I’ve been walking your forest for miles, miles that have turned into months. Deep nights in the strange black of squawking sweat-dreams; the rats that dart through leaves underfoot. I’ve seen the ages of your ancestors carved into trees, behemoths, knotted and twisted, and the gold of sunrises that fade away before the bright green of the leaves can be seen. The shadows of dawn are perpetual. You offer no hand to guide me. Bright lit banners of bars in secret caverns of the wood, and the voices that echo for miles in the half-dark between the trees. An owl stays perched on a limb stripped of leaves, sentinel and sentient, watching. You offer no consolation, nor warmth nor mirth; and your heartbeats are small quakes in the forest floor. Tremble of the branches, tremble of the brush; old foundations of brick pits in the ground, shake mortar from their stones. Shake the sweat from my pores. You gave no hint, no tell-tale signs, that we would end up like this. Hits of meth in the ivy-covered ruins, the mists that creep over these grounds. The frustration of an aching groin kept awake in the night by lonely strangers. Let no safe sleep lie: the clearings are littered with boulders and the deer paths fester with ticks. And I am the man who slinks through your forest wanting nothing but a soft escape. To creep from your nightmares that crawl from the boughs of the trees and the bogs where your face, blistered, reflects a thousand times. But the laughter, oh in the laughter of the hollow trees is the daylight of a memory. Moments of fresh fields wet with dew and the milk of the moon, barefeet and pigtails and dirt on your jeans so that with fingers, with my crooked arms and twitching fingers I scrape through the mud of your wood: notes to your 4th-grade crush, family pictures by the willows you loved and the time you camped on the porch with Maryanne, I can’t leave until I bring them back to you.
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.
In the mornings the big house smelled of ocean air, cool shadows in the hallways, a chill to the couches and chairs not sat in since the night before; his older sister’s book lying open on the alcove’s cushion. The sun soon to chase away the comfort of quiet dawn. Before the house awoke, before parents rose for morning showers, before his aunt’s pancakes and cousins who liked video games, the boy would ride his bike. Down sandy streets and sidewalks shaded by beech trees, the boy on his bike that was his for the week, would pedal to the bakery in the shopping-center nearby. The damp air breezing on his bare arms and legs always felt kinetic, fresh, a harbinger of the heat to come; cool shadows fleeting post-dawn. He’d buy himself a bagel, an orangejuice and newspaper, and pedal back to the families’ rented beach house where he’d sit, at the table in the screened-in porch, to eat and read. Sometimes his mother would join him, with her eggs and tea and magazines. They’d eat quietly: the boy, annoyed by her presence, kept his wishes padded with silence. Then, for a few hours, he’d lie on his towel in the sand beside his parents and sister and cousins, listen to music and sleep. He’d swim in the sea with his father, and watch from a distance the girls who bathed in the wake. The boy had seen pictures of Ibiza and Corsica: in the late-afternoon’s drowsy heat he’d shower and feel himself ache: Daydreams of midnight seasides, conspiring liberties, they’d sneak from her window and creep the beaches with soft kisses and laughter only heard by the moon.
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?
We used to make campfires out of sticks, bonfires out of pallets and the couches we’d find left behind in the clearing in the woods. A long dirt trail seven miles back, far removed from the indolent suburban roads. This is where we roamed under starlight. Midnight, the blackness viscous between the trees. We backed-in pick-up trucks in four-wheel drive and let the stereos play till their batteries died. We sucked down beer, we sucked down laughter, we built up our dreams in the mud of the clearing. We collected hickies on our necks, bruises on our arms and poison ivy on our groins. We jumped from the cliffs, swam clear across the reservoir chasing moon-silver ripples ‘cross the water. I pitched us a tent and only brought a single sleeping-bag, just to leave you with no other choice. We fell asleep by the dying fire-side chatter. Gentle breathing on my chest; your hair roasted in the smoke of cedar wood burning. I would have married you then. Laid a bed of moss in a cool den of willows, and made you my wife. We were seventeen. School taught the thrill of insubordination; rebellion was risk-free. Bliss was found in Yoohoo bottles and Taylor ham sandwiches for mornings hungover. And whenever the adult world seemed to press down, we’d retreat to our clearing in the woods. We’d haul back beer, shouting and singing. When they weren’t looking pulling you down in the backseat, quick to kiss tits and lips. And when the sun went down, we’d let the bonfire burn a week’s worth of our sins. I remember best the lasting form of the fire, the twists and jumps of the flames that appeared more physical and honest than the houses and streets we’d fled from. We didn’t watch the news, and didn’t watch the movies, but off in those dark woods we’d hear the bombs quietly bursting. Thud. Thud. Thud. And the fire would crackle, retrieving our attention and the CD would recover from its skip. Merriment. Booze spilled down your tits and a hard-on you grabbed through my pants.
I wandered through the woods on my own that final night. And what I found in the viscous black was a wind that sucked out my breath.