outside the world is screaming
for water. Life is bursting—flowers climactic, orgasm-
ic things, their petals dripping, gooey with plant blood.
the air is holding a cloth to my face
covered in atmosphere
it’s the end of all things,
the birth of all things.
my feet kick stones that are wetter than the grass,
slick with memory of forgotten riverbeds.
i have known the sorrow of these friends,
the gnawing behind the eyes that can’t be diagnosed.
i’m being torn in half like a split pine log
drowning sap, spineless lifeform.
high heat is labor incarnate.
the door opens and out I spill
afterbirth born from eyesockets torn,
rendered unconscious by warmth.
the end of all
the birth of all
picked apart by the vultures at dawn
the yardsale ladies size me up
with their price-guns and brooched breasts
the spine is a horrible thing to waste.
brave little toaster cries crumbs &
sidewalk lines like calendar kisses *&*
my brain is an intestine that can solve math problems.
Image credit: https://flic.kr/p/TcpJMW (licensed under Public Domain)
We dream of ( ) falling in our sleep, remnants of the fables passed from grandparent to child. We feel the pitter-patter of the drops kiss our cheeks with the dignity of lovers long lost—to wake and discover they are only our tears slipping out, ghosts of the past; into the collection jar they go.
A scorched world.
We live underground now, down in the darkness where we are protected from our overbearing father, the sun. We do nothing but collect ( ) any way we can—from geothermal leeching to bloodletting. The various ways, unimaginable, unspeakable, if only because speaking requires saliva we dare not use.
[This post is an homage to my college creative nonfiction classes, where we were asked to write a string of sentences that all begin with “I remember…” It’s such a great exercise to get you in the mood for writing, especially nonfiction. The exercise is based on Joe Brainard’s book of the same title (1970). Feel free to comment your own I remembers.]
I remember the dusty hayloft and rickety ladder, and the abandoned pile of horseshoes found beneath the hay.
I remember the adult-sized tricycle Natalie gave me before she died. I pedaled it up the hill and down the small gravel path that led to the cell phone tower, where I sat and watched the sun rise.
I remember when the chain rusted and snapped and the brakes stopped working and how I took the bike back to Natalie’s house in the middle of the night without telling her parents it was me who had it in the first place and how I never went back there again.
I remember bokchoy in oyster sauce, and sneaking kisses while his father watched the Peking Opera on the couch.
I remember inerasable red rings around our mouths from drinking fruit punch from plastic jugs in the sweltering heat.
It would be a lie to say that I didn’t know the dead man, but it would be the truth to say I can no longer remember his name. Too many nights filled with foreign smoke and strong drink. Too many days scratched away listlessly. But I know it’s still down inside me somewhere, being chewed up and digested again and again.
It’s been buried so many times, on the tip of my tongue in the pitch of nightfall, but never fully exposed. Maybe it will surface one day, as these things often do, when least expected.
I have wondered why I forgot the name. Before his death he was someone I saw a lot—you couldn’t say I knew him, but he was definitely a constant. We worked at the market for a couple months anyway. A friend of mine said it best over drinks, as we sat next to a shelf of nameless corporate nobodies at some long-forgotten bar in the legal district: it’s easier to forget a face that wants forgotten, he said. That was at least five years ago—my dog didn’t get hit by the bus yet, we had a president worth having, I had more hair. My god. What is five years but an endless and terrifying chasm that has the potential so suck away your very lifeblood?
Both he and the dead man now share a common denominator: both absent from my life.
My first foray into successful athleticism, and I think it all has to do with my starting the practice of yoga, which sounds cheesy, which sounds like something my yoga instructor would say after she says something like, “trust yourself and your breath in this moment.” She will pause, following with, “Oh that sounds cheesy, doesn’t it…?” Because these things do sound cheesy, like when someone tells you finding religion brought them out of darkness, or when you hear that anything is possible if you try. These things are the bread and butter of earlier generations—inspiration and mindfulness, coming to terms with fundamental flaws—things the millennial mind is trained to immediately distrust, to dissect to disembodied parts that, on their own, expose their raw, visceral undercurrent: a problem with systems, the status quo, not a problem with self. Never trust what works for another because you are your own person. Standardization is the enemy.
Most of my friends are much younger than I am. This is a new sensation for me; I grew up the oldest in my grade. I think these new friends are the ones who really helped me notice why and how I exercise. They are mostly Asian American, all with an unfair, carved from birth, leanness that, at once, makes my mouth water and my brow furrow. During their formative years, they used their celestial DNA to their advantage, participating and excelling in their middle- and high-school athletic programs, finding that their high metabolism was enough to unearth their preternatural athleticism.
The spine unhinges when detached from the ligaments that bind it. How naturally a resting body lies on the damp earth, uninhibited. An alarming sense of reanimation, the way wisps of hair catch enthusiastically on the wind or an ant parades up a thigh thick with nutrients for the taking. Laced to the ground through a weave of decay – no longer human, just naked skin pulled tightly to bone. Such intimate moments – a disconnected arm, torn by a fox who slipped under the fence of the enclosure, grasping onward against the pull of time; the stomach of a fresh specimen, bloated with gas; a decomposing face blackened with sunburn.
These are the details of death. Within decomposition hides the incontrovertible fate of all humanity: if left to sit, we rot away to nothing but a cloying stain on the forest floor. We are picked apart and reused.
It was an impossible year to be alive. The great forces at the wheel continued onward in unyielding procession; water fell from the sky, dried, and was carried up again into the clouds. Our tears were no longer among the water that the forces carried on, because we forgot how to use them correctly. Some still made it by, like when we would cut onions, or when we stubbed our toe on the radiator during a midnight trip to the icebox, or when we would laugh so hard at a comedy club that they would leak out and we were unsure why. Those went up with the water the same as always.
But when our loved ones died we no longer felt the tears cloying from the small space inside our heads, the well where such things are kept and extracted when needed. No longer were we moved to such extremes. This is because death had come to define our existence, little by little, year after year, since the internet had cast its hand in death’s favor. Each night, we would plug in to our hivemind and revisit the deaths of the day in unison, sending virtual candles to the ones we never knew and eulogizing the ones who stood and vague beacons on the outskirts of our periphery. Condolences thoughtlessly given to the families of the departed, and as a response – just a virtual thumbs up, no words necessary. No tears as our eyes glow by the light of the screen.
The butterflies flitted throughout the conservatory like fleeting glimpses of perfection and fragility. Each time one of the tourists tried to hone their sights to just one, it leapt in a current of warm air and avoided the confrontation. The tourists drank the beautiful sights of the garden, heard the slapping of water over eroding stones, smelled the sugary-thick air and tried vigorously to capture one of these ever-flapping butterflies on film, to save in their photo albums (stored in the attic).
A small boy walked in the garden too, feeling differing feelings, seeing the same things. His hands, moist, clutched a camera like the crumbling edifice of a building. He attempted to capture, behind the flapping wings, a tangible truth, an unconventional beauty. A pedestal stood rusting in a corner of the conservatory. Resting on it, a neat array of orange slices provided the butterflies with a treat if they desired. That day, the boy noted, the oranges seemed unappealing to all but one—all of the butterflies found better food, the pedestals basked in sunlight, and all of the tourists followed. Sitting atop the oranges, a butterfly with half a wing seemed to call its attention to the boy and nobody else. Sweat clung to his face, and small particles dripped like warm rain to the floor as he pressed his finger to the camera—he hovered above the scene like aircraft. The butterfly fluttered its wing in alarm, trying to move, but couldn’t. So there it stayed, trapped in saccharine nectar, burnt into an image of light.