Wish I could camouflage it in sprays of silver tinsel. Stuff the raw, lonely feeling down into the toe of a stocking. But I can't. Even with my child chattering away about Santa, Santa brings me the same shit every year- this feeling.
-The Isle of Misfit Toys
-I'll Be Home For Christmas
The lights hanging in the cold, empty air.
So, Merry Christmas. Merry Christmas to you.
Something about Jeff Buckley singing "Hallelujah."
Maybe it was the wine. I don't roll in her arms much these days, so one ruby touch makes me raw to the aches and warm whispers of the world.
But I really do think it was Jeff Buckley. Lightly tapping on the door. His hands still wet, muddy from the Mississippi. Looking for someone to let him in. To let him sit and ready himself for leaving. To let him sit with his mortal voice once more before it falls still.
I think he drowned in the song. That there is nothing so perfect as his "Hallelujah" and he just had to breathe it in.
I think it broke Leonard Cohen. That he couldn't shoulder it. Every line is his face carries the mark of "Hallelujah." That he tried to speak of it's golden plumes, it's floating vapors with his heavy tongue. "Hallelujah" couldn't bear the blackness of the ink of it creator's pen. A beautiful child, but a bastard child still. Uncertain. It sullied itself in Leonard Cohen's throat, wallowed in the coldness of cheap organ treatments and a gospel choir-for-hire and it died there.
But Jeff Buckley simply tied it around his brow and floated off to heaven.
And so did I.
I hugged my daughter first. I breathed her in and drowned in the goodness of her little being.
I am a lonely swimmer, dashing my tired body against the dark coast.
There are no lights, only the wind and the sand, bone white backs bent under the long, white cane of the moon.
Cotes Du Rhone, U2'S Stay
on infinite repeat, a debris field of loneliness spills across dense banks of shimmering cold shadows.
The girls swim in their own ocean, one much warmer than mine. The sound of their warm breath laps against the cold hull of HMS Kingdad as its bow kicks up a cloud and nuzzles into the soft mud of the bottom. Their mattress bobs along in the dreams of diligent angels.
Meanwhile, a regal stern towers against the open, blue canopy of the night, of Wagner, of perfectionism and of longing. A still shot hung in the moment just before the descent into the open mouths of sharks and sepia tone photographs.
I will always be a wreck. A sad postcard.
They will always have one another to cling to.
I am a shipwreck, a tongue of rainbow hued oil on the surface of the sea. I am a pillow of fire, a tap and a click in phantom ears, a searchlight, a curl of cork hung in the dark grasp of diesel fuel and scorched so'westers.
I am a straggler on the beach, crawling towards the embers of a dying campfire.
Whirlwinds of green crawl across the road, drunken ghosts rising slowly, then racing into a chaotic arc before tearing off to vanish within the darkened crossed arms of the woods.
There is a constant sound outside of the open windows. The sound of the wind in the sea oats, of the ocean spray racing across the cool, damp sand under the clouded eye of a high, late summer moon.
Only it's April. And there is no ocean nearby. The constant throaty whisper outside is the sound of pollen, blown against the smooth, white face of our little house.
The world is trapped in a bright green noose. Green halos choke anemic streetlights. Spindly limbs and fresh buds labor under a phosphorescent glow in the spring darkness. The smell of new wisteria tangles with the acrid musk of nature's rampant fertility.
There is a blizzard of allergens marching down my street, painting cars, rocking chairs and early azalea blossoms.
Despite the heavy dose of Allegra, I am happy to submit. Happy to give in to the reckless affections of spring.
Pilots call them “aborted take offs.”
Things just don’t line up right; breaks are hastily applied bringing a huge mass to an abrupt halt, just before nosing skyward. Just in case.
This happened to me today. I just couldn’t line up myself up and make it all work.
I tried. I tried very hard. I analyzed all of the data and made every preparation that I could. I believed that I was going somewhere. I sat in the darkness, alone at my own helm, touching upon every resource that I had and they weren’t enough. I just couldn’t make it happen. I could not make myself move.
People depended on me and I just came to a stop.
I have had quite a touch of flight phobia these past few years. I have missed a wedding because of it, driven from the asshole to the nose of the east coast just to escape the banking and bumping of winged uncertainty.
It wasn’t always this way. I used to have a drink; put on my headset and wonder how much longer it would be before I could do it all over again. At one time my airline of choice (Pakistani International Airways –best veggie meals ever-) was staffed by pilots that came on board smoking and wearing keffiyehs. I sat in the tail section and smoked and watched the planes shadow sweep across the decks of unknown ships and chalky sweeps of ice. I watched the rocky coastline of the British Isles smack against the most stunning green land I have ever seen, and then fall into the frothing mouth of The North Atlantic. The pilot would occasionally say, "We will be landing in Frankfurt in 20 minutes -if God wills it- thank you, and please enjoy whats left of your flight."
Not even two weeks ago I found myself clutching the armrests on the way to and from New Orleans, thinking that I had mastered it again. That I would fill up my orange suitcase and take my family everywhere.
And here I am today, lonelier than I have ever been in my life because my family had to leave without me. Ok, I left them. I left them standing there in a pile of shattered would-be vacation memories and shards of misplaced trust. I left them at the gate, vomit on my breath and my heart pounding against my eyeballs.
I stepped outside of my family, outside of the pressurized hull that keeps us all safe and together, gasping in the grip of a huge hand that just kept squeezing me and squeezing me. The two valiums, darvocet and mint tea I encased myself in this morning snapped worthlessly against my phobia’s first strike.
Siegfried had his linden leaf and I have my flight info.
My wife’s words and my daughter’s confused look swirled outside of the bloodied eye slit of my crushed helmet like flies as I lay on the ground waiting for the last breath to bubble out of my lungs.
I took part of them with me as I descinded into the tight coils of panic. I took moments that none of us will ever retrieve. Dreams that will rot in the peatbog of my self inflicted disability.
Like any coward, I tearfully hugged my family. I told them that I loved them and then I floated away into myself and walked quickly through the fishbone white throat of Terminal C towards the stairs that would lead me out of my self made hell, out into the light, into that certain smell of the world that all cowards cling to.
Like a rat claws at a piece of garbage floating in the wake of a ship that never sinks, I pounced on the smell of airport shuttles and the echoes of brave souls going places. I wanted to tear myself in half and vanish from the world like a curl of smoke.
I wanted to feed my worthless heart into my families luggage, into the the long, hungry 737 that would momentarily tear it's way into the sky with my wife and my daughter in it's bowels, so that some part of me wouldn't fail them.
Instead I stood and watched cars come and go, ingesting people, spewing them out. I listened to cell phones ring, to canned announcments, to engines sucking air and life from the runway. I stood there and wished that I was as good of a husband and a father as my girls wanted me to be.
The smell of being human sometimes smells like love, like warm oil from the heart of life’s engine, pushing us hard into a climb and and a certain tragectory to deliver us safely to our beds and into each other’s dreams.
And sometimes, it smells like emptiness, like desertion. And the smell of my family’s life lingering in this cold, quiet house tonight exaggerates the aroma my flight today, of my arrival to the totality of my weakness.
And it is weakness that I loathe in myself above all things.
The death of the unfamiliar is death. The death of excitement, the death of me.
I remember thinking this.
Sometimes I still do as I drive the same paved line from work to my home everyday, when I look off into the woods while my car thinks for me. When it all moves so fast that it doesn't move anymore, when it all hums itself into the same easy color.
Either I arrive, or I don't. We still have to pay the babysitter.
Once it was a magnificent spring day in Berlin. The sky was blue and empty and the trees were already too green. It was a March day, and this day was the day of my birth. I rolled a cigarette and felt the 5 mark piece in my vest pocket, so heavy between my thumb and forefinger. Whenever my new life in this new city felt comfortable, all I had to do was touch the coins in my pocket and I was on edge again. My whole life’s experience before this day was six hours away from me now, across the Atlantic. Visible in my mind, beyond my grasp, sleeping while I talked too much, giddy from golden beer. I could see my Mother frying bacon for Dad while I tried to climb through the wisteria of another fitful attempt at sleep in this new, German world.
And the woman that broke me in half before I came here? No matter what time it was she climbed through the smoke and the new names and the lost tongues around me, like a radio wave. Banking above me, a lost pilot with a belly full of bombs, a hungry searchlight against my thin city walls. She was the sound of bullets and dogs barking, of the cold, white hand that extends a warm cup of coffee and a new place to stay while hell blossoms in the garden.
There are only a few relics of this time packed away in my basement. My favorite is a photo, one of the few I still like to see. There I am, between the thighs of that March morning. Thin, radiant, a burning building with bangs and a vest and a cigarette held up into the face of time. Behind me a bunker, a perfect, stubborn brushed concrete cube.
The sun beautifies thick, East German spray paint-
"Where bunkers are built bombs fall!"
And now I am here. I am married. I am a Father, and in this photo there are no more red doors to knock on in the middle of the afternoon. No one to wreck with a few lines written in green ink and a Leonard Cohen song. No more Sundays while the world yelps away under a finger of smoke tracing through the window’s open mouth.
I don't smoke anymore anyway...
Once everything was new to me. I was a new being every time I unlidded my eyes.
Now it's my daughter. She is the new horizon. The newest and brightest horizon.
And my family is the only world that holds weight to me. My Wife and my daughter, my family.
This is our daughter's favorite word- family.
It's my favorite word too.
When I was 8 years old and my dad had a heart attack the world around me exploded. Everyone came to our little grubby house to visit, helped clean, brought endless anemic offerings in dingy Tupperware bowls and spent hour after hour driving my mom to and from the hospital.
I played in my perfectly square room. I played under the bed with my flashlights and my GI Joe just like I did when my dad was home,
in my stiff blue Toughskins and my red sneakers like every other child in the 70's. I played in my room like I was supposed to. I missed my dad, but I knew he would come home and we would all just go back to being the way we were before he clawed at his chest and throat, dropped the pruning shears and fell off the ladder into the camellia bush.
He came home, and just like I thought, he joined me and GI Joe and all was well.
When my Grandmother had a stroke, when I was 19 years old, I went to the hospital for a few hours and looked at her. She was a small woman with a harsh face. I knew she loved me, but I didn't always feel it. The day she got so cold and tried to call for help while her body trembled I was in the woods behind my house smoking hash in the pony shed. We were neighbors, and I was supposed to go play cards with her that afternoon, but somehow it just seemed like a much better idea to get stoned and think about how hard it was to be around her.
She squeezed my hand as they pushed the stretcher into the clean, white ambulance. That was the last conscious interaction we had. I wanted to read her my poems as I stood at her bedside later, but was afraid she wouldn't like them. She was in a coma, but I knew she could hear me. I just held her hand while she sighed into a thicket of tubes and drip bags.
A few days later my grandmother died while I unbuttoned my girlfriend’s jeans under a bridge in a park. We smoked cigarettes, naked in her olive green sleeping bag and listened to the thunder rumble through the empty belly of the late May sky.
While one of my friends was dying, I absent mindedly sucked oysters from the shell and swished lukewarm champagne across my teeth near by. Happy Birthday to me.
When another painted his prized record collection with bits of his beautiful, stormy brain I tinkered with the rusty lawn mower in my backyard.
Somehow I have never been there when I needed to be. I just missed it.
I was present to help deliver my daughter into the world. This I did correctly, I hope. She spent her first hours sleeping on my chest after poor, tired wife drifted off after a brief, painful labor.
Now my own mother struggles against her body, against age. Against the effects of her stroke. Now I have fatherhood, marriage and work to shield me from the rawness of letting go of someone. Of surrendering part of my love to the hungry, dark mouth of faith.
Faith is the thing that I have hidden my hands from, under bridges, against a warm breast, an unfamiliar heartbeat. Racing in secret, behind the sharp, sweet smell of a small stone pipe, adrift in the perfect sea-green of a half empty empty bottle or falling into a palm full of perfect pink pills. Escaping into the hollows and constant loneliness of strange cities, creased postcards and one cigarette after another, while the voices of pigeons whispered the names of everyone I had ever failed. Cooing away to me in the rusty arms of an underpass while a tide of cars washed overhead.
Buried in the emptiness of my own words, the sad radiance of old photographs, of dozens of lit candles in my garden on The Day of The Dead. The sound of my Mother's slurred speech. The image of my Father walking slowly to the mailbox, almost deaf now, the sun warming the top of his balding head.
I have spent so much of my life trying to escape the eyes of faith, the eclipse of believing that tomorrow is coming.
But the sound of my home, the sound of my wife and my child sleeping in the next room overpowers me now.