Wandering eyes can easily bait
A blithe grin, a peal of laughter, an errant remark
That sticks to your mind
Like caramel in teeth
Where the sweetness lingers indefinitely
And remains oblivious to its own perfection.
When pleasure is found
Cessation is not an option.
I watch your hands
Until a thought decides to drop from your mind
And then I’m given permission to watch your eyes.
And when expectation arises for reply
I want to ask you to please let them keep falling
So I can keep listening
And the world can keep spinning
And I can keep studying
And you can keep syncopating,
Fascinating me until the lights behind your head
Are blotted out, one by one
And all that’s left
Are the words and thoughts that I loved from the beginning.
As a child, I was fond
Of pressing sweaty palms into eyelids
Until that natural, hallucinogenic screen was pulled down by unseen hands
In front of my pupils
Where swirling patterns and bright flashes of light
Were released before me, around me, into me
And life was a natural high.
Now they wait in the shade for a tab
To be pressed surreptitiously into their palms.
As a child, I could pick my way
Under the branches, through the shrubbery, into the foliage
To sit behind my little green pond
Hidden from the world behind Elephant-ear leaves
And the refraction of the sun off the water
Tiny, white plastic feet submerged
Algae weaving through my toes
Entreating me to stay hidden here in my natural habitat
Yet demanding nothing from me.
Now they wait in broken homes, running cars
To bestow upon another their carnal knowledge.
As a child, I rarely woke before the sun
Yet when I did
That celestial beauty would soon raise his head
And bid farewell to the gossamer stars
And eat the pale moon like a Communion wafer
A sacred, ethereal ceremony
That I, and I alone, witnessed.
Now they stay awake each night to stare at the horizon
Bleary-eyed, numbed; but cannot name what they see.
As a child, I could pluck miniature flowers
The white, spongy ones
That were smeared across school fields like litter
And with nothing but the dexterity
Of my petite fingers,
Tie them end to end,
Into streamers that were me a thousand times over
Crowns that bore my primordial regality.
Now, with shaky hands, they spray glue onto their heads
And stain their hair unnatural pigments.
As a child, I could savor clutching to each branch
Revel in the act of climbing
The lattice of a pine tree
Accruing sap in the spaces between my fingers
My palms like strips of fly-tape
My body swaying with the trunk
As I sat on top of the world
Still wondering at how sticky my hands were.
Now they cling in fear to their branches,
Staring at their hands
Wondering if life was supposed to be this viscous.
I was dumped into a small, empty, blank room, a faux-wood desk pushed against the corner facing the wall, with nothing atop it but a white plastic telephone that looked quite similar to the corded one that sat on the desk in my old home until I was eleven. It was a scene straight out of Office Space, without the luxury of an open-air cubicle, a window, or the presence of any co-workers. Half of the little office was for me, and the other half belonged to the extraneous pieces of random furniture; a loud, metal filing cabinet, an extra desk turned on its side, and two gumball machines. It felt like quarantine.
I was given three pages full of landline numbers to call, and a script to read should someone actually pick up the phone. Working in a restaurant had already pre-programmed in me what I might deem a “professional” voice, where a little person in my head screams “CUSTOMER! CUSTOMER!” whenever it recognizes that I am supposed to obtain something from someone. This primitive urge will always insure that my voice instantly rises in pitch, frequency, and sweetness until I sound like I’m thirteen-years-old, and reverses all hope of authority. My intent to command the civic duty out of the public as a whole becomes my eliciting of sympathy from the Elderly, who tell me that I sound like their granddaughter. I’ll take what I can get.
After the first ten calls with no answer, I was convinced that aliens were attempting to contact me; the bizarre sounds and noises emitting from the other end of the line appeared as I was punching the numbers in, and happened so suddenly that I flinched every time, even though I was completely aware of what was going to happen. I swear, the fifth person I called was using dial-up. I understand fear of technological change, even somewhat share in the resistance against some of it, but ho… ly… crap. One eighty-four year-old woman who picked up the phone refused to answer any questions for herself, and instead insisted that her children and grandchildren would answer this way, or that way, and another yelled at me for calling during her kids’ bath time. One man politely stopped me to say he was eating dinner. The next call I made, someone picked up and actually listened to my opening paragraph. Praise Jesus!
It was a lady with the vivacity of a young woman. When I read my spiel to her, she exclaimed, “Oh, oh! Wait here! Let me get my husband, he’s so into this stuff!” Something rustled around on the other end of the line as I heard her attempt to scurry away, a muffled thud, and a “Shit.” I think I caught a glimpse of future-me. I waited for all of 15 seconds before another person came on the line, clearing his throat. “Hello?” I began my spiel again. He interrupted. “You don’t have to convince me, I’ll do it.” I read the first question, asking what he believes the biggest problem facing the county is. “WOOOOOOOOOOoooooooooow. Well.” And he was off. His long-winded speech ranged from taxes, to compost curbside pick-up, to gun control, qualifying absolutely everything he said, as if he were in argument with himself. It was obvious from the start that he was a thinker and an idealist, and had been unknowingly waiting for an opportunity to unload his thoughts somewhere, and I was the girl waiting with the push-cart. We had been told in training that we could not let the survey-ees speak for a prolonged amount of time; we had been warned that we could not sit and listen for fear of inefficiency and confusion of answers. I looked down at the survey sheet I was to fill out for him, and knew I had to pick one thing to represent him, an impossible task; I was so rapt with fascination in his sermon that I didn’t stop him. I let him run free at my own cost, and in doing so, he became my teacher. I quickly circled the “Other” option and wrote in “everything”. I was trained to end the survey then and there, knowing he would take a ridiculous amount of time to complete it; instead, I opened Pandora’s Box. I asked him next which party he identified with, and which party he most trusted. “WOOOOOOOOOOoooooooooow. None and neither.” And the pistol was fired again.
I believe I spent one full hour out of my three-hour time limit on the survey of this one man. My last question came out with an air of finality and a bit of sadness: “And what is your age, sir?” I sat and waited for it. “WOOOOOOOOOOoooooooooow. 64. Thank you for doing the community a civil service.” For the first time since sitting in that little air-tight cell, I smiled. “My privilege, sir.” Could he hear a smile over the phone?
At the end of the night, I came out with more than double the completions of the average first-time surveyor, so I was extremely fortunate my supervisor didn’t give me a verbal whipping for sitting up with this “Wow” Man. In any case, only three of the many students participating were unpaid, and I was one of them. As such, my expectations were quite minimal, but the Wow Man paid me back in a way I had never anticipated; the entire time, I pictured him sitting in a velvet-plush chair, thin wired glasses perched precariously on the end of his nose, sipping archaic Brandy from a snifter, the possible twin brother of the Dos Equis man. It was perfect. The anonymous Wow Man residing somewhere in Anne Arundel County can rest assured he has made an impact on something, and that something is me.
It will be here soon, it’s so near
You need not change your name, your passions, your fears, the cereal brand you buy
It makes no difference where you are, who you are, what you are
It’s coming. Your life is about to begin. This, is now, is the origin.
Wait in the night with the solemn man of the shadow
Tell him things you cannot say
Then rise and take repose in the coming of sublimity
When the sun creeps along your wall, down on your floor, through your lids.
Don’t go searching or seeding and do not look with your eyes
Hear with thoughts, feel with ideas, taste with memories
Stretch and crack until pain becomes euphoria
Until affliction is synonymous with talent.
Revel in the solitude of your head
Then open it to another
And let them experience the intricacies of your whole being.
It’s so close.
It feels like I write about my dreams repeatedly, but sometimes they are just so intense that when I wake up, my mind is still racing in time with the random sequences of events. I’ll still believe the majority of the happenings in the dream truly took place, I’ll still be afflicted with a thousand leftover emotions, and I’ll have no idea why I’m lying in bed with my face smushed into the pillow and a numb arm. I like to believe that in this small window of time, we are somewhere in between the Earth and the Nether, whatever that may be, and we have very, very briefly landed on the divide between reality and imagination, one foot into Infinity and the other resting safely in our warm beds. And then, after those few, precious minutes of mixed cognition have dwindled and passed, so comes the post-dream emotions, for me always either being extreme relief or extreme disappointment. Then the truth of your situation sinks in, and you’ll think something like, “Ugh, this sweatshirt is too hot. Great, I slept on my neck wrong. Both arms asleep, better flop around like a fish. Must…. Urinate…. but where did my pants go? Oh GOD, LEG CRAMP!”
I never dream in Maryland. As strange as it sounds, when I actually take time to notice where I am in my Dream-world, it is always some distant place that I’ve visited. Mostly I find myself in California, as I did last night; nostalgia runs rampant in my head when I lay down to rest, and last night was no exception. I was walking through the neighborhoods surrounding my old home with a few girlfriends who had never seen this place before, and I remember being so happy to show and share my former home to someone else, ridiculously excited to try to describe the environment that helped cultivate and shape me, a place partially responsible for who I was today, but above all, I was hoping I could meld the amazing people and dear friends I’d known all my life with more recent bonds. It’s hard to keep something to yourself when you love it so much; that’s California to me.
I led them all through the winding streets of my huge, suburban neighborhood, streets filled all with houses about the same size; standard, one-story, 1700-1800 square foot homes with tiny, fenced-in backyards pushed right up against each other, like a half-finished game of Tetris. As we neared the little one in the middle of a long street sharing the same name as Tillamook cheddar cheese, the sight of my old home was utterly demoralizing; it was derelict, dilapidating, slowly decaying into the folds of memory and time. The beautiful roses my father had once so loved were dead underneath the kitchen window. The stonework my mother had so carefully planned on each corner of the tiny house was crumbling away with the passing of the years since our absence. A blooming, silver web was stretched in front of the little alcove leading to the front door, a monstrous, hideous spider sitting in the middle, threatening us with her very presence. I walked slowly up the short flagstone path, my heart breaking with each step. This was what had become of a place where I had spent numerous Christmases sitting on the green carpet of the family room floor sucking on a candy cane as presents were placed in front of me; a place where I would wait in silence near the miniature pond in the backyard just for a water-bug to whiz by my face, the closest thing to ice-skating I had ever seen; a place where I would swing on a blue and yellow plastic seat and make up songs about my day and sing for what felt like hours as I swayed back and forth, the chilly evening rolling in over the mountains and foothills to greet me; this home was happiness, innocence, a place of purity before the rest of life came crashing down on top of me. It was the “deep breath before the plunge.” And now it was broken.
A shovel magically appeared in my hand at the very moment I wanted to smash that spider’s hairy body against the pavement; it seems my imagination was on my side. I gripped tight with both hands, and swung it up and downward over my head like a man chopping wood. The blade cut through the sticky, thin threads of web and lodged itself directly into the center of her fat body, a viscous, green substance beginning to ooze out of the cavernous trench that now lay in her abdomen at my doing, the long, spindly legs squirming and kicking the life out of themselves until they finally lay flat and unmoving. I’ll give her credit for dying so quietly. I left the shovel sticking out of her belly and motioned to my horror-stricken girlfriends to come inside with me, secretly praying to God that the roof would not collapse, nor that a second, possibly more horrifying scene awaited me.
As I gingerly pushed open the door, the soft glow of light, like from a dim lamp in the evening, pervaded the room, and the sounds of pots and pans being moved, clanged, rang in my ears while a wonderful smell wafted from what I knew was the kitchen on the other side of the wall. Once inside, the house looked exactly as it stood in my staunch memory. I swing open the iron gates installed to keep Max out of the living room, and the man himself comes to greet me tail-wagging, a goofy smile across his face, and as I bend down, lip trembling, running my fingers through his long silky coat, pressing the sides of our heads together while I scratch behind his ears, I whisper, “I’m sorry.” As I begin to survey the room, I see faces from all avenues of memory; a woman who used to be good friends with my mother’s is standing in the kitchen next to the 30-year-old son she lost to cancer, both standing over a stove brimming with steaming pots and sizzling pans; my oldest friends from preschool are sitting feet away around the antique dining set, cramming themselves next to each other, engaging in lively and animated conversation with each other; my handsome, grey-haired godfather is leaning casually against the counter as the crow’s feet around his eyes tighten with laughter at the father of a family friend, whose beautiful daughter is my age, and is standing in the corner next to the garage door chatting quietly with her equally-beautiful mother. The feelings running through me at this moment are indescribable, euphoric emotions, all with lives of their own, the vivacity of this scene breathing a thousand lifetimes. The house is filled with people, just everyone, everyone I ever knew or loved. As I’m still crouching on the floor in my beatific stupor, I feel someone wrap their arm around my shoulders and stand me up to face the entirety of the room; they begin to run fingers through my hair, prolific chills climbing my spine like a ladder with every brush of their fingertip. The thought of my own death flits through my mind. Just as the consideration that I might not have woken up this morning hits me, I am at once okay with that if this is my heaven. The fingers stop their journey through my hair, and someone bends down next to my ear, with sweet lemon on their breath, and says, “I love you.”
This line immediately throws me out of my dream-world, sucks me back through the space-time continuum, and leaves me so full of everything that was ever possible, yet emptier than the desert moon on a cold night. I wake with my heart beating frantically as if Death were creeping ever closer as I slept. And as I lay there, trying to take in and sort out all that has happened, but hasn’t really happened, the pang of embitterment and loss is felt in all corners of my body.