22 April 2014

Sweet Impossibilities.

"The best women," I once wrote, "leave at three in the morning." I did not mean to sound crass, though I would not blame anyone who reads arrogance into it. I wrote it just after 3am one morning, just after a woman left me alone with a half empty bottle of '98 Duval-Leroy half-afloat in a bucket of melted ice. I had waited for her, unsure if she'd come and see me. And she did. Out into the cold night, wearing jeans and a sweater.

That summer and early fall, she was wounded by a breakup. I was bruised by an embarrassing misreading of the pulse of a fling, the sharp sting of being rejected. She was a very fine writer and, as far as I know, still is. She made me promise that if I ever wrote about her, I would call her Ophelia.

We took refuge in a friendship that blossomed after summer. Eventually, it gave way to curiosity, affection...and her lips, tart with cold champagne, finally on mine. It gave way to the first glimpse of the thin, firm newness of her body--soft smoothness here, taut warmth there--and feverish undressing. And then 3am came and I knew she was still hurt, still thinking of someone else's touch. I realized that she could not kiss me, not then, and be lost in the same place I was. And so she left, leaving no trace, not even a taste left on a glass, a reminder of the bittersweet impossibility.

When I met her for coffee the next morning, I felt a profound sadness. I was in love and she was saying goodbye. Perhaps I only thought I was in love. Perhaps I wanted to be in love with someone who could not possibly love me so as to not have to deal with the reality of having to love someone or something possible. It is easy to love the impossible because the impossible can never disappoint you...and you can never disappoint it.

I did not sleep with her. We did not make love. We did not discover each other, delight in the novelty that comes with a new lover, did not fall asleep as the sun rose and wake to smile at each other in a dawn-dimmed room. She did not belong there. Her body was present, but her heart was not. We both knew it, especially me.

I never went back to the place where we met. It will always be the city where she left me at 3 am, the city of a wobbly table and her hands and the end of fall. I leave it there, untouched, in an eternal November, an eternal impossibility. She left a few months later. I cannot imagine that there is anything there that reminds her of me.

We later lived in the same city for nearly three years, but never spoke. We never met for drinks. We never texted. I never ran into her by chance coming out of Zabars or buying a bottle of wine for an apartment warming party. I emailed an apology once, just in case I had done something wrong. Should I never have kissed her? Should I have asked her to stay? Should we have had another martini at dinner or not had martinis at dinner? She replied in the gentle, even, archaically agreeable way that she had always replied to my emails--"Dear Sir..."--and she did her best to thin whatever residual shame I had in losing a friend in an attempt to find something more where nothing more could exist. After that, I never heard from her again, never tried to contact her again.

I think of her now only because, in a way, I am where I am because of her. The day she said goodbye to me, I sat at my desk in the hotel and I wrote "Engaged," an essay that, to this day, people have told me is the best thing they have ever read.

In it, I ponder the impossibilities that we face and how time blurs things: were her eyes blue or brown? Did she actually care for me? Who will she be with? Does she remember me? Will she?

Those aren't just questions we ask in the past tense. They flood our minds in the present tense. What will happen? What is possible? Who is this person who feels so natural? Why can't I commit to this night, these kisses, drink this mouth like Lethe and forget?

The answers come weighted with the impossible. Those last kisses at 2:45 am murmur the end of everything possible and the beginning of everything that cannot be.

You know this because you hold her still, but mostly you know it because you cannot hold her and you will not hold her again.

But not yet, not yet. Those things will be, but not now.

Put them away, then, and feel her fingers circling yours.

And kiss her again. You have no time.

No one ever really leaves. They persist as impossibilities: always there, always out of reach. They shine light on the things that are possible, the loves that we must suffer for, the hearts that we hope still beat for us and that call us into our eternal Novembers at 3 in the morning.

17 October 2013

You Needn't Go Home.

It’s late and you don’t want to go home. You want to drive around or walk around because you don’t want to leave her, not yet. Leaving her will mean the feeling of terrible apartness. It will mean watching her fade into the distance, disappear dragging a long shadow under the streetlights, fade into the spill of headlamps with only the lingering taste of a kiss or the touch of her perfume or some other thing that will wear off (yes, wear off) as the days—the endless days—that seem to somehow go on without her, but are empty of the things that lend days any sort of form, meaning, substance…joy.

You don’t want to go home, no.

The night begins to pale and even though your eyes burn and you’re both tired of the incandescent blaze and the hungover feeling that comes from drinking coffee past midnight, you let it pale because even though it’s late, you don’t want to go home.

That’s how it starts.

Somewhere at some hour, when it’s late.

The phone calls go on into the night and suddenly oh fuck I have to be up in an hour and you’re stumbling into work with red eyes and your face hurting from laughing.

Maybe you drive around, find a hill, look at the city burning up with light. Millions of lives. You consider these things out loud because this is what feeling known evokes: a feeling of knowingness. You kiss her or you don’t. It doesn’t matter. Even if you don’t, you imagine kissing her. The world around you smells like wet grass and exhaust and gravel and auto air freshener. And even though it’s late, you don’t want to go home.

You sit somewhere. A porch. A balcony. A scratched table in a restaurant in the middle of closing, ignored by a waitress who just wants to finish her shift and leave but has other things to do before she kicks you out. Don’t order a refill on your coffee. You want to know everything. Every detail. Broken hearts. The names of first pets. The first boy she kissed. And it’s all a cliché and you both know it and still, still, you don’t want to go home. Not yet. Park in an empty lot and kiss until your mouths are sore.

Her name will be on your lips long after she is gone, after she is in bed. Does she think of you, too? Stare at the ceiling and ask yourself. The other numbers that come through on your phone will become nuisances. They will become distractions. They will become the great mass of everyone-who-isn’t-her and you will resent them for not being her. Your pulse will throb with declaration and the delicious fear of finding that your affections are unreturned and you picture it like a cartoon of someone dropping a heart on the ground. You think these and a thousand other things while you sit and stare at her in the silence and you don’t want to go home.

Long after the night has died and you’ve joked about weddings and names for children—and nearly every wedding and child’s name has started off as joke—you’ll wonder, well, what if? Leave tomorrow’s details to tomorrow. Tomorrow is hours off, and though it feels like the seconds have found a way to triple their speed, you may rest assured that they will drip like amber from the branch until you see her again.

The sun will rise. Drink the last dregs of night from her lips. Be fevered. Be resolute. Be brave. Feel her eyes on your back and don't be afraid to turn back to look.

You do not lose her to the streetlights, nor to the spill of headlamps.

The night ends because even the Hesperides must sleep sometime. Even the stars must climb elsewhere and light the skies for other lovers staring out at other cities, not wanting to go home.

You've found home.

Lines on the Winter Equinox Eclipse 2010

In the depth of winter skies
Where ancient bodies hover
Moon to Sun will seem to die
When Earth divides the lovers

And in the hour of its grief
The sun will cease its burning
And starve the bough, the branch, the leaf
And leave the cold dawn yearning.

In the depth of dying light
The moon will cry in sorrow
Thinking that the longest night
Finds no relief tomorrow

Sun will freeze the stars to dust
Above to chain the hours
Moon will seem to turn to rust
Below will die the flowers

And beneath their broken hearts
We question and we wonder
Where love ends and where love starts
And what tears it asunder

If there meet two hearts, two lips
Will Earth be their undoing?
Will they only be eclipsed:
A shadow's pause in wooing?

As Earth's shadow fades from night
Rekindling their desire
Sun takes Moon into its light
And Moon sets Sun on fire

In the dark of winter skies
That oft leave passion covered
Love has often seemed to die
But none divide the lovers

Cities in the distance

When I was a boy, I used to sit alone at night and watch planes fly overhead. I imagined being on one of them, going to some city in the distance. I imagined myself surrounded by lights and buildings and traffic snaking through metropolitan veins.

I've seen no shortage of cities. I have lived in a few.

The ones I have lived in all have one thing in common: they're all places I'm learning to forget, filled with people who are learning to forget me.

I do not imagine it otherwise.

Those cities in the distance are behind me. I may yet turn around.

22 September 2013


The air here is sweet, for once. In the hills, I'm sure it is sweeter still, perfumed with twisting roses and honeysuckle. Alyssum still blooming in tangy bouquets as eucalyptus leaves float to the sand and gutter, each a resinous sigh of surrender. I like the cold mornings, even though I walk over quake-broken asphalt through crowds that seem possessed of a marked inability to enjoy the hush of anything, even Sunday morning in the church of the equinox.

Day is as long as night and then the nights grow longer. The coffee mornings are cold, as coffee mornings in the fall should be. There's no smell of fireplaces here, but I remember it well enough to imagine it when the nights are cold, as if the orphan air misses it as I miss the sea of fire colors that sweeps over the elms and maples and oaks back east. Our fire still burns, my lady of the red coat. Under the crystal chandelier. Under the pearl skies. Under our silver moon, near the ivy. In the tangle of blankets and kisses yet-to-come.

I saw you last in the cooling summer. I am still drinking your kisses from that gray afternoon. Your perfume clings to my skin like smoke to the air. You are not a memory. Memories are petals that sleep beneath new blooms. Even the now-faded plum signatures you left across my skin still burn there. They could only disappear if your eyes were to ever shine for another. Your eyes never waver when they look at me. We are not a memory. We are memories to be written, shared, eaten hungrily to the final sweet crumb; drunk to the dregs, to the purple stains, to the last cold sip of sweet tonic on our lips.

I can still feel your hand in mine in these flannel days. How your nails shone. How your fingers twined mine. How we fit: two fires that make one fire, love inextinguishable, hearts inseparate, reaching like ivy towards the aether: a slow, warm climb. I kissed your hands. Your knees. Your neck. You layered me with words, kisses, caresses, and the sharp claim of your jealous teeth. The fall claims every breathing leaf then strips them bare to leave them cradled in the arms of winter.

We claim each other's every breath. Bare fall hearts cradled in fallen hearts.

The endless summers never filled me with the same warmth that you do. The leonine sun that burns in me wants no July day, no sweltering night, unless it is with you. Give me your autumn caress. Give me November dreams and the wind of the cold North Sea at Christmas. Give them to me in every season. In the bloom of spring. In the skies of summer. But let us always return to fall.

In love, every day is the first day of fall.

The air here is sweet, for once. But you are sweeter still.