Crossed Trees, Dotted Skies

Out of fear of jeopardizing a nascent acquaintance, with someone who understood “small talk” as being the conversations we have on the subject of our size relative to Earth, and its size relative to the universe, I agreed — to hop through puddles, and over the tracks; to lower my defenses against soiling my new Oxford flats.

Running, we hit a wall of brambles that fell open, and swallowed us whole, when my leader uttered the magic words: this way. On the other side, a cemetery, a grove of blighted poles–uncut. “This wood is still good,” they said, “but timberers know that the humankind are superstitious of catching diseases (that do not spread) and living in haunted houses (where none but trees have bled).”

I associate this adventure, from which I am now six months removed, with the feeling of fullness — a mind full of metaphysical questions, stockings full of stinging nettles, and the potential for a future full of invitations to eat ice cream with a friend. Stepping out of my comfort zone, and into the footprints of that nomad/nymph, was the first move of many that led to the making of this hole that I am now using to scratch my toe without removing my shoes. In retrospect, it was worth it.


The Oxbow Nature Study Area, chartered for the animals, by the people, is a watering hole for creatures who enjoy watching and being watched, while pretending to be thoroughly invested in some thing or another — often taking field notes in their Moleskine notebooks or surveying the range of edibles within walking distance.

It is public land, one of the few remaining places where we can play for free. I know a guy — I’ve lived here long enough to know a guy — who practices flute under those minimizing cottonwood spires, making music for an audience of his peers: the growlers, the quackers, the imagined masters, of cloud castles in the sky.

Despite being too frugal to buy toilet tissue, when it’s easy enough to swipe a roll from the diner over the hill, I ritually sacrifice $2.29 for one 10 oz. mug of coffee. I treat the cafe counter as rented studio space. Consumer etiquette tells me that I can loiter for two hours before purchasing a refill becomes obligatory.

But…there is a place for people like me, a preserve for poets who’d rather perch on the periphery of society than participate in basic exchanges of cash for caffeine. A place closer to home. A place that my memory recalls as the most romantic / Romantic setting in all of Reno, Nevada. Oxbow is convenient and cost-effective and cast in natural light, but I do not go there.


Now, sitting on the dock that leans out against muddy waters, into the marsh, a tributary of the Truckee River, I listen for the question that belongs to this place, on that day, when they asked it. Then, my answer was a snake in the reeds, meandering, a thing that made us wonder which end to be afraid of.
“What is home, Kayla?” A “w” question, but not the one I expected.
I said, “Home is a social convention — more dated than dating — four
walls make a box, two adults and two children in a box make four people.”

There’s some pleasure in being (or performing as) the type of person to intellectualize a concept that others know intuitively for fact, i.e., red means stops, green means living, but more in having a queue of single words answers to fill all the blank, uninterested faces at any given gathering of acquaintances.
Now, I am wanting to say “here” or “you” or some other small but mighty thing. I am wanting to express my truth, which is love, which is gratitude, which is healing, but they are not asking. Out of respect, let no mean no; let silence mean no; let me listen. Let an other have their turn in the sun, their pirouette on the big, flattop of a rotted-out stump.

This time, let me ask the questions.

Love Letter Manifesta


Starting now, I choose to adapt to a higher standard of living.

Up to this point, my experience as a creature on this fine planet has been a whirligig of emotions, peace-becoming-turmoil-becoming peace-becoming-turmoil. Erratic is a good word, one which I tangentially define as “of or relating to New England weather.” I have never seen a year without four distinct seasons, so the choice of whether or not to adapt–to new colors and patterns on the ground, and in the sky, and the new dispositions that accompany them–is not one that I have practiced making. The person who I am today has been built upon an accumulation of abrupt transitions, she has witnessed (both in herself and others) so many changes in heart that the only outcome that feels safe to assume is impermanence. Last night, you saw me swinging, somewhere behind the eyes. In the weeks following my arrival, the arc of the pendulum within me has shortened, enabling me to feel happiness unchecked; the present moment is objectively good.

I do not need love to stand in for hunger, health or shelter…

Starting now, I choose to adapt to a higher standard of living. I give myself permission to seek out friendships and companionships with other walls, standing strong and tall, who love and respect themselves as much (or more than) me. I give myself permission to ask for what I want. I want someone to share beautiful things with, who challenges my definition of what it means to be extraordinary–or better–someone who refuses to differentiate between the mundane and the extraordinary, who finds purpose in his or her life not through acknowledged status and accomplishments but through anonymous acts of kindness and art making, guerrilla gardening, an authentic drive to die having enriched the planet and the lives of those plants and animals who inhabit it. What I want is a rare breed of person and a nuanced connection that requires more time to marinate than my previous self would have been comfortable with. Fortunately, the present moment is objectively good.

I resolve to show respect to those people and items that nourish my body.

I do not need love to stand in for hunger, health or shelter, for friends, family or therapy, these “basic needs” are, at long last, met, and I find myself in the position to want again. The easy, expectationless process that we have chosen to unravel each other is something that I have wanted for a long time, yet I’m not sure if it was a conscious decision for me. By some intuition, I continue to treat our interactions as little bites of a pie, the size and flavor of which remain to be determined, chewing each at least fifty times. Though both food and company are easily accessible to me, I resolve to show respect to those people and items that nourish my body, my soul, my heart.  Our day together was an anomaly in the scheme of my year and week and life, inviting me to experience the full range of good emotions–attraction seasoned with camaraderie and shameless festering–without imminent pain on the horizon. My intention: one good day at a time.


These past months of bashful salutations and stolen eye contact have transported me to a place of cognitive dissonance. After overreaching, and not being met halfway, the natural response should be to feel alienated from you–but, instead, I have noticed our connection deepen in density and thickness; new pathways have emerged to bridge the silence, while the old have been tread into permanence. All beings emit noise, above and beyond the sound of the breath, it’s that buzz-and-whir of the reel (some call it the brain, I’m sure) turning over, and over again, in the same way; forever. I did not tune my dial in search of your frequency; on the contrary, I tried to give up guessing at your thoughts, but every space you enter swells–made grander by your modest music, a trio of flute, panpipes and the whisper-whistle of the wind through a willow tree. When you are far, the air is too quiet; close, too loud
                                     

but the third bowl of porridge was just right
.
.
.
I love you


The landscape of my desire is all wilderness; there are at least 5,000 acres imagined for solitude.

We are both thankful for a thrift store being open on Sunday, as our hunger for Capezio T-straps with Teletone taps (me) and a poorly rendered portrait of Cesar Chavez (you), had it been otherwise, would still lay dormant. We are both in agreement that the capacity to want a thing immediately–without history, or context, or even a middle name, should be preserved, but disagree on the question of how to use it. The landscape of my desire is all wilderness; there are at least 5,000 acres imagined for solitude, and all other primitive and unconfined forms of recreation. I do not care to scale every inch, to build trails that loop back or lunge forward. I do not care to know why it feels sexy to ride bicycles wearing jazz shoes, or if it makes good sense to love you, I just do.


pheromones

  • burnt sage
  • brown bananas
  • dance sweat
  • used bookstore
  • masa harina
  • castille soap
  • brackish water
  • bruised lavender
  • the month of June
  • wet socks
  • sidewalk chalk
  • secondhand shirts
  •  supermarket pastries
  • sun-dried blacktop
  • hot coffee
  • cold crepes

Effort at Speech Between Two People


: Let us begin with imperatives, where demands are apt to be concrete.
: Be happy. Enjoy your day. Set an intention. Breathe.
: Please, do not reach too far for me.
: Like the sunflower toward its Sun, I bend—
: In through the nose, out through the mouth.
: —counting the steps of your modest music.
: Seven to make a sale, three to climb a ladder, one to hold the moon.
How many points of contact does it take to stir the heart?
: We looked for a spoon, and finding none, gave ourselves permission to sip from the bowl.
: I remember it differently.
: In a land flowing with milk and honey, the Terms & Conditions must be wide and deep.
: From now, love takes the intransitive form.
There are no subject/objects, no Is acting upon yous.
What is important is to love.
: I accept these.
: You will be the writer, and I, the comic relief.
: Become become what is what will become
somewhere somewhat somehow become
some become some be be be!
: Listen : peace-becoming-turmoil-becoming- peace-becoming-turmoil
again and
again, in the same way; Forever.
: The future’s present sounds objectively good.
: Always trust the eyes and not the tongue. Look : [                           ]
: Speak to me. Grow to know me. Take my hand. Know that it’s OK
to fall.
: Let us end with imperatives, where demands are apt to be concrete.

Self-Domesticated [Essay]

In the throes of an autumn hurricane, rain falling in thick flannel sheets, woody branches flexing, snapping, barreling to the ground, I holed up in a 10’ x 12’ dorm room, disturbed only by an occasional flicker of the lights, the abrasive *ting* of rain drops, like small stones pelting against our window. I say our, neither “my” nor “his,” because, by that time in November, he and I had been playing house for two months, sharing four dresser drawers, three varieties of tea, two coffee mugs, and one twin-sized bed. Our days began at 7:45 am, when our alarms simultaneously chimed and our eyes met with the same sentiment: five more minutes. We had fallen into the pattern of a working couple ten years our senior, apart from nine to five, dinner and “How was your day?” at six, bedtime no later than twelve-thirty and, for the first time in my dating life, I felt “on the same page” with my partner.

In childhood and adolescence, I had learned to anticipate abandonment, as friends, family, and lovers carved out places in my heart only to relinquish them once I developed an attachment. Lacking a consistent and emotionally available caregiver disabled me from building the trust needed to sustain healthy relationships in adulthood. I craved the stability of long-term commitment, but required regular affirmation of my partners’ affections to a degree that could not be sustained. After a handful of botched romances, happy cohabitation seemed a distant fantasy, an unrealistic expectation for someone just entering her twenties, but, then, it happened.

I couldn’t find the words to express how grateful I was to have his unconditional love; boys are, after all, notoriously opposed to commitment and, as mothers always advise, when you meet one of those rare exceptions, you had better hold onto him. The overuse and commodification of I love you, a sentiment emblazoned across the chests of teddy bears, printed on chalky heart-shaped candies, left me wanting for a medium of expression that wouldn’t marginalize the sincerity of my affections. Under the premise that actions speak louder than words, I integrated daily gestures of kindness into my routine, making treats for us to indulge in during study breaks, cleaning our room while he was away for the weekend, brewing him cups of tea when he had a sore throat. I lived for the praise these acts garnered me, extra hugs and kisses, the “Mmm” as he tasted my chai-spiced apple sauce, invitations to come home and meet his parents. Over time, though, the appreciation dwindled, and I started fishing for compliments, soliloquizing on how I planned to make butternut squash soup for dinner, but he wouldn’t bite.

With two Women’s Studies courses on my schedule, I had become increasingly alert to gender inequalities, and developed a heightened awareness of my own gender strategy. From an outside perspective, I was sure we resembled the prototypical heterosexual couple, despotic male/servile female, and that terrified me. Cooking had been a love of my life before I met this man, this “love of my life,” but with a frying pan in one hand, and The Second Shift in the other, I must have looked like the model of hypocrisy; there I was, condemning the gender division of labor, while trying to win my boyfriend’s heart through his stomach. I wanted to run out of the [metaphorical] kitchen faster than I could untie my apron strings, lest I be eternally damned to the domestic sphere.

At the time, I hadn’t yet decided the role I wanted feminism to play in my life and, in terms of feminist identity development, my feet were planted firmly in Stage III, embeddedness-emanation. My resentment and anger towards a world which allows daily injustices to transpire against women was still fresh, exacerbating my trust issues with men, and leading me to overidentify men’s intent to oppress. I was not in the mindset to take responsibility for my role in creating this dynamic, instead I shifted the whole of the burden to my partner: if anything sexist is going on, it must be his fault. After all, I was a feminist goddamnit, and I would never choose to be some 1960s sitcom housewife like Samantha Stephens or June Cleaver, I wanted to be Mary Tyler Moore! But playing the blame game was (1) not ending my compulsion to reward him with cookies and clean laundry and (2) alienating me from a potential ally.

For our relationship to become truly egalitarian, I needed to change the way I approached gender issues, no longer as exclusively women’s issues. Throughout our childhood and adolescent years, he and I were both spoon-fed the dominant/submissive paradigm, and both internalized our traditional role in the heterosexual relationship as the “natural” way of relating to the opposite sex. Gender had been both of our destinies. I was in denial of my conformity, he was oblivious to his, and neither of us questioned the distribution of power in our relationship before I developed an interest in Women’s Studies. Unfortunately, that phenomenon did not go unnoticed, and my “unwarranted” attacks led him to construct a stereotypical portrait of feminism as a man-hating and antagonistic movement. When I was pressed to defend the greatest education I have ever received, it brought me face to face with the extent of my self-submission, and allowed me to verbally negotiate the root of our problem. Ironically, the day we became allies was the day our tension reached its apex; on a tempestuous Monday in November, cooped up together for far too many hours on end, I nearly called the whole thing off on the grounds of “irreconcilable differences.”

Outside, rain-water seeped into thirsty pavement until it could drink no more, collecting in the depressions of the sidewalk, making puddles like little urban tidal pools. Inside, swaddled in fleece blankets, sheltered by tall, cinderblock walls, I thanked the roof over my head for its protection. I loved the safety of this place, the invincibility it offered; here, I was freed from insecurity, assured a controlled environment: warmly lit, dry, heated to 70-degrees, and equipped with a loving companion to join me in weathering out the storm. The comfort of knowing that he would always be there, perched at his desk, head in hand, every time I looked up from my reading, was enough to keep me from wanting anything more.

I took turns memorizing every curve of his silhouette, the long-lobed ears, broad shoulders, nipped waist, numbing the noise of my internal monologue with little doses of adoration. And then it hit me, like a bus, or a wave, or a sack of potatoes; it was flushed cheeks, sweaty palms, knot in stomach, but not in that star-crossed lovers across the ballroom kind of way. What if one day he isn’t in that chair, five feet from me, but five hundred miles away making someone else’s dreams come true? What if one day, just like that, he turns to me and says, “I’m sorry, but I can’t give you what you need, not anymore.” I heard him speak those words unsaid again and again in my head, until I couldn’t differentiate my hallucinations from his actions.

When the swells of anxiety abated, at first, I felt dizzy, and then, compelled to my feet; a fly drawn to the warm glow of his desk lamp, I moved toward him and collapsed into an embrace. My arms hung like limp noodles on his shoulders, sentiments gushing out of me like vomit: “iloveyouknowiloveyouright!?” After silently studying for the past two hours, my  spur-of-the-moment declaration struck him as out of context, and he shrugged my words off as if they were nothing: “I know, sweetie, I’m working okay …” His dismissal meant the final nail in the coffin to me, an indication of indifference, a red flag hoisted above our heads printed with “change of heart.” Why did I let myself get close to someone, again? Love can be too thick to reciprocate, hadn’t I learned that by now? Suddenly, our home started to look a lot more like his room, and I didn’t feel safe anymore. I could feel the temperature rising to 75, 80, 85, the window sill flooding with wayward drops that spilled through a hole in the screen. I returned to the bed, and flipped back to my page, but the words may as well have been written in invisible ink, because I was wearing my doubts and insecurities like blinders. Just pay attention to me, I thought. One look from those glassy brown eyes would have been enough, one look to deny my fear of his impending distance.

I needed a distraction, something … systematic, a task, with clearly defined steps, to structure my thoughts around. After a quick survey of my surroundings, I set my sights on a lone sweet potato, lolling in the fruit bowl, forgotten just like me. A few cups of dry black beans, packed tightly into a transparent snack bag, competed for my notice. The perfect pairing. A romance meant for summer picnics, like the sweet potato and black bean enchiladas my housemates so ravenously gobbled down, that he had never tasted. Minutes later, with the short blade of a paring knife, I peeled long curls of skin away from orange flesh. For a moment, the spell of his laptop screen was broken, and he regained consciousness just long enough to investigate what I, conspicuously seated on the floor with a potato, was doing.

 

“I didn’t know we were cooking tonight,” he stated as a question. We.

 

“Oh, I just thought the potato should get used up.”

 

“Oh …well, since it’s been a busy day, I didn’t want to go through the ordeal of cooking and cleaning up, you know?”

 

“You don’t have to do anything, I’ve wanted to make this for awhile; I need a break from working anyway.”

 

“Alright, but I’d be just as happy going to the dining hall if you change your mind.”

 

An hour or so later, as I spooned the orange-black filling into two tortillas, he was still transfixed by the glow of his Mac and hadn’t so much as sneezed since our last bit of conversation. When the meal was assembled I took pride in my presentation, like a photo taken straight out of a restaurant menu. He eyed the food with cautiousness before piping up with an infantile “Can I …?”

He was walking on eggshells, approaching a sleeping baby who could be jostled by the slightest scuff of a shoe. If I was supposed to be a time bomb, well, then I’d show him an explosion. I spoke more sharply than I should have:

 

“Why would you even ask me that? Of course you can have some, I made a plate for you!”

 

“Well, I don’t know, you’ve been more sensitive lately.” Another red flag.

 

“Sensitive. You know that sounds straight out of a guidebook for sexist boyfriends,     right?”

 

This time, his response was more indignant than reluctant. “That’s exactly what I mean! I know it’s important to you, but of all the things to get worked up about, in a world of war, poverty, and terminal disease, you chose feminism?”

 

“And you chose Computer Science…? How noble.” I shoved his textbook off the bed, it hit the floor with a loud “fuck you.” His body tensed.

 

“You’re right, it’s important to me. But there’s no me in “us,” not anymore. My hobbies, my passions, my likes and dislikes, those don’t matter to you; your life is our life.”

 

I didn’t have class in ten minutes. I wasn’t rushing to make it to breakfast at 8:00 am sharp. But, I left anyway. With no umbrella to keep me dry, I walked bareheaded into the storm.

I couldn’t shake the feeling that there was something innately masochistic in my desire to shack up with a man, bolt the door, and never come out. And, while I couldn’t deny the wholeness I felt in his arms, I knew that self-actualization was supposed to mean finding fulfillment in oneself, not in another. Nonetheless, I allowed being in love to consume me, logging enough hours working on my relationship to warrant it status as my life’s passion. In reality, achieving the unattainable hadn’t brought the instant happiness I expected it to, and my obsession with maintaining perfection made a far less romantic narrative than true love and sunsets.

In The Second Shift, Arlie Hochschild coins the term “the economy of gratitude,” referring to the gifts given and received between spouses and how those gifts are valued. I indebted myself to him simply for loving me, offered my heart on a silver platter and, of him, asked only one thing: stay. He never asked or expected me to be domestic. It was easier on my conscience to play the victim, to convince myself that he had changed me when, in truth, being in a relationship with any man would have changed me. I needed to be invaluable to him. So, I played the “perfect girlfriend” to a tee, defaulting to the domestic types for character study, because those were the only ones I knew. At every avenue, society said that the “marrying type” baked homemade chocolate chip cookies, shared his interests, laughed at his jokes, and left him alone when he wanted to be. I chose to submit to him, but my “choice” was made in self-defense, as a way of evening the score and, in some backwards way, claiming the “upper hand” in our relationship. If I was perfect, he would never have good reason to abandon me.

Later that day, when I returned home, I admitted my fear. I’m afraid to lose you. But, that’s not what I said, not this time. Instead, “I have lost myself.” When we built an “us” from “he” and “I,” I withheld all the pieces of me. Now, here we were, four walls, a roof over our heads, every brick engraved with his name.