If I Entered Hell

My Beatrice would be a monk with whom I would never confess I was in love with

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If I became the female self of Dante

I would hope that Hans Rookmaaker would be my Virgil.

Hell then would be a circular art gallery, a gradual, seven story spiral ending in an ice box.

And within the ice box perhaps Monet, paint brush in hand.

Frozen in the act of painting light, a perplexed look on his face.

“Where is the sensation?” — his eyes would ask; sensation being the only reality of life

for him.

I would ask my guide if I should tell him that he is dead — and my guild would shake his head,

no.

‘Monet lives at last, he feels the cold of his encased death.’

And my guide would pity me, and take me to my Beatrice — a monk who writes the classics and beautifies the deep well walls of knowledge.

There I would stay never saying I was deeply in love with him.

 

Photo by Ashim D’Silva on Unsplash

 

Now I Am Finished

Each face I see is marred by years of loveless existence.
I do not shudder to meet their gaze and I do not withhold my smile.

Now I am finished.
The wind blows a song of desolation and I do not mourn,
I do not covet the glimpse of your image in my mind, nor do I grieve.
The sun is merciless and I do not long for your shadow over me.
The clarity of vision is now the courage to focus on the world around me.
Each face I see is marred by years of loveless existence.
I do not shudder to meet their gaze and I do not withhold my smile.
No pity wells within me, no camaraderie do I endeavor to convey.
Yes, indeed I stand through Grace alone and with no boasting of self-confidence.
So need is not to be spoken of in my heart anymore.
I sleep the sleep of peace and do not long for what was never mine.
I long to hear the desolation of a world in turning and in death believe only good.
In these final moments grant me the ability to recognize what is best for those left behind,
A word, a scrap of wisdom, a plea to listen.
Listen:
I left what I wanted and focused on the sound of God’s voice
And the wind opened its song of longing for me and the sun spread warmth into my skin
And I ceased to be sorry for the years upon years of could have been.
The voice of God sings vibrato that pierces my mind to ecstasy and breaks my chains of self-slavery.

 

Photo by Cristian Newman on Unsplash
I do not shudder to meet their gaze and I do not withhold my smile.

Into Safety

Maybe some see already that her calm life was sailing blissfully into an evil maelstrom. 

Since being alone, she has been extremely busy.

She knew a woman, friends of hers, who were the same.  Extremely busy.  They sat down after work and read historical romances or went to movies by themselves.  They lived in the city, in small apartments that didn’t cost a fortune and rode the bus to the L and the L into the city proper and didn’t complain about the early rise because they didn’t have to drive in “all that traffic.”

She was like them, just like them an introvert with a busy schedule.  She joined a knit club with other introverts, men and women alike who told her where the best coffee shops were and the best nookish bookstores.  They would go out together and drink sherry once in a while just to compare notes.

After a long while of learning how to be alone; she liked it.  She liked her satellite friends who would be coming running if there was some sort of catastrophe, like a lost cat, or a pregnant sister.  They came because the catastrophes were few and far between and usually always brief.

Like all contentment however it slips past without any sounding alarm.  One evening rather than a predictable romance, she read “Jane Eyre.” Harmless enough and her friends encouraged her in the classics.  But the classic are dangerous books.  Why?  Because of the questions they pose.  The questions weren’t harmful by themselves:

“Who was president when Jane Eyre loved Edward Fairfax Rochester?”

“How old was the United States when Mr. Darcy proposed to Elizabeth?”

“What did Freud have to say about Wuthering Heights?”

Well okay, the last one wasn’t so much a question that has much bearing on her journey but if one has some time on their hands it could make quite a dissertation.

Maybe some see already that her calm life was sailing blissfully into an evil maelstrom.  Could she have made an effort to stop?  Sure, and she did but questions beget questions.  If it was the best of times how could it be the worst?   That made no sense, on the quiet bus ride into work.    Besides if any sort of enlightenment ushers in the guillotine then perhaps we should take a closer look at the crusades.

If that makes no sense just know, the more she dug into her questions the deeper into history she sank.

Until she found him blinking up at her from the dark tunnel of conflicting sources and original sources.  The wind was howling a city of Chicago winter storm when their eyes met over thick tombs that the librarians twittered and fussed about whenever they were requested.

Her heart sank.  She had been trapped, for there he was running his fingers through his hair and with a perplexed look on his face.  She understood, the Enlightenment was sinking into anything but and that was a hard lesson.

She imagined him several times during her work day.  What if he appreciated German opera more than Italian?  What if he liked to travel to see the very place where Antoinette died and she simply wanted to take a visual tour.  What if he preferred French to Portuguese?  What happens to a man who thinks that Dickens actually wrote anything worth reading besides the “Pickwick Papers”? What if he preferred Adams over Jefferson, what then?

Her heart pound in her ears, when she realized that he would speak to her, talk to her and the quiet smiles and bumping into each other in the history sections, were done.

What happened to those nice quiet nights knitting and reading alone in snow driven Chicago?

Before he opened his mouth or give her the warm smile she had shared with him for many weeks her heart felt suddenly leaden.  She couldn’t do it again.  She couldn’t.  It wasn’t the quiet, it was the burden.  Life was too good to complicate it with true love.

She ducked quickly into the medieval histories of the Spanish.  She heard his footsteps slow and imagined his surprised face.  He walked slowly passed her and into Ancient Greece.

Trip Her

Why not trip him? Because the world doesn’t persecute intelligent men. Intelligent men are simply persecuted in a family setting, not on a societal scale.

I have learned, from dubious experience, (dubious being a universal description or rather an attitude toward the experience of..well, experience) that to avoid extreme mental fatigue and emotional pain avoid intelligence.  There is not much hope for you if you are intelligent already.  I’m afraid you must simply live your life out and take the mistake up with God when you meet Him.  But if someone you know is near the brink, the precipice, the mountain top of intelligence, trip her.

Why not trip him?  Because the world doesn’t persecute intelligent men.  Intelligent men are simply persecuted in a family setting, not on a societal scale.

Shut up.

Once a woman is tripped and looking confused and perhaps a little bloodied try and reason with her.  Maybe she is not physically attractive in the modern sense.  Perhaps she is older and has decided to be a “late bloomer.”  Stop her.

Explain to her that intelligence will only bring her grief.  You need not explain to her how if she has not actually accrued intelligence or if she is at the cusp of understanding, there is time to push her back into the womb of self-absorption.  Tell her to take a long hard look at her constituents in the pursuit of marriage, relationship and exquisite mind melding sex.  Don’t tell her those goals will never happen just tell her the pursuit of romantic love will be less harrowing than the pursuit of intelligence.

Are these lies?

Shut up.

Tell the woman you are trying to save, that she must trust someone and to trust you.  Intelligence is a never-ending pursuit and it will only, in the end, frustrate and demoralize.  Whereas on the other hand, the pursuit of relationship will frustrate and demoralize but she will have a better body (due to her pursuit of just the right partner) and she will have the indulgence of self-deception when explaining to a bleary-eyed intelligent woman how happy and content she herself is in her safe and happy relationship.  Will it be a lie?

Yes, but the bottom line is not to have love or even have intelligence but to outdo the other woman.  That’s what women want.  Not to be happy, content or intelligent but to be better than the next woman.

Think about it.  A group of women around some table in a restaurant, complaining about the job, the husband the kids and trying to outdo each other.  Then in walks a 20 something knock-out that they wouldn’t notice if the men in the room didn’t stop and gaze with wonder and awe.  Nothing, and I mean nothing unites women faster than an outsider beauty.  The only one who would throw this unity out the window is the intelligent woman.  The woman who would calmly state that the beauty can’t help she’s beautiful, that each one of them had their opportunity, and that they are all in different stages in their lives – give the girl a break.

See?  Intelligent.

And lonely.

 

I See In All

The angry are better off. The weak and frightened cling to me. To see the soft weeping, the gratitude for my listening and understanding ear does move me. They don’t see it coming, the price they pay for believing without faith but rather naiveté. It is just the right type of absorption I need that keeps me craving but not without pity for the terror that at the end I see in all.

The angry are better off. The weak and frightened cling to me. To see the soft weeping, the gratitude for my listening and understanding ear does move me. They don’t see it coming, the price they pay for believing without faith but rather naiveté. It is just the right type of absorption I need that keeps me craving but not without pity for the terror that at the end I see in all.

I regret none of my interactions with those of whom I have shared the gloom of tombs, dark empty spaces, sounds of voices from beyond the grave and the sudden awareness of being two in the room. Ghosts are subtle, and after years of exposing their secret places, I must conclude they are nothing to encourage, nothing to hope for and nothing for the living to live pursuing.

I see the young writers making heroes of those that exist beyond the grave. The more modern and exalted flimflam showmen flutter to the call that the dead have some vague romantic goal to reunite with the ones they love. The dead are just that, and if there is any ambition, it is to have more join them in the aching spiritual icebox they inhabit.

So, there we have the dead but it is the living that is the greatest heartache of all. They become involved in seeking their fairytale within the realms of the supernatural; especially those who crave touch and forgetfulness most of all.

I met a young man once, his eyes a deep, dark, blue who became angry with me at the end of his story. He was the hero, the gallant who would save his beloved from the shadowlands of death. Too there was the young girl with deep black eyes who thinks to this day that I bewitched her in some way. These escape my attempt at the soft sound of reason and comfort I try to convey.

It’s obvious to me that those who crave the unknown to quash the loneliness of existence live shallow little lives and those who have seen something they cannot explain wish for memories of the urbane but one-dimensional type in an attempt to reclaim their lonely little lives. Such quests never end well.

Corner of the eye movements. Reversals. Pictures that fly not drop from the walls. Anger. Fear. Sleeplessness. Tears. Some will escape, others will confide in me, especially after an alcoholic drink.
I draw large crowds, you know, of all sorts. I am not bragging, just well known. I am surrounded by actors and directors and glamorous dancers of every type. Inevitably someone will ask me if I believe in ghosts because, they will say, I certainly write as if I do. What is interesting or perhaps comforting is that the beautiful crowd reacts the same as those within the supermarket or the brown shoe beauties I meet in some obscure bookstore signing that I adore. Their eyes become large and luminous but after the hubbub of my first ‘yes,’ I follow those who walk away upset.

These I know are the failures who overstepped a living person’s boundary and challenged the notion of making good evil and a fatal habit of thinking evil good. These struggle less when my eyes turn red and explain that justice has nothing to do with me and getting away with my appetite falls at the feet of their determination to see the best in me.

 

She Still Loves You, Sir Walter Scott

“The only thing I’m saying is that if you want a good example, for your class, of what an oxymoron is, use ‘nice guy.’” She felt that sinking, suffocating sensation that she always felt when around him and wondered why she wasn’t home reading.

He was seven years younger than her; tall, slender, with large amber brown eyes, and a wooly but trimmed beard. They were employed together by the Jefferson County School System. She taught freshman English as a way and means to write literary prose on her fall, winter, and summer breaks (when she was in elementary school those breaks had titles such as Halloween, Christmas and thanked God, it’s summer vacation). He taught fourth-grade with a concentration in Mathematics. They were aware of each other or rather she was aware of him because he always sat in the front row of the Teacher’s Union meetings. She sat in the back and graded papers that lead her to seek professional help.

That’s where they met. He was walking out of his therapy session with Dr. Monroe while she was walking in, deep in thought and wanting to purge the sick feeling of guilt she felt for reading Ivanhoe for the fourth time in three years. She was startled by the fourth-grade teacher’s appearance, and he smiled at her.

“Do I know you?”

She blinked and felt her nose begin to itch and the inevitable wetness that sidetracks all social discourse. Frantically she looked in her purse for a tissue, “Um no, sorry,” she sniffed. He took a tissue from the box on the receptionist desk and handed it to her. She took it gratefully and spoke over the fourth-grade teacher’s shoulder, to the receptionist. “Sorry I’m late, will she still see me?”

“Yes, Ms. Miller.”

She turned back to him who had stayed and was apparently looking her up and down. “You know,” he said, “I think you look familiar.”

“I teach at Jefferson High. Freshman English. I’ve noticed you at the Teacher’s Union Meetings.”

“Ahh, because I sit up front.” He smiled and adjusted his backpack across his shoulders. “Will you be at the freshman basketball game tonight?” She looked at him as if he had grown three heads, “No. I don’t care for basketball.” She turned around and walked toward the Doctor’s office door.

“Wait one minute Ms. Miller; Doctor is not quite ready.” She huffed at the strident demand of the receptionist. She turned, the fourth-grade teacher was still standing there. She wondered if the ‘Doctor,’ wasn’t recouping from some wild tryst with the young man in front of her.

“I teach fourth grade, with a concentration in mathematics.”

“Yes, you’ve mentioned that in the meetings.”

“And you’ve remembered.”

She felt herself reddening slightly. She wasn’t sure if he was referring to her age and therefore her weakening faculty of mind or if he thought that he had made an impression on her. So, she only smiled without meaning it and said, ‘yes,’ in a long drawn out breath.

Her rudeness didn’t seem to cause any self-examination regarding his manners. “Well, we should have coffee together sometime and compare notes.”

“Ms. Miller, the Doctor is ready for you.”

“Sure, we should do that.”

She didn’t realize that she had committed herself. On the afternoon, just before the long winter break (that would be spent preparing, for the principal and three vice principals another plan for teaching freshman English and a dissertation on why grades were so low), she looked up to see him standing at her classroom door.

“Hi!”

“Hello.”

Did you receive my emails?”

She thought for a moment that she would feign complete ignorance and check her spam, but she was too tired and only said: “Yes, I did.” Annoyed at having to confess her remissness she thought wildly of asking him why he didn’t ask for her kerchief or go gallantly out in her name to right wrongs.

“Didn’t want to answer me huh?” He looked a bit crestfallen, and guilt crept along her neck and wisped about her ankles in a cold little chill.

“No, I didn’t. I’ve been kind of busy.”

“Yeah, the rumor is that you really do try and teach Freshman English. That must be burdensome. Why don’t you let me buy you a cup of coffee? We can go to the teacher’s lounge…”

“No.” her disdain was evident in one word, and she rose from her desk as if she was rising to command Nelson’s ship Victory.

“Excellent then let’s go over to a nice little coffee shop I know.”

She looked outside, the clouds were low, and it had begun to snow in earnest. She felt tired and longed for her little apartment uptown above the yoga center. The landlord had made a deal with her on the rent three years ago, because of the late hours and the weird music that came up from the old furnace vents. She didn’t mind because she kept her classical music plugged in and the heat low – it helped her write.

“Why don’t you come to my apartment and I’ll make us coffee.” She was hoping he would refuse, but he readily agreed.

They had coffee. He left in time for her to order a medium plain pizza with cheese in which she ate three-quarters and then made herself sick. Something she hadn’t done since she was a teenager and had fallen in love with Sir Walter Scott of Waverly fame. She tested transcendentalism in hopes of eventually uniting with her writing icon which sent her parents running back to their Catholic faith.

She was looking at him now wondering what and who a ‘nice guy,’ really was and if he had married someone else and was tripping over kids and wondering what happened to her.

“Do you think we should start a relationship?” he asked.

“What?” She shook her head; she wondered if she had been falling asleep.

“I spoke to Dr. Monroe about the two of us, and he said an older woman (not too much older, mind you) might be a good experience for me.”

“An experience.” She said, deadpan and weary.

“You never know,” he said shyly and smiled, “it might last.”

She took a deep breath, letting herself for a moment breathe in his perceived freedom and open minded aura and felt within her throat and lungs the sharp pain deception.

“’Nice guy,’ young man, is not an oxymoron. I’m too old to be your girlfriend is not an oxymoron, and I’m not going back to that shrink who agrees with you that everyone on has a commodity status…”

“No, that’s not what I mean. I didn’t…”

“You didn’t ask me out for a cup of coffee so that you could lose your virginity, I know. You are so predictable you know, despite being told all your life that you are unique.

“So is Sir Walter Scott,” he said hotly.

“No, we just haven’t come up with anything original since. We’ve only managed to redefine words, concepts, and morals to appease our insecurities. We’ve done it until we’ve come up with a human like you, who believes there is no such thing as an oxymoron. You don’t, you know, you don’t even know enough to be honestly self-deprecating.”

He sat and stared at her for a moment. She could see he was struggling. He stood, “Well, I’ll just take care of this bill and when you feel like you can speak to me with some respect, let me know.”

She gave him no reply while he hesitated and then left. She ordered another strong coffee and felt cold. Perhaps a priest would understand her love for a dead novelist and poet better than a psychologist. Sipping her coffee and watching the fourth-grade teacher walk away.

 

Black and White Photographs

I see you in black and white. I see you against a tall and narrow wood framed house; the type built in the 1920s and 30s; narrow windows, narrow doors with the prairie grass growing right up to the field stone foundation.

I see you in black and white. I see you against a tall and narrow wood framed house; the type built in the 1920s and 30s; narrow windows, narrow doors with the prairie grass growing right up to the field stone foundation.   I picture you standing in front of the house my grandfather and grandmother were married in.  I see you in black and white; the monochrome that hides the fact that the shirt you wear is one hundred percent cotton and the pants are not pants but trousers and the smile you have on your is sort of shy because a camera was an odd thing and the word itself was still associated with an actual room in some parts of the world.

I see you in black and white because I so desperately want to. I want to stand there next to you in front of a small house with quarter paned windows that settlers on the prairie would have thought folly.  In the dead of winter with no wind breaks, perhaps they are folly.

I want you there, our bare feet wedged against each other, and our skin the only heat we feel in the back bedroom, while the winter wind howls around our house.  I want your hands in my hair telling me it’s okay, that I’ll be okay as we lock into each other in the making of another generation.

In my reality, however, I see in shades just less than Technicolor. I walk to work and I breathe into my thick, ninety percent cotton scarf, just the right shade of pewter blue; it matches my eyes and I get a few stares or two.

I have an ego.

I wash out the scarf once a week in my studio apartment, washing away the faded but expensive perfume and I wash away my own respirations while walking to work during cold January days in Chicago.

A car backfires and people scuttle for cover and then we wonder at the thought that we pay taxes to send young people to die for others, and we die on the streets unprotected.

That’s when I see you in black and white.

I took down all of my art work, I don’t believe in it anymore, and had the walls painted stark white. The landlord didn’t care, I pay my rent on time and he can see that I’m here with no intention of leaving.  I hated to, but I painted my walls with dusty looking flat paint – the kind my grandparents used.

You know, I dated a guy that works at the Art Institute of Chicago. No, he wasn’t a prig or overly anxious.  Don’t be alarmed but I was in it so he’d help my hang my old black and white photos.

He asked me why the frames. He knew a guy who could take my photos, enlarge them and really make them look like museum pieces.  No, I told him, the old photos needed frames.  A frame, like the frame of a house, was and is to me foundational.  The world crumbles without a frame of some sort to give it shape, personality, security.

He looked at me hard and then asked if I’d come to bed. Somehow I’d moved him and he was serious during sex. He telephones every once and awhile but the photos are all hung in their black and white glory so I don’t return his calls.

What time I have alone I think of you standing there next to me within the picture frame. The wind is caught in our photograph. You can see it in the background, pushing our hair out and away from our faces, moving the creases in your trousers just off center and wrapping my skirt around my legs. The wind never leaves the prairie, it cleans the air that surrounds us.

I walked the old farm with my grandfather once. He was glad to be back in North Dakota. We walked and he showed me how to make gum from the heads of wheat and pointed out where great-grandfather’s farm house used to stand – the barn was still there. I was thirteen and that was the only time that year I forgot about myself, my chemically suppressed acne and the flabby bulge around my midsection that the pediatrician explained to my mother was caused by my “eating problem.”

I didn’t lose my virginity until I was twenty-five. I’ve told that to no one until I told you. Okay, that’s a lie I tell anyone I’m intimate with, you’re the only one who didn’t joke about how long it took me.

By twenty-three I swore I’d be celibate for the rest of my life.  I met a man in the library, we were what you might call “nodding acquaintances.”  He would read in the library, not just browse the books and take them home.

He was twenty-three years older than me, married and with three children.  I learned these facts much later.  For a year we would meet at the library, walk to my place and fuck. It was intense and I don’t think he noticed that first time I was a virgin. I cried when he left but the next week I couldn’t wait to see him. I felt that way for a year, a drive that never culminated in “I love you.”

He invited me to a dinner party. I was introduced to his wife and he smiled while we shook hands.  He then started to introduce me to his friends and I could tell suddenly that I was being assessed. When I went to the open bar for a glass of sherry and stood off by myself his friends came up to me one by one. They were nice, asked me for my number, said they appreciated someone clean, considerate, that they’d take care of me.

I, of course, am very careful but I do invite a few in, outside their circle. I keep my daytime job but I make sure they pay any out of pocket medical.  There are some evenings I look forward to with the select group, but not too often.  I still feel at times that need, that drive, I felt at first. Yes, I know, they may grow tired of me but they are growing older, I think, sooner than me.

One night, the heaviest of them was working hard, sweating profusely, his hair, shock white, hanging in his face moved to the rhythm of what he was doing and my Technicolor vision suddenly went black and white.  I was struck with the thought of you, whoever you are, having a bad day on the farm, coming home to me, pushing up my thin cotton dress, holding me down on the sturdy kitchen table – just like this guy was doing – but I was on the prairie, where it mattered, where it worked.

One of them asked me, just the other day if it didn’t bother me to have all these old black and white pictures looking at me while we “played.”  “No,” I said, pulling at his tie, “I’m working to return to the wind and wide open spaces my grandfather was glad to see.”  He told me I was good at my work.

Actually, I wonder if I’ll ever feel the wind again.