Posts tagged writing
Posts tagged writing
Consider yourself from five years ago. Young and fresh, plucked off the factory floor, plastic in your pristine newness. You think you understand the ways of the world, you say presently, the scars hanging low off you like mats of Spanish moss. You know nothing, you haven’t even fucking lived yet. Keep smiling, kiddo. And how, five years from now, you’ll repeat those very same words, wondering how you could have been so oblivious, so naïve, so blissfully unaware. Consider the world-weariness grinding gritty and thick in your joints and how you’ll never be as young and ignorant again as you are this very moment.
Of the dozen or more ghosts reaching for you from darkened corners, the first to touch you is a tendrilled memory, a phantom scent of cinnamon and rye toast wafting up from the kitchen below. Layered beneath it, a taste of moss and paint chips. You fan the air in an attempt to fan the ghosts away. In the corner of your eye grey shape wearing a coat in the form of your great-grandfather bows its head and dissipates through the wall.
The farmhouse, older than certain states in the Union, makes a sound at your every step. Timbers shudder all the way down to their foundations. This whole mess could collapse in upon itself at any moment. You find the room where you slept your childhood summers, its wallpaper of zeppelins and kites and cranes sun-faded and loose like a cancerous skein of skin. Under the loose floorboard you pull out the cigar box that was your mission into this temple of doom. Carefully, as over a frozen lake whose ice may not hold, you retrace your steps through the dust and deeper into the bowels of the long-empited house.
On the porch, crouching over a bed of dead leaves and linden seeds, you open the cigar box to find what old treasures drove you to return in the first place. A horse’s tooth, a bullet casing, a tin Sopwith Camel, a half-dozen letters to an early crush that you never sent. You close the box, certain that there was more to it. Certain you’d forgotten something in the junk drawer of the past that was key to understanding who you were supposed to be in the present. Certain that a collection of boyhood trinkets were somehow more than that. Wind hisses through your teeth.
Behind you, in the house, the radio clicks. Calliope strains and a static wrinkle, notes of a dull razor run against the grain.
a history of the adriatic
A couple—both with one foot in their late teens, the young man still wearing his unbuttoned Partisan liberation jacket and trench socks—make frantic love on a dock near the outskirts of Budva, and in so doing knock a still-corked bottle of Croatian wine into the waves. The bottle wends a path north, caught in the currents, occasionally slipping into the shipping lanes occupied by Italian heavy cruisers keeping their guns trained along the Dalmatian coast. The light of tracer bullets arc and glint along the bottle’s glass, orange and green, the colors of sepsis. Halfway around the world two Japanese cities disappear in a blink and wrinkle of archangelic heat, and the guns on the coast begin to go quiet.
You pick your way among the rocks of Triggiano, taking advantage of the low tide. Only you misjudge a step and you ankle slips on a mat of dried algae, torquing left as your body falls right. You stumble across the stone scree and land facing into a crack between boulders. Wedged between sedimentary tusks and suspended above the wet sand, a green artillery shell of a bottle, dirt-pocked and without label, glass stained inside from a lost and soured vintner. It lies just outside your reach, only it’s just as well. Your ankle throbs and you’re certain your phone’s screen has shattered inside your pocket. You taste gunpowder behind your teeth.
A place on Earth - 2013
a place on earth
You thought there might be a place for me, somewhere you said that I could find a germ of solace, of calm, of peace. You heard the thunderstorms inside me when you pressed ear to chest, the seashell effect corrupted. You wanted that for me. You stressed it that last night together. Didn’t even finish your wine. Well I’ve held the oceans, all of them, in cupped palms and wrestled blind fish from polar seas and tasted the peat moss in the ancient forests where even my scantest thoughts clanged loud and echoing in the eaves. I thought about you and I thought about others, but mostly I thought about myself. Those thunderstorm thoughts, the ones that made you leave in the first place.
There was something else you said that night, the last night, when you whispered of some spot on this earth I could be kind again. I think that spot is here, in this highway motor court like a pier before the expanse of arroyos and salt flats, where hovering pairs of coyote eyes weave and wend between the scrublands. You don’t have to do this to yourself anymore, you said when I should have been listening. The water here tastes like alkali. Sharp, corrosive, coppery. I can’t stop drinking it, though. Cold enough to hurt my fillings and sit heavy in my stomach. Couldn’t have imagined this was the place. I couldn’t.
Memory as catechism: a simple remembrance, a sticky August night, me reciting the flow of your curves interlocked with my own, flesh glued on flesh in the humid summer air.
Memory as wine: that same remembrance, sweet and dark and staining the teeth, now left too long in the dark, a brackish vinegar swilled along the brim of my sleeping mind.
The blue hour before dawn, a spatter of rain-colored light cutting squares across the floor. The covers are cold, the smell of coffee too far away. You can taste the wine behind your teeth and the sour acidity of something else. Battery acid, but worse. The covers are cold and still hold the shape of others who’ve long since made their exit.
I sometimes stop and have to remind myself that not only do gay leather-daddy dive bars exist, but that I’ve been to one. I wish I hadn’t been so drunk to appreciate just how bizarre it was. Not the leather-daddy aspect, but the fact that it was a dive bar. Thanks to Hollywood’s sanitized perception of sexual kinks outside of the normative*, I’d probably have originally envisioned a leather-daddy bar as this sprawling, ballroom-esque descent into an underworld lined with bone white rooms festooned in chains and whips of various lengths. Everything clean and ornate, like a five-star chef’s kitchen.
But this looked like any other dive bar in the world. Too damned dark, a pool table in dire need of a refelting, a jukebox that was just as likely to play a downbeat country tune as it was a heavy house mix. A few men in various cuts of leather and chain hunched over barstools waiting for their turn to sink a stripe or solid in the corner pocket. Pastel-colored flyers for local queer theatre hung on either side of a lacquered mirror with the Budweiser Clydesdales galloping along the border. I’m pretty sure one of the pool players had one of those leather masks with the zipper over the mouth, but the memory is too hazy to be precise.
The bartender bought me a couple rounds while I tried desperately in vain to find a mythical pizza place I’d discovered a different drunken night, one my friends familiar with the neighborhood were certain didn’t exist but to this day I swear does. Maybe this dive bar was as real as this Lakeview pizza parlor that may or may not be a drunk’s hallucination.
*More like ‘bore-mative’ sexual mores, amirite?
the house at the bottom of the lake
My brother rowed across. I watched him do it and so did the other boys. He dropped the stone, the one with the name on it, into the slate waters and rowed back to where we stood in the reeds. Brother made like he wasn’t scared, but I could hear the struggle to keep his voice calm and level. Like he wasn’t trying to catch his breath, like he hadn’t rowed with all his might. He’d made it and given his name to the lake, as was the rite of passage. The other boys—older, practically young men—accepted Brother as one of their own. After school I played alone.
I turned thirteen and Brother asked me when I was going to cross the lake. I chose a clear night when the stars and moon played on the waves, thinking that could distract me. Only, as I set off in the sliver of a boat, quicksilver pools of witch light collected in my wake, each imitating a row of lanterns. I focused as best I could on finding what constellations I knew, and caught myself thinking instead of all the schoolyard theories.
'Twas once an empty river valley and got blocked up by a landslide and filled with the poor blighter at its bottom. Or that it was a drowned sailor returned home and, hating the warmth of his old living arrangements, built his house on the silty bed of the meltwater lake. Or—and this one my grandfather told me, having been told by his own grandfather, who swore he was present for it—the townsfolk of old had summoned the Devil to alleviate a blight of consumption, only the Devil had darker designs in mind, but was tricked into a house that was swallowed by a broken dam. And so now he waited, trapped, feeding a flock of wrens from a bucket of red seeds, waiting for the waters to recede.
The truth of the house was lost, only that it existed and a boy wasn’t a man until he’d dropped a stone with his name on the doorstep of the sunken house. My boat plied the water and, with a plop, my stone sank into the deep. I crossed back where the other boys waited. Brother clapped a meaty hand on my back and said I’d done good, real good. The boys passed around a packet of cigarettes stolen from some unsuspecting father’s bedside drawer. We cut back through the woods, and I swore behind us lantern light crept up from the black.
Brother, he told me one night that winter that he’d never actually written his name on his stone the night he’d crossed. That he’d been too afraid. He too had been thinking of grandpa’s story and so tossed in a decoy. Only, he couldn’t shake the idea of the lake. He dreamt of ripples in the reeds and bloated wrens picking red seeds out of his hair. He cut a hole in the ice and dropped in a mealworm speared on a hook. The trout he’d caught refused to cook no matter how hot he made the stove, and when he cut its skin there was nothing inside but feathers. Small and tawny, the down of perching birds.
(Photo: Phil Burns)
The first ten pages of a book are often my favorite, if not the hardest part of the read. It’s the acclimating to a new author while still tasting the accents and garlicy turns-of-phrase of the old still caught in your teeth. It’s emerging from the swampy gruel of a McCarthy and marveling at the clear coral tidepools of a Chabon. It’s the effortless, silky pull through a Rowling only to tiptoe on the cracking ice of a David Foster Wallace. It’s learning the place and pace and sinking into a new mode of thinking, slowly but surely, a rainwater seeping through stone to the aquifer.
(Which might explain why, in three attempts, I’ve never gotten the pace of Finnegan’s Wake. In three attempts I’ve never gotten past page seven. Although it could also be because it’s a notoriously unreadable book and I lack the encyclopedic knowledge to understand the references buried in every single sentence.)
The first kiss I ever gave when I was eleven. Lucy, my girlfriend of two weeks, and I were on a ski club expenditure and got onto the chair lift together. Confusing the moment for romantic, and feeling the heated pressure of friends on the chair behind us, I leaned in and tried to pry warmth out of her unmoving lips with my own. Realizing my mistake, I settled back and dreaded having committed the act at the bottom of the hill instead of the top. We sat without talking for five minutes, accompanied only by the sound of the lift cable creaking and catcalls from our classmates.
We broke up the next day. I returned to her all the gel pens she’d given me save the green, my favorite, though it broke in my backpack some days later.