How a writer, cave-timing
dark and solitude,
annoints an ember by
crafting the small hours
into a flagrant torch.
Send us postcards from your loneliest places,
your fault-lines and secret rivets,
send us words
and we promise not to burn them,
we promise that something of the ineffable
will stick, as if a lasting thorn
in God’s bruised paw.
Jilly, aged three, bared her teeth
& bit Jack, four, hard on the arm,
breaking skin &
Stunned, Jack’s baby blues
ballooned & gaped at Jilly,
bright with malice & glee.
Why Jilly why, Jack cried,
nursing his wound.
Cuz that’s how much
I love you Jack, how much you
there is in me.
As Jilly picked Jack’s skin
from her teeth, Jack’s heart
turned into a pair of flying scissors
& cut Jilly’s hidden paper doll
into a puddle of tiny pieces.
with grace & fidelity,
the two lovemates
embarked on their honeymoon
years before they were married.
Listen to the spoken word track w/ music here.
Don’t call it a Comeback—
L.L. Cool J. wooing
Sylvia Plath in broad daylight
where they dance
and get crazy theatrical
doing the Lazarus
(and doing it and doing it well)
Sylvia telling L.:
You know, Cool J.,
I used to do it
so it felt like hell—
and L.L. laughed
and laughed: Damn,
all you white women
are crazy and so
especially the poets—
then L.L. says: Queen,
teach you how to chill-ax
the oldskool way
off comes L.L’s
red leatherjacket and
white T-shirt, revealing
and Plath, tossing aside
her thesaurus, aaaaahhs
and never having been done
by a black dude before
she forgets all about
her old man
Teddy “Rough Rider” Hughes,
and L.L. hittin that shit
hard-as-hell, says: Who’s
your Daddy now, Who–
and Plath’s fever
climbing 101, 102, 103,
the kettle ready,
and screams: Daddy,
Daddy, you black bastard
Listen to the spoken word track (with bass and flute) here.
If your body, sungthru
riddled and sticky,
for old time’s taste,
down I’d go
divebombin straight to and through the Source—
a treebranch’s wellhung
oozing transluscent gold—
sticky sticky delicious
hymns praised be thy glue
as it binds blood, touch
and twinned heartbeats.
Of thee I sing,
liquid poem posing as blues,
in a red dress torn at the seams,
seems I’m singin your smell again,
no two scents the same,
the snowflake principle
upon the perfume
of individual taste.
the pig-in-shit sinner
casts forth a network of clefs and tendrils,
and come to sing the joys of ritual trappings.
Come to sing
and come to be
and come to come
and come undone and come apart at the . . .
o-god-yes a little-to-the-left:
if my fingers played these keys,
would you open up?
Would psalms recite your body
hungry, trembling, and chaste?
So many woulds to knock against,
and I’ve got a feeling,
call me crazy,
but I’ve got a feeling
that the fire sale
in your forest
—thick with thieves and secret pines—
means absolute wide open clearance.
Everything must go,
tagged for the taking,
and when I arrive, with a sack in hand and looter’s smile,
you smile back,
and I remember how fucking divine
the smell of earth
on a freshly creased morning
can be. It is to die for
the way we live through
are the skin’s razing of honey.
In praise of honey,
I sing of simmering
when the pot boils over,
I sing of swimming
when the fish bite back,
I sing of bars
candied and sold
to the lowest bidder,
I sing of butter
on the teeth of silver knife.
I sing in tribute
to the world’s infinite honey supply:
may it remain the excited child’s
sticky wet dream
of webbed fingers,
and seams torn apart at the . . .
seems I’m singin your scent again,
and how fuckin divine
the smell of earth
on a freshly creased morning.
It is to die for
the way we live through
the soil of a memory—
moonlighting as grave robbers—
in the middle of day.
One night Anya and I were hanging out in my living room. My father was in Atlantic City. My mother was dead. Had been for almost three years at that point.
Anya and I had the place to ourselves. We watched TV and drank screwdrivers. Anya had poured about half of Boris’s Smirnoff into a jar, and had re-filled his bottle with water. It was a trick she sometimes pulled. I provided the O.J.
Anya and I started making out. It went on for a long, tangled while. I ventured to Anya’s breasts, smoothing my hands over them through her shirt. Then my hands went under her shirt and I was in exciting, unfamiliar territory. My fingers explored the breast-sculpted fabric of her bra. I tried to unclasp the back of Anya’s bra while maintaining kiss-contact with her mouth, like I had seen men do in the movies, but I wasn’t skilled enough and my clumsy attempt at multi-tasking met failure.
Anya took the initiative and unclasped her bra while continuing to kiss me. She obviously possessed more cinematic grace than I did. Once her bra was off I lifted her shirt over her head and tossed it to the side, with what I imagined was a small measure of cinematic grace.
My mouth naturally gravitated toward Anya’s breasts, specifically targeting the nipples. I kissed and sucked what felt like pebbly buttons or rubbery pellets. My hunger for Anya’s breasts was commensurate with the sound of Anya’s desire. The louder and more intensely she moaned, the greater my feeding frenzy. I rubbed my eyes and nose and mouth and chin against the tender geography of her breasts. As a child I hadn’t been breast-fed, and wondered if something innate and primal was kicking, some long forestalled urge and yearning.
At one point Anya stopped moaning. And stayed stopped even though I kept teething. I looked up. Tears were streaming down her face.
I raised my head until it was level with hers.
What’s wrong, I asked, taking her hand.
My guess was that things had gone too far too fast. That, despite the speed and intensity which flavored other aspects of Anya’s life and persona, when it came to intimacy she liked to move slow.
What is it, I squeezed her hand.
There’s something I have to tell you, she said.
My stomach instantly dropped. The stomach is always the first to know, and the rest of your parts catch up later.
She told me how last night she had gone to Manhattan Beach with some of her friends.
I told her she had already told me that.
What I didn’t tell you, she continued, is that I ran into Angelo there. He was hanging out with his friends.
Angelo’s name, and Anya’s speaking of it, was the landmine I had been waiting to step on. I knew it was coming. I just didn’t know when, nor its setting. Now I knew. Last night at Manahattan Beach. Boom.
We started talking—
Did you kiss him?
Daniel will you listen—
Did you kiss him?
I swallowed an important breath.
Anya, did you kiss him?
Anya lowered her head.
Yes, we kissed.
I couldn’t see Anya’s face anymore. I wondered what it was doing. Then, despite the fact that here was no sound, I knew she was crying because of the way her head shook.
She looked up. I could smell the warm wet coming off her face. Her face was bright and pink and scarred with sorry. It was like looking directly into the open hurt of a child.
You are the last person on earth that I would ever want to hurt Daniel—
And yet you have. So what does that say about you Anya? What does that say about you?
I don’t know what that says about me. I guess it says I’m a fucked up person.
Anya went quiet. Perhaps she wanted me to swoop in and gentle a reprieve by telling her she wasn’t a fucked-up person. Perhaps she wanted me to act as judge, jury and executioner and rip into her. Whatever she wanted, all I had to offer was frigid silence. That sort of silence which deep-freezes the center of everything, even the words you manage to speak—Well I guess that’s it between us.
I waited for Anya to respond. A part of me hoped that Anya would tell me that it was a mistake, a foolish drunken moment, and that she didn’t want to be with Angelo, that she wanted to be with me, only me. Yet my stomach, the weather prophet, knew that wasn’t the case.
Daniel, Anya uttered my name softly, like a small wound.
Did you fuck him, I cut in.
My stomach braced me for the bad that it warned was coming, and I was surprised when Anya said—No.
My diaphragm released and my breathing regulated. It was good to know that the stomach wasn’t always right. Though, later, after Anya had left, and my Svengali mind completely had me under its dark power, I wondered if my stomach hadn’t been wrong, and Anya had fucked Angelo, and had lied to me.
Excerpt from No Man’s Brooklyn, novel-in-progress.
The binge ended. It could have been longer, could have been worse. It was what it was and while there was residual shame and disquiet, there was also gratitude that I had stumbled out the other side. That’s what it felt like, stumbling, but at least forward.
It was also a matter of vision, or an adjustment of vision. Whereas, in the thick of despair, I saw tunnels at the end of the light, in the palm of hope, I saw a beaded speck of light at tunnel’s end. That Angie the Hammer would play a pivotal role in this tunnels-and-light business was not something I would have imagined.
I had been walking around the park at night, drinking a 40, acting like a thirty-seven-year-old teenager, cloistered warmly inside a gaping wound, a state of wet, mute nostalgia, and I made my way onto the baseball field, across the darkened grass of the outfield, pausing where Anya and I had laid together, where our sides had touched, where we had narrated the trajectory of moving stars, and I continued onto the diamond, past the light-bleached hump of a pitcher’s mound, and into the dugout where I sat and looked out. That’s when I saw him. A figure walking on the tennis courts, which were adjacent to the baseball field. When he moved onto the baseball diamond and into the light, I realized that it was Angelo.
I called out his name. No response.
I called out louder and waved my hand.
This time, recognition, as he made a beeline for the dugout, taking earbuds out of his ears.
Hey Daniel, what’s up, what the fuck are you doing here?
I held up my bottle—Drinking. You want?
Nah I’m good, I’m straight these days.
Straight, like straight-straight?
Straight up and down brother, Angelo smiled. No weed, no alcohol, no drugs, no nothing. Well except for smokes.
As if cueing himself, Angelo squeezed a Newport from its pack and lit it.
Angelo continued to stand, leaning against the dugout fence.
So what’s up with you, how much longer you here for?
I’m not sure. Things have changed.
Oh yea, how so?
I confessed to Angelo that I had been sober for almost three years and had relapsed. That I was, at present, relapsing right in front of him.
Angelo narrowed his eyes and nodded. And said—It’s hard man, I hear ya. I’ve been clean now for almost a year and a half. It’s hard but it’s worth it. My life was nothing but dead ends bro.
I liked hearing Angelo say it was hard but worth it. Liked hearing his voice. I wanted to keep talking to him, to keep listening to him. It felt like a shot in the dark was coming through.
I asked Angelo questions. Which is how I found out that he had gotten clean in jail, and that he was coming from an N.A. meeting when I saw him. I thought of my Uncle Eddie, who had been going to N.A. meetings for a long time, and wondered if he and Angelo encountered each other in the rooms, if they swapped stories.
Angelo asked me how the comic book gig had gone, and I told him it had gone well, and was touched that Angelo had remembered the gig, and had thought to ask of it, and, in wanting to be thoughtful in turn, I asked him about his wife and daughter.
Heading back to my beautiful ladies now, Angelo smiled, and then he showed me pictures of both on his phone, called himself a lucky man, and I could tell that he meant it.
I shouldn’t be here, Angelo said, I should be dead, so many things I did, so much stupid stupid shit.
Angelo shook his head, looked at the pictures on his phone one more time, put the phone away.
His mention of death brought Anya to mind, and I asked him if he had gone to her funeral.
Nah, he said. I don’t think Boris and Vera would’ve wanted me there, which I understand. Me and Anya . . . a lot of bad shit went down between us. We both had our share of crazy, ya know? Don’t get me wrong I loved that girl, but we were toxic to each other.
Angelo paused, exhaled a long stream of smoke.
You know, she used to talk about you all the time?
Yea Daniel, all the time. I definitely got jealous sometimes . . . you know, me and my bad temper.
Angie the Hammer—
Yea Angie the Hammer, Angelo softly chuckled. I was jealous but also I got it. You two had been tight since you were little kids, that’s a serious bond, right?
Yea it was.
Yea and I think she saw you as some kind of, I don’t know, she put you on a pedestal, like you were a hero because you did your own thing and followed your dream and moved to L.A. I think she respected that a lot.
Hearing those words—hero, pedestal, respect—while I was sitting in a dugout, drunk on malt liquor—made me feel disgusted with myself.
I turned within to a different memory, Anya and me as kids, with me explaining the rules of playing war with G.I. Joes, and Anya listening with an intensity that was both grave and amusing.
Compelled to do something, anything that qualified as a dramatic affirmation, I hurled the 40oz. bottle as far as I could. I anticipated the sound of exploded glass but the bottle landed in the outfield grass without breaking.
Some throw, Angelo said.
And it didn’t even break, I said.
It might’ve but we just didn’t hear it, Angelo suggested.
I had to know. I walked out to left field, retrieved the bottle, brought it back.
Completely intact, I said to Angelo, then tossed the bottle into the garbage can.
I kicked the side of the can, which resounded metallically.
Anya’s birthplace, I spoke glibly.
The garbage can?
Yea the garbage can.
Angelo nodded, smiled.
I heard that story a lot. And how she came from nowhere.
She told you about coming from nowhere?
All the time.
I felt a twinge of jealousy. Her speech about coming from nowhere hadn’t been exclusive to me. I wondered if she had ever levitated for Angelo?
Instead I asked—Do you know who Emily’s father is?
Oh I didn’t know her name was Emily.
I felt slightly vindicated, knowing that I knew Anya’s daughter name and Angelo didn’t.
Nah, I don’t know who the father is. I just know it ain’t me, Angelo smiled.
There were other questions I wanted to ask Angelo, which I didn’t. Other things I wanted to do, like retrieve the bottle from the garbage can, knowing that there was still some liquor left in it, or run laps around the baseball field until I collapsed. I didn’t do those things.
I got quiet and Angelo peeled himself away from the fence and said he had to be getting home to his ladies. He placed his right hand on my shoulder. I thought of that hand, its notoriety, its bluntness, its reputation, Angie the Hammer, except now it was a soft, open hand cupping my shoulder as Angelo said—Good talking to you Daniel. If you wanna hit a meeting with me tomorrow, give me a call.
Then Angelo removed his hand, wrote down his number on a slip of paper, gave it to me, placed his earbuds back in his ears, and left.
I sat in the dugout for a while longer. Then I went to center field, lay down in the grass, looked up at the night sky, and asked to be forgiven. As if, in that very moment, or perhaps for my whole life, the unmistakable fact that I existed warranted a sincere apology.