I rise into 60 humid degrees and rejection: what I’ve smithed again falls short, gasping for breath under the weight of only sixty-two words. The right to say no never seems to be in my mouth. I conceded to baking cookies for my students, I gave him the green light to say he could call me next month. I try to contain myself, but I wonder if I’ve done too good a job. I don’t know where the words come sometimes, and I don’t always know what to do with the animosity, the shame. These are never private feelings, and in my case, I’ve never been good at performing their privacy. It makes me a bad son, a bad lover. The one who leaves a bitter taste in more mouths than he should.
We caught wind that one of our own had left this earth today. We gasped together, we gave our moment of silence. We knew to give, we knew to put down our pens, silence our phones. Of course, he’d remind us about being so negative as we have beem since the 90s, but I don’t know how else to take stock of what’s been irretrievably lost.
I think about all the letters you’ll never send, the calls you’ll never make, the trip you’ll never take to see me. We’ve fallen out of orbit even though there’s so much gravity. Push, pull, catch, release. It’s what you do, right? If you love, you must let go. Maybe you did it for me because I didn’t have it in me to do it when it counted. Stage fright, the anxiety still has me shaking my leg whenever I’m sitting. I worry for you, too. You might even be dead, and I’ll really be talking to a ghost. I don’t even know if you’ll hear me then or remain as speechless as she was in those shining fields.
Memento mori. Remember that you will die.
A word processor, a cursor that flickers. (It never gets easier.) I’m against pages, against the clock, and the days that end at 5. Against old voices that cannot be made to talk in my defense. Or for offensive paragraphs, this sort of tactics of words placed in lines like I used to do with Dad. The joke of every semester is masocriticism, the endlessness of an endgame. You laugh and there is more burst fire in the agon then what kisses the page. And suddenly all I can feel is his absence. Where he isn’t there to tell me I can get through this, that I’m the apple of his eye. The one that he eats for knowledge, the one that he sins so well to taste. I am left to sour, left to rot. With only forty-seven pages more to write.
I tried my hardest to follow Shelby’s lead: to be like a twelve-year-old sheltie who is simply overjoyed to be in the company of 10. I steeped my gratitude with the mull ball in the cider, and I drank to health of my “family” who reads Beckett together every year. Jokes went a la mode with the Jersey pies, family trivia threw me into the flows of stories in which I knew not a single character. We toasted to an empty place setting, and she wept of a man who laughed against the prison of his body. There was silence, and I raised my glass. We broke our bread to mend.
Thanksgiving is this kind of xenia: golden like the raisins, like the sun setting beneath the pine barrens.
I can’t believe it’s over. Taiko has this amazing capacity to draw a certain energy from you, from a wellspring you didn’t even know you had. When every muscle is crying out, so are you with every ounce of ki you can muster to last the next few minutes. I am at my most powerful when I am nearly spent, when all I can do is resign myself to the drum. And it’s this moment of suspension, of self, of all that overthinking, that keeps me coming back. What your muscles have learned is what takes center stage. What your spirit finally reveals about what it has always known.
I am proud of what I have achieved in spite of what so many people have seen as a perpetual uphill battle against my own skeleton. I never believed I would leave the stage feeling proud.
Taiko is about (re)connections: with drum, with yourself, with other players, with your audience. All of which are worth celebrating.
There are many invisible borders … Some erect and inexorable like death or when a lover recedes into friend.
Rosmarie Waldrop, opening lines to “Conversation 24: On the Millennium,” from Reluctant Gravities (New Directions, 1999)
And it is these borders unseen yet always felt that become the means with which we begin to define ourselves by and against what might be on the other side. The classic othering of narcissistic empire, to enflesh what might be the air of an invisible border. They become erect, inexorable, and they linger monumental against the unnatural march of years. To sing the same song of time, while these borders are precisely a reminder of what is constantly in the process of becoming, sedimented and solidified over some immeasurable time. You close the gates of Eden for yourself, and you’ll close them again and again every time you get close to it again. You remember the burn of a sword on fire, you remember the moment of separation. You remember those who glide through Elysium, those who have wandered away from you into groves of error.
This is how love starts: a crush. Your body intensifies, gaining and losing confidence in the presence of a person, an image, an idea, or a thing: in a crush, you have a feeling that you feel compelled to keep having. The pressure disorganizes you, opens you up to reverie, anxiety, defense, risk. You are forced into frenzies of adjustment; you feel tilted forward. Sometimes that’s enough: being mentally with your crush is all you want. Sometimes you try to repeat being near the thing that stimulates the intensities. Later, you notice the collateral damage: what you have had to put up with to have that feeling. Sometimes it’s too much, sometimes it’s not that hard to endure. What’s really hard to endure, though, is facing up to ambivalence.
I think the “facing up” was what he couldn’t make sense of. His flight instead of fight because he could not or wanted not to martial his limited energies for more ambivalence. “It shouldn’t be this difficult.” The labor of managing the “frenzies of adjustment” and recognizing over time the collateral damage that comes with the privilege of joy. Perhaps he recognized too soon, sooner than I wanted him to. But I do not want damage for either of us, especially for a man already so fractured. “Sometimes it’s too much, sometimes it’s not that hard to endure.” We were the vacillation, what I had to put up with to have that feeling, what he could not deceive into accepting as love.
The city never arms you for that creeping cold, the one that knows its way around your quotidian intimacies. I can see my speech, visible in vaporous rings. The cold makes shape of it, and I’m with my coffee and bagel wanting much more to spike a cider to use as an alcohol jacket. I want to douse all the words to be lit aflame into colors my eyes don’t even know. The pyrotechnics of a language already burning, full of empty holes from the cigarette burns. Our sadism with the body of language: we twist it until it yells itself into a new form. An agon into new being.
There’s pot roast waiting for me in the slow cooker. The chukkas took a beating today: my footfalls and their heavy kisses not at all like their lip cousins. But this discrepancy is what J. used to say were my greatest hits, my body’s little pidgin of its own. I miss his fluency, his way with tongues — sharp and soft like my mother’s. How he knew the fit of my shirts and the way I like my sweaters to fool me. I return often to that infinite space between the fabric and my skin, that interstitial, sensuous place, where we dwelt together when the words lost their bearings. He keeps me warm, my love, my love, my love. Our little sensuous forms: on the 21 bus to campus, when I tuck the fleece throw beneath the comforter, as I press the buttons to preheat the oven. Surrepetitions: those potent things that live on after two.
First snow, and I’m full of disquiet. You learn to hold your tongue after awhile because he’s not listening, she’s not listening. Even you aren’t listening after awhile. The drone of solipsism and the sounds of bones breaking from too much spelunking in your own labyrinths. It doesn’t sound very good, and I’m not too sure I want to keep screaming out where the echoes are. Where the shadow puppets bring back to life what you thought was dead. Necromancy in this Sesame Street kind of way, but I see no sugar-coated lesson at the end. No cookies or a sing-along song to tell me it’s okay that he’s gone, and he’s gone, and he’s gone, and he’s gone. The koros makes its comments, and there are laughs in different pitches. Rhythmic repetition, mockery on beat. My voice in fifty forms, my fifty lashes.
The snow falls. Herringbone will not keep me warm.