and what you might be
the sea of pink liquid in your belly swallows
are you allowed to be loved
are you sure
you’ve been in here a long time now
you never tried the door
it has never been locked
speak your truth
before it drowns in its own momentum
separate it from your fiction
write yourself a new one
a tiny death
This spine cracks
revealing more bone
exposing a half pound of faulty rhythm
These shoulders roll forward and back
trying to relieve the compressed capillaries
This sternum plunges into the cavity of this stomach
strings and percussion
Flesh tears away from your third dimension
and the compass needle spasms for a north
the ecstasy burns
the ecstasy burns
your eyes moisten to douse the flames
you are allowed
…shredding your heavily fortified corpse
…reminding your heart what it’s for
The viscous joints unhinge and drip
Sleepy sinews stretch and whine
Oddity retakes your ground bound eye
lifting it skyward
and the clouds design angels
to join the descent
a new birth
feel the shiny feathers preen peel
and fill the creaking void
wisp the air
shudder themselves alive
These plumed appendages are not yours to direct
They do not direct you
Lifted soft by air
Sprung into the question
Draining the emptiness
Ringing the moon
Responsive only to love
Defiant of gravity
Shrinking from intention
Tips of toes tickle the ground
Your flight must fail
All the rest is frenzy
rapping on my forehead
it’s beginning to leave a bruise
and soon perhaps it’ll benumb the knocking
which wants to get in
sit in the burger joint
say fuck it as i rise to lead the beggary
holding out an outstretched hand
come take it last
so i hobble forth on these cracked and truest wings
hearing fingernails almost click against the glass
the fingers beckoning
and the rest
Perhaps my presence gives her mono. She falls asleep whenever I come over. Or narcolepsy? I don’t know, but I’m pretty sure it’s not an excuse, since she keeps calling me over to visit and appears pleased to see me each time I arrive. And she never asks me to leave, as she stretches out on the couch and drifts off, still with that gradual glassy smile on her face. It hasn’t always been like this, though it’s been this way for a while now.
It used to be that I would come over and we’d devise all manner of miniature adventures. We’d paint seascapes with watercolors on the smoke-colored walls. Or move all lamps and lighting instruments into a single room to see how bright we could make it. Once we lit small fires with gum wrappers and whatnot in the fireplace to see if the chimney’s passage really stretched into the sky, or if it had been bricked up. The fireplace itself was just so clean we couldn’t believe it had ever been used. Mostly, though, we would lay on the ground with headphones on, the two cords running through a jury-rigged contraption that let us listen to the same music. Staring up at the ceiling we listened to Thickfreakness, Polly, Tango Habanera, Elenore, Great Indoors, Galileo, the ravings of Antonin Artaud trying desperately and once and for all to have done with the judgment of god. For hours at a time we would slide from track through track to track. Everything temporal and spatial beyond song released us. Storms outside our hearts became irrelevant. We never fell in love. And she never fell asleep.
Now she greets me with a hug, and the remnants of projects unfinished and unstarted both. Cigarette cartons and handicapped dress forms and sheets of butcher paper partially filled with partial figurations. And then she suggests what we might do with green bottles of white glue and circuit boards, as she lifts a stock of discs in my direction so that I can pick out dozens of pieces for tonight’s hodgepodge medley. The music that will arrive much sooner than it does in her mind. I say very little, knowing that soon and quickly she will find repose on the sofa. And as her sentences break up into remote islands of words, my breathing grows deep with resistance to the crack I feel forming beneath my sternum, caving into my stomach at gorgeous exuberance receding.
Silence succeeds sound. I put my headphones on. I put hers on. I rest my head nearby hers and press play. My eyes wide open, hers effortlessly shut, we dream together for the next several hours. Then I begin the long, ragged walk home.
A train screams out there somewhere, through the single-pane window. A tree seems to threaten the south side of the building. It effortlessly towers above a stucco and tile structure that required extensive effort when it was built in 1928 (some argue 1930). It’s 10:00pm and still not entirely dark yet. It will be, and in the morning, just about seven hours from now, it will be light in this curtain-less room. I taste dust. The ceiling is shedding its gradual revenge, covering its tracks by planting powdery seeds of respiratory destruction that will inflame the heaving hovel much later, when this night has been erased from memory.
A man felt that he was approaching the halfway point of his life. Or maybe it had already snuck past. Whichever way, beginnings had grown more difficult. That was the main thing he noticed. Because of his evident age, people assumed that he had all the society he needed. A career plan must be unfolding, not to be disrupted. New connections were therefore business-like. Professional handshakes rather than lingering looks. Knowledge on both sides rather than clever oddity. His unwillingness to settle for less than a fulfilling existence now just left him unsettled, and with few options. He was supposed to have built something lasting already.
One middle of the night, on his way back to bed after waking for a glass of water, the man opened the lid of his laptop to check his email. He found a single unopened message, titled simply ‘Photo’. His friend had been rummaging through files on an old hard drive and come across a black and white photo of the man, taken when he was in his early twenties. It was a headshot that had been used for publicity in a theatre program once upon a time. Because of the black turtleneck, greased hair, dark contrast, and dark room in which the man was sitting, the young, smiling face glowed. The image took up almost the entire screen. The man stared into the lively eyes of this former version of himself. Taut skin, barely blemished. Hair. Absolute conviction that destiny would kindly open door after door.
The man closed the laptop and walked up the stairs to bed. The arms of the ceiling fan rotated ceaselessly above him. He followed a single blade with his eyes until he felt them strain somewhere in the back. Then he blinked quickly to reset his vision and tried again. And again. After maybe a dozen attempts, his eyes suddenly stopped tracking, leaving the blades to cut repeatedly through his fixed, limp gaze. He couldn’t feel like this. Not now. He had a rare job interview the next day. He needed his rest. And his spirit. But what once had been, and what now wasn’t, kept him awake. When he finally fell asleep it was just before first light.
His eyes fluttered open not long after. The fan was still spinning above him, but it seemed faster in the daylight. He sat up and stared at the floor with that sickly feeling in the back of his jaw. A stirring emptiness in his stomach. Another day without energy. Without enthusiasm. He stood up and felt the emptiness shift around his belly. He showered and dressed, and made his way to the kitchen to force some food into that uncomfortable space at his center. He chewed and swallowed mouthfuls of cereal. Inertia blanketed him. He wondered how he would get through this day without a nap. He thought about his young self in the photo, and a time when sleep seemed less relevant. The man stopped chewing.
Several minutes of stillness later and he put down his spoon and pushed the bowl away. He stood, walked into the next room, and opened his laptop. The smiling face had lost none of its hopeful shine overnight and was still happily taking up the whole screen. The man printed the photo and retrieved the copy. He rummaged through drawers until he found some string, the ends of which he affixed with tape to points along the vertical edges of the portrait. Then he punched the smallest holes possible in his former self’s eyes and pulled the page over his face like a visor. He made small adjustments as he bounced off walls on his way to the bathroom. In the mirror, the young man looked back at the man looking back at himself. He smiled, which he was already doing. Then the man shouldered his bag, grabbed his car keys, and headed out the door to his interview.
If you get the opportunity at some future point to have Japanese omakase (お任せ), please do it; especially if that opportunity arises at Tanuki in Southeast Portland, just west of the redline. We call this experience ‘chef’s choice’, but I like other various translations such as ‘I’ll leave it to you’ and ‘entrusted’. Name your per-eater price, and the chef – in this case the delightful owner Janis Martin – will craft a line-up of small dishes with huge flavor that arrive at your table with the persistence of lapping ocean waves. Combine these fresh culinary miracles with an equally constant flow of small-batch sake, cheap Asian beer, and sensational Japanese whiskey, and you have the makings of a experience that will stretch one hour into five without anyone at the table knowing how or when it got dark outside. (You also have the reason why this “daily exercise” took a day off).
The thing is, omakase is not at all particular to Tanuki. Nor, obviously, is sake or beer. What makes omakase at Tanuki feel special is the establishment’s rag-tag sensibility. You’d better know the address (8029) if you go, because there’s no sign on or above the door. My longtime friend, Eric, and I arrived a few minutes before opening and, from the locked door and look of the place, momentarily thought we’d have to find different digs than this out-of-business business. But then the deadbolt popped free and our absolutely adorable server for the night set up the discreet sandwich board that announced in scrawled pink chalk “No sushi / No kids”. Then she invited us into the dining room. It feels like a lower Manhattan performance garage / studio apartment / storage facility borrowed each night for the purpose of serving some food. The sparely placed tables themselves seem foreign between the well-stocked bar, Ikea showroom sitting space, and piles of boxes with provisions in the corner – mostly beer. A card table holds two self-serve jugs of water – one that broke during the night – and a garage door remains halfway open to a parking lot out back. Pin-up girls from alcohol-sponsored calendars adorn the wall near the bathroom, and two huge television screens in opposing corners are inescapable (all night, Eric watched soap operas out of his peripheral vision, and I was oppressed by blood-bathed Korean and Japanese cult grotesquerie). A hastily plugged-in stereo perched on the sill of the covered storefront window blares away. Everything is dark when you start, and it just gets darker and more luscious from there.
I know very little about what I ate. I mean, of course I know what muscles looks like and what nori is. But specific details regarding preparation and minor ingredients of the twelve plus dishes we were privileged to taste remain a mystery. Our server announced each one as it landed on the table, but the ambient sensory chaos conspired against comprehension. I rarely followed up because it really didn’t matter. What mattered was diving unabashedly into each offering. Not everything worked, but the rewards are more than worth the risks. And seriously: Japanese whiskey.
Food and drink deepen the environment. The environment bolsters everything you taste. Of course, the night was biased to begin with. I was in exceptional company, and together we were willing to let table after table around us turn over as we staunchly occupied our place in the middle. It also strokes the ego to have one’s server sincerely name you “drinking champs.” So omakase if you can, but have some bus fare ready and don’t assume you’re driving home. We didn’t.