25 Men, 50 Dates, 4 Months

online dating

The first one tells fart jokes.
The second refused to vote for Hillary.
“I just couldn’t,” he says. “Too dirty.”
The third brought a gun to a spat with his wife
and now visits his kids supervised.
The fourth hates his parents still, over four decades in.
The fifth – well. The fifth moved his folks
into a condo down the road so his girls could grow up with them close.
The fifth leads the pack for several long laps.

Continue reading “25 Men, 50 Dates, 4 Months”

All The Better to See You With

lip and eye

It starts here.

9pm, heading home from pub trivia at a busy spot near my office. Down on the metro platform, the orange line train pulls in. Only six stops to my station. I’ll be walking the dog by 9:30.

The doors slide open onto a car bubbling with chatter. Summer in DC, the weekend lasts all week. Between nuzzling couples and clusters of young people, a few wilted office drones slouch and sleep. I take one of the few unoccupied seats. Bar hoppers stream out around me.

 

Manspreading.

He takes up a row. Briefcase on its side next to the window, legs splayed, foot halfway into the aisle. As I settle into a corner perpendicular across the car, he catches my eye. I ignore him, pull out my journal and start writing.

The sensation a prickle, a tiny persistent sting against scalp and skin.

He’s still looking.

Continue reading “All The Better to See You With”

On This Body

Mother Earth Odjig
Mother Earth, Daphne Odjig

Eyes like a growling. Eyes like a treasure box. Storefront reflection, candid photograph, inverted glint on spectacle glass.

Eyes tethering me to corporeality.

They write their stories on my body. Make their confessions on my body. Cast the runes and decode the signs and plan their fortune on my body. Ink the map of their nightmares on my body. X the spot of their rescue on my body.

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Listen Now

starry-night

Itzhak Perlman was riding shotgun when the October moon slid out onto the horizon. The soloist’s strokes teased from the slimmest strings the opening notes of Beethoven’s violin concerto.  Other players followed and a rumble rose from deep in the bouts of cello and bass, swelling to a roar and thundering through my ribs, pressing out the tears.  The stoplight was seconds from green so I pressed back.  It took some effort.  It took my breath.

The moon lay herself down in a hammock of treetops and followed us with her sleepy gaze.

Across town, a young writer of mysteries saw her too.  What echoed across the dusk to his ears was Don McLean’s “Vincent,” at least the opening verse.  His song reached in through the passenger side window and wound around the Berlin Philharmonic.  I pulled into a jammed parking lot.  They grabbed their instruments by the neck and careened off together, streaking light across the purple sky.

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Press Through

cave woman

Downstairs is the Cave of Dudes.  It is where the free-weights line up in rows by the mirror, where contraptions pierced through with grimy iron bars and corsets of straps hunch in the corners and dare you to approach.  Someone has squeezed a couple of treadmills in at the back.  They are the wireless kind that run on human power instead of electricity.  The robot machines are quartered in the vast gallery upstairs, a whole army of them blinking out their perfectly calibrated, simulated tracks on LED screens.

Down in the cave, incline benches.  Pull-up bars.  Clangs and grunts.  Some days, most days, I’m the only gal down there.

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Boxing Day

Hand Wraps

His daughter sits on the basement floor and colors, if what she’s doing can be called that. The enchanted forest book was among yesterday’s Christmas loot. Green ink creeps in swirls as she embellishes the narrow space between the veins of a leaf. She barely registers the music screeching past as it thuds thuds in time to leather gloves pounding a heavy bag.

This is his three minutes. I squeeze into a corner of the blue mat on my back. My clasped hands are wrapped in ragged strips of fabric and swipe at the air as I curl into crunches, press towards 50 and then surge past. Close to my exposed flank – too close – he jolts and slips and ducks. The weight falls off as beads of sweat hit the mat. Shadows of sinew cut into his shoulders. Ropes braid his neck. He dances with power thrumming along every string.

The earlier chapters are carved into flesh hidden beneath skin. The tongue is lost but the meter of those verses is translation enough. Ghosts jammed their grappling hooks into his jaw and temple and laid their weight against the cables. Claw over claw, they tried to draw him with stubborn resolve down into that pit where they boil the tar and hemlock, where they chant their cold spells. Mother Gothel learned her arts there before planting her garden. You may know the place. The more you lean in, the stronger the scent of oblivion.

On the floor near my shoulder, his daughter chooses a darker green for the branches. “They’re supposed to be brown,” she says, “Like a tree. But I want them to be vines.” She paints the fine strands like jungle dusk.

He keeps his fists in his line of sight. I see how he grows muscle from sources both clear and buried. He laces up gloves and running shoes, of course. He pounds it out on canvas and asphalt. Yet under that, a core strength comes from a deeper exertion. He strains up, always up, forcing momentum to reverse against the compulsion to surrender, resisting that sweet temptation of relief.

To those whose bodies are matched to the pull of gravity, this effort is incomprehensible. But look closely and you’ll see the corrugated skin and voice, you’ll see the cuts like scars across the force field he emits from the moment he wakes even before the sun. You’ll see how his light’s flickering tempo jabs back against the black box of night.

He invites you into that basement where he does battle with an appetite for extinction. He powers up some deeper engine and keeps it running, makes it growl against the silent pulleys they use to draw him in. He keeps it humming, makes it fire, even when the key has gone missing, he pushes it from the hill and pops the clutch. He finds a way to spark it to life no matter how thick the rime obscuring a barely remembered green.

His daughter switches out jade for fern and loops spirals along the wings of a bird. She looks up, pausing to watch her dad’s fists fly against the bag. “Can I have a turn?” She asks.

“Sure, babygirl,” he pants. “Let’s get your hands wrapped after this round.” He smiles in her direction before turning a scowl back on the bag. It sways, creaking its displeasure at the assault.

I bend sideways to force my obliques into submission. I face him now, watch his bare feet shuffle over the mat as he circles his unyielding crimson opponent. He is strength here, he is courage. He is also their opposite. He is the admission of weakness, the acknowledgment of fear. He knows what is at stake. He’s felt the reeling sensation that comes when every treasure escapes his grip. He’s seen how close a man can come to failing to save the most precious.

He chooses fierce. Both coach and fighter, he splashes cold water in his own face and wakes the weary champion. He plays as if brave knight-errant, as if he was born for this, because he’s covered enough earth to know he is not. None of us is, and anyone who believes otherwise is Don Quixote, all fool and bluster.

This is why I love the softness there under the corners he’s trying to chisel back into his armor. Those tender places are just as welcome in my grip as the cut and thunder. Plenty of men are blind to their weak seams and show only scars that come with a good story. They have not been tested yet. They have not broken. It is always only a matter of time.

I want to see bulges and the crude patch job. These are the places where he stuffed whatever gauze and rotgut he could find. These jagged seams map his crossing, and they show him which way to turn if he finds himself back on that familiar route. The stitches hold the reminder of what happens when he loses his footing, when he almost falls so far he can’t climb back. I want to know he’s visited that place. Even if he stayed long enough in that pit to become a citizen, he chose to give up its Neverland promises and rise back up to life.

Evidence of that ascent is written into him. I see the callouses on his hands and know that he keeps them in shape both to hold his domain among the living and to keep climbing, even now, even when he could be justified in saying this is far enough.

The bell clangs, end of round. I stand. He lets out a breath and taps my hip before ripping off his gloves. I pull the straps tight on mine, bouncing on the balls of my feet as I wait for the seconds to tick down to my beginning. He touches his daughter on the head. She lifts her eyes from the twining vines and tangled leaves now waking to lushness across the page. “Let’s get your wraps on,” he says. “You’re up next.”

 

 

Twin Sighting

Then she realizes it is not man. It never has been man. The one whose gaze she has been seeking all this time, alert to it feeling its way up her spine, it is not one or another. It is only a gaze, an entity all its own taking on some kind of psychic presence in her orbit. It moves from eye to eye, brain to brain, sketching her into background or foreground depending on preference, on mood, on the light slanting across the edge of day.
 
The outsideness of it she never questions. She simply submits to it, as if only that exists: submission to the forever slipping away line of sight. Her form, laugh, posture, texture all move about like a bit player, an extra only. Just a hash-mark on the canvas, one of the legion, a soldier of oil drawn into nameless formation alongside interchangeable others down a mountainside waiting for the slaughter. She is one. She is all of them.
 
It is never a man at all, is it? The origin of the gaze, it never really is him placing her, taking her measure. No, it is not living tissue with intention, not even an actual eye in an actual skull.
 
Instead, it is the piece of her she left behind. The missing Y, the twin who was next in the queue and swam out against its will in the next tide, out into the sea, out to be lost to Marianas trench. Later, eons later, geyser force, thrust (again, unwillingly!) a briny and brimstone singed speck of what she lost back to the surface. Now this He (or, rather, her) watches, watches.
 
Not to take her measure, no. Not to judge or even manipulate. These are the assumptions of the simple mind. He (or is it She?) only comes to covet. For corporal life? Yes, for the depth of the bend, the unchained laugh, even – yes, even this – the pain. Deep in the bones, the age and accumulating disease, the sorrow – yes. He would take all of it. Give everything. His universal access, the boundless roaming, for one minute in her skin.
 
This twin, a houri, thunders in astride some winged steed made of nothing but smoke and the dried rinds of tangerines left on the riverbank. She loved him before she knew love but was gone before he ever knew her at all. Now she begins to wonder. Now, the dawning awareness.
 
The he is her He, and he is only just everything she traded for life. Is she wrong? Is it possible he is not the one who came after her? They lose their beginnings and endings, out there in the nothing of not-life. Maybe he was shed before? Did he, in fact, precede her by a fortnight, out into the gnashing maw of the world? Did he roll out the crimson carpet? Did he bury the landmines in his wake, just for her, just for spite?
 
Jealous thing, this unborn brother. No wonder he stares with such assessing frost. He hovers like an odor yet he refuses to resolve into view. Would that be his undoing? To let her see him? She dares to believe he can be undone, that she has some agency in the situation, but perhaps she is fooling herself (as is He). Surely, surely, no one would instill such power in a creature as weak and foolish as she. That would be a muck-up on a cosmic scale. She has no managerial skills, no executive privilege, no armaments (that she knows of).
 
He fears something. This much is slowly becoming clear. She can’t imagine what. How could it be? His everything, the whole of the skies, the diamond planet, all of Davy Jones’ locker and the soft thighs of the unclaimed farmer spinning wool in the wooden room by a window streaked with oil and light, all of this at his fingertips, and he stands there watching her? Is this the best he can do?
 
So finally, she turns on Him (who is her and who is surely there, even if only seeing but not seen) and speaks:
 
In this world you choose to crave this erratic pulse, this weak will, this drifting imagination and coarse flesh? You have nothing to constrain your wanderings – not body and its hungers, not child and the chains of toil, not the need and the clutching, relentless thirst of the ones to whom you belong. You are neither bound by gravity not checked by time. Yet still, ghost, gaze, you linger here in the doorway of my unremarkable boudoir?
 
And then he speaks in her voice from her own throat:
 
What shall we trade? One crumb each from the other plate?
 
They both consider.
 
The night is long.