Incompatible

It’s like a scene from a satirical movie about the 21st century. Our phones have conflicting but equally mistaken ideas about how to get where we’re going; in their incompatible eerie voices they instruct us in ever firmer tones to take more and more wrong turns. We don’t want to silence them because who knows, maybe they’ll figure out where they’re going after a while, and anyway neither of us wants to be the first to admit that their phone is wrong, so we just yell at each other over the voices, adding two more layers of navigational confusion to the general chaos.

Still I feel no nostalgia for the previous millennium; for its unwieldy paper maps that obscured the forward view; for the necessity of squinting at the trickily intersecting lines representing our path; for the infinitesimal print that silently explained everything; for the way the driver–it was a different driver then–yelled at me to hurry up, to figure out where we were going, before it was too late, which it always, always was.

longer days
objects are closer
than they appear

what I read, what I didn’t

Chapter One.

The doctor’s habit is to hold his hand in front of his face
when he’s delivering bad news. He looks like he’s about to
cough but he’s about to tell you that he saw a shadow in your
lungs. “That’s a great metaphor,” you don’t say. You don’t say,
“Wow, and then what happened?” He’s not that kind of doctor.
You probably need a new doctor, one with a literary sensibility,
the hell with how he did in med school. You take notes in your
private shorthand while wondering what part of town they keep
those doctors in.

and out of nowhere it dawns on you that blossoms are fruit

 

Chapter Two.

The Man Who’s Sometimes There asks you if you need anything.
This is a signal he’s about to not be there for a while. He needs
something to bring back with him when he returns. “Something to read,”
you tell him. The Man looks worried. He doesn’t understand what
you like to read. You can’t blame him, you don’t really understand
either. Now that you think of it, you don’t even want anything to read.
Reading makes you feel like throwing up. You tell him to bring pudding,
because he loves pudding. Then you lie on the couch for six hours not
reading. It’s the only thing you can think of to do.

all summer all the voices on the radio

 

Chapter Three.

Each Thursday from two to five, while tethered to the most insidiously
comfortable chair in the world, you spend way too long wondering
things: whether the cactus in the waiting room is real, whether your
brain will survive being poisoned, whether the nurse with the blue
fingernails would ever be your friend. Is there some kind of
professional taboo against that? What does the nurse with the blue
fingernails do with her friends? You suspect it’s something lighthearted
and wonder whether you could ever hack that. You go to sleep and
wonder things in your dreams, things too vague and terrifying and
beautiful to put into words, and when you wake up the nurse with the
blue fingernails is laughing at you. Or no, wait, she’s just laughing at
something the other nurse said, but it’s too late, you kind of hate
the blue-fingernailed nurse now. Well, it was nice while it lasted.

a sharp distinction between apples and alone

 

Chapter Four.

The new doctor, who by now is the old doctor, asks you if you saw
that new Haruki Murakami book that’s more pictures than words.
The new doctor’s got you wrapped around his little finger. That’s a
great metaphor, you don’t tell yourself. You only ever read anymore
to have something to talk about with the new doctor. You say
something about Haruki Murakami that only makes sense to somebody
with a poisoned brain and the new doctor nods the way he nods
when you’re being crazy. I’m not sure, he says, that it was a very
successful experiment. He looks at the computer where he stores
everything he knows about you and sighs, and frowns, and opens his
mouth to speak again. Opens his mouth and says some words, but
words are just words to you now. What’s real out in the waiting room?
What will someone bring you next?

listening very closely to frostbite

character study

She wakes up sometimes, thinking about her dilemma. It always takes a minute to remember what the dilemma is because it’s always a different dilemma than the last time she woke up. It’s that kind of story. The solution to her dilemma is often obvious to her, as it is to every reader of that kind of story, but she knows her own judgment makes no difference to the resolution of the dilemma. She’s made efforts in the past–to leave the man, to save the child, to cross the street, to pursue her ambition–but whether she succeeds or not is entirely up to the storyteller. He might be trying to write a cautionary tale, or make his readers cry, or make the heroine of the story look good in contrast to her, in which case she will surely make the wrong choice, do the foolish thing, die in poverty, be shunned by the townsfolk. By now she’s used to failure. By now she’s used to contempt. By now she’s used to losing things that seemed impossible to lose. It’s almost exhilarating to her now, that kind of loss. She knows it doesn’t really matter. The next time she wakes up, she’ll be a character in a new story. There’s always the possibility that this time, she’ll have magical powers, or a mighty army, or an uncanny ability to bend people to her will. There’s always the possibility that by the end of the story, she’ll be ruling the world.

these damn cicadas
with their confessional tone
I promise myself
I’ll admit everything
when nothing’s left to admit

(Prose: here, now. Tanka: Eucalypt, November 2011.)

(the only warm things)

It’s a Saturday night around the Ides of March and you’re in bed at nine o’clock, wearing an old T-shirt you would never let anyone see you wearing, listening to the clothes dryer in the basement, which has all the good clothes in it, tumble them dry in its usual reliable way. The dryer is 25 years old or more and you’ve owned it for 22 of those years. You’re that old now. The more you think about the dryer the more you love it, the way you push a single button and in response the dryer grows hot and does its sturdy mechanical dance and eventually buzzes to respectfully inform you that its work is complete, and when you open the door the release of the latch makes that satisfying thump and the pile of warm cloth inside is warmer than anything else you touch all week. It makes you want a baby so you could put the baby to sleep in a pile of warm laundry and watch its little chest rise and fall as it slept, as efficient and reliable as the dryer. Why didn’t you ever do that when you had a baby? What was stopping you? Who was stopping you? Why did you always obey the wrong instructions and disregard the right ones? Why are you and the dryer the only warm things in the house tonight?

midnight snack
the clock with no hands
still ticking