From a Broken Letter.
The man who leads the bible studygroup gives me a funny look because I’m acting like a child and he’s trying to have a serious discussion about God or the universe or something. I can’t help it, I’m at home, he is in my home, he can’t tell me what to do. We all act like children sometimes.
The bible study leader and the members of his group are in the room adjacent to mine, the common room, the square room covered in empty fast food containers and beer bottles from before the beginning of time that we have allowed to remain in our lives out of some sort of reverence for all things past. I hover on the threshold of our shrine to sloth and try to make myself less obvious. I’m intruding. They are the strangers here, and I am intruding upon them.
My mouth tastes like metal. It’s Tuesday, but it’s fading into Wednesday, and the week is going slower than it ever has before, except for the week which crawled along at a snail’s pace because I had too much to do and left it until the last moment and let it build up like an avalanche, crushing my chest over and over in slow motion for a full seven days.
I want to have an angry discussion with him about theology because I want to feel superior to him, even though I know that he is saved and I am damned despite years of catechism which have taught that once you accept Jesus he keeps you forever, and once your name is written in the Book of Life there is more or less nothing you can do to remove the stench of salvation from your bones. I want to tell him about how I was a Catholic, and then I lapsed, and now I live in some humanistic limbo between agnosticism and Christianity which allows me to believe in karma and the lake of fire where souls burn not once but forever.
He is a nice man and I don’t do this to him or to myself for that matter. He seems nice enough anyway, square jaw, American features. He could be thirty five, and his age is off putting because everyone else is so young. This must be what antiquity must have been, nothing but young bodies and sweat and passion. We are the pagans to his redeeming Catholicism. He is bringing religion to our heathen country. I want to reach out and kiss him because his motives are so genuine but it doesn’t
happen. I feel like Plato, living on the edge of Inferno, and as the sun sets I can see the thin rays of red light which bounce off the buildings in the distance.
It’s a good day, Tuesday, right in the middle of things, though we don’t often acknowledge it as we are hurtling headlong through the week to arrive at the weekend and then the next, and the next, until we forget where we are or why we started on this journey anyway.
Good night moon, vaulting over the stars. I slip once again into the black epiphany of sleep.
Two: Unkillable Infants.
It’s March again and everyone is pregnant. I don’t know what to say to them. They are on fire with the possibilities of this new development. I want them to laugh because it’s all absurd, but they won’t, and I can’t, because I’ve walled it all away inside myself.
I have been infected. A girl, certainly, maybe the one I sat next to in the café the other afternoon, has expelled a fine mist of infection into the air and I have taken it into myself, given it a new home. My face feels warm, a sack full of blood and the barbed spindles of RNA which are attacking even as I sit and read the paper in the evening alone in the quiet study. We are all so full of life, all of us are exploding with life and we spread it to one another with a ferocity known only in the blunted world of animal exchanges.
Outside the boys on the street have arms full of color, full length sleeves of tattoos which blot out the skin and bring a whole new world of meaning to their wiry bodies. They move with attitude. Their elbows jut out and their chins cut hard angles across the smooth contours of their faces. Their hands are oddly empty, as if they were meant to hold knives and dance in streetlights.
The virus invents new thoughts and slipstreams them into consciousness. They stack up in the queue and reality bends around them, accommodating this new deficient state of perception. One instant, the world is bright flashes of pain and the sensation of intestines
wrapping around themselves, twisting into the knots illustrated in fading ink within the pages of a Boy Scout training manual. The next moment is a halcyon nightmare of perfect calm when the faculties of logic have melted away and I am floating through the afternoon on a cloud of disease and depressants.
I tell myself that I’m getting better and that I should have some tea with a shot of whisky, the way my grandmother cured a fever. I should lie down in white cotton sheets and drift off into a dream of green pastures and pubescent sex fantasies involving a particular sense of longing and sweaty fumbling which culminates in no concrete image of lust. I want to drift on a sea of impulse.
Instead, I lay down on the floor in the fetal position until someone lifts me up, way up, hanging the limp armature of my elbow over their neck and dragging me, knees in the position of prayer, to the bathtub, which has been filled with very cold water. All at once the deadweight of my head plunges long and fast through sheets of ice. The water sings against my skin and begins to boil as the radiating heat of my fever pours into the tub. The steam is rising high above, immersing us in a cloud of water vapor, making her glasses opaque and her hair glisten with
When I come to I am in bed, amidst clean sheets, and she is standing over me with a cold compress on my forehead. The window is open, and outside sparrows are singing in a vein blue sky.
Three: Eulogy for Winter; A
Definition of Terms.
I tell myself that caffeine is an appetite suppressant. I tell myself that it's one more week and we're home free. Thought forms into complex landscapes; it rises to plateaus and falls into valleys.
It is a terrible day outside. The rain can't decide whether it will freeze and become snow or if it will simply
burst into crystal, exploding in mid-air, shredding flesh and stinging the
eyes. It is a terrible day outside and I am happy to be enveloped in its
terribleness. Four days ago, I could feel the last bits of me flame out: it has
happened before. They hesitated in their transition from white hot ember into
pure chemical immolation, but only for a moment. I could feel them going. I
prayed for rain to cool my molten metal flesh, and here it is. Too late.
I become the gun metal sky.
And inside, clockwork, gears
turning and valves pumping, but nothing more. Set the creation in motion and
just let it go, content to watch the spinning and whirring until the whole
thing finally stops. I like thinking about that, and I like thinking it's
wrong. God has nothing to do with my gears. I wind my own clockwork. I vibrate
I go home and I stop thinking
about everything and my jaw still hurts but I don't know why but I think it
might be a lood clot so I decide not to worry about it and I know I won't get
to sleep tonight so I make sure to dose with enough sleeping pills that it'll
put me out for twelve hours but I've got to be up in the morning for work so I
can pay my bills and not worry but my family won't call and I can't think of
any reason that they should besides they love me and maybe they're worried
about their phone bills but I don't care about that I'd rather be with them
forever than worry about this and find my own way home in some warm place
inside my chest where it's quiet and the only time that matters is the space between
heartbeats and I think about the Spring and decide that maybe getting your
heart broken is the best medicine that money can buy to fix a broken machine
I want to be new again. I want
fiery splendor and cold desert mornings. I want to feel alone and excited and
sick from cigarettes. I'm sure these feelings will never come back. I will
relive them through text. I will make you relive them, too.
I have severed every tie and
those that remain, despite my insistence that they wither and die, are sickly
and threaten to stay with me forever. This is for the best. I am making new
connections now. I am alive to the touch, my skin is warm and febrile.
I think about the dust which will
layer my body when I am gone and hope that the dust is happy with its lot in
life. I hope it is the detritus of moments past. I want the dust to become my
new skin, to wrap myself in the remains of yesterday, to live forever in dust
that falls between the seconds.
And I'm way gone, way out,
thinking about someone who is far away, and I think that I should stop thinking
so much and maybe just breathe for a while. Breathe in, breathe out. Respirator
perfect. Just like first thing in the morning, when everyone is asleep, and the
dew has just begun to caress the blades of grass which have managed to cling to
life through this long and impossible winter.
Four: The Dinner Party at the
End of the World.
We get together in smart little
outfits and dance with each other into the early morning. It’s very European.
The first partygoers arrived early and stayed later, later than I thought
possible or maybe just longer than I thought they should. The ballroom was
elegant and composed, lined with velvet and punctuated with floral arrangements
and ice sculptures. It’s the sort of thing that couldn’t possibly last, but we
fooled ourselves anyway and lunged into the night as if it were eternity.
The dance floor was spontaneous
and undulating, waves of dancing couples building and dissipating like the
tide. They waltzed and tangoed, and I thought it would have be nice to be on
the floor with some beautiful girl, slow dancing, her heat cascading over mine,
but instead I was sitting alone at a table nursing a drink which was far too
weak for its own good, let alone mine. The marble floor was cold and speckled
with bits of volcanic ash, and it seeped into my feet through rented dress
shoes to securely hold me in my place.
Outside it was too warm to huddle
together and brace against the wind. The group of revelers broke apart, spewing
into the night, couples holding together like atoms in solution. If my drink
had been stronger, I might have run up to them, clutching them by their book
ended shoulders and shouted until my lungs were raw that they must stay
together, that happiness is being together, but they would not have listened,
and I would have been crazy to try. I was crazy anyway; I should have taken
What they did not realize at the
time was that they were as beautiful as they would ever be, wrapped in the
finest clothes they could manage and bathed in the eternal sunshine of youth. I
could have wept. They did not realize that despite their crooked noses and
rounded cheeks and unsatisfactory lumps and curves that no one is ugly when
they are young. Youth is its own elixir, and it mends all wounds, erases all
And as the last few joined the
street and dispersed down city avenues and boulevards I watched them all fade
away into the ecstasy of the deep night. They did not know what they had, and
neither did I.
With a last moment to seal the
image in memory I turned on my heel and sauntered off into the summer, looming
just ahead in the creeping fingers of dawn.