There are pollutants above this dog, above us all, and brush fires on the San Fernando foothills; crows perch on telephone cables, crows my dog hears cawing, crows who know the vacant lots where bones of murder victims sink among jimson weed, grass, and the narrow tunnels leading to the ant queen's den and the sinews of this desert. As always, night arrives: this dog looks up, and only a grey darkness, like that of dishwater, night pressing through smog, through clumps of weed and burr, coagulant of night, dulling the heat the way salt and fats slow the nervous ticking of circulation. Dog thinks summer will never end; an ecstasy of sniffing and dozing, and men who sit on the sidewalk drinking beer, sowing the pavement with peanut shells. This dog has fangs chiseled for meat, and irises that dilate; but, at last, night swells, overflows, a sewage-tide of shadow, and both dog and poet will witness hillside and hearth washing away, the way a red taillight throbs in rainfall, diminishes in size, then turns onto a darker street where one can only hear the roar, decrescendo, of the engine.
When I left her at the loom in order to shack up with the Maenad, I walked out with a pile of clothes covering my eyes so that I couldn’t see what I was abandoning: my son clinging to my leg. Everything was sunlight, honey on bread, salt. We slept until noon those summer months; her breasts, bruised from my teeth, and I was basted with her sweat, spit. At night, the moon seemed less a temptress, and more like a promise. When I thought of Venus, I remembered Percival Lowell who predicted star-sailors would find her tropical and lush with flora and fauna. Snoring, spent from sex, shades of Ishtar and Aphrodite crackled in my sleep with the hearth-fire, and taste of milk. When the rainy season started, the Maenad locked herself in the bathroom with pills and bubbles, while I sat at the kitchen table, listening to the radio. One night, I heard what others like me had only thought they heard: whistling that turned into a tea-kettle’s pitch, which then deepened, trembled, leaves shattered in a gust, or gushing water. Is that the wind? I asked myself silently. Or the sirens outside? “No, no.” I said aloud; “it’s your son crying.”
Why Don't They
Why don’t they notice, as I mop sweat off my forehead with a paper napkin, as my teeth chatter in the glaring heat, why don’t they notice how I speak louder to not hear the siren within? Don’t they see my hand trembles when I lift a forkful of eggs to my whiskers? Don’t they pause when I tremble before the aperture in the pavement? I won’t listen to his tidbit about fares or phosphor, to her tale of tinsel and terror; I stare at the passersby out the window, and jolt when I hear the snarling motorcycles or trucks downshifting, as if I were awaiting locusts, earthquakes, or brimstone. Night comes,--I can’t shake it off,--and I lock myself behind this red door, and hear the silence that throbs, drowning my pulse in a darkness that is crimson like the light glimpsed behind clenched eyelids; and I cough, cough louder, I laugh to smother that siren’s call, the sizzle of tires on black asphalt, this rocking gurney, these headlights beaming on the curve, the shoulder, and the precipice.
From my motel window, I read: Templo de Dios...crackling in crimson at noon, when the heat jaggedly rises like an eight cylinder jalopy reaching the speed limit; at evening, the neon is a premonition of dusk and judgment; the tambourines hiss at me as I walk back from the liquor store with a six pack, and the congregation is howling God espíritu santo, while the children play in the parking lot; their ties and dresses itch them as they kick a blue beach ball until it bursts. Crimson neon is more than a buzzing, it is an ominous wash of noise, like the shushing from an air-conditioner that is mistaken for silence, yet once the traffic stops, and it is midnight, it’s the sound that throbs in my ears, the first light I see as I open to the darkness encroaching me when I can’t sleep, but stare out the window at a locked temple, the moon, but no constellation to spell out the red babble of my paganism.
The bell rings as I open the door; two men dressed in overalls are getting their checks cashed from the Syrian owner; each is holding a twelve pack of Bud. Laughter and boasting will crackle as they will later sit drinking in a truck in an apartment building parking lot, listening to norteño ballads. I walk to the glass doors humming from refrigeration; my holdings, five dollars. My aim, to slake this thirst that has bludgeoned me since coming back from unemployment. The heat has been unbearable; nothing has burgeoned from my efforts, from the long lines and paperwork. I leave the door open for a couple of minutes, letting the cold air glaze my reddened forehead, until the owner whistles, and gestures: You buying or what? I pull out two tall cans, pay for them, and walk into the scalding dusk. In the Liquor store parking lot, the two workers have already ripped open a twelve pack. Faintly, from the truck stereo: an accordion, a guitar strumming chord changes in 3/4, and an out of kilter singer numerating revenge and betrayals. A dusty wind rushes across the parking lot, and I look up in perfect silence at the constellations, sense the vastness, fossilization of dead light, and new water on Mars. I sit, my back against the store wall. One streetlamp crackles faintly. Two yards from me, I notice a vacant lot, and while I take a sip, I see the ant-crawl, the swarm and tracery of black lines and swirls by the mound: persistence, labor so perfect because it is conducted with equanimity. And I sit here, engrandeured in the belittlement of myself under the moon, the wind, beneath the ants.
Ferry Token's Obverse
I am the boy locked outside when your door is blue. You, too, are this boy when you enter the party, yet stand in a corner, so self-conscious you hear your neck-bones creak. You are he when you cry, when your grip loosens and you taste vomit, and crumble among sheets that itch of insomnia. When you weigh the stone, the shell, as more than the gold ingot, though the price of gas may rise, and the corner coffee shop sells fried eggs and boiled milk for dollars. Your mother is always dying,--cancer eats into her left breast though her heart is a puddle of roses; your father is always calling for you,--but from behind a pillar that casts it shadow on a dark plaza, and in the distance a freight train shoots across the horizon, its horn reaching out to you from so far that you find yourself outside the blue door, where you gaze at a coin with its obverse of ferry and hooded rower... the oleanders in the vacant lot behind you rustle dryly, and a breeze rises, foul with carrion, with the tinkle of empty cans.
Ferry Token's Obverse (II)
A coin each for those, like I, born in 1973: for the dental hygienist, for those in auto-wrecks and plastic surgery, for amputees, the toothless from crack, the accountant, wizard of data entry, mini-mart zombies or ghouls of neon bars where coke is worshiped atop the bathroom counter... all the buffalo-wings and beer you desire. All the debt, botched manicures, all the children, transubstantiation of hearth into mortgage, public education into the sophistry of debating binge-shopping or binge-eating. A coin for the podiatrist who looks at high-heels and shudders, for the dentist who loves the oral hygiene of his assistant, for the merchant of software, smoothies, or other coolants; they will tender their bonus in the Kingdom that doesn’t exist. We are funneling into the dark, and our sleep is a rumor of cancer, our vows yellowed like newspaper clippings, our God perched with angels atop a needle’s tip. Now the stale glory of hypocrisy awaits us; now the traffic on the freeway parts for the staff of my middle finger, but only after the baby-sitter has put the kid to sleep, and the last party is sputtering. It will be at the bar Las Playas where the silver tooth of the barmaid glistens with my reflection, as she laughs and slaps my last dollars from the counter, hands me a club-soda, because the cops are prowling, and I’m slurring my glossolalia.
Motel Room With Red Door
This is where I boil Top Ramen on a kitchenette’s stove. This is where I sit reading Ritsos and his doxology: praise the sun that cannot be burned. Nightfall, I pace the room: the television newscaster recites the daily famine and fads with the encouraging pitch of a Pilates coach. Hours later, I pull back the sheets, and I stretch out in bed. This is the room with a red door, where every night I struggle, as my Mistress of Insomnia mounts me, pins my arms in between her thighs, then stitches my eyelids open, thread spooled from embers, needle chipped from ice.
Anthony Seidman © 2009