Thursday, February 19, 2009

The Rain and the Coffee Shop

The faces of the painfully unhappy keep walking across my line of sight. They stick out their tongues at the part of me that tries to maintain. They wiggle their noses at the friends that try to make me laugh. Little lines have emerged, once hidden in fleshy pink layers that ignited in the sun, now, while the sun hides behind blankets of clouds, they show themselves, peeking out of deep groves visible only in the centimeters above a mirror. They would scream, if only there were a voice and tenor for tears that have no mask. Tears that call themselves by another name. Pain that masks itself in anger and wrinkled brows.
The rain pours in through the roof, in through the latex paint, in through the holes in my muted dreams that dissipate as the drops splash, sending out their frolicking offspring across the cold linoleum floor. They find a playground in the electronics, they find a resting place among the discarded clothes that never made it to a hamper or a drawer. It could have been an easy death, bare wet feet and a space heater turned executioner. It could have been easy, one lone droplet. They might not have known where to find me, mistaking the corpse for a neighborhood barbecue.
But the chess game continues, and I walk away, while the rain pours in, once again disrupting a mild sense of comfort, an easily shaken illusion of stability. And I am thrown once again into the whirlwind, into the past-life habits of constant movement and trash bags of clothes and home always a doorway away.
The refuge of a coffee shop is like walking into a battlefield. The grinding of metal parts crushes the beans dead, deader than they already were. Jazz vocals blare, played too loudly for background music. Hardly a soul is listening. There are a dozen heads with headphones, half a dozen heads in conversation, steam vessels screaming, orders being taken. There is hardly an ear for the music, hardly a drip of attention to feel the earthy voice or the pitch of the wind. Yet it blasts, full tilt, filling the cup past the brim.
First I try to tune out. Then, I try to tune in. I hear a bassy voice on my right. "we’re not like everyone else." They have their bibles open, each of the three men have their glasses on…they look serious with their eyeglasses, getting their hands get dirty in the word of god. Their leader is an obese black man, a man with authority over the other two white men, one of them also obese. I hear their voices come through the headphones every couple of minutes. "a doctor can help postpone a life a couple extra years, we offer eternal life."
I leave to use the bathroom, when I return, the guy sitting at the table behind me asks about the video I am editing on my laptop. He asks to see some videos on YouTube, and almost immediately, as the sounds start and the rhythm kicks in, he starts asking technical questions about the editing software. Later, he shows me his own video. It’s long, nearly seven minutes of him driving at night. I hear the rhythm, I see the light of the city at night, I see the streaks on his windshield. I feel him at the table next to me, he’s uncomfortable. He tries to talk to me as I’m watching his video. Even he does not have enough patience for his own creation. But I smile when he talks, I don’t know what he says, but it seems to be a joke, and I smile and keep watching and it keeps going and he gives up on talking and just fidgets while I watch. I bob my head.
"That’s really great" I say when it’s over. "I like the editing to the music and I like that I could see the streaks in the windshield and I like that you held the camera still at the stoplights, it really feels like I was there with you driving." "thanks for the feedback, I thought the streaks were a blemish." "no, I think they add to it."
I turn back to my project, the woman sharing my table looks at me and smiles. She has a pile of scratcher lotto tickets on the table. "I hope I’m not bothering you," she says. "I just like doing these, I think it helps my mind, it helps me stay alert." She has a special type of lotto ticket that involves some word skill. "If I win," she says with a Russian accent, "I’ll buy you coffee." "Okay," I say and smile, suddenly feeling a rush of unity, a feeling of strangers coming together. I feel the dream of the original coffee shop fulfilled momentarily. Strangers, meeting over coffee, meeting in a warm space, away from the rain, away from their homes, bound within the confines of four walls, eager to find that which lies beyond, finding an excuse to sit together, away from the rain, away from the cold.

Monday, February 16, 2009


The sky is a little particle of dust fallen from heaven, just a rainbow colored sprinkle that oozes to life with the press of a child's finger. A tiny little hand that waves from the open window of a train as the countryside passes in and out of our vision, a tan blur of hillsides and bare branched trees. Small flecks of persimmons, bright as the harvest moon wizz by like a blur across a screen. Each panel passes, click, click, click, like fast edited scenes, and my memory captures it like the camera I never had. A woman with laundry in a wicker basket, hanging each item out in the sun pale autumn sun. The bare tree, full of sweet orange ornaments, just waiting for a farmer to harvest it or a poet to transform it. Honor this beauty! This silent gift that will stay, even after the years click on, tick, tick, tick, tick, as fast as the second hand on my pocket watch. It’s just feet from the passing train. The golden hills, the trees lined up in exact patterns, put precisely in their place at birth. Solid rows in each direction, we call them Berta trees.
The man comes for my ticket. I see him twenty feet down the aisle, sending fear through me as I see his official hat and bag filled with empty paper tickets to issue. I look for my ticket, but it’s lost in the red bag and I run to the bathroom, shepherded by the flock of boys who hope to squeeze into my pants. Their attention grows when the official passes and their arms begin to surround me and they keep asking "why, why?" but no, we can not make love in the train bathroom. I will not drop my cargo pants, stained in olive oil or lift my flannel shirt that, in and of itself, is an assault to the dictates of fashion. I see the tracks when I look into the toilet bowl, the gravel covered tracks are a fast moving deposit for our waste and I wonder about the people on either side of the tracks. Do their vegetables grow strong with the fertilizer? Do they sit on their porches in the setting afternoon sun and speculate at the passing people, moving by at 60 miles an hour, passing them forever, never to return.
And I want to talk to them and hang my laundry too and eat their orange fruit. But how can I ever return? There is no sign announcing the place. This is the place in between other places. It is lined by pretty bare trees and the orange fruit of fall and the gray clouds of coming storms that follow me like a welcomed plague. I only have one moment, one second, to freeze them in my mind.
The woman, with her dark blue skirt, large from a lifetime of pasta and pure green olive oil, hangs her laundry on the lines by the train. Will her clothes smell of silent stories and passing lives? Will their fibers hold the encapsulated gazes of those that saw them, just for a second? The white shirts on the line…the little jeans of a child, the long dark skirt of a humble woman.
Frozen in time, for once, the memory is even better than the camera, the camera I do not have. The language I do not posses.
12 hours later, we snake along the coastline, I see a beach so pretty, so tropical, with lush trees and flowers, and out the window is a vision of paradise with blue water and a little island, shaped like a bunt cake and topped with a medieval house like a candle holding the possibility of dreams. I look out the window, enraptured, this place… I have to know its name! Where am I?
I look to my right, out the window, looking for a sign, I smile in the beauty of this colorful land. I grab my paper and pen, ready for a sign, I hold still as the island passes quickly, the vision in my mind, the hope that I can find this place once again. I look up, in the seat across from me is an elderly nun, she smiles and says "Taormina." My eyes widen, I point out the window, I point down, indicating the earth… "Taormina?" I say. She nods and I hand her the paper and pen to right down the name. She smiles softly, her face an orb of kindness, of understanding.
She reads me, like the verses of her bible, she reads me, clear and loud. She knows. I feel warm, good to be known, for a second, good to be read, to be understood, without language, to be read like a book that hasn’t yet faded into oblivion, to be ingested like a landscape that passes so fast by my window that I can only barely grasp it in the tenuous theater of my mind.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

The Contradiction

The small little bug landed on my shoulder. It was red and black and looked like something from a nightmare that has yet to get to the darkest pit, yet to leave me tumbling through the air, tasting death as it comes, yet to shock me into wakefulness. It was the news, the stories of rape in the Congo and the dark-as-night-skinned women who adorn their bodies in the colors of rainbows, yet know, with full body awareness, of the brutalizers. It was the pack of seven men that took her down, that ripped into her after taking the breath from her husband, and as bad as it sounds, a part of it, even after several hours and countless other thoughts, it still filled me with the flush of sexual excitement. I had moved to turn down the radio, my brain had recognized her story as something bad, something I would never wish upon myself or another, yet the thought of it, the fantasy, the show of power and domination and the forced submission and the tears and the sexual release the men must have felt by pushing themselves into a woman who had no more tears left, it was that which started the ticking pulse and the search for other images just as brutal and those two realities, the inability to even hear her full story and the vibrational fantasy it invariably created, those two truths despised each other. They were magnets of the same charge. They were shame. They were contradiction.
Modern American women don’t think like that, they don’t like that, they don’t want that, they condemn that…and I do, yet I don’t, yet I do, but I don’t.
And the two colored moths flew around my shoulders, teasing the bare white of my skin with their buzzing and fanatical wing beating. And I wouldn’t want it to happen, but I like it. I wouldn’t wish it upon anyone, but I want to see it. To be held down, forced open, no matter how much it hurts, no matter how much I want to run away. And when it does happen, the small, more harmless variety, I feel like I could follow him to the ends of the earth. I can see myself, wearing torn white rags, stepping across the red horizon as the even redder planets loom like hot air balloons just a short arms reach away. I can feel each step over rough edged gravel and those shiny swords that wait in the distance. I have not reached them yet, but I have seen their cousins in the smaller ponds and they have cut me deep, very deep, and somehow, with bloody feet and salty cheeks, I made it past them and over the barren hillsides. And at the ends of the earth, perhaps only an arms reach away, but necessitating a lifetime of travel, he waits in the crystal castle with a goblet full of foul tasting life and eyes that could warm the night sky if given a chance. The wings flap like a soft lullaby and their colors have become my coat of arms.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Well Done

The day was strange…I was strange. I still held onto the anger from last night. A little bubble that I could not burst. A vague layer of gauze, the almost transparent film of sadness cloaked my inner fibers. I could see through it, a small part of me knew that the sun was shining and I was breathing and my love was strong, but another part of me held onto the small bubble of insecurity and sadness and a little gray cloud lingered over me.
A steady stream of passersby smiled at me as we made eye contact. I sat behind my small booth of incense and soap and sachets. Maybe the fragrance of the forest brought out their smiles. I looked at my cell phone for the time, it was almost 2pm and I still had not eaten, I left the stand unattended, grabbing my phone and tucking it in my back pocket and headed to the Thai food vendor for a couple of vegetarian egg rolls. When I reached the head of the small line, I realized they had sold out, so I ate a small bowl of rice with peanut sauce, and for the first time in my two years of working the farmer’s market, I bought a Thai iced tea. I took a long sip from the straw, the sweet milk and tangy black tea felt wonderful in my mouth, delicious sliding down my throat. I walked through the crowded market, sipping on the tea more slowly now and I let myself be distracted by the many people around me and the colorful vegetables that lined both sides of the street.
Back at my stand, I saw a couple patient customers waiting for me. I put the tea down and started offering samples and making change and offering smiles. But something was different. There had been an internal shift. My voice was louder, my eyes were a bit wider and when I talked, I moved closer to the customers, leaning in on the table that separated us and moving into their space. With this new internal state, I talked without fear or hesitation. Usually, I would sit on the back fender of my truck and try to play the salesman part smoothly, acting as if I didn’t care whether they bought or not, but always hoping they would. In the current state, I talked, and gave suggestions, but I truly did not care if they bought something or walked away. I had become less identified with the result. I knew that I was different, I knew the black tea had brought it on and as it passed through me like a series of waves, I started to feel just a little out of control, like I was swinging my body wildly to an invisible symphony, spinning and spinning and my arms were out and my head was swaying…but I might just hit a wall at any second.
Just then, an old customer who had become a friend came up to me. As we talked, we were interrupted constantly by curious customers who stopped to pick up Douglas fir sachets and tried to smell the packets of incense through the cardboard boxes before I offered them the open packages. I noticed the difference, the more Steven and I talked, the more people came up to the tables and attempted to interact with the scented products, the heat of our linguistic exchange got the atoms bouncing, bringing moths to the flame.
"wow, you’re doing great business!"
"it’s because of you, I was sitting like this all day," and I imitated myself sitting on the car’s fender, watching the crowds pass.
He laughed.
"well, good, I’ll stay."
Another person walked up and I offered a smile and a "hello." The girl smiled as she smelled the soap and I launched into some facts about the soap. She nodded and we fell silent and I looked at Steven, "wow, I’ve only had a couple of sips of the Thai iced tea and I’m all messed up!" I looked at him with wide eyes.
"well, you’re a dancer, things come into you and you’re really sensitive to them and you react."
"yeah, but just a couple of sips!"
"you’re sensitive," he said with a shy smile.
I looked at the red cell phone on the table. "I guess I should start cleaning up, the market is almost over." I turned behind me to the open truck bed and I looked at the long inventory list on the clipboard and my pen that was sitting beside it. I surveyed the contents of my truck bed. There were open cardboard boxes and big empty plastic bags and plastic storage boxes. I looked over my shoulder at the display table, there were baskets of sachets and a rack of incense and soaps and teas and smudge sticks.
My heart started beating, the tea had tapped into my stream. I looked around, slightly disoriented, unsure where to start, how to begin. It was a process I did every Saturday…empty the contents of the car onto a retail friendly table, and then pack it all back up at the end of the day and drive off to the warehouse. But today, the task seemed huge. I felt faint wisps of panic, I heard the silent explosions in my bloodstream.
Then I stopped. Steven had been talking and I had been half listening to him, but he stopped for a minute. I held steady for a moment. I reached out extremely slowly for the black pen, I bent over very, very slowly to write the date on the inventory list, then I put the pen down very, very slowly. I stood up straight, very slowly and looked at Steven, a calm smile on my face.
"well done," he said.
I smiled and said nothing more. He began to talk a little bit and I listened while packing things away. I took no more sips of the tea.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Red Moon

I drove in the early morning hours, while the sky still held on tightly to its black and the stars were sparkling, beaming in their true nature as suns. Both hands were on the wheel as my body tilted slightly to the left as I became one with the curve in the road. I stopped as the headlights illuminated a red and white sign. A moment of rest. There were no cops, I was completely alone in the darkness, and I paused. In front of me was the city. Far down the hill, miles into the distance, it was laid out like a softly slumbering child. The street lamps flickered, soothing vibrations of light drifted towards me, like the stars high above that I could never reach, even if I drove for a thousand years. The houses were just faint ghosts in the darkness, un-aided by the bits of light from the street or heavens. I could vaguely distinguish the soft rolling hills that made the floor of the city. I could sense the whispers of houses, condensed together, side by side, it was just the gentle rise and fall of little boxes that revealed the quiet hills. Even from my height, the freeway was an obvious snake of electric lights. I could not hear the mechanical river, but headlights appeared sporadically every couple of seconds, unimpeded in their journey forward. The train station paralleled the freeway, cutting through the city with its silenced roar of regular intervals. I could see the linear track, outlined and quietly resting in the glow of its bright bluish lights. Beyond the city lights, far ahead, was blackness. The dark was the great mouth of the ocean, and it was not silent, it roared with life in the dark and in the light. There was no distinction for its sound and movements, it came and went continuously, beyond the seasons, beyond the clock. And although I knew it was there, its sound did not carry to the height of the small mountain; but it was there, like an abyss just lingering, filled with life beyond measurement, patient and never gone. For centuries it lapped the shores, the empty hillsides, the horse and carriages, the electric cars. Wave after wave came, rocking the shore in endless cycles. Above the water, hanging low in the sky, was a crescent moon. Its open chalice reclined as if providing a bathtub for fairies, and it hung beautifully against the blackness. But unlike any other night, any other night in my memory, the crescent that hung was red. A burnt red-orange. I gasped, my mind flipped through the possibilities for this wonder. A layer of fog? No. Eclipse? No. The moon is red! What celestial occurrence could make the silvery slice red? I had seen yellow moons, big and nearly taking up the night sky, but nothing close to this color. And would the explanation change its beauty or magic? The moment, a little girl in a little black car, perched on a hill in the darkness, upon a rotating earth suspended in a universe of planets and suns and comets and gas. The moon, a constant, the constant companion to this planet. Alone at night, I reach to it as my friend. You, who are so strange. I, upon, the crust of this planet, among the city lights and construction that cover the crust of soil like a metal rash. Beyond the surface, there is moisture and gas and small particles. Beyond the surface, there are icy bits of rock and planets of fire- atoms that combust and implode, there are rings of rocks and holes and billions of suns surrounded by their own solar systems. Beyond that, it’s incomprehensible. I ask "what?" I ask "why?" I shake my head- answers are impossible, I don’t even really know the questions.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

To A Crisp

I am the baked chicken, my skin is brown, almost golden in its heated hue. I’ve been baking for hours, though it feels like years. The recipe is on the marble counter. Oil spots and a thin coating of flour soil the edges of the paper. I glow in the florescent light, green seasoning and dots of pepper decorate my skin. I’m pretty enough for a cooking show and soon, the guests will arrive, marveling at my color and crispy skin. With mouths watering, they will compliment the chef, job well done! "She looks perfect," they say, "the crispy skin is sure to be delicious."
For a moment, before the show continues, a slight tear in the crispy skin opens. After a fleeting moment of music and sound, when voices open and move without fear, without the barriers of control and doubt, the white flesh is exposed. Juicy and white, tender as the moment of birth, the insides are naked, open to all that have the eyes to look, and they are few. The salty tears come without anticipation or explanation, for the moment, without hesitation, the body opens wide.
In this moment, I know clearly why I am here. Why I beat this drum, why I sing this sustained note. This is beauty. This is raw and dark and light and the strength of time moving through us. Through the tear, the world comes through. Through the tear, the whitest of light seeps out and meets the deepest of blacks. In the bed of sounds, the piano cradles the drum, the fork finds his lover, the chandelier. The tears well as the cymbal is hit, lightly and unafraid. Harder, harder, there is no hesitation, there is no wrong, there is no right. It is. It simply is, now. This sound, this symphony.
There is no show, there is no skin, there is no crispy barrier protecting me from the watery-mouthed watchers or hungry guests. There is no secret, there is no skin, there is no me. The brittle design has been cut in half, and I find myself here, beating a bass. Through the opening in the candy coated shell, you find your way in, building the wooden bridge that connects one universe to another. When the tear is repaired, when the authorities are alerted of the breach and the hungry guests demand their dinner, hopefully the bridge will remain, just large enough for the Unknown to find its way inside and for me, to search for a way out.