Sometimes, I believe I understand the language of birds. Not their chirps, or songs, or dainty body language; but the words that spill out from deep beneath their eyes, as they balance on branches expressive as Boccaccio paintings. Sable-marble eyes challenging me to see the tiny silhouettes crouched within.
There are certain ideas—ones that often are stumbled upon accidentally—that are unshakable until mounted. They beg for obsession. They implore one to give up every millimeter of the brain and body.
I. The Knees
I was in Sunday school. The only redemption from the droning of the Priest’s voice was the sublime storytelling of Mr. Alex, which my ears accepted with the credibility of a prophet. He knew what the world was about, he said, and it was his duty to teach us. He would rattle off stories of the ethereal as if telling of the results of a sports game or what he ate for breakfast. All of us middle-school aged children sat around the rickety pop-up table, plastic disguised as wood, eyes glued to Mr. Alex. He had seen an angel once. It stood before him when he was ill and bent over pew in genuflection. He said he knew something big was going to happen because as soon as he knelt to pray his knees burned like he was kneeling on Hell itself. The angel was
1. two stories tall
My mind clung to these facts for years.
The kids saw him as a spokesperson for God. He held our worlds and fates in his hands, his voice booming with unquestionable omnipotence. As a 12 year-old, after the class discussed Sodom and Gomorrah, I asked him if I would go to hell for “liking girls.” We were pent up in the corner of the church basement, as if conspiring or repenting. All of the portraits of deceased priests leaning in as jury. He asked if I was gay. I said no, it was just a question.
II. The Lungs
I don’t worry as much about the Christian conceptualization of hell anymore, a place which I visualized as being full of mostly men with scarred skin and unkempt beards. The few women who would reside there, as I had learned from Sunday school, had been branded as prostitutes, adulteresses, whores.
My mental picture modified after reading Dante. It turned into an image of the perpetual, of utter and eternal stagnation unbreakable by any means. Everyone screaming in the same androgynous pitch as their skin singed off and their faces melted like flame-bitten plastic, regardless of name or gender.
I soak up the night air. It is cold and harsh. It stings my lungs until my breath tapers off. I am scribbling on a page, trying to find something to draw beneath the blanket of night. The sun has set and darkness has pressed all of the trees and leaves back into a single dimension.
Moments beg to break the chains of stagnation. Moments push boulders up mountains over and over again. Moments succumb their kidneys to ever-famished hawks and are unable to ever regain the memory fragments of those organs.
III. The Hands
I started to write poetry after a bizarre drug experience. I sat up in my bed, sheets moving rhythmically, pulsating with waves that refused to disappear even if my eyes closed. Time was compressed and I told myself that this must be what hell feels like—living the same moment over
and over again. That is what the world was. I could see myself in the reflection of my mirror across from my bed. My body didn’t move but my hands were shaking and my eyes were shaking but the rest of my body was just part of the frieze of the room, of the walls.
Time never really moved forward from this point on.
IV. The Brain
Queerness brands every memory of myself retrospectively, but when it touches me now I dance on my toes like I have needles splinting them. Then I get angry. I have a single-handed number of vivid memories from my childhood.
They are mostly violent.
As a twelve-year old Michael Rosa and I found a snake in the street, back plastered flat like something that I’ve seen before but can’t remember what. He cut it open with a plastic knife. Or we might have cut it open. Its bones lay like an archeological site, skin peeled back without any of the elasticity of life or any of the clamor of sin. I don’t remember if I touched the insides or not. I do remember him shaking its pieces around the inside of an empty milk carton.
I always pictured the snakes doing the job themselves: turning Tiresias’ ribs inside out and fastening them on backwards as he lay on the makeshift surgical table atop the mountain stone.
V. The Head
All the men in my dreams are faceless and featureless.
I’ve dreamt the same moment, over and over again. First, a block of wood would hit the wall right above my head. I was prone on a couch. Then, the numbers would come. 1, 2 1⁄2, 2, 4 1⁄2, 1, 2 1⁄2, 2, 4 1/2. They came from my mouth in the first version of the moment. Then, the mouth of the body next to me. In the third, all of the mouths chorally. The fourth, the voice came from the room itself, deep within its structure and roots. I quivered, naked with the voice running about my skin, cold and quick as glacial water.
I hypothesized at nine that minds create simulations of an external and internal world. At the end of a ‘life’ we would wake up and realize that we were in a coffin, so damn bored from laying there with our bodies dead and our minds alive that we had to pass the time by playing games with ourselves, improving the simulation each and every time. I notice some flaws in this now.
VI. The Eyes
In Greece I saw myself in the mouth-less caryatids. Icons with faces chewed away,
the faces of Saints, rubbled into a post-acidic mess.
Time melts and men lick it right up.
I saw Hatshepsut, limestone bust beaten to a pulp, frozen and
VII. The Skin
Wasn’t Daphne’s transformation a salvation? But Ovid never mentions her mind, her consciousness. Does she regard her preservation as entrapment, perpetual containment, or freedom? Is being rooted to the ground for eternity better than giving up free will to an ungovernable device.
But what of transformation?
Grass to bare-feet, I trace the body of the tree with ink. It turns into the silhouette of a dancer with an obscure number of limbs. I notice this mostly at night. The way trees in the dark are just twisted men, bones bent and strewn.