Spine Language

They tell you not to judge a book by its– well, you know. 

Which is why I have this hunch that something in the spine–that two-inch wide column– deserves discernment. Is it poetry if I say that it’s the one thing that all the pages have in common? A reminder of thread; machine-bound operating as the ghost of hand-stitched. Am I reading too much into this? It’s probably time for me to close where I open, my pages coming together in flutters and shushes. And yet here I am, still trying to convince someone to grab me by the spine, slide me across to the cashier, and take me home. 

And do you know what the worst part is? Once I’m buried beneath the other books in the stack– the stack that will never get picked up or finished or remembered because they’re too wordy, too nonsense, too whatever–  I feel the most like me. Spine facing outwards, I’m just that sliver of something someone somewhere, could read, could crack open, could dogear, could underline, could damage.

 

Advertisements

Scientific American: A Bedtime Story

At night, my brain unspools like an unruly ball of yarn, wooly and longing for a pattern to follow. Neurological pathways spill out in loose, pink tendrils. I follow them as they thread through places of unimportance– the convenient store of my childhood, the office of a college professor, the hallway where my aunt removed a scorpion’s stinger from my heel, the street before the street my house was on (a prelude to home)– making them significant.

Will I wear these things forever? The yarn of my experiences woven into a garment, the pattern thick and tight. They say forgetting happens logarithmically, in a curve. Which makes sense– the poems and places and people I used to know snag and catch on things that have long since smoothed and softened: the swing of a sad conversation’s exit door, the corners of forgotten arguments, the barbs of unaccepted apologies.

Here I am, wedged somewhere between moonlight and sunrise, gathering up neurological fibers between my fingers, knotting off their ends, and slipping them through the eye of a needle. With a pickling of gooseflesh on my arms, I start sewing something like sleep. When they come, my dreams are of me diving into my own cortex.

Fish Out of Water

I wasn’t hooked by some knee-deep wader and hoisted high, dripping and speckled, my scales refracting.

I jumped.

An unceremonious flop, really. Sent my eyes lolling in their lidless saucers. Christened my fins on the shores of a nameless bank. If I’d been hooked, I wonder, would I have tossed one eyeball back towards the murkiness– Lot’s wife in fish-flesh?

But there is no sharp, slender neck of a knife pressing in. No glinting sterling against the backdrop of my pearled flank. That is how I imagine it happens, though– being splayed open. Lying on a bed of unremarkable mud, agape and still rainbow, insides getting their first taste of outness.

It was me. I came up for air, knowing full well, I only breathe water. Now the world comes in fractures between my gills. Belly-up and gasping, I observe ironically, that the sky is the river just wrong side up.

Boxing

Is there a physicist present to present the physics behind a metaphorical knockout? How the kinetic energy of an eloquent sentence grows as it escapes? How it begins deep in the catacomb of some cortex and is then born– delivering a crushing blow of brain blood to the skull?

Here, look my pen is poised to leave scars of ink across the tired, pale faces of trees that used to be. How it dodges insecurity’s padded punches. In the corner, I throw scribbles like a southpaw. Perhaps if I circle ’round the rings of my notebook fast enough, my thoughts will lose their gold bar heaviness. The time for an exchange of clumsily-crafted currency with the blank page has passed.

With fists closed, grip tight, I’m training for powerful lines, for sequences of syllables that crack bones like champagne. Here I am, just one of many boxers; shifting my weight beneath the scalding bath of white spotlight, holding court with the roaring crowd between my ears, words blooming around my sockets like green-yellow shiners.  My thoughts itching and hungry in their gloves. I’m up against the ropes, dreaming of a brilliance that leaves bruises.

 

Under The Big Top: Chapter Two

It’s twenty-five years from now. All of the spray-mount has been scrubbed their fingers and the puns have been bleached from their brains and they have FINALLY stopped waking up in a cold sweat every ten weeks. You know what that means: it’s time for the freshly-jaded, once bright-eyed individuals who attended the Creative Circus to make the schlep to Moe’s and Joe’s for their quarter quell.

With a nod to nostalgia, an alumnus, known as the Boy With the Hip Tattoo, is shimmying indelicately into his old slim-fit, cuffed jeans. He relishes how tight they are; how they hug his unsweetened vanilla almond-coconut milk blend thighs (veganish since he started Bumble-ing with a free-lance Designer). Valiantly, he ziiiiiippppps the zipper and makes a mental note to pepper his copy with “z” words more often.

His inability to button just means that he’s going to be completely free tonight. It’s conceptual. It’s a metaphor. He writes down “Live unbuttoned” on a pale brown, two-week-old Chipotle turtle shell container.

At the bar, the Boy With the Hip Tattoo gestures a lot. It served him well as a presenter but now, in this dimly lit VaHi bar, he is paying the price for exuberantly telling a story about how an AD once cut him, back-alley style, near the vending machine, with a dull Exacto.

“There I was, rocking a solid Johnny’s buzz and just trying to score the last Honey Bun when she came out of nowhere, demanding my headlines,” he says raising his arms in faux-defense.

And just like that the beautiful, glorious, misshapen sphere peaks out from beneath the space between his shirt and his pants, causing his classmates squint. Is it some kind of poorly rendered kickball? Some sort of rough, reddish vector that rose like a blood moon over the faded blue waist of his curiously unbuttoned jeans?

“I’m sure it looked way better digital,” one of his friends offered a polite but weak justification.

“Probably an ink quality issue.”

“Hate to say this, but really poor craft.”

“Surely, they could have fixed that in post,” whispered another.

And through all of their postulating and PBR drinking, the Boy With the Hip Tattoo’s tattoo ceased to become a mystery.

A classmate, who had aged with the same grace as forgotten Sprouts Sushi in the communal school fridge, piped up with the answer: it was a Circus ball that adorned the space between the Boy With the Hip Tattoo’s token male creative pooch and his once lithe hips. And there it was would remain, forever unbounced, meant only to be seen in glimpses like their teacher’s approval.

Here they now were, merely poorly pen-tooled versions of their former selves, all with the same satisfied smiles. After years of semi-frantic, semi-frequent GroupMe theorizing, they had closure. They could finally go on living their draining lives in peace.

Suddenly, an aged teacher of theirs emerged from deep within one of the booths.

A respectful quiet fell over the bar, as the teacher strode calmly over to the Boy With the Hip Tattoo. Emotionlessly, he peered at the exposed Circus ball. In the dim light, he appeared to shrug non-committally but no one was certain.

They all waited, perched on the edge of their fragile egos, for his assessment.

After what felt like an eternity, the teacher cleared his throat to announce the verdict:

“It’s decent.”

 

 

I’ve Measured Out My Life in Dog Years

Processed with VSCO with a5 presetWhen Katie and I were eleven, Dad bought you from a stand on the side of the HWY 281. He passed it twice. Our other dog, Cody, had just died and he wasn’t sure we were ready for another. When he finally stopped, you were the last one left and also, the fattest. So fat, in fact, that we almost named you Pudge.

When he got home, we were upstairs watching a movie. He called for us to come down.

“Allie’s here,” he said (I’ll never really forget that lie because it was so forgivable, so wonderful in it’s misdirect).

When we finally got up and looked down, he was at the foot of the stairs holding you in his arms, grinning wide and proud.

When you were nearly one, you ate an entire milk carton, a butter tub lid, the twist tie off the bread and the mechanisms of your favorite squeaky toy. Since then, the number of shoes, baseballs, softballs, tennis balls and rocks you’ve demolished is similar to the number of decimals in Pi (I wish that you were capable of understanding math jokes, Tucker. But it’s okay, a lot of people don’t think they’re funny anyways).

I’ve always thought of you as a dog of mythical proportions. You could dive for rocks in the pool and open the back door. You ruled the house like a benevolent lion; letting the cat groom you, letting Charlie eat out of your bowl. Your giant paws, your gentleness, the expressiveness of your eyebrows which always verged on quizzical, as if you were wise to some joke that missed us all, your determination to convince us to give you just one more cookie (author’s note: it was NEVER just one more). These were the traits that only you could have, that only you could do justice to. These are the things that made you ours.

The Earth has had you for precisely 5,000 days but today, August, 10th, 2017, is the last of them. To my twenty-four year old brain, 5,000 of anything seems like a preposterous, exorbitant amount. And yet. In terms of you, that number seems like an unjust and cruel personification of brevity.

Two years ago, I wrote a story about this for my MFA application. My fiction professor told me that it alienated some readers.

“People won’t understand why the death of a dog is worth an entire story,” he said.

To be frank, I do not like those people. They do not understand that dogs live as though they will never die, which is precisely why they will always be worth writing about. They do not understand that dogs live solely to be part of our stories, which is exactly why they will always deserve their own.

Those people, they do not understand that the time we share with our dogs is borrowed; that they are never really ours to keep. That at some point, we have to force ourselves to be unselfish. That we, as humans, must someday choose to end their pain and in turn, wound ourselves.

Because surely, if they had known you, if they’d had the privilege of spending more than half their life with you, they’d have realized that you deserved vastly more than fifty pages of amateur, comma-spliced fiction.

There is no melodrama present. There are those that think it’s foolish to mourn the loss of a dog, I don’t expect them to understand me or my family. There are those who think it’s foolish to mourn the loss of a dog which could only mean they’ve never loved one and in light of that, I feel incredibly sorry for them.

Today, the Atlanta sun comes in patches. All of great things I wanted to say come that way too. Today, my Tucker boy, our hourglass is out of sand. Our clock’s hands are stuck. Our borrowed time is up. Today, my sweet boy, I hope the sky is very blue and very bright in Texas. A perfect sky for swimming.

What else? The pool, Charlie’s cookies, the Rodriguez’s newspaper, the space beneath our feet. Those things will always belong to you.

And as for me, I love you in present tense.

Under the Big Top: Chapter 1

In the ad-school system, crimes of art, copy and Adobe are considered especially heinous. In Atlanta, the semi-dedicated detectives who overhear and record these ridiculous crimes are members of an elite underground writing ring known as the Circus Chroniclers. These are their stories.

Assley wasn’t like the other girls. She was ~UniQu3~. When other girls were putting peanut butter on their toast, she was dutifully slicing avocado whilst bathed in crisp morning light. She was purposefully scuffing her tennis shoes, she was walking around through the streets of her suburb with a Polaroid camera, snapping away, letting the photos drop where they may; a modern Gretel, leaving trail of angst in her wake.  

And then one night, the blind prophet Sylvester snuck into Assley’s attic bedroom. Maybe it was a dream, maybe a vision or perhaps he was actually just a criminal and was LITERALLY in her room. Normally she dreamt of young Michael Cera, sponge-bathing in his Sunday best but that’s besides the point. This eve it was Sylvester who came into her bed and ultimately, into her heart. (There’s a moral here: Sylvester was an expert thief who’d been working in the Black Market dealing PrismaMarkers and Exactos but more on that later.)

Assley was roused from slumber by his seductive whisper.

“Michael Cera? How intriguing,” Sylvester mused, “You are #deep just as I suspected.” 

Assley sat up in bed to stroke Sylvester’s useless eyeballs, “How is that you are blind and yet are the only one who really sees me?”

“Because I’m not a vacuous nin-kom-poop, obvi” said Sylvester, blushing self-conciously as he twisted his hair expertly into a man bun. 

“You look like a street urchin,” Assley blurted, “but I’m into it.”

“Ah, the Circus goggles are upon you,” Sylvester said cryptically, “You have no idea how ahead of your time you are.” 

“The Circus?” Assley said in wonderment. 

“It’s like this place, where you do like stuff,” Sylvester scrunched his brows, “Um, we like make fake things that matter but also don’t. Fuck. Okay, it’s like art school but with a purpose.” 

“So SCAD?”

“Not exactly, no. We’re different. Grungier. We have a vending machine that deals out cheese sandwiches, honey-buns, LaCroix. It’s raw, visceral, you know, uncensored. We’re all just a bunch of misfits,” Sylvester waxed, growing misty eyed.  

Assley reached out to comfort him, a mere shoulder squeeze, but there was so much feeling in that simple gesture that they both became aroused.  

“Touching is free,” Sylvester whispered as he unsuccessfully tried to locate her mouth, “but printing is gonna cost ya.” 

“How much!?” Assley moaned. 

“A dollar,” he paused, “per page.” 

“Oh, do me on my Urban Outfitters duvet,” Assley screamed, barely able to keep herself together.

Sylvester began to take of his Converse.

“Keep them on, ” Assley ordered. 

“You have the body of a young Lena Dunham,” Sylvester said as he pushed her back into her ironic throw pillows.

“Omg, have you read Not That Kind of Girl?” 

“Hush, now” Sylvester said, putting a finger to what he thought was her lips but was really her nostril, “let’s put on some music no one else has heard of.” 

 

The Gardener

FullSizeRender

High summer bursts against my retinas like a swiftly spun kaleidoscope. I am small and in happy solitude, towing the garden hose behind me as my bare soles twitch and twirl on worn deck wood. Part child, part sunburnt dervish, I whirl by the pots jammed with flora and they drink the heavy drops and stay always always thirsty.

Against the backdrop of blossoms, in the thick of succulents and coiffed shrubbery, you are elbow-deep in loam, pulling the goodness from nothing, discovering great bursting life in the small, the unsure. How do I explain the curvature of plants as they leaned in your direction? As if they could discern the difference between the sun’s scorch and your gentle heat.

The mountain laurels shake their bouquets like tiny, opening fists. Closely clustered, crepe myrtles keep to themselves. Hibiscus are opera singers, their vain reverb oscillating off the roof of blue overhead. Are they waiting for the soft clap, the echo of sound between gardener’s gloves?

Come and dig, you say, my mother. And we bring life to each bloom until the day’s eyelids flutter, hungry at last, for sleep.

Small me, collapsed and drowsy, plucking at lullaby splinters, stuck sweet and near, just above my earlobes, my palms resting rough and stained against the pillow white. Behold this legacy of umber earth. An inheritance of dirt beneath fingernails, passed down as if it were fine china.

With hands that look like your hands, I too, will take up spade and soil. With hands that look like your hands, I too, will weave braids into my someday daughter’s hair. These clumsy appendages of mine finding that loom smoothness was hidden in them all along.

And so I will do what you have done for my sister and I. Intertwining our roots. Placing us in direct sunlight. Glazing with tender water. How greedily we drank, then. How marvelous our green against the sky. Yes, in this clime, we three bulbs of the same flower, planted seasons apart can all grow older in parallel lines.

I Take My Humble Pie A La Mode

Processed with VSCO with c1 preset

In case you were wondering, the most pathetic place to cry is in a 2004 Nissan Xterra, with a smashed to shit left bumper, in the parking lot of Sprouts. Side note, cars don’t render you invisible. Cue concerned passerby probably speculating that I was just another twenty-something chick overreacting to the rising avocado prices.

Alas, my dignity was not being jeopardized by a fruit. C’mon guys, I have some pride. No, I had been reduced to a sniveling idiot by three words: “It’s just boring.” Translation for dummies: “You’re just boring.”

I am not vanilla, I insisted. NO. I am vanilla bean.

So slightly elevated boring.

Boring is un-dyed cotton or chicken breasts or taupe walls or caution tape. Boring looks at maps more often than it looks at the sky. Boring buttons up and covers their mouth when they laugh. Actually, boring doesn’t even laugh. Boring chuckles briefly and almost inaudibly to itself.

Getting dubbed “boring” made me angry. And it was good in the way that a nice, resounding smack to the face is good. All of a sudden, I was like “Oh boring am I? Just wait for next week! I am going to be so edgy, buddy.” And then next week came and I’d written couplets in perfect Iambic pentameter about a BBQ sauce and was met with, “Okayyyyyyy, so this is kind of too weird.”

Bring out the laurel crown because “too weird” is a fucking victory.

Second quarter taught me that writing (or just creating in general) is harder than scaling the side of a skyscraper with heavily greased roller skates attached to your hands and feet. Being good at it is like scaling that same skyscraper but without hands or feet at all. What I’m trying to say, is that you have to risk failing spectacularly to make things ring with badassery. Yeah, you might figuratively shatter yourself into a thousand minuscule shards but at the very least, people will be listening and watching, instead of sleeping.

I recently listened to a podcast with Lin Manuel Miranda, the mastermind behind Hamilton, in which he discussed the creation of The Hamilton Mixtape. Despite never having seen the actual production (because I am not willing to donate a kidney in order to purchase a ticket), I am infatuated with the song “Satisfied,” which Sia covers in the Mixtape. When asked what distinguishes Sia from other singers, Manuel Miranda said, “Sia weaponizes vowels.” How dark, how beautiful and how powerful is that? It’s been circling around my brain like a buzzard ever since. Imagine if you could write like she sings?

There’s a typography poster in the bathroom at school that speaks to that same theme. It says, “Language should bend to your will, not reveal your inadequacies.” Pretty sure it’s a Dan-ism. Sia would probably dig it.

Anyways.

1/4 of the way through life under The Big Top and so far, my creative brain has knees. Not legs. I know what you’re thinking: so what, your brain is like some kind of vaguely-jointed mermaid? Um, yes. Yes it is. Can you claim learner’s curve for as long as it takes for people to question your status as a “learner”? Um yes. Yes, you can. We will be learners for as long as we are specks that inhabit an incomprehensible universe, the majority of which remains a vast mystery to us. Don’t be afraid to own the dumb parts of yourself. Find interesting ways to use them. Get curious again. Examine yourself and the brilliant myriad of gorgeous other brains in this world. Don’t settle for smart, seek genius. Don’t be content with brave, strive for fearless. Don’t give encouragement, radiate kindness and compassion.

And above all, give boring the finger.

The Fisherman

Processed with VSCO with p5 preset

A kerplunk did rupture the atmosphere, once. Unfurled like a velvet spool and dove its echo into my ears. Its arc was fine and lovely and casted out onto the river’s smooth, cool face. Beneath the whispering oaks, we were three fisherman silhouetted against the amber rose sun.

How do I describe the music of morning? Poetry escapes me like catfish from a line. The river breathed husky against the wet sky. Its breath hovered like steam above a mug’s gaping mouth. Do I talk of the wild on just the other side- how it was fevered- always growing, stretching on in a dull, green tangle?

How do I tell you that in that space just after dawn, I was jealous of my sister as she drew her rod back behind her? Everyone always said she had the most whispers of you. She wore your hands and easiness, unstudied charm smeared across her in hasty, imperfect swoops. The deftness with which she detached a hook from a fish’s lip; even that was admirable.

Girls, we wear our mothers like crowns, precious & jeweled. But fathers are our first and most innocent of loves. We keep them tied tightly to us, schooners forever docked close by a multifarious knot.

By the murky water, sat me, rod and reel-less (books were the only bait I was ever hungry for) with crumbs of sleep charring my eyes. Beneath my feet, tree roots held the bank gently and my bones cracked a little to think of Time, to think of our corner of the river as finite. Which is why, even as a child, I knew that I must snatch, take, grab in handfuls this most precious life in which I found myself made of the same old, new blood as you.

My father:

Can we sit and talk a little?

Can we stop and listen much?

Can we fish in quiet for an infinite while?