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Canto the first, if only medieval phrases were still intact. And all this time I thought I knew how to spell “medieval” like the latter half was “evil”. Guess not. I met a secretary at kitchen store yesterday and she said “evil” twice within the space of one minute. One: “He came down with something evil last week.” and then “Hopefully the salespeople will use the new product information for good and not evil.” This is also my hope, for I’d hate to own an evil blender. Blending evil potions with the push of a button. Whirr whiz evil smoothie.
When I read The Awakening by Kate Chopin initially, I cried for days. The only other time I cried for days was when I got my period at 11 because all chances of me switching over to male for a brief exploration of the sex were long gone. I told this to my therapist and she cocked her head and coughed. Then asked, “Do you feel you are a man inside?” And I said, “I was eleven years old for God’s sake! And I found myself bleeding profusely all of the sudden. It was very traumatic!” She made some notes.
Outside my window and up the hill is a public storage warehouse. On the roof of this warehouse are huge letters spelling out the word, “STORAGE”. I can only see “RAGE” because there is a tree blocking “STO”. A few months ago a wind storm knocked over the “R” and so all I could see was “AGE”. I thought a lot about aging and what it meant to be an age and also age in the era sense. The “R” was restored its former place, I thought differently about rage-- how the wind will blow away rage and leave age.
I think the parking lot owners next door to my building are in the mafia. Not sure which mafia though. All I know is that when I watch them from my kitchen window, through the circa 1912 warped leaded pane, that their dealings look sketchy four stories below. A man wearing black leather gloves on an 80 degree day opens the back door of a Jaguar and the parking lot guy climbs in. While he’s inside, the chauffer keeps watch. Parking lot guy emerges with something he quickly stuffs into his pocket. I’d call the cops, but voyeurism is entertaining.
How about this? A man-- no a woman, walks into a phone booth and finds a severed hand atop the phone. Instead of screaming, she picks it up slowly, marveling at its grotesque and dislocated beauty. The fingers, still, are graceful and slightly arched; palm up, it looks as though ready to receive some gift. She strokes her face, her neck, her breasts, her belly with this hand while she closes her eyes. The cold hand of death caressing her body slowly, she guides it where she wants to be touched. Then, she slips it into her purse for later.
My disabled companion bursts forth with: “I’d like to take half of my sister’s ashes from my mom’s house and scatter them in the ocean,” in his loud, whiny, yet sincere voice. The entire cafe looks at our table, they are waiting for me to say something. I do not respond, but nod ever so subtly at my companion. He looks satisfied; now he wants to discuss how Whoopi Goldberg once applied makeup to corpses before she was famous. Our table is really in the spotlight this afternoon, discussing death at teatime, with dead-looking city folks listening to our conversation.
And instead of just holding the hand I offer him, he says that his legs are tired from sitting and he needs to go work out because he hasn’t been for days and he fears that he is getting flabby and you know what happens when you get flabby you want to eat McDonalds and Burger King and the food at those places is not even real food it’s hybrid food and hormones don’t forget to pay that Visa bill again I can’t pay for more late fees because you “forgot” and-- what is it? What are you waiting for?
So what she sings about oceans and has this luxury I envy where an audience is rapt privy to her innermost secret longings. Applause reigns forth after some ditty about hitchhiking to the corn museum off some dusty highway, apparently a really hot truck driver picked up her and her guitar, made her play him a song or two about life on the road. Because she’s BEEN THERE and seen it all, but I happen to know from her website that she is but 23 years old, straight outta the Ivy League. Oh, here we go again, sourmash and tonk.
I saw all y’all heading into my favorite no-name bar on this night in your size 0 tank dresses and strappy heels accompanied by your overweight balding financiers who’ll foot your bill while you work the room of mirrors pretending to get drunker than you really are from a single cosmopolitan and air kissing the auras of fellow stick women but goddamn y’all are high and mighty with your gym memberships and Audi’s and Prada slings you are going straight to the top uh uh don’t stop onetime you was tiny pigtailed angels playing in the dirt picking momma flowers.
Once he stayed out all night, didn’t tell his new bride where he was going. She called the cops and the highway patrol and her mom. Waiting in the green plush 10 dollar armchair looking out the window, crying her naive tears. Door opens, 4am, “Hey.” And then he crawls into bed while she wonders what is this feeling, this empty, this vacuum sucking my joy, who is this person, what is he doing to me, why did I do this, will he get better, will I change now, will I survive this? She waxes lost in 4am raging night.
Oh, Emily D. You dashed off, dashed in your poetry. Did you ever? The slanted dance, the backwards glance, the elusive mystical gaze in your secluded little cathedral of death. And wrote such sad little hectic bits and scraps and fed your cats and the children on dangling candy threads. I would’ve come up to your room and made you look me in the eye. Eye to eye to I to I. Made you a subject when I addressed you forthwith, straightforward and moreover, I would have brought you cupcakes to eat in your black little, slanted little attic room-
I love you: twice it stands out. Once, on an armchair, heart racing and beat pounding forth the words from your divine mouth. Second, ran back up the stairs and you blurted it out of breath, looked quick, then raced away again. Left two times straight after. Changed my mind. Then curdled in my gut, like poisonous feeling of fantastical language not meant to actually represent anything. Words like plastic shopping bags stuck to my legs, floated there by puffs of air from your lungs. I, stumbling, curse the goddamned weather and wish I wasn’t wearing this stupid skirt today.
Oh I feel icky and unknown. Like some sicko showed me his privates in the alleyway and then winked at me. Or like overhearing a kid swear at his grandma. Or like I haven’t changed this wifebeater tank for days. Or being hit on by the only fat man in the bar. Or being hit on by the only greased-hair man in the club. Or like I just smoked 23 cigarettes and feel the cancer setting in. Or like I didn’t stand up for myself when some bigot assumed I agreed with his statement. Or like I’m out of excuses.
He rolls over and whispers her a private story. Making love to her sense of hearing. Something in French with undulating r’s and swooshing j’s and moaning vowels and tight quick hard q’s and d’s. Slowly he coaxes forth her pleasure, pausing after the rising action just the right amount of time, then hastily sending forth a stream of climax, hectic, vibrating, she feels his spit land on her lobe, he licks it off, breathing humid tales deep inside her. She closes her eyes, imagining the ceiling lifting off, stars revealed, floating up and through and over-- yes oh YES.
You nodded toward a little girl and said, “I bet you looked like that when you were 4.” She, with crooked pigtails and fat cheeks and curious brown eyes. Her stockings ruched at her ankles, one sandal unbuckled, fat little tummy sticking over the top of a corduroy skirt. I stared at her, me with smooth outfit, smart shoes, all zipped up and pressed into professional denial of adulthood, and I envied. I tugged my topknot loose and smiled at her, for her, with her, am her. Before I started to cry, you said, “Hey, it‘s green, we‘ll be late.”
Dear you, I’m here at this phone booth with only 45 cents left in my sweaty hand and your phone keeps ringing and ringing. The more it rings, the lonelier I feel in the pit of my stomach and know this ache is really the tears forming a reservoir deep down for later when I check into that orangish motel room alone. I don’t think I’d notice the alienating deer paintings or garish bedspread if you were with me. You’d make me laugh and envelop me in our private world and I’d finally tell you what I always wanted to:
I am a patient, but selfish girl. To write it would be to share you with strangers. So I don’t, I skirt around the truth, hint at what is there but will not be revealed. A public strip tease of my feelings. Like the onion, if I was, outside still the dry, crackly layer like paper. But look at me, look hard, like paper too is my skin, my eyes. Can you not read your own handwriting, where you scribbled, doodled, composed, recorded all over me? It’s why I don’t strip it away, don’t reveal, I’m waiting to be read.
I have this fantasy where I take a stranger from the bus home. The tall guy with the shaved head and black hooded sweatshirt with some punk band’s name on it. And his name is one syllable or else something like Xavier or Alouicious. He doesn’t talk much, he just follows, does whatever I say and drinks his beer quietly and he appreciates it well. No touching, we'll just pretend like we’re this couple, do you have an hour? Alright then, you are a famous photographer and me, a performance artist. Just sit in sexual sparks of our artistic success.
I think I loved a girl once. She dyed my hair henna red in the bathtub and we went swimming. She went crazy in the 9th grade, ran out of social studies to take a shower in the locker room. I had to follow her, but then I didn’t know what to say. She, curled up naked on the while tiles under the stream of hot water, sobbing like her heart was dust. I got my swimsuit from my locker, put it on, and joined her, cradling her soaking head in my lap until she started to sigh and hiccup.
If I was the stalking type, well let’s just say that you would not be alone, okay? You’d always be watched and tracked, like prey is tracked and hunted down. Except no trap would be set to catch you, I’d simply shoot you with my eyes. Fire off a round of fire-hot flack straight into your body, your soul, marking you mine. And you’d wake up and wonder what is this red bump on my thigh? This scratch on my wrist? I don’t recall getting injured. And when the hair on your neck rose, that’d mean I was nearby, watching.
Water. Malted barley. Hops. Yeast. Beer. From a bottle. Not from a can. Drink it down. Or from a glass. Once I met a poet who wrote exclusively about beer. In iambic pentameter, beautiful odes of love dedicated to the one he adored. Sensuous language and surprising similie- beer is love consummated. I scolded him, you are wasting your talent, what of the world outside the bottle, outside the bar? He squinted and told me I didn’t know what I was saying. Now, happily beer tranquilized, I think I understand. Sorry, Matt, keep on writing your glorious verses. Cheers, mate.
Tell where the black night sky ends and the water begins, it’s all smeared together. A great fusion of everything, except for my body breaking the two asunder. And me under it all, I bob up and break surfaces, my face the surface. Surprised by my own toes, way down there about 5 feet or so away. Appearing like toads or lilypads. Erased by night and water, dissolved into more than I am. Indistinct, no color, faint sound, sleeping sky and shore. Gulp of black night, seething through me, in me. Water creature here in this huge puddle. Night swimming.
I asked the woman in the soap shop what smells like tobacco? She frowned deeply and made sure to let me know that I was NOT of the correct sense. As if my sense of smell was inappropriate for Pacific Heights. I picked up each bar of soap and inhaled deep of each heavy rectangle, eying the shopkeeper over each bar. I noticed a smudge of dirt on her forearm. Ha, I found it, I exclaimed. Startled, she turned from a real customer. It’s this one, the gardenia, smells just like tobacco. She conceded defeat and went out to smoke.
As she handed me a Monet mug of tea, she hitched up her bra strap, placing it where it belongs, that familiar groove of the shoulder. Easing into a chair opposite me, she smiled and blew steam off her Degas mug. Do you like art, she asked. Nodding, I commented on her Georgia O’Keefe refrigerator magnets and Van Gogh placemats. Lovely decorations, she said, they make me feel like I’m in a museum here at home. I smiled. I hear you paint, Mrs. Lund. Yes, yes, I paint cats. Sell them at the church bazaars for the Sunday school books.
I have seen two people die. I was present at their very last moments of consciousness. One, on a dirt ground, a single breath exhaled while I pumped on his chest. Second, at the edge of a bed and I knew it was coming before it came. He smiled at me, I think. Then we went silent for a second. Then exhaled we all began to cry, as if what was before wasn’t sadder than this. First ashes to ashes, second he floated away. Death provided me a clear mind, I felt cyclical, like things had never made more sense.
I cannot wait to be old. I will wear silk flowing kimonos and jangly jewelry of wood, bead, bone, glass. I will have cocktail hour every day at 4, with or without someone. I will discuss the classics with the neighborhood high school dropouts, titillate them with 18th century scandal. Perhaps age will forgive eccentricity, redeem all mistakes of youth and now they will be anecdotes of knowledge. I will make great to-do of traveling by train to visit friends. Not only on special occasions will I let my long white hair down. But only if you sing for me.
Like that joke about Eve swimming for the first time and Adam says, “how are we ever going to get the stink out of the fish?” Or when some frat boy tells the joke about how his dishwasher is actually his girlfriend, TO his girlfriend. Construction workers whistling at a low-cut blouse, a pair of a legs making an ass of themselves. Or not being able to eat a banana in the hardware store without suggestive nods. Or when you’re husband’s friend introduces you as “X’s wife” and not your name. Women: you can depend on misogyny if nothing else.
I think I saw her when I went to the bookstore. She walked with her shoulders shrugged the tiniest bit, strands of her wiry hair escaped her braids. She was wearing a 70’s puff vest like it was a life preserver, what is she so afraid of? I think she was smiling slightly to herself, she was pleased about something. I know exactly what she was so happy about. That someone like you would love her. Despite her brown vest, her wiry hair, her bad posture. Right there on the street corner, I became a green monster ready to devour.
I just learned that in Louis the XIV’s day, no one wore underpants. Which means that Marie Antoinette was completely naked under her skirt when her head was chopped off. I think in dire situations of stressful and impending death I would like to know that I am wearing some nice underpants, just for my own private security. Are inmates allowed to bring their own underpants to prison? Or are they issued? And what about enlisted men-- same question? And what exactly IS Victoria’s secret? And why don’t women wear boxers? The original Catwoman invented thongs. I know that much.
Where does my professor get off devising 15 different essay topics for me to choose from? Are not two or three well thought-out topics sufficient? These are so incredibly ridiculous, obviously pulled straight from the ass. The ass of Ph.D. brain and never having to explain yourself anymore once you’ve got your suffix. Because she has the answers to these vague and cruel questions which I must guess at in 7-9 pages and will undoubtedly miss the mark. Being told, once again, “this essay is predictable” although I’m sure she couldn‘t tell me why. I would like to argue THAT.
I can hear a train whistle blowing outside, just over the whining electricity of the street lamp. But I can’t trust my ears because I don’t believe there are trains in San Francisco. Besides subways and light rails, but these don’t have deep bellowing horns that blow over the hill on gusts of wind. Maybe it’s the foghorn in the bay, one of my favorite sounds in context. Foghorn booms at night, approximately 4 miles away through the fog. And cellos are also wonderful, my undying devotion to the first person who makes me a tape of cellos and foghorns.
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