The First Humans

The older I get, the fewer stars I see. It must be the glasses, something in the lenses. Or the frightful thought: something in the eyes. On our backs in the camp, the start of the night sky appeared overhead. All four of us wore some kind of corrective lens. There were seven stars, and then there were eight. I counted as many as forty-five until I decided the number was less than I had seen in skies years before. Astronomers believe space is rapidly expanding, moving away from our galaxy faster every year. The first humans must have seen the night sky glittering with stars so bright, they could not have stared all night. If telescopes could see this and predict the distance of the stars over time, the fault was not in our lenses. It was definitely something in the eyes.

We left home without a lot of things we needed. We had enough food for a week for the weekend. Not one of us remembered the water. It was cold and humid in the morning. There was dew on the oven mitts, reflecting the sun in lime green drops, one bit of light at a time.

If we had Pat, he’d chop us some wood. If we had Courtney, she’d build us a fire.

If we had. If we had.

We drank beer so we wouldn’t think about water. Thoughts of water turned into thoughts of a lake of water, of a fresh spring that flowed into our campsite, as if we could will one into existence.

We wouldn’t make it through the weekend without water.

We turned over a stone with the beginnings of a sculpted leg. Da Vinci was just a torrential rain, we said. Michelangelo was a tornado of sand and wind. Lambs ears sprouted in the creek bed, where flat black spiders darted under warm stones when we were posed to step down. Drowned and dried up weeds looked like tattered clothes in a violent way, as if the dry rocks and trickling stream was complacent in a struggle. But they were only plants caught in a flood. But the only tattered clothes were on our legs.

To emphasize our group potential, each of us had a job at the site. The men strung ropes between trees with loops interspersed to hang wet clothes or—jokingly—ourselves when we got too thirsty. The women, used to their morbidity, rolled their eyes and cleared spider webs off the picnic table with sticks of fragrant cedar. Snowy ash from the fire fell into the guac. At least we remembered the guac. We heard a round of bullets fire into the woods, and somewhere in the park a bird left a space in the sky.

At night, a creature walked through our campsite when we turned off the flashlight. We held still at the edge of the woods in the pitch black. The animal moved slow as if stopping to pick fallen berries off the ground. I held my breath when it grew close enough for me to hear her grunts and grinding teeth. When she was beside me, I still could not see. The tip of a soft ear brushed my arm. Danger, fear of wildlife took over, that existence almost exactly like our own, but feral, indigenous. Life was meeting life in an arena with no rules. I closed my eyes to see the sun. I thought please be tame, please be kind as the ear ran across my arm, then my cheek. For a moment, the only thing in the world anymore was the connection of that fur and my skin, the meeting point between girl and unknown animal in the blinding dark. I felt like the earliest human, like I was meeting the world for the first time, like I could look up and the sky would be all white with stars.

Later, in the tent, I put my face into a moist armpit and felt the emptiness of the open night around us settle, turning, in my dreams, to water.

In the morning we left the site in damp boots and unbrushed hair. Our tents were wet, the floor was quenched, but we were not. At the nearby stream, we built a ship. We called her The Mermaid and released the ship into the drink. A maiden voyage, we shouted. Long live The Mermaid! The Mermaid went over a waterfall and drowned in the river.

What we never realized was this: The Mermaid was only a float prepared by thirsty friends. That the stars are there until they’re not. That fur and skin are the only separations between us and the deeper connective tissue of the world. That this life was our maiden voyage.

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Near Death

The tire was brand new too. The worst.

The tire was brand new too. The worst.

My car tire exploded on the highway today. My long-held fears of dying in a high speed car accident came uncomfortably close to being real. I pulled off on the left shoulder, on a curve in the road, and that was almost the worst part. Anyway, between punching the hazard lights and tossing the gear into neutral, I didn’t have time to check my mirrors, or think about anything else. Then I was on the roadside with my face in my hands, cringing and crying each time another car sped past, hugging the turn at top speed.

It was weird to have an empty mind. I didn’t have a moment of profound realization or regret, flashbacks to other times or people. It happened very fast, and when it ended, I was left feeling a strange solitude wrap around me, like everything I have done belonged to me alone, and if I died, it would all die with me.

Of course, I’m fine. Roadside service came and helped me put on the spare. I lived.

So far, nothing has changed. All my plans are still scheduled. My stories are still incomplete. My relationships are the same. My worth hasn’t changed. I’m not calling old lovers, or distant family members, or settling debts with peers. The daily death speculations have shifted a little, but that will pass. I am continued. The time on the shoulder of the road, leaning into the sway of the car created by speeding traffic, has occurred. Now I’m home in my single apartment, surrounded by material extensions of myself, and I feel something else–something gone. All my windows are shut, but there is a draft coming from all over. The usual clutter is strewn, but everything has shrunk. Corners in pillows seem dented and weak. Chipped paint on the walls expand to reveal more color, older color. Is the carpet puling away from the edges of the walls? I do not know that this exists, but I know where these feelings come from. I thought, for only the 2nd time in my life, that I was actually going to die, and I didn’t.

I want to share what I have, maybe so I feel something else next time I’m terrified. Maybe only so I know people saw I was trying to give something back to the world–trying to give back what I have taken from it. So I give you a new story, because we deserve it, and I need it to survive.

Come over October 11th, at 8am and read it. It’s not about what happened today, but the themes are the same. And if I haven’t told you I love you lately–I do.

The City Dismantles the Memory Part II (The Fog and the Fan Blades)

First published by Kawsmouth in issue 15, April 2014. The issue, “All These Things At Once” was titled after a part of this.

 

September:

We wait for old screams to turn into a whisper, a knock on soft wood, a battle on paper. I listen for the ringing to melt away. I listen while traveling through the city and I am listening for the city. I am listening for silence. I am listening for my own assertions, for a song you once sang in German, and maybe for even a chant.

 

October:           

When language does something awful it grows and lifts and expands slowly above the city. It is bright and loud like the windows downtown, where collectively we unfold the visor from our cars. It is spreading like a stain and like the reach of tyranny. Today I feel these words are the reluctant fog hanging above me. But who knew you could have been so cool about it? Your laugh is the fan blade that cuts my sentence apart and I am more grateful at that moment than you can imagine. I can block out the light but there is still a way inside. If I’m not looking for a way around it I am vulnerable as well.

 

November:

Perhaps the subtle cold is not to be appreciated, but feared and respected from a distance. I knew a woman with a dead father who didn’t like me at all. I sat on the couch and looked right at her. For days I walked around thinking: bourbon. Her eyes were the color of bourbon. Her eyes were the color of many things I see everyday, but not in other eyes. I couldn’t believe a word she said anymore.

 

December:

The funniest thing is when I feel nothing. I drove around the city until I felt ok. I drove until something went wrong with my car and I didn’t have to think about you anymore, I had to think about my car. It’s funny when I can’t find you, or when I don’t know you, or when you are near me but I am inattentive. It’s funny when you stand outside of the building because I have entered it. Leave the building. Leave the city. Leave it all for me. I’m ready to possess it now. I’m ready for your memory to die in a yearlong struggle. I will squeeze out every usable memory you have given me. I will use you to my advantage and then I will discard you.

January:

The city contains a written list. The list is long and disjointed, but all items are lucid and about one thing turning into something else. Make a list of all the things I am allowed to be: Alone in a room when you pass and look through the window. Walking away to the car on the phone. Considering a group of words to see if they mean anything else. Considering a single word: ennui. Unavailable to others for days at a time. A stack of books with the titles facing away. A memory of a houseboat in the weeds. A fish dipped in water by the tail. A bucket of slugs for the chickens. The fading memory of a very cold July. One small word after another. I am allowed to be all these things at once. I am allowed to be forgotten.

 

February:

One long tone. One bell ringing. One terrible wind. Many suns in the window. One or two failing traffic lights. Two days until the weekend. An undiscovered number blinking out a sign. Several days into the month, we become so bored with counting. Several months later we almost ignore the bell. A year has passed and if you said the word “reversion” we probably wouldn’t understand. We pay attention to wine on glasses and dresses and tables and snow that sits politely between the wheels. The month reigns supreme above and around us and we are celebrating with little to no reason at all. Take the wine away from me and clear the snow off the car. Get in the front and drive around the good part of the city for a while until we can point out the window and say: “See, there’s no more panic. We fought it and now it’s here and it’s ok”. The sun hits the visor above your head and the way you can smile anyways tells me it is perfect.

 

March:

Regression is serious. Anger is a crazy animal. It was cold but it was not unpleasant. It was troubling to feel that way. It was a celebration of time. It was nothing but a partial rain. Two conversations out of four, there is a very specific mention of the weather. Six out of ten conversations are about a tailored memory. If I am able to achieve just one of these today, I will fly out the door to embrace the chilly air. Wind resists the afternoon lull and intrudes my sleeping body. When I sit up I check my pulse. Can you feel two things at once?

 

April:

I had a dream about bruises. They were resting on daily objects. I felt around the pillowcase and discovered a soft one. I drank a cup of water and the same thing happened. I noticed discoloration in the kitchen window but I was afraid to touch it. It was caution in the plural form. The day after the dream nothing happened which I found poetic, but I did remember it was your birthday.

 

May:

(A little girl had some thorns, then grew some thorns. She became a small statue in a modest garden. She was sold at a garage sale. She sat on the house key. She betrayed her duties and the house was destroyed. What else would you expect from a girl who wished spikes to sprout from her skin? The weather turned warm and I went to see the garden statue. I didn’t feel like I had to say anything, so I didn’t. In the dirt I heard the muffled beginnings of new sentences. The statue was given no alter, no alternative.)

 

June:

When it’s nice enough to walk around, I do. When I have a clear and active mind in the summer I am happy. When I lay in bed and you are already asleep, I am afraid all happiness is balanced with a little bit of sorrow. I am making a list of cities that become a list of words used to describe you. The cities become the words. You become the cities. There is a city for admission, a city for fondness, a city for irreversible error. We remain locked together in the city of totality, the city where everything you are and everything I am and everything the other cities are live together on a single map. You overwhelm the territory and you bleed through the pages. I am asleep in my car in the heat. I have you nearly memorized.

 

July:

It isn’t passion that rises from the hot cement. It doesn’t know the art of weapons, or what happens after you have become a vapor. In a yearlong cycle of seeking and forgetting I realize they are not opposites. The other side of a circle is just a matter of location, not inversion. In a matter of time—or rather, lucidity—I will seek it out again and remember the list in its entirety. I will reconstruct the list to suit a gradual fading of attachment and eventually, after I have revolved around the circle again, you will become lost in the orbit of the city and I will repair.

 

August:

Memory is the blade with five or six edges. Forgetting you is a tall order. The only way to travel is by exiting the highway. At one point, a plane ticket carried meaning. I could only be sure if it were pressed against my skin. I could only be sure I was leaving if I could feel it there. Today, I don’t even have a ticket, but I have a number. I recite that number over and over. I recite it when I wake up. I repeat it when I get to work. I say it every time I am angry or excited. I say those numbers again when I get home and it helps me fall asleep. When I am at the ticket line I say them one final time, and I lift myself onto the carousel and I make my presence known. I lower my sunglasses and I receive that plane like boat to fast water—like something coming at me from the sky.

 

September:

Initially, there is nothing significant about it. The plane rests, then approaches, then detaches. I watch the ocean, bleary eyed and drunk, and think of you in Alaska. Same ocean, perhaps same plane for all I know, and I know nothing. The only thing I have memorized is an event that may have never even happened. You came to me. You said, “I’m sorry. I knew my mistake the moment I made it. I can’t wait to see you.” And I close my eyes and say “thank you,” but I feel very empty as you take me inside you. The plane drives ahead because I forget we aren’t on the road and we are together and everything is perfect and the pain is burning but it is slow, so incredibly slow.

The City Dismantles the Memory

Published in conjunction with the show “Have I been Here Before” at La Esquina, a Charlotte Street gallery.

 

Winter: I experiment in ways to retreat from you.  I test the city at each road, looking over my shoulder. The places we frequent follow me—approach me as I should be approaching them.

Spring: We erupt a phenomenal demand: “Cry for Kansas, cry for Iowa and Nebraska. Hold all applause for Wisconsin”. Buildings hang over our personal walls, their inhabitants modified by the lonely swath of plains. Its expansion goes unnoticed by the stars. Somewhere in the middle of this city, the highway reaches out over the edge of a cliff and points down toward the floor, the very bottom of the place. I round the curve and hold my breath as the city disappears around me and I convince myself I am above the ocean.

Summer: The city burned us up. The women fell asleep inveighing. The years are sneaking behind my back and the wind is pushing the porches around.

The wild edges of our language are explicit in the distance. I see you at the parade holding an unlit sparkler. I see you buying vegetables. I see you nightly, unfairly, while the man beside me shivers. From this far away I see what you mean. The truck driver, the bottom feeder, the gallery owner, the restaurant. The photographs on the edges of bluffs and oceans. The dare. The burden. The prompt. The amputee. Like Gogol’s Nose, you wander the city your own man, your own system, a part of me that I have cut away.

In the fevers of the mid-day summer the drive gets incredibly longer. We sweat out our hedonistic nights while standing forgetfully beside the traffic lights. Car tires are sticking to the ground and we start to park on our lawns. Even the tone of the radio changes—the host falls asleep mid program—likewise, our patience is burning out on the dash. Even without the heat, I sweat. I panic and excite in varying severity. I watch for you on the opaque horizon—the mirage that never approaches.

Fall: Increasingly, it is useless to hang onto memory. I saw you in the aisle with the sleep aides. My eyes were swollen and red, your angular jaw was an instrument of mockery. Years later, the city would defend my nostalgia while I regret to attack it. The places, the checkpoints, the maps we unfold on the dash, pushing out the creases in frustration, saying: “This was not what I had planned”. Saying: “Oh, for God’s sake!”. Saying: “No”. Saying: “Put that fucking thing away, I’ll just turn around”.

This is where I change my memory: In the car you didn’t teach me to drive, in the place we never ate, in the house I always felt welcome in, with the friends I found arousing, in a bed near the ground, on a couch too dark and short. I will never change them back to what they were: Honda. Brunch. Hilltop. Shallow. Loft. Chartreuse. In the bull I found a peacock. In the peacock I found a stone.

The lights behind the sign are groaning. The architect lies in the field in front of the building. The party moves beneath the tension cables. Still unnoticed, the architect gathers the prairie grass around him, inhales the wet smell of earth, hears the low buzz of bees in autumn. I watch uncomfortably from across the street. Musicians dressed as wolves still croon inside the bar, their male comes to hang above me. The architect rolls with his arms out and mouth open. I have to make a decision.

Winter: (When you saw her again, her hair was longer than you ever saw it before. Your favorite trait now extended passed your reaching hand. You saw it growing slowly up your block, through the yard preceding yours. Through your own front yard. You watched it tangle in the rare city bushes, pulling itself free and growing towards your neighbors. Her hair, which began several miles away, grew extensively toward you, and then suddenly and permanently away.)

Spring: Somehow once a year has passed, one can start forgetting. The memories persisted by the city dilute and the city itself becomes an image on paper. I watch you at the table, but not with any interest. I watch you at the table, but not with any interest. I watch you at the table, but not with any interest. The sunset side of the city is always imperceptibly brighter, contrary to the recent news report. I’m standing at the table laughing at the wood grain. You believe my gestures are a sign of truce. We come together unharmed, unarmed, and silent. In the city we try and avoid each other, but the city orbits unaided around and the places between us are shrinking. When the last decrepit memory of you is eaten up by flies, every cloud above the city will break apart and let in the light at my summons.

Illume

Straight lines of light shoot into the empty sky

There’s no question about “how empty” or “what sky”

It’s the same kind of empty and the same sky that’s always been there

Seen from the greasy window ahead

And here I am, wasting my whiskey on the bar stool

Some creep’s hand around my waist tells me I’m talented

That I should be proud of who I am

Yeah, buddy this drink is strong

Stronger than your pickup lines

Stronger than the eyes of others.

I’m attracted to the waitress because she has nice clavicles

I tell her and we flirt. His hand grips imperceptibly tighter.

When I leave the dive I feel like quanta

Light, that is, traveling in raindrop formation

As opposed to the continuous wave, a river

Light that hits like cool rubber bullets to the eyes and skin

When you’re warmer than your milieu

And you cause evaporation.

Being struck by hard drops of rain-like light

I can climb through the streets immune to the

Penetrating darkness of the downtown limits

Waving my dampened jacket sleeves at erupting columns of light

Facing off the determined oppressor

Turning upwards to collect my release.

Syncope

What I hold limply in my fingers is soaking wet, embarrassing. The solidarity of the moment ruined in a sinus tangent–I’ve forget what I was thinking to sneeze loudly.  This is remarkable, unmarked in the seconds before it and wiped out completely in spastic exhales seconds after. My life is remarkable. I can’t stay dry and clear long enough to complete a sentence. I speak in fragments. It isn’t my most eloquent feature.  I don’t try to assume I have assailants floating around me, crawling inside and busying themselves somehow behind my swollen eyes. Instead I cover my face and walk around outside, to the points of my determination. How can I convince the chapel to let me install giant bass lines around the stage and podium? It wouldn’t take me very long to install, but–is it they’re afraid of interference?  I tell the minister, maybe something inside you will resound in a way only a wordless sermon could strike–the purifying effects of a single, quavering, echoing bass vibrating against an entire congregation, not meant to exalt but to bring all gently down to the unity of the physical world. Come down, don’t be confused by the urges you are having.  Can I offer you some water? Maybe you should sit down, take off your sweater, and let it finish running through those veins you forgot you had.  Can we forget about securing our death this morning, like a summer home exquisitely build and furnished in a flawless location, never occupied? Can you let me talk for a second? in my mucous fragments–bursts of pressure and I temporarily forget what I was implying afterwards, blowing my nose saying “excuse me, it must be something in the air”.  I’ll convince you, I’ll tell you all I know about the wars between one and two, the excuses we make at red lights, what it looks like to see a wreckage fly carried by helicopter outside the airport window, and then you will understand what I am about to propose.

 

 

 

Syncope


Please report your symptoms

To the physician in charge:

My sight is swollen shut,

Being recognizant and all that.

Recovery suggestion:

Decrease use of extremities during

Combat.

Give time to be

Feverish of the artificial overcast

Backdrop plane crash—

White tipped appliances, marble-colored water—

That sort of thing.

I can’t differentiate

Forearms from feathers

Anymore.

Please report your symptoms

To the physician in charge:

Weapons, women,

Sensitivity to bedroom mirrors,

Something crusty on the floor,

Loss of balance crossing streets,

Memory loss at red lights.

Sudden uncontrollable desire

To drink from hands.

Involuntary use

Of lower jaw.

Waking up again,

And again.

And again.

And again.

Suggested dosage:

Calling from the back of the nave

Wasp nests sound like

Splinted wood.

Take two on impact

With meal.

Shortness of breath

While pulling out chairs.

Please report your symptoms

To the physician in charge:

Becoming a backlit threshold,

Shining kitchen stucco,

The assaultive qualities of

Wool. Now,

I contend with a certain

Absorption. There is

Nothing I can do

But wait for an official

Report.

Not as ribcages

Quaver. Not as refraction

Multiplies. Not even man,

Reaching out towards

Woman, feels the pressure

Suddenly

Drop.

Multiple Choice Self-Evaluation/Anger Management Exam

Multiple Choice Self-Evaluation/Anger Management Exam

1)    I know it’s hard, but I’m_____________________.

a.     Always here for you

b.     Confident you’ll be OK

c.     Still sleeping with your ex

d.     Not so good with empathy

2)    I am not ready for________________.

a.     A relationship

b.     My last relationship to end

c.     2012

d.     Lunch

3)    When I told you____________, I really meant___________.

a.     “it sucks”, “it hurts”

b.     “goodbye”, “I miss you”

c.     to “never change”, “I can’t wait to forget you”

d.     “you look fine”, “does it matter?”

4)    My reaction to the store clerk today was _____________.

a.     Unnecessary

b.     Childish

c.     Out of anger reserved for someone else

d.     Free of charge

5)    Sometimes I catch myself ______________ out of anger or pain.

a.     Dropping dishware

b.     Hitting my dog

c.     Taking too long to cross the street

d.     Watching daytime TV marathons

6)    I practice self-deprecation _____________.

a.     Daily

b.     Hourly

c.     Infinitely

d.     Because I deserve it

7)    I need __________ to validate me.

a.     The classifieds

b.     Store clerks

c.     Personality tests

d.     Junk mail

8)    When I see someone else succeed, I ___________.

a.     Congratulate them on selling out

b.     Exit the premises

c.     Step on their achievements

d.     Introduce myself as him/her until I feel better

9)     It’s all fun and games until _______________.

a.     I show up

b.     Someone sleeps with my ex

c.     I start to make an effort

d.     It’s never fun

10)    When I complete this exam, I will _____________.

a.     Take it again

b.     Finish packing

c.     Blog about it

d.     Get on with my life

Ready to do This

Still, after everything

The waitress waits for you to stop sobbing and order your damn breakfast already

And she holds the pen very loose.

I wouldn’t count on her to bring you tea

To comment on the highway from the window

To ask how far you’ve come to sob on the table she’ll soon clean.

While you are doing this:

Still, after everything, unfortunately

I picked my head up off the wheel for the green light

And peel back something of an unbrushed smile into the mirror.

In December

In the Midwest

My epitome. I am sleeping in the same clothes I’m wearing

Walking the aisles with unwashed hair, the inevitable cold, and tender eyelids

Buying hot lunch or a tube of chapstick.

It is the last month of my life because I only live for three months a year

Those months are November, December, and January, minus the holidays—I’m not alive for those.

You stood in a theater of adorning eyes.

You were tired of your brilliance. It prevented you from sleeping.

Not me. No. Never. I’m too busy using my hands in combat.

Look: I can run away now with no hands.