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.
Women delight me.
I like their face, their shape, their eyes and subtle gestures particular to their sex. Of a specific caliber or class, I couldn’t possibly identify or name to be a favorite. I enjoy them all, femininity a la carte.
But my pleasure in them has never been so primal. Sex is a wonder in and of itself, but I’ve never been able to find joys or even the capacity to treat women as an object to be drained or sought for my mere enjoyment. To view the wonders of their lips and whispers as merely a source of a pleasure- a thing to be enjoyed and cast aside, or misused, I am incapable of. But I do enjoy them.
Monogamy is an atrocity to my affection. I can’t imagine settling for just one type of person every day. Alice is lactose intolerant, but still dabbles in yogurt. Makes funny faces at posters that seem over-indulgent, and spends most of our late night conversations worried about what the homeless are doing at that very moment. When we talk I feel my spirit wriggle free of daily conventionalities. As she describes the why’s as to her favorite kind of lipstick or misogyny, I’m able to let go of being over-sentimental, and laugh at the mundanity we all take so serious. Melissa is a different kind of liquor. Like my favorite kind of whiskey: tall, dark, and full of bad decisions. She sees the useless nature in all our useless endeavors. Cast a deadpan smile while she wiles the weekend morning away in pancakes and not-for-profit volunteering. Caring so much about the world, but refusing to let us know it. Bitter as lemons on a fresh wound, sweet as the aftertaste of scabs healing over.
They’re both so beautiful.
Then there’s Elsa, who I have no other attraction to other than the slender of her shape and attitude. A comely caramel for skin and a smile you could lie for- her eyes two coals that sit sharp like a pair of dice landing on snake eyes; deep black dots floating in a pool of milk filled with honey. Slender waist that drops like drapes into unforgiving legs, jeans that hug so snugly to the soft arches and tender dips of a shape that seems to be made for holding. Her voice has the gentle amplitude of money, powerful…but in your hands and deliberation, a bit worthless. She has no thought or words above the ordinary, and maybe her beauty is so blinding but, whoever needed intellectuals anyway?
Elsa, Melissa, Alice. They are all so beautiful. I want them each for their own reasons, but never for long or all at once. I can appreciate the delicate balance and attractiveness to their divisive characters. I could spend days with each of them, admiring all the facets of what makes them so unique in a world of copy pasted personalities. I love them for a while, under the gilded smiles of the moon and 4AM pillowed confession no Instagram or diary could ever fully reflect or comprehend. Alice, who reminds me to laugh because nothing is so serious. Melissa, full of bitter but still giving herself to a world that doesn’t deserve it. And Elsa, the beauty of beauty incarnate and made real.
Women delight me.
But only for a while.
It’s cold, so women start to put the sandals away and whip out the fur hoodies and finger-less gloves. Your #MCM’s caesar haircut fades into a fitted cap, cuffing season hashtags, two-button trench-coats, and fuck-it-every-other-day-I’ll-shave Winter stub. Five o clock shadows look more natural at six pm when the sun quits early and the city bundles into itself into November. Every bar and cafe this side of Houston shuts the beach umbrellas and tabled awnings, brings out a meme sign that’s not exactly funny, but clever enough with a Rick and Morty reference to buddy you in under the promise of cheap shots and warm company.
“I can’t stand hamsters,”
“But why did she think denim was okay,”
“What’re you on your period,”
“He was cross eyed but very cute”
This city speaks to me, offhand reveries echoing in the turnstiles. Ever-day glories I overhear gladly between ocean-scening ads lining up the train billboards on my way to anywhere but home. Spotify on my headphones and verbal traffic on the Canarsie bound L-line in Union Square, a cozy corner by the doorway I’m sharing with a tinkerbelle not near half my height, some baby carriages cluttering the aisle, and a giant [from the North, probably] leaning his head against the tiny six foot six inch train celing [I measured that shit, maybe] head space.
Its a sight. And an experience you cant appreciate until you’ve lived here long enough to love hating this city.
“We are being held momentarily by the trains dispatcher. Please, be patient.” The monotone recording repeats for the eighth time in the last eight minutes. My leg started to cramp, the entire commute let out a collective sigh, and the anxiety of the wait was enough to make even the calmest man something awful.
But New York has its perks, despite itself: so much social overcrowding the most mundane become monumental.
I got off the grid-locked transit for a taxi in Union Square. Yellow cabs are a habit of a time behind us, and besides, who the hell can afford it or even carries cash? So I finessed a few flicks on rectangular glowing screen and waited in a Starbucks for a convenient lift to my evening. One tall blonde and awkward asking for the bathroom password later, I’m faux-pas among strangers in an Uber Pool. A smooth ride considering, A cluttered group of over-priviledges twenty-somethings has gone much worse (just ask the last election.)
So I spent the ride listening to some loser describe getting robbed by a cop that pulled him over for no reason. His son was coughing up a storm with the cold chill of passenger windows blasted open, a (wife?) staring at her phone and getting angry at a runny nose nobody controls. Another bored brunette sits passenger, laughing at herself or at her phone. The kid says goodbye when she exits and the door slam shuts in response. He plays with his Iron Man helmet in quiet, the sedan shuttles off to the next drop point, and somewhere between Broadway and Amsterdam somebody whispers:
“What a cunt…”
And the whole car laughs.
It’s warm, despite the gloves.
“Do you know what poisons cows?” He said.
A plastic bag rustled between the trees and three children playing skip-the-cracks across the sidewalk. There was a fruit cart stand, so small and undefinable on that little corner of East Side New York, selling green and purple grapes by the pound without the seeds. Bananas bagged in bushels and boxes full of strawberry grays. Take your pick of processed shit organically packed in neat elastic little cartons. Fresh off the Nope.
There was a fruit cart stand, so small on that little corner of New York. Hungry hands lined and ashy, taking their turn turning fruit ripe enough to make the best off a dollar bargain. Used napkins, coffee cups, chewed up gum blooming petals of thick black sinew between ceramic oaks and mulberry shrubs. An addict waltzed between the crowd, unsteady toward Elysium, to the rhythm of his poison drum – bleary eyed, bent, and grinning. I watched a plastic bag settle on the flora of a steel lamp post while three children played skip-the-cracks on the edge of coming traffic.
There was a fruit cart standing on a corner of New York because nothing ever grows here.
“What?” I asked.
Mingo shifted his weight against his cane and I heard a thousand bones groan and adjust to his new lurch. We were leaning on concrete slabs edged enough to take a seat in, smoking ourselves dry to the bother of that corner deli. The usual suspects. They hated us but we paid our cover, two coffees and a roll with butter, one extra butter and the other toasted,
He measured his cigar while I wiled away my third cigarette that morning, and the lively grey sunstrain of his eyes glint with the patience of decaying trees. Wise and old, or old and wise. I couldn’t tell.
“The cow. You know what poisons them?” Mingo repeated calmly. I shook my head saying I didn’t.
“Esperanza, es una planta. They eat it,” he ran his index finger along his neck, a universal sign difficult to misinterpret, clicked his teeth and the little calf was done.
It began to rain and three children scrambled under the safe pan of an awning. A man leaned against a bus stop map gritting his teeth to the grim blue tint of a text message. He sucked his teeth before closing the phone, his hot mood sizzling in soft hummed cusses; sparks against the drops of heaven crackling between us. The grey clouds gave way to a dark and hazy yolked sun, the children ran and the bust stop groaned. Mingo creaks and the moment is over easy.
“Why do they eat it,” I asked. “If it’s poison.”
And Mingo shrugged.
Esperanza is a flower, bright and beautiful with yellow petals. And Esperanza is also hope, just as bright and ruinous. I couldn’t decide which killed them first, the toxins or definition.
“I killed somebody once,” Mingo said unexpectedly. “Coz’ of a woman.” He was calm, not sad nor entirely delighted. Not resentful or proud, but with the air of a man that’s lived and in living was reflective.
I couldn’t think of what to say and a car chuckled down the road.
“Do you having a girl?”
Down the block a gilded goddesses hips swayed, and she reminded me of a girl I reminded myself to forget. Gray eyed and somber lip’d, the kind of face easy to compliment and hard to misremember. I was staring and I didn’t care, and the longer I dared the sooner I realized that familiar was just wistful thinking. She didn’t look anything like her. The sighs were all wrong. She didn’t have the unhappiness riddled along her creases, she didn’t hold me like a melody at the slight of her hand or fuzzy forearm. She passed us without a crass look despite lingering stares.
But she did look a lot like her when she was walking away.
“Yeah,” I said to Mingo. I heard his head nod solemnly by the sound of his neck creaking.
“Never killed anyone because of her though,” I added.
Mingo laughed, ominously.
“You might someday,”
I clipped my cigarette and said goodbye.
Fall brings out the optimist in me. As the trees tinge yellow, red, then an inevitable dark and muddy brown stomped lifelessly into the mud and sewers of the sidewalk, I get a little giddy. Autumn is a reminder of how beautiful the death of things can be, that life is but an episode among a series of joys, woes, and cosmic indifference to both. Don’t get me wrong- the syndication is a good one, a classic as far as I’m concerned, but always on the brink of being cancelled.
The Arrested Development of existentialism, in so many more ways than one.
For me, October is a time when the air is always thick and wet, loaded as sentences and on the verge of rain. Where my nostalgia goes into overdrive and I’m overrun in moments that are bulging like clouds, but just as empty and easy to navigate. Standing near the bus stop the first day of school with a oversized Dragonball Z hoodie, and power level at an underwhelming under nine thousand. Kissing Tiffany in Bryant Park while something under our feet crunched loudly, and made the world smell like skin and an end to childhood. Sundays saying goodbye to my father after another awful weekend sharing a bed in his shitty little bedroom apartment.
The experience is a winter wonderland of wondering where all that time has gone, but I don’t want to come off as a nihilist. To be honest, as I get older, I no longer look to the past as often. But when I do, I look back at it all much more fondly. I want to reach out and call someone I haven’t spoken to or of in years, just to remind Tiffany, Kevin, Jimmy, Corina, or hell, even my father, that at some point I loved them dearly.
But sobriety makes empty feel like more than it really is, so I let those sentiments wither with the foliage and double down on the idea that I’m taking the weather too personally. I’m an optimist, and while it’s all going to hell, I’m not so obsessed with disappointment to not look forward to what might come after Winter. I’ve come to terms with the cup half emptied and don’t care to bother where the other half is gone. I want nothing more than to enjoy what’s left of the bitter coffee, jacketed weather, wind snubbed cigarettes and I-Miss-You texts the season warrants.
“Unca Chino, you’re sleeping and awake again,” Xavier said, a little four foot anchor keeping me from ballooning to those far and dizzying heights.
Luckily I spend these days too busy babysitting my nephews to spend it self mutilating in alcohol and scabs that have long-since healed. It was around 9PM, I remember, and after an obligatory afternoon playing catch and pretend body-slamming them on the collection of leaves we spent all morning gathering on the lawn, I was tired. I ordered a pizza and plugged them into a movie and video games while I brewed coffee that came out especially bitter. It was drizzling, and the raindrops ricochet against the window sill started to say something my mouth and heart could only mumble. I’d had a disgusting dream about toilets, teeth, and spiders, and the dreary sounds of wetness from outside made more sense of it than I could.
Rain speaks to me, the same way it speaks to you and every other writer this side of the century. We aren’t special. It’s not so strange how nature can make a noise that nears closer to truth than anything words can make up. There isn’t more honestly to life, vague sounds just allow for more projection.
“Shower time losers,” I said. “First one that doesn’t smell like feet gets ice cream before bed.” They dashed up the stairs and I leaned my ear closer to the window.
There was another sound besides my melancholy that drew my heart and curiosity closer. Howling, is the only word that came to mind. Howling and guitars. The running waters from their baths upstairs gave me an opportunity, so I used the chance to sneak outside and satiate my greater habits. Cigarettes and busy-bodying.
I took to the driveway where the sound was closest, casually lit a stick of reprieve and sullied along the hedges. Those Jones-town bushes parted and gave way to the neighbors house, a cozy two-story suburbia, complete with a overly playful dog and little balcony facing my sisters house. That was when I saw her.
…Ah Brooklyn, Brooklyn take me in.
Are you aware the shape I’m in?
My hands they shake, my head it spins.
She was moonshining on the porch with a bottle of bourbon, her voice trailing along the sad bluegrass like static against the mini-speakers . A playful little beagle with a wet and button nose started whining at my jeans and cigarette smoke through the gate dividing me from her porch. His searching eyes much sadder than whatever guitar strings she sung three beats off key. I couldn’t see her very well, just silhouettes and blonde streaks my mind filled the blanks of.
It was so cinematic- single guy, cute dog, and a drunk white girl waxing lyrics at the moon; shipwrecked on a second story balcony by some emotional disaster. The pretense was a bit pretentious, even as I was living it, but they say that life imitates art, so I was comely to the cliche of it all. Reached down to scratch behind the mutts ears and whimpers to remind him of what a good boy he was.
“Is that The Avett Brothers?” I asked out loud, knowing full well that it was.
“I thank so,” her accent said, a bit surprised and to my enjoyment.
I let the silence build and focused my attention to scratching where his tail wagged the wildest. Too many words are the enemy of mystery, and the few we shared I carefully loaded to be as exciting and interesting as they could be. My father was a dog, a trait he handed down dutifully to me and my brother. Don’t talk so damn much, he used to say. All these men think the way is sweet talking. A woman likes a man that knows when to shut the fuck up.
The proof is in the pudding, and I’ve got enough step-brothers and sisters to vouch for whatever his methods were.
That woman, she’s got eyes that shine.
Like a pair of stolen polished dimes.
She asked to dance I said it’s fine,
I’ll see you in the morning time.
They say you can’t make sense out of a sentiment, but I can quantify the fuck out of a feeling. For instance, I started following some girl on Reddit that only makes quotes with little accents over the i’s and n’s. I don’t speak the language or understand a damned thing she says, but I damn sure like seeing it. Might be Italian, I think, or Spanish? I can never tell which, and to be honest, I would much rather never know at all. Ambiguity is what makes whatever the hell she’s saying so alluring, and a translation would be a mutilation and only ruin the magic. The not knowing is what makes it as fun as coloring books.
That’s why people watching is only fun with strangers.
“When I was in Tennessee, that’s all I heard between the bars.” I said. And her silhouette either nodded or examined me critically in response.
“My friends can’t stand it, but I really like some country songs.” I added, even though I didn’t. A bad habit: playing a game of two truths and a lie but not telling anybody.
I used to tell myself the horndog gene doubled down on my brother and skipped me. It was practically tradition that every Christmas the family gathered to hear one of the crazy situations and women Joseph got himself into over the years. There was the wife that flew him out to Miami just to bone him whenever her husband got too drunk and fell asleep. Threesomes with cousins who he admitted to me were actually sisters, but didn’t want to gross mom out.
“My parents use to play these songs when we lived in _________, and I hated ’em. Now it’s all I ever listen to.”
“Where’s ___________?” I asked.
“Kentucky,” she said. And I smiled, because destiny has a terrible sense of humor.
“So is that Jamison, Old Grandad, or Jim Bean in your cup?”
She laughed, a dry and raspy thing, bordering between the crisp and crunchy stomp of an Autumn leaf. Or smokers lung.
“You Rey’s brother?” She asked.
“No, the other ones.”
“Those boys are too damn old to be called babies.” I said.
“You want a taste?” She said, raising a hazy outline of the bottle she was drinking.
“Not yet,” I said, and the image of my sister finding out flashed before my eyes the way movies say your life does right before you’re dead.
There was a long pause in the chilled and country New York air, filled only by honking cars and the beagles front paws scratching against the gate for my attention. His breathing heavy with huffed intentions of trying to get over the waist-high barrier between us.
I’m old enough to know the quick wiles of young women. Dumb enough to have experienced the fleeting fancies of the older ones. And oversexed enough to not give a damn about the disasters brought by both.
Her darkness, even from a vague distance, felt so warm and familiar. Comforting- like your room with the blinds are shut tight and it’s an annoyingly sunny day outside.
“If you hear country, I’ll be out here.” She said.
I waved a silent goodbye, gave her pooch some goodbye rough-housing, and sauntered back inside. Xavier was huddled in his 3DS and Ian was coveting an arms race of nerf guns by his bedside. They’d forgotten about the ice cream, and thinking about what awaited outside, I pondered doing the same.
Wondered if these violent delights always needed such thigh-ish ends. If I could break myself from doggish genetics and spend all night with two kids hopped up on ice cream. If I could abort these veins and be more than these base desires. Or are these speculations as sour as the bourbon that could be overflowing my cup. I wanted to be sweet as the mood it seasons and affords, easy as the Hello-Is-That-The-Avett-Brothers I’m showcasing in glassed smiles. It’s a weeknight and she might have work in the morning, but then again so do I. Is it worth getting started on tonight and well on my way to hating myself tomorrow? With alarm clock reminders nagging my pocket, the world knocking violently, trying to abrupt the bluegrass dream. Responsibilities begging at me, like a puppy scratching at the door.
After all if mistakes are what we call experience, then a man is made of them. So if I were to go, I would not be irresponsible. I would merely be building character.
Oh, those empty hours where my righteous rises from the deep. Do I have to? Choose, I mean. Between the calm or the storm. Can’t I be both? Loud and quiet, like the eye of a hurricane.
“All right boys,” I yelled.
“It’s time to-…
I can see what Hemingway saw in Cuba.
Old Havana opened to me like the wet, stale parts of a pleasant dream you’ve been interrupted from. The people are nice enough to be kind but let you alone, Havana’s dilapidated but pristine architecture remains hauntingly beautiful, and what drunk can pass up top shelf rum for two dollars and fifty cents a shot? (Only 6 bucks for the bottle in every bodega outside the tourist traps.) A writer’s paradise nestled 110 miles shy from the great liberated bays of Florida.
Cuban sun hums the kind of heat that makes sex feel more like a pass time than a necessity of the body. The women are rather beautiful, decked in their humble but strapless dresses, skirts, and generic bootie shorts. Their skin a light mahogany, turned crisp as chocolate candied in barrels of sugar cane and caramel. All busy-bodied on with their ways to work, children, friends or other excitements. None of their eyes occupied that bored, detached, and conceited vanity so common in the gorge-ous types of Tinderellas; carting their full makeup and empty hearts up Amsterdam back home. And although they were not oblivious to their spark of specific intelligence we have a habit to dare call beauty, even the Cuban courtesan maintained a modesty and meekness in their character I’ve yet to see in any American demeanor.
But no temptress, addiction, or wile siren had ever made me more drunk with love than fair Dianysia.
Dianysia, hailing from the distant lands of the Antilles, ebony skin stirring like molten rum and cokes. When I first stared into those dark pools of milk and caramel we dare call eyes, a dark and maddening desire filled my heart and all extremities. Like burning alive, but on a smaller scale- my nerves tingled in a calm excitement and I become painfully aware of life. Sensitive to the slightest touch. When her mouth curved that methane smile I was called…no, pulled towards her uncontrollably, like a marionette by a string.
She was a waitress in a bar called Patchanka near Old Havana. I’d stopped only to rest my feet, but as I finished my drink a small band manifested itself near the entrance. They began to play a soft but quickly paced Cuban salsa, sharp and lively but to a calm and hazy melody. As I listened Dianysia came bursting from the bar counter, conjured from the bottled merlots and ambrosia lined along the shelf.
She had an energy and tenacity I immediately couldn’t keep myself from. I liked to watch her work, to see her briskly bouncing from one end of the shop to the other, writing furtively with a furrowed brow, or barking jokes and groans at customers or other staff. There was something so fun in her folly and playful in her unpleasant, and when a certain chord of a certain song saxed around us in a certain way, the dark image she presented would melt to swaying shoulders and whispered hymns. Quiet prayers and praise to songs I imagine we sung only for her. I sensed some kind of history between her and the brass musician.
“You like the way he plays?” I pestered, nodding at the saxophone player swooning the local fans.
“Me gusta la musica, no los musicos.” She replied flatly, not bothering to look up from the order she was jotting.
“But without musicians there wouldn’t be any music,” I pressed. Annoyingly, I knew, but having a taste of sharp tongue I couldn’t resist getting another.
“Entonces solo me gusta las canciones de la playa y el mar.”
“Beaches and…rivers? Then it sounds like you prefer water, not music.” I said.
She let her pen down confidently, raised the veils of her dark brown eyes to glare at me combatively.
“Y tu? Porque te sientas solo en un lugar de companeors.”
“I like to have company, not companions.” I said. She laughed, a loud and raspy percussion I wouldn’t describe as a noise, but as an instrument or natural clamor. Like water rustling down a river, or thunder.
“Pareces que prefiere alcohol, no la compania.” She spat, and before I could respond, darted back towards the bar. Feeling the sting of being shunned, I took to the rum and drank with an added gusto to assuage my wounded pride.
Moderation is a myth to me. I can never kind of- I must always either be entirely or absolutely not. I’ve never bothered to take much care of myself because my body is not a temple. It hungers, rages, consumes. It swallows and devours everything like a fire. Not knowing self-control, a little lightened by the Antillean sun, and the quick but soft songs pulsing me along, I’d been near my sixth or seventh glass before I realized the sun and my sobriety had sunk so long ago.
Dianysia banged another glass of Santiago rum before my glassy eyes, smiling so wickedly and inviting. I was confused and attributed to my being drunk. Was she serving me the entire night? Hadn’t I tried to talk to her but found her not interested? Why was she so suddenly pleased at me now but not before?
“Me gusta tambien los lunaticos.” She said, laughing, Her raspy echoed in my chest over and over. With a twist she picked up a purse, I don’t know if it was hers, and danced out the bar counter and far away from Patchanka. And I watched her, still confused and a little drunk, but enjoying her all the while. She turned the corner of the entrance, my senses re-emerged and she was gone.
The saxophonist was standing across from me, a look of worry and warning in his empty eyes.
“She’s stubborn,” Was all he said.
“I like a girl that’s sure of herself.” I replied.
“Well nothing good ever came easy.”
“I don’t get along well with sane people.”
“She’ll always go against you.”
“Who wants to be around people that only agree with you?”
He cooked his head as if he were staring at a rorschach, laughed a little insincerely then followed up with an honest smile that bordered on pity.
“That girl’s going to make you lonely.” He sighed. I finished off the glass of rum, but already I could feel sobriety coming for me like the sun.
“I know.” I said.