the first thing I notice is always the light. sulfurous industrial yellows from lampposts soften into warm candlelight ambers cast over the parking lots and duplexes. faint metallic blues and whiter shades of pale from car headlights fade in and out in every few minutes, slow crescendos and decrescendos marking their passage. gentle accents of cotton-candy reds and blues swirl out from sirens that would otherwise normally come hard and fast as punches—these are rarer but they always make me feel strange inside. somewhere else there is an emergency but it feels remote from here, this quiet little world of muted hues.
and then I remember that snow has its own sound library. I put away my headphones—we spend so much time within our own audioverses—and I hear the wind breathing in and out through buildings and trees, wet scrapes of cautiously crawling tires, entire galaxies of tiny crystals shattering like promises. everything is muffled yet everything is cacophonous.
I have no camera powerful enough to capture these color schemes, no recorder for these soundscapes. all I can do is stand still, hood thrown back, and drink in this experience alone. by the time I start heading back home my footprints have almost been completely covered, they too beginning to succumb.
for years, you carried the weight in silence. you bore it with no complaints, standing rigidly tall, determined not to let the world see you slump. you walked with a fierce yet unsettling grace. so proud, you swore to yourself that this was your cross to bear, your burden alone
and then, one soft day,
it detached itself from you
like a stillborn child.
I watched you kneeling in the blood and did not know what to say.
I watched you grasping at the remains, struggling to make sense of them, to find solace through reason.
you sat under the water to cleanse yourself and wept because it could never be enough. you clawed at your insides, tearing and mangling the fragile flesh, but you would never be able to scrape away the filth. the water swirled a vivid scarlet, a queasy pink, and then red again, the hues ebbing and flowing like ocean tides.
yet like tears in rain
one soft day this, too, shall pass–
a wise man once said.
I could not stop the waves. one after the other they came, unrelenting crashes of things best left unsaid, choking us with humiliation and horror. I drowned us in viscous mundanities, my struggles for salvation only accelerating our descent to the lightless depths. we surfaced one day from months of this insensate futility and found that we had only been clinging to each other out of a mutual terror; once we found breath again, the cold clean air sweeping into our blackened, wrinkled lungs, you no longer had a use for me. the imprints of our best moments drifted ashore beside us like flotsam and you set them ablaze, and we headed our separate ways, and you walked forth—and I, I could not stop turning back to the flames, to your shadow, ever growing smaller.
Autumn to me
is not pumpkins and pies.
It is the warmth and comfort of an extra blanket,
brisk air deliciously filling up my lungs between smoke drags,
layer of muted calm in the early mornings and late nights
foreshadowing the stultification that winter will later bring.
I like the quiet but there is an element to it that also frightens me.
I like the cold but not the way it seeps into my heart,
the reunions and lightheartedness slowly solemnizing
as we prepare for the next act.
Soon after the firebird’s finale
we will return once more to ashes, dust, fear.
I could not stop the words. they tumbled out, one two five after the other, phrases lines entire paragraphs of hypochondriac hyperbole and neurotic nonsense. I knew this was a bad time and place to talk I knew the ideas would not be manifested properly I knew these were words best left unspoken, but still I could not dam the desperate torrential need for understanding, still I sought sympathy where I knew indelible smears and fingerprints would be left and you would never be able to look at me the same way again. I felt the words react and become combustible once they were freed into the open air but still I could not suppress the ever-growing urge for self-sabotage, still I needed to self-immolate in order to cleanse some horrifying imagined taint. our foundation was built brick by brick so painstakingly on words and in a fragile fraction of that time I razed it with the very same.
that night I had let your words swim straight to my head like scotch, had let them warm me until I was dizzy and aglow with contentment. in passing remarks I heard unspoken promises; in casual truths I heard a secret, fervent desire. yet this was my standard method, deriving unfounded significance and meaning from ordinary prose, my lesson still unlearned. in the morning I shook the last intoxicating traces from my head and knew with a heavy heart that this had once again been a labor of self-deception.
my oldest friend, what have they done to you?
I saw you hunched over the casket of your former pride,
resigned, waiting for the final erosion—
torn the embellishments that lent a sad peculiar little charm,
flayed the walls that refuged your dreams,
gutted and claimed for themselves the memories kept visceral,
left to smolder in the smoking sun, naked and humiliated,
you were rotting and consumed by fungus when I saw you last.
you were bloodless and the paleness frightened me so.
and where was I?
oh, dear god, but where was I?
the rain is on my bedroom window and
the amber glow from the train station transmutes it into a million gold beads,
transforms the pane into a lite-brite.
the wind swirls and gusts outside, incessantly
pushing against the drops and making them dance in a
while I play the perfect songs for its soundtrack.
the heat creeps in and infiltrates everything, vampiric, the humidity as dense and smeared as shoegaze, the blank unflagging sepia scene a corpse tarp of cruel indifference. each infinitesimal rattling breath is polluted and i taste the poison going all the way down; it fills my lungs and ossifies my heart, coats my insides with heavy black tar, weighs me down like age and regret. I am drained. I am glass-eyed I am discordant I am dyspneal I am a stranger somnambulant. steaming pool of sloughing skin and blood and ash, succumbing to the smog and sulfur, my mind has become decoupled and fled. I am hungry but have no will to eat. I am fatigued but have no interest in sleep. has it been now three years or three thousand in this stultifying unreal city, mired in the dust and mud, deaf and mute and twisting eternally alone in this insidious fever? and yet I think there must be others here, each laden with our own karmic debts and sisyphean burdens, all of us blinded to each other by the corruption and heat shimmers as we stumble toward some lantern-light mirage of health.
Under the tracks, within the exhumed gridiron skeleton of the mass-transit system, I stood and listened to the trains until they were conceptually reduced to a sequence of sounds. When one came screaming, ten or twenty or fifty-five minutes after the previous, it filled your head with the noise and pushed out everything else, one car after another rumbling across the rails, all other surrounding stimuli suddenly irrelevant and senseless, until you half-feared, half-hoped that the bridge would breathe a final exhausted sigh and rebury those old, weary industrial bones—
and then it was over. And then
you no longer knew what the big deal was, why this one moment felt like everything.