The air is warm and still, an odd but welcome surprise for an afternoon this late in October. I’m sitting quietly in the local park on a plaid blanket underneath a sprawling oak tree now the color of flames and fire, her final exclamation before a graceful bow into the lifeless dead of winter. When you appear, I can smell the sweetness of the grass beneath the fallen leaves mingled with a touch of a wood fire burning somewhere off over the hills in the distance. Joining me on the blanket, you open your bag and pour us some white wine to accompany the fresh croissants you always bring from that tiny bakery I like around the corner from your place. I would have walked to the bakery with you, but I didn’t wake up with you this morning. This morning you woke up with her. So far we have been giving each other plenty of space to do whatever we want with whomever we please but somewhere in between pulling you close and pushing you away my callus heart has grown a bit too soft, a bit to affectionate, a bit too greedy. As we trade small talk about nothing in particular, I am beginning to wonder which of us is the other woman if she doesn’t know about me but I know about her. You tell me you don’t love her but she needs you and you aren’t sure it’s fair to untangle yourself when at the moment she’s so vulnerable. I drink more of the wine as I swallow your words and try to sort out your intentions but while the undeniable attraction between two bodies is simple, emotions are a lot more tricky. I am not sure if what you are saying makes you kind or unkind, or if my being here with you makes me a welcome or unwelcome presence in your life. Perhaps because I don’t know what I want I’m just trying to stir things up as a way to distract myself and give you a hard time. Either way, it’s a gorgeous day in late autumn and when you touch my neck I fall back into you with such ease it shatters all sense of what is right or wrong. All I know is I will give you everything the second you ask. Your mouth on my mouth is to drown in the vastness of the deep blue sky overhead and as you lift up my blouse and work your way down the length of my body nothing else matters. The evening sky has turned to crimson along the horizon. From the orange leaves on the dying trees to the electric pinks streaking the reddening sky it’s as though the entire world around us is on fire. Buildings raging into rivers, our naked bodies bare like open fields at the mercy of the heat of the relentless sun, burning, burning. It’s the way you kiss me until I’m ruined that I can’t resist. Losing myself to the magic of your lips, your hands, I am the only woman on the face of the earth.
Am I writing for them or for myself? So often it’s hard to tell. When I was just a young thing I liked to sing for people and offer them poems I’d been writing since I was nine years old in my bedroom covered in rainbows and unicorns and from a heart which raced at the thought of words about summer rain storms. Every sensation being new to me, I felt had to be honored in notebooks with pink and purple pens. I’ve been through so much since those tender days. Life has a mysterious way of growing you up while alternating between showing you all its splendor and slamming you against the wall. The slow death of loved ones and the fast pace of fitting in. Sipping my coffee on Sunday morning, I’m scrolling through my social media feeds looking for something to read. What, though, I’m really not sure. It’s hard to tell these days how you really feel or what you really want because there is so much coming at you all the time your senses become exhausted of trying to engage. Does anyone just read a newspaper for hours on Sunday mornings anymore? I can remember my father doing so while using an actual percolator to brew his pots of coffee. Even as a kid who was too young to drink the stuff, the smell of fresh coffee brewing and gray newsprint spread out all across the kitchen table was something I fully cherished. He’d separate out the sections, reading what he was most interested in (economics, politics) and letting drop to the floor those tall creased pages he had no use for, only later to be used to line the litter box of the cat we had gotten as a kitten which he hated but kept quiet about to keep the peace. He is a brilliant man, my father, and a gifted writer, always able to articulate and say the right thing for all the right reasons. I was lucky enough to inherit a small portion of his great talents, but more and more often I find I don’t want to say the right things and sometimes I am unsure what the reason is for doing anything. What is worth holding onto when we are all just going to disappear. I want to write for the thrill of it and it always crushes me when I can’t figure out where to start, what thoughts are worth sharing and which are trash. In a world full of ever growing noise I search for words that zero in on something which might matter to those who take the time to read my thoughts, to enter for just a few moments inside my mind. These words are an invitation as much as they are a way out. In my heart of hearts I know that no matter how hard this world tries to desecrate and defile what is sacred, I will never abandon my love for the words which tease me and thrill me and seem to be the only kind of truth I can bear to look straight in the eye.
Everybody wants to own a piece of you and all you want to do is break away. For just a moment, you stop the work you are doing at the computer on the dark mahogany desk and instead gaze out the large office window which overlooks a park. The clouds rolling out high above are pillowy ribs of charcoals, grays, and whites in a pattern which repeats itself for miles off into the distance. Through a hazy fog, you can just about make out the faint city skyline, barely visible set back against the wide mouth of the river. How many times you have joined him- tanned skin and light eyes shining- in his fast boat running up and down that river in the high heat of summer all the way through to the chill of the first of autumn’s early evening sunsets. All those carefree days of swimsuits, sunscreen, cold white wine, and stealing to the cabin below, making love all afternoon. As your mind wraps around the warmth of days gone by, you take a sip of coffee and wonder where all the time went, wonder where it’s all going. Last night you had a dream of dying but it wasn’t you, it was your mother who had passed. But here she was standing right next to you, so real, so very real, she seemed. Her high cheekbones soft in the light as she spoke, lips parting and closing slowly, exaggerated, around words without sound. What is she telling you? Now that she knows what none of us do: all about the end of time, that there really is an end to all this. Waiting. A man you know only vaguely but dislike immediately asks you if you are ‘looking for inspiration’ as he finds you staring out upon the world. You tell him the view is so beautiful this time of year and he just laughs a dismissive little laugh, glances blankly at you then at the carpet, never looks out the window, and walks away. The rusted yellow tree line in the park across the street is stark and bright against the muted blue of a darkening sky. There is so much beauty out there, you know because you’ve seen it, dancing in glittering sparks of golden light on the water. Coffee rings turning cold in the bottom of your cup, you sit back down to work at your computer on the deep mahogany desk. Everything has changed and everything has stayed the same and even those with everything, if they can bear the truth, will tell you it’s never quite enough.
I tell you I hate you but that’s only because you turn me on and pushing you away is a good way to ensure you stick around, if only for the game. There are black birds circling in a winter white sky as gray swaths of thin clouds move swiftly in the opposite direction. Something invisible but razor sharp in the atmosphere plays with my body like ten thousand tiny hot pin pricks, an energy live as electric wires and I can taste the heat in my mouth. There are moving cars and street lights streaking haphazardly across the wet blacktop as I remember the first time we gave in to our darkest temptations, like two predators with nothing left to sink our teeth into except each other. I like the way you look at me when you know what you want and how you want it and won’t put up with anything less. The chaos swirling in your hungry eyes is the only sight in this frightening world that calms the fear which claws inside me all the time. As you grasp the back of my neck, I feel the cruelty of the ages slide off of me along with my tee shirt and torn up jeans. All the mental brutality of living which I carry around with me all day, kneading it constantly between my fingers and my shoulder blades, falls like meat off the bone. I’m so much more tired than I let on, I’ve been fighting my whole life it seems, to get out of my own head, to spit in the face of convention and crawl away from the terrible of gray cinder block walls and coffee stained hallways that snake through the dead buildings in this miserable city. The pain in you, that’s what I want to taste the most because it’s the only way to know this feeling is genuine. The way that you make me ache all over splits me open, and I need that in ways only you can understand. You like that when I come to you I’m willing, so you can work my body until it is worn waif thin. When we merge, we kiss until our bones beg for relief. Sex is death is a way to erase each other and disappear. Let me break you, baby, let me break you slow. There is a cigarette burning in smoky silence on the nightstand and a hole in my heart where love should be but I prefer a little emptiness. What is love anyway but a vanishing, a marked figure stalking in shadows. There is a fence around the walls which guard my heart for protection. In the fading evening light, I pull on your beat-up cotton shirt, and arrange some flowers in a vase while sipping on the whiskey warming in your glass. Every fleck of dust is my breath suspended, every creak in the floor boards is a lover who has walked away. As you are gazing out the window which overlooks an empty tree lined street, I place my hand on your stomach. We are no fairy tale, you and I, this I have always known. But just for a time, when this life gets under my skin, when I don’t know what I believe in or if standing at the gate I’m looking outside or in, I lay my head in your hands and let you pretend to call me home.
As my eyes darken and the storm erupts inside my veins, you mistake my anger for passion, slide your hands around my hips and press me to you hard. My mind is a lightning rod of electric visions, none of them tender. To be alive at all in times like this is to exist inside a caricature of cruelty, the outside world has become a pornography of brutal harm. Women and children fleeing for their very survival in the desert, chased into madness by the callus greed of the rich and powerful men who own everything but most importantly they own the power to kill. Kill us. Destroy all of the things we worship and believe in as we scramble to understand what is even happening when it’s all happening too fast. You grab a fistful of my hair and firmly tug while kissing the soft skin of my exposed neck and in one deep exhale I try to imagine what it must feel like to die. To be on the other side of destruction, free of the fear. Do we still feel affection even after we cross over? Do we still know all the same things we know now but are they somehow neatly tied together in such a way that it all makes sense? You don’t ask yourself any of these things that I obsess over with near relentless hyper attention which may be why there are times when you can get yourself off while all I can do is roll with it through the numbness. Who deserves pleasure, who deserves pain. Who deserves more of one or the other. As I drive to work with headlights peering through the hollow darkness down the same old road, I pass a deer on the side of the highway, headless. In the split second when I notice it I see only its wide stump of bloodied insides, then its beautiful young body limp, lifeless. We have been told there are too many deer and it’s a problem and it’s a shame. We have been told a lot of things are not as they seem. Violence is not violence, truth is not truth. What you see is not what you see. But who hits a deer with a car in such a way that the head comes clean off – and then disappears? A static voice on the radio speaks of the most recent catastrophic event on the other side of the globe. Hand grenades and the smiles on the laughing faces of the enemy. War is not war. Death is not death. Life is not life and this one’s not mine. I sip my coffee, and drive.
There is a mysterious light which sometimes trickles through the caramel leaves in the trees, glistening my strawberry blond hair into a shimmery halo around my head. I’ve recently cut much of it off and now I’m waiting impatiently for it to grow back again because when I have it one way I always want it the other, such is the story of so many seemingly trivial things in my small little life which, to be honest, feels like it’s growing smaller and smaller with each passing day. As the years slide by, this strange life becomes more and more like looking through a keyhole that leads into a most heavenly garden: soft grass beneath bare feet, beautiful bodies caressing each other to ecstasy, ivory flowering vines, tiger butterflies and a perpetual sunset glow, if only you could open the door and step foot where you know you belong, or finally become so small that you could slip right through that tiny opening and disappear into someplace warm, welcoming, free of the mindless clutches of calendars and clocks. We are insatiable creatures. We want to hold tight to the lives we have for fear of the fall from grace, the fall from the esteem we hold in other people’s eyes, and yet we want a taste of the life that has been living alongside of us like a haunting, flowing like a stream you can admire from afar but cannot swim in. A life less organized but infinitely more honest, real, alive. There are choices you refuse to make. There are dreams you have about chances to be brave and in those dreams your courage is reckless, wild, untamed, it is the pulse of the life not explored, not taken. It’s the hungriest pieces of yourself that you let fall away which come back to wake you in the dead of night. As I turn and pull the blankets up around my chin, the white unblinking eye of the harvest moon watches as I shudder at the first crisp night of another autumn curling itself around me in silence. I know I want too much and I know that is what keeps me at arm’s length from everybody else. It’s only the poets, the artists, the difficult, the sleepless, the shipwrecked who still believe in the whispers of what could be. So many ghosts around my throat, so much time has passed and will I ever be more than this wandering woman, grasping for the hand of something with no name.
As I tighten my mouth around a smooth cigarette, you are telling me things I already don’t care to know about. Something about the guy at work who never has his shit together and always manages to drag you into the mired mess with him because that is what people who are clueless do, grab onto everything helpful around them and drown it out. Meanwhile I, on the other hand, feel something of a smug triumph because I have managed to hold down a day job that doesn’t come home with me. All the useless drivel is left where it belongs: inside the gray and dying walls of a building which corrals hundreds of people for the better part of their days, the majority of their squirmy eyeless lives. Taking a long sip of wine, I attempt to change the subject and talk about moving because I am terrified of a future together which is devoid of adventure, but the truth is I love our house with a bone-deep kind of love I have never known in a place ever before. It’s just a split level house in a no-name town, but over the years we have carved ourselves into it so deeply that I can’t imagine being anywhere else let alone leaving this place behind. The way it feels like living in a park when I wake up to the sunlight falling through the trees and streaming through our open bedroom windows. The logs on the fireplace in the dead of winter as snow piles up against the back patio. It’s a home now, one that stays inside of you even when you go away for a while so that it is always calling you back. I think sometimes I talk to you about home because I don’t know how to talk to you about writing, how much it means to me, how much I need it. To have a home like this is a beautiful trap not unlike writing. There is a wandering loneliness in writing which is oddly seductive, it keeps you writhing around in its web until it kills you or makes a meal of you or both. But if I don’t write, I can feel the sickness crawling up underneath my skin, the sad panic at not being able to find the words. For all the romance they will offer you about being a writer, it’s nothing short of an affliction really to have a relentless desire to retreat alone to a room and be with the dead quiet so that you can close your mind to everything except the most immediate sensations and thoughts. It’s still dark outside as I type, there is a cat crying loudly down the street. The sound is so crushingly hollow with pain and desperation it makes my insides ache with both affection and disgust. For as long as I can remember I have had myself convinced that I am a writer who can only write in the very early mornings before the rest of the world realizes anything is even happening. It’s not true of course, a real writer can write at any hour and we are always writing no matter where we are at any given time. We are just especially good at fooling ourselves, at backing ourselves into corners in our lives and in our stories. The only way to claw out of ourselves is to dive into ourselves. Maybe that’s why I love the home we have built together so much. No matter how far off I need to wander I always seem to wind up coming back. The cat is screaming now— hasn’t let up. And high above the idle moon watches, glowing from a vast cold distance.
We create because we are afraid. And we would much rather not be. We drink because we are coming apart all across the kitchen floor in slivers, anxiety in liquid pools at the center of our drowning. Chattering teeth, shaky hands. We are unsteady as we pretend to make dinner we pretend to build a house around a home which is part of the display. And the vines of crimson panic growing along the empty afternoon walls of my disordered mind remind me that nothing matters in the end. We had tried out the various sins: pride, greed, lust, gluttony. We had tried the gym and Facebook and little beads around the wrist, big rocks upon the finger. We had tried, we had really tried. But the devil finds a way inside and once you stop trying so hard her poison tastes just fine. Novocaine and bloody gums. If you looked like me, honey, you’d be alright. You could be famous on the internet and curl up in the heat of happy empowerment as you watch your ratings rise. Tits and ass and injections, a painted face and a Mastercard. Come on, baby, for a price I’ll let you be my savior, leave you sick by the pallid light of dawn but I’ll get you through the night. Red shiny apple rotten to the core but you know… nobody else wants you anymore. And I’m here to help and you could make something of yourself. It’s easy. It’s some beautiful kind of hell out there but it’s all the same, you could go anywhere, you could have gone anywhere. And we try and we try and we try. But the wasteland promotes itself. Smile for me, sweetness. There’s nothing emptiness won’t buy.
Sipping coffee in the pitch darkness of morning, I’m sitting in my writing room staring at a stack of old laptops which are tucked on the bottom of a bookshelf which is full of paperback copies of my book of poetry, Luminae. Those laptops. It’s impossible to say just how many tired words about old thoughts they contain. How many photographs of a younger self, a more ambitious, lighthearted woman. Beaches, bikinis, cold white wine and cigarettes in bars when that was still something you could get away with. Moments of hope, mischief, and inspiration now collapsed inside a few black boxes sunk deep into the sea of many years ago. I’m not sure I’ll ever dive back into any of them, I mean who can remember all those old passwords and security codes and besides, what is there to see? What use would it be now? A girl moves on just to stay sane, lets go just to hold on to the best parts of what she can still believe in. Entire lifetimes discarded. Sometimes I think I write today just to make it to tomorrow. I scroll by the perfect faces on a screen and I wonder if they are trying to capture a self they wish they could know but don’t quite, a glimpse of happiness before they inevitably fade to nothing. There is a feeling stirred into the cooling coffee in the bottom of my cup, there is a fear which is thin like porcelain. It is fragile and rings high through the autumn wind in the trees as I sit alone by the yellowing light of a lamp on this gray couch. It is the sensation of time sliding away from me, time unnoticed and as soon forgotten. It is a life divided into parts, trapped inside a stack of black boxes in the dust of a girl gone by. A woman on edge, by herself with her selves inside of a room.
Dark thoughts of bad behavior flicker in your mind along with fire flies trapped in jam jars in the hands of a mischievous child. We have been cut down to less than we are worth, it happens without our being aware of it. Hacks. Con artists. Scammers. One night stands. Old boyfriends, some you’ll never forget because every time your hear their name your heart pinches just a little bit with the pain of the recollection of lusty nights and tender love slashed apart at once. All you’ve lived through just to get through it and never ask for anything more ever again but to breathe without the ache in your chest. Google will finish your sentences for you if you aren’t sure what to say. I guess there’s nothing sacred left in this place if we are now reduced to prerecorded catch phrases, we hardly need brains anymore let alone writers, who would want to try to understand any of this sterile madness. The rich get richer and fast, baby. Faster than you can count your anxiety ridden self luckier than most but still fearful of losing it all in the blink of an eye. Pouring cold white wine into my favorite thin stemmed glass I think about how addiction runs in my family but only the ones who play it safe seem to die ahead of their time. It’s a cool afternoon in early autumn and the leaves are just barely changing from green to orange in the fading late day sunlight. If I told you I wanted to radically change this game called love, what would you say? If I told you this wasn’t enough even though it’s already more than I’m afraid I deserve, would you turn against me on a dime? Or would you find it in your heart to understand that I’m only human and humans are such complicated creatures to begin with, what do you expect? I have cravings just like everybody else. Some aren’t socially palatable but what of that? What of them— the ones who demand you live up to their polite expectations so they can feel like they have a handle on a world that is turning to dust right in front of their very eyes. I think of a writer I used to admire who could take words out of thin air and assemble them just so, and use them to do whatever he wanted with you. Without even laying a hand on you he could touch you, gut you, cut you, get you off. Have you any idea how hard it is to find writers like that anymore? We stumble, we search. Whiskey bottles in hotel rooms by the hour and chipped white wedding chapels on sweet green hills far away from here. As the tangerine sun sets behind a purple autumn sky, the liars and the cheaters hold in their hands every shiny broken thing they ever wanted. Are you jealous or disgusted or both? Sometimes the darkness wins. And the world has never felt so hungry. so empty. so angry wet and alive.