Monday, December 17, 2007

hair

Underneath my bed I have hidden a chest.

The chest is filled with the curls of my relatives.

There are the curls of my sons.

There are the curls of my nephews.

There are the curls of my cousins.

There are the curls of my granddaughter.

They are carefully clipped curls and they are all almost a uniform color of brown.

Dark brown like the wood of the chest.

I cannot tell the different curls apart sometimes.

They all lie together entangled in some intimate embrace of hair.

They smell clean.

I clip them from my relatives after washing their hair.

I am good at cutting the hair of my relatives.

Their locks close cut hug their round heads.

Their doe brown eyes framed with long lashes.

Their eyes are wise.

But their eyes grow duller with age.

The brilliance of childhood is lost with age.

I have preserved their curls from babyhood.

Those hairs contain wisdom.

When I die I would like to be burned in a pyre made of the curls of my relatives.

I would like to burn in an implosion of that wisdom.

The stink will hover miles.

Friday, December 07, 2007

poem on a shiny silver gum wrapper

gray desolate days the
clock running slower than
swirls of lazy sweet potato water in your plastic stained
bowl your red handled
paintbrush is sodden with
the wetness echoes of
color

somber tinted air with
out perfume sprays
the long eyelashes of ex
haustion our
symptoms

december, month of
dulled attempts at
summer's cheer, Xmas
Xmas is almost here, but
our cars are dusty with
winter.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

sunset indoors

His mouth is sicky red, cheeks flushed and riding high, skinny nipples twice dotting his chest. Sweaty curls crest his forehead above the fine fragile brow. He has fever.

I look at him detached. He was never my lover. There is a long ugly scar along his goosebumped hip from some internal external war now encased in past. There are streaks of pen on my hands from writing letters that do not mention his name. Outside the sun is gorgeous setting, colors I have no name for, fire-golden linings. I am in this chipped room with a stranger.

Burroughs's junkies were less than human. Is he? His veins punctured, teeth gritted against that overwhelming morphine need. Pale lines on his fingers where heavy rings once nestled. He'd punch the Man in the jaw with them, break teeth, until their opium worth trumped revolution. The family crest pawned.

One of his toes is a stump of infection, nailless and blind. Even his feet pitted with injection welts. I cat's-cradle my hands and look at the gray blanket he lumped off. I keep my eyes off his shoulder skin pulled tight.

Some tall innocent puts his tan hand on my back and I shudder. "You don't need to stay," he says, surfer-white teeth and gleaming generous muscles in his neck, the scent of outside gloam on his tailored wool coat. "You don't owe him anything."

I nod, not sure what I mean. We all owe him everything, this dying man-boy boy-man propelled and floating through delusion, his blood running fast to catch up, his heartbeat thrumming like a mouse's. A bubble stretching and popping in the corner of the thin red mouth.

"It's nothing to do with you," says the pumpkin-grinning outdoorsman.

I twist my fingers. I stand my ground.

Monday, October 22, 2007

the weather

It is late.

I cannot sleep.

I am thinking of my friends and the wildfires.

I am thinking of my friends in Southern California and the rage-roaring wildfires subsuming and exhuming their homes, the anti-flood, no salvation on a rooftop no more.

I am thinking of my friends' clocks and calendars and yellow high heels melting in blaze.

I am thinking of their acrylics and temperas and long handwritten pages sparking in puddles of oil and sprinkle-crumbs of char.

I am thinking of fleeing in a hot bright night gunning up the car quick and running.

I do not know fire.

I know the forgiving fog and blue everchanging water of the bay, but I do not know fire.

I do not know the right way to imagine it.

I imagine my fire like the fire in film, car explosions and Gone With the Wind.

I live by the bay but the air is hot and stagnant with eight-minute sun.

I live by the bay but today the air was hot and stagnant with eight-minute sun.

The smoke drifts up a little.

The sun through the magnifying glass that is our ozone layer.

In late October.

Winter can't make up its mind anymore.

Seasons are crossdressing and giggling in poison lipstick.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Cigarettes in the Refrigerator



My eyes are crusty. I close them. I open them. They are crusty and everything is a little freckled. My bare skin is freckled through my eyes. I am naked sitting on my couch and the maroon lines of the couch are pressing into my skin and the downy hairs on my skin. There is a line of dark stubbly hair traveling from my navel to my crotch. My navel is chafed. I look at my navel and at my hollowing stomach. I have not eaten in several days. I look at my legs. My thighs are covered in dark hairs that stand out against my pale skin.

There is stubble on my face and my jaw. I lick my lips and I extend my tongue to feel the sharp dark hairs cultivating on my upper lip. There is similar hair all down my jaw. I get up and walk and shake a little. Light shines. It is between morning and afternoon. I stand in front of my refrigerator and stare at my refrigerator. My refrigerator is not magnetic. It is a shitty kind of refrigerator that is not magnetic, and whenever I look at it a childhood memory is stabbed in the ass cheek. I am saving up for a magnetic refrigerator but I keep forgetting to save up. I accidentally spend my allowances on rent, recreation, and food.

Out of habit, I swing open the door of my non-magnetic refrigerator. I have been doing this every thirty minutes or so for the past few days. There is no food inside my refrigerator. There is a mostly-full bottle of mustard and there is a mostly-full jar of mayonnaise and there is an unbranded packet of cigarettes. They aren't mine. Ted smokes when he wants to get drunk. He thinks there is nothing classier than an alcoholic who smokes. Ted wants badly to be good at mixing drinks, but he is shitty at it.

I look at the mustard, mayonnaise, and cigarettes. I let the cold air blow onto my face and nipples. The refrigerator hums loudly. It sort of buzzes. My body is cold. I think about eating but that makes me want to throw up. I shut the bare refrigerator door. I open it again and take out the packet of cigarettes. I shake out one cigarette and put the rest back in the refrigerator and shut the refrigerator door again.

I look at the cigarette. I am dizzy and lethargic. I leave the cigarette on the counter and go to the pantry and get out a bottle of wine. It takes me a few tries to open it and I almost give up but I get it in time. I take a swig and the bottle is very heavy and I almost drop it but I don't. The taste of the white wine goes to my head immediately. I feel like a sheet of paper. I run my hand along my upper arm and my upper arm is the temperature of marble. My skin is soft and goose-pimply and covered with fine down. Ted's arms are covered with wiry rusty hair and he has a raspy rusty beard. He secretly thinks it makes him seem more
manly. Ted goes through phases of trying to hide his homosexuality. Right now he is convinced he is bisexual. He has gone on a cruise to meet women. Ted is secretly less aroused by women than I am. He thinks he can hide it, but he is wrong.

Thinking about Ted makes me feel feverish and I want to throw up again. Teaspoons of acrid bile slosh in my stomach. I feel like the bile is going to burn thruogh my stomach lining and up my esophagus and burn out my larynx and down into my lungs. The bile will explode in my lungs and splatter my lungs with acid and quickly burn through them. I need to soak up the bile in my stomach with white bread, but I have no white bread. I go to the drawer and get out a spoon and open the refrigerator door. I hold the jar of mayonnaise and unscrew the cap of the jar of mayonnaise and I scoop a spoonful of mayonnaise. I close the refrigerator door and then I eat the mayonnaise. The mustard is too acrid to eat.

Eating a spoonful of mayonnaise is like eating a liquefied tumor. The raw calories go to my head immediately and I feel them settle on top of the layer of white wine in my stomach. Jesus Christ. It is an infernal
swamp in there. I lurch and hit my knee against a chair and my knee throbs but does not bruise. I want white bread badly. I lurch to the bedroom where the telephone used to be. I know my cellular phone is somewhere but I don't know where it is. I sit on the stained mattress and I pull at the fine dark hairs on my legs.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Enemy combatants

Give me your tired, your poor and I'll grind them
under my toes. their hair blacker with blood, an
anointment. if they're beaten e-
nough they'll succumb to truth, that
terrorist trash they'll take my shit
and keep their mouths shut they'll
never tell 'cause they know no one cares no one pays
attention I'll make them talk I'll
make them fucking scream for mercy if I want,
over and over and over til the records

break, they're naked with their faith,
and bareness is now. let me humiliate
your boys and my boys. let me take.

Monday, September 17, 2007

he's in movies

There was a man all in black. Ageless, blond, nose red with cold, hat cocked. The folds in his pants were crisp. He walked long and tall and lit upon a bench. He didn't look at the ocean, though it was sunset-blue and ripply gorgeous, a gift of ever-changing lights and motions. He didn't count the flaps of pelican wings, exhausting communication of flight, breathing only during the brief respites of gliding. He looked at his wrist.

He waited.


If he waited long enough George Clooney in a moustache would come up behind him and give him a mission. He was dressed like the kind of man that George Clooney would come up to. It was going to happen, it was fate. I trembled with wanting to go over and talk to him. I had goosebumps. I was wearing a long pink hippie jacket and I knew he would not take me seriously. I was not George Clooney in disguise. I was the opposite of what he was.


I looked at the pelicans and thought, "fuck, I already forgot my poem." I looked at the man again. He attracted me. Mystery.

I looked away again, at the contained self-reliance that was the sea, and then I looked at the clouds, golden spun. Eddies of angel motions, I thought with a feeling of epiphany. The breeze felt nice but smelled like rotten fish. I moved farther from the sea, and soon it shifted and began to smell like figs instead.

I looked back at the man. While I wasn't looking he had folded. His head in the hat slumped between his knees. "Shit," I thought. "Don't give up. George Clooney will still come for you." He was edging close to giving up. Or maybe just wanted to look like it. (In these situations George Clooney likes to wait until you get desperate and do something stupid before he saunters over. "Sorry, I was hijacked on the way, terrorists." "Some preteens wanted my autograph." George Clooney is full of excuses.) If the man had thought of this, he was probably playing it pretty clever. A master's hand. Black bishop. The man was still.

I was in sandals and pants that were too long. The hems of my pant legs were getting grimy. I looked at the man, all alone on the bench. I had been sitting on that same bench a while beforehand. I had picked up a rounded piece of yellow old insulation that had been on the ground and placed it onto the seat of the bench. I wondered what the man in black thought of the insulation. It looked a little bit like petrified wood, but it was soft and smelled strange, artificially clean. I wondered what the man would do if I went and sat next to him. Or stood behind him, George Clooney in disguise after all. "This is your mission." "Can I ask you a personal question-- why are you here in a black hat?" I couldn't remember the name of that actor from the old time movies who wore that kind of hat. It began with an H. Humphrey Bogart, that was who it was. "Why are you here in a Humphrey Bogart hat? Why are your creases so nice?" It could be that he had been expecting a date of less professional status, maybe some girl had stood him up, but I did not think that a girl would stand him up. The back of his neck, where the yellow-blond hair almost the color of the insulation met the paleness of his skin, looked very benign. I did not think he had a gun inside his black collared coat. He was probably not a mercenary. Probably he was the kind of man who worked with papers to find out who the moles were and which Russians could be trusted. Then again, if that were so why would he be sitting by the beach?

Figs in the air, wet ashes in my mouth. My ears were cold and I tried to pull up my collar. Wishing I had brought a scarf after all. Briefly I entertained the idea that the man was a sorcerer from another world, had conjured his way here for an important meeting and found himself the victim of a mix-up. Tragedy. I let this run through me only because I loved the word "sorcerer." (Though I would love it better were it spelled with two o's.) But the fancy of that theory spouted away without taking its time. I wondered how contrived it would seem if I went and sat beside him. There were two other benches, empty. Could I sit at another and still talk to him? I got the impression it was only George Clooney he wanted to hear from.

I stood shivering and watched him. He was like an origami swan. He was so uniform. "Next time, maybe," I told myself. "Maybe every day we'll be silent together like this. Until someday when he will tell me all of it."

He never seemed to see me. Looking in the wrong direction.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Poem for Clara

In Paris we
screamed to see her, 17
49 and a hot bright
summer, we thought she
was a u
ni
corn the marvel with one horn
armored like a beast of the
...(k)night... they fed her
bread and hay and
examined her
nostrils with an air of
ex...cavation, the whole of
Europe entranced with this
blind tame creature
from someplace new and
exotic though she did
not smell of curry spices,
the one proof of a world bigger
than ours, worth saving
weeks of payment to see with out
own blind eyes.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Kill the Carrier

What could you do?
The ring was sweat and glory,
joy in your muscles, all strength and
testosterone, knowing you looked
a fool, not caring, because you could
wrestle him into submission.
But home was
all tight and quiet.
The boy
wouldn’t talk
(he would never follow in your armsteps,
you knew it, there was no hope--
all Nancy’s fault).
Your bed
was off-limits; she
relegated you to the couch
unless you had just won a fight, or if
the boy had had a good day.
Your blood ran fast and
furious. You knew
you would regret it, but
you did it anyway, clouded by
a desperate rage.
No blood, no gore. But their expressions
haunted you for hours, and so you
hung
by your own weights.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

On the off chance anybody's interested in what I've been doing all June

Well, I've been writing a screenplay.
And it's been fun.
And now I'm done with it! (20,029 words, according to the site's official word counter.)
You can read it here, if you're interested.
Happy June!

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

In the Bathroom

“What are you doing?”

She felt a little insane.

“Jenna, are you nuts? Answer me! Jenna?”

She leaned against the bathroom door, the mirror pressing into her back, and listened to Olivia, frustrated as hell on the other side.

“Jenna, unlock the door.”

She wouldn’t do it. She would just sit there forever, until Olivia went away, and then maybe run to her room and sit naked cross-legged on the bed and pretend nothing had ever happened. She would burrow under her comforter and suffocate half to death, maybe knock herself out in the stifling heat, although outside it was December. Create her own deadly summer under the covers.

“Jenna? Jenna? Have you fallen asleep in there? For fuck’s sake, Jenna.”

She looked at her toes, wiggled them.

“Okay, Jenna, I’m going to come back in an hour and you better be out of there, okay? I want to watch a movie with you. We got some good ones at Blockbuster’s, me and Katherine, I mean.”

There was a pause, but she knew Olivia hadn’t gone anywhere. She could sense her one-hundred-and-forty-pound prescence breathing behind the door.

“Brian wants to come over and watch a movie with us if you’re okay with that.”

Brian-- oh, Brian! Too jovial, too wide-mouthed, too disgusting when he put his hands around Olivia and squeezed.

“Okay, Jenna, I’m going to go make some calls, I’ll be in the living room. Okay?”

Another pause in which she held her breath, held still as anything, until she heard footsteps padding away, quietly, oh, finally! She wanted badly to scream, but she knew Olivia would hear. She was so confined here. She wanted to climb somehow out of the little screened window and run, run, run away with branches scraping her thighs badly. She would step on every sharp thing on the way, of course, and then she would make it to the highway and lie there just on the side of the road and feel the wind of each car rush past her, listen to the thrumming of wheels on the concrete, listen to the honking whenever somebody spotted her, just a moonlit body splayed triumphantly on the beautiful ground. That would be wonderful.

Olivia was really gone. Good. Jenna pulled herself up, holding onto the doorknob, and stared at her reflection critically. She needed to lose about six pounds. She could see stretch marks on her hips. And was that another sore on her mouth? how could she ever go outside again until that thing went away? Her life was so small, so small, so insignificant, and here she was, right now, doing nothing with it, standing alone in her bathroom with the door locked by herself looking at her own body. Children were starving to death right now-- men were dropping by the dozens in war zones-- all her high school friends were out partying, getting drunk and having casual sex, the way they had all promised each other they would do once they graduated. And here she was, twenty, a college dropout, living with a couple of more successful friends. If she were to die right now, nobody would care. Maybe her mother would care, but she had Isaac. It wasn’t like Jenna was going to carry on the family name or anything.

Her head felt tight with boredom. She wondered if anyone had died of that. Probably; people had died of most everything. She closed her eyes and stretched up and thought that she would never do anything worthwhile in her life. The realization that right now she was doing nothing, nothing at all, was so frustrating. Dimly, she could hear Olivia in the other room talking softly on the telephone. Olivia was social networking. Jenna was doing nothing!

She spotted an electric razor (Brian’s!) on the shelf over the sink and grabbed it. She didn’t even need to shave, she had done that yesterday, in a better mood. But she felt like destroying. Maybe if-- but she couldn’t-- well, you know what, fuck it.

She knew she would regret it, but, like a Jeep in drive pushed down a mountain, there was no stopping it now. Trepidation boiled in her stomach. At least it was a feeling.

She took the razor to her head.

Turned it on.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Giovent├╣

Thumbing from your friends, you
Nothing-legs child of bums and guns, you
Never knew when you were wanted.
Peach-bullets settled in your lungs,
Dapper chestnuts in your cheeks,
Renal cortex scar-pitted, you were
An ovelty for autopsists.
Sleeves too wide.
You marched before shadows and
Stared cockeyed at Communists.
You led the Kennel Club and
Pissed in Eddie's boot; your
Pockets were navels and your brain stem was nervous.
Lined up in wince-rows.
You never read those papers. You
Never jawed those letters.

Saturday, May 05, 2007

Machine of Death: Angelina Jolie

http://machineofdeath.net

Brad called. "Have you seen the paper?"

"No," she said, yawning. The baby had been crying all night and she was tired out. Brad was off shooting a movie in Monterey, and the nanny had gone to a wedding and Angelina had decided to stay (counteracting the Babel their lives might have turned into). "Is there something about us?"

"Front-page news. Go look."

"Tell me what it is, babe." It was cold out.

"I have to go," he said, too quickly. "Love you."

That intrigued her, though it made her stomach drop sharply too. What had the papers found this time? Pictures from Hugh's party last weekend? Oh, God. She put on a pair of slippers, shuffled down the stairs and out the door.

She saw it immediately and it gave her the kind of chills you only got when the news was completely unexpected. Plastered across the front page (of the Times, for Pete's sake) in huge block letters: MINNESOTA MAN'S FATE: DEATH BY ANGELINA JOLIE.

"Holy shit," she whispered, shook out the paper, stood there in the mud and crisp cold and read the whole article, back-page and all. A picture of her covered half the page, of course, looking less than her best in black and white. They never printed the pictures Angie really liked. And the article was about a thirty-six-year-old man named Jonas Singh who had taken that new blood test and gotten his result, and that result was "ANGELINA JOLIE." The mugshot of him showed a brown-skinned, white-toothed, handsome man, and he was quoted as saying, "At first I was shocked, then I was confused, and then I accepted it and got kind of excited. Death by Angelina Jolie is definitely an interesting way to die, and I admire her. I'm looking forward to finding out what it really means." He was married with a baby, worked as a photojournalist for his local paper, and had served a year in Iraq.

She had to go inside and sit down. The baby was sleeping, thank God, and so were the other kids. Good kids, really, they made her days. The paper was burning a hole in her hand. She had to call Brad right now. (God, next thing they were going to get quotes from Jennifer Aniston, Jesus, and Billy Bob and Jenny and Jonny and everyone, and they were going to be calling her and Brad all the time.) She pressed her fingers to her temples, inhaled and exhaled. She needed a smoke badly.

She speed-dialed his number. "Brad?"

"You read it," he stated. He was perceptive like that, one of his more charming traits.

"They didn't call, did they? Before they published it."

"Didn't call me," he said. "He's a photojournalist, so it probably got to the paper first. You know how some states are starting to pass laws that for certain jobs you have to have it done and make it available to your employer?" The rationality behind this was that your death might involve your work and then your employer was technically responsible-- if Jonas Singh had been fated to die in a plane crash, say, his boss might prohibit his flying anywhere for work. Angelina herself refused to take the test, not wanting to know. Brad had been dared by George Clooney (HEART FAILURE) to take it, had taken it drunk a month ago, and had triumphantly gotten NATURAL CAUSES. "That could mean anything," Angelina had warned him, more than a little jealous, but he had shrugged that off with the shit-eating grin of a man who knew he was lucky.

"Christ," she said in a small voice, "how am I going to kill this guy? I don't understand. What does that even mean?"

"I have no idea, Angie." He sounded impatient. Well, fuck that; he was the one who had brought it up; who cared about his movie, she was his wife.

"Brad..."

"Look, hon, can I call you back?"

What a bastard. Just because he had nothing to worry about, NATURAL CAUSES, he couldn't care less that the woman he called "love of my life" was practically accused of murder? She wanted to slam the phone down, but it was cordless and she had to satisfy herself with pushing a button instead-- poor substitute.


By the next morning, when the nanny came back, Angelina was a wreck. The kids had been darling as usual, but they were little and high-maintenance. The baby, croupy, had wailed all night, and just to top it all off, the phone had rung all night long. When Angelina had turned her cell on, she had 42 new messages: all family, friends, and lawyers. She ended up unplugging the landline and vomiting at quarter to two in the morning. Of course this had to happen when Brad was upstate. When else? She had not slept a wink that night. She kept seeing the young Indian man's face, imagining him with his wife and baby. And then she kept seeing the headlines spin out like in a movie, all about her. God, if she had to get the spotlight in the real, non-tabloid news, couldn't it have been about all her work in third-world countries?

Brad called again. "Good news. They're gonna let me come down here for a couple days, 'til Monday."

"Thank you," she said, close to tears. "Oh God. Thank you, Brad."

"I'll see you in a couple hours, 'kay?" She heard him snap his phone shut and called up his wonderful face, those soulful eyes. She wondered if he had shaved since last week. She wanted to suck his cock on the kitchen tiles.

One of the kids wandered into the room, barefoot, sucking his thumb, the crux of angeli. Angelina picked him up and kissed his cheek, then let him down again to wander off, thinking about Jonas Singh picking up his baby and kissing its cheek. If this was a ploy to get her attention, like that guy who had shot a president to get Jodie Foster to notice him... well, it sure was fucking working. At least the nanny, red-cheeked and blessed with a thick Spanish accent, was restoring order beautifully quickly. Angelina had to hand it to Rosa, she knew what she was doing. Woman deserved every penny she got. The kids loved her.

She realized she was hungry; for some reason that had slipped her mind. She got up from the too-comfortable couch and got a carton of Ben & Jerry's out of the freezer (mint chip). Married women didn't have to watch their weight; on the other hand, she knew if she gained half a pound the world would start wondering out loud if it was a "baby bump." She'd seen that humiliation happen to better women. Sighing, she returned the ice cream to its rightful place.

Surely Jonas Singh was telling the truth. Things like this could be verified. They had to be verified if the Times had printed it. They could have held the guy down, tried his blood again. The machine always gave the same prediction. What if he'd used someone else's blood? (But did it really matter? After all, that meant someone was going to be killed by ANGELINA JOLIE, anyway.)

She found herself wanting to contact him-- "but wait," she said aloud, "that would just raise the chances of my killing him." But then after all, wasn't that unavoidable? The machine had never yet been wrong.

"Fuck it," she said, not wanting to think through this puzzle, this maze of red tape. She wished Brad was home right now so they could go lie in bed like people in a movie and talk it out, his hands behind his head, downy armpit hair tickly, and she would probably cry on him, like a movie, and in the end there would be a cut to the next scene, and Jonas Singh would probably be biking down a street in the early-morning-shooting sunlight.

How am I going to kill him? Jesus, how is it going to happen? She sank into the too-comfortable couch and closed her eyes. Is this some kind of self-fulfilling prophecy, or would it have happened even if I'd never heard of him? She was reminded of Kirsten Dunst's apparent fate: OEDIPAL. That was all the machine had told her, and when Angelina had first heard that it had made her laugh. Apparently it had driven Kirsten crazy.

She wondered what her own fate was. Maybe now she would have to have the test done. Maybe it would say JONAS SINGH and that would shut everyone up. She doubted that, though; the machine seemed to be kind of a smartass to Angelina. "NATURAL CAUSES," yeah right. She hadn't wanted Brad to do it, hadn't wanted to be reminded of their mortality, even if the cause of death seemed innocuous enough. The whole idea of the machine was really kind of annoying, made her feel worried and queasy. She didn't like to think about death.

She thought about checking her e-mail and knew immediately that there would be over two hundred messages, and those only from her friends. Nevertheless, she turned on her Mac and logged in.

She checked her old e-mail address, the one she hadn't used in five years, first, because of a vague half-baked idea that her father would have written something. He hadn't, of course, and though she was over that she felt a distinct anger. She knew he had pored over the article, probably carefully with his reading glasses on, and she knew he wanted to say something to her about it but he wouldn't because of the stupid feud. Damn it. It just pissed her off was all. She wished Brad was back already. She wanted to call him, but probably he was on the plane. She hoped he was on the plane. She had suspected, lately, that he was screwing around on her, but she didn't want to think about it. Probably that was unfounded anyway, probably she was just being paranoid like always. Jesus, she couldn't think straight. She pushed herself up and got up, intending to take a long hot shower. She didn't want to see anyone or talk to anyone, but, at the same time, she kind of did.

Mostly she just wanted to talk to Brad. Or maybe her brother. Doubtless her brother had called, but she had unplugged the phone, and Angelina was not planning to return any calls.

She felt eyes boring at her through the thick curtains and knew it was the paparazzi, stationed out there waiting for any sign of movement. Jesus Christ, like she needed this in her life right now. She needed a bodyguard. She needed Brad, really, but she knew if she thought about him too much he would smell the desperation on her when he kissed her hello, and he would think she was a needy whiner. He had practically said as much about one of his exes once, and she had never forgotten it.

She walked up the stairs. The house was oddly quiet (but then it was very well insulated). She trusted Rosa with the kids; probably they were all in the playroom. Her nerves felt scraped and raw. She wondered if she had killed Jonas Singh already, somehow, without knowing it. Sometime last night, guilt had snuck onto her shoulders and was now wrapped around her snugly like a shawl. It was not going to go away soon. Maybe not ever. Oh, God.

Passing through their luxurious bedroom on the way to the shower (how much time had been spent in that bed? hours upon hours, but somehow not nearly enough), she paused and turned on the TV (high-def). She had been almost expecting it, but the shock slammed into her like a brick wall anyway when she saw her own face on the screen, an announcer glibly yammering behind it. "Minnesota photojournalist and war vet Jonas Singh got a shocker last week when he took the obligated death test and his paper said he was fated to die by ANGELINA JOLIE. After getting the same result four times, Singh, though utterly bewildered, seems to be dealing well with this news.

"The same cannot necessarily be said for Ms. Jolie, however. She has returned no calls and has not left the house since last night." The picture switched to a shot from outside Angelina's house, and with another jolt she realized it was live, it was being filmed right now. Her heart twitched. Jesus! She felt more trapped than she had felt in years, she wanted to flee, she wanted to die. Instead, she punched the TV off and stepped under the shower, shedding her clothes only after they were already sodden, turning the knob to the scalding side. She closed her eyes and felt the water pound her. She wanted to forget everything, to turn back the clock and live in blissful ignorance, to move to, maybe, Mongolia, where no one knew who she was. A nice place to raise kids, she'd thought when she saw the movie about the cute little children, and there was so much grass, a sea of prairie. She had taken her fame well, she thought, but this was too much. This wasn't happening to anybody else. It really wasn't fair, damn it. Why her? Why this, why now? Why hadn't the machine given Jonas Singh something vaguer? She wondered again what her own fate was, if she should take the test. Maybe it would clear this up somehow. She imagined talking to Brad about it, and she knew he would want her to: ever since he'd done it he had been trying to convince her to do it too. Well hell, maybe she would, maybe she would.

She stood there with her eyes closed, feeling her skin wrinkle, for a long time. She was roused from the trance only when she heard a door bang. There was only one person with a key to this house that banged doors. She slammed the water off, peeked out past the curtain, feeling the sudden cold on her skin.

"Brad?"

He didn't answer, but she heard the TV on. That was typical of Brad too. Whenever he walked into a room he had to flip on the TV, just in case. When he was gone the house was a thousand times quieter, in spite of all the kids. She wrapped herself in her wilted robe and ventured out into the bedroom, feet soaking into the plush wine-colored carpeting. "Brad?"

He looked up fast like he had been caught doing something he shouldn't have been doing. Then, just as quickly, his face softened. "Angie, baby." He went up to her, slim-waisted and looking delicious, and kissed her searchingly. "You're all wet, hon," he said when they broke apart.

She looked up at him, getting that dreamy movie-feeling she often got being with Brad, because she had first seen him on a screen, and she felt her eyes starting to water. "Brad, what am I going to do? What am I going to do about this?" She was so glad he was here; she felt the core of her melting with that gladness. "Did you see the paparazzi outside?"

He rolled his eyes and sighed. "Had to fight my way through em. It was terrible."

"Our house was on the TV, for Christ's sake. I saw it live. This is a fucking nightmare, Brad--" And now she really was crying, sobbing onto the hard muscles of his shoulder, like she was going to hack out a lung onto his plane-wrinkled button-up shirt, like she was going to spit up the way the baby did. He held her like a good husband, and he smelled wonderful, and that in itself made her feel a hundred times better.

"Shh. Hey, hey, Angie, listen, we're gonna work this out, okay? We can work this out. We can talk to this Indian guy--"

Angelina wailed something unintelligible.

"Hang on, Angie. Come on. Let's go make you something to drink."


Over blended margaritas, they discussed it.

Brad told her there was nothing they could do really, that there was no way of figuring out how she would be the cause of his death, how she would probably not be at fault, and how she should refuse to be interviewed. He thought Jonas Singh was telling the truth, and he thought maybe Angelina should meet him. He thought Jonas Singh was a pretty weird name, and he thought Angelina should take the blood test.

"Do you think it'll make a difference to the public?"

"Yes," he said with his honest face on, and that had her mostly convinced.

"Okay, fuck it, let's get it over with. Call up Dr. Faulkner."

"You want it done right now?"

She shrugged. She rubbed her eye and black came off on her finger: her mascara had run. "Whatever."

"This is really bugging you, isn't it?"

"Has anything like this ever happened to anyone before?" She was doing her best to keep control over herself, but it wasn't easy. Her hands were shaking.

"I... I don't--"

"Well, not to anyone as famous as I am, that's for sure," she snapped. "And I can tell you this, Brad, it blows. It fucking blows."

He poured her another drink.

"I'm afraid," she confessed, "that when I try and meet him he'll just die, I'll kill him somehow by accident. I don't want to ever meet him, really. But then, I guess I do."

Brad cleared his throat. "I'll call Dr. Faulkner."


Dr. Faulkner was a wiry man with a long bulbous nose and scrappy gray facial hair. He was the kind of man who looked like he knew what he was doing. He took Angelina's blood without comment, although his lips were pressed tightly together as though he was holding something back. Well, no surprise there.

The test was much quicker than she had thought it would be. Dr. Faulkner put the vial of blood into a slot in the machine, it made some clicky rattly machine noises, and within three minutes a slip of paper had slid out. Dr. Faulkner handed it to her face down, not looking, clearly a practiced hand.

Brad was there, his arm around her shoulder. "Do you want to look?" he asked her softly. She nodded, feeling like she couldn't breathe, flashing back to the pregnancy tests she'd taken several times, getting the same sort of tense important feeling.

She turned the paper, though her hands were shaking, and what she read was disappointingly anticlimactic. This was what her life was leading to?

"INFLUENZA, CAUSED BY RUPTURED SPLEEN"?

Dr. Faulkner was standing there trying his best not to look curious. Feeling pity, Angelina read it to him. "What do you think?"

"That's one of the more specific ones," he said after a moment, raising his tufty eyebrows. "And you know it could be years in between the rupture and the flu. Really, not such a bad prognosis."

She thought of Brad's again, NATURAL CAUSES, and that shit-eating smile he'd worn. Ruptured spleen, and flu. That didn't sound great, but it didn't sound so awful.

(Did it have anything to do with Jonas Singh? She had no idea. His name was already growing infamous in her mind.)

She looked at Brad and he kissed her neck. "I'm proud of you," he said, and her heart filled up. She loved that she had married the kind of man who knew she needed to hear that. She loved him wholly, right then, despite everything.

Right then, despite everything, it seemed that things would turn out okay.


After a few weeks, the news died down. Several actresses had babies and several couples broke up, and Patrick Dempsey, it turned out, was fated to die of AIDS, and everyone just forgot about Angelina and Jonas Singh.

Everyone but Angelina and Jonas Singh.

But she lived her life as best she could. She thought of him almost every day, but after a few months she could sometimes forget about him for a whole weekend. The kids were growing, and they were planning to adopt another one, and Brad finished his Monterey movie and was home for a while, and that was nice.

In August they decided to go to Disneyland, not so far from their home, after all. (Disney World was another story. Neither of them really wanted to fly to Florida with all the kids in tow, not yet.) They packed everybody into the van, Rosa too, and Angelina took the wheel, sunglasses on. It was a nice day for August, very hot.

She stopped at a red light almost halfway there. Brad punched at the radio, changing the station to some kind of reggaeton. One of the boys started crying, and Rosa hushed him. They had thought to bring Popsicles for the drive, and Brad had remembered a cooler, and so that had been lucky.

The light turned green and Angelina tapped the gas. At the same time, someone in front of her, facing the other direction, in the other lane, revved out, and lost his control somehow-- later Rosa said she had seen a duck in the road, but another witness reported the man had been on his cell phone-- and he weaved into the lane she was driving into. Before Angelina could even think, his little white Volvo had smashed straight into the front of the van. The glass smashed, the car made a sickly crunch, and the airbags puffed out. The children started screaming. Angelina felt a sharp terrible pain in her side, but not for long, because it wasn't long until she blacked out.


She came to knowing everything. When the doctor approached her, she said calmly, despite the whistling pain in the side of her chest, "The other man was Jonas Singh, wasn't he? Is he dead?"

"No," said the doctor, looking a little taken aback. "Not yet, at least. He's badly injured, in critical condition. It wasn't your fault, everyone corroborates that."

"My family, Rosa? How are they?"

"They're fine. Your husband's legs were broken, but he's in stable condition. Everyone who was sitting in the back doesn't have anything worse than cuts and bruises. You're a very lucky family."

"And me, how am I hurt?" But she knew the answer to that one already.

"You have whiplash and your arm's fractured, and your spleen's been ruptured. But you came out pretty well. You've been getting a lot of phone calls, Mrs. Jolie."

Angelina waved them off. "Thank you, doctor," she said. She felt, oddly, less upset than she'd thought she would; she felt like a crucial puzzle piece had just clicked into place. She wanted to go and talk to poor Jonas Singh before he died; hopefully he would hang on a few more days. Right now she was beginning to be really aware of her pain: a stinging in her neck, a sharp throbbing ache in her arm, and of course that odd leaky whistle in her side. That had to be the spleen, of course.

Now all she had to do was wait for the flu and live out her life.

Sunday, April 29, 2007

malnutrition, Tom Hanks, myspace, violinist, battle axe, lactation, billboard!

The violinist was beautiful.

Ivan noticed this passively, just another thing to add to his list of what was in the world. "Beautiful violinist playing Beethoven." He rubbed his hands together in the dark of the concert hall, fought the urge to crack his knuckles. The man next to him was roiling and fat, breathing heavily and ogling the performer through a pair of opera glasses. On his other side was the flight of stairs, dimly lit from below. He wondered if there were any cripples in the front row. Probably they always had to pay extra because they couldn't climb the stairs, another point of unfairness in the life of an already disadvantaged person.

"I could be watching this woman play on YouTube," he thought vaguely. "I could watch thirty seconds of her on the little video, and then switch to my other open window, which would be my myspace account, and look at Karen's page and the pictures of her licking bottles of tequila. Instead I am at a real concert, in a real concert hall, watching a beautiful violinist solo live." The man next to him shifted a little; Ivan's arm was on the armrest and he felt the man's fat squick against him. He wasn't sure if he would have preferred to stay at home.

She played a last, lingering note, then took the instrument off her shoulder and bowed a little. The audience applauded thunderously; Ivan clapped, too, his palms damp. He pressed the button on his watch that turned on the light. It was nine-oh-eight. "I am sitting in a concert hall next to a fat man," Ivan thought, "while in Sudan children are dying of malnutrition." He had never been to Africa, but Karen had, and she had taken hundreds of pictures on her digital camera. She had called it "a trip" and "totally recalibrating." If Ivan had been home, he would have gone to Karen's flickr page and looked at some of the pictures, skinny beautiful children with bright eyes and shaven heads. She had gone to Africa more as a tourist than as a helper. Ivan couldn't blame her. He didn't really want to work, either.

The violinist was playing again. Ivan watched her appreciatively, watched the emotion in her bowing limbs, the shiny way her black hair hung, the flawlessness of her smooth Asian face, the speckles of light against her modest black outfit. He tried to imagine sleeping with her and couldn't. She was too professional. He could see himself sitting with her at the cafeteria instead. She would drink white tea and stir it with her left hand while talking dynamically of how the music felt to her, how long she had been training, how she felt in front of a crowd. And then she would ask, "Well, and what about you?"

Ivan wouldn't really know what to say to a professional Asian violinist. He stroked his little goatee and thought, "This makes me look even more like a college student." He thought, "I am a textbook college student." He was studying biology, writing his thesis on mammalian lactation. He tried to imagine himself telling the violinist that he was writing a thesis on mammalian lactation and shied away from the thought. "I'm not very impressive," he thought. "Not in this day and age."

The music grew louder, more frenetic. It made Ivan picture Vikings and pirates. He tried to place himself into the scene and discovered that as a Viking he would have been one of the slaves who rowed the dragon boats. (Was that how Vikings worked? Ivan couldn't really remember.) He could see the violinist being one of the military commanders, directing all the ruddy men who ran around waving weapons and screaming. He could see her hoisting up a battle axe triumphantly with her bowing hand and shouting, "Hail Valhalla!" (Ivan doubted he was getting Vikings right. Patrick was studying history, Patrick would know.) The lead pirate would look like Tom Hanks with a beard, disarmingly average, but then he would kick ass with a sword. He would talk more like that heroic astronaut guy than Forrest Gump, and he would swig rum constantly. Ivan grinned a little, liking this picture.

The fat man next to him grunted a little. "Pig," Ivan thought and then wondered why he had thought that. He tried hard not to hate fat people just because they were fat. It wasn't easy, because they were unattractive and seemed lazy and stupid, but Ivan knew it was wrong to assume that. "Some of my best friends are fat people," he thought wryly, but it was true. Karen weighed 254. He always thought of her when he thought of fat people, because she had mixed up his prejudices. She was smart and interesting and they talked a lot. They had slept together once, drunk, and Ivan didn't remember much of it although he knew at the time he had wanted to remember everything, knowing he would never sleep with a fat girl again. "You were good," Karen told him that Tuesday when he had asked her about it, and he had felt gratified.

The violinist stopped again. More thunderous applause; Ivan clapped hard. "Hail Valhalla," he thought. Someone, a shadow, hurried down the stairs past Ivan, and he caught a whiff of some indeterminate kind of perfume or cologne. He couldn't really tell the difference, something he had never told anyone, always feeling vaguely ashamed of that inability. "That person has to pee," he thought, and it made his own bladder twinge in sympathy.

The violinist cleared her throat; the sound, miked, startled him. "Um, I'm just going to play one more. This, uh, this is a piece I wrote when I was on the train in Europe, to perform in Germany," she said. Her voice was deeper than Ivan had thought it would be; he wasn't sure his cafeteria projection washed after all. He could no longer imagine her, enthusiastic, saying things like "I was trying to get a teacher, and then, as if God had sent it, I saw an ad that was exactly what I was looking for, right there on the billboard!" Instead he saw her, faltering, taking intermittent sips of the tea, saying, "The people in Germany were, um, very nice, but they kept offering me beer and I just couldn't drink it. You know? Have you ever been?"

He rather liked this second violinist-self better. Ivan liked doubting people; they were less intimidating. He still couldn't imagine sleeping with her, though. He tried again and failed again.

The fat man coughed, once, kind of politely, quick before the song began, so as not to interrupt. Ivan felt a surge of quick, impermanent affection toward him. "This man and I are here together," he thought. He wondered why the fat man was here. Ivan was here because he had seen a picture of the violinist looking beautiful and a good pre-review in the paper. And the concert only cost seven dollars. He thought, "After she does this one, I'll go out and buy a soda."

The violinist began to play. Ivan closed his eyes, then opened them again. He liked looking at her, liked watching the light play over her shiny black hair and clothes. As the song progressed (quick, light, rather impressive), he tried to imagine scenes of a train going to Germany. He could, sort of, because she'd said it. He wondered if he would have thought of that if she hadn't brought it up. There was no way of knowing.

The song was over too quickly, and then there was more applause, even more thunderous; a few people whistled, and everyone stood up and clapped a standing ovation. Cooperatively, Ivan stood too, clapped too. He thought, "I think I'm going to buy a brownie too."

Monday, April 23, 2007

The bugs

It's a sunny afternoon in late April and I decide to go for a walk. Nothing major, maybe clatter down the street and trudge back up again, maybe lie in the grass a little, maybe, if it's warm enough, take off all my clothes and pretend some Pan is peeping.

So I let myself out the door and down the asphalt road. Some cars drive by and it's awkward; my dog, ancient and deaf, hobbles past and doesn't hear my call, but the man in the truck does, I think. I shake the thought out and walk back up the road. I'm out of shape, and my hamstrings groan, and I start breathing heavily from the mouth.

When I make it back to my yard I collapse onto the grass, fragrant and flowering, panting, and close my eyes. When my heart rate's dropped a little I crack them open. Lately I've noticed how my vision focuses on things that move, and I let myself enjoy this: my eyes sharpen and show me a dynamic ladybug, large and spotted, climbing up a blade of grass maybe three inches from my head. I watch it a little, appreciative. If there's any bug I find pleasing it's that one.

Suddenly I feel something tickling my hand. I look down, focus on another ladybug, tiny and bright red, crawling on my knuckle. I smile a little and let it cross my hands, a trek across plains. It repulses me a little when the insect tries to sneak its crumpled wings out from under its hard red casings. They're cute when they walk, but wrong when they fly, unnatural in their awkwardness.

I let the beetle leave and rest my face on my folded arms, relaxing a little. My vision sharpens, re-sharpens, re-re-sharpens, as I move my hooded eyes. Something catches my eye more than the rest, and I frown a little. It's a ladybug like I've never seen before, bright red but with a strange asymmetrical triangle on its back instead of spots. "Fucked-up ladybug," I christen it and wonder if it's the product of a genetic mutation, a tweaked amino acid. Utilizing biology.

I watch fucked-up ladybug struggle up its blade and then I see another one. And another. And another. All of a sudden it seems impossible: there must be a dozen of these little colorful beetles crawling around me, hideous garbage-bag wings hidden under their uniquer shells, eyes painted-on and white on their black bodies, six legs scurrying aimlessly.

And then another bug catches my eye, not more than two inches away, right in front of my nose, and this time I gasp. I've never seen anything like it before, don't know what it's called: an orange-bodied, praying-mantis-like inch-long creature with blue wing cases and small, intelligent-looking black eyes. Its feelers wave cautiously as it scales the blade of grass. I watch it, transfixed, wondering if it's real. It reminds me of a dragon, looks like it's about to take off any moment, unfurling and exhaling mysterious flame.

And now my skin is crawling. I'm lying in the grass, sun warming my hair, and there are insects all around me. I've never seen so many in one place in my life. "I must be high," I think, though I know I'm not. "This must be a hallucination," I think. There's no way it could be real.

I am suspended there for too long, learning the ladybugs, learning the other bugs, and then my belt pokes at my hip and the spell is broken, I hoist myself up and run for my house, let myself back in the door, careful to breathe as if everything were normal, careful to keep it a secret.

Run my fingers through my hair, though, just to make sure it's not alive.

Blink away the immediacy of six-times-hundreds flailing legs.

Monday, April 09, 2007

you are vegan and it is disorienting

you came over and we made zucchini.
you are vegan and it is disorienting.
you steamed the zucchini and it was green and soft.
i looked at you and your hair was very yellow and soft.
i looked at the clock and it was two-twenty-eight.
you were going to leave at five.
i felt uncomfortable because there were leftover meatballs in the fridge and also turkey and skinless boneless chicken breasts and milk and cheese and butter.
i did not feel ashamed of my meat and dairy products but i wanted to hide them from you.
you drank orange juice and talked about your ant farm.
i was bored and wanted to fuck on the kitchen counter.
we added paprika to the zucchini.
we added raw cauliflower sprigs.
i was glad i had bought vegetables.
you had brought a thing of yeast.
my kitchen was very bright and un-mysterious.
your skin gleamed and your eyes drooped.
i wondered if you would look different if you were not vegan.
you said that last night you had slept for fourteen hours.
you said you had found a pager and you wanted to page me.
i told you i would make you a mixtape.
we ate the vegetables and they had turned out okay and a little mushy.
we went to my computer and looked at my songs.
i made you a mixtape with a lot of classical spanish music on it.
i drew flowers on the mixtape with a thin-tipped sharpie.
i looked at your bony toes.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

love triptych

I.
thinking about you
makes me
hungry,
and sometimes i feel sick.
your eyes, clear as an actor's, start a fizzing inside of me
and iridescent bubbles glimmer in my
alimentary canal,
shyly glowing a little, if you know where to look,
and it gets so i can't talk to you
(as if i could, anyway, come up with
something to
say).
more often than not i blurt an excuse and
flee--
cramming my mouth with pears and apples,
poor substitutes for your kisses.

II.
dear,
biting through your tendon
was a time of my life:
feeling the twist against my teeth,
the vital living flesh,
tatsing the iron blood as it coursed down my lips, your neck,
like some furious-german river;
your skin so tender and thin, your blood so pure, distilled as
bottled water;
the little gasp when i punctured
will stay with me forever,
aurally erotic legend.
and so will the knowledge that now, inside me, there you are,
atoms mixing with my own, molecules unwinding
and (kindly) rewinding again;
"you are what you eat,"
and i love you.

III.
onscreen,
the cleft in angelina jolie's lip
reminds me of you;
at home,
the plates remind me of yours, the first time i saw you--
cafeteria lasagna, that thick white industrial china
(easy wash).
when i'm driving sometimes i stop in the middle of the street,
horns our symphony,
catching sight of a boy in a beret biking
or a graffiti'd up stop sign
or, god forbid, a rainbow.
babe, you've ruined
a dozen songs for me;
two tv shows, four movies, make me curl up and cry.
and the phone, christ, the phone!
it can't ring without my first thought being of you.
too bad you won't let me call anymore.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

pickering

Germany was home; I couldn't change that. Pickering thought it was abominable, which irked me. "I don't think less of you because you're from Rhode Island."

"Rhode Island didn't elect Hitler," he retorted.

These sorts of conversations usually degraded into exchanged "fuck you"s and "fuck your country"s, simmering baleful glares, and at least one of us stalking off. Once they had actually led to physical blows. This was because Pickering was a full-blown jerk. Among all of us, this was established; everyone by now had resignedly accepted his assholitude. Still, somehow, there was something about him which attracted me. I had always dated boys who had later turned out to be secret jerks, but never had I been interested in one while already knowing the extent of his stupidity. Thus, I reasoned, I was definitely not into Pickering. Not even a little bit. Hell no.

I went home and looked at atlases. Berlin, now divided. When I was seven I went there with my father for a weekend; I remember taking a day off of school for it.

'Rhode Island can bite me,' I thought, then pretended I hadn't.

In the shower that evening, the water bouncing and running off the oils of my skin, I mentally defended my country to him. I dug out all the national history we had made reports on in grade school from the crevasses of my mind, and presented it too proudly to my not-quite-friend, dodging all his arguments with the grace of a ballerina. (In my mind, that was. When I tried to debate Pickering for real, I was always the one who got red and flustered while he'd stare me down, he'd always keep his cool.)

He had a girlfriend, a peachy thing with an incongruous Bostonian accent, and when he kissed her in public I blushed for the both of them. They lived together and I knew they slept together, but fiercely denied it to myself. I was sure he was an expert in bed, but denied that too.

Pickering was thin, tall and European-looking, with pinched features and a brown-blond, scraggly goatee. He was barely in his thirties but already balding. I told him he looked Germanic, but, infuriatingly, he remained supremely unruffled. I couldn't push his buttons, probably because he knew that was the way to push mine. He made me want to punch things, to crack bones, but I spent hours imagining the freckles on his thighs, the taste of his sweat.

I knew he would stay faithful to the girlfriend; he was that sort. It made me angrier. I wanted to kidnap him, to force him onto a jet plane to my little country town in Germany, to fuck him on the grass until even he, so imperturbable, gasped for breath. I knew it would never happen.

I spent all weekend painting him in my mind. I wanted to break his heart.