Saturday, December 26, 2009


The User and the Used
"I’m glassy-eyed in the mirror; that same vacant, pretty, coping stare Legs used to have.

My mind stutters on these thoughts, catching rays of sunlight and dust particles glinting in the air. My fingers cramp and release, heavy like my eyelids as I type on the black and white, trying to get the words down, depressing ‘backspace’ more and more as I realize letters are missing…
Overhead, planes fly people to their heart’s location.

My heart thumps heavily in the cage of my chest, bone and skin. The air is thick and smells like funk. I puff, puff, drag, feet resting on my windowsill, blowing the smoke out the window with the aid of a fan. My lighter sparks and catches, sparks and catches, and I wonder if this was how Legs did it, if that’s how he found his escape, like I am doing now. I buy, and de-seed and stem, and pack, and roll, and light, and inhale, and let the smoke trickle from my open lips like smoke monsters in the dark air, and I miss him, terribly, heart-wrenchingly, despondently, all at once.

It’s late, and I know I should put the laptop down, stop allowing myself free access into the confused sore that is my heart and laying it, splat, across the page, but it’s a masochistic exercise in life-lessons: you fall in love and let that person walk out of your life, and this is what happens. So you cry about it. You rationalize it. You get angry about it. You work at it. You smoke to avoid it at first, and then you smoke to embrace it. You mold it into something you can work with. You apply it. You find something that you can live with. You get happy about this, at least, and then you smoke more to continue. It’s a circle of use, misuse, and being used.

...The words tumble from fingertips that are dry and unfeeling on the keyboard, and I don’t even try to stop them. I can’t even stop my mind. Blink, there’s another memory I haven’t remembered since it happened. Flash, and I’m sweaty and I have a dry mouth and can feel everything around me in minute detail. Click, and I’m all the way gone on the sweet side effects of a love that doesn’t know better and a habit that shouldn’t have been allowed to grow. Snap, I’m back to square one."
Roused from my sleep,
I clutch pen
& grit teeth.
I cannot help when the words come
Anymore than you can help your addictions,
Already deep-seeded,
Or the singer can control her song
Or the bird his flight.
It is an impulse,
My scratch of pen on paper,
The snort of powder up your nose,
As you cut lines,

Prepare your straw, ---Close one nostril, ---And make that
---------strange ---------snuffling ---------noise

That makes me cringe,
Though my back is turned to you,
Like it always is when I see you start your ritual.
The rise and fall of notes, much sweeter than this candy.
The feeling of air under a bird’s wing, much more free.
You are not sweet,
& you are not free.
But neither am I, chasing this trail of papers,
Always hoping the next one will be better.
You and I,
We aren’t so much un-alike,
Both of us with our willingness to fall prey,
To the things that gnaw on the insides of us.
It is to say,
“Because I can,”
& to do so.
It is to say,
“Who I am,”
& not resist it.

I tell you to stop using.
You tell me to shut the light off,
& go to bed.

"I’m warmest in sunlight. Not at night when you’re lying next to me, radiating body heat and safety and comfort, but when I’m walking in the cold air and the sunlight touches my face with rays gentler than your gentlest brush of fingertips. I think I have a gold-and-cream complexion (my nice way of saying what some call “pale” in tones reminiscent of disease and social awkwardness,) because I’m a sun-baby—my hair reflects it and my skin soaks it in, becoming almost luminescent. (Again with the “pale.”) I was born in June for a reason.

Your heat doesn’t stay long, just like your body—come the next morning, we part to go our separate ways and I’m cold until the next time you nuzzle your body beside mine, nook into nook, limb over limb, some strange sort of human pick-up-stick pile of us. The sun only leaves me at night, leaving me in your care, your heat, your warmth, knowing that you can never really replace it, even though you will try, and you will like to think that you’re the true center of my personal universe. But I say everything still revolves around one sun, and you, with your thin wrists and your love for sarcasm, are far too human. You are human, and you are cold.

Winter wind still blows even though the sun is in full shine mode. I tilt my face up at it through the smudged windows of the bus and close my eyes, seeing a disco ball pattern on the insides of my eyelids that dance like the free-love generation did on LSD. I’ve forgotten my coat at home, lulled by the sunshine into thinking that it’s warmer than it actually is, and you offer me yours.

The ancient Greeks’ sun-god was named Helios. The Romans called him Apollo. I call him warmth-bringer, light-maker, shadow-chaser. You call me sun-worshipper, heat-seeker, desert-baby. I call you mine, but I lie through my teeth when I say it. You are not mine, and I am not yours, not any more than I can claim to own the sun.

In the age of solar panels, people harness sunlight and bend it to suit their needs—heat, energy, power. I am just as much to blame, yoking you to my proverbial harness to suit my basic needs—companionship, entertainment, and because it’s convenient. You, I suspect, have done the same to me. We do it because it’s easy; because it’s what people expect of us. When you need, you need. It’s human to need, too human, and I have never been good at denying myself, the byproduct of a spoiled childhood. Although I have a hard time telling people out-loud what it is we’re playing at, I find it equally hard to be utterly blasé about it and say, “I keep him around for the sex.” What I don’t have a hard time telling them is what it isn’t. It isn’t forever. It isn’t immortal. It isn’t stationary, or reliable, or even planned. Just like the sun rises from the East every morning, it is predictable and we take it for granted. Once, you called me a frigid bitch. I didn’t deny it. I, just like you, am cold. That’s why I believe more in sunlight than I do in love."

Christmas, Tough-Love Style
"What do you think? Does it look good?"

"It could do without some of the more tacky ones."

"Like which?"

"Like that one, to the left of the middle. The lumpy red and green one that looks like a wreath."

"That is a wreath. I made it for you in Advent Workshop years ago."

"Oh. What about that white Styrofoam one?"

"That one, too. It's supposed to be a snowflake."

"The clothespin reindeer."

"Basically, anything you consider tacky, I made for you and Mom as a child."

Wounding people is so easy, we stride right on afterwards without even a second thought. We all do it.

There will always be that awkward tension between parent and child in the constant search for parental approval. Tides change-- though I will never feel quite up-to-snuff for my father, my mother now looks to me for my approval. I am off-guard and awkward, and don't know when and how to give it. This softens the dynamic of my father a bit, however.

But, then again, who am I to judge?

Choosing Sides
"Wall or nightstand side?" he always asks, even though the answer always remains the same. It's just the kind of guy he is.

He's already tucked in next to the nightstand. Half of me wonders what would happen if I asked for that side. Half of me chastises the other half for trying to make trouble when everything is exactly how I want it to be in the first place. Half of me sighs. All of me crawls up the bed instead.

"Wall," I answer. "Of course. That's where I always end up, anyway." Always between cool wall and warm body. I modulate temperature like a flesh thermostat. Always on his right-hand side. Just like how he always pushes me back down in his sleep to his arm and shoulder in the place of a pillow.

Whoever needed cotton and filling when you have a hot-blooded male, anyway?

After the third night, I wised up. If Manhammoud won't let you go to the pillow-mountain, you bring the pillow to you.

Part One:
Writers: Black depressions, over-active imaginations, mental illnesses, and substance abuse. We are an under-whelmingly cheery lot.

Bathtub and beer. Bathtub and half-bottle of wine. Bathtub and a vodka concoction. It's all the same to me.

I think writers have an affinity for bathtubs because there's always the possibility of drowning oneself if the mood so strikes you. I'm sure some author must have tried holding their breath a minute too long after an unfavorable review. (Note to Self: Research this.)

I lounge in the convex shallows of the tub, one knee propped up under the facet, regulating water temperature by feel, my right kneecap bright red because I like it scalding hot. (Might as well live if you're going to be alive.) I'm reading Abbey's "The Fool's Progress" and feeling quite foolish myself, feeding this writer's malaise of mine so indulgently. Later, I will try sticking my toes in the jets, reverse whack-a-mole.

Part Two:
I turn the radio on, but leave the lights off. The moment I step into the shower and close the door behind me, my hair instantly and decidedly curls up in the trapped humidity. (Fact: I have naturally wavy hair. You will probably never see it.) The Presidents of the United States of America remind me in "Peaches" (Fact: Meant to give that CD back...) that the acoustics of the shower are the best I've ever found for singing (Fact,) but these glass walls won't hear my voice today. Soap in silence. Shampoo in solitude. Condition in consternation. (Fact: Alliteration is one of my many writer's vices. Along with verbosity and cliches.)

"Must stop playing hermit," I tell myself. "That's a direct order. Cheer the fuck up."

Circa Bankruptcy

Christmas night. The dog is napping in the backseat, taking up the entire bench, and it's nearly midnight; not Christmas any more. I'm driving and smoking at the same time, because that's one of the things I do know how to do in full multi-tasking glory. I've got the windows cracked because, silly to admit, I am scared of harming an innocent animal's lungs. Mine are already damned. So my nose is cold so his lungs can remain free from any more second-hand smoke. Silly. But the windows are still down.

It's nearly dead downtown. I'm tempted to make a silent joke about the graveyard shift, but it would be almost too easy. I don't know what called me here, but I needed to fill my eyes with it. The sight of a sheriff's cruiser lingering at a red light reminds me I still haven't replaced a front headlight that's out. I skulk past and hope Christmas spirit is enough to get me out of a ticket. I don't have the time, money, or desire to pay for either a new bulb or a ticket. I'd rather just take Plan A and flee the country. Har har.

The streetlights that rise up around me are festooned in white Christmas lights that wind around them and wreaths. The old, retro buildings, once freshly painted and proud, slouch into their foundations. Half of the storefronts are empty; "For Sale" and "For Rent" signs are the only things that occupy windows. The city of my childhood is gone. Instead, hardscrabble has taken hold.

At seven, I used to walk the four blocks down the hill from the public library to my dad's shop. At twenty, I lock my car doors as I come to a stop outside the building that used to be my father's. No lights. No gold glistening from overhead lighting in the display cases in the windows. Everything is quiet; not even the whisper of falling snow to make white-noise. I'm caught half-in and half-out of the past and the present, the crossroads of What Used To Be and The Cold, Hard Truth. Somewhere in the last twelve years, I missed this all changing. You come home, an almost-adult, and you suddenly see it all. It's alarming. It makes you wonder where it went wrong; if there was something you could do; what signs you missed and how. And if a city can change like this, unnoticed until it's over, what else can?

The dog lets out a snore. Suddenly tired, I take a last long draw and then stub my cigarette out on my side-view mirror, the plastic burned and crusted from doing it so many times in the same place before. I pull a U-ey and head for home as the clock ticks in a new day.

"And miles to go, before I sleep, and miles to go, before I sleep," I remember as I roll up the windows and rub the feeling back into my nose.

"I'm done with being looked through. When you look at me, it's almost enough to make me believe I could catch fire. Spontaneously combust in being someone."

Excuse me for just thrusting you into that, but one of my professors, a very wise man who is pretty much the reason I came to Champlain, once said that there is a time and a place for disclaimers, and in front of your writing is neither the time, nor the place. So I guessed I was wise to heed him-- his advice hasn't done me wrong yet.

The one good thing about being home and broke is that it's giving me lots of time to write. And write. And write some more. The above are some pieces of writing I've been busy resurrecting and breathing new life and words into for awhile (the first piece was an excerpt from a longer work from Creative Non-Fiction; (In)Pulse and Cold are both pieces I read recently at a gathering that went over well, and since people asked for copies, decided to put them here so I don't have to individually email. Laziness is a vice I posses.), as well as some short snippets that have come to me recently, as always, in the most awkward of places. (Mostly, the shower. In the shower, hands sudsy, not a pen or piece of dry paper in sight, is where I get all my best ideas. I have learned to play them on repeat like a broken cassette tape between my brain and my lips to remember them until I get out and run, dripping, for a flat surface and something to write with.) Muses be damned. They always come at the worst times.


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