/ Fiction /
I was born for something else. Or so I thought. Open the heart.
I waited on the platform. The yellow lines. Gum on the pavement. The stifling air. The vibrating hum of distant trains rolling across thunder, plunging into darkness, a Kinetoscope out of my mind, rolling radioactively in beauty. A technique to capture phases of movements.
I’ll begin at the beginning. I was born. Childhood. Remembering the toolshed, its pliant odors of wood and dust and oil. The witch who poisoned children lived there. If you approached, silent, on silent deer hooves, and peered through the grime encrusted window, you saw her back turned as she bustled about, canning fruit, making jam, poking at the fire, lifting the lid, hissing at cats through the window screen.
I promised to start at the beginning, and I’ll do so. Birth, childhood—came later. Prior to that—I’ve always known. Something hard and uncompromising, inside myself. Something inside me that glints like a precious stone. I can’t remember all the details but you get the general idea. I’ll start again.
I was born for something else. Or so I thought. Inside I was screaming. The subway is the city’s circulatory system, pulsing north and south and outwards to the outer boroughs. Jagged sharp angled graffiti dances on the sides of the cars, there’s a jittery energy, you can be nodding off and it won’t stop.
In Tompkins Square Park the trash cans burn and everyone is naked even clothed, our skin quivers sensitively in contact with the city. In your apartment on Avenue C the candle pushes the air around, quivering, through smoke from our cigarettes stubbed out in a clay ashtray on the mattress between us, you are heavy beside me, over me, submerging me. You push me around. I can’t help it.
I could describe you. Your solidity and hooded thoughts, somewhat distant fingers curling around cigarettes, legs crossed and I’m in your gaze, as if in this moment we don’t care, we are only here, a mattress on the floor, milk crates of records and makeshift shelves on bricks holding your Norton anthology and Kathy Acker. I put on headphones and went down on you keeping you at a distance in reserve as your thighs moved wavelike swells I’m carried out to sea. Prior to that—
I’ll remember the witch in the toolshed. Bustling about. Preparing the poison. It won’t kill you, just to sleep, awake. There to meet my destiny. Born for something else. The poison working its way in. Changing me. Atom by atom. Paralyzed awake slumbering. That was my beginning. The true beginning. Inside me I was always someone else. Well, you knew that, you sensed it. You chronicled it, inscribed it, journaled it, putting down each word on my flesh. I’ve promised to start at the beginning but it’s difficult.
We arrive fully formed. In your front yard, the afternoon sun angled through the kumquat tree, your mother’s television shows your father’s meanness your older brother’s cruelty but we are carelessly happy. The afternoon sun angled, bright flat and equidistant, falling equally over the world. It’s the color of old Kodachrome prints. Citrus orange and dun yellow.
Years later I’ve traveled to your studio apartment on Avenue C while outside the firetrucks wail down the street where it’s all a hustle and the park is lit by the flames from trash cans. I can’t remember all the details but I remember the essentials. The line that goes through.
I could describe school, the coming of age. Congregating by the lockers. Listening to Black Flag on a cassette tape. Someone wrote in black marker Fuck Reagan on the wall near the lockers. It was that time, those years, nuclear war imminent, we broke it down, felt nothing inside, felt everything.
We slipped contraband into our bookbags we wrote mash notes we found pills in our parents’ bedside drawers we smashed bottles against the brick wall we were falling we snuck into bathrooms pressed against the sink we looked at lingerie in storefront windows browsed vintage clothing tried on skirts laced our combat boots moved our hips our legs the adults were foreign to us, a distant presence.
We rode the trains the IRT downtown change at 42nd Street for the shuttle change for the 4, 5, 6 to the Lower East Side to Bleeker Street carrying a battered paperback or a journal composition book the Village Voice smudging fingers reading over the clatter of wheels on rails swaying and jolting, jostling, the long squeal of the brakes as the train slowly stops at your station and you vault from the seat onto the platform book tucked under your arm.
I’m trying to start at the beginning. This was the beginning. The rest was prelude. Masturbating in secret. Tiptoe to the witch’s toolshed with suppressed excitement, will you poison me, will I lay myself down, arms at my side, naked under the blanket. You can’t go back, you can’t rewind the tape.
After the concert, in your room, under the sounds of punk rock, in haze of smoke in flickering light, we face each other cross-legged naked in summer heat heavy with sweat the glowing orange tip of a cigarette and feeling the air charged in this small space conforming to our bodies—we were falling. Angles and jagged lines. Formalism. You would contain me.
We breathed rarified air, we soared. I lost myself in acute angles. I’ll start now at the beginning. Yes. YES. Get some more. Have it all. Get fucked up. You never understand my loneliness. I never understand your anger.
Well, it’s the same difference.
The subway jolts. It jerks. Faster. Crowd surfing. Riding the subway drunk and stoned (muffled scream) jump up at my stop, through the turnstile ascend the stairs into the cool evening away from the hot dry sweltering stale air, dirt heat rushing live fast die young.
The city is the sound of metal scraping metal. The city is the smell of hot air and dirt and piss. The city is angled lines. The city is modernist. The city is solid. The city is impersonal hostile uncaring, it can swallow you, the city is a disease, the city is a pounding thudding motion inside your skull. The city is real, the city isn’t real, the city is real.
I’ll take a step back. I’ll start at the beginning. I remember the afternoon light angling through the kumquat tree, the silhouette of your mother on the couch in the main room of the ramshackle house that smelled of boiled vegetables and bleach.
On silent hooves, I creep to the window, peer through the grime into the witch’s house, hoping for a glimpse. The door opens a crack. Darkness and musty air, a smell of medicinal plants and rotted meat. She beckons me inside. I plunge within. I’m not real. I lie beneath the blanket. I accept her ministrations. She violates me. I am real, this is how I become real. In the darkness of her house. In the fetid air. Willingly I lie beneath the blanket. I am real.
Reality hovers about me like the touch of a lover. The lover hovers over me, her lips over me, her body hovers over mine.
I’ll go back to the beginning. When I was vulnerable. A whole being. Light slants down onto the front yard in mid-afternoon. In the tool shed, with its smell of wood and dust and oil. Away from the adults who never will know the intense beauty of the world.
In dim afternoon light, the dust and smell of wood and motor oil. Outside the pulsating hum of insects. Borne along memories into the present. Tell me! I’ll begin at the beginning—here, in this room, now, this moment, the moment of creation, here. I am the earth and you are the tree spreading her roots deep within me. Open myself to receive myself.
After the concert we left the club. My ears ring. The street spills out into the crowd. The band was fast and loud. We walk through the silence of the streets. The sky is brown like clouds of poison. The rats scurry through alleyways. The subway rumbles beneath the grate.
At school we congregate by the lockers. Someone has written in marker. We carve our initials on the bench. We look at lingerie in store windows and browse through racks of vintage clothing. We do our nails. We throb with hope and aspirations. We can hold ourselves to the highest esteem.
The brakes squeal as the train pulls into the station, like the screech of a saxophone, those waiting for the train glide into view, bored, it’s my stop, I stand up as the train slows the doors opening onto the stale dirty smell of the station, I am Eurydice ascending the stairs into the world above, jostled by those rushing upward and down, I’m blocks from your apartment, past drug dealers in Tompkins Square Park hustling weed, a cop car parked in veiled threat across the street from the entrance, I pause to watch a woman dance barefoot, her palms are blackened with dirt, she is a priestess of Apollo here in the park.
I approach her. She pauses in her dance. I kiss her hands, press my lips to her fingers, supplicant asking for intercession. She smiles and pulls her matted hair back from her face. I receive the benediction. The drop of spit on the finger pressed to my lips, conveying the wisdom of the god. I’m inoculated against everything the world will throw at me to kill me.
Later in your room I describe this encounter. It’s hard to explain. The dirt of the priestess. Pressed to my lips. The sound of drumming and the light from trash cans on fire dancing around us. I can’t explain the vision that I saw. Nestled in your thighs, I forget. The subway, the city, the priestess of Tompkins Square Park, I forget these things.
Trash cans burn and the light dances on a police car parked across the street. Sirens blare below your apartment. You light the candle on the floor next to the mattress. I’m telling this as straight as I can, from the beginning.
My visits to the witch, how the first time she invited me into her dirty hovel and I hesitated to cross the threshold but ducking my head stepped through the doorway into the gloom. How she poisons me, slowly, gently, softly, kindly, until my heart is stilled from racing and I am open, vulnerable, exposed, who I truly am, unprotected by social convention.
One summer night jagged lines of lightning lit up the sky like an Abstract Expressionist canvas. I crept from my room into the hallway and let the screen door close silently behind me and scurried across the grass under the wide flashing sky.
Under my urgent knock the door swung open and the witch stood before me naked as polished oak. She seemed very beautiful in that moment, ancient but ageless. I dropped to my knees clung to her legs buried my face in her soft hair breathing in her scent of moss and softly decaying bark letting it envelope me yes! life!
She led me to her bed and pressed me firmly down. I sipped the cup of poison that she raised to my lips. Willingly did I drink.
As the poison radiated through my limbs I grew cold as marble, frozen in living death. The witch pierced my skin with knives, fishing hooks, knitting needles. A sigh escaped my lips. My flesh was a willing sacrifice. This is how I become real. Birds chittered loudly, sensing that something momentous had occurred within this house. Dawn spread across the windows seeking those within. Open myself to receive myself.
—I try to explain this to you, but it comes out confused. I begin again.
Hush. You press a finger to my lips. I believe you, I believe you.
Well, that’s enough for me. The night air slumbers above us, the space between us, your skin pressed against mine. Hush. Don’t think, don’t speak. You’re alive. Take your identity and place it in your mouth and taste it roll it along your tongue and taste who you wish to be.