The Trail

At first the trail was easy: a soft, narrow bed of humus and broken bark lead us upward.  Then, little by little, roots criss-crossed the trail, grew thicker and more twisted, as if giant, knotted coils of living hemp had slithered across the the forest floor and lain down to sleep, growing old, slowly bristling with bark and moss.  We lost sight of the sky as the trees nourished by these roots crowded out the sun.  The air grew cooler.  The roots grew closer together, with little levels and hollows between them, each hollow higher than the one before, so that the trail formed a sort of elaborate terrace.  We wound our way up the terrace slowly, still smoking our cigarettes, swirls and halos of pale blue smoke trailing behind us as we went.

Then Sailor’s cigarette went out.  I saw it go; it glowed slightly brighter in the gloom, then winked out, as if someone had turned up the power from a tiny battery before switching it off. Mine went out, too, as if someone had blown it out.  I looked around behind me, but saw no one.  I turned back to face the trail ahead.  Sailor looked back, holding out the stump of her cigarette.  I nodded, held out mine, and dropped it in one of the little hollows between the roots.

Realizing we should have brought another layer of clothing to protect us against the cool air, we drew closer, and made our way up side by side.  The sound of crickets filled the spaces between the trees.  Then the sound changed, warping and keening into strange, other-worldly music.  Nervously, we pressed on.

 

(Back Door: Enter “Anticipation” into the search bar.)

 

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Mountains

Traffic thinned in the high country.

“There’s no room for a statie to turn around out here.  You can open it up.  Once we get into those mountains, it’s deputies in SUVs…but until then, we’re solid,” Sailor said.  She stubbed out her cigarette on the ashtray, shifted her hips forward in her seat, and placed her hands behind her head.  I pushed down the gas pedal.

We kept the windows rolled down.  The cool alpine air rushed in, tousling Sailor’s hair.  Peering through the glare of late-afternoon sunshine on the dusty, bug-covered windshield, I could see near-flat, open fields, and mile upon mile of pale green, unharvested hay.  Scattered farm buildings broke apart the landscape, their walls worn down to the bare boards.  In the distance, towering up, making those outbuildings look like miniatures, stood the mountains.  They were stark, roughly snow-capped, purple-black.  They stood so far away, and yet were wrought in such sharp detail that they seemed unreal.

“…the fuck?” I whispered.  I took a breath.  I felt disbelief.

“I know,” Sailor said, “nobody knows they’re here.”

As our little car tore across the dusty plateau, she explained to me that there are some high mountains you cannot see, even from very close, because they are set just far enough back from the foothills that no line of sight permits a view.  But once a person climbs past the initial threshold of elevation, up onto the plateau, the mountains emerge suddenly, starkly, filling the sky.

I stared.

“We can stay up here for awhile,” Sailor said, “It’s cheap to live.  We can hide out.”

We had money we’d kept from Harlin; big paying tops that he’d never skimmed, a glovebox stuffed with a profligate’s ransom, enough hard cash to get us into a cabin near a little lake that Sailor knew about way up in the mountains.  She and her sister had vacationed there as children…until the winter her father broke both of his legs in a skiing accident.  He never spoke of it; they’d simply never returned.

With the car tucked into a trough-like driveway beside the cabin, and my heavy duffel and Sailor’s big backpack cast down on the bed, we made our way down the gravel road that wound around the lake to a little fake chalet where tourists could sit on a deck and look out across the glass-green water, into the mountains beyond.  We sat there and drank cold beer, smoked cigarettes, and stared out…as if the air could quench our bodies, as if our very skins could dissolve into the dusk.

Haley Minwood

Sailor lit a cigarette.

We were sitting on the stained concrete back step of The Palisades, a cheap motel in Calvert, Oregon, which is actually a cluster of trailers and a couple convenience stores way out on a state road that cuts northeast across the desert toward the turn in the Columbia River, just north of the Oregon-Washington border.  The first few hours of hitching and hooking our way up to Washington were long for me because I didn’t know the landscape…  Miles of power conversion stations and convenience store litter mixed with yellow-gray tumbleweeds.  I’d never seen so much beige in my life, stretching from the roadside to the rim of the sky.  I kept waiting to see the blue-green color of fir trees, the dark color of a deep river, lush grass, a change of scenery.

“It’s going to be desert all the way up,” Sailor said to me between drags.  “Washington’s desert on the east side, too, part of it.  We’re gonna turn hard for the east, though, at a certain point…get us up into the mountains.  Harlin won’t follow us up there…and then we’ll be free.”

I picked a cigarette from the pack Sailor waved in my direction.  She lit it for me.  As she leaned over toward me her jean shorts pulled away from the underneath of her thigh and I saw candy-stripe underwear hugging to her crotch.  A strand of hair fell out from where she had it pulled back into a loose bun.  She moved it back behind her ear with her fingers.

“Try to get your cigarette where the fire is, honey-bear,” she said, almost smiling.

A wave of embarrassment passed over me.  I pulled hard, exhaled, made a big deal of getting lit up.

I tried to flip things.

“Sailor,” I started, exhaling, “Is that your real name?”

“It’s real if that’s what I answer to, right?  Why, are we on television?”

“What’s the name printed on your birth certificate?”

Sailor nodded ever so slightly.  “Haley.  Haley Minwood.”

“Hm. That’s kinda good.  Why did you change it?”

“My parents had money.  A piss-ton. A fucking pipeline.  Dividend income.  Trust funds, nine digit shit everywhere.  That means you have two real options…anything else would be half-assing it.  You can either have a pert, square-cut little girl-scout pussy, nod yes and be good and go to law school on daddy’s dime…or be a Lindsay Lohan snatch, a spoiled, take-the money-and-run little trust fund druggie pretender bitch.  Both bad.   Doesn’t matter how fine your relationship with your parents is.  If you come from wealth, and you’re interested in personal integrity, annihilation of the entire construct is the only option…  The only way to author a biography that has any stock or guts.  Cut yourself loose.  No insurance, no phone calls to mommy, nothing.”

She French-inhaled, looked at me with narrowing eyes.

I leaned forward a little, tapped some ash out onto the ground, took another drag.  Sailor let one knee sort of loll out to the side, so now the gap between her jean shorts and candy-stripe underwear was in plain view.  She was wearing one of Harlin’s old dress shirts, and some of her hair had slipped inside the collar.  She’d left the first three buttons undone, so I could see where the silky piece of hair touched down on her collar bone, where the big tendon stood up when she dragged on her cigarette.   When she leaned forward to ash her cigarette I could see her breasts, the way they were cupped by her bra, which was just a little big for her.

I pulled my head up, and looked into her eyes.

She was waiting for me to do just that.

I said, “And this all adds up to your choice of name in some way?”

“Yeah.  Because I can’t stake myself on anything.  I’m a lost soul.  Out to sea.   And Sailor sounds like a good name for a girl who’s all about her own skin, which is what you’re thinking about anyway…not listening to a word I’m saying…”

 

(Back Door:  Enter Skinny Haley into the search bar.)

(Front Door: Enter Sideways into the search bar.)

 

 

 

rated x

He likes to take the emotional ride.

Yeah, you know what I mean…

When you stand close, take in each other’s scent…

…when on the instant of the first touch of fingertips, your sex grows full and warm under the crotch of your clothes…when you slide together, grapple, and your bodies lock…pelvis to pelvis, belly to belly, chest to chest…when he holds the back of your neck in the roughness of his hand and the two of you feel the pressing of your warm, clothed bodies, the pressing of  your cheeks, arms, hands…even the bones of your noses, pressing, almost to the point of pain…softened only by the heart of your kiss…

when your hair mingles, when he loses his breath; when you inhale sharply and touch his back with your hands; when your tongue grows wet, and alive…and you grasp for him as if grasping for food…when your hands work quickly as the two of you speak in stuttering whispers, fumble with buttons and zippers…when you look into his eyes and feel the magnet pull of two dark whirlpools…when the clothes slip quietly to the floor, almost noiselessly, and you tread them with the gentle marching of your naked feet, forgetting what you wore, like so much strewn-out evidence…

when the sensation pulses in his body, and you cup his root with a low-slung hand; when the two of you linger there, for the sheer pleasure of kissing, of making out, your bodies naked…

until your own warm inertia turns you slowly, oh so slowly into bed,

and the hours roll by…

with your palms resting  on the crown of his head as he kisses you, covers your sex with his mouth, his tongue darting and sliding under your nap, making you slippery, contracting you…until you say you want him inside you…

and he slides his verge balls-deep into your yearning, opening yoni…and your skins meld, so that your fuck is one body, one breath…your foreheads touching, your spines bent into a heart, your bodies sealed seamlessly together in a driving, railing fuck…so slippery you don’t know whether your yoni is hard or his verge is soft, so that you are simply coming, sighing, in and out of your skins…until time fades away…

and you fade with it, dissolving into the air with the first lightening of the sky…

when, ever so faintly, the color blue passes across the room, when you’re resurrected, and remember you’re awake again…

when the clock spins like a wheel in the sea, when a fist wraps his root and yours…

until the hump and thrum bends your two spines like willows, your yoni and verge, your two pubic bones, melding together so pleasurably as one,

the sheets wrinkled and warm beneath you,

while the room, small and tight, hot and damp, closes and expands…

 

I’ve seen shit burn

I’ve seen shit burn. When I was 7, the church across the street from my parents’ house burned down to the bricks in the dead of winter.  It was one o’clock in the morning when the bell tower went up in a giant fireball, a ferocious blossom of flame and light that illuminated treetops a block away. My brother and I sat on his bed and watched through the window. That thing exploded, bright as day, and the leftover structure toppled down through the collapsing roof. A mud-colored after-tower of smoke and shingles rocketed up through the hole just before the entire roof caved, a falling grid of fire, everything coming apart. We stared at the building as it turned into a yawning chasm of yellow flames.

On a frosty morning before school we dragged organ pipes out of the charred remains of the church, their alloy edges scraping loud-as-shit over the parking lot, then across the street to one of the side yards where we joined up with the neighbor kids. We made noise on those pipes with coins, nails, and screws, ting-ting-ing and tang-tang-ing away.  We even blew across the tops of the pipes, trying to make a tone, the fog of our breath filling the air.

That spring, a basement apartment two doors down got burned out. I remember two kids from the neighborhood who ducked under the yellow tape and looted the place for two big gallon jars of peaches, home-canned. One of the kids lost a jar; it slipped from its precarious balance point on the handle bars of his BMX, dropped right onto the sidewalk in front of my parents’ house.  I was throwing an old bowie knife at a chunk of particle board with my brother and a friend of ours.  The wet, hollow shattering sound of the jar landing on the sidewalk made us look over at them.  These two kids were shouting at each other about if and how they were going to clean up the mess of jar-glass and dirty peaches strewn across the sidewalk.  Peach syrup was melding with the crud in the pavement.  Time was passing too slowly.  They got scared and scrammed.

They were a couple of scrappy, smudge-faced kids, but they had honor…enough to fight over wiping out their tracks…so my brother and I couldn’t beef with them.  They were stealing so they could fucking eat.  Besides, it seemed like there was always a random day around the corner when the cops crawled over that neighborhood like flies on shit…who knew when it was coming? 

That same afternoon my brother, my friend and I hosed down the sidewalk.  I didn’t mind.  Two kids got to eat and no questions were asked.  Not long after that an upper storey apartment on the back side of the block went up, too.  Story was somebody was freebasing and got a little carried away.  Didn’t add up in my head, though.  I figured it was a drunk smoking on his bed.  After they pulled him out a little corner of that building stayed wet and charred for weeks.  You could smell it when you walked by.  A vile, human smell, but burnt, hosed down, like wet dog mixed with old food smoking from the bottom of an oven…  We didn’t want to know what it was, exactly.  Same building where shots were fired in an argument about a cat.  Fucking crackers, shooting each other over a cat that probably went splay-legged and shat diarrhea the moment it heard a gunshot.  House cat, dead from a heart attack.

Later, on a gig in California, I shacked up in an old motel that had been converted to apartments.  I was playing the lone wolf, and the nights I wasn’t with a girl I spent alone with my thoughts.  Maybe I was trying to remember exactly how I ended up there…

Anyway, there was an evening when I gradually became narcotically sleepy while reading on my bed.  The lights seemed to grow dimmer.  I didn’t know what was going on.  Feeling a mild need for fresh air, I opened my door.  As I stepped out onto the balcony, smoke poured from the open doorway and mushroomed up under the eaves.  Holy Fuck!  I had just been in that.  How the fuck…like a frog in a pot.  It was the kid downstairs.  He was a drug dealer, an alpha white boy with long hair, a hook nose, a big adam’s apple, and a booming, throaty baritone.  He had locked himself in.  Smoke seeped through the cracks at the edges of the windows… Charismatic mother fucker was a schizophrenic, clean off his meds.  Smoking drugs and now afraid if he let anyone in the front door his whole life would get blown open. 

A firetruck blasted into the parking lot.  Then the cops came, then another firetruck rolled up.  Cops and firefighters shouted this kid down from outside.  He didn’t come out.  One firefighter hatcheted the door and the other one kicked it in.  They wrestled this kid in that hot, smoky hole of an apartment, and threw him out bodily onto the pavement.  He was a big kid, and I watched him fly.  When he hit pavement, he landed on a concrete parking slab, got the wind knocked out of him.  But it wasn’t wind, it was fucking smoke.  He burped out a cloud of smoke, right there in the parking lot while these firefighters ran into that place with their big hoses and soaked everything in there until the place was a char-hole.  Then they put this kid into a squad car.

There was a huge fucking rainstorm that night.  There’s no such thing as pathetic fallacy; that’s just what happened.  I stood out on my balcony, doors and windows to my place swung wide open, chain-smoking Lucky Strikes, waiting for the smoke to clear from my place.  I flashed on a conversation I’d had with the kid in the parking lot, right around New Year’s.  “Happy New Year!” he’d said.  “Year of the Monkey,” I said, “That means prosperity and chaos.”  No fucking clue about the prosperity part…

And the next morning I woke up late, no work that day, lounging in bed, enjoying the after-cool of the rainstorm, lying there watching the palm trees sway a little in the park across the street, a parking lot and four lanes of traffic away…and I heard a voice from inside that char-hole beneath me, a boy’s voice, virginal, unchanged, like those children who sing in the King’s Choir at Oxford…saying “No, no…I won’t” And then I heard him, the dealer, in his huge, gravelly, booming baritone, “Let me in, goddammit; I’ve gotta get my shit outta there.”  “No, you can’t.  The police said you’re not supposed to do that.”

I put on a pair of shorts and walked out onto the balcony for a cigarette.  As I lit up I could see the sunshine breaking, the first steam rising off the wet parking lot.  It was cool now, but the day was gonna cook.  Then I saw him, the kid, the dealer, out there in the lot, stooped, in the same smoky clothes from the night before, staring at the splintered, busted-in door to the char-hole apartment, with police tape all cockeyed everywhere.  He was shouting now.  And then, thin, lyrical, came this boy’s voice, “No don’t…please…you’ll ruin everything.”  I saw the dealer, stooped over, but still as a statue.  The voice was him. It was fucking him.  He was throwing his voice.  He was loco.  And yet it was so beautiful, so well done, so perfectly performed…like listening to an overture for two lovers play from the inside of a statue.

I saw the flash of party lights on the asphalt.  A squad car rolled up, red and blue reflecting off the pools of rainwater in the empty lot.  No sirens, just the sound of wet tires turning on asphalt.  By the time they got to this kid he could barely stand any more.  He looked like some kind of martyr, his Jesus-hair blowing in the wind.  The moment before they pushed his head down to clear the metal of the doorframe, he looked up at me.  Our eyes locked.  Okay; I got it.  We are the same.  Except our different locations in three-dimensional space we are the fucking same.

I finished my cigarette just as my right-side neighbor came out on the balcony with a forty in his hand.  He was an older guy, white-haired, retired, wearing board shorts and flip flops and a tank top over his beastly, hairy, barrel-shaped torso.  Burly.  Almost fat.  White bushes of armpit hair came out from his tank top.

He handed me the forty.  I took a swig; this was the nature of our relationship.  As I handed him back the forty he took one of those little shatter-proof plastic bottles of Christian Brothers out of his back pocket and handed it to me.  “Try that.  Take some a’ that.”

I swallowed.

“That’s a boilermaker,” he said.

I swallowed again.

“Pretty good, huh?” he said.

My mouth formed into a line.

We watched the cop car turn out of the wet parking lot, rolling silent, lights flashing off the wet asphalt, steam rising, the Jesus-haired crazy kid in the back, us just the watchers.

The Vaporous Devil

“You’re lying,” Sailor said.

I remembered another conversation I’d had with Malakian, almost a year later.

“So, you’re with this girl?”

“Yeah,” I said, “we’ve been together about a year…maybe a little bit more than that.”

“You’re still enjoying it?”

I nodded.

“Good,” he said.

“…of course you have to take care.  It’s okay to be with one woman for a long time.  It can be beautiful.  When she loves you, cares for you.  When she needs you…takes shelter in you…and you care for her a little, too, protect her a little…  This is the greatest thing in the world.  But take care.  If you reach the moment when you start to feel you hate her, you have to stop.  You have break it up.  There is no good that will come of this.”

Strange sensations churned inside me.  Things were toxic, and I knew it.  Toxic and at the same time magical: what was I to do?  I looked at Malakian.

At that moment, he had no pride in it.  He looked out across Amsterdam, to a restaurant across the street, where a dinner party was just letting out onto into the night.

Malakian was utterly in his senses, enjoying the cold air, enjoying the smoking.  He was well dressed in a wool overcoat, and bundled well enough that he was not suffering the weather, so that is was a pleasure for him to breathe in the cold night air, and the hot smoke.  He lit a second cigarette and smoked it as if he had just told me the simplest, most ordinary thing in the world.  In fact, he’d probably already forgotten what he’d said.

Together we knew what only a few people knew, that the color of cigarette smoke and the color of one’s breath on air were indeed two different colors…with the vaporous devil appearing in the purest white.

The memory rocketed through me, in a microsecond, and it was gone.  Malakian was gone.

I was there, in the apartment, with Sailor.

She said to me, “Love is a lie, Narc, a hypocrisy.  You know it.”

How did she know?

“It’s okay,” Sailor said, “it’s going to be intense.”

How did she know?  How did she know what was coming?

Things flashed back to me, at a terrific pace, tearing through my mind and body, memories rocketing through me like a river charging down a rapid.

I remembered a relationship I’d had, there in New York, but years before.  I’d lived in one of the last cheap apartments on the West Side, way up where there were those Chinese-Cuban restaurants on Amsterdam; we’d shared the space, a skilled concert pianist from Armenia and some other musicians, a percussionist from Portland, Oregon, another pianist from Mexico, and my roommate, whose closest male friend was a pool shark, and would come back early in the morning, his pockets lined with hundred dollar bills.

The relationship I’d been in was hot, insular, toxic, paradoxical…  Because we loved each other so deeply it was magical.

And we fucked. Oh lord we fucked.  We fucked on the floor, against the dresser, in the toilet, the shower, against the frosted glass in the dead of winter, wherever; we were in our twenties, and never got tired, and came everywhere.  It was a time when we were fucking with an urge, and an anger, and a hunger, and a need.  We were exorcising ourselves through our fuck.  We didn’t know what was wrong with us, and we were trying with every cell in our body to get rid of the thing we couldn’t find.

During this time I was a heavy smoker; it was bad for a dancer: 20 cigarettes a day, maybe more.

Often when I was down on the street smoking I would encounter Malakian, the pianist, whom we always called by his last name.  He was often gone concertizing, but when he was around, I listened to him.  He spoke either not at all, or in a complete paragraph, before falling into silence.

Once Malakian said to me, “Hey, it’s okay that you are enjoying her.  And I don’t want to impose myself.  Please just let me say this.  A little noise…okay, you know, when the feeling is so good, and you want to cry out during sex…okay.  But the crazy shrieking and all this, that I heard a couple of days ago.  Man, it’s too much.  Good sex is one thing, but it’s not the holocaust.  Please.”

I nodded my head in deep embarrassment.  Malakian touched my shoulder, and finished his cigarette. She and I were quieter after that.

The memory was gone.

It was inevitable: I was coming to what I had to say to Sailor.

“I love you,” I said.  I blurted it out.  It didn’t feel right, but I’d had to say it.

She looked disappointed…as if this were exactly what she’d been expecting me to say.