Love in the Time of Rockets
James always had roses and photographs. I always had schemes and costumes. We drew maps, swapped clothes and identity, names like the backs of trading cards. Always one more to catch, another to lose. He fed the carp in the garden pond; I let the cat inside when it rained. No man I’ve ever known had eyes as hopelessly big as his. No woman he ever knew wore skirts as impossibly short as mine.
There are not words for love when hearts are made of silk and helium. These days we drink tea from cups with broken handles and sing songs we forgot the words to. For fun, we put on our wedding clothes one last time. His smile is warmer than any Oklahoma heat wave.
No one ever wanted us to win, but in whispers and rumor we got a happy ending no one ever predicted. Roll credits, closing theme. We’ll meet in again in the next episode.
I was a girl you splashed with water. He spoke only in signs and subtitles. We kissed on his bed under a blue and pink horizon of cigarette smoke. Outside his window there were fireflies. Inside his walls there were infomercials. I carried a sword too big for my fragile hands, he drifted aimlessly in space, always out of gas, always out of luck.
In our cartoon world, we can pull costumes out of back pockets. In the ordinary world, all the roses he gave me were already half-black. On a melting sidewalk I intertwined our names like DNA. He only called at 2 a.m. when The Boss couldn’t hear.
The cat still says his name aloud. I only have the red half of our locket. I hold the summer’s last firefly in my hand outstretched. Really, I say. Really, it was nothing.
In the month of bones I wear red galoshes for black-market Theraflu; we heard they took it off the market because junkies use it to break bad. On your side of town, you gather up single-serve soup cups and treat us both to the tissues with lotion in them. You wear your leather jacket over plaid pajama pants. There’s melted snow on your halo curls & fever flush in your pale cheeks.
I start the kettle. You work the microwave. We make room for two under one old blanket; your radiance wards off my chills. We sniffle between kisses, swill honey poison, take bets on who Jerry Orbach & Sam Watterson will convict. You win; I let you slide your damp hand up under my tee-shirt. I haven’t worn a bra in days.
When the cold meds and Law and Order stop working, we switch to red wine & The Shield. You are Vic Mackey & I am Shane Vendrell. I will love you, follow you, kill for you. You don’t even have to ask.
Is it season five already? Your cell phone rings. You answer to a giddy girl whose loud voice I have never heard before. You put on your jacket, but you’ll stop at home to change before she opens her legs to heal you. At the door, you become Lem. I am still Shane.
Except the Cops
I am not the first mystery you will ever solve. An old Chandler novel, an unsigned note, page numbers circled in a telephone sequence. These are the clues you use to track me down. We have never met before you call evening L.A. time; it’s midnight here when you start to read.
By day you are Marlowe in a hundred dollar suit, fistful of manila folders, mouth creased long from frowning at crime scenes with heavy hands on skinny hips. At night, you do not try to close me. You just read & hang up when the chapter is through. Outside your window stray cats sing. This you ignore.
For 52 nights there’s a different crime in your voice. Robbery and murder, rapes and lost dogs. You do not need to unload all your grief on a stranger. Chandler’s words are therapy enough for both of us.
On night 53, there is no goodbye. You hang up, go out to your car, put your head in your hands, & weep.
What We Talk About When We Talk About Michael Westen
You are only a handful of dress shirts, but you are a different man each time you wear them. Walk, accent, tie or no tie. It’s only when you’re stripped bare that I recognize you at all. These days, you’re naked less and less often until I have forgotten all but entirely what you look like.
Florida heat has scorched our brains in a way mint and rum cannot fix. We drink anyways. My CIA contact says I should let the ghost of you go, but yogurt won’t ransom my heart back from Brennen.
Ours is not a solution of bullets or gasoline. We cannot be fixed with a quick wit or a fast car, a doctored cell phone and a stockpile of C4. You’re lying low with fake papers in hand; even if I could catch up to you, I can’t say I’m sorry in any language you might speak. Call your mother. Maybe she knows what to do.
I’ve never been much of a poet. I thought I was, until I took a poetry class in college, taught by a Vietnam Vet who was never any less than 20 minutes late to class and realized, “Nope, I suck at this.” I have since burned/recycled every poem I have ever written. No need to thank me.
But after I finished the first draft of The Big Rewind, I woke up one morning with curious sentences bouncing around in my skull. I had been reading But Our Princess is in Another Castle, by B.J. Best, which restructured the way I was creating narrative as I functioned throughout the day. Even as I processed simple tasks, I was filtering them through winding, vivid poetics. And when I sat down to write, I would come back an hour later and have no recollection of constructing a sentence, a whole paragraph.
(It was fucking AWESOME.)
Recently, my good friends at The Stoneslide Corrective published “The Redemption of Oren Barry,” which is perhaps the Best Short Story I Have Ever Written (although I have a real soft spot for “Late Night On Rt. 17“). “Redemption” was a story I had given up on until I saw their short story contest on Twitter, and when I got the email saying that I had been named an Honorable Mention, well, it was one of the happiest days of my writing career. Editor Jonathan Weisberg wrote in his email “I have a real affection for “The Redemption of Oren Barry; it was a great pleasure to read” when I thanked him for including it in the honorable mentions. When I suggested he publish it, he agreed, because he’s awesome like that.
“Redemption” is a milestone for me, a marker of a moment when my writing style shifted. From age 20 to about 26, I was writing primarily nasty, gritty crime fiction, with some insanely terrible literary-type work in-between that showed no regard for story structure or character depth, just me working out my narcissistic, emotional garbage. I had just been let go from my adjunct teaching position at SUNY Cobleskill, and was suffering from a bad shoulder injury caused by slipping on ice outside my office. So I don’t know if it was the painkillers, or my binge-watching Ray McKinnon movies and Justified or what, but one night I dreamed of this.
In a weird fit of Nostalgia For Things I Barely Remember Existing (I get these sometimes), I went back and watched JEM on Netflix. I didn’t get very far because I am a Grown-Ass Lady with Things To Do, like losing at computer chess or fretting about wedding plans.
But in re-watching the pilot, I realized two things:
1) Jem is an elitist shrew — when the Misfits are introduced, before they even say anything to her, she looks at their clothes and shrieks “Get that trash out of my father’s office!” Bitch, you don’t know what these girls are about! Way to support other women in an incredibly competitive and often misogynistic business just because you don’t like the way they dress.
Ian and I are getting married in just over a month. Part of our planning process has been, of course, the magic that is the gift registry and all the possibilities therein. A stand mixer! Matching towels! Pots with lids that fit! I have become a living version of Once Upon a Honeymoon.
But with the very real possibility of acquiring these awesome shiny things, we’ve been doing a lot of soul/box searching and figuring out what to get rid of to make room for the new. We’ve taken the time to assess what we want out of the next phase of our life and are getting rid of stuff that doesn’t suit the lifestyle we want to have. Sure, that black Hot Topic dress with the vinyl buckles across the front is goth-cute, but it’s not exactly something I can — or want — to wear while I’m trying to get a quote from the mayor.
And all this cleaning has been great.
My biggest pet peeve is when writers tell me, “I don’t have time to write.” It’s a lament I hear all the time, oh, how do you find the time? I wish I had some free time to write, I just really want to write a book but I’m so busy. . . and then, inevitably, the conversation turns to whatever video game or TV show they’re binging on. No time for writing, but six hours to spare for House of Cards. I see.
Here’s a thought — that time you’re spending passively slack-jawed in front of someone else’s creative output? That’s time you could be writing!
Look, I love TV, but it’s the first thing to go when there’s writing to be done. And I’m not saying all pleasures must be sacrificed to the mighty altar of work, but a book or a story or an essay isn’t going to write itself.