August 1998. Throughout that summer, I would squat between the steep porcelain slopes of a clawed-foot bathtub as water splashed weakly down head, serpentine hair, bent back, at first hot and then lukewarm and finally cold. Crouched, I reveled in the lack of cloth and maquillage, fleshly wet, the damp and finally cool darkness. Faraway sirens rang.
During an electrical blackout that summer, I became a poet. (If only for a moment. Alas, my attention span endures only so long, unable to outlast even a just-lit cigarette.) Not my heart, gentlemen. Only soothing my skin, I thought. That summer, the only fan died, its abused blades stilled. No matter. There is our Durant flat: Shilpa and Rini and sunlit porch breakfasts and even a few crushes, late-night throw-a-stone-at-my-window trysts.
By Halloween of that year, I would heartbreak hard, harder, I suppose, than when I was in 4th grade, the first year Mummy stayed away in San Diego. That year, Santa Ana’s little league baseball star Christian Cortez never, ever, noticed me – except, perhaps, to call me Peanuts like all the other kids.
That was the year teachers lost their godhood. Mr. Klum – Call me Karl, same name as that goddamn Commie – was a grumpy divorcé – Boys, never marry a girl who calls herself a feminist – and whose buttcrack often revealed itself over loosely belted chinos. This is what too many beers in the summertime can do to an old man, kids, he once snorted, winking at first row.
After many afternoons of computer tutorial, our class became quite familiar with that cleft, that dimpled not-secret peeking so hirsutely at us as we clustered tightly around his chair. A seemingly shallow, shadowy, azure-veined crevice any tot or toy could certainly disappear into, never to be found again.Yes, we were raw-ther traumatized, unable to later disassociate academia from the image of a politically disgruntled midde-aged white man’s butt-cleft.
Late summer 2002. In a downtown Oakland flat’s bathtub securely caulked to tile, I bob. The body I wear is troublesome; within it, desires echo resolutely, if remotely, only in dream or when nearly awake, flesh goosepimpling with before-breakfast cold. Head immersed, I listen to the radio infiltrating thin wall and plastic, melodic vibrations of a ghostly world reaching me through gallons of Oakland water.
This, I: a pink juicy hunk of whale-flesh submerging itself in a vat of curiously saltless water, surrounded by floating tiny muslin pouches that split open with lemon verbena, basil, lemon, marjoram and thyme. What witchery (or cookery) is this? Oh, merely a medieval herbal cure, apparently, for losing (rusty) keys, (crooked) spectacles and (empty) wallets. (Thank you, Annie.)
Close your eyes, girl.
Here’s the body, delivered to you, miraculously, to be stored in faulty memory. Sullen darling, obscene cathedral, unwanted treasure. Wet epidermis. Tender tissue. Solid bone. And within bone, the healthy marrow.
Later, quest curiously. No lumps found in the darkness. So far. Perhaps later, years and years later, waiting to bloom under pelvic bone. (It’s that history, you know. Thank you, grandmother.)
Hush. That’s your skin, chafed raw. It peels as you sleep or wake or commit the other things you deem necessary. Underneath lies new skin, pink and delicate, unused to the severity of sunlight in late summer . . . Oh, what a scaly, skin-changing, ever-renewing creature you are!