The campus looks greener in the dark. Long lawns of grass and the old ivy’d buildings at the top of the hill. The floodlights glowing up from the foot of the oaks and the towering maples and the smoke wreaths in your hair. This would be the third night in a row we’ve come here. In a depression wet with dew and darkness, a miniature mystical forest of oaks, and maples and dogwoods, spread in clusters through the park. It is Spring and the air is scented sweet with dew and dogwood flowers, fresh, vital, aromatic aphrodisiacs. You ask me to brush the pine needles from your back. Stillness in the humid air. This has become our bench. We come here when neither of us can easily find sleep, and you text me, and I meet you, I meet you because of the sweaters you wear, two sizes too large for your thin little frame. What could be hiding in there? In the darkness that encroaches like walls from between the trees, giving no depth and only immediacy. Erasure of past and future, disclaimer from the vast expanse of stars we cannot see above: what else is hiding there? Two supple truths would be my best guess. I haven’t known you long. From a distance like a novel with 98% of it pages half-erased, a nimble beauty moving with quiet confidence through the library and down the halls. Speaking to no one, smoking cigarettes by yourself. Why the long face? Why the hidden dilemmas and the aura of existential doubt? What is it you were hiding I found myself so anxious to find? Here in the wet depression, comforted by night’s big blanket, you tell me the anecdote of fools. You tell me what you study in the daytime, you tell me of friends and the music you adore, you describe for me your bedroom. You show me the scar on your arm from when as a little girl you took a fall. And it must be a trick of the moonlight how clearly I can see your face, pock-marks on your forehead and little wrinkles beginning to show round the corners of your mouth. A picture forms, and I don’t like it at all. Your dreams are full of clobbering machinery. I don’t like you at all. I can feel the warmth of your body through your clothes, the soft touch of skin, your lips on my neck. The way your limbs are wrapped around me, the two of us entwined in the grass. I really wish you hadn’t taken to talking. You’ve ruined the night sky. I am distressed at how this has turned out. Your belly-button, I can say with confidence, would’ve been plenty deep for me.
Originally published at SuddenDenouement.com
The rain had beaten holes in our backs and it was my idea to come here. 2,000 miles from home. You owned a Mazda and I owned a dream, and together we had $40 and no place to sleep. So we did what we always did best. We scrounged, rags and happiness up and down the sidewalk. New friends, old acquaintances, same familiar taste for bum wine. No mattress but a pile of blankets on an old neighbor’s floor but the walls were hard and hid our dirty fucking well. Drunk on rooftops, drunk in alleys, drunk in bars, drrrrrrunk in the library ‘cus it opened at 7 just after the sun and had couches in the stacks to hide our bum lovin’ selves. Towers shined downtown. Neons shined crosstown near the arena. Eyes shined tits shined cocks shined. Dreams hid behind clouds. Nose bled. Knuckles bled in drywall. Hunger struck well. Fever came to days flush red with sun baking without a drop on the promenade. Dry-out, please just dry-out. Uptown sprints to catch delivery trucks, clandestine missions lifting cases of cans. Rowdy downtown. Rowdy uptown. Rowdy ‘cross the college campus getting sex out of wild freshmen. You were talking ‘bout New Jersey and the hills you grew up in. You moved our blankets to the far side of the floor. Leave me stranded, will you, just lock the god damn door? Sail off in your pretty cloud ship, leave the wasteland far behind. You had the keys and the gas and the paycheck I couldn’t steal, a heart I couldn’t hear. I’ll guide you to the alley and watch you beg for bread. Hike up those legs and shut the god damn door. Shut the door and let me wander and close your eyes till I get back. Let me see it from a distance.
I’ll come back sane.
It is Tuesday and I am chasing sticks-and-bones down the winter street. Not chasing, following. I don’t think he can run. He has no meat on his bones, only femurs and ribs and a spine etcetera, and the sticks in a silhouette, an outline of the man he is, something you can see through. No one else can see through him. He keeps a jovial expression and catch-phrases in his pockets though I know he doesn’t wear pants. He has no hip flesh to keep up pants. And everyone he meets is immediately impressed, such a young man with such promise. Glowing praises. You should see how well he sits at a desk, 8 or 9 or 10 hours at a time, completing assignments and making meetings feel like conversations between friends. I have to hand it to him, sticks-and-bones he’s a wonderful fit. He is going to pick-up my son. Sticks-and-bones taking a self-pleased stroll to the daycare center. There are little snow mounds still along the sidewalks, dirty white and wet, the pavement stained with salt. This neighborhood wears great overcoats, aerobic yoga pants and khakis. Sticks-and-bones eats at Whole Foods, gets his fitness from club-member packages. You should see his sinews, if he had any. You should see the tendons in his neck when he gets stressed, and the heated words in his chest – a passive insult she can’t quite get – when Mrs. Callahan fumbles his requests, at work. Sticks-and-bones can laugh at any joke. Sticks-and-bones knows how to impress the men who sign his paychecks. Sticks-and-bones masturbating amid the flatulence of bathroom stalls. Mallow for marrow. Dirt in the teeth of the sidestreets of yesteryear: smiles in the third-floor apartment’s kitchen smelling of spam, linoleum flooring, coughing cars, and the passion that once seeped with the tears. Gone for long, gone forever. Follow sticks-and-bones round the wrong corner. The wrong direction towards the lowhead dam near Third and Vine where once I drunkenly had sex. I hadn’t been drinking, just felt like I were overflowing. Drunk on substance, drunk on purpose, long filled with blood that kept flesh hard: Eager to succeed in self-definement – memories now just dust behind eyelids. Sticks-and-bones, dreams like semen wasting through my fingers, open my eyes to drive my SUV just a little bit farther, traffic stop-and-go. Sticks-and-bones. And now I hear the sound of clanking arms, ribs that clatter on the ground, the jaw that chatters all the while I fracture his form. The silhouette will disperse. The bones will grind. Families will flee at the sight of a madman arduously assaulting this stranger. Fools. This perpetrator of the madness, of the fleeting and the vain, cast this skeleton into the river, I tell you it’s for the best, heave the bones into the water and cast myself adrift, yet again, appearing and disappearing in the torrent of back-water just beneath the lowhead dam.
You’ve been spending time with your mother making decorations for the holidays. Crafting kitsch for the doors and the halls, small moments made-up for the years you lived out-of-state. Progress in your own home is slow. Rent checks are never late but your husband is rarely in for dinner. Your own job seems to be a farce stunted by a bad choice of college degree – how many women can get a decent car in photography? But your life’s love got an early foot in with a 401k; and all his complaints are erased by his claim “this is all only temporary”. Someday comes the break. A baby will be on the way, you’ll have one made by spring and that’s your own secret plan. And at night when the small house is quiet and your thoughts creep down from the walls you can hear those good friends crying all the way back at Ohio State. You can hear the clamor of the bars and the mic beats of the poets and the stars that shined over North High and Third. You remember screaming at him when he left for Santa Fe. He left your heart aching. He quit the job after just a week and came home miserable to you, who forgave him so quickly because the sidewalks outside were still painted in the green of your dreams. Cooking isn’t what your patience were made for. Graphic design isn’t what your head was made for but at least it gives you something to do. And in the mornings in the traffic you can listen to NPR because the music you’re in love with whispers for you to abandon your car. Hand your laptop to a homeless man and empty out the bank. You’re already crying thinking of Mark finding a letter in the pot you won’t have filled with his dinner. He hates it what he does for you. Neck ties and obedience to the man with the bigger desk. Long hours of nicotine-yellow sun on suburban streets. Empty boxes flipping away the blank pages of your calendar’s days. Penned at a desk in a fluorescent alley of cubicles and swarthy smiles. Obsequious pleasantries and the eternal denial that what they’re paying you adds up. A 40-hour work-week indoors and Netflix to reward your stationary labor. Spirits were meant for the open air. You once spent a week straight without a foot inside your own door. The concert hall on State Street and the rooftop restaurant with the sky-line view where Mark first said he loved you. You had to go because a local blog was paying your photos in erratic hours. And at 4am you found Mark awake still waiting for you. Grasping for an emotional hold before the world sent you tumbling: your exhilaration has landed flat. A cold star stays dark with nothing new to burn in your chest. Stalked by old friends who aged quick at dead-end jobs. The same streets you walked as a kid are a ten-minute drive from the house you’re starting your life in. Someday you’ll find your future years painted on your office floor – or that Mark regrets the wedding. You’ll think back about the happy girl, what it meant to view the world without walls. To see the importance in the clouds and the excitement in the daisies painted on the windows of the Vine Street boutiques. To remember the reasons you needed to drive 20 miles over the speed-limit if you wanted to eat a second dinner that week, or what it felt like to cry because you’d spent four sleeplessness nights helping organize a Halloween ball. Someday comes the break – when the muck is too slow a death to stay here waiting 60 years. When you remember that life is movement through the city; that every breath is sweeter when you’re chasing down a dream; that your vibrant heart was meant to beat. Make your mother a memoriam: you love her most when you’re saying goodbye. Gather the movement of your frantic panic and the happiness of an insecure life. Ask Mark if he still loves you, and pack your bags for Ohio State. There’s happiness outside of Jersey.
My professor has a warm crevasse beneath her dress that I imagine is just like a bed. She won’t ask me questions in class; and when I try to answer I always end up feeling inferior. The other students are clearly smarter, loaded with logical processes and the skill-sets that will lead them to success in global conglomerates. I struggle to put air behind my words when I speak aloud. Forever feeling my life’s lot is take their orders and keep my head down, I skirt along the sides of the hallways and let others pass first through the doors. Some days in class I sit beneath the desks, in the computer labs where the hard drives and monitors run hot. The desk becomes a shelter, finally hiding myself from view, the warmth in the shadows away from the stares of those who swear I will never enjoy the pleasures of wealth. And so that’s where I find myself, in the warm shadows beneath the desk. Prostrate, castrated, assuming my position in the gutters where they flush their shit. I sit cross-legged or sometimes I lie down, hearing the muffled conversations of the classroom above. I take care to avoid the computer wires wrapped tightly in bundles. I find a small break in the carpeting, where two sheets of ultra low-pile carpet meet, with a little space between them. This is the little gap I found last class. I take to picking at it once again. Feet walk by down the aisle and I glance at the shoes. The carpeting I am picking at has the odor of autumn air, something crisp with a hint of dew. I continue to pick. The carpeting begins to peel up, and when I reach my hand beneath I feel nothing but open air, humid and cool. I adjust myself beneath the desk, trying not to make a sound. I can see sunlight in the gap I’ve found, and I adjust myself further till I am able to place my leg inside. My foot dangles; I reach my other leg through. And quickly I am sitting in a field beside a building. There are no people to be seen but the parking lot is full, and the building itself is a tall square of gray stone and black glass. This must be the global conglomerate. It smells stuffy of close-quarters and air-conditioning. The field it sits on tumbles slowly over hills so green and finely detailed the sight itself might seem improbable. The easy breeze is scented with the mysteries of a thousand-mile land, for surely that’s what lies ahead of me. I take my time to walk around, to see the ponds with the lilies and the lilacs on their shores, to hear the orioles and the squirrels jumping across tree boughs. I find a knob of grassy hill to lie my back on, and spend a while watching clouds. The sky here is more perfect than anything I could dream, smooth baby blue with little cotton-puffs of clouds. The grass smells fresh. I let ants walk across my knees. I’ve noticed holes in my shorts, tattered strands from my t-shirt, and I realize I might be in Japan. This might be Patagonia. If I take my time long enough I might just find a meadow of sleeping daisies in Belgium. I am very hungry, a stomach flat against my back type of hungry, but it bothers me none. I might hang a hammock in the woods, or right here beside the pond, and sleep where the mosquitoes can nest in my hair and it doesn’t bother me none. I am going to catch a fish and eat today maybe, I will dine among the flamingos and prairie dogs. I am laughing. How will they score me on their poverty charts?
We came here looking for your mother’s seeing-eye dog. The park is bright and green and not too crowded, and the open spaces seem to swallow sound. There are stores across the street, apartments and the lazy midday city traffic. We thought the dog had perhaps come here. I let you walk ahead to lead the way. I do not feel like being seen. The sun feels distant; its rays are enervated in the resin sky. The shadows beneath the trees seem to glisten. The damn dog had run out of the house. I’d gotten there just before you were back from work and the damn dog bounded out of the house. I went back to my car and drove around and haven’t told you. It’s probably just a matter of time till your father checks his video feed and sees me opening the door. But I am scared of your finding out. There is a slow lava flow bubbling and black, eating away our time. You are asking people if they’ve seen a Dalmatian, and I am still behind you, hiding, trying to call animal control with a phone my thumbs can’t work. You must be bored because you sigh, and you begin to call your friends. You’re at the park, you tell them, Goodale Park, they should come and we’ll go to the bar nearby. I want a rum. You want to get out of the city that bred you. Your mother married a bureaucratic fanatic and wants her seeing-eye dog back. I am wondering why my boots sink into the sod. I must be 12 feet tall if I can’t see the detailed grass from here. Texture seems to have seeped into a gloss that is sticky when I place my hand on the bench. You would like me to sit down beside you. Your cheeks are red and your hair’s pulled back and sweaty round the edges. Your face hangs low from the rest of your head. I wish I could lift you and bring you somewhere only the gulls can see from their beds in the sky. There is a cog turning and churning its way through the park. And the clock on the church tower tolls noon. We should be drunk by now. We are sitting and waiting for your friends. The tolling has not stopped. This bench is very long. It cantilevers over a pond 60 feet down. Impossibly built. The path before us has turned to four-feet thick of dust, and the dust drifts away when the joggers come by, knee-deep in the fluff of our momentary lives. There is a silence humming in my heart. Your hand is sweaty in mine and I cannot understand why I didn’t stay in college and why I still get excited for birthday presents from my parents there are abscesses growing on my eyes. You are staring at me and asking How The Fuck Do We Find It and I don’t want to admit that I can’t get-off in your anus. The tolling has not stopped. You are crying and the doves are crying and the statue of Zeus has broken his leg. I mention your mother’s rottweiler and you look at me while drying your eyes and say no she has a pug.
I kept a calendar at my desk, and I had binders of papers and a collection of pens, and a bobble-head that reminded me of saying Yes. I sat in the air-conditioning all summer, and got to stay home when it snowed. I had responsibilities and people who looked up to me for answers to their issues. I had a computer, two computers technically, and two computer screens, and I spent my days leaning back in a big comfy chair. I had a digital hub. Published articles and interviews and edited videos for the web. People ran around under me. I ran a website. I was the master of the fucking intraweb. For Poly Corp. I don’t understand what they did. But everyday when I walked in the squirrels would chirp hello from their nests tucked into corners of their gray cubicle walls. They’d tell me stories about their kids and their kids and what they did with their kids on the weekends. They played on the lawn. And I’d push past towards my office down the hall. Everyday for three years, the same eight-thousand square feet of office space on the fourth floor of a single wing in a single office building. Fourth floor — they couldn’t even give me a patch of ground. The window in the office offered such a little view, of a corner of the parking-lot and the office building across. That is what I had all day — the same drab gray patchwork of ultra-low-pile carpeting, and I’d piss the same urinal, and I’d walk back to my desk. And outside I’d see the sunlight I couldn’t feel through the window’s tint, and I’d know that that sunlight was the same solar beam that spread its gold across half the planet’s face. I’d pace in my office and I’d pace in the stalls and I’d scowl at the squirrels who passed me by in the halls. When man was the master race! When he had muscles in his legs and hair on his arms, an upright posture that saw the forests in the distance and the coyotes on the hills. What is this we were made for? To cower in our cubbies and strut the same lengths of floor? Moles that hide in burrows, sleepy weekends in suburban corners. Man-caves! Dust-motes in the stagnant sunbeams through the window; hide in our little corners of comfort oblivious to the gilded hills at dawn. Never to see the mountains purple with the distance, to feel the breadth of a continent pass beneath our feet. The city streets are there to be explored; the open passages of time and the highways that lie in the sun — they should be mine! To be conscious of the Redwood forests and the beauty of the Badlands, the cafes in San Francisco and the poetry of the pouring rain. We were meant to witness the way the Earth curves from the Carolines to the Blue Mountains to the red rocks in the desert, not to hide ourselves from this beautiful expansiveness of time. The faces we’ll never see! The millions of moments we all miss. The trees should weep for the people who no longer lay in their shade, and the poets should put down their pens: we have abandoned them. I will not disappear from the years by sitting at my desk. I am driving a rented Cadillac right through this building’s gate, blasting bluegrass and jumping in my seat, collecting my final paycheck. Give me the revolver, give me back my booze. I am taking back my liberty and with it to spread my virility ‘cross the face of this beautiful Earth. I won’t sit kindly in society’s pocket anymore. The Universe, it should know that I exist.