Getting Over Women

By the time Jacob neared his 40s, GPS navigation had become accurate enough that he could use his cell phone to track down his memories, and that was how he ended up in the second largest island in the eastern Mediterranean.

“But you’ve never been to Crete before, you said,” a woman reminded him from behind her shiny, sweaty forehead and sunglasses, “so how are you retracing memories here?” Jacob ran into her and her sunburnt boyfriend hiking in a gorge in the mountains. She pushed a lock of hair behind an arm of her sunglasses.

“You’re right – sometimes I get the wrong memories.” Jacob had to shield his eyes from the fireball sun that barreled along the gorge, silhouetting the two hikers. “I’ve always liked deceptive technology.”

“Sarah, we should go,” said the boyfriend. “The guide here says we still have four k to go before the peak, and the sun’ll set soon.”

“Good luck,” Sarah said to Jacob.

“See you,” said the boyfriend.

“Have a good evening,” said Jacob.

The two strode past him towards the rising night in the east. Jacob walked over to the one wall of the gorge that glowed orange and felt the smooth heat of sunset with one hand.

“How the heck do you get the wrong memories?” murmured the boyfriend to Sarah over the receding crunching of their footsteps on the small rocks.

Jacob checked the GPS on his cellphone. When it first pointed him to Crete he imagined it was being unhelpful, even malicious, again. Since he had been on the island though, he thought that maybe the GPS did know what it was doing. It had led him to an old tree on a cliff above the water. It was white and gnarled, almost cancerous, and seemed dead but for some tufts of dark green sprouting from its crackling fingers. That was a true memory: the same tree was rooted in his childhood backyard in the U.S., and he used to climb it and take naps in its many-armed embrace. Sometimes, when he woke up, the shy dryad that lived in the tree would be watching him, and smiling.

At that point his phone was pointing him towards Nikolaos, a city on the coast at the foot of the mountains. Years after selling his personal collections (journals, address books, planners, correspondence) to the archive at the University of Texas at Austin, it became difficult for him to make sense of his life. Now that his memories belonged to a university – in an archive open to the public – he didn’t feel it was appropriate to barge in and ask for them back, even for a moment, please, just to look at them. The marvel of modern technology, he thought, was that he didn’t have to construct his life from his memories, because his GPS would figure it out. Like a peasant who needs no memories to know what his life is – he lives in this village, wakes up, goes to the fields – Jacob felt liberated, which was why his wife left him.

At the end of the gorge the view opened up, and along the expanse of beige and white mountains even the smallest rocks and shrubs cast long shadows. The sky was a pale, creamy orange, and the red sun began to land in the small white clouds that dotted the rim of the horizon. He could see peaks over the water from whence sirens once lured ships onto the rocks. Jacob’s cell phone informed him that he was nearing a fort where Daskalogiannis, a Cretan who famously rebelled against Ottoman rule, was skinned alive and executed in June, 1771.

He took a path back to the road where he had left his rented scooter, and followed his phone’s directions into Nikolaos. Night rose quickly, and by the time he had parked his vehicle near the harbor the sky was a uniform purple. The dim facades of the buildings on the waterfront were outmatched by the bright, vertical lines of light wavering in the water in alternating colors: white, orange, white, pink, yellow, white, yellow. Small yachts swayed gently.

The GPS led him away from the harbor along streets with cobblestone the color of bones, and it finally stopped him in front of an apartment building squeezed in between an art gallery and a nightclub. It was two windows wide and three stories tall, white with troughs of flowers hanging from some windows. Passersby filtered into the club next-door, and when the door was opened slow, thick beats spilled out onto the sidewalk. Jacob looked up at the apartment but all six windows were dark and empty, and its green door was silent. He opened the door and peered into the vestibule, wondering if he should try ringing each of the three apartments. The light was off in the vestibule and it was cold. He could still hear the music coming from the adjacent club. Perhaps the GPS was off target, and that was where he was supposed to be. He closed the door.

The nightclub’s name was above its entrance: “The Hive” in black letters backed by a yellow honeycomb. That building too was several stories tall, hulking and pulsing. Jacob put his phone in his pocket and stepped away from the apartment building. When he opened the door to The Hive he saw its dim interior with walls covered in red velvet; the music and heat reached out and pulled at him. He entered like Jonas into a fish.

People stood in the hallway at the entrance, holding drinks; some danced slowly to the heavy, minimalist music. A few turned to look and smile at Jacob, who smiled uncertainly back. They seemed vaguely familiar, like guests his ex-wife invited to a cocktail party thrown in his living room whose names he should know. The hallway split into two corridors which each split further, lined by open archways to small hexagonal rooms. As he walked deeper into the club along the padded carpet, he saw that each room, lined with cushioned black benches, had different lighting and its own music that matched and added to the beat in the hallway.

As he passed one room a face caught his eye. He looked in and saw in the nearly black blue lighting the face of a woman he had been neighbors with in the house he owned a decade ago. She looked young. He put his hand on the jamb in the entryway. She didn’t see him, but he could hear over the throbbing music rolling out of the portal the conversation she was having with a man he couldn’t place.

“No, it’s not easy, but you just need a stroke of luck,” she said. She took a bite out of a piece of baklava she held in a plate.

“You’re right,” replied the man sitting next to her.

“Like my neighbor, he just had his first book published two months ago.” She wiped some crumbs from the side of her mouth and continued. “It was really pretty good – it’s about Israel, and the Palestinian Problem, but through the eyes of this guy, a Jew, who had to fight against Jewish paramilitaries after World War II.”

The book he wrote 12 years ago wasn’t about the “Palestinian Problem,” thought Jacob. It was inspired by his own grandfather. Most of the book is about him after World War II, lying in orchards and falling in love.

“Huh,” murmured the man.

“Yeah, and later in the book he goes back to Israel when he’s 80 and sees how things are,” continued the woman.

Jacob put one foot on the threshold. The book’s protagonist returns to see his granddaughter who moves there. If Jacob wanted to write about the “Palestinian Problem” he would have written a pamphlet.

“Anyway, I’m sure you’ll find a publisher eventually,” concluded the woman.

Jacob shook his head and decided to move on. He pulled out his phone but its screen was blank. It could have been broken, or out of batteries, but probably it was being unruly. In the room across the hall were two women he had met in a restaurant in Laos during a break when he was in college. They were twins, from Belgium, and both exactly resembled Natalie Portman, but with different hairstyles. In the room they were drinking bright mixed drinks and laughing with a third girl. They looked like they did when he met them 20 years ago, when he could only speak to them for about five minutes before he had to leave to catch a train. Then, they both had held their drinks in their hands on the table and looked him in the eye, smiling and laughing, laughing just like they were now in The Hive. He opened his mouth to speak, to say hello. Holding his breath he paused, words pushing against the back of his throat.

He passed another couple rooms and avoided looking into them, looking for a bar or a bartender so that he could get a gin and tonic. Suddenly a smell hit his memory. Brandy and cherries, chocolate. A woman was standing in the hallway, leaning against the wall eating something dark from a small plate with a fork. Her face was turned away from him and shadowed by her hair, but she was talking with a man and touching him on the arm sometimes. Black Forest cake. His ex-wife made it all of the time. It was her recipe and her Black Forest cake, the chocolate and brandy and cherry blood red spilling out from the black chocolate. Jacob’s skin tingled: the woman must have been her, the shape of her body and her hair. The music, its beats growing repetitive in the murky, numbing light, prevented him from hearing her voice. He wanted to grab her on the shoulders, roughly turn her around to face him and knock the plate from her hands. He began to raise his arms but then she laughed. She laughed at the man and it was her laugh, its tintinnabulation and the indrawn breath at the end.

Gritting his teeth he walked past her without looking at her face. Finally, at the end, several corridors joined at a bar – a few people with their backs to him on stools, and his college roommate manning the bar and grinning at a patron. Jacob walked up to the bar and was about to ask for his drink, but stopped before the bartender recognized him. Hidden in the beats and swooning bass of the music he caught snippets of a tune that he knew. Tiny sharp notes, separate from the music, glittered through the air and wavered into his ears. His fingers knew the tune, could see the black and white keys and how to move along them. The image of his mother landed in his mind’s eye. She had been gone since he was seven. The tune kept drifting out of hearing and suddenly he felt desperate: he wanted to take it and hold it in its hands, wring it out, and consume it.

He stepped away from the bar back into the corridors, checking every room, the tune dabbling on the edge of earshot. In one room he saw his third grade teacher who taught him what poetry was. In a corridor he bumped into his first girlfriend and she looked him straight in the eyes before he hurried on. Finally he found the room, a room with dim white light and only that simple tune, cutting through the hallway music. He could picture his mother, sitting on the piano bench next to him, teaching him that song.

At the join of two walls on the far side of the small room a naked woman sat on her feet on the velvet bench. Her chin was turned up a little and her thin eyebrows arched up to the high bridge of her nose. She held a lyre in her hands, draped in her long, wet brown hair, and slowly plucked out the tune, each note plucking at his insides. In a fine, clear voice she hummed along with the tune. Jacob took one step into the room and the woman looked up at him without pausing her music. Inside the room, with his hands on the edge of the threshold, all sound had stopped but hers. He stood for a moment and finally she ceased playing, putting her lyre down beside her and staring at him with no expression on her face. Jacob curled his toes and his knuckles clenched the wall. He wished he could plug his ears from the silence, but it was invincible. After taking a deep breath and pressing closed his eyelids he pushed himself away and back into the corridor. The beats first entered his body, then his ears, and without looking back into the room he turned away. Eyes down at his feet, Jacob walked along the hallways back to the entrance, not stopping even when he felt a hand on his shoulder. He pushed open the door and escaped from the red light into the chill gray outside.

In the street the cool air pulled at the sweat on his face. The quiet throb of the music leaking out of the club seemed like a memory, and Jacob imagined the city street to be silent. He looked next door at the apartment again. The window at the top and to the right was lit by the flickering glow of a television screen. A woman sat inside on the window ledge with her back to the street. Jacob stared for a long time.

“Do you know her?” asked a man with a Greek accent and pomade in his black hair. He wore tight jeans and a loose, white dress shirt.

“When I graduated college I was seeing this girl Catherine,” returned Jacob, without looking at him. “That’s her. We dated for three years.”

“What happened to her?”

“She’s changed a lot.”

Ports of Less Importance

I left a pair of shoes underneath your bed? I don’t think I’m missing a pair of shoes underneath your bed. What’re they like? Maybe I’ve forgotten about them like a sailor forgets his bastard children at ports of less importance.

A friend, secretly a poet

The Festival

Behind the spice bazaar at midnight on the first of every month, the four orphaned quadruplets would reunite to share their stolen spoils and wax their moustaches for the upcoming festival. The sharp and gritty scents of cumin, saffron and nutmeg would leak out of cloth stalls and dance around the young men: Azad, Akçay, Adnan, and Akar. They would all sit on their heels under the metal moon, remove their fezzes, and converse.

The first of November: the air was still and cool, and sails of ships could be seen rocking gently in the harbor. The four brothers had just, as was customary, finished waxing their moustaches with beeswax and tallow. Azad’s was thin and sharp; needles curving up to his cheeks. Akçay had a moustache that was short and lively like a rabbit’s tail. Adnan wore his long and solid, framing his mouth and curving to the vertical at the edges. Akar had, most severe of all, a short, narrow bristle with only a slight curl to the sides of his nostrils. Akçay laid a hand on Adnan’s shoulder.

“My brother,” said Akçay, pulling one silvery glove from his embroidered green coat. “Here I have the hand that loved a thousand women, stolen from the bedchamber of the great Emir of Abi Bakr.” Adnan received the glove and held it, glinting, in the light of the moon.

“Ever the romantic, brother,” Adnan responded with a smirk, sliding the glove over his hand. “What better relic to grasp with this gauntlet than the knife that slit a thousand throats, lifted tenderly from beneath the pillow of the Seljuk prince Nasir ad-Din while he slept?” From his belt Adnan drew a short dagger, ornate of green and red gems.

Azad brought in front of his brothers a large sack full of edges and clinks, and from it withdrew a squat, lumpy candle.

“I have the most romantic of all,” intoned Azad. He gestured to Akçay, saying, “This one’s for you: a candle that can be lit only in the Sultan’s mother’s bedchamber, and only during the penultimate year of her life.” Three of the brothers guffawed, prodding and shoving Akçay, who merely grinned.

They had much to share resting beneath the stars’ blue-black dome, as they only saw each other during the monthly festival and the night before it. Mostly they boasted of the month’s exploits, pausing occasionally to chew hazelnut and pistachio lokum in silent reminiscence. Akar told of the blind man who gave him a gold coin bearing the face of Genghis Khan in gratitude for helping him recover the ivory walking stick he had dropped into the gutter. Azad told of his evening stalking the Partridge of Perseverance that he had accidentally released from its cage in the Sultan’s topiary garden; the evening ended in failure.

Their stories finished, Akçay confessed that he was silently falling in love with the girl who sells him plums in the Wednesday morning market every week, falling in love based solely on the way she picks each plum from her basket. He did not know her name and had never heard her speak. Then he pulled a plum from a pocket and displayed it longingly, wiping away the blue resin coating the purple-red flesh. The smooth shine: the one groove and smooth curve and shine. He held the marvelous stonefruit before his face and bit into it, red drops running down his clean shaven chin.

“The girl, her name must be Esma,” ascertained Akar.

“No, it is probably Ruya,” said Adnan.

“Or possibly Mari,” said Azad.

“We will call her Susina, for it means ‘plum,’ ” concluded Akçay.

The festival is about sounds. Sounds of song and music and sounds of merchants selling their stock, sounds of families and children and sometimes sounds of speeches and sermons. The festival is about smells. The spices of course, and the smells of pastry and cinnamon, the smell of roasting lamb and tahini for shawarma enough for a thousand hungry men, and towards the harbor the sharp smell of the sea’s catch: heaps of scaly glistening fish all startled with their mouths and eyes wide open. The festival is about tastes. Syrup and nuts, hummus and mango pickle, olives and apricot cheeses with fruit wines. The festival is about touch. The fortune telling rabbits soft as silk and sand, pashminas of red blue and wool, the press of the crowds between cobblestones and clouds. The festival is about sights. Monkeys dance on the shoulders of men dancing with swords, the dervishes whirl their white robes into rippling circles, the freaks poke their noses between iron bars, and everywhere are elderly men playing chess with ebony and ivory queens.

And the four brothers ply their trade: each young man identical save for their moustaches – all dressed in curly-toed white shoes, white pants, embroidered gold and green coats, and a red fez topped with a yellow tassel. Between the old woman selling thirty-three kinds of olives and the fat man hawking illuminated pages from ancient copies of the Shahnameh, the brothers stood around a giant wooden table laden with the spoils of their adventures and thievery. A pair of falcon’s wings, a quill of endless ink, a tooth from the mythical stallion Rakhsh, a board game stolen from Tutankhamun’s tomb, a pillow still holding three hairs of Rapunzel, and other treasures. The brothers employ a special kind of trade, a two-for-one deal, Akçay calls it: as one brother deals with a customer, a second sweetens the deal by picking his pocket.

Past noontime, Akçay spied the girl of his plum fascination behind the man to whom he was selling the golden Genghis Khan coin. She emerged from the crowd with a basket of apricots looking slowly and curiously around, and smiled at the deferential Akçay as she walked by him to the brothers’ table. The thief met her eyes just barely, and returned to his customer distracted. The three other brothers instantly knew that this was Esma, Stephanie, Mari. She was a slight girl of warm skin and jet black hair that cradled her shoulders in braids. Susina. Her cheeks were full, her lips bright, and her eyes strong, dark, and liquid. Her blue and white dress was fastened and decorated with flat metal ornaments, and a white flower edged with red was nestled above her ear. As Akçay completed his transaction and Azad lifted a satchel heavy with other rare coins from the customer’s belt, Susina approached Adnan. She picked up a jar of snow off of the table, white, bright, white in the sun snow.

“Why doesn’t it melt?” she asked.

“This snow is from Mount Ararat,” answered Adnan. “This snow may very well have fallen upon Noah’s ark in the days after the flood, and not melted since.”

“My little brother has never seen snow before,” said Susina, holding the jar up to the sun. “How much would it cost?”

“Take one of your apricots, and give it to my brother over there,” answered Adnan, pointing to Akçay.

“Are you sure?” she asked, looking over her shoulder.

Adnan nodded.

She placed the jar of snow in her basket and felt for a ripe apricot, her lithe fingers moving across the heap of fruit like each velvety globe was a piano key. Her fingertips would hover momentarily on one apricot, press gently, and then clamber on to the next, searching for one whose flesh yielded only slightly to the pressure of her hand. Suddenly inspired, she dove down with two fingers and plucked one apricot from deep within the pile, sending several rolling to the sides of the basket. It was perfect, heavy, and smooth. She stepped around to face Akçay, who had been watching her. Not blushing, she handed him the fruit with her slender outstretched arm.

Two Demons

Some years earlier, I was riding in an open carriage through a pale, skeletal forest. The sky was slowly falling apart and drifting as snow flakes in many straight lines down to the earth. When the snow in the carriage had risen to my ankles, I saw crouched on the road ahead a smudged figure. I asked the carriage to stop and stepped off into the snow. One boot. The other. It was not cold. From the east, beneath clouds on one horizon where the sky was open, the sun burned and lit up the air.

The wiry figure wore a red and white kimono, and a sword was tied to his side with a gray sash. He was on his hands and knees, with his head buried in the ground up to his neck. I stumped through the snow. When I approached, he lifted himself up, and I saw that he had no head at all; he had been holding the white bony stub of his neck to the snow.

“Good morning, sir,” pronounced the figure in a cool, smooth voice as he stood up in his sandals.

“Thank you,” I said. “How did you lose your head?”

“I lost my head in the Headless War,” explained the figure.

“What did they do to you?”

“I was a slave for so long I no longer needed it, and so they took it from me.”

“I’m so sorry,” I said. “None of us are whole.”

The pale figure bowed slightly, clasping his gaunt hands together at his waist.

“Perhaps I could help you, if you could retrieve my head,” he told me.

“Where is your head?” I asked.

“If you had lost a head, where would you have lost it, if I may ask?”

“In a lady’s bed,” I said wryly.

The figure spread his arms graciously. “Somewhere, my head is smiling.”

“Can you see from this ‘somewhere’?” I asked.

“Unlike you, my eyes are sewn shut, my ears are stuffed with ash, and my nose and mouth are filled with stones.”

“Then I will bring you your head,” I declared.

“Thank you,” said the figure. “Be careful, there is one demon near here. I have sparred with this demon since before the War, and have followed it here. It is like a young man with long gray hair, a blank face, and stormy eyes.” He then stepped to the side of the road and returned to his hands and knees in the snow.

I had always thought my cousin would be the person to ask if I lost my head, and so I hoped he would be able to help with someone else’s. It was still snowing when I arrived that night in town with two thin tracks drawn by the carriage wheels snaking off behind me. The town rose up a hill, with the scattered yellow lights of wooden homes burning through the snowfall. I left the carriage at the gate, and strode towards a road that led up the hill. I passed two soldiers with machine guns in gray and white camo who nodded at me. Triangular piles of snow topped every big, carved street sign. In twenty minutes I made my way through the sheen of cold to where my cousin lived, near the top of the hill.

Inside. In round spectacles and plaid flannel, my cousin mulled cider in the kitchen, while his wife showed me around their house: fireplaces, rugs and throws. She had her brown hair in a ponytail and wore a loose, patterned red sweater. With hot mugs the three of us sank into a couch. By then the snow’s cascade had ceased, and through the floor to ceiling window we watched the starry blue night swallow the town.

We talked about Wars and Headlessness.

“Are not, in fact, all wars headless ones?” I ventured.

“The problem,” said my cousin, taking a light slurp of cider, “in modern times, is that wars are many-headed.”

“The problem,” insisted his wife, sipping her cider, “is more often that they are wrong-headed.”

“If there are many heads then some are bound to be wrong,” I offered. “This cider is really great.”

“I think it’s the nutmeg, not everyone uses nutmeg,” my cousin explained

“You have to grate whole nutmeg, not the bottled, ready-ground stuff,” said his wife.

“Yes, whole nutmeg.”

“And there’s really no competing with hard cider,” she said, reminding him.

“Of course,” he agreed.

“How many heads do you think this war has, then?” I asked.

“Two,” answered my cousin’s wife. “Like Janus. One to look backward to see how we fucked up, and one to look forward to make sure we do the exact same thing again.”

“Amen,” said her husband.

I laughed. So before long, we were talking about Parenthood instead. It had gotten very late, and in that room in that house on the top of the hill we each were illuminated like the moon is in space: shining and surrounded by darkness. Red embers murmured in the hearth as we continued to drink cider, fortified by then with rum for extra warmth.

“One thing I always knew about you,” I said to my cousin, “Some day you’ll make a great dad.”

He and his wife grinned at each other.

“Well thank you. I really appreciate that, I do. What about me makes you say that?”

“You’re stable. At least externally,” I remarked.

He chuckled. “So you mean I can put on a brave face, well great. Does that also mean I’d make a great mom? Isn’t stability important for mothers, too?”

“It’s impossible for mothers,” announced his wife.

There were nods all around.

“About your friend,” my cousin said, leveling his mug at me.

“The man in the kimono?”

“Him. He’s lost his head? Maybe he’s like the Scarecrow on his way to Oz and he’s forgotten that he’s had it all along. No war, Headless or otherwise, is going to take your head from you. Just scare you into misplacing it. Right? He must have it somewhere.”

“But he said his eyes were sewn shut,” I protested. “And his ears were stuffed with ash, and his nose and mouth were filled with stones.”

“So what do you want me to do, get you a knife and a pickaxe? These are problems we all have. He’ll figure that out on his own time.”

I thought my cousin was a wise man. At the very least, he was brilliant with crossword puzzles.

When I returned to that spot in the road the next day it was morning again, and my tracks from earlier had been swept away. The sky was brisk and clear but shining flecks of snow from tree limbs drifted gold, drifted like tiny suns through the air.

Again the ragged headless man was on his hands and knees in the middle of the path. When I approached, preceded by the crudge of my footsteps, he stood up.

“Good morning, sir,” he pronounced. “Have you returned with my head?”

“I haven’t,” I admitted. “But I come with certain good news. Your head is not lost after all. It was never taken from you, could not have been. It was misplaced. You have gotten so used to headlessness that you have forgotten to look inside of yourself again.”

He made no motion for ten seconds. Then he merely said: “Of course. All this time, I have been fighting not one demon, but two.”

He clasped his hands at his waist and bowed.

“Thank you, traveler. How, then, may I help you as promised? You said that you, too, are not whole.”

I looked at the backs of my hands; they were red with cold. A duck, plodding carefully by in the snow some distance away, caught my eye.

“No, I’m whole enough.”

He bowed once more.

“Then I thank you again. I will find my head. And even though my eyes are sewn shut I will cut them open. And even though my ears are stuffed with ash I will hear again. Even though my nose and mouth are filled with stones.”

Antes de la revolución

En la mañana, un hombre calvo se me acerca,
sus orejas poniéndose rojo en los copos de nieve.
Criaturas de aire frío están formadas de su aliento.
“Pienso que te has olvidado de algo,” dice.
Naturalmente, me he olvidado a mansalva,
me he olvidado de sierras y rascacielos,
me he olvidado de heridas y duelos,
y entonces no respondo.
“Hay alguien con que quiero que se encuentre,” dice.
Me lleva a una plaza de bancos desiertos,
una plaza de sol severo y blanco.
Me lleva a una estatua de cinco metros bruscos, y pregunta,
“¿Por qué hay una estatua con tu cara?”
El problema: es fácil levantar una estatua,
pero se necesita una guerra, golpe, o revolución para derribarlo.
“¿Estás responsable por esta anomalía?” pregunta.
Me acerco a la piedra; raspo suavemente con mis uñas a sus pies.
Los ojos de la estatua miran arriba, ignorándome.
Quizás me recuerdo haciéndola:
quería ser una sierra, una rascacielos,
quería ser el río y el puente,
quería ser la espada y el tridente.
La carne piedra es más fuerte que la de cada otra persona.
Quizás me recuerdo haciéndola.
“¿Salió bien, eso plan?” pregunta.
“No,” digo. “No necesité una estatua.
Necesité una caja de chocolates.”
“Solo tengo este naranja,” él dice.


Okay, I don’t know how it came up, but we were stretching each other’s cheeks, the three of us. “You can’t do it with mine, there’s nothing there,” she said. I grabbed my cheeks. “They’re so stretchy!” she said to me. She grabbed my cheeks. Then, “Aw, you have dimples!” she said next. She grabbed my friend’s cheeks. They stretched. “No, I bet you can stretch them,” I said, grabbing her cheeks. I couldn’t stretch them. They were lovely smooth and beautiful yet the moment I let go I realized they were at the same time creepily plastic. I couldn’t tell whether it was nice or disconcerting. Is this what your skin is like when you apply a pharmacy of chemicals to your face every morning? Does she even do this? Maybe she just has really nice skin is this is what really nice skin is like. Or maybe her skin will never wrinkle when she gets older because there will be no skin left to wrinkle, it having been supplanted by… whatever.


Let’s see what happens if I cut it down so much that there’s not enough to make sense or not make sense.

The folks in the street keep shouting and the birds at night don’t stop singing: there’s a waterfall not far from here that pauses once a month to take a breath. That might be what the clouds are saying as the sun chases them away. It can’t help that the night won’t stop descending, but the wind picks up and not even the cynical can keep from flying. I’m a fool, not naive. But you’re drunk, not confused, so you don’t know what it means that the sheets are always tangled and the pillows are on the floor.

The result is that it doesn’t make sense.

Willow Trees

We have willow trees? Two folks with acoustic guitars are nestled in the branches just below where the umbrella bursts. Not very interesting. The two are each on their own small rock jutting out of the ocean about 20 feet off the shore of Cavo di Patresi on Elba. It’s a crappy music video. One of them has a drumset, he’s at the foot of a small staircase off to the side of the pews, drums on gargantuan stones. The other guy still with his guitar, hanging upside down from the archway, obscuring a bored looking cherub wrestling a unicorn. The only ones to hear their music are benign Zeuses staring in some direction, and a few wispy women in wispy robes with passive faces.

No. One more. Both with guitars again. They’re on a chessboard, appropriately sized, each a pawn on the edge. Two old men in mid game watch the board as if it is about to come to life (they don’t notice two small guitarists). Flecks of snow dawdle amongst the pieces. The board is a table, checkers almost worn off, and the pieces belong to the rough leather pouch crumpled to the side, frosty. The two guitarists shrug, and continue.

The Red Dress

Girl in a red dress plays on a red carpet on the sand, band of grey sky, band of white foam (rising), band of blue water, band of pale beach. Limp ugly creatures limp around the girl playing. Red armchair off askew facing the water. Achey on the side of my bed I can lean over (my bed, of course, suspended in air on the invisible second story), and watch the girl. When it rains I get wet and she does not.

So we go swimming, one step off the sand and I’m in the deep end, deeper; where’s the continental shelf? I also have problems finding the quotation marks, apostrophes, commas, and especially @ signs on each new keyboard. Sheep drift bewildered in the rolling hills under water. The sand, beach, and earth, like a wall, approach and recede with each wave. Makes sense to me, and maybe the girl (the limp creatures are still limping swimming along beside her).

I’m sinking of course – did you know how much there is underwater? There’s this futuristic city, bubbles and domes and enormous glass windows. But the lighting is only okay, the artist had a specific color palette in mind: only the blue has made it down here. People are walking around, their hair drifting wildly weightless behind them, their clothes as if suspended in a stiff breeze, the flags always unfurled. Here, you know, there are waterways everywhere. Canoes, water taxis, and mattresses pushed along by lanky men with long sticks drift through the streets. Look, there is a market, with color! Must be artificial lighting. Shawls are shimmering curtains of tiny shells, tunics are woven seaweed, coats are sea cow leather studded with sea anenomes.

I approach the market. There is a red carpet, limp creatures, a red armchair askew, (knocked over on its side). There’s my bed, the sheets are in disarray. The girl bursts into a flock of bright shiny fish. I shouldn’t do this again.

warm right here

i’m about to go to bed and she tells me
“write a fucking poem” but
i cry “it’s snowing outside,
the lamppost is being driven into the ground,
the cars are sleeping with empty faces,
the road is an endless feather bed.
write a fucking poem?”
i don’t know what it means that
the kid in my creative writing class
with the sam adams hat and stubble
got crushed by the tram in the middle of the road.
“what do you want me to do?” i scream.
“i was thrown out of the wheelchair and broke
my leg for the second damn time.
i can fly so why can’t i walk,
what am i waiting for?”
lights off, the monitor is white blaring blazing.
you know, i was half under the covers when she tells me
“write a fucking poem” but
i cry “it’s snowing outside,
and warm right here.
you’re a voice in my head;
it’s not my problem!”

Cajun Shrimp

Rain still slicks your face while
Philadelphia colors receding clouds
a mellow urban purple,
and puddles on the road glow ragged
ginger in the street lamps.
Alternating lights of the PED XING sign
throw our shadows back and forth.
Far-off headlights sweep across the wilting.

You off into the dorm and I quest for ice cream,
but I’m not quite sure where I’m going, and, worse,
I don’t know which flavor is our favorite.
My snow-crunching footsteps seem to precede me,
and I find tiny, overwrought poems in ice cream names.
We might die, but “Black Fudge Overdose” sounds delightful.

Room reorganized while I was out:
you’ve made a cocoon between bed and wall
with mattress on the floor;
white sheets ceiling held up by thumb tacks.
The moved bed exposes that colorful stash of bottles,
and your sobriety is in question.
Cajun shrimp is the best color, you’ve decided.
You walk with a beautiful stagger,
see pink when you close your eyes.

There we were in the middle of the room,
your hair swaying above me.


The blood was minimal, only just a foot or two to the windshield,
and I am sure splinters of bark were spread
no more than ten feet in any direction.
Perhaps shards of glass were sent out even farther,
shrapnel twenty, thirty feet through the air.
They say nothing travels faster than bad news;
well, nothing travels as far, either,
and so this range is always increasing.
Dinner table chatter, “did you hear?”s,
letters sent out to relatives, friends.
And everywhere I walk I bring it with me
carrying pieces of the wreckage
tucked away in the folds of my clothing
and in between the pages of this book.

But back at the center,
something that had yet to move at all:
a small bouquet of flowers
stapled to that still standing, shattered tree.
It was several years before one night’s wind
gently let it, browned, withered, and shriveled, to the ground.