It’s later, though not late enough for dark. Not late enough to drown the memory of his filthy words from her mind with multiple glasses of wine.
Not enough to erase the shame that burns in her body, making her wet in places she feels too guilty to admit to, let alone touch, let alone speak about. Not that anyone listens to her when she speaks in any case, but still.
It is late enough, however, for the descending winter storm to dim the neighborhood sufficiently such that the many strands of multi-colored twinkle lights click on, shining their holiday glow of greens, reds, oranges, and blues from underneath a fresh frosting of snow along the windows and trees.
She hadn’t meant to go so far as to actually interact with him online. It wasn’t something she normally did but, alas, quarantine seems to have blurred her virtual boundaries. Isolation, that is, along with the pale white wine she appears to have increased her tolerance for exponentially over the past many months while stuck inside with nowhere to go.
How many months has it been now? Eight? Nine? A year? Five, ten? Doesn’t matter, of course. The damage that was to have been done is done and here she finds herself quite alone, aching for touch, watching the heavy snow pile up on the street, pouring her precious liquid escape into a long stemmed glass.
The way the alcohol numbs the skin and tingles it at the same time makes her feel like she is flying high and sunk down as low as the Titanic at the bottom of a tranquil distant sea. Her limbs, heavy and light and chained to the ocean floor.
Looking up she sees little children coming out to play across a few yards down the block. Screaming and throwing themselves all over into the snow drifted hills. She remembers doing the same once in a tiny pink snow suit, little white boots with little white tassels. Her eyes like wide sapphire stars staring blurry into the heavens as she opened her tiny pink mouth to taste the falling frozen droplets on her warm protruding tongue.
How could a creature so innocent grow into something so grotesque with insecurity, so riddled with deviant desires and angst.
Perhaps that is how he somehow suddenly caught her off guard when they spoke the other day. Perhaps that is how he managed to skewer her right there between her near animalistic craving for affection and the jagged edge of her breath-taking loneliness.
The mouth of the world overflows with judgement, of course. She had been every nasty thing they called her growing up: a slut, an easy lay, a bitch, a snob, a brat, a loser, a loner, a nobody, a disappointment, a whore.
Sometimes they would say it outright, sometimes just with the slant of their prissy eyes. Either way she knew what they meant and how they wanted her to feel. Like an outsider. Like a freak.
The thing about certain older men was that when they looked her dead in the eye it sent her heart racing into her throat. With a gentle word, the slightest touch, they could send her fragile bones trembling with want, soak her head to toe with need.
When they spoke to her with sincere admiration it set fire through her thin pewter veins and made her feel desperately alive.
The addiction to approval. Intoxication by flattery, even if by calculated design.
In the dim light of thick fog, I reach for the moon and fall short.
The scent of damp soil, the hardness of stoic earth, rises from beneath my feet as my boots make tracks on the forest floor. I can see the little lights coming on in a string of small houses dotting the woods.
Electric candles, crimson Christmas ribbon, holly branches, shaggy low pine.
I was born in the dark of the morning, into the darkness of a kind of perpetual evening. This is what they told me. And in my innocence, in my eagerness to mean anything at all, I believed.
To believe is a way of holding onto time. I fold my soul into a sheet of paper, bargaining with chance, crumbled in the bottom of the pocket of my black wool coat.
One of the falsehoods we carry with us into adulthood is that we are only worthy of love if we try hard not to break it. We break ourselves instead, as protection. Melancholy. Spiked. Reckless. Bones like steel and hearts like fire, foolish, fevered, desperate.
Our hands on our chests. Our empty legs, like the slim bare trees groping toward the white endless sky, spread wide apart and glistening.
He reaches for me beneath our warm winter blankets. We lie naked and join together, moving in swivels of curled hips and feathers of touch, until we become the rain which streams down along the grand windows all around, prismatic, the translucent pale color of tears.
His hands trail over my arms as he presses me deeper into the soft mattress. There is a kind of silence that swallows a body like death, a welcoming. The vacancy, the heaviness of slumber.
Of escape or eviction.
Beneath his heavenly pressure, I slide into the blank darkness of sleep.
Unsure of how to begin, I dive right to the center, or the middle, or the edges, I am never exactly certain which but I begin the nibble hoping to progress to a full meaty bite. Chewing on this life, this life the whole of which stands trembling before death as it has and does and always will on any given day of the week until the end. The Rest. The Final. I would tell you all about me but I fear it would shock or bore you so I dress it up as best I know how with a textural mix of sex and violence and drama and then try to weave my way back to the intricacies of the beginning so that you, and I, and we, the collective, can feel some sense of closure as we drift inside a tiny sliver of space within a world which is a never ending labyrinth of potential openings, doors, some already opened, some closed, some locked, some unlocked though we never know this because the fear of the other side is enough to keep us from even attempting to turn the knob and see. The terror of the blank page. The white blazing blindness of the vast empty and the threat of the desire to fill the void. To drain and fill the mind. Consciously. That of which we are aware. That which we deny. To re-fill the mind. To discard the old, not bury it, no dirty fingernails or ceremonial tears, but to stride deliberately into the darkness and set it on fire, thoroughly engulfed in flame and watch as the smoke rises into the hollow midnight sky. The piercing through of the ancients. The cutting of the heart, the suffering which is cathartic, which is relief. I am asleep, however, and unaware until dawn. I am clean. I am pure as in the womb, voiceless, warm and alone. The blood is red in the open air, it runs the distance which is blue, which is the track of the tubes of circulation which is a prayer, the prayer of kinetic energy, the prayer of budding teeth, a rosary of extending bone. The embers glowing as splits, flecks of eyes simmering out in the cold. Looking down into my own palms, I am this body and this age. I am beyond this moment as I am under it as I am moving toward it and away. I am these dreams I am desperate to speak of, but hold back. No more. No more, when there is no future whispering in the olive distance. No more, when the mist of this morning is a hall of mirrors hung upon the backs of doors which close and open, close as they open. Look into my eyes. Place your fingers in my wounds. Spread your lips beneath the wild gaping charcoal sky. Are you thirsty. Are you willing. Open, open, open.
Hello out there, how are you doing? I am wishing you well, I am hoping you are safe and hanging in there wherever you are across the globe. I thought since we, well, many of us are spending more time perhaps alone that I would record this little something for us today. It feels a little bit more intimate, doesn’t it? Closer? To hear my voice in addition to the words? I feel so, I hope so. In any case, I was sitting with some wine last evening, or whatever evening whatever day in whatever month, and it was sunset and the light was fading out over the rooftops and the trees and I was just making a few notes here and there in some things I was reading, I’m reading some cultural texts, some books about current events and yadda ya all that madness. And my head was spinning in all of the mayhem, right, wishing things were different and knowing that it will be a long time before we crawl out from under the weight of what we are going through with coronavirus and grief and pain and the anger and the frustration and the fear and all these things. But all of a sudden my eye caught the reflection of just this small radiance, this shimmer of light reflecting through just some little houseplant in the corner of my writing room, and I remembered this poem I love, its a fairly popular poem by Charles Bukowski, called The Crunch, from his collection – I think there are multiple versions but the version I think of is the version from Love Is a Dog From Hell. You may know it, but it is a poem about loneliness, crushing loneliness and the state of a world full of neglected people, forgotten worn down souls.
So tragic but also, I am afraid so very real, right. And I think I will read it for you, first, and then I have a poem of my own I will share, the reason being is because it has been ages, ages, it feels like to me, since I have written a proper poem. I have been heavy with the prose and the non fiction and the story weaving, story telling, which I just adore, and I am so grateful that you are here with me for all of it, you hearten me very much out there. But poetry, poetry is where I come from, poetry is in my blood, it is a way of living and dreaming and breathing and being, a way of interpreting the world, outside and inside of myself. I couldn’t live without it. It has done more to transform and awaken me, enlighten me, than any other form of writing or art or expression. So I wanted to spend some time with poetry today.
So here is Charles Bukowski’s poem, The Crunch:
too much too little
too fat too thin or nobody.
laughter or tears
strangers with faces like the backs of thumb tacks
armies running through streets of blood waving wine bottles bayoneting and fucking virgins.
an old guy in a cheap room with a photograph of M. Monroe.
there is a loneliness in this world so great that you can see it in the slow movement of the hands of a clock
people so tired mutilated either by love or no love.
people just are not good to each other one on one.
the rich are not good to the rich the poor are not good to the poor.
we are afraid.
our educational system tells us that we can all be big-ass winners.
it hasn’t told us about the gutters or the suicides.
or the terror of one person aching in one place alone
untouched unspoken to
watering a plant.
people are not good to each other. people are not good to each other. people are not good to each other.
I suppose they never will be. I don’t ask them to be.
but sometimes I think about it.
the beads will swing the clouds will cloud and the killer will behead the child like taking a bite out of an ice cream cone.
too much too little
too fat too thin or nobody
more haters than lovers.
people are not good to each other. perhaps if they were our deaths would not be so sad.
meanwhile I look at young girls stems flowers of chance.
there must be a way.
surely there must be a way that we have not yet thought of.
who put this brain inside of me?
it cries it demands it says that there is a chance.
it will not say “no.”
Mmm. That poem murders me, it kills me with its terrible truth. But somehow, sometimes, when the truth hurts so badly we just want to hear someone say it. Out loud. We are not good to each other. Anguish in the form of poetry.
And I think about some poetry I have written, and one poem came to my mind to share with you today, it is titled “Remember Me” from my book Luminae. I wanted to read it for you in the hopes that for a little while it keeps you company, whatever you are doing.
Here is Remember Me:
Has this been the hurt inside of you these cuts on my hands the crush of broken promises. Your static mouth a shrieking fog
buzzing in my head, humming – you like grains of sand scratching a desert in my throat.
Remember me a grapefruit moon
hanging in your rear view mirror love in the back seat melon. sunset. smoke. love
took a back seat.
Now the morning rolls down her sheets silicone heat waves sweat across my tongue. I listen for you but all that moves nails along the wall are reflections of an empty afternoon.
(my arms reach for three corners from this corner)
The windows are swallowing sunlight the sunlight is dangling through trees traces of a dim lit landscape you used to speak of
And so with this I leave you for now. Please take the best care of yourself that you possibly can. Please be safe and well. And thank you, always, for spending some time with me. Until the next time. Cheers.
You tell me that when you read the poem I slid underneath your office door you had to take a seat and read it over multiple times. You enjoy the way the words taste like the sin of flesh and bone and youth. You do not smile at me and I do not smile back. I don’t want your happiness. I want to tear you into a thousand small pieces from the inside out, set you on fire and leave you there to burn. As you say encouraging things to me about my work, your gaze travels over my body slowly, drinking in my subtle movements, the crook of my wrist, the bend of my hip, the cocky way I tilt my head against the paint chipped door frame so my long wavy hair falls over my elbow just enough to skim my waist. Your eyes like two beautiful blades slicing me open, exposing me without even a touch, coming back up to meet my eyes. You stay there forever etched in my brain and even all these years later I recall you sat back like a very bad man who wanted very bad things. I miss the poetry and I miss the high of seduction, intrigue, play. But I am not me anymore and you are not you. Now the world is upon its knees as angry mobs line up together and demand their own execution. Make it grave, make it public, make it hard and make it hurt, how bored we are of the lives we don’t even bother to lead. Now my dreams are screams, I can hear them so clearly in their vivid colors. Sex and death. Bright fires flaring up along the empty streets of my skin, my soft blue veins engulfed in thick tongues of flames. My image fades in and out of a mirror which stands still against a blank wall, as the wind moves shadow into shadow. Intercourse. Dark moon. Nightgowns on pale women, singing on the lawn in the haunted hush of night. Their black eyes reach out like claws, they touch one another. The clutch of a bare hand to my chest. A fist of long fingers gripped tight around my throat. I need it, can’t you understand that? There is a cord which runs invisible from the pulse in my neck to the heat of my sex. I need to feel something which honors the fear. Something which penetrates the veil. I have such nightmares of late, and wake washed flush in a sweat, in the kind of glistening tears a whole body cries. I have these mad times threaded through the hallways of my ricochet mind. We cannot return to the way things were, but I’ll be alright. I don’t miss your eyes. They are with me all the time.
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.