Pornographia

If you and I are talking, there’s about a fifty percent chance I believe anything you tell me, which, for the most part, is more about my own uneasiness than yours, although it may also be that the seediness in you is reflecting its menace in mine underneath the words you rattle off thinking you can put me in my place.

Explain at me. Educate me. Enlighten me. Tell me how it is, I can see you are quite concerned that I come around to the way you interpret the world you seem to own, seem to be in charge of, seem to be the one it was constructed around.

Around and around we go, wherever we stop, you’ll be the first to know. Won’t you. Decide. I take a drag of my smoke and I wait for it all to end, while penning a love letter in the garden under the shade of a mighty swamp maple which shields me from the oppressive sun but not the scorching July heat.

The heat curls everywhere inside my skin.

You ask what I am thinking but it doesn’t matter much unless it props you up. In my mind, the red hot summer sky blooms ripe like drops of blood billowing in water. A mother loses a child. A writer makes her bed in the corner of an empty room, typing out tragedy, stabbing out hope, letter by letter. Explanations are excuses and I don’t offer either anymore.

I watched a young woman in New York get thrown into the back of an unmarked van and driven away by armed men in plain clothes in a cloud of fogged distraction and rage, before I even had coffee this morning. The birds sang as the trees were rustling in the breeze which made a sound like the rush of a stream running by, sloping along a steep hill. None of which actually exist.

She writes like, you know, I don’t know, some stream of consciousness type shit like that. Just from one thought to the next, on and on, and half the time it doesn’t make sense. I don’t know whether to believe her. She claims it’s saving her life.

 

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Photo by Allan Filipe Santos Dias

Underneath

Perhaps you thought the words would save you, from what you did not know. If you could only locate the right ones. The ones more precious than any of the hundreds of thousands you had written before in the clouds as they soared by overhead, into a pale gray distance you dreamed to explore.

Morning dawns in your chest, pinks and blues and lightning bolts. I have a dear friend who shares my bed, stalks my mind, and I refuse to believe that he needs me for anything.

Anxiety. (Generalized.) The shaking spreads itself through everything and you are fascinated by its smoothness, obsessed with your inability to collect it back in. Watch over it, wade into it, like an oil spill, black ink slides out across the vast dark ocean of the void.

We open our hearts and touch our lips to one another for want of the emptiness. Thirsty. You are the taste of sunlight falling through trees, the secrets which twist and ache to keep.

Under lock and key, the tongue keeps hidden inside your stifled breath. You tap at the keyboard just to feel your heart beating. Almost surprised, almost, unlikely. There are multiple lives you live all at once and they each ring separately in your ears, hoping to be the one who is heard.

It is hard to tell. It is difficult to hear the answer among the answers.

Above all else. Beyond all the noise and the rattling which exhausts your veins with trembling. When it is very hard to see, I don’t know how the words can save me.

But still, even inside the madness, something believes I should believe.

 

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Photo by Vino Li

Fourteen Years Ago Today, Time Broke Away from Itself

On this day fourteen years ago, my mother died in the back room of the house we opened and closed our lives in. When it was all over, the pine trees stood in the front of the house, reaching, heavy, immobile in the terrible heat.

I want to say the sun was setting because I am certain it was. How could it not? How could it be any other way at the end of everything. I want to say it was dinner time.

But then, suddenly, somehow, it wasn’t.

It was supposed to be something else, it was supposed to be a different time. A longer time. A time so much farther off that we shouldn’t have been able to see it. Let alone hear it in the ringing in our ears as dishes were done. Prayers were prayed. Let alone touch it, here at the center of the heart in our trembling hands.

We will be back, we whispered to her just moments before she made her departure from us forever. Forever, arriving and departing, at dinnertime.

But there would be no eating, for there was no time any of us could understand. No breaking of bread, no explanation, no dinner. Time. There would be tear stains searing down the skin which covered the numbness. There would be I am so sorry, there would be drinking late into the night on the back deck, voices, both familiar and unfamiliar, in the darkness, as she was taken away.

Taken away from us.

Grief moves through you, in and out of each of the shattered windows in your soul, like wind, empty, hollow, invisible, whistling.

Looking for something it cannot name, it cannot find, it cannot see.

For years and years.

 

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Photo by Kristina Tripkovic

Smile, Girl, It’s Not So Bad

Died of breast cancer. She was 57. Overdose. Dead at 34. Found dead in river. Her remains were discovered. Suicide. She was just 20 years old. Wife of… mother of… daughter of… We will sacrifice your children for the economy. I know it sounds harsh but, honestly, what do you expect? What is life when we have businesses to nurse back to health. Don’t worry so much. We will serve you alcohol until you are blue in the face and run out of money. Casinos now open! where the house wins once in a while and you lose everything repeatedly, the only toss up is whether it happens slowly over time or all in the blink of one night.

This is why I shouldn’t open my phone first thing in the morning, everybody knows that. It was a good weekend spent steadily ignoring everything and everyone else but you don’t want to hear about that. You don’t want to know how I spend my days and nights, you want to know if how I spend them adds up to anything you might want to take with you when you leave here. When you leave me. You want to know if it leads up to anything. Where is this story going? Where is the tension? What is the point?

You and me both, man. Sipping my coffee with sugar and cream and a running tab of the deceased ticking away on the screen. Here is the story behind the story, it is not finished and we avoid reading it let alone writing it. What does it mean to be a woman alive in the world today? Where are we headed if not straight toward the fear of the annihilation of our bodies. Our psyches. Our spirits.

And maybe you will close this tab and forget all about me and this story. Maybe you will decide my ‘content’ is too unnerving, bothersome, ‘pessimistic.’ Rude. Rude of me to say what’s on my mind if it isn’t a little prettier. A little more palatable. Come on, smile, darling. Cheer up. It isn’t so bad. And even if it is, kindly don’t be such a burden; don’t add to the atrocities by, you know, reminding us.

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Photo by Annie Spratt

The Otherworldly Contemporary Author to Be Obsessed with Right Now

Little dark clouds are forming out over the horizon in low clusters, as the purple hills off in the dewy distance lay themselves down before the pale morning sky. The sun just barely skims the trees while I sit sipping coffee on the grass of a small park on the outskirts of town. The air is still and smells of the empty kind of clean, and it feels good to be alone even in lonely times like these.

I am lucky to feel this way, of course, some are not so lucky by far. Perhaps out of guilt, perhaps out of solace, perhaps in the name of a new way of making art, my latest obsession is the contemporary author Ottessa Moshfegh, who is making a splash because her works are oddly gripping in their merciless dark humor, focus on the aimless, and as she describes in her own words,

“My writing lets people scrape up against their own depravity, but at the same time it’s very refined… it’s like seeing Kate Moss take a shit.”

Makes me wince to have that image shoved at me but there it is and it is a very keenly self-aware thing to say. She’s right. I’ve just finished her 2018 novel My Year of Rest and Relaxation in which the nameless narrator is a young woman, hip, pretty “like an off duty model” living in NYC. Both of her (very cold, very emotionally detached) parents have died and she lives more than comfortably off of her lavish inheritance on the Upper East side of Manhattan. She’s depressed and riddled with existential angst and ultimately decides she must not only start her aimless life anew but be completely reborn, transformed into an entirely new person, not on the outside, but on the inside.

In order to do this, she decides, she will need to hibernate, as in spend four months essentially unconscious, sleeping. She finds herself a lunatic doctor willing and ready to prescribe exorbitant amounts of drugs to “cure” the narrator’s made up “insomnia.” The whole thing becomes something of a high stakes artistic experimental endeavor to see if one very messed up girl can start over anew by essentially sleeping her way into a new kind of existence.

The final page of the story describes a scene which occurs on 9/11. I’ll not disclose the ending but suffice it to say there is an epiphany which takes place in such a way as to shock and arrest the reader into (perhaps) feeling lucky to be alive, even in a life which often feels overwhelming, aimless, useless, and terrible.

The whole experience of the book was like looking into a dark tunnel, reaching for the poetic black void, seeking to escape into what feels like freedom but also terror. Looking for a hand to hold but never quite touching it. Whatever this feeling is, be it longing or simply the nature of humanity to reach, to search, to seek, I have it in me. And to read of it in such a bizarrely crafted  story made me feel both more and less crazy, both more and less alone.

In an interview with the New Yorker, Moshfegh reveals that an artist friend once told her,

“Whatever it is that you’re going to do, you can’t just fit into the mold—you have to break the mold, blow people’s minds, do it perfectly, and then not care . . . Because if you care you’re not cool, and if you’re not cool you’re shit.”

Moshfegh, of course, cares a great deal. In fact, she goes on to explain her perspective on creating while describing why she ended a relationship with an ex,

“He told me in the middle of an argument that being an artist was something that weak people indulge in, and I made him leave, because I guess what I feel is the opposite of that . . . I think art is the thing that fixes culture, moment by moment. I don’t really feel a reason to exist unless I feel my life has a purpose, which is creating. So I feel—I’m not going to call it pressure—I feel I have a karmic role to play.”

Writing strangely as karma. Writing, even if it is dark and nearly shapeless, as the point, as the purpose. This is intensely fascinating to me perhaps because I was brought up to believe there were very clear lines between what was ‘good’ and what was ‘bad,’ what is worthy and unworthy, worthwhile and a waste of one’s energies and skills, moral and immoral. But the mysterious Moshfegh inverts everything I have been taught to believe about what I am “allowed” to do with writing, with creativity, with art.

It is so rare for me to find an author who truly sinks her claws into me, who will not let me get away from her madness so easily, but Ottessa Moshfegh is such a creature. Meanwhile, I toss my empty coffee into the trash, brush the grass from my shorts, and head off into this life I’ve got pulsing through my slim little veins, a life of nothingness, wilderness, bliss and grime and grit.

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Photo by Kinga Cichewicz

May I Tell You About the Rain (audio)

May I tell you about the rain? It is now falling softly upon the grassy lawn outside my bedroom window, as the sun is gently trying to peel through a rough scatter of deep purple gray clouds. I can see the yellowed melon rays glinting along the drainpipe which runs down the corner of the house across the street. I can’t explain why but there is this very real fear inside of me, throbbing in the center of my bones, that if I cannot tell you about the rain, I may as well not exist at all underneath this skin which tingles at even the tiniest idea, the smallest suggestion of the sound of poetry. Sizzles with the heat of anticipation, possibility, and dread, the clasp of an invisible hand around my heart whose fingers subtly press, squeezing tight enough to pump the veins full of fresh crimson concern. I am alive with the rain, I am alive for it. The rain, meanwhile, with its wide ancient mind set upon other things, has moved out across the fields away from me and I can no longer hear its tiny drops on the hot pavement. But the scent of its memory comes in a gauzy wave through the window where I sit, coffee in hand, head in an alternate universe. I miss all the things I have not yet written about. I carry the rain inside when it goes away. When I tell you about the rain, I am wondering if you can hear what I am saying. Are you able to listen beneath the listening. Do you understand that the rain is not a substance but a sensation, that it is an experience with which I am deeply involved, in which I am eternally invested. Some may read this and call it madness, obsession, nonsense. I am well aware of that kind of thing by now. But I feel it is important to note, that in one’s single precious life, there should be a very important difference acknowledged between what one is simply aware of and what one is willing to give one’s self over to completely, heavily, dramatically, wholly. What altar at which one deliberately decides to worship. And if you have paid me any mind at all, and I do hope you have because I truly do wish to exist, you will understand that I’ve yet to find anything, living or deceased, more worthy than the rain.

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Photo by Esther Ann

What It Does to You

Stefano Zocca

You take out the trash and spin little white lies around your tongue wondering if you let them fall from your lips would they tear everything you’ve been building for so long apart in the spark of an accidental instant. Keep it together. Shake it off. Get over yourself. The tall trees are lush and green with the sweet heat of summer as they sway on the breeze, while the sky is the kind of razor sharp blue that stabs in your chest and makes you wish you could just be alone for a while to figure things out on your own. But the rush of demands is how they steal your life away, minute by minute, like a strategy, like a sport, as you chase the pain they run out the clock. Time has a way of collapsing in on itself, in on you, you can feel it in that knot right at the center of your shoulder blades. The boss and the kids and the leak in the basement and the dreams you once had all screaming so loud in your head it’s hard to find your own voice and pull it from the wreckage of the things inside you let die long ago. The days are long but they fade swiftly into oblivion with everything else and you find yourself wondering what any of it means, how many soft heartbeats line the rest of the path you’re meant to take. You carry such grand visions in your soul, there’s a secret place beaming and bursting with fire amidst the gray. There is something out there, you are sure of it, it slides through your veins like a whisper, somewhere you belong more beautiful than this. But it won’t get you rich and it won’t tuck you in and you’re not sure if the wild that once was within you is there anymore. Sometimes the dream is too big and in the vastness between your hand and your breathing the hope they fed you circles thinly down the drain. Did you know if you count the seconds from when a satellite first appears on the horizon to when it finally disappears on the other side of the sky, it takes the exact same amount of seconds for it to come back around and reappear again? Try it, I mean, if you find yourself on top of the world and have the time. The night air is stiff and cool as it comes through the open bathroom window. The face in the mirror is a barren moon with rock white eyes. Brush, rinse, spit, repeat.

The Whole of Who You Are

Ryan Moreno

It’s all connected. Your art. Your expression. Your fear. Your love. Your lust. Your sin. Your addiction. Your joy. Your power. Your beauty. Your friendships. Your lovers. Your interests. Your dreams. Your shame. Your needs. Your wants. Your voice. Your visions. Your escapes. What you hide. What you share. What you offer. What you deny. What you withhold. What you study. What you focus on. What you value. What you worship. What you believe. What you refuse to accept about who you are. The illusion is that you have to choose. Your soul comes not in pieces, but whole. The secret is to open your heart and mind and being to all of it. To swallow it whole, and accept and accept and accept. This is to heal. This is to recover, which can also mean to reclaim, to re-discover, to reveal, to uncover, to get back all of who you are.

Dark Cloud (audio)

You expect me to be slick and clever, witty and warmly engaging but today I am none of those things. Today I am a dark cloud hovering. Pent up. Swollen. My tears and my nerves pressing against the grain inside my skin. As the rain moves in I sink into my study but I cannot concentrate. I am distracted by the stacks of books, the words and thoughts, the poetry of others. Jumping back and forth from The New Yorker to Baudelaire, I run a hand across my forehead wondering who in the hell I am anymore. When all this is over, I won’t want to go back to the way it was before. I will want to stay at home. I will want to be away from people just like I always have. I won’t want to get dressed. There are days when you are so sure, so positively certain, that nobody cares. You sink into the lowest parts of your own human heart and you can feel the blank sadness. You can feel the grip of the lonely. Hear her sighs. Fold into them, watch the rain falling down quiet and soft against the trees, the grass, the little angel statue in the garden. I think of all the losses suffered all across the world, the sheer staggering amount of grief and pain. My whole being is crushed beneath the collective weight. I try to dream up a new vision to keep me going. I make tea. I help a young writer to remember who she is, encourage her to pay attention to each of her feelings, especially the dark ones. The shadows swallow the fear and live with it alone in corners. I don’t know why I am drawn to the them, the shadows, the corners, the hidden, the untraceable. I don’t know why but there is nothing more beautiful to me than the sun blotted out, shielded over, drowned in the wet sweetness of the rain.

Stimulants

We are not of this world, but of the stars expanding and melting into the far greater beyond. They try to keep us small and it hurts like hell because we try to cut ourselves to fit but it just makes us feel itchy and out of place. I like the way your hair falls across your face when you tell me you want to kiss me but you know it would be wrong. I watch that eager mouth of yours widen as you roll the words around on your tongue. So much we have not yet tasted in this hijacked ride of a synchronized life. What I wouldn’t give to swallow you whole, to turn your prickly panic into ecstatic waves of oceanic paradise. But there are commitments and there are bills to pay, and we’re so damaged we pull the blinds closed to protect our open wounds from daylight. We buy booze and we buy time, trading worn out ideas about regret and love and pain and death. You think the only thing that matters is worldview. You lecture me something about developing an outlook of strength that borders on callous indifference but then you melt like butter over my weakness for poetry and soft pink flowering trees. I don’t like frilly things, I feel awkward about romance because I can never figure out where to touch it to get what I want. I try to learn myself, I try to name the things inside which desire. How dangerous, a woman possessed with desire, how her fire threatens to consume everything she touches, caresses, gazes upon with her greedy alien eyes. We try so hard to be good but when push comes to shove, we are all starved for affection, hungry for love, hungry for a life so much bigger, grander, more electrified than this one. I tell you I don’t know why I write anymore, all it does lately is box me in and I’m already trapped as it is. Writing feels cagey, or maybe it’s me. I’m tense, I’m tight, and something about the darkened look in your eye feels like the release I’ve been pacing in front of for a long, long time.