Woke up this morning thinking of the summer I spent working at a bookstore– The Book Train– in a small mountain town outside Aspen. We had an old CD player and only a very limited selection of CDs that we were allowed to play at the store, most of which were in the vein of Simon & Garfunkel and the Indigo Girls and Loreena McKennit. The only set I found listenable was Johnny Cash’s American III, which consisted solely of an elderly Cash and his guitar doing a pantheon of covers in his gravely voice, and which I must have played hundreds of times over the course of those months.
Summer was off-season in Colorado, and the bookstore was not heavily trafficked, so most days I just spent reading; on my days off I’d drive into Aspen to visit the art museum, which at the time had this Damien Hirst show that included both his butterfly paintings and various sheep heads in formaldehyde, and to hang out with my friend D., who was working as a 911 dispatcher for the area. In the evenings, for money, I did occasional nude modeling for some of the wealthy faux-photographers summering there. I sometimes wonder what happened to those photos.
It was such a sweet and sleepy summer, looking back on it, though at the time I felt so lost and bereft and out-of-place there, neither local nor tourist but someone almost accidentally passing through. I drove through the town again last summer, on my way from Los Angeles to Denver. The Book Train was still there but I didn’t go in.
Emotional talk with T. yesterday, mostly about Anna’s suicide. He kept encouraging me to write about it, which I have stumbled around with doing but keep stopping because it feels so fraught– like following this Ariadne’s thread through a labyrinth of trauma and pain that ends up in a center of senselessness no one should ever wish to visit, and where the maze itself is all made up of these barely glued pieces of family and relationships and the guttered underbelly of the psyche. To use suicide to anchor anything seems misguided somehow, and yet there it remains, stubborn in its negation.
Annapurna died the week of Thanksgiving, 2019. That week was the last time I ever drank, days after her last stuttering heartbeats, when we were all supposed to be celebrating a family holiday and all I wanted was to forget. I woke up the next morning hungover and miserable, with the ringing awareness that in trying to escape I’d only been following the same dark path that had ended up swallowing her; with the unsettling awareness that to feed one demon is to feed them all.
Anna told me one night when she was fifteen– back when we shared a room, and, more often than not, a bed– that one day she intended to kill herself. Her tone then was less one of heavy depression than it was fierce defiance and vicious black humor, a teenage desire for some sort of violent control over her personal fate. And that is what I remember most: that there was always so much fight in her, exploding through music and poetry and drama and art, fueling her haphazard path through New York and Estonia and London and South Africa, the laughingly cruel way in which she’d leave her latest adoring boyfriend without so much as a note, disappearing into the next adventure– which were typically filled with house fires and broken noses; car wrecks and concerts; crash pads and DIY tattoos.
I told T. that I think sometimes about retracing her journey, from Vancouver to London to Colorado, Providence to Portland to New York, Estonia to Kansas to Greece, and god knows where else in between, to pick up the threads of her life, to collect whatever variations on her memory remains– but what value is there in chasing such a ghost? I told T. I dream sometimes of smearing myself in her ashes and dancing like a banshee in one of her hats and tattered dresses– but what value is there in courting such possession? And so there is nothing to do but sit with it, the way that sisters do, remembering the way we used to whisper in bed together, braiding each other’s hair.
Can we slow down? I awaken before morning with a faint title suspended– A Users Guide to the Sublime— and the idle desire to manufacture a manual for the artful navigation of non-ordinary space. But it is all symbol and all metaphor and I am wary of the human tendency to literalize; to reify; to take the language of anything of as sacrosanct. Better remove, better undo, better refine.
We are not eternal but the animating forces that move us are. The thrill in opening to them; in soaring like a sailbird along various and unseen planes; in the breathtaking brevity of life in this form.
Shower. Downstairs. Outside. Turning on the grill in the still-dark morning, the background dusted with ash from the wildfires, the magic of propane and the sudden rush of flame. The sear of meat and the sharpness of black coffee, breath hanging in dragon-clouds and mixing with the steam. I continue to love the mornings here, cold and peopled only with the lingering figures of dreams, breathing on my hands until the red beacon of the sun starts to crawl slowly upward through the smoke-hazed dawn.
Nineteen years ago; the world is again and still aflame. But there is nothing to say about this. I am so tired of theory and conspiracy and construct; I want what is felt in the viscera. Solace in the body and fire and blood, in wet grass in the fist and the feeling of bitten skin. This morning I feel my cold feet on the wet concrete, the smell of propane hissing from the grill, the sear of meat- fire echoing fire; fire licking flesh- and wonder if the soul is ever sated.
A split lip; a split infinitive;
a hairline fracture to slyly
bridle the chain.
Where are the years of striated agate,
of asphalt gritted in the knee?
Soft soft the must of goosedown & dust,
the muffled weathered fur.
Soft soft the animal newness of toothless
mewling for milk.
Soft soft the finger slipped inside
the sweet salt ripening of another
sighing body. Softer the cry of voice.
These are theories
for what the tongue does with words.
These are lavish explanations
for the prehensile absurdity
of the idea of a knowable universe.
These are pigeon-toed foxes chirruping
over scavenged remains.
This is a myth of revelation no one dares
Sweet one why must anything
Sweet one why the torn & scrambling paws?
There can be no certainty on an infinite plane.
Touch the answer
and a proliferation of lunacy wriggles forth
like maggots from the skin. The absolute
cascades of laughter.
The world is being swept by a slow pandemic and we are all being asked to stay home and all I can feel is the Earth shuddering a sigh of pure pleasure beneath the panic of human restraint. It is the bliss of the breathing of oceans; the spaciousness of a global pause; a rippling shiver through the being to which we all inextricably belong.
Tonight I spent on a call with quarantined beings from all over the planet, and the tenderness of the community and creativity and the art that has already emerged through this briefest of pauses was enough to fill a galaxy of human hearts.
I recall the only true response to the unknown is wonder.