Tuesday, November 29, 2011
It is a noisy, dirty corner in the heart of a large city. (Names don't matter here. Maybe they never do.) The two streets that meet at this particular corner are both wide and full of heavy traffic, there are recurrent small waves of pedestrians walking back and forth from one sidewalk to the other. The entire scene is covered in a semi transparent layer of dark smoke that hurts the nose and throat if you stay too long in its vicinity. (Eventually you might not notice it at all. Maybe by then you will have stayed too long, you will be part of the smoke, of the noise, of the pain.)
A large truck is double parked on the southeastern side, in front of a boarded up shop covered in graffiti. (Various gangs have marked this place as their territory, invisible warriors that came in the night and planted their flag upon forgotten surfaces of concrete and metal and wood.) Three men sit on the edge of the truck bed and a large mechanical dolly sits on the sidewalk, unused. Two other men walk from east to west, drinking from glass bottles covered in paper bags, loudly discussing the events of the day without really listening to each other. (Sentences fly like missiles without direction.)
An older woman, wearing a large blond wig and a tight mini skirt, smokes by the donut shop on the north western corner. The skin of her arms hangs loosely from her wrists, pockmarked by needle scars. A neon sign of a nude woman blinks in and out from the covered front window of a massage parlor that stands next to a freshly painted liquor store on the northeastern corner. A little boy grabs onto his mother’s hand, dragging a plastic bag behind him, gently sobbing away the remains of a heartfelt tantrum.
I exchange a few words with the lean young man with short dark hair. (I met him a few moments ago. He just came up and talked to me.) I am flirting a little, maybe even a lot. Sometimes it's hard to tell as quantities and measurements change from day to day and I was never too keen on measurements to begin with. (I know I want something, something different, something unusual, something scary. Fear sometimes makes me feel alive.)
He tells me that he investigates animal mutilations. I say that I sometimes make videos about that very subject. I don't think he understands me. Maybe he just can't process what I've said, maybe he just assumed that the only possible reaction on my part was surprise so he heard the reaction he anticipated instead of the one I actually gave him. (In that case, I am talking to a ghost. But at this point I don't mind talking to ghosts. It's so much better than being alone.)
Two shirtless teenage boys are standing nearby looking at us, listening to what the young man has to say. Both boys are covered in tattoos that blend the sacred with the profane, the violent with the loving, the peaceful with a deep unrelenting sorrow. I get the impression that they know him, maybe they have heard him talk like this many times before, maybe they can recite the long sequences of words that pour out of his mouth from memory, a kind of hopeless poem mired in mold and rust.
They lean against the window of an old battered hotel. I hear a loud drunken voice coming from inside, behind the dirty facade that still holds traces of a past lifetime of small luxuries. From animal mutilations, the young man moves on to a flow of words that I can only barely keep up with, a sequence of ideas that seem only barely interconnected.
"Fattened as they are with the sloth of caged animals, you know what I mean by their sloth? Darkened by their cheerless existence beneath our marvelous white wings, they know no joy. Nothing like it, nothing."
(I don't know what he's talking about but my curiosity is evoked like an invisible flower emerging from the depths of my chest, something tangible that travels up and down my body leaving traces at various hidden nodes.)
On the south western corner there is a one story complex. A small adult shop is embraced on both sides by a single dilapidated house that wraps around it like a concrete parasite. The house has two facades, each one leading to a different street, each one with a little forgotten porch covered in trash and a solid steel gate.
The adult shop has only four faded porno tapes in its window, the lost glories of never quite beautiful women that have long lost their battle for men’s attention and are now forgotten symbols of wasteful dispersal that fail in their weak attempt at temptation.
The young man starts to walk and I follow him. I can't say that I like him, I can't say that I don't. I just know that I want to hear more, I want to experience more of what he can bring to me, what this corner can offer, what this moment can invoke. I am unrelenting in my curiosity. It often gets me in trouble. But it's beyond my power to change it so I might as well give in completely. Follow it to the end, wherever the end may be.
The young man walks into the adult shop and I follow him. He is still talking. I look around while listening to his long nearly incomprehensible rant.
This is not my first time in one of these places, but it's still a strange space for my eyes to explore. Somehow his words fit into the things I'm seeing, words curling around objects like snakes, adjectives flashing over photos like transparent labels made of flesh.
"They watch, you know? They are always watching. They watch the images of childhood from our flickering screens, see the green of grass and blue of sky without the knowledge of the wealth of feelings that such images evoke in the spirit of one whose bare feet have trod on grass and leaped towards the sky."
One who leaped towards the sky, I hear him say it and I see a woman jumping. She is nude, grotesquely large breasts hang from her chest, rising from the sheer momentum of her jump. She is smiling but it doesn't really seem like a smile, more like a painted mask that refuses to come off. There's a hint of sky behind her and a man is smiling next to her, content with what he sees. She leaped towards the sky but she didn't make it. She landed inside this place. Much like I have.
Behind the counter, there is an older bearded man wearing a baseball cap and reading the newspaper. He looks up at us for barely a second before his eyes return to the wrinkled pages that he holds in his rough hands. (I would expect him to be surprised to see me here. How often does a young girl walk into a place like this? Maybe more often than I realize. His eyes don't register any surprise at all. Maybe he is completely beyond surprises. Maybe a long time ago he accepted the world as a place of unrelenting predictability. I am just another element in this long chain of constant repetition. This could almost be said to be a kind of enlightenment. But it feels heavy, old, tired, used.)
A TV screen behind him shows intense intercourse happening between a large muscular black man and a thin blond girl who seems like she's about to break under the black man's weight, under his unleashed physical strength. The volume on the TV is turned down while the radio blares out right wing talk intermixed with old rock and roll songs. I can't help but blush slightly when I see the young girl being taken in such a rough manner. I try my best to act nonchalant but I can't help myself. Something about the music and the condemnations of liberal ideology mixes in with the interracial coupling, something clicks inside of me but I can't decipher it. There's too much input all at once, too much information. The image intermingles with the words, as if they're saying the same thing, as if they're pulling towards a common center from different directions. The older man with the baseball cap groans and turns the page.
Two Latin men stare at a glossy magazine and make whispered comments. Maybe they're talking about me. They're both wearing checkered shirts and thick well worn blue jeans. (I imagine they came here straight from work, both eager for a moment of pure pleasure uninterrupted by the harsh touch of reality.)
An older man in a black overcoat carefully runs through the many video sections, scanning every title carefully, making silent calculations with his eyes. Every so often he grabs a box and puts it under his arm. He already holds several there, at least six. (I wonder what he's looking for. I wonder if it's even possible to find it. Could anything at all satisfy the hunger that hides behind his down turned eyes?)
A sweaty brown skinned man stands by the dark door that leads to the private booths, anxiously staring at each of the men that walk in and out of the store. His head is shaved bald and his hands press against his hips with a sense of repressed urgency. His eyes have the distinct shape of barely controlled need, of desperate hope slowly turning bitter and painful. (How long will he wait until he decides the wait has been long enough? Maybe the wait is never too long. Maybe there's always a prize at the end.)
I see another door, dusty and forgotten between rows of video tapes and plastic dildos of all sizes. I immediately realize that it must lead to the larger house that embraces the store like a snake made of brick and glass.
The young man walks through the store without looking at those around him. He slows his pace just a little and turns to make sure I'm still there. I follow him closely and listen to his ongoing rant while I look around. I expect someone to stop us from going any further but nobody does.
Each of these strange men have a role to play within this game and we don't feature in the rules. (When were these rules written? How long can they stay in place before they start to decompose into fragments of memory, touches of old songs, glimpses of wasted youth.)
The young man continues:
"The sky shall not have them. The grass shall never touch them. We keep them safe, we will always keep them safe, you know? Like pearly little maggots hidden away in a dark dumpster, suffocating them with cellophane wrappers and video games, and mp3 players, and cellular phones."
We keep them safe inside these houses, these stores, between four walls, while a man penetrates a much smaller girl on a flat screen and another man reads a newspaper, too bored to even look up. Safe from what is out there, safe inside. (We seek safety. We yearn for danger. After all, this is why I am here. I have to admit it, even if only when I speak silently to myself.)
The young man opens the old door in the back of the store without a key. He walks straight into the open space on the other side. Nobody makes any move to stop him or ask him where he is going. I follow while trying to keep track of what he is saying. I have forgotten why it was that I started listening to him, but now it has become absolutely crucial that I should listen, absolutely crucial that I should understand. (How do things like these become important? What happens when the importance goes away? These things just happen and I am more onlooker than participant in their shifting games of musical chairs.)
"They may speak to one another, reach for one another through these devices, but harsh words will have to win their battles, smooth talk will suffice for exchanges of affection. We will not let the bloody fisted brawls have them, nor the hand holding, tickling, chasing, and swinging. They are only for us."
With a quick hand gesture, the young man lets me know that I should close the door behind me. I close it, trying to be as quiet as possible even though nobody is listening.
I see a series of black and white photos on the wall next to me. A young girl rising from the ocean, covered in foaming salt water, wearing a pair of jeans cutoff shorts and a white t-shirt, all soaked in the ocean water. The same young girl walks towards a cave on the side of a rock wall rising from the gray sand of the beach. The young girl strips off her clothes as she walks into the cave where I can barely see stone steps leading up into absolute darkness. The last photo is the girl from behind, completely naked, fading into the darkness as she walks up the stone steps.
I turn to look into a doorway and I catch a glimpse of a young girl sleeping. The only clothes on her body are a small white t-shirt and thin white panties which slide into the gap between her buttocks, revealing the gentle curves of her flesh. Her face is turned away from me but I believe it is the same girl from the black and white photos, the same girl that walks into the cave. I can see her chest moving up and down slowly, softly. For a moment she seems a perfect picture of innocence. But who can live here and still retain any semblance of innocence? (This must be the place where innocence comes to die, where it surrenders itself for one final sacrifice. Is this why I have come here? Is this why I have followed this stranger into an unknown house? Have I brought my own sacrifice to this temple of shadows?)
I place my attention back on the young man who has never stopped talking. He hardly ever turns to see if I am still there, as if he assumes that I couldn't possibly go anywhere else.
"We strip away their immortal souls and make machines of them, we take away what is free and light in them and leave dead robots behind, fat little high fructose corn syrup powered robots to cherish the ideals we hammered into the hole we tore in their hearts. They will hate terror and terrorists. They will love America and God. They will hate what we tell them to hate. They will love what we tell them to love. Their ears and belly buttons will be washed and their homework will be done. And they will grow to be like us."
The house we have entered is shaped like a thick L, with each end crowned by an elegant wooden door that leads to the outside. Inside, the light is low and shaded in red and green. At the corner of the "L" there is a long table, covered in a ripped and stained tablecloth. Two women and two men sit on small metal chairs at the table. When I first see them, I am afraid that they will be alarmed by my presence. But soon I realize that they couldn't care less who I am or why I am there. (How many strangers must come through here at all hours of the day or night? There is a kind of comfort in the thought, a space where everyone is equally welcome, everyone is equally foreign.)
One woman prepares a crack pipe with the careful tenderness usually reserved for babies or works of art. She is wearing only a slip over a pair of tight white shorts. One of the men, a skinny older Caucasian wearing thick glasses and a sleeveless undershirt, anxiously stares and waits for his turn. The other two angrily discuss their current situation, always precarious, always on the brink of a complete catastrophe that has already started but never quite comes to an end. The second man is a middle aged Latino, wearing jeans and a buttoned up shirt. The woman is older and hints of sadness and deep resignation recurrently wash over her wrinkled face. She wears a black T-shirt and a ripped red skirt.
The young man keeps on moving and I keep on following. He walks by the quartet without saying hello. I follow his example. I hear one of them whispering as we pass them by. (Maybe they do notice me briefly, maybe they have seen many girls like me before, maybe they know what happens at the end of this adventure. In this way they are blessed for they know much more than I do. My ignorance is frightful, my ignorance is appealing, my ignorance is warm like a blanket, my ignorance is heavy like a dark cloud.)
Behind the table, there is a broken door that leads to a long bathroom. I follow the young man into the bathroom. None of it makes sense to me, but it hasn't made sense since the beginning, so there's no use in starting to ask questions now. (Or rather, I will continue to ask questions but I won't worry too much about trying to get answers. I can't ask the mutilated cow what happened in the middle of the night, and yet I can see it, I can touch it, I can keep it in my mind and make it gyrate to try to get it to somehow surrender its mysteries, its invisible chains of causes and consequences. Can I ask more of my present than I can ask from a dead mutilated cow?)
Inside, behind a ripped plastic curtain, there is a stretched out shower stall with three different shower heads, designed so that three or more bodies can bathe simultaneously. The tiled floor is covered in grime, it smells of urine and sperm and vomit.
The young man opens a drawer and takes out a long red tube with two silver metal prongs at the end. He shows me the device and explains that it is used to administer strong electric shocks. He asks if I will try it with him. I ask him if it hurts. He says it does. My eyes are wide open and a cold wave of fear is pulsing up my back. But it's too late to say no to anything, it's too late to play hard to get when I have already surrendered. In this game I am the playing field and he is the only contestant.
I say I'll try and ask him to start slow since I didn't know what to expect. He nods absentmindedly. (In the scheme of ordinary thought there are only two poles for experience: normal or evil. What I am about to experience is definitely not normal.)
Just then I notice a young boy sitting on the floor, in the shadows. He is playing with several little plastic toy cars and tiny plastic soldiers. He makes soft explosive sounds with his mouth each time one of the little figures gets shot. He looks up at me and smiles. I smile back at him and just then I feel a surge of electricity against my arm. I jump up in shock. The little boy laughs and points up at me. The young man laughs as well. Then he begins talking again.
"We will make them want us, want us for the toys, the shoes, the clothes, the sweets we can buy. That is how we buy their affection, that is how seduce their desire. They will wail for these things, the fruits of our Empire, never knowing the taste of earth and air and sun and water. We will give them corn to eat in all of the colors of the rainbow forged in the shapes of cartoon characters and steroids to make their lungs pump even when there is no oxygen left to breathe and technology to cast its light over their pallor and more fucking liquid corn to leave them thirsty for more and more and more…They belong to us and to no other, certainly not to themselves. Whatever they are, whatever they were or might have been, it will be smothered like the unwholesome flame that it is."
The only light that seeps into the bathroom comes from a high little window that also brings with it the constant wave of screams, curses and laughter that washes in from the alleyway outside.
The young man is standing next to me, smiling lasciviously. He strikes me again with the electrical prod. I jump up and manage to half muffle a scream. Two tears slip from my eyes and slowly make their way down my cheeks. The young boy again laughs and points at me with wide eyes. (I feel the urge to stop what is happening. I feel the urge to run away and forget. But I can't stop listening. I can't stop the raging need to see what waits at the end of the tour, to feel, to sense, to remember.)
"Death shall not have them, for we will never let them live. They will die before they can be born, to satisfy our hunger, to stave off the orgy of fear that is existence. They will never be here, will never know now, will always be spirited away by our incessant diversions, left as ghosts slumped on sofas with crumbs in their creases."
He prods me again and this time the electrical shock is too intense. For an instant I try to grab hold of myself, but I find myself falling. He holds me by the shoulders and gently slides me down to the floor. I feel the dirty wet floor underneath me. Somehow I don't care, in a way it feels comforting to be laying down here with the dirt and the urine and the sperm. The little boy is still pointing at me, his mouth wide open. There is a black gap between his front teeth.
"And the few who suspect that they have been denied the most precious gift we could give will be punished for their intelligence, for their pure heartedness and courage. The brave and the curious and the noble of our brood will suffer the worst tortures so that we may enjoy our cannibal feast, unperturbed by remorse or anxiety."
The young man is taking out other gadgets. He tells me to strip and I do as he says without thinking. I am looking up at the ceiling which seems to be an orgy of constant fractal movement, bright colors moving in all directions, shapes shifting so often that I can't try to guess at what they are. (I wonder if he has given me some kind of drug without my knowledge, but maybe I have made the drug myself, out of my own need for new horizons, out of the frayed edges of my hungry eyes.)
The young man hooks some wires to my mid drift. More electricity surges through my body. It is not as shocking as before, it feels oddly stimulating, like a general soft tickling that is never strong enough to be uncomfortable and yet won't let me rest. I tell him I like the way it feels. I moan lustfully and I urge him to turn it up. He smiles down at me and I smile back. I feel sweat forming on my forehead, on my chest. My knees open without any conscious decision on my part.
The skinny older man wearing thick glasses steps into the bathroom and looks at me nodding. Then he turns towards the toilet and urinates right in front of me. I giggle and the little boy laughs loudly, his laugh echoing in the confined space. I slowly lose consciousness while I stare at the old man's penis and the yellow arch of his urine which emerges from the circumcised head.
I wake up in a small very dark room. The windows are covered with two layers of curtains and a thick old blanket taped to the window. I am laying on the floor, wearing only a white t-shirt and underwear. A young Latin girl lies sleeping on a ripped up mattress next to me. She is covered in cold sweat and wears only a thin summer dress. Her breathing is shallow and labored, her face squeezes painfully every few minutes and her dried tears have left a spider web of discolored makeup all over her cheekbones. Hanging on the wall close to her head there is a little wooden crucifix; taped up underneath it, the photograph of an older smiling woman with gray hair.
(No matter where we are, we must eventually believe in something. The forms will change, the urge will remain the same. Belief is a door too easy to shut.)
I hear the voice of the young man coming from a room next door.
"We will never need to atone if we nip truth in the bud, snuff out the first smoldering spark before a wild fire can grow and spread its crimson fingers over the hearts of our children, taking them forever from us . Never will the passion to live flower within and eat them alive and transform them from worms into butterflies. They are ours alone to devour."
I turn to look at the doorway. I see two Latin men staring at the two of us. They both wear checkered shirts and well worn thick blue jeans. I open my mouth to say something but I can't figure out what to say. (Am I the intruder here or are they? Or is everyone here a passing shadow in an old haunted house with no true inhabitants?)
I hear the young man's voice fading. He is walking away. Our little encounter has ended.
After some time of laying there staring up at them, the two men turn to leave. I slowly stand up. I find my clothes laying on a corner, mixed in with other clothes that I don't recognize. Everything is soaked with sweat. I get dressed quickly, then I slowly find my way out.
In one of the hallways that leads to the street, two shirtless teenage boys smoke marijuana and trade jokes and conspiracies amongst themselves. One of them has a large scar across his chest and a fresh bruise around his right eye. The other one has two fingers missing from his left hand, he uses the stumps to scratch his running nose.
Using the joints as pointers, they discuss places and possibilities, people and betrayals, histories and legends. In their words, a trail of bubbling life pierces through the scratched up walls and the pungent smell of vomit that seeps in through the outer gates, along with loud horns, angry threats and a crackling radio playing an ancient song of harvest.
I hear the trail of their words as I walk by:
"Fattened as they are with the sloth of caged animals..."
I step outside and bright sunlight hurts my eyes. I close the door behind me and walk away.
Sunday, November 27, 2011
Pale sunlight streamed in through the glass windows on either side of the narrow room. It was almost 7pm and soon she would have to put the babies to bed. She would somehow convince their little bodies that it was time for sleep even though it was still light outside. But before she tucked them away for dream time she sat each one on the padded dinning room chairs that surrounded the oversized antique wooden table and turned on her black laptop. Jonas sat closest to her and Noah on the chair beside him. She pushed the computer to a center point on the table between them.
Noah started to clap his chubby hands as he saw the LCD screen come to life. Jonas, looking so small in the straight-backed chair, waited patiently, watching curiously and quietly as the Windows sound and screen prompts popped up one by one. Noah let out a small excited wail as she plugged in the computer’s mouse and then found the right folder and file and pressed play.
“Meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow!” It was part of her daily vocal training and she sang the syllables loudly going up the musical scale. The wooden floor and furnishings bounced her voice right back and the sound was crisp and resonant.
Jonas seemed stunned and looked at her excitedly with a big bright toothless smile that puffed out his fatty cheeks, a smile that showed he was not quite sure what he was hearing, but he liked it. For him, it was all new. His experience was fresh and his eyes widened when she sang. He laughed too, with every meow meow phrase he erupted into tiny giggles of delight.
“Meow meow meow meow meow meaow meow meow meow!”
She sang along with the prompts of the recording. Jonas looked back and forth from the psychedelic screen saver that accompanied the music to her, mesmerized by the combination of what he saw and heard. She wondered if music and those transforming colors of never ending possibilities would always be linked in his mind, she hoped so.
Jonas started clapping his tiny hands, bobbing his head up and down rhythmically to his own beat. Noah sang a little under his breath, a sound that seemed sort of like speech, but was flavored by melody. She looked at them as she sang, opening her eyes wide, raising her eyebrows, sending her energy towards them in pure unabashed delight.
Thursday, November 17, 2011
There was a song about the houses, the little boxes made of ticky tacky… you know the song perhaps? Maybe you heard it first sung by an Indian gentleman on a short plane trip from San Francisco to Los Angeles or in endless variations on a late-night television program or on an old recorder long ago dumped in the trash. Perhaps you know the song about the houses.
If you have never seen them, the houses of blue, green, red and yellow, you might think that it was only a song, a silly song, a symbolic song highlighting the rote and under-whelming achievements of modern man. You might think that they were not literally boxes if you had not seen them as I, Earl Winters, have seen them.
They line up as neatly as boxcars on rails of track along the faces of those low, verdant, mist shrouded hills, traversing from the fringes of San Francisco into the deep dank moors of fog-covered Daly City. If you know anything about moors then you know that they conceal mystery and hide their phantoms. You know that hidden in that ever-present gray are the deadly secrets of the transmutation of matter and their link to moon cycles. To see these little boxes, however, dispels any fear of the unknown, blots out any possibility for variance, and suggests infinite uniformity, for though there’ s a green one and a pink one and a blue one and a yellow one, they’re all just the same.
See the all-American family seated together in the dining room, hands clasped, heads bowed in prayer, meatloaf garnished with a sprightly sprig of parsley grown in the victory garden out back. After dinner father reads the paper, mother washes the dishes, little Sally and Tom play with the silky terrier, and the baby plays on the rug in the living room.
If you wish to enter this century, well then, mother throws out the designer paper plates before heading for the bath and father examines the world news on his iPad while Sally texts her boyfriend while baby snuggles in her lap and Tom plays a graphic and gory first-person shooter game designed by the US Army recruiting agency on the Xbox.
Pick a year, 1956 or 2011, if you peek into the little boxes and peel away the curtains, if you can somehow manage a glimpse into their tightly sealed world, you’ll find the inhabitants doing the same things at approximately the same time from one box to the next. You can depend on it. Most of the time.
I have suggested that this century is the 21st and that I, Earl Winters, am familiar with the box houses and what goes on inside of them. I know what goes on in much of the world in fact. It is my job to know. If you have ever listened to Half Moon Bay Radio KWMA, my name may have seemed familiar to you. I am radio journalist, Earl Winters, former host of Important Points, your daily investigative news journal. There is nothing about the workings of the world that I haven’t learned either as a kid on the streets of New York or in some press conference or news room or even on a battlefield or two. That is to say that I knew quite a bit before I ever visited 119 Santa Clara Avenue in San Francisco, right on the cusp of the moors.
I have told you that I am a journalist, but have I mentioned that it was terrible soul bruising work that turned my eyes into bleeding wounds and the only balm I found to sooth them was poetry? To smooth the broken glass and barbed wire of guerilla warfare from my voice I went twice a week to a café on Shattuck Ave. near the radio station where I worked, Café Nouveau Paris. I went to read things I had scribbled down in tiny notebooks to a room full of self-proclaimed poets and orange walls and glazed croissants.
That is where I first saw Theodora, smiling at a tiny round table, golden strands of hair falling over her gray-blue eyes, nervously shuffling sheets of paper with long bent fingers. I came in from the streets and noticed her immediately. The rest of the night I tried to be near enough to speak to her. I looked for an open seat or table, I thought of trite scenes I had seen in movies, dropping my napkin or spilling my tea, whatever I could do to prick her effervescent bubble.
I stood mostly paralyzed by the wall until the opportunity came. She was standing under a lamp and reading a small hand-written sign that asked for donations in a roundabout way. Poetry is all about the roundabout. Here, even a sign was indirect, diffuse in meaning, forsaking meaning for ambiguity.
I told her I liked her poems even though I could not remember them. I said that I had felt something kindred in them even though they were entirely incomprehensible, possibly only gibberish as far as I could tell. The poetry of her was in her smile, her posture, her tousled hair.
I suggested getting together to share more poetry. I gave her my card and as she read it, waited several long seconds for her to recognize my name. The recognition never came. In fact, studying the card she had to ask:
“Important Points, that’s… a radio show, or internet based thing?”
She liked that it was radio, I could see it in her smile. And that smile filled me up with a mint-scented air that I could sense cleansing the deepest part of me, moving through me as incense drifts though a room. She told me eagerly, as if this now assured me that we were friends, that she created music with a group that called themselves Pleroma. I said I’d love to hear their music, and she eagerly gave me a card which contained the internet addresses in which to find their sounds.
That night I went home and found the place in space-time where Theodora’s voice existed, her screams and deep guttural tones came through my speakers and filled me with a light I had not seen before.
Four months passed in which I sat at that round table next to Theodora reading her my poems, listening to hers, telling the stories of my life to her round blue eyes and trying desperately to wring some from hers. I endeavored to create other meetings with her, suggested a visit to the rose garden, expounded upon my desire to collaborate, prayed for a rainstorm so that I could offer her a ride home.
For all my effort, I saw her once a week in the same place at the same time, in the Café Nouveau Paris for the open mic session on Thursdays. Each week I asked for something and got a basket of smiles and an invitation to come improvise and record something with Pleroma in the house at 119 Santa Clara Avenue in San Francisco, right on the cusp of the moor.
Four months passed and I thought she must love me. Four months passed and I knew that I loved her. Four months passed and she gave me so little, but it was something. At last when she stopped coming to the Café Nouveau Paris I felt it was time to be bold.
There was a song, about the houses, the little boxes made of ticky tacky… you know the song perhaps. The house at 119 Santa Clara was one of these little boxes on the hillside, an orange one with a sage bush out front and a white car in the driveway. It was into one of these boxes that I, Earl Winters, set foot on a summer evening in the 21st century.
Yes, Theodora was there to hug me at the door and invite me inside, to offer me tea and introduce me to Leigha and Ferdinand and the others that had come to call that evening. Leigha was petite with dark curly hair and heavily shadowed eyes. I thought she was quite lovely, the complete inverse of Theodora, brooding where the other woman was flippant, unhurried where the other was fleet, dark where the other was light.
Unlike Theodora, Leigha was aware of my radio show and comfortable with bringing up politics and the things of the world to which I was accustomed. Ferdinand joined in our chatter. We stood in the bright living room and yes, I smelled the faded sweetness of amber incense, saw the chalice on the mantle, the flickering candles and a bowl full of silvery leaves, but I thought little of it.
They took me downstairs to the studio that Theodora had often times referred to as the underworld in her invitations. Poetry is all about the roundabout. Every sign is indirect, diffuse in meaning, forsaking meaning for ambiguity. The underworld was filled with electronic gear, guitar and microphone cables were spread over the floor like the thick dark chords of an enormous spider’s web. Lines from Theodora to Ferdinand, from Ferdinand to Leigha, Leigha to the Russian fellow that had arranged some of their live shows (Theadora had introduced him as their priest)…electronic lines to a guitarist, lines to me, to a microphone placed inches from my mouth.
I turned on my small laptop to find the poems within. In the walls of this unfamiliar lair, surrounded by large pieces of artwork and installations within the confines of open cabinets, I grasped at the known, the familiar. I held onto my computer and tried to smile though I was aware that the tiny, scared boy of fifty years ago was slipping through my eyes.
After Leigha lit small white candles and turned off the lights Ferdinand took a seat at the twelve o’clock position of the circle. It was then that I noticed the shadow cast on the wall behind him, the silhouette of Ferdinand with horns rising from his temples.
In the other boxes on the hillside there were cars and washing machines and children’s bicycles in the same spot where we sat entangled. All-American families were seated together in their dining rooms above their garages, hands clasped, heads bowed in prayer, meatloaf garnished with a sprightly sprig of parsley. Where there should have been a garage at 119 Santa Clara there was instead an underworld in which I had unwittingly descended pursuing a poem.
A poem composed of more than words and letters. A poem of soft white flesh and laughter that could lift me from the sadness of my afternoons. Poems that multiplied, mirroring each other in their glory, just as the sun is more beautiful followed by the cool light of the moon. I basked in both lights at once, amazed that such a thing was possible.
Whatever else I saw that night, whatever transformations occurred, I wrote them off the following day as tricks of the night, as the side-effects of medication from my minor eye surgery.
In the light of day I thought of the slow, moon-shrouded poetry of Leigha, who I felt was more receptive to my attention than Theodora had ever been. Her eyes were ink pools waiting for entrance. Poetry is about the roundabout. Every sign is indirect, diffuse in meaning, forsaking meaning for ambiguity. She had looked into me, found me waiting there, had welled up with emotion as we created music together.
Leigha, petite with dark curly hair and heavily shadowed eyes, I sent her an email and told her how I loved her, just as much as I loved Theodora. In my carefully thought out verse I confessed my desire to know her, to be with her alone just as I had been alone for many months with Theodora. I suggested a picnic and drive to Bolinas. I described watching the colors of the sunset and sharing dreams. I imagined sitting beside the soft poetry of her body, touching the warmth of her hands.
The response I received turned my chest immediately into stone, leaving me more than cold, as I read the words the poems in me crumbled into nothingness. It read as follows:
"Thank you for your email and working with us today. We read your email carefully. We understand what you are perceiving and feeling, but there are just some things that cannot happen. We are trying to do something unusual. This means there are some things we do not do. We would like you to be part of our creative projects, but the kind of thing you described in your email would be outside of the possibilities. We hope you understand. We like you very much and would like to keep doing creative projects with you. We know that the kind of contact we have had is rare, and we would like to maintain that kind of rare contact with you. It will just have to stay within certain limits. Love, Theodora, Ferdinand and Leigha."
It was the impossibility that the three of them had read my email together and responded in concert that led me to uncomfortable conclusions. Whatever I had seen, whatever had happened, it was the email that guided my regard of the happenings at 119 Santa Clara.
I responded to the email saying that I was hurt with Leigha’s disclosure of my message to the others. She responded that it had not been their intention to hurt me, it had simply been their intention to tell the truth. A week later I wrote Thedora;
“It is not possible that I was understood by the collective mentality of your exalted group, as exalted as you may be. I poured my heart out to you, and then you and your intensely felt colleague and house mate. So now, the three of you know the heart of my heart of my heart, based on a trusted and risky effort at sharing, and I know almost zero about one of you, and a little more about the others. When I asked to get to know one of your better, I got a group speak response, that felt very cultish in style. May this life, Theodora, bring you endless joy and creativity along with the suffering and struggle...EW”
Her response was an obscure:
“No problem EW, farewell.” Concluded with a smiley face.
I looked up from the short message, unable to focus on any shape around me. The familiar colors and furnishings of my living room were dirty and old in the bright afternoon light. With those final words I felt the last bit of mint drift out of me. The poem had faded, taking my stories with it.
Perhaps you know the song about the houses. If you have never seen them, the houses of blue, green, red and yellow, you might think that it was only a song, a silly song, a symbolic song highlighting the rote and under-whelming achievements of modern man. You might think that they were not literally boxes if you had not seen them as I, Earl Winters, have seen them.
Poetry is about the roundabout. Every sign is indirect, diffuse in meaning, forsaking meaning for ambiguity. And yet all these houses, all these familiar little boxes, they are all the same, they must all remain the same.