I. the desert in june
the waffle house on the north side of the phoenix art museum has been converted into a thai restaurant and lisa and i are sitting across from one another in sticky red booths. we’re looking through her new pocket pema when the thai iced coffee arrives. i don’t need it and i feel kind of ashamed that i ordered it - the color of sand and seriously, ineffably sweet. my compression shirt, the new one, the one that tweaks my shoulder every time i take it off - it’s sticking to me and i’m pretty sure i stink. my tits are on my nerves. my thighs keep touching each other. i wish i didn’t hate everything about myself right now but i do, especially the way my belly pushes out when i breathe.
II. things that leave a clean feeling
the man who admits he fucks babies. the number of children born with syphilis in baltimore, 1995-1996. fruit bats. a woman on the front porch eating breakfast. grass that can’t get dry. an upside down mason jar on the shelf separated from its gold plated lid. a cow. a white cow. a white cow and the human hand above it. a white cow and the human hand above it held on film. names. nails left in the wall by the old tenants. the way a face looks when it is finally forgotten. a tooth in the dirt. a belt. a paddle. the window one closes too carefully. the window one can’t wipe clean.
III. After driving 3,595 miles, my windshield wipers, it is determined, are utter shit.
My sister gets married. A drunk guy at a hotel asks me if I’m an artist and then wants me to decorate his car. Corn is everywhere. I hide out and I masturbate in my room. Facebook makes me feel bad about myself and so does Grindr. I delete each from my phone and then add them back on 17 different occasions. I go to two different big box stores in Minneapolis to buy a book called The Gifts of Imperfection by “researcher/storyteller” Brene Brown. I sleep in a tent. Nervously. A friend’s partner is pregnant but she thinks she is miscarrying when I visit. There is blood and we don’t use the word baby, or rather, we feel weird about using the word baby when what we mean is fetus because we’ve always been staunchly pro-choice. My back hurts. The TV is on. We are happy when the baby is ok. I ride in the back of a truck every opportunity I get. I read Babyfucker, 100 Notes on Violence, and Bad Bad. I hike with Cara Benson and she tells me she’s writing a book called Cara Benson. Bed bugs happen. Again. I spend a lot of time looking at lists of dead people. I don’t miss anyone. Things change and I decide not to leave the people I love. Renay says, everything should be epic. I plagiarize parts of The Power of Habit, Artificial Love, and The Compass of Pleasure in every conversation for weeks.
IV. Melissa Dawn Tolbert
It always begins this way. To try to solidify one thing by wandering around in a field. To gather sticks. Trees are necessary. The field would be more accurately called a yard but yard implies boundaries, a fence. To place the sticks in any sort of geometrical configuration, to determine proximity simply by defining place, one need not have an understanding of physics, architecture, or strength. One can simply pile the sticks. It would be ideal for them to be about the same length. As is often the case, girth is relevant really only in relation to length. One could always break the sticks. There is nothing that says one has to use the sticks exactly as they are found. One could be methodical or not, careful or less so, it doesn’t matter really. The field is ubiquitous. It’s closer than one might think.
Have you ever taken a bundle of dry spaghetti and held it over a pot of boiling water with both hands? There is a certain satisfaction there. To break a singular thing that is also plural. To think one knows, but not really, what will happen next. Inevitably, a little mess is made. Individual pieces slip through, break unevenly, stab the wrist. One cannot help but imagine the pressure required, although vertically, to snap a human neck. Pressure is the wrong word. The word one wants is tension. A pulling force. A subtler mess. This is not the same as, say, dropping a glass jar, either intentionally or otherwise, from counter height, say 3-4 feet (no more than 48 inches) onto a Saltillo tile floor. All that sauce everywhere. The dog must be called. She’s deaf but call her anyway. Here, dog. Look what we gave you on the floor.
When the dog was found she was pregnant. No one could tell really. She was young. Self-sufficient. She wasn’t what one would call motherly. One could see how she would fight getting fucked by that one dog or any of the others, even if she was in heat. No one ever says this about pregnancy but gestation becomes aggression from the inside. That little thing would absolutely kill her if it could. And then it’s over. It’s almost like watching a woman take a shit. Humans are only one of three species who fuck outside of the ovulation cycle. Who engage in foreplay. Who, it could be argued, actually ask to get raped. Humans are also only one of four species who engage in monogamy or serial monogamy. Apparently this developed because the human brain, at full maturation, is around 1200 cubic centimeters whereas a woman’s cunt, even on a good day, can only stretch to something like 400 cc. Something had to give either way. So, baby humans are born with severely underdeveloped brains covered by 44 separate bony elements. Crushing a skull would take considerably more pressure than snapping a bundle of dry spaghetti, although crushing a child’s skull must be somewhere in the middle range. Still. That must be something one could accomplish on one’s own. Just one person, just two hands.
One time, on a wilderness trip, a woman took a red apple, picked off the stem, and turned the apple upside down. She hooked her thumbs into the crevice that leads to or comes from, depending on how you think about it, the core. She was showing off, this woman, but people gathered, and she broke the apple clean in half that way. There was a guy who couldn’t believe it (there’s always that guy) and he took his own apple and basically squeezed the hell out of it. Pressure, not tension. He turned his apple into mush. The thing about a child’s skull is the soft spot. It would make sense to hook one’s thumbs there, to wrap the fingers around the jaw, to pull, to pull harder, to be impressed by the pulling, to not know how not to apply force.
Adult skulls are different.
In the field there is a freestanding wall. It’s rectangular and one made of cinder blocks. From this distance the most arresting feature is the rusted open window. When a wall is decorative it is often made using a pattern called stretcher bond. Decorative walls cannot support any other walls and even the bench is a cosmetic bench. But how much weight could the open metal window hold? The wonderful part about hanging something is that gravity is what does all the work. If architecture is the belief that one is a different person depending on one’s surroundings, one should consider more closely who one is over or under, one should experiment with force. Actually, there are two walls. There is no foundation for either of them. There is the wall you see and then there is also the wall that exists.
If there is only one story, it is inevitable that it will be repeated. One wakes up in a room and the fan is on. One touches one’s body, comes to understand that one is not dead. Inferential logic is thought to begin in the dorsal root ganglia while habit loops are formed in the basal ganglia (a core structure shared across vertebrates). These loops are delicate. The car backs out of the driveway and pulls onto the interstate. It slows down next to a stranger. It signals for the next exit. To say that machines are animals is not at all to say that animals are really just machines. When David turned on a tank of nitrous and ran the tube into a mask he then pulled over his face, it was the machine that was the last one to hold him. Pleasure is a universal drive although the theory used to be that the body would do anything just to avoid pain. When the ventral tegmental area (VTA) is active it emits dopamine-releasing axons into the nucleus accumbens, amygdala, dorsal striatum, and prefrontal cortex. But it’s the medial forebrain bundle, which is connected to the olfactory region, that sets off the VTA. Those who work in hospitals say they can smell death coming. Mallard ducks have a well-documented history of necrophilia, both heterosexual and homosexual. One researcher in the Netherlands witnessed the rape of a corpse that lasted an entire 75 minutes. It would be inaccurate to say one can become addicted to power or alcohol. Or even orgasm. The only drug the body recognizes is dopamine.
V. Sketches from Byrdcliffe
Why Apples Can Cause Riots: A Discussion of Linh Dinh’s “Eating Fried Chicken.”
Mad Cartographer: A Discussion of Jack Spicer’s “Psychoanalysis: An Elegy.”
Also, one bowl of Raisin Bran and four tablespoons of apple cider vinegar each day.
VI. A record of poems I didn’t write
I can’t stop thinking about Pema Chodron. She said, “Everything that human beings feel, we feel. We can become extremely wise and sensitive to all of humanity and the whole universe simply by knowing ourselves, just as we are.” I want this to be the one thing that someone else said that is true.
VII. things that pass
VIII. things that want to be quiet
from the time I was 6 months old until I was 3, my grandfather would pull his hardening dick out of his pants and rub it all over my mouth. John McPhee’s critique of mimicry in urban America is really an assessment of landscape. universal design is misanthropic. even the best habits emerge without our permission. right now I’m in public and my nipples are hard. I want to rub them. I want to lift up my shirt and show you my incredible tits.
IX. things that repeat
mirror neurons invite us to feel empathy for other human beings and often encourage us to smile when someone else is smiling. the idea is that this prevents us from hurting further those who have already been touched. ferdinand ambach visited new zealand from hungary. in december 2007, the 32 year old went to a bar and met 69 year old ronald james brown. we can never take it personally. none of it. I let a person strangle me once during sex not because I liked it, I don’t, but because on the other side of the wall is a bench. some days, it’s easy to feel decadent. on the way back to brown’s apartment, brown confessed to playing the banjo. ambach, a diving instructor, understood the importance of breath. scientists used to believe it was the ability to use tools that separated us from other animals. now the difference is four-fold. surface tension allows objects heavier than water, such as spiders and paperclips, to distribute their weight and therefore feel supported by something they don’t ever have to love. gay panic is a legal defense. ambach beat brown with a red instrument. in the average human body there are approximately 12 pounds of blood. the theory of “creative destruction” posits that even widespread societal gain always produces losses for some. when it was sufficiently broken, ambach shoved the neck of the banjo down the old man’s throat. excess is a practical concern. oxygen is only one kind of touch.
X. “Dick will make you slap somebody.”
Of all of the things I am evangelical about.
I believe these things are probably true.