October 16, 2006

On a Lost Manuscript

When I sat on a bench in Union Square Park
and hammered out 12 pages in two hours,
I'd thought, "Ah! I am a writer."
Then, I thought, "Nah,
I just got lucky this time."

When, a few weeks later, I discovered
the loss of those 12 pages,
I'd screamed and cried and thrown things,
and I thought, "Man! I guess I really am a writer."
Then, I thought, "Nah,
I'm just unbalanced."

When, two months later, fully expecting to fail,
I scratched out those 12 pages all over again
in the space of three nights (between 1 and 5 a.m.),
I stared at them, dropped my pen, rubbed my eyes
and thought, "Oh, fuck it, fine, I'm a writer."
And, too exhausted to think anymore,
fell asleep.



Summer 2006.

Monster (Liking Trop)

The moon was like a
milky, pregnant belly
in the heavens, heavily
swollen, a ripe white
berry, ready to burst pearly
juice.

There was a human cry, and then,
the sound of clothes ripping, then
panting, panting, panting, then, a long, long
howl. Then,
silence.

We found them in the morning,
him,
no longer himself,
and her -
a ripe, blanched berry,
burst.




Summer 2006.

The Wall By Your Bed

On the vast white sea
of the wall by your bed,
two dark islands
keep changing the map.

Sometimes, uncertain,
they float apart,
only to
slide together again.

On the uncertain map
of the wall by your bed,
two dark islands
keep changing their minds.

They turn, in turn,
from volcanic to glacial,
only to
change their minds again.

On the frustrated map
of the wall by your bed,
two dark islands
tell the histories of time,

of the Earth in her youth,
when nothing stood still,
when the continents
moved with the tides.

On the great, paling sea
of the wall by your bed,
a grey mountain
begins to stir.

In the pale morning light,
it groans and it sighs,
turning into
two islands once more.



Summer 2006.

October 3, 2006

King of Spades

The cards flew
like brightly plumaged birds,
scattering shining, multi-colored discs
like sequins from an evening gown,
and whimsical bits of colored paper
like swirling confetti.
Clang-clang-clang went the
slot machine, and somewhere,
a woman screamed
with joy.

The cards fled,
like fickle birds,
toward warmer climes
and greener pastures.
The cocktails flowed
and flickered fetchingly
in the electric lights,
and the dealers
studiously averted their eyes,
hastily palming handfuls
that meant nothing at all.

Time passed like money
between countless fingers,
and disappeared, and then,

the cards fell
like wounded birds,
helpless and empty-eyed,
and, in the end,
indifferent.

Clang-clang-clang went the
slot machine, and somewhere,
a lonely woman
wept.




Spring 2006.

September 19, 2006

Photograph

In the bottom drawer
of my dresser,
buried under
forgotten souvenir T-shirts,

there is a photograph,
a snapshot
of happiness
in primary colors.

It was taken
the day of the red beach ball,
and the red swimming trunks,
and our lips after cherry ices,

the day of the unbearably blue sky,
and the blue beach bag,
and your eyes,

the day of the yellow blanket,
and the striped umbrella,
and our Technicolor sunburns,
later.

Sometimes, when there isn't enough color,
I look at it
to remind myself that
once,

I plunged
into a shining, silver lake
and came up laughing,
the water sluicing lovingly
down my hair,
gathering into tiny,
kiss-like
droplets
on my skin.



Spring 2006.

Impractical

On the road to adulthood,
stumbling over scattered bones & looseleaf paper,
I had abandoned all of my crazy dreams,
one by one.

Some
became too burdensome to carry.
Others
weren't permitted past a certain point.
Others still
were simply lost in moments of distraction.

I followed, obediently,
all the signs,
all the directions,
all the posted instructions,

until I came to a place
that wasn't mentioned in my many maps,
where no signs were posted,
and no one told me
where to go.

I had abandoned the impractical,
and now, the practical
had abandoned me.

And then, out of the
shadows and the silence,
came something that filled my senses
with light, and music,
and the wildest dream of all.

So can you blame me now,
for following this flicker,
this chimera,
this new, this greatest folly
wherever it may take me?

Wherever it will lead,
at least there will be
light.




Spring/Summer 2006.

Inevitable

I filled my pockets
with new memories
to weigh me down,
and keep me close to the earth,
but the earth betrayed me
with its stubborn scent
of stubborn life
that sang relentlessly
of your skin.

I climbed the tallest tree I could
to see farther than I'd ever seen before,
to find new marvels
that I might come to love,
but the tree betrayed me,
cradling me far too long
while its leaves made sounds
like muffled whispers.

I dove into the ocean,
that its coolness
might clear my head,
that its saltiness
might banish your taste,
that its violence
might shake you loose from my limbs,
but the ocean betrayed me
and left me unharmed
and adrift
on the sand.

I searched inside myself,
looking for my heart,
that I might reason with it
or will it back to reason,

but when I searched,
all I could find

was you.


Spring 2006.

The Chase

The heat
between us
is the heat
of uncertainty.

Admit it -
you would crave me less
if I belonged
to you.

If you knew
I'd be home each night,
waiting for you by the door,
you wouldn't have a hard-on
by the time
you rang the bell.

When tigers start
to play the kitten,
they get retired
or put to sleep.

I tell you this -
and you get angry at the logic,
chase me,
pin me down,
and try to
fuck the jungle out of me -
and all the while,
I laugh and laugh,

for this is precisely why
I tell you this.

The chase is good for us.
Your love needs
the exercise,
and I need
your love.

The bruises on my hips
are blooming
by the time
you groan, open your eyes, and say -

"You play
by all the
fucking women's rules."

I smile
and bend to lick
the pinkly glistening tip
of your cock.

"No, love,
I play
by fucking yours."




Summer 2003.

The Shredded Paper Poem

This is my
long-awaited, overdue
elegy
for the page
that I tore into pieces
and threw into the trash
in a little apartment
in Buffalo, NY
on May 19, 2001
at perhaps 8 pm.

This is also
my apology
to myself,
two years later.
This makes it no better

but I remember
the words on that page;
I remember no other
journal entry
with such
cut-glass
clarity.

This is my confession
to the betrayal
of myself
and my c(o)untry
for the sake
of a man

who tried to use
my love's blue methane fires
to burn my own books;

who tried to use
my own too-eager kisses
to shut my too-loud mouth;

who finally broke
breaking me.

This is my admission
of guilt.
I did it. I
wept and wrote and
apologized for both,
while still doing the former
and apologizing
for that.

I did it. I
tore the sheet out
of the notebook
he gave me
(before he knew
I'd write in it),
shredded it
between my shaking
fingers, in front of his
implacable face,
begged, groveled,
ignored the inner
moaning
as I sprinkled the
pieces
into the can, watching
them mix with

exhausted potato and banana peels,
clots of congealed tomato sauce,
and snot-stiff, tear-stained paper
tissues,
before the lid
swung closed.

Yes! I did it!
I committed

self-abuse,
self-mutilation,
attempted suicide
in the name of
what I stopped writing of.

It was my terrible sacrifice
to love.

And every time
I look
at my books
of poems, my
folders, folios,
my fragile, fading empire,
I think
of that one
page, torn, tossed, trashed,
incinerated
in the name of love, love, love,
love, love, love, love, love
(until the very word
goes limp and meaningless),

on May 19, 2001
in Buffalo, NY
for the man
who broke
breaking me
and made me
THIS.




Summer 2003.

Trembling

"Tremo e t'amo."

I'm trembling
and I love you
and I'm going.

I love you
and I'm trembling,
and that's always been my cue
to leave.

You weren't made
for love like mine -
this love
that stirs
the universe.

You were made
for LoveLite -
the healthy,
crunchy,
sparkly kind,
always fresh,
beaded with Evian water.

You love
by your machines,
and my
love
would
crash your computer,
jam your PalmPilot,
make your cell phone vibrate
non-stop,
ruin your
business-casualness,
and throw off
your schedule.

You, who never tremble
and find it easy to love -
you weren't meant
for love
like mine.

But I do love you -
and I'm trembling

and I'm going.



Summer 2003.

Cavewoman

The cavewoman
has made known
her presence
and her grievances
and her threats.

Because we have locked her away
like a madwoman in the attic,
she will continue setting fires
to our civilized homes
and our civilized ladies.

Because we have gagged her
like a dangerous heretic,
she will scream through the throats
of divorce attorneys
and romance novelists.

Because we have sealed her off
in her caves,
she will abandon us
in ours.

Because we have called her
an infantile fallacy,
she will let us
stumble
like infants,
deaf to our cries.

Because we have thrown her
to the winds,
to the lions,
to the analysts,
to the politicians,
to the sexologists,
to the pornographers,
to the religious right,
to the litigious left,

she will leave us

to ourselves.



Fall 2005.

Call of the Road

She's leaving again
today,
as she has left so many
times,
and places,
and people.

She's leaving because
it rained yesterday,
and when she placed her fingers
against the streaming windowpane,
she stayed dry.

She's leaving because
last night, for the first time,
she fell asleep in his arms
and woke up
with dust on her eyelashes.

And so, she's leaving,
again,
although she loves him
more than anything in the world.

More than anything in the world,
but not more than

everything in it.



Spring 2005.

Flamenco

There is a place
where the men with glistening foreheads
have music in their blood
and blood in their music,

where the guitars can cry so loudly
and so plaintively,
that the widows go silent
and invisible, black-draped
like windows for a bomb drill,

where the night explodes
beneath stamping feet,
as flesh explodes
beneath wily horns,
spilling sangria
across a tablecloth,

where the young men with fire in their fingers
whisper
"te quiero, te quiero,
amor," and already
it sounds like an echo.

In the morning,
they will all be echoes,
wordless love songs from the past,
hummed tunelessly by

the young women
who wring the water
from their pillows
to wash the tired tablecloths
stained, yet again,
with red.


Fall 2005.

Breath

Every night, I unbraid you
reluctantly
from my hair.

Every morning, I find you
clinging
to my eyelashes.

Every day, I find myself
stumbling unexpectedly
into one of your temples,
tripping across
a forgotten relic.

Every time I exhale
onto the cool, smooth, clear
slippery
pane of time,
I find your face
carved into the condensation.

Every time, I shatter
it, but it begins again

every time I breathe.


Winter/Spring 2006.

Fragile

There is a luxury
to being fragile.

No one expects
a small, pale, emaciated creature
with scarred wrists
and haunted eyes

to suck it up
and deal with it.

When you are tall,
and wear red lipstick
and a Wonderbra;

when you talk like a sailor,
and fuck like a whore,
and joke
like your life depends on it,

people laugh with you,
and the laughter
is deafening.

No one expects
you to be anything
but strong

when you show no signs
of being

fragile.


Spring 2006.

Lonely Night (Key of Blue)

It's a lonely night here
in this place
crammed full of
lonely people
drowning themselves
in their glasses,
drowning
the room in thick
blue smoke
that stings my eyes so
& makes them water.

But I like it that way.

It's a lonely night here
at this bar
where no one comes to toast a victory
or a beginning,
where no one drinks
for the pleasure of drinking
anymore,
and the lights are
too dim to see
the eyes
of the bartender, as he wipes
clear liquid
from the bar by your glass,

and we like it that way.

Yeah, it's a lonely, lonely night,
'cause I know just where you are
tonight,
& the color of her lipstick
& the smell of her hair
& I know just what you're whispering to her
tonight,
& I know just how you're touching her
tonight,

so I'm drowning my knowledge
in this slicked, wet glass,
in this thick
blue smoke
that makes my eyes water so
on this lonely night.



Spring 2005.

Burning Love Letters

I'll burn your love letters today,
even the hand-written ones,
the crinkled testaments to our
old-fashioned passion.

I lay them, each,
into a shining, silver bowl,
almost-white almost-virgins
to the slaughter,

and then, I strike the match
and kiss them, lightly, deftly
with the flame.

Their bodies writhe, each in its turn,
in graceful, splendid agonies, like Joan of Arc
in de Sade's wettest dreams.

Devoured slowly-swiftly by
the orange echoes
of that gentle kiss,

their edges turn so dangerously fragile,
and curl upward
in abject penitence and supplication,

and when the flame goes cold,
the grey skeleton
so gnarled and brittle-looking in the unmoved silver bowl
still bears the traces of the once-warm words.

I read, warming in anger
and remembered lust,
"I need you," and
"my love," and finally,
"forgive me if you"

cannot bear it anymore,
and I place my fingers on the shadow paper,
obliterating dead love like a hapless ant.

It is surprisingly soft to the touch,
for it is only dust
held together by the force
of habit
and the shock
of sudden emptiness.

I burned your love letters today,
even the hand-written ones,
the crumbled testaments to our
ill-fated passion. It's only fair
to let their corpses decompose
at last.




Spring 2006.

Awakening Alone

When I fell
asleep, you were
you, and I
was I
and all my love
was printed on your skin
and all your love
was stamped into my flesh.

I fell asleep
smelling of you,
your taste in my mouth,
your body firmly clasped
between my limbs.
I fell asleep
in love.

When I awoke,
you were
not there, and I
did not know
where I was. I was
disoriented
& smelling stale
desire, tasting
sour milk,
and staring into
the chasm
of the indentation
on your pillow.





Fall 2003.

Bodyful

I want
to think of you
faceless
bodyless
bodyful
beautiful

I want
you
to stake
your claim
inside my
fantasies
I want
your
stake -
red
hot,
rare

I want
to tease
to flick
to stroke
the ever unknown,

to nibble,
to feed
upon your
storyteller's lips,

to suck,
to suckle
the scepter center
of your art

and you.

Faceless,
bodyless,
and therefore,
bodyful
between my

bodyless
& bodyful.




Summer 2003.

Age of Wisdom

I hope to be there

when you reach the age
of diaries with slightly yellowed pages,
and dog-eared sections in the books
that you haven't yet had the time to read,
and photo albums whose protective covers
have come a bit unglued with time.

When you reach the age
of kept appointments,
and finished songs,
and fully furnished rooms,
and meals eaten sitting down,

I hope to be there. I hope
to find you at the cross-roads
of weariness and wisdom,

when you have proven
all that you want so badly now to prove,
when you have found
all that you search for now,
when you have learned
the answers to all the questions you haven't yet come up with.

When you reach the age
of wondering whether you are old,
I hope to be there
to remind you that you,

you will always be young.



Spring 2006.

12:42 a.m. smokes

She flicks a lighter.
It burns for less than a second.

Inhale,
the house needs to be cleaned,
and my shoes are too tight,
and I need to lose a few pounds
before summer comes.

He strikes a match.
It burns for less than a second.

Inhale,
eight hours until the deadline,
and I should call my parents,
and I need to figure out
what to do after graduation.

Exhale,
his sweater's blue,
and she walks on.

Exhale,
her hair is windblown and curly,
and he glances away.

Long after
the clicks of her high heels
have faded,

long after
he's gone back to typing
words that will not matter,

long after
"what if"
has been forgotten,
the tendrils of their poison curl
around each other
in the dark.


Spring 2005.

Conversations with Stella & Persephone

She spoke of winter
that made summers
seem cold.
She spoke of
tasting red pomegranate,
swallowing its sweet seeds,
while every other
seed in the earth
withered & died.
She cited Boccaccio's
tale about hell and
the devil inside it.
Her pulse fluttered
and throbbed,
like a bird who
had been captured by force.

She spoke of night
that obliterated day
even in daylight.
She spoke of
tasting blood,
while an obscene
glow entered
her eyes
& her hands
clasped convulsively
over her belly.
Roses bloomed
on each cheek
as though
she'd been slapped.

I listened to them,
then groaned,
and sank my teeth
into your shoulder.




Summer 2003.

She-poet

The thinking man dreams
of the she-poet's body,
ravenous & neurotic,
with flesh like
crisp, unlined paper,
glossy & slick
as a collector's edition reissue,
reeking enticingly of Chanel No. 5
(sold in a patchouli oil bottle).

The thinking man dreams
of the she-poet's notebooks,
soft-spined & filled
with exotically dancing words
written in pencil,
& margins all decorated
with his own initials.

The thinking man dreams
of the she-poet's poems.
They are always vaguely dirty
& give him the beginnings of a hard-on.
That's about it.
He swells with pride
at his response to poetry.


Summer 2005.

Bleeker & Minetta

Three years and eleven minutes ago, it was raining and you were kissing me. It was one of those heavy spring rains, the ones that come just a few days before summer finally squeezes through the cold fronts that had seemed interminable. The drops were large and cold, chilling my legs. I’d worn my shortest skirt that day although I’d known it would rain. I’d worn it in anticipation of this kiss, in anticipation of your fingers grazing my hemline, brushing against my thighs. I’d worn it because it would have been your last day in New York, but I hadn’t known it would be our last kiss.

During the moment after our lips unclung, and just before our bodies did, you said something. What was it? It mustn’t have been anything worth remembering at the time. Your tongue slid from my mouth, your hands left my waist, and I became conscious of the cold for the first time since we stepped out of the coffee shop and into the rain. I realized that you were leaning against a padlocked steel back entrance door, that I was leaning against you, and that my yellow-flowered umbrella had tilted in my hand until its pathetic angle rendered it useless. We were soaked, but I laughed, and the raindrops glittered on your eyelashes.

You had to catch your train back home, across a couple state lines. I had to catch mine – across the Brooklyn Bridge. We unclasped our hands on the corner of Minetta and Bleeker, half a block from the steel doorway that was probably still warm from the heat of your body. Three years and four minutes ago, you said you loved me. We kissed again. I tasted your whisky sour until Avenue U. That was all.

It’s raining again today. It’s one of those slow, drizzling rains that never seem to stop, that mean summer is still a few weeks in coming. I wore jeans and a leather jacket today because I knew it would rain. I brought a sturdy black umbrella, and have kept it steadfastly over my head. The rain does not touch me today.

Today, I stopped for a coffee in a small, nondescript café. Walking in, I saw that the next door over was padlocked black steel. I changed my order to a whisky sour.

I do not linger – I drink, I pay and I leave. I snap my umbrella open and join the legion of the faceless black shield-bearers in the street. The sky weeps so casually that no one seems to notice. People smoke under their umbrellas, or speak on their cellular phones. But no one is smiling today, and even the dogs on leashes, droplets tinselling their fur, look unhappy.

I do not bother to look at them all today. I zip my jacket and I head for the train home, across the Brooklyn Bridge. On the way, I will buy a bottle of water from a surly street vendor to wash away the taste of my drink.

Midway to the train station, I hear the high-pitched clatter of high heels, unexpected on this rainy day, sounding in counterpoint to the deeper beat of my own boots on the wet pavement. I walk faster; the high heels do not change their pace, but seem to have no trouble keeping up with me. The sound follows me to the train station and all the way to Avenue U.




Summer 2006.

Evaporated Water

It rains as though it will never stop. It is one of those slow, endless summer rains that does nothing to ease the stifling heat of the day. My clothing sticks to me. The drops feel grey on my skin. They are so small and sparse that I feel foolish opening an umbrella, but an unpleasant little pinprick interrupts the heat just often enough to remind me it is raining.

The smell of evaporating water rises toward me from the pavement. It reminds me, incongruously, of a spa, a sauna. Except that there is no promise of a plunge into a cold pool at the end of it. The very thought of something cool brings such a wave of longing that I physically shake my head to get rid of it, and keep walking.

When I get home, the light on my answering machine is blinking. I play the message as I remove my shoes. And then, I sink silently to the floor, one sandal still on my foot, the other one dangling from my hand. Before the sentence is over, before I’ve even heard the second syllable of my own name, I know tomorrow morning is going to be hell.

I don’t touch the phone. I don’t move from my position on the floor. I don’t take off my other shoe. I know how it works on nights like this. I know the pattern, and when the phone rings ten minutes later, it never occurs to me not to pick up.

Two minutes after that, I am outside again. It is still raining as I make my way across town. I do not remember what train I take, or whether I take a train. I do not recognize the streets I pass. I notice no one. I don’t even know if there are other people on the street. I am like a dog following its own trail, and I only stop when I’ve rung the apartment buzzer.

I step into the building. Inside the elevator, the light is out. I ride six floors up in blackness. I step out onto the landing. The light is out there too, but the window lets in enough of the city lights for me to make my way around. I spot a faint blade of yellow light where a door has been left unlocked for me.

I step into the apartment and shut the door, locking it by rote. My reflection appears in the hall mirror. I notice it with an odd sort of detachment, as though I were watching an intruder entering someone’s home.

I walk past the hall table. Amid the usual jumble of keys, business cards and useless brochures, there is a small, battered lipstick tube, the kind that spends its lifetime rattling around someone’s purse, to be reapplied hastily in the bathroom, after dinner. Or in front of someone’s mirror, after a tryst. For a moment, I consider averting my eyes. But I do not. That would be a concession to outrage, and I have no right to outrage. The laws of love include double jeopardy. I left once, because of lipstick tubes and lipstick stains. I cannot leave again – not without coming back first.

I walk farther into the apartment. As I pass the kitchen, I pause, a little unnerved. Bottles, in various stages of emptiness, litter every available surface. I wonder how many of them were consumed this week. Glasses are piled in the sink, crowded on top of the counters. Some have lipstick marks on them. I refuse to wonder which of them would match the color inside the lipstick tube I saw earlier. I don’t think about who might have used them, or when, or what happened afterward. It doesn’t matter.

I find him in the living room. I always find him in the living room. It’s as though he understands my aversion to the bedroom. I take in the familiar sight of the room – the almost aggressive disorder of it, clothes and papers and opened books scattered everywhere, more half-empty glasses, take-out containers. The ashtray is overflowing and the room smells like stale cigarette smoke.

He is sitting on the floor, his knees pulled up to his chin, his back against the couch, his head buried in his hands. He doesn’t hear me walk in; the stereo is on at nearly full volume. Someone – Hendrix? – is making an electric guitar confess its sins. I touch his shoulder, very lightly, and he jumps and looks up at me. His eyes are the color of rainwater.

“You came back. I didn’t think . . .”

I sit on the edge of the couch. He rests his forehead against my knee. I ignore the instinctive urge to touch him.

“I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I don’t know what I’m doing anymore. It’s all gone to hell, it’s finished, I don’t know what to do. It’s over, and I don’t know what to do.” His voice is sandpaper and crushed glass. The words tumble out of him, like beads scattering from a broken necklace, barely intelligible.

I say nothing. In this moment, there is absolutely nothing to say, nothing that will make a difference. I don’t ask him to tell me what’s happened. I don’t need to. I scan the room until I spot the guitar, tossed carelessly across a sagging armchair in the corner. Good. Once, I’d found it in its case, stuffed in the back of a closet. That had been a bad time.

Growing quieter, he buries his face in my kneecaps. I can feel the slightly damp heat behind his eyes and mouth. He wraps his arms tightly, almost convulsively, around my legs, and exhales a great, gusty, shuddering breath. For a moment, he is utterly still. Utterly still, and so vulnerable that I reluctantly reach out to place my hands on his head, my fingers tangling in his hair. And, as though my first autonomous touch were a tacit gesture of consent, he reaches up to grasp my arms, and pulls me down to the floor.

It doesn’t occur to me to resist. I am like a dog following its own trail. My arms go around him, and suddenly, I cannot stop devouring his skin with my hands. I do not know what I am doing, I do not know the moment his shirt leaves his body, nor who has removed it, I do not know how or when I end up on the carpet, its rough nap scraping my shoulder blades. All I know, all I am aware of, is his scent, his taste, his flesh and all its many textures. My blood hammers in my ears. I taste salt, and realize that I am biting his shoulder. The sounds from the stereo penetrate the haze in my mind, the guitar screams a howling crescendo, the drums pound a frantic rhythm, and I am inhaling him over and over, and I cannot stop, I cannot stop, I will not stop.

Afterward, it is very quiet. He gets up for a moment to turn off the lights. We are both more comfortable in the dark. He lights a cigarette, passes it to me. I take a deep, gratifying drag, forgetting that I’d just quit again. Blue smoke curls from our mouths, snakes from our fingers, disappears somewhere near the invisible ceiling. And then, he finally talks.

He talks about how he has not written a song in the last nine weeks and four days, about how the last song he did write was a trite, meaningless ditty that he only performed once before destroying his only copy of it. He talks about his fear that he will never write another song again, at least never another good one. Never one that means anything. He talks about a show he did a few weeks back, how he’d put his heart and soul and essence into every note, every word, and how no one had seemed to notice. And he talks about other shows, bright lights, applause, smiles and handshakes, and meaningful glances from beneath long eyelashes, and his fear, his abject terror, even as he accepts a compliment or a contract, or a particularly enthusiastic female admirer, that this is it, that this is the last time, the last dregs of his allotted portion of success, of recognition, of love. He talks about his insomnia, his feverish nightly attempts to coax a new piece out of himself, and his paralysis when faced with a blank sheet of paper. He talks about the emptiness, and about his desperate attempts to fill it with any and all of the diversions available to him, washing each night’s failure down with an increasingly ineffective dose of oblivion. And then, very quietly, he talks about the ultimate fear – that it really is all over, that this is where he will always stay, performing the same songs for the same bored audience, until they are too bored even to come, and then, he will be no one. And he will never again be accepted, or admired, or loved. Never.

He talks, and I listen. I have heard it all before, so many times. It never gets easier with the knowledge that, every previous time, the misery, the barrenness, the crippling fears had eventually gone away. For him, every time that this happens might be the last time, the real thing, the end.

I don’t say much. I tell him that a two-month cold streak means nothing. I tell him that nothing will change who he is, that nothing could ever rob him of his talent. I remind him that there will always be somebody out there to admire him, to love him, if only for a few hours. He probably doesn’t believe me, but he laughs softly, and I know the worst is over. And then, he hugs me, and he whispers everything I’d forgotten I wanted to hear.

This time, I know exactly what we are doing. It’s slow, almost deliberately slow, and we say nothing. There has not been anything more to say in a long time, and it’s no use. By the end of it, I am weeping into his neck and he rocks me so long and so gently that I fall asleep.

When I wake up, the sky is yellowish-gray outside his window. He is folded around me and I extricate myself to get up. As I dress, he smokes and watches me. I don’t look at him. I refuse to wonder what he is thinking. When I walk out of the room, he doesn’t say anything, he doesn’t try to stop me; he isn’t that cruel.

I walk back through the hallway. I walk past the kitchen without another glance. I am walking past the hallway table when that battered little lipstick tube catches my attention, and, before I can stop myself, I imagine its owner, one of those eager, wide-eyed girls, with swinging hair and frequent, ever-ready laughter, so ready to prove to him that he is everything he has ever wanted to be, so ready to provide that love he craves, if only for an evening. Or maybe even a weekend. Maybe more than a weekend.

And then, I can’t help it, I snatch the grubby little object, shoving it almost viciously into my own purse. Let her come back and look for it. Let her think he threw it out. Let her know she isn’t the only one, that no amount of left-behind flotsam will change that. As I let myself out of the apartment and step carefully into the pitch-black elevator, I know what I have just let myself do, I know what this means, and I know what the consequences will be, but it is too late to stop.

I walk out of the building. I know exactly where I am and which train I will take to get back home. I become aware of a pounding headache, of my body’s stiffness from sleeping on the floor, of the rug burns on my back. I realize that I must still be wearing last night’s makeup and it occurs to me to wonder what I look like.

It is no longer raining, but it is still stiflingly hot. Here and there, the air shimmers like a mirage, and that sauna-like smell mixes with exhaust fumes and the odor of street sweat. My headache gets worse.

It is rush hour. There are people everywhere, brushing past me every second, and I wonder whether they can tell what I have just done. Whether they can tell that these are last night’s clothes. Whether the stink of bad judgment rises off me like steam from the pavement.

I peer into the faces of passersby, feeling incipient paranoia. They remain set, scowling and implacable. No one even looks at me; they all stare either straight ahead or at their feet. And then, I see a glimpse of myself in a store window, looking exactly like everyone else, tense, surly, and tired already, at only eight-thirty in the morning. I wonder how many of the people around me are making their way back from their own mistakes.

I step into the subway, and the heat slams me like a wall. I wait for the train, surrounded by people who seem to have no idea I exist. At this moment, it is strangely comforting to feel invisible. I reach into my purse and pull out the filched tube. Carefully, I remove the top and twist the lipstick all the way out. It is such an ordinary color, a universally flattering berry shade. I probably have something like it in my own makeup bag. I stare at it as an amputee might stare at his new stump, curious, disgusted, masochistic. I imagine again the owner of this plain little thing. Her lips, her hands, the distended fish-mouth she must pull while applying it. I imagine the moment she might have used it, standing in front of his mirror, her hair probably still tousled after . . . My face twists into a grimace, and I hurl the lipstick onto the tracks, watching it smash into a shapeless blob against a rail. I toss the cap after it and smile grimly. A woman glances at me out of the corner of her eye, but quickly looks away. I am still invisible, but it doesn’t matter anymore. I feel myself beginning to crumple, and am grateful when the train comes and I am able to find a seat and put my head into my hands.

I make my way back to my own apartment, feeling every step. I unlock the door and see the phone on the floor, where I’d left it last night, so long ago. I fight the sudden desire to sink to the floor again, just as I had last night. I remove my shoes, one by one. I realize the machine light is still blinking, and I feel myself beginning to shake.

I step into my kitchen. It is neat and orderly, and, as I put on a pot of water for tea, I compare it with the one I saw last night. I remember a time when my kitchen was cluttered, when I came home to mess and music, and my eyes begin to burn.

Today, and only today, I will allow myself the luxury of succumbing to my misery. I will replay his messages on my machine over and over, I will masochistically remember every second of last night and this morning, and I will let myself cry over him – again. And at the end of it all, as I greet the next morning surrounded by a pile of sodden tissues, I will swear that this is it, that this is the last time.

Tomorrow, I know, I will feel better. I will be glad that my apartment is arranged just the way I like it. I will savor the absence of strange female voices on the phone. I will appreciate the silence. I will remember why I ended it, why I decided I couldn’t do it anymore. I will remember how much better my life has been. And I will begin to feel human again. In a week, I will be ready to see my friends without facing their questions about why I am so quiet and pale, and in two weeks, I may even be ready to accept a date and make another honest try at a new life, at convincing myself to move forward. And maybe I actually will convince myself for a while, and I will almost forget about this awful morning – until the next time I come home to a blinking machine light and hear his jagged, faltering voice asking me to come over. And I will go, as I always go, because, no matter what happens between us, I am as lonely as he is, and I need him as much as he needs me.

The kettle whistles sharply, reminding me that the water has boiled. The steam shoots from its narrow spout, and it smells exactly like the sidewalks last night. For some reason, that pushes me over the edge, and as I dissolve, all I can smell is evaporated water.




Summer 2006, Union Square.