The fraternal mood at breakfast belied the passion of the night before. One spoke of a previous lover, pressed against the wall of a hotel corridor. The other shared a memory of puffy nipples. They laughed and interrupted one another and paid mostly less attention to the details than they should have. Than they might have. Than might be expected for lovers deeply bonded and about to part ways.
Their eyes met briefly over wry smiles, the slightest of moments across the table just as their ankles brushed underneath. He stood sweeping himself from his seat and filled both of their mugs from the sideboard decanter.
She noticed the tip of her red silk scarf, worn at her breast the night before, peeking from the top of his front trouser pocket. Noticing her notice, he swiveled his hips with a jerk just as she reached to snatch it back — a liquid chuckle and tilt of the head her only replies when he escaped her.
Moments later, as they walked arm in arm to the train station, she asked him, “Do you intend to keep my silk, then? As a personal talisman, my dear man? Do tell. Are you plotting to cast spells on me in the near future?”
In response, it was his turn to chuckle and shake his head. To introduce an abrupt turn in the conversation as they rounded the final corner in their trip across town.
"Will you be here to greet me on my return," he stopped and turned to face her and she reflexively mirrored his motion, "at dusk?"
She nodded, bit her bottom lip and smiled. She made her whole face say — of course! what an absurdly unnecessary question. Then she said, out loud in her most serious voice, quiet and low with little inflection. “Maybe, but not likely.”
They looked directly into each other’s eyes. Then continued walking.
He did not return the scarf when he kissed her goodbye on the cheek, nor in the last moments he held her embrace.
She watched as the train pulled away slowly. She walked along the platform next to it as it went. His arm extended out the window in front of her, head and body hidden inside. The red silk flapping in his fist.
She smiled as he opened his fingers wide. She quickened her pace to match the accelerating train. Laughed out loud as she saw the wind grab her scarf and draw it, like cigarette smoke, into the narrow alley between two brick buildings just beyond the platform.
The train whistle drowned out the sound of her shoes on the pavement as she followed the shadows down the passageway after it.
He imagined her, throughout the day, chasing the scarf. Pursuing it like her own sense of feminine identity, an amulet imbued with her sexual juju, a symbol of her most potent magnetism and charm. He smiled to himself each time the thought came across his mind. He looked forward to seeing her that evening and admitted to himself, albeit reluctantly, that he hoped she would be waiting close at hand when he returned on the train.
For her part, she did not spend the day chasing the scarf. Rather, like the most elegant, proficient blood hound, she tracked it effortlessly and with notable grace down the alley, around the corner, and onto the sunny patio of a bustling cafe. Once there, scarf and woman seemed to find each other as if destined. Her fingers grasped its shiny red corner, pulled it from the air and shook it several times vehemently — not unlike the clamped teeth of the hound, gentle but firm, shaking its prey with rigor.
In this way, she secured a premium spot in the front window seat of the dining area, and began a day of “holding court” to a stream of admirers and friendly townspeople who seemed inexplicably drawn to her side. She smiled to herself, thinking of her breakfast companion fondly and secretly thanking him for airing out and reawakening her magnetic charm. She wore the scarf tied around her neck all day.
She was not easy to spot, leaning against the brick wall in the narrow alley at dusk. One knee raised, foot flat, head pressed back, chin up, the red silk tied around her wrist and dangling, at her hip, at the end of her long slender arm. She never turned her head. She didn’t flinch at the whistle or the gush of wind as the slowing train passed. She just stood there waiting, for him to come.
her mother’s lullabies were evidence
the dear woman could sing
a baby to sleep
she was not allowed to cry
the tally card required
smiles tipped a balance
well hung upon
the world they pretended
was fair and good
bad for bad
hostages & elective mutism
pick up sticks
the archaeological dig
the rubble of a bombed out building
delicate uncovering brutal
i want to know
how you would explain
if my life depended on it
understanding the consequence
it ain’t life but it’s a living
we can call it
furniture for the dead
but if it offends
the casket maker
we can go over his head
and call it
they want to call it a vessel
for the body to rest in
equipped with mattresses
drawers for love notes and jewelry
it is a lie
we pay for the coffin maker’s
in the same way
celebrity is killing kanye
of a faithful critic
I dreamt of a man and about okcupid and all of it felt weird and wrong in a way that I was glad to wake up from and find it was only a dream.
But the man. The man was appealing to me and only a neck weathered and lined, marked with dirt and slick with sweat, whiskers sharp and more than a couple days of stubble at the periphery. It was the smallest patch of vision I could see, bordered and sharply rectangle. And it was in black and white.
I’ve never dreamed without color before.
I was surprised because I was trying to pay attention to that and the war between to be dreaming or to be believing in it as real was raging strong but all I noticed was my desire. I was inviting him into me and my bed from that little rectangle swatch, attempting to unfold my sight into something bigger. When the definite sense that it was merely, obviously, a dream took over. I went back to tunnel vision studying that squared off piece of skin and my feeling of surprise at wanting it genuinely.
I thought then of women who walk like cowboys and the way all those men who were called cowboys for all those years have been trying to imitate them and that is why they consider themselves brave when their friends suggest they try online dating. The women who do it are not brave because they weren’t afraid to begin with and you can’t tell a damn thing about a woman by the way she moves until you’ve watched her walk for at least six months. I find women captivating and I am appalled at the patience with which my conscious doles them out to me. So slowly. The slimy snail of awareness. I think online dating is like agreeing to pay part of your life’s blood power to enter the game. It makes sense but it hurts and feels sinister.
Yesterday’s sleep left me dreaming of men who tricked me and then laughed at the ways I exposed myself. Transparently transparent. I don’t believe you when you say you think my honesty makes me less vulnerable. That is simply not true. It does not make me less vulnerable. It makes you more comfortable. It makes you feel less vulnerable to see how willingly vulnerable I can be.
And still I survive. And I am a girl. Yes. That is why, alright. I am woman and a girl. I am feral at heart. That’s the only way I’ve made it in this far alive. I am burrowing, digging in, indeed. It inspires you in a way that makes me throw my head back in mean laughter. Play fetch with my cynicism and then toss it casually over the edge with a flick of my jaw. Maw open. As usual.
We are always playing so close to the edge. Who is the architect of these cliffs? Who orchestrates it? Is it me or is it you?
I am made of listening. My body
singing a cantata of thirst.
I am kneeling in dirt. My mind
lost in the chaos of static wild heat.
I am all hands open. My palms
braced on earth’s deck as the universe pours.
I am the wide mouth vessel. My essence
phrasing and movements your music.
I am emptiness. My mind’s eye
imagination reflects only love.
I am forever broken. My healing
endless complete and ecstatic.
I am all of nothing. My soul
random untamed error shiny and brief.
we all walk sidewalks full of ourselves
preachers without congregations
choirs without revelation
convinced to the point of convincing
to listen to
righteous voices raised
assume a common
god or logic
when all that is of value
the ringing unison
false and true
in the same room
once upon a somewhen
comes a woman
soft and fierce and strong
fingers symbols of lithe strength
tapping and dancing
crooked and laughing hands
braiding and braiding and braiding
three thick black wavy sets of plaits
long down your back
strands folded one over the other
inlaid with breaths and kisses threads
placed on the neck between knots
of your hair your precious secrets
shared she will be your champion
you her warrior
selfish dark and shady
I have nothing against the river
and I’m fairly decent in the front of a canoe
as a metaphor for life, there is nothing more useful
but what I really need to do, is piece my steps
across a crick every single day forever if i tell
the first family vacation
I can remember just after
I turned four
in the Grand Tetons early summer
wild flowers and my dad’s naked foot
in the middle of a freezing cold spring fed
creek and they let me take my shoes and socks off too
the rocks were smooth and slippery
my toes numbed immediately
and i was baptized
forevermore a crooked fairy
of the crick
probably my favorite hangout
as a kid was four blocks south
and two blocks east from the alley
on which my house sat
it was a patch of woods
a hundred yards or more thick
with a creek running down the middle
we’d go in small packs of kids
from two to ten of us
how far we could go in depended
upon how many little kids tagged along
and how long before someone
had to be home for dinner
or the orthodontist
the temperature and light
the smell inside there
"down at the creek"
was different than anything
in the rest of the world
how wet and how muddy
you got your shoes
depended on if you actually
to be there
as a teenager we moved
to the country proper
it wasn’t a river but it was bigger
than my babygirl crick
three quarters of a mile down the road
there was a bridge over
and i would sit on its edge
dangle my sneakers
and smoke cigarettes
flicking butt after butt
watching them float away
until I was woozy
had to lay back on the bank
before I could walk home again
without throwing up
a stream trickling
is likely too dainty
I want a creek
a muddy crick
that floods up over the grass
banks once or twice in a decade
and never demands more attention
than I choose to give it
underneath the big pines
three fir trees
two placed close
a third fingers
brushing the others
so together they created
one big continuous patch of shade
the branches sloped
to a four foot high vaulted
ceiling over dust and needles
no shaggy grass carpet
smooth dirt and dried
bronze soft pile
we raked aisles
and walkways through
it was the two dimensional blueprint
of the rooms, the literal floorplan
of the pretend house we committed to
we did not walk through the walls
these lines designated
it stayed dry and fairly cool
most of the year barring the cliche
of a torrential downpour
north end sheltered by the garage wall
back boundary the tall dog fence
mom could not see through the shadows
from the kitchen window
the trunks were chimney pipes
their clinging locust shells play toys
armies of fragile insectile society
it was an accepted and understood
destination as well as a recognized
game we all had the protocol down
we knew the rules necessary
when someone said let’s go
play house underneath the big pines
as far as archetypes go
i imagine it’s not easy being
a trickster in a zombie’s world
the monsters are dull to your jokes
interested they don’t
exactly try to eat the jester-fool
but they do like to get in
a lick or two
meanwhile, around the world
a far cry from Shanghai
sights to warp your mind
the spinning ride
the spinning wheel
the spinning hips
the spinning sugar
of cotton candy
on too many lips
pursed and eyes rolling
less bumpy trail
if i talk crazy
on my drifty way
down to sleep
will you make
those very deep
sly chuckles sing
and keep track
of every funny thing
i say in writing
marks on my back
with the soft tip
of your fingernail
if i can read it
and remember later
it will be a reverse
romantic sort of
he knew all the right people
he had wealth and power
tell me how funny I was
tomorrow at breakfast
she said with a smile
while sinking under
At my first job other than babysitting, I remember the chiaroscuro.
Beginning the Friday after Memorial Day weekend and running five days a week through the end of County Fair week, which was really ten days in August, I was at the public pool. There was usually one or two days off around the fourth of July, but otherwise it was every day, every summer from the age of 11 to 15, from 6:45 am until almost noon.
I broke my nose twice there, during those years. Stained the crystal blue bottomed pool water and chlorine green with the blood of my very own nostrils, right straight out the middle of my very own face.
My skin turned dark dark brownie brown. I never knew a bottle of sunscreen. My nose burned and peeled repeatedly. But nothing else. I just got browner and browner against the ever-whitening pale of my ass and breasts. Breasts that progressed in their development from pink puffs on flat pecs to full b-size cups in four years.
They rivaled the pinkening of my privileged feet beneath the callouses. We did not wear flip-flops then, that would have been cheap and white-trashy our mothers and older sisters said. We wore sneakers without socks and left them hanging over the handlebars of our bikes by the laces. We went into the pool compound through the eight foot chain link gates, through the pool house, spent all morning teaching swimming lesson after swimming lesson, did it all barefoot.
I might say it was the last place I have a clear memory of being connected, solid, to the earth — but I wasn’t. It was a concrete world. From one shade and texture of conrete to the next, from the deck to the side boards to the wet wet concrete at the bottom of the pool floor. Concrete covered in white paint layered in three to 12 feet of water after watery depth and level. The place was a concrete swamp, surrounded by a poured rock jungle and chain link to keep the after hours intruders out. (It didn’t. We simply used the fence to climb onto and over the roof of the pool house — to skinny dip, of course.)
There was a pack of us teenagers, maybe twenty of us, no more than two dozen. ranging in age from 11 to 18, the manager was a totally buff dude of 28 with a degree in parks and rec, a certified personal trainer. I had to pull him limp and dragging from the deep end to pass my life-saving course. He bought one of the first beers I ever drank away from my own house. I think I might have been 13 by then. I hope.
The pool was at the bottom of two gentle slopes, intentionally placed there at the edge of the fairground park, sheltered by what little variation in the geographical plane was available in the middle of the heartland’s plains. Beyond the concrete and its rock and chain link boarder there was fifty yards of grass and huge old growth trees in all directions, toward the parking lot and the surrounding neatly curbed and paved streets. The elementary school with its playground equipment on the east and the fair grounds with its race track on the west.
Most of the pool and deck was shaded until the sun came up over the hill strong around 7:28 a.m. The first hour was spent, tense and chilled, marked by the stripes of harsh slanty shadows. The class that began at seven induced a plague of goosebumps across instructors and tots dipping their feet in only reluctantly for the first half of the lesson. Their moms yelling and bullying, painted nails and wedding ringed fingers stuck through and gripping the linked holes from the other side of the fence.
I knew every single damn day that it was all going to feel good once the sun got hot and the kids quit whining and crying. I knew for sure it would be okay and worth it by the time eight o’clock or even 7:50 rolled around. But those mornings before that, or the days the sun never came out, when rain threatened but didn’t cancel the session, then it was pure misery — the cold, the scrunched shoulders, the complaining children. It actually hurt.
It was hard, but not very. And it was glorious. I can still remember the feeling of the beach towel wrapped around my muscled obliques and tucked in just below the belly button in front. I can feel the textured lines grated into the concrete to make it grip and not slippery, the snags across the seat of my bikini, the whistle on a lanyard around my neck. I remember how the smell of chlorine lingered in my hair until almost Halloween. And how the tan lines never disappeared once in all four years, lasting clear through each winter.
I loved that place. Some of the worst tragedies of my life resulted because of it and the connections I made there. Those were my first paychecks, ever. Every kind of first intoxication. This is not a secret but, I don’t think I’ve ever told anyone, exactly. About the place. I grew up a lot there, I lost some vital things and I gained some. Both good and bad in both cases. I was scared sometimes but I was strong and brave. I knew how. I taught a lot of kids to swim.