And it is beautiful each time. The lift and the fall. It’s all poetry. And when we click, and when we snap. And the richness beneath the superficial lust and desire. That bedrock of openness that can only be called spiritual. How when we go deep enough we rediscover our true self within another. And how we confuse them for a key, instead of a mirror.
As a boy I starved. There wasn’t enough food, drink, presence. Nurturing was put aside in a desperate attempt to fill the void. But nothing fills the void, nothing holds sway in the void, and I, in all my chameleonic attempts, could not reach the sides with my hands or feet as I floated in its midst.
All I could do was shift things around while I forgot to breathe. Weakened, sick and spewing up everyone else’s emotion, I managed to heave myself onto the shore, the void lapping gently at my feet. It doesn’t suck you back, it doesn’t call to you – that’s not how it works. It’s the exposure you feel to the elements which makes you want to crawl back into its tidal pull. The breeze, although so much warmer than that viscous inkiness, feels a million times cooler. So, shivering, naked, I made for the line of trees up the beach. No map, no compass, only the footprints of a billion prior explorers trodden heavily into the mud. Criss-crossing and spinning around the four points of the compass – seemingly utter chaos – but from a high enough perch I could see they all headed circuitously in largely the same direction. The path was littered with corpses and lit at so many points by lantern bearers both moving and standing still, spruiking their paths with an almost frenzied energy.
I stopped at many lanterns. Not a tenth part of a tenth of a tenth of a tenth of all the bearers – most times I would merely nod on my way past – but I broke bread with so many. Sometimes I would stay for five minutes. A chat, a cheer, I would share the fare I had been given by others or earned through my labour. Sometimes I would stop for a day, or a decade. My own little lantern flickering cheerfully with it’s yellow-orange glow. Sometimes burning brighter than the sun so that as I passed them, other bearers, lulled by the glow, would fall into lockstep and smile at me as we trotted for a time side by side. Sometimes my lantern burned low and grew heavy. At these times I rested. Curled up under a tree or lying looking up at the stars, listening to the people singing softly to themselves as they slipped by in the night.
I would often see lantern bearers locked in struggles with one another. Sometimes people would grow violent and fights would break out. It was often over the shape or colour of one another’s lanterns. I did it too, for a long time inside the void looking out, I would holler obscenities at people. But once I was on my own feet and running, I would merely let my gaze linger sadly as lanterns were smashed and winked out.
The intricacy of some lantern casings – oh my! Gorgeous they were! Beautiful! But finally only served to dull the light inside. People who had grown over the port holes. Others were merely a loose casing which could barely seem to contain the flicker and shift of the light inside.
The sunlight caught the mottle in the boy’s hair, sandy brown with a fanlike spray from his crown like a whale’s blow, as he strolled into the middle of the room. He couldn’t have been more than seven. Skinny, he already showed the beginning of dark smudges below his eyes.
The room itself was cluttered around the walls with a carnival of jetsam placed in ill-considered clusters and stacks. No thought had been given to aesthetic or even efficiency as the room was filled.
The cupboard, filling the space next to the doorway, had its sliding door open. Inside, sloppy coats with fur collars and shoulder pads, baby blue suits with navy-trimmed lapels and superfluous pockets hung beside drapes of paisley fabric; all hastily stashed and promptly forgotten.
Faded midnight-blue and pea-green trunks, full – if one cared to inspect the contents – of the same stuff as the cupboard, were trailed like giant breadcrumbs along the back wall.
Under the window was a solid shaft of bored yellow light, the kind found in the middle of uneventful Saturdays in one’s youth – illumination without delight – reminiscent of too-many clocks ticking at once from surrounding rooms.
The final wall, opposite the trunks, pushed itself against sideboards and tables; the kind that will never come back into fashion, with thin tops, high-gloss finishes and pale wood of an obviously manufactured grain. One of the tables held some newspaper clippings. Women in old-fashioned bathing suits; an advertisement that was all words and no pictures; half an article about cricket.
The junk considered the boy with an air of haunted indifference. It had been abandoned so long ago and stored with so little compassion that it had long since given up any hope of returning to service. These days it simply sat, disappointed with the yellow sunlight at this time of year. Sighing pathetically with an exhaustion borne of uselessness rather than the strung out sense of fatigue one gets from tables, benches, coffee in 24-hour cafes and train stations.
The boy looked about him. Picked up the newspaper articles, shuffled through them, turning them upside down and over and back before replacing them on the table. He pushed the box of an old board game, its top inverted to hold the bottom so its insides were exposed, listening to the rattle of the few remaining plastic pieces. He sat on a trunk and ran his fingertips along its front, feeling the transition of texture from the rough outer skin to the smooth brass clasps that held the top down. He got up and moved over to the cupboard, burying his face in the fur of an old coat. Bending over, the boy put his head and shoulders under several dresses hung close together and stood up, feeling their weight on his young bones.
A woman’s voice called absent-mindedly from the house proper. “Son? Are you still in your room?”
The boy stepped back quickly, accidentally pulling a dress half off its hanger. He hurried out of the room and quietly up the stairs as the dress slipped down to form an orange island on the teal blue ocean of the cupboard carpet.
I rock the disconnect / the heady anxiety of looming paranoia / the delicious abandonment of utter exclusion / what shifted behind my eyes / to bring enlightenment / to acknowledge this loss / to answer this prayer / pound for pound.
Under the crushing gravity of all history’s sentiment my lungs collapse: my breath is stolen by Wilde’s words.
How can I relate when this feeling bears down and rips through me / in its wake I smell your sweet scent / flowers and fabric softener / you move like silk curtains / all grace and lightness / while your tidal moods wash away my confidence in the most satisfying way.
I want to consume the whole universe. I will start with a hot dog – mustard, tomato sauce, cheese and all the trimmings. I’ll then polish it off with Moscow, wiping the corners of my mouth gingerly with the blanket of the Atlantic. Pretty soon the Americas will be in my belly and I’ll burp before drinking the Pacific dry. Crunching through the earth’s delicious pie crust I’ll savour the hot core like a chilli tako yaki from a Tokyo street vendor. I’ll move through the solar system inhaling comets, planets and space junk ’til there’s nothing left to hand but me and the sun. This I’ll absorb by osmosis. I won’t bother moving about to chow down on the rest of the Milky Way; I’ll simply focus my will and pull it to me like a sequined blanket caught in a vacuum cleaner.
I’ll keep going until there’s only me with all the universe inside me. Then, with the teary remorse that accompanies the consumption of all existence, I’ll draw in on myself until I am a singularity of anguish. An infinitesimally small point of potent rage and sorrow.
Finally, with nothing left to feel but abject compassion, I’ll explode.
And so it will all begin all over again.
I’ve hit the doldrums, and having run out the sweeps I fear I move only in circles… There is a tempting melancholy beckoning me down to the depths, away from the maddening listlessness between breaths, but this, too, shall pass.
You know what I love? It’s the warm glow that spreads from my smile to my toes when my eyes collide with those of a cute stranger on the street, or in her car next to mine at the lights, or in a café. I love the freshness and passion of the ensuing 30-second love affair in my mind which races or slows given the lusciousness of the scene unfolding: her scratching her arm and twisting her pursed lips around her straw while considering how to respond to my question about why she loves the piano accordion (her expression and poise so unselfconsciously endearing it makes me want to kill myself); the first time I touch her, just a brush against her cheek (and her brief shiver with heavy-lidded eyes in response); our first kiss, warm and wet and almost accidental (and the tension neither of us knew was there melting to reveal a dull throb in anticipation of what’s coming next); our wedding, which is unlike any of the mundane weddings of my friends (all the guests dissolving the moment we see each other across the suddenly inconsequential abyss of the aisle, their existence eclipsed by her enormous chrysanthemum eyes, nose like a razor and smile where you can see all the top and the bottom row of teeth); our first real fight which we resolve and tumble, laughing, into bed to make love (with urgency and fervour, shaking our fists and biting our thumbs at the looming and unavoidable demise of our egos, who we are together, our way of life); our first child and the utter exhaustion we feel as we support one another unquestioningly (because in this moment I see the bigger picture and know that it’s all worth it); the first few grey hairs and the spreading lines on her face (each of which captures another beautiful story in our shared history); the hard times we inevitably go through (any unhappiness white-washed away, gracefully countered by the unstoppable fusion reaction that is our love for each other); our sharp decline and the complicated satisfaction I feel looking back on a life I would not have spent any other way.
And then, paralysed by the disparity between the perfection in my head and the stark contours of reality where I’ve never had the balls to make a move, I take another sip of my double espresso and go back to reading the business section.
Assignment #2 – Due Before 2/9
The following paragraph is an example of telling:
Loretta and Mick were driving down a lonely highway one winter night. The car hit something, making a loud noise. Loretta and Mick bickered about whether he was driving drunk or not, then they got out to see what was hit. They peered into the darkness, seeing nothing.
Rewrite this episode, showing what happens. You should stick to these events and stick to the start and end point, but you may add in anything you like. Turn this into a scene that unfolds moment by moment. It will probably include some dialogue. Also strive to include descriptions that are specific and sensory.
Keep it short, preferably under 500 words.
Mick looked beautiful under the passing streetlights, the scar that ran from his hairline to his eyebrow sliding in and out of focus under the shifting lights. The manly stubble on his cheeks looking just slightly too manicured, exposing the care he took in sculpting it. Loretta tilted her head back and loosed a cascading waterfall of laughter as he continued his comedic tirade about his friend Jim, grinning that sly smile which showed he knew only too well that the night would end with her in his bed. She welcomed it. It had been a while since she’d felt a lover’s embrace. It was hard for a single mother of 22 to meet guys, but tonight Jake was having a sleepover at his cousins’ place two suburbs over.
Her girlfriends had sounded Mick out and he’d passed their shit tests: those semi-conscious methods of testing a man’s procreative viability through putting shit on him and assessing his responses. He’d managed to hold his own with the whole group of them, five gorgeous young girls. From the start, he was casual and relaxed as he turned to them at the bar, opening with an innocuous gag and chatty but seemingly on the verge of leaving to go back to his friends every moment of the 20 minutes he stood and talked to the group. This scarcity he presented made her want him all the more. She had no doubt the act was as carefully cultivated as his stubble, now a darker patch on the shadow of his face as they passed into a stretch of unlit road.
Mick continued his anecdote about Jim at his brother’s bucks party.
“So Jim was really sick – I’ve never seen a flu like it – and on heavy antibiotics. He hadn’t eaten anything apart from a piece of toast and a cup of coffee at breakfast, but started drinking double-sized cans of Japanese beer at midday. By five he was a mess. The limo arrived at 5:30 by 6:00 Jim had spewed out the window all over the door handle. None of the rest of us could understand why the driver was so pissed off.” Mick turned to face her again, grin back as Loretta tinkled out another bout of laughter, holding her stomach. “We had to leave him in the hotel room to sleep it off while we had dinner. But the best part of the whole thing was – ” Mick cut off as something smashed against the front of the car and bounced along the undercarriage. Unsure if it was real or the combination of adrenalin and squealing brakes, Loretta was convinced she could hear whimpering and her thoughts turned immediately to Jake.
In that curious way that high emotion can swing from one end of the spectrum to the other, laughter had turned to fear and blaming: “Mick I thought you said you’d only had one drink!”
“I did! Jesus! What was that!? Stay in the car.”
Mick jumped out Loretta twisted in her seat, watching him as he peered back along the road. Squinting to adjust her eyes, she couldn’t see anything in the dim red of the tail lights. Mick began slowly backtracking the path made by his tyre rubber. Loretta couldn’t stand it, jumped out and rushed to join him.
“I told you to …” Mick began without conviction and trailed off, he seemed thankful for her presence. They’d passed the point where the brakes had locked up and there was nothing. Just the gurgling of the engine in the distance, the faint smell of invisible cattle and the coolly observant stars casting their indifferent light over the girl with her arm around the man she barely knew.
I met Eddie at the party of a mutual friend. I’d only gone because I feared I’d comb my hair back with a shotgun if I had to spend another night indoors with the tube. Neither Eddie nor I knew many people there, so, as misfits naturally do, we gravitated toward one another and began swapping stories over a joint and a few vodka and cokes. In the manner of the elderly and the awkward, we ended up making a nuisance of ourselves by sitting on the grass in middle of a major thoroughfare between the group of smokers in the backyard and the party inside the house.
He told me that ‘Eddie’ was a relaxation of Edgar, not Edward, as his parents belonged to some underground cult which held Edgar Allen Poe as their deity. I had grown up on a farm amongst meat-and-two-veg-loving, A Country Practice-watching “normal” folk. Looking back on that night with the orderly grace of distance and time, I like to think now that Eddie didn’t really tell stories so much as spin poetry. He often spoke in lilting terms like “my life’s montage is painted in smudged greys and blacks, mostly comprised of dirty floorboards and cobweb-festooned rooms”. I’m not sure I really appreciated his depth and capacity for reflection at the time, nor the effect it would have on my imagination with the booze and pot smoke coursing through my veins.
Despite – or perhaps in rebellion of – all the Poe stuff, Eddie was a really bright and vivacious guy. He told stories which showed his philosophical departure from his parents at a very young age. How he never had friends over his place for fear that his dark secret would be found out. How he had never introduced any of his girlfriends to his parents until his last, Irene, on his thirtieth birthday. They had greeted her with sombre black formality and spoken exclusively in sonnets for the entire evening. He was single again three days later and vowed never to make the same mistake again.
I took a last deep toke on the roach while Eddie was talking and closed my eyes. As I did, my short-term memory of his face began to change: his skin grew waxy and pale, eyes swelling and sinking in shiny black sockets, his hair growing greasy and curled under a sprouting, crooked stovepipe hat. It was a curious amalgam which incorporated every bit of Gothicism I knew. This vision of Eddie as a corrupted Ickabod Crane grew ever more creepy until I couldn’t bear it anymore. I exhaled and opened my eyes, letting Eddie’s chubby, flushed and freckled cheeks, high brow and crew cut, with small, almost piggy, twinkling eyes flood back in. I huffed a soft chuckle, my eyes rolling crazily in my head. This was some good dope.
The last thing I remember before it all began was something of his philosophy. He called reality “the window”, as in “it’s all a window, man” and spoke at length about the way to change your past and future by reframing what you see. I nodded, closing my eyes again. This time I saw a gorgeous, ornate window frame, dripping gilt, its confines alive with hundreds of cherubs smiling at me and flitting their way from one giant rose to another.
Eddie kept on, only now he was talking about conspiracy theories and trying to relate these to his reality-as-a-window idea. He quoted someone: “The soul’s twisted vision through corrupted window pane – I’d rather naught, and obscure it not.” In the window, forms had begun to rise and shift, sinister and growling and cast in the palette of Eddie’s childhood. As the shadows rose the cherubs fled and the roses wilted and died. Eddie just kept on talking as the window filled my mind, its frame pushing out to the reaches of infinity. Finally an oddly familiar form unfolded within it. A rickety staircase. The rest of the room snapped into tentative focus and I saw that the staircase led down into a distended, nightmarish version of the kitchen in the old family homestead. The old wooden table which normally dwarfed the room was instead dwarfed by the space created by the curved and leering walls.
Eddie’s voice came slowly echoing as if from a long way away, “the claustrophobic veneer of moral decency chokes the goodness of things,” he paused, “like old family squabbles at Christmas.” Subtly, between the kitchen bench and the door to the backyard, a hideous skeletal Christmas tree slipped into being from the shadows.
I steeled myself and stepped through the window and down the staircase. A tingle and a shiver ran through my skull and down my spine as the scene took on depth around and behind me. Everything inside the window blurred in my peripheral vision, only taking up focus when I looked directly at something. A musty, dry scent of things long buried in sand filled my nostrils and was gone. I looked behind me and saw the window frame, infinitely small and far away.
Clutching the cusp of this cyclical existence where I eat my tail and wonder why the pain tastes familiar. She bounces and I dive, hit the bottom at the top of the mountain. It’s coming around again. Soon the floodgates will open and my lungs will fill with her voice, only to have the breath knocked out of me.
Don’t tell me that it’ll be alright, try spending a night between my sheets and see where you fit in. I lost sight of who I am so long ago that I’m scared this life won’t begin. Scarier yet is I’m starting a love affair with this lonely, even with the crowd ebbing around me.
Give this bleeding heart romantic his due, I go into this conscious that with every lift the fall is coming and I can’t smile at the rocks below anymore. This time the river in me dries up in the calm before the flood – the drought has broken now and the water’s rushing through me. It’s clearing the doubt away and I rise to my knees only to be dragged back the same way.
I recall that you’d recoil at the lightest touch, and I still miss you, but not that much. Now I’ve got the world on my shoulders and I don’t know why, anaemic with gums bleeding me dry. When the sun goes down on another week, another year, I crush under the idea of you.
This hollow in my chest holds me tighter than you ever did but when night falls these lies twist in my lungs, their faces meld into one and I search the eyes for a deus ex machina. I’m stuck here trying to raise Atlantis when legends are dead and empty of your embrace. Soon enough I push you all away.
[The only peace I know is nailed in/on pine. | He with the longest memory wins and loses.]
I’m in my head. And you talk about leaving town but that’s just geography.