Posters

Today is a horrible day! I texted him at 4:45, on my way home. All I wanted was to lie in a warm place with good smells and maybe fall asleep. Maybe cry a little, but mostly just wait for the pain in my head to go away. Some days are just like that.

Slowdown, he said. I will come over soon. I turned the music up loud enough to drown out the sound of waiting and waited. Wrote some poems. Facebook chatted Mina, which only made me want to write more poems. He came in without knocking, which surprised and pleased me, and sat down at the kitchen table, questioning my music choice. I love this music, I said, and he refused to say anything more. He ate some food, drank some water, and then I pretended I needed a book from the other side of the dining room.

Can I kiss you, I said, standing over him, my hands twisted in front of me. I don’t want anything else. For months I was absorbed in my own sickness and always I knew that I was craving mouths, ,our mouths, yes together. Makes everything better. Or at least, not really matter.

And then I said, come look at my posters, which is quickly becoming code for, shall we go upstairs? Shall we take off our clothes? Shall we distract ourselves, for say, 10-20 minutes and not think about anything but each other, ourselves? It was dark and shadowy and his breath smelled or tasted of decomposing plant matter, which sounds absolutely disgusting when I remember, but in the moment was only intriguing. Anyway we were kissing and I felt like I was fifteen except that when I was fifteen, I was playing legos cross-legged on the floor. Not on top of a shirtless boy.

Skip the part that’s just for me to know and I’m back at the dining room table and it’s like it never happened. Only girls know. People know. It’s all over you, you know, your eyes are falling shut and your face is flushed and for the next hour you will answer questions with, Huh?

We needed dinner and we were waiting for Daniel, and we talked about some poems and then about Edgar Allan Poe and then Daniel called. We ate burritos. His eyes sparkled. I love the rice at Chipotle and so I asked for extra, but then it was like a rice burrito. Until I got to the end which was just pure guacamole deliciousness. The wind picked up and blew across the melted snow and we shivered back to Daniel’s car. Somehow we all knew all the words and threw our hands up in the air sometimes, singing ay yo (hey oh?) gotta let go. For a few seconds, the world slipped back into clear focus. I wasn’t sad, I wasn’t upset, and best of all, my head wasn’t hurting. His hand was cold but it was on my knee and I thought, this is what I want, what I need, to make me happy.

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That One Girl, That One Time

We waited almost an hour for our food. My stomach was eating itself by the time our plates arrived, barely enough table to hold them all.

“I’m going to wash my hands,” she said, excusing herself and sliding out of the booth. No one looked up. We all began shoveling food into our mouths like we hadn’t eaten in weeks while she walked out of our lives.

They found her almost a week later down by the river. She had bronchitis, couldn’t stop coughing without a cupful of cough syrup and a heavy dose of sedation. It was the coughing that gave her away to the hundreds combing the riverbanks, the second stage of the search effort.

She showed no signs of abuse, sexual or physical, although her arms were bruised with her own fingerprints.

“I just wanted to get away,” was the only explanation she gave, and that was that. I read about her in the newspaper, gave her friends a few dollars to buy flowers, and never saw her again.

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Resistance

Love is all about resistance. Anything can go too far, if you think about it too long, but as far as I can tell, love is the most dangerous. Love will not just drag you down, but it will drag someone else and then you’ll both come crawling out, torn, disgusted with what you’ve seen of human nature, and full of bitterness and hatred. That’s if you’re lucky. If you’re not, well, we know what happens to those who love too strongly or too hard. They disappear sometimes.

I fell in love and it’s all I can do to wake up each morning and remember to brush my teeth. Cook breakfast. And what impels me forward through the slush if not love? For every moment is either spent recalling the last moment we had together, or the next time we might meet. Now the months of waiting are over and in front of me are months and months of sleeping in the same bed, eating the same meals, and catching one another’s eyes as our days fold down in front of us.

I’m not sure I know how to do this anymore. How to not sit for hours in the sunlit chair waiting for him to pass by. How to not beg him, silently or with my lips, to not leave, not yet. How to not clench my teeth when I come. Don’t look at me scornfully or roll your eyes and dismiss a single thing I’ve said. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, you’ve never been in love. Never even felt the hopeful  stirrings of fantasy and unmet expectations. In short, you aren’t human, at least, not yet.

But wait! It will be okay. Take a deep breath, distract myself, write the damn paper and look up at the stars in the cold air. Keep the distance and resist every impulse to throw myself at his feet or in front of the next train. Things will be okay.

I don’t want to disappear.

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Journey Poem

My mother drove this road first

Long before she became the woman I know

Uncertain on the curves, but hopeful for a destination

Watching the steady grace of the river roll onward

 

I hated this road for making me nauseous

For twisting on through the trees

For the silence of the endless scenery

For the gentle associations of boredom

 

Hot water springs and big-horned rams dotting the sweeping yellow hillsides Paradise just a town with two men in a log cabin, just a name on a map and the train trestle falls down over across the river, straight black and sure–

 

And when I was fifteen I drove this road

The long hours to the Idaho border

With slick palms and my heart lurching

My father’s harsh eye on the speedometer

 

When our lives began to crumble

Like handfuls of dry riverbank clay

The rush and the roar of our tires

Became an echo for the airplanes

 

Swift snow and a mountain pass climbing higher ever higher Spaghetti and lace curtains of the Red-Light District, listen, you can feel the ghosts of the mining days brushing your skin and the river running milky green pulling, always pulling–

 

Once I found an eagle feather

But my mother told I didn’t have the blood

To keep such a treasure and so I left it spearing the sky

My uncle lost his wedding ring in the gravel on the shore

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A Miracle

We were barely 15

And driving your dad’s truck

Wild and crazy

Through the back fields

While your dad lay

Passed out, asleep?

Still and unmoving on the couch

Between the kitchen

And the room with the TV

And you just had to show off

Turning so fast my head ached

But I would bite my lip bloody

Before I told you to slow down

Then a rock

In the grass

Sneaky and unseen

Tipped us and we were rolling

Tumbling through the grass

I would have screamed

But I couldn’t breathe

The world was a blur of gray and yellow grass

Blue sky and your face

An expression of pure terror

It was laughable, almost

Dumb kids

Don’t let us die

God

We came to a stop

Finally, on 4 wheels

The motor still growling under us

Like a beast that couldn’t be beat

As you shoved the car into gear

To take me, slowly, home

You said it must have been a miracle

And I nodded, only because

I still couldn’t find my breath

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Poetry Apologies

Sorry it’s been so long, fans. All two of you. Being hellabusy is my only excuse. However, I’m in a poetry class this semester, and I’d love nothing more than to subject my readers to my attempts to write poems.

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The Loneliest Night of My Life (A True Story)

Dear Friend,

Loneliness is a bitch, and the foreignness of your surroundings makes life hard. No one likes to be patronized, but I can tell you that I was in your shoes once, more or less. I walked cobblestones and wished for a warm body in my bed. I was still in love with the boy who said No, my ears ringing with rejection but my heart never receiving the message.

I left the hostel in my tennis shoes, with my touristy purse over my shoulder. I walked up the streets until I heard music and then I wanted to go in. But I was afraid. I was alone, and I was scared of being a young woman alone in a corner. There was no real danger, but I was afraid to be pitied. More than anything, I wanted to be with the boy who was asleep in the hostel, the boy with warm hands and a big laugh. I wanted him to hold the door open and then buy me a drink. But he was sleeping soundly, and as long as we are friends I will  never forgive him for that.

I sat outside, my purse in my lap, listening to the music floating from the windows into the spring air. The steps were cold. I thought long and hard about becoming a smoker,  just for one night,  so I would have an excuse to sit outside in the cool air and be by myself. I’ve often wished this, but never so hard as that night outside the Bank Hotel.

Finally, finally, finally, someone noticed. A creepy Russian man, wouldn’t you know. He stopped, let his friends keep walking and approached me there on the steps, my face a clear portrait of angst and wishfulness.

“Are you lonely?” Were the first words out of his mouth. I felt like I was in a story. Maybe this was the beginning.  So I nodded. He asked me where I was from, and I said, “California.” He opened his mouth to say more, but someone turned back to yell for him, and he looked sorry as he walked away. I was sorry too. I wanted his company more than I wanted a cigarette.

But he walked away and I was alone again. The solitude, the feel of being lost in a crowd, it rubbed against me and bit me inside. I walked into the bar, went directly to the restroom, and walked out again. No way. I kept walking down the steps, out into the street, away from the beautiful music and the laughter and the clink of ice against glass. The door scraped against the tile as I went inside the hostel. I undressed, slid between worn sheets, and listened to him breathe in the bunk above me.

Never travel with the boy who doesn’t love you. Never love the boy who won’t love you back. Never be afraid to order your own drink and to sit alone on a wooden bar stool. Never let that boy ruin your night.

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Happy

I walked back to where I’d come from, my boots scuffing on the straight carpet. He was sitting in his usual pose, crammed against one side of the square armchair, a stapled stack of paper covering his face. I loved him so much and suddenly this was normal.

“Hey,” I said, stepping lightly on his foot. “I’m so happy.”

And I didn’t need to worry or wait anymore. I had worried and waited for months and now I was here, in this room, with the lights humming overhead and the smell of his laundry detergent and the quiet hush of being back where I belonged. He smiled like he only smiles for me (or so I like to think) and looked back down at his reading. I picked up my book, propped it against my knees, and disappeared in my own happiness.

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Cold Water

Never underestimate the power of cold water. We once jumped in Flathead Lake on New Year’s Day. Flathead Lake is in Montana. New Year’s is in January. So it was pretty fucking chilly.

And though we be Californians now, superstition still drives us to madness. The bad luck of the past year is enough to make me pull on my swimsuit and drape myself with towels. The Bay Area fog has rolled in tight and thick, the temperature dropping and the thermostat turned up high. We look like penguins as we waddle, swaddled, down to the pool’s edge.

“Bullshit,” Marshmallow says, to my brother’s declaration that “to not go is bad juju.” Whatever bad juju is, you can be sure you don’t want any, and so even she is suited up and ready to leap into the freezing depths of the unheated swimming pool.

She even takes the lead. I see the red skirt of her bathing suit fly up with the water, her head and arms flung back, the water arcing around her body. Then she is down through the greenish water, across and out. Mr. D follows, his splash larger and his head rushing headlong towards the opposite end of the pool. I go next, before doubt and pragmatism can dissuade any stubborn impulse. Just jump. Go. Now.

The icy water drives any and all thought from my brain. I barely remember how my limbs function, and blindly cut my way across the pool floor. My screams and loud laughter bring neighbors onto their balconies. Pim wades into the shallow end, with a series of splashes and wild movements, he’s in and out. We’re all crazy; we’re all laughing. The chilly air is warm around my frozen body and hell, I feel pretty good. We all feel pretty good.

For months I’ve been trapped in a fog of sinus problems and joint disorders. But for a few minutes outside the frigid pool, I feel like my old self. Like a girl who would jump into Flathead Lake in January.

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Piper

She was half-deep in icy mountain lake water when it began. The sun was dipping behind the ridge; the light compressing into a thin line of gold on the ridge line. She looked up, across to the other end of the lake, smooth as a glass, and then down at her hand, pale and fleshy in the cold water.

“I must be dreaming,” she thought to herself. She didn’t wake up.

The fire burned low and hot in the makeshift fire ring. Coals glowed and sparks spit. The darkness was all-enveloping. Deep down, she knew she was happy. But she also knew she wasn’t anywhere at all. Speech flowed around her and she nodded, her round face bobbing in the orange light. Gritty dirt and bits of twigs clung to her clothing and something was wrong.

A fish flopped against the sloping rock surface. The water was quiet and still save for the rising of fish brothers and sisters. Our fish was dying, and so she took a sharp stick from higher on the rock and, with a swift inhalation, shoved it deep between its eyes. The fish twitched before it gave one last jerk and gasp. She dug the blade of the knife into its stomach and cut jaggedly backwards. Blood flowed freely over her fingers and she held the slick fish tightly. With one finger she fished out the guts, and they fell to the rock. She squatted and examined each organ carefully before she tossed it into the still lake. The fish was pregnant. Whispering a quick and guilty prayer, she roughly sawed the blade over the bones holding the head to the body. It took several minutes, but the head was finally free, and this too she flung into the water.

August snow lay cradled in the green valley. The trail climbed up and over the treeline. Breath came hard and fast and rough. The dizziness was terrifying but indistinct. Standing on a rock overlooking the next drainage, she let the vastness of the mountains awe her and hold her steady. Only from here could she acknowledge the complexity of the mountains, the intricacies that lay behind her childhood home. Their infiniteness was comforting. Burdened by unrealized illness, she took a few moments to let her caged thoughts come to a standstill.

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