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.
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?
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?
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.
They took us out to green pastures when we were young. Gentle folds of fragrant earth open to us, long warm roads winding to focal points beneath the horizon; wheat fields expansive. Open. Blue skies and the right to die beneath a willow with no one’s name. The dark mysteries of night and the thousand specks that beckoned us to the vast possibilities of life, out here in the frontier land. Textbooks’ covered wagons and dreams imprinted on pupils. Let the pupae bloom their wings. Scythes in our left hands, pens in our right. Honesty: what the mighty fought and died for. Tunes of freedom on the nightly news, red white and blue over the colonies and the untamed West and the Cadillac coupes that flew the ‘50s birds from their nests and the conservative… They pointed at green pastures when we were young. Danced naked unabashed, told us it was in the social fabric. We must not have read the final chapters. We didn’t commit to rote memory the organization of the indexed dates and names and categorical procedures for dictating the proper enunciations of freedom in this valley. We must’ve skipped some pages. There are lights inset behind the fabric of the dome, glow blue day sky; relax and enjoy the childhood spent spa-soaking the suburban expense — the pastures carved in grid-wise greed, stare up at the midnight specks of the dimmed-down lights of the dome. Sweat-shop saunas: success by the width of a hand-held; virtue by the desk jockeys beneath your feet. Climb the tower stairs of gold. Dollars glow neodymium green in shadowed bank vaults on computer screens and this is your pasture — run free. Raised on textbook patriotic histories, speak your tongue free, but know they’ve done no wrong. Your desk in preschool is not your desk in grade school is not your desk in college is not your desk on the fifteenth floor of JP Morgan. Starve now your organs; hear the children dying: In the honest candlelight of shakeboard cabins, breathe more deeply the binding’s glue and forsake the god-damned questioning — What shit still holds this together?
Futility in the pages of decades old poetry, mold in the bindings of our 50-year-old dreams. Do you remember cliff-diving outside of Santa Ana? The strangers we lived with in the woods, new friends from San Francisco. Dancing lost footsteps on the sidewalks’ lyrical chalk, a young folk band busking towards Denver. Making love in our tarp tent to the Magnetic Zeroes; rise to find dawn gilding the hills round Athens, Ohio.
The lyrics to our dreaming lives haven’t changed in 50 years.
Dear Dylan, Dear Kerouac, Dear Ginsberg, Dear Morrison
Because somewhere outside of Asheville we heard the hum, low, monotonous, whir of the processors. We thought we would run forever. One by one friends and lovers in graduation caps and office desks, and the hum of the processors grew louder. So, young and hungry and tired of running, we returned to retrieve our degrees. Fortunes awaited, long careers beneath the microscopes of progress. Happily ever after a fairy tale soundtracked by the clack of the keyboards; the digital hum of the screens.
Bookshelves burn and the inferno splits apart the neon glow we hid in our hearts. Flowers wilt and the passages of love decay. Dreams fall to darkness.
Hold my hand.