8 x 8 (Of Cinerea)

30 May

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8 x 8 (Of Cinerea)

 

I don’t like to make the bed because it reminds me of a Soviet orphanage; of tiny, pale hands pushing wool blankets of rough gray up into a strict horizontal angle. It reminds me of drying cement and a thin film over curdled government milk. I never want to be with her in an apartment where we have to make our bed, I always want for it to remain an eager invitation. I don’t want throw pillows, silk sheets or a mint either. I just want her and a ruffled blanket thrown on a comfortable mattress in a comfortable manner, some purple covers to keep us restless. I want it to look, in the morning especially, as if it all lay there like a song from an out of tune instrument, and I want her, and I need her to want to get into that bed with me. Everything else is shibboleth, ceremony, or a politeness I can’t stomach.

 

She thinks that I don’t know anything about her – but I know she’s stubborn, and she thinks it’s cute. I see it when she grins at me, in a toothy silence, during a pointed pause in conversation. I see it when her eyes become dewy from the irritation of light and contact lenses. I see it when she folds one leg underneath the other to listen to a new story I was meant to retrieve for her.

There was the time we went to Philadelphia and she caught a cold (before any soup could be purchased) and yet wouldn’t take my coat to cover herself during the bus ride. We split an order of curly fries after she refused to order her own. She ate most of them before we left the state, hoarding all the ketchup in the tiny paper container – I made sure not to notice and kissed her salty lips like rain on an April window or gray hair mourning on a cenotaph. When we finally reached the fraternal Pennsylvanian city we stayed in a hotel room that seemed to be moulting like a prideful falcon that cast its home on a high tower in an abandoned metropolis. We ate cheese steaks, which never seemed to have enough peppers or onions on them. We argued about who claimed the better Faust – Berlioz or Gounod. We drank whiskey, when she still drank whiskey. Watched bad television and made love like two bank robbers that got away with the loot after a gunfight with the law. Then we took the bus back to New York, never seeing the crack of the Liberty Bell or taking a single photograph – but she wrapped herself in my coat on the ride back and I thought that the trip was wholly worth it.

 

There was a time that the writing

flourished

in my stomach

like a writhing ulcer

and you’d see me spitting blood

in nouns that wore black stocking on long legs

in adjectives in rouge and skimpy robes of good intentions

in verbs that spilled over like premature ejaculation

and you’d soften it

stroke my hair

a 20th century massacre that we’re only forgetting now

you’d sit me down in my favorite chair

with a pen and Yardbird Parker

and get me to write another line

that connected the old world with the new

in a sepulcher of words

the same pretentious masquerade of black and white

stitches across the skin of an exhausted dream

resigned to the gluttony of past

and then what’s left

we’ve shocked and scared ourselves to love again

and on some strangling advice

which you warned me not to take

I rewrote the ending for some commercial viability

and started spitting blood again

but now

with no longer someone left

to stroke my hair

 

I want this life to remain an improvisation. A 20-minute riff in B minor. A yearning for more. Her arms. Her eyes. Her breasts. Her waist. Her hips. Her thighs. Let’s pause a moment. Not too long though. Her face: all brightness, sun along her skin. Something I described so simply, because there was no reason to strain it with complexity: I was a cold cup of coffee and she was the warm hands that held it. In our relationship, it was always too late to castle and so I left the king open and vulnerable, but with her, I never much minded losing the game, as long as it remained nothing more than an improvisation, a variation on all that we take much too seriously.

 

Russians have a superstition that if you step on someone’s foot that they in turn have to step on yours lest you get into an argument – a savagely irrational eye for an eye custom hued in folklore fitting for the people that originated it. Adhering to this superstition tends to make for awkward subway rides during rush hour, especially if you’re navigating the conservative, overpopulated East Side of the city. I once asked an elderly man to step on my foot while I was huddled amongst weary bodies on the 6 train, late to work, and after he looked back at me bewildered, I explained the peculiar ethnology of my proposition. He smiled and tapped my shoe, then talked my ear off about how he had no one, no grandchildren to tell the story of how he wrote a musical adaptation of A Midsummer’s Night Dream with Duke Ellington back in the 1950s. It was a nice conversation and we promised to meet again when the musical was going to be put on in New Orleans the following summer, I mentioned that I always very much enjoyed Cajun cuisine. And with the words “the course of true love never did run smooth for young Lysander,” I left the train with a small imprint of his heel on my shoe.

 

(For Herb Martin)

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