Laugh out the meager penance of their days
Who dare not share with us the breath released,
The substance drilled and spent beyond repair
For golden, or the shadow of gold hair.
Distinctly praise the years, whose volatile
Blamed bleeding hands extend and thresh the height
The imagination spans beyond despair,
Outpacing bargain, vocable and prayer.
For the Marriage of Faustus and Helen, Hart Crane
I was young in LA once. I lived by the beach and lived a lifestyle that was as close to stereotypes as stereotypes go. It was a paradise by any other measure.
There was an easy grace, a rhythm, to my life then. I woke up to the sound of waves crashing the beach, and salted mist coming in through the windows. I loved 10 am, which was when the full heat of the day hadn’t started yet; it was just warmth at first, and the breeze was delightfully mixed with both the coolness that had penetrated the earth during the night, and warm air, just beginning to rise from the asphalt. It felt of the earth.
Gentle breezes blew through the window, making the drapes flit lightly, and the smell of the restaurant below – waffles, omelettes, burgers, and pancakes – was heaven. The smell of barbecues came in every weekend, and neighbours would invite us over for extra burgers or mojitos. We lived without shoes, and walked down to the beach to play volleyball or surf.
The homes along the beach rest on narrow plots of land overlooking the sea, and flashed their popsicle painted colours, periwinkle to lavender, as we rode our bikes by them. We swerved next to skateboarders and frisbees and people walking their dogs. Everyone had mild drawls and burnished skin.
I would lay with her when the moon was mellow and the water was high, and we would wake up to the sound of idle gulls outside and leaves brushing each other, like the sound of our skin.
But at times, all of it – the sand and sun and our young love – filled me with nostalgia for a place that I felt like I would never know. Every day the world was bright. I was young and it should have made me happy with hope, but I had a creeping feeling I was being blinded.
To me, it felt like a land of waiting, a land you reach at the end of a journey, facing the water and its foaming, dark secrets. The sea stretched on forever in one direction. Was there something on the other side?
Surfing, I would paddle out past the line and look back at the homes. From out on the water, they looked narrow and huddled against something. Then at night, the crash of the surf began to sound like it was reiterating something, a hypnotic message.
I felt like a fugitive. A feeling that there was something left undone, like I had left a light on somewhere and fled. I was hoping the sea would help me forget, but it was never silent, and the town itself had a finality about it, like it was the end of the world.
And I felt like if I stayed, I would have grown complacent and old and in my young mind, that was equivalent to death. This was not my place. At least, not yet.
The waters had just receded to the sound of the lakes exhaling, and the earth crawled with sprouts and sinews.
He woke suddenly, because in his mind’s eye he had seen a vision so clear and tremendous it paralyzed him. It was not of him, the way it had descended so quickly and expanded to fill his chamber.
He saw cathedrals rising on the backs of elephants, fueled by lotuses that drew in energy from the muck around them, crystallizing sharply into spires that filled themselves in against the darkness and rooted themselves deep beneath the earth. He saw towering mountains rise from sandstone, scoured from the base of the pedestals supporting the celestial thrones along the whole breadth of the universe. He saw the million prayers of his million subjects rise in a granite column to the skies, bringing down a shower of radiance and searing vigor on the forests, which uprooted themselves in gnarled tumult and wrought heavy serpentine trunks around the galleries. He saw the million backs and arms of his strongest warriors forge a lineage unifying the heavens and the earth, and saw the very matter of the skies collect day by day in cerulean pools that trapped the brilliance of stars and captured the beating heart of the moon. He saw the nymphs alight and step into the city he had built, and the Protector himself occupy the lintels and pilasters.
He saw time churn its infinite, depthless configurations. He saw the Destroyer, in command of his enemies, visit annihilation on the empire, and his subjects crumble before them. He saw reawakening and peace, and a northern prophet sanctify the kingdom so that smiles forever creased the stones. He saw bloodshed and sorrow, and heard the last voice speak his language, and saw the dowagers perish and their children leave the land.
The stones subsumed the souls of a hundred generations. All time would pass despite them, but every morning took an eternity to rise. Time, a continuous tapestry woven into the immortal mind, a colossal mind that contained the million forms of god. The imperial city vanished into a single dot in the consciousness of the divine, this eternal mind, a mind whose cardinal points delimited the boundaries of the universe. It was a mind that now filled him so tremendously he woke with the thought that it might kill him but he had not a choice to make. He did not know whether it was this mind or his own that heard the rooster crow.
He woke to the chirping of the crickets, and summoned his minister. Bring me the shells of the turtles that support the mighty stand of the earth. Bring me the stones from the kilns at the beginning of the world. Flatten the mountains and bring me their substance, bring me the ocean in buckets, and every hue and mineral contained in all the galleries of the universe. Wake the armies and the priests, the slaves, the farmers, and the merchants, and have them build me moats and ramparts filled with the shapes of all creation, and bear them, and where there is a voice summon it to cry, and where there is life awaken it to build our city.
Today we are convening the deities for all eternity, and setting before them an expression of the universe, for today we are performing the intention of god.
Page 3, Diary of a Sex Worker:
Tonight is a breezy night. The smell of lemongrass and thick curry comes in through my window. The air is thick with it. I am tired, it has been a long day, but I do not work tomorrow.
I have rubbed fresh lime between my toes. I will take my time with this. Outside the city is sweltering. I prefer this hour, when most of the city is in slumber. It feels manageable.
When I am in my bath I do not think about what happened during the day. I do not remember much at all of the past, because I actively try to forget. I imagine my customers do not remember either, and in that way sometimes I can think that it did not transpire at all.
Do we have a duty to preserve our memories? I do not remember any of my customers except the bad ones, who I remember like sharp cramps. The others I remember as one whole man.
They are together one whole man. It is a nervous and lonely, an adolescent and desperate, a helpless and curious, a guarded and cold, a distant and lying man. Together, I can feel this whole man wilt beneath my fingers when I wash him. I feel this whole man look curiously at me, and sometimes I let him see, because both this whole man and I have a short memory and we will not see each other again. I smell this whole man when he walks in and sometimes his eyes are full of fear, sometimes full of a loneliness that is so deep I am scared to touch him.
He lies to me with great confidence. I have never told the whole truth to this man, but I have told more truths than lies, though this whole man does not know it.
This whole man still surprises me. I have shared true moments of happiness with this man. The whole man and I rarely speak each other’s language, but between two people what really needs to be said? I think it is little.
Sometimes I have played with the whole man’s hair. And sometimes I marvel at the whole man’s body. It holds a man’s strength. Other times I have said nothing to this man, and he has said nothing at all to me. In spending time with this man, night after night, because night after night he comes, I have learned more and more about this man, and the many men have become one whole man, man himself, and sometimes I feel love for this whole man, not the individual men who make him up, but the whole man. Tonight is one of those times.
But much of the other times I feel disgust and repulsion and absolute hate toward the whole man. Because of this, I try every day to forget this man, and this is what limits me. I know. I give good service, but I do not give great service. Other customers buy the other girls apartments and cars. I know the whole man has an ego that can be caressed and controlled. I make them think they are special, I convince them of their power and benevolence. To them this is their worth. I cannot do this. They bring too much of themselves with them. It is too much – humanity.
If I did this too, there would be no more of me, because this last part is the part that supports the rest of me. I know that if I cross this line then my hopes will fade also. I will not know if they are real or if they are the lie I tell myself. This is my last part and I know it is not very strong.
In bits and pieces I have felt real happiness, rare as each moment is, and they have been fragments that make up a whole, adding up to a one whole happiness. Maybe that is another lie, but it is one that I tell myself.
It has been my experience that sometimes imagined affection feels real, and imagined joy feels real, and all these lies the whole man and I tell each other, they add up to a picture of if not truth, then at least a picture of a life.
Despite what some of my lady customers and even some of the men say, I am peaceful with this picture.
I do not know what I do not know, but I interpret what I see, and the lies and truths together have made that one whole man, just like they make my life, my one whole life. And in this life I have the money I have saved, and the house I bought back from the bank for my parents, and soon I will have enough to open a restaurant, clean and well-designed.
I will serve drinks made from vanilla and fresh dragonfruit. We will grind fresh curry paste every morning from kaffir lime leaves and garlic, and we will squeeze coconut milk into it.
I have no companion yet. Outside, I feel the spirit houses are awake. I will drink a glass of orange yogurt when I get out of the bath. The soap is like silk.
You can run all your life
But not go anywhere
Ball and Chain, Social Distortion
What I would give now to go back to the complete
and utter banality of that moment in the modest
house, a lazy Saturday in October. Lunch had been
eaten, and with no agenda except to wait for dinner,
things were said and done, but what they were – I
I only remember that they were plain and ordinary,
full of hope and ignorance about the future.
And I only know that my mother will never move
like that again, with the vitality of a much younger
mother, that my one sister is no longer a baby sister,
and that my father will never stand like that again,
that tall, much younger man that I remember.
Who would have thought that such a boring
utter non-event would become a memory that I treasure.
I promised you everything, didn’t I. With the boldness and certainty of youth, I promised you the world.
Things will be different, I said.
I remember the apartment well.
The cramped walls, the pitching carpet, the one window that let in the bark of dogs and random shouts of strangers, and the wash of tires over the street. The window that looked out onto a single lamp, glowing in adagio, bristling sounds coming from the transformer.
I remember it well because I was always looking out the window.
I lived outside that window then, in the future, where everything would be not as it was.
That future never came, but that’s not the reason we didn’t.
In those moments, you were happy and content. And I wasn’t.
And that heart which was a wild garden was given to him who loved only trim lawns. And the imbecile carried the princess into slavery.
Wind, Sand, and Stars – Antoine de St.-Exupery
She played and squealed as if no one had paid attention to her before.
At one point, I realized that it might actually be the case. Her mom (my cousin) told me her dad was usually away on business and too tired to play with her when home.
It’s hard to explain her joy – utter, total – but it was in the way that only young children can abandon themselves to total joy. The joy filled her completely, straightened her skyward.
But I only stayed two days.
As she stood on the curb when I said goodbye, I saw her face look at me with a wide-eyed, disappointed look. Looking at me with an utter abandon of a young child who realizes she is being left.
As I waved, I saw the joyful aura fade and be replaced with a small little figure, her whole body deflated and still, realizing for the first time maybe, the collapsing feeling of betrayal.
Sitting in darkness helps. Far from the bruit and wail of the noisy world.
Be still and silent.
These are different things, and the source of all struggle.
Cultivate the cool black loam of the night, imagination’s soil. Dig deep, because you must summon something out of nothing.
You must focus to hear the slightest crackling.
These are the seeds of your soul.
It will emerge – a glint, a ghost. In silence, the faintest whisper. A cool breath. A wisp, stirring.
Be cast with doubt, fear, even imagine a sigh from the world and it will retreat back into the endless where from whence it came, into endlessness, into your imagination again.
Once seized, the seedling of a soul is raw, ginger, a vulnerable young tuber – ugly, timid, unlike anything you’ve ever seen.
And for that reason worth more than anything in your world.