Devoured. I dip parchment in blood and furiously scribble incoherent texts in invisible ink. Stains everywhere. April was folly. Gave birth to half-life, sickness, and inevitably death. Each humidity drench day was an exercise in funeral preparations for a life that was nothing more than fantastic mirage. Inverted crosses and sacrificed infants give birth to […]
HURTS DOESN’T IT (Lyrics)
Photo: Blanche Sweet The Sporting Venus 1925
“I…I…I love you.”
My daughter, three, stutters, tries to spit it out. I spin and shame away; my sins tied to her tongue. My failures are wrapped up in her tiny face with purified smile. The cosmos spin and whirl in space as thousands of years descend into the sea, speck in the eye of angry gods millions of year’s old, artifacts of which are dug out of thick jungles. None of it makes any fucking sense, nor does any of it really matter when compared to the only pure thing my heart has touched: the love of a child.
A ticklish, deep belly laugh fights back my maniacal demons of selfish dread and existential buffoonery. You are the only thing I will ever do that matters. She grabs her cartoon dog, and scuttles away; I hear the tiny feet on family floor. I think of the face that turns the lights of my world on with a sweet smile being shattered by a frigid world with myriad ticks and idiosyncrasies created by my failed unions and bad genes yoked to fifteen hundred years of ancestral transgression. We all pay for the same sins, the failures, the broken connections and shocks of adolescent daydreams, shattered by the screams and hollering of incompatibility and selfishness, in-your-face grit that sends children to school whispering in brown paper bags, drinking milk, making excuses for daddy’s nuanced approach to living: hiding under house, buried in robe and slippers, set out for last time in familial duty.
My daughter will shine like the sun and shed the innocent stutter of her third year. She will bear my cross, find god and lose him on a hunch as the realities of life crash into her with Mesopotamian creation myths and nuanced, Huxleyan logic. She will follow her own trail back looking for meaning, discovering my humanity in my secrets—tragic mistruths, boxes containing irrelevant photos and distorted scribbles. Like me, she will find my uncle’s curious notebook tracing lineage back to Battle of Hastings and find her history is the folly of meaningless people: centuries of laborers and peasants, dying one after the other in a succession of triviality. I am no different.
The only real truth is the one that is manifested in the inherent drive to seek truth, bear a seed and proliferate the cycle; spending eternity wringing hands, worrying over a child with heart breaking for all the pain in the world and that which will be hoisted upon them.
I pick her up as she jumps up and down, squealing as I walk through the door. My heart leaps. My faith in humanity is restored. She will walk the earth and be better than me and that, in itself, justifies all the sadness, all the gut-devouring loneliness, the fickle meanness, the struggle to find something in nothing and restoration that takes place when she cycles through the void and finds the real meaning herself in the eyes of her own child.
Can’t sleep lately. Everything’s too bright. I’m not used to serenity; I am comfortable in the moss, under a rock, in the onyx flames of ill repute. Where light burns black with a perfect pitch, a neglected bastardized stinging glitch, oily but warm. Someone came along and snuffed the blackness. It’s too bright in this room. I want to go back to sleep, but not for as long as I will if I do.
Can’t breathe lately. The air’s too clean. Septic breath of a lurid death is what I crave. Putrid stench, nostalgic days. Comfort food like mom used to make, wasp nest chili and seaweed pizza. The old familiar sting of glass in broken nostrils, coppery fragrant like dead wood. Stink of shit and honeysuckle. But someone came along and brought fresh flowers with them. Not the offensive ones; the gorgeous odor of peace. And they make me uneasy.
Can’t talk lately. Not much to berate. I was a stuttering forlorn chicken in a filthy cage, squawking frothing castrated rage. But someone came along with lozenges. Nothing left to scratch and bark. I’m afraid of silence. I’m afraid of mellow golden diatribes, the lack of violence. What happened to screaming at a wall? You’re safe inside, and you know it. And I can’t get to you, and you know I regret it.
Can’t love lately. It’s a stagnant slab of cheery smiles, a vagrant loft of airy lies, laid out before me. Everyone is happy. Let’s all be sociable. Let’s dance with other people’s wives to bubblegum pop, not too close. Leave a void between, the façade of trust and happiness. The empty spaces where attraction used to fit. Deceit, defeat, unseat, complete. Treat me to a stabbing orgasm of penile snap. What the fuck is this trust shit.
Can’t die lately. And it’s making me uncomfortable.
In my next life I want to write happy, funny stories of weekends that went off without a hitch, photos of back-slapping with funny hats and exotic drinks. I will have a happy, quirky blog chronicling my life of leisure and success. I can’t write those stories, it isn’t my life, and if it were, I wouldn’t be able to write about it. My writing comes from dark places of hunger and pain. I find words peaking out of restroom in the middle of the night, face pressed against the cold, glossy door. Gasping for air, fearful of shadows. There are no words to be captured in neatly set tables, left-overs and urbane exchanges dumped in the trash; my words are born of starvation. I sat in front of the computer for ten years in my martial home, patting my protruding belly, waiting for something profound to say. Nothing. Blinking cursor on blank document. It is pain that drives me, wakes me up in the middle of the night, sending me under the bed with pen and paper to scribble out secret passages detailing stinging fear and loss. I waited on inspiration for a decade in a happy house, and it always managed to sneak out the side door gracefully, leaving disappearing footprints. With each new notch I find in my belt, I find out more about myself. I discover illicit secrets and explosions of ecstatic emotion that give way to words falling out of mind, through fingers, into the world.
My father had a heart attack on a treadmill. He retired two weeks earlier. He lived to work. I lived a life of leisure waiting tables and drinking. I pulled up to the house I shared with friends and my sister was in my front yard crying. She didn’t have to say anything. For a week we sat at the hospital, each in a different state of denial. I felt his finger move that time. I was too old to be waiting tables without a wife or a home of my own. My life was a failure. Deep shame. I would talk to his co-workers or relatives and see the look in their faces as I told them what I did—or rather, what I didn’t do. Eventually it hit me. The shame and anguish of my life burst open as I realized that my father was already dead–he was a shell being kept alive by a machine. Shortly thereafter he was pronounced dead. My mother, sister, and I ate at a cafeteria and had an upbeat conversation and laughed. It wasn’t funny but that is what people do sometimes in the face of tragedy—they laugh. Life wasn’t funny for a long time after that. But, like anything, it eventually got better. I don’t think about it now, his ashen face, his blue lips—the nothingness. Only periodically, when I work too much, does it come to my mind, I think about being sprawled out on the floor of a gym with strangers standing over me pumping my chest wildly, breathing in my mouth. Feeling the life slowly move out of my body. Sometimes the irony of life is perplexing.
There’s an orange light from the window and I see it every night on my walk home. I wonder what’s inside. I can see a silhouette through the matte cedar sill and sometimes the shape, usually still and lithe, slinks back from sight as I stroll past. The loft is a ramshackle Moorish revival affair, wrapped in creeping kudzu, nestled otherwise nondescript in a grove of fragrant gardenia maybe twenty metres off Decatur. Some say it’s been empty for years; others tell different.
There’s an elderly man who lives there with two faces, the plump secretary at my accounting firm says. One that’s normal and another one on the back of his head. He’s gaunt as a scarecrow, and maybe Creole, although no one knows for sure. But don’t knock on his door. He’s been criminally ill for some time. And he sees things behind him.
Madness, I say. No one has two faces.
Oh but he does, she says, smoothing her petticoat. He ate his twin in his mother’s womb. It’s a wretched thing.
Rubbish, is my retort.
No, it’s true, she says. Some say it talks to him at night. Tells him to do terrible things. It even convinces him that he’s other people, from time to time.
I watch her walk away and the sun is going down. I feel its amber heat on my back. It’s a gorgeous spread, Old Sol cradled in the Atchafalaya like that. Not even the fat hen’s morbid tale can ruin it. The abacuses stop clacking and the bellhorn whistles. Maybe work late? the supervisor croons, twisting the greasy tips of his handlebar mustache. I shake my head and crawl into the lurid night that abducts me and drags me down Dorgenois, towards Canal, towards Decatur. The street is pitch, lost in the dank smelly shadows of a French bygone, but as I round the corner a creamy orange hue lays spread out on the cobblestone like a bloody bedspread. The light is coming from his window. The silhouette is absent. I snuff the filterless, pushing away the cautious musing in my head. Surprisingly, the rusted Jefferson gate creaks open, its barbed tendrils pointing angrily skywards at the Orleans overcast. The walkway is long; I stop four times and half-turn. But in the end I knock.
He’s not elderly. Mayhap fifty, but not the hideous deformity I’ve been led to believe. He peers around the faded Macassar ebony door and I realize how wrong the secretary’s notions have been. He’s diminutive, nowhere near Creole, and I think of just how irate this troll would be if he’d heard her erroneous assessment. I tip my stovepipe. Evening, I say.
The brow hanging over his yellowed bulbous eyes tilts. Ayuh? he croaks.
I’m from Covington’s, just up the block, I say, not surprised by his confused look. Just stopped by to introduce myself, and query if you’ve taken the time to rectify your finances? You’re never too spry to get your effects in order, I wink.
He grabs my wrist, puling me inside. Stop that! I yell, slapping his gnarled hand. To no avail. I’m inside in a flash, the musty rank filling my nostrils, and he slams the heavy wood behind us. Just what’s the meaning of this? I shout, standing erect, towering over him. Shh, he hisses, pulling back the heavy curtain. He’s out there, you know.
I would warn you of the repercussions of pulling someone into your home like that! I yell. You can be arrested, you know! The troll shakes his head, never taking his eyes off the street. T’aint my house, he says.
Not yours! I squawk.
No sir, he says. This place belongs to the old man with two faces. I saw him earlier, walking up Decatur.
There’s no one out there, I say. It’s barren as a ghost’s galleon on the street.
He whispers: How can you be sure?
It’s plain to see, I say. Now I’ll take my leave, if you don’t mind.
How is is plain to see? he asks, slowly turning towards me. You’re not even looking out the window.
A chill runs up my spine.
Say, the man says. Ain’t you Creole?
The reflection in the window is winking at me. You didn’t eat all of me, it whispers.