You know how hard it is sometimes just to walk on the streets downtown, how everything enters you the way the scientists describe it—photons streaming through bodies, caroming off the air, the impenetrable brick of buildings an illusion—sometimes you can feel how porous you are, how permeable, and the man lurching in circles on the sidewalk, cutting the space around him with a tin can and saying Uhh! Uhhhh! Uhh! over and over is part of it, and the one in gold chains leaning against the glass of the luggage store is, and the one who steps toward you from his doorway, meaning to ask something apparently simple, like What’s the time, something you know you can no longer answer; he’s part of it, the body of the world which is also yours and which keeps insisting you recognize it. And the trouble is, you do, but it’s happening here, among the crowds and exhaust smells, and you taste every greasy scrap of paper, the globbed spit you step over, your tongue is as thick with dirt as though you’ve fallen on your hands and knees to lick the oil-scummed street, as sour as if you’ve been drinking the piss of those men passing their bottle in the little park with its cement benches and broken fountain. And it’s no better when you descend the steps to the Metro and some girl’s wailing off-key about her heart—your heart— over the awful buzzing of the strings, and you hurry through the turnstile, fumbling out the money that’s passed from how many hands into yours, getting rid of all your change except one quarter you’re sure she sees lying blind in your pocket as you get into a car and the doors seal themselves behind you. But still it isn’t over. Because later, when you’re home, looking out your window at the ocean, at the calm of the horizon line, and the apple in your hand glows in that golden light that happens in the afternoon, suffusing you with something you’re sure is close to peace, you think of the boy bagging groceries at Safeway, of how his face was flattened in a way that was familiar—bootheel of a botched chromosome—and you remember his canceled blue eyes, and his hands, flaking, rash-reddened, that lifted each thing and caressed it before placing it carefully in your sack, and the monotonous song he muttered, paper or plastic, paper or plastic, his mouth slack, a teardrop of drool at the corner; and you know he’s a part of it too, raising the fruit to your lips you look out at the immense and meaningless blue and know you’re inside it, you realize you’re eating him now.
Physics says: go to sleep. Of course you’re tired. Every atom in you has been dancing the shimmy in silver shoes nonstop from mitosis to now. Quit tapping your feet. They’ll dance inside themselves without you. Go to sleep.
Geology says: it will be all right. Slow inch by inch America is giving itself to the ocean. Go to sleep. Let darkness lap at your sides. Give darkness an inch. You aren’t alone. All of the continents used to be one body. You aren’t alone. Go to sleep.
Astronomy says: the sun will rise tomorrow, Zoology says: on rainbow-fish and lithe gazelle, Psychology says: but first it has to be night, so Biology says: the body-clocks are stopped all over town and History says: here are the blankets, layer on layer, down and down.
You are so serious, as if a glacier spoke in your ear or you had to walk through the great gate of Kiev to get to the living room.
I worry about this because I love you. As if it weren’t grotesque enough that we live in hydrogen and breathe like atomizers, you have to think I’m a great architect!
and you float regally by on your incessant escalator, calm, a jungle queen. Thinking it a steam shovel. Looking a little uneasy. But you are yourself again, yanking silver beads off your neck.
Remember, the Russian Easter Overture is full of bunnies. Be always high, full of regard and honor and lanolin. Oh ride horseback in pink linen, be happy! and ride with your beads on, because it rains.
My boyfriend says I’m not trustworthy because I have so many names. I can’t conceive of living without. I can’t see why it makes me dishonest, although I was having tea with a client/friend recently and I said I wondered how much the internet will spur the fragmentation of our personalities. It seems to me the worthier mission is to live like who you are all the time, completely, everywhere, to wear your singular name like a skin.
He asked me to sign Coming and Crying and I asked under which name, and he said I didn’t have to if I didn’t want to. I signed Charlotte Shane and I somehow misspelled it. I’d never written the name by hand before.
I am earning wrinkles, the finest feathering of lines below each eye. I only notice them during work appointments because the makeup makes them more noticeable. I feel a mix of pride and horror. I like the way they look but I know no one else will and one day soon when the rest of me begins looking old, too, I’ll hate them.
I took a class with this man and tried to be only in myself but I did look at his bare arms as he sat behind the desk and at his legs as the fabric of his shorts slid slowly away when he was inverted. I wondered if I’d lost any chance of having sex with him by thinking about it so much. I did not try to make myself attractive before coming. I was unshowered. I shook out my morning hair and folded over my legs.
“You were a philosophy major,” one man asked me. “No,” I lied, confused. I made something up. I can’t remember what I write on my ads or in emails or on my website.
I saw a young man who reminded me of my brother. No no no, oh no, I thought, as soon as I met him. No no, you should have a girlfriend. I can’t take your money. I can’t spend the night. I cataloged all the features of his face that were like my brother’s and therefore like mine, and also those that were not.
Sometimes it’s so dark and the train moves so slowly that it seems as though we’ve fallen away from the world.
Hey you, the unfair tyrants… You the lovers of the darkness… You the enemies of life… You’ve made fun of innocent people’s wounds; and your palm covered with their blood You kept walking while you were deforming the charm of existence and growing seeds of sadness in their land
Wait, don’t let the spring, the clearness of the sky and the shine of the morning light fool you… Because the darkness, the thunder rumble and the blowing of the wind are coming toward you from the horizon Beware because there is a fire underneath the ash
Who grows thorns will reap wounds You’ve taken off heads of people and the flowers of hope; and watered the cure of the sand with blood and tears until it was drunk The blood’s river will sweep you away and you will be burned by the fiery storm.
6:20am: NPR’s All Things Considered reports that a Tunisian poem has become a rallying cry in both Tunisia and Egypt. The poem, as read by an Al Jazeera journalist, is among the most famous works of an early 20th century Tunisian poet named Abu al-Qasim al-Shabi.
Call yourself alive? Look, I promise you that for the first time you’ll feel your pores opening like fish mouths, and you’ll actually be able to hear your blood surging though all those lanes, and you’ll feel light gliding across the cornea like the train of a dress. For the first time you’ll be aware of gravity like a thorn in your heel, and your shoulder blades will ache for want of wings. Call yourself alive? I promise you you’ll be deafened by dust falling on the furniture, you’ll feel your eyebrows turning into two gashes, and every memory you have – will begin a Genesis.
Of course the person carrying a packed-at-the-last minute keffiyeh and the latest issue of Overland Journal got tested for explosives at airport. That person was me, and the man wearing a Motörhead t-shirt.
(Less than 24 hours until I see my little sister for the first time in a year!)