After the Before

He took a long time to unbelieve the lies he’d built for himself during the years of standing in her corner. No reason to rush through this sort of thing, he thought, having before applied the same care to peeling off bandages; undertaken with enough patience, the hurt would wash over his skin a little at a time instead of all at once.

“I can’t love that man.”
“Can’t or won’t?”
“Which would hurt less?”
“Then both.”

He edited resurfacing memories to pass the nights, not knowing whether the changes he made took him toward or away from the truth of what happened.

“You happened to me, you bastard, and you fucking knew it, and you did nothing to stop it.”

Had he known it? The bed was too soft, so he sat at the kitchen table or lay on the living room floor, scattering himself among the boxes she’d left. He was grateful that he at least didn’t have to look at the indents they would have left in the carpet, but was without a clue as to what he should do with them.


A tenuous calm was all she could maintain anymore, having realized early on in their flirtation that once they found a reason to island themselves, all bets and clothes would be off. It took weeks, mustering courage enough to meet his eyes for longer than she could hold her breath.

Among the things she wanted to say to him were

I worry far too much these days about what you’re thinking.


I want to sit close enough that I notice those things about you
which you could never help hoping someone would notice someday.

Or maybe

Turn it up. I love this song.

When she finally said something, it was not nearly as casual as she wanted it to be.

“I have such rapturous notions where you are concerned,
which suppress my appetite for sleep.”


Use Me.

When I knock off, do what you want with me as long as it’s this:

Burn me up in an incinerator until there’s nothing left but dust. Let me go up in flames, and don’t think about whether my soul went with the bones etc. because while you’re living you don’t need to worry about it and when you’re dead you won’t care. And I won’t care, so why should you worry? Then take the dust and use the weight of it to anchor party balloons, and to keep the floods out. When you want to know whether the wind will be at your back on the way in or the way out, hold a palmful in front of you to see how it moves me. Mix a few grains into the sandbox and build a castle out of me, because I’ve always wanted to be that for you. If you build that fire pit you wanted, set my once-guts beside it and use them to still the blazes after nights that drag on. Leave me outside and let the rain soak me into mud, then run me like a mask over your face to smooth the skin there.

Melt me into glass and look right through me.

To the girl at my friend’s wedding

who could not take the night from her boyfriend’s grip: I’m sorry I didn’t do something. Earlier, when you were miked-up and clinging to the bass line, I’d heard the way your night was going in your voice, heard that you knew how things ought to be but somehow are not, even though we all try so damn hard.

Three times I saw him grab your arm just above the elbow, saw him hold on with white knuckles.

All I said when you walked past me, on your way inside to say goodbye to everyone earlier than you would have liked, was are you okay? and you said yes but the yes wavered. I didn’t know you well enough to say much, but I knew enough that this is what I should have said:

You are one of the good ones, one of the magnetic ones who tell stories just right. Hold on tight to the things you know. Tell him and all the ones like him to go to hell, and find one of those good ones.

Outside in the dead heat, none of us were thinking clearly. So instead I hugged you. Then you went inside to say your goodbyes, and I unlocked my bike and pedaled away.

They say

A waitress once told me that everyone should have his or her own narrator, and I said yes, but you– and by you I meant everyone, like you usually do– would need a good musical score to accompany your morning routine and your aimless walks and everything.

If that were possible, to have a narrator and a score following you around, I would sell the shit out of it. Full-page ads in Rolling Stone and Vanity Fair and Vogue and even The  New York Times, despite the fact that it’s just a newspaper and who cares about newspapers anymore? Or for that matter, the news? It would be something like a woman sitting at a bus stop talking to the man she will eventually have sex with, and then make love with, and then marry and try to have kids with but will come to find that one or both of them is barren, are barren, and will regret that she waited too long to fall in love and will eventually ask for a divorce because what’s the point of marriage if it can’t be perfect? and even more eventually will regret it. And as she talks to this man, another woman will sit behind her, typing furiously on a laptop and at the same time carrying a turntable playing Clair de Lune. Or something. And on the bus stop poster window will be an ad for this same thing, this same scene (as if real life has finally reconciled itself with an advertisement, HA) and it will say in big block letters superimposed over the scene,

your life is a masterpiece.

And on the magazine page will be the superimposed letters

Make sure

I told the waitress to work on it, and to let me know when she’d figured out how to invent something like that.

We Happy Few, We Band of Brothers

If your name was Cain, would you always be extra careful not to kill your brother? Would you avoid him in rooms with sharp corners and refuse to use a knife with him in the kitchen? Would you put out your cigarette when he walked out onto the dock to say hello, for fear of giving him lung cancer? Would you always walk in front of him on the stairs?

Would you end your own life, lest you end his first?

If your name was Abel, would you stop him?

Like turns on dark dirt roads, you will know the point of no return just after you’ve passed it.

I’ll suffer quietly but when it comes to fools not gladly,
because I have seen so many– my mother and father and sisters–
suffer loudly, gladly, fools and otherwise.
Gladly or not, I suffer myself.
The only question left to answer
is whether I’ll suffer you.

What we would want, if wanting was what we were.

In sleepy resolve, deliberate notions I cannot take responsibility for
your unintentional reactions.
San Andreas could crack at any second, pressure to blame or not. Talk about saints and faults, is it any goddamned coincidence? Speak then of the devil, talk about coincidents; two birds with one stone
sitting on your shoulders, weight gone
now with your weight on mine.

Without second thoughts, or leftover seconds on the face
that hangs over our heads, we lie in wait.
and wait, tk.

Your eyes are snares. tk.
Thank god for them.

Being There

while you jabber wocky into my ear, I will stare out the back window at the
snow drifting over the dead field, the sun dogs, the ice caked at the bottom of the
pane. You’ll follow my eyes and sigh and say, yes, it’s a tundra out there today,
isn’t it?

Yes, today it is, I’ll say, but I will not sigh, will not breathe, will not
betray my being there. And we will continue in this way, my tapping toe
keeping time to your heartbeat.

The mollifying machine restlessly wrestles.

Hold the Center

Everyone has someone to miss.

Some people you miss when they’re dead, but not before that. They exude a warm thereness when alive and a goneness when dead, both of which settle heavy in your stomach and are at least reliable.

One or two you miss when they’re at the other end of a party. Those people happen, and you can’t unhappen them. You just have to miss them, at stupid times of the day and for stupid reasons, sometimes when they’re right next to you. And it’s impossible to hate them for it, or not mind that they occupy your life in this way.

Like bums, we take what we can get. And on our better days, we have the decency to be grateful.

Maybe take comfort in knowing you can miss everyone sometimes, and you can miss some people all the time, but you can’t miss everyone all the time. Or you shouldn’t, for pete’s sake.

Maybe learn to stick around anyway.