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.
I feel the urgent need to write something – anything – so I scribble something in my notebook about the time he took me from behind as I bent over a white marble hot tub in a fancy hotel high above the towering city lights. The hot tub’s a bit of an erotic cliche I suppose, but it really did happen so let’s just say it was retro. It can be hard to pinpoint how I felt about him then, my lust being so new that it clouded over all reason, all logic. We wanted each other everywhere in every way and only held back on rare occasion. People can be quite effective ways of numbing the pain. As I pen the words, I am struck by the way the memories begin to line themselves up, one behind the other in my mind like greeting a line of familiar faces at a wedding or a funeral. The time it snowed on New Years and we had plans to go out with friends but cancelled so we could stay home, eat Chinese food, get drunk on champagne and sex, and stay wrapped against each other’s bodies all night into early dawn. Glancing up at the clock on the wall of the coffee shop, I realize I only have fifteen minutes before I have to head on to the next, which kills my ability to come up with a decent ending to the piece of short fiction on which I’ve been working. There is never enough time it seems, for the things we love. For everything we want to throw our souls into, there is a next appointment dragging us away from our heart’s desire. There’s ever a next next but as the years pass and what’s next has only continued to accumulate into piles of nothing which blow easily away on the breeze, you realize you want to give everything else that doesn’t matter up and insert yourself deep into the dark depths of those mischievous things which make your heart race and your pulse quicken. When will it be your time? When will it be your turn to shine? Your time to write the ugly truth, your time to kiss the wrong person, your time to finally taste what’s forbidden and make it your own.
In her eyes are a series of crystalline webs spiraling in toward a center point which they never quite reach, which sparkle and spin as you gaze at her face between the palms of your hands. The more the blood in your veins thrashes against your own skin, the closer and closer you come to falling all the way in. It’s been a long stressful day and here you are on the edge of your weary life, passing you by with every punch of the clock. In a small room with tall windows overlooking vastly sprawling twilight hills, you stand together by only the glow of candlelight. You steady your stare to look deep in her eyes as your hands move to firmly grasp her throat. Those eyes full of oceans erupting into endless waves which pound a pristine beach, the sound of her pulsing silence at your command, nearly deafening as it roars in your ears. She is a huntress, hunted. She with her sinister charm, a spider eating her way through the softening body of her prey, a slow self-inflicted death by suffocation, thin spindles of exquisite torment. Each ragged sound you let fall from her lips is a face in the mirror turning to dust. With every breath, every movement she is watching you. Hungry. Pleading. Desperate. Your fingers spread through the thick of her silken hair as you imagine her taste, the taste of this burning in your body for hers, try to allow yourself a sip while still calculating the inevitable damage you will suffer by her particular poison. How you wish you could turn back time to the way it was before you found yourself in this compromised state, now unable to walk away, unable to resist the terrible knowledge that you want everything those cruel lips have to offer. You move your tongue deep into her, forcing her wide, and with a low moan suck the air from her lungs, teach her to worship the pleasure and brutality of desire. To withhold, to be withheld from, this is the dance, this is the crux of your kind of affection. Destruction. Resurrection. Power. The power to grant and deny control. Your hands are on her breasts now, pinching, caressing, moving expertly as you press and stimulate, the heat between you sending licks of flame down her length through the blossoming folds between her thighs. As your mind fills itself with thoughts of how warm she must be at the glistening center of her prismatic being, how sweet and delicate the way her tenderness would cause your bones to shatter every star from its pierced arrangement in the swollen midnight sky, she says your name over and over again, in blind shameless need. Placing two fingers inside her gaping mouth, you know she is the only evidence left in a desecrated world that humanity can still be pure, still be beautiful in its helplessness, still drip with honeyed wilderness for the forces which will end us all in ruinous screams. You do not promise to stay, you promise to witness. To make of yourself a sacrifice to her sacrifice. Every offering, every touch, is a quiet prayer that some small memory of this night will remain until her flesh and blood abandon this world for good.
Almost the end of October and you can already feel the year rushing right through the holidays. For all the joy and excitement they bring there are always a handful of days that stretch out in painful gray-washed emptiness. For all the teary-eyed laughter there remains an aching in your throat that just won’t quit. That time not long ago when it rained the day after Christmas so that all the enchantment of the fresh fallen snow began to turn dirty, grit from the wet roads packed into its virginity by the cars sliding along in cold indifference. Rain in winter is heavier than rain in any other season, falling in large metallic globes upon the naked trees which reach like skeletal fingers high into the clouds, as if attempting to claw their way out of the earth and into the great beyond. But they are rooted here just like you, and there it is: the immobile center of your melancholy fixation on the thin line between life and death. The heaviness of the rain in winter has always been a part of you ever since you were a little girl, the weight of it which you both despised and cherished as your very own terrible invisible companion. You are seeing a man you shouldn’t be. He is much older and he’s not technically free, although when he takes you to a strange bed across town and reminds you what a devastating high ecstasy is, none of this matters to you in the least, just as long as he keeps looking at you like that, and moves his body like he knows the secret codes to all the forces of pleasure and punishment in the universe. What is freedom if not danger. What is lust if not what’s forbidden. Bite him, fight him, fuck him. Break the chains and break the rules. Let him pin your hands behind your back and take everything he wants from you. Of course, this is not the girl you were brought up to be but you’re on your own now and suddenly it seems everything you thought you believed in no longer applies. This man meets you in a dive bar which smells of must and cheap wooden tables, shaking off the rain from his coat and loosening his scarf he takes the seat next to you at the bar. You slink back in the corner where it’s dark and feels safe for the secrecy and sad for the scent of bottom shelf liquor at two in the afternoon. You order a Manhattan and he orders the same. He lights you a cigarette because in this place no one cares about anything least of all smoke or infidelity. As you take that first inhale to make sure it’s burning, you catch a glimpse of yourself in the mirror behind the bar above a tangle of bottles of booze and below a string of multicolored holiday lights, blinking softly. Crimson lips and glowing skin, you are slightly surprised to find yourself attractive in spite of the feeling inside that you are falling into a black abyss, sinking farther and farther away from whoever it was you were supposed to be. And yet for all the chaos and indignity in your life right now, this man is gravity. He gets you so high and pushes you down so low, but for some mysterious reason written in the darkness behind his hazel flecked eyes, he keeps you coming back.
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 too 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.