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.
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.