Between Strangers on a Train: Ether

The last sound to fade into ether is yours, laughter. In its absence you recount its presence. You recount the shared members of the exclusive group.

Everyone has turned away, and you are left looking at them in pieces.

You can’t remember what was said.

But you imagine, for a moment, that you are one of them.

You go this way often and their profiles are familiar and the silence is comfortable.

You are one of them.
Vainly you attempt to recapture what was lost, the elusiveness of the moment skirting past you as a dream. A yawn breaks upon her lips, and silent words pass over his, and you imagine that they are, both of them, meant for you.

When next you speak someone will hear you, you think desperately.

You reach into your mind to discern what first brought you together, here, on this train.

In the midst of your recollection your foot is trod on and he meets your eyes.

His smile is half formed and brilliant, and you live a million moments in the one.

Vaguely you consider how tenuous your link with what is real must be, but he holds your gaze until you pull it away.

You remember the source of the laughter. A joke about Mondays–predictable enough for you to forget.

You connect again with them in the remembrance. You are in the captured moment one of them.

The scent of sandalwood and wintergreen travels over you and you only want to be there, anonymous, working up the will–

He interrupts your musing with, “hello”

And your heart shudders to a halt and swept into the violence of unfounded ardor you fall, irrevocably into ether.

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Milton

Milton’s Satan would rather
Reign in hell
Than serve
In heaven.
I imagine Jesus as a long-haired
Peace loving type
And God as silent
And unmoving.
How many years of prayers
Have fallen on his white ears?
How many sacrifices
Laid at his feet?
Better that he is not real.
That he has no ears to hear us.
In the world that they claim
He created in seven days
He didn’t think to create
A safe space for us.
And yet I am to believe in him
Though I have not yet seen
His promised land
And I am to forgive them
Even as they kill my mother
And my brother.
I wonder that they do not hate us
Because he hates us most of all.
I hope he is not real.

But just in case…
I will take my chances
With Milton’s Satan
And lift my head
And reign in hell.

Room

Learned and
Polished and
Refined,
The crooked made straight
Dots and crosses
Attended;

Over-enunciating
Or making not a sound,
Apologizing
For errors They made–

I am ready.

I arrived early
And my face hurt,
The over smile
Hiding the natural poise.
Head high, but not too,
Blending into the
Background
Until I am called forth–

I have arrived.

And yet…
Where am I to sit?
The arrangement
Does not require they
Save a seat for me.
I am the background
Until I am called forth.
Until I am called forth
There is no room.

But I learned!
I bear the trophies
And the scars!
I am polished!
I tore away the other
At the roots!
Pulled it and broke it
Until it was worthy
Of your glare!
And I agreed with you
And you pointed to me
As Evidence!
Breaking my body
And reforming into
Something new
Unchained to The Past
That you said I should
Get Over

I made not a sound
Ignoring those who
Spoke too much
And too often,
As you required.
If we don’t talk about it
It will go away
And there will be room.

And I arrived.
Early.
And I waited.
And waited.
Waited.
I smiled
And you did not see me
One did, and even
Smiled back.
Called me over
And spoke on my behalf
And we were the same
But mostly you
And you turned
And sent me away again.

I cleared my throat
And you turned
And told me to wait.
And I asked for room
Quietly
Over enunciating
So that I didn’t
Hurt your ears
Sensitive and unused
To hearing me speak,
And you said that I was
Too loud
And besides
There was no room.

The weight around my neck
Lifted
As did my head
And my hair
And my voice
And I left you there
And I did not look back
And you did not notice
My absence
And I over enunciated
My apology
To Them,
Whom I had avoided.
They called me over
And together we made something
New.

We made many sounds
A cacophony of brilliance
They, learned,
And I, learning
And we were beautiful
And we did not wait
We made new again.

And you saw us from the corner
And you could not hear
Our words
And you pretended
Not to listen
And we laughed louder
And you moved closer
And said we hurt your ears
And you were angry
At us
For creating
Our own table
And now that
You are listening
And you have moved slightly
And made enough room
For one of us
Why do we have our own table?

You do not ask to sit
You simply move in
And you claim it
As your own.
You keep a few to reference
Every now and again
To remind yourself
That we are the reason
Different tables exist
Because if we were
Learned and polished and refined and well spoken and
There would be room
You forget that the room
That you claim as yours
Will never belong to you
And you will keep looking
From the corner of your eye
For us to take it
For more to take.

I am not afraid.
We will make new again.
There will be room.

Affairs (incomplete)

When I met him his eyes were brown, a muddy earthbound color. Cool and predictable, honest eyes.
When I bedded him they were darker, an inky sable, clouded and deep.
Keep them open
Look at me

I could see his soul if I stared long enough, and deep enough.
But at the moment—that moment—he would close them.
When he opened them again the moment was gone, the black loosened, and they were once more brown and earthbound.
Not the fiery hazel they have become, beset with anger. Caught in their brilliance I am lost; they reflect only the television set to mute behind us
And my own despair.
Where,” he repeats, and still I do not answer. I am drunk on the lazy scent of honeysuckle wafting in through the windows, honeysuckle and something like fear; when he overturns the television I see him from afar.
How very distant we are.
“In this room?! In this bed?!”
This bed.
Not our bed.
Not our marriage bed.
Our marriage bed was ours long before we were shackled together;
before the monogrammed place settings and the crystal with his last name carved for both of us
before we became a we and our fates were hewn together
before we fell over the precipice for the last time and I was lost
Our bed was ours.
Our bed was where I discovered his snore, slight and airy and only obnoxious at three a.m. when my eyes burned from want of sleep. I discovered his teeth were slightly overlapped in that bed, after the snore, when I stared daggers into his mouth and considered silencing him with the pillows flattened by age.
Then I watched him sleep, played with his fingers curling even in sleep against mine, warm and large.
Our bed was where we made love and fucked and had quick bouts of sex with one hand pressed against my back the other against the wall so the neighbors wouldn’t hear.
His brother helped me move the bed out while he was away; he didn’t notice for weeks.
One of the neighbors picked it up before it could be hauled from the side of the road.
This bed is mine. We share the placemats
And the towels
And the toilet
But not the bed.
“Yes,” I answer. “This bed.”
He is beset with fire when he rips backs the sheets and we are both of us aflame as he destroys the remains.
“I didn’t love him,” I offer. A small kernel of truth, a dagger. Felled by the sting of my admission he draws back.
The flames simmer in his eyes but do not away. He stares into the bed and beyond, watching us. Seeing us tangled together, hearing my enraptured moans.
His eyes are lapis and deep, his mouth turned up into a scythe blade smile.
We met accidentally and bedded immediately and it was over quickly and then we lingered. The next was longer, a painful ecstasy, almost too long, and a demon he set me ablaze.
His tongue stung me, a beautiful deadly thing. He traveled my body, sinking through my skin and into my blood, a poison.
He wrapped himself around my heart but he dared not enter; his grin never faded. He didn’t need my love. He didn’t require it.
We shared only our bodies. There were no placemats
No towels
Not even a toilet.
He showered at his place, which I would never see.
He only saw this bed.

“Why? Tell me why?”

I move about the room as I consider his question. Despair is gone from me, the tendrils of it swept through the window on the wings of a summer breeze.
Why?
*I am selfish.
*The scythe blade of his smile is matched by my own Cheshire grin
*You are earthbound but he is air and flame
*I am afraid to leave
*I want you to want me to stay
*I want this to pierce your soul because I do not know it
*You do not love me
“I don’t know,” I answer.
He breaks. From the vantage point outside of myself, far beyond us, I reach for him but I am too far. Shards of our remains stand between us, the stalactites and stalagmites of our crumbling ruins.
I hate you,” he whispers through the veil he has erected.
I should say I hate myself. I should say I hate what I’ve done to us. I should say I hate that I have lost you.
I say none of those things. I feel none of those things.
“I’m sorry,” I placate him, killing the meaningless phrase.
“Get out,” he yells. He throws the frame with the photo of us, our first, and it breaks. We both watch the shards of glass glittering dangerously in an innocent sunlight.
When our eyes meet I am already gone. Sable and endless his eyes capture me for the first and last time, the whole of him laid bare.
Anger–no, rage. Fear.
Relief.
Love is absent from us, and in the heat of his rage with everything we are or ever were turned to ash the bones are left and love is not in them.

My body aches with loss, an empty painful void is left and he fills it. I claw his back and he returns my affections, his teeth scraping against my throat. He plays with the ring still resting on my finger and beneath my cries he whispers,
I love you.”
The ring presses into my palm until it draws blood, and I press my mouth against him, silencing him.
His scythe blade lips curl against mine, coaxing from me my Cheshire grin.
I am poison to him, but he takes it.
“Okay,” I reply.

unconditional

She held on to her shame for an age, long past the moment where they could smile about her foolishness, long past the point where it might come up in conversation organically. She holds it beneath the surface, pressing it down into the recesses of her mind.
When it, the shame, comes again she picks at it like a scab. Perhaps it will flake off and heal over and she might be free of it.
There was nothing particularly remarkable about Jonathan save for him being there and her being here, and there being preferable to here no matter the circumstances. She tries to rifle through her brain, pinpointing the moment that she told herself the lie large enough to believe—he will be there, he will come—but she can’t. He held the title Daddy (noun, not to be confused with Father, bearer of discipline and occasional smiles but mostly apathy and Ask Your Mothers; Daddy, ever present bearer of love and presence) without earning it, but she did not consider.
She considered with childlike naiveté Terence in the spaces made large by Daddy’s absence; bringer of piggyback rides and games, bicycles and endless slides in the park.
But Daddy was taken and she couldn’t place him and he was Terence, the all encompassing being.
Daddy was the shadow.
Still she waited with her childlike innocence, remembering the smile in his voice as he promised her for the third year, “I sent your cake. It’s in the mail.”
A lump forms in her throat in the space of the years—not for want of the cake. No. It would have likely spoiled and he wouldn’t know her favorite besides.
No, the lump forms because of the perfect nature of hindsight and she was eight that last time and she wonders how many birthdays and moments by the mailbox she could have saved if she had only known to look past unearned titles.
She waited in the heat of the day for the cake. Not the cake. But the being that sent the cake. Perhaps he would be. . .what?
Piggyback rides and games, bicycles and endless slides, sound discipline that sent her to bed crying forgotten in the morning with tickles—those were taken.
But the title, Daddy, it was taken also.
She waited for an age.
In her memory it was winter when she discovered more than the cake’s absence.
Daddy felt thick and sickly on her tongue and she tried but she could not make it fit.
He became “you.”

How are You? I called You.

Daddy was ruined, made into shadows and lost things and promises not kept.
She tried Daddy on Terence once, but it was an ill-fitting suit and already destroyed.
Dad was too soft and distant, and late.
She doesn’t remember now where it came from, Pops, only the way it felt. A warm sweater. Safety. Home.
Pops (noun. unconditional. love.)
Long after Daddy dies she considers revealing its death. She wants to apologize for the time wasted. She wants to explain but the words do not exist. Pops did not fill the space that Jonathan left.
It was not Jonathan’s to leave.
But she does not have the words and so she says nothing, remembering now and again her shame, the time she wasted.
They are surrounded by family that she doesn’t care to know when it sloughs off and leaves her, in the midst of unfamiliar relatives and the scent of Alabama.
“You look like your dad,” unremarkable relative remarks, forgetting for a moment, or perhaps relative never knew. She smiles gratefully and her shame is released.
Pops, and I know,” she replies.

Workers Hands

Workers hands. Calloused and yellowing, hardening at the bend of bone and palm they cannot be made soft by anything beyond the knowing eyes of a lover.
When I took her hand–crooked and bony, blue tendrils crawling up like long forgotten roots–I remarked how frail she seemed. How birdlike.
I dared not say it aloud. She smiled at me in the way that only she can, showing the bridge in partial so fast that you wonder, morbidly, how many of those terrifyingly perfect things are hers, grimaced really before remarking–“you’ve got workers hands.”
A true southern debutante over ripened and far too sweet her voice swept over me gracefully, the poison of her tone lingering after. The bitter whistling of a lone lark sounded in the distance, an afterthought. Frozen in time I stood solid, eyes drawn to my own hands. Workers hands.
Raw cacao fading into unripened peach with deep brown furrows across the palms. The nails unfiled and unpainted, the cuticles overgrown. The knuckles of the long fingers large and prominent, the thumbs angular and proud. A scar has settled there, the only evidence of a childhood skirmish beneath the shade of willows and youth. My critical eye creates and fills the silence.
George’s tea was prepared as she likes, without sugar and lukewarm, the biscuits crumbling onto the service and forgotten in the carpet. Her hands shake as she stirs in cold cream to soothe the bitterness, and my eyes travel from the floating leaves back to my own hands.
Almost as large as George’s they engulf the cup. An intricate floral pattern of violets and roses with a whisper of gold on the lips the china is as diaphanous as the skin of its owner. This cup in its frailty is not made for me and my hands and I place it, too gently, back into its saucer.
She speaks again and her voice creaks from disuse, her eyes narrowing over the rail thin bridge of her nose.
“And your parents? What do they do?” Her question is a statement, formed in the midst of a one-sided conversation that she must have been holding with herself.
George stills beside me, his spoon scraping the side of the cup of nothing over and again. I touch his hand lightly and it stills beneath my own.
“My mother is a teacher. My father is in sanitation.” Her lips disappear against each other and she does not speak again.
George leaves for the restroom down a dank hall, the scent of mothballs wafting back to us from the unknown room that swallows him.
Her hands shake against the counter, and I stare down at the web of her hands, immensely horrified.
Grotesque and gnarled they are hands that have never seen work. Frail and skeletal they are themselves the in-between, more dead than alive. Dusted above the translucent skin and lost into the wrinkles she is mottled; the earth brown beautiful on me is sprinkled haphazardly upon her in decaying gruesome disarray. Her emaciated, aged hands shake profusely as she grapples for a bottle, orange and bulky, with small ocular pills filling its contents. Her bluish lips make a reappearance briefly, the teeth flashing before hiding away. Her hands shake ever more and she drops the bottle, and we both watch in silence as it hits the counter.
A weak breath escapes her, scrapes against her shallow bones as it exits with haunting finality. Hesitating briefly I save her from her shame, scooping the bottle with ease.
The callouses of my hands sound loudly against the bottle as I press it gently against them, the top pushing deep into the time-toughened skin. I pass the bottle back to her, top first, demonstrating a smile.
When George returns he laces his hands in mine.
His thumb soothes the new ache that has settled in my palm, and I turn to her again, marveling at how very pale and thin her neck appears. She opens her mouth and casts thanks at me and I hold up my hand, callouses facing her.
“Workers hands.”

perfect

Love felt small and left me feeling weak.
The word laid me bare and defenseless and
I clutched it near me.
You didn’t ask for it.
Did you miss it?
The time for Love is now.
In the moment where our
Fingers graze and I pull away
And you move with me
Love would be perfect there.
Or the moment where the light
–A typical burning, blistering sun made less so
By you only–
Catches the gold in your eyes
And I know that you are made
For other worlds and
Love would be perfect here.
Acidic tears drag down my cheeks
And you sweep them away
And the cause, too.
You offer the words “I love you,”
And greedily I hold them.
I can not offer my own.
I cast the notion about, but I
Dared not speak it aloud–
What if it is given to you
And then lost?
The love I give freely is different
And it won’t ache when it’s gone.
I love that.
I love thos
e.
Love for you, words said to you
Leaves me bare.
Tomorrow.
I will tell you tomorrow.

You won’t hear where you are.
Heaven and earth between us, now,
And I cast the words and all of myself into the wind.
I love you.
Hollow, cold, empty now
Echoing into forever
With no one, no you
To feel them
To know them
To bear them back again.
Yesterday.
Love was perfect there.