Such bold and violent little mortars. Silent killers
on a timer that explode like an idea.
Bang and death and shrapnel compacted to a pocket;
hand held hazards, lightning in a bottle.
Portable paralyzers stun and blinding on delivery.
How do you throw grenades?
Such small and angry little things. Tiny tempers that explode
full of hate or gunpowder. Do you throw them like a text,
a thoughtless lob and wait, loaded like a kiss, or press the
ember to the wick with a malicious tongue and cackle. Or
do you hesitate, do you consider
the burst of blood and shrapnel.
Does regret deter bereavement,
do you pull the pin and
How do you throw grenades?
Such bliss. After war any headache is a reprieve from the
storm, a temporary escape from the debris of soot,
of bones and ashes bared like a regret.
The dust trebles, the trenches clear, calm and simmered
walks back home on a Tuesday having left before sixth period.
An idle daw superimposes over bullet wounded memories,
calculated candids, and a 1,000 yard stare
glaring into the precise awe of calm and nothing.
A staring contest with the sun.
And what have we left except the pin
still pulsing in our palm
and another hand to hold in Autumn
to close the gaps we feel between us.
You can tell a lot about a person by the way they react to tragedy. Whenever the bus is running late, or I lose my favorite lighter, or even when my uncle died, my immediate reaction is always just to laugh. There’s no use crying over spilled emotions, and I can never see the point in moping. There’s a strength in finding your own weakness, in owning it to the point the misery of the world turns to this awful joke. My manic borders on hysteria, because sadness is unsure of itself and fumbling. But madness, madness knows its own shape.
Last year I was enamored with an enthusiast just as abhorous as I was. Met her one seedy morning when I was wandering Jerome, high off fumes and fast tracking towards a hangover. It’s funny how books and songs make meeting people seem so legendary. That there’s this instinct or impulse so powerful that neither of them could deny. Chemistry or fuck if I know at first sight. But with Brenda it was different.
I was sitting on the building stool because my feet were killing me. I left my apartment for…something, I forget. More drinks, maybe, but definitely not coffee and a donut. Then I liked the way a street looked, how the moonlight kind of shimmered in the grey tarp of the sidewalk, and the road curved so naturally I wished it was still snowing so I could slide down. Next thing I knew the sun was out and I had only a vague idea of where I was.
I’m so easily sidetracked like that. All it takes is a warm feeling and I end up chasing the vague, a stray dog that catches up to the car but doesn’t know what to do with it.
So I was sitting on the stool when she came outside and lit a cigarette. I asked her for a light, and then…that’s it. We just started talking. Like it was something we’d always done. Not about the weather, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it was something just as unremarkable. I only remember mentioning how much it sucks to be a smoker in the winter, and that she looked simultaneously beautiful and like she just washed up from the river with the way her hair looked. A wet, tangled mess, the word Juicy printed on her pants in bold white letters, and wearing sandals with socks on. Which, even in the winter season, I think are reasonable grounds for public stoning.
A first impression full of instant red flags – and yet, for whatever reason, we got along enough to want breakfast and share some tenderness with each other.
She had eggs with a side of soup, which to this day I still find baffling.
“Now it’s like ramen,” she said. “Dominican style.”
“We have a word for that in my language.” I said.
I asked for a beer with my egg brulee and she couldn’t stop laughing. Said she never met somebody that was so bourgeois and trashy at the same time. The curly headed kid with tired eyes and a fuck-it face didn’t mind when I snuck two coronas to our table, courtesy of the deli next door. He only asked we take them with us before we left, and even recommended some delicate drug spots to Brenda where the service is superb.
It was the start of an awful entree our respective annihilations and self-detriments. She took me back to her apartment so she could shower, and I spent the better part of an hour nosily numbing across all the pictures on her dresser, because the rest of the space was absolutely bare. No welcome mat, no mirror, no posters on the wall and one single brown leather loveseat that made the room feel larger than it should be.
When i asked about the pictures, she said they were friends. All of them, each with an elaborate backstory. There was Karen that was pregnant and made her the curtains draped across the window. Theo was a real lazy prick, but when it came down to it, he was the only one who came when…mumbles, something about “That asshole.”
She should have emerged from the shower like a Goddess, steam succulent behind her, but all I saw was a girl in a towel over-excited about the marijuana we were on the way to buy.
One Uber cab and draft beer later, we went to the address, halfway between St. Nicholas and Wadsworth. Six flights upstairs where one floor was full of empty, and the next red cups decked along the window sill, and third where even stranger still, a couple swayed by the doorway to an empty house. I saw them, so together in ther alone, a goodbye or hello that felt so unbelievably important. Her back to us and his huddled in her neck, to the point I made sense of “the beast with two backs.” No words, sighs, or moans. Only a unity, some creature impossible to tear from itself. Avoiding eye contact and the obvious we walked past with heads down, never said a word after, as if we hadn’t witnessed something beautiful.
She smoked and I drank. The lights were off and the candles on the window sill turned my apartment into a hiding. Nothing could touch us in this dark island-We were isolated from every single demand and danger beyond the pains. Six degrees of separation from the neighbors and ourselves- a place where hurt doesn’t bother to look- the quiet of two people turning their back against the world.
Let me love you, all of you, the opposite of carefully
hard edges of skin and personality, cut sharp as diamonds
where your cheek starts and tongue begins
to end my existence. There’s too much spray in your hair
and it frizzes against my chin, which is
somewhat appropriate, considering
you make my head
feel like helium.
but full as air,
and when I’m against your lips,
your voice makes funny sounds that
go up an octave or pentagram, depending
on what beast our love has summoned.
Annoying, that I can’t keep from
Suffocating against a pillow, imagining that
it’s you I’m drowning in. Annoying as
that orange I can’t stop remembering
from Youtube. Calming as the dumb songs you keep
secretly adding to my Spotify. Send Nudes stuck on repeat,
Cuban cigars and menthol dinge-ing up the bedside counter
your grandfather made just before he
bit the lust and
Look at the dusk, my love.
Summer is far, but on us,
and where there should be heat for touch
I only feel a cool and calling tenderness.
My heart beats,
Edging towards thirty has been something of a turning point, and I find myself drifting through the intersections of thoughts rather than cutting corners. My life has been one of examination (the unexamined rice is, after all, not worth Instagramming,) but to be honest I’m tired of analysis. To simplify humanity into mere cause and effect reduces our meaning, and I no longer care why a person is the way that they are. I only want to love them for it. A death to this gallows humor and finally choosing a side between optimism and nihilism. I’ve strived for education, for wisdom, to be seen as an authority and taken quite seriously. And now as I stare down from the crisp and dizzying heights, a cold and bitter envy grips my lungs. Now I wish to shed maturity and be a child again, to laugh because of what is funny and not politeness. To listen because it brings joy to others in being heard. To understand, not by cause and effect, but from empathy.
But it’s as Anais Nin said, “Writers live two lives. There is the living then the writing, the delayed reaction, the second tasting.”
Maybe this corner will turn into my own after taste of living rightly.
Something in liquor lets my mental ellipses blur. I like the way alcohol allows for things to come more easily, be it a confession, thought, or company I wasn’t exactly fond of.
There are different calibers of drunks, and out my window I see the worst of them. The dog and hound, jeans held down as he releases himself onto a car or corner (he hopes) nobody can see at three in the morning. But someone always does. An abase acceptance of a more basic state of living- primal. The hungry eat, the thirsty drink, and the desirous find a four letter words to fulfill their wants.
Second is the suppressed or megalomaniac. Two very distinct states of being, but both can only answer in one way to liquid opiates: rage, anger, and violence. Either of the physical or verbal reprobate. One explodes like a grenade from the things he never said before, the other shows his true colors in less tasteful expressions of power.
Probably hundreds more, I think, and mine isn’t any different. During the day I’m cold but when night sinks into a whiskey glass, I get so nonchalant. I can’t commit to what makes me angry but rather list all the ways I love you. You not being anyone particular, because, I guess, deep down I must be a harlot. This love is for everybody. For Amanda who had to be so blunt and withdraw from me for no reason other than nationality. For Sam who likes to lie despite 20 years of friendship. For the stranger that called me a faggot on a church pew when I was only asking for direction.
I drink and I love them, all of them, all of you, all of me. Not despite your faults, but because of them.
I am, deep down, nothing but a glutton for punishment.
Twenty something and full of stupid, sliding into your DM’s without a shame in the world. “Wyd” texts after midnight are a 3-2 pitch with the bases loaded, and I’m watching from the bench thinking I might just steal home. I’m the type of guy that needs to set 4 alarms to wake up on time, dressing myself up in moments that don’t mean a thing to me. But I’ve read enough Dostoevsky and Nietzche to make just about anybody think they do. Boredom is an understatement: what I suffer from is an emotional atrophy. When you can’t stand grand-standing any more and need to feel something, so the nearest dead end starts feeling like a welcome sign.
Some addictions aren’t so easy to kick – especially habits that text you back to say they miss you too.
“sure,” her text read. “whats one drink”
“that was hemlock, you fucking nerd”
Like Mogwais, feelings shouldn’t be fed after midnight. It only leads to breaking nights and promises. A north wind swept between getting out of work and having to go back again, and that familiar urge crept upon me. Sensitive instances when I’m compelled to spend those empty hours huddled in dark bars, glaring at the world through the rose colored lens of glass bottles. Something simultaneously new but old, like a hand-me-down, or second child. Losing myself in another so I don’t have to deal with myself is an emotional shortcut, like skipping to the best part of your favorite song when you’re drunk; cheap, and only as good as the whiskey is. And I needed to feel a little needed, even if it was from somebody I didn’t give a damn about. But I don’t tempt the devil unless I’m ready to dance, and that night, I made sure to put on my most comfortable shoes.
“Sex is so stupid,” I said. “Do you want me to choke you or respect you?”
“Why can’t you do both?”
“Only if you call me daddy.”
“That’s gross,” she gagged.
“Do you like it when a man calls you baby?”
“Then make up your mind- do you want to date your father or not?”
Those great passions burn terribly and I am a city of ash. I should be able to resist such an annoying calling, but eventually I let the poor thing in. I feel sorry for it, like a cat scratching at your door, even though I know he’s just going to stare at me and not bother coming in. Indulgence makes me undone, and a new year moves something terrible and primal in me. An impetus only nature can divine and nurture urges to snuff out. The way dogs wander into the woods to die. But before that gentle good night I’m raging in the machine- on the hunt, for what, I never know until it finds me.
Because at midnight you’re either climbing to the top of the world, or on the verge of being crushed by it. There is no in between.
“Where do you get it?” She said. “This confidence you definitely don’t deserve.”
The air smelled like starched shirts, mistakes, and too much perfume. Sex. Such a sick validation of a grotesque existence. My heart strung on the soft tendons of her knuckles that left me wondering where the arches of her neck leads. A feminine physique, the scent of raspberries; wide hips narrowing to fine waist. Divine proportions.
“The smartest disease,” I said. “Is the kind that can disguise itself well enough to look like it’s a part of you. To fool the body into thinking its just another blood cell. That’s the way it is with people too. You gotta fake it til you take over their immune system.”
“You just compared yourself to cancer.” She said.
“But I’m a Taurus.”
So young, beautiful, and cruel. She enriches me as a lover but ruins the writer, makes lighter all those tragedies I rattle with a beer can. Kissed by fire and freckled by 80s rock ballads, she was terrible at the song of vice and liars. Honest to a fault with fireworks in her eyes- Felice. It means happy in Spanish and you had to smile to say her name. Hair halfway down her back and a dip between her shoulder blades. Thin fingernails and long, smooth knuckles that looked like almonds hiding under a bar of chocolate. Smokers lips and eyebrows that were either always sad or frowning. We were coworkers at one point and I used to obsess over all her nuances. She was beautiful to me in fractions, not from the sum of all her parts. Each arch and nook of her frame and body seemed so unique, that I could tell the shape of her from anywhere. We remained light friends, occasional Facebook comment and el-oh-elling at a meme. An acquaintance that never quite made it as a friend, And if she ever had left, I would be a husk. Because a cage without a bird is an empty thing.
“Tell me something.” I said.
“Anything, even if it’s something I already know, even if something I already heard. All the words in the world sound much sweeter when they come from you.”
Her eyes rolled then fell on the crowd, searching, as if somewhere in the sea of strangers she could found what she meant to say. What are you wondering at, you beautiful wonder. But that’s just the way she was- with a hell in her heart and heaven in the eyes, storm in her thighs that consumed you by degrees.
“I don’t want to end up alone,” She said, a bit too honestly.
“You just haven’t met the right person yet.” I parroted, not thinking, just responding in the way some blood cells are supposed to.
“But I hate that idea. Of fucking…presupposing. Like meeting someone is really so inevitable. If people can find happiness in different things, in like, songs, or traveling, or a really good book, why should mine have to come from some other person?”
“They write songs about people who fall in love the way you do.” I said.
My lies are noble. I didn’t think that was necessarily true, but what she needed to hear. Misleading is a treason I’m likely to commit, and although those were never my intentions, then again, what consequences are? She looked back to the crowd a little angrily, ran her knuckles on the counter in a way that made me hungry, and Felice smiled like she had just said her own name.
“That’s only half the truth.” She said.
“So what’s the other half then?” I asked.
“Fake blood cells.”
We sat there, loud, but empty. Like glass bottles clinking. Humanity is a strange enigma, toasting to his or her own empty fantasia- specific instances of precise happiness undefinable by sobriety. An escape endlessly clouded by the myriad of errors that got you there. Forgotten, wasted, and inexplicable. Taken for granted like keys you swore you lost but show up at your bedside.
Her pupils stuttered and whatever emotion that almost revealed itself winced back to the chasm from where it came. No one’s ever been able to meet my eye. Some chalk it up to shyness, others have said there’s too much honesty in them, while my self conscious worries I may secretly be hideous. But logic tells me, whatever the real reason may be, I would not be able to change it anyway. And so whatever flaw or warning my stare carried became an overlooked quality I simply accepted in me. Like height, or never holding doors open for the elderly.
“You’re a good guy,” She said.
“I’m no hero.”
“No,” She replied. “Heroes don’t look like you.”
That’s the beautiful tragedy about women. They never love a man for what he is, but what he has the potential to be.
December 17th, 2017
People tire me, but I am reminded that I am not the first or alone in my resentment, in my endless exhaustion of this assault on the senses. I have hope again- that misguided, miserable human condition. So terribly optimistic in a world that does not compliment it. I have hope again in humanity, and that perhaps people are actually capable of decency.
When I was in Cuba, two men stole a hundred dollars from me. The island was full of so many good-natured, humble, uninvested people, I over-trusted. It was around 5PM when I realized I’d actually run a bit short on money, and needed to exchange dollars for the local currency. The bank I usually exchanged in closed around 2-3PM. Rather than ask the large fancy hotels lining Parque Central, or taking the time to ask the sweet old grandmother who was renting me a room for two weeks, I took to drinking rum and smoking rolled cigarettes in Pachanka.
Worry is an emotion that comes very difficultly to me. I am quick to take all of life’s calamities with calm acceptance. Anxiety provides no assistance, so if I’m faced with not having money, losing a set of keys, or the great fear of unknowing what’s to come from my actions, I can sigh it away easily. Action is a kind of desperation – I’d rather drink and sleep, spend my days dreaming away my troubles and dreary existence. It’s a quality of myself I appreciate, and one my sisters say is irresponsible and my undoing, albeit with a bit of envy.
The bank was closed, and would likely be closed the following morning as well, because it would be Sunday. With my last ten Cuban pesos I decided to buy a box of Hollywood cigarettes, and spend whatever was left on beer and some shots of rum at Pachanka.
Pachanka was a bar in Old Havana, my favorite for so many reasons. The walls were lined with tourist graffiti, names and declarations of love. A giant mural of a ship hung above the bar, painted with pirates and hooligans drinking and looking merry, some hanging drunk off the bow and sails. A band would occasionally play lazy, melodious salsa music, and the staff took a strange liking to me. They had an ashtray I took a liking to, a worn little clay looking oval embroidered with cuban flags, and they were kind enough to give it to me on my last day. I still have it, and as I write this now, I see it on my dresser and it fills me with a warm longing to go back again.
Another reason I loved Pachanka was Dianysia, but she is such a marvel and colossal subject of her own, I’ll leave her to this diary another day.
As I spent the afternoon in a cool and medium buzz of beer and company, two locals decided to join me. One thin with a pretty, boyish face and his hair in a pony tail. The other a bit stout with a cab drivers face. It could be hindsight, but I remember that initially that I was wary of them. They were as kind as any other Cuban, but had a habit of over-complimenting and offered insights to things I repeatedly told them I wasn’t in need of. Specifically clubs and women who would love to meet me. But I’m either a fool or my mothers son, loving people I shouldn’t. So I offered them seats beside me and bought each of them a beer.
“There’s another bar down the road we think you’d love. So many girls to talk and dance with. Wouldn’t you like to drink and smoke with a pretty woman at your side?”
“I already am,” I said, and I shot a big smile and nod towards Dianysia behind the bar. She laughed and shook her head, her curly locks falling like curtains around her face, causing my heart to sigh.
Alcohol brings out the worst in me – a kindness to every stranger and the assumption that we are all brothers. The initial hesitance faded, and before long I was laughing with Cab Driver and Pony Tail as if we were old friends. It’s because deep down I have always felt myself alone with humanity, and while I could accept that solitude in somber sobriety, being drunk made me homesick for something I will probably never know: a sense of belonging to somewhere, to something.
The night had settled in and I was feeling giddy and drunk. I stepped outside to smoke and the cars looked smaller than they should be, and the drizzling rain was singing silently to the bands salsa music inside and the old street lights flickering were like morse code reminding me my rent was due and insurance is bullshit because I was going to die one day and should enjoy it but my thoughts kept running away from me like sentences. Old Havana, small as it is, felt so endless. Stretching west and east and in every direction. I looked up and saw the moon and I had that young, fragile urge again to woo at the stars. I thought:
“You have grown old, Noel, and closed your heart to so many possibilities. Anything could happen if you would just let it.”
The joy and wonder erupting in my chest so momentarily,,,I knew it was diminishing. But that made it all the more beautiful, and my wanting to seize it before it vanished again forever.
Cab Driver and Pony Tail joined me, carting behind them a beautiful woman with large, searching eyes and her chest thrown upright. One of their friends from down the road, who I’m sure they called over to sway me.
“You’re the American who didn’t want to come meet me?” She said.
“I’m shy,” I lied, covering my face to exaggerate. And she laughed, falsely, throwing her shoulders back in a sort of exaggeration herself.
“So you’re afraid of women?”
“Only of the very beautiful ones.”
Her large eyes examined me in a way that made me uncomfortable. It wasn’t the way people looked at each other. I felt she was assessing me, weighing the quality of my face and character the way butchers check chickens in the meat market. And I did the same. She was gorgeous, skin like caramel and small framed. A shape that curved in ways pleasing to the eyes and primal urges. My eyes must have betrayed me, because in her glass reflection I saw a spark. Some silent affirmation that decided – “Yes, this one will do.”
Cab Driver and Pony Tail played the master of ceremonies, hyping her qualities and whispering to me in the sidelines of all the dark things I should do. We sang and danced in Pachanka, took breaks from loaded undertones and sexual tensions with relaxed conversations, joked pleasantly about how bad my Spanish was. Every so often she would casually press her side against my body, run a hand along my chest or neck. Staring into my eyes with an odd look of surrender, of offering. As if saying yes to a question I wasn’t asking.
“I could never take you home,” I said to her very frankly at one point.
“So you think I’m ugly,” She replied playfully with a shove.
“The opposite. You are one of the prettiest women I’ve ever seen. If I shared a bed or afternoon with you, it would be like something out of a dream. I’d never stop showing pictures of you to people, saying- ‘Look, see here, isn’t she the loveliest person you’ve ever seen? And can you believe she’s interested in a guy like me?’ But I get the impression you want something. The way look at me, it makes me doubtful. I could never trust your affections, unless you told me what you were after, what you need. I’d gladly give it to you, honestly. If I can. If you would tell me. After that, I would be sure. It would show in your eyes and I would know if you really desired me, then maybe I could desire you as well.”
The confession, playful as I meant it, made an impression I did not expect. The spark in her eyes faded, and for a moment was replaced by something bordering on human. A sort of softness settled into the edges of her corneas, as if I tumbled onto a core and center too sentimental for such a jest. And admittedly, in reflection, perhaps my remarks were cruel in their truthful. She laughed at my statement, a sound that came from somewhere much deeper than what she falsetto’d before, and tilted her head at me with a sort of pity.
“Eres noble,” She said, in a tone that may have been a compliment, but rang more of disappointment.
“Noble?” I asked.
“It means you have a good heart.”
She left to go to the bathroom while Cab Driver ordered us more beers, and as I watched her sway into the back rooms of Pachanka, I never saw her again.
A few more hours passed and I decided to bring the play to an end.
“It’s time for me to go home,” I said eventually. Exhausted of strength, and more importantly, my money.
“Let’s get him a cab,” offered Pony Tail.
“No,” I said. And should have left it at that. But I was drunk and made the terrible mistake of the following. “I’m walking, I’ve spent all my money and need to change some in the morning.”
“We know a place,” Cab Driver chimed. “It’s late and not legal, but we can take you now. So you don’t have to walk to your hotel.”
I should have known better, but I didn’t, so you can guess how the remainder goes. We left the bosom girl at Pachanka and went down the road. There was no violence, only an exchange of a hundred dollars and my abandonment on a corner, with a promise of returning shortly as they disappeared into a building. I waited for an hour, foolishly. Smoking my last four cigarettes and sighing at my own stupidity. Slowly, a rage building inside of me.
I wasn’t angry at Pony Tail or Cab Driver. I understood them, little that I knew about them. They were just like everyone else- needing, and doing what they needed to survive. No, my anger had a much larger and disastrous scope. I could feel it congealing, spreading around a cold and calloused heart. People were monsters – the site of blood excites them. Vultures – scavenging for a buck and feeling. My trust and accepting of them, wanting to be their friend and brother, my lack of worry was indeed my undoing.
I thought – if they can not accept me, if people were so unable to love me righteously, I would make myself unlovable. I would let the sober distance between us grow and take refuge on a high mountain of myself. I would stare down at their rotting cities and states of being, laughing. I would drink my rum and smoke my cigarettes, sing my songs and dance with a dark enjoyment of all their misfortunes. And should one of them be dumb enough to climb my barrier against humanity- for help, escape, or friendship, I would throw them off the mountain, or climb another one much higher. A skewed logic, but one I held all the same. Below the Cuban moon I was transforming, becoming something dark and terrible in this silent sidewalk.
In the darkness a man crept by and joined me on the sidewalk. I can’t recall his face, his name, or to be frank, if he were real or a hallucination of my sudden mania. I remember him recommending that I go home, and I responded that I would, once I was ready. He asked what I was doing alone, and I casually told him the story of the evening as best as I could remember it. Politely, but reserved; all the while climbing up my newly decided isolation. He must have sensed this, because he didn’t say anything for some time. But just sat with me and sighed occasionally at the moon.
“You don’t seem to care very much about yourself,” He finally said. “Which is a good thing. I imagine it’s why you find yourself above most people and situations. There is a strength in that. But if you choose to live in such a way, without regard to everything and everyone, you will never know joy. You will never truly know yourself completely.”
“Knowing the depths of your own soul is rare and beautiful, but some reflection must come from the outside. Some battle, some conflict must come to test what you believe yourself to be. How can you be sure you’re brave if you have never braved the world? How can you know you’re good if you do not do good for others? Until you can abandon yourself, in a friend, or a woman, to see life and other people through their eyes, you will never be alive. You will be a child: alone and content, but only from not knowing better.”
“Life was made for the living. To only stand for something is insufficient. A man must decide whether he will be another cog in this chaos of life, the oil which helps it turn, or the hammer that shatters before building anew.”
“So tell me…have you decided?” He asked.
“Decided what?” I responded.
“Will you fight, or will you perish like a dog?”
People tire me, but I am reminded of the necessity in this assault on the senses. I have hope again- that misguided, miserable human condition. I have hope again in humanity, and that perhaps people are actually capable of decency.
I am ready to fight again.