Aside from the unfinished content and the cut off title, my book is almost perfect. In the way that it is so unperfect that it's perfect. Or at least satisfying to see all bound up!
This is a mash up of a bunch of little sections from my thesis. I attempted to thread them together with a semi-coherent narrative, almost like a trailer for the longer work.
Imagine you have an uncle in America. He is a one handed man. We will call this a bad luck fact: it happened in the NYU printmaking studio, where he went to stretch his canvases. The thick blade of ‘the guillotine’ - an enormous paper cutter meant to cut entire volumes - came down on his wrist, neatly slicing through the bone. Someone short wrapped the stump in a paint rag, threw the hand in a can of turpentine. Someone tall grabbed a phone. The rag turned orange rapidly, the stain of blood blooming out to its edges, and the someones sped him to a hospital that smelled like tin, where a doctor with a piggish nose and an oinkish laugh sewed his stump into a nub.
After the accident, your uncle let his beard grow out in protest of self-maintenance. He was twenty four, and it seemed to him that he had too many years left to live. His beard transformed his face into a dark knot of woolish hairs, and he behaved badly – drugs, alcohol, a crude and disillusioned way of speaking to strangers - for most of the rest of his time in America. He had been a painter, but he stopped painting. His painting hand was in a paint can, after all, and his good hand was no good with the brush.
Here is something harder to imagine: your uncle, the same one who lost his hand, then lost his sister. His sister was in Argentina: we will call this a bad luck fact. Not so lucky to be in Argentina in 1981, his sister was captured by the military junta, disappeared. Your uncle left America, flew south to find her. But instead of finding her he found only her things. Old things. Desperate damaged rags. Imagine him picking those things up with the plastic fingers of his prosthetic hand, imagine him smelling them. He felt an ache in the arm that wasn’t there like a ghost – the sensation of something that wasn’t there like a ghost – he felt her flooding him and she flooded him like this:
Franca in the bathtub with her tiny hands scooping water. Franca making a mud pie in the back yard and serving it to him on a red plastic plate. Franca in those embroidered tunics with the stitches running around like ants on the fabric. Franca standing under their mother like a small version of their mother. Franca becoming a nest for secrets. Franca screaming that she hated him because he cut a chunk of her hair in the middle of the night. Franca’s breath like an oven when she slept. Franca learning pastries from their mother. Franca getting married in a church that felt like the oven of her mouth. Franca and that husband at the family Christmas party telling everybody they were going to have a child. Franca’s hair getting redder and redder each year with new layers of dye. Franca being beautiful and then becoming ugly when she got fat. Franca still being beautiful. Franca being stolen, being driven away in a Ford Falcon and blindfolded, electrocuted, raped. Franca with yellow tulips. Franca with yellow tulips.
Imagine a husband who once bought yellow tulips for his wife. On the day he lost his wife he found the tulips on the ground, saw their trampled petals, felt his heart shrink down and fold in on itself, warp at the edges, and fry in the dirty pan of his lungs. Then his brain sank down into his heart, fried there, too, became a stone shape, a gray color, an edge itself. Imagine that brain, that trampled flower, spinning into madness at the loss of a wife, being institutionalized by that madness, and you, his son, having to visit him there…
You are the son of a disappeared mother and an institutionalized father, a child built of bad luck facts. You’re in a hallway when you hear a number 382, where your father is, señor, and 382 suddenly becomes an enemy number, a hateful number, a number you want to throw on the linoleum floor and flatten and spit on, and then you are there, at 382, and the number gleams on the door like a shiny scream and you want to claw at it and you want your father not to be inside this place, this institution, sitting on an old bed in pajama pants like you know he will be…
But then 382 swings on its hinges and the room is revealed as a spacious yellowy place with curtains spread. And the bed is made and your father is neatly dressed in slacks and a collared shirt. His back is to you, and he is working on something at his desk. Your family is here to see you, someone says, and your father, turning, lets his face spread out like clay, brightens, holds his arms out, laughs, hugs you and hugs your uncle. Perfect timing, your father says, I am just finishing! As if he saw you yesterday, as if it has not been years, as if you had lived together your whole lives…And you ask What are you working on, Papa? Even though you don’t know if you should call him papa anymore because isn’t a papa supposed to feel like a warm red blood color and he feels more like gray distance and you glance to his notepad, one of those tall yellow ones, where he has written in pencil, the medium of a small child:
My dearest Franca, I am writing to ask you to bring me some of my things. They have not given me a chance to come home to get them. Please bring: My accordion. My sweater with the red and black pattern. Good coffee (it’s shit here!) Those pictures of your belly when you were pregnant with our boy. Some of your best pastries – the ones with the pink filling! Wine from Mendoza - you know the kind I like. Sincerely, Your Big True Only Man
But Papa, you say, trying not to let your voice crack. Mama isn’t here. Mama isn’t alive anymore.
You rip the yellow piece of paper from the notepad hurriedly. But I will bring you these things, you say. I will bring you all of your things.
Remember how, with nowhere else to go, you were folded into the envelope of your uncle’s arms? Remember your yellow years in with him exile, while others were still being captured and killed in Argentina? Remember your uncle teaching you the yellow life of an artist? How he kept you sealed up, tucked in, tightly folded, in his manila colored pocket of care. Until. Until you left for America yourself, abandoned your uncle for the happy shadow of New York, ate dim sum at midnight, took cocaine in a stairwell, sparkled from within and winked at yourself in the mirrors of the city windows, and found what people go to New York to find and usually do not: A Love.
This love. Imagine who she must be. Imagine how big, how yellow. As big and yellow as California, where she is from. Imagine landing on her, because although you arrived at the JFK airport, you did not actually land until you found her, the long boned brunette at the Lovely Day Café, on your first excursion into Brooklyn. She: had velveteen skin. She: undoubtedly smelled like laundry detergent. She: had a body like a small mountain lake, the kind constructed by men for pleasure. For paddle boating and fishing for planted fish. For diving off docks into. For taking walks around. You wonder about her body, who has helped to construct it, what it is made out of. You know it is made of water of some sort, because when you touch it there are ripples. And from the way the ripples move - outward, outward, outward - you somehow knew that there were no walls to hit, that she is open to you, and that she is endless. The two of you move together like the spot where a river meets a sea. You will be together forever.
Until. Until you get a phone call from Argentina – it’s your father, something’s wrong – and forever turns into eighty three days.
When you left her: she was only a girl in New York, and a girl in New York is a terrible thing. The skies were like a breakable dish and the ground was spattered in a thin, balding snow. The air was a pale blue color in the daytime and a pale peach color at night. It was the color of a lack of something. Of when brightness can’t be bright. Of when the dish is breakable but never breaks. And she became pale, too. The bright behind her eyes dimmed and the shine in her hair dulled. The empty space made her crave routine; specific actions that might hold her together, things she could count on. Coffee was good, because her body was addicted to it, and addiction created some constancy in action. The analogous action was the falling in and out of love that she did, which was an addiction, too, but bigger. The sex she had, the appealing brevity of her love sagas, the immediacy she found in intimacy; these were things she clung to. She needed them like she needed the coffee: something to look forward to, something she could expect but that always, somehow, tasted new. She wondered: where did this constancy in action via addiction come from if not the inconstancy of her emotional spirit? To be addicted was to be so confused that you began to rely on the sense of control that comes along with needing something. Right? Was her inconstancy her constant? She spat cold air into the New York world. At that moment, even more than she wanted love, she wanted something truly deep within herself, something old and familiar: her childhood.
She wanted a petticoat from when she was four years old, the one with the million ruffles and the too-big waist. She wanted to have a waist too small for anything, too small for hands around it, too small for eyes to rest on. She wanted the kind of innocence she found in slugs and caterpillars. She wanted prickly things in her socks. She wanted her mother saying good night Chicken, and kissing her hair, and her mother singing I ride an old paint, I lead an old dame. She wanted California horses, she wanted the direction West. She wanted her hilltop, because hilltops were the most innocent of things; they just squatted there waiting, changing green to brown and back again, never wanting or abandoning anyone.
Because New York stole California childhoods away. The house with the big ceilings: lost. The kite flying: lost. Her mother: still around, but far away. California: cascading through the Salinas hills in late afternoon in a car, when the hills were glowing bodies asleep on top of each other – gone. Where did all of it go? She had an idea. It went to her addictions. It melted into glasses of whiskey. It leaked onto the beds of her lovers. It flew up into the tinny ceiling of the bar on North 6th Street, the crown molding of the bedroom of that one guy, or into a gust of torrid wind. Scarf torn away from neck. Without company in New York, invisibility threatened her, coming at her like an unhappy spear. California disappeared into the vapid space between two ugly buildings.
Imagine that vapid space. Imagine a mother there, or a hand, or a childhood. Then imagine a love built to fill such spaces up. A love as long as California, as wide as Argentina, fitting inside of a place that’s not a place. It is a directional love. It is a hand that moves and grabs on its own. It is a pastry with pink filling, a mud pie on a red plate. It is something that the nephew and the uncle and the father and the mother and the girl are breathing for each other, something that passes through countries, walks through walls, disappears and then emerges again – a love that is something like a good luck ghost.
I used to take pride in oceans as if they were mine for pockets of coats/shirts. We wanted a kitchen with checkerboard floors when we were small enough not to know better. Now: I distance myself from visual depression. I only care about feeling overwhelmed. The sea means nothing more than boredom. I prefer gas stations. I prefer the freeway bridge. Butterflies left a long time ago. Now I just flap my wings. I only like linoleum. Progress. Using time up. You took me to the barbeque place with the bad lighting. I preferred it
to dining by the water.
Much like this invitation, Rachel Adams and I are so dorky we're cool. So that's why we're hosting our birthday party in conjunction with my THESIS READING. Please come to either or both events THIS FRIDAY, APRIL 16th.
1. Word World, the graduate writing program thesis reading, starts at 7pm. It is held at the SF campus of CCA, in Timken Lecture Hall.
2. After the reading we will caravan to the UPTOWN, on 17th and Capp Streets where you can throw peanut shells on the ground. Feel free to bring friends and snacks and birthday hats.
Yay for getting older and still being young!
I was just featured in an exquisite exquisite corpse poem, put together by Dan Lichtenberg of We Who Are About To Die. The poem is below, complete with radical links embedded in each line!
YOU ARE FASTER THAN A TELEPHONE CALL.
I feel, though, there’s so little to deliver—
nevertheless, I will pack up my humble work in a
shoebox lined with pages from life magazine, and overnight it to you.
I will stitch a star-lined kite into the lid, and a beacon on its side.
To draw those static souls, walking restless in the night—
to draw a conclusion is to make a drawing of a light bulb.
A year later Engales became a one handed man. There was an accident in the NYU printmaking studio, where he went to stretch his canvasses. It was a Saturday. The studio smelled like it always did: turpentine and cleaning fluid, a tinge of body odor that came, he imagined, from Arlene, a red-headed bohemian girl who didn’t shave under her arms and drank yerba mate out of a gourd. The smell of the mate always reminded him of home, and he was never sure if he was willing to welcome the nostalgia or to avoid it. Arlene was on a ladder that day, trying to reach the top of a twelve foot painting, her underarm hair spurting out in a shock of orange. When the thick blade of ‘the guillotine’ - an enormous paper cutter meant to cut entire volumes - came down on Engales’ wrist, Arlene heard the thud first, and leapt off the ladder to investigate. He saw her red hair flying toward him as someone else wrapped the stump of his wrist in a paint rag. The rag turned orange rapidly, the stain of blood blooming out into its edges.
Arlene knotted the hand itself into another rag and placed the bundle into a tin canister used for paintbrushes. At the sight of his own hand in the paint can, his desensitized fingertips resting in the blackened turpentine, Engales vomited into a stainless steel sink. Another someone hailed him a cab, and the cab driver responding to the raising and waving of that someone's hand seemed to Engales like some sort of cruel joke. The cab driver hauled him to a towering hospital where a doctor on the seventeenth floor sewed his stump into a nub. Arlene was the only one who waited in the emergency room.
After the accident, Engales let his beard grow out in protest of self-maintenance. He was twenty four, and it seemed to him that he had too many years left to live with this new handicap. Arlene, who had also been the one to ruin the chances of salvaging his real hand by putting it in the turpentine can, called him obsessively throughout the months after the accident. He deflected her calls and answered to no one. His beard transformed his face into a dark knot of woolish hairs, and he behaved badly – drugs, alcohol, a crude and disillusioned way of speaking to strangers - for most of the rest of his time in America. He stopped painting. His painting hand was in a paint can, after all, and his good hand was no good with the brush.
The roller coaster language is a roller coaster, and in Roma I learn to ride. There are class rooms with columns, with chandeliers, with espresso makers fritzing in the marble hallways. There is an oily sort of glamour here, a greasy sort of tongue. I find the undulations fantastic: io sono, tu sai, noi siamo, and on and on with the conjugations getting convoluted and their turns and valleys running into each other like bumper cars, sparking at the top. A whole landscape of ranges and flips. A whole dramatic plot about that one goddamned espresso cup. And finally I am at the highest peak with my hands in the air, ready for the big fall. At that top place, that high-pitched precipice, I look down on a red city with high towers that fans out like a million pronged fork and I hold my breath – andiamo! – and find myself flying down the throat of a mother, flying down the throat of a corridor, flying down the throat of a nation that doesn’t look outward, only in. Bologna’s fork is tied around itself, twirling its own spaghetti, reddened by its bursting sauce, insulating itself by becoming its own oven. I am flying down the throat of a non- mother that says, with her hair buzzing: Cara mia, dove sono i tuoi scarpe? And the valleys in her voice are the mountains, also.
When I taste sunflower oil I think of a certain territory. A territory marked by territory. Long masses of land out to here. Moon craters, L’s shaped like whispers: it is nighttime in las pampas. We sit high up in our recliners. We eat sandwiches and mash up the bread with our molars. When we return to the city, the Germans are making sounds with their throats, crooning at each others nightgowns, taking photographs of the inside of the house. The other guy is chiseling up his meat and the knife sound is a lullaby. Dormir en una cama de sunflowers. Dormir en una moon crater. Kiss twenty five men in one long night and taste the sunflower oil in their steak mouths. Kill seven cows and then blend up your speech, twist up your mouth: we are among the portenas and they say things in this very certain way.
On the top of the armadillo hill they sell souveners and dulces. They have prostitutes here, too, probably, but I am too young to know them. At the bullfight they move like they are angry but I understand it might be an act of love. I also understand that I am acting when I pretend to learn the tango in a moon room. Dancing is a kind of bull fight, I think, and the animal way they speak is killing me. I am young enough to copy any word, my mouth can move like anyone’s, and I am fighting and dancing with the language and its following me around like a dog. Its obeying me like a dog. Venga venga lengua lengua, obeying me like a dog. I’ve got a red cape and a Corona bottle and a short skirt on stage which doesn’t, at the time, seem in any way dangerous. Because my teacher Fabiola is the prettiest thing I’ve seen and she’s been teaching me how to ask for things in a way that is polite. Walking around on all fours in this city, asking for things that I do not want, which I understand might be nothing more than an act of love or a sideways way of dancing.