Sunlight is colder in the afternoon as I sip lukewarm coffee in a tiny gray room high above the rest of the world I look upon but can’t ever manage to fully understand. I hear his words in my head buzzing like one of those irritating hand held machines which hacks weeds to the ground and middle aged men can’t seem to put down on Sundays lest they, heaven forbid, be forced to actually stay in the house with the wife and kids as they claw their way through another day just the same as the last. But it’s tough and we’re punchy and who’s to really say we have deserved how far we’ve come in any case. Sunshine trickles in through trees and though I’ve lost count of the days, I keep enough hope in my heart to sing to myself, even if what I sing is only the blues. I think of her with the wide eyes of an excitable creature and nipples like two ripe raspberries pointing through her thin white tee shirt. Somewhere back a few decades ago, she would sing for them in smokey night clubs while sipping on vodka and tonic, or whatever the thirsty bartender would slip her slim under aged ass. She could feel them salivate, warm liquid honey dripping in response to some sultry song in that voice that was soft and low and just roughened up enough from the cigarettes to make them pulse quick in the chest and hard in their jeans. You’re so pretty, baby, come on, sweetness, don’t be so mean. The nights were every neon color swirled round and round into black until on one particular morning, in no particular month, in a season as long as the streets which lead to nowhere exceptional but call to her like sirens anyway, as a strong cut of light streaks in like a single intruding middle finger pressing through the smudged window pane and across her naked body, she realized none of it was coming back. Not the joy or sorrow, not the ache or the thrill of catching something just to taste the hot sweet blood of the kill. Life moves forward even if you try to hang back. Still. Still she has the shiny salmon scars on her elbows and knees. She has her wooden cradle of secrets, and though they may seem like nothing to some, are hers and hers alone to keep.
There are smoke stains on the ceiling from the candles and the cigarettes. Twinkle lights and green houseplant vines intermingle, climbing and drifting against the walls as a gentle breeze sighs in through the window. I tell you stories I may or may not have told you already, forgive me, the days are running into and away from each other. I chat with a friend, roam around the house in socks and a tee shirt, grind more coffee, sift through the fridge for the cream. I have it easy, I have it lucky, I have it all very privileged. I want to move forward and never go back. Electrified talking heads on a television screen the size of half a living room wall, a neighbor watches some news broadcast or other all day long. Lines for food, lines for jobs, flat lines, side lines, borderlines, every boundary seems destined now to be crossed. Invaded. Life lines. Intruded upon. Vulnerability is a strange feeling when you are at the same time isolated. Turned inside out for no one, sensitive. Raw. Exposed. I pull a tarot card covered in roses and coins. I believe in letting things burn. I believe in letting things go. Every night this week I have dreamt of a different party I’m not allowed to attend. Or if I do get in, I can’t figure out where I belong. I observe but do not exist. There are white linen table cloths and women with their bare breasts on beautiful display. Elegant couples with the prettiest teeth, kissing underneath a red glowing light. High heels and spilled drinks and arguments, as I wake thirsty, dizzy, in a foggy haze. We go for another walk, you pause patiently as I snap a dozen pictures on my phone. I’m a sucker for the pink flowering trees, something about their fragrant blushing underneath a bright blue sky makes me feel like somewhere deep inside, I am the most myself. The feminine and masculine, the light and the dark, the giver and the receiver, each sensually intertwined. Maybe we will make it through only to wish we could go back. Maybe one day we will touch each other again, yearn for the freedom on the other side of heartache. Remember the taste of the body of this time, the softness and the cruelty of the wild.
There is a bird on a wire across the street, a tiny ink blot with fluttering wings and a triangular tail that lifts up and down every once in a while. It’s a fidgety thing, poking itself under its black feathers with that pointy beak. High above, the gray sky is a peaceful dome of smooth dim shade. Lighting a cigarette, I let the faded light of evening wash across my pale disinterested face. I’m so tired I can taste the ache in the dryness of the smoke curled against the back of my throat, stale, burned, a hotness which ignites my chest, my exhausted bones sheltered in place. In my mind I crawl like a cat, slink up the walls of the cage which is home and look down at myself as I suck a deep drag. Out the window images move in front of my yellow eyes, lush green lawns and the silly people tending to them, driveways of cars they do not drive. A young mother in pajamas in the middle of the afternoon pushes a stroller around the block for the forty seventh time but who’s counting. We are in motion, we are detached. Bedroom slippers. Laptops. Hair ties. I remember the cold beer you drank as we sat at the outside bar and watched the city lights electrify the night. How the water droplets formed on the outside of the glass and slid underneath your thick fingers. Your cool hands on my bare skin in the heat of summer. Bodies melting into each other all around us, wine and whiskey and lipstick and the sounds of some indie rock band at the back of the place near the bathrooms, wooden walls and rum stained floors. The vintage vending machine which dispensed soft packs of cigarettes for twelve dollars each, you had to pull the long pole handle toward you to get the pack to slip out of the silver slot. I am thirteen, I am twenty two, I am thirty five. The women’s room was covered in raunchy articles and racy old fashioned photos, one featured a man from what had to be the 1930’s in a three piece tweed suit and top hat, blindfolded, two scantily clad young women leading him by each of his outstretched hands. Underneath the title read: Against His Will. Summer smolders in the pit of my stomach, the smell of a humid bar and a honeysuckled breeze. It is any given day and night of a season which has bled into all the others, in a time and place I cannot remember and hope I never forget. We ignore the signs and hope for the best. I pour the first drink of the night as your body encircles me from behind. Love is beautiful, numb, and blind. The little bird on the wire sings a crinkly twilight song, cocks his hollow quarter-sized head and flies off toward someplace, suddenly, without hesitation. Just like that, leaving this one far behind.
As I walk through the center of town sipping my coffee, I can see the screaming blue sky reflected upon the tall glass buildings as the furious wind pushes ominous dark clouds across the wide open expanse. The days move quickly and yet they drag on like a conversation you’re dying to get out of but can’t. To be locked down is to be made very present, very apparent to yourself. There is no where to go and no where to hide from yourself and this in itself is exasperating. Scrolling through Twitter I see it’s the same cesspool it always is, only now made much worse because people are dying by the thousands every day and the more everyone talks about it the more despondent we all become. Yesterday I colored a rainbow on a piece of cardboard and hung it in the window. It’s supposed to bring joy, hope, and comfort to those passing by. We do little things like this in the face of big impossible terrible things because we feel small, we are aware now how small we actually are. Everything turns in on itself and points back to the place inside that hurts the most. I try to get out of my own head, that is one of the hardest things to do these days. I read novels to pass the time. There’s a girl on Instagram who posts pictures of herself everyday looking made up and sexy and I wonder where in the hell she gets the energy. I cycle through a daily uniform of hoodies and stretch pants and couldn’t be happier about it. I don’t remember what a bra even is or why I would ever wear one ever again. I can’t bear to think about ever going back to the office. Big corporations seem like giant monsters looming out there in the cold hard distance waiting to swallow us up again and remind us we are nothing, headed nowhere. Life feels suspended in a way I have never experienced before. I go to write but a fog rolls in over my brain and thick clouds of listlessness bloom through my chest and limbs. Black coffee. Chocolate. The Guardian. Slate. Vox. CNN. Washington Post. The Skimm. Late night comedians. Andrew Cuomo. Numbers. Faces. Ventilators. Curves. I have finished My Dark Vanessa by Kate Elizabeth Russell, about a fifteen year old girl who gets into a sexual relationship with her forty two year old English teacher at boarding school. Devastating, harrowing, brilliant, fascinating, painful. haunting, intimate, impossible to put down. It is fantastically well written, her debut novel. Took her eighteen years to write the thing and it is absolutely stunning. The story crawls into your veins and pulses through you days after you’ve finished reading it, it has a life of its own. Next up I will be reading Hiding In Plain Sight: The Invention of Donald Trump and the Erosion of America by Sarah Kendzior, who spent her career studying the mechanics of the way authoritarian governments take control of democratic countries. I’ve only read the intro, but it all makes perfect sense. The fringes get pulled to the center, anything and everything is up for grabs. The law gets re-written to serve the desires of the wicked and corrupt. I don’t know how we get out of this. I don’t see it being pretty or easy or soon. For now, we go to the grocery store and scan the empty aisles, it’s like there’s a blizzard coming every week and the panic looks like rows and rows of white glossy shelves with nothing on them but orange price stickers announcing the cost of things you cannot buy. In the self check out lane there are trash magazines and gum and Lysol wipes on the counter. High above in the rafters there is a voice on loop over the radio waves: Help us keep our customers and essential workers safe, maintain at least a six foot distance between yourself and others at all times. The feminine voice is calm and detached. A young cashier watches me load my credit card into the machine, her eyes look tired, like they are asking me a question none of us can answer about hope and fear, almost pleading, as they smile at me from above her mask.
The night is cut through with sharp bolts of jagged lightning in between thunder which slams itself so hard against the house the walls all around us rattle and tremble. Shaking me out of my dead slumber, my eyes dart across the room checking that the windows are closed to keep the driving rain from spilling in all over the hardwood floors. They are not closed, in fact, nor are the blinds which explains why the bedroom is cool with midnight air and shocked alive by the electric springtime storm. Four a.m. and now suddenly wide awake, I decide it’s as good a time as any to slide out of bed, make coffee and work on some writing as the rain streaks down in heavy sheets along the window pane in my writing room. Ever since I was a little kid I have romanticized the rain. Not people in the rain, not the rain where lovers kiss as they are drenched to their core, no. Just the rain all by itself, pouring out over lush forests, falling and rushing in streams through cobblestone city streets. Misting through a gray rolling morning fog. There is a quiet inside the rain, an honesty, a melancholy I crave inexplicably. My grandmother used to tell me that it is because I am a fire sign, Sagittarius. All the fire in my blood needs the rain, the dark, the coolness, on the outside to balance me out. Impossible to say if that is true or not, of course, but it makes for a beautifully poetic interpretation, I think, so I believe it to be the reason. As the coffee brews and morning light turns to powder blue over the rolling hills of newly budding trees, the rain all but moves off and fades away. Another day, same as the rest, dawns again and again and again in a rhythm I am much more aware of now. The days and nights hand themselves over to us on repeat, repeat, repeat. Like a beckoning. Like a bludgeoning. Skimming my journal, I see I have scribbled nothing much worth anything, so I stand and pour another cup, sipping in silence as I look out at the waking neighborhood. The thick branches of an old oak tree across the block reach boldly in every direction, wild and untamed, just as they did yesterday, and every day before. Everything is still as the little lights click on, one by one by one. High above the street, I sit waiting, watching, breathing. Pen to paper. Hour to hour. Fingers to keys. Mostly, though, somewhere deep inside my bones, I’m restless. A static voice skips like a record, I miss the storm.
Dusk falls in around the house, mellowing the quiet as a strong ray of slanted orange light streaks through the front window and bends off of the large mirror standing against the side wall. I’m curled into the corner of the couch making notes about some books I’m reading but my eyes are tired and my mind is hazy from a long day hunched over papers and screens. I hear you coming into the kitchen, opening the fridge, and my body eases, my bones relax. Maybe what we have isn’t always easy but there are times, unexpected times, but times none the less, when things seem so close to perfect it actually aches in my chest to think there could have been any other kind of life than this. You pour the wine and ask who I am writing for all this time, but the answer is not as simple as you might think. I write for myself mostly, but I also write for other people, people who are changing and evolving just as I am, all the time, becoming new, and then dead, and then alive again, new again and again. I tease my fingers through their distant minds hoping to stroke upon some kind of secret, something with depth, with teeth, something dark. What is in the dark is always honest. Closing up my work and tucking it away, I follow you out into the back garden and take a long deep breath of springtime evening air, moist earth, fresh cut grass, and a hint of lilac from the neighbors’ yard mixed with the smoky scent of burning leaves. Sitting upon your knee, I drink my wine and kiss you deep. You are all tanned skin, wild golden hair, soft lips, harsh beard, and light perspiration. A day in the sun is all you ever desire as I wait inside and pray for the gray soak of heavy rain. How often our lives are one thing on the surface but a whole mess of tangled wilderness underneath. At times this scares me about myself, about us. The thought of promising another access to all the secrets, some kind of entrance into the wide open, unexplored terrain within. The truth is, there are places inside me no one else will ever see. Not because they don’t want to or haven’t tried. Lord knows, how they have tried. But because they will never be invited in.
“Instead there were little daily miracles, illuminations, matches struck unexpectedly in the dark. In the midst of chaos there was shape.” -Virginia Woolf, To the Lighthouse
The full moon is a giant pumpkin colored disc as we watch it sliding down in the black early morning sky through our bedroom window. You hold me for a few more warm minutes underneath the blankets before I break our cozy spell and crawl out of bed, pull on sweats, and head to the darkened kitchen to pour myself a cup of coffee in my favorite over-sized mug. Nestling in with my journals and books, I take a long hot sip while listening to the little birds outside coming to life with myriad songs. Not a soul is stirring on this pre-dawn morning but I can hear the traffic sifting along on the highway just under the bridge far off. The traffic never ever stops, not even for a second. I’ve got a tickle in my throat which I am immediately convinced is the deadly disease everyone is panicked over but I refuse to believe it because it’s too frightening to even consider at the moment. I refuse to cough. I will not cough. We hold on to our days a bit tighter now. As we drive through the city and past the state park built around a wide open lake, everything is closed down, blocked off, patrolled by police. There is an eerie feeling in this kind of safety precaution. It implies we are not equipped to handle ourselves in this crisis. It suggests the only way out of this alive is through the taking of drastic measures. The crossing of fingers, hoping for the best. Remember that restaurant with the great outdoor bar we frequent in summer? Remember how we sometimes couldn’t even find a parking spot? How hard do you think it will be to get a reservation when all this shit’s over? We laugh and drink wine from inside the car on the side of the road by the river as a couple wearing crudely fashioned face scarves meander past with their two tiny dogs. It’s a hell of a time to be alive. To witness. To experience. It’s like there’s a static crackling behind everything. A sound like the pulsing of blood through veins inside a body which is the entire human race, waiting. All around us as we drive and drive and drive to nowhere. Open roads in no particular season. Water, clouds, sky, trees. Wildflowers scattered and tangled along the grassy sides of the highway. What are you living for? For what would you die?
Tired of the same old thing and having been beaten to a numbed pulp by the status quo, you and I take a bottle of bourbon down to the boat docks to watch the sunset on the water before the stars come out overhead. These are strange times made even stranger by the fact that we thought we’d already been through everything that could possibly break us apart. But nothing is forever and there’s simply no easy way to explain to you why in a manner which doesn’t sound callus. Cruel. Foolish. Cumbersome. The things which swim around in my soul are complicated and deep and it’s not that you can’t understand me it’s that it’s really quite possible that nobody can. The birds in the reeds are singing their various springtime songs out across the bay, oblivious to death and viruses and Wall Street and all the rest. Humans would be better off to stay hidden away from nature as long as possible. We’ve become too toxic, too plastic, too chemically infested. I could swear the squirrels and the soft flowering trees look a good bit happier with us all locked inside. Pollution is clearing, smog is lifting, there are actual swans swimming and dolphins splashing gleefully about in a sea port in Venice. As the human race appears to be hell bent on offing itself, creatures all around us great and small rejoice for the end of the world as we have abused it and dance forward into a time when we leave them in well deserved peace. Taking a swallow, I scan the horizon as my insides warm in contrast to the cool air of evening. The smell of wet wood and sandy beach. How many times I sat here with you looking out into a fiery distance which is both frightening and awe inspiring as the sky turns to streaks of reds, purples, and electric pinks. What is the future we think we want to build together and why would we ever think it could work. I go left when you go right and in the end that might be what does it, it’s impossible to be sure. All I know is I don’t want to end up like everyone else because everyone else is barely holding it all together. They work some job to pay the bills for a house and a lawn and a couple of kids. The spark leaves their eyes only to be replaced by the anxious look a wild animal gets when it suddenly discovers it’s trapped in a cage. Though they smile, something behind their fake expression is cut through with sharp alarm. Instead of freedom, calculations are being made, trade offs, compromises, accommodations, until they no longer recognize themselves in the mirror. As they scroll like zombies through their Facebook feeds, something inside their perfectly performed existence always feels like it’s just about to snap.
Pouring a hot cup of tea, I inhale the jasmine steam and think about the concept of the month of June. It is late at night and the moon has risen to the heights, a hovering globe among a nest of thick trees. Imagining June is, of course, a ridiculous thing to do given the current state of affairs but such is the nature of a mind wrapped gently in thin swaths of the elusive ebb and flow of underlying panic. Months, weeks, days, hours, none of it means anything in the present context of the itchy fabric of our insulated lives. All we have is this minute linked loosely to the next in a hazy continuum which leads into a darkness we don’t know if we will ever even get to see let alone come out of on the other side. On the other side. On the other side are rolling hills covered in tiny white flowers underneath wide open summer blue skies. Pulling my hair away from my face, you kiss me in those sunny fields so sweetly I gasp as my stomach turns into a low thrum of butterflies and soft breezes mixed with the song of wind chimes on a little wooden porch far off. On the other side are the dreams we dared not dream before the dark days came closing in, but now we have seen the terror unfold up too close. We know the sounds of the screams and have learned that they are not as loud as we thought they would be. The screams sounded just like everything else, there was no difference in the cacophony of voices spilling lies, voices spilling blood, voices spilling warnings in between commercials for cancer drugs and nicotine, beach rentals, marijuana, and pretty white teeth. The nights aren’t full of sleep so much as injected with booze and laced with thoughts of sinful acts involving a sultry girl who drags her long jeweled fingernails slowly across your bare sex. How my skin aches all over for pleasure, for a promise, for something to believe in. The sound of silence all around like a thousand outstretched human hands, you reach for them but cannot touch. Sliding underneath the blankets, my body sinks as my eyes adjust to the black. There is a woman in a long silk nightgown sitting at the corner of my bed in the dark. I can feel her breathing. I can sense her invisible body and its small weight. She is slender, ghastly, somber as she presses her hollow eyes into mine. My messenger, my voice. My pale apparition folds her hands in her lap, parts her white lips to speak. She fades and fades until at last I disappear.
My heart skips a beat a bit too often and it worries me because they tell me the palpitations are probably nothing. But when you are losing trust in all the people and systems which are supposed to keep you safe, yet are crumbling around you like sidewalk falling away from the soles of your feet, you watch your steps more closely, and their eyes, and the fog which smothers your hands as you hold them up in front of your face. What you see is not what they see. What you see they do not believe. What you believe is not held in their hearts or written in their palms, but rather in the sand as you approach the great gray waves, in the sand as you depart along the lonely beach you must walk alone into the cool ocean mist. Removing my clothes I wade into the rushing water. Removing my inhibitions, white robes cast into the wind. Renewal. Reclamation. Intention. Disrobing my fear, setting it aside like a discarded blanket. My nakedness, my beautiful skin, my fragile baptismal bones, I deliver myself to the womb of the tangerine sea. The lakes that I carry become one with the water which holds my body like liquid silk, warm against cold, fire against ice, frothing, bubbling, flashing, washing and burning away my terror of this life, this one life. Sparks, salt crystals flash hot in the orange sun. Finding my feet, I stand and welcome the evening glow all over my body, shining, shining, shining so bright I caress myself inside my own admiring gaze. When they come for me I will be gone. They will never come. I lay down upon the sand, it is warm and grainy against my back. Waves crashing like thunder slamming again and again, pounding in my ears. My heart is skipping multiple beats, gushing, squeezing, pulsing too wildly. They tell me it’s nothing. Just age. Just a random, fleeting kind of thing. You have nothing to worry about. You are nothing to worry about. My mind warps, inverts, collapses. There is no pain. There are only my fingers working my breastbone, massaging my own tissue, wondering if Death may only be peace. If He may simply take me soft like a lover would, into the petal pink tongue of His open mouthed heat.