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Sometimes, foxes pose for photographs beneath banners that spell out Happy Birthday.
Sometimes, it doesn’t even need to be your birthday to receive a relic from a corn goddess with hair made from coiled coconuts.
Sometimes, trees plant prayers inside their branches so if you sit beneath one long enough, you may start to understand the meaning of life.
Sometimes, you need to stop apologizing and just sing (even with eyes closed). It will feel like every single letter, misdirected or never written, suddenly arriving in your mailbox. And you will feel loved and listened and raw and cut-up and cut into and kissed all at once.
Sometimes, you need to confront. Tell a stranger that secret of what you did years 26 to 34. Dispose of your body behind a dumpster where you found that blue chair. Present a barely understandable presentation on the dissertation of your trauma. Call it something unpronounceable. See who remains.
Sometimes, you need to walk until enough blisters form to replicate the mountains you gaze up at. And you will trip over at least thirteen prairie dogs and leave half your hair in a bathroom no one uses just to see how closely people are paying attention.
On the back of a poem, there is a recipe called Red Potato.
Sometimes you wonder if life is a recipe and all of this (the tragic, the repent, the lies, the leftovers) are its ingredients. And the more you breathe, the better it tastes.
“I’ve changed my font time and time again. And now it’s Ariel.” –Eileen Myles
You used to be newspaper. Linear and predictable. A few verb tense issues but barely any spelling errors.
When you were living near the mountains, you grew fond of a poet with windy hair and red, red lipstick. Her voice was smoky and intellectual. You started carrying around a dictionary to look up the words decorating her sentences. It’s like she spoke a different version of English, one with linen napkins and foie gras. You both shared a love for Bukowski and chai tea. She always had scrapes on her knees and her fingernails were chewed.
When you shared one of your poems with her, she said, “It’d be better in Garamond.”
When she left, you looked up this word because you’d never heard it before and you weren’t sure if it was a color or perhaps a type of sonnet.
Once, she let you kiss her because it was a Tuesday, or because it was raining and you let her use your umbrella or maybe because she like you. But probably because of the rain.
Her lips tasted of Henry Miller and peppermint.
You never told her that you started writing everything in Garamond, which you learned was not a color but a font. A shape of lines and curves. You never told her that you started to forget all about her red, red lips and instead, daydreamed about Garamond, named after a Frenchman. Spent your paychecks on ink for your printer to pronounce Garamond’s figure. You became monogamous with this font, unable to notice beauty outside of its letters and punctuation.
She started to notice. She started to notice that you stopped noticing her. She started to notice that your eyes no longer cared about the various shades of red bled into her lips and instead, just stared down. At your paper. And Garamond.
She had never been jealous of a font before; she wished she had never introduced you two.
You used to be newspaper. Black-and-white monotonous.
Now you are 16th century, Parisian engraved.
I’m trying to understand my inability to sign my name to things.
Recently, I was asked to list all of my scars, every side-effect from every human I’ve ever let inside me. I had to name two references who could locate my left ovary. I went back on medication because I missed having night sweats and hallucinations of solidarity.
I decided to cut all my hair off.
I removed all my clothes, including four of my moles and part of a vein that never seemed useful. I like that my scalp reminds me of a mountain.
Several days ago, I was yelled at by a man who hates white people. Or queer people. Or former Jews. Or drug addicts. Or teachers. I’m not really sure. My lung just couldn’t stay inside me anymore, so it jumped out, crossed the street and I’ve had difficulty breathing ever since.
I kissed a beautiful woman wearing lipstick on her toes, missing one-third of her wrist. I had forgotten how to take off bras, so we just did it wearing straps and confusion.
After the sun had clocked out, I watched a silent movie in the sky starring Anne Bancroft and Gene Wilder. I ran out of popcorn, so I started stealing nasturtiums from the garden I keep inside my pocket. Nothing is ever salty enough.
Maybe I will be approached with a piece of paper in the shape of the Brooklyn Bridge or a fence and I will signature my name in black ink or blueberry preserves and I will not hesitate because when I look out the window every sunflower will be looking straight at the one who most resembles the sun. And we will kiss as though we have invented something no one has ever heard of and our tongues will cure buildings.
Or something like that.
I made love to myself
in the mirror, kissing my own lips,
saying, “I love myself,
I love you more than anybody.”
WARNING: This post may cause abdominal pain. And it may increase digestion. And those who read this may develop bed sores on their bed side. Side effects may also include: increase of oxygen to most parts of the brain, teeth whitening, freckle recognition, harmonized memories and unambiguous thoughts.
****** ****** ****** *****
Resting against my face is not a smile. I used to take pills to push one into my skin like the imprint a foot makes in the sand. But there were all those side-effects and suddenly a smile just wasn’t worth all the small print tumbling me into nightmares, dry mouth, loss of sexual appetite and on and on.
I walk on Utica Avenue in Brooklyn from home to subway and three different humans (all male-bodied) stop me and say, “Smile!” as though I had forgotten how.
On the train, I study the commuters who travel like I do and try to decipher the language of their faces. I realize that my lips are turned downward. I lift one side, not quite into a smile but less than a frown. Then, I stop myself. Who am I manipulating my lips for?
I enter a room and collect a bouquet of “How are you’s”. I answer wisely: “Well” or “Good, thank you.” But what I want to utter is: “Troubled, at times” or “Feeling stifled by language which I cannot connect to myself” or “Traumatized by my trip here” or “Okay, but I’d really like to be better.”
My father reads my blog. Tells me my posts have grown sad. I want to tell him that my words are all from the same seed. That the soil they live inside is sometimes colder and sometimes rotten and sometimes neglected but always feeling. I want to tell him that I am a writer and words cannot all be yellow with three dimensional, rotating suns singing in unison. Sometimes syllables shake and have to sit down.
I just don’t want to fake it anymore because in that fake there is tragedy. I want to frown in plain sight; how terrible it feels to be in hiding.
At night, our faces can rest. No one needs clarity when the lights are turned down and we travel into REM. We can wince and we can furrow and we can twist our flesh into sorrowful sighs. And how beautiful and how real all that is. To just rest in a face you really feel without having to make someone else more comfortable.
It’s okay……really…..please…..don’t smile…..just be.
I was not expecting this. I gave up men even before I began, but there is something in the simplicity and omission of your words that causes me to feel as though I should remain. So, I guess I will for now.
I write four letters to you in a book that your daughter wrote, which was all about you. But also about her. And also about loss. And searching. And the hesitance to find.
Did I ever tell you about the time I scratched my name into someone else’s womb just to see how far my fingers could stretch. Or the time I got lost on a railroad track in massachusetts and the only thing that brought me back was the trembling of metal beneath my wrists.
None of this is simple, Richard.
You set fire to telephones and I set fire to memories. But I have gathered up all the ash and resin of months and dates in order to understand. In order to be in my body. In order to keep reading you.
Recently, a Rabbi called me a wordsmith. He knew me many years ago, when my hair was a different color. I was not much like this person I am now. I didn’t want him to recognize me, and I was quite pleased that he didn’t.
I read a short poem and words about mourning at a funeral for my uncle. Afterwords, once all the salt that sifted out from both eyes had dissipated, and I, longside five other men, took on the role of pallbearer, he said to me, “You are quite the wordsmith; you should keep at it.”
I smiled because he had no idea how much I needed to be reminded that I do. I smiled because my sister heard and she looked at me with pride.
This man of God, saying to me, a human who teeters on the edge of atheism, that I am good with words.
On a Friday night, I sit wearing nothing but skin and remnants of sick still stuck to my flesh. I light a stick of incense and encourage the smoke to breathe me in, wrapping its seductive trail all over me. When one stick burns out, I light another. Inhaling this nag champa tickled my stuffed nose, but gathered me into a deeper mindset.
I began to think of the time my mother stormed my bedroom, and threw out all of my incense. She thought I had it because of drugs. She had no idea that I had yet to begin my thunderous battle with addiction; I just enjoyed the smell.
Even now, I like lighting these aromatic perfumed sticks not to mask any other smell, but to remind me to breathe in deeper. To get lost in the curls of smoke.
All I could say was, “thank you,” to the Rabbi, even though I wanted to say so much more.
I wanted to say to the Rabbi, “Do you remember me? I used to be blond and my parents liked each other. But you must see a lot of rotating marriages. It is 2015 and all.”
I wanted to ask him, “I know Jews don’t believe in heaven or hell and I don’t either but. But what do you think about a human who no longer feels comfortable in the body they were born into? There are words for this, but for me, those words don’t quite fit. And Rabbi?” I’d continue.
“Rabbi, what I mean to say is, I’m not so good with words when I need to use them to describe how this all feels. And also….” Here is where I will pause for such a long time, I will watch this scholar of Jewish law, get uncomfortable, and even impatient.
“…The thing is, maybe I just have a difficult time committing to letters. And designations. And clubs. And groups. And classifications. And stereotypes. And….”
The last time I went to synagogue, I sat, nervously reading prayers, translated into English. I was with my partner, who practices.
I practice to0. But not religion.
I practice how to be.
I just said thank you to this Rabbi who knew me before puberty and mental illness and trauma. I’m much better with words on paper; I’m just not so good with words when they want to come out. Sometimes, they just need more time to prepare.
It is quite easy to forgo chatter and how-is-the-weather speak for a slice or two of pie.
You choose key lime. And as you plunge three spikes called fork toward shape of lime juice/zest, eggs, and condensed milk, you realize how little there is to say in this world.
You realize swallows can be far more profound than asking about the latest talents of their children.
You realize licks of sour and graham cracker sweet is much more satisfying than alphabetizing their weekly accomplishments.
You realize pie can be far less judgmental and cynical than social gatherings.
You do not floss. You prefer calories to sit between your teeth as though they are star gazers, howling at the moon or (in this case) your tongue.
This pie is your confidant. Your traveling companion. You scale mountains and hop streams with this pie.
You neck in a movie theatre playing a documentary on poverty or poetry; it does not matter because you and this pie are chewing language into one another.
You dip your unmanicured but proud fingers into its sticky pale green. Nor grass green or pea green. Not olive or jade. Neither emerald nor peridot. More pale, like sun-starved. You prefer it this way.
Now, what else must be written?
You remove battery from phone and unplug distractions like electricity and clothing.
You want to uni-task with this pie.
You want to taste and flirt with its crumbs, without interruption. And this is how it goes until there is no more reflection of green and only full.
“What an abstract thing it is to take your clothes off in front of a stranger for the very first time. It isn’t really what we planned on doing. Your body almost looks away from itself and is a stranger to this world.”
—Richard Brautigan, from “The Abortion: An Historical Romance 1966”
Elliot Smith knifes the ghosted speakers hidden in radio, blowing lyrics like incense smoke. Musk of patchouli rhythm curls around your bare shoulders, nude because it is too early for sleeves and folds.
Wrapped around your thighs is a green blanket from early adulthood, when your skin was taut and taught to moisturize in preparation for now.
There is a crowd of strangers in your bedroom, which is two rooms away from your kitchen; they are in there too. And they are named window and door frame and parquet flooring. And dresser and wardrobe and even the drilled holes meant for hanging are watching, too.
Call this dancing, but really you are just bending your knees slowly and then straightening. Tilting like a carnival ride to the left then right and back again. It’s from the music; this has nothing to do with foreplay or tease.
Your body blinks closed; it cannot watch this. And then, the slow drip (leak?) of skin away from bones.
A song about Omaha, which you’ve never visited but imagine is bright and vast, kind of like your throat.
Your nudity is parched, so you drink a leggy glass of milk, though you are allergic and begin to spoil from within.
You forget your lines. Were you supposed to gasp now? Your moans sound like choking and maybe you are. Maybe your nude is one giant allergic reaction.
How to get back from all this?
Elliot howls behind screeched guitar chords about drinking stars or kissing shotguns; you aren’t really listening. And also, he is the only one you hear.
Yes, that is an elbow. And how about that hip. A field of tattoos. Scratched in and scratching their way out.
This body is grey, gray, grey. Like earl. Like elephant. Like ail.
This body is sound machine. Alarm clock. Concerto.
The strangers leave. Body grows clothed. Elliot grizzles cold and fades out into the perfumery of oil and carbon.