the boy from my high school screenwriting class
he was younger, exotic
he was from seattle, exotic
I liked his long eyelashes and the mesa of his heavy jawline
he knew who wes Anderson and Elliott smith were, I was impressed
he wrote poems that felt like shovels, I was impressed
his pink mouth looked perpetually soft
and ready to split
I couldn’t speak until the night he left
we sat at a pancake-round table at the diner near school
we talked until the orange vinyl booths melted into syrup
we talked until I ran out of film, until the dishes crumbled
until the ice melted, the straw wrappers disintegrating
into pools of condensation on the linoleum coating
I didn’t know how to know how to want him
I knew that I knew how to nod
the boy from my high school screenwriting class
left us for the rain and
a thousand profile pictures of his weirdly hot sister
which only made less sense, the longer I stared
he packed his ennui into a hard sided suitcase
wrapped his typewriter in paper and twine
his records on the train of his mother’s station wagon
I thought about his mouth
the wet paper
the boy from my high school screenwriting class
It’s here! After a year of work, the first run of my dead dad zine is for sale on Etsy. Get your sad on— Check it out.
“Over a year in the making, “ash & bone” documents the first year following my dad’s death. Interspersing prose poetry and narrative memoir, the zine explores grief, trauma, and transition (in more ways than one) in a family thrown into chaos. Original cover art produced by me/my scanner.
18 pages, black & white. 5.5 x 8.5”
You will live a long and ugly life but god forbid you don’t, I mean you will but were you to not, were you to suddenly pause, not that you have I mean not that you will, I mean—your body. someone would have to do a thing with it. Your body is an organ, like the piano, no, a big sack of organs, not like the piano, wrapped in calcium and coated in hair follicles. The body can be recycled, and were you to pause, not that you will, but someone has to tell you: you have options. I don’t know what happens in the morning but if it were to be midnight when you paused and you had that little pink sticker on your license, someone could page a woman and she would leave her bed and smooth out her straight brown hair, hair the color and vibrancy of dry cracked mud, she would bring a clipboard to your bedside. She would list out the cogs and springs and one by one, someone will sign away each eye, your lungs if you don’t smoke much, your heart if it still beats, each kidney and knee, the liver, the skin, the ligament, the marrow. What happens next is hard to say, not that I don’t know but that I don’t like it. It’s upsetting to do a thing with a body, because even when it all gets recycled, there’s still so much person left in it. The clipboard can’t ask everything, like, who will get your curiosity, or your hunger, or your insomnia? Who will wear the weight of you, the parts inside the inside parts, the aching, the silence? Who will inherit everything and more importantly, will they reject your organs?
Were you to pause, long enough to still the whirring in your head or the thumping in your motor, were you to pause, would the organs even matter? Or would you slip out like a single drop of oil, willing the dirt to drink you?
I don’t remember the first time I cried on BART or maybe even a second time, if there was a second time. But I do remember sitting on the train a few hours ago, willing my eyes to spill, the surface tension straining over my lashes and leaning and leaning until everything toppled out like crumbling brick. I rested my face against the glass to feel the side vents whisper into my eye sockets; I want them to dry out like fruit leather or a blackberry abandoned on the vine or a stiff gray washcloth, starched into the shape of its hook. The East coast Fall was too cold for my California. The harsh breeze I pedaled into on the way to the deli and back made my eyes into punctured water balloons, made saline stream down my cheeks and into my ears to freeze my brain. During slow shifts Luke would lug over a bucket of peeled onions from the production kitchen for me to feed into the meat slicer one by one, thin loops of purple and white shooting into a plastic tub as the machine spun and squealed inches from my fingers, my vision blurring and burning as the whole shop filled with aggressive fumes. I cried as the onions sputtered and spewed and so did Luke, but the best part was the ugly moneyed customers, suddenly sniffling and hurting without knowing why. Like I was contagious. I’ve always idolized Typhoid Mary, the overworked and underpaid woman who shared her germs so selflessly, sliding unwashed fingers through baskets of fruit and over the golden crusts of freshly baked bread. She fed the rich clams and typhoid, and when they tried to confiscate her sickness, she ran, cradling her gallbladder like a secret. I wish I knew where my sickness was ruminating, churning in my gut or skull like butter. If the opportunity presented itself, I wonder if I’d cut it out of me as a tumor, or if I’d escape, disease cupped in my filthy hand until they caught me and whisked me off to island full of people like this, all this rotting wood, all this toppling brick. I guess BART is an island, yes, I guess this sunken tunnel is an island is Atlantis is a colony for the overflowing and the broken and the breaking. I guess a train is too liminal to hurt, suspended between the insomniac city and its drowsy worms, the waking stars and their poisoned earth.
Anyone who claims not to be codependent is a liar, and your father is no exception. He needed your need, but you don’t need him anymore. Mom can fix the modem herself and has okcupid, plentyoffish, and j-date accounts. A comedian named Dan comes over to the house and kisses her on the mouth in front of you, even though he said he’s not attracted to her. He hugs her too long and makes fun of deaf people and Asian drivers and hugs every woman in the room. Dan comes over to the house and eats mom’s diet cooking because at 45 he can still barely feed himself. Mom says he has a good heart and he’s an “equal opportunity offender” but he never makes fun of straight white men and the gnarled face he makes while reducing sign language into a pair of flailing claws makes you want to castrate him with a serrated knife. You don’t care for Dan. You are learning to hold mom so she doesn’t need to be held by him so much; in some oedipal twist of fate you have become a man and usurped the crown, you drive his car, you bought your sister a new computer, you transferred his ashes into little jewelry bags to distribute or bury. You couldn’t wash your hands afterward, and instead, massaged the dust into your skin with the thick herbal lotion mom keeps next to the sink. He melted slickly into your body.
Of course you miss him, but maybe “miss” doesn’t accurately describe it. “Missing” sounds like longing. You don’t miss him exactly. But he is missing. He is missing in the sense that he can’t be found and more importantly, in the sense that he has both missed everything and is missing from everything. He missed your surgery, your first year of grad school, your sister’s cosmetology licensing, the time you taught yourself to splice stereo wires and change headlights, the plans for remodeling. He is missing every time the garage door opens to reveal anything that is not a cranky old man. He is missing when you park the car you inherited in the driveway facing the house, instead of backed in as he’d prefer. He is missing when you stand in the silence of his dusty office, promising to become him. You were all forced to become new people in his absence; you wonder if he would still like you like this.
At the funeral, mom’s friend Michelle approached you to say she finally understood why you’re a transsexual— someone had to be the man of the house, after all. Which is bullshit of course because you and mom and your sister are all shuffling around in his orthopedic sneakers. He had big feet with toenails shaped just like yours. You remember his feet propped up beneath the thin hospital blanket and the way the doctor pressed her thumb into the nail bed of his big toe, pushing and pushing to see if his brain still knew pain and you waited and bargained. But something between the mind and toenail failed to spark and his eyelids were so perfectly still and there was nothing at all. The doctor was sorry, so sorry, everyone was sorry but no one was sorrier than you, sorry for the useless knot of yourself that went numb at the airport and never quite defrosted. In this way, you are missing too and you want nothing more than to be missed the way you’re supposed to miss your father.
What is a year but osmosis? What is a year but a few layers of skin?
“I’ll be there in 15,”
the butcher says,
“but just to warn you
“I look like shit,” “I’m stoned as fuck”
“I’m halfway to drunk.”
I hate men who bike bareback,
like their skulls aren’t worth it.
My skull is all I have.
I keep it watered and near the sun;
I unbraid the roots,
I let them tangle.
I hope he gets the message soon, like
before he swerves through ghost town at 1 am,
biking with a vibrating pocket full of bad news
to the glossy black mesh of my gate,
the nonexistent doorbell,
knob that never turns,
phone that never answers.
The ride home
I try to recall my first visit to the drunken butcher,
the calloused fingertips that pushed—
(I once dreamed of a man
crouching at my thigh,
easing a raw steak
into the dark of me)
I try to recall the drunken butcher,
the bone saw palm at my loin, thigh, rib,
the sticky, hoppy mouth on my neck.
To the butcher
and the many that preceded him,
to the empty bottles of his bed,
to the unexplainable burns,
the skin on cement,
the pot holes,
Thank you for the anatomy textbook
and the bike path to questionable choices
and the roadmap to nothing.
Encountering Travelers, performed at the SF Queer Open Mic a while back. Thanks to wonderdave for recording and posting this!
Reading Terminal Market is stuffed to the gills with sweat soaked chattering humanity and cheesy, fishy, smokey, deep fried odors. You are a salmon with an unrelenting will to live, you’re catapulting upstream one fin at a time when you see an opening and slip into the void of the Amish candy shop. A neatly dressed girl in a crisp white bonnet rings up cellophane packages of chocolates, gummi worms, malt balls, lemon drops, sour rings, pistachios, swedish fish. You are not thinking about dad. Your warm hand slightly fogs the wrapped treats; if you grip them long enough, maybe they will liquefy. Your tongue is remarkably dry. Don’t think about dad. Don’t think about anything.
Don’t think about the stash of sugar coated jelly oranges in the glove box. Don’t think about the wordless fist of sweet gelatin he’d transfer into your palm after school. The market is suddenly still, the heartbeat of the Amish girl is amplified or maybe it’s a drum or an impending tsunami. It is not your blood in your ears, it is not a leaping in your chest because you are not thinking about him. You are not thinking about him or the bundle of tubes and hoses that kept him suspended in his mechanical bed, you are not thinking about the determined beeping of the heart monitor. You are not thinking about the plastic smiling sympathy of the organ donation representatives, the cheap ceramic heart pendant they offered you in exchange for his body, or the fact that in spite of a quadruple bypass four years prior, his heart was the last part of him to still. You are just gripping the chocolate raisins or the swedish fish or something crinkly. You are the only salmon in a sea of cellophane, a bathtub of jellyfish, a bear’s jaw, an aquarium of breath.
The register flies open and the coins clink against each other. The Amish girl adjusts her bonnet and sighs, and you are thinking about the impossibility of drowning.
how does one return
to the verdant swisher smoke park
the pet store window filled with exhausted, sweaty kittens
or the Subway franchise that should’ve crumbled to the ground months ago
in a tragic toaster fire; this is hoagie town
beneath an indecisive sky and a thousand boys on paper thin bicycles
napping with a mango water-ice in one hand and a watermelon beer in the other
burnt out, hollow row homes leaning against moldy squats leaning against castles.
i cut my teeth on the jutting edge of a broken heart here.
i drank wine on quilts on every rooftop for the eternal summer
fed moldy grapes and kale stems to a flock of anxious chickens
my blood to a herd of relentless mosquitos in overgrown yards.
how does one return to the cordoned-off scene
the site of a thing that happened
of a time that died?
I miss untangling the knot of him,
gripping a loose strand between my teeth;
to tug, to pry, to pray him loose,
to whittle away at the mass.
New boyfriends are a neat braid,
thick, straight down the spine,
punctuated by an elastic band,
his strands heavy with logic.
It’s not hard to hold still.
It feels good to be woven.
Is adulthood learning to resist
the fraying of thread?
Or learning to excise the knot entirely,
fusing together raw ends over a match
and hoping they won’t catch mid-seam?