Arm in arm go the couple in white, down the aisle, through the crowd. Vows told in lace, speaking secrets in the midday sun: a bouquet soars across its yellow face. Consummation is a popular word for their grandparents. There’s a quiet announcement in the newspaper: congratulations. Congratulations from friends and family, a high school teacher, a neighbor down the road. Flutes of spirits that sing like bee stings and second helpings of steak. A Bloody Mary drops on the floor. Loosening ties, shimmying off shoes, slipping from dresses getting ready to dance. Loud voices in the barroom, singing on the dance floor: the bride and groom sneak out the back with a bag full of checks and cards. Empty cans of tomato paste clatter down the asphalt, memories of the bride and groom told long after they’re gone. Absolved of old schemes, and disease, and dishonesty, the couple in white take the highway red with sunset. A new house, a new family, a new history to be told: bedsheets aren’t bloodied once. The nursery will not birth itself. The modern Magi come with pins, tack the bedsheets to the roof, and voices come like thunderclaps through the rooms. In a dream the new bride can cry alone, and unravel her dress, threadbare through the red of long years.
I’d placed my faith in the wisdom of famous nomads, taken flight from safe restraints. Gone were the dreams of childhood, the joy of birthdays, familial affection. Hunger for the sun-bleached highways and the beauty of unwalked streets; afternoons of careless horizons. The college dormitories, the dust of traditions, tuition and careers and the map of a future planned by a degree — oh how sweet the heat of lost hills when the dogwoods are in bloom. How at peace the heart can be when it wants nothing but the lonely road, and has it. If only for a moment. If only for a moment to wake in that Carolina field and feel the peach sun drying the dew in your hair: the new day pregnant and unknown, beckoning with sunshine on the backroads and strangers, fast talkers, heavy drinkers, kind souls who drive you fifteen miles and maybe stop for lunch. If only for a moment to have your heart swept by peace and the innocence of wanting nothing more. I was unfit for the halls of laws, unfit for the ivy’d desks of poets and philosophers, lost soul looking for a river to gently guide my years. A decade of drinking, a decade of dissolute evenings and yearnings for a sunset to capture my eyes. The long road led me to you. And now that we’ve wasted so much of our youth on a carousel of broken friends and crowded sidewalks, again to find ourselves hungry for hillsides and roadtrips and campsites overlooking eternity — to find our angry hearts hungry and struggling to pay bills, stuck on the economic conveyor belt of bills and jobs and deadlines. We’ve got no degrees, we’ve got no skills, we ain’t the motivation for MBAs and 401ks. We got dreams, honey, and a long muddy hillside even Sisyphus ain’t damned to climb.
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.
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.
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?
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.