Painted Pictures

I moved out with my princess bedroom furniture, college loans and cat.  We moved into the loft together and I lost my virginity to a writer who was twice my age.  In short, I was lost and frightened for a while.  

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Working in the city meant semi starvation rations, living in the city meant free days at the museum of art, tranquil walks even in the coldest winter months.  My worst day was when Pristina died.  She came with me to the city when I moved from my parents home in the suburbs and the community college that taught me nothing.  They tolerated both of us (yes the college as well).

I moved out with my princess bedroom furniture, college loans and cat.  We moved into the loft together and I lost my virginity to a writer who was twice my age.  In short, I was lost and frightened for a while.

After I found myself awake beside the man I didn’t know,  my longing for Pristina grew – she was just across the hall all alone.  I crept out of bed, gathered up my strewn clothing and crept along the hallway to my own studio apartment.  I cried and petted my cat telling her that I would not leave her again.  I fell asleep, the next day I was late for work though refreshed.  I received a promotion, raise as well as a corner office in the basement that year for my diligence.

I didn’t go home for Christmas that year.  In the new year my parents wrote me from Florida encouraging me to visit them in the new retirement community they had found.  I started working a second job in the evening and for two years Pristina and I worked and slept in a studio apartment and the writer across the hall slipped us poetry under our door.

I paid off my last college loan on November 16th and that night I ordered out and shared a rare New York Strip with soft wedged potatoes sprinkled with sea salt and vinegar for myself and Pristina.  Pristina sneezed over the potatoes and licked her lips each time she swallowed a dainty piece of meat.  She taught me the art of savoring a meal.

Pristina and I moved to a one bedroom apartment with wooden floors and an ancient looking bathroom which depressed us both.  The kitchen was dark green with brown linoleum and I told myself we would get used to it because the skyline of Chicago was worth the depressing dark interior.  It wasn’t and one year later we moved into a renovated old brick factory.  The writer who turned poet lived on the bottom floor with his wife and their golden retriever.  The writer turned poet’s wife would tap on my door; she had long dark black hair and her face was smooth but she would smile at me and invite me to their apartment.  “No worries, no worries, I’m not jealous.  Come and eat with us.”  I always refused and Pristina would sit upon an old heat register meowing at the poor dog who lacked exercise.

I left for work one frigid January day and was late coming home because the CTA was running slow and the sidewalks were slippery.  Pristina was alone and in the dark when she died without me.

Her funeral expenses set me back financially, and I had to miss a day of work but I came home with a jasper jar with her ashes in it.  I called my mother to tell her and after explaining that Pristina had not died years ago I hung up and sat in the dark.  I understood the coldness of a smooth jasper jar.

The writer turned poet, turned writer showed up in February with a great framed painting of Pristina for my brick walls.

“You need color up here.  Pristina, her dark fur and golden eyes will make this place feel like home again.”

I said nothing to him while he drilled and worked and swept up the dust of his labors.

“Why don’t you have dinner with us?”

“No thank you.”

He slid the wide door of my apartment shut and tip toed away.  I sat in the dark for another night with my back to the painting.

April in Chicago can be violent.  The wind slammed and bounced against the tall buildings and tumbled down to rattle old brick ones sheltering poets, writers, wives and administrative assistants.  The dog below howled in a low whimper when the lightning was replaced by the thunder.  Pristina lept down from her perch on the wall and walked, her tail perpendicular, to the register and sat to mew in the old register.

There was calmness.

I thought of making love one more time to the poet before I had my picture painted and hung next to Pristina but thought no, I did not want to surrender again to my needy self consumed psyche which was only fodder for the deceitful.  You see, I spent so much time imagining my happy ending I discovered I loved being relieved it never happened.  In fact I realized that there was no such thing as poets, painters or writers only a terror of being alone.

Crow

I’ve never told you, but the common crow is the amulet of writers – not poets.
No, the crow belongs to the writer because the poet was born first and chose the raven.
That is why the poet suffers.
The worst is dryness. The worst is no moisture, the worst is salt in all the wrong places.
Wounds, specifically.
I pray for you continually.
Perched upon my giant, tiny spy machine I watch you and listen when I have the courage.
Fickle thing courage and I’m damned demanding.
Not you dear, me. What good is broken to wounded?
I wade out hip-deep into Superior and the ghosts rise to greet me.
None are polite all are demanding and don’t think I’m not frightened – I am.
Raven black and metallic ice blue the crow, brilliant and never alone. The treetops here
Are their village and they call to me – hope.
Literally.
Thieves they are, as am I stealing a glimpse of you and writing novels while the birds bring me
Tiny, shiny trinkets.
I put them in the offering every Sunday and wonder if it is possible to mix heat and cold without
Destroying one or the other.
So broken but that is always where I start. I don’t think you would believe where it has taken me.
Talking crows, kneeling faith, the study of purity, the dryness of words and a simple light breaking
The grayness of Superior.
I’m so gloriously tired and the crows have left dreams of you upon my pillow.
Ask me my favorite poetry and I’ll tell you.

 
Photo by Janko Ferlič on Unsplash

Lunch in the Basement

Carly is different.  Carly wants.  Carly wants to know where he is, what he’s thinking about, what he’s planning to do.  Who is “he?”  He is the latest poor slob who thinks he can fix Carly. 

I think wanting is a sign of a weak mind.  I think that wanting, desiring, longing for someone is akin to slavery.

Listen, we work in cubicles and it’s a lonely job.  I’ve seen my co-workers plaster one wall with all sorts of memorabilia to help them get through the day.  You know what I mean–the picture of the cute kid stuck in daycare while they are in the cubical. The picture of the loving dogs packed in their kennels while they are in the cubical. The picture of  aging parents, stuck in Florida who are thankful their kids have a job so as to keep funneling money into the “system.”

Now most of us cubical workers just want to get through the day.  Most of us want to do a decent job, answer the phone be the well-oiled and sharp cog in the works.  I know men and women both who take the bus to their downtown jobs, eat a simple lunch and take the bus back to their sanctuary apartments.  They have no presumption; they want to pay their way and that’s it.

Carly is different.  Carly wants.  Carly wants to know where he is, what he’s thinking about, what he’s planning to do.  Who is “he?”  He is the latest poor slob who thinks he can fix Carly.

After sitting next to Carly’s cubical all day and listening to her smartphone softly ding messages, causing her to sigh, squeak, and giggle like a school girl, I imagine myself becoming a liquid human, stealthily creeping over our shared cubical wall.  I see my own eyes in deadly, wide-eyed intent seeking out the unsuspecting Carly.  She sits, back to me, cooing over the words the latest “he,” texted her (he is still unaware she is a maniac ball, and chain) while I, an insane look on my face, my eyes shining red would slide over the cubical wall, a seething sheet of menace.  I would do the deed quietly.   Marge, in the next aisle, may pause over her keyboard and ponder the small squeak of alarm and surprise from Carly’s cubical but would soon be back to work due to the deadly silence.

Carly is a favorite employee of the boss, you know.  The boss is ten years younger than me and fifteen years younger than Marge.  The boss received her Master’s in organizational skills online.  Yes, you’re right I don’t respect that but she isn’t all bad.  She likes Carly because Carly is a demon on the keyboard and resolves client issues quick as lightning after she breaks up with a boyfriend.  She breaks up a lot.  He doesn’t call, he doesn’t text, he doesn’t show up for lunch or he doesn’t feel like picking daisies with her on a Saturday afternoon when the game’s on.  Whatever.  Her thick, coiling, ever demanding attention seeking personality warrants yet another dump.  She then becomes this skinny, large fanged, red-eyed fiend.  It’s good for business.

I prefer the raving demon to the “in-love,” Carly.  Carly in love is the world in all its political correctness.  Once I day-dreamed that I could grab her smartphone while she “tripping along,” to the “little girls room” to “freshen-up” and tweet on her twitter account her confession of the night before what her present lover’s name was.  I imagined the text going around the world in a few hours and her puzzled face when the sickos on the world wide web whoop it up on her behalf.  I know it’s vindictive, but I didn’t do it, just dreamed it.

“What sort of guy falls that head over heels in love with her in like a week and then dumps her inside a month?”  Marge was staring up at the dingy hung ceiling in the downstairs break room.  We break in the basement because there is a large truck dock on the east side of the building and you have to be ready for terrorist attacks at noon.  We had just finished our lunch.

“He tells her what she wants to hear until football season, then he dumps her–there are lots of guys like that.”  Rich was a young man working his internship out of the way, in the mail room.  He knew a myriad of facts about the world of demanding, emotional and life force sucking young women who worked in cubicles.

“I saw her the other afternoon, when the latest “he,” had dumped her.  She was down the block leaning up against a lamp post.  Slumped up there pulling hard on a cigarette and some old guy walked up to her, looked like he was lost, and she flipped him off,” I said to Marge and Rich.   I was trying to remember what I had for lunch but I still had a fixed picture, in my mind’s eye, of Carly flipping off some lost guy in the big city.

“Maybe he mistook her for a prostitute,” said Rich.

“Maybe, but I thought she looked like she needed a wooden stake driven through her heart.  She looked like the walking dead,” I said.  Marge nodded her agreement.

“Those are zombies, not vampires,” corrected Rich.

“The term, ‘the walking dead,’ has been around long before it became the title of a TV show,” I said

“How long before she gets another one, a boyfriend I mean, not some confused old man,” asked Marge.

“Usually takes about three weeks,” I said

Rich looked from me to Marge.  “What do you think, should I ask her out?”

“You may be the only one in this city who hasn’t asked her out,” said Marge looking mildly curious at the young man.

“Well, you know, nothing serious, she’s at a low spot, maybe if she had dinner with me she might perk up a bit.”

“You’re a sick man, Rich,” I said.  Besides, she won’t let you be a one-night stand.  You two work in the same building.  You’ll both be out panhandling in a month because she’ll follow you around, stalk you, text you; she’ll be that skeleton in the shadows, staring at you when you least expected it.”

“Okay, okay, that’s enough and creepy,” said Rich.  “You two are worse than my mother.”

Marge stood up and grabbed her lunch box.  “Better three mothers in your life than one psychotic ex-lover.  Don’t you watch the movies?”

“No,” said Rich, “I have lunch once a week with you two.

That Something

He started to breathe normally, hanging on to the light post, his nose red and his hair sort of flying about his head in a weird halo. 

It was his birthday.  Of all days, right?  When I see people out and about now after I met him, I want to tell them don’t be so happy, don’t have so much fun on your birthday.

Minutes before his birthday is when I met him.  He seemed sad, and his body jerked about in an unhinged manner; his walk seemed in control as he hitched along and into the coffee shop.

Though I’m alone in this world I’m careful.  I’m not one of those nut jobs who despair and do crazy things to herself.  My little job and a little apartment in a dingy part of Indianapolis keep me busy and for the most part content. Indianapolis better than Chicago where I grew up.  Though I live in a dingy, cheap, part of Indy, the city is a bright place where people live, rather than parade around.

The birthday man, he staggered into the little coffee shop I was working at and he said he spilled bourbon on his trousers.  He used the word trousers, and I tried not to laugh.  His eyes were big and blue and his fading red hair looked blond.  I was certain that all the bourbon he had that night had gone into him and not on his “trousers.”

It was 30 minutes until closing and I glanced over at Joe.  Correct, at the coffee shop, my boss’ name is Joe.  His actual name is Herbert Lloyd, but he likes Joe.  Joe shrugged at me and that was my signal to turn the “open,” sign off and pour this guy a deep, dark, cup of black coffee.  Joe swept the floor and clattered the dishes in the steel sink in the back.

“Listen,” I said to the guy who used the word trousers for the word pants, “listen, you are drunk and this is downtown Indianapolis.  You will get put away for public intoxication if you go out there again.”

“I realize that,” his voice sounded sort of choppy.  He was broad-shouldered, and he spread his arms across the black round table, lowering his chin almost to the table top.  “I came in here because I was afraid of just that.  I’m not from around here and I’ve heard of American jails.”

“Finish your coffee,” I said.

Joe rolled his eyes at me when I stepped behind the counter and washed the dishes.  “What are you going to do with the guy?  You gonna take him home?  He’ll puke all over the bus, you know he will.  The guy smells like a Kentucky brewery.”

“Do you think he’s from Kentucky?  He sounds funny.”

“You’re hopeless.  He’s not from the US, okay.”

That fascinated me more.  An actual foreigner.  I finished cleaning the kitchen, and I swept the floor again because Joe doesn’t always do a good job.  Joe and I placed the chairs on the tables all around the man who smelled like bourbon.  I thought when I was getting my purse from under the counter that the man in trousers looked as if he was in jail; all the chair legs serving as bars.

“Come on.  I’ll get you to where you need to be.”

“My hotel is somewhere around here, I’m sure.  I’m feeling better. “He stood and his reddish, thin, eyebrows wrinkled into a worried look.

We walked toward the center of town and he faltered just beyond a well-lit parking lot, coughed and then heaved coffee and bourbon all over a good portion of Indianapolis.  He hung on to a lamp post and it seemed he tried to stretch his neck out to avoid splattering his suit.  I didn’t blame him.  That suit looked expensive.

After launching out what bothered him he breathed in a steady manner but still clung to the light post, his nose red and his hair sort of flying about his head in a weird halo.

“What time is it?

“12:30 AM,”

“Today is my birthday.”

“Happy Birthday.”

“I’m 60 today.”

I didn’t know what to say.  He seemed way too old to be vomiting bourbon and coffee in a foreign city but I didn’t want to seem rude.

“I wanted to come to an out of the way city, buy a prostitute, have incredible sex and get drunk.”

“Well, you seem to have done well.”

“No, I’ve only got sick drunk.”

“I’m not a prostitute.”

He looked at me with steady bright blue eyes.  “I am aware of that.  I would not take you for a prostitute.”  I felt better about him.  He took a deep breath “I guess I’m not one either.” He frowned, leaned over, gripping the street light pole and puked again.

“Listen, it’s late but people are still around.  This is Indianapolis and they will call the police.”

“People in Indianapolis don’t like drunks?”

“No.”

“Good.” He pushed himself off the lamp post and staggered backward.  I grabbed his arm and kept him steady.

“Is that your hotel?”

“Yes, how did you know?”

“It’s the best one down here.”

“Oh, I see. That obvious am I?”

I wasn’t sure what obvious meant, but I pulled him forward and we walked into the side of the hotel where I knew someone would help us.

“There you are, you bastard.”

She was beautiful.  She wore black and high heels and her hair was long and shiny.  “And with a prostitute too.  You pathetic bastard.”

Hotel management gathered around us and asked the lady with the same choppy voice as the man who said “trousers,” to be quiet.

“Ha, I’ll be quiet.  After I take him for all he’s worth.”

“You can’t Mabel (Mable? I’m still shocked at such a name) you signed a prenuptial.”  He laughed into Mabel’s face.  She turned a little green.

“You pig, you smell awful.”

I backed away, but he grabbed my arm.  “Call this young girl a cab, she saved me from jail tonight.”

A small crowd of onlookers pooled in the far corner of the marble lobby gazing at us.

I looked at Mabel, frightened, I wanted no one to think I was a prostitute.

“This young lady works at the coffee shop down the road and she saved me from the prying eyes of Indianapolis,” said the birthday man in a loud strident voice.

I felt my heart drop, no one would believe I wasn’t a prostitute now. “Please fetch her a cab.”

I pulled my arm free from his grasp and he staggered and fell.  I reached out for him as did the night porter.  In helping him up, he looked at me, his eyes bleary and bloodshot.  “I’m so sorry, please forgive me, Mabel, but it’s my birthday, and I wanted, I wanted something.  I don’t know.”

Pulling myself away I left him to the porter and hotel management and Mabel.  He’d never find it, that “something,” I was certain of that.

 

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash</p>

 

Alone Too Long

God help me it was the books, the books, the books that went about and about and about my head and in my hands the weight of words, the smell of dust upon yellow pages that crumbled and revived my heart.  My heart that no one noticed but him.

I’ve been alone too long.  I have become the silence, the shuffle, the witness of depthlessness and to invite you in would build walls of contentment that, though pleasant, would stifle me.

Me.  Sounds so selfish and unreasonable.  For most of my life, I felt the weight of wanting to be alone but hating the loneliness.  I spent my nights dreaming of being beautiful and spent my days close to the walls trying to obtain invisibility.

My clothes were always tight or loose or scratched or were too soft or revealing or concealing or…wrong.  I would feel myself burn into embarrassment and would cry alone.  I listened to music with whispering wind and blowing trumpets and voices that rose to clouds and cathedral buttresses.  I cringed at drums and guitars and lyrics that repeated.

I met a gentle stranger.

God help me it was the books, the books, the books that went about and about and about my head and in my hands the weight of words, the smell of dust upon yellow pages that crumbled and revived my heart.  My heart that no one noticed but him.

I had no one to lean upon, don’t you see?  I had no one except my faith in the words a stranger left for me.  I was fucked and dumped and left to care for someone so much like me.  That gave me the determination to hurt anyone and carry on and write the hammer that comes down on the hands that reached out to me.

I had one to protect and I did and I have and I will.  Alone.

All the languages of history do not mock me anymore; I have all the time of eternity to learn.  I have come full circle.

I am still alone and cradle the feeling of lonely as my very own.  I have been alone too long.

 

Photo by Elisabetta Foco on Unsplash

Steel Water

Steel Water is a fresh water poem.

So much is now known, my love

Your hand upon your chair

Your gaze focused on the distance

So much is now known my love and yet

So much remains unclear.

 

Often you left to roam so great an unknown

Your hand upon my hair

Your gaze focused on my face to memorize every trace.

Often you left me to make

Known the Unknown.

 

Weeping and lonely through

Childbirth and longing you left me.

Your hand upon the great wooden wheel

Your feet firmly planted on waves of fresh water steel,

So much of it is now known.

 

Every piece of land only an inlet or peninsula

The creak and moan of our home just a reminder of

Launch and storm.

Buffeted by wind and ice, your back straighter

Only I am frailer.

 

Now sit upon your chair

Less weathered than mine.

You sit and gaze upon fresh water, fine sand

And sip wine.

So much, my love, is now known, but who am I?

 

Slowly you approach your hand slides along the small of my back.

“You are the steel water, you are my sight

You are my freedom, my longing, my right

To sail the fresh water.

Come to me, my love, and make yourself known.”

School Girl Crush

I feel the creep of age and miss the one who kept me sane

When is the sun an untruth?

Untruth?  Not to be confused with recline, relax, but everything to do with solitude when a truth is proven.

Not to be confused with the decline we all know is coming (are you sure) or nothing, but everything to do with solitude when a truth is proven by being unprovable.

The sun is an untruth when we can’t see it. We are not intruders here.

“Prove it,” he said all alone, spotlighted and mad and hatless, no small child to impose upon or to frighten.

“Such a vast universe, we are insignificant in comparison,” said they to him

– “prove it,” he said, “prove ‘insignificant!'”

and they proved it to themselves by laughing up their sleeves.

I followed him about while he scowled back at me.  “Go away.”

So I did but came back again.

And little by little he spoke less and less to me.  “Here, read this.”

I did and returned the words to him wanting to hear more, all I heard was, “no, no, keep it, take good care of it.”

I see him now everywhere and nowhere.

The librarian with no roof, no walls, no plastic to protect what paper remains,

and me with this ridiculous schoolgirl crush.

“Here read this,” he told me and now I do really read it and think –

prove ‘insignificant’ to me, prove it.