Masks

Poems

surrounded by beige bricks

and unsmiling faces

plastered with skin-colored cream

to conceal their real identities

stares of judgemental young eyes

engulfed in chunks of dried black liquid

while walking amongst creatures

smelling of cheap perfume

artificial stimulation

of computer screens and coffee

create dark circles and lines

for those who have not yet conformed

to a living shape

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The Voices of Trees

Cultured Narratives, Fiction

She grew up to be what she believed a good woman to be: gorgeous beyond all belief, with cheeks sunken in to bare her zygomatic bones, lips painted a dark yet subtle color, hair bleached an unnatural blonde, dark makeup engulfing her brown eyes, and a body worked so hard and malnourished for just long enough to be an ounce thinner than healthy. She had also believed a good woman to be loved by a fine man, however ugly he may be.

Claire had followed through with these beliefs for the past fifteen years, but long nights and fights had torn away her love—twice– and she could no longer maintain her previous identity. Now she was a two-time divorcee without love, without identity. What good was her undeniable beauty when no one was present to admit it? Loveless. Lifeless.

Smoke swirled inside her black car and drifted out into the morning sky while the frigid winter air came pounding down through the window and into Claire’s weak lungs. She began choking on her smoke and coughing uncontrollably. Her delicate manicured fingers flicked the cigarette out onto the road. Claire kept her eye on it through the rearview mirror until it became invisible. It was so small compared to the cloudless sky above her.

After weaving through pines and week-old snow for what seemed like a millennium, she could finally see the log cabin that she would be inhabiting for the next month—whether or not she could bare the mental and emotional consequences.

It was family time in [what Denver city girls would call] the “suburbs” of Jackson Hole, Wyoming. Yipee. Lord knew from past experience just how much fun the Alderson family could have while existing no further than six feet apart from one another at any given moment for an entire month. Once celebrating a marriage, and now a death (though unfortunately, this culture is not particularly keen on celebrating death), emotions within the log cabin would be in full swing from hormonal teenagers, men in mid-life crises, women suffering from PMS, and menopausal women such as Claire herself. Piling grief on top of this already-toppling tower of stress would not exactly transform the spirits of the Alderson family (particularly Claire’s) in a positive manner.

She had just begun menopause two weeks earlier and couldn’t get used to the sudden urge to fan herself like she had seen her grandmother do in church every Sunday years ago. Decades ago, to be more precise. She didn’t want to feel like a grandmother. Not yet. She had walked the Earth for forty-nine years and still hadn’t borne any children, still hadn’t set foot outside the U.S.A., and apparently still hadn’t experienced unconditional love.

Perhaps her mother had given her unconditional love at some point, but now her mother wasn’t here to lend a shoulder to cry on. Why did it have to be like that? At the time in her life when Claire needed her mother’s shoulder to cry on more than ever before, her mother could not be there for her. Didn’t she know that no one else in this family could comfort her in the same way? Evidently not. Now, she would never be able to know that her own death took a toll on Claire more than anything ever had.

In the four days since her mother’s passing, Claire had done nothing but cry. Good Lord, she could cry. God had never seen a child cry more than Claire Marie Alderson Greeley. But this reaction could not be greatly contrasted to Claire in her natural state of loneliness.

When in doubt, cry. When depressed, cry. When the sun no longer shines, cry. Cry, Cry.

When you want something more than anything, nothing will prevent it.        

Claire hit her brakes. That voice was real and seemed to be speaking directly to her. She felt a presence, but the radio was turned off and no one was around; she suddenly felt nothing but the solemnness of the pines surrounding her. Great, now she was hearing voices. She was hearing the voices of… trees.

She suddenly remembered that saying. It was her mother’s.

Tears emerged in the corners of her eyes and threatened to drip, but she stopped herself. She blinked.

Someone honked and flew past her car. She was sure they’d given her the finger. But how could she care at a time like this? At a time when she could hear trees talking? She gazed upward at the winding road in front of her, then at the strikingly bright blue sky. Slowly, she regained speed to her vehicle (subconsciously trailing along at thirty-five miles per hour). Going slow was okay right now.

Okay, she thought, What is it that I want? What could she possibly want? She didn’t have to think too hard at first; she wanted love. Real love. Without a partner and now without her mother, she wasn’t sure if she could find enough consolation in speaking with her cousins. She was an only child and had always been happy about it, but at a time like this, it seemed siblings would serve as an ideal source of love. Well, it’s a little too late for that, she thought.

Children? No, she didn’t really want children. Not really. But they would provide love, right? She had often considered adoption, but most times when she’d lie in bed straining her brain about this subject, she’d always come up with the conclusion that there wasn’t a true balance between the love of parents and children. Children were too needy and unappreciative. Parents always had to do the cleaning, the cooking, the driving, the changing of diapers, the paying of medical appointments, etc. Pets were also too much to handle. Maybe fish would be okay.

She exhaled a sad sigh smelling of nicotine and tobacco and whatever other toxic crap cigarettes are made of. That was another thing—she wanted to quit smoking. But Lord knew this particular week certainly wasn’t the time to do it. She’d have to wait until the new year.

She also wanted red rubies on her fingers. She wanted a double chocolate frappe loaded with fat and sugar and extra espresso. She wanted to feel the sun turning her shoulders brown. Now, what was preventing all of this at the moment? To name only a few: she was in debt, there wasn’t a Starbucks in any direction for three hundred and fifty miles, and it was a toasty eighteen degrees outside. And her mother was channeling the forest, or vice versa, solely to inform Claire that nothing—nothing at all—was preventing these things from happening?

Claire was oblivious to the various cars honking and flying past her on the highway, and she couldn’t have been sure how much time had passed before she realized she was ascending up the winding road called Harmony Lane that led to her family’s cabin. Almost there. Instead of tensing up like she normally did at this point, she felt a sense of calm flood her body. How strange.

She gazed up at the sky that now contained a few clouds, one of which was shaped distinctly like a guitar. There was no questioning this—Claire had seen and heard plenty of stranger things before (i.e. hearing trees talk) that made her believe there was something wrong with her mind, and maybe there was, but there was no doubt that this cloud perfectly resembled a guitar. This time she wasn’t just seeing things. It made her want to play guitar again, more than anything…

She remembered the way she felt when she used to play during her high school and college days. It had always amazed her how she could speak another language through a piece of old wood that used to be a tree. She would spend hours singing harmonies alone with her guitar and writing down the words the guitar spoke to her. She had begun to perform in bars, coffee shops, and for her friends at parties.

The talent came so naturally. Everyone who heard her would always gaze at her in awe. That feeling was like nothing else, yet so familiar… it was a light-hearted feeling, as if she were floating in the air and flooding her soul with happiness. She could taste happiness when she sang her songs and picked those acoustic steel strings with her bare fingers. Then when people were listening and watching, absorbing her words and the sounds her fingers could make, they looked at her like… they were in love.

And she was in love with them, too. She was in love with all of it: with her guitar, her voice, her words, fingerpicking, creating chords—all of it. She was in love. That was real love for her, and she had completely abandoned it and traded it for her worthless first husband Carl and a full-time manager position at a bank. She wished she could take back that portion of her life and just change all of it. Hadn’t she wanted those things at that point in her life, though? It was hard to imagine now, but she was sure she did.

The harsh truth hit her: she used to love Carl, but she never wanted to marry him (and this was also the case with her second husband). She used to want to be the manager of a bank, but she never loved the job. She realized now that happiness meant making choices that she wanted as much as she loved and vice versa. She realized now that she wanted to fall in love with music again, more than anything.

Just as she approached the log cabin, feeling more relieved than grieved, Claire  could not think of anything preventing this from happening.

Region of Pure Air

Abstract Essays, Small Miracles

This city is made of magic, I swear.

It must be something in this air … maybe it’s the rare purity of it that allows unique molecules to linger here instead of being blown away with the wind. Maybe it’s because this thin air allows us to absorb more light than others, despite not being able to withstand the harsh winter weather for long.

Because there’s something that happens here when you sit down across from a person and begin speaking to them. You’ll find yourself sparking a conversation about science fiction, historic figures, coffee flavors, preparing fossils, or why anthropologists would really be better off considering the similarities between gifts and commodities instead of contrasting them—things that don’t even seem relevant (but in reality alter your destiny)—and then suddenly you’ll feel as if you are floating. You begin to feel so light and light-hearted and so filled with light that you may start hovering about your wooden chair at any moment. Your eyes become fixed upon that person’s face and you can feel their emotions simply by observing their expressions.

You don’t even have to be sitting down; you might stall in the middle of the sidewalk for no apparent reason and strike up a conversation about eyebrows with a passerby, and before you know it, your feet are floating above the soiled cement.

There is no explanation.

Maybe it’s not just this city (as the above examples actually took place in two cities, one of which I am not fond of). Maybe it’s this region: the Region of Pure Air. On the other hand, I’ve been to less pure cities where I feel that way: light and light-hearted and filled with light, in which cases I didn’t even have to speak to someone to feel that way, because everyone there feels that way all the time.

Perhaps it’s not the altitude that matters. You don’t have to live anywhere for a certain amount of time to feel this way—you just have to be in the right place.

I still believe it has to do with light. Whether the light in a person comes from the sun; profound spiritual knowledge, or elaborate knowledge of anything, really; health; having a good relationship with nature; being an illuminist painter; etc, such passions will create sudden confidence. Sudden light.

It’s true what they say: Cada persona es un mundo. But when you find yourself in the right place at the right time (for some deeper reason unbeknownst to you), you will find that people are a world and a half.

Maybe Not

Cultured Narratives, Fiction

There’s a dream that I see

Sitting here alone on this parched New Mexican grass, surrounded by nothing but yellow in all directions, I dip my toes into the shallow stream below me and all I want to do is cry.

I pray it can be

The rancher who lent me shelter in his home last night after he found both me and my car broken down on the side of the road told me that the river would run dry within the next few years.

Across the land

The river is all he has to sustain his cattle, himself, and people in surrounding rural communities who depend on him.He said it’s because the earth is heating up and there’s nothing we can do to reverse the effects.

Shake this land

“Man caused this mess but men can’t fix it,” he said while we were drinking coffee at his table, basking in the already intense June sun.

A wish or a command

“What about women? I asked, jokingly.

“Women have a better chance than men.”

We’re just human

I lift my face from my knees, directly above the water. I’m crying, but not nearly enough. I want to pour out all my apologies to this stream. I want to repay the river with tears of replenishment, but human eyes can only produce so much water.

We all do what we can

So we can do just one more thing

If I had been as kind to the earth as this old rancher has been to me, maybe things would be different.

We could all be free

Maybe not with words

Maybe he wouldn’t have had to repeat the word “drought” every day.

Maybe not with a look

Maybe the grass I’m sitting on would be green instead of yellow.

But with our minds

These tears aren’t enough.

The turn of the tide is withering thee

I want to roll a grand piano over this stream and stand in the water, forcing sound out of it with my bare fingers and singing those words I wrote so many years ago, willing God—if he hasn’t yet lost hope in us—to resurrect this river.

Remember one thing

A dream you can see

If my words have any power at all, maybe he would cry tears of joy at the sound, and those tears would fall upon my shoulders, replenishing the river and our spirits.

Pray it to be

But I don’t have a grand piano with me, only my voice. I sing.

Shake this land

(**Inspired by the song “Maybe Not” by Cat Power. Italic lyrics are all part of that song, written by Chan Marshall. I first wrote this in my mind while half asleep.**)

Lamentation of the Absences of Ghosts

Abstract Essays

The ghosts that haunted that place had perhaps moved on, no longer caring for it.

We would have never suspected that such a magnificent, magical place could have such a short life. It is now like an endangered language; technically still in existence, but only kept alive artificially, mostly by those who don’t understand it. No one will ever understand that place like we did.

And it will never be the same. We lament over this fact, because where will we go when it’s snowing and we need someone to talk to, someone to make us free warm beverages, someplace to find comfort in four-hour-long conversations that will forever change our lives?

We understand that everything has to evolve. We understand that the world has evolved over millions years, from vast landscapes and undisturbed scenery to a mass of skyscrapers and chaos because of the people who took it over. Everything has a life, and everything must die.

But why did such a small place in the world have to evolve so quickly, banishing everyone who made it what it once was?

Then again, we were the ones who abandoned it. But we had intentions of coming back. And it had already been quickly evolving before we left, becoming more endangered with every passing hour– we couldn’t have possibly saved it. It was losing magic that could not be easily restored, and certainly not with inhibiting forces gravitating against us.

Where did our ghosts go?

Harmonized

Cultured Narratives

I have thirty three different versions of my life, either concealed within my mind or written down plainly on paper in notebooks scattered in places I wouldn’t dream of searching for. These thoughts or words contain my fate— they hold the abstract mysteries of my future.

You know,

like falling in love with a man whose voice happens to harmonize perfectly with mine. Playing gigs with him in mountain towns that snow in June. Owning an art gallery/ music store/ coffee shop in a tourist town, and sitting on the counter with my guitar on slow days. Kayaking across the lake, absorbing sun on the weekends.

like living in New York, strolling the streets of Manhattan on a foggy morning amongst people of such great diversity. Dressed in street-style clothes, confident, coffee in hand, smiling at everyone. Being a dedicated member of a symphony, finding consolation under those warm lights on stage surrounded by warm, harmonizing sounds, becoming one with the orchestra and my violin.

…liiving in a yellow cottage surrounded by wildflowers next to a stream, alone. No sounds but the singing of the birds who harmonize beautifully, naturally… I would fit in so well with them. I would sing along with them, and when my voice became hoarse, I would be silent and listen to their stories of living above the ground for days. I would devour book after book until my  ten-year-old pile of used books was finally gone and I would have to take my bike out to town to buy more.

like returning to my hometown after two years of ethnographic study in Africa, my skin dark and warm from the intense sun; absolute bliss. Wearing garments I received as gifts there— a long, print dress, beaded necklaces, braided hair. Having a thin and muscular frame, resulting from complete enculturation. Then experiencing the beauty of being welcomed back into my native culture again, feeling united with the world.

Harmonized.

Someone a Legend Would Admire

Uncategorized

They said that when life became a hectic storm of chaos, art was the first to get blown away with the wind.

I realized at that moment that I would have to be the exception to this. I would have to make time to create beauty in the world with my hands and with my mind. I would have to transform everything that made me distressed into inspiration. I realized that I, too, would have to retain the words directed towards me– even if in an abstract way– and take them to heart. I would have to allow my own heart to be exposed to the world and everyone in it.

Because this isn’t just about being a creative soul. This is about running against the wind, and becoming someone those legends who became separated from art at some point would admire.

Foreigners

Cultured Narratives

I admire those people who walk into a coffee shop late in the cold night just because their souls are attracted to the sound coming from within… Then they just stand there in the back wrapped up in their trench coats and I can’t help but unconsciously stare at them the entire time I’m singing on stage because they’re so mysterious and beautiful. They stare back at me, not knowing I am paying attention to them. Foreigners, almost— though now I am a foreigner to my own city. I fear leaving it, but on the other hand I want to travel. The city of magical mysteries and skepticism is difficult to resist for some, difficult for others to stay in.
We’re all connected here; that’s what draws them from the street and into the dimly lit café to warm their hands and heart and soul… Because of another person’s creativity. Including mine.

Stealing Smiles

Abstract Essays

Some people doubt that I have the capability to do anything morally wrong, ever.
Those people are mistaken.
I am a thief.
Ever since the day I realized I could possess something belonging to another, I have been stealing on a daily basis. The things I steal are more valuable than any jewel, any car, or any amount of money—because they belong to someone. Not economically, not materially, but physically. I covet specific features of a person; things that one would assume can only be a biological aspect. This theory is a myth, and I have proven it wrong through many years of hypothesizing and experimenting.
It’s an uncontrollable urge.
Whenever I pass people, I like to make eye contact. This is an innocent action. But then, suddenly, their lips will curve upward and sometimes—even more suddenly—their teeth will be exposed and my own lips are forced into an equivalent shape.
For most, this common gesture is referred to as “exchanging smiles”. But for me, this is not the case. Even after “exchanging” the briefest smile with a stranger, that smile latches on to me and it happens so quickly that I am not able to return it. Later in the day, I will often find myself wearing that same smile in place of my own.
One might say that smiles are contagious. I think so too, but I don’t think others quite understand how this phrase could be translated in other languages (or perhaps in some very abstract minds).
The way someone smiles—quickly, timidly, vividly, etc.—can be contagious. If I see someone smile in a certain way, maybe in an unusual or out-of-the-ordinary way, I catch that person’s smile. I capture it and keep it captive as my own, because there is a chance that I may never be able to catch that smile again, and any mastered thief knows that no time can be wasted in the process.
The methodology of stealing smiles has evolved over time. Today, some thieves prefer cameras to steal smiles. Because of this contemporary method, nearly everyone who has traveled to densely populated areas has had their smile stolen. I, however, prefer the traditional method, because the naked eye and a memory can capture smiles (1) more quickly than a camera and (2) without the subject ever knowing.
I consider myself among the highest rankings of thieves, because the treasured items that common thieves accumulate will eventually lose their value. Smiles, on the other hand, never will.

Cafe at Night

Cultured Narratives

(Written on December 10, 2012)

The lone dimmed chandelier shone in the coffee shop with wooden floors and wooden walls. Two centuries old, maybe more, maybe less. Music radiated from a male figure with a guitar in his lap from the stage, and a drunkard sat on the stage with one leg crossed over the other, recalling to us from the pit of his heart stories about the ocean and Gina’s backyard and his dark days. Everyone in the cafe wore coats and hats. Hand shakes were exchanged, some smelling of alcohol and others of espresso. We spoke of stealing sweatshirts and “waiting for the storm to pass” as we closed the shop; the smiles and laughter had created a warm atmosphere within a small shop in a cold-hearted downtown.