An old girlfriend would always write on my skin,
in blue or black ink. We both knew she was destined
to be a tattoo artist, though she never would admit it.
Little yin-yangs, tulips, messages like why
are you so nervous, or decisive, or spontaneous.
I let her write a poem down my spine
with a sharp black ball point,
and never found out what it said. It used to tickle
so much that she would get mad at me
for ruining the shapes. I got used to it though,
when the skin art became our ritual of afterplay,
and we kept a pen on the table beside the bed.
When she drew a stick figure angel
in between two little clouds on my thigh,
I took the pen from her and scribbled
“Don’t fake orgasms”
on her rib cage.
Eventually we broke up
because the ink was soaking in and poisoning
the whims, revealing that we didn’t really love
each other. Years later I walked into her tattoo
parlor, on a side street in Chicago.
She smiled to see that I had tracked her down,
but put a finger to my lips. She sat me down
without a word and began stabbing my forearm
with her little machine. When she was done
there was an intricate human heart, that
you could almost see beating,
colorless and real. It hurt more than I’d expected.
“Don’t worry about the girls,” she said,
“Anyone who can’t understand that
doesn’t deserve you.”
The Trouble with Gravity
I. The Mirror Farm
I grew up on my grandfather’s mirror farm, a shimmering field of glass and aluminum always throwing sunlight in wandering angles. Every night, groping for sleep in the dark of the house, I could hear my grandfather stirring hot coals, smelting ores, tempering and pounding out long sheets of silvery alloy in the barn. He was forging the spine of each mirror — single steely vertebrae — from metal-scraps that were delivered to the house once a week in wooden barrels.
Hammer and anvil, water and coal.
On sour summer days, restless and wet, I would go out to the field: the long reflective grid lying out in the sun. The mirrors stood so tall, absolutely flat, their beveled edges fitting together in sparkling walls flowing over the grass. It was so easy to get lost in there among the rows and columns of mirrors throwing switch-images at me, infusing my bones with prophecies of an inverse world. In a mirror, everything is a doppelganger.
Lemon and platinum, emeralds and flesh.
As my grandfather grew older, he lost his steadiness of hand, causing him to leave traces of misplaced ripples and folds in the aluminum backing. That was when he first constructed funhouse mirrors: perverse contraptions in which I could make myself tall, slim, squat or thick.
Over time, he replaced some of the flat-faced mirrors in the field with the distorted ones. Mistranscribed versions of me would stare back through waving windows, meandering through crunched glass, reaching out of crippled doorways in space. The reflections began to take on a certain individuality, separating their appearances from one another, one cell at a time. Sameness dissolved.
I multiplied myself in the grid. Mirror times mirror divided by self equals infinite skin.
Always face-shifting mockeries, leading me in spirals.
II. Flying Machine
I flew my car into a monstrous tree yesterday, but it really wasn’t my fault. I was only trying to adjust the driver’s-seat lower lumbar support when that ditch snuck up on me and catapulted my car into a low-hanging branch.
I flew like an armless pilot, or a kiwi bird. All the grace of a winged pig.
“Just my luck,” I thought out loud, sitting in the car with the two rear wheels swallowed up in the mud, front dangling awkwardly from the gnarled oak. I bet this never happened to da Vinci, Gutenberg, or Einstein.
Leaf-litter and acorns, shaken from their places, crowded my windshield, framing a mist-veiled view of a cemetery in the distance. Each gloomy granite headstone just stood there, looming magnificently untouchable on its dark plot. I wanted to puke.
As I crawled down out of the door, I turned around to the street and saw the traffic slowing down: all the curious strangers riding by, rolling down their windows, snaking out loose-fitting Rubbermaid necks to see my broken flying machine in the tree. All the bug-eyed giraffe-people asked me was I okay. Just so they didn’t look conspicuous or anything.
I’m doing great, I thought. Fantastic, thanks. My car is in a tree; I do this every day.
Even the little hang-ups — cars in trees, and all — make me lose my nerve.
I stood back and admired the boxy Ford Explorer in all of its shimmering onyx glory, suspended from the fat-bottomed oak. Untouchable. I could almost feel my head unscrewing itself from its fixture on my shoulders, hopping along the northbound shoulder of Ferns Crossing Road. Bizarre.
I needed to detach.
So I climbed the tree, branch by branch, until I could touch the sky. As I surveyed the cityscape sprawled out below, everything so falsely complete, I felt a raindrop lick my arm. Tiny beads dripped to the ground below, saturated the grass, shattered the silence untouchably.
The whole sky growled, softly rippling through the thunderheads, the air, the tree, my flesh. I looked up at the perfect yellow lemon spinning across the sky like a child’s top in flight.
The sun split open, and I jumped.
III. On the Death of a Canadian Goose
5:18 a.m.: The whole world is asleep, swimming in the mouth of silence.
A single goose flies overhead, towing the morning sun in on its back. Right away I know that there is another one, dead, beside a road or in a field somewhere.
Geese always travel in twos apart from their arrowhead formations; they know there is strength in numbers. If one goose ever becomes sick or physically unable to keep pace with the rest, another one will drop out of line and fly ahead of it to draft its wings to the ground, ease flight.
Geese on the ground are a gaggle; against the sky they are a flock.
When they land, the healthy goose mothers its companion, ever watchful. It serves as the eyes, ears, tendons of the other, snaking out of its wind-blown skeleton. They hold tightly together, hopeful and close, until they are both well enough to fly, or until death finds them in their sleep. Too often, only one bird flutters off to find the flock.
Feathers fall like thoughts upon the water.
A nasal honk peels back the early morning silence, and the goose flies overhead, cruising along the horizon, looking only for friends, and a way home.