As the rain comes down angry and hard against my window, I curl deeper into my cocoon of warm blankets and pillows while attempting to thread through the million thoughts gripping my insides at once. In between the rooftops scattered with pigeons shuffling for space among their dirty huddle, the sharp point of a church steeple pierces a dark low hanging cloud, as if probing it to unload its heaviness onto the sleepy streets below. Behind the weather, morning creeps, slowly turning the driving rain into a thinning drizzle, the crystal droplets intermingling with the wafting white smoke coming from multiple chimneys across the way. The sky is charcoal gray, back lit with an eerie yellow light which makes the atmosphere feel unpredictable, unfriendly. Full of voices struggling to be heard. They are as sinister as they are honest. In every swaying branch there twists a ghost come alive from my haunted past, still shallow breathing, still waiting to take my hand, to grip my throat. Last I saw you I had been impossible and knew it. Sometimes I can’t help the way I shut down like a vault, trapping all of my feelings inside. For someone so blindly obsessed with words, my tight lipped demeanor doesn’t make any sense to you. You are pissed, certain I’m withholding on purpose, locking you on the outside while I am conniving on the inside, but your anger only fuels my refusal and the air between us becomes a fuse. Love is a ticking time bomb, love is a train gone off its slippery rails. When it all feels helpless, useless, desperate, there are no guidelines, no rule books, no referees. And if there is one thing a human being is good at it’s being stubborn, I’m no different and neither are you. As I sit in clipped silence, my mind flashes back to that night in your apartment, as you poured our drinks I sat comfortably in a bra and leggings on the edge of your couch near the mirror, lining my eyes in onyx liquid ink. As I traced my blue eyes until they were black as midnight I sipped on gin and tonic while imagining us naked, our bodies entwined in positions I’d only heard about but had yet to explore. Back then everything was so loud. The drinking, the music, the anger, the passion, the sex that shook the walls and split us both in two over and over again. I wonder when you look at me can you see it in my eyes. That freedom is just as hard for me as captivity, and in some ways just as sweet. That all my life I’ve been hunted. That even on a cold wet morning which threatens a snowfall that will have us stuck inside for days, my heart still burns with the fire of a young girl who knew what she wanted as soon as she saw it and took it without asking a single soul for permission. I hold on and I hold back. I want to be consecrated and I want to be shattered into a million pieces, thrown out into a wild winter sky. Lost and found and missed and deserted. Words can heal, words can obliterate. Please be patient. Please don’t go. I am a chapel as much as I am a cave, and what I explore in the darkness is the only light I ever learned to trust.
Nuzzled awake by a soft sunrise sliding its fingers through my bedroom window, I’m already in deep contemplation about what to do with my stacks and stacks of old journals which now do nothing but prop up potted plants and collect dust in the corner of my writing room. So many years, so many words, so many thousands of pages of nothing more than hopes and dreams of becoming something more than just a no name writer holed up in a small room overlooking a life of mediocrity and patience. As the hourglass pours through its allotted portion one minuscule grain of sand at a time, we begin and we hesitate. We dream and we wake, we bleed and we quiver and in the end it’s just hot coffee on a freezing cold morning in mid November, baseboard heater pumping and creaking away beneath a pale blue sky, pierced by a slim line of naked young trees. The notebooks though, I have never quite known what to do with them. And as I mull it over, I keep penning more and more still, thus compounding my dilemma. Old memories and angst filled pages, I’m sure, and I want nothing to do with reading through them again but I have this strange (admittedly completely unfounded) concern that if I threw the lot of them all out in the trash at once some random waste management worker will actually sit and read them laughing and judging and cursing me all the way. This random person would read through my entire story and have all the answers I could never find because they would see all of the things I couldn’t. My life can often feel like looking at an object up so close it is impossible to see what it is. Or perhaps by unbelievably ridiculous chance, an artist would come upon the journals and make a terrible movie of their wayward story. I’d be humiliated, mortified, exposed, and get no credit whatsoever. I could burn them, page by page, one clear winter night alone by a fire sipping wine, smoking cigarettes and letting everything I’ve ever been through, cried about, tore my heart to shreds over, go up in dark clumps of exotic smoke, ember and ash. As I gaze up at the moon still hung there on this early morning, I think about how she is the same cratered moon who has been spinning about me all my life. And no matter what I do with the journals, whatever it was that moved my hand to write the things I would never dare speak aloud, moves deep within me still. I could destroy and dismember the material but the skeletons walk within me until I’m no longer. I could take the pages out to sea. Let the tide wash them clean as salt water does all things, drops of ocean, drops of tears only a woman could understand and only in the privacy of a heart worn thin but still warm, still beating. We are of fire and water, wind and earth and spirit. Little transient fools of beauty and lust, fury, vision, and bone. Dust to dust, our bodies and our stories.
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.
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.
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.
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.