Tuesday, February 21, 2012

down for you is up

chapter 1 (in which some things about the nature of existence are explained, but not very well or thoroughly)

I wonder if Lucy’s right about the sky spraying. Something strippled up there, a busy orange, a leftover watermelon, a reconsidered clothespin. Gazing is a good guess at it. Versatility slinks off. Cool and at large, we coddle the darkest part of our deepest cloudiness. People sometimes do dangerous things with scissors. Us? We drain the grease from the frying pan, if we’re stricken by the mood.

Aerial sprayings. That’s what she says. Something metallic on the tongue. We used to draw dinosaurs. But there are no more crayons. And to top it all off, my eyebrows are going gray.

Lucy asks me in the ongoing bluntness of given-up personal space, “If you were a ewer would you pour tangerine-flavored rainwater on the lawn?”

Me? I answer when I’m able. I say things to her like, “Refrigeration is not always necessary, but it helps.” Veritable strutting. I know. Qualities that grace the lack of other controls. I am sneaking up on myself.

A raft of for-sures gathers and glowers about for a bit, and then I’m calling myself names, aspirating monosyllabic puffs of irked indignation over what’s bordering on never being mailed. Shit. That’s a roundabout of dead courage, there, peeling tinfoil hearts from cardboard smiles.

Properly sentimental, when the need be, for second-time-around miracles, and dodging through traffic on a bright Sunday afternoon when even the birds have decided to nap. Treacherous techniques of gluing come in handy when the sky promotes itself in the colors of 3 Musketeers bars. Lucy is making all her times the last. Perhaps a maybe-garden of palm trees and hula hoops. A fiasco of colored pencils and the scattered litter of scissors. We make ourselves into what we are not.

Basically, in the hospital light, we all adapt to the conditions of somnolence around us-- in the hospital light, that is; and we are flustered by the gravel of demands; and we take ourselves lightly. Glue drops on my socks. Monty Clift caught in magnolia branches. Lemonade stands for sale. The lines outside of who I am are being colored in by the dumbest of dolphins, the kinds of hunters the heart makes. Lucy is more serious than she lets on.

Vacating the promises, the ones we made on tiptoe, tongued over tinges of peppermint and cigarette ash, the moon and the Quaker’s beard, and Shemp Howard’s the even one in. We drink hot water on cold nights, shake the spiders from their webs with the nimble delicacy of a sheik on vacation, and shade yellow and green the borders of our thoughts. The art of escape eludes even the subtlest of debt collectors. The grind and whir of the garbage disposal is the background noise of the 7-days-at-a-time botany of the rushing months.

Patches of Coca-Cola tacked to vanilla-extract walls. Lucy pleads with cough syrup connoisseurs for tiny drips of sugared poison-- just enough to bring a halt to the make-believe milkman’s rounds. Growling first, Lucy tells the ceiling, “Dash and dream and dot and dash and dot, dash, dash, dear. Today will be either excellent or dog shit, dear.”

Abundance, worries Lucy, is too fashionable, and, also, life is too long to drink bad coffee. I prefer to remember these declarations if and only if I am sacheted in the bowery of my existence, or when Tuesday nights turn into Saturday afternoons, or-- also an only if-- when I am left mumbling, “Lemonade, lemonade, lemonade for sale…something like a nickel’s worth, I guess.” We need slight things, parts of parcels nobody notices, tweaked things that leak in through the limestone: a Marvin Gardens trickle of lost imagination, the pasted pained yellow stick of heartfelt need, a moon’s chin, a toothpick routine worn thinner than dental floss. For now a détente has been tongue and grooved between the yardsticks of hope and the deranged moonlight of courage. We muscle japery from capuched heads and tuck strangers in. Something around here smells like dynamite and hyacinth.

“I am not made of madness.” Lucy’s rummaging through what’s yet to happen, and then trying to remember what it was. I forget to tell her that we are all made of past and past alone makes us. “Plunder!” she screams at the clock radio. “And I am telling what’s not going to happen to everybody if you don’t just shut it!”

I feel I must respond, even though she’s as far away as electricity. Softly I susurrate, “There is an aged lady with a camelhair coat always on who stands in the street 9 feet from the curb and she makes gestures with her hands and talks to the wind and the garbage cans and she goes to the same place every day there in the street no matter what cars might be parked there and she stands and gesticulates madly at lord knows what in her Chinese sandals with her stringy hair that hasn’t seen a shower in weeks gone thin and scraggy over the pruned remains of her face while the asshole construction workers tear the morning in half with their saws and hammers and she makes motions almost like prayers while the buses tear by as she stands in the same spot there in her ripped pants and safari shirt gazing at her feet and she makes more sense to me than anybody else around.”

Lucy’s retort goes something like this: “No. This old lady? She’s milling around with her stroller and her cigarette, feeding the pigeons Ritz Cracker crumbs. Her top hat’s a halo. Her hair’s a million bucks burning up in a golden fire. Remember, there was a dime-store scent crushing everything that day we left for Mobile in the rain. Pawned our coats for gas, with only a suitcase to my name, we left just the same, without music or a lucky penny left to hold. Gregory Peck would’ve known better, or maybe Mozart, but we use what we’ve got and that’s all there is. Ask my mom, or Roosevelt, or Mae West if you’re curious. But that old lady? She’s fat in the head. I swear. And she’ll get hers one of these days, one of these days.”

The sky’s splashed with birds like tildes. Gazing gets us nowhere. We are left with bills we’ll never pay and invitations to the moon. We get songs stuck in our heads to pass the time. Velvet snails arrive in cardboard carrying cases. Federal requirements force us to divest the formalities of taking out the trash, but loquats are still considered “mailable” items as long as the proper postage is affixed to their skin. If this is a contradiction in illicit guidelines at least it is not on the level of a marshmallow placed in the tailpipe of one’s quality of existence. Locals only, you know?

Nothing good ever happens in February. The Romans knew this, and dismissed it as part of the month-less winter. Strolling doesn’t come as naturally, and Lucy fouettés around on cement trapezoid shoes while I speak in the solecisms of Homer Simpson. Wash, repair, drink diamond-flavored soda water, chuck typewriter keys at the ceiling fan. Some routines are already old before they begin. Odd jobs get us through. Me? I sing the sign I’m painting, “In the lateness of Sundays and bored afternoons, we hold ballroom dances in the basement room.” Nobody sings along or reads my sign. Lucy sneers and sells brandy-spiked lemonade to detention-bound teens. The chitchat of strangers blows the fuse of things I’ll only read about in the paper. It doesn’t matter. I’m pursuing entropy full-time.

chapter 2 (in which the highest bidder for a relatively smooth transition of narration gets slapped in the face with a magical glittery glove)

Photographs of narwhals adorn the cellar walls.

chapter 3 (in which some ugliness follows)

Such a thing as happiness eludes where we stand, here, in the much-maligned muck of Pacific Standard Time. Lucy’s skyward sway leaves living in reality up to my imagination, the only reality I can depend on, almost olive-slimy and drenched in fresh water. What makes something real to us? Lucy would say it has something to do with the tides, with face soap purchases, with handy movie recommendations, with the circus leaving town, with the products we use to make ourselves more appealing to others, with thin slices of lunch meat, with sideways stairs, with Eugene O’Neil. Reality? I’m not sure I believe in it just yet, but Lucy makes a fairly compelling argument for putting up with it in the meantime. The skew lines of her revolutionary surface are the vertices of my humanity. A pine tree digs in for shelter, niched between the jelly of coplanarity, a few scattered scalar monuments, and a sacred oath that goes something like this: “While the eagle’s dick burns for Amerigo Vespucci, I who am thought to think speedier than most cheetahs sprint, will, before, hence and after, channel the changes of tallied hope in the dreamy weather of never-collected tolls, bilge water, and the tucked crannies of characters you’d be better off not associating with. Also, I will play with fire while singing Goodnight Irene.”

Some ugliness follows. It appreciates in the dusty beam of my flashlight. I am hunting for breathable air. They sky’s tilting. Powdered sugar dusts the edges of the horizon. From here I can’t see where it is I’ll wish to never have been before. From here I’m gilded with cocoa mush and stars. Who will we be in the future’s spindle? Maybe we will all be two places at once. Kidney-bean skin, oniony breath, a mild case of hubris. We go unlucky into the sad fragmented circumstances of aluminum particulate, between the being of fragments. Lucy and I have measured the distance of our time and space together, and our measurements have been noted, though we never speak of the results. Something pretty awful good-looking follows.

chapter 4 (in which we learn of a place where nothing ever happens)

Memorizing my face in the mirror.

chapter 5

There is no chapter five.

chapter 6 (in which skyscrapers are built on landfill)

Plausibly we could imagine things differently. We could plant reproductions of ourselves in spare offices, places of repose with framed pictures of submarines lined up on the teal carpet and leaning against the wall, waiting to be hung from nails that haven’t arrived yet. Teal carpet gives the window installers headaches, so we’ll have to remove it or suffer windowless nights. Blasted carpet. I knew it was a mistake.

“The sky is the color of steel-cut oats.” Lucy’s standing on a street corner, sky gazing with her feet close together and her hands behind her back. It’s a major intersection, with a traffic light and everything. “The meal of the century, and they’re spraying it with pesticide. I give up. From here on out it’s chocolate sheet cake for breakfast for this girl.”

Eggplant seeds fall all over it all like crumbs for dead pigeons.

chapter 7 (in which an elderly caribou gets his comeuppance in the form of sling-shot Raisinets)

Bad thoughts still count.

chapter 8 (in which some rising action descends)

We have been sorely misdirected in the shelving of records, and an airplane’s thunder ships our souls off to a land of drool while we make cartoons and swing loblollied through slumber and repose. Indirect hits happen just about enough. Windup toys plug unsuspecting bridegrooms into the grid. Dancing razor-beaked birds fish for us beneath or below, wherever the shadows end up. Don’t bother me. I’m disrupting the meditating horses. So, don’t bother me about the sky.

chapter 9 (in which an ugly poem occurs, twice)

The distance we’ve covered (in and out of time) is only remarkable because (jazz-less) we’ve traveled with the gamesmanship of troublemakers. Leaving here’s messy-- like always. Cornets sound a fluttering call to unarm. I am (sort of) listening.

Lucy tells it like it could’ve been: “Missed the journey’s long end. Slumped on the pillow, choking on paint fumes, rear-ended by the past. Full of it, mostly. Gar--den! I am not a whistler. Play the apt part of the stark-raving, drop-dead humble punter who’s gone out to breakfast with the placekicker’s wife, and, for a kicker, pours much more than your average amount of maple syrup over his stack of huckleberry pancakes, if you tug the tail of this ass-pinned donkey about it. I’m over and out, through with the time-tested and the shopworn. Sure, somebody’s out detailing the specifics of temporary eternity in piña colada shades, but I’m hard-pressed to find a taker for catafalque-shaped swimming pools. Float, float, float, and my vines they are gnarled and gritty and irked and pestered and empty, gone, done, lost. Very soon it is now. See? I’m sentimental too. The rain tap dances away through Chinatown, a lulling, a how-we-used-to-be feel to it, carved out of a small place in my heart. The alleys, the civety garbage stink of it all, and the livid eyes of surly chefs smoking against soot-begrimed brick walls. It’s not the rats or the postcards or the cheap souvenirs. The air is crowded with disdain and boredom. Firecrackers are penciled in for the early evening. Don’t get me right.”

I (this one’s not the cool guy I’ve never been) get fusty and cantankerous, growing young, and splendor doesn’t always elude me. (headlights in the daytime) (be cool!) Crying’s never been so tough. Valentines from 1954, never mailed, stamped, lost in lamplight, shuffled, (stencils of loss) growling less than thunder would, (we) have notices from higher places ordering (us…) to vacate the premises, at once. Of course, nobody cares. And us? Well, we (petals gone from the rose) laugh, take a drink, unmake the bed, and save the longest walks for the way home.

Lucy’s sewing razor wire into the sky’s belly, and we putty hearts and brontosaurus bones into the lining, the hem that lights and cracks bedlam right about at the swing of things. All-at-once-but-one-at-a-time, we go forth into the moon’s trickle of salvation, and it doesn’t kill us much at all, really. I (who am pitted-avocado brave) am saving my temerity for an occasion’s special almost. Whipped strands of (cool it, now) egg white sugar the troposphere’s rim, and we (who are rhyme simple) save the blended arracacha drafts, stained boysenberry mush, and the (hogless, but wild enough) hope that we too can make less of our lost time than…

chapter 10 (a pop song, sort of)

…we are to be continued. We are luck against the silver cup. We are neon signs come crashing down. And I, who know your sound so well, get to be lightly taken in. Without a crash or whimper’s crush, we are bonded beyond the maddest of dogs. We are under read and overfed, and at times, we tend to think too much. We land without ever taking off. We are better than what we’ve got. We’ve got concrete parking blocks. And there’s the each that goes with the other, and there’s more ahead than we’ll ever get to leave behind. Grocery stores and radish leaves. Stationary-bike machines. Duck in closer. See what you’ve made out of me. When you weren’t looking, I stole all your keys. Let’s get even with odds we’ll never take. Let’s roll up our pants down by paradise lake. We are optioned. We are set down too. We are giving. We are out of the way.

chapter 11 (in which the end is nearer)

Contest # 142.

The Rules: Don’t forget your swim trunks, kiddies! I am not loafing around. It is jersey time, and we’re all going to stick a bit more than together. Lick your thumbs. Get the hair out of your eyes. All deposits of ore should be left at the counter marked “For Unconditional Use Only, Dears”. Under all circumstances you will not be forced to behave, but options of behavior that might pass as acceptable include, but is not limited to the following:

1. Leaping from the branches of a tree that resembles the famous tree in John Knowles' A Separate Peace. Though leaping into some sort of body of water is recommended, it is not vital. Please refrain, though, from shouting, “Bird dick!” or, “Eagle dick!” while in midair.

2. When the going gets tough, you find yourself becoming rashy with soul: a deep baritone of soul that scours the worries from your personality and ticks off the jelly doughnut of your bad side, and you wash your eyebrows in the ocean, and then, well, then you find other things to do.

3. Soliciting shyness from silence.

4. While treasure hunting you might be persuaded to pause and rest. This, in turn, will lead you, quite possibly though not for sure, into the realms of piecework while humming the Rolling Stones’ Dear Doctor. After doing this you will be not changed much.

5. Selling candy and bluebells to shelter workers.

6. Singing that part in Far Away Eyes that goes, “I ran twenty red lights in his honor,” while holding a kewpie doll of Charlie Watts.

7. Using sign language to tell bag ladies where the nearest restrooms are located.

8. Hanging out in the parking lots of gas stations.

9. Very often, it is known now, one can become disgusted by one’s own inner thug, and if this were to happen while sitting on the toilet seat, well, that’d be okay too.

10. Ever to ever, sweet to the touch, out the door, a sweep of green, you use your instincts for a table setting.

11. Ventriloquizing midgets.

12. Carefully construing the ways atoms can be smashed or not smashed.

13. Getting drunk on gin and pistachio juice.

That’s it. Contest time! Go!

The kids dive in. It’s neck and neck. A close call. If only somebody had water. Anybody? Dear God. There’s no water! It’s bone dry. Somebody get some water! STAT! On the triple! Those kids, they’re being mass-a-creed! Oh, well. This not going to end well. That’s the way the tattered window shades pull closed.

chapter 12 (in which she’s lost control)

“Let’s dance like Ian Curtis, up on pedestals, while riding trains, in the center of the city at night waiting, waiting, waiting for...”

Lucy squares off against the night. She’s wielding freezer-stored Fritos. Her lips are dangerous. I might get in a cab and tell the driver to drive around her in circles. I might tell her to dance-- to dance, dance, dance to the radio. I might stay put and scrub the moonlight from the TV screen.

A scatter of sunlight, and we do not know the enormity of this spot of clouds, this lingering drift of fluff and spooled thread. Our overhead is limited. I’ve lost that vocal range to eclipse properly the way we were. Perhaps the selkies around here will sing for me. But the selkies around here all look like station wagons. Under these conditions, I fair better in green sweaters.

“Deposit my sentiments in your emotional-distance account. I am burly with nays and yeas. Get back. Get back. Get back to where you’ve never once in your whole life belonged. Get back.”

I don’t do what I can’t.

Lucy proclaims in a stout whisper, “Veil me.”

That figures.

chapter 13 (in which the nearer becomes the farther)

The corner’s all help’s wanted ever after; and if we’re crooked, at least, par’s off; and the course is running. Feet step off. Body goes. Let’s party, suckers. Let’s take the dive. Feet wiggle. Balance is gone. Shields, white nights, and start like help on the way. All the crazies still care. All the crazies take the plunge. The basic cable of our appetites is going off the air.

Shoes. It’s the shoes.

Take my name and run with it. I’m your escape. There is no spoon.

“A crashing hoax?”

Lucy is timing the lulls between incidents of sky spraying.

“It’s clearer now. Scratchy, just a lack of angels, and we get bombed slowly, over and over, all the time. You can’t give up when you don’t know what it’s like to fight. It starts as a tickle. Sometimes it never gets worse. Are we being tricked? I’ve got scars whose eyes are longer than any sword. Don’t dig around too much, kid. You’ll only find out the softest way what it is you’re going to be too scared to find anyway. Fit the bill. Get me to a filling station. I’m rounded for listening use only.”

An ugly pall spreads its licorice-black tentacles through the shimmered crest of sunset’s dying fuse. Restored to disorder, a pan’s flash, gold and yellow, and life happens; and then, just as quick, it’s gone. Sewn shut. We are never seen to be believed. That is the treasure of our escape.

chapter, um, wait a sec….oh, the hell with it.

“The way you sip.”

“The curl of your hair.”

“The way you write my name.”

“All the cars around here, they all roll over and wreck. The raccoons, they all have heart attacks.”

“The sound you make when you’re asleep.”

“Nothing. Nothing much at all.”

“I used to be able to jump over trash cans and parking meters.”

“I used to be a genius.”

“We get conned into being this way, the way we end up. Did we ever have a chance?”

“No. But there’s music still. There’s still music. Cheaper than clock radios. Cheaper than egg salad. More expensive than a wedding ring.”

“I am a figment of my own imagination.”

“You don’t meet nice girls in Laundromats.”