“The grand show is eternal. It is always sunrise somewhere; the dew is never dried all at once; a shower is forever falling; vapor is ever rising. Eternal sunrise, eternal dawn and gloaming, on sea and continents and islands, each in its turn, as the round earth rolls.” -John Muir
“It’s great to be fast, but it’s better to be a great person.” -Shalane Flanagan
The girl in the duct-tape dress Doesn’t love herself. She is so sexy in that tube of plastic. But don’t be fooled, She has tried to tape the eggshells Back together. You’re lucky Your momma loved you – Step, step on them. Her heart is not broken, it is Flat. Like a bicycle tire It thwumps and drags, Exasperated rubber pains on pavement Does a heart have a rim? Endocardium. Spokes? Chordae tendineae. You, Still there, You stare and stare, Closing parentheses you never even started) The girl in the duct-tape dress Has never had any sex. She is a moon of the planet Intimacy, Not a meteor steaming to meet it Through the universe to rest at last in Some ocean, some firm And saline embrace. She is senselessly in orbit, One adhesive loop After another
« La lutte elle-même vers les sommets suffit à remplir un cœur d’homme. Il faut imaginer Sisyphe heureux. » – Albert Camus
“The struggle toward the summits itself is enough to fill a man’s heart. One must imagine Sisyphus happy.”
It’s Wednesday night. I’m walking through the streets of Lausanne with a friend who I haven’t seen in a long time. She’s telling me how 700 people came to her little brother’s funeral when he died by suicide. 700. One suicide. What am I supposed to say. Is that enough? Goddamn, that’s a hurt no one knows how to heal. We keep walking. I’m showing her streets she’s never seen before. She feels like we are really penetrating Lausanne. The night glows in Swiss stillness. But we laugh. How is it that we laugh when – when, that. I tell her how I love it when Germans speak French. My phone buzzes. She wants to get water so I wait to check until we’re inside the McDonalds. It’s from him. He’s invited me to his party on Friday night. I accept right away. A French speaking German. Damn, I shouldn’t have accepted right away, I should have waited to seem less desperate. I start looking at who else he’s invited on the Facebook event page. 16 people, mostly girls, mostly Germans. They all look so pretty to me on their profile pictures. And he’s one pretty boy. We’re back in the street going to the metro so I don’t miss the last one. I make some idiot comment about The Sorrows of Young Werther. Like suicide is some great romantic ideal. In a story, may be, but even then, blur the boundaries of book and body, and what have you got. Awkward. And it wasn’t that good of a book. She decides to take me home. I could have taken the metro, but the night calls for the unexpected. Swiss revolution. We’re in the parking lot now. Oh how I love these parking lots! The low ceilings, the smell of gasoline. A safe warm smell. Reminds me of winding through the levels of Nice parking lots with my grandparents, going to the beach and market, wishing we might never actually park. Because even though I like the beach and I like the market, I like thinking that we’ll never get there. I’m laughing a lot, surprising myself with what I’m saying, using French cuss words and all. But I’m already planning in my head. What will I wear? What will I bring? Will I show up a half hour or an hour late? How will I look? Should I message him to ask him if he wants food too? Should I bother inviting him to climb on Friday? He has his exam, so he probably can’t come at lunch. What about in the evening? But then I might have to go straight with him to his party and I won’t have time to make myself pretty and all? And pretty-and-all is all we’re ever after. Oh gosh, I haven’t really been paying attention to Nina. Not sure how to direct someone to my place by car. She’s so sweet she brings me all the way up to the front door. I really wish I could tell her something nice. Something to make her feel okay to talk about her brother with me. If only I had been the 701st person at the funeral. Then there would be another one in there. Ones are always lonely. But you put them together and they lose their identity. I’m ridiculous. Just something to make her know I’m so glad we’re friends. But I feel a bit empty, I don’t have the words. I won’t sleep because I keep thinking about that gentle German boy. The boy whose look is softer than a doe’s. Well, now it’s Thursday. There’s lots to do. Should I message him or not? Should I go work at the library to try to run into him again? No, let him feel my absence. My person subtracted from the stale air and books of the library. As if he will feel it. Thursday night, the eve before the fray. I’ve substituted for two English lessons and I feel high off new people. I’m messaging him to ask him to climb at lunch knowing fully well he won’t be able to come, but it’s just so I can add that I could make something to eat if he wants. Time to sleep. But oh his sweet reply! Je me réjouis que tu viennes… oh that perfect use of the subjunctive! And he’s German! That’s right, folks, time to sleep. Well it’s Friday now. And he’s German! Lots to do. Still need to fall asleep, for one. Well it’s Friday now. Today’s the day. Lot’s to do. I’m writing his name in mirror in my agenda to see if it tells me anything new. Perhaps a sign that we’re meant to be. No, nothing special. I’ll write mine underneath just to be sure. Still nothing. Well I must go get ingredients for the cake at the store. The far store, because I want the good ingredients. I can’t sit still in this damn metro. But, look, a newspaper. Who am I kidding, there’s only one section I want to read! The horoscope! It doesn’t say anything special for me, but for him it says a proposition will make him change his mind about something! Then I will propose something! Riddle solved! Oh and, yes, I’ll still go climbing with my friends. How little they suspect of what a big day this is for me. Of the nerves I feel inside. Oh I am hungry. Nothing I eat stays inside me very long. Oh I must get back home to bake that cake. Don’t use the fork, use the whisk. Use the wooden spoon! Scrape off as much batter as you can! But, give yourself some credit, lick the rest. Okay now I need to check the metro times and decide how fashionably late I’m going to be and give myself enough time for showering and dinner and make-up. I don’t want to eat too much for dinner because there might be food at the party and I also want to try my cake to make sure it tastes alright. What the salad! What the fish! Dinner dinner in my dish! Oh, I don’t feel hungry at all. I’m listening to “Give Me a Shot at the Night” by The Killers. Please, oh please, let this be the time, give me a shot. Just one shot at the night. You know what? To hell with self-control, I’m going to have a glass of wine before going. I need to loosen up. One glass of wine. I’ll collapse otherwise. Just this once, just for my nerves, just for a one shot. Alright, the time has come. Make-up. There can be no mistakes. A one shot. But I am hopeless case, I’m no proper girl. Come on Jess, come on. Foundation first. Some lip gloss and balm. Dab with toilet paper. Jesssssss! Is that right? Jesssssss it is! Eyeliner. Mascara. Fill in my eyebrows ever so slightly. And those gorgeous earrings my mother gave me! Hey, look at that, you might even be looking at a pretty girl tonight! Wow! Last touch, the perfume. Two sprits behind the ears and one for the undie. My unlucky lucky underwear. They’re lucky, but they’ve yet to prove it. It’s my only sexy pair that’s why. Even if I have no intention of having any sex. In fact, I’ve never had sex. In fact, I’m not even sure I want sex. And underwear or not, I may not have an ounce of sexy in me. But never mind that, to the metro! Hey, I feel alright. Gosh, I hope this won’t be an awkward mess. Oh look a group of people walking with bottles in their hands. Bunch of young hooligans, surely. Wait they’re talking about Rue Valentin. They’re his friends! I’ll say hello and follow. What a lively bunch! We’re at the door. I’m standing in the back, I want to be the last one in. To see how they all say hello. And to be the last one he welcomes in. There he is. Oh he is so adorable! I give him a slight hug and we walk in together. The others take their coats off and roam around the apartment and then onto the balcony. I stay there standing, not sure whether to follow them, take-off my coat, or set the cake down. And in what order? Follow, cake, coat? Or is it coat, cake, follow? Nicolas comes to talk to me. Niiiiiiii Cooooooo Lasssssss! I do feel fine, it’s that wine, wine, wine. He asks me what I did today. He asks me if I usually go to that library. He’s talking to me! To me?! But he’s got a hoard of pretty girls and boys to choose from! Why me?! And to me, first! Another pretty girl comes to join our conversation. She’s friendly. She’s pretty. I’d half wish she would leave. She’s pretty. I’m so lively tonight! I must show him how engaging I can be! I laugh, I joke, I tell them about hot chocolate and ice-cream places! Proposing things! I’m fulfilling the prophecy! The prophecy! There is a cute boy too. He’s lively, he’s got that nervous energy and giggle, and he’s drinking tea. Another crazy! I should pretend to flirt with him to make Nicolas want me more. Yes, that’s how it works right? But I have no idea how to flirt, and it’s oh so comfortable to talk to this pretty Italian girl. I feel like his eyes are on me. His soft doe brown eyes. Nicolas suggests we go to the other room with the other people. Does this mean he doesn’t want to talk to me anymore? Or he feels bad that he is not entertaining his other guests? There it is. He’s talking to other friends. The evening is over. But someone says something about kissing girls and he smiles over at me! Really? At me? Oh I could never need anything more than that gentle German look! He hasn’t had much to drink either. Just one beer I think. Too tired? But he’s eaten a lot of my cake. He did tell me he had not eaten dinner. He loves my cake. He’s leaving the room! Why? Where is he going? When is he coming back? Well, I’ll have to talk to the others. Time to make as many German friends as I can! One never knows! Hey, he’s back! Back to me and the Italian girl! Do you think he likes her? Hey he’s suggesting we go sit on the couch! The couch! But it’s all three of us. I’m in the middle and I’m right next to him. I mean, our thighs are pressed together. That’s good. I’m not moving. Italian girl wants to go back and dance. She can go alone. I’m on the couch. But, he seems nervous. He shifts and gets up to sit on the side of the couch. Now he’s getting up. Great. He’s gone to talk to other friends. That’s it, that proves it. He doesn’t like me. He doesn’t like you, get it in your head, yeah? No, but there could be another reason. May be he had an erection? Well, Italian girl, looks like it’s you and me. Let’s get up again. I might actually want to dance now, now that you mention it. No, I’m going to go sit on that other couch now that people are leaving. See the way he leans his head in when he’s talking to other girls? Other girls. I’m the eternal ugly duckling. Well, time to start checking my phone to pretend I’m not a loser. I mean, I do have to see what time it is to see if it’s time to take the last metro. Everyone’s leaving anyhow. Let me first hug the people I’ve barely met. The only girls left are me and that friendly German girl I saw rock climbing once when I went with Nicolas. She is saying bye to him before me. He looks at me surprised and asks me, “You’re leaving already?” Well, yeah, so is everyone. Does that mean something? It must! He must like me! Or is he just sad that everyone has left so early? It’s too late, I’m out the door. There it is, I missed my chance. I had a chance, didn’t I? I’m still so wound up and high strung, this German girl must think I’m one of those crazy friendly Americans. Golly, but she is nice too. I hope we’ll see each other again. I’m desperate. Well I’m home, I should be sleeping now especially since I have to wake up to leave tomorrow. Yeah, sleeping…. Not my forte after a partay. Should I message him now about the cake pan? No, it will seem like I planned it. Saturday 6:30 a.m. I’ve slept enough right? Let me message Anita to tell her what happened and ask her for advice. I’ll wait to message Nicolas about the cake pan. Wait, just wait a little. To not seem so desperate. Anita has all the answers. She thinks I should go for it, tell him, slide it in somehow. I’ve waited enough. Message sent! I even told him I was sorry I had left it and that I could come anytime today or tomorrow before he leaves. Has he seen it? When was he last active on Facebook? He’s probably still sleeping. I’ll take the morning off to browse stores in town. Find something cute to wear for our future first date. Yeah, right. Has he seen it yet? Oh, he was just active! Why hasn’t he checked it? May be he doesn’t want to check it on his phone until he can be on his computer to reply properly in French. I’ll go sit at a café and read and may be wait until lunch. No reply yet. What is he waiting for? He’s looking for the pan first? Ughhhhhhhh. Uuuuuuuu. Ggggggg. Uuuuuuhhh. The nervous sickness is wearing me down. I’ll just head over to my uncle’s house and rest there. He’s replied! He’s replied! Okay, calm down, wait to reply. Wait a couple hours! Yes, make him wait! Make. Him. Wait. One hour, that’s enough right? He says I can come all day! And he gave me his number! Wow. Okay! I’m replying! Wow! I’ll say I can come in two hours, to seem busier. I’m so productive I’ve read the same page ten times over. Cats. Cats are distracting. Cats, the time has come. Oh Uncle Phil, you have no idea where I am going. I am going to my doom! But it doesn’t matter, I am going! I’m out of the metro. I can still turn back now, say I’ve got something else to do. But, no, the stairs are before me. The stairs, ever upwards, I must go. I am going. Il faut croire Sisyphe heureux. I am climbing. I will climb. Ever climbing, I will go. I will tell him. Il faut croire Sisyphe heureux. Wait for the mother and child to pass. How innocently they see this night. Alright, let me sit on that rock. Three deep breaths. The drivers of cars must think I’m crazy. The drivers of stars must think— I don’t care, is this the doorbell or the light? I’ll give it a try. Oh there he is! He seems happy! I won’t try to hug him now, seems too awkward. He isn’t just giving me the pan! He’s showing me his room! There’s my bag with the pan in it on the door handle! He’s showing me all the stuff he’s packing. He shows me his skis and his climbing rope. I tell him it looks like a snake and more used than mine. Gosh, I am intelligent. I offer to help him bring some of his stuff to his new place. He accepts! Oh sweet boy! And he’s trying to carry all the heavy stuff! Oh Nicolas! And look, he’s washed my cake pan. What a good boy. He’s all smiles and sweet looks in the metro. How is it that one can keep a tender look for so long? Good boy. Here’s the metro stop. It’s sprinkling outside. Damn, my hair is going to look extra frizzy. We’re waiting at the door, should I put down the skis or keep holding them? How long are we going to wait? He’s texting someone. Oh it’s a girl. Oh she looks nice. We get in the elevator what with all the stuff. I get in with Nicolas. Oh she’s about to go the other way. He says there is space for one more. Damn. Nice boy. Oh it’s collapsing now, isn’t it? We drop his things. He leans against the wall and talks to her in German. It’s there isn’t it? That same sweet attentive look. A doe gaze. How did I not see it yesterday? So falsely have I felt his eyes on me of late. Putain. Il va falloir vraiment croire Sisyphe heureux. When are they going to stop flirting? German flirts slant against the wall. And I can’t understand half of it or myself. I should try my German! They’re impressed! She asks me some questions and my answers are pretty good. Boo-yah. Bis später bitches. We’re leaving together. That’s right, Nicolas and I. We’re leaving. He says he’s surprised. Did not know I spoke so much German. Back in the metro. God, my reflection is so ugly in the metro windows. I almost thought I was pretty yesterday! Fool, the mirror is always so convincing! And him! Look at him! His thick muscular fingers, the sleeves of his sweater, that same North Face sweater he once let me borrow, pushed back to reveal his beautiful veined climber forearms… and all else is so tender….elongated magnificence of man! Oh! He makes as if to say goodbye, but I tell him I want to walk. So I exit the metro with him. We walk and talk about… what do we talk about? I don’t know anymore. I know only that this is the moment. Nicolas, I say, as I’m looking down at my feet. Nicolas, I say. I think it’s important to say these things. Nicolas, I say. Je t’aime bien. I like you. In English too, I’m afraid he’ll misinterpret the French. There, you’ve ruined something again. You’ve ruined it. He says thank you and that we’ll go climbing in the spring. Did he even understand? Okay, I’m leaving now. I look back at him, his head turns slightly. Quick, look straight ahead in case he looks back at you. Hey, I don’t feel that bad. I feel mostly nothing. Just freed from all that anticipation and nervous energy. Gosh, I’m brave! Poor guy didn’t know what to answer. Oh well, his problem now. What a relief. How did I go from beautiful to morbid in a matter of days? At least I still have some pride. At least I’m brave. At least there is dinner to distract me. I can’t follow the conversation to save my life. There’s warmth outside, but I’m hollow inside. I’m crushed like soft candle wax. The flame is gone. Out. Out. Or was it ever there? Back to the icy glow of my laptop. I check his birthday on Facebook. Turns out I read the wrong horoscope. That explains everything. Well, it’s time for bed. The tears are coming now. What shame, I haven’t even brushed my teeth, and they’ve come already. What embarrassment. At least I’ve taken my lithium, at least I don’t feel like killing myself. I hope I haven’t lost a sweet friend. An elongated deer of a boy. A painting. I should have told him how German is thick and rich, like homemade hot chocolate, and how French is floating and light, like a leaf in the wind. How did I forget? How I did forget! It would have made all the difference. The truth is, after all, that I’m gay. And, la lutte vers les sommets suffit à remplir un cœur d’homme, no? Ah, but il faut imaginer Sisyphe heureux… there was no croire at all!
“Now that lilacs are in bloom
She has a bowl of lilacs in her room
And twists one in her fingers while she talks.
‘Ah, my friend, you do not know, you do not know
What life is, you who hold it in your hands’;
(Slowly twisting the lilac stalks)
‘You let it flow from you, you let it flow,
And youth is cruel, and has no remorse
And smiles at situations which it cannot see.’
I smile, of course,
And go on drinking tea.
‘Yet with these April sunsets, that somehow recall
My buried life, and Paris in the Spring,
I feel immeasurably at peace, and find the world
To be wonderful and youthful, after all.’”
-T.S. Eliot, Portrait of a Lady
You, insouciant, you, man, looking for your weed because it’s 4/20. I’ve barely had time to arrive and I’ve already been swept around St. François by that hasty gruffness of yours. I’m telling you man, forget it. Ain’t none of that shit here now, bro. Let’s just get to the bus.
It’s dry and windy and sunny, the sort of terse weather that makes things sharp and unaccommodating. As we leave Lausanne, I’d like to gaze out the window at those fields of colza yellow, but you insist on talking. Do you ever think before you talk, I wonder? I’d like to look at the fields – fields I have run in, fields I will run in – I’d like to see that yellow while it is there against dark green mountains and a gray-blue lake. I am not ready to tell you everything, but you are cramming everything into this bus. You know? You know?
You are always on the prowl. And proud of it, too. Green Eggs and Ham is your little game. You tell me that this whole weekend we will look at girls. I will look at girls. But they are your eyes, looking. And it is the breath and breadth of your mouth that dictate.
We get on the next bus from Lyon to Paris. We cannot sit together; everyone has taken seats already. Shame, I had hoped to lean on you to sleep. I go towards the back. One man leans across the aisle and nudges his friend to scoot over. A seat. I sit. That man, next to me, is handsome. But he sleeps on me the whole way. He is in my space. In the early hours before we arrive, he asks me a question. He does not speak much French. I think, how sweet, and I want to be helpful, I want him and his friends to like me. To think I am sweet and pretty.
Spiraling up the endless stairs. We are walking in the dawn now. Up to Montparnasse. I know somehow that it is one of those days. One of those days that begins yesterday and bursts at the heartseams somewhere in the middle of a hot heavy afternoon. And that it does not stop bursting for days after.
We watch the sunrise and I know already that we will see it set today too. We eat a croissant and a pain au chocolat, each. Some of us inhale it. For you know nothing of delicacy. Then we sit in a café that we think is only for the locals and we read short stories and poems to each other. We are like an old couple.
We are walking to meet the others at Notre Dame. What good is it to look at women outside of my league? We are zigzagging through the streets. We will never reach the river. I’m a loser at this game. We only reach triangular street corners pushing us sharply in other directions. The heartseams, they are about to burst. I want to find David and Giovanni. At least Giovanni. And his effusive manner spilling into the streets.
“Are you doing your job?”
No, I don’t want to.
Because you cannot have it, you will police it, take it under your patriarchal wing. Desire is not male because it runs towards females, nor is it female just because it runs towards males. My desire. Is my own.
You are here to flaunt your masculinity. Is that why you need me by your side? As your antithesis?
I am here to see the people and discern what it is that they carry. All the people. There are eyes and emotions in the grass, on the steps, on terraces. People are different.
I am in the waves now, and if you make the slightest affront I will cry. I will cry and I will not stop crying. I cannot respond to you. I am crying over my tea, crying over your incessant talking. I do not care if the waiter gave you tea when you asked for coffee, démerde-toi. I am crying in a street-side café, so all the passants can see. And you will make me the author of my own fragility, in front of all the others.
My voice wavers, but I am still able to read Claude McKay’s Subway Wind. I cannot cry now, I need you to hear my voice, reading this poem. It is an inverted pocket, this poem. I get the city wrong and want to cry.
My turn passes, and when I first see them, I have no idea if they are a boy or a girl. And I do not want to know. They have short hair and a soft delicate face. Forearms a bit muscled. They speak like both a man and a woman and I do not know. I absolutely do not know. I do not want to know. They are impossibly beautiful and that is all that matters and I need to see something beautiful right now.
A wave leaves its froth upon me. Sebastian. His name. He sits like a man, he makes comments about women like a man. I find him suddenly unremarkable, childish.
He points to a strange poster where Notre-Dame has been plastered over a woman’s body, the church’s opening right over the woman’s (and you know already, which one I am talking about). Do I look?
That one beer sends me reeling.
I am looking now, as if from habit, down from balconies, down from bridges, down to the waters of the Seine. That L-shaped contrail in the sky. When that bus left Lyon, I didn’t know it would be for sunset and sunrise. I didn’t know things began before Lyon, before-before to the night before where I did not sleep (we are almost always somewhere). I didn’t sleep the night before because the day before the night before I had seen Livia and Robin, and she makes me want to burst into flames and fizzle, and pop, and he makes me want to melt. For he is sweet, and she is volatile.
Lights and other people. I want to listen to jazz in a pocket, an air bubble, but it is too much, a pocket is not space enough. I am crying through the jazz, yes, through it, my tears are percolating through the music so that it is mushy and damp now in the underground pocket. Oh the singer is so beautiful, I can still see that (you see, I do notice! When it comes…when it is my choice to notice, my desire. is my own). I can feel the music in my rib cage though, inside where my tears don’t follow. The others look at me with those eyes, those atrocious eyes. Quelle folle, mais quelle folle, quelle idée d’être venu à Paris avec toi. I’m going to leave again. You follow me out. You are smoke, without the fire.
“It’s awkward for me too.”
Well, thank you. I’m sorry it’s awkward for you. What do you think it is for me? You insisted that I stay. You do not have to do anything. You do not own me, you are not responsible for me. Karolina comes out too.
“Is everything alright?” I can see the genuine concern in her eyes. I can see it because I put it there too. I am sick, because I do not want to be the child.
“Aww…” She strokes my hair, in that frenetic way that reminds me of that fateful day I had to leave Elena and could only see death on the other side. Frenetic caressing. This is what differentiates man from woman. And Elena, as I stood with my backpack and laptop, dead, empty, stroked me as if she stroked hard enough, she could stroke it out of me. I feel gentleness, I feel comfort, I feel a desire.
“Is it between you guys?”
“No.” Oh really? Then what is it about?
I am embarrassed to have nothing but my own sensitivity make me feel like this. My sensitivity, my fault. I do not feel well at all. I am sorry, for being me.
“I’ll walk you to the metro.” You do not know where the metro is. I know where the metro is. I do not want you or your self-indulging help. You draw me towards you and I hate you. You do not know anything. I hate your abruptness, your bluntness. I hate you. You kiss the top of my head. You vile man. You are not tender. You are not sweet. You are not patient. You are not listening. You are not a woman.
I take the m1, I know where I am going. I step off and into the m12 and ZAH! A band, lively explosion of my underworld! The metro expands with their music, I am awake to all sensation. I see the layers, the pitiful few layers of the metro’s skin, peeling. I am its layers too. Here, stripping my pain in the metro. I am just as fragile. The metro itself is drunk, reeling. The endless tunnels, the wind draft caressing me, the vibrancy of all sorts, it is abrasive, sandpaper for my ears.
You have called me nine times when I finally wake up. The dream opening of a door, but you do not want to sleep in the bed with me. You settle on the couch.
It is morning. It is true. You have slept on the couch. Cramped at that. I tell you that you need to listen more. You have gut me like a fish. Somehow, after your shower, you feel the need to tell me about how great your boxers are. But the placement of your hands tells me more.
And in the tunnels beneath the city, you have more stories to tell me. Of your friend’s mom, moving her finger in and out of a hole made with the fingers on her other hand, encouraging you to take her daughter’s virginity. You, savior of womankind. Have you learned nothing? I do not want to have it or to lose it. You can keep it.
The others ask me if I was juste fatiguée… Karolina asks me what has been going on.
We are walking along the Seine now. Some peace at last, for a third is with us and I do not have to talk to you. I see two men having coffee. Are they the David and Giovanni of our modern day? David and Giovanni should not exist in modern day. Where is my Giovanni? I have so wanted to find him.
There are mirrors everywhere we go. Patisserie, Brasserie, mirrors all over our Airbnb. A city of mirrors. People whose eye contact lingers, what vacancy to fill?
I accumulate the mirrors, they multiply in my wake, my own body escapes me.
You leave our third, and go off with another pretty girl, you are happy I have left no doubt. I disappear. Your confidence is bolstered by the world. I like you sometimes, you know. But as I sit still on a bench in the shadow of Notre Dame, I begin to despise you and your swagger and endless banter. You wear your masculinity as unequivocally as you wear your skin. I wonder how girls can want to be with you. All those intimate details I revealed to you, I wish I had not.
(He took it fairly well, to be honest.)
You knew I would come back; you knew because you know everything, you know where I am in space. Your speech pushes me into two dimensions.
Our last day. Notre Dame and crisp morning silhouettes.
I am here at Rue Christine 6, I feel nothing, but somehow reconciled with Paris. Cold empty ghostal streets of an election Sunday. Streets of art. And I see now how beautiful she is, how much I have wanted to see how beautiful she is. She always looks adoringly when I take a picture. Those pomettes! Emotions they ambulate, they flutter, they weigh of something. People, bodies, they are carrying charge, memories, anxieties. The flesh, the body, it is just the case (is it?), the lines of streets are lines of narratives. Two mirrors is already an infinity.
Bitter cold. I remember an October day in searing Paris sunlight. My eyes are stinging. I am in a cemetery thinking about Elena, a bird is singing, strident as the day. A woman passes by, she must be wondering for which artist I am crying, which century I am regretting, surely I have no family here. Ca va? Oui, ça va, ça ira.
Tu sais, ma chère amie,
Je n’arrête pas de t’écrire,
Je rentre maintenant.
Les sons du plaisir ultime
Résonnent dans l’escalier vide –
Les corps heureux s’enfouissent dans leur amour,
Et moi je grince et je craque, dans mon âme vide,
L’âme vide de jeune femme,
(Ou est-ce toujours celle d’une fille?)
À vingt-quatre ans le sais-t-on?
Faut-il se retourner pour pleurer dans la cour ?
C’est comment Elena d’être amoureux à deux ? Tu ne me l’as jamais raconté…Mais je ne sais pas, peut-être que cela est quelque chose qu’on ne raconte pas ?
I would have liked to have gone back to that cemetery to see if the sunlight was less trenchant, to see if something had really changed between now and then, but I would never have found it. It is part of another geography now, a Paris whose map I have rolled away.
I do not want to leave Paris, for I love lilac-ed Paris. I want to leave you, though. Again, for the window. I want to stay by this window forever. You assume, you always assume that desire is directed towards you, you are its epicenter, you are plaque numéro un of the Paris spiral. You decide what we are going to do together. You do not ask. You say. And the old man listens to you and it is joy.
It is dark and the old couple is gone, and we are alone on this train. Yes, alone. Because now I can feel it. Windows are mirrors too, and you love me.
“Each night he added to the pattern of his fancies until drowsiness closed down upon some vivid scene with an oblivious embrace. For a while these reveries provided an outlet for his imagination; they were a satisfactory hint of the unreality of reality, a promise that the rock of the world was founded securely on a fairy’s wing.” – From F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby
On one tranquil, owl-winged night a little boy drifted into a dream. A most peculiar dream it was! That of a donkey prancing through the galaxies. He was as beautiful a creature as had ever beheld the boy’s impressionable eyes. It was a joy to see such magic, such possibility, such hope, all on a delicate donkey’s fairy wings!
When the little boy opened his eyes again, the donkey was no longer there. He searched and searched in the gaping darkness, but his dearest donkey had vanished. The depth of the disappearance frightened him; there was an absolute void he could not fill, a void that made him feel lost and fearful. So deep it was that in time the dark swallowed even his anguish and brought him back to the other side. And there again was his beloved donkey, more graceful and delicate and prancingly a prince than ever before!
But yet again his eyelids betrayed him and only the hollow of darkness remained. In the somber longing of the night he found himself again beyond the chasm, beyond the gape of cavernous desperation, and returning to the reverie. This time he stretched out his arm just a little farther and caught the donkey by the mane. He flew through the constellations with him, sailing over nebulas and vaulting over starlit sceneries that made his heart swell with awe and admiration. These were the constellations that satisfied the most voracious of imaginations, the castles of a most intensive sky.
In the distance, a soft purple point appeared. As the boy and donkey approached, the little boy saw that is was a planet, enveloped in a purple atmosphere. They transpired through clouds and mists of bountiful reflections, and Donkey gently half-landed, half-danced into a field of orange flowers. The boy got off the donkey and gazed like the dreamy-eyed youth he was at the field, still clutching the donkey’s mane out of sheer wonder. They walked in silence, until the boy began to calm down, until he fell from wonder, into exhausted contentment.
“I’m tired donkey, I’m tired” said the boy.
“But, my dear boy… you are asleep! Can one tire in a dream?” replied Donkey.
“Yes, I know, but… I just would so like to take a nap.”
“Come, come, my dear boy, I will show you a perfect place for us to doze.”
They walked to a place in the shade of a tree, next to a river. But, oh it was such an odd river! The water flowed in both directions, coming from each horizon. As they flowed into each other, the rivers created little waves and swirls, and where they met was a waterfall, misting on all sides, and shooting straight up into the sky.
“Why does the river flow like that?” asked the boy.
“You see my dear boy, this is How it Should Be. One river comes from one mountain chain, and the other from another and they flow into each other. Two onrushing masses of snowy melt merging and mixing with the unbridled passion of the release that it is to be melted. It is an energy that goes both ways. One comes from the past and one is anticipating the future. The flow is always there. The river that comes from the past is called the Nachfreude and the river that comes from the future is called Vorfreude. And where they meet is the dramatic and tumultuous meeting place of Now! You can travel along the river of Nachfreude, of course, but you can’t travel along the river of Vorfreude, yet nothing stops it from coming at you and you can gaze and gaze at its wonder as long as you like! As long as you like! Never expect it to arrive, but know that it never fails to come towards you! As for the Nachfreude, you can also simply gaze at it as it comes towards you, but since you can travel along it, it is nice sometimes to take your time and discover all its nooks and crannies.”
“But how is this possible? Where does the water flow? Why doesn’t everything just flood? And how come I can’t go along the Vorfreude?”
“Well, to answer you backwards, you simply can’t go along the Vorfreude. Give it a try, go along.”
The boy walked over to the meeting place of Now. Then he tried to step to the side of Vorfreude, but he felt a strange tingling sensation as he reached his foot out and soon found himself walking in place, as if on an invisible treadmill. He tried harder, even started to run towards the Vorfreude, but he found himself exhausted and still standing in the meeting place of Now. He looked back at Donkey,
“How odd! How do we know it exists then?”
“Well, without it your dream could not even exist, its flow is your hope and it illuminates all the activities of Now. There is no more proof than that, but I don’t think we need much more…. Now to answer your first question. The answer is also quite obvious. Nothing can ever stay in Now, except Now itself of course. As you say, it would flood, and that would be a big problem.”
“I still don’t understand. All that water, where does it go?”
“Well everything that has come through Now takes some of it with him- the birds, the flowers, the very air you breathe! And the rest of it, well, it floats into the sky, and then I think you know the rest. You can’t stay in Now, but of course it’s never really gone. And even if some of it is lost in the oceans of time, some of it falls back as rains of Nostalgia, or as snows of Magical Euphoria, to flow again in the river of Nachfreude or to be frozen forever in its crystalline bliss. And on one of your walks along the Nachfreude, if you’re lucky, you may find the waters that move you the most and put them in your cerebral vase, to grow flowers with, to treasure for all eternity! Isn’t that wonderful?!”
“Oh yes, it seems quite nice to me! So why is it called the place of How it Should Be?”
“Because, isn’t this how it should be? We are here aren’t we?”
“But who can decide how it should be?”
“Well my dear boy, that is the tricky part. Here, you and I can decide how it should be.”
“How wonderful, is it really like this here?”
“I think you’ll find that it is. And when a child dreams, it’s always more beautiful. The most beautiful and precious thing in all existences is a child’s dream! So, what do you think? How should it be?”
“Well, I have always thought that clouds look like giant sheep. So I think clouds should be sheep herded by the wind!”
“That sounds marvelous! What else?”
“I think it is so sad that we have to cut down the trees for wood. At home, there is a great big tree that I play in all day, and I should so hate to see it go. So I think that trees should be like sheep! We should be able to sheer them for wood, instead of wool. That way, we will never have to cut down another tree!”
“Splendid, my dear boy! Truly, splendid!”
“But, I still think that we should be able to sheer the sheep somehow. For wool, yes, but also for words! Words to make stories with! Stories, Donkey, I love stories!”
“Well, that is grand, as I do too!”
“And, and, the world should be filled with good and interesting smells- the kinds that make the best memories!”
“Oh yesss, yes!”
“And showers should not be taken just with water. Why couldn’t we shower with sunlight and moonlight too?”
“Well, I say that we shall! As it should be, my dear boy! As it should be!”
“And I think that there should always be at least two of everything, so that nothing will ever be lonely!”
“Marvelous, truly! You seem to have the hang of this, what else?”
“And if there are cobblestone paths the cobblestones should be touching- otherwise they will get cold with all those cracks everywhere. I always wondered what cobblestones do when there are no more footsteps and hooves to connect the gaps.”
“Well, I don’t have anything against that either! Let’s do it! It’s how it should be!”
“And love should always turn into a beautiful scene- a colorful sunset, a blooming garden, something like that! Then we will want more of it in the world!”
“I have no objection to that!”
“And there should be no shadows!! No darkness in any corner! May be at night we should have opposite shadows- light shadows!”
The donkey looked at the boy, furrowing his brow for the first time.
“Oh, I don’t know about that. We need shadows, if not simply for some shade and rest. Some shadows can be sad yes, but they can also be beautiful themselves, and help us see beauty. Even the darkest night illuminates some things. As for light shadows, I suppose we could have some of those, but I am not sure… complete darkness, I think, is necessary sometimes too. So that the light of your imagination, my dear boy, can have a chance.”
“Oh well, alright Donkey, if you say so, I supposed I’ve decided enough things already.”
At last the planet was becoming as it should be. And now the boy was truly exhausted from overwhelm, so he took a nap while Donkey watched over him. A more tranquil slumber he had never known. When he woke up it was night and the sheep clouds were baaaaa-ing gently and glowing a soft blue, and the two moons glazed contently over the planet. Donkey was now asleep, snoring and snorting minutely. What could a dream creature possibly dream about?
In the tree the boy saw a strange glow. A light shadow perhaps? But, they had decided those would not exist, had they not? He got up. No, it wasn’t a light shadow. It was some kind of creature. It was sitting (or laying? or standing? The boy was not sure as it had no legs) on one of the lower branches. Suddenly it stopped glowing. Had it seen him? Had he startled it? He hoped with all his heart he had not, so enchanting had been its glow. The boy climbed into the tree and onto the great branch. The creature was rectangular and about as large as his hand. From every corner it glinted ever so magically in the moonlight – it looked like a beetle, one with the smoothest and sleekest of evolutionary designs yet produced. The boy approached cautiously, and tentatively reached out to touch it. It quivered and glowed again. The boy’s hand shot back. He crouched in the light of the beetle, the glow illuminating his face an icy blue, turning him to the likes of a phantom of the night. He could see patterns in the glow- the beetle’s insides? Or the lining of its outer parts? Donkey snorted in his sleep. The boy had been so transfixed by the beetle that he startled and tumbled from the branch, the tree shook violently and the strange creature fell with the boy. They landed with a thud in the grass below. Luckily, they had not fallen very far. Donkey yawned a big donkey-toothed yawn and awoke. The boy gazed at the mysterious beetle, which was glowing again. What a quizzical creature this was indeed! Donkey moseyed on over and looked over the boy’s shoulder.
“What have you found?”
“I don’t know. Some kind of a magical creature I think.” The fear that had stopped the boy from touching the beetle was gone all of a sudden. He grasped it and held it close to his face, examining its lustrous surface. It continued to buzz and glow, illuminating the boy’s avid blue eyes.
“I’ve never seen such a being in your dream. Is it really alive?”
“But of course! Look at how it glows!”
“Well you should probably put him back where you found it. It’s nicer to leave the creatures their liberties.”
“But I’d like to take him along. Just for a day. Yes, I think I will, I like him and that is how it should be. Don’t you think he wants to come along?” The boy put the beetle in his pocket. He wondered where the second beetle was, or even the third, since they had decided there should be at least two of everything, but didn’t say anything to Donkey about it.
“Well off we go then.” He smiled at the boy and his beetle, but in his donkey belly he had an uneasy feeling about the newcomer.
“Where are we going?”
“To all the planet’s places you must see! So we can learn more about it and then decide if it is as it should be! An adventure, my dear boy, it shall certainly be!”
“Oh Donkey, I love adventures!”
“Well I am sure glad of that my dear boy.”
“Donkey, I hope with all my heart that we shall never be apart!”
“Oh you are too kind to me my dear boy. Hop on. It is time to fly again!”
As they flew off the tree bloomed all at once and showered them with snow petals. These they let float away tenderly with the wind.
Donkey flew the boy to a forest. It was dark, green, mysterious, and full of the sound and fury of life. In some places the light filtered brilliantly in, like golden branches that belonged to the forest itself. They took time to wash their faces in this light. Once they felt refreshingly illuminated they wandered and sauntered, the boy gaping in awe at the enchantment of this place. Donkey showed the boy creature after creature, crawling under leaves, hiding in trunks, perched in the canopy, dozing in burrows…in every depths something was alive, and all that was alive had depths. They spent the whole day tracing the contours of life, for it was all indeed one single undisrupted contour. Time with watches and clocks seemed long gone. Instead, it was measured on the fluttering wings of moths, in the howling scuffles of monkeys, in the swaying of the fronds, in the singing of white-winged doves, in the chirping of translucid frogs, in the silvering swarms of passerines, in every sighting of ceaseless existence.
Pleasantly wearied by the day’s venture, they curled up in the hollow of a tree, high up in the canopy.
The boy lay awake a long time, tired, but too much in awe at such a day to fall asleep. Just as he was finally falling into slumber, he heard a buzzing in his pocket. The beetle! He had forgotten all about it. He checked to see if donkey was asleep – sure enough the dear creature was snoring gently. The boy pulled the beetle out of his pocket. It was cool to the touch, but it glowed warmly at him. The boy gazed and gazed until the glow subdued. He pet it to see if it would glow again, and it did! It was so bright- like another moon! He amused himself like this for some time, until he heard a creaking in the forest and decided that perhaps he should be more discrete. At last the boy was so unbelievably weary that he fell asleep. His dream was of the most bizarre. The boy was floating on a sheet of radiant ice under the fabric of a great black tent, a dark vaulted sky void of stars. There was no land, only black waters, dimly illuminated by his glowing ice. His sheet of ice was as immense as it was immaculate. He went to each edge to peer into the darkness, but he could see nothing but the viscous menace of void and hollow. Then it came to pass that his ice began to crack and disconnect. In smaller fragments and in larger fragments. He ran to the center, but the cracking was haphazard and he began having to leap off of ever smaller pieces onto other broken pieces. In the distance he began to see the shapes of other glowing ice. The piece he was on now was quite small, but it seemed to have stopped cracking. He began to paddle with his hands in the gelid waters and was surprised by how quickly he seemed to glide across the surface of the water. Yet as he approached the other pieces of ice they would float away, some cracking, and some sinking. Sinking ice! Never had he seen such a thing! He was beginning to panic, and began to sweat, cold, cold sweat. It did not take him long to realize that he was indeed perspiring ice! And every time he tried to chase another ice sheet it seemed to scurry away from him. Then even his tiny ice sheet seemed to want to part from his increasingly frigid self, collapsing in the cold. With one loud crack it separated into a thousand shards and the boy was plunged into the depths of the cold and darkness.
He awoke gasping for the air he thought he had lost.
He turned over and there was the beetle, glowing dimly, but reassuringly. It wasn’t long before the sun began to rise and Donkey followed in its wake.
The boy exclaimed, “Donkey I have had the most peculiar dream.”
“You’re still in it!”
“Oh yes, but this one was different…I’m not sure it was mine, a nightmare I think.”
“I’m not sure I want to right now. Could we just go exploring instead? I think I’ll feel better then.”
The boy and the donkey flew for many miles. It started to smell like salt and there was a refreshing breeze, and great flocks of birds flew in every direction. The land was becoming softer and softer and a peculiar smell arose. Soon they were surrounded by strange trees… but were they trees? They had long, gangly roots and some of them were perched in the ocean. At first sight it looked a sorry place – sucking dense mud, flies, and the scorching sun beating down mercilessly. It was a place that was neither land, nor water, and constantly changing with the tides. Donkey explained to the boy that these were mangroves, a place of contradiction, of yellow-green leaves exuding salt from their wounds and of invaluable nurseries for many animals, of trapping unforgiving mud and of shaded havens for many a creature. A beach and a bay extended on either side. There were white egrets daintily walking through the low tides, a clear stream flowing into the murky mud, and fork-tailed long-winged black birds gliding above. The harshness and fragility were so intertwined, that they seemed one and the same.
Donkey and the boy scrambled through the mangrove. As the boy swung from one branch to another he saw something stuck between some roots and the mud. It was one of the black birds! And it was calling to him.
“Hello! Hello! Over here! I am Frigate the Magnificent! Shall you not help me?” cried the strange creature in its desperation.
The boy way perplexed and a little frightened by this big iridescent black feathered bird with his bulging eyes and his long beak curving to a needle sharp point.
“Hold on, Mr. uh… Mr. Friga… uh Mr. Bird.” He went back to where Donkey was.
“There is a bird stuck in the mud over there. Should we help it? Or is this the way things should be and we must leave him be?”
“Well, I don’t know. Do you want to?”
“I suppose so. But, won’t I be disturbing this place?”
“Well perhaps. But, isn’t it disturbing you?”
“Huh? In some way, I guess you could say that. But how do I know if he is a good bird or a bad bird?”
“Well if that’s all that he might be, I am not sure I want to help him. Anyways you won’t know what kind of bird he is unless you free him. But if you don’t care to know, it really doesn’t much matter what you do.”
“No, I think I do want to know. Let’s go help him out then.”
They trudged through the mud over to the frigate bird.
“I thought you weren’t coming back!”
Donkey gently pulled apart the roots that were trapping him while the boy pulled him out of the mud.
“Oh thank you thank you, thank you so much! I was going after a fish and lost control of my dive, and well, this nasty thing happened. I am Frigate the Magnificent, and so very pleased to meet you! What can I do for you?”
“I suppose you could show us around the place!” replied Donkey, ever the eager one for more exploring.
“Yes of course! Of course! I know this place very well. So, follow me!” And off again they went through a multitude of mangrove canals, each one more mysterious, more weaved in yellow-green yellow leaves and brown roots and the shadows that crisscrossed them all.
Come evening, it was time for Frigate to go fishing again. Donkey and the boy decided to go for a swim while Frigate fished, but just as the boy was placing the beetle out of harm’s way it buzzed and lit up and he ended up not wanting to leave it alone. So Donkey swam and the boy sat in the roots, watching over the beetle. When Frigate came back, they watched the sunset together. The beetle buzzed just as the last bit of sun sank behind the horizon and the boy missed the sun’s last winking flash of green.
But, their day was not done yet. With the tides receding, Frigate took them to another beach. There he showed them the Fiddler Crabs, a gregarious group who spent their dusk flitting in and out of their burrows to dance in the mud with their great violin claws.
“Do you see those crabs dancing there with their big claws? They cannot feed with that claw, it’s only for display! And did you know that it can account for up to forty percent of their body weight! Talk about sacrifice for art!”
“How odd!” exclaimed the boy.
“Why, do you think it so bizarre?” asked Frigate.
“Well, what is the use of having such a heavy claw to dance with? And they can’t even use it for eating! How awful!”
“I don’t suppose they really give any thought to its use. It is all simply the flow of existence compelling them to everyday absurdities. You know, my boy, a thing can be a desperate folly, but still be a being’s truest nature.”
“But it seems so pointless.”
“Pointless, shmointless, my boy! Utility is in the eye of the beholder. Is it more useful to swat at mosquitoes or serenade the stars? And everything inbetween? Where does utility end and uselessness begin?”
“Yes, but, oh, well, I don’t know. Anyways, I’m tired and I’m not good at riddles.”
“Well m’boy, that means it’s time for another long nap!”
The Frigate bird invited them to spend the night in his mangrove-top nest. The breeze swayed them to sleep in the tree-top, save the boy who was transfixed by the beetle, seeming to glow even brighter for him on this night. It quivered and glowed delightfully and each time seemed a newer enchantment to the boy. When it stopped he was impatient and he probed it and stroked it, but to no avail. He fell asleep in his frustration. Then came yet another dream.
Strange was this dream, where all was black and white. This land was not even graced by shades of gray. Each thing, living or inanimate was solid black or solid white, with no flecks or specks of the other color in sight. The boy looked to himself and saw that he, however, was full of contrast— spotted, striped, shaded, swirled, his colors in constant flowing motion. Things in this world were three dimensional, but they appeared two dimensional, and it was too simple for him to understand. There was no relief, no depth, and yet it was mesmerizing – an intricate lacework of black and white, a colorless papel picado world. The boy found it very difficult to walk around without bumping into everything. As he walked he began to feel a violent disturbance coming from within. It was Green trying to leave him. In one sudden shudder Green escaped, in the form of a prancing emerald deer. The boy ran as fast as he could to chase him, but he tripped on some black and white roots. The green deer leapt up into the sky where it blazed intensely in a glorious aurora borealis, flashing and shimmering, a ribbon ablaze that faded and was soon no more. Next it was Orange trembling to be freed and in a great gust it flowed out from the boy as a jaguar bounding towards the horizon. The boy desperately followed but ran into a mound that he had thought was a distant mountain. The jaguar charged into the sky, burned as intensely as the deer had and was soon a fleeting thing, and gone. One after the other the colors escaped- Purple, Blue, Red, Yellow. A humming bird, a squirrel, a frog, and a butterfly. Each time escaping the boy’s desperate folly to catch them as the boy was obstructed by the disorienting perspectives. And each time they flowed and glowed in their final bursts of energy. In the end, all color was gone. Only the insipid land of black and white remained. The boy felt rather bleak and empty. He himself was now nothing more than a sad silhouette. He stumbled incoherently in this simple world, searching for the smallest speck of silver, until he fell, exhausted, and awoke.
Donkey and the frigate bird were already awake and enjoying the sunrise.
“Well I’m afraid this is goodbye Mr. Frigate the Magnificent!” exclaimed Donkey.
“No harm in that, come back when you want. It was a pleasure to meet you!”
They prepared to set off. The boy checked to see that the beetle was safe in his pocket. It buzzed reassuringly. Donkey looked over just as he was doing this.
“Say, my dear boy, should we not be returning this beetle back to its home?”
“Yeah, I guess so, but I like his company.”
“Well alright, but you can’t keep it forever, eventually you will have to part, and the sooner the easier.”
“Oh don’t be such a worrywart Donkey! I shan’t have any trouble with that! It’s you I’ll have a hard time leaving!” But the boy was no longer sure if the words that escaped his mouth were true.
“Well, my dear boy, it’s not time for our goodbye yet, we still have some exploring to do! Mr. Magnificent, we thank you for your welcome and hope that our journeys will cross again soon.”
Donkey snorted with glee and took off. He flew up very very high. Into the soft substances of clouds, through the mists, and finally down to a lake fed by a great waterfall. There was the reflection of a deep stillness and with it an incessant gushing flow.
“My goodness, dear boy!! Have you ever seen such a beautiful spectacle of nature?” The boy’s eyes were not looking at the lake, but transfixed on the simple silver surface of his beetle. He gazed at it broodingly, longingly, his eyes tinged with – what was it? – a hint of folly? Donkey observed him quizzically, a little puzzled and a little frightened by what he saw in this dear child’s face.
He tried again: “Dear boy! Look! Look at all that is before you!”
The boy looked up apathetically at Donkey.
“Mhm” was his only reply. He went to lay on a rock and held his beetle above him, using it as a shade to block the sun. Donkey sighed and went to drink from the lake. What was the matter with his dear boy?
He turned around just in time to see that the boy had begun walking along the shore, beetle in hand and was about to step on a toad.
“STOP! STOP!” yelled Donkey.
The boy startled and dropped his beetle as the toad hopped away just in time. He retrieved his beetle, and immediately began wiping it clean from dust with his t-shirt. By this time Donkey had run over to him.
“My goodness dear boy, do look where you are going! Don’t you see what you could have done?! You could have killed this poor fellow!”
The toad had hopped up on a rock and was observing them.
“Mr. Donkey! Don’t worry about it! I’m small and used to people not seeing me. But, how delightful to see you here! And I see that you are not alone this time!”
“Indeed, it seems I am not. Won’t you help me? I’d like to show him this place, but all his interest is gone to this beetle.”
“Why of course! Where shall we start?”
“By getting him to follow us.”
The boy was sitting again, checking his beetle for bruises and scratches from its fall.
“Dear boy, please come meet the one you almost hurt!”
“He’ll show you around the place!”
Donkey nudged the boy with his nose, haw-ing and hee-ing eagerly. The boy got up reluctantly, and rolled his eyes at Donkey.
“You can leave the beetle here, he’ll be fine.”
“No, I want him to see with me. It wouldn’t be fair to leave him alone.” There was something so fierce and yet so matter-a-fact in the way he said this that Donkey did not dare say more.
Toad hopped along, carefree, taking them all around the lake. From the base of the unceasing flow of waterfall to the placid mirror edges of the lake at its stillest points. The boy was unresponsive, his eyes glazed into a trance. The flow seemed to hold no movement for him and the surface seemed to play no light for him. But, it was calming nonetheless, that he could not deny. At night they rafted out to the center of the lake to sleep adrift. Now even the stars were reflected! Toad began his nightly singing and his companions from all around the lake answered his every note.
“Doesn’t it scare you to sing at night, Toad? You are so small, aren’t you afraid of the dark?” inquired the boy.
“The night is but another mirror. I sing my heart to the void and then I know it better. How can I stay quiet in the face of the unknown?” responded Toad.
“But, won’t something find you and eat you?”
“Sure, something could eat me, but I would not give up my voice for anything. Fear is the worst predator of all. Though it may not eat your flesh, it will eat your soul.”
“I don’t understand.”
“Don’t fret too much about it, it will come. You are so young, and you have so many mirrors yet to be.”
The boy lay on his back again, his beetle in his vision, glowing, buzzing, even seeming to chirp this time. And when it tired and turned dark before the boy, the boy lay there gripping it, staring at his own reflection – ghastly and dim in the pale starlight. He did not remember falling asleep, but he woke into another dream.
A great hall of mirrors stretched out before him. But he could not make out the blurred shapes he saw in them. The images were dim and indistinct, and often frightening. He caught glimpses of reddened eyes and sharp canines, of sickly greenish complexions and of bony protrusions. He walked further into the hall and discovered it was not a hall, but a maze. He walked and walked, but the maze was interminable. He tried to go back the way he came, but it was blocked. Then he thought he heard someone coming. But the footsteps faded. A knocking came this time. Faster and faster until he saw that it was just the wind tapping branches on a mirror. He heard a wailing in the distance, but it was just the howling of the wolves. The wolves?! He began to run, crashing through the mirrors, shattering them in his panic. The shards of glass did not cut him, worse, they bit him and stung him and chased him in crystalline swarms. Again, the tapping sounds came, drumming, rapping, pitter-pattering. But, there was no one, save the blurry outlines of could-have-beens. Was it simply his beating heart he could not silence? Thudding, thudding, thudding, louder and louder in the cavity of his soul. All tuned to such a resounding cacophony of thudding that he woke.
It was blurry outside too. Donkey had already taken them to the skies. The boy looked frantically in his pockets for his beetle, but it was gone!
“Donkey!! We have to go back!! I have lost my beetle!”
“No, dear boy, it was high time that it went back to its natural home. Don’t worry, I made sure it was safe.”
“No, No, NO!!! I need it! NOW!”
“Now, now, don’t be so cross dear boy.”
“I want my beetle. I’ll let go if you don’t turn around to go get it.”
“Now, please, do be reasonable! I’m taking you to the grandest marvel of them all! Remember we still have the planet to plan as it should be! Exploration! Decisions! So much to do and to see!”
“No. I mean it, Donkey.” The boy began to pound on Donkey’s back with his fists. His tender heart was turning to torment.
“Now please stop that!”
“I won’t until you turn back for my beetle.”
Donkey could not fly straight with the boy pounding so viciously on his back. Although he tired and he swerved this way and that, he managed to stay, albeit precariously, on his course.
“Now, no is no. I will not bring you back to that creature, until you have appreciated at least this next place with your own living eyes.”
The boy exhausted himself from pounding donkey and soon began to cry.
“I hate you donkey. I hate you.” he said gulping between sobs.
“Now you don’t mean that, I know you don’t.”
The boy said nothing and continued crying. He felt anxious and frustrated, deprived of his sweetest beetle. He no longer understood how he could illuminate the void he felt, without his precious beetle.
Donkey, quite exhausted, came to a skidding halt on a mountain top.
“Now see, look where I have brought you, dear boy. Have you ever seen such a landscape view?”
The boy said nothing but sat there despondently.
“Oh don’t look so forlorn! Look around you dear boy! Look with your eyes!”
“I don’t want to look at anything if I cannot have my beetle with me.”
A patched gray creature came up behind them. Donkey turned around.
“Why hello Ms. Pika!”
“What a lovely day isn’t it Donkey?”
“Oh yesss, yes!”
“Who’s your visitor?”
“Oh this dear boy- his dream is here for the time!”
“Oh how wonderful! I do think I’m dreaming here as well, sometimes! Ha!”
“Are you here often?”
“Oh yes, yes, I come up to see the view when the weather’s nice every chance I get. But you can never stay here forever, you know.”
“Well, we’re all visitors here, that’s for sure.”
“But I never let an opportunity to come up pass by, no matter how transient or short! True happiness is like being on a mountain top, you know. You can’t stay there very long, you must come down eventually. But the beauty is that there are plenty of mountains to climb and it’s all such a satisfying process anyways. Especially when I have my talus-loving pika sisters alongside me!”
“Oh I quite enjoy it myself. Plus, from this peak we can see all the furrows and undulations of our landscape! What a special invitation! What a privilege!”
“Oh it’s such a crisp and clear day! Surely the night will be beautiful too! Shall we try to spend the night?”
“Oh I think that’s a wonderful idea Ms. Pika!”
The boy said nothing during this time, but looked on at the landscape unfazed. The sun burned slowly through its wick, the glows of day giving way to the glossy blue black fabric of the night until the sky’s lanterns took their places.
Donkey nudged the boy affectionately. The boy sighed. And then he began to cry. Great heaving sobs of devastation. Donkey said nothing, but he understood. The little boy cried himself to sleep against Donkey. Donkey waited to fall asleep this time to make sure the little boy fell asleep first.
The boy lifted his leaden eyelids into another vision. This time he was in a bed with gray sheets and a gray pillow. The room was all gray too. He sat up, but did not get up. Dawning gray light filtered through the blinds, prison-like, into the hollow room. He felt so angry, so frustrated. He could not remember his dream! What had it been?! There had been wonder and adventure and many a magical scene! But oh that he could have forgotten all such wonder. He wanted to reach out and catch it. But, where? He got up and walked to the window to try to free himself from this gray-lit dungeon. Stretching out his hand desperately, he lunged, as if to snatch an invisible sparrow, a messenger with his dream, to save it, if only a fragment of the visions the dream had made lovely for him. But it was all beginning to spin now, and everything went by too fast for his heavy eyes.
Relieved, he awoke again into his dream. The sun was piercing over the distant peaks, and he almost felt its warmth and light cleaning him anew. Pika herself, was already frantically rubbing her adorable face in the freshest and newest rays of day. But for the boy it was too late, all the landscape had withered around him and he shivered. Without the glow of his sweet beetle, everything felt dimmed and dull. He shook the donkey to wake him.
“Oh good morning dear boy! Gooooooood morning! My what a brilliant sunrise we are having today!”
“Donkey I’m tired. Can we go home?”
“But, where is that dear boy?”
“To the tree and the rivers and my beetle.”
“Well, yes, of course. But shan’t we stay here a bit to enjoy this dawning delight?”
“I just want to go home; I’ve had enough of this view and I’m cold.”
“Alright, alright, but let’s at least say goodbye to Ms. Pika.”
Ms. Pika gave them both as a big a hug as her little pika arms would let her, and then they were off again.
After one last flight, they were by the rivers, by the tree. And there was his beetle, buzzing and glowing as happily as ever! Oh joy! The boy clambered up, Donkey following behind as best he could. The boy went out to the great branch. He crouched over his beetle, grinning gleefully as it buzzed and buzzed and buzzed and illuminated his face with its contrived glow. It was even speaking to him this time! In strange, strange, echoed words:
“I wander thro’ each charter’d street,
Near where the charter’d Thames does flow.
And mark in every face I meet
Marks of weakness, marks of woe.
In every cry of every Man,
In every Infants cry of fear,
In every voice: in every ban,
The mind-forg’d manacles I hear
As Donkey came leaping up to the branch he tripped, and the tree shook violently. The beetle slipped off of the branch. The boy leaped after it and both the beetle and the boy plunged into the river Vorfreude.
The frozen fall woke him up in feverishly frigid perspiration. For one small instant, he felt relieved. But when, with a pounding headache he turned to the gray dawning world, he saw the ashes of his night. He knew, now, that he had lost it, the freshest and most vivid, forever. It had all passed by and turned into this wounded gray waste…
An incessant buzzing vibrated the early morning air. The intimate beetle was still by his side illuminating the foggy morning. He stretched and got up and slipped it into his pocket. And he never dreamed again.
*from William Blake’s London
As the scale of things would have it Women will martyr fishes, as many as it takes To turn the tides Inside out The way that lovers metamorphose, Spewing electric slivers in their wake, Spooling away the lachrymose shivers, Gasoline, spilled, The wetness spreading Between incandescent peninsulas Leaving the megalopolis behind, The light comes in stabs Glints Off of car hoods and roofs A small plane hums between the islands, emerald greens and blues My nostrils Combed by kerosene Inhale the stillness that is flight I would prefer a Pacific death If ever I should be As a dead fish under you First published in The Lullwater Review, Spring 2021: https://emorylullwaterreview.com/
I listened to my helplessness, She wanted help from me, She cannot, does not, will not share, Bear, that part of hers, Which kneels for no one Save the imagined sight Of sea Spread beneath the storm, Cleaved from the sky -- The horizon unveils a city Responding to the nighttime’s starred body That, alone, makes her cry I have lived days as dense as the sun For a split second of salt relief, kilometers condensed into one swell, One whip of wet hair, The beach-goers unaware That she’s accompanied me every sweet and sullen step of the way That it is she who harvested the evening yellow, the orange Dust, the olive trees, the minute’s lust Bear paw, awe! Bear paw, awe! Halogen Bear, my constellation, My steadfast salt-producing Loneliness- I am my own (together-starred body) I will always be free
I didn’t think
You could ride bicycles on waves
But in the spaces where I
The wheels fit just right
And you don’t have to pedal.
The waves cycle on,
The silent spokes
Glinting between us,
Split the world
Like a zoetrope,
Demanding the blended pulses
Of words in white-capped sentences.
The bicycle bobs up and down,
And neither you nor it will ever drown.
J Boulat. First published in Five 2 One Magazine, Issue 12: http://five2onemagazine.com/five-2-one-magazine-issue-12/
What glinted from the August airplane wing Came back that day in early spring. It was the March of time. So dimmed the sun, And so rounded the shadows, That I wondered if the moon Thought it had sinned. Yet, nothing seemed to gleam or guilt too much.
Lying face-up, The tears roll from my eyes Over to the cartilage protrusion: Tragus When he smiled, my grandfather’s eyes Crinkled to my ears, Much like fire crackles. Yet I no longer see or hear him, nor the tears, From duct to canal – I feel them: He, the comfort of garden-grown verbena and a chimney-front childhood, They, the cool weight of what was falling all these years, What chagrin says we shall no longer clutch – Even tears revert to dust