1. mix well with sweat and cardio

    Here they are, lying down flat backs against the soft mattress, eyes pointed at the white textured plaster ceiling, side by side. Not so much holding hands but alternating, taking turns, studying the other’s hand while they are speaking. 

    They are seeing how many jokes they can remember, one from each then back to the other, irregardless of quality. The goal is merely to have something with any kind of punchline to say when it’s your turn. 

    When one is talking the other gives their hand over to manipulation by the listener’s hand. Who might examine it, closely or tender or rough. They might puppet it around, flop it back and forth or make crude signs with it. Whoever’s turn it is to tell a joke, they just have to keep speaking, no matter what is going on with their hands. 

    They have been at it for awhile. They are laughing hard by now. What started as muffled and staunched snickers has progressed past chuckling to full blown gales and is well on its way toward guffaws. 

    At which point, they are one joke away from the moment when their laughter fully overtakes them. Then they are pounding their feet against the bed. Knees bent and flat soles thumping the sheets, switching back and forth in exaggerated flutter kicks and bouncing themselves up and down, up and down, straight into even harder crack-ups. 

    Furthermore, with so many hysterics, each of their parts have swollen to trampolining, high jumping proportions. Humor being the sexiest thing ever.

     

  2. segmented

    We are near the historic and refurbished train station, sitting at a picnic table made of metal laced together in a diamond pattern with the seats and surface attached via awkwardly bent and connected legs. The sun is bright and I am wearing sun glasses sometimes pushed up on my head. The ground is too much concrete and the air feels like a thing passed artificially through a prism. Nothing about the scene is cozy. 

    I recognize that my body is distinct from the cottony clawing bubble of your admiration, which has engulfed me like a thick woolly cloud for several years now. I see myself existing free of it even as it hovers like a black, livery, lung of a placenta in the air between us. Slick and crumbling, a playdough ball of pickled meat. I am elated with fear to be outside of it.

    You are proceeding with what you are good at. From the ball of matting you wield deftly a conversation, woven, net of words that snares me only superficially. I can see the oily elixir as a separate entity and the embrace extends just far enough to run it’s hands over me. It cannot make purchase or establish its grip. 

    I am free of it and I watch you staggering, drunk in a pool of intoxicant desperation, grasping at me with all the reasons she is not my answer. Correct as you are it won’t matter. You no longer have the power to snatch my hands for holding. You need me to reach for you. 

    And in that moment I know. From then on my knowledge of it never falters. If my demeanor seemed at times to waver, it was mere slippage in the facade of time. I will never again hold out my hand in your direction. 

    We were sweating, then, and the bench etched its diamond pattern in the fat on the back of my thighs. The flesh oozes through the holes no matter how skinny you are. The mood was too neutral to be cold. Just hard and plastic-coated and over. 

     

  3. the music’s timing undefined

    For weeks now I’ve been thinking about scales. The scale of sleeps. The sound of octaves of consciousness dropping out at the bottom and the time it takes to move up and down the days of a life of lifetimes. 

    The way small animals that don’t live very long still have to contend with the same number of hours in each day as humans do. A whole life in three years or less if you’re a rat, still less than that for most insects, barely more for a toddler. Something miserable in between those spans and a human lifetime if you’re a dog or a cat. Lots of trees and some other creatures live even longer than people.

    But for all creatures, the planet spins the same. Their night dark as long as my night, their days bending the same stretch of sun away as mine. The seasoning of time in a year. 

    I am preoccupied, too, by the scale of accumulation. How much longer is a ten-minute wait to a two year old who has only lived through 784 nights compared to my own tally of over 17,000 sleeps. As the insignificance of ten minutes confronts me so does the changing rate of the time that is left, when compared to what’s passed in the past. 

    When I was five and six years old I used to be consumed with the nonchalant attitude the grownups had toward Christmas and birthday celebrations. My horror was only compounded when I figured out that it had taken only thirty-some odd seasons for my parents to grow so jaded. It seemed to me, clearly, that even a total as large as eighty Christmas celebrations in a lifetime could not possibly be enough to make it routine. And here I am, twenty-years an atheist in my forties, shunning pine trees and wrapping paper with equal vehemence. Leaving the candles off my cake as if my remaining years are a dry forest in danger of catching fire. 

    I guess my biggest burning question is how we can even agree on anything as abstract as a definition for what constitutes life. What arrogance we assume in comparing everything to us. We can’t even keep decent track of our planet spinning and waltzing around the sun. We are so uneven, unmeasured. What a crazy unkempt cacophony of a symphony it would be if anything even remotely like a human was in charge of keeping time. 

     

  4. nowhere far

    A creature soft sleeping curled around a chest releasing puffs of breath turned woolly. Floating up with neck stretched, comfortable but back to raise exhales, lifted through mist with cloudy insistence.

    Light ballast against the slow floating sink of soothing moving down and through with gravity’s steady pull toward a root. Bedded in the floor of the deepest chamber, magnetically. Held in a warm round vessel of strong liquor swallowed, a tummy of heat coating and splayed out. An echo ellipses through limbs, swims trailing streaks back into the middle. 

    Into this fiber, from another side of life in a different time and place, comes a needling with no string drawing through. A tender snag, a snippet gripped gently and pulled back. To another plane. 

    A level below the bottom, follow an opening, cotton strands of consciousness banking and sliding, gliding deftly pouring over a lip soft full-edged ring-sucked, like wet sand down the hourglass. 

    Afterward, a doughnut of fluff, cupped in the palms of gentle hands. A vortex empty center. Lifted up and encouraged to stand on legs wobbly, inhaling deep to fill the space beyond tired. Engulfed in the exhaustion of traveling within. 

    A cat named sleeping betty, her claw a spindle, spiked into a spun sugar bouffant dream. She pats at me, toying. Gracefully, she places the pink pads under the silk fur of one paw across my tail. She smiles as my spinning legs wheel in a direction that takes me nowhere far from here. 

     

  5. i’ll be your second

    The first night that spring I slept with the window open, under flannel sheets with freshly shaved legs and the revelation dropping from the ceiling like the cloud of a toxic bomb in reverse.

    Each of us is invested in being convinced of our own unpleasant weird uniqueness. Because if we give that up, the trade off. There is always a trade off, cool spring night to soft blanket, nakedness to sweat, knowing to being something important.

    Sew the trade off. Sew the trade off shut. The guts slipping squirming out between the cut are the reality that if we accept we are similarly part of all of everything human there are too many consequences.

    Well there are so many. Humans and their trade offs. But at the top, if we are not ourselves different than all the rest then, well when. Well then, the other must be as self-absorbed and greedy and thinking themselves the middle of the universe that needs rescuing in order for the world to continue on as us.

    And if they are the needy center how will they be able to see that I am my own and nothing has two nuclei. The only hope for our own savory saving by a savior is if they are not a center themselves but rather a periphery and therein so much different are we from each other. I want someone the same enough to understand me!

    But it is a total lie we tell ourselves. That we alone are freaky and alone. No, we are surrounded by shredding heavy gravities. Exactly the same as us. We can pretend we want to be normal all day but we don’t. The truth is we don’t. That is what terrifies us first, and foremost. 

     

  6. not shushing, the opposite

    Have you ever detected meaning in the pattern of my breathing? I am imagining a “conversation” conducted solely in breaths. Snuffles and patterns, out and in, sniffing and blowing and snorting. Inhales and ex, short and fast and long and slow and… awww-shhhhucks.

    Such a conversation would surely take place in the dark, on flat backs, horizontal and shoulder to shoulder. Or spooned in the pitch black of night’s drawer. Close up, but without looking.

    The sort of conversation that begins without touch but knows it is akin to more tangible sensation. It proceeds in that direction, then. It is a prelude. Yes. Just. Just air and chests, swells and crests, bellies and deflation and cloudy puffs, temporary and full of meaning.

    The way the gut squeezes in to make room, empty space inside, for the next breath. The way it tickles when you listen to each others’ bodies saying that. 

    Tagged #prose #jillc
     

  7. unilingual

    In my dream I am surrounded by men in benevolent bodies reaching with stories. They propel me forward on smooth arms and strong thighs. They fix fiercely gentle eyes on all the space around me when they are not looking directly into mine.

    Speaking low and friendly, tones echo through smiling mouths near the verge of laughter spurting from their delight. They delight in our shared presence, treasured company. A warm belly wrapped round my middle and rubbed as if every word springs from my existence and nothing else. Heartened we are held in each others’ minds.

    We know this because the shape of our hands tell an experience into being of life in human form. Temporary glorious burning comedic lines of flesh and time drop in sways, undulate in descending waves into layers that fill all the space around us. Our bodies are revealed as letters, as strokes of meaning in the language of something much larger than all the gods we have ever dreamed.

    We are. The only language.

     

  8. a hands matter holding

    Together we explore to discover the place where words meet the edge of meaning and see that what remains is inadequacy. Specifically, here, my grievance centers on the word “know” in all its utter, glorious, staggering audacity. Claims to be the junction that connects us based on evidence, based on data, based on knowledge — this is nothing short of ludicrous. I am not interested in merely getting to know you. That would be a class, a task, an episode of show and tell, at best. 

    When we reached across from the darkness, dragging shadow with us, when we touched hands, we held something beyond learning and at once more immediate. The sensing of another, the swimming in shared perception, in your perception conjoined to mine, in swirling layers of experience, engaging each other to create nested layers of interaction. A thick, intricate, complex weaving laced and strength knotted into co-creation. Co-creation of moments. A mosaic of moments in the shape of love. Understanding, empathy and dancing all at once more completely within each our own and each others’ consciousness. A deeper way of being. However fleeting, undeniable in its power to enrich life. 

    Less-than-zero sum population growth. Reducing the number of individuals without accommodating death. However temporary, a condensing distillation of human quality to potency and power expanded through collaboration. Shared awareness beyond. Beyond self and way beyond what is held in the notion of known

    Instead the connection resides in fiery light. It welds. It does not reach. Not for permanence nor for control nor for fancy. It is a hand holding, a side-stroking, a spoon, an animal, a twist. It swims through us and between us holding on and letting go. It is tangible and vibrant and rhythmic. It beats and reverberates. At its grace and its mercy, we submit and are each and always separately and together, altogether transformed. 

    Tagged #prose #jillc
     

  9. bleak & sanctioned

    She wants to know if you can count someone strong if they started off as unbreakable from the beginning.  Neither one of us thinks so. Invincible seems like an evil superpower. 

    I tell her to tear it all down or resign herself to building a perimeter around her. Pay some attention to who she let’s cross. Establish her own safety zone and develop a protocol for addressing the evil bits she inevitably lets through. 

    In either case, her next questions slather themselves over the opposition’s reaction, as she tries to anticipate what they will do. They will be like all abusive humans have been, I promise.

    They will be disproportionately indignant, as if they have never lost anything of real value before. 

                     ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

    She knew instantly when she met him that he had raped women. It was a thing that only happened a few times in her life but when it had she had no doubt about it. There was no wishy-washiness to worry about. She didn’t question the fact of it, she just never knew what to do. Three out of four times so far, hard evidence that she was right had come back to her, later.  Each time she had wanted to die for a little while when she found out about it. 

    Now this was number five. And the evidence that she was right in her prediction piled up around her. In her first-hand experience and in stories reported to her. Everything suggested a deep-seated misogyny lived in this creature and she knew from his self-reported accounts that he viewed women as sexual objects. He agreed he was comfortable exploiting women for his own pleasure. He felt it was natural, he was entitled before he “settled down”. 

    She knew that any consequence she could enact or affect against him was realistically short-lived and highly limited in scope. She knew anything she did was only likely to antagonize him to be more hideously violent in some not so distant future. To some other woman. She correctly accepted without question that her culture would shelter him enough to provide him with the freedom to do horrible things to others, no matter how valiant and lucky she might get in her efforts to thwart him.

    The best she could do. The absolute hideous option she was left with, was to effect minimal consequences, such that he would not be in her line of sight next time he perpetrated. 

    She was ashamed. 

    She built a perimeter. All the while dreaming of tearing it all down. 

     

  10. vacuums and the persistence of purpose

    Given how hard it has been for me to let myself need anything, I was surprised how quickly and obviously my awareness of the thing I needed rushed in. As if all it needed were it’s exact absence for me to feel it and know it in a sudden rush of unquestionable intuition.

    The way a vacuum draws. The way it destroys itself. The way its definition is its undoing.

    The way I could not name it. The way asking for your simplest sensitivity seemed ridiculous to articulate until it was gone. The way my sensitive response to your, more than likely unintentional, insensitivity was a slick filet knife. Even tempered and well-filtered, my pain the thinnest blade made for slicing. Slicing layers of myself free.

    Beginning with the first layer. The layer of your protection. The layer that needed to be everything smooth and easy and not need. This failure to be granted the one thing I now can only see in its absence I needed but can’t reasonably count on, this failure has freed me to need it. I suddenly feel completely reasonable expecting it and consequently in my outrage at not getting it. Your sensitivity felt brisk in absence. 

    There is no blame just surety in my own deserving. I deserve not to feel that again. No matter how accidental, it is unbearable even merely as a risk.  And I was the one who put myself at risk. It’s one thing to drink before you know. Another, another thing entirely to drink again later. 

    So not getting what I was afraid to need has freed me to need it in a way that means I won’t give myself a chance to get it again. Get it either way. Smack in the face or need met there are some things, places you’ve gone, you can never unclaim.

    A flag on a stake that even drawn out and laid down leaves a hole in the ground. Unmistakable and round and a reminder, not a line because that is not how time works, just a small circle around which the rest must recline.  

    A vacuum around which all future interactions must stay far enough distant to avoid falling into the draw of that cold empty place. Each misstep feeds the void and makes the hole bigger.

     It makes play far away, outside the range of the crater, easier. Feeds a different hope of returning to picnic one day. It’s a circle, like all things, and the persistence of purpose. 

     

  11. adulation in dry tones

    I said, ”Today at work, someone I really like, who really likes me, told me I looked like shit. She said, ‘What’s going on? You look like shit. I mean, I’m sorry but is there some reason, I mean I guess other than no sleep? Some reason you look like shit?’”

    I was telling the story while we ate. 

    "She was right, I guess. I mean," I laughed. "I haven’t been sleeping well. The last three nights. Waking up early and not being able to fall back asleep. So she’s right but, damn." I coughed out another little outraged chuckle. "I didn’t think I looked that bad. And she is German. I mean, literally. But still…"

    "Smoke less. Sleep more."  This reply was as nonchalant, if not quite as harsh, as the reference to shit I had only just finished describing. But she did not seem to notice or care.

    She ate a couple of bites and then continued to tell me about her coworker. His persistent and insistent glum mood. The repulsiveness of it. I agreed. I made supportive sounds and nonverbal gestures. I nodded. I said, “Mmm.” and “Mmmhm.” I said, “You cannot be responsible for anyone else’s mood. It’s a fail.”

    She made sounds of agreement with my agreement. She said, “Mhm.”

    Then she told me how she felt about van Gogh. She told me she was studying him and the other post-impressionists in the humanities class she was taking at the university. 

    "I love van Gogh." She said.

    "Mmm. Me, too." I said.

    "I love the colors of course but also the texture, the way you can see the paint." She rubbed her fore and middle fingers against her thumbs here, with both hands. She held them up in front of her. She furrowed her brow and made a crooked half-grin at the same time. She squinted one eye far more than the other. She said, "It makes me feel the way he saw the world."

    She said it very earnestly. I understood her meaning, precisely. 

     

  12. retiring

    On a very small, all-girls dormitory floor, where twenty-eight of us lived in fourteen rooms, sharing nine showers, ten toilets and a dozen sinks, there was no such thing as a cable tv hook-up. It had yet to be piped in to those old buildings. The lounge on the first floor had twenty-two-foot-tall ceilings. The floors were all one foot square sparkling granite tile. There were giant antique carpets with fringe downstairs and chandeliers casting warm light on a host of authentic period couches.

    Upstairs our feet went cold. We tortured one another, stealing each others’ towels and robes, usually when someone was shaving their legs for a date. The resulting goosebumps would raise the stubble immediately. We stole each others’ food and bras and shoes. We tipped our desk chairs back because they were wood without wheels and we threw peanuts at each others’ wide open mouths. We repeated the same physical gags over and over and over and laughed hysterically at ourselves. Once, on a no-doze bender, we did a cumulative total of eighty-eight cartwheels, between three of us, up and down the hallway. 

    We did not own computers or cell phones or even answering machines for the most part. I didn’t even have my car on campus. Life was primitive. 

    But I did have an old director’s porch chair, the seat and back slung with thick rough mustard yellow canvas. And I had a tiny portable RCA color tv with rabbit ears and a ten-and-a-half inch screen in a one-foot-by-one-foot case. It sat on a book shelf made of bricks and one-by-sixes against the wall. It hung off the front and the back. 

    The goal was to get all my homework done by the time Letterman came on at 11:30 pm. Then, I allowed myself to pull the chair up close, close enough for the headphones to reach the socket on the back of the tv. There i would sit alone and smoke until i was gooned and laughing out loud along with Dave. 

    I had no VCR, and you had to keep hold of the tinfoil on the antennae to get a good picture anyway, so a taped version recorded when you weren’t paying attention would have been just so much static. It meant I was on a schedule. If I didn’t get my work done in time, I missed it. No Letterman, no jokes, no buzz. 

    I feel fond about it.  Dave motivated me. I made the Dean’s LIst. He was kind of like my surrogate dad. Only friendly. And funny. And (best of all) liberal. I haven’t watched him in years, since I got rid of all my tv’s. But I still feel like I’ll miss him when he quits. 

     

  13. sister

    My sister, we adopted each other, in our parents’ divorces and their remarriage to each other. But that was the second time. We were godsisters since her birth, baptized in shared baths symbolizing nothing but the need to clean us of daily dirt and deliver us smelling sweet to bed. It feels like I can remember her when I was three but I’ve seen too many pictures to be sure. I can remember the big white claw footed tub with the soffit underlip painted deep red and the square white tiles with dark grout.

    This is real memory and not simply construction, I’m sure. I can feel the cold and the smooth but still porous texture, the tiles and the porcelain were one continuous seamless pattern of feeling. There was a frosted glass transom, framed in dark stained wood and always open, above the bathroom door. Even then, one of my first memories, was seeing through things. I guess genetically, it makes sense. My dad was a civil engineer and my mom always has been a human empathy machine.

    I was aware of the stairwell on the other side of the bathroom wall, to the east, though I did not know the name of the direction then. I was aware of the more modern tub upstairs directly above in the bathroom with the slanted ceiling, squeezed in under the roof eaves. I understood that the pipes ran in the wall, in between. I imagined them when I was running my very tiny chubby hand and fingers along the wall on my way up that flight. Some nights walking, some nights carried. We moved when I was four, just before I turned five. But I remember. 

    So, too, a vivid and real memory of my mother yelling at my not yet step-sister, aged two, insisting she speak. And my sister’s refusal. My role to deliver messages across the middle. The middle between them where the communication was gridlocked, less broken and more crowded to the point of total clog. 

    My sister. Before our parents were together, when they were with our other parents and we each still had our own, only-child household. My sister had every pet you could imagine. Inside and out of the house. They roamed through the sliding glass patio door into the den and back out again, onto the deck. Even the chickens. My stepfather says his failure to kill the rooster was the root cause of his first marriage’s doom. Which is odd since that was the very first necessary hurdle standing before his remarriage to my mother. Whom he says he always loved. So, no wonder. No wonder all this talk of marital success and failure still seems arbitrary and confusing. But my sister had her chickens and ducks and cats and dogs and lizards and fish and turtles and mice and hamsters and pretty much everything but ferrets and milk cows. She didn’t have a pot bellied pig but I know she had a baby squirrel once and it still seems like she had a skunk with the stink glands removed, though I may have dreamed that one up for a game of pretend. Because I was there, too, at her house. Before their divorce, our parents were best friends as couples. 

    My sister who is still to this day surrounded with every kind of pet you can imagine night and day. She is a doctor of veterinary medicine with a degree from the top school in the states and she has a lovely salaried position in a private small animal practice. Best of course is how good she is at it, along with how much she loves it. She has chickens and cats and dogs and three daughters under the age of ten, at home too. 

    In the last year, she has helped me euthanize two deeply loved pets. And she is so soft and strong and sad and good at it all at once. I think death is the only time I’ve ever seen her cry. She is quiet about it. 

    I think she is more aware inside herself than me of the way she is tethered and woven in with the world. I think animals bring an understanding of the invisible, inescapable connections. I think that, like me, she is misunderstood in today’s world. In return though, she understands herself and the world much better than I ever could. She is taller than me but her feet reach down into the ground. 

    Tagged #prose #jillc
     

  14. nts: small loose handful of associations…

    …spilling out like words between my brain’s fingers: 

    As someone who favors the trickster archetype, there is no wonder in my fascination with stories that present the most fanciful possible, hidden, behind-the-scenes explanations for the most familiar and mundane events. 

    Events surrounding topics like death (Dirty Job). Or Shakespeare (Fool). Or Jesus (Lamb). Or anti-depressants (The Lust Lizard of Melancholy Cove). All funny books by amazing comic author Christopher Moore. A fact which gives me pause to consider the reality of jokes — sames as stories. If there is really only one story (a creature journeys and returns transformed), then there is probably also only one joke (invoking a fanciful explanation for a mundane event). 

    Some might worry that this only-one theory creates a scarcity, a paucity of room for unique and interesting creative expression. I would argue the opposite. With all the skeletons identical, the flesh has infinite room for varied permutations. The meat and potatoes and the carton and every stinking detail down to the brand of the refrigerator and the angle of the light are fair game for venting and interjecting the teller’s own personality.

    It is kind of the same way that admitting to your inevitable unavoidable vulnerability frees you and makes you slightly invincible. More and more experience seems to suggest that it is the defense that represents, reveals and comprises the weakness. The defiance of fear is a super power. 

    I could run through the same list, death (And the High Cost of Living), Shakespeare (Sandman: The Dream Country), Jesus (American Gods), antidepressants (Sandman: Fables & Reflections) and add wishing on stars (Stardust) with another favorite author, Neel Gaiman. But with Gaiman the tone is more epic, more serious. Indeed it seems the comic relief of fanciful explanations is a hidden framework  that saves us from total seriousness and tragedy in many of Gaiman’s stories. 

    Maybe the secret is the telling of secrets. The just right light shining from behind the illusion, not completely revealing, not utterly transparent, not shattering, just telling. 

     

  15. due hope

    Enough trying to be clever about it. Enough looking for an artistic hook. After more than a week of wrestling my consciousness over the idea of even thinking about you at all, let alone in a friendly or forgiving tone, it is time to just shut up my head already and write it out. Write it off. Whatever. 

    It started a little more than a week ago but it became irresistible last Tuesday when a relatively new friend found out I had a three-year-long live-in relationship with someone fifteen years younger than me.

    My friend said, “So he was good-looking, then.” Which totally confused me, which must have shown clearly on my face before I could even formulate a question about what he meant. Because he immediately said, “Well he must have been hot. Right? I mean, like he was a stud, I’m guessing. That’s why you were with him.”

    Then I laughed. And next, that’s when I realized, I must have honestly forgiven you by now. I refrained from saying all manner of things that would have just been mean and snarky. Even if you didn’t hear them, even if I didn’t write about them. I didn’t say you resembled Elmer Fudd, you don’t, really, but you did a little bit at your heaviest and least happy. I didn’t say that your therapist said our age difference was okay because I looked young and you looked old and it reduced the apparent difference to less than five years. God, what kind of bitch says that to her client, anyway?

    No, I smiled. I chuckled a little. But I was not even tempted to say either of these things. Instead I said, without thought or resistance or hesitation, I said, “It was headspace. He was the first person I honestly believed I shared headspace with since becoming a grown up. It was something I hadn’t felt since I was a kid. And he made me believe in it, again.”  Then I laughed. I blushed at the feeling of forgiveness. I felt… flush with myself and the world because of it. 

    I still have absolutely no idea if you ever have had or will have or do have moments of uncontrived sincerity in your life. But it’s nice to know that deep down, I hope you do. 

    Tagged #prose #jillc