A sonata rising from the coiling recesses of the metro slides in rapids across the porcelainized burrows, wafting feebly amidst the dust of the calescent doldrums, dappling the errants’ eardrums, napes, and temples alike.
The throng at the platform of Saint-Lazare bobbles in the pyretic thrall of August’s crimson mane—its fiery bristles penetrating the crust, seeping into the gnarled intestines of the city—their gazes, gestures, and trajectories stunted, caught in a cross-section of no vehicles, a swath of non-departures.
Two women make eye contact.
The first: a whisper of sinews sliding along bones, standing in a queer pocket such that a trick of suction pulls a pale dress to and fro across stolid, jagged shoulders and knees, her eyes fixed placidly upon the woman approaching her, her lips parted in an unending exhalation.
The second: a jolt of fibrous muscles bounding to action, caged in an odd bubble such that a cruelty of chance pulls tired biceps and hamstrings into a dire pose, her eyes fixed madly upon the woman before her, her lips parted in an unresolved inhalation.
So you are the one I knew I would meet some day.
The conductor pulls on the brake with all of her force, but it is of no avail. The women share a burgeoning moment, and then the first is no more.
An hour later, upon questioning by the police, the conductor puffs through parted lips, “whether it’s for a tree, a cable, a dog, or a man, it’s the same procedure. I did all that could have been done.” She is hunched upon a bench on the platform, her uniform stuck to the hulking curve of her spine, elbows digging into shot kneecaps, fingers clawing a scalp through a soaked crimson mane.
-------------------------------------------------- It is estimated that 450 people commit suicide annually in France by putting themselves in front of oncoming trains. New conductors expect that they will one day be the unwitting cause of another's death. Veteran conductors have moment by moment accounts of their first, second, third encounters with these suicides.
It was un bon geste, in any case. So well did I embody the role of le pauvre américain that my dutiful gardiens français were compelled to whisk me away to this particular pièce de théâtre immersif culturel. The news flowed smoothly off of wine-daubed tongues, languid langues cooing after hours of pampered endurance : the apéritif, the plat principal, the dessert, the hours of quipping and sipping in between.
« Bon, Bra-yan ! said Marion. What will you do with your evening tomorrow ? —Oh, I don’t think I have anything going on. I respond. —Parfait. I thought we could all go to the meat roast. —The what? —It is a special thing in a neighborhood not far. Paul interjects. —Oh. —It will be very pleasant for us. And for you. —I see. —And there will be young people, too ! »
The déclaration wrinkled the air with mirth and pity. Such a prominent pairing here. C’est le pain quotidien.
And there we were. This particular fruition of local color and French identity was an annual meat roast in honor of the strapping beaux gosses of the neighborhood’s club de football. And honored they were. Pods of garçons virils conjoined and collapsed throughout the dining hall, their voices and gestures bounding with fraternité compétitive as their family members looked on in worship from the perimeter, piercing the boy’s rallying cries with songs of victory and conquest.
And there was I. Le pauvre américain. L’étranger. La curiosité. As the athlètes bounded around the hall, I was bound to the dinner table with Marion et Paul. They had been waiting all evening for me to make a move : breach one of the pods, charm them with my exotic otherness, but then assimilate. Be happy. They, bien sûr, began to see their faux pas. In no respect would I be able to impose my presence on any of these people. Not in this context. Dans aucun contexte. I have never been the face of the manifest destiny of American culture as a good to be exported. I can not inject myself into a foreign place and demand recognition and acceptance. Manon et Paul keep the light, tight-lipped conversation at the table alive, so as not to concede to the failure of their plans and of my integration. Their faces are taught with the effort of le paraître.
A name comes to mind for the Possible-Legal-Name-Change list. I have always disliked my own, and here, it exacerbates my otherness. Félix. A Félix would integrate here--would have no issue navigating droves of disinterested strangers. A Félix, by definition, must be happy. The name bounds around my skull for a while.
A DJ starts to play. The pods of beaux gosses Speckle the hall, But hardly hallow it As a dance floor.
I can not Impose myself onto them, Can never Assimilate into them, But sure as hell Will I assert Just how Other I am Just how Étrange Just how My muscles Weren’t bred For sport But how My bones Were bred To rip the spaces Between the beats Along the ley lines Of the air exhaling Chacun de mes os Un oiseau Qui vole Sans méprise Jusqu’au bout De l’âme
The pretty boys, flummoxed and guffawing, deride the lone American weirdo who is dancing with the intention to dance. Some parrot the movements, others let flow a joke in streams of indecipherable French. The parrots, however, begin to realize how gratifying it is to move not for purpose, but for expression. The pretty boys begin to dance in earnest. They bound and swarm among themselves, their dance a bit of a scrimmage. I leave them to their task, rejoining Marion et Paul.
« Wow, look at you go! cries Marion. —Haha, merci. Je sais comment danser! I say. —Tu sais danser. Paul corrects with a mirthful wink. —Ouais, c’est ça. Je sais danser. »
Marion, Paul et moi pass the rest of the night in high spirits, both emotional and alcoholic. They are more à l’aise for some reason. Less paraître, more être. Perhaps they are secretly happy that I prefer their company to those I am expected to befriend. We find a spot to drunkenly dance, just the three of us. On est vachement bourrés! We roll out of the hall and along cobbled roads through crooked corridors of le quartier, slurring Sinatra’s New York just a bit too loudly and avec un peu trop de bonheur.
I am from that womb Against which I never fought Whose walls I stretched Neither by fist nor foot
I am from that first thought Gauzy yet tenacious Aloft Abreast the zephyrs Mid-Atlantic No land Just a queer movement of moments Malaise at the bottom of the drain —Is it over? —Is it over? —Is it over?
I am from that first crisis The dawn of first grade 50 pounds Sad eyes looking plainly in a mirror —Why was I born me? The dawn of first truth —I will never be happy.
I am from that absence Of my father His language His culture The legacy of voyagers Uprooted at my feet Their song Trilling vowel to consonant To vowel to consonant to vowel Rotting in my mouth
I am from those deaths In the water My sister the savior My sister the slayer My sister the sine wave
I am from that sense Of self Selfishness Self-ness A rogue idea Cast into bone Flung into flesh A certainty of nothing Save self A refusal to die Despite the desire A meager vessel Seething with purpose With no vision of it Cleaving the orbits of ions In a lyric spasm That juts past the fulcrum Of the vertebrae Of the crust
I am from that fall
I from that lack of verbs I that lack prepositions That lack a subject Lack syntax that
I am from nowhere. I am from no where. I am from now here.
From where am I? I am from where From where I am Where I am from.
Many the years where I cursed your guise while stitching your shadow into my mythos.
Kindred light, I had not yet learned to feel your trace in the humble passersby that glancingly broke my stride by matching my gait—
as when you were the hibernal maiden, beauty and strength flashing in stolid gestures gripping truths,
as when you were the island daughter, precision and poise undulating through the current, breaking, crestfallen, tidal,
as when you were the haloed boy, mirth and mischief slaking my thirst for the warmth of the sun,
as when you were the stricken one, neurosis and reflection shattering happily alongside me—
forgive my pride; I had not yet learned to see you.
Kinfolk wind, for too long have you molded to my needs without reciprocity. I too shall bend beyond this frame shall dance between the bones shall fly beside your hearts humming the tune you never knew you’d need.
Kindling love, I too can be stitched to mend your holes.
The first beer, acerbic as acknowledgment, flowed from a French tap through the palms of British inspiration and onto my virginal American tongue: the first lurid release.
The first wine, floral and fetid as fantasies, was born on the back of the first whiskey: acute acupuncture in the apéritif— French eyes sizing up an American adult, their Gaulish tongues addressing a francophone child
The first gin & tonic, ginchy and atonal, is shared among Floridians fondling each other for warmth under a siege of soviet snowfall— he is pierced and she is punctured and I am that which I am not (Я ни знаю, j’en sais rien), but here, in a nest of paintings of people watchings, we watch each other with blurred eyes and turning lips and gushing lungs as we slay the winter with vows over vodka.
My family are the swallowers and the swallowed: we were once writhing, wrinkled, wretched, expelled from women’s lips and devoured by those of men— exhumed from women’s canals and entombed by those of men, or if not, we were those women and we were those men sharing those brittle pieces of ourselves from orifice to orifice to orphans to orators.
O, how clarion our cries of joy when my almighty father slew his almighty father, cutting a womb where there once was none from the engorged gut of my grandfather, the first swallower, the serial cannibal, rebirthing my uncles and aunts.
O, how clutching the joy of being swallowed no longer.
If only we weren’t cyclical. If only we weren’t sick.
For here am I, swathed in my mother’s womb swathed in my father’s gut; he ate us whole because the thought of me was awful to him. The genetics were too strong for my almighty father; We are the swallowers And the swallowed.
I will follow our cycle, too, but none will have seen the likes of me. I too will carve a womb where once there was none from the walls of my almighty, impotent father. I will show him just how awful the thought of me is as I cleave his head in twain, my power swathed not in the likeness of his sick symbol of his despicable breastplate but in my own halcyon aegis.
Her legs noiselessly fall into lotus upon the bare linen sheets, her weight forming valleys and gorges running all along the soft lunar face of the bed towards the unyielding focal point of her gravitas. Supple fingers hover and twinge over myriad tableaux that she has spread about her, bisecting the valleys and gorges, now one might call train tracks from one metro station of memories to another, or perhaps roots pulling nutrients into her trunk. She hails each photograph with her touch, her breath hitching as she pushes the ridges of her fingertips into a glossy sweater, or a pair of sunglasses, or a cheek. She is beauty at the center of a kaleidoscope, bending and refracting herself through hidden filters, endlessly manufacturing the most appealing renditions of mundane, purposeless artifacts.
"Brian. Look at these."
And I do. Gingerly, I sit one leg along the side of the bed so as not to unsettle the memory quilt she crafted herself into. I always had a talent for not displacing her.
"Look at how we were."
And I do. I see a little girl in a nylon windbreaker, her joy as wild as the black wires exploding from her scrunchie. Often, she is in the arms of our father, his face and body springing towards her with the elasticity of rigorous, kinetic love.
I know what I will see when I see myself, but I look anyway. I see it right away, even behind the eyes of this little boy who hardly looks old enough to walk: a hulking emptiness--a resignation to the void. In the photos, our father's face and body recoil from the darkness. He is ashamed to have spawned such a thing.
I put it to her simply. "I'm not happy in any of these."
"I know...but...you're such a wonderful, beautiful person, and this is a part of you, so these are precious to me."
"...come here. Let's practice for tomorrow."
"Oh, okay! Let me put on my dance shoes."
I bring her to me, and in our dance of duality, I ground her.
Tomorrow, at our cousin's wedding, I will dance on my own, a righteous healing dance that will astound my father's family. I will not be a kaleidoscope. I will not be filtered. I will be the wind meeting the ground, articulations gyrating around a darkness that illuminates the cosmos.