The Devil You Know

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.

Dirty

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 Fire In His Touch

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.

Something to Believe In

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.

When This Is Over

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.

My Body Is a Castle Made of Sand

I tell you I hate you but that’s only because you turn me on and pushing you away is a good way to ensure you stick around, if only for the game. There are black birds circling in a winter white sky as gray swaths of thin clouds move swiftly in the opposite direction. Something invisible but razor sharp in the atmosphere plays with my body like ten thousand tiny hot pin pricks, an energy live as electric wires and I can taste the heat in my mouth. There are moving cars and street lights streaking haphazardly across the wet blacktop as I remember the first time we gave in to our darkest temptations, like two predators with nothing left to sink our teeth into except each other. I like the way you look at me when you know what you want and how you want it and won’t put up with anything less. The chaos swirling in your hungry eyes is the only sight in this frightening world that calms the fear which claws inside me all the time. As you grasp the back of my neck, I feel the cruelty of the ages slide off of me along with my tee shirt and torn up jeans. All the mental brutality of living which I carry around with me all day, kneading it constantly between my fingers and my shoulder blades, falls like meat off the bone. I’m so much more tired than I let on, I’ve been fighting my whole life it seems, to get out of my own head, to spit in the face of convention and crawl away from the terrible of gray cinder block walls and coffee stained hallways that snake through the dead buildings in this miserable city. The pain in you, that’s what I want to taste the most because it’s the only way to know this feeling is genuine. The way that you make me ache all over splits me open, and I need that in ways only you can understand. You like that when I come to you I’m willing, so you can work my body until it is worn waif thin.  When we merge, we kiss until our bones beg for relief. Sex is death is a way to erase each other and disappear.  Let me break you, baby, let me break you slow. There is a cigarette burning in smoky silence on the nightstand and a hole in my heart where love should be but I prefer a little emptiness. What is love anyway but a vanishing, a marked figure stalking in shadows. There is a fence around the walls which guard my heart for protection. In the fading evening light, I pull on your beat-up cotton shirt, and arrange some flowers in a vase while sipping on the whiskey warming in your glass. Every fleck of dust is my breath suspended, every creak in the floor boards is a lover who has walked away. As you are gazing out the window which overlooks an empty tree lined street, I place my hand on your stomach. We are no fairy tale, you and I, this I have always known. But just for a time, when this life gets under my skin, when I don’t know what I believe in or if standing at the gate I’m looking outside or in, I lay my head in your hands and let you pretend to call me home.

How the World Ends

As my eyes darken and the storm erupts inside my veins, you mistake my anger for passion, slide your hands around my hips and press me to you hard. My mind is a lightning rod of electric visions, none of them tender. To be alive at all in times like this is to exist inside a caricature of cruelty, the outside world has become a pornography of brutal harm. Women and children fleeing for their very survival in the desert, chased into madness by the callus greed of the rich and powerful men who own everything but most importantly they own the power to kill. Kill us. Destroy all of the things we worship and believe in as we scramble to understand what is even happening when it’s all happening too fast. You grab a fistful of my hair and firmly tug while kissing the soft skin of my exposed neck and in one deep exhale I try to imagine what it must feel like to die. To be on the other side of destruction, free of the fear. Do we still feel affection even after we cross over? Do we still know all the same things we know now but are they somehow neatly tied together in such a way that it all makes sense? You don’t ask yourself any of these things that I obsess over with near relentless hyper attention which may be why there are  times when you can get yourself off while all I can do is roll with it through the numbness. Who deserves pleasure, who deserves pain. Who deserves more of one or the other. As I drive to work with headlights peering through the hollow darkness down the same old road, I pass a deer on the side of the highway, headless. In the split second when I notice it I see only its wide stump of bloodied insides, then its beautiful young body limp, lifeless. We have been told there are too many deer and it’s a problem and it’s a shame. We have been told a lot of things are not as they seem. Violence is not violence, truth is not truth. What you see is not what you see. But who hits a deer with a car in such a way that the head comes clean off – and then disappears? A static voice on the radio speaks of the most recent catastrophic event on the other side of the globe. Hand grenades and the smiles on the laughing faces of the enemy. War is not war. Death is not death. Life is not life and this one’s not mine. I sip my coffee, and drive.

Stray

As I tighten my mouth around a smooth cigarette, you are telling me things I already don’t care to know about. Something about the guy at work who never has his shit together and always manages to drag you into the mired mess with him because that is what people who are clueless do, grab onto everything helpful around them and drown it out. Meanwhile I, on the other hand, feel something of a smug triumph because I have managed to hold down a day job that doesn’t come home with me. All the useless drivel is left where it belongs: inside the gray and dying walls of a building which corrals hundreds of people for the better part of their days, the majority of their squirmy eyeless lives. Taking a long sip of wine, I attempt to change the subject and talk about moving because I am terrified of a future together which is devoid of adventure, but the truth is I love our house with a bone-deep kind of love I have never known in a place ever before. It’s just a split level house in a no-name town, but over the years we have carved ourselves into it so deeply that I can’t imagine being anywhere else let alone leaving this place behind. The way it feels like living in a park when I wake up to the sunlight falling through the trees and streaming through our open bedroom windows. The logs on the fireplace in the dead of winter as snow piles up against the back patio. It’s a home now, one that stays inside of you even when you go away for a while so that it is always calling you back. I think sometimes I talk to you about home because I don’t know how to talk to you about writing, how much it means to me, how much I need it. To have a home like this is a beautiful trap not unlike writing. There is a wandering loneliness in writing which is oddly seductive, it keeps you writhing around in its web until it kills you or makes a meal of you or both. But if I don’t write, I can feel the sickness crawling up underneath my skin, the sad panic at not being able to find the words. For all the romance they will offer you about being a writer, it’s nothing short of an affliction really to have a relentless desire to retreat alone to a room and be with the dead quiet so that you can close your mind to everything except the most immediate sensations and thoughts. It’s still dark outside as I type, there is a cat crying loudly down the street. The sound is so crushingly hollow with pain and desperation it makes my insides ache with both affection and disgust. For as long as I can remember I have had myself convinced that I am a writer who can only write in the very early mornings before the rest of the world realizes anything is even happening. It’s not true of course, a real writer can write at any hour and we are always writing no matter where we are at any given time. We are just especially good at fooling ourselves, at backing ourselves into corners in our lives and in our stories. The only way to claw out of ourselves is to dive into ourselves. Maybe that’s why I love the home we have built together so much. No matter how far off I need to wander I always seem to wind up coming back. The cat is screaming now— hasn’t let up. And high above the idle moon watches, glowing from a vast cold distance.

Desperate Hours

It’s another day gone by and the winds are picking up as the seasons turn darker and colder every time the sun sinks down into the ether. I check my phone too much, compulsively now I don’t even try to stop myself- sure the world is going to end any minute but of course it won’t be that sudden. The avalanche of atrocities and terror and greed will continue long past when we deserve to even be here at all. It’s hard to think about anything else when you are so rattled with existential dread and yet there are still the temporary pleasurable escapes: poetry, music, erotica, writing, wine.  Women’s drinking is on the rise here in the States and I’ve about a million fine guesses why but at the moment I’m just trying to survive being human staring alternately at screens glowing dumbly as we bomb and kill and torture each other with no end in sight.  I’m torn between raging and laughing because still they look for heroes, still they hope and pray and pretend someone else will save us from the evil we let pour vainly through ourselves. The arrogance of that kind of ignorance infuriates me and then leaves me numb. Because the state of current affairs is such that I don’t know anymore if I give zero fucks or all the fucks. Because commercials for lingerie, whiter teeth, and spa vacations are the only things breaking up the never ending psychotic reel of cruelty. Because as this particularly ordinary evening turns to purple clouds in a graveyard sky, in my veins there runs a story I am unable to find the words to tell, and page after page this life which I cannot ever seem to master, cannot ever seem to wrap my fingers around to hold on tight, slides silently passively by.

In the Blink of An Eye

A soft thin rain mists along the neighborhood as I stare into the dull white sky from the upstairs window of my writing room. A touch of October wind on my bare shoulders, I’m snuggled in thick blankets while curled up on the couch with my laptop, skimming over the events of the day as I breathe deeply and decompress. The gray fade of afternoon, the steady sound of the falling rain, low lights and a few glowing candles tucked among my houseplants. Never could I ever understand why people don’t adore this weather. I’d take it every day of the week and twice on Sunday along with the chill in the air, a chunky sweater, leather boots, and cinnamon in my coffee. Drifting off into the fog which is now settling upon the high tree tops, my mind stumbles upon the hazy decades-old memory of sitting outside at a late night bonfire, watching the flickering light lick at the spicy night air. Tight jeans, cigarettes and cheap beer, and a boy I wanted who wanted me, too. He was tall and rugged and shy but for his height which towered over all of us. I would have given him everything but he had a girlfriend he was very loyal to which I did think was sweet but also a waste of a perfectly beautiful hungry youth. When you are young you don’t know anything except what you want and when you find something you want you think only about how to get it. Nothing else matters, everything is a crushing pursuit, everything is a chase, a challenge, a dare. You don’t ever think about what could be on the other side, what happens after you actually get everything you want. That boy is a man now, lost most of his thick wavy chestnut hair, packed on a sizable gut, and had three or four kids. He’s some kind of security guard someplace out in the sticks. I wonder if the girl he loved so hard then still loves him, I wonder if he still loves her and has been faithful all this time. I wonder what the loyalty awards you after all the regular years spent not chasing, not turned on or moved by anything you long for that’s just out of reach.  V-neck sweaters bought with coupons and Christmas parties at the homes of other people who are also parents and also resigned to the madness of the middle of their ebbing lives. Is there more than that? Does there have to be? I’m the last to know. My only child is all grown up, twenty-one and gorgeous in all the ways you’d want for a child you raised into a man. My home is tranquil and full of books. I have filled my life with writing and thoughts and research and reading. And I’m here in my upstairs room listening to the birds calling for each other through the sifting autumn rain feeling like I have already lived a thousand lives. None more sweet than this, cherishing the sound of the clicking of the keyboard as I type quietly alone in a room of my own.