I think about the mornings it saved me
to look at the hearts penknifed on the windows
of the bus, or at the initials scratched
into the plastic partition, in front of which
a cabbie went on about bread his father
would make, so hard you broke teeth on it,
or told one more story about the plumbing
in New Delhi buildings, villages to each floor,
his whole childhood in a building, nothing to
love but how much now he missed it, even
the noises and stinks he missed, the avenue
suddenly clear in front of us, the sky ahead
opaquely clean as a bottle’s bottom, each heart
and name a kind of ditty of hopefulness
because there was one you or another I was
leaving or going to, so many stalls of flowers
and fruit going past, figures earnest with
destination, even the city itself a heart,
so that when sidewalks quaked from trains
underneath, it seemed something to love,
like a harbor boat’s call at dawn or the face
reflected on a coffee machine’s chrome side,
the pencil’s curled shavings a litter
of questions on the floor, the floor’s square
of afternoon light another page I couldn’t know
myself by, as now, when Socrates describes
the lover’s wings spreading through the soul
like flames on a horizon, it isn’t so much light
I think about, but the back’s skin cracking
to let each wing’s nub break through,
the surprise of the first pain and the eventual
lightening, the blood on the feathers drying
as you begin to sense the use for them.
Today’s Writing Music: San Solomon, by Balmorhea.
He asked the cab driver where he was from. Nigeria. He then guessed a word, a region? A city? The driver grinned, startled and surprised. How did you know? Most of the cabbies with your company are from there, he said, and he pulled a book from his bag, flipped through it, pages scrawled with notes from different pens, and found something blue. Words flowed from him, practiced, but perhaps written phonetically. Hello, I guessed, or good day. A warm gesture rich in welcome, the driver’s foreign language repeated in the darkness of a Seattle night.
There are make-shift weapons within reach of every place to sit and a well-loved typewriter, dusty and delicately studded with toy jewels, in need of a new ribbon. On the work table under the white board sits a small plastic tub, worn and unremarkable except for the motorcycle carburetor sitting inside of it, a row of ceramic pots holding various tools, and a beer bottle cap filled with cigarette ashes. (One pot is nearly filled with the same small, glow-in-the-dark stars that I stick to hotel ceilings, my international constellation trail of places I’ve dreamed.) One wall is lined with clippings about Spanish bullfights that have been carefully sliced from newspapers. My favourite shows a torero in full costume, leaning in a tight arc as a bull charges his vivid yellow cape, with the pull-quote ‘Only in Spain is the phrase “You are a good killer” — Eres un buen matador — a compliment.’ The room is immediately masculine, but I feel welcome and safe. This is a place I am willing to stay.
I am dropped off along a strange road, almost like a driveway, to a marina where Google maps lied and claimed there was a park. I sit in an alcove of rose bushes, feet up on my luggage, reading a book that is good only because it was free. The black convertible I’m waiting for sweeps past me, the driver uncertain of the directions. I smile and text him as I gather my things – behind you.
We find coffee, sit outside of a Starbucks tucked into a strip-mall, conveniently within sight of another Starbucks. We talk about work and exhaustion and corporate restructuring. He’s looking for a new place to live, somewhere with less of a grinding commute, and I think of David Byrne, lyrics from my favourite Talking Heads song, through I keep them to myself. “And as we watch him digging his own grave. It is important to know that was where he’s at. He can’t afford to stop, that is what he believe. He’ll keep on digging for a thousand years.” It gets stuck in my head for an hour.
He swears at traffic, a deluge of words I’ve never heard him say, “Judas.. Fuckin’.. Priest.” “Judas, really?” We’re on our way to the bus depot, but a sports game just let out and the new station is right by the stadium. The tirade of epithets pour from him like the lime green jerseys pouring across the blocked street we’re suddenly trapped on. And it is a full on tirade, started earlier as he was cursing at his phone, castigating the office in Taiwan, annoyed to not be able to give me his attention before I had to go. The invective isn’t as creative as I might have expected, but it’s admirable in its persistence. It is the profanity of a long, long day. (I’m thinking about empty motion.) He’s probably ready to gnaw his own arm off to get out of the gridlock, though his fantasy, more likely, involves mowing them all down. I tell him, as I finally get my bags from the car, that it was almost attractive. “Except for the bit where it’s a little like examining someone’s bookshelf and only finding male authors.” He grins, puzzled, appreciative, and I blow a kiss goodbye.
The bar is familiar, the staff less so, though they all tend to look the same there. Punk hair, piercings, a roughshod pragmatic readiness to toss out the drunks. There’s a periscope in the men’s room, recently damaged by pigeons, and the t-shirt they sell contains a coded message that spells out FUCK YOU. The only other things to know: it’s open 24 hours, there’s a jukebox that’s only broken half the time, and the food, though greasy, isn’t too bad.
Ostensibly we’re there after the show because whiskey goes well with fast cars and guns and explosions, but really we’re there because I make him nervous. He’s honest about it after the first shot. It’s a relief. There is only one man who is afraid of me that I will make time for and as that slot is taken, the rest can go hang. If I’m not to be trusted, I need to know as soon as possible, the better to make other arrangements. But I am lucky this time. His reasoning is absurd and easy to correct, the missed shot of an archer who didn’t know the wind of the territory.
Underneath, the darker water, the faster moving riptide reasons. I wonder if he sees them like I do, if he can read them as part of his hyperactive threat response, if he knows why he should be nervous instead of why he is. They stem from the same source that makes me wary of myself when I stand on tall buildings. That urge to throw oneself from the precipice, that desire to trust the air, to learn to fly by forgetting to hit the ground. For once, a fear is justified. In this, and this alone, I might be dangerous. My heart is broken, it is not a safe stone to stand on, Archimedes be damned.
Instead of the film, we talk about pain and suicide and what it’s like to have the ones you love best die and leave you behind. We stand out front while he kills a cigarette, arguing about social species. He calls us the immortals, due to the way our kind expire, exhausted, unable to keep fighting, yet always come back to life. It is nice to be recognized, though our philosophies disagree. He leans his back against me, blowing his smoke away. “I am finally too tired to be reborn,” I tell him, my hands on his shoulders. It is cold and I shiver. He rails against me in reply. Fuck that, jhayne, you can’t give up, yet when I wrap my legs around his waist, he carries me, still swearing, back into the bar, ready to call it a night.