a cruelty in the air which shoves the bones of the trees around on my block, I listen to the expectant green leaved branches rustle and sway in submission from my upstairs window. Tell me to kneel. Tell me what you’ll do to me. When you tip my chin back, I spread my legs. The sky rolls in dark and heavy, threatening clouds thickly pregnant with a coming torrential rain. I want it so badly. The storm, the wetness, the rhythmic assault upon a soft yielding earth. All day long my body craves relief from a feeling I am unaccustomed to, a feeling which teeters somewhere along the culminated edge of dissatisfaction and rage.
I have too many books going at once. I have too many media feeds, too many lines interrupting my concentration, lines remembered, lines yet to be written, lines in hopscotch patterns chalked on the pavement. People crowd my dreams in lines threaded through one another. Waiting. Fidgeting. Waiting to board a plane, a train, a bus or some kind of transportation which never actually arrives. I shuffle in with a crowd, realize I am missing my shoes, or my bag, or some such thing which I misplaced and try desperately to remember where I left the item while weighing in my mind whether or not I can fetch it and make it back in line in time to board the aircraft. Or whatever vessel we await to move us out of here and over to there. Safety in a storm. Your massive hands upon my minuscule waist.
Suddenly, a shrill voice pierces the chaos over an intercom, announcing the name of the destination country, which I do not recognize enough to place, only just enough to know I should be afraid. How did I get here? What am I doing in this crowd? Face coverings, covering, covering, covering mouths, panicked eyes in skulls devoid of tongues. But somehow I wake myself, remove myself from the nightmare of the dream to feel my own eyes wide open to the darkness gaping all around me in a silent worn out room. Beside me, my lover sleeps soundly, as my sight adjusts to the bare thin traces of light around the edges of the window. The silver sliver of the moon meets my gaze, hovering high, a weary yellow eyelid nearly closed. As if to remind me of my lowly place among nocturnal things. This carousel of madness. Around and around this mirrored stem we go.
Reaching an outstretched hand into the future by attempting to let go of the past, I light up a cigarette while contemplating the strangeness of living within the confines of these four dusty sun drenched walls for weeks on end. It’s as if within me I can feel the heavens spinning about in outer space without relent, without a feeling or care about the turmoil we find ourselves mired in on this tiny ink blot below. Humans are ignorant creatures, for as much as we’d like to congratulate ourselves there are countless instances where we miss the mark entirely and never so much as come close to picking up the pieces of the shattered lives we leave behind. If you pay too close attention you will exhaust yourself which is likely why I feel so tired all the time. I take a drag of my smoke and sip hot black coffee while eyeing up the jumble of tangled words on my screen. I’m a mess as is this room but what is life if not chaos, if not disaster tossed around inside little flecks of hope. The afternoon light is coming in slanted from the side of the window, landing in soft patches upon the plants, the little tables and statues, lamps and books, and I think of the way you turn me on my side in the early light of morning. Trailing your rough hands along the bare curves of my body as you sigh with audible delight. We are only light and shadow, sun and moon, circling. Shaking my head in order to return to the writing which seems to so easily elude my jagged brain riding it out upon these choppy hours, it occurs to me that anxiety burns just beneath the surface of my skin. The room is silent, save for the sound of little birds fluttering by and the single drone of an airplane as it moves lazily overhead. The wings of the little butterfly clock on the wall tick softly as I curl deeper and deeper into myself. I once knew a man who only wore black. He lined his eyes in charcoal and could write poetry that would cut you clean in two. Just the thought of him now ignites my veins, tears at the feathered cage of my ribs, grasping in my memory for an image, a line, a motion of his body that used to collapse earth into sky. What I wouldn’t give to write just once sentence in the way of the brilliance which twisted and glittered in the secret patterns of his hallway mind. He would open his mouth like opening a doorway into a land promised only to the sacred, only for those who worshiped the darkness of his razor sharp tongue. Most of us are corrupted and we spend our entire lives trying to hide it from everyone around us. But some of us. There are some, very few, who hold tight to their wicked and wield it just perfectly so, to make it shine.
You expect me to be slick and clever, witty and warmly engaging but today I am none of those things. Today I am a dark cloud hovering. Pent up. Swollen. My tears and my nerves pressing against the grain inside my skin. As the rain moves in I sink into my study but I cannot concentrate. I am distracted by the stacks of books, the words and thoughts, the poetry of others. Jumping back and forth from The New Yorker to Baudelaire, I run a hand across my forehead wondering who in the hell I am anymore. When all this is over, I won’t want to go back to the way it was before. I will want to stay at home. I will want to be away from people just like I always have. I won’t want to get dressed. There are days when you are so sure, so positively certain, that nobody cares. You sink into the lowest parts of your own human heart and you can feel the blank sadness. You can feel the grip of the lonely. Hear her sighs. Fold into them, watch the rain falling down quiet and soft against the trees, the grass, the little angel statue in the garden. I think of all the losses suffered all across the world, the sheer staggering amount of grief and pain. My whole being is crushed beneath the collective weight. I try to dream up a new vision to keep me going. I make tea. I help a young writer to remember who she is, encourage her to pay attention to each of her feelings, especially the dark ones. The shadows swallow the fear and live with it alone in corners. I don’t know why I am drawn to the them, the shadows, the corners, the hidden, the untraceable. I don’t know why but there is nothing more beautiful to me than the sun blotted out, shielded over, drowned in the wet sweetness of the rain.
Reading Rilke’s love letters on a windy Saturday morning, I can see the empty trees waving, flexing, bending wildly in the bright open air as tiny purple clouds sail on by. Winds of change, the seasons swim out to meet one another, rise and fall on wave upon wave. The coffee is strong and hot, like the love we made which so opened me I’m certain it caused the fires of the sun itself to rise up over the distant hills before spreading its warm elegant golden fingers down along the gray walls around us. I watch the angle of the light carefully, softened by its rays as they are reflected off of a grand gilded mirror which leans heavy against the far wall. I suddenly remember something a sensual woman once taught me about sacred geometry, but as soon as I envision her pretty wet doe eyes gazing into mine, I’ve just as quickly forgotten. Wrapped in linen and lace, in my bones I feel the echoes of ancient stories welling up within me like quiet piercing tears desperate to fall. I swallow them until the ache is too much to bear, and I have to pour forth upon the pages not yet written. There is something in me which needs to be expressed, though at times I feel it is beyond me, or that try as I might I will never be able to touch it, to wrap my being around it. It is mine and not mine, it is here and it is gone. Its voice is a hollow, a begging, a melancholy love song written at the peak of the ripened sweetness of the pain. I write the truth and I write the fantasy, and one lies within the other until it all blurs into an ecstatic kind of fever dream, one I can at last be with myself inside. There are people who will tell you dreams are for fools and fantasies are for fakes, but maybe I want fake, maybe I’ve been the fool all my life so why quit now. Maybe I want a malleable liquid existence where anything is possible, pleasure is a religion, and rules no longer apply. Open your ribs and let me caress what disturbs you. Paint your wicked story so vividly for me that it blooms forth in my mind long after we speak. Listen to yourself. Be quiet and be still. Listen to the blood as it slides beneath your tranquil skin. Listen for the darkness beating its silent drum in your precious veins. Why is it that you are so afraid to live there? Why would you ever leave that place when it is all that you are, when it is the only thing you have worth giving?
Hello out there, how are you doing? I am thinking of you, wondering with you what will today bring? What is today? What day is this day. And what I felt like sharing today is so far away from what I usually share. It is a sort of behind the scenes of my creativity, my process, my writing, my craft, my art. I have been wanting to reach out in so many multiple directions lately but I keep cutting myself off because, well I don’t even know why exactly, I guess I had it in my head that a writer or a creator should have a certain bend, like be a certain kind of writer, only write certain things about certain topics in certain ways. But then that feels boring to me, I think that’s the thing, I do get bored. I have liked to evolve over time, delving into new things when the old things feel limiting, new ways of expression.
But anyway I was reflecting on the topic of women and desire. I think because the days stretch out right now like blank pages you can fill with anything you want. But what do I want? Like you can do anything, but what do you want to do. Not what you have to or should do but what is it that I want to do? Want to study? Want to create? Want to try?
I did this weird thing where in my journal I took a whole full page and just wrote the words “I want” over and over and over until the word ‘want‘ seemed like it didn’t even mean anything, you know how that happens? If you keep saying or writing a single word over and over somehow your brain goes numb to it. So ‘want’, I had to remind myself how to spell it but I kept writing it until I filled the entire page. I didn’t write what I want, because I don’t know what I want. I really don’t. As long as I can remember I have been full of longing, a need, a feeling like something in me is begging me to get it something, do something to fulfill it. Soothe it. Hear it, listen to it, turn toward it. Look at it. But I do not know what it wants me to do, I don’t know what it wants.
I wonder if this is because I am a woman who grew up as a little girl hungry to express, to create, to pour forth. I was taught subtly and directly, right, not so subtly, too be small, quiet, still, grateful for whatever I got. I was taught not to be hungry. Not to ever want, and certainly not to ever want more. I was taught that my desires, my true human desires, were ‘bad.’ I was taught that to want was greedy. If you want nothing, you are easier to be around. Not wanting is nice. Not wanting is sweet, kind, loving. Not wanting is good. Wanting is bad. And so now, and for as long as I can remember, when someone, some motivational, inspirational someone whoever it may have been, when they said to me Dream or Desire or Imagine… I would have a very hard if not impossible time doing so. I would shut down, go blank, go numb. I have been unable to Dream because I don’t allow myself to want. I have often been unable to name, seek, or explore my Desire because what I want is considered by some to be bad and bad is not allowed. If you want to be loved, you have to be good. I have been unable to Imagine because imagination means conjuring up what you want inside your mind.
But now in this alone time, this extended alone time, I have decided I want to want what I want, and I want to know what it is that I want. So I wrote in my journal ‘I want’ a thousand consecutive times just to feel the words in myself. Just to get them out onto the page, make them real in the real tangible world. To break through to myself and my want, my desire, my hunger, my need, my ache, my essence. I do not have the answer yet to this inner restlessness, this inner question “Allison, what do you want? What do you want your life to be? What do you want to do with yourself? What is your most burning desire?”
But I am hoping that by preparing the way, by repeatedly making it okay to say I want, over and over, my desires will break through and show themselves to me. And because I will be ready, I will touch them, feel them, hear them, listen to them, turn toward them. Accept and welcome and cherish and act on them. Make them real.
Hello out there, how are you doing? I am wishing you well, I am hoping you are safe and hanging in there wherever you are across the globe. I thought since we, well, many of us are spending more time perhaps alone that I would record this little something for us today. It feels a little bit more intimate, doesn’t it? Closer? To hear my voice in addition to the words? I feel so, I hope so. In any case, I was sitting with some wine last evening, or whatever evening whatever day in whatever month, and it was sunset and the light was fading out over the rooftops and the trees and I was just making a few notes here and there in some things I was reading, I’m reading some cultural texts, some books about current events and yadda ya all that madness. And my head was spinning in all of the mayhem, right, wishing things were different and knowing that it will be a long time before we crawl out from under the weight of what we are going through with coronavirus and grief and pain and the anger and the frustration and the fear and all these things. But all of a sudden my eye caught the reflection of just this small radiance, this shimmer of light reflecting through just some little houseplant in the corner of my writing room, and I remembered this poem I love, its a fairly popular poem by Charles Bukowski, called The Crunch, from his collection – I think there are multiple versions but the version I think of is the version from Love Is a Dog From Hell. You may know it, but it is a poem about loneliness, crushing loneliness and the state of a world full of neglected people, forgotten worn down souls.
So tragic but also, I am afraid so very real, right. And I think I will read it for you, first, and then I have a poem of my own I will share, the reason being is because it has been ages, ages, it feels like to me, since I have written a proper poem. I have been heavy with the prose and the non fiction and the story weaving, story telling, which I just adore, and I am so grateful that you are here with me for all of it, you hearten me very much out there. But poetry, poetry is where I come from, poetry is in my blood, it is a way of living and dreaming and breathing and being, a way of interpreting the world, outside and inside of myself. I couldn’t live without it. It has done more to transform and awaken me, enlighten me, than any other form of writing or art or expression. So I wanted to spend some time with poetry today.
So here is Charles Bukowski’s poem, The Crunch:
too much too little
too fat too thin or nobody.
laughter or tears
strangers with faces like the backs of thumb tacks
armies running through streets of blood waving wine bottles bayoneting and fucking virgins.
an old guy in a cheap room with a photograph of M. Monroe.
there is a loneliness in this world so great that you can see it in the slow movement of the hands of a clock
people so tired mutilated either by love or no love.
people just are not good to each other one on one.
the rich are not good to the rich the poor are not good to the poor.
we are afraid.
our educational system tells us that we can all be big-ass winners.
it hasn’t told us about the gutters or the suicides.
or the terror of one person aching in one place alone
untouched unspoken to
watering a plant.
people are not good to each other. people are not good to each other. people are not good to each other.
I suppose they never will be. I don’t ask them to be.
but sometimes I think about it.
the beads will swing the clouds will cloud and the killer will behead the child like taking a bite out of an ice cream cone.
too much too little
too fat too thin or nobody
more haters than lovers.
people are not good to each other. perhaps if they were our deaths would not be so sad.
meanwhile I look at young girls stems flowers of chance.
there must be a way.
surely there must be a way that we have not yet thought of.
who put this brain inside of me?
it cries it demands it says that there is a chance.
it will not say “no.”
Mmm. That poem murders me, it kills me with its terrible truth. But somehow, sometimes, when the truth hurts so badly we just want to hear someone say it. Out loud. We are not good to each other. Anguish in the form of poetry.
And I think about some poetry I have written, and one poem came to my mind to share with you today, it is titled “Remember Me” from my book Luminae. I wanted to read it for you in the hopes that for a little while it keeps you company, whatever you are doing.
Here is Remember Me:
Has this been the hurt inside of you these cuts on my hands the crush of broken promises. Your static mouth a shrieking fog
buzzing in my head, humming – you like grains of sand scratching a desert in my throat.
Remember me a grapefruit moon
hanging in your rear view mirror love in the back seat melon. sunset. smoke. love
took a back seat.
Now the morning rolls down her sheets silicone heat waves sweat across my tongue. I listen for you but all that moves nails along the wall are reflections of an empty afternoon.
(my arms reach for three corners from this corner)
The windows are swallowing sunlight the sunlight is dangling through trees traces of a dim lit landscape you used to speak of
And so with this I leave you for now. Please take the best care of yourself that you possibly can. Please be safe and well. And thank you, always, for spending some time with me. Until the next time. Cheers.