Wednesday, July 8, 2009

How to be an Adult

Chapter 1

He googled trust and she did what those who forgot such things often did. She lifted her leg and peed on it, yellowing the grass, marking her turn at things. The light caught the blades of grass, the wetness of her waste, shocking in its beauty. He took the diagnostic assessment. A score below twelve meant an array of interventions. What can be done alone. What cannot. Several evenings dedicated to this. She refused the premise. Who can trust anyone, anything? Who cannot? The effect on the vegetation was alarming. The salvia bloomed a violent russet. The sage died. A mourning dove landed on the metal railing of the fire escape, cooed, then left. Mornings offered greater possibility. She tried again.

Chapter 2

By dusk they were both similarly situated. The sky exhibited its own sense of things, spreading its puffs of clouds, then darkening. She called him to say what exactly? That she was alone, afraid. He read her the results of. Fear of intimacy. Fear of being eclipsed. The sun did such things. Shamelessly. This unstoppable desire to. No one blamed it. She held onto her ancient thread. There were others who asked for less, demanded less. Who were they really? The city flickered. She went through her drawer of hidden books, the damaged child, difficult communication, loving freely. Honestly, who would read such things? She had, or tried to. He did. The earth shifted, belched. She cried. She often did. He focused on the future and worked his way back. It provided some ease.

Chapter 3

She finds it exhausting. The wind. The trees. Trying to think through the fog’s wet white coat. The child on the other side of things puts on her parka and walks out the door. Each day moving toward it. Her life. Her future. This attempt to.

Chapter 4

Everywhere, it seems, there are lovers. At the café, the women touch hands across the table, tentatively as if some dart may be hidden within the other’s fingertips. The band is all strings and heart songs. Beside her a couple slips into one another’s skin. As if to be separate, to feel the edge between self and air—a misunderstanding to be sure, but still to feel it—as if to feel it, is simply too much. To not feel it. Well that is difficult too.

Chapter 5

The question becomes eventually who to believe. There is always yourself, a person known to be untrustworthy. There is the therapist you pay to be reliable who has instructed you on several occasions to lie. There is the lover, or the object of, who cannot or does but intermittently, unwillingly, angrily. There is your sister who advises with the decisiveness of a prosecuting attorney. But how can she know so absolutely what should and should not be done? Perhaps it is living in the east, her proximity to dawn, the day’s clearest intent. You are in the west where endings are the only thing definitive. You listens to all of them, none of them. There is an echo inside the eerie quiet of you that suggests you should bend, always bend. And you do, half way over until your mouth is swallowing your foot, choking on it. This is what it means to.

Chapter 6

There is a story about a crow who tried over and over again to change his color. The raven laughed at him, told crow black is the most beautiful color. But crow was completely taken hold by his desire. He befriended other birds, borrowed their feathers, used a paste of honey and mud to adhere the colorful plumage to his breast. This is a story about compassion. When the feathers fell crow became angry. All he wanted was a bit of color. Who could begrudge him that? Everyone it seemed. So crow began taking things, plucking the brightest feathers from the parrot’s wings. The birds gathered together to discuss crow, envy, the dissolution of self. They decided to make crow a perch of wildflowers tied to the branch of a maple tree. Each day one of the birds brought new flowers for crow’s roost. This isn’t a story about crow, who never let go of his dream of colorful plumage. You can hear him now in the tree complaining. This is a story about you, about desire, the force of it. Even now, you want more than this lovely little nest.

Chapter 7

She has relearned everything. Lived the same lesson so many times it is landscape. One morning she forgets to look down when crossing the street and finds herself without ground beneath her. It had only been her relentless belief in the earth that had held it there. Somehow in the repetition she had forgot to hold still her imagination. This is the predicament, the necessary prerequisite to. She does not fall down or through but onto something new. Everywhere there are solid, non-solids. She is not solid although she experiences herself as such. Even now on the back of another cartilaginous shell, she is dreaming of objects that by their very nature have fixed positions in space. Is it only once she notices that the particles are vibrating, humming a monotone but surprisingly pleasant tune, that she sees the turtle’s beak could just as easily be the moon.

Chapter 8

Everyone has an opinion. On the corner, there is a man carrying his life on his back. When you pass, he tells you, “silence is golden.” He has been instructed to. Everywhere there are lessons. Another man with less belongings but more rage tells you who is to blame, an entire population connected by nothing other than the color of their skin. Days later you have grown accustom to hearing these strange proclamations, these demands that the complications of life, the deep suffering, be lessoned. You are not surprised when a man pushing his belongings as if a sled across the tundra begins shouting “cunt.” You tell yourself he is talking to one of his ghosts. We all are. You hold this thought until he describes her, the cunt in the blue sweatshirt with long dark hair, and it is you. You look back, shrug, you’ve been called worse. You make some internal gesture of compassion but can only manifest pity. That is until he shouts “that cunt there is having an abortion.” Something inside you stops, shuts off completely. To be named in the street by someone you do not know, cannot know, and yet he knows you. Or the ghost of you. That girl who at nineteen called herself a demon for ending what she could not begin. Twenty years later it is still your deepest shame. He crosses the street, but does not stop his recriminations. “That right,” he says, “you’re a cunt.” You do not seem able to move. Standing on the street corner, flayed open, utterly exposed.

Chapter 9

She dines on guilt or is it rage while he practices his gender, getting the inflection, walk, misogyny just right. Anger is something they both do well. It is satisfying to be able to shout what is unspeakable at a lower decibel. They circle the kitchen, enacting some inherited ritual. Everything they’ve been taught to. She grabs the reddest apple, takes a bite. He spits out the bitter wax of skin. There are so many egos in the room their appendages have become entangled. When she tries to leave, his palm is still caught in the pit of her arm. She takes the paring knife and begins to peel the newly haired surface of him. Beneath is not the girl she loved but the man who cares about nothing other than the possibility of what he can become.

Chapter 10

There is story about a crab who grows tired of his claws, the enormous weight of them. He asks seagull to bite them off with her sharp beak. Seagull loves to slip the world into her mouth. She snaps his claw between her beak, cracking the shell, but not severing the flesh beneath. Ouch cries crab, withdrawing his mangled claw. Crab decides that it was not his claws but his shell, the entire exoskeleton that he wished to be free of. This presents a greater challenge. How to become something else entirely. Crab crawls back into the crook of rock he calls his home. Using all the magic he has scavenged over the years, crab drinks a concoction of herbs, buries himself in ointment soaked wraps. For months he sings songs he learned from the ocean, birthing songs, songs of death. When he grows too big for his cave he moves farther inland, toward the mountains, toward milk secreting mammae. The earth turns slowly around the flame. It is hard to say how long it takes to become. One morning he simply wakes to himself, a grey and white spotted horse, his right front hoof cracked in two.

Chapter 11

It has become a national obsession, adulthood, realism, prudence. Even the hummingbird has stilled its wings. She doesn’t notice when the vegetation begins to mute its colors; she is too busy practicing her circumlocution. The daily parade of boys thins out. He is often alone in the street, holding one side of the gender line. A child of loneliness, he does not notice the absences. It is too intoxicating, this becoming. Too change everything and nothing, as if slipping off the dressing of skin only to be wrapped in another. When she leaves, he will replace her with pornography. Girls on girls, boys on girls, boys on boys, everyone on everything, dildos, dicks, pussies galore. This should carry him through her departure. Adulthood is trying enough, she knows, but being a chaperone, intolerable.

Chapter 12

When she leaves one room she moves into another. This is a platitude. Being obvious does not make anything less so. She is as predicable as any other member of the species. The door to the first room had been partially closed, only a fraction of the interior lit. She stumbled around in the darkness, smacked her shin against the chair. Who wouldn’t be frustrated by such difficulty? She slammed the door shut despite the body, the boy waiting in the bed. The hallway affords a kind of transition, too short to reside in. She moves toward the next room, which is larger, better appointed. Or at least she can see the furniture, the dresser covered in photographs, the trunk with its history tucked neatly beside the bed. This does not make the navigation any less treacherous. Obstacles are often intangible, but she bumps up against them again and again. The door is open, the hallway precarious. Does it really matter in which direction anybody heads?

Chapter 13

Holidays are the perfect occasion on which to celebrate the heartbreak of repetition. To wake one morning beside someone new only to feel that old sense of. Outside is the meadow, creek, morning sun bright against the slope of trees. Inside is the self with its circular narration. The laws of physics, as least the classic ones, are derived from a similar addiction to dependencies. It is how we recognize the objects around us. Is it how we know ourselves. This makes future difficult. We can move toward it, but with all of our belongings, it looks quite similar to what is being left behind. The woman beside you is not like any of the woman who came before, and yet she is eerily familiar. Another broken person. Someone who knows love as fleetingly as the winged tip of the robin flying past.

Chapter 14

If it seems as if nothing works, is it true that nothing does? Or perhaps everything works but the one thing you keep trying over and over. You should get a new hobby. Something simple, something that occupies your hands. Perhaps knitting or assembling model airplanes. Perhaps sniffing glue. Your pantomimes have produced little understanding. Maybe it is the discontinuity between your mouth and hands. You’ve always had difficulty with alignment. When the guests arrive, you hide yourself in the back of the room, the couch swallowing every limb in its blue cloud. “Where is so and so?” somebody says. A woman steps forward. She is not so and so but what does it matter? There are breasts, a medium length of nondescript hair, some lipstick. “Oh,” says somebody, surprised but not unhappily. At least there is alcohol, you think, or perhaps somebody else says, under her breath, and you believe that you have thought it. It is not a party but there are many gathering. It is not a gathering but some kind of collective act of desperation. “We matter,” the MC says. Everyone nods. So much easier to prove when there are multiple occurrences of.

Chapter 15

What is being investigated is not who or why but what. What does it mean to? She is clearly old enough to know. Should know. Isn’t that the reason for all those years seated in a small wooden chair? So much nomenclature and chronology to memorize. Even now she remembers the names of things for which she no longer holds an image. The igneous crust. Hominidae, Lucy, that brittle ancestor. Everyone knows how to live: one foot planted firmly after the other. But what if only one foot? What if the earth is not soil but water? She smashes the wooden chair into pieces. She is angry yes, but productively so. The wood can be used to craft a makeshift boat. Her hair can be used to tie the oars. Her skin, she finds, makes an excellent sail.

Chapter 16

She has come to the place in the script where she finds herself waking to her grief, a pig roasting on a spit. The meat is gritty with ash. This too had been predicted. To repeat, to compound, is carcinogenic. To interfere with a cell’s natural death. She should put the pig in a casket, say the necessary eulogy and be done with it. But it is hard to let go of the companionship of its remains. Perhaps cremation. Or a funeral pyre. Such devotion to the suffering of. She wonders if emotional excess offends god, or the collective sentience often described as such. Probably not. We all seemed to be made from the same stubborn clay. If she were to hold a wake others would bring their carcasses too. She should just get on with it, somehow lift herself from the bed. It is possible to be simultaneously both alive and dead. To dress and leave the apartment, to find oneself on the corner with no idea of which way to go. As an experiment, she covers her eyes and walks into the street, into the damp skin of fog. She can hear the cars but cannot see them. There is nothing to fear, she knows; the vehicles are filled with people just like her.

Chapter 17

There is a story about a fox who grew a multitude of tails, one for every calamity she survived. At first she was pleased with the density of plumage, but eventually she grew tired of holding so many tails up in the air. When muskrat asked her how he too could be so luxuriously appendaged, fox told him to put his nose into the fire, catch his paw in a metal trap. Muskrat being naïve, and perhaps a little dumb, did exactly that. And while his injuries were serious, his tail remained the same. Fox, however, grew two more tails, each thicker and more richly hued than the next.

Chapter 18

There are the predictable weather patterns: wind, rain, a potential flood. By dusk, the birds have bedded down in the trees and the boats have come home to roost. Despite the warnings, she swims out past the buoy, past all calls for self-protection. To be broken is to have lost the memory of. If she finds herself here, there, anywhere, then she is meant to. Or so says everything she has come to believe. She finds herself empty-handed, having lost something specific but vaguely rendered. Having found something that looks nothing like what she thought it would. Back to this place, this bay, waking or having woken to. Back to location and everything it provides. She dives down, grabs a rock, a cuttlefish. She scrapes the shell against her palm, drawing her life across its tenderness. There are plants that die at the slightest touch. She was meant to. Or no one was, but somehow she learned to wither in proximity. Proximate. This desire to.

Chapter 19

The simplest agreement can be made between two people, one predicated on common gestures and locutions. Here is an example: Subject A has concerns about Subject B, or the loss of him; Subject B has concerns about Subject A, or her capacity to. But they play the mating game nonetheless. This is their accord, to always choose the make-believe. Sometimes she slips, can’t remember that the toy should be as desirous as the boy who is holding it. Sometimes he lets go of everything he pretends to be. The agreement cannot withstand such forgetfulness, every word, every touch becomes a breach. She agreed to love him, the man he was intent on becoming. He agreed to let her, to love the person he wished her to be in return. She does, in bits and spurts. He has the predictable seizures. It should be easy enough to tear up the agreement. They have tried repeatedly. But the paper is pulp and glue. It has been difficult to wash it completely from their hands.

Chapter 20

Every dawn, there is another one. She wakes and tells herself she will no longer. She makes it partially through the day. To arrive again at the some point in the story. There is a kind of presence to it, to self-aggrandizement, self-hatred. She wonders if there is not even some comfort, the dilemma so perfectly ensconcing her. When she thinks of her mind, it is not possible to picture anything beyond the spelling of it, its alphabet of despair. She has learned to tell herself that it is only her mind, a simple malfunction. It should be easy enough to repair. She crawls out the window onto the fire escape. Despite the asphalt, the birds are all she can hear. She thinks often of her amputated wings, missing the heft of them. There is no reason, she says, to believe this body is any different than the previous one. She is alone, speaking to herself, but the sound of her voice is birdsong, nonsensical, sweet to her ears. There is no reason to believe this mind and its endless narration. She grabs the railing with both hands and swings herself over the metal bars. It is not far really to the ground, but she has no intention of landing there. She leaps out, diving, no flying, flapping her phantom wings.

Chapter 21

It has become abundantly clear that she has no idea how to be an adult. Maybe next go around, she says, hearing the familiar howl. She has taken to walking long stretches of the city, the perimeters of it, as if circling an invisible pen. Some animals live longer in captivity; wolves gain an additional six to ten years. There is the obvious issue of quality versus quantity but on that subject the wolf has not yet spoken. The wolf’s relationship to captivity has been clearly expressed. Unpredictable, untamable, the wolf will challenge the dominance of its captor. The wolf, in fact, will never submit. She has proven to be less resilient. Although bored by him, his unspoken demands, she has been seen, on occasion, licking the master’s hand.

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