In order to share this with you, I committed a crime. It wasn’t a big one — just a burned disc. It deserves to be shared — it asks for it. I chose not to make it pretty at all: no color, no flowering script, no love letter. I didn’t want to sully it with my sad little scratches. A simple work at first, yet layered so artfully, revealing shades of truth you hadn’t noticed were there — forever etched on microscopic crystals.
In 1957 Ray Bradbury wrote a novel: Dandelion Wine. Actually he wrote it long before then, but that’s when he let folks put their peepers on it. They say it’s about summer, about steeping dandelions and yeast and citrus inside a bottle — a bottle full of sunshine and bliss. Who would drink that shit anyway. Remember that summer we bottled ourselves? We served burgers to hippies out of a bite-sized cart, never more than a foot between us. One hundred percent organic beef, minus the pink slurry. The main stage was crafted so the sun would set behind it, transfixing the crowds in hues of polluted air. The grass that once climbed to the knees trampled thin. There were no dandelions in that grass, only dust and sweat. We went crazy on heatstroke and tequila. Melody meandered along the lazy currents of heated summer air and into our eardrums. I think that’s when it first hit me, sitting next to you in the trampled grass, with a tune in my ear and love on my tongue. I knew then, that you’d never return it — still I held to that age-old enemy of the tempered heart: hope. None of it was meant to last. Time uncorked us and drank us down whole, back to the normality of our lives.
A light year is 9,460,730,472,580,800 meters. That’s approximately 5,878,625 million miles. This is how far light can travel within a vacuum, over the span of 365.25 days.
That Moon Song
In high school I thought I had some sort of supernatural connection to the moon. I used to think that if I prayed to her loud enough, she would hear, and give me whatever I asked for. It never worked. That night at your house we sat underneath her on your back porch, drinking wine from a tap in a box. Nutria skittered among the leaves that bordered the creek running through the yard. Look out, you’d tease me, there’s one next to your feet. Fuck, that creeped me out. Your smile deepened as you snickered at me from behind your glass. My eyes begged you for a kiss that never came. At least the wine tasted okay.
You told me once that you love a song with narrative — that you went to school to learn how to craft stories so you could write better lyrics. You and your brother were going to be the next great musicians. I’ve wondered what stories you would tell. Perhaps you’d sing of love, lost or found. Who would you sing for? Could it ever be me?
Sometimes I feel the overwhelming need to vacate: this house, this city, this state, this skin. I’ve never quite been able to push myself to go. I’m a coward — afraid everything I know wouldn’t be here if I came back. You say you may leave too, head to Vegas. Are you scared? What is there to do in Vegas anyway — just gamble and drink and sleep. I hate gambling because I hate losing. I don’t drink anymore because it makes me fat. My insomnia has gotten bad. I tell myself I’m saving all my sleep for another life.
Big Black Car
I remember when you picked me up in your new car — pulled up all shiny and new and round. A big black lozenge inching toward me on the street. I opened the door, careful not to scratch or dent anything, and sat down on the leather seat. It’s a brand new model, you said. Just came out. I asked you how you could afford it; your face crumpled at me. I couldn’t help being a little practical. You gave me a tour of the amenities, accosting me with knobs of all different shapes and sizes and functions. Everywhere I looked something flashed at me in a menagerie of colors. I said, This car should come with the warning label they put in video games: “flashing lights may cause seizures in those with a history of epilepsy.” It wasn’t a car, it was a fucking spaceship. I suppose that’s luxury.
We’d spent so much time in that old rig, driving around town on warm nights, the roof open to the stars hovering above. You’d smoke cigarettes and I’d complain that one day you’d get cancer and die and I’d bury you. Sometimes we’d park somewhere and listen to music for what seemed like hours, singing along to the songs we knew so well. You’d tell me how beautiful my voice was, and my guts would wiggle inside me. I wanted to tell you how much I loved you, but I was too chicken-shit to say anything. Part of me hoped you could hear it when I sang to you, a secret message hidden in those tones. I’m sure you probably knew; you were always too smart for your own damn good.
Master & a Hound
I met my dog at the county pound. I wanted a beagle, which I guess is a kind of a hound, maybe. I came across the most adorable picture on one of those pet adoption websites. The ladies at the pound named him Happy. A beagle: his snout pointed to the ground, mopey brown eyes fixed on the camera. His oversized ears cocked forward, framing his face in a mockery of Egyptian headdress. I was in love.
Turned out he wasn’t a beagle at all, but a European foxhound. Wealthy Englishmen use them to flush out birds from the brush when they’re hunting. Some fellow found him wandering around his neighborhood and brought him to the pound, thinking his owners would look for him there. They never came. Poor Happy had been forgotten. I took one look at him, that sad little face, and knew I had to take him home with me. Of course I changed his name — Happy is a stupid name for a dog. I called him Hiro. Now I’m so used to having him around, I can’t imagine how I was before.
Hiro loved you the moment he saw you, I could tell. He’s always been great with people, better than he is with other dogs; I think he gets jealous. I know how he feels, I’m the same way. I knew as soon as I saw him react to you — that tail thumping hard on the floor — that you were a part of the pack now.
This Empty Northern Hemisphere
When asked about this song — specifically what he meant by “this empty Northern Hemisphere” — Gregory Alan Isakov speaks of a farm he used to live on. There was a window looking over an empty field that extended forever. He called it the empty northern hemisphere. Gregory says he’d go walking throughout his hemisphere, maybe when he needed to get away from everything — to feel like he was alone in the world. Today we are all infinitely connected. As long as we carry a phone on us we can be tracked, traced, followed. Sometimes we need to escape for a moment, to space devoid of any modernity — no cell towers, no laptops, no humanity.
I lost my own hemisphere. It became a housing development. New homes fixed up with all the modern glitz and gadgets you could ask for. I’d like to say I was upset, that I railed against it, maybe did something drastic in protest. The truth is I didn’t mind that it happened. To me it just seemed natural — the occupation of mother nature by mankind, the usurper. That’s progress, isn’t it? Your home reminds me of that lost hemisphere. Sitting on the back porch with you, watching the creek burrow its course through the grass, is like being transported back in time, to that place I once inhabited when I needed to escape humanity. It never lasts though. We always have to return to the world at some time.
I’ve never been to Idaho, but that’s where my favorite nightshade comes from. I wonder what it would be like: being born in the ground, instead of buried in it. You’d live off nutrients in the soil, your stalk standing proud above the ground, marinating in the sunlight, carrying energy down to your dormant form. How would it feel to claw your way up through the damp earth, reaching with fierce hunger for the air? You’d breach the surface clothed in a coat of dirt; the soil clinging to your skin, stuck up under your nails. Nightcrawlers slip from their home in your crusted hair. You’d examine your surroundings with fresh eyes. Perhaps others would have risen at the same time you have. You’d introduce yourself, make friends with the other children of the earth. Would you even have a name yet? Perhaps one cried out to you while you were forming in the soil. You and your new friends would go off together into the world, filthy and naked, to make something of yourselves. How would the rest of society accept you? Maybe they’d be terrified by the strange plant-people from the demon fields of Idaho — or maybe they’d welcome you with open arms, eager to steal the secrets you’d learned, deep inside the earth.
Sometimes I like to play with my words. I throw them all into a muddle in my head, pull them out and see how I can fit them together — phonetic puzzle pieces. Sometimes I print them in different shapes, sizes, and fonts. I cut them up and lay them out on canvas forming sacred pictures. Many look like you. Some are jagged and fierce — words of anger. Some I surround myself in to keep me safe — words of comfort. We all wear words whenever we leave the house: American Eagle, Diesel, Gap, Prada. Dress ourselves up in words of different hues, hoping others will notice how great they make our asses look. My favorite is blue. I’ve spoken many words to you, some louder than others, but no less important. Did you hear all of them?
I wish there was some kind of “fire escape for life.” For those times when you realize you’ve just said or done something that you can’t take back — that you’ve forever altered what you have with a person you love. When I told you I loved you I wanted it to be like a romantic comedy. The moment when the lover can’t bear the weight of it anymore and they only have to blurt out their desire to their beloved. Happily ever after. It’s all a lie though, life never happens like that.
You were polite about it, and I hated you for your coddling. My heart began scratching at the inside of my chest, trying to escape and leave me to fend for myself. In my pocket, my hand pinched the flesh of my thigh, battling the wave of anxiety threatening to overtake my frame of vision. You’re such a good friend, you said — so cliché. That’s when I needed my special fire escape, when I stood there unable to lift my eyes from the polished concrete of the bar floor. I’d slip through the threads of the universe — stop my past-self from ever saying those three disastrous words.
If I Go, I’m Goin’
I read this story recently, of a couple holding on to a relationship that wasn’t working anymore, simply because they didn’t know how to be without each other. I wonder if this is how our friendship has become. Are we just so accustomed to each other we can’t picture life on the other side? In the story, the woman gets cancer and the man feels like it’s his duty to stay and help her through it. The woman is always so mean to him. It’s not like she calls him names or hits him or anything — she’s just so frigid. She tells him she doesn’t need him. She thinks she can survive the cancer on her own, using it as an excuse for everything — it made me sick. Sometimes I feel like this is how you treat me: taking me for granted. No, you never call me names, or hit me either. No, you’ve never had cancer. If you did, you wouldn’t use it as an excuse to misbehave. You’re just absent. Every time you stand me up, it whittles me away, just like the man in the story. I sit for hours, waiting for the glow of my phone to illuminate the evening, your name sprawled across the caller id. I guess my time isn’t important to you now. Despite their issues the man stays with the cancer-laden woman, even though staying seems harsher and more painful than if he just grabbed his things and left her — left her while she’s puking her guts out from the chemo. But then I suppose I shouldn’t judge, not when I can’t seem to leave you.
One of Us Cannot Be Wrong
In 1967 a man named Leonard Cohen released a record called “Songs of Leonard Cohen.” The closing song on that piece of crafted vinyl, would go on to inspire countless other artists. The song has been covered many times. It must resonate inside people. We’ve all experienced this kind of love: someone who breaks you in a way you can’t fix. Sure, you patch yourself up and move on with life, but you’re never the same.
Did you know Mr. Cohen is a poet and a novelist and a musician? A regular Renaissance man. I used to cast myself as that kind of person, the kind who can pick up anything and be successful. The epitome of cool, with crowds of people always fawning over me. I wanted you to fawn over me, even if just for a little while.
The narrator of the song is speaking to someone he’s loved very fiercely, but has recently left. He’s torn between feeling angry and resentful, and of holding on to the love he had.
Eventually I had to admit I wasn’t anything like Mr. Cohen. But then I have no expectations to meet. No one knows me; I don’t answer to anyone. I don’t need to be everything to everybody — I don’t need to be anything to you.
Now, my body is free.