At a certain hour,
walking through the city is a
hollow experience. There are,
no people, no one at all except
for some chattering teenagers across
the six-lane street, or a glance caught of a mysterious
young woman entering her apartment.
There are no people at a certain hour, no life within the city,
and normal things begin to seem out
Once, when I was walking to my friend Ezekiel’s building
I saw a car idling by the curb. When I returned several hours
later, in the dead night,
the car was still there, running quietly. There didn’t appear
to be anyone inside.
There are no explanations for these occurrences, at least
none that will satisfy me.
I continued on my way that night,
putting the car behind me until I thought I heard it,
pulling out of its spot in reverse,
braking hard and drifting the
to point it right at me, like in
He would run me down
in an instant.
When I looked back, the car hadn’t moved,
of course. Of course.
At a certain hour there are no longer stoplights.
Instead, there are yellow lights that
blink and flash and are ignored by most drivers, and
when I brought my attention back to the road in front of me,
there was a car inches away,
It flew past and I felt distinctly
the pleasure of cheating death.
I imagined it had been a Mafioso
in a car with tinted windows, ready to end me
for some imagined slight, or Family knowledge I didn’t possess.
But no, it had just been a car. I hadn’t been paying attention.
I looked around and it felt like everything was judging me.
The dark, the crisping trees, the
deafening silence of the night,
that falce silence
false because of the wind, the wind!
The wind is the harshest judge of all. It reverberates through air and flows through clothes.
The empty stoops mocked me, the
late night traveler with fewer responsibilities than
the bums or
the drunks or
the nicotine fiends.
There was no one in every direction.
What I wanted, more than anything, was to be home
so that the night could judge me no more,
and so that I could sleep and forget the city,
and my troubles and my mistakes,
and I was so close to home, so close to home that
I could see it.
I turned the corner and imagined all the enemies I had ever made, standing there.
Inside, I deadbolted the door, thinking it would be safe, but when I turned
there was an apparition
floating in my kitchen,
Right now, decide the single biggest decision you ever made. One decision that your whole life hinged on. A diverging point. Everything would be different right now if you had made another choice. You would have a different life. Everyone in your life would have a different life.
Was it when you decided to apply to a great school? Was it when you decided to apply to a terrible school?
Was it when you got your first pair of noise-canceling headphones?
Was it the moment before you saw the look on her face?
Did it happen on a cold winter walk, one of many?
There are a few things he can’t admit to himself. He’s toyed with these ideas, looked at them from various angles, but he still finds himself unable to accept them.
The idea that the lake he’s standing in front of isn’t a cesspool, it isn’t a trap. It’s a lake. A muddy, unclear lake, but that’s all. Nothing lingers beneath the surface.
The idea that maybe every lake he’s ever stood in front of was like this one: just a lake.
The idea that, if those other lakes were dangerous, it was his fault. The idea that he had dumped a barrel of cyanide into every lake he had ever come across, or worse: The idea that he is a barrel of cyanide, destined to poison every lake he ever swims in whether he likes it or not.
He believes that maybe these ideas are true and he believes that these ideas are patently untrue and this conflict defines him.
Here is how he came to be standing at this lake on this day:
“You were right, you know.”
“That the sky always looks nicest above the condos.”
Jack laughs. “Only here.”
“Only here.” She smiles. He looks away.
The two sit in silence for a while, and then they get up, and then they leave. They go to their bedroom and they go to sleep and the next morning they eat breakfast together. They watch TV together. They go shopping together. But something is not right.
He goes to the condos again, this time without her, and he gets out of his car and he sits on the grass and he looks up into the cosmos. He thinks about her and he thinks about them and he thinks about himself. The sky, which was the color of their relationship when he arrived, becomes a sort of cotton candy pink.
He goes home and breaks the news.
“We’ll be together again someday, I’m sure,” she gloats. “You think this is the end, but it isn’t.”
For the second time in as many days, though, he proves her wrong.
The limbs are on fire with the heat of a hundred million imploding suns. The muscles feel as though they are gripped tightly by vices, or perhaps by the hands of a giant, fingers meaty and thick, his primitive brain not comprehending how tremendously powerful he really is. The head is being ripped open with a hacksaw, blood and brain matter oozing out all over the cannibal committing the act. We are all pain, manifest.
The hellspawn are chasing me. I lead the pack, the alpha male, a massive wooden target strapped to my back, slowing me down. Ostensibly, someone is in control here. Ostensibly, there is order and peace. Ostensibly. There is nothing in this world or any other that could control us now.
The hellspawn are right behind me, and they decide that they won’t wait any longer. Their ashen tendrils lift off the ground and eviscerate the target. Their claws dig into my back. I shake them off and start to run. What else is there in this world if not competition?
My mother once told me:
“There is one safe place in every hostile land. Bury yourself in the swamps of Cambodia and breathe softly through a reed. Hide in a kind man’s basement as the Germans murder your people. Death itself is just an oasis in the ocean of life. If you must, cut the skin of another man and wear it as your own. Become him as flesh becomes earth.”
This place is run like a slaughterhouse. We are nothing more than cuts of meat to them; a few dollars here, a few dollars there. The butcher will be here soon. He wears a crimson apron, but once it was white. The alcoholics are the prime rib. Women are tenderloin. The teenagers are nothing more than cube steak.
A doe could walk on water, and even then, these people would not care.
1 – In Winter -
- you’ll walk,
first one way
and then the other
and then you’ll do it again
and then you’ll go home,
comforted with the knowledge
that you really did come out
you said you would
and you did
2 – Springtime.
wish you could.
3 – Our Creations Falter In The Sun.
A place of
failed ambition and false starts,
a place where, long ago,
gripped Man by the hand
and twisted up and around
what he had built
“No. No more.”
4 – The Fall.
The leaves, now brown and red, will fall soon.
Many already have.
The pavement crackles as you walk.
A walk through
last night. We
climbed the trees
and danced in the streets.
What a wonderful, confusing,
What a miserable
tramp. A new
era for our relationship:
to do this
QRPX-6000, my flower,
so devoted to your work,
Forgive me, QRPX-6000, I
can’t help but stare. Your muscled,
awe-inspiring limb tightly caresses a car door,
much as it caressed my heart once,
long ago, when I first came to this factory.
This factory, birthplace of my love
for you, and of countless Honda Four Door
All Terrain Sports Utility Vehicles.
This factory, a bundle of fibers,
a nerve linking the cars to the consumers,
a blood vessel carrying the cash to
Be mine, QRPX-6000, darling,
please dear, please oh God answer me,
will you be mine, baby, honey, sweetie,
be mine, let’s get out of here forever, be mine,
why are you so quiet.
This factory is nothing but an atom
in a cell in an organ belonging to God,
and we are nothing but the electrons
that make up that atom,
miniscule but vital,
swirling around each other for eternity
but never colliding.