You are placed in a room with thirty other women. You watch them; they return the favor. You piss, your thighs flex, you hover over a smeared metal seat, informants looming from the other side of the glass. Some of us here are smarter than others; it’s forgotten. No importa. They don’t give you much to do. You can read Harlequins and tattered pop-culture rags sent from someone’s relative found under a pillow—you can shit talk, start a stupid fight, walk the space’s perimeter one hundred and fifty zillion times. The equivalent of a mile, or so they tell you with pride because facts like these are smuggled or inherited. You have done something which warrants an erasure of difference, even if that something was not looking both directions, being high out of your mind, caked in rebellion, trying to get away from something or with something you usually dupe.
You were afraid, but feelings subside. Sterile walls can’t touch you. It’s when you call home and no one answers or when you watch an estranged woman whisper to no one that you wonder what you’ve done, what’s left to do. They feed you this wack slop—it’s ridiculous, really. You give most of yours away to one of the girls who looks after you because you have circles under your eyes, and the genetic trait makes you appear pitiful to those who don’t know you. It’s a trade: grits for guard dogs. You were born under the radar, petite, ascetic under emergency conditions, living off of air because their milk sours.
…like all living things, its present is more important than its past.
A present that is more significant without a bow tie, for the gift of now is overused, manipulated, saddened, left hanging to dry. For the strings that connect me to the ground just as easily connect me to the sky and then to you. There are corners for the taking. Though, I try hard to fill the unpolished space alone, I can smell another in the darkness. I can feel breath against ambitious walls. The walls might change, might heave or collapse occasionally, but dimensions are inherent, exposing circular ramblings. I have been here with you before; we know each other? We grow fat to flatter, to sleep and remind. We wonder what happened to solitude. We calculate resignation, give in to accurate time lines and the mechanics of alarms. We are suspicious of ourselves but laugh without hesitation. We are not tired. Not tired. Ruthless.
You have your own way, as does every slip of a girl. Tactics to ignore the clock’s absence. A pale one shares her college-ruled love letters. Privacy is a fickle, periodic creature—moot—including what you destroyed or what you hope unfolds in your favor. You decide that you’re a royal fuck-up, a.k.a. an indifferent, middle class moron. You eavesdrop on soliloquies: the increasing desire to burn an uncle’s house down, askew abortions, two-timing tricks, living out of a Datsun after getting evicted, harsh words aimed at no one. You concur: this is fair.
Auspicious memories are re-archived. You will get out of this. Your family is somewhat dependable, and you know that it doesn’t matter whether or not you broke the law or know the law—what matters: that you never admit that you knew what you were doing and you liked it, your lawyer’s name, how discreet you can be upon exiting. It can be expunged for the spoon fed. You’ll respond by sliding between and among places and spaces for twelve months without snorting monsters or causing drama in a supermarket parking lot of a dying town or initiating relationships which could break open the earth.
The form, too, admits variety.
The body, too, admits variety. The romance, too. The positioning of talks, of tongues, of words convincing or otherwise admit the vague, and we anticipate transparency. Continents shift, replace one another and overlap after centuries of alliances and failures. Trading flags for coffee dregs—the form, too, admits variety. Previous concoctions, distractions, methods and maneuvers are situated in a polis fountain, ready to fuse with the ground—silver and copper coins gathered or stolen by desperate fingers. We understand thieves and their motives; we make room for imitation and listen to those who waltzed before. If there is a dominant flag, what color should it be? Would I recognize it through a window nailed shut? Floor boards tremble. A coy land mass becomes tongue-tied, between forms admitting variety yet in accordance with disintegrating law. Laws coated in butter, discovered between self-conscious bites, I slip on deliberation. Chipped after falling, I get up. The flag is gone.
Lists were initially sedatives to pass the time. Then, you became interested in how you rationalized what belonged or didn’t belong on a list. How each title changed. You racked your memory, punctuated these treks with a mutual glance or punchline. Each list proves incomplete, desisting at 16.
1. Everyone you love.
2. Everyone you convince yourself that you love.
3. Everyone you love that didn’t reciprocate but still slept with you.
4. Everyone you convince yourself that you love that slept with you.
5. Everyone you convince yourself that you love who no longer communicates with you.
6. Everyone you convince yourself that you love who no longer communicates with you who slept with you.
7. Everyone you convince yourself that you love who is now dead, married or hiding.
8. Everyone who wishes you were dead.
9. Everyone you wish did not exist.
10. Everyone who wishes you did not exist.
11. Everyone you think wishes at all.
12. Everyone you wish did not read the Sunday paper.
13. Everyone who will see your name listed.
14. Everyone involved in your downfall.
15. Everyone who doesn’t know you but claims to know you.
16. Everyone who doesn’t know you but never wanted to know you.
You wear booties and refer to yourself as Miss Softy. They line you up, flicker blazed lights on and off, force you into a jumping-bean rapport with a pathetic cot—in one consecutive sweep. You don’t speak Spanish, thinking you would like to ask the room in another tongue: why haven’t I been wearing these all along? To lukewarm potlucks, awkward receptions. Upon reflection, you are seized by deja-vu: again, an oversized infant, trying get the right mother to wipe your spittle, the right father to give you that secret handshake. There there. No glass slippers needed. Your feet enjoy the change, and you are grateful for the swishing sound that resonates as you graze concrete—the sound of a wave crashing against the rocky coast of Portugal. But you’ve never been to Portugal. And you despise yourself when you romanticize islands, so you change your mental station to something rooted in the circumstance, like: a girl crying three rows over, trying to hide her swollen face. You think that she knows about Portugal. Maybe she’s got the map.
…certain principles appear to control the chaos.
Enemies and their friends control Chaos, but let’s not talk about the party. Let’s not talk about the party. Dressing words for pomp and circumstance, she tries on the dress once more, watching her reflection do a 180°. “Sweetheart, you’re filling out in the right places.” Evening wear, pearls and perfume control Chaos, undressing due to robotic principle. Maybe: I need a phoneme between the sheets. No, let’s not talk about the —. Half past two: the room is still dirty, cheap furniture covered in sheets ready for renovation. I ditched Chaos and her feints, left her flirting with that tramp Certainty. Chaos whispers, “fidelity is overrated.” I will go on vacation—where there are no parties. Where words have no tan lines and leave no taste in my dry mouth. There will be other words. Make no mistake about that. Words dripping pale flesh, inhibited only by a missing coda. M.I.A.
You play Poker with a big-boned girl, a pimpled version of your dead best friend. You try to place her patchy accent, semi-listening to what she’s saying, thinking that she might reveal useful information: a magical sequence of numbers, key code, hand gesture. It’s hard to listen when you’re a fuck-up, when her anecdotes revolve around emergency rooms and her extensive knowledge of pedigree, large breed dogs—your natural urge is to bury each word under a polished rock, to convert words to excuses, to paint over her great danes on cirrus clouds with a better reason for being here than those that have escaped your trap. And even in situations like this one, you still think you’re different; you construct false hierarchies with gratifying answers to illogical equations. You are mortified—more by your talent for pretense than by the juicy part of her story, where you discover that she is not sorry. Her justification complements yours, and you believe that she’s your sister. You enjoy this sentiment, then you win five hands straight. Your streak makes her uneasy, plus the fact that you respond to pleasure by not blinking. “Every party has a winner and a loser,” you mumble and wonder if she identifies with the reference.
You discover a copy of Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own on a neighboring cot. You are confused by its presence under the fluorescents. You don’t feel comfortable with its juxtaposition to dirty mirrors masked as one way peepholes. Your guard dog snatches the text from your hands. She teases you and speaks from a place of authority, surviving containment longer. She doesn’t return it to you, until after you reveal more about yourself. You are careful what you say, because you don’t know her vices. She tells you jokes that you won’t recall.
&…to receive pleasure.
From a strong shoulder, in the cab ride home, shredding paper, penciling in surnames, dancing in the dark, during an incessant demisemiquaver, into a reticent zone, dodging vacant guidelines, from a thoughtful demand, in removing a wet leaf from a wool coat, around the ready made parameter, positioned in parenthesis, from understanding timing, without bridal affairs, when homelessness transforms a home, by cracking codes, in deliberate solace, in transatlantic invisibility, resembling the moment before the crest of a wave, in trade-ins, upgrades, downsizing, bartering, and second hand symphonies, between a mountain peak and a tree root, in syllabic gestures, without translation, from denying perfection, via delusions, inside decay, without instructions, into a blank page, from an unwitnessed dive, before weight caves in.
The essay reminds you that you once wanted someone to take your words seriously. One minute, you’re running away from home—a five year old tyke throwing a hissy because you received another doll for your birthday, trying to persuade the world that a big kid with dreams like yourself has no use for creepy gifts … the next minute, your headlight goes out without your permission, you are pulled over, drilled about your out-of-state plates, you watch them, fascinated, dig through your hobo satchel with no warrant, coax you to Calm down, ma’am. There’s nothing to get upset over, is there? You seem like a nice girl who has nothing to hide.
The fourth time you read the essay, you underline parts striking you as puzzle pieces. You are outside of yourself—you watch yourself watch your hands twirl the non-threatening bendable pen that the blue shirts provide. The pen follows space between lines. You know that no one will answer the phone for at least two more days; your ticket is away for the holidays. You decide you’ll try writing stories from these lines, though you can’t seem to finish one. You think this means something, the fact that some stories don’t want to be finished. You persuade yourself: this is a clue. You play with the memory of a young boy on a bridge sniffing glue. You feel used.
…lap us about and draw its curtains across the world.
Across the world, if the curtain resonates glass fibers or sand abandoned in a motel hallway. Across the world, if the curtain clamps its mouth shut, hiding secrets with clam-like tenacity in hopes the right hands show graceful lines, light peaking through the water’s surface, waking up silent creatures on the shore bottom. Across the world, if only once, autumn chills lead to spring storms, skipping winter for the sake of discretion … autumn prefers a subtle bud to an obvious, icy foray. Across the world, hiding in a tug boat with no inkling to stop rowing or let anything, anything at all, lap us about. Across the world in a world of dead-end streets—but first, the people must be summoned. Across the world, where traffic desists, gives way to a sly femme sifting through sentimental paraphernalia, thinking of slim ankles. Across the world of waiting for substance, wondering what is behind the screen and what is wanted.
1. Everyone you will find.
2. Everyone you once found but lost.
3. Everyone who found you.
4. Everyone who found you but lost you.
5. Everyone who deserved to find you.
6. Everyone who deserved to find you but lost you.
7. Everyone who you deserve to find.
8. Everyone you deserve.
9. Everyone you once deserved but no longer deserve.
10. Everything you deserve.
11. Everything you want.
12. Every battle you’ve won.
13. Every fear you’ve imagined.
14. Every fear you’ve discovered is real.
15. Everything real.
16. Every real thing.
An unfinished story is a Chinese karaoke bar on New Year’s Day, 3 am. You don’t recognize the song, but you’re mellow. No, you’re gold. And this viper in red lipstick spills her beer on you, then this gawker translates: The year is spillin’ its luck all over you. You believe him because strangers tell the truth. And after you try to finish a story but stop because you’re rubbing that polished rock again, you call your number. A voice this time. Your name over the intercom. You leave your guard dog in the bustling room, thinking about your green eyes and how you didn’t complain. She envisions you swimming across an untainted canyon, but your face is blurred.
must be pure—pure like water or pure like wine,
but pure from dullness, deadness, and deposits of extraneous matter.
Shall we go outside?” The fierce child grabbed my hand, and I followed him into an overgrown wheat field. He had been planning for months, anticipating my arrival. His hair dishwater blond, curled at the ends like my own. I was not his mother. I would never be his mother. Pure, like water or wine, his footsteps barely pressed into the damp soil. With no intention to erase him, I stepped over his footprints without losing pace—he was so quick, knowing the way to his fortress. And I was not lost, for the sun reflected off his gray eyes, adding speculative rays to our guessing game. “Where are you taking me?” But he did not answer, and I trusted him. I trusted because he did not know dullness from deadness and because he sighed at imported explanations. He did not tell me what others know; he wanted only punctual attendance. He told me what he discovered that morning, as I watched his mouth move with conviction. He was pushing palatial, even if he unraveled extraneous matter in the form of sobbing, even if I didn’t make it back by sun down. I will be blocked from his future tapestries, and they might lead him into muffled wells. He would soon learn: what I once knew of sailed tunnels was forged.