Nonfiction

Dimly, As Through Glass.

I tend to bend toward ambivalence. Romance is a whirl I can withstand; romance does not quite uproot me. It is the man who makes me question why I have come, who leaves the silence draped around us in an open room, who is kind but, in every way that matters, begrudging. He is the leveler.

For him, I will be all three rings of circus: here, the contortionist, pretzeling with anticipation, folding in and unfurling when it doesn’t seem to bore him; here, the fire breather, holding for far too long in my chest whatever ignited my ardor in the first place; here, the tightroper. (I will spare you suspense: I fall.)

Even as the tents collapse, I am cycling, juggling, looking for signs other than exits.

It is curious, how rejection becomes an intoxicant, how similar being slighted can feel to being loved, how easily a shrug can absolve a lover.

Because I am as often a pusher-away as I am the pushed, I understand the value and artifice of open ends. I respect the intentional blur. Like breath wiped from glass, I can see the hint of a message, an illegible trail left by fingers whose nimble urgency once beckoned me near. It is still there, beneath the smear. With love, there can be no clean erasure, and as it wanes, I will always, always cling to the streaks left behind. Are they kitschy nostalgia or coded promise?

Here is where I will linger, on a sidewalk outside the glass. I will come here to hope long after I’ve trained myself not to expect, to continue questioning silently what my pride has stopped me from pressing aloud, to venture sentiments into the silence, bracing for nothing but echoes.

Beyond the smudges, I can see him moving on. There is no greater delusion than believing I can slow or reverse this and no greater hubris than wondering how my every movement may have impacted his choice.

But these are the possibilities that surface so simply in fog. This is where imagination breaks free and runs.

I want to hit the glass, or better, to break it as though this were an emergency. Instead I wipe the pane, collect the smudges somewhere along my sleeve, and accept for fact the sight I’d always second-guessed.

When he spots me, I will mouth: This is how far apart we’ve grown. This may well be as close as we’ve ever been. Let us light upon each other and not look away. We will never be so clear again.

Advertisements
Standard
Uncategorized

Love and Language.

1.

First comes the absence of accent. You hear it before its loss registers elsewhere: a flatness, frosty and far, where there were once warm lilts and bends. Your voice was a carousel, your language a whirligig. It’s since sanded itself, become polished and practiced, indistinguishable.

You are hiding your truths in places you will not so readily find them.

It is easy to tell a man you love him, easy to mean it. But over time, it morphs in your mouth, its meaning multiplying, reducing, clouding. Something is always wanting, in the translation.

You are not clear when you articulate love, because you have never understood men as more than audiences. Perform for them, but keep them distant. Perform for them, but know when to leave, when to grant an encore. The performance must be evocative, but respectable. It must titillate but it must also offer insight.

You are less actress than apprentice. You cannot tell if he is on the edge of his seat or yawning. Men, in this way, are mysteries.

But this is beside the point. Audiences owe so little: attention, at best, and in short supply. The actress owes a world.

No, never view a man you love as something to be acted upon. You mustn’t perform. You will always feel you are earning a keep. You will dance till dawn for a bit of applause and feel empty, wanton, when he withholds it.

Women learn this first with inconsistent fathers. When they are with you, you wish to dazzle them — and you do. For as long as you care to, you do. Find his heart, his preoccupations, his passions. Become conversant in them. And you will be clever and interesting because, at first, you are the most flattering kind of mirror. When he is with you, you offer such forgiving reflections. He is younger with you, time has stood still, a judgment day feels far enough at bay that you’ve nearly convinced him he’s invincible.

But he is often gone. And in his absence, you are building calluses over your needs. First it will be hard and hurtful to articulate them. Then, you will not feel the need to do so at all.

What is love, if not knowing when to keep silent?

The beginning of new relationships is when your accent is heaviest. Love leaves your lips easily, and love on his lips takes a razor to every callus.

I want to know everything, you whisper. I want to tell you everything, he responds.

You hope to dazzle him, and you do. But soon, you will want your distance. And in the distance, the calluses crust over.

2.

My daughter’s speech is muddy, a mix of water and silt. It floats out, as if behind gauze or a veil. I understand her, sometimes, but less than I’m told I should by now.

I am not one of those mothers who begs and borrows and steals to acquire the trendiest literacy aids. I do not own an iPad. I believe in board books and conversation and sunshine.

She watches television. (And I realize, at this point in the reading, someone is sending me to the stocks or the noose in old Salem. But understand, at this point in the reading, that if my daughter did not watch television, I could not be writing this. If I hadn’t watched as much television as I did growing up, I wouldn’t likely have wanted to be a person who writes things down.)

Now that she is closer to three years old than two, I am told her speech should not sound like it is being sifted. She should be clear, responding to questions, asking them, forming simple sentences.

Because she is not in daycare, we have both been spared the intense developmental comparisons we’d find there. But whenever she does get to mingle among peers, I am concerned with her insouciant acquisition of language.

She is no loafer. Story is an empath, a firebrand. She is intellectually curious, musical, startling perceptive. She is creative, a gesturer. She cobbles her own expressive roads.

But she does not speak in ways that are easily understood.

Even mothers like me, neither tigers nor minimalists, know when to be concerned about their children. And for us, it is rarely overreaction.

I worry that she has inherited my ambiguities. I do not often know how to speak, either. Perhaps it is just that the words morph in her mouth in more literal ways than they do in mine.

But here is where that similarity ends: my daughter knows exactly how to love. It is not complicated. It is in the eyes, in invented songs, in laughter, in the folding of her bony limbs and skin around mine. It is all the kisses I give her, returned. It is alphabets and gifts of toys, constellations, saying hello to the moon, to her mama’s smiley-face mug in the morning.

It is not confined to the way her words are formed.

3.

Nearly a fortnight ago, in the basement bar of an East Village restaurant, I slid onto a stool, waiting for a lithe, sparkly-eyed twenty-something to transfigure an excerpt of fiction I wrote last year, in a fit of pique. She was first in a lineup of actors cast to read the works of writers, both established and grappling. I am the latter, of course, the non-resident only in New York for a few stolen hours, the sole writer featured without a published book to sell.

In Baltimore, it is easy to forget who you are. It is not so often affirmed. In New York, if you are literary, neither affirmation nor criticism are ever in short supply. You are among kinsmen fluent in the language of representation and publication, professorship and craft. You are among people who amass rejection and do not identify it as masochism, but as love.

I had never heard my work publicly read aloud by anyone besides myself, let alone performed. New York is the only place where I’d want to.

The audience waited for the first line, spoken by a seven-year-old twin to her conjoined sister: “Do you think Mommy loves us?” It’s a play on an age-old theme, a lifelong wonder. Are we allowed to interrogate love? And when we do, will we ever be ready for the result?

The girls are black, sharing organs at the lower torso. One is developmentally delayed, the other fairly precocious. In this scene, they are in conversation. It is difficult to imagine this going well. The actress is white and grown, her body positively un-twinned.

But the language is universal, her interpretation thoughtful and quiet. She draws the attention of our intimate crowd, pulls them toward the words, and for a moment, they are not my own, and she is no longer there. There are only the twins, those susceptible twins, and their questioning of a mother’s love.

My friend Shelly, who co-organizes the event, tells me witnessing this often makes writers as nervous as if they were reading their own words aloud. Indeed, it is a foreign thing to see something intended for silence enlivened. It is strange to surrender a sliver of an incomplete novel to a room, to see the way your own words land on other ears.

This is is what readers do all the time, Shelly reminds me. They take our words into themselves, add their own inflections, superimpose their experience. They gasp, perhaps chuckle, and occasionally, they call into question their loves.

It is risky to be let in on this process. Day to day, we understand the words we write as spores, floating out and off and overhead, but rarely touching down.

Here, I was watching cupped hearts catch them. I could see them sink into the loam.

I had my answer, then, about the way I communicate love. Mine is an adoration mapped with words. For the utterance of a loving word is the loudest act there is.

Standard
Nonfiction

What Comes of Falling for a Fantasy Buff.

For you, the erstwhile Tender, a good bar serves mead and counsel to common men, and bawdy talk to strangers is but a prelude to battle, a toast to what may be one long, last ride. You, as if by unspoken vow, are a keeper of tallies, of wagers, of secrets, a steadfast sage often mistaken for a mere villager.

For you, Baltimore is but one of many kingdoms, its harbor a passage to freedom, to war. Yet your wanderlust has been waylaid and you’ve felt tethered, as if by some sorcerer’s edict, to home. Though a firstborn son, a namesake, an heir, you do not seem as interested in these familial vestments as you are in the many storied marvels that lay months away from your own hearth, as you are in worlds written into the endless reams of parchment you are able to consume in far less than a fortnight.

You are someone else; you are more, meant for a life beyond the hills of druids, beyond fair Canton’s shore. You’ve an earned nobility, if not a noble’s name, an unused valor, and purposes as yet unmined. You are most at peace among large, intimidating tomes that foretell unspeakable futures as well as untenable pasts. You are warm, even in winters of the soul, when the hearts of lesser men grow coldest. You deserve to slay dragons, to gaze on citadels of light, to stare into the eyes of sirens without succumbing.

Though I suspect I am able, I’ve no desire to turn you to stone.

When I met you, you were full of tales, of lives interrupted, of grounds both gained and lost, and you looked at me as though I were a great ship’s bow, a star pointed eastward, a vast sea itself. Would that I possessed the power to knight you. I would see you kneel this very night. I would hear your solemn oath.

But none knight men like you, save God and Self. You are your own, and everyone you serve is better for it.

Standard
Nonfiction

Mother as Mountain, as Sky.

When he surfaces, so long after you’ve abandoned imagining that men like him exist, you are flummoxed, but only fleetingly. You do not realize at first how ready you’ve been.

You thought you would be more hesitant, that your years since becoming a mother had morphed you into martyrdom, a voluntary consignment: its length the duration of your daughter’s childhood, its berth too wide to breach.

He enters into view and as you regard his easy grin, it occurs to you how long you’ve been blocking your natural flow of endorphins, denying estrogen surges, enabling a kind of psychic sterilization.

You believed you would spend a full 18 years depriving yourself of new love.

But in that flash between flummoxing and pardon, an iron gate has unlatched. You, remembering suddenly that you are all woman, as well as all mother, hear an echo, a flutter: I am no martyr.

If you were, you wouldn’t be hastening toward him. You wouldn’t be brushing your cheek against the course range of hair on his face and purring like a cat who’s found a home. You wouldn’t entrust him with your hands, wouldn’t gaze down at the half-moons scalloped under his fingernails and wish on them.

Your gait is neither measured nor wary; you rushed to him. It has been too long since your heart hoped for more than the half-love that co-parents can sometimes rekindle, for more than the comforts of a companionship not unlike broken in boots or limb-stretched sweaters. You’d nearly forgotten how it felt to steal away when all was quiet and whisper feverish nothings to someone who does not yet know you well enough to discard or destroy you.

It is new, the nerve endings snapping to attention again, the trail of thoughts that lead far away from nursery rhymes and apple juice boxes, and even the guilt you feel at leaving behind the illusions you’d held so long of one partner, one family, some structure you’d hoped could be retroactively whole, the guilt at shattering what’s left of the glass.

It is all so new.

When you tell your ex, he is stunned; he could no more foresee it than you could. You realize you were grasping at the selfsame straws. You realize how empty of half-moons your hands have been.

There are fears you are holding at bay, but rather than repressed, they must be purged. You will not enter this new house haunted. For your daughter must understand her mother as a woman who can handle complexities, who can cast an alchemy of friendship and motherhood and romance that sates us all. She must understand that we do not only receive one chance, one love, one faltering per lifetime. We are a species that thrives amid opportunities; it is only when we bar ourselves from seizing them that we truly fail. She must know that love can be the most nourishing opportunity of all; the more you let in, the larger you loom–and right now, her mother is a mountain, is a sky.

Standard
Nonfiction

Lovesick.

It must infect me, must spread rapidly like the virus we all secretly believe that it is. It must pierce my cynicism, bleed through the memories that diseased it the first time, will me to relinquish my yearlong remission.

This love must invade.

Love, crack open my broken ribcage, reach in, begin, get elbow-deep in clogged capillaries, root through the detritus other strains left behind, balloon past abandonment and through the veins I have knotted to block you, remain–even if I code. You should be worth the flatline, worth the sear of defibrilating paddles. Please. Please, be worth the crackle of nerves. Resurrect their deadened endings.

Dissolve the stitches of past disappointments. Glue my skin; seal yourself in. May there never be seepage. Absorb my longings; though they be many, fulfill them–even if they must be liquefied, bagged, and dripped intraveneously. This time, I will sacrifice nothing; I will not go undernourished.

I will be pressed to walls, wrists pinned to the optic white, to the blood orange borders, to the sharpened and beveled mirrors. So fortify my spine, shoot rods into weakened discs. I will need iron in my backbone. No must be non-negotiable–even through tremors and twitches and the offer of alternative medicines. And so also must yes be resolute–even if it would be easier to treat you in stages and sessions, until you’ve subsided and solved.

I will die either way–with you or without you. You will be a germ to which I am exposed, even if I never contract you again. You will either be in the air I breathe or the reason that I breathe it.

But I would rather you leave me restless, heaving, gutted, gasping than as undisturbed as you’ve left me thus far. I am still and unsuspecting as a clean bill of health, but I miss the fever, the fainting, your vapors.

Make your peace with my apothecary. Convince him to pour you, distilled. I will drink of you, straight from the bottle. I will wait for each poisonous wave.

Standard
Fiction

They Got Down, Ramsey and Safiya.

They got down, Ramsey and Safiya, like their fathers had before them. They weren’t stars, but they were hood-revered (inasmuch as such status is achievable). In their early twenties, after Safiya got back from college in Vermont and Ramsey finished his second bid, they’d stalk the streets together, passing liquor stores and chicken shacks, and the corner boys nodded their respect, and the hoe stroll became a chorus of, “Hey, girl!”s for Safiya, and the cops stopped them regularly on the grounds of general suspicion.

But then Safiya began to die and they learned that respect was not the currency it used to be.

Ramsey and Safiya met in a dampened sandbox, when Safiya pointed a pudgy finger at Ramsey and christened him Pee-Pee Boy. The name stuck till sixth grade, when Ramsey lost his virginity to Big-Boob Tina in the closet of the classroom where Miss Griffiths kept her albino chinchilla. After that, nobody said anything about Ramsey that wasn’t prefaced with dap—nobody, of course, except for Safiya, who had to remind everyone that Big-Boob Tina was supposed to be in ninth and was therefore too dumb to be discriminating.

“You were cold back then,” Ramsey chuckled, hovering over Safiya’s hospital bed.

“Don’t you have a life you need to tend to?” she muttered.

“… and not much has changed.” He smirked before backing away from her and settling into the chair closest to the window.

They were squad and had been for all 28 years of their lives. But to Ramsey’s chagrin, that was all they were. A Black Forrest-and-Jenny: Ramsey, simple and pining; Safiya, callous and deigning to let him pine.

A nurse in teddy bear-laden scrubs flounced in to take Safiya’s vitals. Her blonde ponytail bobbed and swung like a bungee cord as she moved from the saline drip to the monitor that displayed Safiya’s blood pressure.

“116 over 78! Not to worry; that’s perfectly normal,” the nurse chirped, patting Safiya’s shoulder. “Dr. Daniels says your T-cell count–”

“He doesn’t need to know all that,” Safiya snapped, nodding her head in Ramsey’s direction. “They’re my vitals.”

“Oh! I know, but–”

“Isn’t there some kind of… confidentiality thing in place here?”

“Well, yes, certainly, but–”

“We’re not related. I don’t need you disclosing private medical information to him.”

“I’m very sorry. I–”

“Look…” Ramsey cut in, reading the whiteboard where Teddy Bear Scrubs had written her name during shift change. “Kimmie. Could you get Miss Turner some water, please? With extra ice?”

When she was gone, Ramsey laughed. “Yo,” he said, shaking his head. He reached into a pocket and pulled out a chew stick, shoving it between his right molars.

“Did she touch me?” Safiya demanded. “Did she have her hand on my shoulder?”

“I’ll tell her.” He used the voice that soothed her: firm, even, baritone.

She nuzzled her head into the flattened pillows. “I hate when they’re chipper.”

“I know.”

Standard