Letters (and other quiet perils)

Very soon these are the words I will be able to speak without the pen interposed, all these wonderings heard within the sweet proximity of you and me. And still I feel as though something innate and fearful binds my tongue, renders my ink-splotched hands nervous and fretful, like twin birds in impenetrable cages. That old nag, “Michaela, please put yourself away…” That old notion that all this feeling is something too heavy to hold.

And yet, there is so much left to tell that I imagine moments of confidence and conferred stories all of the time. It’s a ceaseless daydream of that evasive privilege, the chance to be understood by someone you love perhaps a touch too much. And it goes without saying that there are infinities left to know- crooked shadows that bare their teeth, gentle sublimities folded upon the highest shelf of memory, despised and desperate queries we dare never speak out loud, all of those invisible fingerprints and fossils pressed into your heart.

I think that it all comes down to a simple sentiment that I have nevertheless failed to translate- that I never wanted more from you; simply more of you. From, signifying an act of conference, an offering of word or deed; of, signifying essence, the very core of what and who you are. And even as I write that, my fingers recoil from the page. The enormity of such intimacy does not escape me, and you have always been at once ephemeral and indelible. It’s one of those things that comes with time I suppose, but isn’t that always what we lack?

There are at least a dozen letters like this one, scribbled on receipts and business cards, restaurant menus and the handsome pages of a fine leather notebook. Some are quite brief, merely a scrap of lines in scrambled languages, others more complete, but I keep them all in the secret hope that one of these days the paper will not feel so heavy, that not a single sentence will bear its weight alone.

M. Alden.

Home is a crooked word with no synomyms.

Under an afternoon splintered with gold and thorns, wind and clouds as fleeting as angels billowing above our hair, we pressed our hands into the new-churned earth on West Magnolia Road and claimed it as ours. The damp ground dried up and honored these birthmarks; to this moment, she still bears the hollow stars of our tiny hands, keeps our names engraved into her nethermost. This was our kingdom, epicurean cathedral of wild nights and firesides. The bougainvillea wove itself into verdant circles and we crowned ourselves emperor and queen, sacred groundskeepers and young scions of unbridled acres.

Under the star-washed violet sky, we sewed wings onto our sneakers and kicked off the ground. We believed in fantastic, impossible things: dragons and spies and imaginary friends that lived in the attic, we believed in forever and the infallibility of love. I do not believe we took it for granted. We loved the wet grind of concrete on our feet, spraying the garden hose in the driveway on summer afternoons, the cells of blackberry flesh bursting over our tongues, our shadows that always moved two-by-two. Above everything, we loved the dangerous flick of bonfires, their ravenous orange tongues, the shimmered dance of the trees seen through rippling grey air. What a luscious thrill, to beget the spark and flame, to coax it into scarlet rapture and delight in the midnight dance of mortal light, to smother it with cool streams as we licked the last embers from our fingers. In the morning I painted with the ashes. You raked the refuse strewn from the burnmark on the yard’s green face. We walked back inside together and slept soundly, the smoke in our lungs keeping us warm.

Sometimes I still dream of it, our own secret Manderley burning up while we watch from the road, windows coughing out heavy clouds of smoldered brick and pine.  Sometimes we still drive and sneak in through the broken back door, trace the letters of our names still stuck in the ground like we own something to be proud of. Once upon a time there was you and me cast in pure gold, wrapped in the deep blue walls of our newfound castle. Sound asleep while black harbingers swooped through the tremulous ramparts with malice in their wings. And just look at us now, Joshua, and isn’t she a sight for jaded eyes, forlorn grandeur draped in ivy. We’re waking  in outskirts of cold Magnolia, her petal scent and smoke lodged in our throat like swallowed lockets.

Penstroke

“You can stroke people with words.” – F. Scott Fitzgerald

Yours is the sort of hypnotic fancy I’d have liked to put my heart in, as I huddled in an empty terminal at 3:27 am with my trenchcoat and notebook rumpled on my knees, sleepless and wrecked by nocturnal solitude. That endless florescent night, I prayed to unapproachable gods (one more time) that I, composed of letter and sound, could transcend the treacherous black cartography; that I could swim languorously through the unfathomable span of waves and graze his cheek with dexterous pen and ink; that someone could subsist on breath and water alone while each bounty of epicurean sensuality languished in the shadow of language’s luminosity. To have graphite hands and fingerprints of written impress, to reach him with every word and thrush of hope, limbs folded as an envelope and my mouth as the cool corner stamp: a delirious half-dream as I waited to be carried off by the great white wing. 

Meanwhile, someplace I could no longer reach, he held my paper essence in his hand and placed my lettered soul upon the highest shelf, perhaps believing for an instant your blithe fantasy of living word and voices rendered corporeal. And like you, I used to believe that this body was withered transience, decaying conduit for an undefinable holy something, that the real substance was whatever I could fathom in the boundless amorphism of an aberrant headspace. These days, the shatter of grief and absence dismantles my chest in the same measure that it wracks the strange, virescent landscape. These days, I remember the unified duality of self as he asked in one breath for my body and the cowering soul inside, the tender brush of heartstrings moving through my skin. These days, there’s no defining phrase or definite hope to cleave to, but still the poetry spills over, and I shake my head at its dismal perseverance.

These days I am no longer so sure of anything, except perhaps the bleak insufficience of paltry verse and love that you read but cannot sense. Maybe some scribe more masterful and wise could manage that fantastic penstroke, that miracle of language I can’t pretend to possess. But please do not speak to me of dreams impossible, of soft touches fashioned from distant lips, of caresses gleaned from typewriters and keyboards. Here is my discourse and here is my heart, but the former cannot fathom anything that will suffice as limbs moving through worn white sheets, a hand outstretched and taken in the dark.

Fallow

There was a time, a luminescent absconscion from pitch delusion into a softer demesne of hopeful lyric, when the penumbra dissolved and the curtains unfurled to the resonance of the first arching note, and I believed that every word was worth its weight, every phrase enough to assuage the gasping ache of festered grief, when I prayed to the illimitable haven of living voice to render each moment in righteous truth.

Give me crimson and gold, amber-inflected horizons and empyrean blues, inflect the firmament with scintillating flare and hue. When midnight obfuscates the last light and saps the sky of Polaris, Perseus, Hercules, all our silvered heroes, place into these reverent hands a holy convocation of the utterance I need to do right by these ephemeral moments. Whisper forever of that which I can only live through language, and that which I alone can speak into vicarious existence.

A year has gone by, four dry seasons of virgin pages fallen in perennial autumn. I press my ear to the cornucopia and it echoes, a hollow resonance like a dial tone. My hands fall, two empty nets at my side. The famine sinks in, sandpaper lips and impotent tongue, and I entreat once more the faceless churn of late masters and departed loves, What clandestine thieves transgressed the inviolate harvest of measured lines? Where has it gone, the amaranthine chorus of immaculate verse and treasured word? How can I invocate once more the sempiternel birth of ink and memory? And they answer at once, a tumultuous roar of ancient condemnation, unstitch their mouths and bear their scarlet teeth, seethe into my soul as one onerous voice, There was no thief, there was no thief, there was no thief… 

Cacophony

How much are they worth?” I wonder, eyes transfixed upon the jewel tones glinting inside the cloth bag he’s got beside him. He shrugs and pours the sack into my hands, a cascade of opalescent blues and fuliginous reds flecked with violet and virid green, by turn cool and flushed with heat, a hundred spheres awash in color and a quiet hum.

“How do we play?” I ask, cupping the iridescent tumult with my fingers pressed together. The hum crescendoes softly, and we can hear now a myriad of tones and melodies emanating from my hands, all of them at once distinct and harmonious; burgundy groans of cello, scintillating chimes and tintinnabulations, a thrum of weary guitar strings woven with a rhythm like bare feet on a wooden floor.

“Place them on the ground,” he says. I crouch low, letting the cosmic spheres roll onto the concrete, guarding them from each edge and crack as they disperse, heedless, in all directions. The hum becomes shrill, a nervous whine like a delirious hive swarm. I want to pick them back up and cradle them in my palms, my arm extended towards the furthest globe, but his foot comes down on my hand with a dull thrack.
“Leave them.”

He stoops down, elbows on his knees, and contemplates the nascent constellation. The flavescent orange is two centimeters from the grass, the rose-gold orb is lodged in a crack, the caliginous indigo right under his thumb. The shrill buzz rises to a shriek, an infinitesimal aural pierce before he flicks the indigo full-force into the crimson, then the azuline ball, and then a cacophony of ricochet and shatter, the marbles charged with kinetic chaos and cracking upon impact. The sidewalk glitters with prismatic shards and the last dozen spheres.

“Your turn,” he grunts, budging a little so that I can strike with the same force. The high whine has receded enough so that I can hear him muttering about angles and trajectories, where to send the next exquisite bullet.

I shoot the closest sphere straight into the grass, away from the remaining marbles quivering on the sidewalk, where it nestles between waifs of green and brown. He looks at the frangible orb unharmed in the sod, and bends down so we’re eye to eye. A muscle is jumping in his jaw, and his exhale carries a scent of acrid rot. “That’s not how this works, honey.

He turns back to the game and scrutinizes the marbles, stare fixed on the rose-gold still resting in the crack. His index fires an opaline ball in its direction, but miscalculates the angle, and it sails right into a vermillon, and again the pellets fly into wild entropy, a scream emitting from each sphere as they splinter into decimated millions.

The last ball the marble strikes is an obsidian black bead, nearly white where the sun shines upon it. I see his eyes flash as the ball approaches the piceous target, and the scream this time is not a feeble intimation but a terrible howl of fear, and I watch his face contort with primal terror.  The obsidian bursts like all of the others. Stygian shards litter the concrete, and as the pieces skitter and settle I watch him writhe and crumble, his body becoming like the nacreous sand before my feet.

There’s one marble left now, an aurulent blush of glass farthest from where he had stood. Fingers no longer trembling, I reach to pick it up, and stride away from the glimmering swath of grit and shards. A solitary hum unwinds into the air as I walk with my hand wrapped around my pearl.

Moon.

We’ve seen this movie before, and here’s the part where he finds the bodies, finds himself in mirrored caverns, a gallery of pallid twins asleep in metal cradles. I doze off on your shoulder while he’s checking their thumbs for spindle-pricks, kissing them awake to raise a barren colony. I wake up as he draws a portrait of his wife in sterile dust like the indelible footprints left by his hallowed predecessor. You wipe drool off your shoulder and press your mouth on my hair.

The man on television is making a village out of popsicle sticks, a microcosm he wants to curl into with his oxygen and scarf and postcards. He wants to know if his wife remembers the constellation of freckles on his back, he wants to brush an eyelash off her cheek, he wants to say her name somewhere the sound doesn’t die. I ask you whether you’ll call my name the next time you’re spinning softly within a woman’s gravity, four feet above black water, bodies in the lake and nothing underneath. You hold me a little tighter and say you don’t forget details.

The man on screen is beating his fists against insentient rock. He has effaced the fingertip trace of his earth-bound lover. I understand him, and want to be like him, never giving up on altering the dismal course of linear orbit. I understand how much it aches to be an afterthought, Saturn’s seventh ring, pure white glove on the surface of the moon.

ghosthouse

On the cusp of your beloved threshold I saw you, your sturdy ankles and tremulous steps into the derelict edifice, cobwebbed balustrade gleaming like ebony water under your bone-white hand,
carpet of dust and crumpled photographs like your own sacred altar.

I saw you kneeling, and your hands amassed the grave irretrievable.
I watched you cradle your forlorn vignettes; a pillowcase with crude seams and thimblepricks of blood, an old sneaker with no laces, pastel candlesticks burned to wicker stubs.

I followed your tread towards the broken mantle of our stony youth, where someone has burned shriveled letters, our voices risen in a grey plume of ash.

I heard you speak to the kind-faced phantoms seated at your kitchen table. Their gentle answers like smoke while you nod and understand, now and forever, that the arthritic floorboards and spiderlace walls are forsaken aches with no absolution.

The ghosts and I watched sadly as you gathered strips of wallpaper and upholstery like a child picking wildflowers, tearing iridescent growth from Terra’s groaning breast.

“None of us are going back.” You tell me this over and again while we gather our dead and leave our fingerprints on every window of this brick and mortar mausoleum.

I hear you singing hymns and christmas carols, and then the stark echo, the house key’s last turn, hear your holy words as you carve our names into the ceiling and drop breadcrumbs down the hall.

In what voice do your stars laugh?

My dearest one, you were once so small that you held onto my shoulder as you put on your shoes. We hid under the bed covers reading night-time tales, and you nestled into the pillows and listened to the lullabies I loved to sing until you drifted away.

You were so small, but brighter than every star. In the summertime we danced in arcs of water, little feet squashing through the grass, the sprinkler turning, turning, turning. We ran around and I held your hand, because I knew that one day we’d be too far for you to reach.

Robins nested outside your window. We watched for them in the springtime and waved goodbye when they flew away. The years passed like that. I learned that I would give my life away if it meant you could look out the window and see the newborn wings every spring. I learned to cherish the sound of your breathing, the unsteady heave of fragile lungs. There was a time we thought you’d leave us, a newly-hatched babe gone somewhere in the sky. I never thanked you for holding on so tightly.

Now you are so tall, and you put your arm around my shoulder. I learned that it is alright to lean on you, just a little. Because in all your young wisdom, you know how to shine into shadows and speak in lovetones. Who taught you all this, dear heart? You are so grown.

After the Rain

I see the world through refracting windows with raindrops glistening on the edge, a surrealism in which I can reside. The resplendent colors prick at my iris, that melanic kiss of sensory wisdom, and I see in new shades. How beautiful, to live in a perspective that shifts and has its terminus in the periphery of a kaleidoscope.
I want you to see it, too. I’ll show you that if you tilt your head or heighten your gaze so that the sun can bless the landscape, the world may not be so treacherous, may resound with pulsebeat miracles. If you must close your eyes, I will lead you on till the shadows hush, light capes of grey silhouette, and remind you that even the darkness bows to our form.