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She Hates Numbers

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Pretzels & Chocolate, a poem

jim-valvis

PRETZELS & CHOCOLATE

(rented room, cigarettes)

I am eating pretzels
and they are hard
but splinter into salty crumbs

with the merest bite
they only satisfy
part of my tongue

(rented room, cigarettes)

so I pick up the chocolate
greedy for it to melt
against my palate

sucking the firm square
feeling it mold to me
the way I imagine

my body molds to yours

(rented room, cigarettes)

retaining the character of sweetness
to complement the salt
to balance my mouth

I am eating chocolate
thinking of us
together

(rented room, cigarettes)

illustration mockingbird mimus polyglottos

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The Analysand, a short fiction

illustration analysand short fiction

The Analysand, a short fiction

“I’ll take your word for it,” she said.

She remembered long-forgotten moments; instances of innocence, of confidence, of hope. Her analyst wanted more from her than pages in her journal, more than frozen images which may… or may not… have actually happened. Four bundles of smooth, shiny, purple rope lay on the coffee table in his office, four beautifully coiled bundles, bound & tied with intricate, ceremonial knots. His eyes met hers; bright blue lamps of inquisitiveness and Inquisition.

“Where do you get that kind of rope?” she asked.

“I make it,” he said. “I dye it with Tyrian purple and condition it with organic beeswax.”

She kept her face neutral; curious. She’d had enough of fake tourist traps for a dozen lifetimes; boring main highways hadn’t ever led her to anyplace she’d want to stay in for long. And the sun rises even after the darkest night. And the sun sets after the sunniest day. Night has its own charms. Her wounds were on the inside… and his? His… would be healed by helping her heal her own. The rope laid on the table, gleaming & inscrutable. Her favorite violin, a Bergonzi, sat silent & helpless on her lap.

She’d been dead so long; she’d wanted her to speak for herself for so long. Her mother had treated her like anything but a daughter; pupil, instructor, heathen, missionary, ghost, confessor, beggar, heir, therapist, patient. So strike a pose; strike a deal; strike a match. What difference does any of it make: preserving body & soul is not good enough; nurture your body and your soul. Peace arises where all paths meet; crossroads for weary travelers. Fevers can burn you up. Water can heal. She put the violin back in its case.

“Okay,” she said. “It’s worth a try.” She stood up off the couch and took off her clothes.

Dr. Zhu tied her up gently, kissing her as he did. Yes. He started at her ankles, and bound her up like a trussed bird. And then he helped her lie down on his soft purple couch and began his work. Where you find the water of life, is home.

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Love Kills

love-kills 2

Love Kills

My adversary and his minions usually attacked me right after we all got off the school bus in our small neighborhood. I’d be walking home, trying to pretend it wasn’t happening, but still hearing the sweaty, red-faced boys from my small neighborhood draw together and trail at my heels like a pack of wolves, barking. I was a dog-girl, they taunted me in my own language. I’ve wasted too much time trying to figure out this cruelty; and at the same time I can’t stop myself wondering why – falling into the black chasm of shame. Ugliness. Who defines it?

I love the idea of a man, regardless.

One of this group of horrid bullies was the first boy I ever kissed. That was the result of a game of spin-the-bottle, behind the holly bushes at the end of the canal. The trashy, sandy space between the seawall and the bowling alley parking lot, where the branches of the mangroves trailed down into the murky water like the sad arms of ghosts. He kissed me there. His lips were wet, trembling, soft as a child’s, and softer than mine. Why’d he kiss me, then? That’s what I’ve asked a thousand times. How often are we tested, and found wanting, and given another chance to learn? As many times as it takes. Neither Heaven nor Hell throw souls away. Souls are the green energy of the cosmos. Protect yours from those who would use, abuse, and dispose of yours.

I love the idea of a man, regardless.

Did you ever kiss someone you wouldn’t be caught dead with in daily life? The answer is yes. You all did; everyone does. But, following your mistake, did you then gather up your friends and acquaintances and confront that (unfortunately) kissed person daily? Did you, and a gang of six to ten of your closest friends, pant and bark at that person as a pack of relentless, nipping wild dogs, depositing flecks of their own frothy spittle onto the back of that person’s fleeing, burning neck? Did you then taunt that ugly person with your ugly sounds of ugliness every single ugly day for an ugly year, or two? Each time it happened, it threatened to swamp my tiny little life, which already sucked for reasons I will not go into here and now.

I love the idea of a man, regardless.

I beat that ugliness which was thrust into my face like a chunk of petrified dogshit… back and back and back… with the mental & emotional equivalent of a baseball bat, a tennis racket, a golf club, a shield, a mirror, a fantasy. My job was to strap that ugly shit into a straightjacket and lock it in the asylum of the mind. On better days my adversary wasn’t cruel, but fast and solid, like when I bounced against him in a crowded game of flashlight tag. His immovable, sweaty arms encircled me that late spring twilight, and though I wriggled and strained to get away, I wondered what it was like; making love with a boy, how it would feel, our naked bodies pressed together, his aroused skin slipping into my aroused skin, male into female, a warm knife into butter. If organized bullying is the modern equivalent of hair pulling… count me out.

I love the idea of a man, regardless.

Counterpoint to my adversary’s cruelty were the sweet, funny, flirty boys seated on both sides of me at the back of the room in seventh-grade English class, a tall one and a tiny one just like Mutt & Jeff. These boys wore their clothes confidently, as if the cloth covering them wasn’t important, wasn’t doing them any favors. The way their smooth skin flowed out of their shirtsleeves made me crazy. It was as if women were a part of them, not something foreign. The taller of the boys once reached out and touched my ass, not sly or shy, just placing his open palm against my turned hip like it was a loaf of bread. He never, ever looked my way without smiling.

I love the idea of a man, regardless.

A few years later, I was almost raped. I made a mistake and went to this older guy’s apartment, as clean and tidy as a church. That guy climbed atop me again and again, rumpling his king-sized, black satin-sheeted bed. It seemed as though hours went by, my legs protecting me like twin automatic pistons, pushing his nude weight off and away. He didn’t become violent; finally he quit trying. But later, I let him teach me how to kiss. To leave off a man’s mouth slowly, gently, instead of rising away like a slap interrupted. The sweetest postlude I ever had? A male model who brought me a warm, wet washcloth, after. His whole body was as hard and smooth and glossy as a horse’s. He held my knees up and softly swabbed me like a baby. I never saw him again.             And, ladies and gentlemen, devotees of love… is there any other kind but the kind that kills? Love is not a lifetime, money-back guarantee.

I love the idea of a man, regardless.

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Lovely Girl, a short-short story

illustration lovely girl
Lovely Girl, a short-short story

Jan. 11, 1979

Kenneth got into a big fight with his father last night. His Dad said that he follows me around like a puppet, and that he’s being bought. Then his Dad told him he was a lazy little bastard for not fixing his car & going somewhere with his mother. Then Kenneth said something back and his Dad tried to choke him and Kenneth left & went to the library.

I have a feeling Kenneth’s Dad hates me, or at least dislikes me. He would probably be a lot happier if I wasn’t going out with Kenneth. I would like to go up to his Dad and say that if he would prefer Kenneth not go out with me — because he thinks Kenneth would be better able to concentrate on sports & school — I will comply.

All I know for sure is that I don’t know anything anymore. Sometimes, I want to go far away – to Europe, maybe – and meet strange people and find out how to live. But then I get scared and I am suddenly glad to be in my safe room with all my possessions that tell me who I am supposed to be. I don’t know who I am – I used to, but things have changed so much, I’m not sure anymore.

Ever since Mom and my stepdad got divorced, it’s been harder and harder to just live. Mom is getting worse with the booze and sometimes I get so angry that I scream at her. Then I feel awful and try to hug her and tell her I’m sorry, but she’s so out of it she just stands there, swaying a little with her eyes half-crossed, and I end up stomping into my room and slamming the door and locking it. Then I lie on my bed and stare at the ceiling and sigh.

It’s the best just after I get home from classes at community college. Mom isn’t here, and I am alone. No one can bother me, and if the phone rings I don’t answer it. It gives me a sense of power – listening to that phone ring and ring and ring until whoever is calling hangs up, frustrated. I close all the curtains and put on records and smoke cigarettes. In my cool, dark cave I find peace for a few hours.

At six o’clock, though, I hear that fucking bitch, my mother, put her key in the lock, and I jump up and run down the hall to my room to get away. If Mom says something to me, I try to be nice, but it’s usually only a few minutes before our voices become sharp and anger is in the air again. Until she’s blotto, that is. Then, wobbling and bleary-eyed, she’s all lovey-dovey, but also by then all I want to do is shake her until her head falls off!

The only positive things in my life are Amy and Kenneth. Amy is my best friend and Kenneth is my lover. They know, and once in a while I can talk to them about it, but I know that friends can only take so much before they are tired of hearing it. The only person that would listen to everything you said and be interested was a psychologist or psychiatrist, and I’ve thought about going to one, but it’s really too expensive. So I just don’t let myself think about things most of the time.

I keep this journal and write my thoughts down, and that helps a little. Most of the time I’m fine, but it’s always there, hanging over me. Actually, I function very well. I graduated in the top five percent of my high school class, and after a year at junior college I have a 3.8 average. And I’ve never gotten into any serious trouble at all. I’m what grandmothers like to call a “lovely girl.” On the outside. Happy? What did happiness ever have to do with any of my fucking life choices?

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Trying To Explain, a poem

illustration trying to explain

Trying to Explain, a poem

How do you explain to outsiders what was bad about the marriage?

Take them down the aisle with you, make them wear the white satin dress so stiff and heavy, embroidered with pearls, it left deep red welts for 24 hours.

Was your first inkling when, on the way to the honeymoon bed, he had to stop to get the car washed?  Next, take them with you to the hotel room where there was nothing, absolutely nothing left to talk about.  Put on the black nightgown he requested and hunger for food if nothing else, order room service, you wanted a juicy cheeseburger, he even found fault in that.  He had steak, rare.  It was his wedding night, after all.

Don’t forget how his education was far superior to yours, he had worked harder for everything he possessed, including you.  His mental health put you to shame.  You were so tired from getting married you fell asleep before having sex.  Next morning it occurred to you it wasn’t too late, you could still get out on a technicality.  Mistakes get made, are remedied 9 years later.

In between the first day and the last, hordes of memories press between the sheets.  Detritus from a dying institution.  Tell them about your body, how it remained cold, so cold even the touch of a well-educated fool couldn’t wake it.  Give examples:  he called you a bitch 78 times, neurotic, 207 times, a whining baby, 134 times… tell me, how many times was too many?

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Why I Hate You, a poem

illustration why i hate you

Why I Hate You

You know why I hate you?  You’re a weak vine, needing to be propped up, needing more comfort than a baby.  You imagine bugs, crawling up the walls, down your hair.  Their wings whir in the night like soft sobs.

I hate you because you’re ugly — a slob, a slut, a sucker.  Because you saw your mother passed out on the carpet in front of the television, one too many times, but you didn’t kill her the way she wanted to be killed.  You didn’t help when she needed you.  Because you let yourself be unimportant for so many years and did nothing to help yourself until it was too late, until you’d already lost the war.  Peace came on unfavorable terms, the enemy couldn’t be placated.

I hate you because you’re afraid of the dark.  When you’re with a man, you lean on the solidity of his body, the real beat of his heart, you listen to his rhythmic breathing, and you’re not afraid anymore, but you start to get antsy.  His body sounds so much stronger than yours.  They don’t cry the way you do.  Does that mean they don’t feel?  Why do they want to be with the likes of you?  You don’t have the slightest idea what you want from them.  Late at night is the worst.  The stars unfold ahead of you, and you can’t find your way to the future, stupid bitch.

That’s when I hate you the most.  You’re utterly without honor.  You imagine your ex-husband, fat and happy in his bed, eating candy.  He doesn’t suffer like you do, he has already forgotten why he married you in the first place.  He is perfect.  He is way above you in the cosmos, he is light, reason.  Your life is insignificant, ignorant and small, and won’t leave a shadow.

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