I sat waiting for my lunch to be ready. Closing my eyes, the sun warming me, honing in on nearby conversations.
“It was just awful!”
“Do you want to meet later?”
“We have to get back soon.”
“What are you hungry for?”
And then, “Think of a Chinese word you’d like to see written.”
Two young women, students conducting a written language experiment, held a small, dry-erase board and the woman in the steel-grey wool skirt looked sheepishly to the man-in-tow standing next to her, scanning his face for a word, for approval.
“Tomato,” she smiled and shrugged.
“What an uninteresting word,” I thought to myself. Clearly, hunger and condiments dominated her thoughts to choose such an oddly simple thing.
The student began to draw the two characters, then handed the board to steel-grey skirt and asked her to draw it, to copy the lines in her own hand.
“Like this?” She fumbled through and the student asked to take a picture of steel-grey skirt holding up the sign, which she obliged after being assured it wouldn’t end up on the web or Facebook.
Steel-grey skirt and man-in-tow collected their lunches and wandered off back to their meetings and spreadsheets and before the students could walk away, I volunteered, “I have a word I’d like to see.”
“Great! What’s the word?”
“Oh—I’ll have to look that one up, it might be kind of difficult, the Chinese don’t really have an expression for that. Well, depending on the context I guess.”
“I suppose weakness is not a good emotional or political stance,” I mused.
She typed it into her phone where there must’ve been a pinyin and symbology translator of sorts and she mumbled, “Ah, hmm, that’s really pretty.”
She sketched out what looked like two number 5s, curved, bent and spooning, little animals with two quick hatchmarks in the coils and crooks, something warm in their bellies perhaps. The second symbol, like a little house on stick legs, or a bird laying in a field of short reeds or soft, matted grass, or a boat on uneven waves jutting a mast with no sail attached.
She handed me the board and it was my turn to draw.
“Very good!” She encouraged. “You could do calligraphy.”
And I suddenly thought of my high school art class, how I attended my prom for free because I volunteered to hand write every student’s name in my graduating class and their respective date’s name on folded white cardstock for all the seating arrangements at the dinner tables. How I painstakingly wrote every letter with a copper pen tip, sinking the nib into a bottle of crow-black ink, scratching out letters and then with a glue gun, affixing a black bow-tied ribbon and burgundy rose in the corner of every one.
She took my picture holding up the board with “vulnerable” written twice and asked, “Why are you so interested in this word?”
I considered the tomato. Heart-shaped, red, plump, viscous inside, thin-skinned, vulnerable and thought perhaps, it wasn’t such a bad word after all and I said, “I think objects are fine, but I am more curious about concepts, especially emotional ones that are difficult to describe with one word. Like love or home or wonder.” I thought about how big ideas cannot, should not easily be boiled down, compartmentalized, or compressed into a single word or worse, an acronym. Americans are really fond of acronyms and especially mnemonics, trying to make big ideas memorable, and easier to digest, when really, what must be done is some digging, some spelunking, some serious unpacking followed by a gentle examination of all the parts.
I thought of other languages where speakers might have cultural differences and difficulties expressing emotion. For instance, one way of responding to the everyday greeting of “How are you?” in Russian is to say ” I am not unwell.” As if, already expressing in the negative was a way of conveying strength. Things could be worse. I’m not dead yet. My friend told a story where in high school, a Russian exchange student staying at his home was being chastised for taking her host family’s young son out to play in his school clothes on a rainy day. His mother wasn’t at all happy that they had returned so filthy, caked in mud and muck, but the Russian girl sweetly explained to the mother, “he is not unwashable.”
What does it mean to be vulnerable? To be “accessible, assailable, defenseless, exposed, liable, naked, on the line, on the spot, out on a limb, ready, sensitive, sitting duck, sucker, susceptible, tender, thin-skinned, unguarded, unprotected, unsafe, weak, wide open, open to attack.” Why is there no strength in vulnerability when it takes all the courage in the world to allow yourself to let something, some ideas, someone in? To yield with grace to the often terrifying, ever-shifting locus of love, of home, and of wonder.
All three of these ideas have changed greatly for me in the last several years. Losing a beloved pet to cancer, losing a home by being priced out of the neighborhood, losing a job and a marriage; and all of these losses and changes at nearly the same time. It was like witnessing all the love and home and wonder I nurtured suddenly evaporate out from under me. There was a serious unpacking. There was a gentle examination of all my parts. Especially the ones that went missing, where I identified myself.
I thought of many loves lost in my youth, how some of the most tender pieces of me were carried off by wild wolf boys and buried like edible treasure to devour later. How sometimes there were wounds I ignored and over and over I had to revisit the same old traps that closed upon them to extract myself very carefully so as to not lose more pieces still. Sure, I came out licking my wounds, scathed and dirty. But I emerged whole.
Turns out, I am not unwahsable. I am not unwell. I am still hungry and I am getting reacquainted with wonder. I have redefined home. I still don’t fully understand the nature of love, but I am very much an eager student and believer of it in all of its necessary function and beautiful, new forms.
She had horses who were bodies of sand.
She had horses who were maps drawn of blood.
She had horses who were skins of ocean water.
She had horses who were the blue air of sky.
She had horses who were fur and teeth.
She had horses who were clay and would break.
She had horses who were splintered red cliff.
She had some horses.
She had horses with long, pointed breasts.
She had horses with full, brown thighs.
She had horses who laughed too much.
She had horses who threw rocks at glass houses.
She had horses who licked razor blades.
She had some horses.
She had horses who danced in their mothers’ arms.
She had horses who thought they were the sun and their bodies shone and burned like stars.
She had horses who waltzed nightly on the moon.
She had horses who were much too shy, and kept quiet in stalls of their own making.
She had some horses.
She had horses who liked Creek Stomp Dance songs.
She had horses who cried in their beer.
She had horses who spit at male queens who made them afraid of themselves.
She had horses who said they weren’t afraid.
She had horses who lied.
She had horses who told the truth, who were stripped bare of their tongues.
She had some horses.
She had horses who called themselves, “horse.”
She had horses who called themselves, “spirit.” and kept their voices secret and to themselves.
She had horses who had no names.
She had horses who had books of names.
She had some horses.
She had horses who whispered in the dark, who were afraid to speak.
She had horses who screamed out of fear of the silence, who carried knives to protect themselves from ghosts.
She had horses who waited for destruction.
She had horses who waited for resurrection.
She had some horses.
She had horses who got down on their knees for any savior.
She had horses who thought their high price had saved them.
She had horses who tried to save her, who climbed in her bed at night and prayed as they raped her.
She had some horses.
She had some horses she loved.
She had some horses she hated.
So much life happens in between writing—sure, I toss off a few poems here and there, bread crumbs for the flitting birds to circle and chase and peck upon in my head, but after awhile, i think i get a little backed up. Polluted really. My brain hurts – and I get an actual headache from the need of being empty. But not in a bad way. I am full to the brim of events to reflect upon, or more, i have so much to convey, to catalogue where I’ve been, what i’ve seen, and all the emotional responses in between.
As a child, i often imagined what it would’ve been like to be Anne Frank. To live swiftly, to love, to fear and to hope so deeply in a mere 15 years, and somehow, to have the wherewithal to take the time and write it all down. I imagined what it would be like to have your secret thoughts, sketched out and told to a book/creature/confident called “kitty.” Strangely, i romanticized the idea of having my own thoughts read by others after i died, young or old, discovered in a desk nook, thumbed over and devoured. i think it is more the idea that most of us want to create a legacy than a fantasy about dying young and being immortalized.
Humans want to surpass mundanity; we want to be individually great and loved and remembered for something. Anne did it unwittingly and it was more than just a girl talking about family and school and boys and prejudice – she documented and encapsulated a dark time in history making it a crystallized horror for us to look at and in some ways, to give thanks for our lives now. Is this why we blog? To prattle on about daily events in the hopes that we are found? Or that better, we are PROfound . . .
Sometimes, i still see myself as the girl with the diary in my night table, except that not only is the writing not so private, there’s a digital display for anyone in the world to locate and to read it. Though i have them and use them for other things, my tools are not paper or pen, but this monitor and this computer with a program that throws clean white sheets and perfectly scribed text and no crossing out or rubber-end erasing; it’s cut and paste and movement and manipulation and clickety-clack and SAVE AS until it’s fitfully complete.
And what will they discover of me? i thought about this upon cleaning my keyboard, popping off keys to reveal multiple DNA samples, unlikely chimera tailing together: dust, dried ivy leaves, finger nail clippings, sticky bits of evaporated wine, food crumbs, cat hair, all recombining to lay out a pattern that speaks of a woman with small hands and a dislike for fingernails that make tapping noises, a someone who loves cats and plants and food and libation and cool breezes through windows to kick and stir things up a little, rather than the swatch of a dust rag.
But that’s just part of me – there is also the most important influence and the reason i am able to write at all . . . the people in my life who i spend time with, who inspire me, who i create memories with, else i’d be moaning and meowing on in my own private hell, concocting my prosaic neuroses in painstaking, exhaustive (and to be sure, wildly boring) detail. There’s plenty of that to be had about and so really, it’s a meaningful task to tell a good story about a normal life; that’s what allows us transcendence into heroes.
Wikipedia tells us that a superhero is a fictional character who is noted for feats of courage and nobility, who usually possesses abilities beyond those of normal human beings. The exhibit a strong moral code, including a willingness to risk one’s own safety in the service of good without expectation of reward. They have extraordinary powers and abilities, relevant skills, and/or advanced equipment. More often than not, they have a secret identity.
Well – my list of late, they aren’t fictionalized (well, yet, unless you count Chelsea, who wrote a book and flattered me with a request to design the cover.) i’m going to have break confidence on this one and reveal the identities of good friends and loved ones.
In June, the Monday night of my birthday, it rained. Not to be deterred and though some of the people I invited did not show, Nicole was my sweet saving grace and trooped out with me. We went out drinking like rockstars and dancing like divas, hair thick and skin slick with rain which became sweat, pressed against all those swaying bodies in the basement bar. It could’ve been a disappointing night with the no-shows and the weather, but Nicole was a true friend to me.
Tuesday it drizzled a nice haze to accompany the hangover I nursed at work the following day, but on Wednesday, there was no holding back – the sky opened up and hailed a glorious rainstorm down on us replete with lightning and thunder and flash flooding. And then the transformer blew out at the bottom of the street in a spectacular blaze, then dudded like a lame fireworks finale and darkened the block all except Joel’s house on the corner who was clearly jacked in to the electricity from the next corner over.
The houses on my street are quite old, a good deal of them declared “historic” with building markers by the nearby and omnipresent Historic Annapolis Foundation. Ours in particular falls under the category of “Chesapeake Gray” in the 19th/20th-Century Annapolis Vernacular, 1837-1921. Some of these houses still have root cellars and a good downpour can mean serious problems in the basement – the kind that require a sub pump to work and when there’s no power, there had better be a generator. On this night, there was a truck, suited with a generator rumbling at the bottom of the street for hours while other neighbors exhaustively bailed out bucket style. Luckily, this was not my fate that night leaving me to concentrate on being comfortable in my pajamas and lighting enough candles to give off the illusion of civilized living.
In this monsoon and to my darkened door, Nicole delivered me the birthday carrot cake, carefully wrapped in plastic and shielded from the rain under my porch awning when i rescued it and brought it inside. i poured a glass of Moscato dessert wine and sat down with a good portion centered on a bone white plate, decoratively trimmed with fat pears and flowers rising from the edge of the china; a happy brail inscription of bounty and beauty. no power, no internet, just my cell phone with three little bars of battery power left, so i sent merry, thankful texts as i happily and greedily devoured a wedge of orange, cream-cheese frosted goodness.
“Still living in 1785?” inquired Ryan? “oh yes. it’s Jane Austen up in this motherfucker. candlelit room like a Renaissance ballroom. quite pretty, actually,” i replied. although it was probably more Jane Eyre a la Emily Bronte. more poor girl makes good of it in the dark and damp. Soon after the umpteenth message was texted under my quick thumb, my cell phone battery died. not to be deterred, i went out front to my parked car into the long, narrow street, wading through ankle-high water rushing past me like a line of cool, silver fish swimming to meet the bay at the foot of the hill. All the ever meanwhile, i was in my grey pajama nightie with the intentions of using the auxiliary power in the car to charge my phone and continue my only connection to the outside world beyond this wicked rainstorm.
As i sat with my feet propped up on my dash, i noticed a bright orange and black umbrella lulling a promenade from side to side in the wind and coming toward my house. it ducked into my neighbor’s fence, then dipped to reveal my neighbor Joel’s familiar face. “Joel!” i called. And then had to call again as he swung around trying to figure out where the voice was coming from to discover it was from a car window, rolled down just enough to let the sound out while keeping the rain out too. He laughed at me and my non-outfit and invited me, or more, tempted me with pomegranate cosmopolitans and a warm robe. i mean, how could i refuse a bartender with a Harvard degree in said skill. Well, ok – a “Master of Mixology” degree from the Harvard Bartending School.
The robe he produced was like the coat of many colors. A terrycloth robe in magentas, teal and goldenrod. It boasted a smaller, matching version for his son. So, for the second time that week, i sat, drinking with a head full of wet hair, but this time, i danced with his dog, Schooner, who allowed me to pull him by his front paws and onto his back legs for a little spin through the kitchen. A finer partner than some men i’ve cut a rug with, i can tell you, and sweeter.
Since we got onto the topic of dressing strangely or inappropriately, for my amusement, Joel pulled out the ghosts of Halloweens past. Costumes made mostly of foam: gigantic heads with glasses, a monstrous slice of pizza you could slide your arms into and peek out through holes from, a blood spattered t-shirt to be worn while carrying plastic knives glued through boxes of Cheerios and Cinnamon Toast Crunch (a “cereal” killer) and finally, the piece de resistance: a naked, disembodied boob wearing a spiked collar and a stiff leash, the kind meant for walking invisible dogs or for, in this case, for two people to walk side by side and when begged the question, “what the hell are you supposed to be?” They could slyly answer, “Oh, we’re just two people walking abreast.”
Joel showed me pictures from a recent bike trip to Lake Tahoe where he races for Lymphoma & Leukemia. He also showed me photos from a recent wedding of his friend Brit. Joel is a wonderful father to his son, Galen, a terrific host, a great cook and a good ear to bend. And he makes a mean drink too . . . i walked home after several ruddy cosmopolitans in my coat of many colors and staved off the raindrops as i went.
And speaking of some mean drinking . . .
August 21st, i went to see one of my favorite female singers Esthero live at the Ram’s Head Onstage in Annapolis. This venue is small and extremely intimate and we, in fact had front row seats. (me and the 3-Ms (Megan, Meg and Melissa). The four of us were parked right up against the stage at her feet. These were feet at which lay the many shots of Jaegermeister she was able to coax from the crowd. The show progressed at a loose and silly pace of storytelling, her father taking pictures as he strolled through the crowd and around the stage, her and her brother drinking as the set grew more improv and a touch vulgar and hilarious.
But she became a Superhero to me when she pulled me up on stage to sing Superheroes with her – a song i had here on my profile for quite some time, and that’s a memory i’ll always cherish whenever i hear it. it’s not every day that a beautiful woman /rockstar you admire points to you in the crowd, compliments you on the way you sing and the way you smell, lays their head on your shoulder and then cops a feel!
i only wish that Shane and i were still friends – he gave me that first CD, Breath From Another, thinking i would like it . . . i did. besides good music and film, he also offered company and advice at a time when my life was undone. i’ll be grateful for that time even if i don’t understand what happened to make us distant. i hope he reads this and he knows that although he can be an extremely occupied but selfless recluse and though i can be a little flighty with a full plate of my own, i’m so happy he found someone to love with as much passion as he owns in this life and offers to the people around him.
Adria, a friend from work quipped recently, “you know, i’m never the bride, i’m not even the bridesmaid, i’m the bride’s waitress.” and i laughed, because i’ve listened to women “ooh” and ahh” and aww” over baby booties and matching dishware for many many years having been the waitress who brings the food, the mimosas and the garbage bag to put all the colorful wrapping paper into as well as the paper plates to affix all the bows to for the “bouquet.”
She’d been asking me about dealbreakers and happiness and love and i’ll have to attest, you’re doing the right thing girl. when you bicker over the proper way to make toast in the morning, when the important conversations become null and void topics for discussion, when there’s love but there’s no real time spent together showing it, if it’s only inertia keeping you there then it’s time to escape the atmosphere. Her life will only open up and welcome the love she needs from here.
Proof positive—you can love people, you can enjoy them for who they are and rail at them for who they aren’t, but that still doesn’t make them a good fit in your emotional world. Weather, seasonal disposition and growth (or death) accounts for the fostering or the floundering of any relationship. Some fall away, some change their shape and meaning, some we cling onto for good.
Which brings me to my beautiful Joseph. There i was, ready for the big move. “Fuck it all, boys and girls. He must not live here so i don’t want to either.” i was going to Los Angeles to be near to my sister, Racheal and her great relationship with Flounder (his legal name for which a story is due), and i would foil off of them and locate love in the big bad scary plastic city (with pockets of reality, so i understand). i even had a sweet benefactor/friend who sent me wine and wonderful books, encouraged my move and bought a photo from me. Drew, you’re a beautiful, thoughtful person and a fine example of the goodness in the world that allows us all to pool from the collective unconscious and come by like-minded people to grok this life with.
And weeks before i was ready to make arrangements for the moving truck, the drive, the car, the clothing, the cat, fate stepped in and said,”oh no, not that!” Somehow by some strange twist of dreams, roommates, my friend from the south, Graham, and Joe’s sister from across the pond, Laura – we came to find each other. It was a volley of long, tasty emails, a dinner date and a long walk that turned into two days before i allowed him to go home.
So many false starts and flat hopes and meaningless gestures from other men and then he sweetly asked, “i know you’re planning on moving and i’m not trying to force my will, but would you consider staying here to see where this goes?” His kind request slowed me and led to deeper discussions and further, fancier endearments. His question also prevented me from making a gross error in thinking that there was no one here for me and possibly, though i adore my sister and the west coast landscape, i have a feeling that a part of me might’ve died out there, that i might not have survived in some ways, financially, emotionally and otherwise. That the crushing loneliness of one cat, a small room, a couch for a bed and a horrific daily commute might only have furthered my suspicions of futility when it comes to finding your soulmate. Out there, somewhere, in one of those tin cans driving alongside you or passing you by on the way to the grocery store and you don’t notice him because you’re digging in your door pocket to retrieve a lost CD for that song you just HAVE to hear that reminds you of the love you want except, you know, he didn’t see you either because he’s got his hand flailing under his seat trying to retrieve the fucking Bluetooth so he doesn’t crash his car or worse, get a ticket for using his cell phone without a handsfree unit.
That’s what i mean—in all the mess, all the chaos, in the busy storm we swirl up to occupy our lives, it’s a miracle we find people remotely like ourselves. People who will take the time to get to know each other, to have the serious and soulful conversations that lead to sunrise and breakfast and the rest of your burning lives. To pay attention to someone closely enough beyond movies and music and favorite colors and pet peeves until it leads to understanding. By measurable degrees, you should come by knowing whether that person is a good match, sense the difference between affection and affliction and employ the necessary balance between appearing over-eager, cooling your chances by self-censorship and being justly picky and mindfully critical. i never settled for friends with benefits, i don’t answer to booty calls and the oil-change for the libido that sport-fucking accomplishes is a pale and temporary fix. it is a troublesome, fantasy-laden emotional vacuum compared to the safety and comfort that a real relationship with lovers able to communicate their desires can offer. Eventually, you relax and just marvel and open yourself and are thankful for it all. And i did. Completely. My reward is being unafraid and constantly amazed by the synchronous workings of this gorgeous love affair.
And wow, does it ever give you perspective . . .
A few weeks ago, we lay down for sleep and he was more than half way there when the phone rang at some inhospitable hour. It was a drunk dial from a boy-long-ago. i let it go to voicemail then checked what could possibly be the matter. I snickered as it played back and thrust the phone at Joe so he could hear the silliness for himself. He muttered, “poor guy, sounds like a Muppet with a mouthful of socks.” Indeed. Occasionally soft, brightly colored, delightful in half-hour episodes, but tragically childish and impossible to understand. i lay back down, he pulled the pillow over his shoulder for my head, smoothing my hair as i settled in and curled an arm and a leg over him, a koala bear clinging to a eucalyptus tree.
Megan and i sat down over a big buttery pretzel and some lemonade last night and i described to her, how different i feel. This, i explored out loud, though she already knows the full story because she’s been there since the bad days crashed down and watched with me as the good ones rose and smiled upon me (thank you woman, you’re in my heart). i expressed how my body is changing and strengthening through the yoga she re-introduced me to, how it is also changing and strengthening (and in some ways, softening) at the influence of joy and love, but more so this yielding is taking place in my mind and in the way i see my life unfolding.
“I consider myself so lucky,” I said.
“It’s not about luck,” she said, “it’s about making good choices.” Thoughtful and practical advice in the face of magical thinking. You are where and what you pull yourself towards.
She’s right. And i choose Joe but not only because he rescued me, but because he chose me. And i choose to be a superhero. To be courageous and noble, to devote my life in the service of good without expectation of reward, to develop extraordinary powers and abilities and to choose love. With abandon.
something moved, sparkled
and i began untying knots
nimble fingers rifling through
the jewelry box, digging
deftly sorting rings, hoops
and chains and things with teeth,
gathered them up and plucked
them out, separate as harp strings.
the stories came tumbling then,
and ghosts breathed out, back
into incarnate skin, turned to
dance but stumbled and i went
yellow then green and mango red
to the tango hidden in the licks of violin.
that quick taste masqueraded as a kiss
and burned my mouth like cinnamon.
gypsies know each other by flavor;
we send blackbirds and grackles,
recognize the dark eyes, otherness
and cats with raised hackles, wearing
question marks on their tails as
they approach and sailor, i’d answer you
if i knew who you aren’t, if i could
coax you in by your wind-torn sails.
so make way love, if that isn’t
your name; i still have room enough
to draw the moon-shaped blade
from the stocking top, from the boot
strap, from the winter warm place
i’ve saved for the never-met familiar
whose passion precision hands are
safe enough to draw the down pillow
away from the small of my back and
cup me cozy as an egg with a spoon
as i am so very ready to crack.
i will welcome you in knee-high socks
with garden dirt under my nails, guitar-
scaled, blistered fingertips, blustery-
weathered eyes, laughter on my lips,
arms/legs moved apart, ribs split, ready
for reaching heart. and our language
will whistle-chirp, a bird-like canter
begging to borrow breathing fleshtones
and breaking wanton bones against
that long-dead banter.
i will put my pretty things away, untangled,
become them instead, take tea and call crow,
unblacken the day with blackberried jam bread.
digging deftly sorting rings, hoops and chains
and things with teeth. i will gather you up and
let us be plucked, separate as harp strings
thrumming one warble, liquidly sung.
let me move against you like water . . .
and moisten your avian tongue.
kisses and sweet affection to all on this rainy Valentine’s Day
know that you are loved in some way
by someone, somewhere and count
yourself rich if you know love in many
ways and know it by many people
and now – a poem about love whether it exists
or whether you are still seeking it out there
amongst the parading faces of strangers . . .
Letter to The Neverseen
He says he translates me like medieval
pomegranate print nightgowns . . .
and I turn to him and mumble
hmmmm — let me taste that for a while,
let me run in that fantastic white frock
in dark and distant fields once dreamt
when i know only you are watching.
let me laugh under crystalline moonlight
let it cast the shape of my body
like a silver sword,
and let me wear the dew like earring cusps
and kelly green smoke perfume.
ok — you don’t have to touch . . .
you are the ineffable —
(but promise me you’ll watch)
as there is something i wish for you to see,
you may be
a seahorse, a starfish —
if it suits you,
if you wish.
And promise you’ll pay attention
when i turn from a saucer
to a dish,
and if i became a cup
would you rather me be a bowl?
would you find yourself drinking more?
i miss you in many ways,
i need you still more in others,
i learn you further, deeper every time
sometimes – i liken it to being . . .
over plankboard streets and cabinets,
sunlit holes in the concrete
trying to be windows,
vines and flowers spurting from crevasses
where water runs down into rusty red-orange lines
to meet the dirt
that is the road.
Hoops and barrels of silver day-water
and the dust tarnishes everything
even the day itself
Baskets and tarps,
passage and carry,
cloth covered fruit in flesh-hued skin
and me in the window ledge with
the only foreign tongue
in a land, a time, sometimes foreign to me.
And you —
you walk down the dirtroadstreetconcrete
window light field
and speak my language
soft from the path below like a surprise
like a magic-hat rabbit boy-child
in dark good fur to curl upon for sleep.
And in the sun bath,
and under your leather shoes,
the stones talk about your approach
and i steel myself,
and the words are like lovemaking
and your voice resonates firm
in my sex and circling outward into
the shafts of my hair and fingernails.
And i find in the lightest, strangest
parts of my psyche,
of this world,
that i understand words,
that i am able to sew them finely together
and make beautiful shawls
I go here whenever I hear from you:
I compose the sugar and the sass
The Litany and profanity.
2 eternal voices
meant to find solace
and unity in creation —
2 pear halves passed
from deity to deity
on blue gilded plates.
am i your pussycat?
i know what’s new
it’s the oldest hat in the book
we can’t get fast enough to go backwards
to take a second look
~ Animals on Wheels – Sam Phillips
On Monday, June 21st, Zoey and i went to see Sam Phillips in concert with Eszter Balint at The Ram’s Head in Annapolis. It was a warm night and we donned our best red and black clothing. i even dragged out the leather pants and the wavy hair for the evening.
Eszter Balint was an interesting creature – she had this smallish frame and short dark hair. Somewhat atonal, offkey and definitely offbeat. Apparently, she has a fledgling movie career now turned music career. She was in a few of Jim Jarmusch Films (Trees Lounge, Stranger Than Paradise). Originally from Hungary, she plays violin and sings bittersweet, semi-caustic lyrics. Nothing wildly abrasive, only that she makes you think of broken glass and Comet cleanser and that flophouse excuse of an apartment you stayed too long at, going rent poor in New York. She reminds you of that time you layed next to an abusive lover who could really shine on that rare occasion – the one you had to try desperately, daily to talk yourself out of. To leave would mean to slough off a few layers of skin, like escaping from a bear trap, that or you layed awake at night watching their chest rise and fall and their eyes flutter as you considered killing them while they slept. Eventually you get smart and write a bunch of songs and tell morbid jokes about it.
Then there is the sweet sting of unrequited love in Sam Phillips music. She is a self-described torch singer. “Torch” both for tortured and for carrying a torch for that person you love who does not love you back. She could be swaying in front of a big band, a delicate-voiced thrush, in a small 40’s club with round tables and plenty of bourbon. Her music is wholly transporting, minimalistic with inventive percussion, small upright piano and brilliant violin punctuated by swirling Beatle-esque melodies and sharp lyrics honed with such an economy of language that they sing like paging through old photos and love letters from that time you spent in Paris with a beautiful stranger. She stood like a porcelain figure all in black, her hips curved slightly back in straight pants, the hind quarters of a silky fox, bellted by a thin shimmer of ribbon, her blouse drooped forward, a bowl to catch the song and spill it out to the upturned mouths of the audience, a small black jacket revealing the small of her back, strong for the carry.
She told cleverly crafted stories, read letters, used a handheld tape recorder as a musical backdrop for one song and looked piercingly around at the audience through a small curtain of blunt-cut blonde hair. She was wonderfully described once as “part savant, part naif, and part waif – seductive by thirds” and her music like a “subtle insistence.” Her “voice is very cool and often icy but it’s also expressive and interesting.” Her “music is mostly austere and thoughtful but it’s also enjoyable and sometimes quite catchy.” Sam Phillips is full of cagey, romantic observations even in her speech . . .
After singing “Draw Man” which she described as a “strip tease in reverse” she looked out at us, addressing the women in the audience growling, “do you know what i mean?” Some murmurred, some laughed, some howled and catcalled.
Her pedigree is also impressive, having left the world of Christian music (under the given name Leslie Phillips) she teamed up with husband/producer T Bone Burnett (producer of O Brother Where Art Thou) for a total transformation and has recorded with Elvis Costello and Gillian Welch.
Zoey and i exchanged glances and tear-soaked faces at points in the evening. Somehow a firefly got into the venue and hovered above her, blinking pale green, a magical sort of completely right moment. We came away from a performance that Zoey described as “hot.” And it was . . . truly. As hauntingly deep as dreams and desire, we left the world for awhile and came back with the simple advice that we “shouldn’t work so hard at love – just have fun.”
If you look at me. If you see me only from here, from the outside, from your distance, from the color of my hair, from the pale of my skin. If you think me tough, tender, untouchable, unruly – you assign me unnecessary stature. Red does fade, porcelain does occasionally erupt with acne, and when the world gets tiresome, grace unwittingly gets solid drunk on wine until she loses footing, says nasty things to inanimate objects, and embarrasses herself. all fine young animals have plenty of trappings: Foxes’ pelt are tangled in the morning under the brush and briar of unmanageable dreams and wounds take much licking and hiding so they heal. Small red things are both prized and persecuted for their cunning. i move fast when it’s time, and my company is then, for travel. And i think above all, you should travel.
If you look at me. If you think i’ve got it all together. If you think that every goal you’ve never set and everything you’ve ever failed at is something i have achieved effortlessly, then you should know that goals are elusive and therefore, illusions. So many of my own remain unfulfilled and still a dim reflection of those heady, idealistic years between 16 and 18. i am also disappointed in what i haven’t accomplished by now. i am young and i am old. But i am also, ceasing to put so much pressure on myself. Time is the only enemy eating up my life, but meanwhile, i’m eating and happy and full of people. Now be a good bunny, and don’t dangle your own carrots. And certainly, don’t allow other people to tie your carrots to sticks for you.
If you look at me, if you think i am flayed wide open or maybe – you think i carry my cards too close. Ask yourself, who would you have me be to you? i vacillate between isolation and total immersion. i’m your flitting butterfly; i’m your cocooning moth. Sometimes, i can only manage to shower, pull a row of tiger teeth through wet hair, plus a swatch of deodorant and ruddy lipstick.. Sometimes what i cannot push myself to do, or love or need for, i do for others. i am capable of talking a good friend into a new career, a big move, a new love, a lust for life, and then i realize that i stuff my life so full of intimate strangers that i feel like too little jelly scraped over far too much toast. Make sure you are the darkest, sweetest jam, but make sure there is enough to go around. A human takes some time to gel – wait a bit before you pop the top on yourself. For anyone. And if you prefer to be butter, don’t rush that either. Love without warming, sex without foreplay, openness without caution and coaxing is like spreading cold butter over that toast. This poor practice and impatience earns you nothing but crumbs, tears at the skin and leaves a hell of a mess.
If you look at me. If you watch me go between hoarding my emotions to spilling over the edges with expression, know that I mean nothing cruel by my twin natures. i see something and i have either complete disdain and fearful awe, or i simply shrug my shoulders and say . . . “i can do that,” and learn by myself, or locate someone who will teach me. i can recoil, i can throw myself into it. Spend some time doing both. Recoil, then spring. A snake has no need for a spine and can move over and through just about any place. With your mouth open that wide, you are also capable of swallowing anything, but remember you’ll be resting with that knot in your belly for awhile. i may be small, i may be thin, and sometimes i may be hiding, but make no mistake – i have teeth. Of course – i may only strike when threatened or i may simply choose to change colors so you no longer see me in broad daylight.
If you look at me. If you think I have everything I’ve ever wanted, if you think i have more than you or have seen more than most know that it is only because i have learned to project the image I carry inside. I truly believe that I lead a charmed life, blessed, if you like. There is only one thing i know i now possess, the only thing i can call mine, the thing that gets me by most exchanges in this life, a possession that is practiced more than i imagined – my ability to talk to people. any person. any way. in their language. and by this i mean, i communicate through writing, or conversation, or story. real or virtual. This allows me to collect more about human behavior and learn more about myself. When i see or perceive someone to be interesting, i impart my divine right to have them fall in love with me. Because – I love them and it is divine to love for so many reasons. And i do NOT mean love in the way you may think rockstarpromqueenbeautymagazine sexyillusionhusbandwife2.5kidsmortgage. i mean – it’s divine to share yourself with someone you admire, someone who strikes at some waxy part of you and moves something in you; and not to hold them away from you as untouchable, inaccessible or worse, to not punish them for being beautiful to you and to most. There is no one too good for our words, to downcast for our gaze, too brusque for our affection; there is no one who cannot allow themselves to be a muse. It is possible to love so very many and to experience that exchange of energy. a fixing of a broken ego/eros/ethos.
Save all of your love letters. Look at where you have loved, what you have become or what parts of you have come undone over love. Save everything you write. If you don’t write . . . start.
And here is my philosophy on true love, on ONE love, on soul mates. i do not believe there is just ONE person for another. Instead, there are more like seven. this is all due to placement, emotional readiness and timing. sometimes you are with #5 when #7 finally shows up and there was no need for #6. Occasionally you are with #6 and in the thick of it and you completely ignore or deny yourself #7 because you don’t want to risk it or hurt people. often you spend time with #4 then end up reverting to #1 who you really should’ve skipped, because, what a fucking waste of time. in the bad times, you are with #7 and don’t know it and then #3 shows up like a big curiosity/distraction and a last minute crash-course in emotional training because you accidentally skipped over a deeply interesting person who strips you down and remakes you into something better, or profoundly different somehow and then you have to spend a good deal of time trying to win back #7 with your newly acquired skills. Sometimes you are really lucky and #7 shows up in the 4th grade and you stay good friends for years, date a bit in between but inevitably, end up together. Sometimes you work really hard, #1 thru to #7 and then you lose #7 in cruel fate or death and cannot love again but remain full in knowing that you did. People write books about this. 7 is a lucky number. Are you him/her?
i do not say “look at me” to make you see me. i want you to see yourself. Perhaps, in me. i will flatter you rightly, i will adore you, so that you will believe it for yourself and see fit only to respond with the same divine love. i don’t mean god either. i mean to skip the presentation, gloss over the food and go straight to the ingredients and the appliances that make it possible. My tools for earning love are honest and hopeful: tell a person they are true, and beautiful, and worthy, and strong, and full of countless gifts. and they will show you what graces they indeed have. and they will think the same of you. They will return in kind and everyone feels wonderful and right with the world. You should love this way instead of miring yourself in goals, competition, fear, desperation, or in a timely settlement for something that only contents but does not inspire.
Edith Wharton said: “There are two ways of spreading light, to be the candle or the mirror that reflects it.” We all take turns between flame and silver dish. i have been both. and I only knew afterwards . . . which one i was.
my suggestion to you — if you are looking at me
if you are looking at her
if you are looking at him
if you are looking at them
and don’t see anyone from there . . .
find a new light source,
look in the mirror.
woke up from a tangle of dreams
dressing in black for a party
the sounds of a baby crying
and now … the sun full & bright
the snowdrops blooming in the garden
here to stay, and not melting.
i wandered out in my robe,
hair still tangled from sleep
and what should land on me
but a question mark
a butterfly asking me
what i am asking myself . . .
it’s such a lovely day …
and you should, love.
what a lucky girl i am
to know these things:
the warm sun in my face
a melodic song in my mouth
a daunting, haunting love
and always that series
of life’s unending, unrelenting
puzzling, perfect, positive
this girl figure skates in her bathtub
this girl is a repressed writer
this girl knows that a pair of shoes
can change your mind and change the world
or at least determine how far you travel.
this girl is friends with black and blue
but doesn’t need a place to sit down
or stand still, to count her bruises
and she doesn’t want her name tag
to read “wife.”
this girl will gently comb your body
examine your every shape for interpretations
in the small of your back
the length of your arms
the back of your calves
and you will think to look for her
in dark places and she will laugh at you
standing in a shock of sunlight
eying you from under her umbrella.
and you will love her every contradiction
wish yourself underneath her coat
wonder what it’s like to be the pocket lint
riding soft alongside her hip
you will pack your razorblade suitcase
and this girl will fill the bathtub in the hotel
the room will go cold, your lips will pale
your eyes and hair go white rabbit snowshoes
and the voice of this girl will come
glass shatter blood trickle thirst
you will find yourself skating figure 8s
deep circles of infinite love
stretched taut for
a monstrous and lithe energy
just barely contained
in this luminous soft-candy shell.
right handed and dual-brained
hard on the heart
and easy on the eyes.
but a lover of sleep
which soothes both.
moving towards daydreams
that are intensely private
but talk too much in my writing
and laugh too loudly
and give me away.
singing my own song
painting my own image
writing my own story
photographing my own vision
and the whole of the work
fills my entire body with its art
and resonates with purpose in my mind.
and that is my protection.
still – i am
capable of profound love
and understanding and gentility
and that is my gift.
the ace at seeing good
or at least morbid humor
in the worst possible things.
not afraid of much
except losing someone slowly.
unwilling to accept “no”
frustrated by time
and this means
I can do anything
once i learn how to carve the hours out
and forgive myself and others
for the occasional loss of ambition.
by ups and downs
and always looking
for a new way to love
everyone i know
those i don’t,
because, through love