Monday, April 7, 2008
On Abigail's Baited Breath
She saw herself as Tallulah Bankhead, stolen jewel of the world; driven from a distant heaven by certain jealousies and biding time until her return. She bit her lip in fits of impatience, as if she needed to be somewhere other than the places she chose. I remember sitting on my stoop, the night she called for the snow to stop in its tracks, not willing to walk from curb to cab in one flake more, in her stilettos and tights that stretched tightly against her inches. She took me on as a curiosity; a small stop on her walk from a deserted bar, wrapped in a shawl, cocktail still in hand, and couldn't understand what had brought me to this city. I sat on the steps in over sized army coat and shot her a light for her dangling cigarette, rubbing my eyes from the smoke she blew out that she liked country boy hospitality. I have never found any reason to visit the south except for its hospitality; she slipped on thin gloves and dipped down to my side. I gave her a name and she spelled out her own; that is the name of one of your founding mothers, isn't it? A first lady of some kind? I said it was but I wasn't so sure it was hers. I'd Imagined Abigail Adams a bit like my mother, not the tip of disaster, tripping over words with skin exclaiming the need to be touched laid out in front of me. She called me out for being an artist and swore she was one as well, as much as an actress could be, but swore it off until she saw her star role. You'll write it for me, won't you? I promised to try, with that she sent up her cigarette to wave down the shadowed cab and diligently stepped out on toes with her head in angled towards the snow, taking the doors handle with her smoke, lifting between calculating spread fingers, and swung back around to me. I saw her straightened legs tighten her behind and her knees as she swiveled back to face my stoop. When shall we meet again? I mumbled something about my weeks schedule as she laughed, cigarette back into pursed lips and shuffled back to me, bent over and digged through her glistened handbag. She took out paper and grabbed up my pen, swearing she never gave out her address to anyone, that she didn't have a phone but if I slid a note in front of the door, up the stairs, under... I smiled as she handed it to me, brushing brown bangs out of her eyes, and promised to get in touch. She stuck her cigarette out in front of my eyes, now; remember what your mother swore you to. I've been in need of a little kindness. She slipped into the cab and shuttered off, her head hanging to one side, the tires tracks and the marks from her heels as the only scars left on the fresh floor of snow.
I delivered some mail to my boss at his home in the city, fifth and the park, in an afternoon rocked in broken winds nudging up against my neck, even through the woolen scarf I had sent from home, knit in real time by a sweet blonde with soft cheeks. The sun highlighted clear sidewalk, each step clicked in the quiet of after lunch lull. I checked his address on the backs of bills addressed to the office, coming in as the song in my head wrapped and buzzed the door. He seemed to be out so I checked for the key, slipped into the back pocket of my bare wallet along side Abigail's scribbled note. Along with her address were the words, waiting with baited breath. The page smelled like the night, light snow and clean. It couldn't have been perfume, not detergent, just a natural scent, highlighted by all in her purse and the code of my ink. I dropped the mail on a lamp stand table and committed the rest of the day to walk through the park, then down to china-town, leaving a little note for her as courtesy. After my walk, I felt my nose red and running as I printed out my name and address, if she ever felt like contacting me. I buzzed her building, then tried the door whose latch gave way with any slight shove. Four flights of stairs and a shag bathmat welcomed me, too timid enough to try the door; I lifted a corner and dropped the folded sheet from my notebook under. On an outside table laid a grasp-full of mail and catalogs stacked in no particular order and slipping almost onto the floor. Into the brown paint of the door small letters were carved in the same font from her fingers; I leaned in to get a closer look. Residence of A.A. Shirt and tie required for admittance. I gathered up takeout boxes scattered outside of the door and tied them up in the bin out of the building and wondered if she was sober enough to remember the night's snow and my steps.
On my way home I forgot of the note and the eyes I thought would ever read it. I imagined a landlord collecting the rug as the last bit to pawn after skipped out rent and a quiet disappearance. The folded note, both brown and sogged would be swept up in the dust and dumped into the buckets outside. I buried my face in the scarf and smelled its school days with warmed copies covering my face. I’d lay them on the table along with my brow and stair over at the blond hair hanging over soft shoulders and eyes staring back at me. The eyes stared from those days on, accompanied by shy smiles and fingers tightening around my palms as we walked towards her door. She would say on dry afternoons that she wished there were no handle bars so our bikes could be connected by our fingertips. I planted my tent behind our garage for her to hide out in on Friday nights; neither of us realizing her mother would be calling by ten and by midnight we would be caught, and I would be powerless against the strong arms that dragged her through the streets and back home. She sat where they told her to. Up through the grades she said she though she could be a doctor. Always swayed by the sight of babies and wanting to take care of them. I watched from the field of the freshman football unit as she sat of the silver benches as fall settled in. Her hair wisped up from the sides as she covered her infant nephew in her lap with her whole body, ached back shielding him from the wind. His movements rivaled her happier moments, even those that we stole in empty parking lots in AM sessions of the night. A swiveled neck from the bench could see her teeth chatter a smile is the unrelenting wind.
I got a call, loud laughter on the other end, in the middle of some much needed sleep. My heart jumped with the sense of emergency, especially when I heard an unrecognized voice on the other end of the line. Yeah, Gail here wants you to come out with us. She says you are a boy who will keep us all in line. It took me a moment to realize who he was talking about. Meet us at
The next day I found myself tucked in to my sheets tightly with a blanket strewn out along the couch. I checked the bathroom for her, the kitchen for instructions. A note of the fridge read; next time we will start a bit earlier. Check the fridge. Inside along side eggs and old avocado sat a dozen bottles of our champagne as proof of the night before. I feared trudging back to her apartment, afraid to scare her, so I waited. After a week of living in that dream I tried to forget. Taxi cabs returned to being dusted ghosts, winds broke hard against my neck and my sleep returned to regular patterns. The champagne sat as my only haunt and I'd slam the door violently when it stared back at me after checking to see it still there. Three weeks in, she showed up at my door. She let herself in without a knock. The door was open. I thought you would have found me by now. I told her I thought her to be busy and didn't want to be a bother. She laughed and asked where her play was. I had abandoned it days in, the words not matching the movement in her body, the visions aching in my gut and circling in on me. In fact, I couldn't write at all. When I pointed to a pile of papers on my desk stacked in the corner she kissed me on the cheek, as intimate of a kiss as I had felt and turn away into monologue:
Thou knowest the mask of night is on my face;
Else would a maiden blush bepaint my cheek
For that which though hast heard me speak tonight.
Fain would I have spoken; but farewell compliment
Dost thou love me? I know though wilt say, "ay,"
and I will take thy word.
She stared for a moment, taunting me to say the words. A crippled breath couldn't escape my hanging jaw and in a blink she laughed. I know the ones who will get us produced. Amari Chanclett said to bring me whatever I will perform. He will put it on in the Ziegfield Theater and make us all wildly in demand. In a months time
My brother graduated in May with top marks and I was flying home in support. She showed in the terminal proving to have invested in new clothes. She stood in front of her bag in slim grey jeans leading to black flats, collared blouse with scarf tied and ribboned out of the open slit around her neck. Her hair shined with golden streaks inside of her pulled back brown strands, all but her bangs that hung loose along her brow. She said she'd been conditioned not to be afraid of flight but she was never able to shake it. Cocktails and prescription drugs worked the best but a supportive hand worked too. I brought three of five acts for us to go over in the air. Sleep fell to the side as the weeks rolled by, my hands jotting, fingers typing wildly, throwing pages in the bin 'til it filled and the sun broke through my blinds - the signal to shower and rush to work. The first act started with a girl from the stars walking aimlessly through southern streets, speaking to dogs behind metal gates, letting them lick her face. Her luck leads her to a boy with a stick rolling over the tops of fences, out for a midnight stroll. He hides her on his back porch, without getting from her as much as a name, from unsuspecting neighbors and the police trying to find her. I was drowning in the third where she sneaks out in wonder and even our hero is hunting. Now the bags were being bundled and shoved underneath our rushed transport and I breathed out restlessly to merge two separate earths. I couldn't find how my written words could fit in this mouth, the mouth that in hours my mother and brothers would meet and rush to with open arms. I described her only as a friend. We needed to get lost from the city and the ache of each drop from clouded sky. April showers had hit hard and a warm day would do us both good. I remembered the night on the boat's roof and begged her not to go. I'd stay too if she wanted, I just couldn't shatter the slow motion she put me in or step out of the rendered light that kept my focus from the stoop of my steps. She put her arms around me and nodded, told me she would be there when I came back to the city. She wished it to put me in a better mood.
From home I planned a party. I gathered up the names of the faces of strangers I had passed in the streets during my months in the city. I even retrieved the number of her own O.J. Berman, the nasally voice I heard from the other side of the bridge the night that landed me in a riverside rooftop night. He seemed sore but promised to invite all of the acquaintances of hers he knew, everyone they knew, as well. I've been drinking my way through bars looking for that little doll. I found her a roll in the
I don't remember what she said or when she left, just my pages tossed from the ledge and scattered in the street. Someone loved somebody and someone didn't belong in the city. I can't remember who. I few days later, I tripped the door to her building and headed up the stairs. I was shocked to find her table clear of her mail and her note scratched; the initials turned to mountains, the rest formed into the sun and the sky. I tried to track down the man with the nasal tone. His phone always rang straight through to his standard voicemail that I filled up within my first week. After a month of calls a woman picked up who addressed herself as his wife. He disappeared off to
Saturday, March 15, 2008
My Left and Right in the Wire
How many wolves get caught in the wire, their paws almost reaching the ground? I saw some when my brothers sent me to check one the crops and I spent the early morning digging up guns from the soil. Each had heads nodding deeper into the tangle, their eyes pulled back in anger and fear. They flashed teeth to intimidate the wood and metal, heavy breathing ‘til they spotted me coming through the crops. The flash of brown hair sent them into cries from the backs of their throats. The overalls sent full bodies into motion, paws swimming through dew, twisted spines kicking back into the sun -risen sky. I flinched at first; stuck in my mind to think they would snap free for blood, but once they dangled for a moment I ventured closer, the right still committed to his snarls, the left docile, eyes straight, head on. I hunched close enough to feel the smell of the warm breath, though I held my face in my hand, fearing his swing would reach me. Instead, he sniffled, nostrils flaring in and out, and I stared into black eyes, layer under layer, and decided to cut the beasts down.
Blood puddles formed around their paws, mixing with mud, as the right finally quieted. I reached out for a wrist, to push it back under with just a finger, but they flinched and yelped, the thrashing of teeth and focused eyes, I withdrew and lifted up off my knees ‘til I could hear the silence, ‘til the breathing returned heavy and nervous. The right held his jaw pointed up to the sky, his eyes reaching behind him. His sudden jolts made my heart skip beats and trip over my arsenal. The left kept his eyes on me, moving nothing more than his tongue to lick his drying snout and his eyebrows arched. I tried to speak but the sound in the back of my throat came out as nothing more than an indistinct growl. I knew the words weren’t coming out as I heard them in my mind but I knew nothing of speaking to these dogs. I just hoped that they would understood, throwing my neck back towards the roof of my house and the barn beside it and then gesturing my return. The left seemed to understand but the right ignored me, exhaling hard against the fence, expanding lungs pierced hat deeper in each movement.
I ran with the shot guns wrapped up in arms clung tight to my chest. The barrel lay cold across my cheeks and pointed into the sky while the butts hit my shins. I made it past the fields and to the bridge. The water ran shallow but cold, muddy puddles building up around the feet of the trees hanging over head. I reached down for my shoestrings after tying all three guns together in my bandanna and sticking the spreading their legs to form a tee-pee. Blood and dirt filled the legs front of my overalls and the chill from the early morning wind made them stick to my scabs. I tied my shoes and washed my hands in the water; little sticks and leaves crossed over pebbles, but I had no time to watch. I took the bridge, plank by plank, not bothering with the handrails as I passed them by. Rustles and scampering were an earshot away, near the tree's edge of the clearing and wondered in those were my wolves’ friends, those who escaped the barbed wrath. I got lost in the thought of jackals and hands, helping hands of mine. I could see where I was heading;, the tool chest on the work bench, far back in the brown roof barn. I could see the wire cutters so strongly that I left my three pronged tee-pee, standing strong, one but stuck out into the water.
Roger says you are too young, Daniel spouted from the top of his bunk. The ceiling fan looped around almost to touch his legs, the only limb visible, hanging off the bed. But what do you say? I want to know what you say. He said that he thought I was too young too, if Mom were to find out she would drown us both, Roger too. I told him that I would be the only one who would know. And think of the mouth you've got. I stared at the stuffed animals I hid under my own bed, too low for the two to see them and thought of hunting for deer. They never brought one home but Roger said he hit one once, climbing up into trees and tossing up the guns one by one. They left the house in their old Sunday pants; Roger in khakis and Daniel in green corduroys, hitting just above the ankle. Mom tried to scrub the dirt out for me to wear but the stains sunk in too low. I could imagine the jokes and laughter and sneaking soda out the fridge and up the trees. I imagined kicking the bark to build a tree house and great antlers peaking out from behind the brush. We would come home to tomato soup and Fireman Joe Sandwiches, warm from the pan, and tell Mom we had been down by the stream looking at fish that flowed by somehow slower than the water or swinging into the hay in the barn. I won't tell. Daniel slid from his bunk. I know you won't, because if she finds out where we hid Dad's guns I'll use one on you. He laughed and told me to dig them up and not to worry about Roger, would leave after breakfast.
Daniel promised to let me shoot just one shot but I dug up all three guns anyway. I pulled down the loose lock from its latch and dragged the barn door through the dirt it stubbornly kicked up into clouds. The sun was out to the right so I draped my scarf over the handle and unzipped my coat. I skipped the light switch; the one bare bulb only lit the room at night and layered shadows in the day. I looked up towards the hay loft, some nights I could see the blond curls of an angel hanging from there. Laughter and giggles, plus the sound of Daniel's voice hushed and echoing against the metals. The pitchfork and broom laid intertwined, part of one another as I sat under the work bench with my legs crossed and knees pulled up to my chest, afraid to climb the ladder and peak at her beautiful face, touch the lining of her wings, until it got quiet and is saw two sets of legs and bare feet head towards the door, the light from the moon closed off behind them. That is where I spotted the wire cutters, squeezing them between my fingers, careful not to make a sound. They sat in the box on top of the work bench, an old fishing box, under lures and plastic wrapping. Even some old fishing line wrapped into a ball. I would dig out the colorful lures with moving eyes and store them in my pocket 'til the stabbed me, making the tips of my fingers plump and bloody. I gathered the wire cutters and tested them of the wood of the door, then against hay swept into the corner. Isnuck out of the barn, leaving my scarf behind, hoping it would distract the watchers from the window.
I put them in my back pocket and ran towards the bridge. The water pushed underneath a bit harder, no fish now, far down, past the trees and the cleared fields, crops and the houses down the countryside. I felt miles of tension, my left and right in the wire, my scarf swinging from the barn, blowing in the wind, trying to escape the big looming shadow. Now my neck was cold a streaks of water slapped up against the slats in the bridge, wetting my socks and the carrying larger twigs than before, but I kept moving. When the two saw the wisp of my hair and my bare neck it sent them into panic, panic or relief. Both galloped in place, rowing their arms in the air and howling in a soft purr. The right snapped back his neck in excitement. But I ran to them quick, no longer scared of their snapping jaws. What Roger said never affected me anyway. In the trees you can't see in front of your own face, you can't even see the creatures when their eyes are on you. Now we were out in the open, and my left's eyes fixed on me. I knelt in their blood and started with the left. The right's shaking and snapping still startled me. As I twisted the cutters from my pocket I heard him whispering in my ear in cries and heavy breaths. I cut the top of the three wires first. Left fell limp in a yelp and hung with front paws fishing for the dirt. I heard a snap in the wire and he fell back. With his thud the right kicked and howled to the sky. I shifted my cutters to the right of the post and cut the bottom line. He slid out and whimpered off into the woods.
I could still hear his cries when I looked down to the left, his hair matted, the grey and brown, not sure if it was from his bleeding or the mud, perhaps a bit of both. He didn't move, kept his feet out in from of him and his eyes open. I could see the blood spreading from under him. I put my hand against his hard rising ribs, hoping for him to snap back and chase after the right. He didn't move. I looked back to the barn for help but no one would be able to hear me. I thought back to the bridge and the tee-pee stuck in the mud. Water hit in big drops on the back of my neck and I wondered how long it would take to reach them. I ran and tripped at the foot of the tree, my shins digging into the mud, now more water than earth and I looked for the guns, two dragged away with the stream but the third laid flat on the ground with my handkerchief still tied to the barrel. Daniel kept ammunition in his sock in the top drawer of his dresser but I checked for one shot down the barrel. I could not tell. I stood, not able to tell the rain from my tears, marched back to my left, aimed and fired.
Tuesday, March 11, 2008
I was blanking on street names, watching the snow, the first snow to stick, fall around me. I had been in a cab, Happy Christmas, and all, said when given a chance, but I didn’t feel it. I was worried about the fare. Adam told me London cabs were the worst, the reason they looked like a hearse, they plan to bury you. Bare legs hanging out of skirts, connecting to brightly colored pumps, jutted out onto Regents’ waving down each shadowed fury. One had hair chopped, blond, with charcoal circled eyes, the other, Allison could stand still and stare at me flat footed. I tried to see the fare click by in digital red from my slouch but the seats in leather left my view obstructed, blurred blacks and greys, the street lamp passing by the window, backlighting the flash of skin moving to the sounds of their giggles coming from each side. Drunken eyes slowed in reaction. Where could you track down the twenty-one and prosperous? Boarding schools in Sweden, early admittance to Oxford with, oh, such dangerous eyes and perfected smiles, as much by them as the doctors who moved each tooth. I heard of them on my walk back, strutting in sun I would barely see. But these two couldn’t go wrong, throwing a handful of pounds at the driver, taking my wrist and shuffling into a warehouse, smoke filled and abandoned.
The air felt too cold and clean. Even Sinan, the great Iraqi-Swede said in big gruff Native American tone said, Let’s go smoke. I fumbled for my zipper, pulling it up and tucking my hood around my neck. He reached out his pack but I pushed away, electing, instead to look at my shoes. I remember him buying me steak in the West End, trying to confirm that we were friends as we walked in the gutter, hands in pockets, letting the rushed pass along the side. He turned his head around to make sure that I followed and laughed about big Texas steak and told me to get what I wanted. Saint Martin guided him there, given him a job with me, no, beneath me in the stockroom, swatting off the heat. You are all northerners, the beautiful ones. I told him it wasn’t so. We ate in silence, the cold kept wanderers off the streets and us inside. We sat and watched the last of the tables dissolve, patrons grabbing coats, arms lacing the backs of their loves, the tables clearing seemingly by themselves. Not all was noticed. I had hoped to save a slice, enough for another meal, but the initial flavor hit me as a lost love. It sat with me making me sick but kept me cutting off shape after shape, square after square, teaching myself to eat again. Learning traits my mother never taught me. He looked pleased, hands crossed, trading the steak for company, spilling out the woes of love and race, each one nagging and disappearing with each breath of confrontation. I spread a few words, enough to please him but not convince myself. He stretched the space between his fingers along the table and asked about people back home but the lights were getting brighter. He offered a beer but I swore I started to feel the sharp pain in the back of my neck, beneath my ears, and I could feel it coming on. The tears seemed to convince him. He hoped it wasn’t the steak but I assured him it I feel right long before that night.
Abandonment came and went with the glare. Music started and the light would follow, highlighting perfectly planned faces, shining off of bottles and moving along the colored sparks fading off. The shadowed blonde disappeared, her absence only noticed with a grasp for a hand but Allison’s would do. She led me on as Beatrice, not stopping for much, perhaps a drink or a smoke. I kept my eyes open for Katherine’s set of doe eyes staring up at me, long legs down to the floor. I could see them hanging out of bathtubs, stilettoed, half size too large, just hanging from arched heel. My eyes closed, scared of what she might do. They stung with each blink from the trapped smoke fogging up the lenses; stopping up my eyes forty-eight hours too long, two weeks too long. The right torn and itching in the corner, the left popping out due to its folds. I remember staring out of them through haze from sheets, the look of cigarettes still smoldering from her painting pallet, dried up and stuck to her stool. Canvasses cluttered the room, some covered, others backed into corners facing the wall, not yet reached by the morning sun. English light looked more kind to those of us still feeling the night before. I sat up in a shake to feel the paper crumpled in her grip lose its footing and roll down my chest. I am sorry. I am sorry because I am happy. There is tea in the drawer. I skipped on the tea, grabbing my slacks and heading out the door. I could feel the bus turning off Hammond. I peeled from the smoke.
I saw Allison follow through blinking lids after a push out the door from my stint in a fray. I could stand a bit of blood golden tint from streetlights, not sure if the drips were mine. All feeling was gone but the sting of a ringing brain wrapped up in my head and knocked loose. Allison looked at it for a minute, I tried to catch her eye but she pushed hair back and looked above my gaze. Our faces fell closer and I rested each arm across her shoulder. A few shrugs and I leaned against her chest, red filling in the white of her coat’s fabric, a hand ran fingers, brushing out the knots in my hair, pulling gently – her gloves stowed away in her bag. The wind dried my wound with paper napkins, greased by late night fish and chips wrapped in butcher paper, the fluorescents keeping our gaze down. I stared and her shoes and the legs that followed. She focused her eyes on uneaten bread, cursing Saint Martin for neglecting more fare for a cab, abandoning us in the last lights open on the street waiting for the brakes from the bus. Even they had passing brooms, sweeping us out to the bench cornered into two sheets of glass. We sat wrapped in each other, as much for the heat as the company, and the closeness warranted small pecks growing with each chilling minute. Her bus arrived first, heading north; it was too late to protest us parting, even if I thought I could make out the words. I looked for a face in a well lit window but saw nothing more that a head of brown hair leaned into the seat in front. I couldn’t even say it was her, no visible stain blotting up the coats corner.
She woke telling me of powered eggs, cheaper, the kind she grew up on in Sheffield, and stretched out in my army sack. She twisted, turned pushing down out onto the floor, feathers circling the couch and around her as I cracked real shells, chipped white falling and forked out of the yolk. She stretched her neck, still sleep-eyed and into a smile, arms stretched out above her head to the sound of sizzle – sausages steaming up the kitchen. I noticed the wind as it blew the few trees reaching with twigged limbs to the fourth floor as if I could almost see cold. She spoke of Saint Martin bringing her in, raincoat hood pulled up over her head, eyes sparkling when the lights from the store were overshadowed by the ongoing storm. How the rain hit softly when she asked to see him and I carried her up, limbs hanging outside of my arms, wrapped with fingers gently gripping my neck. He said she made eyes, and the eyes I made them back meant a hundred and fifty pounds wasn’t too much when it came to chemistry or a clothing limit. She buried her face in my pillow, never asking why I wouldn’t sleep in a bed or why the other two were gone for the weekend. I wouldn’t have known the answer. I left her laying there when the first light turned through white cotton curtains making no attempt to shield us. I laced up shoes and sipped up my hood, and faked a stretch before grabbing my keys from the wall and pushing them into my pouch. I stepped out into Sunday morning light, no noise but the sound of taxi’s driving in closing me off between the street and the river. Older women walked in herds silently with prayer books saving smiles for the savior, holding them behind closed doors. I couldn’t see The Eye moving, or was it, always moving to that slow? I picked up my pace on my way back, picking up the eggs, sausages and juice after staring down the cooler, the cranberry snapped up by the church, late night volunteers filling up bags minutes before close. I jogged back along the river in open wind. I took the stairs down to the water, house boats lining the dock, water washed painted bridges leading to land. Each had curtains up, if curtains at all, open to see the sea, itself curiously exploring the island, passing through on its way to something bigger. I could see it passing through both sets of windows, past the unlit rooms, a guitar in the corner, beds, sheets, tables stacked with open loaves of bread. People still sleeping, but living. One closer to Battersea Bridge looked empty, abandoned at least for the weekend. I squeezed past the gate and took a look closer, no movement at all, not even the dip from the crooked fan, and I wished I could settle up, content to stay still in transportation.
Anna tried on clothes she should have never tried on. She grabbed me by the wrist and brought me down the stairs, stripped down, curtain hanging loose as I stared off into lights, hoping to catch the lingering sparkle. Tags hung from her body, innocence in her eyes as I told her that she didn’t know what she was doing. You have Katherine and I have Paul, she said over and over, like it fixed the discomfort in my jeans and I could suddenly give opinion without bias to her lips and legs, braless chest stretched into thin cotton. I nodded to the floor. Each dress, each skirt almost too short, just pretending I didn’t have shifty eyes before I knew her, before Katherine packed up and headed North. I acted like flesh never affected me; I had never been out of breath before that moment.
I broke towards the door, arms slung to the side and my hood brushed up to my head. I mumbled something about lunch, then up the stairs and out into the light, real sunlight hidden by clouds instead of the fight between my eyes and the fluorescent in the shop. I passed the square, lads lined up, crippled beggars polite in tone but still bumming for a pound. I passed tumble after tumble, bit after bit but I paled in the shadow. Singers swindled songs ‘round the West End but I ran to the almighty, fries not crisps and fixings, an American diner. The closest I could get to home was a full stomach, ailing from the grease, heavy gut to push back the discomfort in my jeans. I ate through English eyes, 1950’s milkshakes, the juice squeezed out of burgers first bite, all a bit too clean to be truly from home. The place was a fork and I could see cars pass through the window behind the counter and I felt them rattle the glass along my back. I looked at my watch. The afternoon was ending, no dinner crowd, just the change into fresh aprons and the start of new songs, all from an era I didn’t grow up in who couldn’t get in touch with my memory. I stole words from jukebox songs on flip page inserts, as foreign to me as those I was surrounded by – recognizable from pictures our mother’s took us to and the ones that came on late at night, hours before the tests. I gathered these images up in my arms and claimed them as my own, holding them as tight as I clinched my eyes, trying to get back there.
I walked down the stairs with a gut full of whiskey to see St. Martin standing behind the till. His eyes shot up, How was it then? The light still shined in my eyes, Christmas lights dangling from the upper room ceiling, stuck with staples some places too few. The bottles lined the counter, emptying around the same speed. Jack Daniels wishes you a Happy Holidays, plastered on the side of cabs, a premonition, a neglected warning firing down painted blocks across from the buses I caught each morning. Morning buses ran all hours but I always caught them in my early mornings waking from sleep, no matter what time it really was. How could I answer him, innocent look of concern draped along his face? The browns of his shoes pointing up to Heaven. He saw my legs twitch on the dance floor, two drinks in my hand, trying to get rid of the first one. He saw me sitting on plastic, Katherine, newly chopped and died to taunt me, her legs tucked back behind the couch as I slurred on story after story. He hurried me over water in little plastic cup that I mistook for a shot and took in a gulp. He asked if I needed another. He witness countless one sided conversations with girls, too shy to speak to during the daylight, dolled up for holiday game and gift exchanges. I drew Katherine's name on accident but I stripped it from all sentimentality, card and wrapping clogged up the toilet, but she left before I could get it in her hands. Allison's drew me and handed over cowboy notes, for me to scribble in. I left both gifts behind me where St. Martin stood now, with no judgment on his face, hand pledged on top of my notebook and asked me for the truth as he handed it over to me. I pushed it away. She took my badge, she took my gun. I'm a civilian now.
I loaded the bus after Allison's, not worried with whether it was mine or if mine would come at all. I invited the grime, covering me in the warm seat and refused to look out my window. The bus rattled and shook with each turn, looking in no particular hurry to get me anywhere. After staring at the seat in front of me, I looked out into a London I didn’t recognize; open plots of land, not big enough for shops, more and more as the stops went by. The lights from the city got darker but the moon turned a black sky blue, as if I had entered the countryside, thatch cottages just out of sight. The bus stopped much longer than what my body found normal after all of my motion. To the right laid a dusty road, flats lining them just beyond the street lamps and unkempt lawns just in front of me. I could hear the steps making their way up the stairs before I saw him. Greys of his hairs and his whiskers brushed from the utensils he kept in his back pocket. Alright now, this is the end of my line. Another bus will be along to take you the other way. At first stern, ‘til he saw my torn hands and told me to stay, soon I’ll be headed back into town. I curled up, my hood shielding me from the chill from the window, but kept my eyes open for anything I recognized. I spotted the lions in Trafalgar and stumbled from my seat. The sun wasn’t lighting, just greying the sky, still dark enough for someone to get lost in the landscape. I passed shining windows, chipped with ice, coffee not yet made, the machines sitting idle. I sat on the steps watching for anything, a phantom cab, or, imagine: a soul walking towards me.
Monday, March 3, 2008
Saturday, February 16, 2008
Thursday, February 7, 2008
The fairground music comes from yells, whistles, bells and yelps, the screech from rusted rides and laughing children. They culminate in song muffled through my jeans as I try to hold my shaking head still. I look up towards the night sky, open and circling slowly around our dome. Stars, so many they connect as bars of the playground's jungle gym with the slide nowhere near us. I can't look towards our sky 'til a greased, gone man leans his sledge across my side and tells me to win you a prize. When I look up I see past his ear to the sky behind and the mirror of water. I am too weak, I tell him and I am as I crumble back into my shell. You drop your head too and all is quiet until he speaks up again. I look up through blurred eyes and point out. "There is your man. He'll win her prizes," as Matt walks into view followed by Andrew, shadowing us from the lights. He turns his attention towards them as I turn towards you - smiles, soft eyes and a wave as they stumble off behind them. After a stretch of my legs, a stretch of my shoulders and neck, I sit up staring at you with your palms on the bench. You lean forward and I almost forget that we watched the rain sheet your yard from your porch late in yesterday's afternoon.
You sat on your mother's rocker as I sat on boxes, head leaning back against the white post, chipped from wine bottles, exposing pale bark that splintered at my neck. The water slanted constant along the roof, drifting through drain pipes and dripping into the yard. Just enough of a sound to muffle your voice. Just enough movement to take you out of focus. Through the blur, I looked for your wings, gone now - clipped or were they just fading? I imagine seeing a faint outline, transparent but the color a bit lighter then what surrounded them. But that is just imagination. Because, when I stood up for another drink, I pressed my hand gently against your back and I felt nothing moving from your shoulder’s blades, just the fabric from the hood, now not much thicker than a tee shirt. Thinning out from two seasons of wash. My own hands looked more scarred than your flesh, exposed, hair pulled up, soft small of your neck and I thought to ask, did you notice?, but instead reached for my glass and turned my eyes back into the drowning evening.
It is just now October, cold but not the cold of that winter night when I stumbled out of the twenty-four hour diner dialing your number on my way to the car. I shimmied in an hour earlier, scarved and smelling of liquor, laughing with Ryan and Dave 'til the breath left the top of my gut and I bit my chapped lip to be quiet. They didn't notice but she did, eyes buried deep, thin frame, soft jaw, a pot of coffee in her hand. The girl you came to me with in a junior high day at the pool. I tripped and fell over her eyes and frail body but turned you both away, fixing my sights on a girl a little further along. When we moved into freshman the two of you were noticed and carted down the halls by the crowds, her never to be seen again, only ears full of tales depicting her whereabouts. Then I tried not to see her slinging coffee as I slid deep down into the booth. I stared at the ashtray, a book of matches and wondered if she still smoked, if you did. Her face looked like it, pale and thin but still fragile, ultimately sad as I watched her look down behind the walls along the kitchen. She caught me and walked over to put her arms around my neck, still sitting in the booth. We made no conversation. She smelled my hair and said how she missed me, missed us. And as she slid her hands from around me, slow, I wished for her to stay there.
In my alphabet there are only seven letters. I would settle for three. "M-E-L." You turn and look startled. "The devil is a threat to this country." But, no, the Devil's just a threat to our souls. You say that it's true. You see him in pictures, there, just behind them, standing taller than the rest. "But how do you know it's him?" You don't answer, turn your head to stretch your legs, digging your heals into the earth. You say you want to become a doctor, or teach. "You know he wants to marry you."
Just hours before, we stood in clear open fields, stadium lights circling around us. The noise from conversation blanketed over the sound from the stage. Children sat on speakers, face painted, holding balloons. Josh and Anna stood arm in arm, back to the show, passing their flask full of whiskey. You stood to my right, uncomfortable to look at, trying to stand natural with his arms wrapped around you. I saw it in the car, the gate, and the hill. We told them we were off for beer, two of them down with a funnel cake a pair of sausages who put us where we are now. My stomach hurts but yours aches, you tried to stifle it before we hit the air, just inches away from the breath of each other, escaping through laughs and scream, pushed out before us.
The shield of plastic didn't fog like the glass in view from the seats of my Bronco. Two years ago I'd wait, with the sun going down, a single rose, white in hand singing songs and listening to talk on the radio. The time felt like nothing, must have been hours, waiting for you to skip out of rehearsal doors towards my car, apologizing. I just sat, smiling. You wouldn't get your flower 'til we came up for air. I remember sticking my eye up to the heart you colored in with your finger. The only way to see out. Who knows what my parents thought? Fifteen minutes in the evening is all you could steal before you got home. The same in the morning. My heater breathed out cold as I waited, stalled, staring out the window for you to drive up. I stole almost an hour one weekend morning before the holiday with your shoes off and your jeans. We sat quiet in the full sun, wishing for words to say, so used to scrambling them out. You rested your head on my shoulder and squinted and said it was too much.
If we drive long enough down the main road in town, drive far enough, we'll see cemeteries out to our right. At first, just the field but, with a slight curve in the steering, there are gravestones scattered in the headlight, hundreds of them spread out over miles of unkempt grass. The fence isn't more than what would circle a little league game, diamond design tangling up metal post, not much taller than our steps over. When I returned, Andrew drove with me in the passenger seat, as you laid up against Matt in the back. "I'm afraid I'm going to die abruptly. Like the kind that comes in a moment of hesitation, deciding to step off the tracks." We stare off into the grass, some grown long enough to lay shadow across each shot of granite. "The train was coming and the jump was planned. It is just waiting too long." I imagine your eyes stay open with the hit, unflinching at the impact. We barely move.
I see myself driving us back. Not because we're tired, but because those two are piling more beer and couldn't hop in the bed of Andrew's truck - you'd lean against Matt, his arm slung under yours, wrapped around your chest and me up on the ledge, foot wrapped in an old tire buried in the pine. Maybe we'll have to walk back. You'd shush them in the streets, heavy in houses as we watch them disappear between lamp posts. Dogs would bark behind their fences. Maybe we'll watch them fall asleep in flower beds and you'll wish you had come when I asked you to. You'll wish you had carved hearts in my bunk or slid from it to the floor of my dorm, next to me. And you'll will wish that you could leave now, packing up a duffel bag with skirts and dresses, holding on to my arm, when I turn they keys. You'd look forward.
Sunday, January 20, 2008
Each part was written as an experiment of telling a story in three paragraphs based around an antique store-bought photo. I dug through a bin and selected twelve. If the colors of the 1980's are brown and yellow (and often mid-ocean blue) then the color of these photos are faded greys and blacks, creams that used to be whites. Some show stains by neglectful coffee drinkers. But you can see more lines than colors and , hopefully, you can see movement. You'll see streaks of light and duplications. You'll want to attribute them to the camera, but it's all in the shot. Some hang just out of the frame. Broken halos and weary travelers, rich men, workers, birds, bears, and dogs. And it's all been taken care of because each one is a part of the past. The young soldiers have been trained and branches have grown. No ones coming after you for the memories. No matter how strong the images are, they fade. They fade into comfort. They make it to the page when they are ready. Some won't but there isn't an interlocking story. I tried for a feel but they were all experiments in style. Forgive me for the mess.
Thursday, January 17, 2008
I let the dirt stain my heels one day after another, keeping my eyes on the drive and an ear out for calls to come home. I stand shoulders braced and back arched to the wind. Was that a bear? No, just the shape of the wood 'cause there is no longer any sky and the lack of light makes my morning path sinister. I feel the animals all around me but I see no one. They don't avoid the snapping twigs that sneak under my feet and slide against the shifting gravel but push through blurring my eyes with their low paths and hidden movement. The house is far out of sight and the voices will not reach me.
Drip drip down to the water. The sun won't shine in the sky but still brushes along the top of the pond. I drop my stick deep down through the ringed shadow 'til it hits the floor. Pants roll up accordingly and I hesitate, one foot at a time, water rising to the hair along my ankles and my toes push me out again. I try to reach the light against the far part of the lake but it's too deep even with my jeans touching the surface and though I'm used to the cold, I can't make my limbs move forward. I turn my back to the orange of the light, to the branch hanging over where I pocket-knived my own strand of red hair as you slept in its shade. I remember the pale and freckles attracting spiders, the sudden jump and screams falling into brushed off giggles in the picnic afternoon. I remember the warmth of the breath as you dug your face into the wool of my shirt, resting your head on my shoulder.
The light fades fast from the water, not from the trees. I lose my shirt to dry my feet then wrap it around my waist. The rope won't hold from the summer's heat, but I found the roots and a knot, then a hand on a branch and another. Trees grow deeper and taller next to water and this one shoots deep into the sky, clouds cover without light except the red lining, shining long past my sight. The further I climb the closer it comes. I can see your old rooftop and mine, where they sit together. Now the old ranch-hand moved in with his wife who makes pitchers of tea for my mother but nothing for me. No longer your two dogs and swinging high on the porch but cats sneaking under my fence, the path you used to palm. I think I hear the sound of your folk's old truck 'til I hear my dad's voice, "Climb down and come home."
At the neck starts the shadow - the leaves on the tree and the shade on the panels - but they start from the waist down. There are two of each -two, two and two - little girls crossed legs and arms. All hold hanker chiefs, one on each head, another wrapped around their fingers. One head turns and then two look bored but the lights are stretched tight the time that it counts. Shinbones stick out of a field of cabbages and boney knees show, because it's hard not to kneel when you are building fences. They swore they would help if I bought them boots and new jeans and we would stop when the wind turned. So we put down the bricks 'cause they mark the ground to where the fence should lay. Truth is, they're not fences, they're raised flower beds for the soot and the rain and the soil.
I use the hammer and one holds the post. Flinch. The first drop hits my neck but she doesn't notice. The second has her head in a book and the third, asleep at a knee. At the second drop, all eyes look up. My wife calls from the corner and they run with covered heads and words and inks that drip. I pick the hanker chief left hanging from a pocket and wipe my face. Closed eyes, beads fill my skin. Flowers won't be here 'til spring and the trees won't bear fruit for years. "You are coming back when we plant the roses."
The splinters are from the chair. It's just not ready.
"The flowers look good." We throw the bad fruit out in the front of the morning and carry the rest up to the house in the basket. "Some of it's not ripe yet." I twist and turn with sand paper in hand. Just one pair of mud boots by the door now, two umbrellas. The last arrives in the morning.
Friday, January 11, 2008
(Part 4 of Hidden in this Picture)
A trudge and a trudge as he walks along fallen flakes in the wood - boots up to his knees, pack on back - but he walks with confidence. The sound of the warden's voice still stung in his ears but he pushed on through the snow. An old con job got him his clothes, cash in hand at the grocers, then next door for supplies. "Could you tell me how to reach the state line?" He looked up as he slipped on his boots. "Which way you going? North or south?" South held more sirens and sniffing hounds so he headed up to the border cross - ten miles of snow and forest. "Men like you try it everyday." Salted pork from the grocer and a scarf from the supply shop. The snow didn't flake, only landed as dust on his head and pounded his ears while the wind tunneled up and of the coming trees. This was the end of the clearing but the trees were the path out.
The cold ached in his bones. He wished he had a hat instead of a fist full of green that he scattered at the foot of the forest trees. The money was supposed to get him somewhere warm but now it wasn't worth it. He thought of getting out, walking through deserted streets of town - a bank, a bakery, and finally some lodge to stop into for a drink. Empty of all but an untouched barmaid, just taller than he with soft shoulders, first harsh against his advances, then warmed by his weary story. He thought of the covers of periodicals at the grocers and the women he loved more than anybody and imagined all the stood between them - miles, money, producers and agents, family and the law. He pushed branch against branch, snapping the small in his swollen hands and fought the cold by trying to breathe only warmth by catching the breath that came before it.
He came to the edge of the wood, frosted tear in the corner of each eye, waiting. He could see the town - shop after shop, snow covered street and snowmen stacked around each other. Smoke poured out of a saloon on the closest corner to him. Snow started to fall light on his back as he crouched along the last living shrubs and dumped charred firewood before the clearing. His tongue felt cold against his teeth and he wondered what bar food tasted like. Was it too far back to fish for the singles he had thrown on the forest floor? The snow would have likely salted over them by now. His eyes felt too dry to see them anyways. First, the saloon, then if no one was waiting for him, the deli next door. He twisted against the earth. Sounds of hooves and swears filled the trees silence. He knew the warden and his fleet sat right behind and he could almost feel the cold barrel of the gun against his neck. He stood, stepped out to the street and spilt his blood out onto the ice. It felt warm on his face and his fingers as strangers peeked out of buildings and the gallops grew louder and he was unable to breathe in the warmth from his gasps.
Tuesday, January 8, 2008
(Part 2 of Hidden in this Picture)
"I know it looks white but he's a finch...or a sparrow."
You set the cage on your favorite book, with its broken spine, in the garden. Wood shavings on stone and short sudden movements within the cage. I hear you step - one, two - and see the light go from an open door as the sky slips into darkness and the flower fades from sight. I'm afraid the rats will get him but you say, "There are no rats in the garden." There are cats though, with their chests on the floor and their pawed arms stretched out. You tell me, "Go to bed." From my sheets, I check the window. The cage from up here looks like a cake pan and makes my belly weak and my eyelids soft. I imagine a hop and a chirp from the cage. A bird in the middle of the frame but the cage not quite centered and the cats and the rats and the thin wire bars, the only means of protection.
In the morning the wings moved through sunlight, past the rain, early morning dew filled its feathers, spread out in the opening air. Pants then shoes then the stairs and you - knowing I'll try to perch him on my finger, "He won't stay." I blink and look out the window at the survivor, fighting in the alley between orchids and azaleas. "He is just going to fly off your finger." I swear to keep my hand in the cage. "It doesn't matter," head shrugged, "he's my bird anyway." School prizes never last long and those goldfish won't last a week, but a class room market has eighteen choices. You brought something I made for Mom. Abigail brought feathers and a tail, a beak and movement. He hit his head on the top of the cardboard box and you swore not to open it 'til you got home.
You are older but by only a year and how heavy could cardboard and a bird in flight be? I hold the door, standing in sawdust. He flaps against the walls. Holding up the box, "How much for a cage?" Old white whiskers and ears lean over the counter to see your short voice. "Well, what kind is it? Is it in there?" I shout that its a dove and then, thud, with a box in my chest and a ruffle of feathers. "It's a small one. Ten dollars will do." He disappears slowly then three rise from the floor. "These are mine. They are old but it's what I can give for ten dollars. Which do you like?" The third sat rounded top and swinging perch next to the others boxes. "Let the bird decide." Peanut butter painted perches and a sprinkling of seed - I stood holding the glass door shut when you popped the box and the wings shot towards the door, then the window and then settled along the rafters. I peaked around corners. "Give it a second, He'll come down." You dropped your box to your knees and he glided in from the ceiling into the rounded metal cage, my cage, and stuck beak under wing.
Monday, January 7, 2008
My hand turns red from waiting. Head rounds my shoulder each car that passes, back straight, hands down to the side. You re still sitting. Hands on knees, breathing like you are smelling - trying to catch the sent of the crime. I beg you to say something. "Coulda been wolves." Only your eyes turn. I look to the grass and circle around them, tough. "Ain't no wolves in this part of the neighborhood. Plus, no tracks on the lawn." I check the lawn silently, and the bushes nearby(only a pile of o bottles), then for marks along their necks. "No marks on them either. Nope not wolves. My best guess is they froze." You get to your knees, tears in your eyes. "Froze?" as you march up to me, "But it's not cold yet." I turn my back and poke the kite into the earth. "You heard the grandpa. 'Night gets long.'" But I'm still not sure.
We creep in close to the bodies and kneel beside them. I watch your open mouth as you lower your ear. Whispering, "This ones breathing." Now I can hear the rattle of breath, cold creeping out of the lungs. "No, no no, no no. The dead can't breathe, plus we called their names." Your sister said the blond one is Jamie and I know the fat one's called "Tuff". You lean over the bodies, "Yeah but we don't know the last ones name." The last one has mouth open, teeth we from dew, reflection from the sun. His cream color pants and crimson sweater look the most worn, torn in the elbow, white shirt with thin red stripes stick through. His eyebrow twitches in the wind. I stand and kick his boot, checking for ice. None fall off, I crane my neck to be sure. "What'd you do that for?" as you're standing. "It's is definitely wet down there, not sure about the ice though. I call this one 'Boots.'"
"Hey Boots! ...Hey! ...Are you all dead?"
I told you that I knew they wouldn't answer and circle 'round to my kite, still stuck down in the yawn. My backside hits the ground beside it. I start to untangle my string. You rustle, or the wind rustle behind me. "Shut up with all that racket!" You get quiet, walk towards the gutter. I call after. "Wait, where you going?" Grass in your hand, you turn your head, standing in your boots. "Looking for tadpoles," and turning, start walking. "But, wait. I -- don't you want to wait for them to -- see if they are dead or not." Still walking, shrugging your shoulders. "Wait. What are you going to put them in?" You turn around and run back to me.
"I got just the thing." I get up off the ground and run out to the bushes, you follow. Back down to my knees, sticking my head in, handing out bottles.
"What are you doing there!" I throw out the last bottle and you drop it, turn to the fat policeman. "Where did you get those?" I look at your tears. All but one bottle has slipped to the grass - the last one folded up in your arms. You breathe mostly in. "We are using them to get tadpoles. There's nothing against it." Then you catch your breath to speak, "We didn't kill them. The wolves did. One of them still breathing." The cop slides the bottle out from your arms and guides over to the three bodies.
"What are their names?" His hand on your shoulder. I pointed. "The blond one is Jamie, and he's Tuff and that one's Boots." We watch the hem in his slacks stretch as he kneels beside them."Boy's! Wake up!" They jump, tripping on shoes, choking on breath, and ran as he shook the bottle behind them."You boys sure you don't remember their names?"I try to repeat myself, your stare shining up at me, a tear still in your eye."I'll have to take this with me. You'll have to find something else to catch your tadpoles in."
I pray along with each call even though they make me jump. The sound is shouted out sinister. I turn my head. Mecca is bound to be just out my window. I don't ever get much past, "Dear, oh dear God -" before I dose back off. I guess it is hard for him to give an answer. I wonder if I should have been in church. Any church, old ladies and gospel hymns, death and redemption, a pass of the plate, even if I don't believe it. Maybe then I wouldn't be where I am now. Maybe I'd be home or in southern baptist schools like my brothers. Following father after grandfather. But tradition's not in my blood. Maybe I'd be with someone. Probably the green eyes with the curls. But I have always been better alone. What is it the old men always tell you in donut shops Easter morning? "Women are fine but what you need is adventure." I choke down warm coke and feel my mouth rot. Not only from sugar but from smoke. I miss the water that strengthens teeth. Cupping from my dripping sink only taunts my raw mouth and chapped lips. Still somehow digging out my toothbrush seems like far too much work. It's only six hours til sunrise as is and I've already spent eight here. No time for anything. The call to prayer will be shouted again violently any second now, as soon as I forget to brace myself for it. I'd time it but the light on my watch won't stay on long enough, and moving an inch under these sheets just embraces the cold. They threaten to freeze me to bleeding death. My only chance is to curl up here, try not to make a sound, and wait for the sun coming up in the morning.
I ask my self what Tangier was built on. European traders and horse riding bandits are all that come to mind. They now come to stand, blacking out the light from my persevering bulb, daring me to make my move. I weakly shout out, "Where are all your horses?" My breath only comes in half way and I hold onto it as long as I can before letting it out. The bandits want it but I have to give them as little as I can. I am running out of cash. I don't live in Africa and two weeks is long enough to be homeless. Why did I stretch it to four? I will bolt on the fastest ferry out as soon as the sun comes. If the door is locked I'll scream til it's broke open. If the guides are outside waiting with stories of their children and their promises of trips up the mountain I will jog down the the steep hill to the dirty pier. If they follow I will throw money at them as I have done at everything here. Swindlers in their cafe, the poisoners in the basement rug shops, the crooked guides with their walking sticks and questions; when I leave they will all get a piece of me. They can take it. They're already bleeding me dry. And all I want is off of this continent. But I know I have to fight that alone. Their silhouettes stand in front of the light, waiting for me to come, but the only fair way out is to sit here and watch the sun come up into this morning.