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 to 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.
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.
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.
Something in the precise words you use to describe the sharp lines of a powerful city you’ve just been visiting half way across the globe makes me believe that if you took me to bed you would know exactly what to do to make me come undone. It’s not just the body it’s the mind and you are quite the master of twisting both so as to cause every nerve ending to stiffen to attention. The way with those eyes you penetrate every breath I ever took until right this moment but now I don’t care if I get five million more or ten I just need you to keep talking. As I listen, patient and impatient like an itchy cat studying the movement of her prey, you tell me about the natural and constant chaos spinning itself outward further and further into the outer most rungs of the universe. Nestled in the dim candle light glow of my living room, it is well past midnight, there’s a half pack of cigarettes, various bottles of wine, and the many stacked rings on your fingers are flashing like planets in a small distant galaxy as you motion with your long thick fingers toward the glittering night sky out the window. The wine having sedated me, I’m trying to follow the course of your lesson which sounds more like a boyish aspiration, a tale of adventure and discovery, I’m falling into the vast blackness of the shirt you’re wearing, the leather belt you have fastened lightly around your waist, the charcoal smudges barely visible around the rims of your tired eyes. You love women almost as much as you love yourself. To hear you tell it there have been any number of them, each one languid, beautiful, in possession of a sweetness which can only be birthed of both strength and submission, not to you necessarily but to a passion which you are uniquely able to stimulate between the two of you such that everything else becomes meaningless and instantly falls away. Though you have never been mine and likely never will be, something strange inside me rejoices to know of the lust you treasure for these women, for yourself, for art, for the magic inherent in life itself. Because you understand science, you understand chemistry which means you understand how to manipulate, to agitate. Experiment. Control. Study. As the words fall softly from your wide sensual mouth, I imagine you are tired but ignoring it, the whiskey has you humming inside and all I can think is nothing and all I can feel is every cell in my body suffocating with desire. Tell me, stranger. Tell me everything you know and everything you dream about. Tell me your secrets. Speak to me of the laws of physics which cause the stars to spread themselves like a glistening womb, mysterious, dark, pulsing, eternal. Your voice grows low and you are nodding off and I’m losing you to yourself as I always have and always will. How I wonder what it would be like to crawl inside that mind of yours, to see what you see through the mad brilliance of a man who loves so many things, who finds himself in ridiculous awe of a world I only want to leave behind at every turn.
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.
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.
It’s sort of like being in a cage but plush with trimmings and cash. The tunnel you live in which is a train which takes you from station to station and back again. Shower. Coffee. Lipstick. Heels. Office. Home. Writing desk with nothing to say except how do I get out of here. How did I end up here. Here are the lies which allow the bars of the cage to begin setting into place: money and safety above all else. Money to keep you safe and images to make them feel safe. The bars are invisible but if you push too hard you can feel them because they are firm and hard underneath your skin (not only must you abide by them, you must carry their weight as well). When you feel them holding you in, forcing you back, you feel a sensation which has two opposing sides: anguish and gratitude. It is the spirit which experiences the anguish, the ripe sadness of never being allowed to express herself, for the spirit is all colors but the air in the cage is colorless. It is the part of you which has been domesticated which experiences the gratitude but always a split second after the anguish. You know that this is because the anguish is your first instinct, that which you feel without being told or taught, your very soul crying out, and the gratitude is the part that was strictly hammered into you in order to keep you hesitant, fearful, jumpy and afraid. You should be grateful you have a job. You should be grateful somebody loves you. You should be grateful you have a roof over your head. You should be grateful you have it so good. You should be grateful you are still kind of pretty, you know, to age is to disappear. You should be grateful. You should be, so you are. At least enough to keep you from talking about the anguish, from giving in to the ache, from focusing on it and listening to it and giving it any of your attention. How you want to love on your ache. To caress and stroke and kiss sweetly that part of you which is wilderness, unexplored, pristine with glittering liquid want. To feel into it with everything you are and everything you wish for just one day you could be. There is a part of you which is quiet and yet is always screaming. She is red with rage and wrecked with sweat as she rattles the chains in your mind as you smile and offer your “Good evening”s on your way out of the ceiling high glass-plated office doors. On the street a pink tangerine sunset gently greets you and you can smell the soft warmth of early autumn drifting on the fading light. Heads down and silently marching, no one else seems to notice. It’s sort of like being in a cage, the tunnel you live in which is a train which takes you from station to station and back again. Office. Traffic. Home. Tee shirt. Wine. Writing desk with nothing to say except there is always the screaming and never a stop on the train for that kind of station.
We create because we are afraid. And we would much rather not be. We drink because we are coming apart all across the kitchen floor in slivers, anxiety in liquid pools at the center of our drowning. Chattering teeth, shaky hands. We are unsteady as we pretend to make dinner we pretend to build a house around a home which is part of the display. And the vines of crimson panic growing along the empty afternoon walls of my disordered mind remind me that nothing matters in the end. We had tried out the various sins: pride, greed, lust, gluttony. We had tried the gym and Facebook and little beads around the wrist, big rocks upon the finger. We had tried, we had really tried. But the devil finds a way inside and once you stop trying so hard her poison tastes just fine. Novocaine and bloody gums. If you looked like me, honey, you’d be alright. You could be famous on the internet and curl up in the heat of happy empowerment as you watch your ratings rise. Tits and ass and injections, a painted face and a Mastercard. Come on, baby, for a price I’ll let you be my savior, leave you sick by the pallid light of dawn but I’ll get you through the night. Red shiny apple rotten to the core but you know… nobody else wants you anymore. And I’m here to help and you could make something of yourself. It’s easy. It’s some beautiful kind of hell out there but it’s all the same, you could go anywhere, you could have gone anywhere. And we try and we try and we try. But the wasteland promotes itself. Smile for me, sweetness. There’s nothing emptiness won’t buy.
Sipping coffee in the pitch darkness of morning, I’m sitting in my writing room staring at a stack of old laptops which are tucked on the bottom of a bookshelf which is full of paperback copies of my book of poetry, Luminae. Those laptops. It’s impossible to say just how many tired words about old thoughts they contain. How many photographs of a younger self, a more ambitious, lighthearted woman. Beaches, bikinis, cold white wine and cigarettes in bars when that was still something you could get away with. Moments of hope, mischief, and inspiration now collapsed inside a few black boxes sunk deep into the sea of many years ago. I’m not sure I’ll ever dive back into any of them, I mean who can remember all those old passwords and security codes and besides, what is there to see? What use would it be now? A girl moves on just to stay sane, lets go just to hold on to the best parts of what she can still believe in. Entire lifetimes discarded. Sometimes I think I write today just to make it to tomorrow. I scroll by the perfect faces on a screen and I wonder if they are trying to capture a self they wish they could know but don’t quite, a glimpse of happiness before they inevitably fade to nothing. There is a feeling stirred into the cooling coffee in the bottom of my cup, there is a fear which is thin like porcelain. It is fragile and rings high through the autumn wind in the trees as I sit alone by the yellowing light of a lamp on this gray couch. It is the sensation of time sliding away from me, time unnoticed and as soon forgotten. It is a life divided into parts, trapped inside a stack of black boxes in the dust of a girl gone by. A woman on edge, by herself with her selves inside of a room.
This restlessness eats all the way to my fingertips. Because of the anxiousness I can’t seem to figure out what to do with the feeling so I pull out the laptop and start typing without a single thing to say. There is a layer of something so deep and murky under the skin I feel as though a dark and unforgiving ocean walks the earth inside of me. Childhood memories of crisp fall evenings walking the concrete sidewalks of my old neighborhood. Before there were cell phones, before there was so much fear in everything I touched. The thin tension in the air between my small body and the only slightly larger body of the boy I wanted to kiss but never did. His curly hair and my bright blue eyes. Days of knee socks and growing into an awkward quiet creature. The years have gone by and some have been kind but some have been crueler than I can bear to recall. Regret, panic, destruction. Red lipstick and dimly lit bars and strangers who turn you on. A hungry girl grows into a reckless woman, but you like that and so do they so you mistake desperation for power. You live a life that becomes only a memory but also continues to loop inside, turns the stomach, clutches at your breast at night. How much time. What have I done with any of it. What do I have left to do but write, but write, but what. For who. Why? And as the black morning sky peels itself open like a weary eyelid from the ending of the night, you think you know. Because the soul needs something to worship. Hungry girl. You need an obsession that will tear you open. Something to rail against and submit to. You need devotion in your life to stay alive.