the world can be
the ones who
watch the world
burn and the ones
who want to be
the ones to burn
my hands smell
the world can be
the ones who
watch the world
burn and the ones
who want to be
the ones to burn
my hands smell
traffic’s bad today
well, at least, worse than usual
i don’t like using the word worse in a poem
but this time
the usual traffic is a soul sucker
read in Time Magazine
your lifespan decreases a minute
for every minute you sit in traffic
locked in a metal box
all us lemmings queued up
inch by miserable fucking inch
every day i almost die in traffic
the lunatic fringe surrounds me
maniacs race for every foot forward
brake lights flicker like sparklers on the Fourth of July
Death Race 2000 on speed
i pulled next to a young entrepreneur
in a new BMW
leaving 100-foot gaps between cars
i scream my profanities
but he just smiles languidly
his co-pilot performs fellatio at 530am
his head bobbing, up and down
i can’t imagine performing fellatio
at 530am in the morning
stuck in traffic
i’m not opposed to fellatio in a car
in traffic on a freeway
but at 530am i am pretty much
It’s happening tonight in the local estate
It’s happening in the council houses
As people wobble home in an inebriated state
Fall asleep as they drop their trousers
The fog is licking at the windows
It’s sniffing at the doors
It’s sneaking through the keyholes
Bringing something not seen before
Escaped from hidden army base
Only a few miles out of town
Clean-up crew, to the scene they race
They’ve got to shut this fucker down.
In the estate, some people stir
Upon hearing an eerie growling
They see their loved ones covered in fur
Enjoying their disembowelling
Only a few houses could have been infected
At least, they hope that’s it
The inhabitants must be inspected
And dealt with as is seen fit
In the morning, the fog will be recovered
Several citizens “removed ”
When their disappearance is discovered
The neighbours will simply be told, they moved.
The hothouse arousal of the undertaker’s hand hit her like a wet brick, a slab covered in slip. She squeezed his fingers like clay digits that begged to be molded for the kiln’s curing fire. Her tips rubbed his knuckles, and the puzzle of his bones assembled in her palm. He was a slim man.
One handshake, and her husband intervened, weight crushing wonder. It was his grandmother, after all. She attested his choices in silence. He labored to justify the cheapest urn while the undertaker offered reassurance. When the thin man caught her eye as quick as a hummingbird, she turned away.
It wasn’t her husband’s age. Twelve years wasn’t that much. The shape of the marriage ground her raw. Sex dampened at odd angles, more rigor than pleasure. Where once her curves filled his sheer slope of muscle and bone, now his budding gut pushed her away. His altered diet moved his lumps to strange places. She cringed when he tasted wrong, evaded his sticky tongue and tainted breath. The musty smell of recent steak caught in the back of her throat. She saw heart attacks in the marbled meat he slapped in a pan, felt her gullet rise every time she came home to the sheen and smell of splattered grease.
She had a sweet tooth. Preferred buzz over bulk.
The sting of spun sugar, hummingbird bones full of air. The undertaker’s bones hummed to her.
The night before the service, her husband slathered her in grease, an engine of meat bloated with unspoken grief. She turned over when he was done. Stick a fork in me, a knife, a scythe, she thought, and thin fingers like lurid bones probed her to sleep.
Overtaken by the undertaker in erotic dreams, by sunken cheeks and taut forehead, saran-wrapped skin clinging to a skeletal structure ready to break free through the surface of sallow flesh, she felt his many-jointed fingers in her folds. The undertaker’s touch was specific, knowing, and inarguable. She didn’t need to be filled with fat. Segmented bones lodged and vibrated in all her pleasure points.
Grooming for the funeral like dressing for a date. Shame at her itch and impatience, awkward as a stranger through the service, endless stories of a past she didn’t share. She grew more restless and abashed each time they called her the new wife.
Too many cocktails later, she disappeared into the funeral parlor to find him. Was it so wrong to flirt? She crept past the cloakroom and imagined long fingers pulling her down between the coats, fingers that handled the dead freezing her skin with forbidden knowledge. Airy gaps between his bones left her breathless; sharp pelvis jabbed with every slam of his hips.
The rustle of coats, heavy, woolen, black. Curtains dividing dreams. Forest of fabric shifting into darkness, as if the room went on forever.
The sensation of a needle stung the back of her neck.
She clasped her nape and turned. Bones baring sunken eyes, slim fitted suit draping loose, smile quietly manic. He put his finger against her lips. His other hand circled her waist and waltzed her backwards into the deep closet.
Shapes of coats, a crowd gathered in anonymous black, rustling; heavy men hanging by their necks. Colder as she backed through the recesses, not coats but carcasses hanging and swinging. Dead men blackened with rot, rustle of vermin under coats of flesh. The points of the undertaker’s fingers inspecting her body for arousal. Waltzing, wet under her dress, back pressed against something warm, the undertaker slipping his fingers in and out and holding up his hand to show her the bare bones.
His skin was stripped, muscle and nerve eaten away. Warm carcasses swung as the room rotated. Once again he placed a bone to her lips. She smelled the sugar in it, felt the squirm of something fragrant in the rotting meat, the slab behind her back alive and moist, massaging her with maggots.
The undertaker teased her mouth with a slim digit. “You know you want it.”
She bit off the finger and crunched through the bone. Sugar stung the joints in her jaw. Sweetness hurt her back teeth. A hot tingle inflamed her cheeks. She reorganized the puzzle of his bones and ate all the candy, saving his manic grin for last. When his final tooth cracked open it heaved a cherry-flavored gasp.
She wiped the maggots from her back, flicked the ash from her dress, and grabbed her coat from the racks.
A heavy-set aunt blocked her exit. She resembled the husband if he were aged, fattened, and dressed in drag. “We’ve all been wondering where you ran off to.”
Coat half on, half off. “I needed some air.”
The matron looked her up and down. “I understand, dear. These things are so stressful.”
Not budging, she plowed through her handbag and frowned into its depths over a double chin. The oversized tote didn’t hide her excessive hips or opulent chest. She fished out a tissue, handed it to the wife, and tapped at the corner of her mouth.
“After you freshen up, come down to the tea room. I hear there’s going to be cake.”
Dreams are not zen. Or else they’re pure zen, i.e. nothing.
Dreaming mind is zen mind. The body lies immobile, forgotten, left behind. Dreaming mind concentrates on dreams, and dreams are only dreams. The world’s a dream, including you, whoever you are.
Nights were enlivened with Art Deco New York. The dream city looked the way a big city should, in my mind.
While awake, I try not to get hung up on appearances. I also try to keep life simple, as far as living conditions, material necessities and interactions with other people are concerned, without being tooneurotic about it. The city’s packed with neurototypes. Neurosis is my business. I do removals. But I couldn’t seem to remove Art Deco New York from my own dream life.
The scene was usually a theater at night. The place is deserted. Light shines from comedy-tragedy mask sconces onto rounded velvet seats in sensually curved rows. Nothing’s happening onstage. No music, not a sound. But the theater’s alive.
On the walls, bas-relief dancers stand frozen in clingy costumes. Plume-helmeted warriors look like they’d run shrieking, hands held high, from the first noise of conflict.
Outside the theater, the city breathes, pulses, vibrates. Boogie-woogie bounces off chrome and stone, throbs life into elegant, hardworking city people as they go about their meaningful business.
A Zeiss planetarium projector in the middle of the theater takes up space—devours it. The popeyed monster exudes death-rays, dreams of conquest.
The Deco theater is a secret place. I feel I shouldn’t be there, though I’m dressed, uncharacteristically, for a night on the town. It’s like I’m pulling some REM-phase B&E job, but it makes no sense. The Deco bas-reliefs can’t be removed without ruining them. The exquisite fixtures are too bulky to boost. The predominant wood is ebony. Everything metal looks like plutonium or heavier, and glows with a potent warmth. The theater’s separate components would be meaningless. You can’t steal a whole theater.
The place’s enhanced gravity made every movement as ponderous as a promenade through the Elephant Room in the Museum of Natural History, at a time when the Chrysler Building spoke like Ernest Hemingway. Why was I going to the theater every night? How much were tickets?
Deco arabesques tendriled into meditation. Bubbles rose through water, wind blew across glaciers and sand dunes, but were displaced by stylized dancers and heroic workmen frozen in action, their statuesque bodies sheathed in diaphanous material carved from stone or cast in bronze. Streamlined automobiles glistened with chrome as they rolled down uncrowded streets lined by skyscrapers. The aparmtents inside swung with elephantine furniture and bakelite cocktail accessories. People in plush clothes slugged their highballs. Airplanes like stars streaked overhead. Silk hankies fluttered goodbye at the streamlined airport, where searchbeams dissected the indigo sky.
Deco made a mockery of meditation. Impossible to follow a Constellation on an imaginary Denver-Chicago flight. Gangsters kicked open swinging doors with pewter intarsio inlays. Nickel-plated Tommy guns spat flame to syncopated explosions and screams of agony. Molls in ostrich plume bikinis pulled the triggers, grinned sadistically through lashings of lipstick. The airplane screeched its aerodynamic-fender wheels, sent up crushed-eggshell clouds, taxied into the lobby of a Midwestern Moderne hotel where Raymond Loewy, Walt Disney and Howard Hughes had gathered in a conspiracy to capture American imaginations.
Art Deco is the opposite of the Zen aesthetic.
Zen, like magnetism, has a flip side. The pressure of concentration, over time, can in rare instances lead to the formation of diamond mind. The same pressure can crush other minds, cause them to crack, darken.
Zen has a positive gravity that impels adepts towards what’s good, what’s clean. Or so I like to think.
The flip side is Black Zen.
Enmity’s a concept as old as humanity. Animals may kill each other, but they’re not enemies. The word itself has fallen from use. I don’t own a fork or chair, but I have an enemy. His name is Lester Frills. He calls himself the Pope of Black Zen. He calls me the zen garbageman. Or scumbag. Or motherfucker. Or, more disturbingly, biscuit-butt. Lester Frills might be the flip side of me. A psychoanalyst would have his work cut out for him, on that count. Shrinks charge $200 for a 50-minute hour. I don’t have that kind of dough. My clients pay much lower rates.
Money. Ambition. Accumulation of surplus crap. People move to the Big City for many reasons. Desire becomes disease.
I dropped out of college into the Sanitation Department. Family connections did the trick. The job-market was DOA. I took up zen because the end result of human effort, endeavor, desire, need and ambition, i.e. garbage, drove me nuts.
Nobody should stare at garbage too long. Shrinks charged $100 an hour, but at least you got 60 minutes in those days. Zen was free. My first donation to the zendo, after they finally let me come in and kneel, was a near-spherical black rock I found on a dune on a beach just east of Amagansett, a possible meteorite. The roshi smiled enigmatically, nodded, pocketed.
Zen was a good deal, basically. Let’s put it that way.
Cleared my mind, cleaned out my cluttered pad. Out with ambition, desire, craving, dissatisfaction, envy. Sour refuse slowly turned into a perfume of freedom. Removal of the unnecessary became a mission. Serenity is the only valuable commodity, and it can’t be traded, bought or sold. It can be removed, however, by insubstantial dreams.
We take a break,
or more so,
you take a break
And I pretend
to be more patient
then I actually
We’re on a break,
and I feel pretty
and separate paths.
If I could date my twin,
but I wouldn’t really.
I’m an awful selfish thing,
and I’d need
a whole lot more
than she could give.
Give you back
all the pedestals
you’re always falling off of.
If only I’d have known better,
I could have helped
We’re on a break,
and my crown of thorns
I was certain
I was meant
to be a martyr,
and then you went
and died for
Rewind the time
I once fucked/
my head spins.
Ran out of papers,
outran my old skins.
of topless girls
And dormant mountain tops
Ash drifted down
upon the old town streets
As we walked arm in arm
a newfound love
amidst impending cataclysm
But I take what I can get
In this doomed life
The top floor of a hip, ultra-modern hotel in a major northwestern metropolis was one of the last places I ever expected to find myself. For one thing, the nicest hotel I’d ever stayed at before that night was a beat-to-shit Econo-Lodge in Manchester, New Hampshire. And, the top floor of this hotel was the on-site restaurant – an absurdly expensive “Mexican” joint with portions barely large enough to feed the average garden gnome. Tapas, maybe? Seeing as I’m not even culturally informed enough to know exactly what the fuck kind of restaurant I was in, it comes as no surprise that I was feeling out of place there.
I’m not gonna say Applebee’s is my restaurant of choice, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t find myself there once about every three months. And I’m more than content to find myself there when I do. Looking out the window of this lavish eatery and getting internally philosophical, I felt like a square peg jammed into a circle.
Now that I really think back on it, I guess it’s no surprise I was getting all introspective and deep. What else was I going to do? I’d finished my measly rations and wasn’t about to drop another ten dollars on another tiny chorizo verde taco that was way more lettuce than chorizo. While waiting for the server to bring the bill, my options for passing the time were quite limited.
While sitting there staring out the window onto the dense landscape, my mind set to wondering why so many horror stories take place in the woods. What’s really so scary about the woods? Other than the obvious bears and Bigfoot and stuff, they’re a pretty peaceful place, just really dark. I’d walk alone in the woods any night of the week before I’d venture out after dark through the countless unseen twists and turns of the big city.
The big city; now that’s a pretty fucking scary place. And so full of wonder, day or night.
Out the window to my right, beyond a gaggle of high rise buildings, the last rays of the day’s sun cast a serene, warming glow on the city below. Out the window straight ahead, hidden from the sun by the shadow of the very hotel I was in, stood a condemned, dilapidated parking garage. Beyond the guard rails of all seven levels, I saw not a single car parked. Only darkness looked back out at me.
The garage’s entrance down on the ground level was blocked off by a thick chain draped across the empty attendant booths. Dangling lopsided on the middle of the stretch of chain was a sign, too heavily marred by graffiti to get its intended message across. From nine floors up I couldn’t be sure what the graffiti meant to say either, but I knew my next stop was that garage. Might as well perpetrate a little urban exploration while I was there in the big, scary city.
It felt as if I’d been teleported to the entrance of the garage. I might’ve sworn that was exactly what had happened if the shock I’d suffered upon seeing the dollar amount of my dinner bill wasn’t still making my head shake. But I’d just gotten to my intended destination with no memory of the actual trip. Sort of like when your exit on the highway is coming up and suddenly you realize you have no memory of passing all the previous exits. There’s a name for that, but I sure as hell can’t remember what it is. I just know it’s a surefire sign that you haven’t been paying attention to the road and you’re lucky you didn’t cause a major accident.
Now that I was up close to the sign that surely at one point was intended to keep people away from the decrepit, old structure, I came to realize that the sign was likely what had drawn me there in the first place. The graffiti upon it, though sloppy and terribly clustered with no symmetry whatsoever, appeared mostly Satanic in nature. Demon faces and pentagrams and the number of the beast in dripping, bloody paint made me smile. At the bottom of the sign, painted in white, were the words “welcome, interloper.”
Staring beyond the entrance into the impossible darkness that waited for me brought about such joy that I could have laughed like a maniac. It was barely even dusk and I was about to venture into the abyss. I could only imagine the depths the darkness would reach in the hours to come.
I came to appreciate the concept of smaller food portions as I lifted my leg over the chain and heaved my awkward mass across. I barely felt even winded. Usually it was a trick just to get my fat ass into my car without having to unbutton my jeans after dinner at Applebee’s.
Of course, I was still hungry. But being in the big city means being able to find something to eat on every corner at just about any hour. Maybe there’d be a hot dog bodega or a sausage cart hidden away in this silent parking garage, known only to the few brave enough to trespass onto forbidden city property. But I digress.
At first the darkness was much like your average nighttime late winter fog, just not white. You know how sometimes you can be driving along the highway into said fog, and it always seems to stay ten to twenty feet ahead of you? Like that. While I’m usually happy about that sort of fog, I was disappointed by the thin, weak darkness. I wanted nothing more than to be sucked in and enveloped by the void. Thankfully, after about twenty or thirty more steps, the darkness thickened and began to pull me inward with its thickening tendrils.
I don’t know how long I walked on completely blind, but it wasn’t very long. Perhaps just a stretched out moment that I was elated to be lost in. When my eyes adjusted I saw a white, glowing rectangular frame off in the distance. I wasn’t at all disappointed. Whatever this light was, its mystery only added to my joy. I had no idea what it was, but that was entirely the point. It was exactly what I’d come for.
Another vertical line of white light appeared straight down the middle of the rectangle, and spread across in both directions until I was looking at a solid white doorway. A silhouetted human figure appeared within, obscuring some of the blinding light – a true kindness to my sensitive eyes.
“Come forward,” she said.
As I did so I found that not all of this dilapidated parking garage was still dormant. I had just stepped onto a fully functioning elevator. And standing next to me was a most peculiarly dressed woman. A shiny black hooded cloak concealed her body and face. Her petite frame and her soft, soothing voice were my only indications of her gender.
“Going up,” she stated, rather than asked. Made sense since we were on the bottom level.
“So, do you work here or something?” I asked.
After a pregnant pause she said, “Yes.”
After a much emptier pause, I said, “Okay.”
The awkward silence ended when we reached the seventh and top-most level. The doors of the elevator came open and I followed her out into the now impossibly dark night. The sky was empty – devoid of stars or even a hint of moon.
An unseen source, hidden somewhere under the night’s black sheath, played eerie, ethereal string music accompanied by some hypnotic, soprano vocals. I guessed the singer was female unless the song was sung by a castrato or a guy with balls and a remarkably high register.
My faceless guide approached me and stood very close. A petite hand reached out from her cloak, so pale it glowed in the dark. Despite the hand being cold to the touch and delicate to the point of brittle, it somehow offered a warming comfort.
“First time in the big city?” she asked.
“Yeah,” I said, wondering how beautiful the face that went with that sweet voice must be. “This one, anyways. I’ve been to a few others before.”
“How do you like this one so far?”
“It’s pretty nice. A little too crowded for my tastes. But it’s nice to see something a little different. Whatever is going on right now is a decent break from the hustle and bustle.”
“That’s why we’re here.”
“We?” I asked, looking around the impenetrable darkness. “You’re not the only one who works here?”
“Not at all,” she said. “Come.”
She led me by my hand like a child, which was a little disconcerting. But since I couldn’t see five feet in front of my face, I didn’t protest.
A pocket of light opened up in the distance, and I saw the source of the strange music. In front of a string quartet stood a lovely woman in a black dress gown and equally black hair, crooning away. Her face was heavily made up like that of a skull. The members of her band, all seated with their respective instruments: cello, voila, and two violins, were men in crude skeleton costumes, like the Kobra Kai from Karate Kid.
“This might be the coolest thing I’ve ever seen,” I said. I felt like a complete dork, or perhaps just a mediocre white man, realizing that I could bear witness to such a magnificent, beautiful spectacle of the surreal, and have nothing more to say than either Beavis or Butthead would.
My inability to express my appreciation in eloquent terms would only grow worse, for not far from the diva and her string band another pocket of light opened up and I saw a five-piece death metal band thrashing away. I could make out little of what the singer was grunting but definitely heard phrases like “rectal impalement” and “vaginal maggots.” Somehow, the two highly different types of music blended perfectly, making a bizarre orchestra.
More and more musicians of all varieties appeared under spotlights. Emo guys and hippy girls with acoustic guitars. Dudes rapping into microphones. A sad guy at a grand piano singing about the city lights with a glass of bourbon on top of the piano. With each new act that suddenly had an audience with me, more and more music blended into a massive but somehow pleasant cacophony of sound and emotion.
“Pretty cool,” I said, knowing I had little more to offer than simple appreciation.
“Thought you’d like it,” my guide replied. “Let’s continue on.”
Still holding my hand, she led me back to the elevator. A moment later she brought me out onto the sixth level. Immediately upon stepping into the covered darkness dozens of circles of lights appeared. In each circle were one or several strippers dancing on poles.
“Wow,” I said, admiring the smorgasbord of titties and vag.
“I figured you’d like this floor,” my faceless guide said, softly giggling. “It gets even better.”
Beyond the strippers I saw people fucking and performing other various sexual acts in beds with end tables and lamps, like little portions of hotel rooms only where the light shined – all of which had a cameraman or woman shooting the scene while a director guided the performers with verbal cues.
“Pretty nice show,” said my hooded guide, “but there is more to see.”
Another quick ride down the elevator brought us out to the fifth level. The darkness broke by the sight of people either sitting on stools and painting on easels, or people sitting cross-legged on the ground drawing into sketch books.
“So is this garage like the haunted hall of artists and performers?” I asked.
“Something like that. Let’s keep going, shall we?”
The fourth level really struck a chord with me. There, piercing the darkness, I saw people writing into notebooks or typing away on laptops. Some were sitting at tables with a latte or a beer. The one thing they all had in common was the look of determination and purpose on their faces. Some looked pretty cocky and self-important. I can only imagine why this particular level seemed to resonate so loudly within me.
“I guess that’s what I look like when I write at the cigar bar,” I said.
“See for yourself,” said my guide. She pulled me further into the array of writers and told me to stare off into the far corner of the garage. “Look familiar?”
A new circle of light emerged and there I saw myself sitting in a comfy chair, typing into my computer and smoking a cigar.
“Oh shit,” I muttered. “Am I a ghost now? Is my soul like trapped here forever of something?”
“What makes you say that, Jeffrey?”
“The symbolism of what I’m seeing here isn’t lost on me,” I said. “If I were to write about this experience I don’t think I’d have to beat the reader over the head with the fact that this parking garage is the graveyard of artists who came to the big city to quote-unquote…make it.”
“You’re greatly overcomplicating things,” laughed my guide.
“Oh, okay. So like, I can leave and go back about my life and stuff, right?”
“Of course, but why are you in such a hurry?”
“Well, I’m here on my wedding-slash-honeymoon. My fiancé is waiting for me back at the hotel. She said something about me picking up dessert while I was out on my stroll.”
Did she? Oh yeah, she did. I’d completely forgotten that conversation along with everything else that happened between leaving the hotel restaurant and arriving at the entrance of the garage.
“You’re going to spend the rest of your life with her, right?”
“That’s the plan, yes.”
“Well then what’s the hurry, Jeff?” Finally, she pulled off her hood and looked at me with her lovely, pale and ghostly visage. “The next level is where the spirits of the culinary artists are. I know you’re still hungry. This one guy has a bomb-ass falafel cart down there. And there’s this one Italian lady who makes the best cannoli I’ve ever had. Why not a grab a couple to go?”
“That’ll work?” I asked.
“Part of you will always be here. It’s only fair you get to take something with you.”
Oh, to taste a thousand deaths upon bended knee,
Eyes wide; drowning within temptation’s sea,
Head lowered; bound by this devilry,
Tasting the bittersweet honey of debauchery,
Butterfly kisses; lash of the belt,
Euphoric tears; heavenly welts,
Rising and falling; a tide between spread legs,
Whispered pleas; for blissful sensation beg,
As the stage is set; the curtain drawn,
Flesh, the canvas, carnal desire is bestowed upon,
A shudder, a whimper; spent and sighing,
A little death; a ritual, purifying.
are hardest to bear,
atop these unwashed sheets
that smell of you and me,
crinkled and heavy
of you and me—
our sweat and loving juices.
I am tethered
to flashes of smiles and kisses
beneath the sweetness
of heated exhales.
To smell your breath,
and taste you
on the back of my tongue.
To pull you into me
by the small of your back
into the warmth of white musk–
a tangle of tongues, fingers, and limbs.
To have you—
is all I want.
my legs brush against the cold
rustle of sheets
you left behind,
cutting the airlessness
of this room.
I close my eyes
and sink my face into the depths
of your pillow,
escaping the void
that even silence’s ring has forgotten,
and take you
this lover’s kaddish.
The scent of your hair—
blue fig and oranges—
are but pebbles on the gravestone.
(Originally published at Former People Journal)