Posts tagged writing
Posts tagged writing
We’re the futureless, the tetherless, the unpredictable even to ourselves. We have no answer for Where do you see yourself in five years? other than canned laughter. All we hold dear fits inside a single bag, which sits in the corner waiting for that frantic moment of packing and flight. Our bank accounts never dip below the cost of a bus ticket. Forwarding addresses fall behind us like footsteps. The shipwrecked ephemera of abandoned furniture and old books already read and almost-friends who remember two or three drunken nights with us.
How do you distract a heart? How do you settle the gut’s roiling tempest, forcing hot storm surges through your veins, each pulse screaming for another unexplored road to continue down? You eschew. You walk. You leave behind wrong-turned lovers and hollow jobs and friends who’ve grown tired of you. You slip away with barely a sound.
It was November 19th, Fitz’s two-hundredth day at sea, as it were. He realized this staring at the calendar (New England’s most scenic covered bridges, 1982) that hung over the stove in the lighthouse’s all-purpose room that served as his kitchen, study, and bedroom. Two hundred days. Four lantern bulbs fixed, six hurricanes endured, one ice storm that threatened to blow his tower off the face of the cliff, eighteen books read, one and one-half reams of paper converted into useless manuscript, endless gallons of watery tea, unnumbered bowls of flavorless oatmeal. Only years to go, at this point.
In town, at the only pub open during non-summer months, the postmaster and Marconi operator handed Fitz a message from the mainland that he knew had been coming:
I have received the last of your correspondence STOP
I have thrown your letters into the sea STOP
Please don’t send any more STOP
Please just stop STOP
At night Fitz sat on the balcony of the lantern room at the top of the tower, watching the wavering lines of lights marking the horizon between black night and blacker sea. Those were ships skirting past in the night, avoiding the rocks and the reefs of the island thanks to swift orbit of the lighthouse beam. Some nights—this one in particular—he wondered what might happen if he should just take a brick in one hand and shatter the lantern bulb. Would the lights on the horizon founder, list, and slide into the dark umbra of the sea? Would some kind hand nudge them along the proper channels, avoiding the unseen disaster waiting to rent the ship sides apart below the waterline? What was fated, what was chance? It’s a crapshoot, he thought, when there’s no one guiding you through.
He remained planted to the balcony, frost blanching the tips of his beard.
(Photo: april in october)
Harmon Hall, Kalamazoo College.
Early February, 2009. Night.
It’s snowing. Of course it’s snowing.
Yann Tiersen plays on the speakers. Good Bye, Lenin! score on repeat. I’m sprawled on the floor, arms above my head, fingers fanned against the walls, so cold that my skin almost sticks to the paint. Eyes closed, I can feel my reach spanning through the cement and mortar and tile and piping. Feel myself expanding room by room, hallway opening into hallway opening into hallway.
This building is alive. Directly below me, someone clicks a pen absentmindedly while studying for Organic Chemistry. Down the hall, a Freshman swimmer is the highest he’s ever been in his life and scared that the sensation will never end. Three couples are fucking in this moment (two of them sound bored, simply going through the motions; the third ecstatic and giggling, the thrill of the first time for new partners, doomed to fade in time). In the basement someone is writing on a typewriter. I’ll never learn who this person is, despite my best efforts. Movies on mute, cages lefts open, books left unread, a disgruntled roommate pissing into a bunkmate’s pillowcase, mice running tightrope across copper conduits along the utility room. No one presses their fingers to a wall. The connection holds only as long as I do.
Early March, 2013. Night.
A hand reaches as casually as possible, almost as if possessed by its own will, and unfolds flat against the plaster. But as hard as I try, I feel nothing. As if I expected to in the first place.
Roommate trudges in through the front door, wiping the frost from his hat. ‘Got halfway home from work and it started snowing out of nowhere.’
Of course it’s snowing.
A man is not a man, Zeus’s father would intone when blind on bathtub gin, until he’s killed his pa. Not a real death, ya ken? Kill his spirit. Kill his livelihood. Cut him down to your size if ya want to get ahead. Which all stood to reason, for that was precisely how Pa had come to inherit the farm, the house, and that poor weeping willow standing like a lighthouse in a sea of barley. Pa was only a young man when he took Grandapa’s stone sickle and—slift!—took off his manhood in a single twist. No matter how hard he scrubbed, Pa could never remove the scrim of urethral blood from the sickle’s blade. And so it hung on the back of the barn, held aloft between two roofing nails drilled into the board, its handle smooth and gleaming from two generations of sweaty palms.
I only knew half of the relatives in the room. The other half were familiar faces of uncertain lineage, people I recognized from reunions and picnics. We all fell under the genealogical umbrella with my great-grandmother at its head. That same grandmother, in the bedroom, whom we were all there to see. Hard candies and warm finger sandwiches and burnt supermarket coffee in Styrofoam cups. No one had anything to say. The house stank like meat going bad. We all knew it. We all knew why.
It was my turn.
Great-grandmother was swaddled in a sarcophagus of blankets. That meaty aroma cloyed up the breathing air. I didn’t recognize her. That woman, that large woman, had shrank into a mattress depression. Thin, like a bag of antlers, with willow branches for arms. A face too narrow, too damned narrow. Age was eating her alive.
Grandmother stood on one side of the bed, Mother on the other. Four generations in one room. I stood at the foot of the bed, unable to move closer without nausea rising up my throat.
‘Who’s this?’ Great-grandma asked.
‘It’s Jared,’ my grandmother replied.
‘Jared. It’s Lanette’s son, remember?’
‘I don’t, I don’t think I do.’
It rained precisely when and where the preacherman promised it would, a dour square of downtown that stretched from Elm Street to the used bookstore. It rained for as long as the preacherman promised, totaling from first to last drops a good three days and three nights, the gutters choked with mud, the paperbacks swelling with humidity. I stood on the edge of that storm, a bubble only a few hundred feet across. A shimmering window, a dust-colored door that had been predicted by the sermons.
The preacher, his words grew darker after his little miracle. The pews began to fill more regularly. The collection plate overflowed. He decried the faithless, and they were marked with ashen brands on the tops of their hands. He swore of plague and the Revelation angels blowing their trumpets on the morrow, and the dogs in the street coughed red ropes of spit between their gnashing teeth. One morning the statues had disappeared off the tops of their plinths, their heavy footprints receding into the distance. We lost sight of the sun.
But the day became weeks became months, and still we woke in the morning. The preacherman stopped all services except for Sunday mass, and then abandoned that as well. He holed up in the rectory, drinking deeply from pitchers of water that sluiced in his stomach as the merlot blood of Christ. What is that called? I asked myself one morning when the thought appeared like unwelcomed hail. Transubstantiation, I answered later in the shower as the answer came to me from the haze of my boyhood days in Catholic school, my soapy hands cupping my genitals. Long streaks of sin ran red down my legs, snaking down the drain without leaving a mark.
Break yourself first. Beat them to the punch. Sleep for a day or not at all. Run away or lock your door. Ignore calls, skip work, fuck strangers in dirty bathrooms while club music thrums through the walls. Drink the whole bottle, take twice the recommended dose. Write confessions with tiny, cramped penmanship, filling every page, every line, every snowy scrap of free space. Starve. Talk to ghosts. Forget the names most important to you. Break yourself first before they can do it for you. And then, like marrow fibers hardening along a fracture, you’ll be stronger. Hollow but stronger. Unbreakable.
I woke, a fetal question mark freed from his blanket, certain I could feel slithering over my skin. Just a phantom sensation. But my Dad loves me, I thought. The obvious interpretation is a parent too ashamed of my path in life. I don’t even need a dream book to discern that one. But my Dad supports what I do. Right? The way is barred, you can’t go back.
This is the dream: my father and I are mucking our way into a marshy grassland. The sun is high and hot above us, not a single cloud in the sky. We’re looking for a bike. I’ve lost my bike and I can’t find it on my own. Before we know it the brackish water is slaking into our boots, up our pants, darkening the bottoms of our shirts. We step over sunken logs and twisting roots and coiled bits of barbed wire from old, lost fencing. I think of fat catfish, as long as my leg, eyeing my feet hungrily. Father asks me which way to go and I continue to point us forward, deeper, through the reeds. I have no idea where I’m going.
The water reaches our breastbones. In real life I’m almost two inches taller than my dad but here, he towers over me, but I’m not a child, I’m not. A snake banded in black and white curls across our path, disappearing into the reeds. I yell and flounder backwards. ‘For Christ’s sake, it’s just a snake,’ my father says. ‘Keep moving.’
‘But I can’t, Dad.’
‘You’re the one that said it’s this way.’
I look back at the swath we’ve cut through the marsh. Snakes—thousands, of every color and thickness, wrapped in knots and rolling through the water with flanks as thick as trunks—swarm in the open water. There’s no going back. Not this way. Father keeps pushing forward. I don’t want to find the bike, not anymore. But it’s too late. The way is barred. There is no going back.
You might not understand the paranoia of a mother, which isn’t a paranoia at all but a subgenital connection thrumming when the wrong strings start pulling. In the instance of my daughter, Ophelia, I knew that she would be trouble, though of what sort I wasn’t sure. She never kicked. Not once, not even when her aunts and cousins pressed their hands against my swollen belly, waiting like children at the aquarium, faces smeared against the glass, looking for the shape of an octopus hidden along the fake coral. When she was born, Ophelia kicked off from the side of uterine pool and flutter-kicked her way into the doctor’s hands, umbilical chord wrapped around her neck. Her poor eyes bugged against her bluing skin, but she didn’t scream. Like her kicks, not a single one.
This one has no fear, I thought.
You’re a confusing cocktail, I saw that the moment we met. Equal parts cynicism and blistering optimism, a measure of self-loathing for every splash of hope there might be a bit of beauty somewhere in the world. Shaken by the universe’s apathy and topped with a curiously earnest smile. If he wasn’t careful, a boy could get drunk on you.