The cat purrs. A whistling sound comes from its nose. She lies in another room but can hear with her eyes closed. She cannot hear the padding of the cat’s feet.
He’s been practically deaf since age three. Now a grown man, he simply turns down his hearing aid when he needs to think. For example, now in a loud bar, he nods his head while instigating lines of rhyme or reason.
The cat is under the cabinet. She can tell by the jingling of its bells. It must be licking itself or stretching its feet. She chooses to listen to the bells rather than the people speaking on TV.
He sees a finger coil a curl, the snatch of an earlobe. That one smiling and laughing will have trouble sleeping. He can tell by the way her hands tremble while she’s drinking. And how she looks away and stares into the ceiling.
I don’t remember, she says, to one particular book on the shelf. So she pulls it out and begins reading it again. And it all comes back to her, as in a feeling. The cat pounces on her lap. Unexpectedly. She kisses its feet.
He will memorize the bar scene like a movie script and remember it vividly, mostly because he doesn’t drink. And then one day – for the life of him – he won’t be able to recall the details, or the order in which they happened. He won’t remember the reasons. When he goes to the bar again, he won’t even notice the brand new furniture.
The names are new and so is her mood. She scoots the cat off her lap. It lands on its feet. She lies down on the couch. The cat returns to her lap, licks her cheek. She talks in her sleep. It nibbles on the last page read. Something about the beginning and the end.
Let’s Get This Over With
You are all angles, from your drawn face to the combed-back rows of your stiff khaki hair. You dress the part of the hipster in dark tight jeans and short-sleeved plaid, but your shyness betrays you. I am wearing pin-up heels and a black wrap dress. You think that’s a girl I want to kiss. I think I would not mind kissing him. I glance at you over my shoulder. You eye me over the black rims of your glasses.
Happy hour with co-workers. You will spend the first half of the night talking to a girl with straight hair and round tits and an ass like an overripe watermelon. I will not be forward. You might be married, dating this other girl, otherwise occupied. Halfway through the night you will get up the courage to talk to me. You will feed me a line. I will lick it like sugar off your fingertips. I’ll touch your arm while we talk, you will fix on me with a hard stare. Your lips will tremble and I will wait for your kiss. Your hands will go slack and you’ll make an excuse to say goodbye to a parting friend.
In bed I will masturbate to that look in your eyes. You will take a shower and jack off with the conditioner your girlfriend left at your place.
I will piece together fragments of our conversation, clues to you beyond your name. You will not be on Facebook, you will not blog, you won’t leave Amazon.com reviews under your own full name.
You will find my work number and hesitate to call. You will have lunch with your girlfriend and think about me. That afternoon you will leave nervous words conveying fear that you might have already been forgotten. I will call you back five minutes later and we will agree to meet for drinks.
At the same bar we will order red wine. We will sit on a leather couch and talk just above the noise. My breasts will bud upwards, my fingers will rest on your knee. You’ll inch closer, mention your girlfriend only to say you’re having problems. I will feel sorry for you. The night will end without a kiss.
You will call just before midnight. She’s walked out on you. I will drive across town and you’ll pour me the last glass from a nearly-empty bottle of pinot. I will drink, you will talk, I will take your face in my hands and catch tears on the tips of my fingers. You will kiss me and I will let you, tasting small bubbles of saliva like fizzing champagne. I will unbutton your shirt, you will unclasp my bra. We will have sex in the bed she woke up in this morning, her perfume still on the pillow. I will come at least twice. You will sleep with your arm draped over me.
I will drink coffee and watch you make breakfast. You put steak seasoning on your bacon, cook eggs in the greasy cast-iron skillet, honey and butter on peasant toast. The sunlight will be warm through green checkered curtains. We will make plans for the weekend and I will leave in the clothes I came over in, dizzy with sex, eyes glazed from early-morning promises. I will believe this is love, you will fall hopelessly. We’ll text kisses and flirtations throughout the day. Your goodnight will be the last thing I read before crawling into bed alone.
It will end badly. Your girlfriend will come by to get her things and her tears will meet your sweet words on sheets that still smell of my perfume. You will stop returning my texts until she goes back to her place with a promise to come back tomorrow. You will text a half-hearted apology. I will cry, scream and call you names. You will apologize, get teary-eyed and try to tell me much these five days have meant to you. I will delete your number. In a year you will marry her. We will both avoid the bar where we met.
…from Old Middle Frisian,
Early Old Norwegian
springing, welling, full
as wine skins stretched to bursting.
Same Greek root as weight:
pΐd, poid, also pîdax, gushing forth;
deeper still, back to Sanskrit:
memory, the way tree rings reveal
seasons of warmth and rain,
of brown rice and kale, umami,
body-records of meatloaf and brownies,
ballet bicycling boxing
three, four times a week,
Baryshnikov’s torqued knee.
Fat, cinched cells resisting insulin,
a hundred days of no
undone by a weekend of yes.
Fat, holding eons, ice releasing vapor
of not-quite-human life, polar bears
swimming themselves thin thin thin.
Put the harpoon away. No need for crews at sea. All
that time spent gazing from the roof—wasted.
Here is the great white body spongy with hormones.
The decks have already run with salt water
and blood. So many useful products to render.
The coarse flesh has been lifted with its own bone
while a great perfume hangs in the air. Now
we can harvest and light the very fluids of the body.
(Try to keep off the birds.) In another century
we would have remained in the parlor, a secret
growing inside, disguised in our bombazine. But now,
not tatting but tattoos. We eschew the calves’ foot
jelly. Straddling a rickety boat, our knees giving
to the rhythm of the waves, we struggle
to embrace the whole of the whale—its desperate
plunges, its slippery, blubbering parts.
End of the hall, a long, dark and narrow passage, a crook to the left, another to the right, then bright morning sunlight from the open door to the fire escape. And next to it, our room, #116. Princely digs on a pauper’s budget. For $25 a night more than the usual tiny dark box, we swagger over our two queen beds in a spacious roomy room, two big windows facing south, not into an alleyway or an elevator shaft or a window in another room in another hotel or office, but south across a swath of the city skyline of buildings, tall and short, old and new, stark and scalloped, the many-storied Marriott with its outside elevators creeping up and down its side like giant banana slugs on a tree trunk.
I’m me and he’s he, but we’re not the same me and he who boarded a jammed Southwest flight 391 in San Diego this morning and got off an hour and a half later in San Francisco. We left something behind—shrugging off the dailyness of our lives, discarded like our cats shedding their winter coats—leaving spaces, like blank pages in a book, or empty wine bottles, ready for new words or new wine, fresh thoughts and experiences to fill the gaps.
I watch an orange cat with a long expressive tail in the window of a room two floors up in a building on the next block. He bats at the vertical blinds, blithely unaware of an audience yet ostentatiously sleek and chic as a model on a runway, pacing back and forth on his catwalk before he weaves back through the blinds and out of sight. I whisper, “Are you asleep?” to the quilt-covered mound on the other bed, deep into the luxury of a mid-day doze, but there’s no response. In his catnap, he’ll miss the ginger cat, but that’s the exception; he’s usually the more observant one, seeing much that I miss. “Did you notice her nail polish?” he asked me after the server poured our coffee at breakfast. I hadn’t, though her hand had crossed in front of my eyes. “Yellow-ochre,” he said, drawing from the vocabulary of his painter’s palette. I looked when she came back to take our order. How did I miss it? Though I’d have called it “Dijon mustard.”
The Light Parade (Letter to Dreuilhe)
"It was through writing ... that I first sensed the true dimensions of our plight: an entire generation was floundering in the shadows of this sudden epidemic. I then convinced myself that by lighting a candle in the darkness I might dispel a few of these oppressive shadows with the faint illumination of my diary. The torch¬light parade..." Mortal Embrace, Emmanuel Dreuilhe
The Light Parade (Letter to Dreuilhe)
Emmanuel, the pages of your book burn life into my hands.
Where are you now that each flaming finger knows the warrior, the guerilla may be the purest source of light when world's turned on its side?
Translator, magician, may this pacifist writing become brave soon.
What can I tell you? Claustrophobic to a fault, I have just been camped along fringes & only feeling the core when small tremors rose. For you they've been enormous, clenched in the thick & for others, beached in crossfire, the trenches are filled with casualties’ blood.
Nothing's as visceral, nothing save touch, the instinct, the true virtue capable of loving any man without prejudice, beyond flesh, muscles, those other sacred things. Perhaps that's our state of grace & also, a sort of torture when double-faced memory, both savior & interrogator, saw Oliver, saw lovers, held so many angels, & so many fell...
Are their remains ageless?
I try to go for soul-work while real drama taxes facts, disorders senses, gets Will to distrust——Paranoid, paranoia, a rationale in fever.
Talk of good causes: we've breathed all of that: the rations, the tubes, the catheters, the bitter pills spilling, erupting, roaring, that hoary vacuum: harsh winds through this void of opinions, experts, crackpots, the public, the political——-Betrayers, deceivers, those vandals of confidence, a masquerade ball...
Who, if not the suffering, the existing fine but shell-shocked, will re-right this fool's ship as the antiquated ignorant commentators, & as the well-wishers, the indifferent, on rocks, just watch?
The cameras are always ready to film which way the vessel goes, the T.V. eye, the voyeur who creeps in, feeds on every traumatized house. We are so interesting to look at, under siege, on our stretchers, we, the ones told to feel sick in our spirits, & that the illness is biblical, is God’s vengeance, is…
Well Emmanuel, you know how far the lies lie, & how via friend’s kindness, by candles in protest, the life march still rises,& how you’d gladly be a human toad, noble- hearted, for Research.
This would be your shield’s crest: the picture of a temple, half-plundered, the picture of a homeland, half-bombed.
But green is underneath the bleeding, our community never dismembered because, like Job, we refuse to stand by, cursing fate, refuse all but devotion & this torment, embraced, if not slain, perhaps wrestled down.
Emmanuel, crouched behind parapets, your diary’s torched my cowardice as now, another flair in battle, I shoot this poem over the wall.
Quiet Study Lounge
The shock of pink hair’s jumpy phone
is buzzing the table so much I look
to see if she is in charge
of national security before
I tap her. Her eyes flip open,
like she’s so surprised
thirty people are here. She tugs an ear bud
and music spills. Sorry, I say.
This is a quiet lounge. She is confused.
I point to her phone. Ah!
she picks it up. I will turn it off,
but it didn’t ring even once.
She re-muffles her loud music,
I go on reading words
one. at. a. time. Do I slog through
their noise or shush them,
the multi-taskers, sitting under
the Quiet Lounge signs, biology
books open, laughing together
over Facebook, having walked right past
the empty lab where no one cares
if you open your backpack
and pull out a trained seal
or remote control helicopter
with its fake whomp-whomp
looking for friendlies to rescue,
dodging the tat-tat-tat of gunfire,
your G.I. Joe dangling from
dental floss since the fishing line
broke after you landed the helicopter
in your grandmother’s hair.
When I come home, I can smell you in the house. It’s not something definite, like perfume or shampoo—you never liked perfume, and you always used the cheap store-brand shampoo—but there’s a space in the house, a faint potpourri like your extract over a censor, the essence of you wafting. I stand in the living room, sniffing, remembering that time I came home and found the whole place empty, little divots in the carpet where the legs of the couch had been, the runners of the rocking chair. You were cross-legged in the corner of the dining room, eating slices of apple from a plastic bag. “It all felt so bourgeois,” you said, “so I decided we should start sitting on the floor.” You’d sold all our furniture, even the kitchen table, even the bed.
I go into the kitchen, root in the fridge. I’m not hungry but feel I ought to be. I have a fist in my stomach. I find a half a wheel a cheese in the back, the edam you said you loved then never ate, and it’s gray and blue with a skin of mold. My jar of pickles is empty, just the green vinegary brine floating with the translucent ghosts of onion slices. I don’t remember finishing the jar, would never have put it empty back into the fridge. I know you’ve been here. You always stole my pickles.
So I head upstairs, wondering what else I’ll find missing, what I’ll find still there. At the top of the stairs, the bedroom door is ajar, and, I admit it, I hope you’re in there. My golden girl, glowing and beautiful in my new bed. Maybe you’re asleep, or maybe you’ve been propped up naked on your elbows listening this whole time, waiting for me to find you. Or maybe you’re just sitting cross-legged in the middle of the room, the bed gone—you always knew how to remind me that what was mine was never really mine.
I push open the door. Everything is here, except you. But sure enough, the disheveled mattress has been tipped half off the bed, and the window is open, the sheer curtain billowing. You always loved the shapes that sails make in the wind.
With each bone that cracks in my body I am reminded of some suture laid in front of me that was extracted from behind my left knee, behind my left knee where a ghost put a weapon that cracks when I extend my knee. My body is tired for this imaginary war that I am fighting for an imaginary goal that is defended by tall trees and bears like the forest of 500 years ago when I was bound tight and my body didn’t crack with an extension or intension. I am doing backbends across a stream in a fairy tale until my limbs fail and my limbs fail and I fall into the water, my back wet and bent. I debate how feminine a death this is, how feminine a death do I deserve.
Things to do on Election Day
Eat six donuts and drink five cups of coffee
Invoke Buddha’s name in vain four times
Vote three times
Accidentally do drugs two times
Die one time
Years of compost and heat and rain and I’m tunneling
through soil, ancient railroad tie
once blackened in creosote, tar. The wooden brain of you—
long limbed and fair, full-breasted,
of Midwest earth. Where I once sweetened your tongue
with Colorado pesticides, this trunk will toughen with winds.
In the garden, you are a bending willow. Swaying
vine, round swell of melon, my unexpected
host. As you sweat with burn
do not turn on me—
you cannot know the cause. A drought will come
and a city ordinance. Do not tend me
with drip line, bathwater scooped
by bucket. If my bark scratches you, if my lack
of growth makes you test a branch that snaps off,
if spiked weeds flourish at my feet, if you search the yard
for any petal not scorched, if my stillness
catches your breath, do not try to save me.
You are not dead to me.
I am dormant and will return.