Boundaries, Part III

K. asks me to remind her where her boundaries are. Then she adds, “You work too hard for love,” and hangs up the phone.

How true! I first learned of boundaries while working at a health clinic for the homeless. Every day they would gather at the door before morning, while inside we set up the ropes that organized their need into orderly rows and straight lines. One November I met a girl with an abscessed tooth and we ended up sleeping together for three weeks; for almost twenty-one days I sheltered her in the white sheets of my bed while the bungalow shuddered under a rainstorm that turned the lawn to mud and elsewhere washed entire towns away. On the twenty-first morning she was gone. I later heard from the line that she had gone back to the subway and had a baby and never wanted anything from the day-lit world again.

You learn to live without love, if you work at it hard enough. For one thing the bed is all yours and the stars never sting and even a particularly good song will pass right through you, it gets that simple. Years went by before I found myself working as a re-educator for sexually criminal youth. “You can learn to live without love, if you work hard enough,” I taught them, and they all took notes. They had to; their P.O.s were always in the back of classroom, tapping their billy-clubs as a reminder of what waited for those who failed my class -- which was prison, of course, and secretly I think each P.O. believed that anal or oral penetration behind bars was the only effective treatment for these youth (who were deviants, let there be no doubt; but also often illiterate and very few passed, despite my best intentions). “What is the offense cycle?” I would ask them, and then drew it on the board like this:

Once every few months, a particularly aggressive youth might ignore the P.O. tapping behind him and ask how knowing the offense cycle did him any good at all. My supervisor warned me about this kind of youth, and gave me the correct response, which I would dutifully relay to the class. “Learning the offense cycle is important,” I began, “for four reasons: 1) It makes the youth’s behavior predictable by bringing it into full consciousness; 2) It proves the youth can be extremely self-observant; 3) It enable the youth to experience vulnerability as a positive and empowering experience; and 4) It provides an experience of nonsexual intimacy and personal self-control, which ultimately helps the youth to abandon the secrecy of his self,” this latter point never failing to get grins and nods from the officers in the back.

If I don’t regret my choices, then I must not regret the life I made of them: my re-education days are long gone and somehow the months have slipped into comfortable repetition, like white sheets or a sleeping body breathing in time to secret rhythms. Most nights I remember my dreams, but come morning I am too busy to write them down: I have subways to catch, bills to pay, friends to phone and meals to eat. There is always work to be done. “Remind me,” K. says, “because sometimes I forget where I end and others begin.”

“It is no problem,” I reply. “First figure out what you most need -- then take a rope and split it in half. Now all you have to do is choose which side you will spent your whole life wanting, and which side you will just call home.”


Oh Jesus, the White Woman Is Loose


The white woman—-the whale woman. She is obese and she is loose. She is yellow and sordid and base. Squids! Oh, dirty beast clean yourself. She squats on milk crates and makes monkey noises. She wears styrofoam earmuffs and she moans: "Roo!Roo!Roo!" In this bodd dawn, it is flat. She plays marbles with her frozen feces and makes nooses out of dog collars.

Soon, there come roars from the woman. Unlite, there come roars from the woman-—she occasions to breathe in and out and pant: let me pant child, she thinks and frets and thinks her woman-pieces. She fidgets with her rolly rolly polo fingers. She is embarrassed and frazzled and ashamed. She looks like a broken vacuum cleaner. On the television, two men in white suits climb into a rocket and shoot themselves into the blackspots of the sky. She doesn’t roar anymore but she thinks, then, that her hands are like tiny planets.

The government poisons her skin and her breasts. She soils herself and her little girl that is now not so little. The child is yellow and large. The child is being queen and not seeing queen and not knowing queen: she is queen. The child is twenty-seven and munches the loose wrappers in the dumpsters because the child is a loose piece of trash. She squats and bobs behind a glory-hole motel. She stutters and clasps-—gape, gape: they are not real! She has breasts and she has breasts that are like tiny spaceships that shoot into the sky like thin happy arrows.

The men, inside, take pictures when she worms: they pretend to gawk. But it is boredom, monotoned: car mechanics, plumbers, janitors, monotoned. The gray skinned coat of moustache and tobacco turned, lated: early in autumn. It is not highschool. Grim and ghasted and she is fat and loose and it is let again to the sick. They pour milk in her hair and she spirals and coughs and vomits.

“Swiss woman: Sing.” They say. They have flat eyes, tall circles, half shaved: wade and walk the wait to death. The life is lifted and golden and then loosed and off-beat and yellow. In the trailor homes, there are the overweight and the underweight: the others, finaled, deceased and diseased: enter, python fingered—I have neck tattoos. At the very least, perhaps, the deathless marked men are not alive either. At the very least, perhaps, the off-beat descent should destroy itself in its own satisfaction and desire for empty clutter and dissatisfaction and imperfection and flaw.


They should call her Swedish. Or Polish. Or English. She has English hands and English teeth. She smokes and looks like a hooker but she doesn’t get paid because nobody really pays her and she likes to put out because she is a spaceship: pow-pow-pow-pow. Later, she shoots Mastiff in the head because Mastiff says that he took the head of Jesus and put it in his cornfield. Pow-pow-pow-pow.

The priest gives mass below a crucified Jesus that has no head. Now the catholic men and women have nothing—-oh nothing!-—Oh Jesus! It is sad to watch Mass without a head. It is sad to take communion from our savior who has no head. Pow-pow: caw-caw-caw.

She gonna start her crying and bawl like a little nun. She gonna start loosening her straps, she gonna hit someone, or stick someon, or maybe fuck someone really hard tonight. She fittin ready to tear herself or hisself to pieces.

The men in police cars come and arrest her and one of the men has sex with her in the back seat of the cruiser because she looks homeless and smells like urine and alcohol and nobody in the police department cares about the homeless girls that smell like urine and alcohol and go behind the barns with the ribbed skin men, the webbed feet tramps: Oh, the in and out, the up and down. Beast! Clean yourself!


She shot Mastiff because he crossed the picket line at Wall-Mart and she got fired. She got fired because she was fat and she had yellow skin and black teeth and when she smiled the little kids said ‘Monster! Monster! You fucking Freak!” And ran out of the store and down into the parking lot and once one of them got hit by a speeding blue dodge pick-up that had just robbed the SuperSeven and was making its way to Highway 70.

The truck was going too fast, the woman was too fat, and the little girl who got hit was too stupid. Still the fat girl shot him in the head and went into the bathroom and did some crude fat girl dance on the toilet and played with her feces and said “I am the most disgusting creature and so I should eat my disgusting mess and tell them that they can’t make me anymore disgusting.”


The Father killed Mary and stampeded into town with her head in his hands. He had blood on his chest and his hands were in shakes and his eyes were hallowed and hollowed and deep in the stomachs of the animals there was heat. Her eyes were not closed. The father wept with her head—he said Satan had come to Murtle. Murtle is our town. He said that Satan would come into the closets, would come into the closets at night. The police men were drunk and laughed. They told the Father to sleep it off. It should all rot like wet wood.

Yellow and Orange are fall colors.



Boundaries, Part I

It is true that when I am with you, I sometimes lose myself and speak without thinking and do not notice the buildings rising up like a tidal wave come to sweep us away. Why is that? Lacking an answer I decide to ask my friend about it, retired Marine Col. T.X. Hammes, who spent his 30-year career studying, fighting, and training insurgents around the globe. "For 900 years China tried to turn the Vietnamese into Chinese," he explains, "but when one outside group tries to force a cultural change on another, thereby eliminating its social structure, an insurgency can last forever." Good words, no doubt, but by the time he reaches the issue of Gulf War and Palestine my eyes have already wandered past his thinning hair and up to the moon. There is more to the world than words, it is true, and sometimes when I am with you their reach exceeds their grasp. "Which is what a heaven is for," Col. Hammes concludes. But I have already missed his point. I am too busy thinking about your face, which is not unlike the moon, how it rises up to meet my own, leaving me without a thing to say. And to think of all the places I’ve been! There was a time I swallowed cities whole and walked the highways with no body for company save my own, and the odd American tree, and the flying birds. "Then let me put it a different way," Col. Hammes interrupts – this is another day and we are crossing the park – "Some bacteria are able to resist innate immune defenses, like phagocytosis and the body's complement pathways. There are two categories of resistance, but it is only the first which concerns us here: the ability to resist phagocytic engulfment – by which I mean, attachment and ingestion. In other words, Michael… that’s life."

Maybe it is, Colonel; once you imagined yourself a military man and thirty years later you became just that. Whenever I sleep I am engulfed by dreams and can’t remember who I am -- bird or boy, woman or man. Once I dreamt I turned myself into a wolf and began hunting down everyone I knew. When I woke up my shirt was clean, my teeth were white, I was no hairier than the night before. And though the cells that make up my skin have collapsed a million times since then I am still here, and this is life; even when I am walking you between the buildings that would eat us alive; even as you lift your pretty face towards mine and we die, a little more each day.



(noun: his magic takes him a hair above the competition) Even if flies were on it before, as long as flies aren’t on it now, I will eat it. Flies don’t bother me as much as the mold. If the mold is on it, or was on it, then I won’t eat it, unless it is a special cheese and the mold is good for you. The same is true for hair and shit but not for blood. I will eat many things that had or have blood on or in them. I have ingested blood of at least 452 distinct animals yet my own blood is still pure like it was when I was born. Those animals I ate had no doubt ingested (verb: he ingested the contents of the library) blood of other animals as well as shit, hair, food with mold and flies on it and even the eggs of flies inside it (cow feed used to contain ground up cows). But that doesn’t bother me quite as much. Is it strange that I can eat a seashell, chicken bone or shrimp tail but not hair? Hair is a certain kind of shell, like a finger-nail or skin, both of which I routinely chew from my own hands, yet the thought of eating a piece of skin with hair on it, like a section of scalp, or a chunk from a buffalo’s belly, nearly repulses (verb: rioters tried to storm ministry buildings but were repulsed by the police) me. After all these years, I’ve become very used to eating. That is something I have learned to accept. I have probably eaten the equivalent of 834 human hands if you collected all the chewed pieces into one place and pressed them together. Maybe I have shit an entire swimming pool’s worth or eaten enough hamburgers to fill this apartment. It’s difficult to say for sure. What I know is that save a few memorable exceptions, my body repeatedly processes a variety of different colored foods into shit of a single consistent hue. It is true that I have seen fish after the spawning (verb: the decade spawned a bewildering variety of books on the forces) season floating at the bottom of deep rivers while rotting alive. I have also had the fresh blood of cows, chickens, moose, bears, rabbits and human women smeared onto my fingers. I once fed a slice of my own fingertip to a customer, camouflaged in a sandwich by tomatoes and mayonnaise. I remember that I made a soup from beef stock and watched my vegetarian friend unknowingly suck it down. As I get older and older and more and more alone, it becomes increasingly important to me that I understand these things. I believe that I must anatomize (verb: successful comedy is notoriously difficult to anatomize) these small details of daily life. I believe that I must insert this knife into my own abdomen and cut a square there and rip my own stomach from its comfortable little nook, tear it apart and sift through its secrets of chewed tongue, corn particles, decomposing roasted beef, stray pubic hairs, bread, pear skins and eggshells, until I find some way of being less alone, less hungry, until I find the truth (noun: in truth, she was more than a little unhappy).



The first time I put the mic near my bed and turned on the recorder without telling her. The next morning I crept to my desk while she was asleep, converted the file to MP4a format and played it over my stereo speakers to wake her up. Of course Brianne enjoyed this. In fact we both did. After a few minutes I turned the recorder on again and we fucked to the sound of ourselves fucking. Later, I checked my heart-rate monitor and discovered that my pulse had maxed out at 159 bpm near the point of climax, a significant increase over the norm. Unfortunately, because two variables had changed during that particular orgasm (the unique soundtrack and the fact that, for the first time, she allowed me to come on her face) I had no means of formulating an explanation for the anomaly. Nevertheless, I grew curious about the effect that our prior fucks had on our present ones in terms of quantifiable physical excitement. Therefore, I asked Brianne to wear the heart-rate monitor, only, she insisted she didn’t have a heart. Despite many subsequent attempts, I failed to gather any evidence to either substantiate or disprove that claim. Brianne was surprisingly adept at detecting a ruse. For instance, she immediately knew when a seemingly affectionate gesture was actually a camouflaged effort to probe her inner-wrist for that particular vein. And though she enjoyed being choked during sex, often teetering on the edge of consciousness for moments at a time, she somehow managed to pull herself back just long enough to sink her teeth into my forearm whenever my fingertips strayed too close to the jugular.

Like all relationships, ours was confined by certain boundaries. We established them before it began. 1) Nothing normal. 2) No regrets. 3) No shame. 4) No dishonesty. These seemed like simple, attainable goals. We shared an interest in exploring an interior wilderness of sorts. In a way that cannot be explained with words, because it is the antithesis of words, our inner-needs were deeply compatible. Initially, this helped us to eliminate verbal communication from our affair, except as a tool by which our meetings could be arranged, and as a secondary method of expressing pleasure or displeasure during sex. But after that morning, we began to communicate more frequently during sex, as it became our habit to fuck to the sound of us fucking. Weeks passed. I upgraded and multiplied my stereo speakers, installing two satellites on opposing sides of the headboard of my bed. We refined our system, analyzing the acoustics of my apartment in order to determine the ideal mic placement and constructing a small shelf there, onto which the recorder was placed. Meanwhile, with each successive session, the recording itself grew more and more complex. That first morning, our respective moans rose and fell as expected, uttered somewhat in unison and separated by predictable lulls between peaks of pleasure. But, the third time, as we fucked to the sound of ourselves fucking to the sound of ourselves fucking, our moans formed a chorus of voices, six in all, that were intrinsically harmonious, since they were all ours. By the third week, we had fucked 47 times. The recording had transformed into a cacophony of groans, screams, shrieks, slaps, sucking sounds and incomprehensible words. Yet certain phrases suddenly pronounced themselves, uttered in split seconds during which all other sounds coincidentally fell off. “Meat and potatoes,” Brianne yells at 1:37:23. “Now that it’s stopped,” is my voice at 38:51. “Oh my God,” one of us says at 54:12. For me, these isolated declarations had a disconcerting effect, briefly wrenching me away from the animalistic event and reconnecting me to the dreaded world of words.

It is that same world that I inhabit now. Yet I routinely think back to Brianne. I listen to the final record, a 2:34:05 track that reflects 89 versions of our encounters, and contemplate the discussion that terminated our affair. Painfully, it was also recorded and commences at 2:27:05. Brianne confesses her concern that a tint of redundancy is seeping into our relationship, and wonders whether this violates its first rule. There is a certain panic in my voice as I respond that this relationship could never be normal. Brianne is calmly, coolly confident as she informs me that I have just violated the fourth rule by lying to her. I retract my claim, and try to talk my way out of it, but Brianne, disgusted now, accuses me of having violated the second rule, by regretting my previous statement. I do not respond but from this silence, it is not complicated to deduce that I am also violating the third rule. There is the sound of footsteps, the rustling of items I know to have been blankets and clothing, footsteps, the clinking of a belt buckle being locked and then the jangle of keys. After that, my front door opens and closes and at 2:31:44 she is gone. I have often tried to determine what I did during the next 2:21, before shutting off the recorder, however, the silence is pure and my memory incomplete. I know, from other records, that my heart-rate was approximately 92 bpm, however, though slightly elevated, this could easily correspond to any number of relatively silent activities. Was I reading a book? Was I folding my sheets? Was I asleep? Were my eyes wet with tears? And although I like to imagine that I wasn’t even there, that I had followed her outside, down the stairs, to the street, and fought for this thing of ours, I know that is also not true, since at 2:34:01 the wooden floor groans under the weight of my foot, and I can hear myself release a sigh of resignation, just before something muffles the microphone and the recording is concluded.


If Tomorrow We Die

There are so many things I don’t understand, I could never name just one. Today was partly cloudy, with a mix of sun and rain; showers in the afternoon gave way to moonlight softly emanating from a yellow moon. For a thousand nights or more I have slept with only my dreams, and most of these are lost like time down the long corridor of days. Do I live other lives besides this one? If not, I should pause longer by the window like a TV screen tuned to passing planes

and apartment high rises and the river of traffic running down the freeway at night. I should stand taller and touch strangers and tell more stories with my hands. I should walk the miles in the dark to your house and try to tell you something that is not beautiful, for a change, but necessary; and if I fail then that too would be part of the message: that failure is just another way to discover where I end and the world begins, mysterious and partly cloudy; that is to say, necessary -- whether or not our lives are elliptical,

whether or not you let me in.




For one whole year I stopped talking about God. I didn't use His name to highlight a mystery – "God only knows…" – or call upon Him to damn a friend or stranger. I didn't beg for anything, neither out loud nor in the temple of my head; I didn't go to church; I didn't ask Him questions in the dead of night.

No one noticed. At first, friends commented that I looked differently -- had I maybe lost weight? Gotten a haircut? Gone to the gym? I only smiled and shook my head: Nope nothing different about me. It was nice to be rid of God. It almost felt like being free.

A few months later it was summer, and that was when friends got worried. You don't look yourself, they said. Who do I look like, then? I replied, which kept them quiet, but only for awhile. "Are you talking to yourself?" Jenny asked one night. Her hair was beautiful but hard to see in the dark room. The institutions of dogmatic religions do more harm than good, I replied, then turned my face back towards the pillow.

By autumn I was certain: giving up God was the best thing I could ever do. Birds sang noiselessly as cold crept in and knocked the leaves from trees and made branches wave goodbye. I had waved goodbye to God, and my friends, too – there was nothing left now to protect me from the truth, which was the solitary temple of my body, and the slate-gray afternoon skies, and the stars sending down light from tremendous distances. Wasn't that what I most wanted? On weekends I didn't need drugs, or drink. I didn't want to get lost in fantasy, or words, or to escape the visible world so that I might touch the face of some mystery. Jenny was gone, and I slept better alone anyway--

(Though it is true that I sometimes missed her hair; but what good is hair? Doesn't everything disappear, and too soon? Jenny's hair went the way it must, like my parents' bodies and their parents' bodies before them, and mine too; we fade like stars in the sun when death comes to rise…)

And then on December 31st, while talking to my pillow of the perils of opium, I heard from the front door a soft knocking. I froze: Who could it be? Cautiously I went downstairs and stepped outside. There, between small islands of snow, a yellow note lay on the doorstep. It read: We are in the world to love the world; and on the other side: Some things that go are gone.

All night I cried into my pillow. I cried until the sun filled up my room with bright, clean light.


California Mudslide

I stood on my porch for two days while men with gas masks and blue jump suits walked in and out of vans. The vans were white and had large black letters on the sides. The men walked in and out of houses, wrote on the walls, and did not talk to us. I didn’t have a gas mask on and my skin turned red on the second afternoon. I started scratching it. I didn’t have a blue suit and my lungs began to clink when I breathed. My neighbor said that there were fires in southern California and some white woman in her late eighties had lost her dog.

I thought I would write her a letter. I thought I would write a letter to the woman in California. I hope she finds her dog. On the third day, I walked off my porch and stretched on my front lawn. There were televisions on my front lawn. The rest of the people in our neighborhood put their televisions on my lawn. The televisions were blank because there was no power in our neighborhood. One of the men in the blue suits pointed at the televisions. I think he was laughing. But you can’t see him through his mask.

I wondered if the old woman had found her dog. California was in ruins, my neighbor said. A day after the fires the mudslides began. I didn’t know what a mudslide was but it sounded pretty terrible. It sounded like the people should just leave if the mud came down the hill and took their homes. It isn’t smart to build your home so close to a place where the hills move. Poor people, I thought. But I was not sorry for them. Some people don’t really know where to live and they complain when where they live isn’t safe. It doesn’t make a lot of sense.

Finally, the men in blue suits came with trucks and began to tear down the houses. The houses were half up and half down and made us look like poor people who lived in sprawling urban centers in the developing parts of the world, the third world. I didn’t like the fact that the houses that were all falling down made us look poor. I was happy when the men with the trucks began to take our houses down. Most of my neighbors had left their homes. They did not see the men come with the big trucks and tear the houses down.

It was late when they got to my house. I had gotten tired and I was lying in my front lawn, staring at the televisions that were blank and dirty. I heard the men talking, they were talking about the woman in California, and some man in California. The news that was on the television in the other parts of the city was showing terrible pictures of southern California. I stared at the televisions and wondered what it would be like to look at the people who were crying and screaming. I wondered if they knew where they had built their houses.

When my house fell, I would probably be able to see to the ocean. All the other houses behind it would be flat now and I would be able to see the waves crash and the white light of the moon on the waves that crashed. My house was loud when it fell. I think I heard the bathtub crack. My house fell quickly and it looked like it was made of sticks.

After my house fell, a man with a mask stood over me with a flashlight. He shined a flashlight in my eyes and I tried to cover my eyes but my hands were stuck. The man looked at me and then he looked at another person, another man in a mask. The two men had a conversation. I think they talked about me. The man shined the flashlight on my face again. He looked at me for a while. He looked funny because he had goggles on and a gas mask on and a blue suit on and gloves on. His breathing sounded like swish-swish-swish.

He made a lot of noise when he left. He clapped his hands before he left. I think that he was happy because he was trying to shout and jump up and down. But I couldn’t really understand what he was saying. Later, I heard another house, the house in front of mine, fall flat. I wondered what the ocean looked like now. I wondered why I couldn’t move my hands.



The Choice

When one door opens, another closes. Isn't that how it is? All night I have been running through the house like a madman, swinging open closets and windows that haven't been touched for years, the dust on the sill was that thick. To think that yesterday I was too afraid to go outside.

I am still afraid, but now I spray-paint it in large red letters along the bedroom walls: I AM STILL AFRAID I AM STILL AFRAID I AM STILL and then I reach the door. I unscrew it from its hinges. I carry that thick wooden shield out into the street.

Nighttime in February: memories rise up on currents of cool air and I breathe yesterdays I haven't visited in so long they are like discovering that a long lost friend lived next door, or dreaming of losing the one you love t o wake and find her in your arms. Is that how it is -- the Enlightenment that all the books talk about? The monks want it so much they would give their whole lives to find it. They turn their backs on the world only to discover it again in a grain of sand, or a single petal... but what of their mothers' faces? What of the fathers' hands they left behind? Last night I dreamt you were chasing me down crooked streets and when I woke the bed was empty: white sheets, shadows on the wall.

If I want I can remember a thousand things -- the church, the holly bush, the garden called the Center of the World -- but tonight I want to be here. There are stars out I've never seen, so I climb to the highest point in the city and firmly set the door in place. I must have fallen asleep; it is almost morning, and someone is knocking. Is it you? What if there are many ways back to the world? What if the Center is everywhere, if the dust is nothing, if whoever it is just goes away? Now the sun is rising, and the light calls grass back to life and keeps the trees leaning toward a tomorrow they would never dream to imagine. I am still afraid, you know, but I take a deep breath. I shut my eyes. I let the door fall.


Why We Moved

We love the baby Jesus because he saved our church when the storm came and made the walls move back and forth like they were made of tall sheets of paper. We love our baby Jesus because when the water came into the church and the men were screaming “Flood! Flood!” and the water was higher than the altar and the water was almost as high as three men—we love our baby Jesus because he did not let our church float away.

Some people who lived next to the church and were standing on their roofs when the bathtub turned into the Colorado river lost their homes and they had long bones in their cheeks and they looked scared. Some of the people who were neighbors became dead. Some of them floated past the church, but they floated fast because the river was fast because the weather man said it was a storm surge and the storm surge was directly in our town. Some of the other people who lived close to the church and had homes that had crosses on the front and who were people who came into the church even if it was in the summer and it was really nice outside—those people did not lose their houses or if they did they did not become dead and float past us when we were huddled together.

When we were huddled together, we prayed to the baby Jesus because the baby Jesus was born and he was small and he was there to help the man and the woman to become people who are in heaven when they become dead. I prayed harder than the other people because I needed to let the baby Jesus know that I was serious about praying. One of the other kids that was praying did not pray that hard, he kept pointing, he kept saying: “Look, there goes the Gorrings’ house!” or “Is that a body?” He was not busy praying. He did not find his parents after the storm because they had become dead because he had not been praying hard enough to the baby Jesus.

The baby Jesus must really not like my friends or my parents friends because after the storm we returned to our neighborhood and all the houses were gone or were torn into two pieces and the people looked sad. We must live in the wrong neighborhood, I told my father and he looked at me and he did not speak because his eyes were round and red and I think he was crying. I would have been crying too because we were loved by baby Jesus so much that our home was ok and it was not too badly destroyed (even though we did need the men with the white smocks to put a blue cover on our roof).

I wanted to tell my father that I was happy too, that I knew that we were alive because the baby Jesus knew that we had really prayed, that we had prayed really hard. But I did not tell him. He already knew. My father already knew. He held my hand all week and he squeezed it when me and my mother and him got into a car and drove to another neighborhood.



The Present

All things considered it is better that the moon is in the sky, that the sun can make us blind, that stars die years before we see their lights go out. Yesterday a book came in the mail for me -- Understanding the Libra, and though the note inside was what I needed from you most (thinking of you... love, K.) I am glad, all things considered, that the day's intent remains safely buried beneath the colorful storefronts and crowded highways and wild air. Does anyone really want to know? The car might come straight out the fog, jump the divider, and change everything. The lump might not hurt at all. If only we knew our words last Saturday amounted to nothing like a road at all, but rather a dead-end -- would we still have said them? I might have gone home early, you might have slept until your bedroom filled with light to wake you from dreams that no one will ever remember. All things considered it is better that tomorrow is out of reach, that yesterday is rainwater in the sun, that there is nothing we can touch but this moment which blossoms for us once, and then is gone.



There came a howl on the sand that is flat and hard and the sky is dark and there are trees that line it. There came a howl on the flat land and there are trees that line it and villages in the trees and people who wear rags and skin tied headbands and bang their fists in the drum circles of early morning prayer.

There came a howl. The light is flat on the flat sand on the flat land on the flat man home. The horizon is flat like a line like the beach line like the line that meets the trees and the trees are straight and stand like sticks and the men and women in the villages behind the trees begin to appear.

On the flat line horizon, there are ships that begin to come to the beach. The ships have men on the decks. The men wear helmets that are made of skulls and the men hold spears and chant against the flat water. There are many ships and the men on the many ships do not care if they are remembered when they leave, do not care if they are not remembered when they leave.

The men will take the homes from the men and women in the trees who dance and pray with drums. The men will not take their drums, will not take their dances. The men will take their children and put them in the ships and the ships will leave to the slow monotonous drone of the slave ship drone.

The slave ships, hunter ships, are not ships that care if they are remembered. The people, dotted in caves on the crippled circles of the newness have become the culture of their captors and that culture tells them to care that they are remembered. In the past, in the past villages that became cities—concrete steps against the flat lands, the flat beaches, the flat treelines—the cities breed to be remembered.

It is no longer simple for the villages to eat and hunt and fish and dance to the drum. The drum is not an instrument that needs to be remembered. Men and women on the coast will let the drum go into the hands of the others and begin to wish that they were something that could be gotten into.

On this day, when the flat land home was sacked, a village boy rose in the circle of the burnt homes and watched the slave ships row away from the shore and he stood because he was a boy and he was not caught and he said: “I am me.” The village elders began to weep and the women began to weep and the men fell to their knees and said we should not weep but perhaps we should weep.

“I am me.” The others, the others in the burnt down village began to look at their skin and see that it was not the same skin as the skin of the others in the village. “I am me.” They said. And when the night that night began to come, there came a howl and a man with a painted face approached the village and tore the still heart from the boy who had stood and said I am me.

But it was that day, before there came a howl, after the slave ships had attacked and looted, that the village saw and began to build fences around itself, inside itself. It was sane to keep the men whose skin and eyes and hair was not the same out of this home, that home, these homes.

“This boy died because he would not go with the other boys.” The village elder said. But he was only one village elder. It was not their son, anymore. It is not the village that will keep them out but the fences that will keep each other out: and they think that they have found a sanctuary in the ego, that they have rebuilt their passions, that they have begun to undig their own madness and doom.

Howl, children, the flat land is destroyed. It was too simple and plain and could not be gotten into, not at all.


Beach Ball

“It is the sun.” The woman says. She has gray streaks through her black hair. She is plump. Nobody gets into her either—not her speeches, anyway.

The sun is yellow and round and hot. The boy is small and round and fat. He does not think that it is the sun. He was in the desert, once, when he was five. Now, he is six. He saw the sun when he was in the desert. That is a beach ball, he thinks.

The beach ball is yellow and round and it is hot. The little boy thinks it is hot. The little boy is on the beach. He plays with the beach ball on the beach. The beach is hot, he thinks. He waves to his mother, she has driven their home to the beach. Their home is a trailer. The men with dirty clothes and no shoes walked behind the trailer to the beach.

Now, there are dirty men at the beach. They have dirty clothes and they smell bad and they look like they want things from the people who do not smell bad. Once, when the boy was in math class his teacher said: “If A = B then all of A is the same as all of B.”

“Oh.” The boy said. He was fat. He should not have been in the math class but it wasn’t his math class it was his brother’s math class and his brother was busy feeling his classmate up. She was cute and slutty and born in a trailer and the other boys all felt her breasts and wrote about her in the bathroom stalls.

“We all live in trailers, now.” Manny says. His English is good but he looks like he is from one of the islands in the Caribbean so everyone laughs when he speaks. Manny has not felt the girl’s breasts. He has not felt any girl’s breasts. He is shy and small and his friends think that he is gay but he is only nine years old. He really should start feeling girl’s breasts.

That is what the high school football team says. But they all live in trailers now. It is not as funny when they feel up the girl who lives in a trailer but isn’t the girl who lived in the trailer. They think that it is more like, ‘Oh.’ Instead of coercing the cheerleaders into the showers, the boys have started to masturbate behind their teachers’ trailers. Then they run away.

“We all live in trailers, now.”

But it is really nothing to get into—they all live in trailers. Trailers are small and do not have many rooms and when they do have rooms the rooms are narrow and dark.

“At least you can drive your trailer to the beach.” The dirty man who does not have a trailer says when he is at the beach. All the men at the beach are dirty. The clean people have moved to another beach where you cannot drive your trailers to. The little boy looks up—first at the man, then at the sun. Maybe it is the sun, he thinks.

The sun is yellow and round and hot. But there are many things that are yellow and round and hot. If I am short and fat and six then that is me. He looks at the beach. He sees another short and fat kid. If he is six, he thinks, then there are two of me. The little boy is angry and starts to cry.

Maybe we don’t all live in trailers.


The Privilege of Being

Erin thinks her writing is perfect. "It is perfect," she says, by which she means that she is perfect; after all, Erin is a writer, and if one’s work is flawless then does it not follow that one is flawless herself? I am not in a position to evaluate the validity of her claims. I am sitting on the third floor at my desk and out the window I can see the whitewashed winter sky and the tops of homes and trees waving their skinny arms hello or goodbye. I just do not have enough data. Erin, who has access to most of her thoughts, feelings, and behaviors (about 60%, I imagine), commands a far better vantage point from which she can evaluate her worth. She can hold her motives under the light and examine them for cracks, fissures, inconsistencies, corruption. She can bear witness to the formation of a flawless thought that I, for example, would never know even existed in that curly-haired head of her. "Sometimes," Erin confides, "I think things that are unthinkable." I defer to her better judgement.

Nonetheless, there is the incident of the missing twenty dollar bill to consider. This afternoon, Erin asked me, "Did you take a twenty dollar bill out of my coat pocket? I am sure it was there." I replied that No, I did not, and Why would I do such a thing anyway? but Erin had already turned and walked away, her curls angrily bobbing. Later, when I went to make coffee after a difficult day of empty pages and doubt, I found the twenty-dollar bill buried under the aromatic grains. Erin could not recall how it ended up there of all places, and although she immediately apologized – "After all, no one is expected to have access to all their internal processes" -- I still find myself watching her closely: the cross around her neck, her wild hair, the way she watches her fingers while she types. Meanwhile the trees are waving their arms outside; somewhere a tide goes in or out; the moon is waxing or waning overhead. I don’t know what happens when we die, or if life is a falling off from the first flawless light. I don’t know if Christ met the cross fearful, or like a bridegroom meets his bride. Either way I know this: He disappeared when he stopped making mistakes. Over a dinner of over-cooked chicken and wine, Erin and I try to discuss these things, but in the end we mostly talk about various failed loves from the past, laughing till the tears roll down our cheeks – laughing and crying as we pass the bottle.




My female friend wants to drown her ex-lover in her own urine. I agree to assist her in executing this plan. That is because in my own life there is: work, gym, pears, sleep, people I detest and her. We decide that the urine will be collected prior to the drowning, and stored in a large chilled tub, to ensure that he in no way finds his final breath erotic (IE she will withhold from him the perverse pleasure of observing the moment of discharge). We discuss the ethical ramifications of my suggestion that she collect my urine as well. There are many, so the conversation takes hours. But eventually we conclude that only her urine should be used, because purity > expedience when it comes to executions. My female friend likes to reduce life to formulas. Once she taught me that, “being unhappy ∉ I love you.” Later, using a scientific proof, she also demonstrated to me that “girls = evil” (the derivation was premised on the assumption that “girls = time + $$$,” but I did not have a problem with that). I teach her less than she teaches me. But because she finds me beautiful, this hasn’t occurred to or bothered her yet. I recently tried to determine whether she was also beautiful, only, my formula failed to produce meaningful results: “Brown hair + small chin + size 4 feet + large ass + miniature breasts + large nose + sharp chestnut eyes” simply equaled “Brianne.” But did Brianne equal (=) beauty? I set out to determine whether I could prove that assumption. Knowing that Beauty is (=) In the Eye of the Beholder, I extrapolated that if Brianne is (=) beautiful, then she is (=) in my eye. But this is only sometimes true. It depends where I am looking. Thus I concluded that: [Sometimes/ When I Look at Her] Brianne is (=) beautiful. But when Brianne is (=) alone, what (X) then(?). Brianne + Alone = X?. This is what I wonder while, in the next room, I hear the sound of her piss splashing into the tub (we keep it in my fridge, so that her friends won’t suspect her when all this is said and done (I do not have any friends except for her)): is she beautiful right now, when no one sees her, squatting over the urine bath? We have calculated (making rough allowances for evaporation) that if she continues drinking 1 liter of water per hour for the next four weeks, the urine should reach a sufficient depth to successfully drown her ex by February 14. With each successive piss, I am able to detect the rising urine level from the deepening bass of the splash. And I notice, the more she pees, the more a strange feeling of emptiness grows within me. I try to get at the heart of this phenomenon, but as a writer, I am hardly the mathematician she is. Maybe it is my fear that when this is over, we will have nothing left; but that is just frivolous speculation. Ultimately I can only settle on a simple conditional: If Brianne = Alone, then I = Alone (naturally the contra positive of this is not necessarily true). It remains among my deepest hopes that soon, I will be able to define one of these three variables in a way that will allow me to determine whether this relationship is (=) Good or Bad.


OK so I am drunk in here alone again. But this time it’s not my fault. Someone left a bottle of wine on my counter last week. I don’t remember who, because I was drunk when that happened too. She left other things as well, like blood on my sheets and a pair of panties bundled up behind the headboard of my bed. Who was she? Later that same morning, after I woke up and found her departure marked by my open apartment door, I noticed a note with my name written on it that had been taped to the window of my building. It was a love-letter from a man I didn’t remember meeting. I loosened my tie while I walked through the ghetto reading it, simultaneously afraid that its author was watching me from within the tinted compartment of any of those parked cars. Does hypnosis really work? It must have worked on Janet – she won’t stop calling me now. But, if someone used it on me, would it help me to remember what Janet looked like—so I could decide whether or not I wanted to answer my phone?—or who this Ben character is that wants to have coffee with me, and what I said to him that made him think I would, and how he knew where my house was? Sometimes I’m afraid of alcohol. Yeah but sometimes I’m afraid of my own street late at night. It doesn’t mean I’m going to stop living here. The other night when I was drunk a black man emerged from a dark alleyway just as I passed it and then he began to follow me. I believe he intended to rob me. I stopped walking, stepped to the edge of the sidewalk, pressed my back against the wall of a building, removed my jacket, flexed my arm-muscles and stared at him. He immediately crossed to the other side of the street and vanished into the unlit courtyard of a building there. I had a flask in my pocket that I removed and swigged from. I waited out there for a minute on the silent street before walking the rest of the way home. I have four direct relatives who died from heart and liver complications thought to have stemmed from alcoholism. But that doesn’t matter to me either, not yet. Sometimes you have to ask yourself what does matter to you. It’s pretty easy to see that everything is inherently meaningless. But if you’re going to keep breathing blinking pissing and all the rest you might as well draw a line in the sand at some point and say, “I’ve decided this is meaningful.” For me it’s: keeping my apartment clean, not biting off small pieces of my tongue too often, lifting weights in different ways so that my muscles develop definition, not masturbating more than three times each week, not backing down from a fight, trying hard at my job and not wasting time thinking too much about women. I am better at some of these than others, but the point is, they all matter [IE are of importance; have significance]. I don’t include writing in this list right now. It does not mean that much to me lately (all these books piled around my apartment). I get depressed when I quantify the human effort that goes into arranging words. OK maybe not depressed, but I get tired. Although that, like the blood on my sheets, could also just be the wine.


Our House at Four In the Afternoon

They bulldozed our house this afternoon. Then they bulldozed the rest of the neighborhood. We sat on the front lawn and watched. My brother held my hand and asked a man in a suit with a clipboard if he had seen our dog. The man did not say anything. The bulldozers were loud and looked like sea squid.

The men inside the bulldozers smoked cigarettes and listened to music and tapped their feet. Our neighbors sat on their front lawns and looked at one another and some of them were crying and thinking that they should not be crying.

Later, in the afternoon, a man with a yellow star came with red rope and told us that we could not sit on the lawn. He had a neat haircut and smooth skin. He said people like us should be happy that we are still alive.

It was that bad, he said. Some people like us did not make it out of here alive, he said. His wife had probably ironed his pants that morning. There were crisp lines in his pants. The lines ran up the sides. The man was definitely important so we did not ask him questions. My brother squinted because it was sunny.

I nodded. I should be happy that I am not dead. Our neighbors did not look happy to be alive. Our neighbors looked angry that they were alive. There would be other people who would be happy to be alive, I thought and my face began to get hot. I knew that the blood in my body was going to my face because that is what my seventh grade science teacher told me—-she told me I would turn red. But I have never turned red.

Our next door neighbor yelled at the man with the yellow star. Our neighbor did not have any shirt on and he looked dirty. The man who yelled looked like he was not happy to be alive. Other neighbors yelled at the man with the yellow star. None of them looked happy to be alive, either. Some of them looked mean and were covered in cuts and dirt. Some of them spit when they yelled. My brother held my hand.

Our house fell at four in the afternoon. It fell quickly like it was made of paper. The man with the crisp pants did not come by and pat me on the back. He was doing important things in other neighborhoods. He was making sure people knew that they were safe and that they were lucky to be alive.

It wasn’t fair that everyone was mad at him.



Several Questions You Might Ask

Do I love myself? Do I need to? I have gone up and down these streets for hours, and no one has an answer. Mrs. Maplethorpe would rather talk about televisions, Bob Ames about how he figured out exactly when every human life begins and the various ramifications of this discovery, and Miss Ramirez (pretty as she is) has nothing to say at all.

Still the questions remain: If I love myself, can I love someone else as well? Or can a person only love one person at a time? To this, Mrs. Maplethorpe's daughter had a reply: A lifetime isn't long enough for the beauty of this world and the responsibilities of your life; but was later corrected by Mrs. Maplethorpe, an avid news-watcher and part-time expert on the abundance of this world's un-beauty and in fact downright cruelty, as in the case of the murdered twins or the man who ate his stepdaughter; Mrs. Maplethorpe, who admitted that she sometimes wondered "what love could do for anyone at all. I mean, in this day and age."

In this day and age indeed! Why just this afternoon I walked down Grand Concourse under a frantic winter sky and saw the city skyline like teeth on keys -– home to millions of people I will never meet. What is the significance of love amongst so many strangers? And if I love myself, would they know the difference? On the 4 train home I watched Miss Ramirez through her reflection in the window and wondered. Would she meet my gaze and know that I was a man full up on love, that I could open any door and stand in the midst of any crowd assembled there with two feet firmly planted in my heart and say Yes! Yes! to every possible tomorrow with its terror and its loneliness and Yes! Yes! to heartbreaking limits and Yes! Yes! to the murdered twins and the eaten little girl and the earth that wants nothing less than to swallow us whole? Would she notice me then? Would that be happiness?

Oh Jenny Maplethorpe, I know what you mean; we have so little time, and so many questions. I know there are monsters out there; I know there are regrets waiting like gifts that will take our whole lives to unwrap. But if I have to choose – and we all have to choose, whether it's television or prayer or paying attention – then for now, I choose to keep asking.




She smells bad because she is dead. Her eyes are still and open. My friend says I can see her soul when I look at her eyes. I look at her eyes. Her soul is empty and doesn’t have anything at all. Maybe her soul is not there anymore.

Maybe my friend is wrong. A man in a white jump suit and an oxygen mask brushes past me and kneels. He looks like he is from space. He talks to another man on the radio. He wears plastic gloves and his breathing is heavy. He looks like a space man. He walks funny.

We stare at the man in the white jump suit with the triangles on his back. The spaceman looks at the dead woman. ‘Is she dead?’ I ask him. He shifts and looks up, but he does not say anything to us. He continues to put tiny drops of water into little containers. We know the water is sewage. We are standing in the sewage. ‘Is she dead?’ I ask again.

The man nods, this time, quickly. Spacemen are weird, I think. Maybe he is a spaceman. ‘Why does he want to collect the water?’ My brother asks me. My brother is twelve. He is short. He does not understand the spacemen. ‘So they can figure out how to breathe here,’ I tell him. ‘Like us?’ He asks.

Of course, like us. We do not wear suits or masks or gloves and this is our home. We walk barefoot through the fourteen inch water and sit on our old couches and play I spy. But we have to be quiet because my mother cries in the morning and I have not seen my little sister in a week. I look at the woman on the floor. She has been there a couple weeks. Her eyes look like they never did have a soul. She was probably ugly when she was alive, I think.

I don’t like ugly people. This place is ugly to the spacemen. They will not come into our homes without their suits. We must be ugly people. My mother coughs. She is upstairs. I think she is sick. My twelve year old brother holds my hand and says, “Can we play I spy?”



Prayer for One Thing

So far, all my life I have been hungry for addition. I eat my way through books, sunsets, mountains, lonely women and still my wrists are thin as wires, my chest is mostly bone. We are what we notice, I once wrote, adding: so I try to notice everything.

So far, I have noticed:
homeless runaways, families imploding, teenaged sex offenders, fathers exploding, mothers in love, hungry people, lonely people, people who move like men on fire, people who sleep like stones, the limitation of skin and a half-dozen ways around it, how to kiss wholly; how to be present; how to disappear; and how to recognize the difference.
Impossible to list them all; besi des, what would be the point? The world lets them live beyond lists, which is what I am trying to get at. So far, all my life I have been hungry for more. Today, let there be just one thing, and let that be enough. A light in the window across the street goes out. Up above, the sky is swimming in an invisible ocean of stars. As I write these words into the page, I notice my hands, and so I decide to type:

lonely lonely who is lonely? everyone's fingers look like mine--


Low Land

Thinned man has river eyes. The men move. They are building a railroad. Two, then three, then four—-we are all homeless and dirty and ugly and they do not like us.

They point at us and take pictures and do not believe that these are our houses. They are building a railroad, in the back, next to the swing sets. I smirk. I just waded through the first floor of an apartment. It was six inches of water and sewage. It smelled like it. Get out, I think.

Toxic Flood Water. TFW, they write, on the walls. There is a number, too. The number is 2, or 1, or 0. Or once, 9. We find dead bodies, dated late in september. Too many days: get out, get out of here—-we are going to let the dams out. Foolish log eyes are dim.

Do not demolish this house—-we are inside, on the porch, smirking. Do not demolish this house. The rest of the flat land smirks. What did you expect?

We tore down this house, already, earlier. The men, the women, the children: this was never a home. The ins and outs of the too tall look like giant pits. Nobody can sit on a roof and pray and wait.

In the first month of this railroad. Move out. I like numbness or crying or thinking about crying. My life is squatted. I have not returned to it yet, I see it—I like crying or numbness or poor people who are lazy. There was no storm.

My throat came lose, lurged, lunged. The railroad is loud now and the men with the hammers pound it out: Our Town. The high ground has porches and porch swings and white people. The high ground looks good. It is rebuilt, the man in the suit says. Eighty percent of the city is in the hills, looking at one another—where are the ghosts, they think. It is only a dream.

Neighborhood, again, once, again: gone. Metal, rabid dogs turn left, trot. But the houses are still there. We should tear them down. Do Not Demolish.

Our Town: there was a perfomance in the city center. The man with the long gun squatted like an american refugee—or are they all killers, anyway? Losers, connected and consumed by a past that should be forgotten. The woman with the round face, hallow eyes, bled on the street and she didn’t get picked up.

Usually, we come if they are dead. Usually, we don’t if they are just digruntled and lazy. It is only a dream. These houses do not fall over like this if they were real. They should really leave. It is not safe here.



Stars are searchlights

Stars are searchlights overhead; avoiding their gaze we slip into the field for release. Release from what? You have a job, I have a job… we don’t have children. Yet there is something on our shoulders, and because we are not scientists I am reluctant to name it gravity; besides, gravity is what pulls me to you, and keeps our life in orbit. What else then? A few trees give us shelter –- a canopy of leaves to blot out the sky and keep endlessness out of it for once. I am glad our affairs end. That is why they matter -- that is why we keep coming back: to escape the demands of daylight, the monotonous greed of nightlife in the big city. Even when we sleep I can hear it humming, pumping out the restless dreams of fuse boxes and subterranean machines and traffic signals click clicking at the deserted intersection while I try to hear you breathe.

Remember when we were young? You let me kiss you at the corner of Southdown and Pine, the streets so empty at four in the morning we were sure everyone was asleep. When the light swung from green to red you gasped – "I didn’t know they made a sound!" – and then laughed because discovery does that, it relieves a tension you didn’t know was there. On the way back home you sang Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright until we ran down the street and I watched you disappear through your parents’ front door.

Where are they now? Between the stars, beyond the visible sky… but tonight they can’t see us either, not beneath the leaves of this sanctuary we built to last as long as tide does, coming in or going out; as long as the word itself, sanctuary; as long as we can bear it. Is there anything else to say? I love you more than I love my life, which is why we cannot stay. Together we step from the trees, we let stars make maps of our separate light-filled bodies, we let ourselves get lost in the big blinking city so that soon we might find each other again.



Saturday night:

tonight marks the anniversary of all the buried nights before it. In remembrance we raise our glasses while outside branches bend or break in darkness. What remains, after we leave this life? "Footprints!" one friend says. "Love!" says another. Meanwhile the wind keeps making insistences upon the windows and the trees and the telephone wires above our heads. Meanwhile the city keeps dreaming a better tomorrow. We nod our heads in agreement, though secretly no one is sure, except of this: better not to sleep alone tonight. Tonight we honor the memory of every Saturday night before it, and I especially love the nights I cannot remember – surely some were magic. Surely once I must have touched the moon, or fell a wall, or crossed a moonlit field to Heaven. "Memory!" you suggest, and from the way you look at me across the table I just know you mean it. Maybe Saturday is too short for questions; maybe a lifetime isn’t long enough for the answer. Finally, when it is my turn to speak, I look out at all the beautiful, frightened faces. I look at you. The wind will take us home, and take care of the rest.



Letter to K.:

Winter is here and I am well, in the thick of it. I count trees through the window, bear witness to the mystery of refracting light, play songs on the record player. Where you are there is snow, sure, but here in New York we have between nine and 30 million people at any time, and no two are alike. So to answer your question, yes, it does get a little lonely. The subways are bright and crowded, or bright and empty. The bars are dark and what do those dark hours add up to anyway? They must go like pennies down a well along with all the conversations I don’t remember, afternoons of historic insignificance, times I rubbed against warm bodies just a little unlike mine. Winter means the furthest distance from the sun, and that means perspective -- so of course the nights can be a little cold; of course one might start to lose sight of the subtle differences, the nuances that so effectively sever Me from You and inflame the summer months with impossible longing… "I’ll concentrate on the exporting and you concentrate on the importing," a man says to a woman, his arm around her as they pass me in the street. What good advice for the winter! I hope where you are the needle scratches sweet sounds and the streets catch snow cascading from the sky like a lazy Rapunzel transforming the world into something so alien you can’t help but want it all, you can’t hold it close enough: like a stranger’s perfect body, perfectly out of reach.



six blocks of trash on the sidewalk

empty I walk under an unseasonably bright winter sky, not thinking of sudden climate change, not thinking of love, not thinking of anything at all except the six blocks of trash on the sidewalk along bailey avenue; and how they would never permit that in manhattan (not thinking of definitions for they, manhattan, trash [foodstuffs vs. inorganic material, e.g.], me, you). nonetheless the sun is clear and its light falls on each of us alike. it wants to know us, the meaning-minded might suggest, but today I am not thinking of meaning, or being known. I save that for another day, when all the nights of drink and questions, all the weeks that sent me reeling as if by particle accelator into other people's bodies and waking with other people's dreams burning on my lips, when conversations reached to the moon like a house of cards and I walked for hours between midnight and dawn and spoke to the walls and decoded the hundred-and-one secrets of human hands... all that belongs to another lifetime right now. here the high afternoon sun gives color and shape to the trash, the sidewalk, kids coming home from school -- the part of new york called the bronx. empty I walk six blocks down bailey avenue. I don't watch my back. I don't talk about love. I let my hands hang where they fall.



I am writing and re-writing

I am writing and re-writing you a letter. Each time I type it, words drop off, the sentences shrink -– as if I am cutting out the fat of my intentions. As if I am typing and typing my way toward absolute silence, in which everything I could not pin down with words is free to blossom in the blank space of the page, giving you a way to look past the signpost to what it points towards; like leaving God for God, life for life, love for love.


To live in this world:

At the end of the day, we count what we have and what we have used up. Around the pile of what we have, which nearly touches the ceiling, a circle is drawn in white chalk; we point and say, "This is our life." Then we look at the pile of what we have us ed up. It includes the lost and the discarded, everything we broke and everything we let escape. Someone makes a phone call, and in less than ten minutes police are unraveling yellow tape like intestines to seal the area off. "Everyone back," the offic er orders. We quietly step back. "Move along," he states, "there is nothing to see here."

The following days go fast: traffic patterns, the movement of celestial bodies, unexpected weather formations are discussed and then dismantle; someone writes a book; someone loses a limb; there are scattered reports of love. One night I have a dream: I follow a fat boy as he carefully crosses the street, makes two quick lefts, and then other. There is something he wants to show me. Halfway down an alleyway of backyards and spare parts is house. The fat boy points through the window; looking back out is a baby girl with wrinkled skin and clear, bright eyes. I am suddenly scared, but then the fat boy turns to look at me. He says: Better stick close to the surf ace of things.

Does each thing have one meaning, or can multiple meanings exist at once? Is meaning inherent in the thing itself, like the inflexibiltiy of bone, or does it shift? And if it can be delivered, like during a baptism, can it be taken away? S uddenly the fat boy looked up, and we saw something incredible: people were falling from the sky, but they were flat, as if made of paper, and so moved through the air like leaves from trees in long, lazy arcs. As they got closer, I could see from the fr ont that they looked like you, or me – but when examined from the back, everything was visible: organs, veins, skeletal structure, memories, choices, conscience. The fat boy was touching a girl’s heart when I woke up.

We get uneasy when we pass the quar antined block; now and then we look up from counting what we have and the sight of that dark skyscraper wrapped like a beauty queen in yellow tape makes us shudder. But listen: we have much to accomplish. Time keeps herding up along, and there are other dimensions to consider – heights to be reached, lengths to be broadened, depths to be plumbed. Slowly the circle gets ever wider, but we just stick close to the surface of things, keeping our eyes on the prize, waiting for everything to change.



Justin says he doesn’t care about history – “It doesn’t matter,” he yells. It is six in the morning, we are snorting coke from a glass tabletop after a thirteen-hour twelve-bar crawl. When I mention certain old buildings he snorts and scoffs “who cares?” and celebrates Robert Moses not as an innovator but as an inevitable force of nature, the human hand of God who with an alchemist’s twist of the wrist paved highways from piles of human flesh and bone. Justin’s passionate cynicism transforms my casual interest to sentimental banter; I speak of Jane Jacobs’ triumph of inner-city preservation as a David and Goliath scenario while real tears spill from my eyeballs. I say, I believe that humans are beings in time and to some extent need to feel connected to things that have happened before they did. I argue with Justin, but, ultimately, these are only words shouted into the void. We are both adrift, floating through distinct yet equally intolerable darknesses. And it is history itself, memory, the clear and specific knowledge of all the mistakes we’ve made, that now gives cause for such deep and insignificant suffering. I think about this after I emerge from the well-lit apartment onto the balcony, where I blow cigarette smoke over a landscape of rooftops and watch drops of my spit spiral down onto the sidewalks. It’s dark now, but in twelve hours, his roommates will awaken under a sky that no longer pretends to belong to winter, and they will call him an asshole, then we will watch The Anchorman, his house-cleaner will arrive and be careful to mop her way around the television, so as not to obstruct our view. In 24 hours, at a party, an ex-girlfriend will feel my muscles while her boyfriend glances at me from the refrigerator, a high-school friend will tell me that she wants to be a ‘writer’ and I will ask why she bothers to go on; she will say, with what?; and I will say ‘with life’; then an old lie will catch up to me, I will again find myself speaking through tears that I fight back while trying to justify something bad that I did a long time ago but kept hidden, I will call and threaten to harm the person who disseminated my lie. In 36 hours at a Mexican restaurant I will articulate to someone else a distinct and terrible division between the half of me that does and says things when I am with others, and the leftover parts, the muscles and thoughts that spend hours regretting the past while pumping out pushups in front of a mirror while tears stream freely down my cheeks. In 48 hours I will call in sick to work. In 60 hours I will speak with a girl I recently claimed to love and once again put forth that claim although it no longer seems true. After this conversation, nervous energy will compel me to race around the park, total distance 4.2 miles, total time 31 minutes, my personal best. And I will almost feel good about myself for that. On the sidewalk outside my house, I will see an old friend, he will ask me if I want to move in with him, and I will go to his house to see the room he is offering, then we will laugh about women and make plans that we won’t keep. But I don’t know any of this on the rooftop. For now, I am continuing to debate Justin in my head. Between my exhaled breaths, my resting heartbeat is alarmingly high, as though it is reacting to events before they happen. I am trying to convince myself that meaning exists, not only as a product of what you do and/ or who you know, but inherently, as a quality that can be discovered in stagnant creations, historical events, concrete walls and marble floors that can teach you lessons that don’t necessarily involve feelings of shame. And though I am momentarily unsuccessful, I will continue to try.


Have Faith My Colorless

These are death masks.

While in wait, the children soil, and breed. The mothers have lists, items: we count. The only sit is the sit to watch and worm: these tell the tide to tell. It is not the moon that moods the shore to run—worms.

There are ghosts.

The inns become hospice and procreate—among the white. We are colorless, fathomless, and embraced. We are embarrassed and helpful, agonized and clear: we see, we see.

“It is not we!”

We are cut, diagrammed and diseased. My infant son points at a star and begins to speak and we are cautioned, once, to listen: this is god. He is small and looks like a child. He is small. He is a child. The social members do not believe that ghosts are real.

We are told to learn the good.

I tell them to hide. We begin again, at the start, where the line is clear on the pavement. The line is solid, unbroken and clear. We count until the start: it starts. It comes: come in, come out, come in. We are ghosts in here and do not hold our hands when the sun is out. We are ghosts in here and do not listen to the boom—boom—boom.

“It is not we!”

We will believe. It is only the heart of the man that has been bred by the un-man, the under-man, the unbroken man that is no-man. It is only the heart. The boom, the silence that waits after the un-silence is only the un-man. He has wrestled from sleep, caved in the solitude of non-listeners and woken to the worm walk of the makers of masks. The boom is not we.

She cuts and bleeds and dies and lies in her bed and bleeds and dies. And it stops. It ends. It is not life. It is her life. The church, on this side, close to the all-night shops that sell, has bells. The bells ring and people dressed in dark begin to walk the paved paths.

“It is not we!”

It is time to rejoice. This redemption, our blood, has become the kingdom and we are no longer the sin. We are ghosts. This is not my home. I will chant and rise and chant and sleep. And I will not die.

Alas, we do not wear the death masks. We run to the basement, hidden below the church, and pray that she is not us—that we are not diseased: that this life is not ours.




Gregory knows the federal government is behind the emasculation of black men across America. "I am not a fool," he says. John, on the other hand, is a clown. He tells me so. "I am a clown," he says, and rolls his eyes and pouts his lips. Then he dances on crazy legs up to Gregory, who bats him down. "The privilege of the oppressor," Gregory says, "is ignorance of his position."

Moments later I am alone. Outside the window there is a housing project lit up like a birthday cake beneath the sky. Outside the window there is not: birds, gunfire, roses, traffic, angels, gold. Not from where I am sitting. Nor can I see Gregory driving the labyrinth of streets back to his home, shouting at cops through closed windows; nor can I see John, who marches his sad clown gait through fences of Forest Hill Gardens and into the arms of his wife. "She is not white, she is Asian," he announced earlier. Then several minutes later: "We don't have sex much, anymore." Though I cannot see John I close my eyes and feel him lost in those luxurious gardens; I can see feel him lope by the tree whose fruit is the knowledge of good and evil, whose knowledge is Self, and I can feel his hunger and his denial too. Meanwhile Gregory is pulled over by two undercover detectives at the dark corner around the block from his house; he honked when they ran a light so they threw the siren on the roof and are now giving him choices: submit or die. It is no choice. He dies either way.

He dies everyday. So do I, and John, and the women I have not yet loved, and the birds that are not outside the window, and the roses, and the stars in the sky. Only the angels stay the same, perfect and sexless, and they are watching us, waiting for the time they get to say Too soon! Too soon! before they flap their wings and turn away.



They’re trying to make our neighborhood better. They planted trees along the sidewalk and hung fancy signs from the streetlamps that bear our neighborhood’s new name: North Flatbush. Citing the direction distinguishes us from our southern half, those raucous lunatics whose annual Juvet festivals along Church Avenue consistently erupt into large-scale riots between civilians and police. In South Flatbush people celebrate even minor events by firing bullets into the air from handguns. Then they scatter when the blue and whites arrive and sometimes they get shot by police officers who usually claim that the victim A) turned and pointed a gun at the officers or B) pointed a gun at a third party or C) tried to take the officers’ guns. In North Flatbush we leave our guns in the SUV and walk beneath slick reflective signs hung between the circle at Grand Army Plaza and the Atlantic Terminal where new shops and restaurants announce themselves to well-off passerby with their trendy storefronts, “Chocolate Monkey,” “Burrito Bar,” “Bar B-Q”. Trendiness can be understated or overstated but is never classy. In much the same way that one senses there is nothing beyond the veneer of the people who frequent these establishments one also has the sense that there is nothing beyond any of these front doors anymore. There is no undiscovered country, no darkened sea to sail, as Lou Reed once sang, yet one still suffers from a certain strain of curiosity that puts forth the question: this pink sign, is it a sign of better things to come? Could there be a room in there, a dark room with lighting and music at just the right pitch to become that perfect place for me, that place where I will feel at home among these strange faces of strangers and they will look at me with familiarity? I listened to that song on the subway train and thought about home but those were such lonely thoughts. I stared out the window while we barreled through the tunnel to Manhattan but it only reflected the inside of the train. There is no outside here, there is no beyond this. We hung signs from the lampposts and drew lines across the sidewalks but at the end of the day there are simple rules to which we must adhere: the most important, I’ve decided, is that you take what you want at the exact moment you want it. Listen to the song you love over and over again; you may not love it tomorrow. Lick her tongue with yours while the idea still means something more to you than smothering your spit in someone else’s mouth. We died our final death in this city before we were born, when in 1961 they swung the meat-axe into Penn Station, hacking its skeleton to dust and dumping the gargoyles into New Jersey swamps. They were careful not to break the gargoyles apart, weren’t they?, as they splashed into the mud and sank from sight. Now I sit on this pink couch I bought for $100 and squash the cockroaches that crawl past my elbow while I post online thoughts onto the inter-net from this laptop computer I bought for almost two thousand dollars that I “earned;” I cried tonight thinking of the buildings we’ve lost and the signs we’ve hung to tell us that these things are OK even though here in Moloch, they are not; there is nothing to tie us to something else; I came from a town whose oldest building is still championed by a hand-painted sign declaring its erection in 1947. My relatives live in cardboard cutout homes bought or built within my remembered lifespan. The most significant monuments to human ingenuity in this country have been destroyed. Pink signs, adorned with slick white lines, demarcate the social strata that contain us, and flutter in manufactured winds.



Lay Mosis: die

There came, again, in the south: a yowl. The feats, stoic—-remember: we were once the earners here. We were once the apparition. It is in gloom. It is only our shadows.

On the first of the month, they knocked on the open door. They were tall, straight, starers—-they glared. They had hats, wore faced grins, wearers of the ups. They remembered the year before the deep muds. It is mud, now: it is mud. The hats are only for the party. We rejoice for the party. We trade hats when it is party. They have those hats. They have party hats.

Mosis licks sugar cane. He is poor. He has smooth fingers. He licks his fingers when he reads the newspaper. He reads the newspapers and sees faces—-faces like the faces he sees when he begins to stutter (No, when he stumbles, the man has learned to choose):

The faces are faces that he sees on his street, in his house. He chews and spits. The horsemen are not as tall when they are on the ground. The horsemen are not as tall when they stand on the ground. Mosis has not seen the horses.

‘Horses are not real.’ He says. He is cautioned by a crossing guard. ‘Do not wear red,’ the crossing guard begins, slumps.

Do not wear red.



Untitled, 1

Lying in bed, blanketed in darkness, you are the saddest king that ever ruled. Light does not come through the shade; the sun neither rises nor sets. Your hands are folded on your chest and you wish most, maybe, that they could speak – to remind you of the beautiful bodies they’ve touched, explored, and ruled; to tell you how your armada once stretched across the seven seas; to bring you back into regal robes where you belong.

Instead they are silent as the moon in the dark. Outside the chamber, your daughters are running amok with razor blades and heart-attacks and your wife is practicing the trick of how to disappear. In the mornings, while you dream of locked cars and planes that leave too soon, she stretches her body further and further; she unhooks the bones from their sockets and pulls ligaments until she finally escapes to turn perfectly two-dimensional (when I walk by I can see right through her: hair, intestines, little girl heart, cage for the ribs…).

Then you have no dominion over her -- King of Three-Dimensional Things, Father of Flesh and Law, Keeper of the Fires that Rage. You lie in bed and give orders to the ceiling and tell the moon which way to turn while your heads hurts and no one comes in but the cold night air.

Except: there is a knock in the darkness. Prince of Clouds, Ego-Eater, Patron Saint of First-Person, I stand over your bed and at first you do not speak, but I say something and so you risk a word too, and then another, and one more. What happens next will not be rec orded; I did not come here to strip you bare -- I offer protection fromwhat will one day take us both. Together we let silence be the blanket as we wrap ourselves against the things we cannot control, and the night, and the shining, deathless stars.