Dear Mary,

Next month is your birthday month. The final days of your twenty-second year. I can’t remember the last time we saw each other on a birthday. I’m sorry, you know?
We used to say we would live next door. Grow our kids together and bake chocolate chip cookies while sippin’ sweet tea on some big front porch somewhere.
You were always better than me. At the cookie baking thing, I mean. And the loving people thing, I suppose. Mary the Mother, you know?
And I can’t say if our names drew fate or our circumstances did. But you are circumstantially strong, and I do admire it, even when I am far away.
There’s another anniversary nearby. 21 years since from November dreams we woke to find grandma and grandpa lurking in the hallway outside our bedroom.
We were stricken with excitement, but they answered with somber faces and said there had been an accident. Mom was in the hospital. This is my first memory, you know?
How rough was Christmas of ’96? And the next few after that? We got to keep mom but, we said goodbye to many things. Foolish childhood things.
We moved on, and put our baby dolls to sleep.
And stumbled down the path to the bus stop.
And practiced loopy-cursive letters.
And climbed up twisted back-yard trees.
And still got excited for the holidays.
And I love you, you know?
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A Quarter of a Century.

A Quarter of a Century.

Birthday’s are the worst.
I wanted to blame Facebook,
But before there was Facebook,
there was a terrorist attack.
And before there was a terrorist attack,
there was a car accident.
And before there was a car accident,
There was me.

Born from dust.
Born from the cells of my ancestors.
Born as a new generation,
carrying the same chains.
The same skin disease.
The same hopeless desire for eternity.

Birthday’s are so boring.
An attempt to justify existence,
and locate yourself within spacetime.
But will spacetime remember me?
Cause I’ve been feeling like a speck-
Something less brilliant than a star.
And then I saw a good friend.
And she let me talk.
And I said stupid things.
And I laughed.
And I remembered all the good people.
And I remembered it’s okay.

Birthday’s are ruthless.
Ticking away the minutes,
Pushing you under the pressure,
to prove you are moving some direction.

When I am feeling lost,
I lick my finger.
And let the wind tell me,
which way to blow.

When I am feeling lost,
I look at where I was before,
And I thank something invisible,
for another year.

Greece is fading from me.

My tanned skin is peeling, revealing soft pink patches untouched by the bright August sun beams.

The licorice taste of Ouzo has evaporated from my lips – I lick them incredulously, my tongue searching for the salted stains of the turquoise sea.

I don’t know what moment you can call the place you’re living at a home, but I’ve returned to it. It’s different somehow, even without changing.

Anti-fascist graffiti still clings to the walls, men with dark eyes and dirty trousers leaned against them, taking deep drags of their cigarettes, waiting for the seasons to change.

Yesterday Flex told me there was electricity in the air – the humidity was disturbing his instruments at work. Molecules were acting out of sorts.

“There is magic, can you feel it?” he asked when I joined him on the mostly empty street.

I did.

It’s possible I did because I wanted to, but I was feeling awfully different these days, and the sunset had cast a strange orange glow, the kind you see before a violent thunderstorm. Somewhere in-between the darkness and the light, the buildings began to bend like holograms, and I wondered if they were ever there in the first place.

Greece is fading from me, like the remnants of a reverent dream. With each passing moment the details blend together, becoming more difficult to distinguish, disappearing like the final credits of a film, and suddenly I am thrown back again into reality, with the lingering feeling of hopeful melancholy.

I close my eyes and I see Kalamos of Anafi, the second largest monolith in Europe. A great presence protruding into the sky, a place that one time served as a haven.

I see the endless expanse of sea saturated in ultramarine and sapphire, somehow it was also teal and clear as crystalline. A mosaic of blue, expressing itself in every shade.

I see the sky so full of stars I wondered if they were watching us, if they could only see us when the lights were low, and we were burning out just like them, already dead in the contorted still frames of time.

I see the view from the mountain top, undisturbed by life. The great rocks stood without help, and they stood without the decay of time. And when I was with them, the silence was so strong it consumed me, and I became silent, too. There was nothing left to say.

Greece is fading from me, but Rome feels new again. In its chaos there is an exquisite beauty, the kind that makes you ache. It is the beauty of destruction, for even the great Roman columns will be destroyed one day, but maybe, they too, will become stars – the kind that children wish on.

 

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Kick the laundry pile.

Put the coffee on the stove.

Clean the loose tobacco off the desk.

Apply lotion.

The fan is not working?

Water plants.

 

~ sphssssh ~

 

The sound of hot coffee spilling on the stove top.

Brown stains.

Perfume steam.

 

Pour the coffee.

Roll a cigarette.

Hit play.

Wilco.

Google: How to fix a fan.

 

Facebook.

Facebook.

Facebook.

 

Stare at plants.

Blow a smoke ring.

Google: How to check computer storage.

Troubleshoot.

 

84.1 GB storage.

What the fuck am I storing?

Google: How to clean storage space on computer.

Troubleshoot.

 

Caches.

I’ve head about these before.

Only delete the old ones!

 

Empty folders.

What does that mean?

 

My computer learns about me.

Tracks my location.

My passwords.

Website information.

My computer remembers things for me.

Things I don’t have effort to care about.

 

My computer tracks my searches.

Customizes advertisements.

Creates a digital history of my preferences.

 

My curiosities.

My secrets.

My medical history.

Web MD.

A long list of things I could have almost had.

Or maybe do have.

 

Meyers-briggs.

Free trials on language websites.

Searches for people.

People I want to know about.

People I never want to meet again.

People who make me sad when I remember them.

People who might be sad if they remembered me.

 

Moved items to trash.

Exchanging memories for space.

 

Empty trash.

* Files can’t be deleted!

They are “running.”

Running?

Motherfuckers.

Avoiding me.

I don’t even know what they are.

But I’m lazy

So they won,

for today.

 

Until there comes a time,

when I’m forced to make some changes,

you can stay in the background,

collecting information,

about me.

 

My wrist is itching.

Just like the mint plant;

I am wilting in the heat

 

I am thinking

about all the things that I could do

to be productive.

 

I am thinking

how differently

time moves

when you finally keep some

and use it on yourself.

 

I am thinking

how differently

time moves

when the summer sun is so hot,

it lingers on into the night,

and gets trapped

in your bedsheets.

“Existence is futile!” a man shouted from the third floor window of a worn-out building. He was hanging on a curtain rod, a cigarette dangling out of the corner of his mouth.

He was a dirty man, maybe in his 40’s. I was never too good at guessing how many years a person’s been living for.

He saw me watching – a look of dignified delight spread across his dingy face, his hallowed eyes fixing on my little dress; his mouth slowly stretching into a gummy grin decorated with a few fossils of broken teeth.

“What’d you say?” I yelled back, my hand now parallel to my forehead, as if I were a solider reporting to her general. Really, I was just trying to shield my eyes from the hazy July sun.

“Viene qua, bellisima.” Now he was laughing all mad-like, clutching on to his ribcage, howlin’ and cracklin’ like a hyena.

“Where you come from?” yelled another man, maybe Moroccan, and before I knew it there were 10 of ‘em, all hootin’ and whistlin’ and still somehow suckin’ on their cigarettes.

I turned my attention to the empty street, lined with over-flowing trash bins and haphazardly parked cars. The sun was beating hard on the back of my shoulders, and I was trying to concentrate on a small dog up the hill, on the horizon of the piazza. He was dancing and skipping about, a little too care-free for the scene. His owner was taking a piss next to a trashcan, taking no measure to cover himself.

I took a sharp left onto a small side street, somewhere in between a via and a viccolo. Delivery items were being transferred from boxy trucks into dying businesses, the Chinese yelling in Italian, Italians yelling at the Chinese. I accidentally made eye contact with a homeless man lying dead in the center of the sidewalk. His mouth was slightly agape, and he slowly stretched his shaking arm in my direction, piercing me with his gray dull eyes.

“Existence is futile,” he whispered, and my over-heated July skin flushed with goose-bumps.

“What’d you say?” I sang back in a sad tune, like a reflex that a doctor checks to make sure you’re still feeling things.

He began to groan, and cough, and shake some more.

I marched on, past a Banglah and cellphone shop. I walked past Hallal fast food and empty stores with no names. I walked past children playing in the street, mothers humming as they hung their wet clothes out their apartment windows. I walked past hot trash begging to become fire, dirty birds sifting for something to eat. I walked past construction workers in their bright orange vests and long pants, past the crumbling buildings that once signified affluence and opportunity.

I walked, until I finally saw a bar. I opened the door, and that’s when I realized I was following my feet.

“Ciao, dimmi,” said an old man with a big mustache and watery blue eyes.

“vorrei un caffe,” I asserted, over annunciating.

The stainless-steel machine whizzed and steamed, a dark black liquid gently trickling into a small, white porcelain cup.

He placed it on the bar with a flourish, and I languidly began stirring in the contents of a sugar packet, my eyes fixed ahead on a mirror, watching the room behind me.

A business man in a well-tailored suit entered into the picture. He had a big watch with the wrong time and pearly white teeth that looked like maybe they had been sharpened.

“Un caffe,” he snapped, and the old bar man stepped into motion like a switch had been flipped on. He never looked away from the machine as the espresso found it’s way into another cup. A small, white cup. Porcelain.

The old man placed the coffee on the bar, and I felt the eyes of the business man on me. I kept looking in the mirror. Maybe I was waiting for something.

“Existence is futile,” he remarked, as he dropped a few coins on the counter and headed back out into the streets.

“What’d you say?” I asked myself, because no one else was around to hear me.

“Un euro,” the old man replied, with a warm smile and busy hands.

“Grazie,” I placed a coin on the counter, and followed my feet outside.

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I am running up a flight of stairs, cocktails barely balanced by the tray in my left arm. Each step synchs with the pronunciation of a piano key. I am on beat, or maybe the band is.

I am at Gregory’s Jazz club, working my first night as a waitress without a cause. I was hired because I speak English, and most of the clientele are tourists. Tonight we are booked full of Italians, and I don’t speak a lick. I’m jolting in and out of spaces like an eight-year-old boy who drank too much mountain dew. My hair is tied up in a sloppy bun held together by criss-crossing pens. I have no pockets, so my notepad is hugged against my hip by the elastic band of the top of my leggings. I’m starting to wonder if my life is an episode of “I love Lucy.”

The clarinet sounds better than I remember, and the gentle “tsss” of the symbol keeps my energy in balance. I feel myself transitioning from frantic footwork to silky side steps as my hips begin to sway without my consent, navigating through the crowded room like a dance move.

Italians are very relaxed, not troubled by the idea of rushing through anything. They take their time, and shamelessly indulge, which is my favorite aspect of the culture. There is no “to-go” coffee, you take a moment and drink it at the counter. Maybe order something sweet, too, then have a cigarette before you’re on your way. The bad side to this quality is they are largely disorganized, particularly when it comes to systems. The public transportation actually circumnavigates the center of the city, and busses are liable to not just be late, but never come. I had one hour after my last English lesson to make it from Monteverde to the Spanish Steps. Geographically speaking, this isn’t a lot of distance to cover. Still, I was late.

I arrived to Gregory’s out of breath, but high on the adrenaline specific to the experience of racing against the clock. I was determined to transcend the space time continuum, hoping that somehow I could make the ticking minutes multiply.

“Ecolla,” said my manager, as I burst through the doors like I was about to rob the place. He was not mad I was late, rather happy to see me in general. Without missing a beat, I was delivering drinks and staring blankly at Italians. Questions poured from customers looking for simple items my vocabulary could not provide them. My only solace in these moments was the fact we were not working for tips.

“aaahh, sorry, no parlo Italiano. Parlee Inglese?”

With younger people, this was not a problem. After the second world war, they started teaching English in the schools, replacing the previous second language of French. For the older clients, the ones who have made this jazz club their weekend home, my muted vacancy was not impressive.

We were booked to full capacity, yet somehow continued to find new places to fit eager customers. The iPad operating system was very efficient, but the table numbers were confusing and I once again found myself in a new job with few instructions. There were not enough minutes and not enough clones of myself to accommodate the overflowing room. At one moment I decided I was going to quit. I’ve worked in a lot of bars and restaurants, but the chaos of this one had nearly broken me.

The drinks were served, the jazz was swinging, and I finally had a moment to take a breath. “It’s not so bad,” I thought on a long drag of a cigarette, peering through the window, watching the bustle of a busy business. The beautiful thing about the service industry is the ability to meet and speak with people of all walks of life. In this night, I met a surgeon from Berlin. He said he found us on yelp.

“People do not come here by accident,” the owner told me at a quiet table the night I was hired. “They come here for good jazz and good whiskey.”

What I love about Rome is it feels like a time capsule. In this club, I imagine people in the 20’s and 30’s, sitting in a smokey bar, listening to the same notes. Time goes by, but music is everlasting. It can transport you to a specific moment, and connect you to millions of other people who once heard and thought about the same song. Maybe we do not hear the same thing, and maybe the songs are played with a different energy, but at the base of each song is a beat we cannot deny. A compulsion to tap or sway along. Music is the language that moves.

It is the end of the night, but the happy customers show no signs of leaving. They are joking and drinking, with humidors and fat cigars and never-empty glasses of whiskey. I am upstairs, where the stage is, sweeping up chaotic crumbs resting in the dark. A many is softly playing the piano. I hum along.

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“Will inspector Sams please report to the central concourse,” boomed an overhead radio system into the mostly empty cafe.

I am at Victoria Station, eating a cheese sandwich, and drinking a tall glass of Strongbow cider. Neither taste the same as they do in the States. It’s a nice break from cheap pizza and economy-sized Peroni.

I arrived in England peering through half-open, sleep-filled eyes, depicting a hazy scene that could have also indicated I was in purgatory. Travelers were immediately ushered into orderly queues, organized by paperwork and bureaucracy.

Turns out, I was spoiled entering Italy as my first foreign country. I walked off the plane, into the airport, picked up my bag, and hopped in a taxi. No one checked my passport. No one asked me to declare anything. Everybody was taking their time, stopping for a coffee or tied up in casual conversation. Today was a different thing. I waited in a snaking line full of silent minds, and something about it felt clinical. No one was speaking, but the space was near full. It was like a class of elementary students who were just threatened by the teacher. One peep, and we’d all miss recess.

A woman handed me a slip of paper identifying the time I joined the queue, for quality control, she assured me. I was asked to give it to boarder control as a method for measuring our lines’ wait time. Twenty minutes off the plane, and they were already utilizing me to benefit the system…sneaky Brits. Well played.

From Stansted, I took a spacious bus with leather seats and a flatscreen TV mounted above the driver, displaying a live feed of the street in front of us. I’m not sure what this was for. I think it was supposed to help us feel like we were driving. The whole thing was meta, but in a depressing, endless expanse of highway kind of way.

In the hour and a half bus ride to London, I examined the back of my eyelids, struck in the middle of dreaming and thinking. Never fully committed to being asleep or awake. The content of my thoughts were muddled and disturbing. A cocktail of the wrong ingredients. A manhattan made with rum.

I forced myself awake when I realized we were in the heart of the city. I was curious to begin the identification process. When I came to Rome, I knew of certain landmarks, but I never spent any time with a map. In part I wanted to be surprised, and in part I’m really lazy about my adventures. I had a vague mental image, but I never tried to define it. I didn’t want to ruin it with expectations. I came to London with the same sentiment.

On first impression, the buildings are sleek and smart. More modern and abstract than I would have expected. You can sense the Germanic influence. There is a coldness to the architecture, especially in contrast with Roman romanticism. It feels like a cleaner, smaller and better organized NYC. At one point, I saw a man raking leaves into very precise piles off a side street. The city workers seem dedicated and plentiful. Well organized, and with good attitudes. This is already different than Rome and the States. A healthy sign for a city.

London feels chic and current, with “healthy fast food” restaurants peppering between buildings and taking advantage of the “vegan, soy-free, conscious consumption” movement. I’m not complaining, because their design and marketing teams have done a killer job. I will add that anytime someone markets themselves to be something, they probably aren’t that thing, but okay, they still did a hell of a job. There’s a level of stringent sophistication permeating from the concrete. I’ll be curious to find where the homeless sleep. You can learn a lot about a city from their homeless.

I keep saying “ciao” and “grazie”, which is really terrible, because I have a strong American accent. They’re at the tip of my tongue, because these are the few words I use to communicate with Italians. After a few months of conditioning, it seems like I don’t know how to speak to people.

When I first came to Italy, street conversation was extremely alienating. It made me uncomfortable to not know what people were saying around me. After awhile, it became a white noise in the background, enabling me to develop intense focus on my own thoughts in public spaces. Here, I can understand conversation bits from all directions. It’s disorienting, and I’m experiencing a lot of noise pollution. This has been the biggest surprise for me, the realization that I like strangers better when I can’t understand them.

On the surface, I like the feeling London gives me. There is a crisp quality to the air that makes me feel like I can breath. I’ve navigated the public transportation with virtually no problem, to which I can thank the horrible transit system in Rome. I’ve spent most of my day alone, except for a quick stop at the gallery for a long hug from an old friend. This is just the beginning. I have a city to learn.