Monday, March 8, 2021

 

 —IT WAS YOU ALL ALONG  

 

                          

                               Death of the Sparrows

 

 

Asleep on her bed, fully dressed and on top of the covers, my daughter looks like a dead sparrow, her hollow bones filled with air that never escapes, just as her thoughts have ceased being shared with anyone, except for perhaps—in the few weeks she went—the therapist my wife arranged.

My daughter’s over-sized journal is open at the centerfold, on pages with some inked scribbles and a flattened wrist-corsage—which I’m surprised about—from prom a year prior.

It’s odd how long a year can seem when a life you love shuts down and no longer seems to love you back, never appears to love anything at all but anger and ambiguity.

I can’t see it from where I’m standing, but I imagine strands, or even clumps, of her dirty, rice-blond hair sticking to the pillow, or else tangled up in the blankets. I find wads of it in the shower drain, in the sink drain. They always remind me of a wilted sunflower, drowned by excess rain.

With her hair falling out, along with her weight loss, my daughter slumps around looking shrunken and nearly bald, like an eighty-year-old cashew instead of an eighteen-year-old girl.

Something happened at that prom, something she won’t talk about, things I can only imagine, and when I try to reconstruct her night, I have to stop myself, or else I’ll shatter a drinking glass, or knuckle-punch the wall while my wife says, matter-of-factly, “You know that’s not the way, Douglas. Therapy is the way,” she’ll say.

But what about her, my wife? She’s not seen anyone. Her way of dealing is to march forth, like her father, the Lieutenant Colonel. “You don’t think I experienced trauma when I was her age,” my wife will say, sounding just like him, though she’s a prominent therapist herself. “You don’t think boys took from me what I wasn’t selling?”

The other night at dinner, my daughter did not want to join us, for the hundredth time she did not want to, yet my wife coerced her, and so I watched my daughter try to slice individual kernels of corn in half. While my wife shared about a Hypnotherapy conference, where she’d just been the keynote speaker, I watched my daughter scoop a wagon of mashed potatoes into her lap, then half a village of corn, then a husk of dry salmon, even the sprig of parsley.

Looking back, it didn’t help that, a month after prom, our beloved Lab died. It didn’t help that my wife was always flying places and I was always working. It didn’t help that fall became winter and winter spring, and it didn’t matter how beautiful the seasons were if no one noticed them.

I jerk from my reverie when my daughter kicks awake, her right boot jabbing the mattress.

“What the hell, Dad?”

“I—”

“That’s creepy as fuck, you just standing there.”

If I was her mother, I’d condemn my daughter’s swearing, but I have long succumbed to my daughter’s argument—“Tell me who gets to decide which words are sinful and not allowed, and I’ll stop using them.”

“I was just,” I say, “you know, missing you, I guess.”

“God, that sounds even creepier.”

“You’ve been absent a while,” I say, and feel my eyes move to the journal and corsage, even though, goddamn it, I don’t want them to.

When she slaps the notebook shut, it sounds exactly like that, like a slap on the face. People always say, a slap across the face, but it’s really the slap on the face you remember. The slap’s enduring sting.

“I had a prom—”

“I don’t want to hear it, Dad. Just go! Holy hell, you’re scaring me.”

“—my junior year, same as you—”

“Dad!”

“—it was a group of us, three couples—”

“Dad!”

“—I thought Gordie was my best friend, and he was but—”

“Dad, stop.”

“—we’d been drinking, all of us, and then somehow the prom was over and we were at the shore where kids went to park and do stuff, you know? My date was passed out in the back of my father’s car. I never knew where Gordie’s date was. I’ve tried and tried to remember even what she looked like, but I always end up with nothing. And so it’s just Gordie and me, and we’re drunk, though I’m more tanked than him by a long shot, and I remember him tackling me on the ground, my face hitting rocks, and the waves were lapping, and he had me pinned down, because Gordie was way bigger than me and I always wondered why he chose me as a friend, because he was, you know, a big deal at school, handsome and stuff, but that night, you know, he wasn’t the Gordie I knew, he was just, just ugly. Ugly and horrible. He got my neck in a vice grip and held me down, and I fought back, but I couldn’t fight back enough. I couldn’t. And then what he did next, I’ve never told anyone—”

“Dad, it’s okay.”

“I couldn’t do anything. I tried but I couldn’t.”

“It wasn’t your fault, Dad.”

“But it was.”

“No, it wasn’t. It wasn’t at all.”

“I should have been able to do something, except I was too weak. I was weakling, a punk and I couldn’t stop it from happening and—”

“Dad, look at me.”

“—the thing is he was funny. Gordie was so fucking funny! He made everyone laugh. They would laugh and laugh until they almost shit their pants!”

“Dad, Dad, I’m right here.”

My daughter is somehow standing. She’s somehow in front of me, hands clutching my face. She shakes my head until my eyes flick away the fog and I see her, really see her, the tears, her panic and mine intertwined.

“Dad?”

“Yeah?”

“I love you,” she says. “I do. And I’m right here,” she says.        

Friday, March 5, 2021

 

          


--SOMEONE TOLD ME, ‘IF YOU CAN’T TRUST YOUR FRIENDS, YOU’RE FUCKED,’ AND NOW I BELIEVE THEM                                               

             

      Candy Hearts

           

            We were the fat kids, Gordie and I, hunched beneath the musty-smelling table cloth, passing miniature candy hearts back and forth, a flashlight for our guide.  A few days earlier there had been a funeral in this chapel and for all I knew the casket might have sat where we were now hiding.  It certainly smelled of formaldehyde, of bug collections and Bactine, but it might have just been bad perfume.

            Above us new arrivals signed the guest book.  We could hear them scribbling their names, could hear their growling stomachs and whispers. 

“I can’t believe this is actually going to happen.”

            “I know.  How many guys do you imagine she’s slept with?”

            “Has to be hundreds.  I wouldn’t be surprised if she did the priest.”

            They were talking about the bride-to-be, my sister and, to his credit, Gordie didn’t say a word, he just nibbled on his candy like a dutiful rodent.  The flashlight bisected his face, showing swirls of peach fuzz, flabby cheeks and a dimple burrowed to China. 

We were careful to whisper when we spoke. 

            “This one says, ‘U R My Sunshine,’ but it’s pink.”

            “So?”

            “The sun’s not pink.”

            I wanted to slug him but there wasn’t room for proper leverage, plus we’d be found out, plus there was the issue of Ms. Colson, my therapist.  Ms. Colson favored soft shades of purple and she surrounded herself in it—lipstick, eye shadow, nail polish, handbag, shoes, cushions and drapes.  She kept a color wheel in her lap as she quizzed me, twirling it absentmindedly.  She always wanted information about the latest hole in my bedroom wall and when I wouldn’t give it, she’d say things like, “If your fist weren’t a fist, Jeffrey, what would you imagine it as?  Hmm?  What other appendage?”  When I said, “A penis,” she stiffened and began to weep, which was when I knew she was the real crackpot.

            “You think she’ll be wearing white?”

            “Hopefully off-white.  Like, off-off-white.  Something in the very not-quite-right-white shade.”

            “I hear she’s pregnant.”

            “I hear it might be her father’s.”

            “What?  Really?”

            You pee on a stick and it turns either one of two colors.  My sister’s stick turned pink.  At the top was a smiley face and I wondered if it had always been there, before the splash of urine, or if not, then how did the stick know she was pregnant and why in the world would it think she’d be happy, carrying a mutant baby like that?  As far as I could tell, my sister was miserable.  She always had been, but now she was the kind of miserable that is contagious, that runs into everyone else’s laundry bleeding like madras.

Gordie, shifted his thick thighs and winced.  “My kneecap’s asleep.”

            “Shh, not so loud,” I said.

            “These are my brother’s dress pants.  They feel like pantyhose, they’re so tight.”

            “Suck it up.”

            “Hey, this one says, ‘Merry XMas.’  They got the wrong holiday.  How about that?”

            “Are you retarded?”

            “I don’t think so.”

            I heard an organ strike a sonorous note, heard door hinges squeal closed, and the stilted sound of a hundred shoe heels taking a stand in the pew aisles.

I heard my stepbrother, Rogan, yell my name a half dozen times as he scoured the vestibule area.  After a brief search, he dropped a fat F-bomb about me and said, “You ruin everything.  I hope you die.”

Gordie’s head twitched, his eyes, too.  He was getting all this.  He wasn’t so dumb.  “This is a good one,” he said, holding up a lime-colored heart, ‘Have My Baby.’”

“That’s ‘Be My Baby.’”

“Nah huh, look.  It’s ‘Have—“

Then I did hit him, probably too hard.  He rubbed his arm and mumbled something.

I told him I was sorry.  “I mean.  I am,” I said.

“It’s okay.”

“Forgive and forget?”

“Sure.”

I recognized the song that played.  It was the same creepy, Phantom of the Opera-type number that old lady had played two nights prior at the rehearsal dinner.

“You think you’ll ever get married?” Gordie asked.

“Are you nuts?”

Gordie thought for a moment.  He took every one of my questions seriously.  “I don’t think I am.  I’m weird and a little chubby, but not crazy.”

“Let’s go,” I said, pushing my head through the table covering.  A cramp bit my calf like a crocodile.

Gordie swore, “Damn.”  The crystal dish that had contained all the candy hearts was empty.  He licked his thumb and dragged it across the thin coating of pastel sugar dust, then sucked it off.

“Come on.  What’re you going do, eat that glass bowl?”

“Where’re we going?”

“Somewhere.”

“You’re going to be in a lot of trouble if you miss your sister’s wedding.”

I hobbled a few steps, working the horse bite out of my leg.  “You don’t have to come.”

I punched the door open so hard it echoed across the vestibule.

I thought about my sister and Terry exchanging their handwritten vows and how pretty my sister would look, how Terry’s knees would wobble, him nervous as hell, chewing on the consequences.

I left the church and said a vow myself—that I wouldn’t permit myself to think about love, or if I did it couldn’t be anything angry or negative.  I was of course distrustful of love, how it proposed to be the truth but was more or less the shield people threw around themselves when they were lonely or in trouble.  What I did respect, however, was the silken paleness of the sky overhead, blue bordering on periwinkle.  “Isn’t that something?” I said to myself.

“Here’s one, says, ‘Keep it real’,” Gordie said.

As I turned, he was pulling fabric from his groin.  “What?” he asked.  “Why’re you smiling?”

“I wish I knew,” I said.  But I did know.  Or so I thought.

           

 

Wednesday, March 3, 2021

 

—SUNRISE, SHINE DOWN A LITTLE LOVE ON THE WORLD TODAY. MAKE A MORNING SO SWEET THAT IT’LL HAVE TO CHASE MY BLUES AWAY     

 

 

How Good I Am

 

I don’t want to wake up, yet I’m tired of being tired, I’m on hold needing to be held, fuck, and nothing’s funny anymore, while food tastes funny, while the air tastes toxic and quixotic, fuck, I haven’t laughed since I broke my fingers on the snout of your gun, and the day hasn’t even started yet, fuck, and I think there has to be a trapdoor somewhere, right? I feel like sharing a smoke with a stranger, though I don’t smoke, though any stranger will do, actually, a felon or foe, the water’s gunmetal gray and boiling on the brim, there’s sediment in my eyes, leftover from the Byzantine, and I feel like I’m constantly scratching a sunburn, fuck, I could tell you I’m over and done, because I’m just that skilled at lying, fuck, but hey, there’s a Leprechaun laughing on my chest, punching knuckles in my larynx, making me promise things I can’t even pronounce, which is a bit like feeling sorry for yourself when gold keeps falling at your feet, fuck, I’m so good at lying, (said twice, soon to be said thrice), just look at my two-faced mirrored-face, trade-marked smirk and requisite empathy, I must have filched my life from a magazine I didn’t even read, fuck, did I tell you how good I am? at lying? fuck, I’m certain I did, didn’t I?

 

Monday, March 1, 2021

 


 —JUST TO DWELL, DWELL, DWELL HERE FOREVER

 

 

Kiss Me A Lot

 

Kiss me a lot.

Kiss my eyelids, my sorrow, my loneliness.

Kiss my bleeding knuckles and broken joints.

Kiss the nape of my neck wetly, sloppily, like a hungry hound, and use a long swipe.

Kiss my fears and bite my lower lip a little when you kiss me next.

Kiss me feather-soft or Brillo pad-rough whenever you feel like it, or when I’m least expecting it.

Kiss my nine-year-old self on the head, and kiss all of the poems I’ve written about me kissing you.

Kiss me under a waterfall, under a bridge, under the covers with your breath lava-hot and your eyes burnt into the back of your skull.

Kiss me the way Jessa and Marnie kissed that time on the rug.

Kiss me a lot.

Kiss me when I’m moody or blue, when I don’t feel like kissing even one little bit.

Kiss me in the shower, yank my wet hair and peel me like a banana, making me nothing but fruit and pulp.

Kiss me with all of your bitterness, all your resentment.

Kiss me when I’m writing, when it annoys the hell out of me to be kissed because I’ve lost my train-of-thought and now that piece is never going to be finished.

Kiss me with your morning breath and blow me full of adventure and daring.

Kiss me with a sugar-doughnut tongue and your eyes closed for days.

Kiss me a lot.

Kiss me in a new way, upside down, or give me an Eskimo kiss when your nose is runny.

Kiss me until I can’t breathe anymore, until I no longer want to.

Kiss me in the bathtub with our skins rubbing cheek-to-cheek, as rubbery as baby seals.

Kiss me in public, in a crowded elevator, in front of your dad, in front of your ex.

Kiss me like you really mean it.

Kiss me like it’s the last time you’ll ever kiss me.

Kiss me with your hands down my pants, grabbing my ass as if you think it might somehow run away.

Kiss me while I’m sleeping, then rearrange my dreams.

Kiss me, and then masturbate later on your lunch break, even if it’s risky, even if it's in a public place.

Kiss me a lot.

Kiss me with a mouth full of Cabernet and splash some on my tongue while we both watch it drip and spill, drip and spill.

Kiss me like I’ve written all my sins across your face and yet you somehow still forgive and love me.

Kiss me savagely, in a way that lets me know you want to strip off your clothes and have hot monkey sex right then and there.

Kiss my future self in a way that lets him know it’ll all be okay, that everything will be.

Kiss me when we’re both naked and staring at us kissing next to a full-length mirror.

Kiss me good night, good morning.

Kiss me first thing, day thing, last thing.

Kiss some sense into me.

Kiss some optimism into me.

Kiss my demons goodbye.

Just kiss me, please?

 

 

Friday, February 26, 2021

 —WOKE UP THIS MORNING WITH A WINE GLASS IN MY HAND  


 

…Happy Friday, happy weekend to you.

 

…I woke feeling like I’m wearing a cloak of despair. Not sure why that is, but it’s there, invisible or not. Maybe it’s the weight of frivolity. Or maybe it’s something else altogether. Perhaps I’ll figure it out at some point.

 

…Here are some random things to ponder and enjoy on the cliff of the week:

 

Ravenous Butterflies

 

“And I'll dance with you in Vienna,

I'll be wearing a river's disguise.

The hyacinth wild on my shoulder

my mouth on the dew of your thighs.

And I'll bury my soul in a scrapbook,

with the photographs there and the moss.

And I'll yield to the flood of your beauty,

my cheap violin and my cross.”

--Leonard Cohen

 

 

“I think there are people who help you become the person you end up being, and you can be grateful for them even if they are not part of your life forever.” –Diane Nguyen, BoJack Horseman

 

“I took a deep breath and listened to the old bray of my heart. I am. I am. I am.”—Sylvia Plath

 

 

“Fail again. Fail better.” Samuel Beckett

 

“I almost view myself as somebody else. I’m only interested in the parts of my experience that are universal and part of an unspoken shared experience.” Rachel Cusk

 

"I saw the gooseflesh on my skin. I did not know what made it. I was not cold. Had a ghost passed over? No, it was the poetry." -- Sylvia Plath

 

“There are some secrets which do not permit themselves to be told.” - Edgar Allan Poe

 

“I think the dark side of an artist is important, because when I was 16 and thinking about hanging myself, I stopped and asked myself, ‘why am I like this.?’ Almost all of my songs are about paranoia and self-doubt.” Rick Springfield 

 

"I never liked myself: a love story." 

 

"There is a large part of me that wants to see me dead." --Melissa Broder

 


 

Wednesday, February 24, 2021

 

—PROMISE ME ONE MORE THING; THAT YOU’LL NEVER DIE

 

 

In The Moment

 

…I love it when the rain is its own thunder, making it impossible to hear anything other than the deluge itself while the lake looks like it’s boiling. 

 

That’s the kind of rain that’ll get your attention and keep it. That’s the kind of rain we had yesterday for quite a long while. I’m guessing a few inches pooled and slurred within minutes.

 

It’s the type of rain that makes you think God is really frustrated and pissed off. That he has to go really bad.

 

The kind of rain that’s scary to drive in, but fun to make-out in.

 

Rain that rules the world where you are.

 

Rain that won’t let you read or write or think about anyone in the moment.

 

Rain that reminds you it’s nature who controls everything, and you’re not any part of that.

 

That reminds you you’re just not that interesting.

 

Rain that takes the wind with it, stand-up-straight-but-sideways wind. Wind that bows to the rain but still wants to be noticed, because doesn’t everyone want to be noticed?

 

Rain that shifts gears and sounds like its coughing or grinding down a very stubborn stone you might have once admired.

 

Rain that makes the sky blush twenty-nine shades of gray.

 

Rain that makes you wonder when you last said your prayers and what you’d asked for.

 

Rain that helps you forget the pandemic and your parents for a while.

 

Pregnant rain that sends the ducks and eagle and beaver for cover.

 

Rain that asks you what you believe in, and how sure you are about that, and what you’ll do the next time someone leaves you again, for good.

 

Monday, February 22, 2021

 

—DAYTIME, NIGHTTIME, YIKES

 

…Happy Monday to you.

I hope you had a fabulous weekend. Mine was mostly rainy and lonely. I was productive, however. I did a lot of work on the new book and also wrote some new pieces about being opinionated, hurting people, and The Thing About (My) Weight.

 

…I hope you have a terrific week.

 

…Here’s an essay that’s dear to me, “The Thing About Grief,” in the fabulous GHOST PARACHUTE (thank you so much, Brett Pribble):

 

http://ghostparachute.com/the-thing-about-grief/?fbclid=IwAR3MQ6NzHLcdnOjr-fRfNBJOc1z0GvrM0VuGPwPN_8cFVwJak1gxLgnuEBg