It was you who took my hand, but we led each other in. Two kids at the end of a roadtrip, tangled and happy, ready for more. More heartbeats, more walks, more explorations of foreign shores, lined with milestones. We had a city full of smiling streets, a friend behind every door. We had a blank page to paint our life on, and we let our dreams bleed out. Angels’ wings and fluttered eyelids under bedsheets, vermilion mornings of sweet September. Bury me in your skin. Do you remember the night we walked into the woods? Bacchus laughed, and kept the moon bright: bum wine in our bellies, children of the vast plateau making haste for the wasting woods. They could taste our sins. Desultory years, caprices, diaries of lust and joy strung-up in the trees; thieves, caught trespassing into the night. Swiftly now. Grind your fist against the wall. Bake us bread with broken glass, we’ll cook the dust into something more. Can you hear them? Children cry unborn in bellies; still-birth stalking streets for coins. Join the huddled masses — sunlight, left far behind. The forest; leave no condolences: foreheads, cracked like egg-shells. The pulp of a heart and the crust of a lava-flow, breaking, revealing, burning through the wasted woodlands and the cities that hid our nightmares. Take my cock in your hand: copulation a public foray beneath the jealous trees of wicked greed, the homogeneity of a nation masquerading as sane. Show me a smile of broken teeth. A laugh that echos in abandoned concrete. Find the nails that keep our ribs together and pull: butcher of dead desires. Past picket fences and red wagons and warm mothers, what child asks for more? What can be seen through the pouring rain? — gray noon in Times Square, empty streets and the ripple of sidewalk puddles: millionaires without a penny. The famous without a name. Fast feet up the fire-escapes. Together in the alleys, together in the Bowery, together in the Strait of Hormuz. Together in the Dardanelles. Two children hand-in-hand, free, in the pages of an angel’s novel never read.
The grass was short on the ball fields. Lazy Sunday afternoon, and the park was mostly empty: alongside the poolhouse on a picnic table, behind a row of tall firs, the girl was telling him about her campus. She made it seem wonderful, the library and the classes and the student activities. She was two years older, and very pretty, named Alyson, plainly. The afternoon was hot and slow, and so too was the summer; sun streaks dappled through the tops of the firs and the boy wasn’t sure why, but his mouth seemed stuck in his throat. He hadn’t spoken — the girl talked so much — but for little observances he knew she’d find agreeable. Squirrels chased around in the fir trees’ pine needles. Cool water babbling in the brook behind them. The silent expanse of the deep blue sky and the quiet stretches of the park. A perfect moment lonely with an older girl. Yet the boy couldn’t shake the feeling of rotors and gear-boxes muffled and humming, a hidden mechanical cover, behind the scenes of their paradise sky. Which might have been his head: he was embarrassed of his desire: Little pervert prick, she’d tell her friends. She was asking him if he’d like to come visit, to her college. So he told her he’d like that very much — transparent enough to blush — and the girl kissed his cheek goodbye. The boy then walked through the park alone, taking his time to the road. The pavement felt careful beneath his feet: the trees seemed to be breathing, something quiet and full of meaning. His body felt full and hard and light. Picturing the kiss on his cheek. The grass seemed phosphorescent, and the cotton-puffs drifted dreamily in the sky. The air glittered, like specks of tin floating in water. The boy was sure he was somehow high. Was this elation? Was this his joy? turned inside-out to the warmth of the earth. The street ahead disappeared round a bend of the hillside and he saw where it went, past groves and the homes of his neighbors — and the road continued on, hot and long forever abiding the lilt of the land, straight onwards towards the mountains and going on even after that, across the vast plains of the northern plateaus, tilting around gentle hills and the curvature of the earth — finally to bury itself in blue snow somewhere north of Canada. The boy knew his dreams just as clearly: the road wrapped the world before him, and in his chest a bright burning for the gentle moments unfolding, excitement to find something similar in a beautiful stranger, to gaze at the peaks of mysterious mosques and the spires of red rock along the straight roads to California. To hold cities in his hand! But he was only going home. And he knew if he called his friends they were damned to play those old familiar motions and conversations; the next morning to ride buses to school. The affections of their mothers. Satisfying isolation in their bedrooms. In a year he’d be off to college. And in five years who would he meet? What beautiful strangers who weren’t caught in the gears of the silent machinery? The muffled lights in their chests. Long lines of blank squares counting through the days of their ending years. Sweaty suits barking orders from behind desks, and the cowering creatures that scurry to fill their orders. The boy was rubbing his cheek. He was very disappointed. Alyson’s major was in corporate management.
Much has been learned in night’s corners, of drowsy bars, streets with echos, women’s love: The loneliness of street-lamp walks home, pre-dawn, dew a million glints of regrets and what-ifs. Hangovers that last till Tuesday. Body aches that cramp in class and the sweet red-head, warm bust, who turns round in her seat no more. Dry laughter, a coughing he hears in his sleep, and the feeling he gets when his cock’s been dismembered, and friends squint to see him more clearly. Failing grades, a long way from home, superficial hellos and the cold concrete that holds up his hands as he pukes. Bank tellers distrust his withdrawals. In short, a mess. A coming of dues: searchlights chasing the footsteps of mistakes, finding mirrors, reflect, and amplify. Lessons learned in a state of fugue, the quiet observer, carefully tracing one-way paths in eager slumber. What a fool he’s been! But the hallways show no exits; a Sim, picked-up and plopped into desk after desk, and the artificial sun that rises, someone else who keeps flipping the light-switch. Long walks through the university library, day-dreaming of a tryst that can keep him awake. There are essays due in the morning, but he hasn’t been able to get himself asleep in a week. His rhythm is agitated. There are dogwoods blooming across campus, pheromones of pollen in the air: the room contracts and expands. Horizons breathe.
White sun dazzles the sidewalks, the clarity of a lucid dream; spunk in his feet and a heat in his heart, he moves, towards the beckoning at the edge of town.
The sleepy neighborhood turns slowly with the dawning sun. Morning yellow, sky refreshed; the cool damp rising while bathrobed husbands collect papers and garbage cans. Older mothers out for a run; sleepy drivers dressed for the day creep their cars by, sometimes wave. Younger siblings prepare immense bowls of sugared cereal. Yawns and crotch scratches while family get themselves out of doors. And pretty soon the house is quiet. I turn on the news. I turn the news on loudly to let myself hear it from the back deck. I smoke pot and then a cigarette and then I sit and think about the news, all very vague to make much sense. The neighborhood is still. Brief shouts of kids down the street, maybe on bikes, maybe playing stick-ball. Warmth and certainty, July heat rising round houses that never change. In one hour we will be rolling naked through bedsheets you’ve had since 7th grade. My testicles will dangle freely over floorboards polished weekly by your mother for ten years now and counting. You will bend over the couch your friends slept on in sleepovers thoughout high school. We’ll run around your house naked and safe and laughing, checking the clock every so often, you’ll have me brush your plush stuffed dolls across your breasts and down your stomach, slowly. At 6pm I’ll find myself trapped into having dinner with your family. Or else I’ll leave, and wait for you to text me while I drive the quiet blocks smoking pot and cigarettes. More likely is option 3: to see myself fading quietly into palpable black, punctuated by yellow-light squares, kitchen windows and front-room windows looking in on silent TVs and chapped hands in old dish water. Familiar scenes that drift away. Dated shots of bicycle rides burning away the acetate, and all that’s left behind: Fat slobs molesting kids in basements, the physically deformed acting out the wishes of arrogant bosses and politicians: dormant lives in cupcakes on green lawns in maple shade. I can’t find a chair to sit on; this sensation of floating away. Flight of foot to mountains vast and cities sprawling, the sunlight wishes to crown your hair. Please — will you hold out your hand? Before our funeral leaves a trail of flower petals — please, will you hold out your hand?
Hours of sleep vibrate away in the sticky heat of yellow street lights. Indian Summer, Fall semester, nocturnal emissions lost in hopes of dust, waking daydreams. Corners of the dormitories safely lit with yellow spotlights. Not a name, not a whisper, not a footstep to be heard in the alleys and the campus yards. His fourth floor dorm room has sweat on the walls, damp sheets, a computer screen. A TV flickers fractures of daytime sitcoms, primetime interviews. Cigarette smoke wafting out his open window. He is just trying to cope. He is in his boxers on the edge of his bed sweating and just trying to cope, night number 6 that he hasn’t slept till 6am, just before the alarm clock, the interminable hours of sunrise and schoolbooks. Long days half-asleep, hearing cheers and happy shouts outside at noon, while inside, cold, he hides under blankets for a sitcom and a desperate snooze. A pulsating awareness, clammy fear of letting go – long hours in formaldehyde textbooks, lingering conversations, inconsequential friendships, young women to whisper his dreams, mockingly. He finds himself on foot in the damp night, unable to shake the fear of fleeting time – three more long years, he’ll sure be fatter and slower and smaller in all the vital ways it counts – how can he persevere, when his head is somewhere else, his heart is everywhere else, the world is everywhere else, but here. He hates his mother, he curses his father in quiet eulogies out-front the dormitory. He pines for the freedoms of high school summers. His knuckles are sore, bits of skin left on brick walls of his dorm room; fitful nights excited for nothing with everything to do, nowhere to go but to sleep. He wants to know a girl who asks for deposits in her asshole. He wants to know the bloodshot eyes of sidewalk dawns. He wants to find himself lost in strange cities of minarets and Tibetan monks. He wants to see crescent moons over shimmering rivers with a girl he adores. He wants to crack his head open like an egg on the porcelain sink of the dormitory bathroom. He wants the world to leave him alone.
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.
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.