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.
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.
I don’t know what brought me here, I’ve awoken from a nightmare 4 years in the making and find myself strangling with a JC Penny tie around my neck. I sit in bed in the early a.m. and I don’t look at you – I don’t look at the bed or the dusty typewriter on my desk, I stare at the wall until my brain turns numb. I won’t think of it; I won’t think of us or anything at all. Willingly brain-dead the morning routine before the commute down Route 80 – neurons shriveling, a brain matter withering into the mundane hum of the skull. I find myself at work with a tire-iron bashing the hood of my car. I don’t want a Keurig or all the clothes in your closet and I will go through life with a single pair of jeans. I’ve thrown in the trash every little gift you’ve bought me. I’ve been drinking beer every evening on the drive home, just so I can stand walking into our house. I’ve blown out the speakers to heavy death metal and dreamt of wrapping the car ‘round the tree in our front yard: a windshield shattering in my face and a welcomed wave of fresh air. I want to be free of this life, from washing machines and office PC’s and the nights we sit through in silence because three years ago I choose to say I Love You. And I still do. But I can’t live with myself enslaved to shitty illusions and the delusion that plunging a career through my chest is somehow what’s best for ourselves. This morning I put our kid’s chair through the flat-screen: no more watching Sesame Street. No more watching ER dramas or those lying commercial comedies. There isn’t a single thing to laugh at here. This morning I screamed that would you please just shut your mouth, we’ll pay the god damned thieving bills when they turn the power off. There’s still a shattered refrigerator pitcher on the floor that I refuse to sweep up. There are holes in the dry-wall. I broke your precious bathroom mirror and flushed his toys down the toilet. I’ve lost it. I woke up this morning and shaved my head with a number 2. No more pompadour comb-over, this sweet rider on the storm, I woke myself up this morning and can’t see that it’ll ever come back.
We saw ourselves marching down the parkway at dawn, head-long into traffic, carrying signs and beatnik anthologies – at night while the city slumbered we remembered what the next day would bring: Defiance on the turnpike. Sitting on the footbridge drinking bum wine and trying to rap, at night, to pass the time; feet hung over the slab of concrete, toy cars sliding by down the highway beneath and we saw what the morning would bring: Revolt on the outer-belt. We dropped beer bottles into commuter traffic at dawn, would light sticks on fire for the commute home. And it all seemed so spectacular and raw to be spurning the throngs of traffic we said were traveling in the wrong direction; but we knew it was the better guess to assume, though we could never admit it, that there was only so much in us to fight against the friction.
When flesh is water-logged it swells and pushes oils out the pores of taut skin. Greasy, wet with a hint of green –
eat your lunch at the office.
When bones corrode the marrow sours. Rust holes eaten through –
your desires at the ends of their demands.
When time decays it leaves behind the taste of pennies, pine for youth to try again –
you didn’t have to be this way.