The cat smells different tonight, slightly sour. Earlier the musk of Grandmas hands released its fragrance when I handled the cats ears…She tells so many stories with her silent affections.
Today, Grandma was dwindling. She was weak in her feelings–of confusion, righteousness or longing. They were all a bit dull in their torture, only torn open at a special moment.
She experienced grief; enough to wet the rims of her eyes and fold her mouth. I haven’t seen her cry this way ever, an utterly worn mourning. This experience is one of the most important of my entire life in knowing her, and I don’t know how to express it.
bleak bleak bleak
so much empty light
We ate lunch, and I tripped over words while her profundity blinded me. Later as she walked into her room, the flatness of her bottom and tar in her joints began to make my heart well. As I attempted to sigh them out, the hallway light caught a facet of the rhinestones on the backpockets of her jeans, and I was overwhelmed with the innocence again. The morphing of all the people she’s been, falling off in sheets and revealing something so tender it stuns my heart.
We bought ice cream and she asked why she couldn’t die.
Over dinner I told her that her hands were beautiful–Dancers movements but show the marks of use. She seemed flattered and thanked me, in her warm, shallow dish heart of a way.
Tonight, coming out in her lavender robe and slack breast, she shook her hand at me goodnight. I told her I loved her, and that I’d see her in the morning. She sputtered a little laugh when I told her I loved her, unaware I’m someone who’d intitled to love her. I came over and hugged her, and she pleasantly let me and she glided off to bed.
Taking to the chair in my studio, I glanced out the window as I sunk down. I had come over to the table in the corner–you know the one, with the pitcher that looks like a Canary that holds my scissors and the sewing machine–to get some space. Grandma was ‘fuddling’, her wisping round the house becoming more flagrant and terse. At first, She would haunt the counters and pick up lemons or empty bottles to examine but soon began opening/closing doors with more impatience. When I came to her and asked if I may help, she was still too dreamy to understand who I was and would whisk herself from me. Dementia is like an iridescence, its like a sheen. At first you believe you can study its colors and therefor understand its ways, but then the colors change. The light within shifts its trajectory, and suddenly your feeble map is gone–enveloped in a fold of sick brain. But lo–A new color is shimmering in this mood, and we open again to observation. A shape emerges–a mysterious shape–something beyond how we’ve seen, or who we’ve known. As the brain sighs, the soul winks and weeps behind these folds, and we can sense the light beyond the colors.
Beyond the glanced window, was my Grandmother. I intended to work with cloth, to get some space and give her some, but found myself witnessing.
She sat, huddled in her constant red vest, over a magazine. One hand clutched the corner of the magazine while the other smoothed her hair, palm and fingers combing through the unbrushed shocks of coal and ice. Both hands shook, one self touching and the other trying to grasp onto normalcy. She can’t comprehend well enough to read anymore, using the magazines and sheets of newspapers like security blankets. The magazine fell into the light, and I could read the cover–“SELF”. A blond exposing her thighs was printed on the cover of the ‘health’ magazine, between headlines gushing foolproof diets and home yoga. My Grandma, who professionally danced for her living and has consumed more carrot-juice than any being on earth, held the magazine unable to comprehend it. She is 83, with an astonishing healthy body and failing mind. Our world takes for granted the concept of the ‘Self’, even beyond these violently contradictory magazines. We societally present the assumption that ‘being’ is a given right, that it’s understood we all have an idea of who we are in space. We can judge ourselves, our past, our futures, who we think we are and who we want to be–But what about these cloud people? What about these women who don’t remember why they are, what they’ve known? The tits on the cover speaks with her body language of a desire, an exclusivity that can be attained with physical perfection–But never is there a discussion of the completely singular consciousness of those unaware. The blond will never be part of my Grandmas world, no matter how many times she sugar-buffs her knees. She will continue to view her form as the prize, never glimpsing the formless shape of the soul under the rotting body. That isn’t much of a life.
The day chaffed on. One moment she shook like an innocent, afraid of a sycamore leaf falling. Minutes later her brows raised as if to perry, and I had to stare into her hazel-eyed anger and tell her we loved her and weren’t stealing her money. I would spirit away and stitch a few more rows, but both my seams and temper became threadbare. Burnout began its slow smoke, and I found myself stripped of my compassion for the day. Beyond reactionary, beyond empathy, simply here with her. She boiled down to a job. Is she safe? Is she fed? I couldn’t care less about how she felt…and a nap, my god, how I wished for just a kiss of sleep..but she continued the need to walk and fuss and rail and demonstrate the cheesecloth she had become.
“Let’s get some veggies to steam for dinner”.
A sarcastic and bitter Vons trip later, we came home with an acorn squash and green things. I had more emotional satisfaction in the brutal chopping of the chard than I had all day with her, and fled to my studio while the stainless trough of foods steamed. She sat on the couch, confused, and smoothed the cat now. For 15 minutes we coexisted, her staring off into space contrasted with my furious embroidery.
The stems were soft, the flesh scooped, and dinner was ready to plate. I mounded foliage and fruits onto our plates, peppering and sprinkling salt among the rivulets of olive oil and turned to set the table.
She stood across from me wearing her red sweatshirt. Her collared shirt underneath peeked out cockeyed from the neckband, her lean speckled hands holding one another. They shook like the beautiful butterflies they are, her petite diamond glittering in the kitchen light. Upon seeing the plates, she held her hands up in excitement and exclaimed ‘Oh!’. In this moment, she had completely forgotten the bitterness, the weight of her life, the cruel suffering of her soul in a withering body, and became pure. Her hair stuck up at the crown of her head, unwashed from her new fear of water, and a smile broke out across her usually thin and vanishing mouth. It wasn’t like seeing her youth, it wasn’t like seeing the immaculately magical grandmother of MY youth–it was like seeing her as an infant. Completely giving, completely present, completely pure. My hands now shook, and after I poured her a half-glass of milk for her, ran to the bathroom and wept.
Staring at her earrings placed on the sink, I realized.
My face was only a nimbus in the sweat on the mirror, and as I sucked in the smells of his soap and what used to be my shower, I finally accepted I didn’t belong here anymore.
I moved to the oranges, and slept in the livingroom. The futon wasn’t a midnight nest now, it wasn’t a place for blushy dreaming or
wet tongues. It was just a place to cling and ache. For months, I lay staring at the greasy crack in the ceiling. Fooling myself to sleep.
From yards of wool, I dyed my world. One long coil was the olive orchard across the street, oily aubergine and numbing green. Another was strips of memory from my walk in Spain, that aqua freckled with violet like kiwi vines and the eyelashes of the passionflower. One handful of alpaca came out looking like neon cat grass, and I peppered my combs with just a few threads as a time for youth. Over months, learning how to dye, learning how to spin, I let those clouds of hair slip through my fingers into strands and wound. Ecstatic hanks hugged themselves with insane limbs, coiling back and tangling. I steeped the armloads of wool in hot water, dipping them like tasteless teabags into my sink. The swollen chains of wool were now slender balls of thread.
Weaving. Too late, hungry weaving–only one piece ever finished. Without my job, without the profane, I came in the daytime and
saw my loom naked. I took my world, and slithered it between my knuckles across the warping board. The yarn looked like long roads, changing their landscape from inch to inch, discovering stripes of serendipitous color. Again the threads became a chain. I tethered their wilderness to the apron-bar, and began telling my story with each hook with the sley, with each eye of the heddle. The long roads became one road, glittering with flecks of silk rather than broken glass. Jacaranda rayon thread became the laces, and I began weaving.
The threads against the wool puckered and pooled in corners after the teeth of the beater gnashed down, and my warp began to shred. I gathered a tarnished spoon, and began placing the threads down softly, row by row. The threads looked like mitosis. I listened to love songs that felt like moon washed cactus, and reminded me of my regret.
The waist of my shawl became cinched, as I battled grief. Fabrications of them making love in my old bed severed my consciousness. My tension pulled in, breathed out, making my selvages flounce like a cuttlefish wing. Some days I was haunted, other days a void, but every day my hands continued tamping down the weft the same. Tight, loose, it still wove something solid as I battled with the feeling of being boneless. It grew as I rotted. It wound on as I unwound. I came to the end of my road, and looked at the roll awaiting me at my lap.
Peeling off my map, wrapped in brown paper. It’s weight surprised me, I didn’t know that 9 feet would feel so human. At lunch, I brought my prayer up to the formica tabletop to reveal to my weaving mates, and look at my first real piece.
Roll, roll, roll, roll, finish. The paper curled off in sheets, leaving dimpled yards of thought. The shawl came from one edge of the table to nearly the other, its fringe licking for the end. The women gasped and cooed, and my Teacher spoke into the quietude following “What is going on with those edges, girl?” Her 80-year-old hands draped in silver the size of her knuckles clasped on her lap, and I spoke back into the quiet “I just had a really bad breakup, and this is what it looks like”. Now the silence was full, and as I looked up at the people who had only been classmates before, I saw my familiars. They knew.
“You can’t hear knitting when the T.V. is screaming”
Prim that passion, define the dynamics of dreaming, instruct your inspiration and try a hand at your application.
I fled into the salty maw of the Pacific Northwest over the tail end of the Hunters moon, spinning free from the strangle-hold of articul/configur/ation for November UC applications. Over the year, over the months, I have been wed to the language of academia, befriending her hefty delights. My mind starves, and my heart is ablaze with the clarity of my dedication toward the unheard languages of making. I decided somewhere that school was the next acquisition in my bag of tricks for my mission to value the world of makers, but through the months the words have become tinny –just as the witching hour begins to drop her veil over admissions time. I have battled the clear-cut pathway toward this form of education, railing my rhizome-like wilderness against its academic topiaries. But in the wake of sating some mystery through my months of searching, it seemed as if I had resolved some of these odds and were prepared to play nice.I chose to sublimate my passion to a bobbing leg in class, channel my thought into doodled-borders, and save my explosive rants about the dying wisdom of our elders and the preoccupation with media for my mirror at home. However, deeper nudgings and symbols have begun shifting restlessly around my heart, casting shadows that illuminate the embers IN my heart. I wonder if academics can serve this purpose, can assist this mother language. Is this me trading a coppery fawn with her dappled hide for a painting of a deer? It seems to me that life is enough. And in my deep, I know this to be true.
Through the months, I have caught a hook in anothers eye when they really hear what I’m doing.
“You seem to already have what you need.” “I wonder if you’ll be wasting your time there.” “I don’t usually talk about this kind of thing, because most people don’t understand”. “I miss you, I hope you come back to weaving when your homework is done”. I’m watching the weavers age, I’m hearing the strangers befriend me, I’m seeing my own hands. Am I going to look up and have lost the road I was writing about?
I folded these rebellions into my bosom and boarded the plane to my ancestor place. I left my room a mess, I left homework undone, I left without toothpaste, and came to the black-edged body of Washington. No clouds shrouded her, no bitterness—only a chill that helped me find my borders. I had set my worries under my pillow when I left, and fed my ravenous shadows of heart with leaving my responsibilities behind. I felt shorn and light, ready for the weight of Halloween and the thin time of year. We were driving to Port Townsend for the weekend, and as we slipped from the car to meet the moon on the deck of our ferry, the shadows roused. The night was black cat dark, almost a glossy nut cascade around the startling moon. Enormous chunk of light, bleeding her dusty gold into the water caused the heart to bump and shiver, the pathway of her reflection leading straight to my womb on board. I couldn’t help feeling that we were trespassing into a truer place, a place of actual living and not conceptual thinking, and I could feel my palms heat up in their leather skins as we contacted the new world.
In the hush of the nubile night we drove to our castle, dressed as the dead, and slept in a haunted room.
When the sun had crested to maturity in the sky, we came outside to the silver light and started to Seattle. Birches shuddered their bronze coins to the wind, lichen adorned stone, and fields of leaf turned their blush like lusty cheeks to the coming of fall. We decided to stop in Port Gamble and see what we had never seen. We peeled off the main road which fed us directly to town.
The main street was paved with fat leaves sticky with yesterdays rain, clumping together into slick puddles of yellow in the gutter. Tasteful Victorians and open-beamed wonders flanked the street, the buildings of necessity converted to those of luxury in this new era. Buildings that used to house village doctors now held boutiques, manufacturing lodges became restaurants. The invention of nearby Kingston as a chain-savvy town had sucked the need for sustainability from Port Gamble, and left the town a bedroom community rich with nostalgia and art. The mid afternoon light meekly poured through the arbored street, glistening a dull pewter off of the immediate bay. The majority of the historic town consisted of this singular street, with the exception of a quilt shop and a blustery cemetery erected on a hill nearby. Few people walked the street, although the rows of cars indicated many people has nestled within the solace of these elegant ladies, buying scented soaps and yam fries. It was October 30th, and the town was spun in the chilling spirit of the season that enlivens bulbs and burns the gut of pumpkins. The sense of the beast in the weather is nourishment for the churning frisson around my heart, and as I tasted it with all of me, I noticed a shop.
A signpost tethered a wooden sign reading ‘The Artful Ewe’, but I only noticed that once my eyes had feasted on the charms in the windows. The building was formerly a market, but now rested on its weathered haunches with eyes full of wool. Drop spindles hung like pears from the sills, heathered chains of roving festooned the jambs. I travel with an artistic and tolerant bunch, and they allowed my immediate bewitchment as I left them to lock the car and bolted to the shop.
As I cracked the door open, breath came out.
All the raw of the outside world-the raw that burnished my nose, was immediately cooked. All the jagged edges were smoothed, and my gloves came off. A great ribcage of pale rafters sighed above, the wooden floor swathed in rugs. Tables groaned, glistening under woven reed stuffed with fleece. Walls pinned with hooks pinched miles of yarn the color of mushrooms, bloodtoned tapestries hung above the counter, wheels stood silent in a nook. Here, small dishes filled with lavender salves, there, antique sets of drawers with lolling mouths, spilling tonguefulls of fiber like an eager child. I had left my wallet in the car, since I knew nothing but moths and trouble lived in it—but I was already beginning to feel as if I were possessing wealth. Something new, something familiar, something of worth. Square balls of yarn peaked from every crease, cloudy plaits of wool slithered between baskets. All the colors spoke to the landscape I had just been engaged—Waxberry cream, gold like mold, puce the color of wet stone. The light from the windows poured in like violent mercury against the warmth of this place, the light within reminiscent of the womby-moon I had felt the night before.
What is this silence? What is this pause?
A charging knowing, a belonging. Without realizing it, the shifting wild inside had quieted. Only the delicious mystery remained, the rest sighing. Something I battle with, chair and whip—EVERYDAY– was sated. I came to a display of rugs near the counter, and began fingering their edges. Without thinking, my mind began categorizing each type of process used to weave them, my curiosity asserting possible dye plants, my heart filled with the idea of the person who crafted it, and my soul alive from the beauty and imprint of culture. I was completely engaged, completely stimulated, completely belonging, completely natural. It came as grace, a cultivated grace. In this singular moment, all of this was enough. My rampant search, my hairpins popping, my nights interrupted from the voices that don’t match my text-books. The begrudging wilderness within craving food, craving thought, craving—in this place, like so many I’ve been to and talked with—was overflowing.
Before, I saw New Orleans as Drunken Mardis Gras. Plastic beads tarnished by breast sweat, fake indians, indulgence.
The tourist bosom of Bourbon pulsing with the acrid fragrance of the desperate, the revelrous intensification of ‘fuck-all’. People packed into streets like sweaty hotdogs, supporting the type of self-poisoning a liminal psyche can reason. Friends and strangers half naked, howling, wrapped in future regrets and toxic kidneys.
This is the Disneyland story we’re sold across the country, the basal and celebratory nature of those people in the South. I came to New Orleans for the first time two weeks before Katrina, stitching my perception of the Big Easy from stereotypes of Voudou and John Kennedy Toole. Alcohol was bitter and illegal to me at the time, and I didn’t like the feeling of being preyed on in crowds- thus I came with a different objective. I came even then, knowing there was origin here–beyond the Hurricanes, the unconsciousness, the excuse. I could feel threads leading to something in the colors of the chaos–winking behind the toasted bros vomiting in gutters. A secret in the boiled peanuts, a mother in the Veves. Away from the electric debauchery of night, I could feel it humming into me on the lapping tongue of the Mississippi–chanting in the metallic song of cicadas. I felt it glowing in the handrails in the plantations, in the severed rougie shells of our seafood. It wafted, I smelled it–but the scent of bile and rum was too strong and masked it. I left with its perfume on my skin, right before the shore was taken with the tempest.
She grew inside of me while I was away. I didn’t know I left with more than an inkling, I didn’t know I left seeded. I didn’t know I had been taken root onto. I didn’t know that a love affair had hooked itself to my socks, following my steps across the Southwest home. For 6 years these little subliminals have grown into a mature wilderness within, a slithering mychorrizae. Not only did she grow in me, but I grew to her–forging myself in the shape of her crescent. I grew closer to her, all these miles away–and somehow became prepared to go meet her again, but this time as a woman.
When I came back, I felt like an open mouth. Mouths can release a sigh, can take in food, lick lovers, ready themselves for speech. I felt like I had been speaking to her inside for years, and now that I was back, was ready with my ears open and mouth agape. I drank now, and although had described Bourbon street as a urinating armpit in old diaries, found the scent of revelry intriguing. We came back in the end of May, taking up residence for the week on–you guessed it–Bourbon street.
During the day, I came to meet the land. I came to meet people, the people who work, the people who have grown there. Whatever had grown inside of me made the mystery of the place rich and familiar, and I found myself in a world of overwhelming home. I felt like I had returned to someone dear, and now spent the daylight hours tracing the lines of their face. But the looming weight of the town from Dr. Jekyll to Mr. Hyde at sundown was ever-present–I anticipated trouble.
The Inn on Bourbon rests on the corner of Toulouse and Bourbon, across from a Karaoke bar. It was a Monday, but as evening inked in, the lights winked on like great hung over eyes, seeking with their neon intelligence the next fix.The usual reserve of weekdays for the mundane don’t apply there, and the cast began trickling in at dusk, wandering sheepishly while their faces were still identifiable in the sighing light. As the sun fully sank however, the crown of guilt was cast aside and replaced with fist fulls of plastic cups and a ferule need. Years before these people looked like the living dead, and as they stumbled toward some type of ecstasy now–they still did. They were still wild-eyed and ugly, but they looked more like Osirus, scarred together from old horror. The source of their stumbling was obvious to me now, the weight of their sublimation and self demise a patina to the real desire they were attempting to feed. The grotesque consumption of vices now spoke to the fact they’re hungry—from hurt, from want, from humanity. This revelation that had subliminally aged with me, made the lumps of flesh pickling themselves in the street painfully earnest, and daresay beautiful.
I stepped into the pulsing stream of the reckless. My body merged with the raunchy cologne of night, the humidity concocting a scent indicative of sex and sickness. The weight of the Mississippi’s breath sent the smell of spilled liquor, hair gel and oily glands into the main vein of the street, and as I continued down Bourbon I became convinced by it. Intoxicated, the staggering troops of uninitiated men became Heros, subliminally trying to meet themselves in their abuse. The girls wearing synthetic shorts became Warriors, railing against their true needs with the chains of their circumstances–charging into the underworld, with the real possibility of coming back to land. The Bar Barkers became men who lived in the suburbs, housewives with frosted Kate Gosling cuts and fake pearls became ravenous gatherers. Everyone here had a need, everyone here was looking to release, forgot, encounter, find, or satiate–and this was valid. They became the hideously beautiful, no longer the dangerously tempting. They became innocents in their sin, clawing for something to fill them..and in this bold yearning, they were perfectly human. The knowing that had seeded in me came here, strongest than ever before, in a place that couldn’t be more different than I.
I’m living the lifestyle of a psychopomp. I traverse between worlds, plucking information, gathering the lessons of heart. I feel I am neither here nor there, and yet belong to a deeper plane. Much of this perspective allows me to observe, and grow the landscapes within. However, the majority of this circumstance comes from a deep severance, and so within this roaming country, I find myself alone. I ebb from the place of grief and dreams, and flow into the life of moving furniture and organizing shoes. I drift into the underworld to seek the just roots of this suffering, and am pulled back into writing resumes. I am a ghost, but in the sense that I am pure. I feel engaged to the everlasting spirit of life, and find myself lonely in the face of sustenance.
I spent the day yesterday listening to Bob Dylan sing piecemeal palates about Eden, Silver Daggers and flesh-colored Christ figures that glow in the dark. I unfolded in a café, and worked on a an opal and silver necklace while my insides blossomed and billowed into the jimpson-weed and Steinbeck painted world I know so well. I gazed out the windows into the withered, papery sycamore leaves and watched the appearance of rain muddle the colors to pewter. Cozy in cap (which I lost that night) and shawl, I drank tea sucking the bag dry and licking the honey from the rip of my cups. This is a lonleyness I relish.
The evening began to fall, and I found myself being confronted once again of changing plans. I had come down to this former town of mine, to spend time with friends. But as I settled into my bed and unmoved furniture nook in the back of my parents office, I was treated with the casual changes that people who live in one place provide. It seemed that the plans for the evening were never firm, and that tomorrow looked amorphic at best. My dad asked me what I was planning, and as I looked at him in his rayon hibiscus shirt, with his gleaming truthful eyes rimmed in slate, and I could hardly bear the thought of this world. The silence and safety off the office, coupled with the motion of Dad placing his hat on his head for transit, left me feeling like my doors were ripped off the hinges and I was left open and vacant. This is a feeling that haunts me most of these days, and often I can let those grievances settle. But in this exposed place, the place I want to trust so badly and feel will be devoured by, I lay draining.
I was born at the feet of this towns mountains. I hear that the day was a blue and white splendor, with crispy wind and heroic clouds. I grew from that February on, in the same house among the liquid ambers, orange blossoms and coyote calls until I was 20. I schooled there, I ate there, I loved there, I incarnated there. If an unsettled traveler ever had a home, this one was mine. In the last few months, the tower has burned down. The pillar in which I had been building and living in, was consumed by a spark—the blades of flame slithering down through the streets, charring my memories and my safety. The friends, the trees. Cut down, sawed through. This place conjures me to belong, sweet scents of the canyons and swaying pepper trees, but I know I cant. A heavy heart knows she no longer belongs at home.
I sat on the bed. I lay down on the bed. I wept on the bed. It was 6:30 on a Friday, and I lay on the pink quilt my now senile grandmother made, and the down comforter that nestled across the our naked bodies in my old lovers house. I cried. The vacancy within was overwhelming.
It is hard for me to reach out for help. The person I had relied on for that burned in the fire, and I find myself either bleeding to the wind, or bottled to the core. In the brittle ruins of helplessness, there can be a safety. But this night was bleak—empty and hungry.
I held my phone, searching through names, clues, something. The lover called, and as my body bended and blossomed for him, and the sound of his voice suckled the starving desire within, I had to wrench protection from the depths. I wanted to coil up in his words, and fall into a torpor of the pretend. I wanted to have him slather himself across my body, so that my organs could release their grief and I could be warm and free. But in the shards scattered inside, I found memory of the truth. I couldn’t pretend. The most beautiful thing in the world, and I knew I had to walk away. I mustered. I stood on broken legs, and turned it away.
I believe it was in this pause, in this reckoning, that I had the strength to be soft. I called a friend. And it all came together.
The Bulgarian is beautiful. He appeared in the moment when I felt life had been severed from me. Somewhere from behind a person, or in the threads of a shadow, he appeared. The theme of saving broken women repulses me, and I feared that I was too bruised to share otherwise when he came. The hapless and desperate exchange of desire that helped hit the flint of my past. But he is the pause. He is a moment, he is a grace. Hope resides in this person. As I stood in ashes, wailing over the remains of my things, he came and sat quietly. He reminds me of the tender heart of God. I wish not to be saved, or changed, or qualified. I wish be seen. And I wish to be heard. And I wish to see. I feel this truth resides in this man. I don’t want to sear a scar into the perfection of this with loneliness, but if anyone could understand in this divine frigility, it could be him.
He had a newly open ticket for Messiaen at the Disney Hall. The idea of meeting with a group of almost perfect strangers, in the heart of the misting city in the curiosity of the night was right. He was enroute, and I was half dressed, and I was thrust into the unknown in a 90 Geometro down the 110.
One of the tendrils of change that has been growing from my ashes, is that of community. It is dawning in a subtle and cold way, how little I have that I feel I can trust. I often find myself feeling that I have only a thread of commonality to another, and although I can subsist on that for some time, am only now waking up to the possibility of uplifting people. I have cultivated and been with those I knew, those around me, those the circumstance presented. But in this wreckage, I am discovering gems in the rubble that have always belonged to me, but have lived in the curio cabinets of my soul. I want these to be handled, I want these to shine. The Bulgarian speaks to the new life inevitable. If I never saw him again, he would have gifted me with his passing through. His glance, just once, has seen me. And in that glance, I have been seen and can no longer hide—I’ve been found out. And I’m willing to share that secret with all.
I arrived around 730, slick with tears and my ears ringing from bagpipes too loud in my car on the drive over. I was puffy and pink, with my two wimpy braids hanging limply from under my old lovers tam. I could have cared less if I had an eyeball missing and no shoes, the very energy of the city gleaming its wet luster was filling me. We had agreed to meet at the Box Office along 1st street. I sauntered toward the hall. It looks like a Escher twisted Metropolis with its sterling slopes and deco details. I love its oddity, and began feeling a sense of purpose and familiarity as I approached. My family on my mothers side are classically trained musicians, among other artists. My grandfather played French Horn for the Phil, as my aunt plays Cello in it now. I was raised with my mother singing along to her myriad of opera LPs, since she had only given up that training shortly after I was born. Black Suits, White shirts, grease-paint, all make me feel belonging. Although my world within is ikat, poppets and codoledons, the world of the classical is like a familiar. I felt like I was coming home.
Standing out front, were the three. The Bulgarian was dressed in his leather, black and cotton lines. Standing next to him was the friend responsible for the generous tickets, a tall man with round glasses and professional handshake and aside him stood the Romanian. The Romanian was one of the Bulgarians mentors and teachers. The Bulgarian teaches and is earning his doctorate at a California fine-arts university, where he met the Romanian. I had seen him in photographs before, but had never officially met him. A smattering of sparkling whisker-buds glistened across his face, and he held much of his weight on one hip. They were all clean, educated, and casual men. And I was happy to be there with them.
We entered into the maw of the Hall, where we peeled off into two separate seating arrangements. I was paired with the Romanian, and soon found his reserve to melt. His initial inquiries seemed to smack of entertainment purposes only—questions asked for polite audiences. The nature of the conversation was atypical to two strangers being coupled. But as he continued talking, sharp little cuts of humor and tender gaps into his personhood presented, and I found myself really enjoying his company. We talked about therapy while I scanned the blond-wood monster we were sitting in. We were settled right behind the orchestra, about 5 feet above their head level. I’ve never had such intimate seating, and I was so pleased to be able to pick out details like water-bottle brand names next to an oboists chair, and the hair-band wrapped around the bassists poneytail. We were both agreeing that the color blue they used for their lighting effects was to aquatic, when Dudamel stepped on strange.
Oh, sexy 29 year old Dudamel. This is his second year as conductor for the Los Angeles Philharmonic, and I would easily have thanked him for his passionate work by taking him directly on stage infront of everyone. He’s short, dimpled, and wears a mantle of curly Venezuelan hair that must slather his shoulders when wet. He has worked internationally as a conductor after his shift from classical violin, and loves children. He is involved deeply in classical music literacy for youth, and is expecting a child presently. All of these things, including his pants that were a little too tight, contributed to a very pleasant evening indeed.
Messiaen is dinosaurs and martians. His work sprawls out like a demented rhapsody in blue—gliding violins contrasted to church-bells to tubas. If Poulenc and Gershwin made a baby, I imagine this is what Dali would bring to the baby-shower. It’s strange, it’s uncomley at times, its dramatic, surreal, and quite beautiful. As visions of the prehistorical world from Fantasia was invoked in mind, I kept my eyes mostly on Gustavo (we’re on a first name basis, you see). In the exchange of the ears and the eyes, some new thoughts began to seed. This music was foreign—and yet I devoured it. These people were strangers, and yet I belonged. This night was for mourning, and yet I was birthing. I began to see that indeed, I may be created for something different. That perhaps the dreamlife I reside it is meant for a bigger world. And that the innermost workings of my life, the private eternity that feeds me, is something to be shared. When Dudamel had to shift a page, he would lean forward into the light, with his head bent. The shadows pooled in fleshy light under his forhead, and the concentration dedicated to his passion within was manifest upon these attentive musicians. It was a perfect exchange—a beautiful dance. It lay in balance—the leader at the hands of the sound, in the hands of their skills. It is utter nakedness and innocence. I want that, I want to allow this brilliant beauty out. These passions are not meant to lay in wait. They are meant to be shared. It was like being in prayer—the audience a witness to a sacred offering. I understand this more than anything, and there are other people who understand it as well. Go figure.
After 80 minutes of sexual fantasies on the pianotop and self revelation, the intermission-free Messiaen ended with an explosive pomp. Complete with a super O-faced Dudamel that left me with a femmerection, it could not have been better. The Romanian and I began to gather our things, while people ‘bravoed’ feebly and slobbered adoration at the guest musicians. One man across from our seats blasted himself out of his chair as soon as the last ring of musicality died, clapping hysterically and bobbling his bald-pate in a supplicants ecstacy. The Romanian said it was loud, and he liked that. After the guest musicians were brought back onstage three times, and sexy-ass Dudamel escorted them away from the seated philharmonic, we took our leave.
We had agreed to meet at the box-office afterward, and as the Romanian and I slithered spermlike against the crowd for the safety of the wild, we discussed the music. He believed it to be a bit cheesy, a bit big 40’s Hollywood. He told me that he has studied this piece, and has deep respect for the difficult and intricate nature of the composition. But he wondered how many people truly understood the nature of the music, rather than its volume. Are people flailing in their seats because of its nuance and technicality, or because it got really loud and weird and they liked that? I scanned the people around me while he said this, and I noticed how diverse it was. Scabby-headed hippy types, scroughy sweatered hipsters. How many of these people knew anything about classical music, or loved the piece for it’s birth rather than destruction? It was a good question, and I was reminded of one of my old boyfriends who loved Stravinsky because it sounded prehistoric. Sometimes we just need a reason, don’t we. I’m satisfied with people playing dress-up in order to appreciate music-we all need an invitation.
Upon breaking into the open, we found the couple clustered where we’d promised. Rejoining, I thanked our host again for the tickets. We shared a few of the finer points the process and the differences between where our seats were. They were placed directly infront of the pianists, while we rested with the heavy hitting timpani and basses. As these observations waned, our host excused himself to go home to his dog. In the moments of pause following his departure, the insidious sarcasm and dark humor of these men began to waft out in the form of as less-kind opinions. Cackling and spitting jokes, I was astounded to watch them unfurl into this comraderie infront of me. We were waiting for one of the violinists, a Bulgarian woman from the same town as my own Bulgarian. While they stuck their fists in their pockets and cracked their stories with laugher, she appeared from the glass orafice behind them. Another beautiful Bulgarian, she was still dressed in her formal blacks with her violin tucked in case aside her. Dark waves piled on her head in a chignion, and her arms extended as she approached us three. Full of voice and humor, we were introduced. The dull bruise colored mist became thicker and more biting as we chatted, and she suggested a restertaunt tucked down Hewitt off of 1st. Her selling point was that they had great fries, which split the men in half. They had not heard that as a lure since they were teenagers, and as we galloped for the car their giggles could be heard in the sewers.
After screwing around with his club and manhandling his steering wheel, the Romanian parked down a high-art intentionally graffitied alley near the brick bar. The front was spiraled across with ivy, and the doors were unmarked, tucked behind clots of people smoking into their beer. The place was a Belgium Beer&Braut joint, and although my stomach was not churning for a slab of tubular meat (although my mind had been on a similar subject not an hour before) I could taste the filmy desire of alcohol and friends. We cracked the door causiously, and looked within—Long wooden tables dimly lit by modern lights displayed all manor of hipster sipping steins. The corners were stuffed with people and skinny-jeans, and we wandered confused for some waitstaff. Suddenly, the Bulgarian espied a slit of a table peeking from a corner, and he lunged for it. We settled in, on spindly barstools and wood-slated benches. The ephemeral condiments on the table included over-sized ketchup and mustard squeeze bottles, as well as a laminated drink list. We all tucked into the menu, the men trying to over-pronounce the german beers through their Balkan accents. The Bulgarian decided to get the beer with the most syllables, and I settled on a diminutive and cowardly cider. They went to order, and I saw in the shadows of an already dark resteraunt, watching peoples faces. A pianist and the ondes martenon player came in swaddled in scarves, and I watched as a beefy man with a ridiculous and miniature porkpie hat rolled up his sleeves while serving sausages.
The feeling of being hollow became a vessel in the observations of the table alone. I watched waitresses with short skirts and combat boots bark orders to busboys. I listened to the DJ spin an thought into song and wondered if he felt the cold air when people opened the door near him. I thought about the two men that were vacant at the table, and what their lives must have been up to this very moment. Being there was enough, being was enough, being.
They returned with a slender, branch-like glass of pale and fragrant ale for me, and two bulbus dark pints for them. The men unbuttoned and buckled themselves, sharing stories as intimate as their passion of the music and the language she speaks, to travel, to theories about women. Each one was heavy with humor, but motioned toward a silvery truth within. I sipped my drink and joined them in telling, their brats coming to the table by a thin and hurried woman. Their unfolded the yellow paper, transluscent with oils and fat from onions. They were duck and beef sausages, bedded in onions, and in the Bulgarians case, Jalapenos. A horror of a meal to my sleeping guts, but a delight to my nocturnal nose, they started to absorb the meal. I shared some fries (which were good, but I was told were not Belgium) and tasted their beers. I suspect I’m usually something of a foghorn of enthusiasm in conversations, my sheer enjoyment of others blazing the volume of my voice to emberessing heights (that is, if I had any shame). I stayed quiet. We ate, we shared. But mostly what I did in this night, nestled among my friends, was drink them in with my beer.
Every space steamed, every surface lapped. Harlem was heavy with summer, settling into rooms and stagnating like stale breath. The window gaped, breathing sulferous midnight into the room-but everything still felt like a rash, a wet washrag over the nose. It was the fourth of July and I had to get out.
Too feverbright to care, I walked out in my pajamas. No shoes, no bra, hair knotted to my head. The sensitivity about my bare arms and polished appearance literally melted out of me, nearing the brink of complete nakedness. I didn’t belong indoors, perhaps I didn’t belong on land–the River winking in the blackness at the end of 135th. I stepped from the doorway onto the biscuit yellow and black tiles, and toddled through the bullet-proof glass door. Stumbling into the outside world, I crumbled on the stoop and splaying my knees apart, rested my elbows on them.
Although the temperature wasn’t any different, the life was. Here, the heat had soul–something you endured and knew you were better because of it. It’s the kind of heat that forms people South–the type of heat that wears your resistance and allows your to become. It’s the type of heat that teaches you grace and willingness–the type of heat that you can only respond to by living in it. It’s the type of heat that breaks down formality, and fosters porch whispers and tank tops. It’s the type of heat that grows the blues, the type of heat that matures mangos and women. The type of heat that warms sewage, the type of heat that makes us sleepless.
Threads of light slithered like electric spit into the sky. A pop of blue, sparkles like champagne. Families were everywhere–circled around camp stoves, playing dominos, shooting the shit. Men and women leaned against pillars and spread on stairs, teenagers paced the streets with wet hair and tight jeans. The later it got, the more people stepped into the streets and chatted, kicked balls, texted on phones. Cumbia played down an alley, 2011 rap from a car. Up until recently this area of Harlem was mostly Dominican, but had experienced a change in the last year from the Haitian earthquakes. Refugees have come to live with families, friends, or anew–piling into the tombstone colored apartments along the street. People talked into phones and faces in French and Spanish, snippits of coded conversation wafting to me. This place is such a vital map, a palpable root to humanity. As the evening ran on stiffly, I beheld the community–each person so unique with their own stories. Desires. Suffering. A pack of girls ran by fully gelled and hungeryeyed, hunting down a boy. A grandmother laughed on a stoop, her hard-seamed face and weary flesh earning every joy. Babies, babies naked bellied babies–swaddled in arms, carriers, family.
I sat there watching.
The claustrophobia of the apartment healed, and as I was just readying myself to battle back–a girl walked by. A wee girl with her mother, clasping with fingers the size of grubs. She turned her gaze to me as her mother walked by, and for a moment I sunk into those black eyes and saw–
I saw her seeing me. I saw myself in the milk-cartons across the street, in the slapping of cards and the charring of meat. I saw myself in the cold beer, in the sweaty kisses, the hands of grandfathers. I saw myself belonging, just here–not watching, but being part of this miraculous place, through the eyes of the innocent universe before me. She was seeing me as I was seeing everything else–part of this world, part of us, part of it all. And I felt home.