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.
As I lay back on the bed in complete darkness, I can feel the weather shifting across the landscape even before I see the tiny glittering crystals spinning just outside my window. There is a moon carved out behind a swath of aimless clouds. Save for my steady breathing, I lie naked beneath multiple blankets and do not move. I listen to the careful sound of midnight snow falling gentle on my January heart. Each cold milky orb a universe descending into miles and miles of smooth snow-covered hills. My mind reaches back to the day years ago, you had extended a warm hand to me to hold and I took it eagerly, taken aback by your vulnerability. Your openness, willingness, selflessness. The way with your entire being you seemed to let the world in, sure you could change it, sure you could make things better. Unafraid. Your words, half broken with sincerity, became the touch which carried me home. Home is not a place you can pin on a map; home is the distance between lost and found. In my awed and mild shock, my sort of sad surprise, my eyes follow your tender movements with marked attention not out of fear but out of deep admiration mixed with a kind of morbid curiosity. So exquisite are you, so wind blown and angelic in a golden morning glow. Never would I ever have deserved you. How rarely I allowed for that kind of connection, a stranger’s soft palm to cup itself against the fragility of the rawness in my life. For all the screaming voices which stalk a frightened mind on any given day, the kind of trust which can soothe a trembling body and soul can only be born of silence. I do not remember words, only sensations, only safety. Thin wing, trapped clear and bright in the ice of memory. I can see your face as if before me. So vivid is this dream, this echoed presence of the ghost of you. Heavy snow drifts begin their climb against the side of the house. All the past has now gone quiet. Winter, watching with white eyes as I sleep.
My mind swirls in circular patterns around the center point of a dread so certain it nearly calms the nerves purely by paralyzing them into numbness. My stomach is sick, clamps tight around the moth wings fluttering madness inside. These timid hours hung around my neck like a wreath. Glancing down at my hands and opening my palms toward the ceiling, I observe from a distance these silent dark flashes which melt into one another like tissue, sinew, veins, skin, teeth. Of what is this body made, in what womb is it contained. Speckled lights are pin pricks at the back of my eyes; this is how the gods made the night come alive. Smearing their breath like tar, small hands held alone in the dark. Touching my fingers to the soft and dying leaves, I open the well worn book of you. Healer. Teacher. Priest. I am reminded of you, your smoothness in body and tongue parting the lips of an ancient sea. Red stained wood and a word broken away from its heat. The way you mouthed desire into my blood, with just the glistening threads of the idea of you, I stroke and soothe my ache.