He had only the one job: cart crates of fruit from their harvest to their convoy. One job, one rule: the best fruit must be picked. He got a break for lunch and a break near dinner. No one knew where he went when he wasn’t around. No one knew much about him at all.
I heard your voice over the phone and I thought I knew where you were and how to tell you.
In the story of other people we aren’t so different. The look you gave me under the boughs was no different from the look other people share under street signs, in the glow of the bar lights, in front of closed windows, in their doorways, their spaces, their own orbitals; we are onlygreener. Only greener.
Looking at the moon in without anything to compare it to, you wouldn’t notice any difference in size. If you want to be involved in this discussion here are the available times: one day past all the others where we don’t talk to anyone else, that time of morning when I do the rounds and water my plants while you make your third coffee, that point of perigee when all we can comprehend is the fact that we are together. Add on that time late at night when I can only stay up and stare at the clock as it ticks away during jazz hour because you are there and not here. I look at the pillow from every angle and wonder if that’s how you really see it or if I just want you to see it like I do.
Last night you weren’t here and I thought the wind was running through the trees so loud that they would fall over and ruin someone else’s life, right there in the middle of dinner, right when they were sleeping, laughing, crying. When they weren’t expecting it. I can sympathize; that’s very much what you did to me, but I was the one who let you in. The wind couldn’t care what I think. The wind never knocks and asks.
The streets were black and wet like crushed velvet. I couldn’t sleep, so I went to the dance hall.
All the girls have single lines on bare legs, dividing the bone. Their teeth are so white and always out. I was held in a necklace of twisting and complicated knots for years and like a finger trap the more you pull away, the more you are pulled back. I left the screen out of my window to make the whole thing easier; it was taking too long to get the damn thing out quietly. No one noticed anyways; who even looks anymore?
I held onto the shirtsleeves at the wrist. Round and round like the water in a washing machine, bubbled with soapy remnants of booze and powder from the bathroom sink. My eyes in the light were big and red, full of the stuff of love if you squint at it. Big and red like the lights, everything glowing and smiling down on me, on us, on all of it. Punch drunk. Drunk drunk. Heart so big it’s gonna burst right of you, darling. Drop like a stone while you dance around it.
Lots of brass and bells. The long dark windows are lined with ferns; it’s a real hothouse in here. My shirt clings and my hair’s fallen out of order, but you don’t seem to mind and I certainly don’t. I didn’t come here to care.
Don’t worry. My pockets are good enough for your hands. My coat is big enough to walk home in. Don’t worry: I’ll be tired in the morning, but I’ll be thinking of you. The water you gave me, the way we were together there under the valentine lights. Those girls, their teeth always out, always so white. Always in the way that nothing ever changes, tomorrow never comes.
Don’t worry, tonight I’ll be dancing with him. Round and round. Always.
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.
Once there was a girl. Slight undersized for her age, a girl who was clever and brave, who experienced her own periods of sadness, relatively longer than everyone else’s it seemed. She planted seeds in whatever vessels would work and sometimes they grew, other times not. She liked to be alone most of all, but allowed love to come in from time to time.
These moments usually ended quickly, and as the other person walked out she kept their ghost back, guiding it to the room where she kept the lot of them, feeding them thin milk and old bread; not enough to starve them but enough to keep them around. Ghosts get hungry, you see. They would nibble at her fingers, begging for more food, more more always more. Something to stop the deep bellyache of sustaining oneself on scraps.
Ghosts do not die; she learned quickly. The more she smiles with you, the louder they groan. The more you hunger, the more watching someone eat hurts.
“You missed me?” She asks one day, when you’re lying in bed together. You’d just got home, laid down on the sheets in your clothes next to her. “Of course I missed you.” A hand on your mouth. “You love me?” She wants to feel the words when you say: “Yeah, I love you. You know that.”
That was how she started feeding the ghosts. Bits of green tomato, eggshells, pits. The more you held her the fuller she was, the more she left for them. They stopped begging and she stopped listening to them. The whole house slept at night.
Time passed. The quiet was taken for granted, as if it had always been there. The plants were blooming out of all the containers she had collected, greenness warping through old cassette players, radios, glasses. Everything became sacrosanct; the plants, growing for her, the ghosts gone silent, for her, you being there, it was for her. All up to the day when she came home to an empty house, full of crying chis. And she knew it would never be quiet again.
She kept feeding the ghosts. She wanted to starve yours but it just wouldn’t die. Ghosts do not die. Ghosts do not die, and when you played with the others she left you alone. Her life never stopped because you were crying for attention. Her life was just the same, only without you in it—or you were in it, but not the way she wanted. The memory of you followed her, tethered somewhere deep and unreachable.
One day she got tired of feeding when you called. She ripped the brass knob off the door and threw it in the garden. “You want the house,” she asked you all, “then take it,” and sat back down in her chair to finish the tea. At first the ghosts all stood there, wary of new freedom. One by one they left the room, stood in the hall, looked out the windows. A great cry rose up: they ran, gleefully terrifying the cat, smashing plates, hanging from chandeliers. She finished her tea. Got up to wash the dishes.
The ghosts followed, pulling at her hair, try to trip her, screaming at her ankles, at every part of her. She let them scream. “Get it all out now,” she said, “you won’t get another chance.”
So they did. She left; to go to work, go to the store, go out and experience a life other than the howling loneliness at home. When she returned, the door wouldn’t open.
“This is my home. Let me in.”
The lights were out; windows, door, house, all locked.
“This is my home, too. Let me in.”
She sat outside all night. She wouldn’t leave. When dawn broke, the door opened. Your ghost was there in the doorway; your ghost was sorry. But that’s not enough; she shouldn’t have to forgive you. But she did.
The others were not as kind. Her home was unkempt, a mess save for the green that was spared. They were still howling all hours, howling until finally they began to quiet down. Ghosts can’t keep screaming all night. Well, actually they can, they do, but this particular group lacked the sense of righteousness needed for such a feat.
So they put the house back in order: one would hold up a shattered plate and another would find the other pieces, until everything was righted. While the spirits cleaned, she left for a bath. She saw her stomach in the water for the first time, clear and warm. When she got out, a ghost from years ago held out a towel.
Life when on is an interesting thing. The ghosts were out of the room now; she never put them back in. It was more peaceful than the screaming. She thought: better to let them roam than to keep them in.
Once there was a girl. She’s still there with the ghosts. They tend to the greenness, they keep the house full, they play with the cat. Some nights they are restless, some nights another one joins them, but they are always there, and she will always keep them. They all live in a kind of harmony: a girl, her ghosts, and yours.
Scientists found another cloud on Titan; a monster in the active weather. They’re talking about the rich, gaseous filling between the void and substance. They’re talking about body.
Your skin was always so clear, save for that red line on the back of your hand. The blue ring around the planet that provides definition against nothingness. The empty fireplace, full of wood.
I stuck my hands under the tap—the cold one. I was trying to coerce feeling back into them. I made fists, but nothing worked until the water warmed up, turning them raw.
I swept the ashes out of the grate. You were lying on the sofa, barefoot and wanting for something neither of us had a name for. When I touched your heel, it felt like cold water. There was a moth flying around, touching our lights, so I took it by the wings and let it outside. You wanted to crush it; you never did like animals.
Braiding blades of grass, stringing the daisies along. You wrap it around my finger, add me to the chain. I’m not sure I mind. I don’t think I do.
What days are you freest in the evenings? I’d imagine it would be when it’s clear out, and warm enough to sit outside. That’s always when you’re here. Where do you go when you’re not around? Nevermind. It’s none of my business.
So, what happens now? We see other people. It can’t be helped; that’s just how we are. You were lying on the sofa, barefoot, with your legs over mine. I don’t think about what happens when they’re not. I just don’t. And you never ask and I never say yes. I never say that within all this laundry I did for you, there are things that aren’t yours mixed in.
One day you came in from the rain. I opened the door and let you in. You were lying on the sofa, barefoot and smoking right down to the filter. I put your clothes in the dryer, tossed the whole pile on you when it was done. You laughed. Your toes curled. I thought you would throw it off once it got cold, but you kept laying there under it all, arm extended as the lit ember kept on going. You never burn your fingers; you always get away with being just dangerous enough.
Titan is a moon. Had I told you that? It orbits around a larger body, apart from the rings of Saturn. Apart from us, it is the only one to have a stable body of water. It is an egg yolk turning around against the black velvet vacuous nothing. In certain light, it looks like us. Its clouds look like ours. The soil there is rendered uninhabitable. We’ll never call it ours, as much as we’d like to.
When they talk of the monster cloud, they’re talking about substance. They’re talking about body. You always had a little of each, and I was always in the middle.
The antlers went clear through your chest. It’s not so bad; you were the one being hunted after all. There is no more fun inside of you, it’s all tumors these days. And that’s not what you wanted. Who would? The body and the memory of the body. You’re at the big glass table with so many envelopes. This was the first year without any valentines, for you or from you.
There is something sticking to your ribs. There is something in there, and you can’t get it out. You tried with the fishhooks, or was it the top of that fence? You told me it just missed your heart, and now you have a hole where the fatty remnant leaks through. Is she a she at all?
So, okay, you’ve changed a little. That’s fine. Okay, maybe you don’t wash your hair as much as you used to. Maybe you wear the same clothes all the time. Maybe you can’t sleep. Okay. That’s okay. It just didn’t work out very well. That’s fine.
I tried substituting something for a feeling that wasn’t so condensed. It was lacking; not quite as filling, of course. But it’s supposed to sustain me longer. I don’t know. I’m not really feeling anything. What’s going on with you?
The grinds keep getting in. Acids constrict the cells of the meat, break it down. You don’t want that. Last time we spoke, you didn’t want that. I mean, you said you didn’t. I don’t actually know what you want and that’s really the problem. I want you to know everything I know.
You are the blue curtain and I am the light trying to shine through. The fabric of space and time always bends when you’re added to it, and you follow the curve that you created simply because nothing else in the universe stops you. And since you’re there, you know what happens? The light bends around you, because you’re there. So even if I could get to you, it would always go around. Around, around. Always around.
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.
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.
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.