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.
Having traveled endless circles around the sun only to return to the same exact place each and every time, I lie back upon the bed and feel the warm heat of the blankets underneath my tired bones. I wasn’t always so tired, but now the days seem to stack themselves in towers which compress my chest like so many cinder blocks until it is genuinely hard to breathe. Drifting off into the abyss as I fall deeper into the darkness, there are dreams of another time and another place, another life and another version of myself which is dying to exist but I get tripped up inside the irony of it all and in some ways haven’t changed a single bit in decades. The skin fades but the eyes still shine like ocean in sunlight; the heart palpitates, lungs ache, but the ways in which we pleasure ourselves become increasingly hedonistic. In my childhood there was so much wide-eyed awkward potential, in my teens so much secrecy, wonder, and fear. The black cord necklace of his he fastened around my neck, my mouth grown thick with the taste of his heavy cologne. He lead me around and around for months like a new pet as I learned my body was a playground, my body a hot loaded gun. In my twenties, angst and freedom and danger and escape. All the power I claimed as my own back then without flinching terrifies me, takes my breath away now. In my thirties, perhaps something which could be described as desperation, devastation, destruction, but each one laced with sex and whiskey and hope. There is sweetness in numbness they just need you not to admit it. Numbness is like comfort but doesn’t feel nearly as close to the soul. Forty is no more excuses. I should own myself by now so what is it I’m searching for that is always just out of reach? There is a voice inside which is impossible to silence though it keeps telling me things I don’t want to hear about time and space, about regret and neglect, seduction and truth. The spine straightens, curves, arcs, at the thought of it. The stomach in the pit of my throat leaps at the sound of the grip of it. It is a kind of sick hunger wrapped around a deep moaning sigh. It is without name, it is without a face. But from time to time when I catch myself reminding the cells of my body to breathe, I think I can see the whites of its eyes reflecting themselves in mine.
In my name I hear the echoing voices of each of the women who came before me since Eve taught us all the wild beauty of our sinful desires. The pain of each birth exists within my womb and now and then I feel it all at once. Last night in a dream I asked you not to touch me but you wouldn’t stop. I don’t remember what came after but I know parts of me were frozen while other parts fought you off with a rage that came from some place primal, some place we are told doesn’t exist for fear we discover the power of its jaws, of its shiny white teeth. All the women, all of us. We stand on the ledge of a building in flames, afraid of each way out. When I jump I learn I can fly and leaving is as easy as I feared all along it might be. How we tremble and shake to unlock the chains which don’t even exist. Soaring like a wide winged bird up in the sky as I encircle a high rise and catch the wind as it swings around the tallest reaches of the steel beams of a massive extension bridge, I swoop out over the water, dipping so low I become drunk on the salty scent of the sea, swallow it down whole. Dare I dream of a life more beautiful than the one I left behind. Life is a series of traps. Life is a collection of delicate shells you keep in a jar on the side of the sink. Walking along that same bridge I flew over earlier, the street lights come on as night closes in. All that dark water swirling and rushing below is a thrill. I think of those who have made it their grave, their final riotous destination. I think of Virginia Woolf. I think of women wearing stockings and layers and layers of skirts. Heavy. Tangled. Writhing. Did they regret it half way through but then realize it was too late? I hope when I’m dying I don’t know it. Or maybe I do. It depends. How many days are left if I count backwards from you might be losing me? I’m not ready to go but I light up a cigarette anyway and burn myself to stun the pain. I don’t know you but I wish you were here. I wish you would look me in the eye and tell me it’ll all be okay even though we both know that’s impossible. All of these wishes, little aches in my soul like feathers of soft weeds blown out into the night air, scattered, surrendered. Wondering, just like me, what any of it means.
It can be lonely as night falls against the backdrop of a day whittled away to nothing but a rose washed sunset sky. Streaks of peach and amber and clouds drifting behind my tired eyes. It can feel empty in your chest without even a reason why. Such is the strange aloneness of being human, of being alive in stillness. Silence scratches its nails along the wall, pulling shadows down like shades. Wrapped in a flannel and dim light, I’m sipping on the spice of some old fashioned bourbon you left behind and tracing the curls of smoke as they circle from my lips to the ceiling and out the window which opens to the street. Desperate for words which reach inside and claw at the marrow of aching bones, I’m reading poetry by Donaghy, looking over his boyishly handsome face like a ghost in the mirror of a talent reflected back into itself for all eternity, too soon buried, filed away on a shelf only to be taken into soft hands on a cold winter’s evening. Somewhere in a far off hotel room, a man arrives with a bottle of champagne and makes sweet love to a woman he hardly knows who hardly knows herself, but with the tenderness of his touch he teaches her everything she needs to know to get her through another lonely night on the road. I’ve lit a few logs in the fireplace to warm more than just the body, the kind of flames which lick and split at the foot of the soul you carry around with you all day wondering where it fits. Where you fit. If anywhere. You write for some but others show up, unfamiliar, unforgiving, unable to listen or understand even the simplest of truths you hold close to your birdcage ribs. When you stop and think, as you too often do, of how many stories you have told you wonder how many are left to tell. Which will run dry first, you or them. Little rivers of quiet thoughts in your veins, thousands of miles to see what you have seen, to hold upon your tongue the words you searched for long ago only to find them back at the start. That’s the hardest part, maybe. Just to scrape together the courage to pull your heart from your throat. And start.
Good enough isn’t but you continue to pretend because life is complicated and you aren’t as strong as you wish to be. You want to write about anything else but this is what keeps bubbling up and it’s trash and it’s useless. You pour the coffee and check the news. Social media. Prophets. Sages. Hand sanitizer. Beach wear with no where to go. Money where money always is and poverty everywhere. You scroll through your phone too many times a day and make tiny calculations in your mind. What am I worth. What is art worth. How do you cup the meaning of a word in your hands. How do you explain you can’t help the ones who need you most. What is the weight of the poetry on your tongue, and what would you sacrifice to ingest it. Would you dare let the past burn down to the ground right where it’s standing. Would you light the match. Do you trust yourself to see past the flames, watch the heated burning smoke blurring the tops of the pines. I remember she said to me: This too shall pass. Stay close. I remember her dress caught on fire, I remember the sound and the smell and her face. Fear. Indifference. Infatuation. I remember. Underneath the screaming is the anger and underneath the anger is the sadness which just will not shift, like a lump in your throat on the cusp of the tears you try so desperately not to cry. Don’t let them see. Just don’t let them see what you see. Where has your soul gone in all of this. Can you turn your back on your self, the ghost of your body, a severed head. A severed heart, alone in a far off field, still beating. Each night a dream takes me to visit my desire. Each night an angel kneels next to me, repeating the words my blood knows by heart. I speak without speaking, my voice is the pulse in her chest, the sound of the beginning of time, the music woven into the fabric of every star long faded out. How did I get here, why did I come. Where am I going to rest my tired bones, will it be safe there. In my own womb. In my own hands. In my own head.