June 22, 2007

The Dark Wheel

Dark Wheel

If there are ghosts, we meet them long before their earthly personages have departed. We sense a wrongness, a strangeness, but play along, waiting for the moment to right itself. Meanwhile minutes creep by, the train takes us farther and farther from home, underground and then aboveground, not slowing as our doubts grow like a car might if we were driving. We fly down the tracks through cemeteries that we can't see but know are there, we've seen them before, during day trips. We don't know what is worse: to see them, or to not see them. At least when you can see them, you know when you have finally passed through. In our minds the spectral real estate is endless.

I was taught there was magic in being able to do the exact opposite of whatever it is you normally think or do. Whether an individual capitalizes on this ability is beside the point; up until the second you act, your brain should be a chamber of exquisite ambivalent potential, so full of perfectly crystallized silence that all your true will has to summon is a whisper in order to initiate the chain reaction that will make your destiny. Swipe your Metrocard instead of turning back. Choose one platform over the other. Come together instead of alone. Go at night instead of during the day, in January instead of June, go on an empty stomach. The mere ability to do these things will suss out your intentions; actually doing them will part the veil.

Coney Island has been a corpse for decades, which explains the crowds it draws. We decide to take this trip long before we learn that this is the last year it will teem and seethe, long before we learn that this is our last year to go anywhere together. It is so many lasts, an unfair amount of final experiences for such a dark ride into the sibylline winter fog. A scrapbook of our trip would be full of captions like "Last trip to the beach" and "Last hotdog at Nathan's", but all the pictures would be glossy black. We decide on the spur of the moment to go-- which is to say, I decide and then compel you to call my bluff. I arrive home in the evening and tell you what I want, and dare you not to give it to me. You offer it to me and then dare me to accept. I accept and then dare you to get your coat. We are on the subway before we can quite figure out who the history books will declare as the winner. I want to know what is there in the winter, I say. I have to see it. More than anything I'm afraid that all I will find there are people who want to know what's there in the winter.

The ghost-moment comes when we arrive at Stillwell Avenue Station to dead cold and utter anticlimax, with full bladders and minds tired from riding in silence. Coney Island is filthy even at freezing temperatures. We aim for the boardwalk knowing that the slick wood knocking under our feet will conjure the correct spirits and imbue our visitation with purpose, flavor it with adventure. But we do not hold hands like children or lovers would. We are there but not drawn together, our bodies and thoughts drifting many feet apart, muffled by howling wind. The planks are dead underfoot, a flat blank surface; the ocean is as black as the sky, the sand is as grey as the Astroland concrete, and whichever way I turn, I can not see your face as you talk. I sense a wrongness, a strangeness, but I play along, waiting for the moment to right itself. It is suddenly clear that I am in the company of something which has died but does not yet know it; I am devastated, but not afraid, and I hide behind my camera hoping you will bleed red or kiss me in the cold dunes and take us the rest of the way. The gentle spheres of light in the fog promise warmth that they can't deliver. I brought us here, I think, to prove a point. But in the shadow of the dark wheel, I can't remember what it was.

We argue all the way home.


June 18, 2007

"The Mirror of Being"

Red Lantern

An empty mirror and your worst destructive habits:
when they are held up to each other,
that's when the real making begins.
That's what art and crafting are.

A tailor needs a torn garment to practice his expertise.
The trunks of trees must be cut and cut again
so they can be used for fine carpentry

Your doctor must have a broken leg to doctor.
Your defects are the ways that glory gets manifested.
Whoever sees clearly what's diseased in himself
begins to gallop on the way.

There is nothing worse
than thinking you are well enough.
More than anything, self-complacency
blocks the workmanship.

Put your vileness up to a mirror and weep.
Get that self-satisfaction flowing out of you!
Satan thought: I am better than Adam
and that "better than" is still strongly in us.

Your stream water may look clean,
but there's unstirred matter on the bottom.
Your sheikh can dig a side channel
that will drain that waste off.

Trust your wound to a teacher's surgery.
Flies collect on a wound. They cover it,
those flies of your self-protecting feelings,
your love for what you think is yours.

Let a teacher wave away the flies
and put a plaster on the wound.

Don't turn your head. Keep looking
at the bandaged place. That's where
the light enters you.
________________And don't believe for a moment
that you're healing yourself.

~Jelaluddin Rumi~

June 15, 2007

Love, Jordan

Love, Jordan

"dear Tom:
tom-boy my dear thompson paul:

Hello and how are you inside your body standing on New York cement doing? I hope the day has ben good to you and if not I hope yuo have found some earthly indulgence to ease the stress of a day dedicated to the earning of money to pay for your SURVIVAL. Yes tom you will be just fine. hopefully when I arrive you will be mid-decline so I can witness the crash and burn and the eventual rebirth as I begin my own descent.

love Jordan"

I make a better friend than an art historian. I received this little scrap of letter-art in the fall of 2002, when the reality of my choice had begun to set in. After two months of theatrics and acrobatics and stone soup in New York City, it was suddenly evident that I was driving a locomotive across land where tracks hadn't been laid yet, clearing a path of sorts, but strewing it with parts of my own battered carriage that were jolted and torn loose as I plowed on through my own dust-plume. You show up expecting to feast on New York, but it also feasts on you, and isn't shy about taking the first helping.

Jordan came and went, lived in my barracks, established her own, fed and was fed upon, left the city, the state, then the continent. With only the planet left to leave, she followed the trail of her own parts all the way back to Brooklyn instead, still the dream-fiend and demolition-expert she was when we met as adult children back in Arizona. Over the years I received many similar leaflets from her, pages torn from books, photocopies of photocopies of photos, wax drippings and other ad hoc paint-jobs, love letters from her nine year-old alter ego, pieces shed like feathers or scales. I saved them all, knowing one day I'd need proof that the days burned as hot then as they would in my memory.

Having recently inherited a great deal of wall-space, I decided to frame some of this stuff. It's fitting that I spend this June pawing through leftovers from other summers, to try and find the place where that grisly path through the trees finally stopped, the intersection where I hitched a ride with a stranger that wound up lasting four years. I hung it where I would see it every day and remember the violence of self-invention, and how far just a little of it could fling me.

But in the process of tucking it in a frame, I did what I had somehow never gotten around to doing when I received it: I flipped it over. For the first time I got to see the real painting she had sent me, the lines and color unclouded by kamikaze well-wishes and gritty photo-reproduction. Jordan is tricky like that. I both can and can't believe that I never looked at the back. I needed those words at the time, that urgent voice and promise of reunion. I need them now too, but for framing purposes perhaps what I need more is to be washed in a sulphurous yellow tide, and stretch my limbs in dreamy supplication to the visions that sweep the ground from under one's feet, so that one can float like a sightless particle above the wreckage of one's world.

Love, Jordan II

June 10, 2007

SFUMATO: New Issue is Up!

Scroll down (through other awesome stories that are totally worth reading) for my contribution of star-crossed middle school angst.

June 5, 2007


Walk Away

"Sometimes I see it less as us having fallen into the same trench, and more as though, with sword drawn, I was backed into a corner, cutting and slashing more furiously, abandonding strategy and now throwing the blade around in a fit of frenzy hoping that all it cut would die, with no hope of victory but only the last bit of rage before I became exhausted.

Somewhere in the heat of it I backed into you. I saw that you had indeed been forced into the same corner. And were winning your battle. It makes me want to fight harder. I just can't tell if it's from inspiration or jealousy.

I want our moments together to tender. I want to be your refuge, if only for a while. And you're right. Thats the way it has to be. You can't turn your back on your enemy to help me, or they'll get us both. Nor can I turn and fight yours, I've been fighting mine much too long - it would be an insult to myself.

So let our moments be the space where we realize that a sword through your chest is the same sword through my back. Let us stand back to back and occasionally shout out loud words of love to each other over the horns and drums of the enemy all around -

have faith in the Republic of Texas..."

While we were busy playing video games and dreaming of better colors to paint the walls, life happened over and around us. While we rode parabolic waves between bouts of sudden fortune and dinners out versus wastrel-thin meals and bitter indignities of employment, our time together was gathering, commenting, dissolving about and within us. While we argued whether it was the poor or the rich that deserved to be cooked and eaten, while we ignored problems and committed secret indiscretions, while we flourished in public and in private even during the times we seemed determined to escape each other, time seethed beneath our feet like a rug pulled out from under us. All this flying may have been falling for all we know.

Last week I thought with dread that I'd missed it, that I forgot to remember it, neglected to properly appreciate our victories or archive them so that I wouldn't have passed in and then out of the longest and best relationship I'd ever co-starred in and be left with no evidence. I should have taken your picture every week. I should have opened my eyes wider, talked less, absorbed more. How can a body make these decisions in the present tense? I'm riding a sled down a tilted plane, sanding my heels to the bone trying to brake so that there is more to the ride than the point I embarked from and the point I arrive at. I want to know where I was in between, all of those half-seconds at high speed. They were the happiest half-seconds of my life, I want to at least know where I was when I had them.

But that's the lie of a wounded mind. In reality, I forgot and neglected nothing. We have always been more bare and less blind than most couples, we make preposterous, impossible decisions as casually as others order Chinese food. If there was love or blood or bile to be wrung out of those days, we sprained our forearms doing it. We blew through assailants with blades blazing, but dressed each other's wounds by night, and each inspired the epic poetry the other wrote on his sabbaticals and solo missions. The sad truth is that there is nothing you can do to remember better, to make those moments last as anything but echoes. Without a physical tie to the mythological, a tooth or some scrap of hide or horn, you will never quite believe what it was that you hunted all those years, and even then you grow to worship the artifact, not the beast.

You wrote this letter to me after we'd known each other four months. It is a testament to our indefatiguable stubbornness, if not our love, that it could have just as easily been written now, four years later. As long as you remember that Arizona was one of the last territories to be settled into statehood, and I keep in mind that there are factions in Texas that are still lobbying to secede, we can hopefully still meet in this corner from time to time and lay waste to hours and enemies alike.