March 20, 2015

Thoughts of a solar eclipse

I can’t remember the last time I was that close to happiness. Well, happiness might be too big of a word and a little out of reach for another year or so, but still. I choose it. With all my heart. I was sitting on the sofa, our sofa, the sofa bought for my first arrival, sipping my morning dark roast, listening to the silence in the house, our house, the house that greeted me, the luckiest house in the world to nest such a love. I was content. I was at peace.


To have a first Christmas together, two and a half years since we began. To scrub a bathroom, make pan-seared tuna, pick out ornaments, listen to the ice cracking all around the outside. To have his hand reach for mine across the center console as his left makes a turn for Staples, “Look at us, running errands like normal people.” To stay up all night, to toast the new year by the water, the smallest yard and the smallest house overlooking all the fireworks from Edgemere to the Inner Harbor.


I arrived, and I swear the air was familiar. It had chill and drive. It tasted of me five years ago, of being stupid and alive and high on it. It tasted of being a bad drunk, of being loud and obscene, of leaving regrets for later, what happens there, stays there. It tasted of everything that brought me to this bed right here, to these houndstooth sheets and his baritone sliding over my skin.


It’s a lot to ask her not to sting
And give her less than everything


Winter will always taste of America.


And spring will always taste lonely. Of course, with me, it’s impossible to know which came first: was I always isolated and just learned to live with it, to make my own universe, looking in on the world from the outside, or did I always want to be left alone, and just got tired of it? Spring will always be big decisions and leaps into chaos, the aftermath of the high and carrying the chill inside amidst the blossoming life all around.


I lost something very important in these past few years, and it broke my heart. I lost the ability to be happy for others. To partake of their joy, to be moved by their goodness, and just love them for who they are and what they bring into my life. I went through the motions, vaguely remembering what that kind of happiness was, unable to open up to it, scared to say it out loud for fear it should become an eternal state. That is a terrible thing to lose. But it is not eternal. It is going away. And it’s a relief to withdraw my judgment from the world and toss that sour ink to the waves.


I just submitted my last translation for publication. I have a hundred and twenty pages of dissertation that I am proud of, and a comps exam under my belt. The blogger in me smiled secretly when the head of the committee said that I could turn an excellent phrase. Basically, I was told that I was a good writer, and I was glad that I made my sailors, ships, whales and oceans speak louder than ivory tower jargony. Shit’s getting done.


Two nights ago, I held my bird in my hands until he died. My beautiful feisty boy, such a perfect instance of nature’s engineering, was taken over by his illness. Seven years ago, I was in a bad place of solitude and loneliness, feeling guilty for asking for more, yet knowing that I had to, not yet knowing how deeply it would get me in trouble. I got two birds to keep me company and be loud and fly around. Both have left me now. I held him, and I talked to him until he died. His eyes were closed, and his wings kept fluttering, as if he were dreaming of flying. I cried for all his seven years with me, for his lost companion, for the excess of nurturing that is left over now. An empty cage, a bag of seeds, medication in the fridge and ointment in the medicine cabinet. Not needed anymore.


I know what T-61 is in veterinary medicine. And what Code 42 stands for in bridge safety. My loved ones deal with hanging on and letting go, with those who have one but wish for the other. And my God, it’s heart-rending, but isn’t it good to let go? Isn’t it a fucking miracle of the universe that things end, that we get to leave, that we have to take no more?


No more.


For a few hours today, my world got dimmed, and gauzy, and colder with the eclipse. I was, I am, grateful for the magic. For staying up all night and all the sunrises and morning birds that I got to greet in these past few years. For music. For the pair of black wings working up a storm with the universe on my behalf. For leaving, for arriving, for the chaos in between. My chaos, our chaos, this chaos.


I am dancing tomorrow. My troupe is having its spring production. The seguiriya is a dark, severe, difficult beast. I will wear my ruffled skirt, my lace, and my oxblood shoes. My hands will be gentle birds, and the nails on my soles will stamp heavy with love. All of the ‘no more’ will be in my steps, and the lonely will be turned into something beautiful. I will give my sadness to my loved ones, and they will watch, and partake, and be happy for the beauty.

March 9, 2015

Deepest shade

I can’t remember the last time music hit me this good.


And it hit me like a delayed-response drug. A day later. Amping up to a week later, reverberating, echoing. Calling for more, and hurting like shit when more is played. It took awhile for music to soak through the layers of sensory overload.


I was almost a no-show because the locale involved brushing against some old stomping grounds that I was reluctant to revisit. I could feel everything but myself. The respectful bubbling of the crowd, the sticky floor under my boots, the 548 number from the coatroom in my pocket, the flickering projection screen in the back of the stage, the uneasy dance because it ought to have been a sit-down event really. The red Austro-Hungarian cavalry barracks bricks housing a few hours of collective beauty, allowing amplifiers and cigarette smoke to infuse them from within, a fate that was never meant for them.


I listened. I took it in. I put it away for later. I was feeling everything but myself.


There is something about these fifty-year-olds with whiskey in their voice and Bible in their lyrics. The high-contrast greyscale of the world they paint, of the ghosts they turn into, of the purposefully turned-off spotlight above their heads. Those who do not look like themselves if anything less than an emaciated, hunched-over, haggard version of how they were brought into this world.


He was tired. Melancholy. The kind of quiet that comes after too much of something else. I invoked a dead man’s name that triggered degrees of separation in motion. My now life, in two places, if not more. My man, the artist, and the dead man, connected somewhere in the past. My three lifetimes ago, promises sworn and broken and a little girl who was loved and sung that song to. The Pacific Northwest that I will return to someday, just like the Palazzo Venier dei Leoni sculpture garden will see me again, and like I have to see Firth of Forth once more.


Just like the music, my own healing was delayed. No amount of my penance could offset the fact that my grief would be denied, until it could separate itself from its consequences. I feel like I have been holding my breath for seven long years. Like I have been feeling everything but myself, owing everything to everyone because that made me feel a worse kind of better. Or perhaps it is like that childhood drawing game where you trace an invisible groove on paper, then lay a crayon sideways and add a coat of color on top of the grooves, and watch the pattern underneath appear. Perhaps there is no way to trace our being other than to cross the lines, over and over. Perhaps there is only music, and the Bible, and greyscale.

January 7, 2015

L'hiver est là

You know what winter is?


Forget that death and rebirth tinsel.


Winter is being able to count all the nests in a tree when the leaves are gone. That which was hidden, protected and private now bare and exposed.


Winter is waking up to find a maze of foot trails in the snow. You just had your meter read by BGE and you didn’t even know it. Elliptical, two-beat imprint between the house and the tree: a running squirrel. Tinier steps, rhomboid pattern: the fox from two weeks ago crossing neighboring properties at night. You walk to the pier, only to find someone was already there before you.


Your house is surrounded by creatures and ghosts. They live and walk around you, watch and ignore you, your oblivious self none the wiser until the snowy palimpsest presents itself.


Winter is acorn husks in the back yard all dug up, hollow and empty. Will you panic as you try to remember your last-resort hiding spots? How long can you live without? Are you going to be enough until spring?


People cross the icy water in waders at sunrise. No duck or goose is safe from the shotgun blasts.


On the other side of the hunt, you sleep naked among claptrapping screen doors and trash bins tumbleweeding down the street. You wake up in the middle of the night, hearing the wind howl through the thin wall that stands between your goose skin and the blizzard, snowy footsteps and ghosts.


You know how to walk this house in the dark. Your naked flesh is a silent glimpse in between the rooms, a twister of energy bouncing off the walls as you traverse its space. With no lights turned on, the reflection in the mirror is your own ghost self, hunkering down, building a love in pockets of stolen happiness, one barefoot snow step at a time.

October 5, 2014

Mad people across the water, part 5

Dulles, mon amour, how many times have we done this?


Clown red uniforms speaking that other kind of German are serving me water. Lipizzaner stallions, whose passages and caprioles moved me to tears once upon a time, prance on the screen in front of me. Leonard Cohen wails “Take this waltz” on repeat in my head (there is a concert hall in Vienna where your mouth got a thousand reviews). The laid-back Hapsburg campiness sucked me in so quickly that I was genuinely disoriented when I looked out the airplane window to find out I was still on U.S. soil. The futuristic shuttle monsters were shuffling between concourses, I was on the other side of Immigration and Customs, and my baby was riding the Great White Whale on a road somewhere, smoking cigarette after cigarette, wading through traffic back toward our house.


It takes three visits to call a place a home. Three borders to reach it. One beer to fall back, two Adirondack chairs on the porch, and one shower for hair and skin to remember how soft the water is. It takes three lights, LaFarge, the L-Furnace, and the Key Bridge, and the big barge redding up the waterline in between, to offset the torn-down tower that we once called FeelGoodInc. It takes three nights in your, his, our bed, and three strands of scent - his skin, the house, and Old Road Bay, to bring a heart wide open.


“You were never more quiet,” my friend says upon greeting me back.


It is true. Usually, when I jump countries, I will text, call, send photographs and long-winded letters. This time, I was quiet. Baby cooked for two, drove for two, sang and danced for two. I was happy to lie down on the sofa, our sofa, that sofa. I was happy to be quiet and listen to him speak. Tell me a story. Speak of the future. Let that baritone fill my ears and my oxblood shoes show us both just how mindless my mindless is, and how wicked my wicked.


“We cried less and fucked more,” I tell her.


I will never have the things I love in one place, or even remotely close to one another. I am back to being the plucked chicken of romance, chasing my multiple lives across pages and time zones. Where there is dance, there is no him. Where there is him, there is no family. Where there is family, I am always a misspoken child in a house of super-ego mirrors.


There is that moment of first sunrise above the Atlantic, above the clouds, just above the first shoals of Europe, when you realize the flight is almost over. That moment when, if you have met a handsome stranger and your head is resting on his shoulder, you start wishing that the voyage would never end. If you are flying home for Christmas, that is the moment when time seems to slow down like a lazy drone, and you will never land. Caught between my stretched-out lives, I take it as another border-crossing, clouds, sun and sky in three thick stripes of white, apricot, and cerulean, brushed across my horizon by some relentless hand.


Greyhound tickets, 7-Elevens, Wawa receipts fall out of my pockets. I carry three currencies in my wallet. I brought the Bay back with me again, I brought my baby with me again, mold, wood, age and water, scallops, steaks and spicy crunch sushi. Dulles, mon amour, how much longer?

September 19, 2014

Good luck with everything

“You look like you’ve lost weight.”

She eyes me up and down, like always, this Eastern European wonder that I am to her. The upright breasts, the tiny dancer’s waist hiding abs underneath the cozy fat of summer break from practice, the tanned arms resting on casually sweatpanted hips. She doesn’t know what to do with me. In body, mind, and presence, I should be less of an offense to her sensibilities, yet I am not.

“Nah, I’m the same,” I say.

I do what is asked of me. It is a request which I am left to divine for myself, without a “please” or “thank you,” more like an assumption that needs to convince itself more than anyone else. I understand. I understand that “please, can you help me” would have been weakness in the face of my foreign quasi-youth. I understand that it is an ever-so-slight groveling for control. Asking means that one can be denied. In a gesture of magical thinking and displacement of responsibility, an order renders a denial disobedient.

I make no excuses for why I was in bed at noon. I ask courteous questions from behind a vague smile that could mean a million different things. Her new place is nice and private and quiet, and she has not yet cleaned up her old place for the contractors. It’s been three years now of "trying to get things done." She tries to bond by comparing my writing to her gardening. She asks about my family, my work, my flight, my trip to Pennsylvania. She doesn’t mention the one thing that would humiliate her if she asked: how long are you staying?

“She is terrified. No one should feel this way.”

Yes, she is. And no one should.

Somehow, somewhere, something happened. Something broke, irreversibly. Her pride and vanity are now dependent on others to get things done. She has big plans that are pure escapism, a dream of moving from one hoarder’s den into another. She can’t stand the sight of her thinning hair and the fact that she has to apply tons of make-up to hide whatever she only sees and no one else cares about. The age and wisdom that would have gotten her compassion and love from those surrounding her if she had only been kind, she has turned into toxicity. Others’ happiness mortifies her. She wants to be invited in, but she eggs your house instead. The howling emptiness of her hyper-filled home makes her lash out at beauty and love. Whoever wanted to help was alienated.

It is a desperation of the saddest magnitude. I should not be a threat, yet I am. I never asked for this kind of power, yet she threw it right in my lap. I could crush her with one word, one Macbeth look, or with silence, and I would feel filthy. It is a dialogue, a relation, a puzzle that my open heart never would have expected, or accepted.

She is looking for a different kind of water to live on, hoping it will save her, hoping she can save herself.

“Good luck with everything,” I say.

July 4, 2014


Remember 2014
The year García Márquez died
Everyone was having babies
And the poplar tree in front of the window grew taller than ever
Winter was kind, summer kicked in the door too soon
While floods swept through muddying everything in between

Remember 2014
When you couldn’t stop crying for five months
And the thunder of escobillas was not enough to shut out the songs that fought in your head
When love asked you to be quiet
To just be
And you buttoned up your breath so tight that
When it was finally released, it came out as a wail

You finished something
That took a year of your life
And it was only the first of five, not even a final version of itself
A Delicate Balance visited again with its question
How do you know if it has happened? If you’ve really gone to that place?
You preferred not to
You decided against

Remember this
Remember this moment
Your red is granate, deeper than rojo
You click your heels for some nebulous home
How many sunrises in 2014?
How many kicks and screams spell ‘patience’?
How many ways to bend a Vitruvian heart?
On y va, missy
To storytellers who deny
And dancers who tell stories
To those that get your unthinkable music
¿que más quieres? ¿quieres más?

May 25, 2014

Pearls or swine

Is it my turn
To compose soft words at daybreak
With hand flourishes that compete with morning birds
To tell stories of the night before
Of days forfeited
And what it means to be “on the mend”

Shall I?
Keep my regal shoulders dignified
In this longest check-out line of
Paying dearly for what you’ve got
Like molasses, emptiness is slow, and thick
And catatonic, and quiet

Is it my turn
To be quiet in the face of the past
So beautifully completed
Free of debt
Its own dignified cenotaph
Pretty to think so

Is it my turn
To count the anomalies that came before
To be wide-eyed
In the face of this entropy of which came first
Sitting in the eye of a most undesired storm
Of spread and swiped human dearth
Dripping from dirty wings
Running out of absence.

May 23, 2014

Ladybug llamada

“Holy crap, you seem to have this natural sway to your hips.”


If I had a nickel.


Yes, I do. I don’t know what it is, I don’t know where it comes from, and I can’t control it. It’s just there. People tell me they recognize me by the way I walk. I have no idea what that means.


We have been practicing walking in dance class.


Yes, walking. That thing where you put one foot in front of the other and the rest of you follows.


I keep comparing the farruca to how I imagine military ballet. Staccato. Proud mourning. Homesickness. Tense containment at the verge of insanity. Anger and atonement. I do not relate to these things, I am them.


Except, apparently, my hips refuse to comply. I am also told that my epaulement is too graceful for this choreography, and that I should keep it tougher. We watch the video of our practice. Some of my motions are incomplete. My posture still sucks balls. The llamada and chaflán look very much OK, though. But, mother of God,


I. Am. Soft.








Too soft and too gentle for this dance. I have been called strict, and tough. Also, magnificent, intoxicating, pure evil and a tease, but that is neither here nor there. Too graceful? I have the subtlety of a freight train. Have I been hiding behind my yang all this time? I keep waiting for the camera to lie, like Lucille.


I have a thick rubber band wrapped around my hips to keep them in place, and my hair pulled back. This disciplinarian business is really amusing, and I find it even more hilarious that it doesn’t seem to work.


On my way home, a ladybug lands on my shirt. I let it climb onto my forefinger (index is such an ugly word) and carry it with me through one of the busiest streets, straight to the main square. I must look like a demented Marie Antoinette, my arm up in the air like there should be some invisible nobleman eye candy hanging off it, flamenco elbows, insubordinate hips and all, among the noon trains and the smell of summer in the air. Only those who looked carefully could see the tiny creature that hitched a ride with me, if only for a few minutes in the crowd. Trying to keep track of my marbles, I forgot to count her dots.

May 16, 2014

Ain't the same

It’s raining in May
I am shamelessly wearing winter boots and a coat
A mutt runs eights around my legs
Seeking shelter from the wind
A cab driver yells to me from his car,
That’s no stray, ma’am. That’s our boy from up the street.
We take good care of him, don’t you worry.
I smile back and give him a thumbs up, reassured that there might just be hope for this world
Because there are people that watch out for others out there
As a friend’s quiet words from the night before
Click like marbles in the pockets of my coat

“Mikey ain’t the same”

Four simple words
To rattle my cage
As I catch up with friends in the evening
We have dinner and crêpes and cuba libres and smoke weed and watch movies
And just for a few hours
I curl up on the couch
Lose myself
In the safe and warm company

“I guess he misses you”

I don’t know that anything could have broken my heart
And lifted it up at the same time
Like this soft, sincere appeal from across the ocean
From someone in the inner circle

I know, buddy.
Mikey’s holding his breath
Sleeping with boots against the door
Watching airplanes
Studying the tides
Counting the feathers in his wings

Mikey’s racing ospreys
Playing the chess game upside down
Fixing every broken human trinket that crosses his path by rote
Like a good angel
Tipping the scales between test and penance
Taking the measure of this world
Waiting for life to begin
For the big music to speak

He ain’t the same, no
But it gives me comfort that you get it
Big hugs to you and your lady
Can't wait to come home.

April 16, 2014

Mad people across the water, part 4

“We’ll get that sorted f’ya, luv,” the neck-tattooed hotel receptionist tells me as he hands me a city map that dates back to 2001, and it hits me that I haven’t been on this island in seven years. Before Birmingham for conference, there had been Edinburgh for graduation, and Bristol for business, and London for pleasure.


It takes all I have not to say,


“Have you ever read Redburn by Herman Melville? A young American sailor explores Liverpool using his father’s old guidebook from fifty years earlier in that novel. Or the documentary series Great Continental Railway Journeys, where the 1913 Continental Railway Guide is used to retrace what is left of the Edwardian perception of Europe a hundred years later?”


I shut up and ponder this apparent Anglo-Saxon fascination with belated maps on my own. Portillo and Melville are not even remotely similar, after all, and The Cube and The Mailbox would find me later through unmapped routes anyway. The receptionist would not have that sorted for me, luv, but my room would be cleaned despite my saying no housekeeping please. Some nations can afford not to be up to speed with the world, I guess.


Blessed Britain, where, thanks to a rampant regal Y-chromosome from five hundred years ago, women can today be ordained as priests.


Where a conference colleague can talk about his husband with the exact same pride I have when I brag that “my boy reads Pynchon.”


Where club managers look like Del Boy and the drunks are waited on by ambulances scattered on Broad Street Gomorrah like watchful birds, without even being summoned. I tried to imagine what that cost in comparison to this and this. But hey, at least the drunks came in all shapes and sizes. “Birmingham is very diverse,” my Pakistani cab driver would tell me on the 4-a.m. ride to the airport.


Victoria was elusive that night. She was supposed to be a beacon towards a far-from-the-madding-crowd pub, but she kept disappearing up and down Broad Street, as if somehow weightless in her stony majesty, and I would see The Floozie in the Jacuzzi* sooner than Victoria. When we finally found her, she did not care. I thought about how magnanimity comes from leisure, and freedom from oppression, where your dirty work is done for you and you have the luxury of drop-kicking your shameful to the other side of the globe. Blessed Britain.


I found shelter in the far-from-the-madding-crowd pub, after leaving the cliques and neuroses of fellow humanities’ freaks at the hotel along with my heels. I encountered a vernacular soul who had read “that terrible book” Moby-Dick twice, and made me laugh more than any of the two hundred fellow neurotics earlier. I was told that my favorite Edinburgh pub, The Blind Poet, was still standing, and I could feel it pulling at my heartstrings from seven years ago and five hours up north. I remembered that you hail a bus in the UK and say “Thank you” to the driver, I remembered how you tip over there, I remembered to look right then left, and how much I dislike ‘circuses.’ I found the Cube, the Mailbox, and the geese in the canals. I found rowdy Jamaicans in the Peace Garden, and cathedral spires craning their necks like sunflowers growing from glass and steel.


“God bless you, my sweetheart,” my cab driver would say as I left. We will have talked about qawwali and Sufism and Nusrat, and curry and cab drivers’ working hours, and the children that Britain had taken possession of and misplaced over the centuries, that were now identifying the mother ship by her wake and claiming her back.


I found my breath in displacement once more.


I realized, once again, how much I feed off my dissociation.


It had been too long.


I returned to a freshly painted apartment with no doors, to a country which has a constitutional ban on gay marriage yet has just approved two people to officially change the gender in their documents without undergoing a sex change operation. I returned to a plastic recycling plant aflame half a mile from where I live and a toxic cloud of DeLilloesque proportions. Mine is a wicked and cruel lot sometimes, and more often than not I wish a cosmic flood could wash them clean again.


I returned to find my bird on its last legs. I genuinely thought I would lose him in a matter of hours. He’s never going to recover, but he has picked himself up since I came back. My fantastic veterinarian sister reminded me that parakeets are sensitive buggers who sometimes pluck all their feathers out in protest if their owners go AWOL. Flattering as it is to think he might have just gone sicker missing me, and there’s precious few things I value more in this world than animal loyalty, my bird is a loner and I love him for it. He might be dying but he will bite your finger off if you touch him. In the face of human desperation for someone to just keep us safe and warm and hold our hand as we leave this world, I am stunned by the dignity of animals who prefer to die alone, dissociated enough to return to the very same nature that bore them.
My other "Mad people across the water" writing can be found here:
* I am told that Dubliners' own Floozie, or Biddy in the Bidet, or the Whore of the Sewer, predates Birmingham's: Anna Livia Plurabelle.