A Better Place

We closed down the bar, went back to my place and did all the predictable things.

At about 4 in the morning I said, I am going to bed now and that sleep is the way I choose to manage pain. She decided she wasn’t sleepy and stayed up to watch Office re-runs and later slipped into bed. Her legs were skinny brown pillows between my arms.

She tossed, turned and rolled around and made funny noises. When the sun poked through the shades, we were both still awake.

She started asking questions like did I believe in past lives and fairies and horoscopes. I told her I didn’t believe in much of anything and that I was very sleepy. She said that life is too short to sleep on low thread-count sheets. She told me I had an interesting nose and that my hands were small and asked if I was always this quiet. I said, yes I was. She asked me why I didn’t talk much and I told her that I didn’t usually have much to say and that I was very sleepy. She said that sleep was just a sorry substitute for caffeine.

She stared into the green sparkle of the morning fish tank. She said the red Beta reflections on the wall reminded her of home. She said she was hungry. I said I didn’t have any food, but she persisted so I stole an apple from my roommate. She found some of my poems and read them and asked me what they meant. I told her I didn’t know. She found my guitar and sat on my bed and played a Creedence song and sang in a crackle heavy voice about fairies and past lives. I said that’s nice, but I am very very sleepy and have to go to work soon. She said that life is something that happens when you can’t get to sleep.

She played another song and then another and then a few more, and finally stopped and turned on my computer to check her e-mail. She spoke to the screen as she read her mail and opened attachments. I took a shower and when I came out, she was still there and asked if I wanted a ride to work. I told her no thank you, I will walk.

I took her number and told her I would call later.

As I watched her car disappear around a corner, the world seemed a much better place. I suddenly remembered that being lonely wasn’t as bad as a lot of things.

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Summer

Summer stands on the corner of Union Avenue. He’s an Asian this year, homosexual and proud.

For the time of year, the days and nights are particularly cool. I think perhaps that he is waiting for a friend. He watches a turbulent relationship leaving apartment B. They are going to the shops. They’re too engrossed in each other’s problems to be aware of his eyes all over them. They need new batteries for their radio, it’s a priority, written at the top of pocketed lines of paper:

3 AA batteries

milk (3 pts.)

1 doz. eggs

cucumber

1 cranberry bushel

It’s a very long list. They’ll probably be out all afternoon. Perhaps she’ll make a phone call plea to her mother. I am watching all this from the bedroom window.

They disappear around the corner. The neighbor’s cat sits on my wall. It’s a vantage point from which she makes calculations. I’m not sure of the exact nature of these. Apparently they involve food, comfort and the relationship between darkness and distances. Summer chucks a leaf at her. It misses.

My current sexual neutrality comes through from the other room and joins me at the window. She is full of words.

“That movie you wanted to see is on in a few minutes. Do you still want to go out for a drink tonight? I’m pretty tired, could do with an early night. You’re quiet today. I see old Summer’s out there again. Looks like he’s off up Alta Vista road. Do you want more coffee?”

She leaves and I glance around the room. This morning’s jerk is curled up and asleep in my unmade bed. Her fact-and-fantasy body seems incongruous, even slightly pathetic, when set against the proper world.

“It’s on the counter, hun. I’ve not put any sugar in. The movie’s starting. Are you coming in?”

What this place needs is a real woman’s touch. She’d see that the windows didn’t distract me so easily. She’d do something about the days and nights. She’d not make coffee that tasted like dirty carpet. Sometimes when I lie in bed I hear her footsteps outside, It’s late and she’s hurrying along on her way home. Other nights she’s someone else and is too far away to be heard.

Perhaps I’ll ask her out for a meal. Perhaps we’ll be drunk at a party and I’ll fuck her as a formality before finding out that she’s a typist or a student or a trainee something. Perhaps she’ll suddenly say “Hey you comma how’ve you been question mark I didn’t know that you still lived around here exclamation point” and we’ll both be pleased to see each other after so long, and I never expected it would turn out to be her.

“Can we have 3 AA batteries, please?”

Simultaneously, Summer reaches the top of Alta Vista road. I stir in one teaspoonful of sugar and go in to watch the movie. She’s sitting on a bus somewhere, vaguely wondering what I’m going to look like and when. The cat is having problems with a particularly awkward calculation and decides to sleep on it.

Mid-afternoon pulls up in his car and opens the door for Summer to get in: “Where the hell have you been?”


No Title

This book I’m writing. The cover I have down. The cover will be something to behold. That much is certain. The cover was my neighbor’s idea. My neighbor is helping me with this book. I lie on his floor, talking talking talking about the book, and he tells me one day, there I am on his floor in mid-thought,

“You need a blue cover, man.”

“Explain,” I say.

“Blue,” he says.

My neighbor is an artist. He is all set up to start painting me, but he is not up for it yet. He is talking with the end of a brush between his teeth, bouncing each wooden word off his tonsils

“Give it a blue cover. Stark raving blue! Blue with no good name for it. Maybe that thing on the book, that thing on the front…”

“The Title?”

“That. Yes. Title. Maybe the title. Maybe that towards the bottom, but that’s only maybe.”

My neighbor the artist hangs his stuff in bookstores. Sometimes they sell. Other times there are complaints to the management.

Another time he suggests, “Blue binding, too. You need a blue binding! No name, nothing. Save all that shit for the inside.”

From the floor, I ask, “You know binding, but you don’t know title?”

“So I get a day job,” my friend says.

The painting my friend is doing now is of something like a fetus – not quite human to be sure. It’s under attack from all these strawberries, maybe pomegranates. A spray of dangerous-looking poison seed. Who knows what this fetus did to get the fruit so irate with it.

So a blue cover it is, an elegant, blue binding, blank, to jump out from all those boring busy bindings, those imitations of font and style from popular books, etc. I can see my book written on the ceiling of my neighbor’s loft. I see my neighbor painting lines through it, brush strokes like a crazy blind editor’s pen. Brush strokes very long and thin.

When I leave my neighbor’s, these words are gleaming inside my head. They sit there expectantly. I take coffee before sleep. Relaxes me, actually.

The words glow like fluorescent stars on the walls and ceiling of my room, but as I keep my eyes closed, I feel them stare at me through the dark.


Particle Zero

Tattooed upon the floor of the silver N-train, infinities spewed out and wandering minds traversed the dirt particles of a mucky footprint left by the right boot of an unknown man.

Particle One
Grime populated nostrils as folk sat in the corner for reduced chances of weird neighbors and shiny, more manageable mornings. A brunette stumbled aboard in charming disarray. All-star Dream Girl — if they didn’t involve neon goblins desecrating childhood bedrooms with mannequin nightmares. She fluttered a line of suitors a pocket moment: Whew, just made it. Only the moment stretched like serendipitous gum shared between aisle-crossed lovers. They watched each other without watching each other in a game of peek-a-boo flirting. She adjusted her grip on the steel rail/boner prop and left at 49th St.

Images of playful squeezes under café tables and muggy evenings counting freckles fell back to winter.

Particle Two
A John dressed in this season’s must-have potato sack tripped in tandem with the train. Skidding across the car like a ghetto Rockette, his leper-lite head took solace in the fact that Doe’s crotch made a soft target. Upon standing, the John spat warped threats.

“I giblets! Getefuggoff! I cutthroat cowboy! I fak cookies, I slice ya fuckstick right off!”

“You’re a dick,” Doe said, slouching in the orange plastic seat. A little girl overheard.

“Mommy, that man said a bad word. He said dick,” precious said. Mommy leaned over and whispered syrupy assurance that Doe was indeed a bad man. A sullen young woman examined her nails as if acting bored was an art form, and she was the new Picasso.

Particle Three
Gators dressed as businessmen dressed as bums soured the tunnels with canned laughter. Subterranean messages pissed in the dirt would be harvested into folklore by smart suits and be analyzed by bubblegum brains six feet under in apartments five miles high.

Particle Four
A hobo fucked a beauty queen in front of the lobotomy crowd. Tourists watched the hobo grind his organ against her ass while his blood-haired face stuttered between the shoulders of meditation and masturbation before exploding silkworm fireworks across her ass cheeks.

Particle Five
Now the carriage contained a new smell: Spunky Comrade. The other smells welcomed him with a song by The Beer Breath Trio. The smells became fast friends. Armpit Aroma had a little place in Montauk, where he vacationed with his missus, Cheesefoot Serenade. Doe liked the crowd and squeezed out a date to join the party, Little Sassy Miss Brown.

Particle Six
“Hi, I’m a totalitarian stranger and I’m going to preach sentiments you need not know.”
The man sitting next to him had a face containing greasy eyes and pterodactyl smile. “Pretend I’m a popular song and sing along awhile. Words are power and power is jazz.” The man joined hands and pantomimed a bird flying.
The man flew out the window.

Particle Seven
Birdman scooped up a Businessman-Bum-Gator in his talons and carried him to a secret nest. At first they argued about nesting materials, as all young couples do. Fast-forward a year and familiarity bred contempt, which in turn gave birth to an undying complacency who grew up to be a star of the subway circuit, often backed by the No Name Street Choir.

Particle Eight
The man across the way was either sleeping like the dead or likely dead. His open mouth parodied the alien autopsy video and twitching leg evoked memories of chasing rabbits. You could tell by the way his docile eyes rocked and rolled under lids he was a dog-tired dogsbody. Damn shame the beast’s collar and owner was absent, his coat widows peaking inside lit places.

Particle Nine
Hairy Debby hopped on. I know you’re not thinking: Did she drink sixteen shots or only fifteen? Well, to tell you the truth, in all this horniness I don’t care. But seeing as this is the swampiest gulch in the world, and could blow your wad, you got to ask dick a question: Do I? Well, she has Day-Glo hi-lo dildos, hip-hug jeans, lip-drug creams, pre-soaked wet dreams, pull-out gimp, signed numbered pimp, and R for Repressed limp.

Particle Zero
People stared through the graffiti-scratched windows: blurred lying faces and bright blue lights.


Make A Wish

It’s Monday. Or Tuesday. Maybe Wednesdaythursdayfriday. Weekend. Week begin. 10 years go by. My floor needs cleaning. I return to my room. My bed. My sheets.

The air tastes stale. But I’m used to it.

My children understand things. Nick thinks that being too smart to work would be a fine thing. He finds a costume he wore in a play, and emerges from his room. Romeo in wine silk and gold. He could not find the under shirt, so his monkey print pajamas show beneath his sash and puffy sleeves. His hair hangs on his forehead like sand on a weathered beach.

My prince. I have made you costumes of red and gold, and sewn tapestry ribbons to your sleeves. You will not do chores. You will sit in front of fires and read new books that I give you so that you will love the same words that I do. If you have a new book, you are rich, even if you have overdrawn your bank account. You will learn these things.

Sid, Isaac, Eve, Able, Henry and Jude are strewn about the living room like so much wrapping paper. Henry and Jude talk about a band they were in during high school. Sid and Tim talk about a band they were in during high school. Eve and Able talk about a band Sid and Tim were in during high school.

“Why does Nick have a crown?” his brother asks, and I say, “ssshhhh.”

“How many times have I told you not to make noise when daddy’s casting spells?” Hunter wants a crown too, so he puts a bucket on his head.

Everyone is reciting names.

“Have you seen Roxanne lately?” “Remember Rose?” “God. I ran into Casey on Tuesday…”

“Christian.”

“Saturn.”

“Jupiter.”

“Mars.”

“Winter.”

“Spring.”

“Summer.”

“Fall.”

There’s no shape left on this ceiling. There’s no body. There are no legs. It’s all just blank. I stand up and walk out. I walk out the door and run down the stairs. I run through the front door and down the street. I turn left and then right. It’s cold outside. It’s oddly peaceful.

I run across the highway and down one of those endlessly stretching streets unique to the small town lower class. I run by a chain link fence of the middle school where I used to run the mile in six minutes. Flat. The gate is open, but no one is there. My lungs hurt a little. White clouds escape from between my old lips. Images of everyone I’ve ever known are dancing on hills of sand. I hit my front yard. The grass is covered in cobwebs of frost. My streetlight bulb has exploded.

I am on the sidewalks now looking down the open length of road that runs through the horizon. They are butterfly hunters. They think that they must catch you while you are flying, and press down on you until you are still. Impale you on a pin and tape a label beneath you and keep you under glass so that you never fly away.

I think the label would say this: genius wacko. morte. Hell yes, but dont my wings look fucking amazing? Impale me. I am dying here. I am dying. The words float into space.

I throw my wineglass into the fireplace to watch it shatter in the flames. It makes a beautiful sound. “Make a wish,” I wish for the moments passing me. Here they are, and there, in a circle of firelight. December with dark garnets crowning us and buckets on our heads and velvet rustling and wine and spells cast in sparkling shards of gold etched glass.

Nobody else can ever drink from that glass, or take that wish from my mouth.


Lust And Love

Lust and Love are sitting at the bar together. Lust’s elegant fingers are wrapped around a tequila sunrise. Love sips lemonade. Lust has squeezed her body into a sexy low-cut leather outfit. Love wears a hand-knitted mohair jersey and comfortable jeans. Lust’s eyes are rimmed with black kohl and her lips are the color of overripe cherries. Love’s face shines with a natural, healthy glow.

“You know we’re not really so different,” says Lust.

Love settles in for the debate. They’ve had this one before.

“It’s all about human contact,” continues Lust. “Bringing people together, cheating death one more time. Together we keep the world moving, you and I. I provide drive; you provide commitment.”

Love wriggles on her barstool. “A lot of good you do for the world,” comes her response. “Greed, power, domination—that’s your legacy. I’m the one who delivers the healing, the nurturing. It’s not passion but compassion that keeps the world alive. What’s your gift to humanity? Five minutes of fumbling in the back seat of a car? A quick fuck with a stranger in a public toilet?”

“And what’s so bad about that? People need a little fun in their lives. A brief connection with another living adult to remind them that they’re part of humanity. It harms no one else, brings a little pleasure. Don’t become the moralist with me.” And Lust plucks the toothpick out of her glass, with the cherry and the slice of orange, and slowly, slowly licks at the cherry, and ever-so-delicately grips it between her teeth, sliding it off the end of the toothpick into her cherry-lipped mouth.

For a moment, Love is transfixed, but she recovers. “You’re all fun and no responsibility. Because of you we’re plagued with unwanted pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases.”

“Now hold on a minute!” Lust takes another sip from her cocktail, taps her painted nails on the bar. “Those things are as much your responsibility as mine. Women are as likely to get pregnant through love as through lust. Don’t blame me for a lack of contraception and sex education. What about the woman who gets pregnant because she hopes a child will cement a shaky relationship? That’s nothing to do with me; that one’s all yours.” She takes a cigarette from the silver case in her handbag and lights it with her Zippo. She waits for Love’s comeback.

“The problem there is not love, but a lack of love.” Love looks around the bar. “See that man over there with the sandy moustache? He’s here to meet his girlfriend, but there’s another woman waiting at home for him, crying her eyes out. If he loved her more and lusted less, there’d be no problem.”

Lust rolls her eyes. “But you admit though, that the woman left at home is crying for love. If she didn’t love so deeply, so misdirectedly, she wouldn’t be miserable.”

Love ignores her. “Look,” she says. “There’s another example of the anguish you cause.” She points at a young man in a suit who is drinking alone. “He’s had a hopeless crush for years on a woman who barely acknowledges his existence. Look at how unhappy it’s left him. Sleepless nights filled with longing, and now he’s trying to escape into a beer glass. All because he lusts after some pretty, unattainable young thing. The poor man’s close to suicide.”

Lust is having none of this. “And how many suicides have there been for love? How many lives wasted, careers destroyed, families torn apart? How much human misery because love given is not always returned? Or because love disintegrates and decays, leaving a wake of grief. Are you forgetting the pain that follows you around?”

“So you think no one ever suffered for Lust? Sexual infatuation can be stronger and more damaging than love. You trap lives in bondage.” Lust smirks. “Slaves to their hormones.”

“Oh please, Love. Bondage, slavery? You’ll get me all excited, you naughty girl!”

“I won’t be dragged down to your level. You don’t take anything seriously.”

“Except pleasure. I’m desperately serious about pleasure.”

“Do you think no one ever died because of lust? Have you forgotten about syphilis? And AIDS?”

“Now that’s not fair. That’s sheer misfortune, like any kind of disease. You can hardly hold me accountable for accidents of nature. And you’re not as pure as you’d like to think, Love. There are innumerable instances of love going wrong that you’d prefer not to acknowledge. What about men who beat women they claim to love? Who kill their families?”

“That’s possession, not love. More your line than mine. I give people warmth and comfort.”

“And I don’t?”

“You give them sex and materialism and addiction.”

“But more importantly I give them desire. And it’s desire that pulls people out of the ruts they sink into. It’s desire that frees them from their restrictive little boxes. And don’t tell me no one was ever addicted to love. There are plenty of people drifting from partner to partner, seeking to make themselves whole, seeking a way out of their loneliness. Company is something you and I both provide. I say it again, Love, we’re really not so different.”

Love grows quiet, and Lust orders herself another cocktail.

“You’re so frivolous,” says Love, finally. “It’s all superficial with you; you don’t give people what they really need.”

“Ah, but I give them what they want. People want more than holding hands and drinking cocoa together. They want excitement, fervor, carnality.”

Love is indignant. “That’s not true. You have people jumping from one barren relationship to the next, unsatisfied, yearning, searching for something real; searching for me.”

“Yearning has its own special satisfaction. I leave people wanting more. That’s a gift. You just fill people up with unrealistic expectations and watch them crumble when their dreams are inevitably smashed. You see that woman who just walked in?”

Love swivels on her stool to look towards the entrance. A tall woman with short dark hair and sadness in her eyes stands looking around the bar.

“Same old story.” Lust continues. “Her lover’s just left her for another woman.”

“Your fault, no doubt.”

“No, yours actually. Her partner fell in love with someone else. But what she needs now is a little company, a little fire, some reassurance that she’s attractive and attracted.”

“She needs love in her life again. She needs affection, commitment.”

“That’s what caused her problems in the first place. It’s the last thing she needs. She needs a warm body, someone who isn’t going to make emotional demands on her. She needs physical comfort.”

“She needs emotional comfort. The love of a good friend …”

“She’s not ready for further entanglements. She needs an uncomplicated affair.”

“I’m telling you, it’s me she needs.” Love sounds almost angry.

“No,” says Lust, with some satisfaction at getting her friend rattled. “She needs a distraction from the pain of loving. She needs a spark in her life. She needs to forget, if only for a few pleasurable moments. I can give her respite from her pain. All you can offer her now is more distress.”

Love responds with a glare.

“In fact,” says Lust with a glint in her wicked green eyes, “I think I’ll go over there right now and get acquainted.”

“You’ll only make it worse.”

“Mind if I join you?”

The woman glances up from her beer, gestures to the vacant chair and goes back to gazing into the glass in front of her.

Lust arranges her long, shapely legs to their best advantage. She leans a little closer. “Nursing a broken heart?”

“Is it that obvious?”

“Let me see. You haven’t slept for a week, you’re not eating properly, and you’ve been living off beer and cigarettes.”

“Very perceptive.” For the first time, the woman meets Lust’s black-rimmed eyes.

“You’ve been crying for days and you’ve wondered whether life’s worth living. You’ve decided never to love again.”

The woman matches Lust’s stare.

“You deserve better than that,” says Lust.

“Do I now?”

“I know what you need,” says Lust. “You need to take your mind off things.”

“Really. And what would you recommend?”

“As a matter of fact—”

But Lust is interrupted by Love’s appearance at the table.

“Aren’t you going to introduce me to your friend,” asks Love, ignoring Lust’s scowl. She smiles at the woman and sets down her lemonade on the table.

The woman extends her hand. “Alex,” she says.

Love presses her hand warmly and looks directly into Alex’s eyes. “You look so sad. I know what you’re going through. You need someone to take care of you.”

“Honey, I could take care of her just fine,” says Lust, rising to the competition. “A few hours with me and Alex will forget she was ever in love at all.”

“Leave her alone. She needs looking after. I could make a home for her, give her a safe place to hide until her heart mends.”

“She doesn’t want to hide. She wants a bit of excitement, a thrill. I can help her to gather the energy she needs to get past this unhappiness.”

Alex looks from one to the other, amused. “Just who exactly are you two?” she asks.

Love clasps her hands together and gazes into middle distance. “I am all that is noble about humanity,” she begins. “I am forgiveness and compassion. I am the hand that reaches out to help another. I am the voice that soothes and comforts. I am kindness. I have no boundaries. Not time, not distance, not difference can limit me. I cannot be destroyed; I can only grow and deepen. I endure.”

“Oh, please. Spare us the theatrics!” says Lust.

“As I was saying, I endure. I am the bedrock of all human relationships, the foundation of community. Whereas you, Lust—you deal only in appearances, fleeting moments of empty indulgence. There is no purpose, nothing lasting in what you do.”

Lust has had enough. “Life is meant to be lived. We live to feel, we live to act. Life should be fun, it should be dynamic. Who but me gives the sweet joy of craving, the gratification of bodily desires. I am stimulation, titillation, sensuality. I am forbidden, I am danger. And I am as much an integral part of the human condition as you are.” She runs sensual fingers through her glossy hair.

“You’re nothing more than an hour in a spa pool with your neighbor’s wife. You’re a wet dream, a fleeting fantasy. You’re just a poor imitation of me.”

“Me? Imitate you?” Lust crosses her shapely legs. “Why on earth would I want to?”

And then Love notices that Alex has left. “You’ve driven her away.”

“The lady wants to be alone. Looks like we both missed out this time.” Lust smiles, teasing.

“I could have helped her. Nothing means anything to you. You’re so shallow.”

Lust is unperturbed. “Oh, really? I’m so base, and you’re so superior. Better shallow than superior.”

Love softens. “I don’t really think I’m better than you. It’s just that you’re so … so—”

“Oh, I’m sorry,” says Love.

Lust looks down at her empty cocktail glass. “It’s just you and me then,” she says. When she looks up, her eyes are glistening. She reaches over and runs her finger down Love’s cheek. “We need each other,” she says. “We’re more together than we are apart.”

Love catches her hand and presses it to her face. “We’re not really so different,” she says. “I can heal you.”

Lust smiles her wicked smile and slips an arm around Love’s welcoming waist.

……”Of course you can, my dear.”


The Edge Of Invisibility

Jenny sits on the edge of invisibility.

Had she the courage to tilt the chair back on two legs she could topple over, tumble down into Never-never land where surely she belongs. Most cover nakedness with speech, much garbled messes, anything to fill the gap; but words elude her, arrive when the moment has passed. Jenny seeks refuge in invisibility.

The air is thick with words. Back and forth across the table they fly, ciphered volleys hurled by lips that never still. Jenny has long since given up trying to make sense of anything, takes her lead from the others, moving her head in unison to each speaker in turn, mimicking their expressions, laughing as they laugh.

The knowledge of not being as them, of not belonging, is in the dimension of reality; the edge of invisibility protects, had slipped automatically into place at Alycia’s opening words.

“Katie, my new neighbor. Just got in town. You don’t mind me bringing her to our weekly get-together?” The ‘get-together’ was news. A shopping trip, Alycia had suggested, and afterwards.. some patio mochas. Back and forth the heads move, back and forth with the perfection of synchronized swimmers. And were it not for the edging in of occasional bitchiness, most of the smiles would similarly resemble aquatic art.

The lips mesmorize, shrink four faces to blank frames, an anonymous canvas celebrating the glory of sculptured completion. Even at rest there are ripples, shimmering strokes beneath curve upon curve, waves of sound. Swivel. Peach Haze. Soft, smart, dreamy, a gentle swell in practiced harmony. No surprises, no dangers. Easy, effortless satisfaction.

Turn. Damson Crush. Pendulous, pouting. Winding curves without roots. Mountains to scramble up, valleys to sink into.
Swivel. Wild Grape. Irregular, irreverent. Seeking the outrageous, the unpredictable; fleeing banality.
Turn. Cinnamon Frost. Controlled precision; a delicate parting, meeting, parting. And yet barely glimpsed shadows brawl, swirling attendance on glowing embers.. awaiting the unwary.

Returning home, Alycia’s voice betrays Jenny’s relief.

“They liked you…”

She liked them.

“Angela was fascinated by everything you had to say.”

Ah, Angela—Cinnamon Frost… But she’d hardly spoken?

“It was what you had to say. Not how much.”

Jenny smiles softly.

There’s always a small place somewhere; for those who sit on the edge of invisibility.