Sunday, December 30, 2012
I had spent the last few hours stressing and obsessing over my attire. The annual office Christmas party was scheduled for today. An email had been sent yesterday, reminding everybody that the party was at the Four Seasons Hotel. We were all required to look “presentable.” The men were required to wear a coat and a tie. The women had to look just elegant enough without going past a certain invisible line. Not too much, not too little. Just enough.
This is where the ordeal started. I pulled out almost every outfit I owned, every last shoe, everything I could find in my closet. My cousin was on the other side of the video phone watching me as I tried on one outfit after another, approving and disapproving my choices with a clear discernment that I simply didn't have. I had no idea how to dress, what to wear and what not to wear. The subtle rules of this masquerade escaped my mind, I had never been privy to these intricate instructions.
I thought of this while I ran to the bus stop early in the morning. Why did I worry so much about what to wear? Why was it so important to control how I looked, how others saw me? What was the meaning behind the requirement to look presentable? What did it say about me? What did it say about them?
Through a change in clothes, I would disguise my wild and chaotic nature, I would pretend to be in complete control of my own persona, my actions, my thoughts. I could be as normal and as mature as they were, as they seemed to be, as I assumed they were. There I would be, looking like them, wearing the uniform, part of the group. A question wrapped in a lie, a stumbling fish trying to swim over quickly drying mud.
I was gasping and stepping into the bus stop when I was suddenly greeted by the face of a dirty homeless man. He was so blonde and fair, and he was so happy, so happy I thought the sun had come down to say good morning through his wide open eyes.
"Look, look!" he said cheerfully, “A guy just dropped three thousand dollars in cash!"
I looked down at his hand. Between his dirt encrusted fingers there were rolls and rolls of $100 dollar bills, a package of myriad possibilities squeezed to the size of a fist. As I looked at him again, I saw him turn back into a dull, dirty old man. It was the bills that were shining like gold on his fingers.
I realized he was probably right. To judge by the amount of bills he was holding, there was probably a good three thousand dollars there, or even more.
"Put that back! Put that back” I told him, realizing suddenly that his appearance and the money didn’t go together, they would clearly stand out like a sore thumb in this mostly empty street.
He was putting himself in danger by boldly showing this treasure he had just found, this anonymous treasure that had just found him through some unknown random process that had now chosen to include me.
There was an obvious disagreement between his attire and such a large amount of money. Gold and rags, riches and dirt, power and weakness. People would stare, they might call the police, they might beat him up, they would accuse him of having stolen it.
“Please!” I asked again. “Put it away, don’t let anybody see it”.
He looked at me, suddenly realizing I was being serious. He sat on the bench and the smile faded from his face while his eyes were fixed on mine.
“I don’t care about the money.”
The tone of his voice had changed. He was no longer a homeless man, he was now a being detached from society, detached from this planet, detached from his mask. He was a kid, a grown kid who saw the world as a giant playground. He was once again shining brightly, he was the man I had seen first before I noticed his costume. The money in his hand turned into a dull plastic object, with no possible value.
Its only value was the adoration a child gives to a toy when he is playing with it, a gift freely given, a gift easily taken away. Only while playing would the toys shine with life, they would then be forgotten and cast away.
I saw him, my eyes wide open. I listened to him very attentively as he started to narrate his story: he once worked as a contractor, he made a lot of money. He used to live in San Diego, big house, two kids, a wife, a dog. His daughter was making good money now.
“Do you have any children?” he asked me.
“No.” I answered while gazing to see if the bus was coming.
“Do you make good money?”
“I make enough, I guess.” I said, while getting myself ready to board the bus that was now stopping next to me.
“Would you like a hundred dollars?” He said with a mischievous smile.
“No, I am ok,” I said, while slowly walking towards the door of the bus.
“Take it!” he said, “Just one bill!”
“No, thank you!” I said while smiling and walking up to the bus.
I sat next to a nicely dressed lady who was texting with her smart phone. I couldn’t help thinking of this man.
There was a clear disagreement between his shiny golden treasure and his dirty appearance. The mask didn't fit the event, the event cast an unflattering shadow on the mask. A man dressed in rags could not be so lucky, could not get so lucky, could not.
I looked down at what I was wearing, the costume I had worn to pass myself off as one of them, the lucky ones. I adjusted my scarf and slid backwards on the seat. I prepared my face for the masquerade that was waiting. One more among many. One more mask to hide a question I couldn't even begin to answer.
Monday, December 24, 2012
The girl sitting by the aisle was overflowing with curiosity. She leaned her little body over the armrest to watch the male airplane attendant talk about the emergency procedure. I made eye contact with her. She pursed her lips habitually and I imitated the small movement. She perceived what I was doing immediately, though she still looked at me with a bit of caution. She made another habitual shift of her face and I imitated that one as well. She started to smile, now consciously moving her eyebrows and lips and eyes. Each time she did something I imitated it as best I could. She laughed each time I wiggled my forehead or pursed my lips, when she burst into a brilliant smile, I would laugh as well.
I took the notebook and pen from my large purse and started drawing. I let my hand move, creating swirling psychedelic doodles quickly that shifted across the small lined page. I tore the drawing from the notebook and reached across the narrow carpeted aisle. She opened her hand instinctively. As she saw what was there, her face brightened like a sun moving across a cloudy sky, instantly lighting the world. She seemed to inhale the pen strokes and then without a second thought, held it up for her cousin to see. He looked through it like water, like there was no paper in front of him with a succession of dots and lines and liquidy flow. His disinterest struck me, it had such an absence of curiosity and interest and I wondered if we all eventually became a muted surface which nothing could touch.
She looked back and me and smiled. She held up the drawing for her twin to see. Immediately I started working on another doodle, intending it for her sister. When I looked back at them, the girls had taken out their little notebooks and were drawing. The girl by the window drew on the back of the doodle I had just made. Every now and then she turned it over to look at what had come through my hand onto the page.
When I was finished with the second drawing I handed it to the girl closest to me. She opened her hand and accepted it, but didn’t look at it. She tucked it under the notebook and continued drawing with intense focused attention. I worked on a third doodle.
The airline attendants came through the long, narrow aisle with their trays full of beverages and small packaged peanuts. When I was almost done with the drawing I could sense that the girl by the aisle was attempting to get my attention, we shared no language but I could feel her trying not to look at me in her shy childlike way. The quiet gestures summoned me. I turned towards her and she held the drawing up over her head and looked at it for a second before abruptly thrusting it towards me. A smile burst onto my face and she squirmed in her seat when she saw my excitement.
The drawing was of an airplane with bubbly clouds and human figures floating among them. I turned towards her and waited for her to look at me again. When she did, I nodded with a smile on my face and said, “I like it.” She cowered again and shrunk into her seat, smiling.
I worked on the third drawing and when I turned back, I saw that the older cousin had a glue stick in his hand. He helped the girls glue the doodles I had made into their notebooks. Since the girl by the window had drawn on the reverse side of the drawing I originally made, she had to choose which side to put the glue on. I saw them rolling the glue over the psychedelic swirls and dots.
Then the girl close to me fell asleep.
I move the window aside and flow out like the air. My pink chiffon dress made of fragrant rose petals laps at my legs like a gentle ocean wave upon the shore; calm, so silky in its movements. I am lulled by its touch, aroused, as though the gentle glide of fabric where expert fingers come to explore the shape of my thighs. Indeed, in that moment it is alive- or it always was and now, moving like the cool breeze, I can finally see it as sentient.
I catch the eye of a thick-breasted song bird. The tips of his feathers are white and seem to gleam like hot light against the seemingly monotonous brown fluff covering the rest of his body. He turns his head ever-so slightly to a wide-faced white flower, dividing his attention in two. I know he has not lost interest, but rather is pointing me down the path.
I turn to the bloom, not alone on the bush, yet standing out and rising higher, more full towards the life-giving sun. The white rose is unfurled and its multitude of petals, layers and layers of scented softness like an expert costume from the Bolshevik ballet. I move towards it, my body beginning to vibrate as the air pushes me along, speeding my new discovery.
Entering the hollow between the white walls I find a comfortable spot on the yellow cushion in its center. The pollen stains my exposed toes and the bottom hem of my pink dress and I sink deeper into the pollen, knowing its marks will come out in the next rain, or perhaps I can visit the tepid bird bath later when the sun has warmed the few inches of water in the ceramic bowl.
I pull a few of the petals around me for this sacred chamber. I lay back. This is my bed, my powdery yellow sanctuary. Several large stamens sprout from the center. I reach out and pull one of the thicker ones towards me, it is split in two at the very top, both ends curling dramatically in on themselves.
There is a little bit of privacy while the bees are over by the rosemary bush. I spread my thin legs and push the stamen inside. The sun comes through the petals, covering me with a warm fuzzy haze. Sinking on the yellow pillow, dust covering me completely now, adrift in a sea of fluff, I can see the blue sky between the cracks of the petals where they don’t quite meet.
The bees create a continuous drone as they work, I fall into its lullaby as the stamen moves inside me, becoming an explorer of dark places.
Tuesday, December 18, 2012
The years since her birth had flown like a blue feather on a hurricane gust. Childhood had at first been painfully slow, but the moment her breasts were upright and singing, the years gathered strength and momentum, rolling faster and faster until she came to the edge and her pulse slowed. She grew out her hair in an attempt to capture what had been.
Now, her white mane long and clean, her hair had become a symbol of the past, like some sort of guiding line attached to a place she could not quite remember. The girl that had been, she had never known her.
She had watched herself from a distance, seeing the movements and thoughts of a skinny girl from an outsider’s perspective. Her dancing and singing was put under scrutiny, not by all those teachers and fellow students, but by the loud voice in her own mind that beat its comments into an ever-present rhythm she confused with the body’s pulse.
Her hair was long now, longer than it had even been. When naked she could feel the soft ends of her white waves rubbing against the back of her thighs.
Sprouting life seemed to grow unabated just beyond her fingertips. The tree outside the window, once a sapling she had planted with her own hands, had grown into a massive fruit bearing vine. It had pushed its way through the cracks in the house foundation, had climbed up the interior wall in her bedroom and spread along the ceiling.
There were flocks of bright colored birds perched along the ledges of her roof and in the garden. A once carefully tended plot of vegetables had exploded into a new life form. The tentacles of squash plants covered the land, expanding outwards, resolutely mounting wooden fences in its path, winding its way over forgotten toys and sun-chairs in the neighbor’s yard.
She wished she could bend that universal law into a pretzel, making time into a new shape so that she could experience it all again in a different way, perhaps with more clarity, perhaps with more wisdom.
She was old and her bones were metallic. Little walks around the block towards the park sent sparks through her, sometimes igniting the dried up lawns beside the path.
If only the proliferation of vines and thick weeds and the sun could wait for her, could keep her in their company. She would like to see it all to the end, every moment of existence before it all went up in a colossal puff of smoke.
She swung her hips as best she could, leaving a trail of embers on the sidewalk.
Friday, December 7, 2012
He is a spirit wandering the infinite places between sky and earth. Twisting and changing like cigarette smoke, he rides into the grasslands, white sweeping clouds above that bend from dragon to snake with a brush of the hand. Over the golden plains, mythic in song and lyric, he journeys like the parching wind.
He is a spirit wandering between stone and fire. We read the ashes and learn of his tales. There are no lines of worry crisscrossing his cheeks and skin. Death has no grip on his heart and bones.
He cannot die, he is the sunlight of the wide open west. He cannot die, he is the glittering gold on silty river bottoms and gun smoke wafting. He cannot die, he is the high pitched wail of the twelve o’clock train.
Without name he wanders the wasteland, hopping train tracks and imaginary borders made of blood and tears. Without name, the horizon opens up to him, waiting for a deep breathy kiss. Gunshots and loot, opened graves and old wooden crosses. He cannot die, he is the red rocks of the desert, the biting sand and open grasslands of buffalo.
His bones, made of feathers and air, carry all the wild dreams they have forgotten, lost in the songs of itinerant laborers laying forged metal tracks, lost at the massacres at Wounded Knee and the lynchings decorating every town square in anguished screams of mortal pain.
He is not afraid to die because he cannot die. Horses come to him and he plays with their riders. Men of leather and steel- made up of empty gun chambers and exploding white powder.
He smiles, squinting as they all search the sky for the promise of gold. Their home is the wasteland between earth and clouds, long stretches of nothingness colored by the temporary illusion of places and people and faces and tales. A country of drifters and grifters, tiny senseless cons that always end in battle. They search for treasure, an endless pursuit with countless forking roads that twist abruptly and lead always to murder and more splashes of blood that dry black on the dusty streets of empty towns.
The man with no name swirls between them all, carried by his feather bones. He cannot die, he is the purple light of sunset, the ripple of green meadow grass before a wild storm. Lighting snaps and he speaks.
Both the story and its teller. The fire and the wood. The killer and the killed. A strange whisper among the swaying grasses, an awesome silence among crimson buttes. Hear him cackling among the reeds of a small brook or shrieking over an open field, wings outstretched, prey in sight. See him circling, a ring of dark birds, waiting eagerly for some man or beast to give it's last breath to the indifferent prairie.
Where the curtains are drawn shut, where the towns people have gathered round the gallows, where the undertakers hammer rings against the hush, there you find him. Where wild horses run free, where coyotes lament their folly, where rattlesnakes make threatening music, he is there. In every face, in every street, in every mountain pass, there, there, there.
Death, smiling, the only god. Death looks up from the dug earthen graves. Death, watching closely from yellow flower faces and clouds heavy with rain. He is not afraid- the tight grip of fear which comes over men is absent from his light, wispy essence. The horse carries him on, over the badlands which stretch on and on, inspiring eternity to turn on itself, looking for more places to bloom. Hoof beats match the thump of his blood. They move on, one entity between fire and water, dancing between earth and sky