I crouched under the sun
Sat back low in the long grass
Got slowly covered in layer after layer of dirt
sifting gently over my skin
like curtains in a lazy breeze
Today I sit in my ergonomic foam chair
Being bathed in fluorescent light
Straining for a glimpse of blue sky through the office across the hall
I weeded a bed of oregano and thyme
“How will I know if I’m pulling the right thing?” I asked
then spent the next hour
rolling leaves between the pads of my fingers
and smelling my fingertips
marveling at my toolbox body
good for so many things
Today I collate report after report
And the only thing the pages smell like under my fingers
The biggest hornet I’ve ever seen
flew in drunk circles
like a helicopter going down
ran for the folds in the fabric
of the ground tarp I was rolling up
A praying mantis
acted like a twig
until the cricket got close enough
And all of us city kids ooh-ed and ahh-ed
Because we knew that Today
All that would be left
is the ache in the deep-backs of my legs
And the grit
way up under my fingernails
that I didn’t scrub hard enough to get out
maybe on purpose.
1. street festival on the one grey day of summer
smiling brown band playing flutes and hand drums
knees bending together
kids and one crazy old black man dancing
people clap in rhythm
hands in your pockets
low profile, you sway side to side
2. hands on the smalls of each other’s backs
pat pat, you lean in for a picture, smile, pull apart
hands still on each other
fingers drumming to qualify the touch
3. sitting in the curved window on the street
feeling like a museum exhibit
GIRL IN COFFEE SHOP ON LAPTOP
you bring me a bowl of pickle spears
pale watery green seeds stuck to silver curves
I ask for apple pie and coffee
you have neither
settle for twirling tomato slices in vinaigrette
merlot in a sturdy glass
while one blue balloon
loosed, floats up
just like it knows it should.
It might just be that you remind me of you
But I didn’t know that until we met.
When you’re not here you seem impossible
But your yellowing undershirts
share space in the hamper with my gym clothes
Maybe the collusion of our clothes
Will teach me to trust the fact of you
when you’re not in front of me.
Tell me what you will miss when you die.
When I die, I will miss stepping out onto a street corner and feeling the fullness of my body unroll and stack up straight on the pavement, air against my skin, sunlight in my eyes.
I will miss a good shampoo, raking my fingers over my scalp.
I will miss singing. Feeling my voice vibrate through the thick resonant caverns of my body.
Deep belly laughs that ring out too loud in restaurants and make people turn around and look.
I will miss a good stretch.
Hugs with people who hug back big and tight and fearless.
Songs that make me need to get up and dance, regardless of circumstance (short list, that).
Making coffee: grinding the beans, pouring the water, listening to the water drip through the black grit, the smell the smell the smell
But guess what kind of a post this is?
For those of you who have been reading since The Experiment, you might chuckle to hear that I've fallen in love. Hit-you-over-the-head, heart-burstingly, life-changingly in love. My poor body is learning to sustain levels of happiness that may or may not be healthy, and the blogging? Has taken a back burner to general skipping-through-fields types of activities.
Who wants to read my sappy love poetry anyway?
I am looking at my new pink chair missing an arm.
So I was biking down 6th street a few hours ago, going the wrong way down a one-way street (but I was in the bike lane so it was okay?), and I saw a yard sale. I use the term “yard” loosely – everyone around here who is lucky enough to HAVE a yard has a small one, almost an apology of a yard, postage stamp size. This “yard” sale caught my eye for two reasons:
1. There was an interesting turquoise blue drawer thingy. I like colors.
2. There was a sign that said EVERYTHING FREE
So I filed it away in my mental rolodex of to-do’s and kept on my way (to the CVS for bleach/coffee/detergent, to Eastern Market for fruit). On my way back I properly stopped. Got off the bike, put the kickstand down, and had a look. Couldn’t figure out the turquoise blue drawer thingy; buncha plates and cups; some books – and this chair. Under a black trash sack. Peach fleshy colored velvet with dark brown curved legs. I’ve been half-heartedly looking for a chair for months. I live in a small place and I have a large comfy brown corduroy chair (sitting in its chubby embrace right now), and whenever I have company we usually end up on the floor because no one wants to be The Person Who Takes the Only Chair. Was gonna take my friend Kylie’s pink high back chair, but never got around to it. So when I saw this curvy beat-up number under its pile of trash, my heart skipped a beat.
There was an old woman crouched down going through what looked to be one of those plastic drawer organizers; she was separating things out – earrings, pens, pins – not sure if it was for her or if she was just a sorter by habit.
“Is this your stuff?” I asked.
She looked up and she was pale all around – pale silvery hair, pale skin, pale blue eyes. She had trouble speaking; some sort of stutter?
“It’s – it’s – I’m – he’s the grandson,” she gets out, and gestures toward a man coming out of the basement apartment holding a cardboard box of seemingly unrelated items.
“Nephew,” he corrects, smiles. He looks tired. He is wearing a green canvas baseball cap and thin framed glasses; his eyes are kind.
“Is there a reason this chair is under the trash? Is it okay?”
“Look here,” he says, and takes me around to the other side of it, the side obscured by more clunky black trash bags. “It’s missing an arm.”
And so it is. Orange foam and dark screws poke forth from the delicate velvet, like guts from a sudden-amputee, like C3P0’s circuits after the Sand Men attacked him. I find I like the chair more now.
“No problem, man,” I say (why is it that buying intimate things from people in personal ways makes me drop into “man” and “dude”? I always do this), “I’ll be back with my car in 10 minutes.”
Now the chair is here, in my apartment. After lugging it in the door I set it down in the middle of the floor and backed away, said “Welcome to your new home!” mostly as a joke. Got out the vacuum cleaner and gave it a good suction. All the while, a story about the person whose chair this was is forming in my head: she died, unexpectedly. She was old and lived alone. She had long black wiry hair (vacuum cleaner and I found this out firsthand). The pale old woman outside her house was a neighbor-friend. She never had children. Her nephew lives in DC and is taking the weekend to dispose of her things. She cooked and read a lot and used to entertain (judging by the sheer amount of flatware in the yard sale). When the arm broke off this chair, she had no one to repair it for her.
I am looking at this chair. I have placed it so the missing arm is not immediately obvious. I love its shabby sweetness, its yellowed edges. Right now it feels like I have a guest in the apartment. I know it will not always feel this way. “Hello,” I say, “Welcome to your new home.”
Like photos in a housefire
angry-black-bubbled out of existence
You’re permanently obscured.
Where’s the girl I walked to classes with, bad bangs growing out, backpack on your back?
Is that still you in there?
Underneath the years
the different names:
strangers calling you mom and honey,
underneath the baby growing inside of you
Have you changed?
Or is it just my unwillingness to see you without that backpack that makes you seem different to me?
And when I go that way –
will I disappear under the things I’m called and the people I create?
(will I be able to see myself in there?)
The last time I really wore it I was driving up and out of Los Angeles, everything I owned in the back of my dusty Subaru, tears on my face. LA was a smudge of dirty in my rearview. By then, the skin was in bad shape (gritty with sun and salt, thin at the wrists where I caressed my thick blue veins with the box cutter, brown under the eyes, long in the hair), but I didn’t know I could take it off. I hated it but I needed it because it was me.
Now, on the plane, I forget that I should be wearing it almost until we’re descending past the thick band of smog into Los Angeles. My mind has been on a thousand other things. But as the fasten seatbelt light dings on and my tummy lurches, I realize the plane is landing and I am ill-prepared.
On my body, the skin doesn’t sing the devastating-but-seductive siren songs of pain and failure to me the way I expected it to. I am quiet and tentative in it as I walk Sunset Blvd with my friend, arms around each other’s waists, sun at my back. We take a left onto La Cienega in her car, my skin remembering viscerally how to get everywhere. I am astounded at how well I know this city. How can somewhere I haven’t been in years click back on inside, like a light switch in a room at the far back of the house? How can I have so many memories of a place where I felt so anonymous? The thought that keeps ferris-wheeling in my head: “How do I know this? I wasn’t even here!”
I force myself to see this city as objectively as I can: what is this place? All I can come up with is strip malls and car exhaust and vines dripping obscenely with flowers over courtyard walls. It fails to move me. I hold myself so carefully in the skin, expecting at any moment to be hit with the inevitable waves of SOMETHING: loss? longing? But nothing happens. And at the next light, we have to make a right to get to Century City – don’t ask me why I know that, but I do.
In the end, I take the skin off in the airplane bathroom somewhere over Missouri. Exhale. Let my stomach out. Touch my own face in the small mirror under the recessed lighting.
The road there is a 2-lane job hacked smooth into the middle of rain-fat thick-trunked fir trees. It has car commercial curves and you know you’re close when you catch blue through their dumb and gentle bodies and realize it’s not the sky: it’s the Sound.
Suddenly the trees peel away and the road drops down and there it is. My mother grew up in this town. I come here when I need to feel loved.
I am in a relationship with the Inn I stay in. Several years past its prime, it sits at the top of town, behind the fancy waterfront hotels below, red neon letters like the Hollywood sign. She’s the girl who doesn’t know she’s pretty, who’s stopped expecting to be noticed, but I see her, standing in the back, and I say, “Yes, you,” and she blushes red neon at me.
The front counter has a bell. The duvets match the shower curtains. I check into my harbor view room, drop my backpack on the edge of the creaky bed, loosen the plastic latch and slide the glass door right, letting the thin sunlight and salt water and log truck fumes in. I lean against the wrought iron railing, feet on the deck covered in its green astroturf: breathe. Maybe I’ll stand here for a while and look at that huge tanker ship bob in the Port.
The last road before town hits Sound is a logging truck road. I run along it, toes catching in concrete cracks. I pick wild blackberries and raspberries growing along the edges, standing in dead grass ditches with dandelions gone to seed, hiking boots snapping thorns off vines. A truck pounds by, chrome grill and sooty exhaust pipes, pitchy logs fresh from the chainsaw bouncing and swaying in the bed. I run behind it sucking in the wood and salt and gasoline, tonguing the seeds stuck in my teeth, fingers purple.
I am here looking for my mother. I am here because my heart is broken and I want my mother. But not my mother as she is now: I’m hunting this memory of a dream of her, the her that walked wooded trails in dappled sunlight and looked at all the plants, noticing their spines and smells, their fibers. I’ve been broken and I need to put myself in a place where my mother was before she was broken too. I chase her child’s back and fair hair to this place. Hike the woods. Stand at the water’s edge to be blasted by sand and wind and grimy foam. Let the arms of the Port wrap around me in a rocky-salt embrace. Find a quiet in me instead.
I got the pic here.
Then: reality – of course not; of course they have to do it like this. Of course. Hot sun on my shoulders as I stop walking cold, stand on wooden planking, having passed through the entrance to my DOLPHIN ADVENTURE, hot disappointment in my throat as I see: the man-made “lagoon” of dock and cyclone fencing in the water; dolphins swimming tight circles in tandem in a tight space; two blond boys fighting over a Coke; the All-You-Can-Eat Buffet.
I stand, mostly naked, with mostly naked strangers, in a concrete room as Jose (I shit you not) takes us through our orientation: Stand this way for “The Kiss”, hold your palms this way for “The Hug”, and the most important thing? Always smile for the camera. Let’s practice! Hold your hands out, palms up, now turn to your right, look up: and smile! Good, good.
“Last time I did this, I picked up a dolphin and I THREW it.” The kid can’t be more than 11, and there is quite possibly something mentally wrong with him.
“Did not!” His brother.
Jose (I shit you not) quiets them down and then we practice “The Wave.” I know how my face looks right now but I can’t seem to change it.
My life jacket must’ve been made for a toddler and I tug it down while my flip-flops flip and flop over the wooden walkway. We are up high and there is a breeze and we walk in a line, kick off our shoes, and ease down a metal ramp into the water (cold at first but then okay) where we meet Giovan, Ramses and Jupiter ($5 if you guess which ones the dolphins are). They swim back and forth in front of us, responding to Giovan's whistle and pocket fulla fish. We "Touch", we "Kiss", we "Hug", we smile for the camera man standing above us – and in spite of everything, the whole place starts to change. Jupiter is the dominant male in the pod, which is why he has all those scratches. The metal underneath us hurts mom’s feet so she bobs like a baby in the water, knees to her chest, bouncing against the algae-covered cyclone fencing, giggling. The dolphins are fucking amazing. Their bodies like warm rubber silk, they glide under my fingers. Their snouts are banged up and their undersides transparent in some parts. They are very real. And yes, Ramses is flopping, prone, into my arms (“The Hug”) because he wants that fish from Giovan, but he is very real and I realize I’m smiling.
The best part? I swim, alone, into the middle of the pen (maybe 50 feet from Giovan and my family) and lay on my belly in the water, legs straight behind me, feet flat, arms straight in front of me. I see Giovan snap his arms and Ramses and Jupiter disappear. My heart beats and I can hear my breath off the water, the sun in my eyes. Then: two dark shadows underneath me and then pressure and they are behind me, they are at my feet – they are using their strong, banged-up bottlenoses to push me, and they’re pushing in unison, and they’re so strong that I am propelled straight up and out of the water until I am a flying X, entire body out of the water, arms straight up, and I am standing on dolphins. I am standing on dolphins. I am having a goddamn Dolphin Adventure, and my smile for the camera is real.
Later, even the sales pitch as we stand dripping on the concrete floor of another concrete building back on land can’t bring me down. We watch a video, complete with inspirational music, of our Dolphin Adventure (cut together in the 10 minutes it took us to get out of the water by a squadron of Mexican AV technicians in a windowless room – no seriously, I saw it), and it’s not as good as the feeling of those noses on my feet, that warm rubber silk under my palms. Really: don’t watch the video. We skip out on the subsequent picture sales pitch in favor of the All-You-Can-Eat Buffet, which really isn’t that bad. We recount – the power! the grace! the rows of teeth!! – and we find ourselves a cab and I feel like the whole place is a strange cosmic accident of goodness, a hall of mirrors where good is bad is good again, a wildflower growing despite the trash heap it’s growing in.
You are a kind of family
Some very weird very distant cousin -
You are stuck with me and I’m stuck with you until death do you part.
Did you know when you picked her that you picked me too?
If we are a venn diagram then she is the middle and we intersect
And in this intersection
We sit, sexless, thigh-to-thigh on the couch
I help her fold laundry on a Sunday when you’re out of town, my fingers all over the hems of your shirts, the elastic waistbands of your underwear. (snap)
Her stories get confused in my memories
And I remember
the look in your eyes when you asked me to marry you down by the river
your hands on my knees when you went down on me in a back classroom
your cold pillow when you stayed out all night and never called
Makes me crazy
So when I see you I am clumsy
I have one foot in this memory that isn’t mine and the other in
this friendship that we didn’t choose
We sit, sexless, on the couch in a strange camaraderie
And she sits in the center of our intersection
But she was mine first.
Caught that one
Then let him go.
won’t go away
but won’t come through.
Tonight’s no good
but Friday’s free?
it’s back to me
After we flew across the country we got in bed, and let the
New Assignment - Finish this story:"Who here understands what I'm saying?" the old man asked. Jen raised her hand.
“I do,” I say.
I inhale sharp. It’s like that fantasy where you scream in church only this is real.
The other students shift, electric in their seats with their spiral notebooks, their faces washed and stomachs full of apple slices or oatmeal or toast with peanut butter. I don’t talk in this class.
“I understand that you don’t know what you’re saying.”
His pacing stops and he half turns, won’t even give me his full ugly face.
All of a sudden I’m not sitting at my desk anymore but am standing, with one leg planted firm, one leg bent at the knee, resting against the yellow plastic scoop seat, bump in the middle for the space between my legs. Standing like a stork, which is comfortable for me, which people have made fun of me for my whole life, which right now is in defiance to him, as if to say: you’re so full of shit, I don’t even need both feet on this classroom floor to stand up to you. My arms hang at my sides, fingers grazing my thighs. I don’t know what to do with them. I never know what to do with my arms.
“All year long you poke holes in me. I’m late. I’m slow. I’m rude. I’m a lot of things. And today I’m a mirror. And while you look like a teacher to everyone else here – maybe look like someone with power, with grey hair, with a gut – against my surface you look like the kid that got too good-looking too fast, didn’t know what to do with it, then the good looks went away only you didn’t know it yet.”
David laugh-snorts. I realize I’m fiddling with the seam of my jeans and I force my fingers to stop it. My mouth is very dry.
“Is that all?” he asks, and his voice is a cold, dry wind.
“You are a teacher, though,” I continue, and I can’t believe it: I am a good kid. There was a time when I really wanted him to like me. I make all A’s. I’m on the Homecoming Court. I also can’t stop talking and I realize I’m saying “you’ve taught me that people don’t really change when they leave high school. I keep thinking people will grow up, will move past this place, but you didn’t. You stay here, every day, trying to prove to ghosts that you’re better than them. That you’re better than us. Better than me. I don’t care who you were then so don’t make me pay for it anymore.”
The silence is thick and I won’t look away from his eyes. They are green with the whites gone milky and we spend a long moment there, breathing. This is what my grandmother meant when she said I had a will of my own. I've never encountered it before but here it is, in this moment with the ticking clock and my nerves and I am powerful and terrified. But no one is saying anything so I scoop up my green Jansport and I walk past the three desks between me and the door and out.
Keep walking because I don’t know what to do and I wonder if I’m just like him now and if I’ll just keep trying to outlive this moment for the rest of my life.
Tijuana Lady - Gomez
I am driving my dad's burgundy Nissan Maxima. The interior is leather and my hands slide over the steering wheel, turning hand-over-hand. I hold the palm of my hand to my nose - it smells like my dad's skin. It is sunset and the sky is orange and yellow and burgundy like the car as I drive up and over hill after hill in this suburban neighborhood, on my way to visit my boyfriend.
Falling Down - Avril Lavigne
I try to subtly adjust my uncomfortable work-appropriate underwear behind a merch stand while I look out over the brown lacquer display at the city park. There is a homeless man with a red rainjacket and a scruffy beard, red sores all over his face. I look from his face to the $55 leather day planner on the rack in front of me and think about the difference.
Please Read the Letter - Robert Plant and Alison Kraus
I am sitting on one ex-boyfriend's futon emailing another ex-boyfriend while the sky turns black outside my warp-paned windows. I've had too much wine and I shouldn't press send but I do it anyway.
Nothing Brings Me Down - Emiliana Torrini
I flex my toes into the dirty blue carpet and look at the candlelight flicker on the off-white walls of my LA studio apartment. I should sweep my kitchen.
Too Little Too Late - Barenaked Ladies
Natalie turns the stereo up in her white car as we drive north on the 5. I share my french fries with Shar and Kylie navigates. The day outside is grey but we all have high hopes.
I drove through smoke-colored rain which made everything look mostly the same until I came up and out of a valley somewhere (Maryland?) and all of a sudden I was in West Virginia: rolling hills of scrubby dead grass. Farms tucked into hill-bottoms. Altitude.
When people ask me about the difference between the west coast and this one, I never know what to say. But now, because of this place, I think I do: the east coast is the teddy bear you’ve had since you were a baby that is now in some closet somewhere. The fur is matted down and worn into nubs from years of your baby fingers rubbing their baby oils into it. Threadbare in parts, you can see the under-stitching of your childhood. All of this place has been worn down: from the brick-box-homes to the creaking General Store floors to the hill-lettes of West Virginia, people have just been here longer. We’ve worn it down. Its sharp corners are rounded. It’s threadbare.
Berkeley Springs used to be called the town of Bath because of its mineral springs. I am somewhat glamorized by the so-called properties of these waters – signs and internet sites and pamphlets tell me that it Leaves your Skin Feeling Soft! Aids in Digestion! George Washington is quoted on city signs cautiously stating that these waters may do him good – kind of a lukewarm statement to put on a sign but if George said it, it must be marketable. And this whole tourism industry has sprouted around these waters. Every place has ‘spa treatments’, homeopathic medicines, massage. I got a massage at the State Park from Candace, a real West Virginia girl. She was born here. She doesn’t want to live anywhere else. She wears thick black eyeliner all around her eyes and has a son who makes her laugh when he talks like an adult, even though he’s only a baby still. Her boyfriend is a cook at the fanciest restaurant in town. Big cities make her nervous. She yawns and squirts oil into her hands and giggles when I moan as she works her West Virginia fingers into the tightly rolled muscles between my knee and hip, the arch of my foot, my shoulderblades.
I want to see this place, so I drive up and out of town, into the hills (mountains?). Everyone who lives here apparently has a fleet of vehicles: truck, motorhome, construction equipment, and a sensible car. I drive along a curling road, black asphalt wet like licorice, like a giraffe’s tongue. The clouds are so low they are also fog and the slick tree trunks pop black against this softness. Another difference between this coast and that: trees. Somehow, a forest of deciduous trees just doesn’t feel like a forest to me.
I eat dinner at the bar of the hippest place in town (Candace told me about it). Everything is homemade and organic, and I bite into my monstrous pink burger with bacon, provolone, and grilled onions while I watch a Dad play pool with his two young boys. One of the boys drops his pool cue and it makes James jump. James is a cook at this place, but right now he is drinking a Bud Light next to me at the bar and watching San Diego play New York. He and his wife got into some trouble when her brother-in-law moved in with them and was selling cocaine out of their house. He got 5 years in prison and found Jesus, they got charged with conspiracy. They had to leave and this was the only place they tried where the trailer park owner didn’t care and let them stay. They have two girls.
Laura is the bartender. She has burgundy hair and tattoos up both arms, cool glasses with rhinestones that glitter in the Christmas lights hung above the bar. When Laura isn’t refilling my beer or James’, she is talking really intensely to a young girl sitting at one of the tables. When the girl leaves, Laura says, “I love you.” The girl is her daughter, and she’s just had her first kiss. She’s 13 and her name is Ruby. Here are the rules Laura makes Ruby repeat over and over: finish high school. Go to college. Travel the world for a year. Have a career. Get married. Have kids. IN THAT ORDER. Laura got pregnant with Ruby when she was 19. She says she didn’t know any better. She wants Ruby to know better.
I am cracking your bones over my knee
because I need tinder
to keep this fire burning.
I’m not very good
But I keep plucking
What used to hold you
Since you went away.
I feed you water and beans -
You feed me mornings in bed.
A fair give-and-take.
There’s pajama fuzz, crusted drool, and stray hair
A kind of stew of me.
Giant Coffee Mug
Oh, Phoenix of my Flatware:
Today you’re a teacup, yesterday you were a bowl of soup
Tonight you’ll be born again in the drying rack.
I just realized
All my shelves come in threes;
What would Freud say?
You look cold
In your towel and duct tape.
Winter just isn’t your season.
Do you brag to the books
That you used to “be someone”
Before you became apartment décor?
Nubby, chubby, sprung in the middle
Little feet, big arms, ugly-pattern pillow
Craigslist find – meet my behind.
Out of nowhere this opportunity landed in my lap. I had the chance to interview for this position in November, but because of my committment to my current job, I turned it down. Luckily for me, they hadn't been able to fill the position - and in a matter of three hours I had interviewed, been offered, and accepted a new job!
Here's to new beginnings and senseless droppings of happiness from the Universe!
loving one parent more than another
(a childhood fear more adult than boogeymen) -
I concentrated on loving the space between them;
and in doing so:
I missed them both.
Here's a quick-n-dirty recap:
Signs asked for: 30
Signs appeared: 16 ...this blows my mind. It didn't feel like that many showed up.
Here's a ranking of what my 17 seconds was on, in order of frequency:
- Alone Time
- Romantic Partnership
- Giving and Receiving
- Tangible Results
- Knowing What I Want
Of course, the whole point of the Experiment was to find out what I want. And I still don't know what that is.
I got some input from friends on what they think I should do (move back to LA and act; marry a cowboy and move to Eastern Washington; work in a resort community); I had a few dreams during this experiment (driving around the country for 6 months to write a book); mostly, though, I remembered to be grateful and to do something I love every day.
I don't know what's going to happen next. I don't have a clear picture or any perspective on what we've just done. I can tell you that, tantrums aside, I've loved it.
And right now, that's enough.