Ask me anything
I want to go back to this and edit it, but here it is for now. We had to write about a song reminding us of a place.
“Sultans of Swing”, Dire Straits
It was the type of night that looks like something solid from a car, like you’re some shining drill of light pushing your way quietly through an eternal mountain to the other side, wherever. But occasionally the car would swing around and I’d see that the curve of the road was cut out from the side of a peat mountain, that there was barely any space between us and the sea far below and the tiny fence that made the boundary real. And then I’d remember that I’d been in Shetland for less than 24 hours after traveling for 36 to get there. That I was in a car with a strange, stiff, quiet boy, his sister who laughed and rode horses, and a guy from a city in Scotland I’d never heard of. That I was in the middle of a year in my life that seemed to exult in finding ways to eat me slowly, heart first. But this wasn’t my high school. This was an archipelago full of wind and faded colors and quiet, quiet everywhere, quiet that was so strong and so alive that it didn’t disappear when you spoke. The quiet was itself and you could stand beside it, being changed but still remaining. There was quiet in the car when “Sultans of Swing” started playing. I would have liked the riff no matter what, probably, and I probably would’ve asked what the song was. Instead I was silent and, abruptly, vividly happy. There I was again.
Someone delivered the news and we stood up without questions or any sound at all that was of our choosing. There were no shoes, either, just the dirty linoleum steps and then the pavement, still hot but soaked with the evening. We had become one thing, and we did not need to look at each other to know how we were supposed to move.
We turned towards the light by the side of the bench, where she was crouched making some noise that we didn’t know but that we had to attend to, had to pick up and carry for her because that was who we had become in the dark. When we made a semicircle around her our shadows bit into the light and she looked up, gulping and dirty with crying. The counselor was waiting for us, not quite touching the bench because it was hers and tonight nothing that was hers was to be touched by anyone else. The counselor saw what had happened to us, that we were ready, and she whispered something about the hospital, the parking lot. She was gold under the light like that was the color of the shadow of the grief circling her, trying to find a place to land.
The counselor asked if she was ready to go, and she hobbled up. As we walked she tried to fix it, walk like there wasn’t some horrible secret that she couldn’t destroy even if she looked like a hero on the way to the car. There was only so far she could push her shoulders out and even as they became metal in the streetlight the thing still flew, waiting to see if it could nest inside of her. She were laced with a grandness that was now hers even if it had been forced upon her by the thing she didn’t know, by us around her. We were only ceremonial, and there was nothing for us to do but to protect her crouching under her new skin of armor.
When we got to the end of the path she drifted to the curb. She were not quite in the parking lot but she was thinking about it, away from us and not exalted. There wasn’t time for her to become someone whose job is to hold their uncertainty, the fear that’s ready to snap into grief if touched, regally around them like a cape or a name we would whisper afterward. But there was something there in the street behind the lot, a tiny beacon, and it wasn’t for any of us standing. We were there to wait and not shock the waiting alive. But as we stood, all of us, I thought that I saw it breaking, that maybe it would happen anyway. And then I opened my mouth and shivered, because there I was and I had no other eyes.
The step forward happened like a trip over a curb, or a fence, and then she turned and I had nothing to do but wait as she stood still. I had come from nowhere and I had taken my helmet off, and I was not supposed to touch her. We spent a moment either deciding or being afraid, but then she fell into me and collapsed as the fear came out, both of ours, wet and sobbing, into our shoulders.
(note to self: edited 4/17)
((‘pologies for the repost))
Halfway through visiting him, I showed him photos of my room
so he would know where I lived,
where I still live because it’s small and painted to fit me,
a plaster cast, and I can’t break it, can’t leave. I always sit in the corner
of my bed, at the corner of a wall thin enough for me to
feel cold when I press my back against it, not a wall but a window.
I do the same thing every time there’s no other choice it’s a tradition
everything that can leave me yells at
everything that can’t and there’s a whole crowd of them
thick and sweaty and I can’t tell if they’re tourists or if they live here too
(maybe I should know by now I come here often) but
they stand looking at the pictures at the paint on my wall remarking
or trying to go someplace but there’s nowhere else to go but my room
sometimes they jostle me by accident or step on my feet, my hands
and they never stop making noise
Sometimes I try to decide
if I can understand them or if it’s just by accident
that their screaming sounds like words
tonight one of those screaming things bangs loud enough that
its echo lands on the bed next to us
he looks away from it for a while but finally I take it
put it on his lap, and it’s hidden in the sudden creases of his jeans.
He looks out at something, says “I always hurt people”, like
there are piles of people here, in his room
I stepped on them to enter and now he’s about
to throw me down.
Maybe he’s worried that he won’t have space
to walk anymore,
that he’ll be trapped on the bed with his knees
too close to his chest and tiny because there is no room,
with what he lets himself forget about dripping
over the rims of him because there is no room,
and he is thinking about how if only
he would have room to stretch his legs,
he could take my eyes in his
as much as he wanted to. But I stay
on the bed, because once I get up
it will all belong to his legs
so instead I stay
as his legs slam me into my room
but he’s attached somehow and suddenly we’re there together
He doesn’t recognize it
he thinks there are still bodies on the floor
but I’m the only one who lives here and
my bodies don’t have space to fall down. I’ve forgotten
what I look like because they’re standing between me and the mirror,
between me and the window, and it doesn’t matter
what I look like, doesn’t matter if I’m naked or not
because everything about me was already
open and outside and making a cloud of noise
he could look up, pluck a truth out of it
He would barely have to try
but his face is in his hands.
I am gone, he can’t see me, but in my room
I am still everywhere and am not crying in there, no,
shaking isn’t crying being small isn’t crying
I’m not the one making noise
but I’m in his room, too,
and I pick up my coat and try not
to touch anything on the floor
before I shut the door.
(I guess I’ll post this here, too)
Sometimes, the street still disappears. Someone will use a word I haven’t heard in a long time, or there will be a fence or a football field that looks too familiar, and I won’t be able to keep the street under me anymore and all there will be is you, tiny and sixteen with eyes huge like a fairy’s and wrists so thin that I could crack them if I just could move my arms and take one side in one hand, the other in the other, and wince. But I can’t, because your wrists are heavy around the hilt of a knife and I’m up against a brick wall at the back of my high school, and my body is hanging around me without being able to land. The brook is running behind us, and I can’t see it but the smell of it is sweet and dirty and as it clouds up, it rusts the dusk. I run my tongue around the top of my lip and realize that there’s something salty already dripping there that got there before I did. I knew where I was going to be, but not that you’d kept a part of me there waiting.
When I try to scream, you cover my mouth with a hand that doesn’t make sense, that’s too fast, but it doesn’t matter because there’s no air inside my throat. I can touch your skin with my tongue and decide that maybe this time I’ll try to bite you. I move my teeth and they go through, but you just frown a little, take your hand back, and hit me with the bottom of it so my spit’s stuck to my face. You stand back, and as soon as I see the knife come out of your back pocket my arms can move again. They swing forward and I don’t stop them, even though I know this isn’t a fight, it’s a dollhouse, and you don’t move out of the way. My fist forces your chin upwards, into the light, and the tip of it glows orange like a match before the shadow of the building snuffs it out again.
You step forward, and I move back against the wall. Instead of watching you and the thing you’re holding I look at the houses behind you, try to hear the brook, and I can’t tell if they’re in the right places or not. If things are shifted, I can’t tell how you’ve done it. Every time is different and it doesn’t matter, because anything I see will be gone once the knife finds me. There was a while when I’d come here and you would give my arms back, and when you did I tried to touch anything that was close to me, to be able to say what it meant and if the way I felt it was wrong, if the way I moved around it is wrong, and what parts of myself didn’t work. But I don’t do that anymore, because it’s your job to show me. I’m the hero, but this is your story, and that means you win.
The knife comes closer and I still haven’t had time to understand how you’ve renamed everything, and when I can’t tell the difference between your voice and the world anymore it means that, maybe, you’re just telling you the names that were always there. Maybe you’re just releasing them like animals in cages, and all I have to chain myself to these shifting islands of muscle watching us is the knife that comes and hurts too much to name, too much to take out.
(for a prompt with Shaan)
There’s a note dropped in a gutter,
choked on sludge that
pours over and over it again.
It said “remember inhaler” and
someone’s freezing, throat crumpling as I
take the note in my hands and squeeze it
and he remembers, and I
You rose above me like the walls
of a room, denim legs and a bare chest
and curved down to meet me.
I touched you
and you shuddered in the light of the television.
I asked what was wrong, and you
shook your head. “That felt so good”
and when you said it I remembered
how young we were, you small even in your height
and me shivering under blankets. We huddled
together for help
as we let ourselves be opened.
When you left my room,
waved and shut the door,
I sat back against the wall.
your lips still swaying against mine.
When you had been gone
for a while and called me
to tell me you couldn’t do it anymore,
I was sitting on the floor. As I talked
to you my knees crawled closer
to my chest, your listening silence
leaking from the phone.
By the end I was curled up
like I was the first day you came,
sitting on either side of my bed when
I wanted you to come closer,
to wrap me in yourself so we could feel
for the first time how to understand each other
by filling up spaces. You
couldn’t see me now—
you didn’t know, and maybe
that’s why you couldn’t do it anymore
but I was rocking back and forth
to try to feel you again before
we hung up and you were gone.
She built cities upon cities and there was a house for him in each one. In a few cities it was the first thing she made, an intricate, glistening palace that the rest of the city radiated out from, reverently leaving the center untouched. Sometimes he would sneak into an apartment or an empty classroom in a university where she hadn’t meant to put him, carving out a small place within her.
She drew domes and bricks and street plans all over her notebooks until the thin paper was clogged with ink. He was in all of them, and she neither could evict him nor enter to see him. He wasn’t always easy to find, but the feel of him was there, in the way a certain street corner looked like one where they’d been together, or in the books left on a table somewhere.
Getting into the cities had always been a problem. She was an architect who was never able to walk through the spaces she’d surrounded with walls or meet the people who lived there. Imagining moving from one part of the city to another made her feel fluid and graceful, because her places were built according to the way her mind ordered the things she saw, even though there always seemed to be a wall between her and the buildings she took out of herself. Still, she set these extensions of herself out into roads that she could never walk on, and eventually he started to follow even the narrow alleys that were almost oily with her worry and fear. He never looked happy to be there, quite—sometimes his face was so lonely that he felt guilty that she couldn’t come to him, rub his tall back slowly, and comfort him. But he never wanted to leave.
She couldn’t enter and tell him to stop invading the cities that she hadn’t built for him, but she could always see him, looking at him as if through a window from a dark street. Once in a while he would be with someone else, shadowy and small. She would be unable to stop watching as they brought each other down on a couch or into a seat on a train, his huge height collapsing and his thinness remaining, and the someone else, who she couldn’t be but was, would turn to him and look up as he looked down, watching the same feeling rise in each other’s faces. She could feel the rhythm of their thoughts as they rolled against her glassy wall together. One night, when they were in a bedroom almost like her own, she could see the inside of their heads whirring with the same machinery.
After catching him with the shadow a few times, it became harder to avoid him than to find him. The smell of him would waft up from the bed sheets she collected from each of the houses in one of her more secret cities, clouding her until she had to drop the linens to wipe her tearing eyes. It was almost impossible to look in at the few cities that she had made for him now. Understanding what they had become without her, even as they still remained within her, seemed like it could somehow destroy her.
The first city without a room for him wasn’t supposed to be that way. It was built as a spiraling, precariously balanced mobile, where every building and road hung as a counterweight for another. After she had finished hanging the last bauble, she stepped behind the glass and watched it wobble and tinkle through the empty space surrounding it. She stood for a long time, examining it, wondering why it wasn’t quite beautiful.
The motion was sudden, like she had been startled into it. She brought her hands together in what was almost a cup, squeezing out first the head of a heavy mallet and then its handle. Clenching it with both hands, she swung it at one of the spheres that was his. It shattered, releasing the same smell that had come from the bed sheets. The city jolted forward, and another house tilted towards her. She smashed the mallet into it, and the city shook. She did this with every place that was his, her hands blistering as a ghostly gray mist began to cloud above the mobile. When she had destroyed the last, the city had become obscured with dark, oozing clouds. She sat down and placed her mallet in front of her as the rain thrashed the streets. It washed the shards from the gutters of the city, but even as the pavement began to shine with light, the smell still rose from the cobblestones like steam.
I’d been telling you about this place for a long, long time, but I brought you here because of the quiet. I wish I could say that it was ours, tell you that the weight of this place could hold you because all it does is amplify a hush that sits inside both of us. But the quiet here is its own. It belongs to the place, is the place, lives in those layers of dusky mist and bronze light. It stands by the edge of the water, not waiting to be carried away (not waiting for anything), but just watching as the vast openness of the sea throws itself against the peat cliffs falling into it. They’ve been flanking the water there for millions of years, guarding it like it’s a temple.
We drove to the edge of the shallow hills on a road that’s just a cut between the grass scabbed over with concrete. If we saw lights, we turned them off—we switched off the headlights, made a fire on the beach and covered it with stones. Then we found a place to sit and brought the hood of the night around us as we lifted our chins into the windy, ancient silence.
We were out of words—I didn’t have any tears left and you were tired from not being able to cry. Your body was small and tight and in a place that looked different from where I was sitting, like it was a separation that you carried with you no matter where you were. As we watched the water cut softly against the shore, I almost said that I hoped that this place would make you feel like you wouldn’t have to be the keeper of your own silence anymore, that maybe here you could be surrounded by a quiet that didn’t question but only gently opened itself for you. I’d learned that I couldn’t do anything but listen, but maybe I could give you a place for when you lost your words. You could be the water, and I could be the cliffs.
I stood up, stretched, and told you I’d wait by the car.
theroundocean asked: Stumbled across this blog and am absolutely amazed. This writing is so so stunning, I am so impressed!! I wonder how old you are, this is some of the best prose I've ever read in my life:)
glad to find such a wonderous blog to follow!
Wow, thank you! Sorry for the (probably really late) reply- I changed my main tumblr and haven’t checked this one much. But yes. Thank you v.v. much 8DDDD. (And I’m 18.)
The phone call stops us at the top of a hill. I watch sheets of lowering light push through the clouds as Tyler answers, the sunset lacing the edge of his back in a glow that he can’t quite brush off. Neither of us has spoken for a while. When he starts to talk I open my mouth too, spitting into the boggy moss.
Tyler puts the phone away. “Sorry about that. They want me to play at the hotel. In an hour.” He looks off in the direction of the car. “We have to go back. Sorry.”
“It’s fine.” I shiver suddenly. “That sunset is so beautiful.” As soon as I talk I regret it, feeling the quiet dignity I’ve started to build disappear.
Tyler blinks at me. “You must have sunsets at home.”
I almost laugh. “Yeah, but not like that.”
He turns away and we’re silent again, only smiling quickly when I fall down on the way to the road. We slam the car doors and Tyler jolts the car forward. I press my arm against the window, watching the place—covered with stark grass and laced with a comforting directness— that over two weeks has started to grow into my own. After a few minutes, Tyler points at the sky, now curled in layers of tan. “There’s your sunset.”
I shake my head. He smirks and quietly, almost in apology, pushes in a CD. The car roars with a song I know and I start singing to it almost before I realize I recognize it. Tyler licks his lips, starts tapping his fingers on the steering wheel, and on the first notes of the chorus he sings along with me. I look at him and get louder, daring him to follow me. He does and by the time we get back to his house we’ve forgiven each other.
Once Tyler gets his fiddle we go to pick up his friend Jerry. I can see his shadow stretching by the window as he picks up his guitar and comes out to meet us. There’s something about how genuine his “hello” is that makes me like him instantly, and it almost distracts me from how strange it is to hear Tyler having a conversation in the car.
It’s completely dark by the time we get to the hotel, and I huddle inside my coat as we walk to the back door. They’re both taller than me. Jerry carries his height as if he doesn’t realize he has it, but Tyler uses it as something to stare out from. I look for Tyler’s nervousness as I hold the door open for them. Once I see it tracing his face I look away, pretending I don’t. We let him lead us past the manager, who’s relieved to see them, and over to the bar.
The bartender is barely older than Jerry. His thin hair bends along the sides of his face, too stiff to curve properly, and it shadows his forehead as he smiles at us. He starts talking to Tyler and Jerry and I stand behind them, trying to feel included as they roll their eyes at the people standing in the lobby. I laugh with them, hoping they’ve forgotten that I’m a visitor too.
We get sodas and sit down, pulling up three flowered armchairs around a table near the front of the lobby. The hotel is strangely indistinct- it’s not built from the island, but from its visitors, who could be from anywhere. All the guests in the lobby are from the same conference. They look at us as Tyler and Jerry tune, and I look back, trying to make them notice that I’m not a guest here.
Jerry strums his guitar and puts his pick in his mouth. “What should we play?”
“Dunno.” Tyler drops his pile of music on the table and flips through until he finds something easy enough. “This?”
Jerry shrugs, plaid falling over his bony shoulders as he peers at the music. “Yeah, that looks good.”
Tyler looks over at me for a second, and before I can come up with an opinion he looks away and starts playing. His eyes are closed. He grimaces when he slips, but nothing else about him changes. Even when he stops he doesn’t look embarrassed, because that’s what the stopping means.
I get up and move to the window as they start something else, a song one of the women asked for that Tyler seemed surprised about. The town is still lit, and the glare from the lights throws my face over the harbor. Tyler’s music seems tiny when I’m not sitting next to it—people talk over the playing and even I feel louder as I start to notice myself again, watching from the window. My eyes look like they’re sinking into the murk of the water, and when I blink I realize that I’m exhausted.
Tyler’s still playing when I sit down again—Jerry’s up getting a real drink. It’s not the music that’s loud. There’s an absence of feeling that floats above Tyler, something that covers me too and misses Jerry as he laughs at the bar. The two of us are clenching a silence within ourselves. I don’t know what’s inside of Tyler’s but I see him holding it, trembling across from mine as he smashes music from his fiddle.