He’s a Drummer by Trade
(originally published in Cram, 2008)
We can smoke a pack apiece
in the time we spend together.
We must make do with minutes we’re given
between set up and the tearing down
of our painted masks,
from the stage to reality and back again.
He lights two, sometimes three at once.
A drummer by trade, he’s coordinated like that.
He can pull his hair and bite his nails
at the same time too.
It’s endearing, if irritating.
He licks his lips,
a sure sign he’s wound too tight.
He bites his cigarette with purpose
like a neck marked in needed rapture.
At the end of the night,
wrapped in fantasies as large as his hands,
I am a barren field waiting to be sown
with fertile seeds of anxiety.
Massive realization blooms wide eyed revelation
as he breathes relief over me.
Our cancerous exhales fall like a heavy curtain.
Morse code, staccato breathing, S.O.S.,
panting like the dawn will never come,
his wide mouth begs the sun to stay asleep.
But that’s not the way this story goes tonight
and the threadbare truce between us
is held only by our silence.
The White City
The sky over Navy Pier is the muted blue of Tylenol P.M.’s, unnaturally warm wind runs ribbons across my skin. The skyline rises royally from the mist; I kneel, kiss her hand, and touch an inviting Lake Michigan. Deceptive minx, Antarctica lay beneath. The booths are empty. Old ads rustle like the ghosts of dead carnival workers begging you bear witness to their miracle. There’s a little girl wearing hot pink bug-eye sunglasses stepping carefully around a leftover rain puddle. “It’s inevitable, let go and get dirty,” I whisper from a nearby bench. She doesn’t.
Defeated brown leaves crunch beneath tired feet, The Cure on repeat in my ears as stragglers pass, dance and remain oblivious. None of them look happy. The closed carousel smells like an antique shop. I scale over the concrete embankment into the tent, fingers molesting chipped horses. The bulbs flick bright, “Fuck,” I spit at the violent lights. I don’t want to see the Pier’s painted face; I prefer the romantic bitterness of the landmark facing the fog.
I relax against the chests of Lake Point Tower condos I’ll never own. They deliver me to bus route 33, the Magnificent Mile Express, where Rachmaninoff is now my backdrop. People duck into over-dressed drug stores and coffee shops. I wonder if they feel the city swallow them as well or if they’re used to suffocating. Each person eventually scatters, a dot to be connected by a small series of journeys at a later date. I use these human maps to guide me and arrive at the mercy of the Blue Line. A brief fantasy: this train could kill me or deliver me to my dirty cotton sheets: One step off the tracks or back to let steel slice past.
Off at Damen and up rusted stairs, snag a finger on the hand rail. My apartment is heated like a tongue kiss; I light a lazy cigarette and lay waste to the small refrigerator’s contents: Giordano’s my mother bought two months ago, expired milk and can of strawberry Slim Fast. I don't like strawberries but drink it anyway because vitamins promise to pluck my tired frame from its sad tree. The last ingestible thing in the house is half a bottle of Jameson’s Irish Whisky. Oh luxury.
I soak my wounded finger in Epsom salts. The thought of what's possibly crawling through my bloodstream scares me. The air is heavy like rare steak, so thick with scent you could devour it, weighted with exhaust fumes, cigarettes, Angel perfume, thick merlot and condos I’ll never realize. Always without fail I’m brought back home. I have no destination left as I sink into the sound of a thousand neon lights, a thousand boys and girls dreaming awake.