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"tell me about your loss," she says, and two faces and a ring come into my mind, two faces and a ring and a box of childhood treasures; things that used to be magic. both faces i still dream about. a boy, a father, a ring from an independent bookstore in minnesota that broke when it fell on the floor of the shower in arizona and i cried because i was losing too much that year. some day i will be able to focus on the faces, but today it is the ring, the pieces of it, i held them in my palm, i cried until i scared my mother, i still have those pieces somewhere, the week after it broke the consignment store came and carried away my piano, the one i'd played since second grade. i put on a brave face, as they say, and pretended like all of this was just an adventure, and i, a character on a page.
You too got tired of being an advertisement for our world, so that angels could see: yes it's pretty, earth. Relax. Take a rest from smiling. And without complaint allow the sea-breeze to lift the corners of your mouth.
You won't object; your eyes too, like flying paper, are flying. The fruit has fallen from the sycamore tree. How do you say to love in the dialect of water? In the language of earth, what part of speech are we?
Here is the street. What sense does it finally make: any mound, a last wind. What prophet would sing. . . . And at night, from out of my sleep, you begin to talk. And how shall I answer you. And what shall I bring.
like how the hard part, one of the hardest parts, I tell him, the part they don't warn you about, is after. how do you go on? when you've lived a different life, with different faces and different places, and then it's over and you're back?
how did the pevensies do it?
but it's worth it. all these hard parts - and there are many. it's worth it because of the intangible thing that resides in my chest in my heart that keeps blood flowing just as much as any arteries.
she had a part time boyfriend, which she was quite happy with, and over the years, she flirted with an eating disorder, but never found a way to love her body the way she loved the rest of herself. all the same she knew how to have a good time, and, if not the life of the party, she provided a noticeable heartbeat. she lost her way over and over again, but at least she noticed it, and anyway, she was alright - and knew it - more times than she wasn't. when she needed to, she lit a candle or a cigarette, but had an aversion to bonfires, because of her parents, who she supposed she loved, but she had to wonder. her cries were louder than her laughter but didn't outweigh it, which was what mattered; she forgave everyone except herself, because she was too afraid, even when billy joel told her not to worry. she had the knack of seeing herself in everyone and everything, and so her heart was not a hateful one (only, sometimes, angry). to her, there wasn't much better than a night of cafés and classic rock with a sister across the sea, or even across the state line. postcards and books and unopened letters made a make shift carpet in the one bedroom she kept on letting, even when she was past ready to leave. her weakness was her resilience, if you can call it that; always trying to batten down the hatches of a loose-cannon heart. for fear of risking too much, she opened the wrong doors, but there's still time, she's still getting the hang of how to live.
we're sampling drinks. there are dozens to choose from. there's an almond liqueur that we deem too sweet (we, who like sweet wines). there's a vanilla jack daniels...a spiced rum...do you sense a theme? we should've gone with sake, like charles. he's drinking wine from a shot glass. everyone's telling charles he looks like doctor who. i started it, complimenting his bowtie, but after the fourth person we're all a little weary of it. the house is nice. rich people nice. "don't go back there," the son warns, gesturing behind the food table at the bookshelves. but he lets her touch the iPad. we just want better dancing music. johnson finds out i'm an actor, and he ushers me outside under the heat lamps to meet his friend, also an actor. "tell her your story, about taylor lautner," he urges. the dude rolls his eyes, protesting, "i hate that effing story," but in the next breath, "okay, so, i was at this competition...." at 11 exactly, i text a mountain-time-zoned friend, happy new year. the sarah lawrence kids tell us we make them feel at home. "when you three walked in," they say, "we said, our people are here. because you're all cute, but kind of off-looking." we laugh at the compliment. we play a game like apples to apples but politically incorrect. it's one minute, thirty seconds to midnight. the countdown, on the television, is about to begin. people are pairing up, even the ones without romantic partners. the boy who will later say goodbye to me, ask for my last name, tries to catch my eye. i look away, i'm not in the mood for kissing strangers. maybe if the music was a little louder, maybe if i wasn't the designated driver. midnight, she kisses him, then says, a minute later, removing his arm from 'round her waist, "it's the new year. we're done with that. just friends, now. yeah?" "i wish i could be with you," he says, all boyish yearning. "even just to sleep outside, in the cold, on your porch. just to be near you." "mm," she says. suddenly all the guys are taking their shirts off. a dance-off occurs. we sing/yell a warpaint song at each other. the best conversations come in the first hours of the new year. everybody is drunk enough to be more interesting than "what do you do?" and "how long have you lived here?" "check out 11:11," i instruct him. "but my favorite album is soviet kitsch." "wait! are we talking about regina spektor?" gina says, overhearing us. and we squeal and hug, because it's music to love, and because it's late, and okay, maybe she's a little drunk. "charles hates men!" she exclaims in the car. "tell her!" she commands. "well, for starters," he begins, "i had a pretty terrible father..." that's how it always starts, i know.
it is times like these when i can feel all the poetry seeping out of my body.
a week ago i was hanging out with a bunch of first graders. in a classroom, i read to them. "my brother's name is aaron," one of them told me. "but he spells it with an 'a'."
"the fault, dear brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves." our stars and ourselves are, perhaps, inextricable, though. a mix of stars and madness that creates the moment when a human being can imagine hurting another human being, hurting many human beings, hurting the world, hating the world, a human being with no poetry left within, all hope and beauty and words erased from what once was —what began as— a fellow lost soul.
there is a problem with pain, but it is not an equation any of you have an answer for. there is a problem with poetry, poetry in the midst of pain, because pain is not beautiful, nor should we pretend it is, nor should we string words together in neat phrases, attempting clarity through anything as base as art.
i am not writing this to prove the existence of beauty, or the paradoxical presence of poetry and taking a gun into your hand and shooting a first grader who has a brother named aaron spelled with an A.
i am not writing this for any reason at all. the poetry is leaving me, and so i leave you
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The Majestical Roof Poetry & Wine Salon HOLIDAY PARTY! "All we've got is words, wine and company to keep us warm!" a text dated november twenty-first, but a year ago: "I trust your voice/because it has lumps of hard pain in it/the way real honey/has lumps of wax from the honeycomb." (amichai)
Marbie sat in the beanbag and thought about bees, wasps, peanut dust, and funnel web spiders hidden in sneakers. She thought about how you could run over the cord of an electric lawnmower, or slip on an ice cube and knock yourself out, or accidentally leave the gas on and fall into a coma. A beach umbrella could stab you between the eyes. You could suffocate in this very beanbag. (excerpt from the spell book of listen taylor by jaclyn moriarty)
"Do you know where the salt is?" "Is it behind the laptop?" She walks off to check her phone.
...I saw catastrophe at every corner, and the suspense was killing me. And there it was. Marbie's eyelids fluttered as she shifted slightly in her beanbag. It was clear to her just for a moment. If she was going to lose Nathaniel at some unknown moment in her future, she had better make it happen at once. If a catastrophe was flying at high speed toward her, she would move to be directly in its path. (excerpt from the spell book of listen taylor by jaclyn moriarty)
(Various notes, slips of paper, forms, saved images, etc. are gathered on the desk, desktop, top of piles, etc.) When you're clear, and awake—three basic questions—Compare to format of Amsterdam proposal—Pleiades: A Journal of New Writing—INT. Joel's Bedroom, Night—The Scottish Play: a monologue—Listener Training Program Application (Adult)—Postage will be paid by addressee—
As I will remember her, she had wide blue eyes and curly-curls and had gotten her first ever fake tan, which was starting to peel, and which she said she loved, and she said boys definitely noticed her more.
Her heroine was Frida Kahlo: she adored her, she showed us the earrings she wanted, with portraits of her on them at the shop we went to.
"I heard in America you call Autumn 'Fall,'" she said to me, "and so I named this mix cd 'Fall Break.' I hope that's alright." She looked worried, like I might take offense, like maybe it was cultural appropriation to use words that didn't belong to her.
She wanted to start a hippy, happy socialist commune where we'd all grow our own food and live together in harmony.
She was lovely and fun and funny and the second night in a row that we went dancing, she told me (as I danced) that I was "groovy," which was a really good compliment to get. Then we all sat in the canoe and relived the night before, which had been, we all agreed, "the best night ever." We laughed until our breaths ran out.
She's different now, I'm told. But at the time, she was a sweet, wild girl; free-spirited and intelligent, guileless and easy-going.
This poem cannot bring you back. This poem cannot make the clouds move more quickly or slowly in the sky, cannot change the weather. This poem cannot return you to a happy childhood, erase a painful one. This poem will not clear your skin, condition your hair, wash your dishes, mend your jeans. It won’t find you a lover, not even if you recite it three times backwards. It won’t even find me a lover and I wrote the thing. This poem won’t stop time, email your advisor for that extension, pay the plumber or the piper. This poem does not pay its taxes. It is not a good citizen. It fails to vote or show up for jury duty. This poem will overturn your scrabble game, take a bite from every food and leave the rest. This poem is not housebroken. All night you hear it whining, missing its mother, chewing your best shoes and begging to be let out.
I made this mix based on a feeling I had one day, a feeling to do with excitement and classes and spring and dancing-or-walking and boys and girls and it was this really nice feeling and needed documenting so I put it into a string of songs that went something like this:
We ran, down the flights, out to the street below, looking up at the sky, I was reminded of another night, only this time there was something specific, A neighbor poking his head above his fence—"did you hear the explosion? there was an explosion. and all the lights went out." "Yes," we answered. I scribble notes, I scribble inane comments like "now I am writing so that the professor won't call on me..." Only because I do not like to summarize. I do not think stories ought to be explained away with abouts. Everybody discussed the Hemingway story and I wanted them to stop, because it means something to me. I slept in ripped tights; I do not remember that happening before. We had thought, for an exciting moment, that it was something to do with the President and a movie star neighbor. We still don't understand the point of the circling spotlight. I was catching it on film, in case. I had grabbed my phone before we rushed down, in case. It was only when we returned that I realized my quickly thrown-on dress was inside out. Below, the second-floor neighbors who I bother with my music: the Frenchman with dreads, the blonde actor, the deaf man, all looking up and pointing, and exclaiming, and I looked down and we waved and said hello, before all going back to the sky.
I called my brother, who listened to the police reports. Nothing, he said. Either they've got it offline now or they've switched to a private channel, he said. Which would've made sense, except it wasn't the case. I can say with mostly certainty that the things not easily defined are the things I find most valuable.
I will read for an hour or two about the black and white circus and then perhaps I will have energy for cereal, dancing, and washing my hair.
dutch treat. etymology: 'The phrase "going Dutch" originates from the concept of a Dutch door. Previously on farmhouses this consisted of two equal parts'.*
"you know, that one episode, where she goes to the poetry reading. not poetry. it was—essays? stories? yes, like this. well. only not open for critique."
"let's take bets on if he shows up," she said, and I laughed, at any rate. he surprised me, at any rate. I can't help wanting to watch him. I make notes, like he's a character I'll put in a book someday: smart; has money—or ways of making it—
crystalline, our 'wants' overwrought, 'passion' 'desire' 'yearn' 'ache' 'longing' All of them useless, the pit of useless words, I relegate them to
I write a poem to the stars, attempting 'romance' / Stars: will you 'love' me? / the moon no longer does / I / 'miss' / you can suffice / carry my words in original lamp-light, at night / be someone or something for me to hand them to /
she scratched the record, on purpose. took his pocketknife, drew a line from the inner circle to the outer. it would never play songs straight again. she felt like biting something. if she could bite down hard enough on the black plastic disc, would it break? would her teeth break? what would win? would it matter?
alexandria, minnesota, 1951.
a family of weak teeth, her mother said. our lineage, she said. something about genes, or family, or whatever. it didn't matter, then, except for when the chipping began. first a back tooth, a baby tooth; ones that didn't matter. not a big deal. the first time a front one chipped she screamed about it for an hour. she was seven. she knew she would always be ugly, now. it's a lot to realize. seven years isn't fair, she thought at the time. seven years isn't enough time for anybody to be pretty enough. it's not enough to last you a lifetime.
los angeles, 1962.
you look like a french model, like that one—that one from that new film, with the bad accent. he was twirling one set of fingers through her dyed hair when he said this, he had bad breath, and she'd just lost her virginity to him. she remembered clearly everything that wasn't: the sheets weren't silk, her nightgown wasn't lace, the comforter wasn't soft, he wasn't blonde, and it wasn't how she'd thought it would be.
san francisco, 1970.
one scratch hadn't seemed enough, but now, looking down at the disfigured disc, she was thinking she'd gone too far. a bit excessive, was something her psychologist had written down once, and she'd seen it by accident when he'd leaned forward to grab at his mug, that mug, the one that looked like it was filled with water, but one day she'd grabbed it and swung it around because he didn't seem to be getting what she was feeling, and when it spilled, the nail polish scent of hard liquor had flooded the room.
alexandria, minnesota, 1951.
she hadn't been wrong, either, even though her mother had laughed and said she was being dramatic—a bit excessive. the kids called her chippy and made jokes about her having a chip, not on her shoulder, but in her mouth!! they were mean and they were clever and she stopped smiling and when the teacher called on her some days she refused to open her mouth. she became so quiet that by the time graduation rolled around people didn't remember the chip any more than they remembered chippy, the girl herself.
los angeles, 1962.
she promised she'd see him again the next night, she promised they'd have sex again. she walked three miles down the canyon road to her apartment building and got a few things, she hitched a ride to the airport, and then she flew to san francisco, never to look back. a lost angel for a grand five weeks, she thought, as she rose in the plane above the fallen city, above the clouds above the fallen city.
san francisco, 1970.
some days she could taste the chip. she felt she'd become the chip. if anyone had bothered to ask her who she was, she'd have told them, 'my name is chippy.' and she'd have smiled. and she'd have shaken their hand. and then she'd have walked away.