They had weed, and I had a history of indignity. Three of them pulled up, the car screeching and lurching, then parked crookedly by the swing-bell glass door to the brick-front store where I was buying a sixer and smokes. I knew them from the club where we’d waste our weekend nights spending money we didn’t have. The two girls would hold the walls up in the same corner where I’d dance, sometimes with them.
I left my car at the store, parked in the side shadows, and climbed into the back of the dented, green Chevy, lodging myself between the girls. Jerry drove, and he didn’t seem to mind playing chauffeur. He watched the mirror, smiling occasionally, knowingly, eyes squinted.
We filled the green car with our white smoke and a voice came through the fragrant haze, whispering sweetly, “I always liked the way you move when you dance.”
It was Mary, her softness pressed against my shoulder and my thigh. Turning into the smoke to politely acknowledge, my lips were taken into hers.
“Go slow. The night is still young,” I told her.
I don’t know where the night went. It went to the place where all memories go, I suppose. It walked off into its own darkness.
The house where she stayed was tall and white, and it leaned to the left, or maybe we were leaning to the right. Jerry and the other girl disappeared somewhere into its chipped wood and shadows. Mary led me up some narrow stairs to a pale-blue room. It was large, and kept neatly. A streetlight shone in through the side window.
The house was cold, but she was warm, and deep, and slippery, and I kept thinking I’d fall into her and never find the bottom of the chasm that is woman. I kept thinking– and that was the trouble of it all; it was a pity fuck, and a pitiful fuck because of it. Some part of me was left there to die in the wrinkled cotton-sheet valleys. Some part of me never left her, nor the others with soft eyes who came after, yet she was still alone when I did leave; they all were.
Creaking, the door to the tipsy, white house closed behind me. The black sky spread its endless legs before the tall-fog glow of the streetlights, and I walked into its waiting darkness. I kept walking, hearing my footsteps splash into the emptiness. I kept walking until the lights were gone, until I’d, again, become shadow.
What will we do with these years remaining, love? Now that all the gods are slain by our introspection, now that sunsets’ once playful pink-cotton foretells only night’s panicked, chirping-insect void, what shall we do with the stilled-scream horror of ourselves, as it sits lonesome and warted, hunched and spiny, digging its claws into gray-wrinkle skin? Trust– we’d given it wings of brass– tho it’d be too heavy a stone to find flight, tho it’d be only a shining statue, immobile, and disregarded, until the darkened loins of night swallowed its last glimmer.
Most of what I am to you now, to anyone, is the drunken musk of memory; I am aware, and was– before the sun considered rising over our wishfulness. Choose your poem, choose your sunshine-afternoon and pin its photo to the wall, and try, love, try– not to look too deeply into its shadows, tho they are there. Every thing, every creature, every love casts one, and it is as true a reflection as the silver-mirror lake we both recall– aye, one standing aside the other, hands clasped, shoulders touching, skin pushed tight against the still-winds’ coming, the echo-sound of beating wings, a winged shadow brushing its fingers atop the shimmer.
I slept, or endeavored
as poems danced their drunken dances
a rustling cacophony
aye, each seducing the next
or whichever– might seem amicable
I slept, or endeavored
as the raucous powder-hair affair roared
too drunk to care
but not drunk enough
tho still, I hadn’t felt
Even as you are gone from what we were, only the shadowy-well ache remaining, this howling void stays– the most potent reminder– these words, all that I am, wish only to fill the emptiness; these words wish– if only once, if only for the rustling leaf-turn of a golden-afternoon memory, your singular and acute understanding.
I suppose that when we go, we all go still owing a debt somewhere, a loan unpaid, a good turn still un-returned, a forgiveness not granted, a wrong never made right. And some would say that we get what we’ve got coming, but we never do. We get what we get. We know who we know, and most of everything that happens along the way is just dumb luck. Tho we never really know anyone; we never really have anything. Possession is an illusion. It all passes, sliding between our fingers like the salty-sand of childhood’s soft-curve coasts, bathed in blue waves’ laughing froth as they come and go.
She’s twenty-three and she’s dying. Her lungs are done, they say, diseased and tired, filled with bile and mucus, and regret. She’s drowning in infection. She’ll never eat or drink through her mouth again. She’s got a tube down her throat to breathe and mittens on her hands so she can’t hurt herself or anyone else when the drugs wear off. She tries though. These things don’t come without anger over the unfairness, seethe over being out of time.
Others might get a lung transplant, the gift of another chance. She’s not a candidate because she smoked cigarettes and did drugs. Who decides these things, who decides who lives and who dies? The doctors told her parents that without a transplant, she’d live on a respirator and be institutionalized for the rest of her life, however long that is, and if she lives at all. They’d pull the tube out of her throat and put a hole on her throat instead.
“I know she wouldn’t want to live that way,” they both said.
Still, life is life, if there is still sentience; if there are still thoughts, even occasional, we are as alive as anyone ever is, and if we’ve nothing but time to know the shadows and light of our own notions, we’re more alive than most.
They’ll do it as she sleeps, dreaming of hope. They’ll pull the plug.
The soil, moist and soft, recalled safe memories; its cool touch embraced my underside as I lay, drifting. It is in these times that we are free– loose the chains of gods and governments, loose the hold of hunger and strife; it is in the surrealism, the weightless space-drift of dreams that we are what we have always been. I nestled in the tall grass, shaded on all sides. Sunshine came only in saffron moments, a reflection from elsewhere that never touched me directly. I slumbered.
Great men are a rarity, and possibly only existing the fables of perception, but in my dream I’d been a tall man, bearded and seasoned, with slick gray which fell in a dark frosting of curls. Any man who’d seen me, or any woman, would think to themselves, “There is a great man. There is a man of distinction, a man of wisdom.”
The woods stirred with quiet life, the creatures which live their lives in hiding, daring sound only when unseen. I wondered what they must think of me, a giant, unafraid, knowing fear as only something seen in the eyes of others, only in the fallen shoulders of defeat. My footsteps fell heavy, crushing branches and twigs. Things scurried into the dark emerald shadows as I neared.
Small voices rode the still air, sounding like the cackles of children. I waited at a fork in the path, not knowing which from which side they would emerge but knowing our paths would cross at this place.
Both paths bent around and outward, preventing me from seeing, so I ate wild strawberries I’d found earlier as I waited. The red juice stained my beard as the berries chilled my teeth and tongue, exploding onto my gums.
There were hundreds of them walking behind a man, taller than the rest. The front man was flanked by four horsemen dressed in black tunics, two on each side. None of them were any taller than my ankles. Some carried small books, worn at the bindings. I wondered how I’d even be able to read such a small thing. Some carried crosses made of twigs spun with twine at the joints. The crosses never touched ground.
One of them said, “Bow before God.” and the rest began to chant, the number of voices swelling into the air, then raping the silence in waves. “Bow before God.” they chanted.
Strawberry juice ran down my chin as I chewed, and I said, spitting red, “Is this your God?”
I pushed another handful of strawberries into my mouth. They were small, half bitter, half sweet.
The one in front wore a tall and pointed white hat, and then it changed, becoming a tightly wound turban. His skin grew darker and then his head became a yellow ball of flame, like the sun.
“Is this your God?” I asked again, knowing gods exist to give meaning to the meaninglessness, an echo from the abyss.
Strawberry skin coated my teeth as I spoke and the small men trembled for a moment before chanting again.
“Bow before God. Bow before God.”
The cool shadow of my foot fell over him before the weight of my boot crushed him into the soil. The horses fled, horsemen still mounted.
“Is this your God?”
I twisted my boot into the ground like putting out a cigarette. Lifting my foot, parts of him still burned, embers smoldering into the rubber sole.
The chanting silenced, and still there was no reply to my question. None of them moved. Crickets, cicadas, and furry and winged wild things which had stirred in the deep green became silent as well.
“You are free of him then. You are free. Go now.”
But they stayed, silent.
I awoke remembering– there is a pain which is beyond pain, where nothing is even felt, except nothingness, an eternity of it, endless dead-wheat fields of futility. Turning my body, I could see that the lower part of me had been crushed by a boot, my brown and yellow innards now fallen outside of my skin, coated in soil. The ground trembled with their determined approach; the ants were coming, thousands of them, and I, born as a earthworm, crushed-pink, wrinkled, and half-paralyzed, could do nothing but writhe, waiting for the end.
Autumn-evening’s sunshine, painting her skin in hues of young-hope’s memories, couldn’t change what she’d become. Greasy locks of grayed yellow fell over a round, scar-pocked face. Anger seethed, both hot and cold, as our eyes met, though she looked away. It wasn’t the type of anger that passes quickly. If not recognized as a damned and deformed sibling of one’s own, it might be missed, or misunderstood. She was ugly, obese, haggard, and cruel. Her eyes shone black with deep red bubbling beneath the dim film, darker than the first blood of a mortal wound, possessed of something few dare touch. No innocence had survived; no lies remained.
we didn’t agree to this
we were merely born here
thrust into the rainbow’s fable
pushed from the red-fibrous wombs
where we’d slumbered
spat out, squint-eyed and screaming
into the spinning-steel machinery
white wolves watch the grumbling churn
from the swaying-grass periphery
tasting the smell of our mortality
the blood of our avarice, our hauntings
carried on August whispers
the gray-ash bodies of the believers
exhaled from phallic steam pipes
the dust of promises
twisting in rough-sand cyclones
until finally, stilled