weekend in chicago was lovely and bright, the possibilities there beginning to take concrete shape in people and talk of different jobs, hearing others’ moving and settling-in experiences. I’m also aware that I’m happy and awake and aware simply because I am— that I respond to everything in the outside world based on my internal weather– and the climes in here the past week or so are simply, unaccountably sunny– so the entire weekend in chicago is bright and easy because I feel bright and easy. and then back in iowa feel warm and wonderful with the circle of friends. and then all things everywhere, too many pieces to list, making me feel good connections to other people– and I just want it to go on and on– this— this feeling of all right, everything just okay. but I know it can’t always be this easy, and one thing to do is simply to be grateful for it. but really I wish I could bottle it up, save little life-saving ounces of it for the other times. make some kind of hay while the sun shines. keep writing– just writing whatever whatever whatever. god, this is a gasp– to be up out of it, in fresh air– to feel good-light, as opposed to unmoored– energized, head unencumbered, some huge impossible weight lifted so I can move freely. and from here it looks like nothing is so dire, so make-or-break– only what I do today and then what I do tomorrow, all equally viable and fine and tying together into the fine whole which is My Life– and that it doesn’t have to map to a master plan, doesn’t have to make a tidy narrative to a stranger at a dinner party– that I am me, fine, regardless of what I do– and that it’s going to be complicated being someone who wants to do so many different things– that there will be whole swaths of time when it seems to make no sense– but the sense it makes is slow and intuitive and just right for me. this is what I have to remember to trust. giving myself the time and space and permission to move forward blindly and trustingly, ending up here, here in this good good good place– warm and bright and aware that everything is just okay. I want to remember this, make a map back to this place, remember the steps it takes to reach this very spot.
I remember the precise look you gave and the way you put emphasis on which exact words. I could write it, like music, with accents and phrasing notations– and do what with it? music for whom? why write it, what use even remembering? no use. use not the point. just something you sit with, that humbles you. because after the other person picks up and moves on– the lover, friend, whatever– after the connection is severed, the tendril hangs until it atrophies. lots of people feel a ghost limb all their lives. others train themselves to see the air that sits there and move through it, unobstructed. I keep thinking of photographic double-exposure, three-dimensional chess, avant-garde film, club sandwiches, british buses, ladies’ bathrooms with mirrors set reflecting mirrors to infinity…
vanity talcum powder that itself seemed to pull through those mirrors from another decade– so still, so expensively appointed, the very room persisting from another era, a nicer one, in the classic sense. and when I was in there, running the silver-handled hairbrush through baby-fine, staticky hair or dousing the air with sneezy powder, it was as if I too stood inside a different time– an imaginary, tidy world where I could pretend for that moment to belong.
nickleback, rolling waves of days. spent penny, blood penny, violet amaze. rain willow, wind pillow, tossing on breath waves. sung song, sprung wrong, toppled in a haze. catapulting wishmares, rocketing rolly dreambeasts, slow minutes, fast years, funhouse mapless days. second person in the dark, first weird in the mirror. you’ll be here, I’m leaving here, here falls through the map. they talk about bermuda, but iowa stumps the compass just as well– or anywhere the traveler works with a sensitive instrument. chasing waking sing-words, they rattle through the bones, hollow want, swollen urging– difficult to turn off the conscious mind and just listen, tune into the singer… shhhhh, quiet, mind– who’s humming in the dark, so tiny? shipless, rock-weary, speaking in riddles, humdrum harmonies on looping raw wings– stop stopping it! let’s try automatic writing– king space wrecked window lenses drawn dastardly down spilling raucous ringlet tears– so sad how the judge stomps in and says, no, no, no— turn him off and just transcribe– harmonies in my heart, silly songs that carry codes richer than dna– dreamier sequencing– shiver-plated rest wind, show sarah something– friable freezedried wicked will, hush, husk. tumble the sounds to see what pops out of its own fine accordâ€”loud sprung half-cocked from a mussel shellâ€”who baked it so literallyâ€”black naturally, but if you chip it, white lurkingâ€”tho then no longer the thing it was. reason here is twistyâ€”stop chasing it, trust the sounds. sheâ€™s walking over miles with the small one on her shoulderâ€”what should they encounter? confounding tribulations to get through in the end, with a minor base note setting the final harmony just off center… stop talking, and listen– shush me, somebody– words work wiggly-like– shape trader, shipwright billy, clubbed and smelling of smoke, sleeping in the dockside urban noon– pierced quite through– billy boy, where to? the inside of your head looks like something unfamiliar, hankering for a glimpse. all you billies, so other. slipping here, tiles slick with listening– tread too carefully and it will all get away… winter-spun cloud crowds staking down treetops, smoke stairways, vapor trails, paths through the blue so unsteppable– what looks solid, looks like something you could put a foot down on, doesn’t hold weight and you slip through. only in dreams does gravity give upwards. so this is writing, just-writing, spilling the words willy nilly, order hoped for later somewhere maybe, even just the wash of right now, this letting-go, discovery of something I didn’t know I could do. the spill on the page. whoso rude, so lavish in trash, split felt, rigorous– nonsense with sound– some sense where. hope alone. hope. so small, so much. slipping transcription, holding the reins only lightly, keeping loosening, trusting the animal under me, gallopy and frothing at times– bigger than me, certainly, never tamed, but courted with sugar and the occasional oat.
I’m moving out of my boarding school dorm room, all these years later– all the other students are gone for summer break, and I’m scrambling to find enough boxes for all the accumulation of so many years– the boxes I had once seem to be long gone. what I’m doing living there still is a question never really answered or even properly addressed, but there’s a strong sense that I’m there long beyond my rightful time, something of an embarassment to the current students– and to myself, of course. so my moving our over break is a courtesy for everyone’s benefit. the ex-best-friend is around, voice on the answering maching or cell voicemail, somewhat at the edge of things, lurking.
dachshund boxes– sometimes we fit snugly into odd spaces, shady alcoves with dishes of holy water to wash by– the places pop random and queer-fitting, tuckable with granite and pointing that squares us in– living sarcophagi we shake off and move out of with each shout of the alarm– out in the world where corners only occasionally invite you to crawl inside– suitcase closet, back booth, the palm of someone’s hand– but then they’re reaching for that glass, or a pile of shoes digs into your kidneys, and you realize it’s time to act like somebody upstanding. it’s a lot of work not to let the crumpling show. for some of us the bed pulls like north the needle. what do you do? keep getting up again, feet on the cold floor– practice gratitude for vertebrae that stack right, for certain mercies of random fortune like food in the fridge, hot water to stand under, transportation– for friends stretched wide like a net to catch you across the country. sometimes it’s hard to feel them so far away, like across town. all too easy to imagine we’re unconnected as we go through our glamorless routine and see the face in the mirror change. maybe inevitable to become strange to ourselves, as we’re always different than we were, what we thought we knew, but never did at the time. in the middle of the night the clock slows down and wakes you with the clamor of its gears– all the things not done: you think through every one, as if thinking were work itself. daily stacks happen– envelopes you can’t bear to open, gifts received, all the residue of that upright march that amounts to something unaccountable. another day you might sort it, find places to put new accumulations, brave the letter opener– in the mean time that day takes time arriving, and the drift across the desk develops sedimentary striations to mark events, anniversaries– left long enough it’ll grow petroglyphs, and maybe some scientific analysis might be performed. they’re doing amazing things with carbon and dna. left long enough, who knows, the scientist might even make some sense of what lived here. to be sure, the inhabitants themselves have little clue. the gods grumble and the ground erupts, just like that. not like our drilling might have anything to do with it. as if we were instrumental in our own doom. nobody in here but us primitive cultures, off the hook by shortsight. I’ve got glasses somewhere but can’t be bothered to wear them, dents on the bridge of the nose presenting a formidable obstacle.
in the middle of the night during all these bouts of insomnia, I think and think through the different possibilities, turning it this way and that– never really arriving at any stunning conclusions– but just to have written one poem can carry me for days. forget audience, forget marketability. here’s a lifeline. forget a book. so many clumps of stuff that don’t quite cohere. so what. just keep trying to push myself to do some kind of work, some kind of play. don’t make it a project. there’s the struggle between the part of me that works intuitively, to the beat of an odd clock, and the other, magisterial part that tries to organize, oversee and plan ahead– feels like they’re positioned so at odds with one another. but keeping going needs to be enough.
nothing seems to have more gravity or anchor than anything else. so I fight consciousness with every stitch and fiber, struggle just to stay sleeping, where the wheel is handed over to someone a lot smarter than conscious me and, to boot, there are no actions with disastrous and disappointing consequences.
I have a sort-of date later this evening, and I approach it with utter dread, sure that toads are going to climb out of my mouth and splat all over the table. I seem to be caught in a downward vortex of not-trying, of avoidance and shame and hiding out, and everything I do seems only engineered to spin it faster, to sink me. I know I need to kick upward, push back against the momentum, but it’s hard hard hard and I can’t quite see why.
am I sinking myself? determined to fail? urging for ruin? it doesn’t feel that way. feels like I’m struggling to get through. but so much disappointment. it’s like falling asleep, like letting oneself freeze to death, succumbing. I try and try and am not sure I know how to get someplace better. it’s been so, so long, and the more progress I make, the longer and harder seems the road. part of me says, well, that’s life, chica. it ain’t easy. but I just keep thinking: broken toy– sprung mechanism.
I know it’s going to keep being hard, pushing back against the pattern of habit, hard to drag myself into thinking in new ways. I need to pick myself up, brush myself off and start trying again– just start– a little bit here, a little bit there. start with the sit-ups and keep going. treat myself like a precious object. if I don’t, no one else will. this is my life. I have opportunity– if I can just pick myself up and try to quiet all the clamoring fears– possibility blooms kind and unjudging before me, spreads wide open– only believe in it, believe in myself– and stop buying into all the mean mental rot. I have a choice– to be perfectly okay. I have the say-so, no one else. it’s up to me.
we’re walking along a city street when I notice a man in a uniform bend down on one knee, brace a firearm like a bazooka on his shoulder, and fire into the building ahead of us– we duck and run away across the street and up a hill, up some steps where we encounter more men in uniform in formation, in readiness. we’re trying to make ourselves small and quick to get out of the middle of it, but there’s only just time to duck behind a low wall before it begins– there’s a lot of activity and then something in the air before the building, like a huge bird or bat– and then we see it screech and collapse, fold and fall, when they fire upon it. afterwards the men all put down their weapons and everybody falls out of character, and I realize the whole thing was a street play and that the thing in the air was a giant puppet.
we walk inside into a production in progress and are given elaborate costumes ourselves– we’re dancing girls of a sort, glamorous and erotic, and I’m entirely blue, thickly painted in layers and layers of blue makeup and glitter entirely covering my face and hair. it’s a remarkable experience to become someone else so entirely. we find ourselves in a crowded banquet room standing near one of the tables– an older gentleman speaks cordially to us, and we’re flattered and then realize he’s graciously asking us to move so his party can take their table– and we move out of the way. it’s evident we don’t belong here, aren’t of the same staure as these important people, but our costumes have gained our entrance and somewhat acceptance. eventually we leave, and I’m looking forward to getting in a long shower and washing off all the blue. every time I touch my head or face accidentally, my palms come away smudged with sticky blue glitter.
I’m at huron mountain off-season and run into a friend who’s preparing for his brother’s wedding– I ask if I can borrow his canoe– I’m swimming in the water– and he points down the river to their boathouse in the distance.
I’m barricading myself in the hotel bathroom– there are people and situations on the other side of the door I just don’t want to deal with. I’m trying desperately to turn the bolt on the door, but it seems to resist sliding home. I’m going around the room pulling the largest towels I can find off the racks– they’re all in dark colors and infuriatingly small– I’m planning to build myself a bed on the shower floor and just live in here if it comes to that.
laura’s waiting for me to meet her to go hear a band play in a ballroom of a hotel attached to a mall, and I’m lost in the mall and can’t figure out how to get there– we keep communicating with one another by cell phone, but I don’t manage to get directions or the right name of the room– I keep going up and downstairs and around and around, growing ever more desperate and distraught. Jen comes along at one point in her red coat and boots, and I try to get her to come with me, but she’s not interested. ultimately there’s a man who joins me– either my father or a lot like him– and he keeps disagreeing with me about which way to go, and it keeps pissing me off when it turns out he’s right.
I’m passing through the central downtown of some southern city in a bus or van– there’s urban decay all around– closed and barely-open shops, ramshackle old houses– and then we’re passing an enormous old one literally on the central square. the structure looks solid– nicely preserved carved old wood like an interior, with balustrades and railings and widow’s walks and tiny side porches, and staggered at different intervals around the ground floor, built-in shapes which are either pianos or roll-top desks. I look at the windows as we’re passing and see stacks and piles of junk, and then just at the last minute as we go by, a person, it looks to be an old man with glasses at one of the windows– and I wave, and he sees me and steps back.
then I get off the bus, deciding on the instant to go up to the house– the next thing I know I’m on the inside, in an entirely different and unimaginable world with the young brother and sister who live there. they’re orphans and have kept apart from the world all their lives, sequestered away in the big old house, the brother only occasionally riding an old bicycle out for provisions.
inside the rooms go on and on– all is space and elegance, with trays of perfectly shaped pincones from the big tree in the yard and pieces of delicate fabric the sister has made from old rags by pouring onto screens like paper. it’s quiet and caverous and beautiful.
the sister takes me around to show me all the rooms on the floor they live on– each lovelier in a stark and old-fashioned way than the next– her bedroom is bright and warm, and I see a sink and say how much I miss having a sink in my room– and then I notice there are several at different points around the room and think it only slightly odd and charming– each one is antique porcelain with a different shape, suggesting a different use.
back out in the main part of the house the sister explains to me something about the chimney chute, how it is full of ashes from all the many years they’ve lived there and therefore dangerous, and so they never burn fires in any of the many fireplaces.
the brother is gracious but more reserved and slightly cold, and just as the sister is taking me to see the last and her favorite room, a little blue door that leads to a tower, he comments that it’s getting rather late– in a clear invitation for me to make my exit– and I’m taken aback and abashed and apologeting, not having realized I’d been putting them out.
they walk me downstairs through echoing ballrooms and libraries, and I turn to the sister and say, let me give you a hug goodbye, stepping toward her, and she shrinks back with a look of extreme distaste across her face– and I freeze– and then apologize and turn away, feeling doubly presumptuous and almost wishing I’d never come. but I love these people and their strange anachronistic world. out on the steps at the last minute I stop and scribble my contact information for them and turn back, pressing it on them, hoping they’ll make use of it sometime, but with little hope– and then I leave.
but nothing is so clean– especially getaways. I go behind the house looking for my car, which I think I’ve left parked there with my dog in the back, but I don’t see it. I’m desperate with embarassment and just want to clear out, so I’m hoping there’s just something wrong with my eyes– I go through the motions of unlocking and opening doors in the spot where I left my car, and if I squint, I can nearly make it out– but I’m accutely aware that it may all be a figment of my imagination and can only pray that the brother or sister doesn’t catch sight of me from one of the windows, pantomiming there with an imaginary vehicle.
I go to visit the house of my little neighbor friend from childhood, these many years later– she’s all grown up, of course, and inside there are four or five blond children, little brothers or sisters, which one of her parents has had with a second spouse. upstairs I learn that her mother has died and it’s her dad’s second family. I’m very tired and fall asleep where I’m lying on the bed listening, and they try to rouse me– I can hear them but can’t seem to wake up– I can feel myself rolling right off the bed and still can’t seem to wake.