There are times when they gather at the edge of your life,
Shadows slipping over the far hills, daffodils
blooming too early, the dark matter of the universe
that threads its way through the few thousand blackbirds
that have invaded the trees out back. Every ending
sloughs off our dreams like snakeskin. This is the kind of
black ice the mind skids across. The candlelight burning down
into the sand. The night leaving its ashes in our eyes.
There are times when your voice turns over in my sleep.
It is no longer blind. The sky is no longer deaf.
There are times when it seems the stars practice
all night just to become fireflies, when it seems there is
no end to what our hearts scribble on corridor walls.
Only when we look at each other do we cease to be ourselves.
Only at a certain height does the smoke blend into air.
There are times when your words seem welded to that sky.
There are times when love is so complicated it circles
like chimney swifts unable to decide where to land.
There are endings so sad their shadows scuff the dirt.
Their sky is as inconsolable as the two year old, Zahra,
torn from her mother and beaten to death in the Sudan.
There are endings so sad I want the morning light
to scourge the fields. Endings that are only what the river
dreams when it dries up. Endings that are constant echoes.
There are times when I think we are satellites collecting
dust from one of the earlier births of the universe Don't give up.
Each ending is an hourglass filled with doors. There are times
when I feel you might be searching for me, when I can read
what is written on the far sides of stars. I'm nearly out of time.
My heart is a dragonfly. I'll have to settle for this, standing under
a waterfall of words you never said. There are times like this
when no ending appears, times when I am so inconsolably happy.
Well, since Benedict Cumberbatch is marrying someone else and Emily Nussbaum doesn't want to leave New York (I STILL LOVE YOU EMILY but I concede that it must remain love from afar) I think it's only reasonable that I join every feminist over 25 and set my cap for Mallory Ortberg. Mallory Mallory Mallory. Every time I see her name in print I fall a little more in love. So sweet and so fucking smart. I know she's too young for me, but she's so clever and insightful that she seems older so it's not creepy. And I don't actually know if she's single but since all my imaginary love is entirely pure it doesn't matter.
What's the best thing about you?
My friends. They are diverse and funny and kind and awesome and I'm a better person for having them in my life.
What's something you know by heart?
Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock. The lyrics to every 80s song.
What's the last song you sang along to?
Heroes, by David Bowie. I'm learning to play it, so I sang along with myself, but that counts, right?
I wake before the alarm, the new alarm in the phone with the ringtones I like that start quiet and get louder. I lie in the bed and wait for the alarm even though I could just get up, the reasons are murky like dreams and the soap bubble cheer of the alarm washes them away and I get up and my eyes are covered with soapy rainbow film, but I blink it away. The cat is sleeping on the box that the dehumidifier came in and is still in because every time I think about it she is sleeping there. I am perplexed by this new occupation as it is a place she can be that does not bother me; see for example: sweater drawer, kitchen counter, washing machine, laptop keyboard. I walk by and she looks up sleepily but does not move. Every morning I ask her if she will die today, and every morning she is closer, her fragile bones increasingly prominent under her poor itchy skin, but she is still happy about food, about butting her head under my hand to be petted, about curling in the crook of my son's legs when he sleeps, so she's not there yet. The coffee pot grumbles and sputters while I put away last night's dishes. We watch The Daily Show and our mouths laugh around bites of toast covered with peanut butter, camaraderie, the ease of not needing to peek to be sure the moment is shared. The front door closes and I put in a load of laundry, wash and stack the breakfast dishes, note the condensation on the windows but the cat is back on the box and I can't bear to disturb her; maybe tomorrow. I crush ginger and lemon into a pot for tea and start to work, a paper on the begging behavior of cuckoo chicks. Another sunless winter day spreads before me and ecstasy is impossible but simple pleasures are easy to grasp, if you reach out your hands.
Regret nothing. Not the cruel novels you read
to the end just to find out who killed the cook.
Not the insipid movies that made you cry in the dark,
in spite of your intelligence, your sophistication.
Not the lover you left quivering in a hotel parking lot,
the one you beat to the punchline, the door, or the one
who left you in your red dress and shoes, the ones
that crimped your toes, don't regret those.
Not the nights you called god names and cursed
your mother, sunk like a dog in the livingroom couch,
chewing your nails and crushed by loneliness.
You were meant to inhale those smoky nights
over a bottle of flat beer, to sweep stuck onion rings
across the dirty restaurant floor, to wear the frayed
coat with its loose buttons, its pockets full of struck matches.
You've walked those streets a thousand times and still
you end up here. Regret none of it, not one
of the wasted days you wanted to know nothing,
when the lights from the carnival rides
were the only stars you believed in, loving them
for their uselessness, not wanting to be saved.
You've traveled this far on the back of every mistake,
ridden in dark-eyed and morose but calm as a house
after the TV set has been pitched out the upstairs
window. Harmless as a broken ax. Emptied
of expectation. Relax.
Don't bother remembering any of it.
Let's stop here, under the lit sign
on the corner, and watch all the people walk by.
I open the door and you're there which is surprising and not. There's an awkward moment and I step back to let you in but you reach forward, your thumb along my jaw and it fits like it always did and my head tilts into your warm fingers like it always did; our palms and our mouths and our same-colored eyes are mirrors, and here we are. You say, I realized that I loved you; I realize I still love you. Then I realize something for myself, which is: this is not real. My life is not a fairy tale, because those stories aren't real, not for me, even when I wish super hard that they were.
I mean, listen: I'm biased. You can unroll the tapestry before me but if I slide my foot into the slippery story and stay we know perfectly well how my part ends. I chop off my heels and toes to try to be what is wanted and when my deception is discovered nobody says, oh the sacrifices you made for me. When the birds spill my secret, the blood pooling in my shoes, you know what happens? The pitch-perfect prince says: hey actually I think I love that other one, your sister; let's turn the carriage around and get her. So I have maybe less than the usual desire to participate. I'm acknowledging that. But if you think I didn't want it, if you think I didn't burn for love the same as everyone else it's because I lied about it, because I knew where it would go and where it would end, my eyes plucked out to punish me for my desires.
So yes I am predisposed to hating the story, the fairy tale future and the happy ending I can't win, hating all of that out of self-preservation if nothing else. I see that. I used all my power of myth and wore out my dancing shoes, sewed nettles with my bleeding hands, and then ran and escaped across the bridge of one hair instead. I never expected a white horse or your prodigal love. And I took myself out of these stories a long, long time ago.
*this is a revised version of something I wrote four years ago, so if you've been playing along at home long enough that it seems familiar that's why. It wanted fixing.
That time I thought I was in love
and calmly said so
was not much different from the time
I was truly in love
and slept poorly and spoke out loud
to the wall
and discovered the hidden genius
of my hands
And the times I felt less in love,
less than someone
were, to be honest, not so different
Each was ridiculous in its own way
and each was tender, yes,
sometimes even the false is tender.
I am astounded
by the various kisses we’re capable of.
Each from different heights
diminished, which is simply the law.
And the big bruise
from the longer fall looked perfectly white
in a few years.
That astounded me most of all.
Hilton Als and I have a deal (he doesn't know; it only benefits me), which is that he writes about theater performances in New York that I will never see and I read his reviews anyway because he is usually writing about performance in general in a way that is engaging enough that whether he influences you to see or avoid the performance is almost beside the point. Through reading Hilton Als articles, I have learned a lot about how to watch actors, how to find the fingerprints of a director, and when you can wholeheartedly blame the writer. I was stunned a couple years ago to learn that he is a sweet-faced gay black man not much older than I am, which is funny because if pressed I am sure I have no idea what I was picturing but each of those things surprised me, so maybe a wiry older straight white man, Van Dyke beard and a tendency to look over his glasses at things? Who knows. I like that I have a picture of him now in my head when I read his writing.
What I like about Hilton Als is that he teaches me to look at and think about theater in a way that of course applies to any performance and in fact to life. Chekhov's gun is everywhere. Watch the edges. Listen for the curtain. But I do also appreciate the little bits of him that slip into the critiques and what is interesting is how often I feel MORE connected to him when this happens, because we're pretty different. But he knows himself, and he knows the human experience because he knows how to observe it, and that is how he can write sentences like this, from a September review of "This Is Our Youth":
How can two people get close to each other in the minefield of their unspoken doubts and fears and the back-stories they're unwilling to share?
or even better:
We have all left home; we have all tried to make love suffer by turning our backs on it, if only to prove how little we need or deserve its warm, brutalizing complexities.
And I felt like: ohhhh, yes, WE HAVE. I have. I needed that. And if I had skipped this review because I am not in New York, not a particular fan of Michael Cera or Kieran Culkin, and don't have any special interest in Kenneth Lonergan, either, I would have missed that sentence.
Anyway that's one of the reasons sometimes it takes me a ridiculously long time to read the New Yorker.
I know how it is, it's late at night and you're at your parents, sleeping in your old bed, the room that was yours and that your mother always intended to make into a craft room of some sort, she said so when you left for college, but then you were coming back, summers, working at the Baskin Robbins and staying with them to try to save money. By the time you finally moved somewhere permanent, you left such detritus in your wake that the makeover seemed like too much effort. Anyway your parents sit together most nights, staring at the TV, no time or energy for crafting. So the room remains something like a time capsule, an homage to the person you were when you moved out, the kind of person who still bought posters with inspirational sayings on them and slept in a single bed. And now it's late at night, and you're under the cartoon bedspread (you took the black one you bought as a teen to college with you, where Shannon spilled beer on it and ruined it, so all you have at home is the bedspread you got for your eighth birthday). The noise from the television has stopped, your father snapping off the lights as he climbed the stairs behind your mother, and the only sound is a branch tapping occasionally on the window outside. So just you now, awake in the dark, the tapping branch, the creaks that an old house makes, your thoughts.