the piano-player in the lounge an October afternoon with half-rolled sleeves

My violin teacher — she’s nuts — but she’s also got little boys in her earrings.

I mean little, not in mind, but in cranial capacity: their skulls are as big as preemie acorns, proportional to their bodies of only a few inches high. They don’t think of themselves as boys, so they aren’t, for themselves. They were purchased wholesale from a stocker of conch shells.

Doppelgängers dangling deep in lanterns – the blue glass makes their world blue, but not more than the orange lens over your own corneas paints your own world orange, compared to reality — or to how it sees itself when there are no creatures looking at it. When she shakes her head it’s pure luck they don’t happen to spy one another out their tiny windows — as long as each thinks he is alone, he will go on living and thinking he matters. Dead matter is an undesirable impurity in commercial jewelry.

Luckily, they are each very occupied by something located in their respective insides, keeping their eyes within the walls of their glass houses as the stones tickle my teacher’s graying curls as she shows me how to attack a sound. In the little lanterns the little boys who think they are big stay occupied before their respective pianos.

Eighty-eight keys, each, black and white, lovingly tendrilled with spiraling innards and propped up on four footless legs, lids open-flung to let the sound pour out as soon as someone should touch the cold ivory blocks. And though each of the two little men knows he is alone in his lantern, he believes there are others in a room ajar who can hear his heart as he squeezes it painting the air plunging his tiny bones printing the keys with the invisible traces of oils fit to the grooves of his very fingers which are unique in the world, assuming there is no identical twin. And of course there is not; he’d know if he had a twin, wouldn’t he? By some thread connecting them across the throat of earth even if they’d never met in conscious memory.

You stand by the door as long as you dare

to hear him train that melody around a lonely silver track and tie it back into a resolution sunset in mango soup. And just before the applause can fail to flood the adjacent room you exit back into the open world, the falling leaves, the steaming coffee, the atonal chitter of individuals. How nice it would be

in our blood-rushing real bodies

if we were not totally alone.

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Five Years Out

You wake up feeling like a hairball. In the mirror: a eucalyptus fairy, frazzled by mud-bark and bed-hair. You wonder if it might be okay today to like yourself.

You put on your capris. Do they fit the same as last week? Last month? Last year? Can you trust your memory? The tag is slowly branding the skin where your hip bones should be but are buried under an aggregation of melting candle wax. You have committed the ultimate transgression – you have awakened, and you weigh a million pounds.

You walk downstairs and start down the sidewalk between the cherry blossom trees and the 2.5-kid sedans. The birds are above you. If anyone sees you, they are thinking you are worthless because you are fat. They shoot their thoughts through the air at you. Sometimes you stop walking and just press against the air, trying to break the wall.

You complain to the one person in the world who really knows, or half-knows. You say, into the phone, “The thoughts just come and I’m trapped inside my body and I’d rather be anywhere but here but I can’t – can’t – die.”

She says, “You know it’s in your head.”

You say, “I wish I could ask other people sometimes, just for a reality check, but I can’t.”

She says, “No. You can’t.”

You say, “Why can’t I?”

She says, “This subject bores me. Can we talk about something more interesting?”

You show up to class, and the star student is a snowy plover with a swan’s neck, dancing without knowing it across her page of musical notes and into the tortured graphite sprawling your own notes in your composition book: lopsided arms ripping at the sun in agony, gaping mouths swallowing or spitting balls of flame, feet crammed into pumps that would blister their skin,

if they could feel. You did like her, once, but today there is the wall, and you can’t tell who built it or how many there are. You hate her today because there is the wall.

You lie in bed and realize you haven’t taken off your bra. So you sit up in the bare sunlight, toss off the t-shirt and disentangle the undergarment from your body. It slips between the cracks between beds. When you wake up, you have magically risen like a layer cake in the oven; a gigantesque buffoon ballooning with cloudy pound cake flesh, cheeks chipmunk-stuffed with the invisible marshmallows of dreams of self-acceptance. You hate yourself so much that you can’t think about it anymore.

You show up to class. People are writing essays. Essays about pathological paranoia, about electroshock therapy, about being the object of inhuman laws. You are not writing essays. Your chipmunk is full; your brain is empty. You need to sleep. Again. You need to stop sleeping. You really should stop eating, too. If you stop eating, you’ll go back to the old days when all you needed was the absence of eating – no honors society, no music, no publishing poems. If you go back to the old days, you will fail under the train of time and get caught like a sleeve on a doorknob and you will embarrass God. You can never go back. You need to keep eating, even though you need to stop eating.

Everyone and every sun of every day is out to get you. They leave you standing, a husk, still eligible to attend class. But they’ve taken the buttercup from under your chin, and they eat it and leave you missing vital organs. But you are still not sick enough to miss class. Maybe you should make yourself sick again. Your selfishness makes you feel sick. Your body makes you sick. Your flesh force-feeds bitter apple and cottage cheese to your brain until it wants to vomit, but you catch the words in your mouth and swallow them again behind sealed teeth and closed lips. No one else needs to hear about it. But if they are all trapped in their own personal hells –

Today a boy asked if you wanted to hug him. You said no. This evening you feel like a fairy, disheveled, teetering on the edge of a flowerpot twenty feet into the sky. This evening you will not be trapped. Just don’t let the sugar of experience poison your knowledge that

it is not okay. It needs to be not okay. If it was okay, that would really not be okay. And when it is not okay, you are afraid of dying beneath the whip of your own brain. But you can’t –

in my lacy pink diary

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I think I will marry a kraken.

Yes, I think I will. There is something about the kraken that flips a switch in my heart, and makes my chin rise to kiss the sun every time I see a picture, hear a song or just the mythical name mentioned in passing. Tennyson said the kraken is sleeping at the bottom of the ocean, somnambulantly slapping sea worms with his tail, and he won’t rise to the surface where mankind can catch a glimpse of him until the moment of the apocalypse when he shall perish along with the earth, becoming part of an immeasurable sleep. And that is fine by me. Husbands are supposed to spend 12 hours per day sleeping – aren’t they?

 

There is just something about the kraken, in paint or in pixel, strong tentacles shooting through the glass ceiling of the water to shatter giant waves upon the sea. Ships slide down these waves like bubbles in cake batter off the spatula. There is just something about his eyes, each alien to the other on two sides of the rubbery forehead, yet connected by the electric spiral of a brain, a technological relic fizzling white-blue lightning. There is really something about the way the kraken hides himself behind the midnight cape that is the deep – and this makes me want to chase after, to discover what is beneath the surface.

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No, I don’t think I will marry the kraken. It would be rather odd for his public image, to be a terrifying monster with a girl at his side. Besides, I wouldn’t want either of us to overshadow the other. And imagine if he sneezed inside the house! Besides, my parents would never approve the wedding.

Well, for once, they might be right. I will keep my distance from all manner of sea monsters, especially the kraken. Sexy as he may be. Rather than offering him roses, I think I will snip and study skin samples, implant cameras and monitor migration patterns, and I will learn every last slimy gutsy gory secret hiding between the walls of his cells and their organelles. I will expose every strangeness that reeks and trembles in his gelatinous tar-wrinkled body, will bind it into books and send them to all the nations overseas by boat. And I myself, the researcher and author, will come along to make sure the books get safely to their destination with no disturbances…

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Image credits in order of appearance:

“Perseus, riding on Pegasus, kills the dragon to rescue Andromeda.” By Anonymous – http://www.pizan.lib.ed.ac.uk/otea.html, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=21398026

By Pierre Denys de Montfort († 1820) – from en:Image:Colossal octopus by Pierre Denys de Montfort.jpg where it was uploaded by en:user:Salleman., Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=977733

“Münster’s sights and views– some examples from different editions (many with modern hand-coloring).” By Sebastian Münster – http://www.columbia.edu/itc/mealac/pritchett/00generallinks/munster/views/aa_views.html, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=57296897

Noticings

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The French verb for “to love” is aimer. That’s one letter away from amer, the adjective for “bitter.” Chocolate grows geographically far from sugar, without which it is only a bitter brown seed. Scarred hands of laborers nurture the repugnant plant, not knowing the miraculous puberty it will undergo once it is plucked dead and past their horizon.

Congealed shark cartilage breathes silently within skin creams on mirrored bathroom counters next to white starfish the pretty woman doesn’t understand are dead.

After kicking one hand until it releases the edge, I realize I don’t want my godmother to fall into the lava sea beneath her after all. But at this point, with only five fingers connecting her to cool earth, it is unlikely I can reverse the pact I’ve signed with gravity in blood. I still have to try. I reach for her hand.

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Learn more about products containing sharks and how to help save these vital and endangered sea archangels here: http://sharkangels.org/issues-facing-sharks/uses-for-shark

I also just found out about this awesome globally active organization working to educate people, establish laws, and carry out research and conservation activities to help sharks. It is called SOSF, the Save Our Seas Foundation, and it focuses on sharks but also works to help other ocean life. Find out more here: http://saveourseas.com/

Image credits in order of appearance:

“Boy collecting cacao from drying in Chuao, Venezuela” By Electrolito – Transfered from en.wikipedia.org, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1170862

“Pelican release. Pelican Island Pioneer Festival 2014 – Celebrating 150th birthday of Paul Kroegel, first refuge manager. Photos by Garry Tucker, USFWS.” By U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Southeast Region – Pelican Taking Off, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=45516717

 

the deleted stanza

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The itsy bitsy spider got tired of exerting herself. When the fat caterpillar bumbled by, in pursuit of more milkweed to fuel his flesh’s abounding, she beckoned him and whispered wise words between her mandibles and his peachy fluff. She told him just what would happen to him as soon as the requisite fattening days had all been fulfilled. He agreed and signed a contract. So she pierced and opened the skin and sucked the jelly inside from the withered sack into her black-bean body. This gave her just enough energy to scurry up the waterspout. But she didn’t have anyone to forewarn her just what would happen when she finally reached the light at the tippy top  – finishing is a two-edged blade tossed lightly from progenitor to offspring. They either catch one side or the other. We hope.

Image: By USGS Bee Inventory and Monitoring Lab from Beltsville, Maryland, USA [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Writing Room

Below: The God of the Winds Temple in Tulum, Mexico. Attribution: By Martin Falbisoner – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=48638843

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Writing is a treacherous exercise, like an in-law’s linoleum floor transformed into perfect eggshells.

From myriad shelves, a thousand books with two thousand eyes and three raise their brows at me, following each measly letter as it spurts off my fingertips, closed books waiting to laugh in their half-imagined way with pages rustling between hard covers.

From myriad days, a thousand dreams cannonball their white bodies into prisms and pierce out the other side, strained into a rainbow of possible futures, laughing against my paint-splattered carpets, my moth-eaten walls which blush marigold and blue at the suggestions of a million threads of light that will never be caught by my hands – too slow to rein in the pen, I am condemned to a flat future black and white on the page.

From deep in my memory’s dictionary, a thousand citations of failure rage like winds between the bindings, trying to undo me, saying you’ll never make it to letter Z, you’ll never write the end, you’ll never open up to the bright eyes of the future in a reader’s hands. I copy swiftly everything they say, those ghosts of giving up, those perpetrators of no waiting to strike fire to my journals, and I engrave in these journals my very failure to submit to their alluring degradation.

The reason you can’t actually cure an anxiety disorder with hatred, no matter how convenient it would be

There are people who hear voices. I mean people who literally hear like it’s bouncing down their ear canal and hitting the timpanic membrane and dwelling in the juices of the inner ear – the same voice, or a few, over and over like an avalanche, a moonstorm, a big bang of snotty pink frosting that knocks you over and kills you on the path to wherever.

Voices like

Cut yourself open and let the nakedness spill out to them. They will smell your silver talent and see the beating of your well-intentioned heart and they will still turn their backs on you as you crumple, a second-rate cadaver.

The whole universe can change when you find love. Unfortunately for you, that possibility was precluded as soon as that sperm met that egg.

It’s your fault the world is collapsing. It’s your fault that zombie cat died for a second time after being scraped up from the street and revived and fell right into its own grave. It’s your fault that skeletons cloaked in thin skin are roaming the streets on Christmas, searching for nourishment that doesn’t contain calories. Because your fat golden ass was born, the whole earth is going to burn and parch. And you dare drink water. How dare you.

You’ll never write this poem. You’ll just let it stagnate in your brain’s distended liver like mosquito-bitten water left too long in a broken wading pool. You want readers to cut themselves on your words and catch herpes or worse, but you don’t have the gumption to go out in the yard and weed out the first line. You’ll roll in bed like a half-full barrel of grog that envies rum and dreams without ever coming to be. Ballast.

It’s your fault we’re here, the voices say. You can’t blame anyone else. If you do, they’ll sense your distrust and shun you. Some will pull a gun and others a cease-and-desist and others will kiss the princess right in front of you. You can’t blame God because if he existed (he doesn’t) He’d strike down the highway overpass right as you stumble under it.

It’s your fault we won’t shut up. It’s your fault the schizophrenia, the different drugs and same result. It’s your fault the news and the election and the last vaquita. But it’s not your fault that sperm met that egg.

As soon as that sperm met that egg you had someone to blame.