Saturday, September 14, 2013

Live from the Lake

I couldn't sleep. I was checking my phone, looking at pictures of my friends having fun in the city. They're at a show, lights blue and red, the balcony full, everyone jumping and dancing so hard the balcony shakes and it feels a little dangerous. Good danger. The kind that reminds you that something bad could happen but hasn't, not to you. The kind of danger I feel when I walk down to the lake at night in the dark, and I imagine being hit from behind by a big animal, one that will knock me down before I know it's coming, before I'm able to turn around and try to fight.

Light was reflected on the doorframe of my little summer house, really a shed, the place where my parents store plastic rafts and kayak paddles, my old Garfield life jacket faded from red to pink. It's been raining all day, so there shouldn't be light anywhere. On the way down the path from the house tonight I accidentally switched off the flashlight on my phone, and it was darkest dark, nothing but blackness and rain. 

I got up to see where the light was coming from, and I could see that things had changed. The storm was moving out, and there were little hints of stars. 

I could have snuggled back into my flannel sleeping bag. I almost did, but then I put my contacts back in and went outside, out to the rock between the walkways. Stars were all around me, and the first thing I wished was that I had a camera that could take pictures of stars. I wanted to document it, share it, like I want to share everything. 

I wanted to share how bright white the stars were, how the clouds wisped around the treeline and how the evergreens were black against the deep navy blue of the sky. How the stream gurgled, running hard from all that rain. And I could hear summer bugs chirping, even though it's almost Fall. And then the wind came through the trees, the sound gaining power as it came toward me like a subway train pulling into the station at City Hall.

And then the loons started calling, and that's one of my favorite sounds in the world. 

Why do I need to share it, to try to frame it into words or a picture? 

I don't know, but I think it's partly because I used to think you couldn't love this AND that, the sweep of tree branches and the singer on his back on stage. Your feet in a lake that's starting to cool off for Fall. Your hands on a cool metal balcony railing as you lean forward, as you and everyone else watch the band go beyond where you thought they could go, beyond the last best time. 

You can. You can love it all, and you have to. You're not missing out, I want to tell you. I want to tell everyone, because when the stars are all above and around me and at my feet, reflected in the lake, it feels so true. This is all we have and all we need. This is the time of our lives.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

First Night in Maine

The porch light glitters a yard full of frost.
It's bedtime, but I'm not sleepy here. I'm awake, shivering,
pulling cold air into my lungs
and watching it puff out white.
And I turn the outside light off, 
look up and see the sky of stars.
Not just the brightest, that hint at constellations,
but also dimmer ones and planets, 
maybe even planets' moons,
so many bright points they make the patterns harder to find.
And the moon is rising behind the black branches of an ash or maple,
a tree that reminds me how I want to learn all the trees,
all the birds and the stars and the animals' tracks, like you know them.

The moon rising, and the cold air I breathe deep and all those stars
I wish you were here to see.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Story Slam, November 2011 #2

Words: saddle, stipulate, debonair

She smelled like a saddle. Like leather that's been oiled and oiled and thrown over the dusty coat of a living animal. She was debonair like a man is debonair. She was pressed cotton and shined shoes. Shoes your spit would bubble on. Shoes that squeaked on polished floors. She was full of stipulations. She would only eat open-faced grilled cheese sandwiches. She would only eat open-faced anything, and then she would only eat half. She always took leftovers. She always made the server package her food, preferably in tinfoil and paper and plastic. She demanded. She stood up straight. Her bones would bend but never break. But she'd break yours.


Story Slam, November 2011

Theme: Mercy

She was limp as a blue book, pages with no cover. She quivered when the wind blew.

She relaxed easily into couches, chairs, the corner of a bar, reached her arm across to play with the bartender's cufflinks. Put her starfish hand on men's backs until they moved away.

She was liquid, sleepy, her eyelids always low and shadowed, her movements never quick or jerky. She poured herself into a cab, onto the street, into the bar, onto a stool, and a different man bought each of her drinks. She spun her earrings, the beads of her necklace, her hair.

She drank, and drank until last call night after night. And at last call every night, the bartender touched her arm, her wrist, gave her water instead of gin, and then he drove her home.


Sunday, November 13, 2011

Story Slam, October 2011

Sweet Sticky Thing

The honey drips slowly from the counter. She watches it drip, watches the sun light it sun-colored, watches it stretch from a drop to a string to a thread, lengthen and break and drop into a circle of light on the formica. She puts her finger in, dots it, smears it, watches another one start to lengthen, about to fall. Watches it all fall, all separate. Her finger newly sticky with light and furred with dust. The Ohio Players honey record cover, the woman dripping honey onto her naked body, her waist unreasonably slim.

And she wants to be that woman, that body, desire in female form. She takes the honey off the counter, squirts it on the floor, puts full hands in and draws it into wide circles that reach broader, broader, to the counters on either side. From the refrigerator she pulls out shelves and food – lettuce, which she drops leaf by leaf and crushes with her bare heels, lunch meat and slices of cheese and a can of beer that she shakes up and sprays. She wonders if she will ever meet that Ohio Players woman, if that woman is even alive anymore, or if she was ever alive.

She opens cabinets, shakes out cocoa and jelly, paprika and parsley and flour. And soon she has thrown it all out, all over the floor, thrown out being neat, being clean, being a person who does not waste food, who won’t cook anything too complicated. Soon she has become that Ohio Players woman, waist slimmed, legs lengthened, hard muscles inserted into her arms. Hair grown wild and huge. She puts on her coat, she takes her keys, and she leaves her kitchen to the ants and roaches, to the landlord, nosy neighbors, to anyone remaining responsible. Because she is not responsible, anymore.


Sunday, March 27, 2011

Story Slam, February 2011

Words: tarantula, twist, spongy
The ridge above the property line is spongy with moss that has always made her want to take off her shoes, feel it between her toes, even when snow lingers in the shade. She twists around a beech tree, her mitten slipping easily on the smooth bark as she spins, trusts it to hold her weight. She thinks about Scotty's tarantula, the way it slipped one leg and then another off the rock in its heated tank. She thinks about not seeing Scotty again, about how you never know for sure that it's the last time. The sun is low over the lake, trees reflecting dark on the smooth surface. Any time now she should go back to her parents' house for dinner, put in some time. But instead, she spins, lazy, too slow to get dizzy, and feels the moss giving and receiving beneath her boots. She hears a mourning dove sing evening, and Spring.

Line: "You don't have to be rich to rule my world"
He went in through the out door at the frame shop where I spent the summer between junior and senior year of college. The frame shop also sold alcohol, and clove cigarettes, and he came in on Thursday afternoons to pick up packs of Sampoerna Extras for the weekend. I didn't know who his friends were, where his parents lived, or even how old he was. Maybe his friends had parties where they sat on rooftop deckchairs and talked about the movies they had seen and the paintings they were doing. I assumed he was an artist because he came to the frame store to get his cigarettes, but that was just a guess. He only ever got cloves, and all I knew was how much I wanted to kiss the taste of cloves off his lips. I wanted to be with him anywhere, but especially in the woods behind the basketball court at my college dorm, or especially on the concrete steps behind the frame shop where I took my breaks. That summer was simple, the way I wanted it. I wanted Kahlua sombreros at the pub down the street from the house I rented with six other girls. I wanted money so I could use my frame store discount to buy art supplies. I wanted a raspberry popsicle every day when I got home from work, I wanted to take off my frame shop t-shirt and sit in front of the fan and draw in one sketchbook after another after another, and I wanted him.
(didn't read)

Theme: Hypothetical urgency
I look like a city person now. Hands deep in the pockets of my dark-colored coat, crossed tight over my chest, or swinging fast, propelling me forward with purpose. I look like someone who could give you directions to the dog groomer's, the comic shop, the vegetarian bistro. Sometimes I still slip, look someone in the eye and smile, forget to keep my gaze low and stony, forget to map my path blocks ahead, to avoid collision, confrontation. Yesterday I was indecisive about my route. A man moved, I moved, and he crossed right in front of me. I held my hand up and touched his soft, dark coat, mumbling sorry. I broke my stride. But I'm learning. One block more, and I was back at full speed, arms moving, dodging people as I looked at their midriffs and not their eyes. Moving forward with hypothetical urgency, although everyday when I get to the bridge I still can't help slowing down, looking over the railing at the current streaming over the pilings of the Walnut Street Bridge, and when I look away, I always search for somebody's eyes.

Final round: truck, rent, thin
for Major Jackson (who was in attendance)
Rental trucks aren't plain white anymore. That means rollers. It means paint trays. It means time. Most people aren't dumb enough to leave a rental truck parked on a dark street overnight, but you get one once in a while.

The sound of the roller as it hits, wet, your arms shaking nervous as you reach it as high as you can. No time to be perfect. No time to reach all the way to the top, and no time to let it dry, even, before your backpack full of metal cans clanks to the sidewalk, before you zipper it open and the zipper catches--you're shaking too hard.

Calm down. The cans come out. Your lookout is a block away. A dog barks, but far, and close by nothing's moving but the overhang of trees in the streetlights. You put down a thin line, black on white, your mark. You try to make it thin enough not to drip, add the Philly fade at the top and bottom, but you still shake. It's been too long since you did this last. Your lookout's still quiet and the dog has stopped barking, and you fill in color after color and even add the stars, the year.

You'll see this in the afterlife, this one night when you didn't get caught, when it turned out exactly the way you wanted. When it turned out well enough to do it again, one time too many.


Story Slam, January 2011

Words: mound, sling, slippery
He grabs the bucket, slings water out into the woods. It arcs, full of leaves and dead insects, which spray across the grass on the way. She feels drops of dirty water hit her crossed, bare legs. The mound of sand in the sandbox is starting to grow bits of grass and weeds, untilled for ten years, when she was last a child. Everything is slippery in the late-summer heat, the sheen of the fresh-flung water fades as the ground soaks it in.
(didn't read this)

Line: The worst you can do

Theme: cowboys
It's about the jeans, the way they bunch around the skinny legs. The way the waistband hangs a little below the tanline when they go out at night, when they bend over pool tables and stretch their untucked shirts away. The way their shoulders roll under the thin cotton of their shirts, the array of faded plaid. The jeans dusty, oil-stained, or crisply, newly clean and so stiff they could stand on their own. It's about how they always seem a little separate from their clothes, a little naked; no matter what they're wearing, the whole frame shows below. He grips the neck of a Corona in New Hampshire, and he's a cowboy, 1200 miles away from a wild horse, and I'm sold.

Final round: knife, roof, velvet
He knifes the velvet off the horns of the deer, the buck hanging from the metal rack by its back hooves. They're in the side parking lot of the general store, the blood running down from the gash in its belly, and she's sitting on the roof of his truck, wanting to see and not see, wishing he wouldn't do this in the open at this time of year. In the fall, everything's colder, drier, not yet frozen solid but getting there. It's not right for him to do this in a t-shirt, for her to be able to smell the blood. The velvet skin falls to the gravel parking lot as he carves it away, scraping all the way down to bright white bone, antler that hasn't had time to shade to ivory. The blood drips down blue-red, he carves at the antlers, and she watches from the roof until the sun goes down, until he gets it perfect.


Friday, March 25, 2011

Story Slam, October 2010

Words: specter, greasy, shake
Even the shake felt greasy in her hand, like she was leaving fingerprints on the glass when she touched it. She felt coated, like a puddle with a rainbow of oil smeared across, like swimming in a river with jeans on. Like a formaldehyde fetus in a thick-lidded jar. Like a specter in a doorway, a smudge that distorted the air. She touched the glass and knew it should feel cold, and that made her think about matter, the concrete around the oily puddle, her bones beneath her skin.
(didn't read this)

Sentence: His eyes aren't scary at all.
"Light as a feather, stiff as a board." He stands at her feet and looks down, while the others sit cross-legged around her, touching her shoulders, the back of her knees, her hair. "Say it," he says, and they all do. The carpet is hard, the TV tuned to static, and she thinks of last summer, when he led her into the Phantom, dark ride stopped by a real hurricane, a real flood, actual darkness. Their feet slipped in the mud left over, her eyes tried to focus, and he turned to her.

Theme: The bureaucracy of hope and lies.
(Just notes for this) The inside of a dark chocolate truffle. A piece of lettuce wedged next to an eye tooth. Light coming in through an upstairs window, stained glass colors on the hardwood floor. The sharp smell of onions on the side of a plate.

Last round: zombie, imagine, fossilized
(nothing for this)


Monday, March 14, 2011

Story Slam, May 2010

Words: Door, Blink, Blue

The door is blue now, but once it was red, once it was white, once it was avocado, once it was the honey color of new wood, its knots darker, once it was plain planks coming off a machine, covered in its own dust. Once it was a tree that waved on a hillside in a stand of others. The thick blue paint is gloss, bright in the morning sun, richer in the afternoon. You sit in your yard, the grass spiky on your legs, which are stuck straight out, your weight leaning back on the heels of your hands. You watch your father paint the door, which is never allowed to peel and show its former colors. You blink summer on your eyelashes, the rainbow haze like 70s snapshots when you lower your lids, eyes thatched with lashes. You blink away a long afternoon, and the door is newly blue.

Line: Suddenly, the idea of eating the fat ones didn't seem so strange.
Earlier that day, she had waded into the pool from the waterfall, legs prettiest pale, up to ankles, knees, the hem of her dress wicking water, the sash trailing, darkening. And now, as they sit next to the fire, he slides a hot dog over a crooked branch, hears it hiss when it hits the fire. His hands are wet with it, meat just out of the plastic package, the watery cooler, the beer leaning cold against his foot. He watches it split, burn. Two years without a bite of meat, but now, for her, he could.

Theme: Paybacks
(I had nothing for this)

Words: stool, perform, shiny
The circus tent bloomed open, striped to make it merry. Kids cotton candy shiny, the trapeze artists backstage eating penny candy for good luck. Backstage smells of wine and mildew, tent packed too tight. In their train cars, the fabric's loose over lamps and everything's tied down tight for movement. The ferris wheel spins Sunday, shiny, the churchwheel reflected in last night's rain. Trapeze girl on tiptoes, feet lift off of wooden stool, kick it back and leap off into darkness, performance, and risk.


Story Slam, April 2010

Words: Agitate, Dude, Spindly

The water glass, table bump, agitate. Patio chair with its spindly legs, everything seeming to tilt. And the air cool around the cone of the heat lamp, her foot hooked around the chair's leg, worrying it, tilting the chair slowly back and forth. She looks beyond the table, across the street, into the dark branches of the trees, branches that flip in the light breeze. She pulls her scarf around her shoulders. Agitate. The water glass tips, the water spills over the lip, slight. Dude, she says, you're bumping the table.

Theme: The improbability of love

The path through the woods is faint, and you don't even know if you're still on it, or if it ever existed, or if you want it to. There's something to the thought of getting lost, even if it's just a mile from a highway. You imagine wax wings melting, the feathers that covered the floor when your comforter split. One mile away, the car is still smoking, the hood mangled metal, reflecting streetlights off plane after plane, silver paint grayed.

Same theme?

Are you going to eat that, she's thinking. She waits, waits. He's talking about his job again, the job where he works with people she's not close enough to know. Yet, she should think, not close enough to know yet. And she wants to believe that someday she will be able to put her hand on his knee while he drives, casually and without having to wonder if it's okay. She'll be able to go to a party with him and know she doesn't have to worry about him -- he'll make his own way. She'll be able to take the pickles off his plate as soon as it comes, before the pickle juice soaks into the chips. Someday, she thinks. Not yet.

Words: ditzy, wipe, earlobe

Red velvet tiptoe the fork, three pronged, silver, patina. Do you clean it and make it pretty, or leave the dirt on to show how old? Tiptoe to the top of the staircase, the mystery show the grownups watch, spoons serrated in the garbage disposal, taped together with masking tape, my grandmother's Sharpie handwriting, "mangled". Red velvet cake with cream cheese frosting, you tiptoe to the kitchen, slip a finger along the edge, a little at first and then farther, more, the cake ruined already, but you can't stop licking the sugar off the groove along your fingernail, grooved from bike-fall, grew back wrong. The cake ruined now, and all you can do is climb up on the stool, steady yourself, lift the sheet of cake above your head and let go. It falls flat, red pieces spring up, and settle.