We can make each other happy, Harry Nilsson screams
from our speakers, and I say, Oh, Harry: no we can’t.
We turn it up, drive up the coast with the windows
down, sing every part, even the wack-ass Whoa–oa-oa
-oa-oh!s. I had never heard of Harry Nilsson, being
younger than Josey, a fact I mention as often as I can.
Like me, it never gets old. So I knew all the songs,
didn’t know they were all by one guy. This makes me
happy, makes me remember, or invent, a babysitter
who played this tape in her black Trans-Am, wore
feathered roach clips in her black feathered hair.
Probably now she’s Josey’s age. We were happy then,
we sigh sadly, when we hear ourselves remember
anything out loud. Remember when we caught all
those mackerel in the harbor, saw a hundred seals?
My two men from Cameroon, your guy on Flexiril?
You didn’t know where you started, where I began.
Too broke to go to the movies, we biked a Bustelo can
of coins over there. The ladies’ room at the Meow Mix!
The Independent, election day! The Swedish doctor brought
her perfect breasts to your house and said she loved you.
You said you didn’t care. We were happy then, we say, making
each other so happy, trying and failing to keep a straight face.Fawn Bleat
Linda dabs on Pure Earth smell and waits in a blind,
whispers what to do once you shoot a porcupine.
One was the size of a baby seal, its chubby corpse
a five buzzard one. Undertaker beetles, black and orange,
live in dead animal bodies, invisible to us. Problem solved.
We look online for perfect calls to imitate: Rabbit Screaming, Fawn
in Distress, Rabbit in Distress—Rabbit in Distress? It drives us
crazy. I need to hear that again, Josey says, while the rest of us
cringe and moan. I dated him in high school,
Rachel says. Linda tried out her Fawn Bleat call
by suggesting her friend try it at Mary Baker Eddy’s
coyote-haunted grave. Why not? We make the Fawn Bleat
so many times—Michael is terrific at it, Michael Kusek
is the best—Susan and Rachel send me a whole set:
Death Chamber Grunt Call. Witchy Woman. Squirrel, or
Wet Willy Box Call. And finally, my favorite: Squawler.
vince, i could see the world without its edges.
i placed an empty woolen glove
across my naked lap not to remind anyone
of being handled, but to remind them of bonelessness. To show how easily anything can be turned
inside out. Spread across an unsunned body,
a tanned hand belies the filth of light. Becomes
its own glove of damage done
by exposure. Freckled witness, gothic romance.
The heroine wears a large medallion like an angel
wears a body—a silver snare
that loops her back into the world of lines. vince,
it’s because it’s easier
to think over a figure divided, to
organize into erotic zones, to make
a tattoo that goes:
and here is naked and here is naked. Heretical adorn
ment. Once a vulnerable
fence has been built, i can name the insides. i wound
my hair around and around to make it obvious that they could ccut the braid at its base but i would still
be braided. i would still have the word
b r a i d. i mean the extra
embellishments make the emptiness, make the model
more bare, make it feel more to be touched. i sit on
my hands and feel the empty glove. Sure, it makes it easier
to imagine his keyed fingers.
It makes the materials of the world the bars
of a song being alive is the same as singing.projectionist
Girl in the fashion library chewing
chocolates and spitting. A reel re wo und , alive on
only film. On a slick of cocoa,
the aftermath of wa x.
A stage set seen from the side
is diagramatic of how the world plays. Invisible
drapery between the watched world and the w
Ignore the idea of observing
from above. Don’t make the girl a specimen
in a godded petri dish. To
understand bacteria, become bacterial.
The projector’s beam is blended into our light
by dust. D irty image. To understand, i swallow
strings and strings of lights. i become the orb
An artist’s life is about eating, is about the twisted
constellation inside the stomach. Is glowing
metabolized. You really are
here. You can wear the curtain that cuts you off
from the bulbs like it is a bridal
gown. vince, you can get married to a tthing
they say doesn’t even exist. You can make a promise
Inmate for another month,
my meat house does nothing
to compete against its nature.
What is built cannot be unbuilt—
erosion an act of faith
I put on in colder mornings
when a robe is not enough.
The window is painted
to resemble a window opened
an inch enough to soothe
a sense of the possible,
in which tulips lean toward
the light, the ridges of their skulls
unwed to the graves promised
in their cutting. I open too
for the season, the sea waiting
for its daily bread outside
these shapes, a craving.
I have bought my rot
to its edges, a bitter mouth
my mouth, the month unending,
the end only undone.
When the baby dreams of flying, the dog sleeping next to it also dreams of flying.
The baby’s fussiness is not what it seems. He conducts a Byzantine choir in his mind. They are making numerous, unforgivable mistakes.
Babies are born knowing already the cardinal directions: to the north and west is Mother. To the east and south and to the Holy Land is Mother. To the prophet’s cave, to the upper reach where the basalt flows and cools, to the dog star sliding in the liquid sky, and the beveled tip of every drop of rain, and even the warm root of the lote tree in Paradise, she is.
The original baby never ate, never slept, never cried or executed bodily functions of any kind, and all subsequent babies persevere in the august shadow of this baby. That is why these activities are so fraught with effort, fear, and we must say it, rage. How sad this is, their merciless self-appraisal against an impossible standard.
All babies are born knowing some rudimentary Arabic, a little Greek. What they do not know is how when speaking one must slash one’s meaning into pieces, an infinite rug divvied up for each solitary believer.
Some babies are assigned to cruel mothers, mothers who are mad, mothers who have drunk moonshine and left them out in the drowning rain. These babies do not pull rank or pass judgment, their wails are still experiments, a sounding-out to the unseen, unmanned borders of our city.
The more arduous the baby’s journey into this realm of existence, the harder they must sleep, for it is only when asleep that they perform the necessary labor of forgetting the terrible faces of God.
Every baby who was ever born was born immortal. All the dying is done by us.
None of my clothes have sequins.
Thus, the world is one
of great sadness and great possibility
in equal measure. We,
the ones who wear our clothes,
love to measure.
We measure how high
we were thrown as children
by a person we trusted.
Three me’s worth, at least.
I got good at the changes in air,
would use my lungs accordingly,
like abandoned things
who would never abandon another.
In the mirror in the morning,
I practice what I could not master.
One eye closes, one eye dims.
There's so much gold in the dance—
the kris' handle, the attendants' necks,
Rangda's eyes careening toward
the audience. It's two men in a tarp,
you don't say as the sun drops
to distant surf. I can tell your shadow
is impatient, ready to return to
greener things, out there. Barong
is too, whipping his body until it
cracks. Heavenward tooth, hellbound
fang: which shall it be today? It's his,
I say, All of this is his. The dancer trips,
palms the ground, aligning all souls
with a smack. When the witch queen
is struck, she comes back tomorrow
at eight, and six on Sundays. Each
body’s volley is the hinge on which
we bend; one failure will create a roar.
I should have known when he sent me
the kissy face. Maybe the point is not to
choose. There is a poem in the desert
and there is a bike in the middle of it.
I can’t see it, but it’s there above the red
cliffs, the blue paint, hunters moving
fast toward primary colors. I still don’t
know what to do with all these bones.
I remember the bee dying one afternoon
in between the lime green cushion
and rotting wood. My friend was there
and I didn’t cry for two days. What
I remember most was you stopping
to pick up the piece of broken kindling
to tell a story of ecosystems, this extinct
fungus glowing on the red rocks. I get so
tired of men asking me for a blowjob
over coffee. I want a helicopter to fly over
and to know that it’s there. I want the bee
to move one of its wings in the middle
of the oil slick and for the blue paint
to scatter. I want to see your grocery lists
in book spines, the desert sky, in knowing
that all things end. I want to be the bike
that is hard for colonists to reach, to be
leaving, always leaving. Months later,
a student writes, muscles are some of
the first organs broken down, and the most
important muscle in the body is the heart.
I should have known that in order to take
from the body, you have to give to the body.
I should have known that I was only building
a small empire to put things on.
Left to the night, we are pagan. Our eyes
moons, which pull us like spring blossoms
from the earth, settle us like petals in the
grass. We are many-armed, frightening
beasts with legs spread wide in supplication.
We no longer hide in caves and tents as we
bleed and mourn ourselves. We create our
sex from dirt, from emptiness, from bruises.
Our eyes roll back in our heads as we please
ourselves, as we break and re-mold our flesh
into blades of sunlight. This is how we will
give birth to the new world. We are accustomed
to needle pricks and dismemberment.
The threats of men die, shriveled, in their mouths.
They may stay as long as they like; they cannot
smoke us out.
You want a mind tight like a drum
but you are given two friends
whose love is over
and the street
full of admirable dogs moving through
the freezing sunlight
and if the world
if it blinks and gathers pictures
you will understand I think
that it is still
just one long shot
and that is mostly
how our knowing things will go
with the captured looking there are shared meals
as when yesterday the advertised
man shaved his face at the camera
as if to challenge us to what I do not know
and cannot say
though I mind this less
than I did before
We survive the end of love
and then one day find ourselves
all well at the movies
our hearts and they respond
It is the world not looked at
and we are in it
getting ravaged getting calmer going on
And I’ve seen pictures of the moon made
to look like a close lantern
A sweet mistake
I'm a mistake
my mind keeps making
all the better
to eat you with my dear
close all the windows and let
the onions soften
exhale their old life into these walls
let the cinnamon stick
sink and languish
with whatever ghosts
split this home
they may flicker the lights
dig cracks into the windows
and we will float
bay leaves in a pot of beans
the long dwellers and the past
half living even ghosts
traverse body or brick before arriving
the way we bound from Beirut to Cyprus
Philadelphia and New Jersey
forgetting the lamb bone still on the stove
coming up for air over and over
and sinking back down
to love the water over and over
flick the rose water
on all the glass wrought from
ancestral dirt a ghost
is anything that remains and this home
is not rented is not sprout in a field of war
this can be left with our claw marks
and our bites and our bodies sleeping
the rice has softened
and the pot is rife with spices
all to tell the ghosts freely hanker
this can be ours together
collect and gather for dinner
you have had a long way here
in which we all learn how to make our own bodies, just fling ourselves together outta whatever kind a materials we need, to where you’d be walking or maybe hovering through the alleys a cluster a brass coathooks & PVC & permafrost & you’d brush circuits with a handsome something passing by made up outta fresh cabbage leaves & Christmas lights & the most rusteaten bicycle chains you ever did see & maybe later on at the bar you’d catch auras with a pretty splash a green, CD booklets from every single one a Bjork’ s albums swirling around their lampshade & the two a you might could get a room somewhere or maybe even might could become a room somewhere together & fit yerselves up into some corner a the town square looking up at the clouds pulling em down having the whole sky over every Tuesday night for dinner*
I. MAKING THE BED
At bedtime, I wasn’t in the mood for stories, so my caretaker read me a story within a story. She called it a “mise en abyme” and brought up Velázquez.
After much tossing and turning I said, “This is what it’s like, learning not to sleep.” It isn’t too often you pause in life and name its movement so successfully; you should relish this recursion. So I said it twice and licked my teeth. It’s what I was there for, after all.
Sleep deprivation had been proven to cure all kinds of maladies—weight fluctuation, epilepsy, environmental panic, misery. The clinic had developed a new method for teaching sleeplessness, one that didn’t require electric shocks. It was highly exclusive and had a waiting list longer than the Ivy League. I was lucky to be there.
“What is it you’re doing,” my caretaker asked me.
“I’m relishing, relishing this more than meat loves salt.”
“Salt is the most common preservative,” my caretaker told me. She was already going off in a different direction. “That’s where the expression derives from. Not fairytales. Not gourmets. It’s not about flavor; it’s about prevention of rot. You can pickle almost anything. All you need is salt water and something to soak in it.”
She put so many thoughts in. “What about a jar?” for instance.
I already wanted to stay up all night curing vegetables and making potions, narrating a cooking program to an adoring audience. I yearned for the release of it, for the apparition of myself who stirred air each night while I lay with my arms fixed to my sides, my body wriggling like a nocturnal eel.
“Did you ever go to the Museo Prado?” I changed the subject. “Did you ever see Bosch’s earthly garden? The infanta and her nursemaids?” I could already see myself flying through the dark sky in my trundle like a train of thought, greeting constellations, “pilot O pilot,” landing in Spain, front of the museum line.
My caretaker adjusted her eyeglasses. “Stop tossing! Don’t wiggle your feet! Art isn’t an unmadebed.” She tucked me in with pin straight folds, twirling and screeching extravagantly. I was impressed. A practiced insomnia tutor, she had a lot of wonderful tactics for keeping me up. She behaved like a kind old woman who was pretending to be a witch in order to teach some misbehaving children a lesson. “Art isn’t an unmade bed and I don’t care if you’re in it.”
II. PARABLE OF THE COOK
The next night, painfully exhausted, I tried to run away. The clinic wasn’t for me. I didn’t like what I was learning. The benefits of sleeplessness weren’t worth it. After one night I felt like I was disappearing into infinite pools of myself. One theory held that the treatment was so effective because the misery of insomnia replaced or refocused all other miseries. Another held that it was because the profound desire for sleep replaced or refocused all other desires. I barely made it past the front hedges before I was spotted.
After she’d secured me, my caretaker told me the “Parable of the Cook.” The cook was famous for her weasel dumplings. She seasoned them with leeks and used tears for salt. She ran a café out of her houseboat, down by the harbor. The café had a poor Yelp rating but was nonetheless a favorite venue for children's birthdays. The cook, an old woman, had a long front tooth.
Everyone knew that under a new moon she joined a chorus line of lobsters in naked dancing on the beach. The townspeople assumed this made her a witch, but really that is just how she went fishing. If her methods of collecting shellfish were misinterpreted as occult practices, and if resulting excitement drummed up extra business, well, she couldn't help all that. She employed a loyal local sea doggie with sleek whiskers and a shiny pink nose to serve customers as she prepared the meal. After 40 years spent on ships, the fool was hooked on liquor and more seal than man. If the cognac bottles were an inch lighter now and then, she looked the other way.
The birthday party was heating up. A child had turned seven that week and invited the whole class. They started with dumplings and had lobster pizza as their main. The child's mother had to put in a special advance order for the pizza. It was one of her three wishes. The cook prepared the crust in a secret way using crushed-up lobster shell for added texture. The children crunched their pizza dutifully and tried to peep through the kitchen porthole to steal a glimpse of the cook's tooth. The old sea doggie staggered around, refreshing their little cups of punch. Dessert was sticky bread pudding with horsehair and marigold. For entertainment, the birthday boy's grandmother demonstrated the mambo. My caretaker watched it all through a telescope, from her bedsit across the wharf. I promised myself I’d visit that night. The minute my eyes shut, I’d do it.
III. TRUE LOVE
On the third night, I still hadn’t slept. My caretaker had poisoned me into permanent wakefulness. I suspected that her stories replaced my body’s need to dream. She refused to discuss her methodology and chided me to trust in the process. She decided to spin me a love yarn, to distract me from my paranoias. This is what she said:
We met on Halloween. I was the iceberg that sunk the Titanic. I wrapped my body in tin foil and bubble wrap and built an ocean liner out of two pieces cardboard and some house paint. The boat hung over my shoulders. The effect was remarkable; people kept spotting me and freaking out. I worried they thought my costume in poor taste, as all the icebergs are gone now. Like dressing up as someone who died before enough time has elapsed since their death. But I’m iconoclastic by nature, so I say, rip off the band-aid and let that controversial baby out to play!
Aby dressed as a set of Russian nesting dolls. She made suits of unbelievably intricate paper mâché shells that stacked one over the other, each painted with her likeness. The first time I saw her I couldn’t even see her face, just her own interpretation of her face as a nesting doll, rendered on hardened newspaper. Anyway, one glimpse at those rosy cheeks and I was hooked. We hovered around each other all evening not talking. I knew a lot of other women at the party from grad school, I tried to pay attention as they summarized the plots of their new novels, but Aby was very distracting. She took off a layer of doll about every half hour until she was just herself, barefoot, wearing doll makeup and a babushka. I decided to make my move.
“You’re a mise en abyme,” I whispered in her ear seductively. “You contain infinite copies of yourself.” “Tell that to my homunculus!” she giggled. “She thinks she runs things around here.”
I removed my Titanic so we could grind on the dance floor as iceberg and matryoshka. I took off my shoes so I wouldn’t stamp on her toes. A disco ball revolved above us slowly, breaking up our reflection into a million parts.
The plastic wrapped around me didn’t breathe well so I started sweating a lot. Aby made a really twisted joke about glacial melt; I was obsessed.
Towards the end of the night she started telling me secrets, she’s that kind of drunk, and babbled all about how she was the queen bee in her high school but all that drama is behind her now, and she has body issues from her years as a dancer, so sometimes she can’t stop eating tomatoes instead of regular foods. She was a virgin, she’d never had a girlfriend before. She’d stolen two of the college’s antique telescopes, right out of the case, and replaced them with lobster tails. The secrets kept coming—under each veil, another. The sudden intimacy was charming at the time, or something, but of course what I learned that night became alternately maddening and bolstering to our love as it grew.
Things were getting desperate for me. I didn’t know how many days I’d been at the clinic. I was wired and ravenous for rest. My vision shivered violently, and I wasn’t always sure when I had stopped talking and my caretaker began. My caretaker appeared unaffected by my deteriorating condition. She was too committed to her work, consumed by her persona as a self-styled Scheherazade. One night she asked me:
Have you seen a cartoon where a woman had a geometric shape for a face? Not like a rhombus, but misshapen, and pale green, an irregular trapezoid, if that’s a thing. Flat. Well imagine that character when I talk about Doris. In this story, the whole world is tinted. Muddy green. Not just Doris, everything, murky, like the inside of a pickle jar. It will come as no surprise to you then, that Doris has very little to look forward to.
Doris works in admissions at a midsized college. The students she accepts have unremarkable test scores. She accepts them by stamping “yes” on manila folders. She rejects them by stamping “no.” She waitlists them by stamping “wait.” If she can’t decide at first, she stamps “maybe.” The stamps are so old they barely function. They are worn down in places and gunky with ink. Sometimes “no” even looks like “wait” and “maybe” looks like “yes” because of the smears and faint patches. Doris suspects that they are responsible for more than a few dud students and worse, eggheads lost to more forward-thinking institutions. Still the college won’t replace them. No one makes the stamps anymore except as novelties, so they are outrageously expensive, like typewriters, turntables, telescopes, snow boots...
She’s having an affair with a married man in the same office. His position is technically lateral to Doris’s but for some reason he approves her vacations. Or would, if she planned any. Remember, she doesn’t look forward to things. Besides, who would feed Rosebud? Doris is as free from desire and as flat as can be. Doris and her coworker give each other blow jobs in the car every day at the same time. They don’t look forward to it. After, they have dry sandwiches while he rubs her feet. She is extremely embarrassed by her toes. Doris doesn’t even look forward to a nice, relaxing lunch, do you see?
It isn’t hereditary, her parents were both highly excitable.
It isn’t that Doris lives in the past, she doesn’t care for reminiscing.
She wears an itchy checked skirt that is too tight around the middle and a top with a high ruffle around the neck.
She makes herself go to exercise classes and hobby classes and happy hours, hoping that something will catch. She joined a hiking group and a birdwatching group and a classic cocktails group and a pinch pot group and a life drawing group and an aperitif group and a digestif group and a group of whalers and a wife swap and a den of survivalists and a cult of personality and a gang of narco traffickers and a political caucus but she never found a thing she didn’t have to force herself to go to before giving up after a few weeks.
Rosebud is a little mutt that she adopted. The shelter wouldn’t take Rosebud back when Doris had tired of her. Doris named her as a proxy for unfelt longing. She doesn’t care if it’s a little on the nose. She takes Rosebud on boring walks in an undeveloped area behind her apartment building several times a day.
There are a series of empty doorframes set up in an overgrown field like a long hallway. Each time Doris and Rosebud passes through one they change shape. She passes through doorway #1 and is a black-and-white Ingrid Bergman in a nightgown; Rosebud is a flickering gas lamp. She passes through doorway #2 and becomes an elegant lemur, draping its grey furred limbs here and there, with decadent malaise; Rosebud is her child. Then a Ziegfeld girl in gold tinsel, flashing like a sparkler; Rosebud is a sparkler. Then a barrel of soda bread, like to give substances to a ship of fools; Rosebud is a pickle. Then a Saint Sebastian, riddled by arrows; Rosebud is an arrow. And so on and so on until she returns to her original, that muted mint hexagonal (was it?) form; Rosebud is a fuzzy mutt again. Every day some version of this recurrence.
Doris has a motto: Nature insists on altering itself.
V. Dream Network
I cried to my caretaker. I cried and I begged. She was unmoved. I bribed her with boxes of Leibniz crackers. She had her own supply. I tried to seduce her. She denied me. I plugged my ears with cotton. She plucked it out.
I told her a story:
Three of them set out to look for it. The Golden Net.
They were told it had many wonderful uses. That it would allow them to catch unlimited shellfish. That it would unlock many doors and strengthen their friendships. That it would give their hair luster and add years of happiness to their lives.
They were told that placed on a table it would provide bounty. That it would enable access to all the coins from all the eyes of all the dead.
They were told it could cure certain ailments. That it would restore chill to winter, love to the loveless, sleep to the sleepless. That it could change apples into birds. That it might gather up their dispersions.
They were told that, if they chose cleverly, each seeker might be granted one request.
Of course one asked for the gift of beauty. Another—the gift of health. The third wanted the gift of gold.
They followed a map carved into a slab of marble. It was dreadfully heavy. They took turns carrying it. They walked day and night.
Late one night, deep in the forest, they came across a circular clearing filled with shining pools of water. They dove into one of the pools. Then they dove into another. All of the pools led to the same place. At the bottom of the pools there was a box.
She spoke over me:
To protect humans, the angels hid the most merciless form of desire in a box in a pool in the forest. This happened a very long time ago, but it’s still exactly where they left it. Inside the box is another box. Inside the box is a pair of lost shoes and inside the left shoe is another box. Inside the box is a bed and inside the bed is another box. Inside the box is an expensive painting leaning against another box. Inside the box is lobster-crust pizza served on top of another box. Inside the box is Rosebud the dog chewing on another box. Inside the box is a fern growing in the shade of another box. Inside the box is a pristine set of telescopes and inside one of their lenses is another box. Inside the box is a snifter of cognac twirling around on another box. Inside the box is jar of brine and floating inside is another box. Inside the box is a real iceberg and frozen within it is another box. Inside the box is a birthday party and the present is another box. Inside the box is a painted doll making eyes at another box. Inside the box is a disco ball hanging from another box. Inside the box is a vial of poison seeping into another box. Inside the box is a blow jobhapping in front of another box. Inside the box is your true love holding another box. Inside the box is everything you’ve ever wanted and another box. Inside the box is everything you’ve ever done wrong and another box. Inside the box is a dream about an angel balancing another box on its wings. Inside the box is a dream about the golden net and caught in the net is another box. Inside the box is a dream about making a phone call and on the other end of the receiver is another box. Inside the box is a dream about going to work and on top of your desk is another box. Inside the box is a dream about lying in bed and you look up atthe creepy mirrored ceiling and realize that you are a box.