Cheap flirtation is liberation
I was never in serious consideration,
Miscalculation turns humiliation,
physical ruin and decimation
Our consummation bred degradation
You faked your own ejaculation
The realization of an oscillation
of blackout memory permutation
and an addiction to hot skin sensation
I confronted desire with subjugation
My bruised thigh proof of usurpation
My mother warned me of this damnation
From infatuation to evaporation
I worshipped a fickle exaltation
Before I met you, I listened to the saddest songs and wrote the most wretched poetry about losses I couldn't comprehend.
Now you've come and gone, I know what they mean, but I sit in traffic in silence and haven't written a poem in months.
death in the afternoon
He came at two in the afternoon, the sun still high in the sky and the children running through the park. I could hear two boys fight over the slide as I lay, backtwisted, neck purpling, on the studio floor, the blood from the back of my scalp mingling with the canvas underneath me, dangerously nearing the fresh dollops of blues I'd set on a palette not five minutes before. I don't think I'm going to die. I think of how awful it will be when my blood reaches the little blue paint villages it so seeks to destroy. Blood is too thin and uneven, the sickly cousin of ink, and my paint sits, plump, whipped to perfection, an unsuspecting victim, the Mary Magdalene of this biblical parable. I think of an attempt by my college professor to explain rape's symbolism in ethnic cleansing in East-Central Europe.
"If they hated them so much, why would they rape the women? Doesn't it defeat their blood purity argument, producing mixed children?"
No, no, no. It's not blood purity, necessarily. It is the abolishing, the erasure, of one ethnicity. And how better do you destroy a people then planting your own seed, your own living reminder of your superiority, in their women. Remember, the rape epidemic we discuss happen during the seizing of cities, which means that the soldiers who rape will be stationed there, and their people will slowly be moved in. That means this mixed offspring will most likely be paired with offspring of the invaders, and their quarter-blood offspring will be paired with, guesses? Other offspring of the invaders. The DNA of the originals will be slowly dimished over generations, until nothing is left but the blood of the invaders.
I had never understood that lecture. The professor failed me with a sympathetic smile. "I know you're a good student. I could see how much effort you put in. Sometimes theory isn't for everyone." I wish I could call her. I understand now! I get it! It all makes sense! I would tell her about the paint and the blood and the pallet. I could picture her office, swiveling her chair with the most serious expression as she tried to imagine exactly which shades of blue stood to be decimated, what pattern my blood was trickling towards, them, and how the wood between was affected and whether or not I'd considered the implications of violence upon natural resources in this little thought experiment.
That's when I saw his boots. They cut from the door to me at a brisk pace in a no-nonsense diagonal. The blood ran undisturbed underneath him, and did not dare to stain the underside of his shoes.
Gavels, I said. I could feel my throat choke on the blood but my voice came across as clear and high as it had been when I was five years old. Your shoes remind me of gavels.
"That'd be the sound, Karly." His voice is gentle. He lowers himself slowly, until his face is in my line of sight. I want to tell him about the blood villages. I want to tell him about Ukraine, but I knew from the sound of his shoes, he'd been there before.
I'm sorry. When I was six, the van Huisens dropped by to see my mother on a Wednesday afternoon. My grandmother was their social friend, and told them my mother was always free on Wednesdays. They were old and wrinkly, and the leather couch my father had just bought kept creaking underneath them, but I couldn't detect a motion from them. It scared me, this blossoming idea that during old age bones just rattle and skin just sags and you creak, and your creakiness can be passed on through physical contact. My mother, in her armchair, was wringing her hands. She had been smoking out the kitchen window when they rang the bell, hastily throwing the cigarette in the sink and rubbing her rouge lipstick onto a kitchen towel. I didn't hug the van Huisens, but they weren't offended. "Her precociousness is delightful," they told her. "So much like Michael." They left with warm smiles, but my mother still locked herself in our empty pantry when their car had pulled away. Caught unprepared, she'd had no cookies, no tea, no coffee or milk, and no excuses.
I could tell he could see the memory. I'm sorry I don't have cookies for you. I wanted to wring my hands like my mother. I felt the same dismay, the frantic panic, the feeling of insufficiency, inadequacy, that came with an empty pantry.
"It's okay, Karly."
Michael was my uncle. Do you remember him?
Is it true?
He pauses. Leans forward. Blows through a pool of my blood. It ripples forward, leaving behind a strange pattern of stains, looking like a sketch of bare trees.
This makes sense. Michael died in the winter, and he lived in small house with a backyard that led into a forest.
Did it hurt?
He looks at me like, does it hurt you?
Did it fix him?
He looks away. Slowly shakes his head.
When you meet my mother, will you tell her it did?
Will you tell her it didn't hurt for me either? Tell her I miss her. That I thought of the dress she had that one summer we were at the shore, the yellow one my dad hated, and how I played hide and seek in its skirt, and how vicious the wind was. I had burst into tears, terrified the wind was trying to steal her away, and I held her so tight the dress ripped. My father was furious, because it had been expensive, but she had laughed and I'd never heard her laugh like that. She loved the idea of flying away. That she was so pretty the wind had to keep her. A canary wanting to be free. I knew he'd know to leave out the part with my dad getting angry.
Can you tell her I paint with red because it reminds me of her? Can you show her–the painting–no, not that one in the corner. The one I didn't get to yet. I meant to, I just...I thought I had time.
A light wind carries the voices of children playing.
I thought I had time.
"Anything else, Karly?"
I try to swallow.
Tell her it was an accident. Tell her I didn't want to go.
He is expectant. The first drops of blood had spoiled the nearest paint village. The weight sinks the paint, the color turning into a purple bruise.
I don't want to go.
"I'm sorry, Karly."
I need to protect my paints. I need to finish my painting. I haven't called my mother in weeks. I was too busy – I am too busy. I am too busy to die.
"Karly." He glances up through the window. "I can't hold the door open forever. They get angry."
I shake my head.
I swallow. The copper taste is back in my mouth. My body starts to feel cold. I can smell the blood and paint in the room. My head goes dizzy. I feel like I crashed through the attic of a cabin, bounced off a counter and landed on the garage floor. The corners of the room start to go dark. He gets up, shoes clacking on the floor.
Professor Cohen! University of New Haven. I think she's still there.
He pauses at the door, expectant.
Just tell her I get it now.
He doesn't respond. I cough, a hacking mess, blood spouting out of my mouth. There is a searing pain at the back of my head. Then, with deliberance, he opens the door.
My mother can't read GPS instructions. She struggles to pronounce street names and she's never mastered the distinction between right and left.
"You do it," she'd say, frazzled, pushing her phone in my face as my dad, city-raised and rage-bred, is at it again - the fucking passing traffic, the fucking streetlights, the fucking streets, the damn Pittsburgh roads, damn fucking potholes,this shit city with no pride–oh, all the jackasses came out today– double hit on the horn– where are the goddamn directions? Maureen? Maureen!
"You do it." She waits for no response, unloads this small burden, and then closes her eyes with exaggerated weariness so the audience in her head can see what an exacting toll this family – what a fucking moron, cutting me off, I'll cut him off, hick in a fucking chevy truck, this crappy town of heroin addicts-where am I going, huh? Where am I going? Someone give me the goddamn directions or I'm going to lose it. My mother is still like a corpse. She irritates my dad when animated, with her incessant and ill-timed babbling and ponderous questions, like when she asked if football uniforms included socks in the middle of the Giants game at Dad's favorite pub, but nothing she says bothers him as much as her silence.
"Turn up here, Dad." Some genetics are predisposed to the growth of tumors, but mine are to an irregular vocal tremor. It wakes now, like an insomniac snapping to action at four in the morning. Nothing in our family is ever subtle.
Turn? Turn?! Where? What do you mean turn? Are you a fucking moron? Where do I turn?
It's too late. He's sped past the turn. My mother inhales sharply, her eyes closed so effortlessly an alien unfamiliar with human anatomy would not assume they open. I don't want to hold the phone anymore. My hands rattle like bones in a coffin and I hold out this shaky grenade for someone – for anyone – to grab. But my mother stays quiet, stays still.
My mother lived through a tsunami when she was a girl in Indonesia. Perhaps that's how she knows, even with her eyes closed, when one will strike again. The ominous retreat of the shore, and the foreboding swell that followed, decimating villages and forests and life, etched itself in her soul.
He doesn't slow the car down, but the waves come in alternating swings. One knocks the phone out of my hands. The second knocks me. The earthquake in my veins cannot protect me. The waves come so fast and when they recede, they're red like the rivers flowing from my nose to my chin.
My father won't wreck the car because lucky twists of fate are saved for the bastards. And if he had slowed the car down, if he had glanced once at the road, maybe my hands wouldn't shake as they do. Because if I knew he'd never crash the vehicle with his family inside it, I'd know he'd never kill his wife or daughter. But the only reason my father won't wreck the car is because the devil won't let him. He doesn't welcome my father into his house anymore than we do.
2:55 work week
no horror movie jump-scare
to sleek silver Cadillac
2:55, Wednesday, work week
silver Cadillac tanning in sun, I fear
parked, but he ain’t supposed to be here
puzzle piece catastrophe
one day when I was six
I found my mother in the bathroom
cleaning up a mess
“Oh mother mine, why do you cry?”
“I’m sorry, sweetie, a mayfly died.”
“Oh mayfly mine, why did you die?”
and never did I think
to recall that specific day until
one day when I was twenty-six
and I found myself in the bathroom
cleaning up a mess
I fled down the stairs
blood-stained rag in hand
past wilted picture frames
screaming out my name
“Oh mother mine, why do you cry?
Oh mother mine, do all things die?”
in the living room
you were finishing the final feat
of a jigsaw masterpiece
and I could see it in your eyes
Oh wife of mine why do you cry?
and in your fractured picture-piece
I saw reflected all my dreams
“Oh husband mine, I did so try
I’m sorry sweetie, our mayfly died”
the six word story
Hemingway once told
rang all too true
in our humble abode
you kicked that pretty picture
of the elusive American dream:
picket fences and big houses
three kids and a couple of trees
setting in motion faults
tearing down the puzzle piece seams
you ran onto the front yard crying
I couldn’t convince myself to move
only watch you fall
by the dead magnolia, our never-bloom
and into you I threw
my fears of empty attics and empty rooms
this window I stare out of
becomes a headstone
and our house
“Oh mother mine, why do we die
when there’s so much else we can do?”
“Oh child mine, we can never hide
and we only die quicker the more we try.”
can you tell i’m depressed
i am a tilted jug
i am a mug head jug
mug head jug no run
a mug head jug slips on rug
in tilt space jug
i space my place in mug head jug
i am a great big lug
head in space
my tilt space mug
late night phone calls
drag me out of a mix
of dreams and nightmares
and down to the kitchen
empty fridge, virgin stove
trademarks of a house
left to grow old alone
not all ghosts
live in decrepit houses on paper streets
some never manage
to break free
of shiny pots and pans
in a dime-a-dozen townhouse
and on the phone
i know it’s you
the same way i know
i’ll never break free
of this fleshy cocoon
your voice is like
’50s doo-wop, bubblegum pop
playing the receiver
like a car stereo
nowadays it’s wasted
a moth searching for flames
always singing the blues
searching for the crooner in you
but i remember before
back when the future held
that summer spent
in a small town years ago
before we started to fade
blur around the edges
sell our souls like stocks
to pay for new cars
fancy clothes, houses, jobs with
healthcare and life insurance and dental
back when we didn't
stare into mirrors
jab our flesh
pinch our skin
find pain in the everyday
to prove that we’re alive
i drove you around
our sunshine cookie-cutter town
while you read and sang along
to whatever shit was on the radio
your mind somewhere between
Never-land and Oz
and I wanted to go
to measure my life in
airplane tickets and worn roads
leave a trail around
volcanoes and mountains and
i always imagined you’d be
next to me
book in hand, singing a song
my encyclopedia and my radio
but you gave up lost boys for
and i swapped ticket stubs for
and i traded my wanderlust for
what they call healthy ambition
we didn't know what lay in store
we howled at the moon
and challenged the stars
thinking we had the power to
rearrange the constellations
when i see them
through empty windows of an empty house
i draw the curtains
shut out the mocking light
starcrossed lovers we may not be
criss-crossed star-bent destinies
are something i’m starting to
we used to scream
standing in cars our
voice boxes tripped up
on the ecstasy
that came from being free
now we only find it
in pills and packets
and our screams
have us down on all fours
they come from
the cracks in our souls
breaks in our bones
and they come like
battering against our ribcage
eroding us away
we may contain them
but they ruin us
you used to call me
between laughs and kisses
the beats of a song
Baby, Lover, Friend
you only call me collect
I remember that October day
Pavement dark and rainclouds gray
Light brown eyes that were a maze
Made sudden sense through misty haze
I still believe you touched my heart
With rain and storms and Cupid’s dart
They transformed love to something more
Someone as young as I never felt before
My blood was fevered and yours was wild
I never felt less like a child
You pulled me close I bit your lips
We lost ourselves like sinking ships
I felt beautiful soaked to the bone
A street-long world for us alone
A love declared the Shakespearean way
Promises that haunt me to this day
It’s hard to tell love from desire
Especially when you’re drunk on fire
Declarations in the rain never last
They evaporate when the storm’s past