I am waiting for a line. Do you know what I am meant to say? I keep slipping through the middle. I am her and there and everywhere. I think I could speak Portuguese, Mandarin, Finnish, and Japanese. I have a Russian accent with a twang of Afrikaans. I speak the language of the universe. I hear the whispers of the Milky Way and the screams of isolated earths, all afraid they are alone. The static of the big bang, the ripping of black holes and expanding gases, the sighs of dying stars. I know the hums of growing grasses and the creakings of all the trees. I see every ant and every galaxy. I see the pattern of existence. But it is slipping and so I am, too, pulled apart by the weight of all these spinning things. And now I think I may be just a girl with a cup of tea that’s gone cold. A turning of the silver spoon to combine it all again, and the milky swirls seem so familiar, but I can’t quite place them, white silhouettes on brown. Something wants to tug at me but I am too far for its reach, and so it is only as forceful as a fly landing on my shoulder. I shrug it off just as easily and I sip from the teacup, heavy and tepid, costing my tongue, anchoring me to this cafe. And the veil, it flutters away, turning, twisting tight in on itself and disappearing. There’s no more slipping. I am grounded, and gravity feels crushing. But there is tea to swallow and a book to read. I don’t remember what the stars said.
I saw the shape of the harbor
Coaxing me to fill the gap
Left by all the boats I had not boarded
Set sail on the wide ocean
Black with depths
My local pet store sends me adverts specifically tailored to cats, and this week the header was “Love never means having to beg for treats.” What was the coupon for? A fish tank.
She liked the faded ink on his arms from the needling of an untrained tattoo artist who did them for free out of his kitchen. She liked the little scar above his lip and the thick one like a rope wrapping around his knee. He liked her little nose and her fingertips and the mole below her breasts. He liked that he could smell her before he saw her in the mornings. He liked that he still expected her copper hair to smell like pennies, but instead he found the scent of her rosemary shampoo when it fell over his face, without fail, from her tossing and turning in the night. He liked her lush, pink lips and how they looked like a bloom in the snow against her skin. She liked his scraggly face and how it made her neck red with irritation when he nestled against her, but he liked her to stay cream colored and whole. He liked to look at her when she didn’t look at him, and he liked to feel the pads of her fingers, warm and cool all at once like aloe vera, tracing the map of him, studying the routes and shortcuts and hidden pathways across his geography. He liked when she held him, and he settled into her like a warm pool, her form curving around his and keeping him there.
He liked to watch her from afar, how her face looked when it had no audience, how her eyes changed when she lapsed into fantasy, how her face and lips twitched subtly in rhythm with imagined conversations, how she hid it again and he saw how the shadows of her mind fled from the planes of her face in an instant to take refuge in the corners of her mouth and her cupid’s bow the hollow between her brows and eyes. Sometimes he thought he saw them, too, in the curve of her nose. They danced when she took inventory of his tattoos and scars and crookedness. They swirled like eddies in a river when she stroked his ruined skin with impossible gentleness, when she kissed his neck or his shoulder or his bad knee, when she listened as he spoke in earnest, focused on the white mark of where he split his lip. She liked the story of him, and he hated that.
I do not yield to distractions nor make of them much art. I see clearly the path ahead and put foot in front of foot to follow it. I do not stray to the edges nor list to the hidden trails whispering ofshortcuts. I take the long road, uphill and around the bend and riddled with potholes and ditches from erosion. I leave the garden paths for others to get tangled in the brambles and weeds. There are no weeds for me, but there is dirt. Great, damp mother Earth who so kindly gave and now I take. And there are those who would say that this dirt is unbeautiful, bland and devoid of life, but they have only been taken by the siren’s song of the forest with its blooms and branches and dappled sunlight. What they do not know is what I know, that they are rooted in the Earth, and in so being are not truths but deviations. They bend in the wind and sway to different directions, but if those haughty men cared to follow their stems and trunks and delve down into the soil they would discover their roots held fast and reaching, reaching under my path, snug in the damp Earth. It is not the sweetness of the rose nor the lacing shadows of the tree. It is not beautiful; it does not entice or prance or vie for your attentions. It is patient. It shows itself through what it is not, and you must forsake the other things to find it.
I just grind oblivious to worth. I look at each line, poem or drawing, as a rep. The more reps the more muscle. BuIlding a magnificent physique takes years and consistency is the secret ingrediant. The work I do that pleases me now upsets me later. But in the moment I dig it and kick it dashward. Later I might cut it, but rarely need to because the only people who are going to see old work are those who really dig my work or stalkers. People who really dig my archives, let me love you and buy you a pizza. People who hate me and stalk, you are more than welcome to saturate yourself in my vibe and find yourself over-influenced.
You just gotta work. The grind is the muse is the inspiration is the revelation. The only thing that matters for an artist is to work and work. You have to have flood your cells with it.
My mother once mentioned—casually—that at some point during her pregnancy, she had thought about aborting me. Not sure whether it was a serious consideration, or whether it was one of those fleeting things that pass through the mind like a whiff of bad B.O. Regardless, I didn’t say anything about it. My mother laughed it off like it was some sort of really clever joke, and I didn’t want her to think that I cared about something to which she obviously gave short shrift. Still, I’ve often thought about how I was so unwanted, for even a fraction of a second, that my mother actually considered stifling my heartbeat before I took my first breath. It’s not like I obsess over it or anything, but knowing that has served as a sort of undercurrent in my life.
I wonder if my mother’s own near-brush with infanticide bothers her. When I asked her the other day to tell me about the time Hahl-muh-nee almost drowned her in the river during their escape from North Korea, the gleam of pride in her eyes was absolutely unmistakeable. ”Oh, you mean the time Grandma tried to kill me?” as if she’s saying “Oh, you mean the time I finished the Chicago marathon?” Objectively speaking, that moment when you realize that your own mother is seriously thinking about ending your life should qualify as one of the most horrible; however, as with lots of things, my mother seemed to think (or act) as if it were funny.
"We were so hungry. Grandma didn’t know what else to do. We were all starving! She thought she had no other choice!" at which point my brother chimed in, "Thank god for those American GIs who saved your life when they gave you chocolate."
I can, without reservation, say that my blood is too shallow to grasp how throwing one’s little girl into a river can ever constitute a “choice.” Hours before she died, my grandmother’s hand latched onto my own like a baby’s; whenever I tried to pry loose, she would press her fingers into the center of my palm, and I would stay. Maybe she was afraid of dying alone, though she was in a well lit room crowded with all the persimmons she’d sown, because of a Hershey bar.
Her eyes were wide open and glazed, staring right up into the white ceiling of our room. She didn’t speak again before passing under the eaves. Perhaps the river was waiting for her, there, and she could finally wash her feet of the dirt that had been caked between her toes…Though, I think if she could, my mother would have done it for her.
It is easier to write fiction. It is easier than having to explain yourself to yourself, to flay the skin and slice the muscle and stretch it out with pins on a board for self-assessment. Because to anyone else, you are an object of little consequence, but you know the dark places, the fracture lines, the filled and then empty spaces, the spots where your eyes won’t even dare to look. My brain is Big Brother, marking out the undesirables with a big black marker, smudging out the mistakes from my memories. I am none of the things I pretend to be, except I am, and that is scarier. There is no part of me that is less me than the other parts.