You’ve been spending time with your mother making decorations for the holidays. Crafting kitsch for the doors and the halls, small moments made-up for the years you lived out-of-state. Progress in your own home is slow. Rent checks are never late but your husband is rarely in for dinner. Your own job seems to be a farce stunted by a bad choice of college degree – how many women can get a decent car in photography? But your life’s love got an early foot in with a 401k; and all his complaints are erased by his claim “this is all only temporary”. Someday comes the break. A baby will be on the way, you’ll have one made by spring and that’s your own secret plan. And at night when the small house is quiet and your thoughts creep down from the walls you can hear those good friends crying all the way back at Ohio State. You can hear the clamor of the bars and the mic beats of the poets and the stars that shined over North High and Third. You remember screaming at him when he left for Santa Fe. He left your heart aching. He quit the job after just a week and came home miserable to you, who forgave him so quickly because the sidewalks outside were still painted in the green of your dreams. Cooking isn’t what your patience were made for. Graphic design isn’t what your head was made for but at least it gives you something to do. And in the mornings in the traffic you can listen to NPR because the music you’re in love with whispers for you to abandon your car. Hand your laptop to a homeless man and empty out the bank. You’re already crying thinking of Mark finding a letter in the pot you won’t have filled with his dinner. He hates it what he does for you. Neck ties and obedience to the man with the bigger desk. Long hours of nicotine-yellow sun on suburban streets. Empty boxes flipping away the blank pages of your calendar’s days. Penned at a desk in a fluorescent alley of cubicles and swarthy smiles. Obsequious pleasantries and the eternal denial that what they’re paying you adds up. A 40-hour work-week indoors and Netflix to reward your stationary labor. Spirits were meant for the open air. You once spent a week straight without a foot inside your own door. The concert hall on State Street and the rooftop restaurant with the sky-line view where Mark first said he loved you. You had to go because a local blog was paying your photos in erratic hours. And at 4am you found Mark awake still waiting for you. Grasping for an emotional hold before the world sent you tumbling: your exhilaration has landed flat. A cold star stays dark with nothing new to burn in your chest. Stalked by old friends who aged quick at dead-end jobs. The same streets you walked as a kid are a ten-minute drive from the house you’re starting your life in. Someday you’ll find your future years painted on your office floor – or that Mark regrets the wedding. You’ll think back about the happy girl, what it meant to view the world without walls. To see the importance in the clouds and the excitement in the daisies painted on the windows of the Vine Street boutiques. To remember the reasons you needed to drive 20 miles over the speed-limit if you wanted to eat a second dinner that week, or what it felt like to cry because you’d spent four sleeplessness nights helping organize a Halloween ball. Someday comes the break – when the muck is too slow a death to stay here waiting 60 years. When you remember that life is movement through the city; that every breath is sweeter when you’re chasing down a dream; that your vibrant heart was meant to beat. Make your mother a memoriam: you love her most when you’re saying goodbye. Gather the movement of your frantic panic and the happiness of an insecure life. Ask Mark if he still loves you, and pack your bags for Ohio State. There’s happiness outside of Jersey.
I kept a calendar at my desk, and I had binders of papers and a collection of pens, and a bobble-head that reminded me of saying Yes. I sat in the air-conditioning all summer, and got to stay home when it snowed. I had responsibilities and people who looked up to me for answers to their issues. I had a computer, two computers technically, and two computer screens, and I spent my days leaning back in a big comfy chair. I had a digital hub. Published articles and interviews and edited videos for the web. People ran around under me. I ran a website. I was the master of the fucking intraweb. For Poly Corp. I don’t understand what they did. But everyday when I walked in the squirrels would chirp hello from their nests tucked into corners of their gray cubicle walls. They’d tell me stories about their kids and their kids and what they did with their kids on the weekends. They played on the lawn. And I’d push past towards my office down the hall. Everyday for three years, the same eight-thousand square feet of office space on the fourth floor of a single wing in a single office building. Fourth floor — they couldn’t even give me a patch of ground. The window in the office offered such a little view, of a corner of the parking-lot and the office building across. That is what I had all day — the same drab gray patchwork of ultra-low-pile carpeting, and I’d piss the same urinal, and I’d walk back to my desk. And outside I’d see the sunlight I couldn’t feel through the window’s tint, and I’d know that that sunlight was the same solar beam that spread its gold across half the planet’s face. I’d pace in my office and I’d pace in the stalls and I’d scowl at the squirrels who passed me by in the halls. When man was the master race! When he had muscles in his legs and hair on his arms, an upright posture that saw the forests in the distance and the coyotes on the hills. What is this we were made for? To cower in our cubbies and strut the same lengths of floor? Moles that hide in burrows, sleepy weekends in suburban corners. Man-caves! Dust-motes in the stagnant sunbeams through the window; hide in our little corners of comfort oblivious to the gilded hills at dawn. Never to see the mountains purple with the distance, to feel the breadth of a continent pass beneath our feet. The city streets are there to be explored; the open passages of time and the highways that lie in the sun — they should be mine! To be conscious of the Redwood forests and the beauty of the Badlands, the cafes in San Francisco and the poetry of the pouring rain. We were meant to witness the way the Earth curves from the Carolines to the Blue Mountains to the red rocks in the desert, not to hide ourselves from this beautiful expansiveness of time. The faces we’ll never see! The millions of moments we all miss. The trees should weep for the people who no longer lay in their shade, and the poets should put down their pens: we have abandoned them. I will not disappear from the years by sitting at my desk. I am driving a rented Cadillac right through this building’s gate, blasting bluegrass and jumping in my seat, collecting my final paycheck. Give me the revolver, give me back my booze. I am taking back my liberty and with it to spread my virility ‘cross the face of this beautiful Earth. I won’t sit kindly in society’s pocket anymore. The Universe, it should know that I exist.
We used to make campfires out of sticks, bonfires out of pallets and the couches we’d find left behind in the clearing in the woods. A long dirt trail seven miles back, far removed from the indolent suburban roads. This is where we roamed under starlight. Midnight, the blackness viscous between the trees. We backed-in pick-up trucks in four-wheel drive and let the stereos play till their batteries died. We sucked down beer, we sucked down laughter, we built up our dreams in the mud of the clearing. We collected hickies on our necks, bruises on our arms and poison ivy on our groins. We jumped from the cliffs, swam clear across the reservoir chasing moon-silver ripples ‘cross the water. I pitched us a tent and only brought a single sleeping-bag, just to leave you with no other choice. We fell asleep by the dying fire-side chatter. Gentle breathing on my chest; your hair roasted in the smoke of cedar wood burning. I would have married you then. Laid a bed of moss in a cool den of willows, and made you my wife. We were seventeen. School taught the thrill of insubordination; rebellion was risk-free. Bliss was found in Yoohoo bottles and Taylor ham sandwiches for mornings hungover. And whenever the adult world seemed to press down, we’d retreat to our clearing in the woods. We’d haul back beer, shouting and singing. When they weren’t looking pulling you down in the backseat, quick to kiss tits and lips. And when the sun went down, we’d let the bonfire burn a week’s worth of our sins. I remember best the lasting form of the fire, the twists and jumps of the flames that appeared more physical and honest than the houses and streets we’d fled from. We didn’t watch the news, and didn’t watch the movies, but off in those dark woods we’d hear the bombs quietly bursting. Thud. Thud. Thud. And the fire would crackle, retrieving our attention and the CD would recover from its skip. Merriment. Booze spilled down your tits and a hard-on you grabbed through my pants.
I wandered through the woods on my own that final night. And what I found in the viscous black was a wind that sucked out my breath.
They took us out to green pastures when we were young. Gentle folds of fragrant earth open to us, long warm roads winding to focal points beneath the horizon; wheat fields expansive. Open. Blue skies and the right to die beneath a willow with no one’s name. The dark mysteries of night and the thousand specks that beckoned us to the vast possibilities of life, out here in the frontier land. Textbooks’ covered wagons and dreams imprinted on pupils. Let the pupae bloom their wings. Scythes in our left hands, pens in our right. Honesty: what the mighty fought and died for. Tunes of freedom on the nightly news, red white and blue over the colonies and the untamed West and the Cadillac coupes that flew the ‘50s birds from their nests and the conservative… They pointed at green pastures when we were young. Danced naked unabashed, told us it was in the social fabric. We must not have read the final chapters. We didn’t commit to rote memory the organization of the indexed dates and names and categorical procedures for dictating the proper enunciations of freedom in this valley. We must’ve skipped some pages. There are lights inset behind the fabric of the dome, glow blue day sky; relax and enjoy the childhood spent spa-soaking the suburban expense — the pastures carved in grid-wise greed, stare up at the midnight specks of the dimmed-down lights of the dome. Sweat-shop saunas: success by the width of a hand-held; virtue by the desk jockeys beneath your feet. Climb the tower stairs of gold. Dollars glow neodymium green in shadowed bank vaults on computer screens and this is your pasture — run free. Raised on textbook patriotic histories, speak your tongue free, but know they’ve done no wrong. Your desk in preschool is not your desk in grade school is not your desk in college is not your desk on the fifteenth floor of JP Morgan. Starve now your organs; hear the children dying: In the honest candlelight of shakeboard cabins, breathe more deeply the binding’s glue and forsake the god-damned questioning — What shit still holds this together?
Futility in the pages of decades old poetry, mold in the bindings of our 50-year-old dreams. Do you remember cliff-diving outside of Santa Ana? The strangers we lived with in the woods, new friends from San Francisco. Dancing lost footsteps on the sidewalks’ lyrical chalk, a young folk band busking towards Denver. Making love in our tarp tent to the Magnetic Zeroes; rise to find dawn gilding the hills round Athens, Ohio.
The lyrics to our dreaming lives haven’t changed in 50 years.
Dear Dylan, Dear Kerouac, Dear Ginsberg, Dear Morrison
Because somewhere outside of Asheville we heard the hum, low, monotonous, whir of the processors. We thought we would run forever. One by one friends and lovers in graduation caps and office desks, and the hum of the processors grew louder. So, young and hungry and tired of running, we returned to retrieve our degrees. Fortunes awaited, long careers beneath the microscopes of progress. Happily ever after a fairy tale soundtracked by the clack of the keyboards; the digital hum of the screens.
Bookshelves burn and the inferno splits apart the neon glow we hid in our hearts. Flowers wilt and the passages of love decay. Dreams fall to darkness.
Hold my hand.
Skunked beer spills the counter and soaks into the food. Cans flung at walls, at furniture and doors; cans scatter the floor. Head lolling in lonesome; drunk, happy isolation. Enjoyed for the moment from my kitchen chair. Last week I had a bar-mate tattoo on my chest at random his choice of senseless petroglyphs. I passed out in the dirt at the park, shirtless, inviting Earth into fresh open ink wounds. I woke up to an 8-year-old stealing my shoes. She argued for ownership and I did not contest. It seemed like the price to pay. Because I can’t keep a job and I can’t see your face ever looking pretty in a wedding dress. Sorry, but grocery shopping is for douchebags and I won’t build a crib for a single little person. I am trying to think. Beer cans swept into closets and fist-sized decorative decisions through the drywall. These are the only arrangements I can live with. I am trying to think. My arm sticks to the table, old sweat and PBR, and I can hear the termites eating through the wall. A moment of awareness, crystal and pure, and what I hear are the termites eating through the fucking wall. My chest is paper-thin, eyes wide and skull gaping like the crust of an orange lava flow. Brain matter exposed. Walk through the house crushing beer cans under boots, finding furniture insufficiently destroyed. Shelves dashed to the ground, chairs smashed on the walls, throw myself on the table till I shatter to the floor. There are a dozen points of bright starlight on my naked bleeding body. Sore and abraded. And broken: these twelve points of starlight feel warm and intense. I am only your symptom. But I can honestly attest that the purpose of reality is no longer ours.
You told me to buy presentable clothes and I did, a whole new outfit from Target. Neat slacks and spiffy shirt, even found shoes to match. And now here I am dressed like a fish trying to understand what it means to breathe air. We’re toddlers on a see-saw, you and I, for the first time trying to find stability. But this gala is full of coroners. My first big affair for a serious career, and my editor escorts me to a corner booth to meet the district managers who pay us both. I laughed at the right jokes but I kept my mouth shut, and they never once saw the tattoos ‘round my gums. The molars I had pulled from eating rocks as a drop-out. Clean-shaven clean-cut and dressed like the guest of a judge who doesn’t recognize my face from four years before, I could maybe fit in if my conscience didn’t heave. The walls are turning purple. Faces start to swirl with open jaws of twisting laughter, vortices of features. The chandeliers are bleeding light. The hotel porters are cackling rapists out in the foyer looking for a fix and I don’t know what I’m into but I’m out in the rain. I am the news man who screamed out the window and tossed himself to pursue his echoes. There is a limo parked in the curbside puddles, seven porters to open the limo door. Out steps the Big Man himself, CEO of Gannet. “It’s a pleasure to meet you, sir.” My editor masturbating through his pocket. I am pouring vodka into champagne so no one will notice the changes bringing back the alcoholic. Unemployment gets me paid about half as much but if I don’t need a car or to keep my appearance, well, that’s money well saved and spent at the bar. No – I should give you a call to keep my head grounded but our conversation cannot be heard by these howling de Sades. Their suits are worth more than the hearse they’ll wheel me out on. I am cackling at the bar. Am I the Marquis in the mirror? Behind me spins the eloquent calculations of Murdoch’s publications, wives and the mistresses of breaking war stories and the talking heads from GE that just won’t quit. I am performing Coyote Ugly on the bar, finally shouting all the things that should be said. I haven’t had a care in the world since Makers’ Mark let me forget the debts I owe and the kids we support and I may be the Marquis in the mirror but god damn these cruel fools, our see-saw will stay stable if we place a god damn trailer on it.