how fitting is it, for us to have created our own end? the only thing more powerful than a human hand is the gun it points at itself. you can't say you're surprised that no one listened, why would they when the news reports cry wolf at every strain of strange cells. bacteria, viruses that creep into your bones faster than winter and freeze twice as cold. you imagine them made of metal, robotic rabies raised by the nurturing hands of our own scientists and their insatiable thirst for mortality. you can't say you're surprised that the subways ran on schedule still or that the white masks over mouths didn't grow in number. you can't say you're surprised that no one paid attention until it was far too late.
the I.V. was like ivy crawling it's way to the crook of her arm, two plastic bags hanging down like overrippened fruit above her head and you think of her beautiful hands and the veins on the back of them as the veins of a leaf
yellow in autumn
and her skin, yellow in autumn and hollow bones lit up
like christmas lights against an x-ray machine.
bed, 2:30 p.m.- mid april.
"would you love me if my face was stuck like this?" she scrunches up her brow and widens her eyes and you kiss her shoulder,
"most definitely not" and she leans away in mock offensive,
"would you love me if i only had a year to live?", you stop at that and actually let the words roll around in your head because it means more, doesn't it? does one enter a commitment knowing it will end? would a sane person knowingly give themselves to a wilting plant?
"...i think so."
luckily, love is not sane person.
"well don't worry, i'm going to live to be one hundred."
theres a pounding in your knuckles from unconsciously reaching out to her at the memory only to be denied by a plastic railing on your own hospital bed. it's funny in a sense that the first night you'd spend in marriage would be like this. she groans and rolls to her side and you see the dark circles in full light. there's a knock, the doctor enters, flanked by two nurses;
"are you ready?"and does one willingly give years of their life for a few months of another's? and does one risk their last breath for somebody else?
and as they roll you out you question, briefly, of why you're doing this but the answer doesn't have to roll around in your brain this time. why?
we wait for the bombs, all of us, as a city. we wait for the retaliation, we wait for the revenge that we know (deep down) we deserve. because we're selfish. we're a selfish, debauched, infinitely beautiful and damaged society. we wait for the bombs because what else can we do? how else could this all end except in fire? we started this so we wait for the bombs that will come any day. this is not a love story, this is a love story. this is not a love story,
You loved once, reluctantly. You tell yourself that she had a pretty voice and that must have been it, that her smile was nice and her arms felt like christmas and she had hands that were summer and you miss it, thats all. And you think you know everything, naturally. You know every mood, every move someone will make because you're good with brains. You're good with chemicals and you're good with eyes and reading people like yesterday's newspaper. And you think you know the future, you think you know what will happen and its so terrible, so so terrible. Sometimes you wish you weren't as good with eyes and with minds and with heads. Your stomach has twisted, your chest feels like it's full of
yesterday's newspaper and the back of your throat hurts all the time. And theres no fault but your own, which you accept
You stand on 97th flirting with the boarder of Harlem and Manhattan, between white business men drifting back from bars with a woman (always the same, it seems, with their brown hair and stumbling heels. With their possessive clutch on his elbow and their too loud laughs) and cars missing their rims, black circles of screw barely holding the tire in place and neighborhoods where men sit on the stoop all night and call to you. They call you 'baby', they call you 'sweetie', they call you 'whore' and you only listen to the first two and you only believe the last. You live on 97th, it seems, although that isn't entirely true now is it? No, you live in Chinatown behind a partition in someone's living room for five hundred a month and it always smells like strange food and your roommates don't look at you and you're pretty sure they Lysol the coach when you leave. 97th, 97th, 97th and Lex. It's okay though, because they call you 'baby' and they call you 'sweetie' and they don't call you a 'whore' until they pay you. Eye contact and a stumbling heel, like shooting fish in a barrel. Idiots, fools, fish. You were a fisherman and the whole fucking city was your net.
smoking and writing, like a proper sylvia Plath. stupid tiny t.v. from the
eighties. she hated it. the rejection letters from publishers graced the walls like family photographs. he hated that, how she hung them for everyone to see. he would say "have some shame, don't announce it to the world" and she was laugh, cry for a few hours and tape another one up. She had a bad habit of sleeping all day and it was sheer
that she was up when the alarms went off. when the news reporters called her attention from two rooms over. an accident, a plane and a fire. an explosion, a tragedy. the death toll had already hit hundreds, the city was in flames and he was inside of it all.
she collapsed onto the floor but instead of tears came only the annoying feel of dust digging into her knees. the television blared, trying to scream her into devastation. his briefcase, his occasionally soft hands and his stupid eyes. his ignorant eyes. she'd always wished for more art in him, more passion, more desire. no, he was content with a neatly stacked desk and a picture of her forced smile. he was content with a long island commute while she always longed for brooklyn. on that floor hours later, still posed with her back arched towards the ground, she supposed it was the position to assume. as if cursing Hell, cursing the hardwood floors. the towers, gone. him, gone. what had flipped? how had reality inverted itself so quickly. him, gone. his sometimes affectionate smile, his straight spine and white teeth. his boringness, his chains. gone. and very suddenly, out of nowhere, the world felt open, the world felt as if it cracked down the center like a
and inside, the glint of something loud and bright and wonderful . she saw brooklyn, she saw a forest. and it hit her, the story of a lifetime, the words of a thousand poets- an epiphany of literature. she would write a masterpiece and as she ran to her typewriter the eighties
caught her eye with firemen and hoses and the story was gone. the only words she found that she could spare were
"sometimes the boat has to sink"
and she stilled, as the lock on the door hears a fidget. a scraping key, a terrible realization. he comes running inside, eyes all wide with panic and soot on his jacket. she falls into his stupid business arms once again, she falls into her old life. forces joy on herself, thanks the deities and cries with him. and theres something odd about the way that all she can think about is the dust on the floor. later, she locks herself in the bathroom and promptly bleeds out the fire buildings, bleeds out her old life.
"I wonder why he does it" June would say on a Saturday as they walked down the street, moving with the traffic like blood in a vein. An older man with a face like leather gloves teetered on the top of a ladder, screwing lightbulbs onto an awning. Most would have walked by, never questioning the things that motivate others, most would have looked past but she did not and perhaps that is why he loved her. One of the millions of reasons he needed her, he needed to be reminded of the industrial beauty of the city and someone to make him look at it, to look at the eyes of everyone who passed.
"Maybe he does it for fun." A sarcastic joke, a desperate sort of humor aimed at capturing her attention, her affection. He supposes that he was always searching for her approval in one way or another until that day that he suddenly wasn't searching for anything anymore.
"Maybe" and his joke falls flat because she's making her serious eyebrows. "No one sees them, they're far too high up, so why does he do it? Change lightbulbs that no one else sees." And he stops, her hand jerks back, still held in his.
"Maybe its because he can see them, and thats enough for him."
"Whats the point of a light that doesn't shine?" And he keeps moving at that, mulling it over in his head and he supposes that she might have taught him a lesson at that point. June thought from a difference side of her brain and perhaps, thats what made her so beautiful.
"You know you aren't her, right?" His jaw shut tight, muscles spasming in his lower cheek. He's taken to grinding his teeth, he's taken to biting back his words but the sight of her ghost, sitting with a bowl of cereal that isn't fruit loops infuriates him. Her doe eyes, he hates her. He hates what they have become
"Of course I am, Jake, what are you talking about?"
"I think I understand what you meant that day, in the city, about a light being pointless if no one can see it."
this question has been sitting in my tumblr inbox since spring 2011.
when i first read it, i was astounded, astounded that someone had noticed. i wanted to answer it
immediately, of course, but when i tried to type everything out, when i tried to put everything into words i found out that i honestly couldn't answer. i was angry, i was downright pissed, every image
every skyline picture-
any city wide camera pan
killed me. it haunted me
this daunting place with too many big buildings that tasted like a time i desperately wanted to forget.
i wanted to answer this question, i really did, but i couldn't
i stepped off the bus and it rushed me, the air, the sounds, the street and rushing cars. sensations, stimuluses everywhere. for the first time in my life, no one knew where i was. no one checked up on me, and no one had made the decision except myself. i was completely free.
i was free.
and i fell for the city at that point, although i didn't know it yet. i fell for the feelings, for the excitement, for the promise of 'more'. i was terrified, terrified of everything it represented and terrified of the memories i had left there. i was terrified that a place could make me feel so many things and most of all, i was terrified at how wonderful it felt. accepting that meant change, meant conquering fear, meant actually trying for something in my life.
those angry new york city pictures weren't really angry at all, they were scared
and they made me feel something.
now, looking back, i clearly remember the night i broke down and crawled into my father's bed and told him that i didn't want to go to the local college, i remember filling out applications for schools and that wrenching anxiety that came with waiting for the acceptable decisions. i remember when leaving was 160 days away. i remember all of it, the grades, the scholarships, the exams, the waiting.
i look around, the room feels bareboned. stripped walls, empty drawers. everything of importance is boxed up or sitting in the suitcases by my feet. the fear, the dream has become reality. i conceived this from start to finish. i put the effort in, i did the work, i remember when i didn't even think of new york city and now it is all i think.
i leave tomorrow.
i leave my hometown for the city
to move, to stay
i'm sorry i never answered your question, dear Anonymous, but at that point, i didn't know what i felt. but i can assure you of one thing
"I can't, I can't believe it. I could slap you right now." She's pacing the room in dizzy circles and pressing both her hands to her forehead, trying to push it out. Trying to sedate herself. She darts back and forth and she's breathing strange, choking on the words. He's killing her.
"She's from work, WORK. She's a COLLEAGUE, I was being FRIENDLY."
"Oh thats right, how could I forget that colleges text each 'goodnight', how forgetful of me. Right Jake, right? Fuck!" And she throws his phone, once clutched in her hand at the floor. He winces as it smashes on the ground. "You.. you know. Don't you even dare pretend." She's still breathing heavy, looking at him with wild eyes. All anger and hurt. She's going on, all the dramatics. It never stops, it never stops and it infuriates him. Her delusions feeding, growing, taking over.
"Oh I know? You're right, I do know. I know why you would assume I was fucking her because I'm not getting it here, am I? Its been months since you've even looked at me. " He stares as the words hit her and he watches it hurt. He watches his words sting her and he doesn't stop. She lets loose and slaps him, hard. He does't even blink. It feels good to hurt, it feels like touching coals, her anger red hot embers and he touches it. He lets it sting, throbbing with her heart.
Later, he hears her crying in the bedroom. For hours it goes on, a slow whimpering breaking out into occasional dry sobs. Over and over again, she cries and he listens. It clogs his throat, a solid mass of how terrible it is. How terrible he is. She's crying in the bedroom and he's laying on the couch pretending to be asleep and he wonders if this is what the trees feel when their leaves turn brown on the forest floor. And he realizes right then that they will always be the same, both standing in the garden with hedge clippers killing all the flowers.
the way your mother's hands always smelled like clorox and your father's, like alcohol. dirty, pungent, flat beer and stale cigarettes. your father smelled like a dive-bar, a whore house, he smelled like debauchery while your mother smelled like fresh water, like dust sponges and a harsh forced pine. he was a drunk and he loved it, reveled in his misery and lived cruely. you hated him, naturally, hated how the house used to sag whenever he dropped by for a week or two (for money, for sex, for that one dose of stability that everyone eventually needs). he left the minutes grimy and a layer of smudge grew over everything. he killed the flowers and your mom used to leave the bathroom with dark-ringed eyes and didn't laugh for the next few days. you hated him and you hated the smell of alcohol
until she came along.
she wallowed, you'd first seen her on the street petting a dog, looking absolutely miserable while doing it. you realised then that it must have been who she was, sadness. she was autumn and she was sopping wet leaves and flaked dirt on the floor and you were bare winter, so cold that nothing could possibly live through it. she came through your life like muddy shoe prints and seeped into every corner and stained it for you. you cleaned your house the way one would clean their bed after a gilted lover, furiously and thorough.
love comes in like a hurricane and strips the wood, strips the white from your bones and leaves you yellow, marrowed. mug rings on the coffee table, half full ashtrays- your sheets invaded by her. the early morning sweat on her back from summer, the remnants of the love from last night and
everything was filthy when she left.
not an atom, not a particle left untouched, her fingerprints smudged on every surface and all the air left in the house had been through her lungs already. she left herself all over and you tried to bleach it out. you washed your clothes until they faded and it did not work so you burned the place down and set out for somewhere cleaner than here
I remember mostly the oranges of that summer, as far as the eye could see, sweet hum of crickets and the million of them on the branches- heavy like christmas ornaments. And under night, in the beam of a flashlight they were a million glowing eyes. I remember the oranges and the smell of citrus and bees humming back and forth. They loved the trees, loved the rot of fallen fruit and the white flowers poking from the roots. The Orchard was dangerous around noon and I remember my mother once jerking my arm back as I ran to them; "You don't go near the oranges until dusk." A hawk, a smothering blanket, she tried to keep us from every danger in the world and what did it get her? A Daughter that never writes and a Son who lays under a tiny rock, covered up by a hundred white flowers.
The doors slide open on their own and fresh air rushes her body. A slight sense of disorientation, like the first moment after a daytime nap when you don't quite know where you are. The world has continued to tick without her, it's night already. Beeps and harsh florescent bulbs left behind, now dully muted with the closing glass. Each breathe shakes down her lungs and her legs drag forward to the bench. Sitting, staring at a thin tree on an island of groomed grass. She doesn't notice him until he speaks.
"Got a light?"
He's dirty, sweet sweat and something sour like unwashed clothes. Patches of a beard, pockmarks like cracks in the desert floor. And suddenly there's a lighter in her hand and she's not sure where it came from and this must all be a dream because she doesn't remember moving at all and then his cigarette is already lit and she's holding one of her own. And she doesn't even smoke but the smoke is in her mouth and things are moving too fast and she doesn't remember doing anything except wiping a cool clothe to her Husband's forehead fifteen minutes ago. "So, why're you here. Baby's got a broken leg or something?"
"I don't have children." And she never will.
"Lucky, they suck ya dry. I got a few, don't talk to 'em much. The girls graduating soon I think but I didn't get no invitation."
"My Husband is dying."
There. She said it. After years of "we're gonna beat this, honey", years of hooked up tubes and poison and vomiting at night when he thought she was asleep. There. She said it. As if by magic, the clock slows down again. Senses come rushing back, the lump in her throat sinks to her stomach and grows. Expands, a sponge soaking up the misery that's been dripping down into her for years. Words can't come fast enough-
"There can't be a God and if there is, he's a vindictive bastard. He's cruel." The man next to her straightens up and kicks his legs out in front of him. She's staring at his boots and her husband is dying three stories up.
"You know, I knew a contractor once, good guy. He was a friend of my cousin, honest.. always took pride in his work. Anyways, he's hired to build this house- huge. All hardwood, real expensive and he's buildin' it he realizes that they only want 10 windows on the top floor and he says to them 'You need more windows, there won't be enough air' and they say to him, they say 'Build the damn house! I don't want no more windows' and so the he builds it, just how they want it. Few years later, the family hires him again to put a fireplace in and he tells them, 'This house ain't right for a fireplace, there's not enough windows' and can you guess what the family tells him?"
"To build the damn fireplace?"
"Exactly! To build the damn fireplace, and he does. So again, few years later, glowin' ember from the fireplace catches the rug and the whole house goes up in flames. Everything's ruined, the family calls the contractor and says, they says 'You burned my house down! You owe me a house!' and the contractor says, 'Ya burned your own damn house down. I told you that you needed more windows and I told you, you can't have no fireplace but I'll tell you what, I'll help ya build your house again if you listen to me this time.'"
"So you're telling me that this is my Husband's fault? That he gave himself cancer?"
"No, no. Was it the families fault for the fire? No. Was it the contractors? No. Was it the person who invented fireplaces? No. Just happened, somethings do. Everyone's past and future all lined up to make one shitty situation. Now, you can go ahead and blame the contractor, blame everyone in the whole damn world for the fire but it aint gon' help anything. Now, you can blame God for not protecting your husband but how do you explain all those embers that just happened to go out all by themselves. How do you explain all those fires that never happened? You can blame God for all the bad things but you've got to give him some fuckin' credit for all the good things too. Jus' cause you build a train don't mean you can stop it from goin' off the rails."
She swallows the story down. It aches.
"What do I do now?"
"Hell if I know." And it hits her again, time, creaking to a halt. She can feel his fading heartbeat, she can feel everything now and she can't stop it. A tap on full blast, a torrent of water biting her ankles. She stands, fast, and her vision waves in front of her at the pure speed of things.
"I never asked you why you're here."
"I like helping people and there's no one in this damn world that needs to talk more than smokers outside of the hospital doors."
"Th-thank you." She doesn't remember walking but she's suddenly at the glass doors again, they slide their arms open and the beeps and lights and voices come sharply to life again. She looks back once more to the man as she's walking in, he scratches at the inside of his elbow
She slides fingers through her hair, eying her own reflection down while you stand off to the right. To watch someone in the mirror, an invasion into their deepest privacy- one in which even they address their own flaws. No one can edit like the author, no one can criticize as much as the creator and there she was. An author, a creator. The stars paid reverence to her skin, the ocean bowed its head in shame at her beauty. Staring at herself in the mirror, eyes to eyes- brows furrowing as she inspected. And you, watching her, shifting from foot to foot, waiting. She brings the lipstick out now and you want to scream(just a bit) because her lips are already so perfect and she applies even more and it's like putting a blanket on an oven- how hotter could she get?
"You're staring." A twist of a smirk, the reflection of her eyes dart towards the corner of the bathroom where you stand, awkwardly. She presses her lips together, perfectly, before releasing them. kissing her own reflection, god, at that moment you wish you were a mirror(just a bit). "You're making me feel self conscious" and it's a joke because, jesus, she's gorgeous and she's handing you the makeup and you're not sure what to do with it so you paint the mirror with large swooping letters- 'he's cheating on you'. And you don't know why you do it but you do, every single time you're with her. Leaving anonymous messages of impending doom, carving little statements under door knobs hoping they might catch someone. And they might be true, and it might ruin them(just a bit).Her laugh, "You're fucked", smile. "Well let's go then." You reach for her hand this time. Her shoes hit the tile a little too loudly and her lipstick smudges under your lips and she's a wild mess(just a bit). But she's your mess and at that moment you realize why you write things on mirrors, because if she was going to bring so much beauty into the world then it was merely your duty to make it a little
A girl with a fever, laying in the devil's bed. Sheets clinging to sweat and nothing was
comfortable and everything felt so
wrong. His breath- big hands like wolf paws burning hot and you felt
faint with life. You felt like window smoke, you felt like dawn stars. His fingers trying to slide over your lava skin, your throat and mouth full of dead leaves and you couldn't
rake them out fast enough. A well, the heat pushing through your body and your spine spasms, you shoot straight up; sitting. Cool air to your dew damp lower back and you have to move. You have to move right now and everything is wrong and you lean, retch over the side of the bed and nothing comes out because there is too much sadness in you to possibly empty. And if it wasn't so gentle, if it wasn't so sweet then you probably could
stand it. But you can't, and you don't want to. He tries to pull you back, incessant and borderline pleading and you let yourself sink down because what is there to lose. And he tries to move closer and you turn your back to him, close your eyes and pretend to fall asleep. Stewing, baking, dying in that fever. Everything feels so wrong, so dirty and it sinks through you. In the morning you call your father and ask
"God, strike me down if you're real!" and you grab him, stumbling, away from the ledge. "Wha, what. Don't worry, shhh" as his index finger moves clumsy before pressing itself (a little too hard) to your lips. "It's okay, it's not real, it's okay." You cross your arms over your chest
"Why did you even call me?" Annoyed, taking in the sight of him. Red fresh bruised knuckles, shadow blooming under his right eye.
"My dad.." he pauses, eyelids half mast, shifting from foot to foot and you shake slightly with the wind. Gusts rushing over the bridge and swaying the great metal strings holding you both up. "My dad died."
"Yesterday I think I don't even cause Mom called but I didn't call cause I didn't want her to yell I didn't and he died." Grasping for words, drunk.
"It's not your fault."
"It's, it is because I didn't call ever"
"Death doesn't care if you call, now, are you going to jump off this bridge or can we go home? You can crash on my couch." He contemplates the words, furrows his brow at them.
And you don't recall reaching your hand out until his takes it, pulling you down slightly with his weight, trying to steady.
Reality shifts, like staring in the mirror long enough for the whole world to come into question. Saying her name over and over again until you start to wonder if she existed in the first place. Your hands, palm down on the table and her eyes like two empty circles, two empty mugs.