carbondate

a.e. hart's sketchpad

Category: rememberance

surf

Yesterday I must have met up with you here, in Wilmington, NC, in a friend’s driveway.  We have been cooking, stacking the dishes perfectly.  Every social error on my part is under your scrutiny.  I stack the plates too high. I laugh too loud.  I see you growing thinner, counting not calories but moments in motion, You’ve gone for a run again, and I am curled up over my coffee.  Kristin comes into the kitchen to ask me what the hell I am thinking.  I breathe in deeply, wishing I still smoked cigarettes.

 

Today, in the ocean, I am talking to g-d. I get stronger as I submit my body over wave after wave.  When the ocean throws me from my board, tumbles me beneath the wave and invites me to humility, I come up laughing. I am a beast again. You, the great teacher, study the waves like a scientist, never quite catching her drift.

 

I know it might be foolish of me to offer advice. But Kristin, up on the beach, taught me to surf in these same waves a year or so ago, and I am inspired, humbled, stupid and wet.  I approach. Coming near you when you are challenged by any task is an invitation for punishment. You snap at me, make the same mistake, again and again, and will not even consider heeding or hearing my advice. You remind me again that I am a terrible listener, and that I do not understand your needs. I walk back to shore laughing to myself.

 

I am breathing in again, watching you from a distance, like a father watches a child.  I am sun soaked and sore, beaten by my own sweet gods, and humored by yours. The sun starts to slip from the sky, and you run, like an experimental movie, in an endless loop of failure.  In the morning you take me running, and remind me that my body scares you.  You are thin and strong.  Completely in control.  I am behind you, trying to keep enough air in my lungs.  You press on, and eventually I run home alone.

 

That afternoon, I tattoo the word acceptance on my arm.  A man tells me that it wont do me any good, but I make the gesture anyway, considering those experiments with crystals and glasses of water that all the teenage philosophers are going on about.

 

Back in New York, in a cafe, I let you teach me a card game. You repeat the rules again and again, but I need you to change your approach.  I don’t understand. I know this will be a problem.  It is winter, and your hair is wet from the shower. When you erupt into rage, I circle the block a few times before realizing that you will get sick walking home alone.

 

When we breathe in at the same time, when you grow young and broken and real in my arms, I know god for moments.  I see you.  Before your fathers belt, before you ever raised your voice to me.  Just another hungry animal, leaning out for love.  I hold you then, when your hair is dry, and you are clam and forgetful.  You try so hard.  We scratch at god inside each others bodies until she sings us both to sleep.  When I wake, you are sitting with her quietly.  One candle is lit, and there is no light in the room.  I imagine that you have transformed.  For a moment we are sacred again.

 

I am in our ocean. I submit my body, wave after wave. We begin the day with god, end in fragments. Every day, we  live… tikkun olam, the reclaiming, the recollecting.  When she takes me from you, when I have learned my lessons, my one weakness is in looking back.

 

There, in an endless loop, you lift your body and fall.

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reflections

The first time mom left me alone with my older sister to baby-sit, we played on the swing-set naked, well after dark. We took innocent pictures, but they felt illicit, so after a terrified trip to the supermarket developing counter we hid or destroyed them.  This, I remember.

I remember sitting, still as dolls at the top of the stairs, always in our best nightgowns, with our hair combed, waiting to be called in on bridge nights. They would pretend to catch us listening to the party downstairs, and parade us table to table. We know our lines, our roles. We are perfect ornaments. The atmosphere glitters, and we are the tiniest belles. After they send us to bed, for real this time, we continue to sit at the top of the stairs.  We eat the candy we stole from each table, quietly unwrapping the foil and savouring our spoils. This is payment for services rendered.

I am absorbed in a box of stones. They are gateways, to other worlds, other paradigms. I have been hiding at the downtown library devouring dense fantasy novels. They are becoming real for me, but that is a secret I know how to keep. the red stone with the orange bleed is the key. It is the ill-earth stone. Downstairs they might be screaming, but all I hear is the pulse of this other world, so small between my fingers.

I overslept again, and missed the short bus trip up the hill. I pull on my knit cap and trek through the woods in the snow. I am in second grade. I take the wrong path and wind up crying and lost, in a mess of blackberry thorns. When I arrive at school, I pull thorns from my skin and my clothes while the teacher yells. I fold my hat on my desk, and think about my grandmother’s hands.

Snow again. I keep my house-key on the belt-loop of my jeans. The bell rings, and the bus waits outside. If I run to the bathroom, I will miss the bus. I pull on my snow-pants, and hope for the best. In front of my house, my best friend is screaming with laughter…. “You’re gonna do it again”. I am trying to wrestle my key out of my snow pants, and flushing red with embarrassment. I give up, throw my backpack down, strip, and pee in the yard. This is the first time in weeks I have not peed in my snow-suit. Victorious, I collect my key, and let my stunned friend into the empty house.

Back at school they won’t let me go to the bathroom alone anymore. I recently saw a sequel to The Wizard of Oz, and have been lost in the bathroom for days, talking to the mirror. I am convinced that the girl in the mirror is not me, and that she is trapped there. When they force me to have a bathroom buddy, Sarah Sherwood catches me whispering to the mirror in secret, and asks what I am doing. I realize that I will never see my friend again, and spend the rest of the day inconsolable.

I am sitting on the bed waiting. All morning there must have been screaming because I am sitting now defeated, in a purple gingham dress. I am four years old. I hold my limbs like a dolls limbs. I do not posses myself anymore. I am certain that they will not detect my vacation, so long as I can be posed for the family portrait. My bedspread is yellow, and I imagine the yellow has taken over everything. Pale and listless, the morning passes without incident.

One summer night a stranger grabs my arm and I fall to the ground screaming. “You are not my family”. I am 26 years old. There are years stripped away then, and I cry until I start to dry heave into the dead grass. All around me I hear the terrifying forgotten sounds. I am so small. Everything is happening above my head, in negative space. This, I may never remember.

apple flag

i forgive you. for raising a parade from a single flag. for needing the moon to be a light switch. for the stars becoming portals. i forgive you for sitting next to me, on a linoleum table top in the doctors office waiting room, and taking me fishing there. for manifesting the sea and the solitude. for making the world disappear. i forgive you for your power. for changing your name again and again. i forgive you. for breaking my heart, every day of my life. i forgive you for all of it.

2011.

on the phone yesterday, it was hard to bring to mind the brave 19 year old who lead our little doom parade. now nearly 33, you are rambling quietly about the girl who has moved into your apartment with her children.  about how she calls you old when you receive your disability checks. about how she wont allow you to leave your house.  i am biting my tongue, trying to teach you boundaries that should be as simple as tying shoes. the word “no” is unfamiliar to you. it tastes acid somehow. wrong.  because of this your homes have always filled with stray animals, stray families, stray lives.  she is taking advantage of you, i suggest firmly. she says i have to marry her! you whisper back.

there is a reason we haven’t spoken for the past 10 years, but i cant explain that to you. when i try, you say “i thought you hated me… you don’t hate me? i was talking to shannon and told her you wouldn’t talk to me. but i don’t remember. when did we talk. when was the last time i heard your voice?”

“did you read my letter”, i ask, and you say

“yes. but i didnt know about any of that, what you talked about. what was wrong. those years in arizona were great. they were my favorite. were they bad? what was wrong”?

1999.

you found the flag on the side of the road. it had apples on it, in a basket. someone’s discarded autumn lawn decoration. you are marching, lifting your knees impossibly high and smiling so wildly that the whole world dims.  that smile is my only real reason for living these days.  i march behind you, dutifully creating the parade you imagine us into.  we march all afternoon, in the cool mountain air.  by sunset we will be tucked inside with our vodka and our crayons.  this is a perfect day.

but there were bad days too, more often than not.

“ i am in love with you”, i would say,

you would turn to the sky and say something abstract, wander to sit at a blue table. blue, the color of friendship. i would offer you candy then, and you would pull out every sugar coated blue piece and pass it to me.

” i don’t like the way blue tastes”, you would say. and i would spend the evening in recovery, drawing elaborate blue hearts and slipping them under your door.

2003.

when you asked me to be your friend again, i started to say yes. i have recovered, in part, from the dimensional shift we lived through in arizona. i know that you are ill, and that you may never recover. i have carried your memory in art, in writing and in songs. i have never let you go, not for a second. it seems only fitting that i let you back in now, when i am strong, and close to sane.  when i open my mouth to speak, the phone starts making an unbelievable sound. like an alarm going off. it repeats in bursts, and i cant get a word in edgewise. this is divine intervention. i tell you i will call you back in a minute.

i call an advisor, tell her what is going on. show her the shape of the door i am propping open, lightly, freely. she asks me questions. i respond. in moments i remember that there is nothing more dangerous to me than the spectacular fragility of your mind and your life.

when i call you  back, i lightly close the door.  when we get off the phone, i lock it.

starting the next evening you call me every 15 minutes. this continues for 36 hours. you get drunker and drunker, and the messages on my machine get more abstract and alien. the case of beer in your system wears away the effect of your psych meds until you are screaming into the phone, crying.

“i made a mistake. you have to talk to me. they will be mad at me. i am a messenger. you are a prophet. i have to get this message to you.”

confidant now, brokenhearted and defeated, i answer the phone.
“give me your address” i say, and then i hang up.

the letter i write you then silences you.  there is nothing more to say.
i flip through photographs in a filing box. some are sewn together, bound in feather and wire. protection spells.  then there you are in all of your glory, in white petticoats and black cotton.  you are holding a flag you found on the side of the road, and lifting your knees impossibly high.

and i miss my friend.

From Scrap to Story in 500-800 Words

death can subsist
in a thought

you are folding the laundry
fear over fear

each towel soft
and in its place

You have to be careful not to slip into the spaces. Between your own words. Between your own hands. I am lifting things, shifting them in space and time. These objects are soft and pliable. This appears trivial, but tonight I know better. Every step is deliberate. I am walking the tightrope between worlds.

Folding the laundry, checking the budget, keeping the body away from dreams.  This is my purpose now. I know myself at least this well.  The fade of your cackle, your well worn hands, and the increasing distance between your breath and a song, is a precipice I must navigate deftly.  If I slow, if I move too slowly, I will be paralyzed with fear.  If I move too quickly, I will shatter.  Mercury rolling and hiding beneath the floorboards. A grief turned poisonous. 

I don’t even know that you are dying. Not yet. The clockwork of my life has grown ancient and the wood pulls and groans. You are one seam. The last seam. I call you every three weeks asking the same questions. Where are you? Will you please say hello? What happened in December?  You don’t answer, and I don’t expect you to, despite my best efforts, I can feel the strain there. You are slipping out of the story, and like it or not, until now, it was still our story. Still our time. Never mine. Never my own. I had an accomplice.

I recognize now, the fatal flaw in our work. You kept tossing me in the air, into the depths, the ether. From here we soared, could touch sky and sea, feed and teach the stumbling center. When I fell, back to our tunnels, back to cold coffee and callouses, you kept the landing hard enough to keep me. To keep me. I was yours.  A fatal flaw.

Tonight, however, the mechanism must strain. This is still your orchestration. The wood will sing and buckle. I am enamoured of these moments. Things Fall Apart… wasn’t that a book? A song? A ritual? I should be reading Frannie and Zooey.  I should be talking to the dial tone.

In lieu of this, I am holding my lover, or the laundry, or an instrument.  She is breaking too, this love, her body betraying her until she is barely a child. I keep her from running headlong into walls. She laughs and hands me her shoes.  She sips water and demands more. She is always demanding more.  This is not her fault. This weather comes through her and I am transformed in an instant. From lover to mother, from mother to nurse, from nurse to clinician. When she returns to me I ask her what we are going to do, and she asks “about what?” 

Soon she slips away from me again, and I am left with these simple tasks. I do not dial the telephone. I do not have an accomplice. I have a tightrope now, and things must fall away. You cannot carry much.

death can subsist
in a thought

you are folding the laundry
fear over fear

each towel soft
and in its place

easy.

im satisfied that when all of this is over, i will have two strong arms, and the courage to lift my voice again. i squander a gift every time i open my mouth. there are lines to cross, and i have crossed all of them.

as we are forgetful, i will tie your mysteries to this flag. a flag of war. a flag of war on war. and you will sew your backwards alphabet into my misgivings. here we go again. a ghost and a martyr. a satyr and a movie set.

i wanted you to know better. how frequently we are disappointed.  i am watching from the audience now, and i am impotent. everyday power pools in my back, and these days i can barely move at all. it will become a sickness.

i have a barrage of excuses. a litany of distractions.  i should have quit so long ago.  i should lie and steal to make the space for it.  but i bound myself in moral law, and you carbonated the moon.

it wont be long now. its june again and my heart is broken. you will stain the paper, and i will finally explode. a surge of sweetness, of purpose. and then i will rest. so satisfied. so easy.

tap.

underground.
thats where ive been since you passed away
i hate that phrase
passed away. died. as if you just dissolved somehow.
i wouldnt know. i wasnt there

you were more to me, maybe, than i could ever be to you
i will say that i was suprised
sitting on the bottom bunk
at an ashram
knitting you an unbelievably long scarf
to discover that i loved you

it was the endlessness of the object
that made me query
look into the engine
that kept my hands so busy

i cried then, knowing that i seldom loved anyone
that i wasn’t fucking. or hadn’t fucked, or wouldnt.

this is what we had

the cold cackle of our voices against concrete walls
with you i was angry for hours
sustained in the most haunted melodies
my admiration of your hands, which at times bordered on intimacy
the sound of your breathing at night
which never let me sleep
always those gaps in your breath

i was afraid then, that you wouldnt wake

maybe my heart does have a crystal ball
the worst kind of poison
when you see heartbreak in every heartbeat
how can you ever trust this life

but i digress
i havent written a word since you died
not really
not willingly
i wrote two term papers
and i gave a eulogy
to an audience of future pastors
who didnt know you

i have been watching veronica mars reruns
the gilmore girls
the usual drugs
but they are not working
every so often my left shoulder seizes up in unspeakable pain
and i have decided it is time to go back to therapy

i am writing this down now, because if i dont
i will turn on the television

losing you rests closer to the heartbreak of losing my father than any heartbreak i have known since
you win, asshole.  you made me love you
the way i loved the sound of my fathers voice
the songs that kept me breathing as a child

this is not poetry
its processing
its vomit
my stomach is so close to turning these days
that tonight a puking scene in a comedy
made me vomit quietly into my empty soda cup
you would have found this hysterical

no one noticed, but the way
and i magically had tea tree oil toothpicks in my pocket
rinsed my mouth in the bathroom
and cleaned my teeth

the rest of the night i kept chewing on those damn things
until my lips felt dry and raw
and i sat in an aa meeting
clutching a candle, a gift from the eccentric man sitting next to me
who also brought me a paper towel
when i fell apart
after speaking the words
“my best friend died last month”

a best friend

its different you know
not like kate with our ups and downs and our depths
or molly with her steady love and support

you were to me, what my godfather was to my dad
you were my partner in crime
my headache
my sense of humor

and even though you pushed me away
even though you hadnt been around
the love was as big and old and angry as family

so there.
tonight i wanted to go outside and scream
the way i did when dad died
and justin was still alive
he just let me scream
didnt tell me to worry about the neighbors
didnt tell me to calm down
or try to hold me
when i was wild

he just stood by and watched
and handed me a beer

we could get away with a lot back then
drinking
tonight i didnt know how
to lift my feet
to walk out into the city air
so i sat there
with my feet glued to the floor
and stifled my rage
let it form tears
walked around with my face red and swollen

you would have bought me coffee
made me sing
i guess
to be honest, i dont remember
if youve ever seen me cry

but now
well

the other night i was sitting at the old piano
after hours
when there is no one at school, i have that room to myself
my very own chapel

you were there, your arms somehow solid
and your fingers weighted with mine on the keys
you even edited my writing
added some flourish i could only call yours

there you are. a fucking ghost.

and it doesnt make sense
because you were too young
and because we hadnt spoken
in a year

a year of silences
of sadnesses
of me not letting go

jessica says you got my texts in the end
i hope thats true
i hope i said

“i love you”
enough

to get it through your thick skull

theres no way to end this
because its not over
i have novels full of grief to write
and for now they are disorganized
and i want to be happy
maybe just for a minute
maybe for a day
i will kiss my lover
when i can
and read my books
i will try to trust in some new and growing life
and remember to write to my godparents
every so often
call my sister sometimes just to talk
i will read poetry again, instead of the news
and go for walks
eat something green

i remember the last time i saw you
you slipped in the door of Living Room Lounge
and hid in a shadow

you had not come one of my solo shows
in years
and my feelings were sore from it

i was in the middle of a song
and considered inviting you on stage
but felt it was unprofessional
and that maybe, i just needed to stand on my own two feet
for that one night

and there it was
i took back my power
my art
my voice
and you

just disappeared

rememberance #2 (draft)

you are marching found objects
a yard flag covered in apples
your petticoat
is dipped in
crayon wax
you
are
triumphant

we are having a parade
in black, in white
up trees
and into the doctors office
i roll up your flag
tuck it
beneath our waiting room chairs

you proceed to invite me fishing
pass along a rod
and reel
and i flap on your
hook

you are in love
with the doctor
and have visited
several times
this week

i grow concerned
when i hear
the words
‘restraining order’

we are sitting on a stone
wall
you are not telling me about
your child
or your
miscarriages

you are making the sun rise

you need help
but some days
i am frightened
and i pretend
not to believe

nothing happens
we walk home
almost arm in arm
you look at me as if you might decide to love me
and say
“this was never supposed to happen”

when we get back to your bedroom
you wait for me to make a move
i sit locked in your gaze
for hours

5 years later

you have rung my phone
every half hour
for two days
and nights
i answer

i tell you i will write
i take down your address

ten years later

the letter i wrote then
still stains my fingers

no one fishes in the waiting room now
no one marches, ecstatic about nothing
everything

i join the great sufis in their madness
i measure g-d

all because the line between divinity and madness
crossed your palm
far too close to my heart

remembrance #1

back then we wore cutoff jeans without irony, and wore our hair wild and long. i knew you by the length of your arms, exquisite, as teenagers go. you didnt smoke, but you drove haphazardly. we spent long nights memorizing the curves of huckleberry road, driving backwards with no headlights.

its not that i dont think of you now. this moment is evidence enough that you stained my fingertips, the dim edges of my subconscious. its just that these days you drive too cautiously, and your body grew into itself.  you married me in thought, again and again, over a stretch of ten years. no matter that i was in love with a woman, and came to your bed for solace from her rejections.

we would pretend we were in the movies. our lover christine tossing her lit cigarette at the gas station, expecting chaos. my face lit with fear and laughter, but nothing happened. the hiss of cinders in a puddle, and we should have felt relief.  instead our faces fell, in your crowded jeep, as though cinema had betrayed us.

we spent sunny afternoons at the cemetery with a home movie camera you stole from your mother.  along with that her gas card, and her signature.  i stole my mothers voice, called myself in sick to school.  you were a liar, and i despised reality. the arrow straight path of life in a white, wealthy suburban town. as we grew older you thrived on inheritance, and i moved west.

the last time i saw you, you were walking your dog on 14tn street in manhattan. i had been up half the night on the sidewalk, waiting to buy radiohead tickets.  we embraced, and i watched you walk away. it was casual, like all of our comings and goings.  you always believed that life had  tossed us together irrevocably, so you didnt bother to call. i grew tired of creating fates, let myself roll farther and farther from you, from your bed, the soft white linen.

almost ten years later i can imagine you, sitting in your studio, a guitar propped on your knee.  an angry lover in the next room, desperate for your attention.  you have sex for the sake of sex, but throw around words like love, and daydream as stories unfold behind your studio door.  a slim body pacing and smoking, too proud to knock.  when she finally leaves, she doesn’t lock the door.

you are an editor. cutting things into workable segments. creating the same fictions that betrayed us at that gas station in the late nineties.  you remember my smile, my ass and my teenage breasts.  you edit out the arguments, the disconnection, the bad acid trips and our screaming mothers.

these are livable fictions.  the stories that did us little harm.  in the backdrop there were the deaths of our fathers, and the grim silences. we comforted each other the way boys do, sitting quietly over a drink, coughing and sighing.  there was the crack in your windshield from a thin skinned lover, and the tears we shed when we finally asked christine to leave, after one final sleazy afternoon. there was anne’s cancer, your surprising friendships, and the lies your family told to keep your mother young.

there was the dinner party, your mother and i casting sideways looks.  celebrating your shared birthdays, no one guessing your relation, the guests shared salacious details over burgers and champagne.  expecting you both do the same, there were the horrified and private exchanges as she gabbed about sex, the mile high club, the back seat.

you were a liar, and eventually i grew enamored with reality. your real estate in my heart lost value, the cinema billboards rusting and peeling.  standing here, i tune in to the creak of a swing, and wander through the truth of things. i step off the set, to the chair i once occupied. one to the right of the director.  you stare at the empty scene, light a match, betray your sensibilities.  you do not notice when i slip away.