“Hoppin John”

journal work, Poetry, writing

What’s the saying again? ‘If you boil a frog in water…’?

I ate cake for the new year.         I was drinking          I was an island.                                                                                                                                          Everybody somehow knew everyone else, they were all strung in lights and ice.

This part of town was somewhere I’d been before. I liked it, next to the women’s shelter. Those parts which were not burned. The paint yet to be retouched, left half-finished for lack of stamina.                          There was a memorial nearby, condemned to a background history       a heavy red curtain where one could hear movement but not see it.

Dark times.

A very dry winter,                        so short yet retaining a density which challenges elasticity;

a long, long piece of gum, strained and stretched very far.

I ate cake; yellow cake. It had that frosting on it, the cheap kind. So the caps were all off.  A toast to the New Year:            ashes to ashes.

rose magic

journal work, prose, writing

Don’t take this the wrong way, but what could you know about voodoo? That’s not yours to know. Try some other things first: take the train, go out to eat. Grow something good. That’s how you do it. That’s how you stay apposite. My apologies for the rude awakening. Someone needed to tell you.

They say that magic is dead once you hit the city. That’s not true; it just goes to the wires. It’s not voodoo; it’s vodou. Rose magic;  dark devil. Your own people are cutting you up, selling parts of you in the window next to other southern cuts. But they’re not red, and that’s what matters, that’s what gets the flag of the righteous flying, anointing the butchering of other racks of lamb.

The magic is there in the wires; look: the fuzzy television, the sound between stations, the shock when you touch an outlet. Others can call it what they like: empty frequency or an abundance of the thing, life, electricity. It’s all the same—it’s all that thing which makes plants grow, the phosphorous in the soil you came from.

You polish the silver while your neighbors go missing. First the children, then their parents, then the rest. It’s not about you, it’s nothing to do with you. The asphalt’s hot, but you’ve got to go barefoot to get anywhere at all. Your feet bleed in the evenings, so you wrap old cloth around them until the red shows through—straight through—like holding your hand up to the bare light. The stronger plants are starting to sag under their colossal potential, exceeding their natural limits, so you have to start snapping some matches to prop them up again. When they, too, break, you have to start all over. More matches. More weight. More of the familiar rotation of your thumb in the dip of the spoon. It’s not you. It’s nothing to do with you.

You used to wake to the incessant birds, but now you wake to nothing, really; their throats were slit, their song bled out. With them gone, what are we left with? The noiseless wind, the waves breaking on another shore. The taste of dirt in your mouth, always stuck under calcified scales.

Then there’s the theory on broken windows: if a neighborhood has one, the residents will break the rest. When you open your curtains, the room doesn’t get any brighter. When you’re down there, you stay down there. The dirt is your bed, your bread, your butter. When the white god calls, you have no choice but to answer because at least it’s help, even if the birds are gone and the water has all run black. Rose magic; dark devil.

You sit in a white plastic chair with your feet propped up on the flipped garbage can, watching empty streets and listening for the faraway sound of the car that never comes. The trashmen stopped weeks ago, and now your lawn is litter. The matches have snapped and there’s no one left to ask for more. Your feet are red, the light shining through.

Your neighbors; children first, adults later, then the rest. We put them in a different dirt, a different bed, gave them different bread, different butter. They live with us, so we tell them there’s no magic anymore, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t there.

It’s all the same—it’s all that thing which makes plants grow, rich in that inexplicable phosphoric life, with the smell of boiling urine because that’s what you’re down to now. Look: the litter lawn, the hot street, the light shining through. Look: in the iron rails, in the sound on the streets, in the overgrowth of the green around you. The gum tarred to the sidewalk, the noise of birds, the blue above and the metal below. Look and weep: your bones, your hands, it’s nothing, were nothing, are only eggshells. Keep your feet up. The magic is there.

pluto’s wright mons in color

journal work, writing

You know I hate it when you dog-ear the pages because that means I have to go back when you’re asleep and fold them out straight again. Or maybe you don’t know; I don’t either. I don’t think I ever told you it bothers me.

I drew some blood again and I said Charlie, if I don’t know what I’m doing, then we’re both in trouble now, aren’t we? You’re always the one behind the door. Always the one taping things to mirrors; things about yourself, things you like, things you wish you were. Always the one working alone in the elevator, making sure you could see you, and that you looked alright. Of course you do, dummy. Of course you look alright.

Remember that night we went to the stars in the woods? Everything was so red. Everything was so clear. Pluto, far far away. You said it looked so small, and I guess that was true since we don’t count it anymore, do we? You did that, somehow. But then again, you never really needed any of us. The stars, the sun, or me. The stars you kept, because who wouldn’t? If you were handed the whole wide world, you’re telling me you wouldn’t keep the potential of a great white flaming death in your hand? I know I didn’t deal you a great deck; I know you did the best you could, and sometimes you’d win and maybe sometimes I would too. That wasn’t the worst part, the part you’d tell your friends. You keep up appearances, and I still breathe like I used to. Nothing wrong there.

But, you know, you hate appearances, and you hate the breath we shared when I was around. I could count the minutes you spent wishing I was gone. That doesn’t mean I left. That doesn’t mean you hated me, or that you hated when I was gone. Our hands were always cold, but that wasn’t your fault.  I just wish you cared a little more. I wish you weren’t so far away, but that’s not really up to me. You were always in some other orbit, and ours weren’t supposed to meet. So soon you’ll collide with someone else. Someday soon, it won’t be me, and that’s okay.

Baby, be good out there.

the brightest restaurant in all the world

journal work, prose, Travel Writing, writing

In the benign lights is pollution, but not so much so that you could not see Orion perfectly out the window. There is the spear, there the dagger, there the head of the god, always wanting what he could never have; first the women then the doves then the stars. Always following those stars through the winter and infinity.  Their catasterism was his undoing, and, unable to let them go, he followed them up.

So many empty boxes, so much food left uneaten.

The brightest restaurant in all the world, garnishing the night. I can’t stop dropping my things. I can’t stop drinking the water that always comes back. I could call that nervousness but that’s not quite right. I’ve been here for years, I’m renewing the lease.

I keep burning the roof of my mouth. I don’t know how to stop. The worst thing is having ambition and nothing to do with it as it devalues and everyone has a garland around them, except yours isn’t so full, isn’t so flourishing because you don’t water it often. It’s your own fault, you keep drinking the water but you don’t ever save it. Are you getting the most out of your water? Are you sure? I’ve got all these keys on the ring; we can leave now if you want to.

So you go to other houses, and see how they live. They all have skylights; they all live greener than you. It’s not so much jealousy but its kin, a kind of notion that maybe you could live like that if you did things differently. You’re always walking with skates on. Make sure to lace the back so you don’t hurt your ankles; at least then you could keep walking.

The brightest restaurant in all the world is full of mirrors. Mirrors so the waiters see around you, mirrors so it looks bigger, mirrors so you can see yourself wherever you look, and that’s not quite unpleasant so much as unsettling. The soap in the bathroom was making me sick so I had to stop using it and everyone takes off their coats, but I didn’t bring one. I let my scarf fall off the chair until I pile it in my lap. I can’t eat much anymore; I’m not finding as many stains. So that’s the silver lining, the thing that burnishes the garland around my neck. The silver pin holding it all in place.

At least it’s warm in here. At least I have someone I love. The rest doesn’t matter so much to me. The garland can grow if I can care for it in the brightest restaurant in all the world. Isn’t that crazy? I sat in the brightest restaurant in all the world.

invite your soul abundant

journal work, prose, writing

A bite of red apple. The river is a sliver silver chain in the sun, but up close are imperfections. I’m not allowed to take much citrus with me. A lonely lovely warbling trumpet and the oncoming clouds, dark and woolly. In the winter it’s all grey and high winds. Not a lot of green, or it’s artificial, or it just doesn’t feel right. My feet are always cold, and people keep getting black thumbs; pocketmarks of poor circulation; I didn’t want you to know about it.

Back into the clouds we go. The river’s damn near frozen, but people are fishing anyways. Of course they’re going to fall through, ice can be thin like that. I sat alone again. It’s okay; I don’t know. You are becoming the person you were going to be 24 hours ago. You can stand up you know, but keep the belt on.

the glitch in the middle of the street at night

journal work, prose, writing

You’re bleeding on the hotel bed but that’s okay; they don’t wash the sheets anyways. There’s a boy, and you’re you, and he might love you enough to hold your hand some day. He smiles at you in the bath that night and he really does look like a woman in certain light, but that’s what makes him ethereal, and what makes that green bloom swell inside you when everyone else sees you together. You can’t really say he’s mine, but if you did it might be true one day. You’re on your knees in the middle of the street, drunk and screaming: at him, at everyone else. He has you by the shoulders and his hands nearly cover them all. You were never that big to begin with. He smiles like he did in the bath and he’s yours no matter who either of you go home with. He smiles like he did in the bath.

He’s the new light of the morning, the sodium streetlights after you’ve been drinking, he’s always there except when he isn’t, and times like that make you wonder if he was ever really around, if he really cared about who he saw you with. The night you met you did blow in the bathroom. It was a winter party, or maybe he was just wearing white. He could be yours he could be yours. But you both drink too much and you love too much and he was never good at telling just one story. He’s fun and fun is what you need because the sun doesn’t set on fun and leave you in the dark. Fun is 24/7, the open bar, the blow in the bathroom, the lights that never go out because nothing ever closes; you always leave until you’re home. Fun is other people. Fun is the smile in the bath, while you wash his hair and he touches your knee. Incoherence and bliss. That’s all you ever really wanted: the light that never goes out.

greenpool

journal work, prose, writing

I face outwards onto a pool, now a viridian green, darkening with infertile pollen. The green that you dye eggs in. Deepwater green. Openwater green.

There is a monster somewhere across from me. I hear him screaming some afternoons. I imagine he finds his mother in the matted clot waiting outside to walk their children home from the bus stop. She’s holding his younger brother,  the one who looks up to him, and fears him. A lot of women here wear jewel-colored robes. I’ve never spoken to them, but I like to sit on the steps and watch them. They walk like tendrils of smoke in a still and breezeless room.

The boy walks home with his mother. She wants to hold his hand but he’s getting too old for that. He shakes her off, dismisses her. Maybe she smiles in secret amusement, tickled by her boy trying to be more of a man. He’s not so old—seven perhaps, or nine. Old enough to command authority in his group. She makes him take his shoes off when they get inside. His father isn’t home, so he doesn’t listen, and kicks them hastily into the cubby. The other brother toes his sandals off and places his shoes down as one would with an injured bird into its nest. He still holds her hand. When she walks around, she smells green, like leaves, like mint.

They have a dog. The younger brother digs a hand into the fur at its back and buries his face in its neck. It smells copper, like dirt, like salt; the acidic yellow in a pineapple. The dog doesn’t push him away. The dog does not leave.
So she moves to hold the older son’s hand, but he shrinks away. Maybe she smiles, but maybe she flinches. Her son is growing. Doesn’t need his mother anymore. He wants blood and scraped knees now.

After their homework is finished but before dinner, she lets them go outside. A group of boys plays soccer near the pool nearly every evening. I can hear the shouting from my window, but I keep it open; noise is good for the plants. Even when it’s been raining they play, everything from the mud to the pool to their shirts weighed down with rain.

I was reading on the history of the house. Hantha is Peruvian term for the edibility of a potato. The Aztecs mashed amaranth with blood for human sacrifice and so terrified the first conquistadores by their perceived cruelty into calling them pigs. Vasco de Gama looted and burned a Muslim ship, carrying men, women, and children. And he called the Aztecs pigs for their inhumanity.

I was reading on the history of the house. The screen door was between me and that slowly turning pool, growing heavier and darker by the day. Outside, nothing but crickets and dry grass. Boys waiting to play soccer, killing time. I would imagine that the amaranth-blood dish would have the consistency of adequately-mashed oatmeal. Dry stalks of baked wheat, soaking up blood into a mush. Maybe it is this sudden bloody thought that caused it all. Maybe it was a moment of violence in the air, a chord struck somewhere behind it all, then left to pass through us.

A boy, screaming loudly in a quick, high-pitched language. Screaming just on the edge of pubescence, an inhumanly different sound. Strained as high as he can go, and angry. Then, in English: “I will whip you! Whip you!”
I haven’t heard from the monster since then, but his mother has; he’s being punished. Or his friends, shocked by his outburst, play without him. Either way he’s been quiet.

I see the younger brother; I saw him last night when I was watering my plants, murmuring sweet nothings to them so they could grow. He was near the pool, crouched down over the pavement. Trucks and small cars littered the ground around him, he like a pint-sized Godzilla hell-bent on destroying the city’s transportation system. And for all the time he was out there, he played alone.

His brother wants nothing to do with him anymore. Even worse than the quiet was the yelling; the screaming, the threat of the punishment that was so constantly held above their heads. Or maybe neither parent can look into their sons’ eyes and beat them. Perhaps this is why the older one craves violence so much, why he kicks other boys in the shins when they play soccer, why he goes to the idea of a whip to scare his friends. A whip collects its fury as it draws back, before it comes down.

The mother who smells like leaves walks with her youngest son, and she holds his hand. There’s a little garden patch that’s overgrown and pale from the winter. They weed together. She tells him which plant is what, passes their names onto him. Her shawl is blood red. Spilt blood in the family. Or simply another rose in the garden. Their little plot of land grows greener with each passing day.

I was walking earlier today, and a couple was parting in front of me. I moved to go around, but they kissed and separated, and I walked right through that dissolving moment. Perpetual motion pushed me through, the residue web-like in its refusal to pass without clinging.

In the distance, thunder.

The pool is getting clearer and clearer. The green is in recession, the color bleeding out into the little garden patch beside it. It’s a milky translucent green now, almost like the kind you see on postcards of tropical islands. I suppose this is the water that separates us all, after all. All of us on our little islands. I wonder if the mother will let her sons swim when it gets warm enough. I wonder if the monster will make another appearance. Something tells me that he will.

Crossing into Albany over the River

journal work, prose, Travel Writing, writing

It’s only just started to snow past Poughkeepsie. The conductor says take a walk, take a smoke, take ten minutes, but no more. The dining car is closed. Crossing over the Hudson, the Basques take over, and then chemise a la Reine, then the bones of our ancestors. OrlandoEthan Frome. Scraggly woods which promise wolves, past the snowy mists. Splashes of red down in the ditch, like blood, like cell clusters mounting the tributary arteries; wheat follicles line the face of another world.

Deep in the snow, black waters trudge on unimpeded yet slowly, with the viscosity of sludge, carrying winter within it. In that way we are the same. People tend not to consider bears; wolves — the threat of packs and coordinated attack — seem far worse and more eminent than a lumbering, engorged, large-eyed beast. But it can run. It has claws. Weight behind power, instead of agility.

In the white wild, there is the body, there is the big red machine, a warm heart pumping blood in the cold. The tassels of the pines must survive in the wind and snow, a faint plumage to brighten the dead, stripped of all but the internal life preserved in syrup and sap. Pikes find themselves stacked into coherence, shapes we recognize; placed before their dormant brethren, spared in place of uselessness, too thin, too unsubstantiated; too uncontrolled. Always a capacity for ignorance.

If you run your tongue over the roof of your mouth, it feels like waves. Bare trees offer blooded cones; the water churns with river silt and sand, gravid with ice, while upstream a ways the water steams in the cold air. All dormant, a natural gestation until the spring, so you can come back renewed. The big red machine, churning onwards.