Roles of a Lifetime

Evie often had trouble determining where she ended, and someone else began. That someone else being a role she adopted for stage. It was a common problem, a customary side-effect to acting, she understood that, but what vexed her most about it was her vast indifference.
She didn’t care where she began and someone else ended, or vice versa. Didn’t care if the lines became irremediably blurred. She also relished her loss of awareness around slipping into other personas. She didn’t want to know who she was, not really. She didn’t want to look back or inside and see someone that resembled her, or anyone else for that matter. Something in her was drawn to void. Always had been. A place where nothing was nothing was nothing, and she could swim in it. Or float in the cirrus of ether.
The persona she adopted didn’t matter, she wasn’t genuinely attached, because she would be operating from a place of void. One was the same as the other as the other. None of them were her. And she wasn’t her. The void signed off on everything. In invisible ink.
There is void in your system, in your bloodstream, in your bones.
This was how she sometimes talked to herself about it.
She disliked passion. No she didn’t dislike passion, she didn’t trust it. It seemed the ultimate cover-up. And she didn’t want to cover up. This was one of the reasons why she shaved her head. Why she never wore make-up. One of the reasons why she dreamed she was someone else, and that someone else dreamed they were someone else, and that someone didn’t dream at all. That someone was the last straw, the dreamless one, the spectral tenant rooted in vacancy. That someone was a question mark bent into cursive, or something resembling cursive.
You never come up against void. That doesn’t happen. You come up against your resistance to void, that’s what stops you. Void is something you pass right through. That is the scary thing for many. No doors, no barriers, no end points, no parameters. You float right through and you then realize, in ways that can be both terrifying and liberating, the endlessness to emptiness. It is like a mutiny of self occurs, and everyone you thought you were is thrown overboard. This is when you feel the ghost that you were and always had been, this is when you become haunted by your own ghost-life. It is like a concert without any music.
Evie knew that the others could sense the void in her, they swarmed like frenzied night-moths to glaring white absence. People were magnetically drawn to Evie’s void, because it was easy to project onto, or into. There was nothing there. They could commandeer her blank canvas for their own purposes. There’s nothing there, so please allow me to fill it up. Violent doodles. Rampantly sketched glyphs. Future melancholy. Etchings of verve and disapproval. There were no limits when it came to the call and response of emptiness.
Evie knew this. Even if the people who were doing this didn’t know why they were doing this, or that they were doing it at all. Evie didn’t mind. Hanging out on the periphery of the void, none of it touched her. And so she chose roles to play, or they chose her. It was one way to pass the time.


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The Beastie Boys Don’t Live Here Anymore

I tell myself stories in the dark, Anya.
It helps. Or maybe it doesn’t.
Maybe it makes things worse. Or keeps everything the same. Which is a different kind of worse.
Anya I long to reach you only because I know that you are unreachable. It keeps my longing in a chrysalis state, a cocoon state. Nothing ever grows, it simply hums and palpitates and aspires toward growth. It is the shadow twin of growth.
Anya I couldn’t reach you in life, not your deep and true center, and I cannot reach you in death, so my relationship to you remains one of thorny and perpetual expectancy. To reach you would mean a betrayal of dreams. Or perhaps they are illusions masquerading as dreams. How to tell the difference?
If the center is where grief lies, I have been spanning the perimeter, dancing the same lame jig for far too long. Someone once wrote you should proceed from the dream outward. What about proceeding from reality inward?
I tell myself stories in the dark, Anya.
Whether or not they help is either of primary consequence or none at all.
Sometimes you have to walk through the boneyard in order to reach the garden.
This is what I tell myself. What I keep telling myself.

the basement

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The coke parties were my favorite. It was when everyone was happiest. Everyone usually meant my mother, father, and their friends, Tony and Dina.
   My mother would tell me—Tony and Dina are coming over tonight—and I knew that meant a coke party and I got excited.
   The coke turned them into children again. Or a peculiar breed of children with waxy glowing faces and eyes full of fire. Good-fire. Not dragon-fire or hell-fire. The fire of all-night magic.
   Tony, who worked sanitation with my father, was a barrel-chested Italian man with tattoos and two thick dark rugs for eyebrows. Like two baby Muppets had sprouted above his eyes. Tony loved to laugh. It was a high-pitched, wheezing laugh, a dolphin squeal that didn’t match his muscles and tattoos.
   His wife, Dina, was the smart one in the bunch. That’s how I thought of her because she was a college graduate. No one in my family had graduated college. My father had dropped out in sixth grade, my mother in eighth grade. Because Debby was the smart one I always found it odd that she did coke with the others. I suppose I thought college graduates didn’t do coke, that they were too smart or too good for it. Maybe I thought higher education meant higher living, I don’t know.
   The kitchen was where the action took place. As soon as Tony and Dina entered our apartment, my father would press—Tony did you get the stuff?
   Tony, smiling big, would put my father’s mind at ease—Yea Louie I got the stuff.
   Seated at the kitchen table, Tony or my father would razor-cut lines on a small mirror engraved with a Heineken logo.
   (I found the mirror about fifteen minutes ago in one of my father’s kitchen drawers. The past is never dead, Faulkner said, it’s never even past. I thought of that. And wondered when was the last time lines had been snorted off the mirror.)
   I loved the exactitude of the ritual. The methodical dicing of the lines. The cut plastic straw or rolled-up bill passed around. The vacuum-sucking snorts, and the finicky staccato inhalations draining the residue lining the inside of the nostrils.
   My father never let me stay in the kitchen when they snorted. He’d tell me to go into the living room and watch T.V. Fortunately, the kitchen was adjacent to the living room, and leaning against the base of the recliner, “watching T.V.,” I’d angle myself just so and watch them through the doorway. Yet listening to them brought even greater pleasure than watching them.
   The din of their voices, growing bright and electric, the ripples of laughter, with Tony’s pitch reaching kettle-steam frequencies.
   On those nights they talked and talked and talked, bright ribbons of noise in which they wrapped themselves. I savored and cherished their communion. It was like being coked-up through osmosis.
   Their joy was my joy, their cheer my cheer, their energy my energy.
   It was togetherness, albeit a second-rate version, for it only lasted as long as the effects of the drug did. The aftermath of the coke parties, the post-script, was never any good.
   When we are all high, it was great. The comedowns, on the other hand, left us jangled.
   In those periods the magic of childhood dimmed and we darkened and grew old before our time.
   Between childhood and death lay an inclement center which refused to keep still.


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The Parlor

   The girl who was to give me the special massage was young. It was hard to say how young. She could have been twenty-five, could have been twelve. She also could have been one-hundred, or one-hundred and twenty, an ancient person on the verge of returning to the source of bloom. My guess is that she is twenty or twenty-one.
   She has pin-straight, dark hair, and a wide, flat nose, with cushiony give. I look down at her hands. They are small and pale, the nails unpainted and rounded into half-moons.
   She tells me her name is Jasmine.
   I ask her if that’s her real name.
   She says she doesn’t understand.
   I ask her if Jasmine was the name her parents gave to her.
   Oh yes yes, she smiles, nods.
   Then she gestures toward the massage table and tells me to lie down.
   Should I take off my shirt?
   Yes, unless you don’t want to.
   No, I do.
   I take off my shirt.
   How about my pants?
   It’s up to you.
   I leave my pants on. And lie down on my stomach and fit my face into the hole at the head of the table.
   The carpet on the floor is a burnt orange color, reminding me of Halloween. I can’t see Jasmine, but I can hear her. She is squeezing liquid out of a bottle, and then she is rubbing her hands together. I imagined Charly’s recorder capturing the sounds.
   I feel Jasmine’s liquid-slicked hands press down on my back, just below my shoulders. She begins kneading the muscles with rhythmical insistence. She works over the whole of my back with democratic fluency, and then starts in on my left arm. She reaches the halfway point, just above the elbow, when my arm is suddenly seized by cramps and starts convulsing.
   Are you okay, Jasmine asks.
   Yea fine, I say and try to shake out the shakes. When I’m done I allow my arm to fall prone by my side, and immediately there comes another series of paroxysms, this time accompanied by a searing pain in my left shoulder.
   Try to relax, Jasmine says, and places her hand on my trembling shoulder.
   I can’t, I say, and the tremors spread to others parts of my body—my leg, my foot, my face—all on the left side.
   I use my right hand to push myself up and fall off the side of the table and onto the carpet. I can now see Jasmine, who sees me, and screams. As if she’s looking at a ghost.
   Her scream cuts through me, and I scream back—What is it, what-what?
   Your face, Jasmine points, as she backs away. You have no face.
   I rise to my feet, the left side of my body still in the grips of a seizure, bolt through the doorway, nearly knocking over Katie who was about to enter the room, make my way down the hallway to the bathroom, where I click on the light, look into the mirror. My face is there. It is my face. Save for the twitching of the eyelids, everything was normal, the same as always.
   Charlie comes into the bathroom.
   Danny what happened?
   I turn to him.
   Do you see my face?
   Yea I see your face, why?
   Is there anything different about it?
   Different, what do you mean?
   Anything wrong with it, anything missing?
   No there’s nothing wrong with it, everything’s there. What the fuck’s going on?
   I tell Charlie what happened in the other room, and how Jasmine had seen me with no face.
   That’s some freaky shit, Charlie pipes in. What kind of place did Jake bring us to?
   A place where people lose their fucking faces, I quip.
   Charlie gives my face the once-over, smiles—Well it’s all there now.
   My tremors having mostly subsided, I go into the waiting room and sit down on the couch.
   Katie returns, followed by Jasmine, who is holding a tissue near her eyes.
   Katie hands me my shirt, which I put on. Then she tells Jasmine to apologize to me. Jasmine softly apologizes.
   It’s okay she didn’t do anything wrong, I say to Katie. I don’t know what happened.
   I replay the story for Katie and when I get to the part about Jasmine seeing me with no face, Katie begins speaking to Jasmine in Chinese, Katie’s voice sharp and crescendent during certain points in their exchange, as if she’s scolding Jasmine.
   When they are done speaking Chinese, Katie asks me if I’d like to continue with my massage. With Jasmine, or with someone else.
   I tell her no I’m fine, then turn to Jasmine. You said you saw me with no face? I don’t understand. No face at all?
   I’m sorry I’m sorry, Jasmine responds quietly, sometimes I see things . . . I’m sorry. Jasmine lowers her head and exits through the curtained doorway.
Photo by Anthony Distefano
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Between Stations

   I was on the subway platform waiting for the train when I spotted a thin girl in torn jeans and bright green tank-top walking in my direction. Her hair was a bushel of unruliness. As the girl drew nearer I realized it was Anya and called out her name.
   Her response was slow, as if my voice had reached her on delay.
   Daniel, she said, my name clotted in gauze.
   Then recognition brightened and lifted her voice and turned my name into a coarse cheer—Daniel. Holy fucking shit. Daniel.
   Anya breezed into my arms for a hug. I could feel too much of her skeleton.
   Anya mumbled words into my ear. Her voice was as whittled as the rest of her.
   I was looking over her shoulder and wanted to keep looking there. I was afraid to release her and step back because then I’d have to look at her face. I knew it bore waste and ruin that my mind would latch onto. And play back to me again and again. The portrait of a death-mask that now covered Anya’s real face, her buried one.
   Inevitably I stepped back and took in what was not there, what had gone missing.
   I didn’t need to follow the track-marks on Anya’s arms to understand the nature of her cave-in.
   We talked while we waited for the train. I don’t remember if our exchange was awkward, hurried, sentimental, remote, can’t remember anything we said to each other. My memory of it is white noise.
   Then I did something which made me feel shitty and ashamed but I did it anyway.
   When the train pulled in I told Anya I wasn’t getting on, that I had just gotten off the train when I saw her and was headed out of the station.
   Something in me couldn’t bear the prospect of sitting next to Anya on the train, of us talking. I didn’t want there to be any words between us. Ours had become a ghost story and I wanted silence to fulfill its arc.
   I’m not sure if Anya knew I was lying, but I suspect that she did because if I had gotten off the train I would’ve been on the opposite platform and Anya, no matter what state she was in, was never easy to fool or put things over on. Her radar for bullshit was top-notch.
   Plus when saying goodbye she hugged me with such emphatic force that I was sure she was trying to emotionally implicate me for abandoning her. At least that’s how my guilt registered it at the time.
   My final image of Anya is through the train window, her back turned to me.



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Anya and the Dark

Remember when we were kids and we’d sometimes have sleepovers and listen to the dark together? That’s what you called it, Anya, listening to the dark.
Sometimes we’d pretend to be camping. We’d set up a tent and eat candy and look up at the glow-in-the-dark stars on my ceiling, and the planets and meteors too. The stars were yellow and the meteors were red and the planets were all different colors. And you’d say let’s be quiet and listen to the dark and we’d listen for a little while but you could never keep quiet for long and you’d start asking me questions like what did the dark sound like to me and what was I thinking but my favorite part were those intervals of silence when we were not only listening to the dark but also breathing it and perhaps dreaming it. At least that’s how it felt to me.
 And it was because of you Anya that I started naming different types of dark, listing them. Warm-dark, cave-dark, void-dark, womb-dark, sleep-dark, Eros-dark, blank-dark, siege-dark. And then there’s that anonymous dark that gets inside your head and behind your eyes and coils around your lungs and constricts your breathing. There is also curse-dark, which casts a prolonged spell, a pall. And then there’s lonely, but naming it doesn’t help. Not in the same way.
Now that you’re gone Anya and I’m still talking to you I wonder what kind of dark this is. Communion-dark, veil-dark?
We used to listen to the dark together as kids and now I talk to the dark with the hopes of hearing from you again. Echo-dark. Or better yet, Anya-dark. An entire category of dark devoted exclusively to you. How do you feel about that?


Photo by Anthony Distefano
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Demasking is a Crime

Signs everywhere: rectangular slabs of mildly glowing metal that warned in red lettering: Demasking is a crime.
It was in the year _______ that a maskless society had ceased to exist. A decision was made by people who made decisions of that nature (yes, the masks, the decision-making, the proper authorities, all of this stuff was no longer part of delineated hierarchies—who did what and why—all had become a cryptic jumble wadded in bowels of electric red tape, society had become a covert subset of gumballs.)
If you took your mask off, your facial pores would release an acidic chemical issued from micro-pellets which had been implanted into your face (the implants were government regulated), and your face would burn. And keep burning. It would be excruciating, intolerable, and it wouldn’t be long before you put the mask back on, which would defuse the acid.
Everyone was issued a mask. All the masks were the same. A uniform anonymity, a sea of samefulness, or rather there was only one standard issue mask with six different colors. Red, green, blue, purple, gray, yellow. The colors you were assigned to wear was based on zoning. Your location dictated your color. When a child was born they had to be registered with the M.O.D. (Masking Ordinance Department) and the implants would be surgically implanted into the facial pores. If  child wasn’t registered, and the proper authorities found out, the child would be seized and enrolled in what was known as the Nursery. No one knew the location of the Nursery, or much of what happened there, but basically: the Nursery children were wards of the government until they were old enough to be released back into society.
There were the fugitives. Those who refused the indoctrination of masking. Fugitives, unfortunately, didn’t have a very long shelf-life on the outside. The barefaced ones stuck out like sore thumbs and were easy to apprehend. Some did wear masks, of their own stylistic design and color. These masks might be modeled after indigenous masks from Africa, from the Lakota-Sioux, from Zuni, they might be modeled after Venetian or No masks, there was masks of colorful anarchy, masks with long Zucchini-hose noses, masks engraved with floral patterns and imprints, masks of sleepy revolt, attic masks, eyeless mouthless masks with swirling riots of cursive, masks abstracted into vowels, masks of warbling translucence, masks that radiated a funereal whiteness, masks of glaring hyperbole and exposed hypotheses, masks that had frozen the contorted muscles of screams into the mask’s texture, masks with quizzical half-smiles petrified into question marks.
There was an entire subculture of people who crafted and donned masks to assert their individualism, or to place a visual and symbolic wedge between themselves and the Anonymites (how they euphemistically referred to the uniformly masked members of society) and they flung themselves and their radical masks into the thick of it all, like bombs in a crowded marketplace, bombs with the kamikaze intent of exploding umbilicial strands of mucus and magma. Their time out in society usually didn’t last very long. Anonymites would turn against them, turn them in. Bad apples exhibited in a public cart was something that most people didn’t want to see, or to be made visually available to the world at large.
White vans would roll up and men dressed in white linen and white caps, looking very much like crosses between milkmen and painters, would seize the Radicals and wrangle them into the van and they would not be seen or heard from again. Rumors had it that they went to a place called the Repository, though, like the Nursery, not much save for the notion that it probably existed, was known about it. The men in the white linen outfits and white caps were referred to as the Dogcatchers. No one knew who first started calling them that, but it stuck and circulated, and as a result the Radicals then became known as Strays.
Dogcatchers, Strays, Anonymites. The world had become quartered into agitated simplicities.


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These Glacial Times

I have been in a coma now for sixty-seven days. No one reaches me anymore. And I don’t reach them. Everything that has to do with reaching—in, out—all of that is done. It is jazz that has lost its voice.
I am adrift on a blue glacier in the middle of the sea.
Here, there is no history, only invention, and hopes for survival.
Here, from my icy alien distance, I pitch a network exec on my idea for an interactive pop odyssey through American culture and void, I get all crackly and charged telling them how it will be the remix of a remix of a remix ( I get lost in layered Matroyshkan notions such as these, by which we feel there is more, always more, when I know there is always less, so much less…)
Yet being adrift on a blue glacier
in the middle of the sea
in a coma for the past sixty-seven days,
I am inclined to fill up all this
hobbying nothingness with my own set of illusions,
which of course are not mine at all but remixes
of remixes … you get the idea.
Here’s where the odyssey begins.
It is a book, it is a film. It is interactive. You are part of the action. You must participate—physically, sensually, imaginatively, etc.—in order for the venture to be successful, in order for the gaps to be filled in. You also have the choice to leave the gaps completely unfilled, empty. You don’t have to do anything. This book will exist without you, same as you’ll exist without this book. There is no mutual bond of dependency. There is the Mission Impossible creed, remixed: (now being spoken through the ghost of Tom Cruise through an aging grade school’s P.A. system, also aging: If you choose to accept this mission…)
You are aboard a space ship. There are lots of blinking lights, a multi-colored siege of blinking lights and cool-looking consoles that are both futuristic and retro, Star Trek as a stillborn space-baby. All of it is very thrilling, very exciting, you are intrigued and highly stimulated by all the things around you that are beyond your grasp, which is pretty much everything: the lights, the humming consoles, the ironing board on long spindly insect legs, the blue-skinned alien with a coiled pyramid of dark, glossy hair set atop her head, the way she is ironing a yellow shirt that looks like it might be Lycro, and the way the steam exhales from the iron like the hissy snortings of a gentle baby bull.
You are aboard the ship, you don’t know why. A dignified-looking gentleman, with dark eyes and spongy gray hair that stands several inches high off his scalp, turns to face the screen, that is to say the camera, and speaks directly into it (this he does after after all the people and activity around and behind him have gone into a freeze). The Captain engages, in a rulerthick stentorian—We, the characters? You, the readers, the audience?
We have stopped. When we start again, you will see a black screen.

Continue reading

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Ow, She Said. And Wow.

She stared
at the solitary gull
perched on a craggy rock.
The sea, like undulating slates
of purplish steel,
or bruised rust,
while a glaring wound
of a sunset poured scarlet ribbons
from its Martian gash.
The gull flies away, a dilating comma
with unknown plans.
it was nearly impossible to bear,
all this beauty and sadness,
the feathery crux of registered crushes,
excruciate in their due course
of perishing, and remembrance.


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D’Arc Night of the Soul

(For All Hallow’s eve, a “witch’s” tale)
Enlightened, perhaps. God-engorged hormones, maybe. Regardless of why, Joan, you were the rebel prototype
long before James Dean zipped up a red jacket,
or Marlon Brando mumbled and curled his upper lip into a totem,
before Louise Brooks and Josephine Baker and Mae West scorched bits of screen and earth and tore hearts to shreds with a flickering edge.
You, Joan, were the world’s most famous, cross-dressing heretic,
the It-girl of alleged sorcery,
a rebel very much aligned with a cause,
coursing a waxwork future and belated sainthood.
It was in your father’s garden, age thirteen, when you first heard the voices, saw the visions.
St. Michael, St. Katherine, and St. Margaret, a trinity of Beauty unbearable that brought tears to your eyes.
But they didn’t come to serve as spiritual eye-candy, or to bring you otherworldly comfort. They were delegates, delivering a message direct from the Man Upstairs, a command which, to any less a mystic, might have fallen on deaf ears, a task that would have registered as preposterous or impossible, but not for you Joan: faith was your stock-in-trade.
So you listened, took it in, an illiterate, thirteen-year-old peasant girl on the cusp of puberty, being told that it was her duty and obligation to help lead France to victory over the English, to fulfill a destiny that had been part of France’s prophetic pipeline for generations: a virgin will come, a miracle-worker, and she will restore France to its former glory.
You would have been happy to stay at home spinning wool with your mother, tending to the animals, gazing dreamily upon the milk-bearded faces of clouds, to pass your time as a humble girl quietly in love with God, but you knew it would be bad form, downright impious, to argue against a trinity of saints that had taken the time to visit you, just you, in your father’s garden.
Not to mention, when God gets in your head, like a luminous migraine, or a marvelous tumor, what can you do except abide?
The rest is history. Or myth. Legend. Pages from a tattered scripture in a gilded dustbin.
There were the victories over England, the coronation of Charles VII, at which you wielded your iconic banner, your capture and imprisonment.
If there had been tabloids, you, Joan, would have been splashed daily across the headlines:
France’s Favorite Maid to Be Tried for Heresy
Joan, the Teenage Witch, Refuses to Admit Allegiance to the Devil
Of course, as God’s cheeky, chosen daughter, you had no intention of going gently into that good night.
Several times you tried to bust out of the big house, often falling from great heights.
When the Inquisitors grilled and viciously quizzed you with the hopes of railroading you into an incriminating confession, you shrewdly sidestepped and evaded all their tactics, case in point:
Inquisitor: Are you in God’s grace?
Joan: If I am not, may God put me there, and if I am may God so keep me.
You had the bastards squirming, Joan, eating their own blasphemous piles of shit.
But, as it went, they rode a gross miscarriage of justice all the way to the stake, to that fateful day,
May 30th, 1431, when they burned you, not once, not twice, but three times, before scattering your ashes into the Seine.
You were nineteen.
Twenty-four years away from being acquitted at your retrial,
four-hundred and seventy-eight years away from beatification,
and four-hundred and eighty-nine years away
from official sainthood.
Which just goes to show that history may be written by the winners,
but the rewrites belong to a much higher and more mysterious order.
Images by Guy Denning
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