9 ways I’ve starved…

There was this girl. We went dancing. The light caught pearls of sweat on her shoulder. “I need to keep moving, like a shark,” she told me, sliding away through the crowd. More like a snake if you ask me. I knew it wouldn’t last when I saw her laughing at that stranger’s dumb jokes, leaning into his chest.

Another girl, when I was ten years-old, told me I was cute and we should get married underneath the swing set. Since then I haven’t been able to think of anything else.

Then there the was one who took me hiking one day and then back to her apartment to show me drawings she made of graveyards. When we had sex she screamed out the names of past lovers… all of them. And when she got to mine she opened her eyes and it came out like a death rattle.

And of course, the one I fell in love with, although she terrorized me weekly and burned my poem. Between you and me, with the edges yellowed from flame, it was the best poetry I’ve ever written.

The most beautiful, and most fucked-up, one, told me I was a pen that ran out of ink. We lasted for three years and then she dissolved into ether. She now lives in Montreal catering weddings. Placing little hors-d’oeuvres on silver trays.

Oh no! I almost forgot about the woman who took off her clothes and jumped in the river that was all ice-cold and flowing snow melt. She begged me to followed her in, and, of course, like an idiot, I did. And now I don’t hear so well.

Ah, and the funny one, always making jokes at the worst times. Like after climaxing and waking the neighbors she’d tell me my penis looked like a potato bug, laughing while lighting a joint the size of your middle finger.

The ex-wife, the second one, the third if you count the one underneath the swing set, liked to surprise me at work with lunch that we’d eat in the park while watching cloud shadows move across the green grass. She was a good one. I think it would have lasted if it wasn’t for the cancer.

I met one at a train station, waiting for the commuter up to the North Shore. She told me I seemed like a man floundering without a purpose. We sat next to each other the whole way learning about each others’ lives. It was the best love affair I ever had, although she got off in Newberryport and we never even held hands. I still think of the mole behind her right ear.

Enter Here

I was inside with the lights out… a low country song leaking from the speakers. The purple nocturnal flowers have bloomed, lent their aromatic touch to the room, and died. I was watching dark shadows crawl along the wall… the creeping of time, the foreground of death. I was smothered by the atmosphere… bathing in the ennui of skin and bone and ganglia.

There was a knock, urgent and pounding.

I didn’t even look through the peephole, trusting fate and strangers; fearlessly I opened the door with my shirt off and a glass in my hand.

She stood there in the hallway light like a semicolon. Like a break in your thoughts. Like something I should inhale and spit out and purge for. Blonde hair to her ass and boots up to her knees.

“You fucking writer,” she spat, anger paroxysm undulating on her cheeks where her mouth formed a black hole. “Tell me something sexy,” she commanded… removing a pistol from a holster in her garter and waving it fanatically, bursting into the room. She groped the wall and found the switch and palmed it toward heaven… light flooded the room like Katrina. “Tell me something real.” She pointed her little six-shooter, Dillinger pea pod, at the Eames clock nailed to the wall… as if threatening time was motivation for me to spill my closely guarded paranoia. “Make my mind hurt.”

“What maelstrom of maladies brought you to me?”

“Don’t try to be clever, I hate clever,” she replied, undoing the top button of her starched white blouse. Looking at her black leather skirt and the secrets it hid, the little boy inside me peered out from the covers at the monster emerging from the closet… I took a long sip of the whiskey… its cask barrel salvation coating my throat as I tried a reply but lost it amid the malignant stalagmites of my turbid thoughts. The city clicked in asthmatic rhythm. My heart made a bu-dum-bum — as if life itself was a stupid punchline. “Tell me something to get my pussy wet,” she moaned like a stray cat mewling at midnight.

“I have never been to France. One day we won’t remember each others name. I’ve caused six abortions.”

She didn’t flinch. “Bullshit,” she shouted. She fired a shot at the clock and it burst into a thousand glass shards. I heard the staccato of seconds and minutes and hours hitting the floor. For a moment I felt like a bird sitting in a tree looking in a window at a person that was myself. There was a humming noise coming from the refrigerator… I wondered if it was always there. Then I heard her say, “Enter me,” in a similar hum. (The background noise of machinery you know nothing about.)

Her arms were covered in tattoo ink. Her skin flowed over me like an Icelandic waterfall. We disassembled our bodies one cell at a time: one electron, one proton, one episode of Seinfeld. The way she threatened my life excited my blood, my toes curled and my dick rose. We coiled around each other like snakes and wiggled in bed till we shed our skin and corrupted a civilization. Everybody spends the rest of their life with their killer… when you think about it. When she put her lips to my navel I squirmed with the joy of a born-again nun receiving the Eucharist, placed on her tongue by a handsome priest.

We joined bodies all night, barely sipping breaths of city air in a room of sweat. We were everywhere and nowhere… vibrating energy crashing against each other. I occupied her. She slapped me around like a school yard bully. When it was over I was pulled apart like taffy. My guts and veins and fingers tingling. I was eviscerated.

We were lying in a heap of ourselves. She told me, “Leave now and when you walk out that door, never look back.” I didn’t even think about it. I just gave in… obeyed… I put on my grey sweatpants with the elastic hems and my black Givenchy shirt with the orange tiger and somnambulated out the door… the day’s perfume invaded my nose.

The click of the lock and the church bells in the distance… the sight of my gangly legs. The way the stains on the wood looked like ancient faces. I was outside my door, yelling in, “I dress better than you! You’re a mirage!”

The sun formed a perfect daffodil of kaleidoscopic rays. My eyes, my eyes… my wonderful, tortured eyes. Everything that she brought with her crystallized into a faint, beating memory of thorn and thistle. I was torn out, made new, purchased, defeated, revived. I was this great Norse God… my hammer in the snow, horns of ram on my head. The metallic taste of her name on my tongue. I was 16 helium balloons, 36 coursing chambers of blood. I was a bullet. A phosphorus outcrop.

I was an antennae catching alien radio waves.

Her laughter permeated the walls. “You are not you anymore. That’s the sexiest thing you could have written,” I heard her say… ambulances singing the waning song of the dead… limousines and hearses drag racing at red lights.

I was homeless, home-bound, and Homeric.


Hemingway’s Rap

Homer built worlds from his words,
but never stepped on a red carpet.

William wrote the most and changed the world,
but his shirts made him look like a woman.

Ernest was earnest and right about bulls and Cuba,
but when it came to his drinking, he’d only shout, “Yolo!”

Jack hung with Neil and Allen and smoked cigarettes,
but when the crush came he ran off to Big Sur alone.

Hunter liked to shoot guns and talk shit,
but when shit went bad, he turned it on himself.

J.D gave us Haulden,
but never wanted to give us J.D.

Kurt was a little bit nerdy,
but the bitches loved him for it.

Chuck wanted us to fight,
but when we did he said it’s just a book.

The moon is tilted and chalky and when I walk up it,
the man there says, “Boy, I didn’t know you could fly.”

Wave it Like a Towel

Wet grass reminded him of something from his childhood, but Scott didn’t know what. He considered that maybe it reminded him of something from somebody else’s childhood, or a TV commercial from when he was young. New York City didn’t have many places for him to walk barefoot through wet grass. The more he considered it, the less it reminded him of anything, and was more a foreign smell and feeling. He practically grew up in rock clubs, not on farms with the roosters that wake you up with their indignant crowing and you know the animal you’re eating on a first name basis.

It was barely 7 o’clock in the morning and the sun was rising in slow motion, an effect he attributed it to the molasses pace of Southern life. She was waiting for him in the barn, where they met two nights ago after her parents fell asleep. At first a clandestine rendezvous at the age of 31 seemed unnecessary and childish, but making love in the straw and the fecund air felt invigorating; taking her with the horses’ black pupils looking on and the pitchforks hanging on the walls was like some kind of pastoral porn in real life. Looking down at his bodies on hers, his tattoos seemed like a violation, a trampling.

He’s had many women before, but this was the first he ever felt a twinge of something more than just flesh on flesh, bones grinding on bones. It’s been awhile since he was excited about the act. More specifically, the person on the other end.

Sandy was wearing a cream dress that went down to her calves and an apron with strawberries on it, absolutely perfect-looking he thought, standing in the doorway with a dimpled smile and pear-shaped breasts. Freckles dotted her nose. A burnt cinnamon color in her hair caught the morning light so that it looked aflame.

“Hey, sleepy head,” she greeted him.

He mumbled a reply and she laughed. He noted she didn’t give him a hug although her parents weren’t around. She was 26. Back in New York, dried lavender framed her doorway.  She was a writer, but then again, all his ex-girlfriend’s were writers, at least they called themselves writers, or photographers. They hardly ever wrote or took pictures though. He was a musician. All of his friends were musicians. He was attracted to opposites. He was loud, she was quiet. That kind of thing.

He craved a joint but didn’t bring any down with him. He thought of that White Stripes line, “My left brain knows all love is fleeting/ She’s just looking for something new/ and I said it once before/ but it bears repeating.”

Sandy’s face beamed and her voice sung out, “Ready to catch a chicken?” She was as warm and American as fresh apple pie sitting on a window sil in the noonday sun. God, he wanted to throw her down and kiss her till she couldn’t breathe.

He laughed. “Not quite.”

“Chores ain’t gonna do themselves, silly monster.”

Silly monster, Scott thought, that’s exactly what I am. His mind flashed through a series of memories: post-concert parties, drugs and women, loud fights with bandmates, cops showing up in hotel rooms, pizza at 4 in the morning, singing in the subway….

“Follow me,” Sandy beckoned.

They went around to the chicken coop fenced in with wire. The chickens spilled out of a simple red structure in the middle of it and clucked loudly, reacting to the idea of being fed, dizzying themselves in a tornado of endless hunger and senseless fidgeting.

“Go grab one,” she commanded in a stern yet playful voice.



Scott stood there in a meek expression of ineptitude. “I don’t think you understand what my true talents are in this world.”

“Ha… like Panties of the Funeral?” She joked.

It was his least favorite tune, but the most popular one at their concerts. The one that frat boys shouted out to be played in between songs, and always the one they played for a finale or encore; because after all, it’s the music business. You keep the audience waiting, but always give them what they want in the end. Kind of like women.

He rapped, “Come and suck my death pop, succubus, I wanna feel my breath stop, fuck you the best, carnival carnivore, life’s a bore, I don’t know what you came here for, I don’t know what you came here for.”

When he finished he flapped his lips in a disgruntled little neigh. She grinned at him in her pitying way that made him feel like maybe he could settle down and raise chickens, that maybe there was a different dimension where he wore overalls, and not in an ironic way, where he went to sleep before midnight and woke up clear-headed and grateful.

Yeah, maybe — but their names! Sandy and Scott. He hated the sound of it. Like they’re part of a cast for some teenage melodrama where there’s an alcoholic dad and somber conversations overlooking the ocean while Arcade Fire plays in the background. Damn, he hated Arcade Fire.

She pushed him in the back. “Get in there.”

He climbed over the wire and found himself in a tempest of feathers and beaks. He looked down, trying to figure out which one to go for, presumably the slowest, but this made him feel like a cruel little lord; so he chose one that seemed strong but not dangerous — a medium-sized chicken. This would be the one that will die tonight. If this chicken were a human it would be a man who went to work everyday and made a decent income, one that could afford a vacation once a year for the family, but nowhere lavish, who had a wife who tolerated him lovingly, but never adored him, whose kids were embarrassed of him but still respected him. He didn’t want to kill a drunk chicken or a millionaire chicken. He wanted to kill an all-American chicken.

Standing there, contemplating all this, a large insect dive-bombed into his mouth. It flapped around, hitting the walls of his mouth.  Was it a mosquito? Would it soon be probing his tongue, draining him of blood, lyrics? He reflectively closed his mouth and accidentally caught it between his teeth; like chewing on gravel, it crunched and he tasted wings and exoskeleton. He spat it out, disgusted. She laughed. “What, you swallow a bug?”

“Yeah, a big one,” he replied.

“Don’t be a wuss. That’s protein.”

“How do you live like this?”

“You’re such a baby,” she told him.

An image came over him. An idea.  “Wait! What if it’s not a bug, but a tiny angel who came to protect us, but got caught in a draft and was pushed into my mouth?” He asked, “And now that I ate it, I’m going to shit angel bits into your pop’s toilet in an hour?” The lyrics ‘angel wings in my teeth – they taste something sweet’ came to him but he didn’t know what to do with them.

She shook her head. “You’re so morbid and crude.”

“Is it sexy?”

She turned her eyes down. “Sometimes.” Scott approached her, reaching out to pull her closer. “But not right now,” she amended, stepping back. “Go catch me a chicken. That’s sexy.”

“You’re such a brute.”

She told him, “Somebody’s got to put you in your place.”

There was no reply he could give. She was right.

Scott turned and plodded deeper into the pen. His boots squished as he walked. Looking down, he realized he was stepping on tons of chicken shit. Tiny pellets that formed a layer of earth. It grossed him out, but he concluded that they would soon kill one of those birds and so the tradeoff was only fair.

“You little fuckers!” He cursed.

She laughed. He loved her laugh. Something stirred. A realization. It wasn’t until just now that he felt the distance they had driven, how far from New York they were, and far from his life, and far he was from… what?

The next concert?

No… safety.

The next thing happened like a bumbling slow motion montage. He bent low, his middle class chicken darted, flapped its wings, he adjusted, sidestepped to his right, it went between his legs, he jerked over to catch it, his feet slipped behind him, then he fell face first into the ground. Splat! The chicken flapped and kicked around. Talons slashed his face. Wings slapped him all over.

“Are you okay?” She asked, half-stifling a snicker. “Them chickens can be hard to catch.”

“Yeah, yea… I see that now.” He pushed himself back onto his feet. “Fuckin’-A.” His vintage Steve Miller Band t-shirt that cost him 50 dollars in the village was ripped and stained. His jeans were stained also. His cheek was festooned with a fresh line of bright red blood. He displayed himself to her, his hands outstretched like a vandalized Christ the Redeemer. Gloriously damaged.

She told him, “You’ll survive. I’ve seen you in worse shape.”

“I guess you have.” He laughed. Now it was personal. “Alright, let’s catch a fucking chicken.”

It wasn’t easy. Scott didn’t think it would be.  It took maybe ten, fifteen minutes to finally corner his chicken and wrap it up in both hands. When he did though, he was surprised that it didn’t put up much of a fight. Why wouldn’t it fight back? Doesn’t it have any sense of danger? If some much larger creature came up and grabbed me, Scott thought, I’d go down kicking and screaming. I wouldn’t just hold still and let myself be carried off, but that’s what he did with the chicken, carried it off to Sandy like a present. He felt like the chicken was trusting him, and that made this grisly task particularly unnerving.

He realized, while stepping over the chicken wire, that he was grinning like a fool, from a weird mixture of guilt and glee — like a silly monster — and the ultra vibrant violet headband in her hair made him happier than he had a right to be. Like it was sending gamma waves straight to his dopamine.

He told her, “Here’s your chicken, motherfucker.”

“Oh, really? It only took you twenty minutes,” she shot back, dimples like watermarks on her cheeks. “Now you have to fucking kill it.” Curse words in her mouth look like screws when there should be nails.

He scoffed, “I’m punk, but I’m not that punk. Let your pops do it.”



“It’s a test,” she said.

“You’re testing me?”

“I’m not.”

“Who is?”


“Fuuuuck,” he groaned.

Scott didn’t want to do it. He had rage. Rage because his mom was an alcoholic and his dad was a ghost on a Harley Davidson somewhere in Arizona. Rage because he was small in size and never got attention until he started singing in a band. Rage because it seems like the world rewards the rich and beautiful and ignores the ugly and awkward and those without platinum credit cards. He was full of rage, but not against chickens. Not against things he held in his hands, not when he felt the soft down of their feathers as they stayed docile like a faithful pet. He looked down at the chicken and it peered up at him, asking, ‘what? what? I’m a chicken. I don’t understand. What are you doing with me?’

She told him, “If you do this, we can meet in the barn tonight.” Then she pulled down the top of her apron and dress and exposed her right breast to him. The nipple was dark and surprisingly erect. Mysterious. He wondered if she could control that by some sort of mind power.

He was helpless…

“Baby, I’ll murder this chicken for a piece of you,” he growled. “The whole fucking flock. Murdered!”

She corrected him. “It’s not murder, it’s food.”

“Tell Morrissey that.”

“Fuck Morrissey!” She said with a smile.

“God, I love you,” he blurted out. But he said it the wrong way. He said it like he meant it. Not like teasing banter. It oozed out like pus from a pimple.

Her smile faded. Her eyebrows turned in a ‘V’ toward her nose. There was a silence that enveloped them. A terrifyingly delicious, uneasy knowing-ness wrapped them up in a shawl of no-turning-back. They stared at each other in a confused, ethereal haze.

He’d never said anything like that before — not in a way that was earnest — and even though it came out at this weird time, covered in mud, with blood thickening on his cheek, a live chicken dumbly staring on, they both knew that a truth slipped out.


She spoke delicately. “Just take its neck in your hand, and swing it like a towel. You know, like you were waving it at a basketball game.”

Scott didn’t turn away. He kept eye contact with her. They were locked in the moment. Words jammed up in his throat. Finally, he broke the link.

“Okay,” he said, meaning something other than ‘yes, now I understand how to kill a chicken.’

“Okay,” she repeated, understanding what he meant and meaning the same thing.


Hand Drip

You’re like hand-dripped coffee, expensive and time consuming, eyes blooming like night jasmine, your hand on my thigh wakes me up. We met at an art opening, your arms folded across your breasts, leather jacket, Michael Kors watch – the best in the catalogue – a part in your hair every guy wanted to stroke. I watched from across the room as advances bounced off you. I zoomed in, said something cheeky and laughed as your iris responded to my summer breeze.

The first night we went to The Bazaar and had Tapas, the next day you were topless. I confessed I was a mess and vulnerable, you laughed and said, ‘stop it.’ It was the wine speaking, but you told me you loved me. You’re crazy, I replied.

Two moons later The Killers were playing on my stereo. You made fun of me because I used the word stereo. You chew on your lip when you drink too much, and make random grocery lists. I tell tales like the salt-worn wood of beach cottages. You’re gluten-free but drink whiskey. My mindless mind-tint at midnight scribbles odes to Heath Ledger. You bought me moisturizer with SPF, told me to use it when my face is damp. I stood in the doorway listening to you talk to your agent. You don’t want to play a mother. “Babies aren’t sexy.”

I’m a Scrabble tile fallen to the floor. You’re on Sunset Boulevard, illuminated on a billboard.

Poetry pages in the sheets. Farmer Market Sundays, with your wide brim hat and glasses; still, everybody sees behind the lens, past your rutabaga and your waxy air of sensuality, to the droll doll you dragged on the floor when you were young you’d one day become. Nights extolling the virtue of collapsed galaxies, as we peer into the endless abyss of our drifting conversations, each one expanding farther away from the day we met. Farther/further, father/fuhrer.

There was that modeling shoot and then the three-day movie role in Vancouver. I stayed to work on that article I hated. We barbecued endangered fish. We swam in quicksand. I got a tattoo of a viking on my inner arm. You flew first class, batted your eyelash like a pro. There were fireflies in an old jar of spaghetti sauce, random texts from co-stars, sandwiches with crunchy bread that cut the roof of our mouths. Los Angeles devoured us in extravagant pleasures, high-end demons masticating the masquerading marionettes like dapper termites. We paraded ourselves like a Woody Woodpecker balloon in front of Macy’s as everybody around us shot darts at us.

We were beautiful and terrifying. Like a flood.

We hurled ourselves into the play. We had no director. We were winging our lines. We were our own audience and critics and when the curtain went down we were alone, together, two high pressure weather systems colliding over Kansas.

You told me I made sense for a while, we did, until we no longer. I replied, your fickleness is your most attractive quality. I told you the red carpet is to cover the blood. You joked that my wit never ceased to make you cringe.

I’m always planning the end before the middle. Like a good writer should. That way nothing can take you by surprise.

You walked off scene into a blizzard of flashbulbs. The nation applauds. I don’t answer your calls.

I’m with my keyboard, talking to the screen. The hottest fires burn the quickest. You’re nothing but a character now, a made-up antagonist. Everybody’s dream lover.

There are lessons from the leaving: I don’t drink enough water.


Eyes Never Been so Happy

Where will the wild places go when we tame them all? Will they hide inside of us? A Grand Canyon in my stomach. A Yosemite behind your eyes. You try so hard to figure everything out, all the while it’s changing on you. It’s like racing a car on a one-lane road that’s traveling the other direction. Eventually we’ll meet again, but only to crash.

The party was letting out and we were still making eyes. I tried to manage a smile as she ducked into a waiting Uber car. I tried to act like a man with something to offer, yet, when I searched the bottom of my glass, I only found a Trademark sign.

I iron my shirt. I pay my phone bill. I lift 25 pound weights. I use eye cream. I cheer for the home team. I call my mom on Mother’s Day.  I walk into the forest and lose myself in the trees. I recite poetry in my head when the sun burns through the clouds. I am a living, breathing sparrow king.

Two suits were hanging in my closet. One navy. One black. One for weddings. One for funerals. I was naked except for a spray of $200 Italian cologne. I stood a long time, trying to decide which one to put on. My skin was white as the walls. Eventually I chose the one that matched your eyes.

Everybody knows what a mushroom cloud looks like, but not everybody knows what debilitating doubt looks like. Except for me. It’s a street sign. It’s an apple core on the sidewalk. It’s a lavender plant leaning over the steps. It’s the doorbell. It’s the slow creak of the door. It’s those eyes, flashing at me with pity.

The bully walked up, chest pumped up like wheels on a tractor. He snatched my football and pushed me face first into the mud. A lion momentarily roared in my gut. I stood up. I shouted, “You can’t do that to me.” He laughed. He handed me back my football. I looked at it in disbelief, staring like a dumb child. I never even saw his fist, although he landed it square in my eye.

We jumped off a bridge into a cold river. The snowmelt coming from Wyoming. The wind was pushing the trees around. When I came up there was something in my eyes. Everything was blurry. I looked at the mountains and they looked like charred bodies lying on their side. You were shouting my name.  It was so pretty I almost let myself drift downstream.

water nymp
photo by Julie Trotti

Doughnuts and Trout

It was Tuesday, so I went down to the Farmer’s Market. Like I do on Tuesdays.

The wind was blowing, dropping leaves and creating shifting patterns of light on the tables. There was something kinetic in the air.  I sat down with a hot coffee and a doughnut. People were coming and going, oblivious to me, to each other.

I was about to take my first bite when a man dressed in black, with a bowler hat and a tattoo of a trout on his hand, dragged back a chair, making a strident, ear-splitting sound, and sat down at the table. His nose was long and had a pronounced bump in the middle. There was a chain around his neck with a lock hanging from it.

“Can I help you?” I asked, not friendly but not reticent.

“Please don’t act like you don’t know me.”

“I’ve never seen you before,” I told him. The wind stopped and the air congealed between us.

He told me, “That may be true, but you know me.”


“Let me explain.” He put his hands together in the shape of a prayer and touched them to his lips thoughtfully. I tried to take a bit of my doughnut but he put his hand out and stopped me. “Don’t eat that just yet,” he said. Instead I took a sip of coffee and waited. He went on. “You see, you know that is a doughnut because your brain can connect that word to the information your eyes feed you. But your eyes are just giving you data, symbols for what your mind puts together. I’m kinda like that doughnut. I mean, can you really tell me the difference between a doughnut and a cupcake? Right? Can you explain doughnut-ness to me?”

I was confused. I mean, I understood what he was saying, but it was also confusing. Like, in my mind it’s nonsense, but going back to a deeper level, he’s right. Still, I like to live in the world of logic. “Sure. It’s a morning pastry.”

He laughed. “What’s morning? What’s pastry?” He showed me his tattoo. “I mean, what’s this? Is it a fish? Is it a tattoo? Is it my hand? Is it the Berlin Wall coming down?”

“I don’t think anybody would think that,” I said.

“Ah, but I was there. I saw men long-oppressed take to it with sledgehammers, chunks of graffiti and concrete falling. Then I went and I got this tattoo. So yes, when I look at this I see the Berlin Wall coming down. This is a symbol to me. Just like you see a doughnut and think, ‘ah, that’s a doughnut’.”

“Okay, I’ll buy that.”

He laughed. “I’m not selling it. I’m giving it to you. Okay, okay, okay,” he said excitedly. “We think old men are tough because they have leathery faces, but they have leathery faces because men didn’t use moisturizer back in the day. We see leather skin and think ‘tough,’ but it’s not tough, it’s just poor skin care. Symbols. False computations.”

“That makes sense, but why are you telling me this?”

He looked around him and leaned forward as if he were going to impart a secret. “Some people think it’s morbid to think about your own death, but what’s wrong with thinking about peace, relief? Life is tough, it’s long and cruel. That’s why I have this.” He rolled up his sleeve and there was a tattoo of the grim reaper holding a bouquet of roses.

Something stirred in me. “Life is beautiful, too,” I argued. I’m not sure why I was suddenly pensive, why I cared. What was I even doing engaging with this strange man instead of enjoying my doughnut? “There is a spot I go, when I’m sad, where the whole city is spread out like a blanket at a picnic, and I think about all the beautiful people there, living their beautiful lives. It makes me happy. To know that this all exists,” I explained. “There are beautiful moments, when you know how to look for them.”

“Ah, yes. I agree, but only because of death. If we lived forever, it would be a drag.” He abruptly changed the subject. “How’s your love life?” He asked.

The question made me squirm, but I answered as truthfully as I could. “Well, I get coffee and doughnuts three times a week. Occasionally I go for a swim in the ocean.”

He grinned. A look of compassion flashed across his face like a paparazzi snapped a photo of us. “It’s funny. Some people dedicate their whole lives to things like love, heaven… country. Just words. Even worse symbols. You can’t ever hold heaven like you can hold that doughnut.”

I noticed the people around us looking at me strangely. I became very self-conscious. Why were they looking at me like that?

He continued. “Have you ever been here before?”

I lowered my voice. “Yeah. I told you, I get doughnuts three times a week.”

“No. Have you ever been here? This place and time, with me. This shared space? Have you ever been to this moment?”

I looked at the uneaten doughnut sitting in front of me. It looked very odd, like it was no longer a doughnut but a tank knocking down a concrete wall. I saw her in the doughnut. I saw pixels, data. He was disassembling my world and I was letting it happen.

“Well, I suppose not. But that’s life,” I said. “It’s always moving, always creating a new moment.”

He smiled big. His teeth shone like a billboard at night. “That’s right. And when you look backward, you look into a pit of nothingness. The past is a black hole. It captures all light.  Because everything is right now, and it’s all doughnuts, and it’s all leaves falling on the table.”

I hadn’t noticed before, but we were covered in leaves. Birds were trilling overhead and the boughs were shaking.  The wind was whipping like a blender, but we were perfectly still, statues in a vacuum. There was a deep layer of leaves covering the table. I brushed them aside, exposing my untouched doughnut: a twist with a sugary, glistening veneer.

“When you stop and think about it,” he continued, “our lives are not ours. They’re our mothers, our bosses, our landlords, our lovers. Everybody’s lives belong to everybody. Your life belongs to me, as long as I’m here in your ear.”

I thought about what he said and it was startling, but accurate. I thought about everything I’ve lost and how I keep losing it by thinking about it. By not being able to let go. But it’s just corrupting symbols, about as healthy for me as the doughnut I haven’t yet touched. I thought about walls and fish. I thought about being surrounded by strangers, and loving every single one of them — whether they cared or not. I thought about black holes and about not flying into them anymore. I thought about that beach in Costa Rica and how the ocean, with the help of time, is erasing it sand particle by sand particle.

I wanted to tell him thank you, but when I looked up he was gone; all that was in front of me was a half-eaten doughnut.