June 27, 2013

The scholar and the demolition specialist

The shower has gurgled.


Coffee machine hissed.


His deodorant winds its way back to the bedroom, telling me that it’s almost time to go.


Between the heavy steps of work boots and the house settling that one door hinge like cracking a joint, the 5-o’clock sun tickles my eyelids through the blinds.


Water bottles filled, armor donned and fastened, he walks back to put his arms around the naked chick he leaves in his bed.


Some days a princess, bruisable sensitivity, genuine because unaware that it requires special treatment. Others, a water nymph leaning against the rain-soaked porch post, blowing a kiss that follows the F350 through the downpour until it disappears round the corner of North Point Road.


Later, I will cheekily tilt my scholarly hat and study Polynesian tattoos and taboos. I will build a barge for words to traverse between languages, and hold their hands as they cross. Eyes fixed onto the computer screen, Sharpie in teeth, hair up in a bun, stomach growling shushed for concentration. Off you go, my lovelies.


But for this moment and maybe only for today, I am just his queen.


I have seen pictures from his youth, but I swear to God, he has never looked hotter.


He rocks the rockstar skinny in his Carhartt pants. His forearms ought to be displayed in art and medical schools. His features never been more defined. He has never been more himself.


His truck is filled with hardhats and safety glasses; his workplace with broken concrete, Bobcats and reckless crews. He steers hundred-tonne cranes and calls in carbon monoxide alarms. He blows up buildings and egos, mystic of delicate destruction.
His eyes have never been heavier with human suffering, yet I have never seen them more beautiful.


His reflective vest presses against my skin, cool as the sunrise.


Broken hands trace a sleepy spine that arches underneath their touch.


Sheets fan from hips like a wedding gown.


We share a kiss before the madness begins. I nip his neck and rub my cheek against his. As soon as he is out the door, it’s combat mode. No tenderness for the next twelve hours, no softness or ease, only testosterone, chaos and danger. He revels in it, I know, but I make him promise to be safe nonetheless.


Like feathers falling to the ground, swinging softly before they settle, we are sinking into one another.


The scholar and the demolition specialist on this even ender edge of the world.

June 21, 2013


I know an absent-minded hug or kiss when I see one.


I have been there, and I might have given a few myself.


The fleeting, out-the-door, going-to-work kiss, where worry interferes and fills out the space between lovers. The I’m-already-gone-I-just-haven’t-told-you squeeze of the shoulder or slap on the ass. The kiss on the forehead when you offered your lips. The superficial hugs called for by circumstance, where newly met strangers end up energized with what was supposed to be your child’s bedtime cuddle.


I have known all of them.


The time we saw Grandma off at the hospital before her bypass surgery. I remember exactly what I wore that day, I remember the last words she said to me. And I remember thinking, this could be the last time I ever see her. It was.


That coffee and cake with a college friend, just after graduation. She was telling me about her thesis, I provided a counter-argument, and we couldn’t see eye to eye. With acceptance and serenity that I can only dream I possessed now, I thought This friendship has run its course. This is the last time we will meet. It was. For many years, after which she found me again, both of us wounded and climbing out of a hole and still getting there.


That rainy morning when I was dropped off at the IT building on campus to get my computer fixed, and the ten last minutes of stompy-feet, refusing-to-breathe, silent scream protest that went off inside my head as I realized, no outward confirmation necessary, that it would be the last time I ever see that particular acquaintance. It was.


That was instinct, and the curse of being a hypersensitive little chucklehead.


Since then, I have exchanged warmer hugs with strangers in bars than certain members of my own family. I have witnessed an eight-year-old’s affection amplified from a timid handshake to falling into my arms in a matter of hours. A feral cat jumping onto my lap, deciding it was time to start trusting one another. I have recognized, in my own gestures, when it was time to pack up and leave. I am a good judge of human touch.


I have learned to be present in these marginal moments. My embraces always last a second too long, because my heart is taking a snapshot. Whether we sleep in the same bed or never meet again, if we were in any way connected, I will want to remember this. Remember you.


So no half-assed pats on the shoulder or pecks on the cheek, please.  No clammy fishy handshakes. We both deserve better. If you put your arms around me, please don’t be one of those people that hug by grabbing a hold of their own arms (you know which ones I mean, don’t you?). Give me a moment to take you in, and accept the piece of my soul that is offered to you in this moment. You can spare a second. Acknowledge this connection. Be present with me.

June 19, 2013


Two summers ago I visited a place that likes to call itself Europe’s oldest active saltworks, and possibly the world’s, too. I couldn’t tell you if this is true, and besides, I would like to imagine that it goes further back than the proclaimed fourteenth century because its vineyards and oysters and the scorching sun, and the sheer human ingenuity of harvesting salt from a tightfisted plain between the land and the sea, simply smack of Romans. So I’m sticking to it.

It looks like someone put together a colossal chess board of canvas. Shallow pool after shallow pool of sea water, and a palette of emerald greens. Dirt, and sea, and salt, and algae cascading into one another, divided up by low stone walls, clumsy and sturdy and walkable, and bars of rusty metal strewn about. Every imperfect square looked like a painting. And the most interesting things were happening in the corners, where they funneled from or into others.

It was where crabs came to die.

Above the sediments of sand and between the strands of seaweed, emerald green shells and legs floated in emerald green water like it was formaldehyde. Their bellies were the color of yolk and eggshell, like when a cat flips over and presents its most vulnerable fluff, the ultimate in trust from a feline, and the ultimate in dangerous tease: will you put your hand in and risk the bite and tear? They could not have been bigger than my clenched fist, and that’s not a big clench. Were they dead, or did I see just exoskeletons of creatures that were no longer there? Was it where they came to molt? My bruised heart at the time chose to believe the death. My brackish water rebirth leans otherwise today.

Two weeks ago I spotted a crab floating in the water off the pier. Murdoc told me that the neighbors, many of whom go crabbing, will dump their unwanted catch in the water. It was floating sideways, with one of its claws sticking out of the water, as if it were saying “Howdy!” For a second I thought it might be alive, and kneeled down to catch it should it come closer. It never did. The wind and the current decided otherwise, and my little friend became a Flying Dutchman, a one-inmate Narrenschiff, waving at me from ten, twenty, fifty feet away. The sun was almost down and the crabby microbarge kept getting farther and farther on its burial at sea, but that grotesque little claw kept waving nonetheless.

I looked down, straight in front of the pier. Another dead crab had just floated up from the bottom, belly up, all of its legs spread at me, as if reaching for a phantom hug. My yellow Chucks turned on their heels and decided to call it a day. I was sure that if I stayed, more would have come, and waved, and reached. I had molting to do.

June 2, 2013

Mad people across the water, part 3

“What is your citizenship?”


The flight attendant is handing out I-94s and customs declarations. Her smile looks like something out of Soundgarden’s “Black Hole Sun” video. In the past eighteen hours I met with an airline strike and a cancelled flight, re-routing via Munich, and got to watch my Dulles-bound 777 have its engine opened and tinkered with by strange men with wrenches and screwdrivers for five hours. By the time they boarded us I would have hung on to a Concorde’s landing gear naked if that meant taking off sooner. I am late late late and, as if my actions could actually make the plane land faster, I cut to the chase and say


“I’m not a citizen.” [=I am not a U.S. citizen and will therefore need both forms, please please please can I have them while you go to the cabin and tell the pilot to kindly step on it]


She looks at me like a Kindergarten teacher being patient with the slowest kid in class. Her smile gets even smilier.


“Oh, but you have to be a citizen of SOMEWHERE now, don’t you?”


She might have patted me on the head if I had sat any closer to the isle. And I would have deserved it. Because her common sense trumps my free-spirit bullshitry any time. Because she can function in this world, and I can’t.


Yes, dear sweet nice lady who has been taking care of me for the past seven hours. I do have to be a citizen of somewhere. I have to have a passport, and I can’t just go wherever I damn please on this planet. I can’t pick up a suitcase and move in with the man I love, because I have to be out of the country come November. I can’t look for a job for another three months because I have dues to pay to two governments. This whole “citizenship” thing is making me feel like a criminal about the most beautiful thing that I’ve ever been part of. Would it sound pathetic if I said my only citizenship was “this gorgeous Nation of Two?” It’s kind of funny that we’ve organized this blue marble around keeping each other out of territories that don’t really belong to us, should that really be happening? I don’t know what else to tell you.






There was this one time in my freshman year English grammar drill class in college, the topic of the day was definite vs. indefinite articles. The prof used the phrase “he knocked on the door a second time,” confusing some kids out of their wits. No matter how the prof explained it, it didn’t make sense to them to use the indefinite article.


“But if it’s not the first time they knocked on the door, why is it A second time and not THE second time?”


“Because the first time you mention the second time, it’s A second time, and if you mention it a second time, it will be THE second time.”




Delicious, isn’t it?


We pulled up to the house and it hit me a second time.


A first second time.


A second first time.


His. Mine. Ours. His, two years ago. Mine, eight months ago. Ours, every time we connect, to infinity.


I sit on the pier (his, mine, ours), wanting to stretch it out like a piece of elastic, like bubble-gum, like a finger dragging out a stain across a table-cloth, a piece of bird shit across the grass. I want it to extend into the sea for at least a mile, and I want to curl up at the end of it and sleep, neither here nor there.


And I have no words in English for how the sea looks right now. But it looks like someone cast a net over the surface which won’t sink, ripples rhomboiding through one another in imperfect frictional glide. So I say my word for it. And the sea accepts.


And I have no words in English for what the sea is doing right now, but it looks like someone lost a pocketsworth of half shells in a trail from the sun to the tips of my blue-painted toes just above the water. I say my word for it, sipping my European coffee with good old American half-and-half, and the sea understands.


I couldn’t tell you how we get to where we are. If the suitcases that we pack are mausoleums or survival kits. Why certain embraces feel like memory, and the squeeze of a wrist like prophecy fulfilled. Whether the melancholy anklet we jingle is the charms of our life’s fumbles beating in line with our step, or a summons from within a pair of deep brown eyes. How the vortex of a fellow human and his Triumphs and nuclear winters and calloused hands become the Möbius strip of a lover pouring salt on snails in the garbage disposal and leading you in a dance around the block.



“Mad people across the water, part 1” can be found here, and “part 2” here.