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Walking Against: Poetry and a play excerpt

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Walking Against
Poetry and a Play Excerpt
by
Liliana Almendarez
A MASTER'S THESIS SUBMITTED TO THE GRADUATE FACULTY OF
LONG ISLAND UNIVERSITY, BROOKLYN CAMPUS IN PARTIAL
FULFILLMENT OF THE REQUIREMENTS FOR THE DEGREE OF MASTER
OF FINE ARTS IN CREATIVE WRITING
Major Department: English
Sponsoring Committee:
Chair of the Department
First Reader: Lewis Warsh
Date:
//-/?лг*)
AM
Second Reader: John High
l////*1
i
UMI Number: 1472792
All rights reserved
INFORMATION TO ALL USERS
The quality of this reproduction is dependent upon the quality of the copy submitted.
In the unlikely event that the author did not send a complete manuscript
and there are missing pages, these will be noted. Also, if material had to be removed,
a note will indicate the deletion.
UMT
Dissertation Publishing
UMI 1472792
Copyright 2010 by ProQuest LLC.
All rights reserved. This edition of the work is protected against
unauthorized copying under Title 17, United States Code.
ProQuest LLC
789 East Eisenhower Parkway
P.O. Box 1346
Ann Arbor, Ml 48106-1346
Abstract
Walking Against the Silent Sky is a collection of poetry and a
play excerpt that explores the ideas of intersections and
confrontations. Specifically, the pieces investigate the point between
memories and the present state; between the natural world and urban
life; and between longing and letting go. Each point shares a common
area and then characters devolve, remain in stasis, or pass through.
The discoveries happen as if one enters into the middle of a
conversation since one can only be present in a singular moment.
2
Table of Contents
Abstract
2
Table of Contents
3
Parti
Transgressions
A Turn of Phrase
A Span of Days
Northbound
Compression
Resin
Temper
Coins and Stones
Higher Ground
Rust
Subtle as a Banshee
Elegy to Youthful Notions
Wandering
Art
Why Don't You Tell Us That Your Luck Has Changes?
Scrawling
The Sentences Lie Very Still
What's Wrong With Gaps And Odd Corners?
Masa
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
14
15
16
17
18
19
20
21
23
24
25
Part I I
It's Strange Now To Think Of You
Drifting
Squint
Alma
Nighthawk
Breaking Habits
Hollow Matters
Devotion
Composing Verses
Ode to a Feckless Life
The Waters Fold Back
If All Things Are Created Equal,
Why Do I Have A Naked Window?
This Is What I Show You
Litany
Embedded
27
28
29
30
31
32
33
34
35
36
37
38
39
40
41
Magnets are Pulling Us Down
Interjecting On Your Behalf
I Pretend To Know Part Of The Story
43
44
45
Part I I I
Fragments
Between Us There Is Perpendicular Space
Suspended In Air
Steep Embankment
Grace
A Subtle Presence
Ritual
Wildfires
The Hours Here Are Measured
Night Jasmine
I Laugh At Her Behind My Teeth
A Fixed Point
Her Voice As Plum Fruit
In The Way Of Copper
Your Sisters Are Gypsies
Tightening Wings
Space
47
48
50
51
52
53
54
55
56
57
58
59
60
61
62
63
64
Part I V
A Spark on Venus
66
Coda
79
Acknowledgements
90
4
I
Breath is everywhere.
There are no edges
-Anne Carson
Transgressions
Her life slips away like silk cloth
between fingertips, the light slips
behind cloud-cover, gold strands escape.
A crystal of salt in open water, she drifts
in unison with the ebb-and-flow
of the tide, a mindless destination
careless with this too-simple life.
A crystal of salt in an open wound,
she burns through bittersweet waves,
prickles absolutions that blossom.
Lost again, behind the cloud-cover,
she wavers with the rains,
drifts in the open waters
burns away her bittersweet destiny.
A Turn of Phrase
Winter leaves an ache
in the middle of the body,
emits into a yellow-hazy night
bent limbs on bare trees.
Want to race across the span
of a baseball field at full speed
but a gaggle of geese slumber
on the path, the sun will be up soon.
A hawk's call arcs through the ether,
sewer rats skim the edges of the path,
murky waters do not ripple but gurgle
as a thin wind glides across the surface.
This is what it means to disappear,
to sit on a ledge and watch the dawn
pierce the skyline, listen to the distant
traffic, the waking echoes of stirring lives.
A Span of Days
You let me notice the back of your legs
when you walked up the stairs in front of me.
I wanted to feel your dark smooth skin
beneath my fingertips. I dared not cross that line.
Your language clicked under your tongue
in the aftermath of summer storms.
When did we break contact
and become scavengers?
Do you know what it's like waiting
for you across a span of days?
You've covered me with dirty little secrets,
scraped up verses from my wandering heart
and pressed them to the page. You've bound me
with metallic strings as your wild love song
burns rivers down my veins.
Northbound
A young woman wearing indigo
stockings leans against an iron
column flamingo-like.
She slumbers against the wall,
her purple eye-shadowed lids flutter,
and rests her eyes in a delicious nap.
An older woman, a crimson
rose whose bloom has started
to fade, her edges are curling
outward into a black silent fury.
He wears his suit in a careless way
the creases have long been pressed
as he skims his New Yorker magazine.
He carries three table
legs on the subway car.
Is there a table at home
on one leg waiting
for the rest to arrive?
Compression
We are in the land
of wandering vagabonds,
compressed upon each other
while Jupiter watches on.
We are unstable when our footpaths
lead into the gaping mouth
of screeching beasts that snake
underground; only forward momentum.
A current of bodies carrying flint
in pockets, tinder-flame sparks
light the way, a grain of salt
in a concrete land, reaching skyward.
A current of electricity, lighting matches
combustible air, we can only move forward;
the past has already disappeared
down the throats of stark seagulls.
We are in the land of twilight
waiting behind glass for protection.
If we do not bend, we break.
Let the waters wash over us.
10
Resin
Her words tumble out like broken rocks
Heavy lies the tongue, stuck to the bottom
of her mouth. She forgets the taste of ridges
and vowels formed around affection.
Instead she reclines against the earth
to cool her flowering fury. Otherwise,
everything around her would burn
to the ground. Every stem,
every green budding flower would scorch.
She does not scream, she dares not start
it would never end as it already reverberates
within her like aftershocks.
The land lies heavy upon her chest,
fills up the hollowed out place
at the center of her body restoring her
equilibrium as the earth vibrates
beneath her breastbone.
She leaves behind herself, the woman
she does not love, abandons her language
with its crushing capacity in wild red flames.
ll
Temper
Today it's about fragments and words,
post-it notes and colored flags.
Random research bits and messy poetry.
It is strange to read someone's
past vibrating across the written words.
I want to write about you but that would mean
betraying confidences.
A sliver of incandescent moment
transcends the page across time.
I spent the day in silence...reading texts,
poetry, essays. My eyes are weary,
my notes are mounting and my brain won't stop
returning to the past.
Turn the leaf and uncover weakened attachments,
let loose by the cadence of many moons
Try to decipher between history and myth.
Try to make sense between poetic license
and actual memory.
Whisper in shades of temper
what you crave is what you spurn.
Strands bind. Knots unravel.
Who writes when the poet sleeps?
12
Coins and Stones
You are careless with your eyes
and speak without candor.
You hide apples beneath your pillows
only to taste sour vowels on your lips.
Beneath your bed is a garden of smooth
rocks to weigh you down when you sleep.
Beneath your tongue is a coin
you dare not swallow and choke.
You are biting the edges of your hands
the teeth marks remind you of your childhood.
Your vowels are stuck around a staccato sound
but you can't find the right word around your next li
You have one song that you hum pieces of all day.
You have one song where you know only
the words of the chorus and sing the same two
lines over and over again.
You are careless with your words
and hide your eyes when you're ruthless.
You invert your notebooks to shift
your perspective. You pretend it matters.
You count the coins in the glass jar
to remind you of your value.
You empty the coin jar and leave feeling hollow.
You pretend it doesn't matter.
Beneath your bed the stones have turned to sand.
Beneath your tongue the song has turned sour.
Higher Ground
Here, they greet Brooklyn mornings
with a tall cup of foamy coffee,
in a belly that rumbles and grumbles
along with the steel-rolling cage.
Below, the water keeps rising,
we can barely hold it back,
as it seeps and floods the tunnels.
Where did we leave our wings?
The tourists sit on double-decker buses
looking down upon the natives
in the ritual of caffeine-on-the-run.
Tomorrow, the streets will run with water
the bulls would have long since drowned
in a white-wash of money matters.
A reflection of the sea devouring our coastline,
shifting seeds to higher ground.
14
Rust
My father is up there, on that ladder
smoothing the underside of the deck,
rusty metal, with sandpaper in circular
strokes, his face peppered with red bits.
He dangles in odd angles, holding beams
for support, balance between feet and faith,
as he talks to himself about what part next.
My father is up there, on that ladder
scraping, protecting the rest of us
from weakened metal and devotion.
He dangles in odd angles, holding on
to keep the sky from falling upon us
as he primes the metals and coats the
rust with paint and worship-words.
My father is up there, on that ladder
holding up the sky for us, a balance
of feet and faith and whisperingdevotion, clinging to mortal angles.
15
Subtle as a Banshee
A layer of comet's dust clings
like strands of unbraided hair.
We dissolved too slowly when
we grew thick tangled roots.
I am a liar and a poet entrenched
in history. You dreamt of strawberries that I stole from you while
you slept. A pile of books uncovers
lilac leaves in a sweeping glance.
Two morning doves rub their heads
against the other on top of a wall.
I've wetted the seeds in my mouth
and unearthed the splintered tree.
Elegy to Youthful Notions
You have colored my eyes blind
and abandoned a shivering animal
cloaked in a barefoot dream
that led us into dense poverty.
Your fury and my grasping Eros
left us swirling in embryotic
fluids. You have lost yourself
between the breath and stars.
An apartment and an inside out
sofa?your dog ripped out the stuffingsuffer the footsteps and a heaving
stomach onto wet pavement.
You are a wolf in sheep's skins
and I am a traitor to your tasting
tongue. There were red apples on
the doorstep and poison on my lips.
I have loved you, yes. Washed my
hands in the grains of rice and left.
Gathered the scattered seeds and
ceased to be visible in the early dawn.
Wandering
I am neither asleep nor awake,
when a woman's voice sings in my ear
reminding me of weeds creeping past
concrete. I await the cue to speak.
There are vultures tapping on the door,
their eyes peek through tempered glass,
mouths open wide, like baby birds,
in anticipation. Don't let them in.
Six ravens fly overhead, black wings
against an October sky. I sew the tear
in the back of my head as she talks
about waking up to an ordinary day.
18
Art
A man placed a wheel at the end of his 6-foot wooden
cross and rolled it, past me, down the street.
A ten-foot photo of a subject with hypodermic needles
piercing the length of his arm in a cross-hatch pattern.
We will speak only of cold blue stones and smooth green
masks in our social composure.
Someone cuts out holes on large pieces of cardboard
and glues amoeba-shaped wood pieces onto it and calls it art.
We have barely survived our history.
Our art is responding.
Mami tried to save me
from my creative life
only to find a reply,
written in verse, in
the palms of her hands.
It's a Portishead kind of moment
a low throbbing base line
with a high thin voice singing contrast
to shelve the freeze-dried mind.
19
Why Don't You Tell Us That Your Luck Has Changed?
A wafer of bread sticks beneath my tongue,
a dinner of thorns.
Sometimes the cane disappears
beneath the covers.
You await an hour
when melon-hues cross the sky.
A few easy comments
when lights go off in borrowed houses.
You forget walking across the centuries
when you awaken.
A mirror reflects reluctant lovers that struggle
against linear thought.
You watch me through a distorted lens
everything out of my mouth makes you laugh.
Scrawling
She wraps a black veil around us.
Words evaporate on the wings of a white moth.
Scrawl in wet crayon, pretend to be human
pretend to be someone forming in purple ink
against the night sky that wore a full moon
around her neck, if you must, howl.
Must you shout your declarations, create combustible words
that tumble out and set the landscape on fire?
Fold into the signal, blink in Morse code
decipher the message, text it instead.
I read about the disembodied writer and felt myself dissipating.
Wild woods open their branched path when the internal suffers.
A young Japanese girl holds her grandfather's
hand as she walks backwards examining the world.
Who are you in the eyes of a loved one?
What do you fade into when they are gone?
I like the smell of skunk. They stink.
When their scent dissipates
across the park
a mark of respect lingers.
Dia de los muertos...exhume the memories of all our relations.
To honor the dead:
burn the tobacco
pour shots of tequila
burn incense
have their names on lips
then release them
How do you show your respect?
21
A simple impulse to cut into the earth.
I am wrecked. Lost myself in the moment.
Am having a hard time coming back from the precipice. Call me.
Here is the needle and thread to stitch
up the heartbreak. Will it hold?
These are not melancholy words
merely tender contacts with experiences.
Life is not static..instead it churns away
to the next moment with or without us.
22
The Sentences Lie Very Still
A strong bloody Mary with horseradish, vodka and spicy tomato juice
sits between us. A liquid dinner holds the recommended veggie intake
for the day. BJ weeps about her fading love life and I wish my drink
were stronger. I am not skilled at symbols when women cry real tears.
If breath is perception then I've been holding my breath too long. I've
pressed rose petals to my lips and it does not soothe and comfort. Pick
apart falling questions and ask her what does she want. She unbraids
her tongue and says she only wants to be wanted, only then can she
sleep.
23
What's Wrong With Gaps And Odd Corners?
At night Petra wanders around a sleeping
house looking for a corner to fill. She lights
candles and considers poems on dark pages.
She does not pray to her father's god.
They have not been on speaking terms
for quite some time now, her mouth is empty.
Stuck between a screen and a door, a narrow gap.
She stands in the middle ground encased behind
glass, the door is locked and no one is awake.
Her humid summer, bedclothes damp
against her skin. She sings to herself
but the song leaves bitter drops on her tongue.
She eats cold cherries out of a bowl
and cracks a tooth on a stray pit.
An avocado seed splits open exposing tender leaves.
The night peels her skin back and her bookmark
has pressed a reminder space upon the page,
better than dog-eared corners and an empty grave.
24
Masa
The hum-lull of a quiet house, a cool morning hour,
Mami lies in the hammock, hums a ballad,
her legs dangle off just enough to keep her swinging.
"Which song is that?" " I don't remember"
the notes hang between us
like a held breath: Mami hums
yes here, as in childhood,
she never strays too far from her life
a long day from yesterday she made
tortillas from scratch, worked the masa with her hands,
rolled balls of dough, flattened them with the press
between two circles of Wonder bread plastic
heated them up on a flat skillet with bare fingers
until they puffed up, hot air billowed out and softened
between dishtowels. I draw a line between the melody
while she untangles tomatoes from their vines, rinses
with water and takes a gaping bite
to see her, over sixty, humming a long-forgotten
love song, Mami who keeps Spanish on her tongue
and English in her pockets for safekeeping.
II
Why is it better to last than to burn?
?Roland Barthes
It's Strange Now To Think Of You
when the night vibrates with rhythms
and I read Bolanos's prose
to dumb down the cruelty that rattles my bones
how we weep for each o t h e r only to hold versions of ourselves
while sunlight streams through half-open windows
as warm air hits a hot naked torso
and phantasms flower and burn
in raging bloodless captivity-And today the bed is unmade
and words slip behind closed doors
in a quiet apartment
there is a sound of a brown paper bag scraping against asphalt
pushed by a warm wind for a drawn out moment
and the mewling of a restless cat pouncing on her partner
time contracts and expands like a living creature
and there are books stacked on the bedside
and mosquito-bitten flesh to scratch
five hour spells of sleep and wakefulness
drinking cups of warm water
that does not soothe a cold thirst
and keys jangle in shallow pockets
as I walk in the dawn air unprepared.
27
Drifting
Something is stirring in the back of the brain
murmurs, walkie-talkie static, phone rings,
doors open and close, open and close
Ants find breadcrumbs in the bedroom
first there are a few and then a swarm
tramping through this space
eyes are drifting...drifting close
are we done yet?
'cause somebody is ready to fall sleep
'cause somebody no longer wants to talk
it is better to sleep than to record thoughts
it is better to sleep than to tell the truth
it is better to sleep than to say good-bye
it is better to say good-bye than
fix a point of resentment
point the way, show us the place of
disturbance on your person
the players have gone home
the day is starting to close
and you have yet to dismantle
the altar to your goddess
as she lies dead in your arms.
Squint
It began with a blinding day and that's where it all started to go
wrong. How often have I changed your mind?
The second hand speeds up to catch up to the seconds.
Through tinted windows there are odd shadows.
Another woman watches me move and I can't think straight.
The path of least resistance is catching up. Let's go back to the start.
Science and progress do not speak louder than the heart.
I wish I could wake up beside you. Stutter-stop again.
How often have you changed your mind?
Your choices echo across the space between us.
A strong hand reaches over to give support.
Is it yours or mine?
Wild hair curls around fingertips.
Nicks against the grain, initials carved in.
Spinning words find the proper sequence of events.
Time is neither linear nor circular. Apologies cannot erase being
viciously unkind. I squint when I face the sky.
Who's going to break the fall when the stars have slipped?
Alma
Quiet, quiet, quiet goes the song
in a tunnel of strangled moans
from the outlines of I love you
on the tip of my tongue
The chalice has been dry for so long
not even a sip to escape,
nor an answer to unfold.
Haven't my bones turned cold yet?
Hasn't my skin started to pale?
Having lived in a common way
Forgotten on a shelf in the back of the closet
yearnings so bottomless it weakens
In the presence of she who does not carelessly end,
Shred my walls mercilessly
Quiet, quiet, quiet goes the song.
What made her think I had it in me to try?
Her languid woman's song in the place where there is no mercy
Where nothing is ever too late and the sound
in the back of my throat is silent.
30
Nighthawk
Brash howls the nighthawk. Thin branches bend in a penitent way.
Night sets in an unforgiving way. I fall asleep at the wheel while
indigo visions tunnel me blind. We are never far from our true nature
despite evidence to the contrary. Drama manuals are drawn up on
crisp white linen sheets. Bedstead rules break while wearing maroon
fingernail polish. You are distracting me from ending things between
us. Pylon pieces smash upon the hearthstone.
If you happen to pass my life on the street, grab her and drag her
home. I believe in terrible apparitions and paper monsters that dangle
from string. If you look out the window, a hovel burns down the
stretch with licking flames. Your departure has left careless marks
against my questions. Snail-slouching murmurs gather where
raindrops have pooled. A metallic taste lingers on the tongue when
there is talk of kinship. Thoughts float freely along an undercurrent.
31
Breaking Habits
I have ways of breaking habits
in a surprising fashion, which explains
the unfinished pack of cigarettes
in the bottom of my bag, the blue
lighter, the one that works, hidden
between my pages of my notebook,
which explains the scorch marks
on the page, the one next to the poem
about you and us and how we are never
far from interceding on the other's
behalf. We are asleep in separate beds,
you share one with your ex-girlfriend,
demoted to bed-warmer on this night.
All we have left are shoe-string
promises left tethered to the small
joint of the pinkie finger.
Your shoes sit in the hallway,
your bags nestle in the closet
your windows have been stripped
and sealed to keep the winter
air from creeping into the house,
the light left in the window
is not for me but for her
so she can find her keys
to unlock the door.
Hollow Matters
We have ways of exposing tender skin
at inopportune times only to find
white scars blending into the pigment.
Long grasses, moving with the wind,
create hollow sounds of water
the din of city traffic washes out.
We pull ourselves into tight knots,
only to find unraveling threads
picked apart by nervous fingers.
Crowding bodies impose themselves
and girls with round eyes look helpless
against the tide, they blend in and fade.
We have ways of staring at dark matter
and not even notice that we've lost
ourselves in a sky-spanned tango.
33
Devotion
How deep guilt clings, beneath red hands.
It's been too long since the rains have come down
to quench the burning brain, the waters fold in.
The rains should wash away this corrosive state,
it scalds, leaving behind tattered bits, scorch marks
on bare threads. Burgundy lips press tight.
Haze like pre-dawn thickness
I possess nothing and your head weighs
heavy upon my lap in this circular paradox.
It's been too long since a deep wintry air
has filled my belly to cool off the searing heat,
a dark expansive space within this skin.
Composing Verses
Drag out the seconds by repeating secular Psalms. The candlewood
burrows a hole in my hand. A counterfeit life has taken on a favorable
margin. Don't write it down, the promises may expand.
I envy the way you welcome pleasure. Everything stays the same in
this letter to you. We've repeated the same patterns for quite some
time now. Break apart the skull and glance in, I think something is
jammed. You wear your grumbling mood to protect yourself. Speak
softly if you want to charm me back into your graces. I think
something is jammed. Quick, break me open and repair the broken
bits. We've repeated the same patterns for quite some time now. You
enjoy life so intensely I envy you. We keep meeting at this
intersection. I think something is jammed.
35
Ode To A Feckless Life
A black cat stalks a cricket's cry.
Prayers slip through wooden cracks.
Write in short phrases while
walking barefoot in the backyard.
The smell of burning wood skims the air.
I miss you only when you are unfettered memories.
I read the clouds and the pouring rain.
You, in the middle of your exile, speak
fluid language. And the leaves singe.
A cold sour lemon for a wet tongue
and an empty page. A flock of seagulls
fight over slippery bits of fish.
There are thick phrases that touch
minds and skip off lips. A laundry of damp
towels waves off a pitying mood.
She is out of work as she lies
against the wasp's wings.
Where do you seek your inspiration
with an empty sky and a prickly sun?
The Waters Fold Back
How you wake me up, take me outside
with a slender hand, call me curious
when I peek from under my lashes.
You spill secrets on the pebbled beach,
let the crabs scoop them up and hide
them away in the long grass. An elegy
to this moment that stands in the distant
harbor, you keep walking bridges
and losing track of promises.
How can you gather symphonies
when your hands are picking sweet cherries?
How you put me to sleep,
kiss the palm of my hand
walk silent against the sky,
our liaison splits off like mercury
and seeps back into the ocean.
37
I f All Things are Created Equal,
Why Do I Have A Naked Window?
I've lost my language deep inside a pair of faded blue jeans.
Hand delve deep. All I come up with are a couple of dirty coins
and a small ball of entwined lint and string.
It's been a long time since I've danced naked,
eaten a cold prickly pear with its succulent juice
and the land spins a little more slowly these days.
I've lost my words inside your jacket, the one you let me wear.
The one with enough room for my cigarettes,
your eye drops, our stash of weed and lipsticks.
You told me you loved me in a quick rush of sounds
tumbling out in a crowded space, bodies pressed tightly.
It was the only thing holding me up.
I've lost my last sentence between us in your heather grey
sweater. You've wrapped yourself up into a tight little
ball never to let me recover them again.
You've taken the bed sheet away from this stark window
There was no quick reply, no valley of twinkling lights,
no orange-scented tenderness and no reason why.
38
This I s What I Show You: I am self-sufficient and I don't need your
help, (but I do), your words do not hurt (but they do), I can maintain
this perpetual stasis with you (but I can't), I've moved on (but I
haven't), I will always love you (but I won't be able to keep it up for
much longer), you are enough (but it's only an illusion), you fill me up
(but you leave me worn thin), you make me feel better (but you drain
me), I can't live without you (but I can't keep lying to myself), I am
strong (but I give over and it renders me powerless), and you think
you know me.
39
Litany
After the music has stopped
you betray us with crescent
speech and dandelion whispers,
ever aware of the familiar
chasm that lives with gangly
feet over the handrail.
Invert your body for
that junky loving feeling.
Make believe that I love you
for nine more days and offer
up an elegy in its wake.
40
Embedded
The grain of the wood planks
creates patterns to calm the mind.
A Scottish brogue reminds me
of reptile skin skittering across teeth.
Better to leave than to get caught up.
Better to duck head into sand than stand feeling foolish.
Better to dream about spitting broken glass into sink than grind teeth.
Not roots but trunk
Not trunk but bark
Not bark but branches
Not branches but leaves
The sky blows away
with the next gust of air.
Obstructed by flotsam
that riddles the grey matter.
Matter seems to be at the heart
of what intrigues me today.
Can you see the forest from the trees?
Not right smack in the middle of a lesson.
Not in the middle of a sentence.
Randomness of melancholy thoughts
strum the skin. Twisted up and locked up tight.
Stranded on a city sidewalk,
white noise does not touch.
Can't seem to get out of my own way today.
So why continue? What else is there to do
but wait for the rain to arrive.
Put down the passage in the correct position
when the memory appears.
41
Connections and disconnects.
How do you transcend the chasm?
A wave of longing,
strong as dark matter.
Spirals of water, a vortex back into the earth,
create mud people with thick wavering mouths.
A soul sits alone
stares at the dying sky
wishes for wings to bolt
from the intersection of fears
that starts up along the periphery of the body.
Tamp down the matted roots and sever the cords.
42
Magnets Are Pulling Us Down
We lose altitude on this day
when the sea is ageless.
We almost escape storytellers
but in a dream there is a solid figure
holding a doll's head to his chest
careful, like holding a bird's egg.
Time changes the fabric of a face
how strange to be gone for so long
the container degrades
and every one lives in empty rooms.
No father will greet us at the door
in such damaged condition, the porchlight will switch off as water seeps
into those red canvas sneakers.
Baby birds with ruby throats exposed,
gulp air and sing thin songs. And you
were never hungry enough to be fed.
Interjecting On Your Behalf
Remember to pack jelly and cream cheese sandwiches in case we get
hungry. The clock on the wall has knotted up its hands into a clamped
fist. The apple has a worm. Can you tell if you've eaten its head or its
tail? How long should we wait for the storm clouds to gather? Neither
one of us has a chance against distortions.
You've untied the dragons and left us unprotected. We have ten
conversations between us to wrestle loose from each other. The signs
have been collected, weighted and dispatched via messenger. We
have waited for the thunderclap to kick us into gear but we have not
taken refuge. Instead, we stand there in the green light of a pouring
rain looking to the other for shelter, soaked to the bone.
44
I Pretend To Know Part Of The Story
I fill in the rest with marbles
and orange seed. Grapevines wrap
around our wrists keeping us close.
Have you learned how to fly
with the feathers you've gathered?
Absence uncoils, like unfolding leaves.
We drink sharp wine of the dawn,
let rivers curve the mind unchecked.
I met you entangled in my hair,
hostile with vague conversations.
I follow you down to the backyard
where the wet earth holds you back.
Tell me: who are you,
covered with moon dust,
holding petals between lips
and fingertips, with the scent of poetry
and constellations on your skin.
Ill
Language is a skin:
I rub my language against the other.
?Roland Barthes
46
Fragments
capture from another angle
off-the-beaten path
click shutter exposure
an image reversal
aspire to be unfolded and read
word-for-word uncoiled
a yesterday love letter
mulled over and disclosed
desire to be ensnared
a web of tender whisper-lies
a balmy undercurrent
pulling downward
enslave the imagination
fractured phrases
a measure of music
playing over and over
a morsel to be devoured
consumed whole
glide down past the mouth
a continuous engulfment.
Between Us There I s Perpendicular Space
I write letters in my head to you.
Have you received them yet?
Do not expect answers on high holy days.
Do you hear the noise pursuing us down the page?
Portals without keys keep you at a distance.
This is what we look like when anger burrows holes in our hands.
This is what you look like when you've swallowed your head whole.
Your pious ways reminds me of passion
wrapped up in wooly blankets.
Cookies in ziplock bags
break apart into rocky bites
Empty apartments are seeking buyers.
I cross out your name every time I think of you.
My page is filled with Xs.
This above all else is not about you for a change,
instead it's abut me not thinking of you changing.
I come up against your language,
and find myself translating into reality.
Gritty days have devoured your smile.
We ride elevators holding our breath.
There is a convex curve to your prose,
untamed in its own ways.
Perhaps I long to write better
when I'm sleeping.
I remain stormy in my words,
connections get in the way.
A writer catches palindromes
in the preface of essays.
Your thoughts mangle steel in bursts.
I wrote about this place, this time without soul
found only remnants and fragments remaining.
We came home tattered at the edges, drunk,
and listening to music that sing in our bones.
It explains the hole in the wall the size of your fist.
It explains the song beneath your mouth unable to crow.
You are sultry only because you are stupid.
You can bring your dog over, I've had my shots.
Crystal structures do not shatter in reverse order.
Stay in the corner, I like your voice from there,
'cause I know where it's coming from.
The mermaids have private thoughts,
I think we've intruded upon them.
We have a weakness for each other
but your coda of love is syncopated
You, obscured in the constant speed are heading in one direction
and my path is a steep threshold waiting for me to cross over.
Suspended I n Air
I've managed to compose
your verses in a poem
of single lines that do not
connect with one another
in the wake of your departure
by way of the fire escape.
You have stolen my last Corona,
a pack of cigarettes, and a silver
lighter that I've noticed so far.
I've managed to compose some lines
that do not rhyme nor kiss your temples
with praise when we do not connect
in the wake of your departure
by way of the window.
You have left behind letters, the t-shirt
you wore last, a pendant
I removed from your neck.
I've managed to set the letters,
bundled in your favorite t-shirt,
on fire, by way of the window
with little praise on my lips
and lines that have retired
in the wake of your departure.
Steep Embankment
upheaval in a wheat field
absorbed into the sky
yellow tumultuous landscape
fierce in the contempt
restrain the birds
press hard and break wings
the sound of water
a beautiful voice
the stars are blind
grasp ribbon-tails
visitors need not attend
deliver the pleasure
in memory of
smoky illusions
wafting in
thrash about like a pantomime,
an irreverent manner,
muttering fragments
losing sleep over
tinges, pings, plucks, aches
brooding in dark corners
a preying mantis
Grace
She swallows her words
against the sharp consonants.
She swallows
her need to be heard
numbs the rage
refrains from grasping
the person she once was.
Where did she lose her sleep?
Sweat slides down
between her breasts
a head of steam from the iron
leaves beads of condensation
on her upper lip
backhand swipe
wipes it away.
Her memories
gather like moths
weather the electricity
that travels down her body
After-thoughts churn,
unsaid words,
unanswered replies,
leave deep grooves across her bones.
52
A Subtle Presence
Heaven is in the simple
things, wind caresses
naked branches
Empty space
creates paper-thin
sounds in tissues
Subtle light and dark
morph grey
charcoal sketches
Lines weave and tangle
into blossom knots
creative nest
Seedlings tumble
and part the earth
in pin-prick slices
A catch in the night
keeps disintegration
and shadows at bay.
Ritual
From the ocean floor, she watches
the melting world through rolling water.
She holds her breath, drifts in stasis,
equilibrium, a watery embrace.
A thunder rumbles through her body.
The ocean holds her plain, her strongest
awareness releases when she breaks
the surface with burning lungs.
Grace a divine strengthening influence
speaks goddess in a sacred hour.
Wildfires
Two wildfires near Kelowna force the evacuation
of 17,000 people. The voice that spoke hissed
softly in rage, but there was terrible music in it.
The fire quickly grew to 300 hectares. A spindly
desert thistle turned to ash. A second fire broke
out and consumed 100 hectares. Smoke so heavy
lungs grew raw with breathing. Cause unknown.
He bellows into the night, I desire nothing
beyond my art. No deaths have been reported.
To refuse death is to refuse life. Firefighters
battle the blazes with ten helicopters.
Difficult conditions to come with more hot weather.
17 years gives little armor against gnawing despair.
Authenticity happens when you are trying to survive.
Human activity sparked the blazes since no lightning
storms were reported. No crystals sprayed from
purple thunderclouds. Hot embers fell around homes.
All the glory of mortality was in the dragon's flight.
A 12-mile stretch of highway was closed leading in and out.
A vast darkness, there are no kingdoms like the forest.
55
The Hours Here Are Measured
The seconds here, wasp's wings and inverted
dead spiders gathered in the corner
of brick and grass. What's left of us
when the peaches have dried up (or left stolen)?
No fruit was safe when the squirrels gathered
for winter. No barking dog deterred
the thieves from their feast as one-by-one
the green peaches were picked away in an early harvest.
The hours here are measured by the wind
and the brittle leaves gathered in the corner
of brick and fence. What's left of us
when the roses have died on the vine?
No petals were safe against the cold autumn breeze
as the hand of winter began to turn the page.
No prowling cat could scatter enough birds.
What's left now in this cruel hour of morning sunrise?
Night Jasmine
The sun has swept
through the sky clearing
a path for a full moon,
the scent of night jasmine,
white moths flutter around
the bare light bulb. Smoke
snakes away from a cigarette
and your exhale is drawn out
catching my attention
from the corner of my eye
as if you have something
on your mind, ready to say
as you change your mind
Your somber mood dampens
the chill night air,
I hold my breath,
wait for the impulse to pass.
Smoke coats your clothes
and all I can do is draw
close, inhale, and prepare
myself for roaming words
that swirl in circles, feet
planted on the stairwell
to steady the vertigo
as your hollow life
craves much more
than what the night sky
has to offer.
I Laugh At Her Behind My Teeth
keys slide across the desk
discordant sound
she pulls and pushes
her complaints for pity
in long vowel accordance
thin veneers of polished bones
scrape the inside of the cheek
a gravel voice obscured
on deaf ears
cut fingers leave
blood splatter lines
across the door
a mouse dies beneath a chair
and I wait for someone
from building and grounds
to remove the corpse.
willful ignorance
drowning on the borders
between life and death.
we have lost our religion
beneath our untied shoes
and under our desks.
A Fixed Point
The walls of my house envelope me,
afternoon light startles me blind,
fresh ginger slices boil on the stove,
and my brother and father flip
between a Yankee's game and the Jet's.
Someone forgot to mention
how being aimless can make numbness
flower from your belly outward
as my brother and my father
eat a bag full of peanuts
piling up shells high on a napkin.
The husks look like empty insects,
discarded one on top of the other.
How deep sorrow feels, beneath feet
on wood floors, we splinter off
in a weak momentum.
Her Voice As Plum Fruit
She loves me in a punch-drunk
kind of way, the hangover is blinding.
My cat perches on the sofa,
and puffs up when she enters.
Not under contract,
she threatens to leave once a day.
The cage door left open,
she dances on the doorstep.
I keep hiding her in a box,
but she refuses to stay locked away.
Instead, we spend most of our time
looking for each other.
She has forgotten her words,
but she rattles on to fill up
the space to impeded me
from leaving quietly.
I n The Way Of Copper
The way of the stream can lead
a senseless soul to an outstretch
of land where effort is made
to bear fruit in an altered way.
The martyrs have been silent
against the wreckage of a coppery
existence. A bone was buried
beneath the roots of the tree.
A breeze in a grey hue,
the heavy clouds above,
and the open mouth of the lake
can only yield to the intersection
between water and earth.
61
Your Sisters Are Gypsies
I race down the stairs
as they chase me
with their knives
looking for a priest
to save me from
their screaming faces.
They bury their secrets
in the hollow of a tree
in my backyard, fresh cut
burial plot, squirreled away
alongside their money.
Their greedy fingers
slide along with earthworms
pointing accusations of thievery.
The angels bury themselves
in their wings and sleep.
My dreams are flashing
red moons against
the underground
concrete meadow.
Your sisters catch up,
pass me red wine
and I drink long
because I am thirsty
and my life is frozen
at the bottom of the cup .
I watch their red lips and
their white teeth come closer.
No one is left inside of us.
Tightening Wings
Kate stands at the door
her vision blurred
with downy feathers,
a rolling fog holds her still
she leaves behind a map
with thumbtacks and string,
a hotplate and a shelf with only
her favorite books (a dozen
or so) to keep her mind
company on the winter nights.
Half the world is asleep
the clouds bring her
their sleeping sounds,
blotted and restrained
with storm cloud static.
Her open hand catches on
the ivy that covers her
front wall and the stones
hold back the ocean
a precipice, a light tower.
She is caught in a spindly
blindness that colors her red
Space
A physical space, four walls, some windows
Mine. My own. It was up there, on the last floor
overlooking Inwood park. A studio, enough room
for a bed (that converted to a sofa), a red desk with
its red chair (facing out the largest window), four book
shelves and two media shelves heaped high,
spilling over with music and books.
Today, on this day, my space is down there, beneath the earth,
a basement room without windows. It is dark, very dark and I lose
track of time. It encases the same desk and the same bed, that's all
it can manage. My footrest is a stool where my fat black cat sleeps.
My desk is heaped high with books, files, papers and a laptop, hidden
beneath precarious piles. It's mine, my very own but I have to creep
around late at night so as not to wake up the folks. It's a tight fit as
the whole house rests over my head.
A notebook and a pen is all that's needed. The room,
the physical space is a luxury. Time is a luxury.
Steal moments, and hours, and seconds, and minutes
between classes, between jobs, between sleep
to gather up nomad phrases that ruminate
and hum in the background. Pick, pick, pick the fruit
of the tree. Take nibbling bites, gaping bites, hoping to encase
the phrase before it drops away, back into the landscape.
64
IV
The moment of desire is one that defies proper edge, being a
compound of opposites forced together at pressure.
-Anne Carson
65
A Spark on Venus
(an excerpt)
Characters:
JACKIE Valencia: 33 year old Latin woman, girlfriend to TANYA
TANYA Carson: 29 year old woman, sister to Jamie
JAMIE Carson:
35-years old, brother to TANYA
Scene 1
Location:
Washington Heights?135 St. and Broadway
Outside the tenement building of JACKIE and TANYA
Time Frame:
Time of Day:
Present Day
10:30 pm, Thursday
JAMIE CARSON
(JAMIE CARSON, 35 years old, enters with a large duffle
bag. He puts his bag down and starts to roll a blunt.)
Fucking James...I don't give a shit....just hope Tanya...just have to get
past that girlfriend of hers...otherwise...
(shakes his head, licks his blunt closed, lights the joint,
takes a long deep pull, holds breath, then exhales.)
He thinks I'm a complete waste. What the fuck does he know?
I published a novel...hit the List...I was young and up and coming...
James was proud...the way a father should be. And now, nothing
I don't know how I burned through all that cash.
(JAMIE takes another pull from his joint.)
But it's not like I haven't fuckin' tried. The problem with hitting it big
when you're young...it's hard to keep the momentum going. Where do
you go when you've reached the high point at 24?
Ten fucking wasted years.
I sit there...day after day and... nothing comes out...nothing happens...
So when James asks,....because he always asks, I tell him what he
wants to hear...it's coming along...
He wants me to hit the Times list again.
How the hell am I supposed to... when he's kicked me out of the
house?
"For my own good"...he actually used those words...What am I? 16?
(beat)
I hadn't meant to stay that long.
Alisha warned me, if I took refuge in his house...I wouldn't write.
She said it right before she packed up and left me for Albuquerque...of
all damn places. Who moves there? On purpose.
She's the only one that ever mattered. I let her go. She was just
starting to get that look in her eye. The one they always get with me.
The one that says, " I can't stand you anymore".
I just couldn't take it if she felt that way about me.
Maybe I should look her up? But who wants to go to Albuquerque?
Ok first things first.
(Looks at the last of his joint. He clips the burning end
with his nails leaving behind half a joint. JAMIE grabs his
duffle bag and exits.)
(End of Scene 1)
67
Scene 2
Place: JACKIE and TANYA'S apartment
Time: 10:30 p m , Thursday night
(JACKIE and TANYA are in the kitchen eating Thai food.
JACKIE is seething but tries to act as if she's not. TANYA
refuses to be baited by JACKIE.)
JACKIE
He can't stay with us.
TANYA
Jackie, Where's the shrimp?
JACKIE
Did you hear me? I said he can't stay with us.
TANYA
How do you know?
JACKIE
He only calls when he needs to crash?
TANYA
?okay okay. I heard you.
JACKIE
Be firm with him.
TANYA
I said I'd take care of it.
JACKIE
Are you sure, 'cause if you want I can do it?
TANYA
What's with you tonight?
JACKIE
I don't want him here.
TANYA
?Where's he's going to go?
JACKIE
He's a big boy, let him figure it out.
TANYA
For Christ sake, you help people for a living.
JACKIE
I don't let them crash on my sofa.
TANYA
This is my apartment too.
JACKIE
You change when he's here. You start to slip. I can see it.
TANYA
And I pay rent.
JACKIE
You haven't seen him for awhile.
TANYA
Will you stop acting like a mother hen?
JACKIE
Great! I'm the control freak for giving a shit, right?
TANYA
He's my family.
JACKIE
But after everything that's happened?
TANYA
Fine, I'll tell him he can't stay.
(JACKIE and TANYA eat in silence. JACKIE shows TANYA a
piece of shrimp and TANYA reaches out to grab it. JACKIE
quickly puts it in her mouth and eats it. JACKIE starts to
choke and she's struggling with it but TANYA just
continues eating her food.)
69
TANYA
Wish you didn't eat that last piece now, huh?
(JACKIE'S over the sink coughing up shrimp. She can
finally breathe.)
JACKIE
(coughing) I was really choking?
TANYA
?I could see that?
JACKIE
?I could have died right in the middle of the kitchen?
TANYA
?instant karma for being greedy.
JACKIE
?and you wouldn't have done a thing?
(JACKIE still coughing.)
TANYA
Really? You're mad at m e because you choked on a piece of shrimp?
(JACKIE walks over to the table and turns over one of the
container onto the table.)
JACKIE
(points to the upturned food)
There's your stupid piece of shrimp.
(TANYA takes her fork, spears the shrimp, and takes a bite
from it. JACKIE just watches)
JACKIE
I'm not cleaning it up.
TANYA
What is with you tonight?
70
(JACKIE crosses to leave the kitchen. TANYA blocks her
way and takes JACKIE by the hand)
TANYA
You have something on your mind, so out with it.
(JACKIE looks away)
I know you're upset...
JACKIE
Eat your dinner. It's getting cold.
TANYA
Are you sure? If I sit down to eat, it's not because I don't care....it just
means I'm hungry.
JACKIE
Ha ha ha...we'll talk about it later.
(TANYA slowly moves away from JACKIE to sit back down
at the table)
TANYA
Cause if you want to talk, I want to listen.
JACKIE
Don't make light of it.
TANYA
I just don't want to make any sudden movements.
JACKIE
But you're brother?
TANYA
?Will not stay tonight. I heard you.
JACKIE
No, I don't want you to start again now that he's coming back around
TANYA
I've already started.
JACKIE
Por dios Tanya. Don't fucking play with me.
71
TANYA
I'm kidding. Bad joke.
JACKIE
I have stuck by you...through N.A. meetings, through no jobs, no
money...us barely scraping by. You finally ...finally get your shit
together...so no, this is not funny to me. It's not a fucking joke to me.
TANYA
Give me a little credit here. I've been clean for a good long while and
I think I've earned a little bit of trust by now, don't you think? So
don't start bringing up ancient history.
JACKIE
But Jamie is just not TANYA
What? Good for me? Am I child? Don't you think I can think for
myself?
(JACKIE starts to pick up some of the food from the table.)
JACKIE
I didn't mean to imply?
TANYA
(anger rising)
You don't let me breathe. You never let up. I know how much you've
done for me. But you don't see how I've changed. You only see the
old version of me?
JACKIE
I am just trying to tell you I am worried. You just told me a couple of
days ago you felt like using.
TANYA
And you pick now to throw it my face, (beat) You don't know what it's
like for me. How badly I want to use sometimes but I don't. I want to
use every damn day of my life. And sometimes I tell you. But most of
the time I keep that shit to myself....because I don't want you to
worry, (slow) I...am...not...using. And It is not your job to protect me.
72
JACKIE
?I should just let you use then?
TANYA
You can't control that, only I can. And after all this time, you still
don't get it.
JACKIE
I know that.
TANYA
You know, I met someone at the job the other day. She doesn't know
my whole tragic past. And she likes me.
JACKIE
What?
TANYA
I didn't bring it up because I didn't want you to make a thing about it.
I haven't done anything.
JACKIE
(tentatively)
But with me you want to use?
TANYA
You've been trying to fix me and fix me to be someone else. Someone
better. And no matter what I do...it's not enough.
JACKIE
I just want you to be healthy and clean.
TANYA
And I have that feeling I get..right before I want to use...it's starting
up again because I will never live up to what you want from me.
JACKIE
I didn't realize being with me was so difficult for you.
TANYA
You're not listening. This other girl just reminds me of what's missing
between us.
73
JACKIE
So go! Do what you want. Don't let me stop you from having that
happy happy dream with whatever her name is.
TANYA
Maybe I wouldn't have to look somewhere else if you remembered to
have sex with me every once in awhile.
(TANYA crosses to JACKIE and whispers)
TANYA
I'm sorry I didn't mean it
(TANYA kisses her hard, JACKIE responds. They begin to
undress each other taking articles of clothing off.)
(Door Buzzer)
(Neither JACKIE nor TANYA stop as they are continue to
undress each other. It's angry and frantic.)
(Door buzzer is more persistent.)
TANYA
(under her breath)
?For the love of?
(TANYA crosses stage JACKIE follows, both are putting
clothes back on.)
(Door buzzer)
TANYA
(calls out as they finish dressing)
One minute.
(TANYA opens door. JAMIE enters with duffel bag.)
TANYA
You can't stay Jamie.
JAMIE
I promise I'll be out by the end of the week.
(TANYA doesn't answer.)
JAMIE
I can pay.
TANYA
Really?
JAMIE
Of course not.
TANYA
Get in.
JACKIE
Way to hold your ground.
(JAMIE drops his bag by the door.)
TANYA
Your timing is perfect as usual but Jackie's right you can't stay long.
(JAMIE takes TANYA by the arm and leads TANYA away
from JACKIE.)
JAMIE
I've worn out my welcome with dad.
(TANYA takes a beat, then nods)
TANYA
Wanna a beer?
(JAMIE nods. TANYA crosses to the kitchen and grabs a
couple of beers, uncaps them, hands one to JAMIE and one
to JACKIE.)
JAMIE
Oh Thai. I'm starving.
(JAMIE stands over the table, picks at the food that is laid
out on the table, picks up noodles with his fingers, and
puts them in his mouth. JACKIE watches him. TANYA
75
notices, grabs a clean fork and hands it to JAMIE. JAMIE
picks up a carton of Thai food, and eats from the carton.)
JACKIE
No, I don't want any more dinner, thanks for asking.
(JACKIE exits)
JAMIE
Want to tell me why half your dinner is on the table.
TANYA
Not really. So where to next?
JAMIE
Haven't really decided yet.
TANYA
What about money?
JAMIE
Are you offering?
TANYA
I meant what are you doing for money?
JAMIE
(strong southern accent)
Kindness of strangers.
TANYA
What about the lit agency you were working at?
JAMIE
Fired six months ago.
TANYA
How much do you need?
JAMIE
Whatever you can spare?
(TANYA goes into the cupboard, pulls out a jar, and hands
JAMIE $50)
76
TANYA
I'll get more tomorrow, just put it away.
JAMIE
Trying to figure out my next move.
TANYA
What about Alisha?
JAMIE
That ship has sailed...1 need to find a new living situation. You two
wouldn't want a roommate would you?
(JACKIE enters kitchen.)
JACKIE
Not even if you had cold hard cash.
JAMIE
Can't we just smoke the peace pipe? Just for a week.
(JACKIE stares at JAMIE. BEAT)
JACKIE
A week?
(to TANYA)
Can I talk to you in the other room?
JAMIE
(to TANYA)
I think she's finally warming up to me.
(JACKIE and TANYA cross to living room)
TANYA
(stage whisper)
Jackie, could you...just not..make a big deal...about this...right
now...please?
(JACKIE pauses, takes a deep breath and lets it out.)
TANYA
Thank you.
77
JACKIE
I'm not doing it for you.
TANYA
Thank you anyway.
JACKIE
When he leaves, I want you to go with him.
TANYA
You want me to leave?
JACKIE
I want you to figure out what you want...because right now it isn't me.
TANYA
But-(JAMIE enters. JACKIE gets up.)
JAMIE
Are we squared away then?
JACKIE
I think we are...Jamie, do me a favor, don't drink all the beer.
(JACKIE exits.)
(End of Scene 2.)
78
Coda
For as long as I could remember, writing has always been a means of escape for
me. The possibilities were endless and there were no restrictions. I grew up in a very
strict household so writing was the place where I could rebel and say all the things that
were on my mind. I even knew how dangerous it was because when my folks found my
little make-shift notebooks there were real punishments for writing what was on my
mind. I got past the Catholic guilt trips, corporal punishments, being grounded, the
silent treatment, trips to confession, and being made to feel as if I was the most ungrateful
daughter but it was worth it, because within the space of a page, I was most myself. The
silence that I was forced to swallow within my house had an outlet on the page.
Being a child of Mexican immigrants, I struggled with following my own path
and fulfilling my parent's ambition of becoming a professional. Through most of my
adult life, my creative writing was relegated to the sidelines. It was something that I did
only after working a full-day at a proper job. The security of a steady paycheck became
more important than cultivating my creative life. After all, in my parents' eyes, there was
no money to be made in writing poetry and to not make money was not an option in my
family. How could I possibly make them understand that writing poetry had nothing to
do with money and everything to do with the love of writing? I stopped trying to make
them understand and I wrote despite their disapproval but I had one foot in two worlds.
One part of me tried to allay their fears by being a good worker with a steady paycheck
and another part tried to branch out with writing.
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I found ways of allowing the creative work to be present every day and still work
a full-time post in the publishing field. I joined in with a lesbian playwriting group called
Sisters-on-Stage. They had a mentoring program for playwrights just starting out and I
worked with Barbara Kahn, developed a couple of scenes that later became a short play
called Is This Desire. Barbara asked me questions about the characters and the storyline
and we had conversations about the work. She treated me as a fellow writer, which gave
me confidence to present my work to a wider audience. We had readings at St. Clement's
Theater as well as other "found" spaces around New York City and for three years I felt
as if I was part of a community of writers. Writing was such a solitary activity before I
became active in their group that it helped to be able to bounce ideas off of another
person. I couldn't write plays in a vacuum. The leaps in the quality of the work happen
when there is a certain kind of feedback. Even seeing the works-in-progress of the others
in the group helped feed my creativity. Sometimes other members tried to solve
problems in their own pieces and it helped to hear how they came to a solution. So when
the same sort of difficulty arose in my own work, I had a way of navigating through a
difficult scene.
At the same time, the poetry that came out usually started as a monologue. There
would be a certain rhythm and rhyme scheme to the language and the piece would
blossom into verse. Poetry is something to be read aloud and it made sense that my
playwriting would inform the cadence of the poetic pieces I developed. I had actors read
my poetry out loud so I could hear where the language faltered or where the rhythms just
didn't quite have the right music to it. I tended to overwrite; the images were thickened
80
with too many descriptive adjectives and the words out of another's mouth helped me to
hear the language better.
My writing journey has had these moments when it flourished and then
contracted. All I wanted to do was enter an M.F.A program in playwriting but the
programs were competitive and I just couldn't get in the door, despite applying five years
in a row to various schools. I was so frustrated that I took this odd turn in my education.
I decided to pursue a Masters in Divinity at New York Theological Seminary. To this
day I'm still uncertain as to how I came to that decision. I was an openly gay woman in a
Christian program and I thought it was my calling. For a year and a half, I read about the
history and the symbols of the Christian faith. I also had to ward off other students'
polemic attitudes against the Queer community. In one of my classes I was asked to do a
presentation on my faith. My presentation came to me in verses. I wrote this long poem
about how Christianity was not my legacy. I used historical background to inform my
presentation so it was steeped in academic discourse. At the end of my piece, I could feel
power vibrating through my body. My professor Sylvester Johnson told me I had
electrified the room with my poetry. I knew at that moment that I was finished with
seminary. I was never going to go out into the world and preach the Christian paradigm.
With that poem, I had made a different connection to my creative writing. I understood a
new way of bringing in historical context into my present-day imagination.
After I left seminary, I began to explore mythological symbols of Native
American and Mexican-Indian traditions. My poetry became reminiscent of ritualistic
incantations. I was interested in the natural world and how human beings live amongst
animals and plants in an urban setting. Being a native New Yorker, I knew I was far
81
removed from appreciating the greenery and the limited wildlife around me. I noticed
and started to write about how I experienced these encounters. To this day, I continue to
be interested in writing about how we intersect with our environments.
I moved on to co-develop curriculum and co-facilitate an intensive Saturday
program for kids and teens, called Our Expressions Theater Program with Kerri Mesner.
Kerri had a theater background so she worked on the physical/acting components and I
worked on getting the students to tell their stories. I transcribed all of their words onto
the page and together we developed scenes. They explored the stressors of their young
lives like dealing with parents and being heard, being queer in high school and bullying,
to name a few, but all the words were theirs. This program informed my own writing
because I could see these students really take chances by putting their most personal
issues out for everyone to see and hear. It made me braver in my own writing. This
group gave me new-found energy and reminded me of my love for theater and how
truthful words could move an audience. We worked through seven cycles of students
before we disbanded.
Without the theater group, my writing floundered for awhile. I didn't have a clear
idea on how to get my work up on stage. I submitted scripts to various theaters only to
get rejection letters in return. I was in limbo and I couldn't see a solution. And then the
oddest thing happened. I was downsized from my company. They gave me a tidy little
severance package, I cashed out my 40IK and pooled my money to put up a workshop
production of Is This Desire. It was a shoe-string production, and I worked with a sweet
group of women who helped me put it up. It had two showings at the Gay and Lesbian
Center and I broke even. I was able to give the actors and the director a small amount of
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money but seeing the work come to life was amazing. The production gave me such a
deep feeling of satisfaction that I thought my writing life finally started to flourish. I
thought that if I couldn't get a piece up on Broadway then I could still find venues to put
up my own productions. My eyes were shiny with rosy idealism. So I began writing
both poetry and monologues for different reading events and created a mailing list that
extended outside my immediate friends to get work "out there" in the world.
I hooked in with Dyke TV, a lesbian media group and pitched them an idea for a
lesbian soap opera. This group mostly worked with news and documentary-style filming
and they broadcasted on public access. They liked my idea but they warned me that the
quality of the video had to be exceptional if they were going to broadcast it under Dyke
TV. They lent me equipment but there was no compensation for the making of the video
itself. Right. Armed with this knowledge, I thought, I could write a couple of short
segments, shoot a couple of episodes to show them the potential of the project. Jessica
Stein, a videographer, liked my idea and we worked on a script. We were at odds with
the project from the onset. She wanted the show to be campy and I did not want to go in
that direction. We came to an impasse and I compromised to move the project forward.
We shot in two locations over a couple of days and edited the piece in a couple of
sessions. The final product was three 7-minute segments called Truth Be Told. It aired
on public access both here in New York City and in Canada. Dyke TV loved it and
wanted more episodes, but money was tight and they would not offer us any type of
compensation. I was so disappointed with the final outcome of the piece that I lost
enthusiasm for the whole project. The idea and the written material that I had worked so
hard on had turned into this strange campy disaster in my eyes. It was a complete failure
83
to me and I went into a funk over it. I lost my momentum and I started to stall with the
writing.
After a while everything I wrote just seemed as if I was writing at an amateur
level. The self-criticism was so deep-seated that I couldn't even see the potential in
drafts. My works-in-progress file grew into a thick pile and I was paralyzed with the fear
for getting it wrong again. In the past, I could shrug off the fear by telling myself
everything could be revised, nothing is set in stone, and it's all a learning process.
However, I let the creative work contract back to a sideline activity. I was plagued with
migraines and shoulder pains. My depression became so intense, I could hardly breathe.
During the same time, I had a brilliant opportunity to showcase my work at
Queens Theater in the Park in one of their reading series. Rob Urbinati accepted the
work into the program and helped me set things up but I was in such a dark space that I
could hardly enjoy the process. There were sequences of events from that reading that
only reinforced the belief that my writing was not very good. I worked closely with the
actresses and the director and made a considerable amount of revisions based on their
feedback. As Rob and I set out chairs, he told me that not very many people were
expected to arrive so he didn't think we should set out too many. I had personally sent
out quite a number of e-mails on this event and I told him that I received a number of
confirmations. To his surprise, we were packed to capacity.
A question and answer session for the audience was set up after the piece was
read. The very first question that came from an audience member was, "What's the
point?" It knocked the wind out of me. What's the point? What's the point of the piece?
Of the story? If this audience member couldn't discern the point from the writing itself
84
then how could I possibly answer that question? It was such a condescending question
that I had trouble answering any others after that because I stewed over that one question.
If I had been in a better mind set I don't think I would have taken the comment so
personally but I was so depressed that I absorbed it as a negative commentary against my
work. This was the same short play that I had been so proud of only a few short years
before but the self-doubt was blinding me.
Rob and I met after the event for a closing meeting and I asked him if my play
could find a stage In other words, could I get a substantial production set up around this
particular play? His answer to me was he didn't think the play was commercial enough,
despite a capacity audience. My creative writing dried up. I scarcely wrote in my journal
much less tried to work on new material. I stopped pursuing my writing life. Instead, I
re-focused my energies elsewhere. I was distracted with relationships. I took up yoga
and karate. Most of my energy went into a job that I did not love but I became ambitious
over it. I figured if I couldn't hack it as a playwright or a poet then I needed to prove my
salt in my career.
By this time, I was in the textbook publishing industry working as an editorial
assistant. My brass ring became being an editor for the company. The money and the
perks were enticing. My manager was a sponsoring editor and he was only a couple of
years older. I could feel time slipping away from me. I knew I had to make some big
moves if I was going to achieve this goal. To become an editor I had to work in the sales
field for at least two years. I took a promotion in sales that sent me out to Berkeley,
California. At first, I was excited. The newness of it all was glamorous. I had a
company car, a company credit line, moving expenses covered, a bonus plan, and money
85
was easy. For the first time in my adult life I was not struggling financially. My new
manager took me out to 4-star restaurants and I thought I had arrived into the professional
life that my family had craved for me. Being a poet and playwright became a distant
memory.
The glossy scenario did not last longer than it took me to unpack. My depression
was still pronounced as well as a new bout of insomnia. I thought that by moving across
the country all my problems would magically disappear. The job was tedious and it
bored the hell out of me. I didn't mind talking to professors, that was actually my
favorite part, but convincing them to adopt a $200 textbook did not bring me any level of
satisfaction. I was so far off my path that I couldn't remember who I was anymore. I
didn't know what I was doing or who I had turned into. And I fell asleep. I slept for
three months. I barely functioned as the intelligent creative person I once was; instead I
barely left my apartment. And then I was fired from my job. Don't get me wrong, I
paniced and tried desperately to talk my way out of being fired but the regional manager
and the vice-president of the company talked me into leaving the post. They moved me
back to New York City with the promise of finding me another position. I was placed as
a marketing assistant and I felt like the biggest failure that ever lived. Then I became very
angry and started fighting with every manager I had. I was so angry at myself that I spent
a lot of time arguing with the wrong people.
I had so much rage that the only thing I could do was write. First it was
journaling and then it became creative work and then I left the company and found a
cushy job being a technical writer for the I.T. division of an insurance company. They
paid me very well to do what I did best, write. I woke up again. The job became
86
secondary to my creative life. I started by writing up scenes, jotting down lines in my
notebook, jotting down ideas. It's amazing how creativity fuels itself because once I
picked up writing again the words came flooding back.
I was accepted into the M.F.A. in New Media and Performance Arts program at
Long Island University. It was a fledgling division but they crossed over into various
mediums. Theater and video work together on the same platform really excited me. It
fueled my curiosity, I wanted to write plays and create collage work with video and still
images projected into the background. The possibility is still there in the back of my
head. However, they lacked the professors and the structure that I desperately needed. I
went back to my roots and transferred over to the Creative Writing division.
The time that I have spent in the creative writing division has been completely
transformational for me. In my first semester, I took a poetry class with visiting
professor Akilah Oliver who blew my mind from the moment the class started. The
intellectual discourse she presented was so high that she absolutely spoiled me. My
writing became a true exploration of the human spirit and the environment we live in. I
was able to detach from a very personal confessional method to write in broader strokes.
I began to search for the appropriate language to capture moments, experiences, and the
quality of feelings that convey the thickness of emotions. Sometimes I grasped at threads
of certain images or sounds only to find it as delicate as smoke. Then I tried to loosely
hold it and transfer it to the page without losing the intention. That sort of moment is like
coming into the middle of a conversation in which the meaning is out of context
somehow.
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When I write, I mostly start from my comfort zone by using tidbits of memories
or fragments of lines and begin to piece something together. I search for the hook that
will keep me writing down the page and I chase after it hoping that somehow the words
and the images make sense together. Yet, the experiences are not always mine; they are
sometimes splintered stories that I've collected from others throughout my life. And as a
witness and as a writer I venture to press the truth onto the page. Of course, it's a skewed
perspective because I am trying to understand it through a very thin slice of life.
Akilah turned me on to the works of Roland Barthes, Anne Carson, Alice Notley,
Eleni Sikelianos and Kristen Prevallet. I continue to go back to Barthes and Carson
whenever I lose momentum with my writing. Their works are now a touchstone. They
help to remind me to pay attention to events that happen around me, in this city, in this
country, in this global neighborhood as well as the idea to take chances with language.
There are other writers who do it well but I enjoy reading their highly-stylized academic
offerings. My method of writing is nowhere close to their method of writing but there is
a real pleasure in reading each of their works.
I have been introduced to so many writers and so many different styles of writing
that I can hardly sit here and name them all. My most recent find is Ilya Kaminsky, a
Russian poet who creates odd images in Dancing in Odessa. His writing truly surprises
me at times and I've realized that component is what I want to aspire to, to surprise my
reader. We live in a culture where people think they have seen everything and heard
everything and nothing is new. And perhaps there is some truth to that statement.
However, I am learning to create work that matters to me and by extension, I hope it will
88
matter to others. And perhaps I can surprise them with an odd choice of word or a unique
phrasing or two.
Also, seeing Lynn Nottage win the Pulitzer Prize for her play Ruined has given
me hope that it's not too late for me. For a long time, I believed that only the young upand-coming can be successful and that my moment to shine had long since passed. Why
on earth did I ever believe that nonsense? Being in graduate school helped shake things
up and push me out of my defeatist attitudes and known methods of writing. I have tried
new techniques, different ways of approaching language, and experimented with mashing
up lines together to see what happens. More times than not, it's not very successful but
I'm finding peace with the notion that not everything that comes out of me has to be
perfect. I am back to shrugging off the fear by telling myself everything could be
revised, nothing is set in stone, and it's all a learning process. I have rediscovered the
pleasure in creating work again.
In fact, the poetry seems to be fueling ideas for some scenes for future playwriting
and video projects. The lines are starting to blur and it's easier to blend various modes of
communication. I have created art books that hold poetry and paintings together. I also
take photographs and incorporate them into my art books. I am no longer trying to fit
into a predetermined mold of a working professional. I am a working writer and the rest
of my life choices will revolve around that one fact. And as long as I want to see my
writing improve and evolve and I remain in community with my fellow writers then it's
never too late.
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Special thanks to
Lewis Warsh, John High, Jessica Hagedorn, Akilah Oliver, Marilyn
Boutwell, Sealy Gilles, Barbara Henning, Katt Lissard, Barbara Kahn,
Christine Francavilla, William Burgos, Barbara Parisi, Antony Galbraith,
Erica Wright, Ilya Kaminski, Anne Carson and Roland Barthes
Dedicated to my family for all their love and support.
ks remind you of your childhood.
Your vowels are stuck around a staccato sound
but you can't find the right word around your next li
You have one song that you hum pieces of all day.
You have one song where you know only
the words of the chorus and sing the same two
lines over and over again.
You are careless with your words
and hide your eyes when you're ruthless.
You invert your notebooks to shift
your perspective. You pretend it matters.
You count the coins in the glass jar
to remind you of your value.
You empty the coin jar and leave feeling hollow.
You pretend it doesn't matter.
Beneath your bed the stones have turned to sand.
Beneath your tongue the song has turned sour.
Higher Ground
Here, they greet Brooklyn mornings
with a tall cup of foamy coffee,
in a belly that rumbles and grumbles
along with the steel-rolling cage.
Below, the water keeps rising,
we can barely hold it back,
as it seeps and floods the tunnels.
Where did we leave our wings?
The tourists sit on double-decker buses
looking down upon the natives
in the ritual of caffeine-on-the-run.
Tomorrow, the streets will run with water
the bulls would have long since drowned
in a white-wash of money matters.
A reflection of the sea devouring our coastline,
shifting seeds to higher ground.
14
Rust
My father is up there, on that ladder
smoothing the underside of the deck,
rusty metal, with sandpaper in circular
strokes, his face peppered with red bits.
He dangles in odd angles, holding beams
for support, balance between feet and faith,
as he talks to himself about what part next.
My father is up there, on that ladder
scraping, protecting the rest of us
from weakened metal and devotion.
He dangles in odd angles, holding on
to keep the sky from falling upon us
as he primes the metals and coats the
rust with paint and worship-words.
My father is up there, on that ladder
holding up the sky for us, a balance
of feet and faith and whisperingdevotion, clinging to mortal angles.
15
Subtle as a Banshee
A layer of comet's dust clings
like strands of unbraided hair.
We dissolved too slowly when
we grew thick tangled roots.
I am a liar and a poet entrenched
in history. You dreamt of strawberries that I stole from you while
you slept. A pile of books uncovers
lilac leaves in a sweeping glance.
Two morning doves rub their heads
against the other on top of a wall.
I've wetted the seeds in my mouth
and unearthed the splintered tree.
Elegy to Youthful Notions
You have colored my eyes blind
and abandoned a shivering animal
cloaked in a barefoot dream
that led us into dense poverty.
Your fury and my grasping Eros
left us swirling in embryotic
fluids. You have lost yourself
between the breath and stars.
An apartment and an inside out
sofa?your dog ripped out the stuffingsuffer the footsteps and a heaving
stomach onto wet pavement.
You are a wolf in sheep's skins
and I am a traitor to your tasting
tongue. There were red apples on
the doorstep and poison on my lips.
I have loved you, yes. Washed my
hands in the grains of rice and left.
Gathered the scattered seeds and
ceased to be visible in the early dawn.
Wandering
I am neither asleep nor awake,
when a woman's voice sings in my ear
reminding me of weeds creeping past
concrete. I await the cue to speak.
There are vultures tapping on the door,
their eyes peek through tempered glass,
mouths open wide, like baby birds,
in anticipation. Don't let them in.
Six ravens fly overhead, black wings
against an October sky. I sew the tear
in the back of my head as she talks
about waking up to an ordinary day.
18
Art
A man placed a wheel at the end of his 6-foot wooden
cross and rolled it, past me, down the street.
A ten-foot photo of a subject with hypodermic needles
piercing the length of his arm in a cross-hatch pattern.
We will speak only of cold blue stones and smooth green
masks in our social composure.
Someone cuts out holes on large pieces of cardboard
and glues amoeba-shaped wood pieces onto it and calls it art.
We have barely survived our history.
Our art is responding.
Mami tried to save me
from my creative life
only to find a reply,
written in verse, in
the palms of her hands.
It's a Portishead kind of moment
a low throbbing base line
with a high thin voice singing contrast
to shelve the freeze-dried mind.
19
Why Don't You Tell Us That Your Luck Has Changed?
A wafer of bread sticks beneath my tongue,
a dinner of thorns.
Sometimes the cane disappears
beneath the covers.
You await an hour
when melon-hues cross the sky.
A few easy comments
when lights go off in borrowed houses.
You forget walking across the centuries
when you awaken.
A mirror reflects reluctant lovers that struggle
against linear thought.
You watch me through a distorted lens
everything out of my mouth makes you laugh.
Scrawling
She wraps a black veil around us.
Words evaporate on the wings of a white moth.
Scrawl in wet crayon, pretend to be human
pretend to be someone forming in purple ink
against the night sky that wore a full moon
around her neck, if you must, howl.
Must you shout your declarations, create combustible words
that tumble out and set the landscape on fire?
Fold into the signal, blink in Morse code
decipher the message, text it instead.
I read about the disembodied writer and felt myself dissipating.
Wild woods open their branched path when the internal suffers.
A young Japanese girl holds her grandfather's
hand as she walks backwards examining the world.
Who are you in the eyes of a loved one?
What do you fade into when they are gone?
I like the smell of skunk. They stink.
When their scent dissipates
across the park
a mark of respect lingers.
Dia de los muertos...exhume the memories of all our relations.
To honor the dead:
burn the tobacco
pour shots of tequila
burn incense
have their names on lips
then release them
How do you show your respect?
21
A simple impulse to cut into the earth.
I am wrecked. Lost myself in the moment.
Am having a hard time coming back from the precipice. Call me.
Here is the needle and thread to stitch
up the heartbreak. Will it hold?
These are not melancholy words
merely tender contacts with experiences.
Life is not static..instead it churns away
to the next moment with or without us.
22
The Sentences Lie Very Still
A strong bloody Mary with horseradish, vodka and spicy tomato juice
sits between us. A liquid dinner holds the recommended veggie intake
for the day. BJ weeps about her fading love life and I wish my drink
were stronger. I am not skilled at symbols when women cry real tears.
If breath is perception then I've been holding my breath too long. I've
pressed rose petals to my lips and it does not soothe and comfort. Pick
apart falling questions and ask her what does she want. She unbraids
her tongue and says she only wants to be wanted, only then can she
sleep.
23
What's Wrong With Gaps And Odd Corners?
At night Petra wanders around a sleeping
house looking for a corner to fill. She lights
candles and considers poems on dark pages.
She does not pray to her father's god.
They have not been on speaking terms
for quite some time now, her mouth is empty.
Stuck between a screen and a door, a narrow gap.
She stands in the middle ground encased behind
glass, the door is locked and no one is awake.
Her humid summer, bedclothes damp
against her skin. She sings to herself
but the song leaves bitter drops on her tongue.
She eats cold cherries out of a bowl
and cracks a tooth on a stray pit.
An avocado seed splits open exposing tender leaves.
The night peels her skin back and her bookmark
has pressed a reminder space upon the page,
better than dog-eared corners and an empty grave.
24
Masa
The hum-lull of a quiet house, a cool morning hour,
Mami lies in the hammock, hums a ballad,
her legs dangle off just enough to keep her swinging.
"Which song is that?" " I don't remember"
the notes hang between us
like a held breath: Mami hums
yes here, as in childhood,
she never strays too far from her life
a long day from yesterday she made
tortillas from scratch, worked the masa with her hands,
rolled balls of dough, flattened them with the press
between two circles of Wonder bread plastic
heated them up on a flat skillet with bare fingers
until they puffed up, hot air billowed out and softened
between dishtowels. I draw a line between the melody
while she untangles tomatoes from their vines, rinses
with water and takes a gaping bite
to see her, over sixty, humming a long-forgotten
love song, Mami who keeps Spanish on her tongue
and English in her pockets for safekeeping.
II
Why is it better to last than to burn?
?Roland Barthes
It's Strange Now To Think Of You
when the night vibrates with rhythms
and I read Bolanos's prose
to dumb down the cruelty that rattles my bones
how we weep for each o t h e r only to hold versions of ourselves
while sunlight streams through half-open windows
as warm air hits a hot naked torso
and phantasms flower and burn
in raging bloodless captivity-And today the bed is unmade
and words slip behind closed doors
in a quiet apartment
there is a sound of a brown paper bag scraping against asphalt
pushed by a warm wind for a drawn out moment
and the mewling of a restless cat pouncing on her partner
time contracts and expands like a living creature
and there are books stacked on the bedside
and mosquito-bitten flesh to scratch
five hour spells of sleep and wakefulness
drinking cups of warm water
that does not soothe a cold thirst
and keys jangle in shallow pockets
as I walk in the dawn air unprepared.
27
Drifting
Something is stirring in the back of the brain
murmurs, walkie-talkie static, phone rings,
doors open and close, open and close
Ants find breadcrumbs in the bedroom
first there are a few and then a swarm
tramping through this space
eyes are drifting...drifting close
are we done yet?
'cause somebody is ready to fall sleep
'cause somebody no longer wants to talk
it is better to sleep than to record thoughts
it is better to sleep than to tell the truth
it is better to sleep than to say good-bye
it is better to say good-bye than
fix a point of resentment
point the way, show us the place of
disturbance on your person
the players have gone home
the day is starting to close
and you have yet to dismantle
the altar to your goddess
as she lies dead in your arms.
Squint
It began with a blinding day and that's where it all started to go
wrong. How often have I changed your mind?
The second hand speeds up to catch up to the seconds.
Through tinted windows there are odd shadows.
Another woman watches me move and I can't think straight.
The path of least resistance is catching up. Let's go back to the start.
Science and progress do not speak louder than the heart.
I wish I could wake up beside you. Stutter-stop again.
How often have you changed your mind?
Your choices echo across the space between us.
A strong hand reaches over to give support.
Is it yours or mine?
Wild hair curls around fingertips.
Nicks against the grain, initials carved in.
Spinning words find the proper sequence of events.
Time is neither linear nor circular. Apologies cannot erase being
viciously unkind. I squint when I face the sky.
Who's going to break the fall when the stars have slipped?
Alma
Quiet, quiet, quiet goes the song
in a tunnel of strangled moans
from the outlines of I love you
on the tip of my tongue
The chalice has been dry for so long
not even a sip to escape,
nor an answer to unfold.
Haven't my bones turned cold yet?
Hasn't my skin started to pale?
Having lived in a common way
Forgotten on a shelf in the back of the closet
yearnings so bottomless it weakens
In the presence of she who does not carelessly end,
Shred my walls mercilessly
Quiet, quiet, quiet goes the song.
What made her think I had it in me to try?
Her languid woman's song in the place where there is no mercy
Where nothing is ever too late and the sound
in the back of my throat is silent.
30
Nighthawk
Brash howls the nighthawk. Thin branches bend in a penitent way.
Night sets in an unforgiving way. I fall asleep at the wheel while
indigo visions tunnel me blind. We are never far from our true nature
despite evidence to the contrary. Drama manuals are drawn up on
crisp white linen sheets. Bedstead rules break while wearing maroon
fingernail polish. You are distracting me from ending things between
us. Pylon pieces smash upon the hearthstone.
If you happen to pass my life on the street, grab her and drag her
home. I believe in terrible apparitions and paper monsters that dangle
from string. If you look out the window, a hovel burns down the
stretch with licking flames. Your departure has left careless marks
against my questions. Snail-slouching murmurs gather where
raindrops have pooled. A metallic taste lingers on the tongue when
there is talk of kinship. Thoughts float freely along an undercurrent.
31
Breaking Habits
I have ways of breaking habits
in a surprising fashion, which explains
the unfinished pack of cigarettes
in the bottom of my bag, the blue
lighter, the one that works, hidden
between my pages of my notebook,
which explains the scorch marks
on the page, the one next to the poem
about you and us and how we are never
far from interceding on the other's
behalf. We are asleep in separate beds,
you share one with your ex-girlfriend,
demoted to bed-warmer on this night.
All we have left are shoe-string
promises left tethered to the small
joint of the pinkie finger.
Your shoes sit in the hallway,
your bags nestle in the closet
your windows have been stripped
and sealed to keep the winter
air from creeping into the house,
the light left in the window
is not for me but for her
so she can find her keys
to unlock the door.
Hollow Matters
We have ways of exposing tender skin
at inopportune times only to find
white scars blending into the pigment.
Long grasses, moving with the wind,
create hollow sounds of water
the din of city traffic washes out.
We pull ourselves into tight knots,
only to find unraveling threads
picked apart by nervous fingers.
Crowding bodies impose themselves
and girls with round eyes look helpless
against the tide, they blend in and fade.
We have ways of staring at dark matter
and not even notice that we've lost
ourselves in a sky-spanned tango.
33
Devotion
How deep guilt clings, beneath red hands.
It's been too long since the rains have come down
to quench the burning brain, the waters fold in.
The rains should wash away this corrosive state,
it scalds, leaving behind tattered bits, scorch marks
on bare threads. Burgundy lips press tight.
Haze like pre-dawn thickness
I possess nothing and your head weighs
heavy upon my lap in this circular paradox.
It's been too long since a deep wintry air
has filled my belly to cool off the searing heat,
a dark expansive space within this skin.
Composing Verses
Drag out the seconds by repeating secular Psalms. The candlewood
burrows a hole in my hand. A counterfeit life has taken on a favorable
margin. Don't write it down, the promises may expand.
I envy the way you welcome pleasure. Everything stays the same in
this letter to you. We've repeated the same patterns for quite some
time now. Break apart the skull and glance in, I think something is
jammed. You wear your grumbling mood to protect yourself. Speak
softly if you want to charm me back into your graces. I think
something is jammed. Quick, break me open and repair the broken
bits. We've repeated the same patterns for quite some time now. You
enjoy life so intensely I envy you. We keep meeting at this
intersection. I think something is jammed.
35
Ode To A Feckless Life
A black cat stalks a cricket's cry.
Prayers slip through wooden cracks.
Write in short phrases while
walking barefoot in the backyard.
The smell of burning wood skims the air.
I miss you only when you are unfettered memories.
I read the clouds and the pouring rain.
You, in the middle of your exile, speak
fluid language. And the leaves singe.
A cold sour lemon for a wet tongue
and an empty page. A flock of seagulls
fight over slippery bits of fish.
There are thick phrases that touch
minds and skip off lips. A laundry of damp
towels waves off a pitying mood.
She is out of work as she lies
against the wasp's wings.
Where do you seek your inspiration
with an empty sky and a prickly sun?
The Waters Fold Back
How you wake me up, take me outside
with a slender hand, call me curious
when I peek from under my lashes.
You spill secrets on the pebbled beach,
let the crabs scoop them up and hide
them away in the long grass. An elegy
to this moment that stands in the distant
harbor, you keep walking bridges
and losing track of promises.
How can you gather symphonies
when your hands are picking sweet cherries?
How you put me to sleep,
kiss the palm of my hand
walk silent against the sky,
our liaison splits off like mercury
and seeps back into the ocean.
37
I f All Things are Created Equal,
Why Do I Have A Naked Window?
I've lost my language deep inside a pair of faded blue jeans.
Hand delve deep. All I come up with are a couple of dirty coins
and a small ball of entwined lint and string.
It's been a long time since I've danced naked,
eaten a cold prickly pear with its succulent juice
and the land spins a little more slowly these days.
I've lost my words inside your jacket, the one you let me wear.
The one with enough room for my cigarettes,
your eye drops, our stash of weed and lipsticks.
You told me you loved me in a quick rush of sounds
tumbling out in a crowded space, bodies pressed tightly.
It was the only thing holding me up.
I've lost my last sentence between us in your heather grey
sweater. You've wrapped yourself up into a tight little
ball never to let me recover them again.
You've taken the bed sheet away from this stark window
There was no quick reply, no valley of twinkling lights,
no orange-scented tenderness and no reason why.
38
This I s What I Show You: I am self-sufficient and I don't need your
help, (but I do), your words do not hurt (but they do), I can maintain
this perpetual stasis with you (but I can't), I've moved on (but I
haven't), I will always love you (but I won't be able to keep it up for
much longer), you are enough (but it's only an illusion), you fill me up
(but you leave me worn thin), you make me feel better (but you drain
me), I can't live without you (but I can't keep lying to myself), I am
strong (but I give over and it renders me powerless), and you think
you know me.
39
Litany
After the music has stopped
you betray us with crescent
speech and dandelion whispers,
ever aware of the familiar
chasm that lives with gangly
feet over the handrail.
Invert your body for
that junky loving feeling.
Make believe that I love you
for nine more days and offer
up an elegy in its wake.
40
Embedded
The grain of the wood planks
creates patterns to calm the mind.
A Scottish brogue reminds me
of reptile skin skittering across teeth.
Better to leave than to get caught up.
Better to duck head into sand than stand feeling foolish.
Better to dream about spitting broken glass into sink than grind teeth.
Not roots but trunk
Not trunk but bark
Not bark but branches
Not branches but leaves
The sky blows away
with the next gust of air.
Obstructed by flotsam
that riddles the grey matter.
Matter seems to be at the heart
of what intrigues me today.
Can you see the forest from the trees?
Not right smack in the middle of a lesson.
Not in the middle of a sentence.
Randomness of melancholy thoughts
strum the skin. Twisted up and locked up tight.
Stranded on a city sidewalk,
white noise does not touch.
Can't seem to get out of my own way today.
So why continue? What else is there to do
but wait for the rain to arrive.
Put down the passage in the correct position
when the memory appears.
41
Connections and disconnects.
How do you transcend the chasm?
A wave of longing,
strong as dark matter.
Spirals of water, a vortex back into the earth,
create mud people with thick wavering mouths.
A soul sits alone
stares at the dying sky
wishes for wings to bolt
from the intersection of fears
that starts up along the periphery of the body.
Tamp down the matted roots and sever the cords.
42
Magnets Are Pulling Us Down
We lose altitude on this day
when the sea is ageless.
We almost escape storytellers
but in a dream there is a solid figure
holding a doll's head to his chest
careful, like holding a bird's egg.
Time changes the fabric of a face
how strange to be gone for so long
the container degrades
and every one lives in empty rooms.
No father will greet us at the door
in such damaged condition, the porchlight will switch off as water seeps
into those red canvas sneakers.
Baby birds with ruby throats exposed,
gulp air and sing thin songs. And you
were never hungry enough to be fed.
Interjecting On Your Behalf
Remember to pack jelly and cream cheese sandwiches in case we get
hungry. The clock on the wall has knotted up its hands into a clamped
fist. The apple has a worm. Can you tell if you've eaten its head or its
tail? How long should we wait for the storm clouds to gather? Neither
one of us has a chance against distortions.
You've untied the dragons and left us unprotected. We have ten
conversations between us to wrestle loose from each other. The signs
have been collected, weighted and dispatched via messenger. We
have waited for the thunderclap to kick us into gear but we have not
taken refuge. Instead, we stand there in the green light of a pouring
rain looking to the other for shelter, soaked to the bone.
44
I Pretend To Know Part Of The Story
I fill in the rest with marbles
and orange seed. Grapevines wrap
around our wrists keeping us close.
Have you learned how to fly
with the feathers you've gathered?
Absence uncoils, like unfolding leaves.
We drink sharp wine of the dawn,
let rivers curve the mind unchecked.
I met you entangled in my hair,
hostile with vague conversations.
I follow you down to the backyard
where the wet earth holds you back.
Tell me: who are you,
covered with moon dust,
holding petals between lips
and fingertips, with the scent of poetry
and constellations on your skin.
Ill
Language is a skin:
I rub my language against the other.
?Roland Barthes
46
Fragments
capture from another angle
off-the-beaten path
click shutter exposure
an image reversal
aspire to be unfolded and read
word-for-word uncoiled
a yesterday love letter
mulled over and disclosed
desire to be ensnared
a web of tender whisper-lies
a balmy undercurrent
pulling downward
enslave the imagination
fractured phrases
a measure of music
playing over and over
a morsel to be devoured
consumed whole
glide down past the mouth
a continuous engulfment.
Between Us There I s Perpendicular Space
I write letters in my head to you.
Have you received them yet?
Do not expect answers on high holy days.
Do you hear the noise pursuing us down the page?
Portals without keys keep you at a distance.
This is what we look like when anger burrows holes in our hands.
This is what you look like when you've swallowed your head whole.
Your pious ways reminds me of passion
wrapped up in wooly blankets.
Cookies in ziplock bags
break apart into rocky bites
Empty apartments are seeking buyers.
I cross out your name every time I think of you.
My page is filled with Xs.
This above all else is not about you for a change,
instead it's abut me not thinking of you changing.
I come up against your language,
and find myself translating into reality.
Gritty days have devoured your smile.
We ride elevators holding our breath.
There is a convex curve to your prose,
untamed in its own ways.
Perhaps I long to write better
when I'm sleeping.
I remain stormy in my words,
connections get in the way.
A writer catches palindromes
in the preface of essays.
Your thoughts mangle steel in bursts.
I wrote about this place, this time without soul
found only remnants and fragments remaining.
We came home tattered at the edges, drunk,
and listening to music that sing in our bones.
It explains the hole in the wall the size of your fist.
It explains the song beneath your mouth unable to crow.
You are sultry only because you are stupid.
You can bring your dog over, I've had my shots.
Crystal structures do not shatter in reverse order.
Stay in the corner, I like your voice from there,
'cause I know where it's coming from.
The mermaids have private thoughts,
I think we've intruded upon them.
We have a weakness for each other
but your coda of love is syncopated
You, obscured in the constant speed are heading in one direction
and my path is a steep threshold waiting for me to cross over.
Suspended I n Air
I've managed to compose
your verses in a poem
of single lines that do not
connect with one another
in the wake of your departure
by way of the fire escape.
You have stolen my last Corona,
a pack of cigarettes, and a silver
lighter that I've noticed so far.
I've managed to compose some lines
that do not rhyme nor kiss your temples
with praise when we do not connect
in the wake of your departure
by way of the window.
You have left behind letters, the t-shirt
you wore last, a pendant
I removed from your neck.
I've managed to set the letters,
bundled in your favorite t-shirt,
on fire, by way of the window
with little praise on my lips
and lines that have retired
in the wake of your departure.
Steep Embankment
upheaval in a wheat field
absorbed into the sky
yellow tumultuous landscape
fierce in the contempt
restrain the birds
press hard and break wings
the sound of water
a beautiful voice
the stars are blind
grasp ribbon-tails
visitors need not attend
deliver the pleasure
in memory of
smoky illusions
wafting in
thrash about like a pantomime,
an irreverent manner,
muttering fragments
losing sleep over
tinges, pings, plucks, aches
brooding in dark corners
a preying mantis
Grace
She swallows her words
against the sharp consonants.
She swallows
her need to be heard
numbs the rage
refrains from grasping
the person she once was.
Where did she lose her sleep?
Sweat slides down
between her breasts
a head of steam from the iron
leaves beads of condensation
on her upper lip
backhand swipe
wipes it away.
Her memories
gather like moths
weather the electricity
that travels down her body
After-thoughts churn,
unsaid words,
unanswered replies,
leave deep grooves across her bones.
52
A Subtle Presence
Heaven is in the simple
things, wind caresses
naked branches
Empty space
creates paper-thin
sounds in tissues
Subtle light and dark
morph grey
charcoal sketches
Lines weave and tangle
into blossom knots
creative nest
Seedlings tumble
and part the earth
in pin-prick slices
A catch in the night
keeps disintegration
and shadows at bay.
Ritual
From the ocean floor, she watches
the melting world through rolling water.
She holds her breath, drifts in stasis,
equilibrium, a watery embrace.
A thunder rumbles through her body.
The ocean holds her plain, her strongest
awareness releases when she breaks
the surface with burning lungs.
Grace a divine strengthening influence
speaks goddess in a sacred hour.
Wildfires
Two wildfires near Kelowna force the evacuation
of 17,000 people. The voice that spoke hissed
softly in rage, but there was terrible music in it.
The fire quickly grew to 300 hectares. A spindly
desert thistle turned to ash. A second fire broke
out and consumed 100 hectares. Smoke so heavy
lungs grew raw with breathing. Cause unknown.
He bellows into the night, I desire nothing
beyond my art. No deaths have been reported.
To refuse death is to refuse life. Firefighters
battle the blazes with ten helicopters.
Difficult conditions to come with more hot weather.
17 years gives little armor against gnawing despair.
Authenticity happens when you are trying to survive.
Human activity sparked the blazes since no lightning
storms were reported. No crystals sprayed from
purple thunderclouds. Hot embers fell around homes.
All the glory of mortality was in the dragon's flight.
A 12-mile stretch of highway was closed leading in and out.
A vast darkness, there are no kingdoms like the forest.
55
The Hours Here Are Measured
The seconds here, wasp's wings and inverted
dead spiders gathered in the corner
of brick and grass. What's left of us
when the peaches have dried up (or left stolen)?
No fruit was safe when the squirrels gathered
for winter. No barking dog deterred
the thieves from their feast as one-by-one
the green peaches were picked away in an early harvest.
The hours here are measured by the wind
and the brittle leaves gathered in the corner
of brick and fence. What's left of us
when the roses have died on the vine?
No petals were safe against the cold autumn breeze
as the hand of winter began to turn the page.
No prowling cat could scatter enough birds.
What's left now in this cruel hour of morning sunrise?
Night Jasmine
The sun has swept
through the sky clearing
a path for a full moon,
the scent of night jasmine,
white moths flutter around
the bare light bulb. Smoke
snakes away from a cigarette
and your exhale is drawn out
catching my attention
from the corner of my eye
as if you have something
on your mind, ready to say
as you change your mind
Your somber mood dampens
the chill night air,
I hold my breath,
wait for the impulse to pass.
Smoke coats your clothes
and all I can do is draw
close, inhale, and prepare
myself for roaming words
that swirl in circles, feet
planted on the stairwell
to steady the vertigo
as your hollow life
craves much more
than what the night sky
has to offer.
I Laugh At Her Behind My Teeth
keys slide across the desk
discordant sound
she pulls and pushes
her complaints for pity
in long vowel accordance
thin veneers of polished bones
scrape the inside of the cheek
a gravel voice obscured
on deaf ears
cut fingers leave
blood splatter lines
across the door
a mouse dies beneath a chair
and I wait for someone
from building and grounds
to remove the corpse.
willful ignorance
drowning on the borders
between life and death.
we have lost our religion
beneath our untied shoes
and under our desks.
A Fixed Point
The walls of my house envelope me,
afternoon light startles me blind,
fresh ginger slices boil on the stove,
and my brother and father flip
between a Yankee's game and the Jet's.
Someone forgot to mention
how being aimless can make numbness
flower from your belly outward
as my brother and my father
eat a bag full of peanuts
piling up shells high on a napkin.
The husks look like empty insects,
discarded one on top of the other.
How deep sorrow feels, beneath feet
on wood floors, we splinter off
in a weak momentum.
Her Voice As Plum Fruit
She loves me in a punch-drunk
kind of way, the hangover is blinding.
My cat perches on the sofa,
and puffs up when she enters.
Not under contract,
she threatens to leave once a day.
The cage door left open,
she dances on the doorstep.
I keep hiding her in a box,
but she refuses to stay locked away.
Instead, we spend most of our time
looking for each other.
She has forgotten her words,
but she rattles on to fill up
the space to impeded me
from leaving quietly.
I n The Way Of Copper
The way of the stream can lead
a senseless soul to an outstretch
of land where effort is made
to bear fruit in an altered way.
The martyrs have been silent
against the wreckage of a coppery
existence. A bone was buried
beneath the roots of the tree.
A breeze in a grey hue,
the heavy clouds above,
and the open mouth of the lake
can only yield to the intersection
between water and earth.
61
Your Sisters Are Gypsies
I race down the stairs
as they chase me
with their knives
looking for a priest
to save me from
their screaming faces.
They bury their secrets
in the hollow of a tree
in my backyard, fresh cut
burial plot, squirreled away
alongside their money.
Their greedy fingers
slide along with earthworms
pointing accusations of thievery.
The angels bury themselves
in their wings and sleep.
My dreams are flashing
red moons against
the underground
concrete meadow.
Your sisters catch up,
pass me red wine
and I drink long
because I am thirsty
and my life is frozen
at the bottom of the cup .
I watch their red lips and
their white teeth come closer.
No one is left inside of us.
Tightening Wings
Kate stands at the door
her vision blurred
with downy feathers,
a rolling fog holds her still
she leaves behind a map
with thumbtacks and string,
a hotplate and a shelf with only
her favorite books (a dozen
or so) to keep her mind
company on the winter nights.
Half the world is asleep
the clouds bring her
their sleeping sounds,
blotted and restrained
with storm cloud static.
Her open hand catches on
the ivy that covers her
front wall and the stones
hold back the ocean
a precipice, a light tower.
She is caught in a spindly
blindness that colors her red
Space
A physical space, four walls, some windows
Mine. My own. It was up there, on the last floor
overlooking Inwood park. A studio, enough room
for a bed (that converted to a sofa), a red desk with
its red chair (facing out the largest window), four book
shelves and two media shelves heaped high,
spilling over with music and books.
Today, on this day, my space is down there, beneath the earth,
a basement room without windows. It is dark, very dark and I lose
track of time. It encases the same desk and the same bed, that's all
it can manage. My footrest is a stool where my fat black cat sleeps.
My desk is heaped high with books, files, papers and a laptop, hidden
beneath precarious piles. It's mine, my very own but I have to creep
around late at night so as not to wake up the folks. It's a tight fit as
the whole house rests over my head.
A notebook and a pen is all that's needed. The room,
the physical space is a luxury. Time is a luxury.
Steal moments, and hours, and seconds, and minutes
between classes, between jobs, between sleep
to gather up nomad phrases that ruminate
and hum in the background. Pick, pick, pick the fruit
of the tree. Take nibbling bites, gaping bites, hoping to encase
the phrase before it drops away, back into the landscape.
64
IV
The moment of desire is one that defies proper edge, being a
compound of opposites forced together at pressure.
-Anne Carson
65
A Spark on Venus
(an excerpt)
Characters:
JACKIE Valencia: 33 year old Latin woman, girlfriend to TANYA
TANYA Carson: 29 year old woman, sister to Jamie
JAMIE Carson:
35-years old, brother to TANYA
Scene 1
Location:
Washington Heights?135 St. and Broadway
Outside the tenement building of JACKIE and TANYA
Time Frame:
Time of Day:
Present Day
10:30 pm, Thursday
JAMIE CARSON
(JAMIE CARSON, 35 years old, enters with a large duffle
bag. He puts his bag down and starts to roll a blunt.)
Fucking James...I don't give a shit....just hope Tanya...just have to get
past that girlfriend of hers...otherwise...
(shakes his head, licks his blunt closed, lights the joint,
takes a long deep pull, holds breath, then exhales.)
He thinks I'm a complete waste. What the fuck does he know?
I published a novel...hit the List...I was young and up and coming...
James was proud...the way a father should be. And now, nothing
I don't know how I burned through all that cash.
(JAMIE takes another pull from his joint.)
But it's not like I haven't fuckin' tried. The problem with hitting it big
when you're young...it's hard to keep the momentum going. Where do
you go when you've reached the high point at 24?
Ten fucking wasted years.
I sit there...day after day and... nothing comes out...nothing happens...
So when James asks,....because he always asks, I tell him what he
wants to hear...it's coming along...
He wants me to hit the Times list again.
How the hell am I supposed to... when he's kicked me out of the
house?
"For my own good"...he actually used those words...What am I? 16?
(beat)
I hadn't meant to stay that long.
Alisha warned me, if I took refuge in his house...I wouldn't write.
She said it right before she packed up and left me for Albuquerque...of
all damn places. Who moves there? On purpose.
She's the only one that ever mattered. I let her go. She was just
starting to get that look in her eye. The one they always get with me.
The one that says, " I can't stand you anymore".
I just couldn't take it if she felt that way about me.
Maybe I should look her up? But who wants to go to Albuquerque?
Ok first things first.
(Looks at the last of his joint. He clips the burning end
with his nails leaving behind half a joint. JAMIE grabs his
duffle bag and exits.)
(End of Scene 1)
67
Scene 2
Place: JACKIE and TANYA'S apartment
Time: 10:30 p m , Thursday night
(JACKIE and TANYA are in the kitchen eating Thai food.
JACKIE is seething but tries to act as if she's not. TANYA
refuses to be baited by JACKIE.)
JACKIE
He can't stay with us.
TANYA
Jackie, Where's the shrimp?
JACKIE
Did you hear me? I said he can't stay with us.
TANYA
How do you know?
JACKIE
He only calls when he needs to crash?
TANYA
?okay okay. I heard you.
JACKIE
Be firm with him.
TANYA
I said I'd take care of it.
JACKIE
Are you sure, 'cause if you want I can do it?
TANYA
What's with you tonight?
JACKIE
I don't want him here.
TANYA
?Where's he's going to go?
JACKIE
He's a big boy, let him figure it out.
TANYA
For Christ sake, you help people for a living.
JACKIE
I don't let them crash on my sofa.
TANYA
This is my apartment too.
JACKIE
You change when he's here. You start to slip. I can see it.
TANYA
And I pay rent.
JACKIE
You haven't seen him for awhile.
TANYA
Will you stop acting like a mother hen?
JACKIE
Great! I'm the control freak for giving a shit, right?
TANYA
He's my family.
JACKIE
But after everything that's happened?
TANYA
Fine, I'll tell him he can't stay.
(JACKIE and TANYA eat in silence. JACKIE shows TANYA a
piece of shrimp and TANYA reaches out to grab it. JACKIE
quickly puts it in her mouth and eats it. JACKIE starts to
choke and she's struggling with it but TANYA just
continues eating her food.)
69
TANYA
Wish you didn't eat that last piece now, huh?
(JACKIE'S over the sink coughing up shrimp. She can
finally breathe.)
JACKIE
(coughing) I was really choking?
TANYA
?I could see that?
JACKIE
?I could have died right in the middle of the kitchen?
TANYA
?instant karma for being greedy.
JACKIE
?and you wouldn't have done a thing?
(JACKIE still coughing.)
TANYA
Really? You're mad at m e because you choked on a piece of shrimp?
(JACKIE walks over to the table and turns over one of the
container onto the table.)
JACKIE
(points to the upturned food)
There's your stupid piece of shrimp.
(TANYA takes her fork, spears the shrimp, and takes a bite
from it. JACKIE just watches)
JACKIE
I'm not cleaning it up.
TANYA
What is with you tonight?
70
(JACKIE crosses to leave the kitchen. TANYA blocks her
way and takes JACKIE by the hand)
TANYA
You have something on your mind, so out with it.
(JACKIE looks away)
I know you're upset...
JACKIE
Eat your dinner. It's getting cold.
TANYA
Are you sure? If I sit down to eat, it's not because I don't care....it just
means I'm hungry.
JACKIE
Ha ha ha...we'll talk about it later.
(TANYA slowly moves away from JACKIE to sit back down
at the table)
TANYA
Cause if you want to talk, I want to listen.
JACKIE
Don't make light of it.
TANYA
I just don't want to make any sudden movements.
JACKIE
But you're brother?
TANYA
?Will not stay tonight. I heard you.
JACKIE
No, I don't want you to start again now that he's coming back around
TANYA
I've already started.
JACKIE
Por dios Tanya. Don't fucking play with me.
71
TANYA
I'm kidding. Bad joke.
JACKIE
I have stuck by you...through N.A. meetings, through no jobs, no
money...us barely scraping by. You finally ...finally get your shit
together...so no, this is not funny to me. It's not a fucking joke to me.
TANYA
Give me a little credit here. I've been clean for a good long while and
I think I've earned a little bit of trust by now, don't you think? So
don't start bringing up ancient history.
JACKIE
But Jamie is just not TANYA
What? Good for me? Am I child? Don't you think I can think for
myself?
(JACKIE starts to pick up some of the food from the table.)
JACKIE
I didn't mean to imply?
TANYA
(anger rising)
You don't let me breathe. You never let up. I know how much you've
done for me. But you don't see how I've changed. You only see the
old version of me?
JACKIE
I am just trying to tell you I am worried. You just told me a couple of
days ago you felt like using.
TANYA
And you pick now to throw it my face, (beat) You don't know what it's
like for me. How badly I want to use sometimes but I don't. I want to
use every damn day of my life. And sometimes I tell you. But most of
the time I keep that shit to myself....because I don't want you to
worry, (slow) I...am...not...using. And It is not your job to protect me.
72
JACKIE
?I should just let you use then?
TANYA
You can't control that, only I can. And after all this time, you still
don't get it.
JACKIE
I know that.
TANYA
You know, I met someone at the job the other day. She doesn't know
my whole tragic past. And she likes me.
JACKIE
What?
TANYA
I didn't bring it up because I didn't want you to make a thing about it.
I haven't done anything.
JACKIE
(tentatively)
But with me you want to use?
TANYA
You've been trying to fix me and fix me to be someone else. Someone
better. And no matter what I do...it's not enough.
JACKIE
I just want you to be healthy and clean.
TANYA
And I have that feeling I get..right before I want to use...it's starting
up again because I will never live up to what you want from me.
JACKIE
I didn't realize being with me was so difficult for you.
TANYA
You're not listening. This other girl just reminds me of what's missing
between us.
73
JACKIE
So go! Do what you want. Don't let me stop you from having that
happy happy dream with whatever her name is.
TANYA
Maybe I wouldn't have to look somewhere else if you remembered to
have sex with me every once in awhile.
(TANYA crosses to JACKIE and whispers)
TANYA
I'm sorry I didn't mean it
(TANYA kisses her hard, JACKIE responds. They begin to
undress each other taking articles of clothing off.)
(Door Buzzer)
(Neither JACKIE nor TANYA stop as they are continue to
undress each other. It's angry and frantic.)
(Door buzzer is more persistent.)
TANYA
(under her breath)
?For the love of?
(TANYA crosses stage JACKIE follows, both are putting
clothes back on.)
(Door buzzer)
TANYA
(calls out as they finish dressing)
One minute.
(TANYA opens door. JAMIE enters with duffel bag.)
TANYA
You can't stay Jamie.
JAMIE
I promise I'll be out by the end of the week.
(TANYA doesn't answer.)
JAMIE
I can pay.
TANYA
Really?
JAMIE
Of course not.
TANYA
Get in.
JACKIE
Way to hold your ground.
(JAMIE drops his bag by the door.)
TANYA
Your timing is perfect as usual but Jackie's right you can't stay long.
(JAMIE takes TANYA by the arm and leads TANYA away
from JACKIE.)
JAMIE
I've worn out my welcome with dad.
(TANYA takes a beat, then nods)
TANYA
Wanna a beer?
(JAMIE nods. TANYA crosses to the kitchen and grabs a
couple of beers, uncaps them, hands one to JAMIE and one
to JACKIE.)
JAMIE
Oh Thai. I'm starving.
(JAMIE stands over the table, picks at the food that is laid
out on the table, picks up noodles with his fingers, and
puts them in his mouth. JACKIE watches him. TANYA
75
notices, grabs a clean fork and hands it to JAMIE. JAMIE
picks up a carton of Thai food, and eats from the carton.)
JACKIE
No, I don't want any more dinner, thanks for asking.
(JACKIE exits)
JAMIE
Want to tell me why half your dinner is on the table.
TANYA
Not really. So where to next?
JAMIE
Haven't really decided yet.
TANYA
What about money?
JAMIE
Are you offering?
TANYA
I meant what are you doing for money?
JAMIE
(strong southern accent)
Kindness of strangers.
TANYA
What about the lit agency you were working at?
JAMIE
Fired six months ago.
TANYA
How much do you need?
JAMIE
Whatever you can spare?
(TANYA goes into the cupboard, pulls out a jar, and hands
JAMIE $50)
76
TANYA
I'll get more tomorrow, just put it away.
JAMIE
Trying to figure out my next move.
TANYA
What about Alisha?
JAMIE
That ship has sailed...1 need to find a new living situation. You two
wouldn't want a roommate would you?
(JACKIE enters kitchen.)
JACKIE
Not even if you had cold hard cash.
JAMIE
Can't we just smoke the peace pipe? Just for a week.
(JACKIE stares at JAMIE. BEAT)
JACKIE
A week?
(to TANYA)
Can I talk to you in the other room?
JAMIE
(to TANYA)
I think she's finally warming up to me.
(JACKIE and TANYA cross to living room)
TANYA
(stage whisper)
Jackie, could you...just not..make a big deal...about this...right
now...please?
(JACKIE pauses, takes a deep breath and lets it out.)
TANYA
Thank you.
77
JACKIE
I'm not doing it for you.
TANYA
Thank you anyway.
JACKIE
When he leaves, I want you to go with him.
TANYA
You want me to leave?
JACKIE
I want you to figure out what you want...because right now it isn't me.
TANYA
But-(JAMIE enters. JACKIE gets up.)
JAMIE
Are we squared away then?
JACKIE
I think we are...Jamie, do me a favor, don't drink all the beer.
(JACKIE exits.)
(End of Scene 2.)
78
Coda
For as long as I could remember, writing has always been a means of escape for
me. The possibilities were endless and there were no restrictions. I grew up in a very
strict household so writing was the place where I could rebel and say all the things that
were on my mind. I even knew how dangerous it was because when my folks found my
little make-shift notebooks there were real punishments for writing what was on my
mind. I got past the Catholic guilt trips, corporal punishments, being grounded, the
silent treatment, trips to confession, and being made to feel as if I was the most ungrateful
daughter but it was worth it, because within the space of a page, I was most myself. The
silence that I was forced to swallow within my house had an outlet on the page.
Being a child of Mexican immigrants, I struggled with following my own path
and fulfilling my parent's ambition of becoming a professional. Through most of my
adult life, my creative writing was relegated to the sidelines. It was something that I did
only after working a full-day at a proper job. The security of a steady paycheck became
more important than cultivating my creative life. After all, in my parents' eyes, there was
no money to be made in writing poetry and to not make money was not an option in my
family. How could I possibly make them understand that writing poetry had nothing to
do with money and everything to do with the love of writing? I stopped trying to make
them understand and I wrote despite their disapproval but I had one foot in two worlds.
One part of me tried to allay their fears by being a good worker with a steady paycheck
and another part tried to branch out with writing.
79
I found ways of allowing the creative work to be present every day and still work
a full-time post in the publishing field. I joined in with a lesbian playwriting group called
Sisters-on-Stage. They had a mentoring program for playwrights just starting out and I
worked with Barbara Kahn, developed a couple of scenes that later became a short play
called Is This Desire. Barbara asked me questions about the characters and the storyline
and we had conversations about the work. She treated me as a fellow writer, which gave
me confidence to present my work to a wider audience. We had readings at St. Clement's
Theater as well as other "found" spaces around New York City and for three years I felt
as if I was part of a community of writers. Writing was such a solitary activity before I
became active in their group that it helped to be able to bounce ideas off of another
person. I couldn't write plays in a vacuum. The leaps in the quality of the work happen
when there is a certain kind of feedback. Even seeing the works-in-progress of the others
in the group helped feed my creativity. Sometimes other members tried to solve
problems in their own pieces and it helped to hear how they came to a solution. So when
the same sort of difficulty arose in my own work, I had a way of navigating through a
difficult scene.
At the same time, the poetry that came out usually started as a monologue. There
would be a certain rhythm and rhyme scheme to the language and the piece would
blossom into verse. Poetry is something to be read aloud and it made sense that my
playwriting would inform the cadence of the poetic pieces I developed. I had actors read
my poetry out loud so I could hear where the language faltered or where the rhythms just
didn't quite have the right music to it. I tended to overwrite; the images were thickened
80
with too many descriptive adjectives and the words out of another's mouth helped me to
hear the language better.
My writing journey has had these moments when it flourished and then
contracted. All I wanted to do was enter an M.F.A program in playwriting but the
programs were competitive and I just couldn't get in the door, despite applying five years
in a row to various schools. I was so frustrated that I took this odd turn in my education.
I decided to pursue a Masters in Divinity at New York Theological Seminary. To this
day I'm still uncertain as to how I came to that decision. I was an openly gay woman in a
Christian program and I thought it was my calling. For a year and a half, I read about the
history and the symbols of the Christian faith. I also had to ward off other students'
polemic attitudes against the Queer community. In one of my classes I was asked to do a
presentation on my faith. My presentation came to me in verses. I wrote this long poem
about how Christianity was not my legacy. I used historical background to inform my
presentation so it was steeped in academic discourse. At the end of my piece, I could feel
power vibrating through my body. My professor Sylvester Johnson told me I had
electrified the room with my poetry. I knew at that moment that I was finished with
seminary. I was never going to go out into the world and preach the Christian paradigm.
With that poem, I had made a different connection to my creative writing. I understood a
new way of bringing in historical context into my present-day imagination.
After I left seminary, I began to explore mythological symbols of Native
American and Mexican-Indian traditions. My poetry became reminiscent of ritualistic
incantations. I was interested in the natural world and how human beings live amongst
animals and plants in an urban setting. Being a native New Yorker, I knew I was far
81
removed from appreciating the greenery and the limited wildlife around me. I noticed
and started to write about how I experienced these encounters. To this day, I continue to
be interested in writing about how we intersect with our environments.
I moved on to co-develop curriculum and co-facilitate an intensive Saturday
program for kids and teens, called Our Expressions Theater Program with Kerri Mesner.
Kerri had a theater background so she worked on the physical/acting components and I
worked on getting the students to tell their stories. I transcribed all of their words onto
the page and together we developed scenes. They explored the stressors of their young
lives like dealing with parents and being heard, being queer in high school and bullying,
to name a few, but all the words were theirs. This program informed my own writing
because I could see these students really take chances by putting their most personal
issues out for everyone to see and hear. It made me braver in my own writing. This
group gave me new-found energy and reminded me of my love for theater and how
truthful words could move an audience. We worked through seven cycles of students
before we disbanded.
Without the theater group, my writing floundered for awhile. I didn't have a clear
idea on how to get my work up on stage. I submitted scripts to various theaters only to
get rejection letters in return. I was in limbo and I couldn't see a solution. And then the
oddest thing happened. I was downsized from my company. They gave me a tidy little
severance package, I cashed out my 40IK and pooled my money to put up a workshop
production of Is This Desire. It was a shoe-string production, and I worked with a sweet
group of women who helped me put it up. It had two showings at the Gay and Lesbian
Center and I broke even. I was able to give the actors and the director a small amount of
82
money but seeing the work come to life was amazing. The production gave me such a
deep feeling of satisfaction that I thought my writing life finally started to flourish. I
thought that if I couldn't get a piece up on Broadway then I could still find venues to put
up my own productions. My eyes were shiny with rosy idealism. So I began writing
both poetry and monologues for different reading events and created a mailing list that
extended outside my immediate friends to get work "out there" in the world.
I hooked in with Dyke TV, a lesbian media group and pitched them an idea for a
lesbian soap opera. This group mostly worked with news and documentary-style filming
and they broadcasted on public access. They liked my idea but they warned me that the
quality of the video had to be exceptional if they were going to broadcast it under Dyke
TV. They lent me equipment but there was no compensation for the making of the video
itself. Right. Armed with this knowledge, I thought, I could write a couple of short
segments, shoot a couple of episodes to show them the potential of the project. Jessica
Stein, a videographer, liked my idea and we worked on a script. We were at odds with
the project from the onset. She wanted the show to be campy and I did not want to go in
that direction. We came to an impasse and I compromised to move the project forward.
We shot in two locations over a couple of days and edited the piece in a couple of
sessions. The final product was three 7-minute segments called Truth Be Told. It aired
on public access both here in New York City and in Canada. Dyke TV loved it and
wanted more episodes, but money was tight and they would not offer us any type of
compensation. I was so disappointed with the final outcome of the piece that I lost
enthusiasm for the whole project. The idea and the written material that I had worked so
hard on had turned into this strange campy disaster in my eyes. It was a complete failure
83
to me and I went into a funk over it. I lost my momentum and I started to stall with the
writing.
After a while everything I wrote just seemed as if I was writing at an amateur
level. The self-criticism was so deep-seated that I couldn't even see the potential in
drafts. My works-in-progress file grew into a thick pile and I was paralyzed with the fear
for getting it wrong again. In the past, I could shrug off the fear by telling myself
everything could be revised, nothing is set in stone, and it's all a learning process.
However, I let the creative work contract back to a sideline activity. I was plagued with
migraines and shoulder pains. My depression became so intense, I could hardly breathe.
During the same time, I had a brilliant opportunity to showcase my work at
Queens Theater in the Park in one of their reading series. Rob Urbinati accepted the
work into the program and helped me set things up but I was in such a dark space that I
could hardly enjoy the process. There were sequences of events from that reading that
only reinforced the belief that my writing was not very good. I worked closely with the
actresses and the director and made a considerable amount of revisions based on their
feedback. As Rob and I set out chairs, he told me that not very many people were
expected to arrive so he didn't think we should set out too many. I had personally sent
out quite a number of e-mails on this event and I told him that I received a number of
confirmations. To his surprise, we were packed to capacity.
A question and answer session for the audience was set up after the piece was
read. The very first question that came from an audience member was, "What's the
point?" It knocked the wind out of me. What's the point? What's the point of the piece?
Of the story? If this audience member couldn't discern the point from the writing itself
84
then how could I possibly answer that question? It was such a condescending question
that I had trouble answering any others after that because I stewed over that one question.
If I had been in a better mind set I don't think I would have taken the comment so
personally but I was so depressed that I absorbed it as a negative commentary against my
work. This was the same short play that I had been so proud of only a few short years
before but the self-doubt was blinding me.
Rob and I met after the event for a closing meeting and I asked him if my play
could find a stage In other words, could I get a substantial production set up around this
particular play? His answer to me was he didn't think the play was commercial enough,
despite a capacity audience. My creative writing dried up. I scarcely wrote in my journal
much less tried to work on new material. I stopped pursuing my writing life. Instead, I
re-focused my energies elsewhere. I was distracted with relationships. I took up yoga
and karate. Most of my energy went into a job that I did not love but I became ambitious
over it. I figured if I couldn't hack it as a playwright or a poet then I needed to prove my
salt in my career.
By this time, I was in the textbook publishing industry working as an editorial
assistant. My brass ring became being an editor for the company. The money and the
perks were enticing. My manager was a sponsoring editor and he was only a couple of
years older. I could feel time slipping away from me. I knew I had to make some big
moves if I was going to achieve this goal. To become an editor I had to work in the sales
field for at leas
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