Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Duke Ellington and Cab Calloway
I remember calling you from a pay phone. It was raining, and the receiver felt like lukewarm slime in my hand. There was the static-ridden purr of the dial tone. You picked up and I heard part of a breath transmitted over all of the wires between us.
“Yeah?” You sounded sleepy. Or maybe you had been crying. I didn’t like to think so, so I imagined you waking on your front porch from a lazy day nap. Maybe the sun was shining a little more through the hole in the screen where the cat had clawed. Maybe it wasn’t. I don’t know. I don’t know anything.
“Hi,” I said. I felt stupid. I cleared my throat and tried again. “It’s George.”
“Hi, George.” You were silent. I heard you start to speak, a consonant escaping before being dragged back into your lips, but then you didn’t speak. I felt angry for no reason.
“I got here okay. I thought you’d want to know. Sorry.”
“Don’t apologize. I did.” A hesitation. “I’m glad.”
I looked into the clouded window of the video store neighboring the phone. A man with a sizeable gut was ambling from customer to customer. His shirt was partially untucked and a mustard stain dotted the back. I don’t know how that happens, unless he turns his head around completely to eat like in The Exorcist. You made me pea soup once, and it was too salty, but you made it for me and I wanted it at that moment to warm my insides out.
“I should probably go. I’m not sure where I am exactly.”
“You didn’t check in with Moe first?”
“No, I just got off the bus.” I heard a sigh at this from the other end. “What?”
“Nothing. Just- take care of yourself, George. Please?”
“I will. I promise.”
I think you hung up first. I heard a voice as I hung up telling me to wait, to come back, to kiss you until neither of us could feel our lips. When I picked the phone up again, there was no one there. I’m pretty sure it was wishful thinking.
Moe was a sloth. I liked that about him. He had the little eyes, the lazy smile. His attitude - it was like empathy, but a permanent state of calm understanding that I didn’t need to feel responsible for. It was not the sympathetic stares of mutual friends, the searching for a victim and an aggressor. Of course I was the latter, and they would never know. Catherine left me believing that it had been her choice. I was happy for her. She wasn’t trapped in a Celtic knot like the two of us are.
I unpacked and we sat at the table, listening to a classic, a song so overplayed it becomes a part of the Earth’s audible fabric. He asked how long I was staying, and I told him I didn’t know. He was satisfied.
I sipped a beer and wrote letters to you in my mind.
After a couple of weeks of sitting on my cash, stretching drinks throughout the day at bars I didn’t particularly want to make my own, I decided that I might as well get a job. I knew you didn’t like it when I wasted my time, anyway.
First place I walked into gave me a generic form to fill out. Second place eyed me warily, then dismissively once they determined that I wanted to earn money, not spend it. Six places in and I lucked out.
“Can you start today?” The manager was a wrinkled woman, pale and saggy like whipped cream sitting on a counter for too long.
I got an apron, I got a nametag. She forgot to write the “o”, one of those oversights that happen when you’ve got a lot of nothing on your mind.
So my name was Gerge and I flipped burgers, not spreadsheets, for the first time in years.
I had a dream last night. I think it was part of a memory, but mostly a dream. We were climbing fences. Every time we scaled one, there was another 4 feet away. They separated auburn grassed backyards of these little cookie cutter houses straight out of my childhood. Each backyard was barren in that golden way that makes you crazy to look at every day, but is beautiful from up high. We finally stopped climbing and came to a red mulched garden.
You laid down on the bits of dyed, shredded bark and looked above my head.
“You know what I think, George?” You spoke in your sing-song voice.
“What?” Dream-Me responded.
“I think there’s a time for us. I think that time already happened, or is happening on another plane of existence. But it’s not happening now, and it’s never going to happen to us again. The weather today is foggy and overcast. There’s a four car pile-up on I-90.”
I woke abruptly to the morning news. I had fallen asleep with the TV on, and I was wearing my work uniform, a yellow polo and a blue baseball cap with a cartoon cow smiling in dumb cartoon satisfaction. This was certainly not the time, or the place, and I strained my mind to try to remember a past life when it was.
I’m getting better at living with myself. Moe told me that you were with someone. I tell myself that makes me happy. Sometimes you have to recite lies until it becomes the truth. Control your fate, alter your own reality, you know?
I hope you’re doing the same thing. I’m working on being less sick and twisted. I smile more. I tell everyone, “Have a nice day!” I sell them burgers and I’m not okay, which is slightly better than just not being okay.
Her cheeks catch
Odansetron, Zofran, receptor sweat
Like rain in a bird bath.
He wanted to tell her to tone up
Like a grocery rack chiseled beauty.
Now that her shoulders fit
Easily in the cup of his hand,
He changes his mind,
Seeing the fallacy of empty space.
That’s what we’re sold-
We pay good money for the un-print.
The space bags,
To give us more of that price inflated commodity
That we carry between our shaking atoms.
Her atoms are fewer.
Every treatment takes more
Than it gives back.
She is the songless poster bird of empty space.
He appreciates the comfort of thick clutter.
The nail ladies
Pace past with honest Abes in their purses
In $80 shoes.
Regal, cuticles like clipped carnations-
All jagged edge and dull wax.
A pack of pastel blouses
Like saltwater tarry in flea market bins.
They’re scented with cancerous chemicals leeching slow death
As they sip, chatter, and point.
Cropped hair, dyed brows.
Sharp gossip between crooked teeth
With trickling water and soap opera pacing.
Wedges stumbling and clanking.
Fresh picked oranges peeled in the dark misery
Of buffed and polished frayed nails
And knuckles like knotted pearls against emery board.
When the yellow toes hide in conservative loafers
Behind privileged white screens,
The nail ladies
To release fumes
And pool tips on iced mountain gold.
It’s in that moment when I’m shaking under my breath-
Words coming out like intentional muscle spasms,
The microphone magnifying the saliva sticking in my throat-
That I imagine you can see me for the first time.
It’s been a gradual process. You’ve always carried the best
And the worst sides of me with you like
Stickler seeds (on a black knit cardigan).
I don’t think you understood before.
Here, now; the past, present, and future come forth
And spin together like play magnets rolled on a scratched table top.
I am standing before you.
I am neither at my best nor worst.
I am somewhere in between.
I am a person. A person. My own
I don’t even ask-
I imagine, or perceive.
When we meet,
You’re proud and sad and scared and happy for me
In the same look.
I’ve pulled a sleight of hand.
I’ve gone from a “she”
Twin beds in an hourly room.
Empty ice bucket. Every Tuesday night,
I call my mother
So she can tell me I’m damned,
But I’m already three sheets to the wind
In a whiskey soaked tail spin.
I hang up and I can hear you
On the other bed, talking to your son.
“I love you, Jimmy. I swear to God I’ll be home next week.
“I swear to God I’ll be home if your mother will have me.”
You swear to God a lot
When we’re exchanging physical favors.
Are you dry yet?
‘Cause I’m drier than the dust bowl in ‘35.
My mother doesn’t pick up the phone now.
It’s always two rings, a hesitant click
And the chronic fatigued voice of an answering machine.
I’m overdue and my skirt is unstained.
“We’re gonna fix this,” you say.
“I swear to God, I’ll see this mess through.”
But Jimmy’s in juvenile detention
And I’ve never put faith in your unleavened words.
Are you dry yet?
Drier than Mojave bones
Buried beneath the Devil’s front porch floor?
Single bed, different room.
Ice bucket needs to be emptied.
Nothing cries within me.
Nothing kicks anymore.
I toss the contents of the ice bucket
And my eyes are drier than talcum powder
Spilled in a half moon by the front door.
Well, he was sorta asking for it, dressing in such flammable clothing.
if he didnt want to get set on fire, he should have stayed indoors
He was probably drinking that night, alcohol makes you susceptible to fire.
If it’s a legitimate inferno, the male body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.
God I love you, Internet.
Why didn’t he stop, drop, and roll? He should have stopped, dropped, and rolled. He must have secretly wanted it.
If you read the article, eyewitnesses said the man had purchased a lighter earlier that same day. Dude probably set himself on fire and lied about it. Typical.
He should have relaxed and enjoyed it. After all it was just a bit of kindling cuddling
We need to start educating people about wearing fire-safe clothing and carrying extinguishers with them at all times. For their own safety.
Everytime i see this, the comments keep getting better