Slit

Evening birdsong sifts inside the open window as I watch the light’s eyes turn down against the hands of an antique clock. What cuts my heart deepest is these little slivers of moment, soft sweet flickers of an invisible beauty made just barely visible. A fragment of a second’s split in the veil which drapes the eternal body of time.

A boundary not crossed but extinguished, collapsed entirely into itself: into nothing.

Light sliced along the edge of a sloping petal; consummation without intrusion. So thin a movement of air against skin. Even as you collect yourself beneath it, it has disappeared.

What else could this dead world possibly offer you faith in but melancholy. People are hysterical. People are maniacs. Cruelty abounds as does deceit. In the mind of the killer. In the mind of the rich man. In the back of the throat of the hungry and abandoned child. God and the Devil and the Son and the Blood. And you pass my whiskey and you want to get high and you want to talk about this fucking life as you know it but so do I – so do I – and it isn’t this.

It is not this. It cannot be this. Anything but this.

Everything else is layered on top of what is true and what is true is the thing that aches the most. I pull out a notebook to write a message to no one. Notes on my phone. Lipstick on the wall. Make a world out of nothing and hold it in my hands like a sacrifice. Like a pistol. Like a looking glass I attempt to gaze into. Fall into. We are only ourselves and only unto ourselves can we return.

A tangerine sun, like one strung out eye, sinks into a white glass sea.

Eyes Like Crystal, Blue Like Rain

When I look into her eyes I can see the universe as it was meant to be before there was such a thing as injury. I can see the intensity of her clarity of visions no one else could ever possibly fathom and the way she can touch those dreams, pull them close, make them her own. Delicate and strong as bone. Where there is pain there is possibility. In places that shatter like broken glass crashing against the pavement, you can feel the wind rush in, you can learn to breathe again. You can kiss death on the mouth and live again. The white sun slides behind a veil of steel gray clouds, black liquid tear drops held suspended by hands unseen. A collective cosmic mind wide shut over a difficult earth. The gravel is crunching beneath our feet as we trade ideas about the tender things the world can’t bear to hold the way she can. With elegance and grace and a soul which is as deeply darkly symphonic as it is electric, as brittle as it is fire as it is brave as it is relentless the way an open field dares to be endless, lush with wilderness, tangled, blossoming, rolling out as far as the sky can reach underneath the storms which will ravage, which will destroy, which will recede, become sweet mist upon a glittering ocean. She is an angel down from heaven, a place she conjures and almost believes in and brings to life with those crystal blue eyes like the laughter of bright secrets, like the smoke of the heat of the cold. As if she deserves any of this hurt that she does not deserve. As if this ridiculous world could ever deserve a woman of a child of a beauty like this.

Bad Girls Need

I want to pull each candy pink cloud down from the early dawn sky and wrap it around me like a cape. I think of the cape I will escape to in just a few days, to hear the pound of the waves upon the wide open beach, listen to the cry of the seagulls as they swoop low and skim the top of the glittering ocean. For now, though, the smell of salt and sand, sky and water and majesty, is only a pattern of ripples in my ever wandering mind, as I sit sipping coffee in the cool morning air. There is something about catching the break of the day before anyone else can get to you and muddle your thinking.

When you think about your life, do you think more about yourself or more about the ones you have encountered in it? Trick question. You think about yourself just like I do and whether or not you happen to like yourself or wish you were someone else entirely is sort of a mute point. You are who you are and you are with yourself from here on out.

The sky is so perfectly soft right now, so swathed in hazy pink across powder blue behind the willowy spring green of the trees that an actual tight feeling in my chest aches with something which is a blend of utter awe and swollen sadness.

All my life, this sadness seems to have held me so close that I sometimes cannot tell if it is love or fear or emptiness. You could call it emptiness I suppose, a void of sorts, meant perhaps never to be filled. But if it is such an absence why does it feel so very present with me. I swear to you on my life that there are times that this feeling, this shady melancholy emotion, takes a nearly tangible form, cups my chin and my face in its gentle hands and gazes at me with the most compassion I have ever felt. It is a tender sadness. A longing, but one which acknowledges me, one I treasure and somehow, for some completely bizarre reason, protect.

There are regrets we carry in our hearts, people we have hurt, people we are terrified we might because we are doing our best but we are also weak and fickle and sometimes it can feel like we stalk and attack ourselves at any given minute. In poetry, there is allowed to exist every inconvenient emotion, every incompatibility with a world trying to destroy itself. Through the word, we are allowed everything we ever wanted. How electrifying and how liberating, which is to say do you dare risk devastation to get to the truth of a thing. How much is the truth worth to you and what are you willing to sacrifice for it, if anything. If everything.

Most people will tell you tales of grandeur about themselves and you don’t even have to ask. They will make it sound and seem as though they have risked it all to come out on top of whatever it is they think will impress you most. They scored the promotion, they got the girl, they made the deal, they quadrupled the cash, their kid did whatever, this and that thing and they are the best at it. Behold the flawless and the blessed. How lucky you should feel to be anywhere in their midst. But they don’t know what they’re doing any more than you do. Don’t let them fool you. The design of this world is fit for so very few to ‘succeed’ inside.

The older I get the more disillusioned I become. If everyone is so impressive why do I feel so generally unimpressed. I suppose you could say it’s me, that may be fair enough. They may say that you see what you wish to see, but I say the heart wants what it wants. And I want so much more than this it hurts like hell to even write it down.

Some Unholy War

It won’t matter in the end, not as much as you think it will anyway. But what do I know, I’ve not yet been. All of these voices, all of these people, telling you what to do and how to be, what makes you trust them more than you trust yourself? How’d the bar get set so low for what matters and what doesn’t?

Or maybe it’s the opposite problem. Somewhere underneath the scuttled noise of your arrogance or theirs, the bar got set so impossibly, irretrievably high that even to reach it became nothing more than the failure to clear it all together. We fear the fall and we fear the fear to take the leap in any case. Maybe that’s why you trust them. At least then they can’t peg any of this on you.

When I light the cigarette I’m not myself. When I swallow the gin I am more magic than sin. When you speak at me like you think you’re gonna teach me something I don’t already know, I spit on the concrete sidewalk and twist my thick heel against the stones. You don’t take the time to think it through. You take half the time it takes to make any sense at all and I wish somehow inside I could separate my frustrations from the wild tentacles of your charm. I wish I could untangle your endless wandering words from the silence I so desperately want to drown into in my own deep dark soul.

For all the “man-made” advances we congratulate ourselves for making in technology or science or war, an erosion takes place little by little within us collectively. I feel it in the pit of my stomach and try to numb it with all the wrong things. Looking into your eyes, I see blue skies which never end and twisted feelings which somehow always do. I’m unsure if I want to pleasure you or tear you apart piece by piece. Perhaps a little bit of both because what good is one without the other.

You’ve seen it before, you’ve felt it in places you’d rather not admit to anyone. The sweet, sweet anguish of destruction in the palm of your very own trembling hands.

In a dream, she was soft as a feather as her bare breasts brushed against the open heat of my mouth. She gives me a tiny book of matches with a darkened navy washed image on the front. I cannot recall what it was exactly, a typewriter maybe or a peacock, some wild, exotic, beautiful thing. We blew clouds of smoke into the velvet drapery and plush carpeting. We slid our fragile hands all over each others’ smooth pale skin. When her eyes flashed like fire on water, mine did the same in response, I could feel it. No words only laughter, only touch. The liquid of the dream giving way to pure ocean glow like crystal in sunlight, the soft hazy burn of the salt of desire.

I could not tell you where my dreams come from and I cannot tell you where any of the folds of my mind begin or end. What they will expect of you are answers you cannot give. Don’t even try. What they will try to trick you into spilling are the secrets you were meant to keep all to yourself. How many kisses are apologies planted right square in your dying mouth? It gets complicated like that, but mostly because we set it up to be.

Cold White Eye

I see his face in the white wide sky as the snow falls heavy and thick all around me, big fluffy chunks of it land soft and cold on my skin, stick against my eyelashes before sliding off down my pink cheek.

Ivory snow flakes nestle in my strawberry hair as my boots crunch into the drifting layers of crystal powder on the street. Blanketing the dirt, covering the holes in the asphalt.

It is hard to write when you don’t know who you are but try to pretend.

The snowy landscape is so gorgeous it hurts all over inside. It tears into the softest parts of you that have given up trying to understand, trying to make any sense, trying to try. I want the silent solitude of each little falling flake to pile up inside me because I lost myself somewhere I can’t seem to pinpoint and I would like to be buried against that feeling.

It is a struggle to understand what anything means to me as I take in the frigid scene. I can feel the whiteness of the sky like an open eye into my own mind. There is a brightness behind my trepidation which shines like a distant orbiting sun.

A rising of the temperature. A warming which threatens to melt the beauty and force it down into the gutter where it belongs.

I have become too many people all at once. I am consumed with jitters and apprehension, and the apprehension becomes a persona I can manipulate like a child builds a man made out of snow. Charcoal eyes. Standing alone in a field.

Geese cry over head, their darkened bodies soaring through a pristine sky, and I imagine the wetness of freedom. The feathered breast of the wild we were promised but destroy.

I imagine his face inside the clouded winter, the dark circles around his heavenly eyes. The mouth is moving against the air and my blood rushes faster and faster toward it. I want to be swallowed.

It’s hard to write when you don’t know what you want from life. Your own life hanging in a closet somewhere among other things – lost, forgotten, discarded things which no longer fit. You keep what you have because it’s all you’ve gotten or ever will. What a joke. What a waste.

All around me this beauty, this terrible beauty which twists in my heart like a knife.

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Photo by Micah Hallahan

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. Neither 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