The Year I Was Alive
Cover design by Oberon
40 pp, hand-sewn
dPress 2006 Sebastopol
Thanks are due to the following publications where these poems first appeared:
Columbia Poetry Review: “November 4-10”
Double Room: “The Year I Was Alive”
Interim: “July 22-28”
Phoebe: “Imaginary Marriage”
Spinning Jenny: “April 7-13”
The Year I Was Alive
The old arguments at least were honest. Now, even the inventors of dictatorship—their taste in industrial scenery and tranquility so dead—are plagued with uncertainty. My assignment is to peel back the edges and clip the illustrations (I cut the tiniest rectangular peepholes). Whether or not Our War has begun, the new man in authority mows the grass in our big backyard. His kids so enjoy a spectacle that they ride in off the water in their little motorboats to burn down happy family life into a magnificent pile of silver ash.
I have been engaged to take Our Heroine onto the flatbed of culture, a little slavery in the background to fill the coffers. Mother herself warns me not to bother closing my eyes or walking across the desert. We meet at the tourist counter. So there are houses and perhaps agriculture or flowers, flashing lights on a combo dream we mistake for the Suicidal Spy. At question is the lifejacket I’m wearing or she’s about to wear or Mother wore in the past. Once Our War has begun, we rideshare through the rush. In a less frenzied mood, we are in fact excessive in everything.
Let’s spread the map out in the middle of the game and notice the silhouettes—we’re as good as dead anyway. Sales are brisk. The women at the top bring down the snow. At their confectioner’s shop, they instruct us in personal experience—pop, pop, pop—everything we need: milk, eggs, sugar, and chocolate—in bulk and at frequent intervals. We think intoxication divine, eating it raw then and there. The water (we carry it home on a stretcher) tastes like our sensitive skin.
In the wilds of reconstruction, I describe the rescue to her in detail. Furious at the workplace, we steal the missing back, portaging their arms on the tops of our heads. We were miscued—how she materialized in another country in a waiting room or a couple kissing in a doorway. Virtual gangsters stumble by with high-pitched gestures and rampage music. One recites a eulogy harmful to wildlife—a spectacular house before we allowed it to run down. I used to smell like orange-blossom lotion. Now, I’m the last person on the list and the only one who didn’t reserve in advance. I keep walking until the splashes of red come to an end.
I expect to completely forget my fascination with the diphthong (baiser, which means to fuck). In fact, I may have already done so. This excavation will be called Shut Eye.
I’m me, or I’m a child who likes walking barefoot. I won’t earn my living enforcing the intricacies. Just the notion of disobedience.
My name is Drifting Past on an Ice Flow (he doesn’t know that I’m guarded against overjoy); his new name, Mocking Bird in the Dead of Night.
We knock on each other’s doors at inconvenient times. After several attempts, I accomplish a vaguely erotic handstand in his kitchen. I feel much larger than he appears; we two are a docent.
Cheek-to-cheek evolves into the full-blown lip-lock kiss, fenced-in on all four sides. It’s so noisy in here. I watch with fascination as his hands lift and then descend. Light, bouncing off any object gives it a tiny push.
So we name the baby Emma Libertá and the cat Gash Cat. Baby strollers cram into the middle of the gray and white crowd and then not.
A lush monotony so pre-fab; half-in, half-out of shadow. I won’t rent a house with ceilings and floors. The claustrophobic sensation of being squeezed between. The mess inside refrigerators and ovens.
I lose track of the continuity of experience, our slash-and-burn reminiscences and sloppy conversations based upon Faust. Someone else getting to say while here turns to dust.
Before the final episode, we travel to place our bets. In this round, it’s the Jet Angels versus the Hooks. The Last World must be somewhere else. We pick our wounds up out of the rubble (we’re getting bigger and eating all the grass).
A swirl of blue signals the conclusion of this movie. He admonishes me to save the happy ending.
—a world always susceptible to “a certain swerving”—Louis Menand & Charles Peirce
I escape from Teeny Town on horseback—an interloper in their run-down neighborhood; all that I can afford. Foreigners watch with curiosity as I lock the inner door behind me.
This place, unlocatable on any map, resembles a makeshift resort in a bad economy—not a certainty but a method of coping. Women, as curators, carry around the glue that holds it all together.
Their commercial avenue, served buffet-style, as if we were on a cruise, glows in the dark whenever the power goes out. It’s a warped funhouse with ominous curves where men with tipped hat brims annihilate one another over a schism in lateral thinking. Not even faith in mechanical knowledge and an organized visual world can salvage their displeasure.
After all my money has been lost, stolen or confiscated, I submit to their careful measurements—they imagine they know what I’m thinking. Even so, I am not suicidal. When I hear them whispering, “She’s crazy,” I whisper back, “I’m an artist-in-waiting.”
On closer inspection, all the interior spaces are vacant and nothing turns out to be mine. With a sense of failed elegance—I don’t know how to wear the dress with bouffant sleeves—I reach for the bittersweet egg, the funeral rose, the porcelain teacup hanging on the wall. A clearing-out rampage politicizes so many household goods. I remember only the bullet hole, ameliorated by its aura.
Children here avoid lightning by carrying flashlights. After my fall into street-life, I discover their hand-sewn calligraphy. I’m not nostalgic for such intimacy, but only envious of the endearing stories they remember. They exert all of their strength while bearing down upon the partially-erased.
When chance brings about a change in every condition (my return through the prism of wreckage and its shocking misinterpretation), the unemployed rummage through our Cache of Buried Treasure. How crisply we rename it.
Things fall apart
“For everything happens under the supposition that it is seen.”
Terror in a high place. I avoid catching his eye.
The hoop finally come down, my case is so simple. Locality of conditions. My earlier status as the eaten. Conveys more hope.
An ungraceful sentence. Placed among the vanities. That something came out of nothing. Carefully alters. All that questioning can deliver.
Thus not benign but dangerous for the heart.
The patina is thick. I presuppose myself.
In thrall to any poignant anecdote. Our fun deaths. As if we haven’t always lived here —the evidence streaked with rust.
The enigma of revelation is contained in the word surprise; how we make ourselves flagrant—his most subjective view.
At a time when all is not well, although all that is not well remains unspoken; and all that is not well is perhaps not well with him alone. Mechanical fine-tuning. Makes a strange marital bed.
What adheres. Collective recollection haunting a specific, highly-charged location. Certain patterns which he begins to think of as crowd-like. His first two mistakes more intimate—just a pucker before retreating backstage.
Now that I see him changing directions, it means there are warning signals. We could be gone altogether.
An involuntary denouement.
Love riddled with error.
The set-up features panic as synopsis (our primary interest, the number of roles for actors and actresses). Star Boys slouch around. We hook them up with an understudy.
Stunned shoulders go to work overplaying the scene. There’s something sexy about the impasse: kiss with a mouthful of chocolate; bright, interlocking buildings.
I create an alter-ego resembling inertia—all white knock-off held together by paper clips. I’m not the right person to ask about decorating.
Climbing up and down on the first rung, I get bored with the structure. Nevertheless, I keep going over and over the illusion until I can’t bear it any longer. I’m not prone to seasickness, but quand meme!
Further into the script, I’m fascinated by such a close look: the structure of social life quivering like a water witch. Without repetition, art itself ceases to exist.
Power laws emerge, simple rich-get-richer phenomena. When I realize the whole system is a baby-napping network with fake employees, I break the bowl; then try to scrape up the dribbles with my fists.
All the rescuers seem to be women. “The most resilient do cultural switching.” There are two babies, one on a swing. They’ve come out from where they are.
On the other hand, our devil is a bumbler and unlikely to survive captivity. We put him to work carrying things.
Athlete of Terroristic Generosity is my most recent title. Such a subtle urge to synchronize sensationalizes memory. When faced with a moment’s pleasure, lean into it, sacrum to sacrum.
I seek a bold happenstance leafy in vernacular and redundantly cocksure. If I waste my syllogism. If paradise then ineptitude. Never this melancholy. Or is that lynch pin? My somber prestidigitation. Why don't you breathe some furnace into my composition, set me awhirl? I'm looking for a job help me out please. I'll set your table good. Comb out your fleas. Water your aggravation. Scorch your left burner until it yelps. I haven't been this harmonious since the high tide excoriated all traces. When I'm finished you won't need parallelism. If evermore equals tendentious. Then sobriquet. Then demise.
With all my aptitudes on display, on time means this is the Big Day. I get my chance to scour the undertow. Peck out your eyes. Bird to the branch. It's a short while and an aftermath. When the promontory collapses. There goes our real estate to dust we shall return. A private joke you've got to be born with. We're striving in our juices waiting for our colloquialisms to make the next contact. Sniffing oxytocin in vain. Hey brother why don't you hand over that dream house, that packing slip? Give me your lost planet. Divinely comic and ploughed under.
Steeped in anxiety’s raiment. I go out. I come back in. Memory’s vacant strap. There are always small birds twittering at dawn. Battery life with its hollow echo. It’s eternity when the power’s off. Coming back on. I row across quiet as if we were bedmates counting each other’s fingers and toes.
After two centuries of increasing loneliness, I hang my little purse on a peg. Each pedestrian hunches beneath her singular umbrella, while light from the grand boulevards gilds it all. There is a photograph that could not have been taken. A demolition artist holding a cluster of forgotten ligaments.
Every notion breaks light as through a washed blind. I stir the air with my commonplaces. Chemical response. Thinking it over.
There are so many nests at the very height. Cacophony's flutter. I know it must cease soon. Air my most industrious companion. Flared out. Lantern fueled by water, wasteland. I bury the toxin deep and then step back. Clothespin to my nose.
Barbed wire staves off the birds. Mows the wan the newly warm. Replaces sinew. Sun’s out and I’m caught in catastrophe’s elbow room. Gridlock's chatter. Just a sketch now, barely a tune. A partially destroyed event left out in the public domain.
The Year I Was Alive, Part II
Exactitude Is Not the Truth—Matisse
Why bother going out for dessert if everything’s already slashed with Exacto knives? I lift up three layers of laceration. The officer in charge soaks up the human interaction that dismantles my splendid solitude. Nevertheless, this murder’s mere folly rather than a true act of self-defense. The perpetrator keeps a travel journal and enough energy to take hold. Whose deception is it anyway? This lassitude of moi admits no concern for sequence (voice is not a moral attribute). I hash and rehash the experience to externalize a curiosity—now I’m a journalist writing both the original and the translation.
The purpose of the deadline is to glance surreptitiously at the wedding party. Forgetting that time is not money, I change for each event and fly for both ceremonies when the rush is over. Perhaps now that they have polished up their blonde-tinted tips and nutbread-like gems, they too can be my clients. I’ll redo my anxiety, switch to a paler shade with matching draperies, red roses and carved wood. What I really want is some high vantage point where I can get a full-length view of the devastation, of my siblings dressed in indigo-blue.
I’m thinking about miscegenation—that bloody scene where our bodies enter the landscape. On display, with no shoot-to-kill policy of my own, I jump into the trenches to evade the lack of privacy. My strategy (my only survival skill) is to turn my back on the camera. The value of this imagery is limited. Even though I’ve been meticulous in the common rooms, if I throw a wrench into the works now, the neighborhood will explode. This fully-historical cycle of events isn’t purifying. Off the record, in the interstices between memories, voices are the sole survivors.
In their charity cult, there is but one man behind the desk, since seating capacity is prohibited. He alone drinks with dignity while enjoying all day parking. The rest of them hold up their bus transfers, perturbed that I’ve walked in on their economy of sacrifice. It’s so crowded in here, I could be prom queen without an escort. Outside the counting rooms, we liquidate murderous grimness with more laughter.
I get myself all scared up believing a nickel is worth more than a penny. Hand-me-downs set my teeth on edge—the way they mimic mortality. But since my money is burning a hole, I strip and then try on crooked thinking. Out here on the illuminated borders, we wear a lot of bangles: men’s names as well as women’s. Once we’re dressed to kill, we play an old game we call Aesthetic Violence. The penalty for avoiding conscription is the sharp edge of the dresser. First, everyone lines ups, then the Big Boys count to three: “On your mark, get ready, get set . . . .”
My face collapses when I talk or smile, an obstacle I can’t see from the outside. Nevertheless, I don’t plan to refurbish, to paint my walls bright blue. I worry that the others have gotten ahead of me, waiting on risers with all of their stuff, accentuated by the cinched-in belts they’re wearing. Nothing we've acquired en route to correct our myopia can be deducted. We remain located in the same place, yet it’s as if we had emigrated elsewhere. Can an epic of Grand Return still make sense in our era? What if we could just lie here for a while and be content, not even bartering, skin against skin.
Nostalgia is like sunburn: painful while you have it, painful at night—Desproges
Even as I cruise the memorable moment, warnings are everywhere; chastising the owner as if I were a beggar, yelling at him how could you do such a stupid thing. Maintenance closures bring on lightheadedness lavish with panic. So, this isn’t some chasm from which children will never return? Suburbia is especially infuriating when carrying the pile-up in both hands—the return route harder and longer, my body at one with the road, going under the paver.
The line forms male/female before he can apologize. I tell him not to worry; I’ll confront the vandals despite my fear that I’ve already gone too far. I explain to him about the waste—entire families still under construction—how so little that we have has been purchased in bulk. In an alternate parable, I drift through a series of dressing rooms with my sister’s lover—a Crafts Man who cautions me about monitor and intercom, those small blue nameplates skewered into the festivities.
Perplexed by my presence in his neighborhood, he hasn’t read any of my notes to myself—me with my big mouth screaming, “Get in the house,” as if he were someone I actually knew. Fleecing the johns is how we pay our rent. When we dance a bastardized tango to pizzicato strings, I get all tingly alternating the dry sounds and the wet. I want a replay of our adjoining rooms, even our destiny. Entertainer and entertained are the only poses we can imitate.
I attend a practice funeral. It is worthless to the deceased if it isn’t perfectly done. Pushing our tongues uphill (obscenities excite me) our mirror destinies make us brother and sister. If he repatriates now, he will have nothing to invest in nostalgia and this tryst will be his last. Twice I enter the breakfast room. I would like to eat the sugar pancake myself. But, since he loves his whipping girl, one of these days I’ll be shot down in the street for a botched resolution.
The mores he adheres to produce a table of contents, a guide to his body’s susceptibility. When he calls me “Girlie,” I taunt him; gibberish can be a sign of mental illness, but it’s his dream, not mine. From the waist up, my hips and thighs are enormous, an unaccountable bounty. This idea enflames me. But, since it relies on switching, the protocol is flawed. We’re still fighting over scraps, vying for the last bite—our holy cities nowhere near.
Power’s off for Big Box Office and his Mystique of the Predator. Since we’re in the dark, he can’t read either my number or my magnetic strip. This is an awakening for both of us, feeling part of something and part of nothing. After all, he himself comes from the Diaspora. Secretly pleased at his dissatisfaction, I get on the other line to tell him he should be ashamed of himself. But really, it’s the end of his performance, his reflection in the mirror no longer before us. We gather up The Size of the World from its scattered locations.
. . . the catastrophes which . . . seem to break out suddenly are a kind of experiment, anticipating the point at which we shall drop out of what we have thought for so long to be our autonomous history and back into the history of nature—W.G. Sebald
We back our trucks into the blooming more than once. We really need to pay closer attention. While I lecture the children near the blue bins of recycling, a baby tumbles all the way to the ground and I tumble down after him. Bric-a-brac left on my doorstep belongs to the consequences. Wilderness backs off and retreats, which eliminates the need to do anything. I’ve scrutinized fall color—its scratches, dents, and rust-outs. If I've pulled the tab too hard, I’ll skim off the excess—there isn’t any other way.
There’s a change of ownership and, thus, facade and marquee. After our lawnmowers dissect the Tall Grass, something precipitous and electrical happens. In the breast to butt width of a single anatomy lesson, the Human Skeleton filets his own flesh—silver-gray, slate-gray, and white. All the experts insist, “This one’s dead.” However, when we follow the fissure, when we discreetly disguise our tiny microphones, gorge becomes throat. We need stone to maintain equilibrium.
Our old city, out of commission for some time, is now a tourist attraction—our parks a souvenir. There are nooks and crannies that weren’t in the forecast—yellow neon grow lights suspended over the cages—like the hidden language of bones in an age of specialization. They hold onto our tags while we bury our gadgets. If there is freedom here at all, the mere visual association begins the indictment. They want us. They buy us. We give it away. Capitulation is such a seductive career choice.
In our land of errors, they hunt down the urban wildlife. Our job is to locate and identify the bodies. But since we can’t read the accent marks, our conception of what’s out there remains stunted. Torn apart, documents undergo a sort of alchemy until one thing leads to another; it’s rumored that this settling of accounts takes place only in absence. Afterwards, there will be entitlement to cruelty on the part of the victims. Grief is our palpable cliché.
We disconnect the sky for the biggest power failure ever—not because we have to do it but because we have to say we’ve done it. Perhaps days don’t go by at all. We bask in the afterglow for 60,000 years, paying down the sleep deficit while waiting for the gods’ return. Apparently, we haven’t rubbed our faces in thoroughly enough. There’s something equally intractable about water: what happens at the river’s mouth is also a war zone. We learn to eat fossils; we’re eating them today.
All the lights have gone out in the natural areas. If the marauders catch us, they’ll realize that we’ve discovered their floating exhibition of crimes. We wear slit veils and a different alignment, incommunicado because we don’t trust them. After decades of hysteria, they show the least brain activity. If now they take advantage of the disaster to show some sustained interest in the future, it will be our job to collect the money wrapped around their fingers. Nothing is going to happen at this fundraising event, only a little violence here and there in the language.
In the industrial zone, we are hard of hearing. It’s a cat and mouse game with chemical changes and an aftermath. As much strangers as any of the others, the newly arrived own less, carry less, and eat from the top to avoid understanding. There are conflicting reports that in other contexts the self can be radical. Looking for congruence, I search for the motive behind the motive, the defining moment on our televisions. The outcome is as banal as wanting to tell a story with fewer mementos and sparser wardrobes. Time is where this conflict takes place (9/11s two in a lifetime).
We wear recognition down to a nub—everything we’ve constructed from the word-wreckage of the past. After sharing is set adrift for a few thousand years, nostalgia wrecks havoc with the outdoor shelters. Before we really notice, we live in the basements, our names misspelled so that nothing can be communicated. Born into a world of omissions, our young lose immortality.
The number of people who think so is much larger than the number who say so. Only parts of them are ever found; vanished—it’s time to get over ourselves. So, we build Altars of Extinction. But there is arguing about arguing, pitching our gear at the mercy of perfect games—a depraved leveling-down. Pins is an anagram of spin—running patterns of interference across scorched fields—the risky business of room keys accessible to all. If we stay in this land, we’ll learn how to be here.
. . . there is no story for which the question as to how it continued would not be legitimate—Walter Benjamin
When the audience queues up to request a page-turner, I manipulate the non-fiction quality in scenes lacquered with social hazard and mellifluous vice. After History reopens her convenience store, we buy fighter kites and clumsy episodes of malice. We give in to the breakage. Secret emissaries cross our borders, their brains ablaze with the possibility of return. They survive on spillover and fill our auditoriums with grave incidents of destruction. Repairing the vocabulary is the price we have to pay.
What is notable is endless fascination. She brandishes a blue gun, although she understands nothing about its spikiness and raised mandibles. Her sultry stare in the middle of the composition veers away to a more personal glamour—a stand-off rather than a shoot-out. She’s a first-rate illuminator with highly-trained small motor skills. Wielding a bundle of cash in each hand, she rearranges the life cycles of insects and plants. It’s a mystery how her lack of a legible background devours the avaricious. Ours is a most uneasy era.
An excellent writer writes an excellent story—everyone falls in love. I can’t put it down, shaped as it is by the unreliability of the photographic record. Later, I can barely remember the gist let alone the verbatim: he puts the gun to his own head, closing the deal with a lot of money; she goes over the paper work at night. How sharp the curves are in relation to waking life.
How does a miracle, built upon a gaping negativity, come to be necessary in the first place?
How epidemic it is to feel at loose ends! We spend our days digging holes that will fill up with smoke. At risk is the agglomeration we call the metropolis, our enjoyment of the sport utility leaf-blower. Everything about the fall-out and corruption is paradoxical: our vocabularies of color, our holy-card idols, our belief in questions and answers; in the even numbers and the odd. Nevertheless, we continue to hook our tokens into the vending machines. It would be a sin as long as we’re starving.
In my search for a lineage of ideas, I rewind the border between calm and catastrophe. I want to know more about how we got together and how we’re breaking apart: a year for the world as well as for the babies, how they focus so intently on being born, how they believe we’ll live to be quite old. For them we sing “The Birds in the Trees” with its illusion of continuity. Just the thought that I might have lived all those years is startling.
Ningun, personne, not a soul, no one—mine is an incidental, subjectless vision. In the background are war, fear of death, and anxiety about money and loneliness. The Swallower of Stories keeps me from beginning in any real way. In a different country, we still don’t know one another enough.
This may be a fable rather than a fairy tale. There is betrayal, expediency, injustice, and even cruelty. My characters are caught in the flux between nostalgia for the old languages (before the massacre of memory and the burning down of watercolor) and avidity for the Palace of Images. They wear the perfume of realism and utopian fantasy. All the rats in sight are tiny. Badly treated by their pimps, they return to the land of casualties with its unforgettable views. Art Treasures come to rest among the flip-books. At the risk of utterly forgetting, I accept another cycle of ups and downs where I find it.
4. The phrase “economy of sacrifice” is from Barbara Ehrenreich’s Blood Rites, p. 27.
The phrase “murderous grimness” is from J.A. Rogers’ Sex and Race, p. 298: “One of Hitler’s first acts on coming to power was to drive all the Negro musicians and entertainers from Germany. They were making the Germans laugh and thus probably preventing them from reaching that murderous grimness necessary for a Hitler war.”
5. The phrase “crooked thinking” is from J. A. Rogers’ Sex and Race.
6. The idea of a Grand Return comes from Milan Kundera’s novel L’Ignorance. According to Kundera, the etymology of la nostalgie (nostalgia) is from the Greek nostos: le retour (return) and algos: la souffrance (suffering).
12. The Size of the World is a travelogue by Jeff Greenwald.
15. The phrase “our parks a souvenir” echoes “our park just souvenir feathers” from Ammiel Alcalay’s from the warring factions, p.11.
The phrase “the hidden language of bones” is from Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World, by Haruki Murakami, p. 28.
16. The phrase “entitlement to cruelty” is from Friedrich Nietzsche’s Werke, vol. VI, part 2, by way of W.G. Sebald’s On the Natural History of Destruction, p. 185.
18. The phrase “a little violence here and there in the language” is from Annie Dillard’s Holy the Firm, p.24.
19. 9/11s two in a lifetime: A Project and Exhibit on the Politics of Memory is a project and visual art exhibit that took place at New College of California in San Francisco, Sept. 5-25th, 2003. Organized by the 9/11 Collective, the project commemorates the victims of and makes connections between the bombing of La Moneda in Chile on Sept. 11, 1973 and the attack on the twin towers in New York on Sept. 11, 2001: readings, lectures, paintings, installations, photographs and video.
20. The phrase “born into a world of omissions,” is from Gustaf Tobin’s novel The Fly-Truffler.
21. The phrase “it’s time to get over ourselves” is from “Buona Sera, Social Clubs?” by Alane Salierno Mason, Boston Review, Oct./Nov. 2003, p. 52.
The phrase “depraved leveling-down” is from “Why We’re So Tough on Crime,” by Carol S. Steiker, Boston Review, Oct./ Nov. 2003.
The phrase “patterns of interference” is from an interview with Marjorie Welish in Jubilat seven, 2003.
The idea of Altars of Extinction comes from a notice announcing an artists’ discussion with psychology professor Mary Gomes on her project displaying altars to vanished species in California. (Oct. 29, 2003, University Library Art Gallery, Sonoma State University).
27. The phrases “illusion of continuity” and “search for a lineage of ideas” are from an interview with Kim Zorn Caputo and Darius Hines in photo-eye Booklist, Fall 2003.
The phrase “the border between calm and catastrophe” is from James Gleick’s Chaos: Making a New Science, p. 235.
28. The phrase “swallower of stories” is from Tahar Ben Jelloun’s novel La Nuit de l’erreur.
29. The idea of a Palace of Images is from Marie Redonnet’s novel L’Accord de paix.
(July 22-28, 2001)
Is the voyeur who’s pawing through the photographs in my closet thinking fluently in her first language? In French, a distinction can be made between honorable (compromise) and dishonorable (compromission) compromise. The summer I was famous, I entered the story with impunity. The life of Albert Camus and the imagined death of Joe Lovano keep me from accepting an invitation to the Wild West Show. News flash: civil war is bad for tourism. While he eats a bowl of nabe yaki udon, his grin pulls time back into the address. Since her metamorphosis (from gazed upon to go-between) she occupies her days gleaning from neighborhood trees.
(November 4-10, 2001)
Uncertainty particularizes the next sentence—not trying to go anywhere or meet anyone. His adroit avoidance of risk, coupled with his passion for imagined geography, brings you (or to be truthful, some version of you) to mind. Lost in the hotel, the boy and I are accomplices now, as are our counterpart personal items (my white racing stripes and his neon signs). When she severs the past from the future, she hears him say from the other side, “I’m allergic to violence.” There are storage compartments beneath vowels—Ramallah—like silk evening gowns (I see only his feet). Where does the hand puppet fit in? Pegasus appears to her not as the winged horse wearing the golden bridle but as a fracture running through the material.
(December 2-8, 2001)
Even when she bakes brownies using Katherine Hepburn’s recipe, 99.9% of her exhilaration depends on the white space. Unlike Coltrane’s reiteration of a phrase, their irresolvable argument just seems interminable. I have been reading these journals as I would someone else’s memoirs; I really want to know what happened. Since she needs the rich life of an artist, she would never buy a pink one. Before reminding him that Africa is a continent, she sells him two folding chairs and a visual reference (sticky substance they put either on their hands or their noses). He borrows the game she used to play with the communion wafers, because it fits him perfectly. The dark gallery framing the bright window so complicates the exposure setting that, finally, only a deadbolt will work.
(April 7-13, 2002)
A drop in water pressure somewhere in the vicinity scalds their décolleté and rough undergarments. The arc of her day-to-day could be described as a series of tourist episodes—vacationing in other people’s lives. According to my study guide (I’m lit up with curiosity), the best answer is “encaustic,” whereas “kimono” would be merely acceptable. I grab the Nikon (not the Yashica) to capture (and show to you) an immense cucumber beneath the eaves on the northeast corner of the building—its oblong, waxy green stretching from the ground all the way to the roof. My brain is burnt toast (a false confession would be immoral). According to scholars, he fabricated the oldest dictionary (tesoro de la lengua) with fables and personal touches. While she’s changing her face, I supply the background news: new tax on bullet sales (rapid flow of goods) and the updated value of 40 acres and a mule.
The Year I Was Given Back
I was seeking shelter from a catastrophe.
Since the room was jam-packed, I had to squeeze along the wall.
I slept outside in the yard. I also slept on the living room floor.
I was surprised that from the upstairs windows, there was no sign of the frozen city.
I was waiting for sorrow to begin.
I decided to take the right-hand path to catch a glimpse of the sea. I watched you eating dinner through a gaping hole in the brick. I wailed and clawed at the wall. I kept making the same mistakes, wasting whatever oxygen there was. I convinced myself I was too old to be a victim. I couldn’t be seen.
I did a back flip into the verdant ravine.
Grasping onto a ledge, I let my body float horizontally.
I flew at the average height of a tall person held aloft by balloons, gazing down at my polished toenails magnified as if under water.
My heart wasn’t even racing. I knew that if the door was left open.
I was a traveler.
I gave my speech about having a plan. I left my purse unattended, then dumped the contents on the ground at your feet. You took most of the cash. I offered you my few abandoned words. I must have been in France. I was American enough.
I found myself in your neighborhood, accompanied by a boy who came out into the yard alone.
I certainly couldn’t sing.
Although I crouched down as low as I could, I was rounded up with the rest.
I regretted not sitting closer to you, when I boarded that slow shuttle bus.
I took a bite. I didn’t actually eat any. When I was told that the meat was wild, I asked you how much I owed. I instructed you to look the other way, then blamed you for throwing down the world. I pocketed quarters with which to change, as I tallied the enormous cost.
I loitered on the street.
I noticed scratches in the finish.
I missed great beauty.
I assumed I would be caught and detained.
I thought better of the idea.
I heard the planes, the artillery fire and bombs.
I couldn’t open my eyes.
I refused to look down.
I woke up laughing. I lay beneath greenery and sunlight, pleased to be sitting up front. I was having a good day. I contacted you at least as often as you contacted me. I held my wallet out of your reach. I was humoring you. It was nothing personal. I operated in two time frames simultaneously. I became noticeable again.
I lost control on a curve.
I was done for unless you flew by and picked me up.
I was torn between running ahead and returning right away, certain you’d find me if you just looked to your left.
After the doors were locked, I broke down in sobs and was comforted.
I asked you to escort me home. I moved in without protesting.
I wasn’t sure that changing the past like this could work.
We were touching each other. I opened the door for you. I wasn’t expecting you. I recognized you. I asked for your real name. I understood you were the best part of it. I was dreaming of thinking or thinking of dreaming. I welcomed the thought.
(May 19, 2002)
We crack open the fortune cookies and reap but words.