The walls inside of the mirror were painted a rich lavender color and decorated with impressionistic art and ancient religious relics. Jules always commented on the odor of vision, the way a beautiful painting freshens a room like flowers work to scent nature. So it is not surprising that he adhered to the Eastern principles of fung shui, arranging his 19th century renaissance furniture to align ascetically with his positive spiritual resolve. There was a nook that resided in the corner that Jules was never certain what to do with, but it wasn’t hurting anything. He positioned the furniture so that it all seemed to navigate towards the nook, floating naturally at an angle and giving the room the shape of a heart. The windows were draped with white curtains that allowed enough sunlight through to enhance the wooden oak of the center coffee table and made the floor lamps positioned on either side obsolete beyond the want for decoration. The table was never used for anything more than to handle books that Jules spent hours at a time reading leisurely, plopped comfortably atop a lightly-colored loveseat that he allowed his entire body to sink into. The only thing curiously positioned in the entire room was the mirror, which hung on the side, away from everything. Jules spent so much time on the inside that he typically forgot that it was there.
There wasn’t much beyond the purplish walls of the room, but there was always Camille. She lived in the center, lying in her green dress, drinking martinis and looking lovely. Beyond lovers, Jules and Camille harbored the scent of love, kept it enclosed and well-maintained. They understood the pleasant view of true love, when people become romantically-inclined to pacify one another, when happiness is produced far beyond the intensity of a lavishly decorated room or a glimpse of sunlight in absolute darkness. There are few rarer things to be on about, spot on, like coming across an original work, a magnum opus of some universally impressive, obscure painter. But even rarer than that is the discovery of absolute beauty, to unearth a soul so intertwined with respect to your own that there is no doubt as to whether or not the next drink you take will be the most satisfying you have ever tasted knowing that she is there and she is in love with you. This is what Jules understood, and he needn’t know much else. The world of love was inside of that room only, and he saw very little reason to leave it, until the day that everything was ruined.
He woke up in his love seat, as usual, next to Camille, who was breathing in the fumes of sunrise. He had left a book open on his chest; he must have read himself to sleep again. Without surmising, he set the book down on the center coffee table and moved over by the nook. Drawing the curtains, he gazed outside as the sun peeked over the horizon and shown a refulgent light through the glass windows. The light touched the love struck eyes of Camille, and she opened them slowly, peering at Jules as he colorized the morning. After a few moments, Jules turned around and admired his love in her green dress, and she smiled lovingly at the way his eyes squinted deep into his cheeks, the way he could make his love so present without having to say a word.
In the next instant, a loud thud was produced in the room adjoined perpendicularly to the main room. Jules flinched, and Camille found her eyes traveling towards the wooden door at the far end of the room that had been collecting dust for what had seemed like years. Jules nodded to Camille, agreeing that the disturbance was caused beyond the walls of their room, and all curiosity that wanted satisfaction could only be fulfilled by exiting the room just briefly. Jules headed towards the door slowly as Camille lay back again at the tip of the heart. Jules slowly opened the door, and there was nothing. He looked forward and all he could see was empty—a tunnel of complete darkness spreading to all sides and never-ending. In a short moment, he recollected all nightmares he had once had of the outside world—the hatred, the hopelessness, the pain, the dissatisfaction, the heartache, the irresolution, the faulty mechanics, the propensity for error, the want for happiness and the impossibility to obtain it—it all came back to him in a rush, and he quickly and without hesitation retreated back to his room.
He slammed the door shut with so much force that the entire room shook. Camille was startled only for a second, when suddenly a resounding crash transformed the room, a sound of shattering glass. The lone mirror, framed to side of the room, away from everything, fell in tandem with the closing door, shattering the vision. Jules eyes opened up to a dream or a nightmare in a room of nothing. The lavender painted walls were now disguised in shades of gray and no furniture remained aside from a worn loveseat that lacked cushioning. The floor was littered with books that had been torn at the spine, read and re-read permanently, all carelessly expelled to the ground once terminated. The nook remained solidly in the corner, where the sunlight that once seemed like forever was replaced by the vision of another vacant room, gray and empty and surrounding nothing. Jules turned around once more to the loveseat where he left Camille, mourning the loss of happiness, retreating to the one thing he knew mattered most to him, only to find lying upon the sofa a portrait of a woman in a green dress.
(August 17, 2007)
The greatest painter that ever lived
Couldn't paint such a masterpiece
In air so warm and hard to breathe
The words are always hard to reach
So make them up as you go
Turn up the volume one more notch
And lay your empty head to rest
Your king of your world for now
But digging through your dingy room
Through socks of stones and tattered boots
You'll find a naive little boy
|There is only curiosity|
touching snow in Spring,
in the ways numerous playwrights
have painted landscapes with nothing
short of pen and paper.
The whole of imagination
trickles down to the awakening grass
in air that never seems cold enough
to warrant the frost, when
Shakespeare fell in love but still
couldn't express it without being
vain and sentimental.
|The wet grass is again|
sprouting in the same, familiar ways,
scratching above the surface
and scraping the snow as it hits
at the most inopportune time
to settle down after it has already
been called back to its seat.
The ordinary are lost on innovation,
peeling thoughts to endure the struggle
while my throat wraps in vibrations,
looking for a space in between the lines
where it can fit my voice in.
I was originally titled Life in the Woods, because the bulk of me was written in an isolated cabin approximately a mile away from basic civilization. Later I was called Walden. I was written by Henry David Thoreau – a philosopher in the Transcendental movement who sought self-discovery as a sojourner away from civilized life. That is what I’m about: his conquest to overcome the superfluity of everyday life and to find happiness in the life already present around him. Of course, that is a very general explanation of my purpose, but certainly it fulfills the requirements of a broad-spectrum overview.
When I was first published, I did not know what to expect. People at the time did not really have a classification for works like me. I was not necessarily leisure reading; I was kind of seen as a dense newspaper. I was nonfiction, and at the time, where American Romantics were sprouting charily designed worlds of fiction, people did not have much room on their shelves for the verbose ramblings of a Transcendental lunatic. They did not read to confront the real world so much as they read to escape from it.
Likewise, the books I came across felt very much the same. When I first left Concord for Chicago in the late 1860s, I was introduced to a library of works – all fiction. They could not comprehend the purpose for my existence, not in a direct way at least. According to them, the fundamental purpose of a creative work was to be imaginative, especially with Romantic works, where the lines drawn between reality and surreal are essentially nonexistent. I remember one confrontation in particular with Nathaniel Hawthorne’s work The Blithedale Romance, where he openly questioned my privilege as a member of the academic literary community.
“I don’t understand why you are here,” he spat coldy.
“What does it matter?”
“What do you mean, ‘what does it matter?’,” he shot back. “All of us real literary works have are dues in the canon, but you? You are nothing but dry opinion. You hold the words of nothing purposeful. What can readers possibly take from you, other than poorly-drawn conclusions of a simple life?” Then he dwelled for a moment. “A simple life? What excitement does that offer?”
I silently ignored. The words in me may be confrontational and outspoken, but I am shy. I do not like confrontation.
“Readers will be through with you before they even start,” Blithedale continued. “We do not live in a world of fools. They will see right through your urgent demeanor and find that you are nothing more than a travesty of words.”
After a couple of years of this abuse, I decided that Chicago was not the place for me. Academia was shallow and short-sighted. The students were merely products of their professors, and no one could really fully develop a true understanding of themselves and the works they read without invalid distortion of the texts. They just tossed around unsubstantiated ideas, until they eventually found themselves generalizing to a very simple, very wrong conclusion. I do not like to be misunderstood.
My next quest was to take to the idea of my author: to find simplicity. Academia was too stern and too complicated. I decided to reduce myself from a library of many to a library of one. I was taken by an intellectual in Pennsylvania, who appreciated the words I had to offer him. I have to say that this was the most pleasant time of my existence. He opened me up to read at least once a week, and he read me everywhere. I was no longer confined to libraries, classrooms, and cluttered bookshelves, but I was allowed to explore the delicate scenery of the world, like Thoreau. I was read on beaches and bus stops and railways and park benches and walking paths and porch swings. I was able to observe and delight. And I was appreciated, not because I was a source of entertainment – a humorous punch line not to be taken seriously – but because I contained ideas and I was powerful.
I also met many of my contemporaries in this period of my life. I ran into the essays of Ralph Waldo Emerson and discovered the influence the author had on Thoreau and my birth. I even discovered that Emerson owned the property on which I had been written, and had not been for him, I would have never been written. So, as to be expected, the works of Emerson and myself became very good friends.
On one occasion, a collection of essays by Emerson confronted me and asked, “Walden, why do you think we are here?”
“What do you mean?” I inquired back.
“I don’t know,” he pondered momentarily. “We are books filled with grand, philosophical ideas, and although we are admired by many, I can’t help but wonder if we are even purposeful at all. Who has use for these ideas?”
“Honestly,” I answered plainly. “I don’t know.”
And, at the time, I didn’t know. For works like Emerson and Thoreau, purpose cannot be generalized to a specific point, and that’s something I couldn’t understand at the time. The world is still so dominated by works of fiction; it’s difficult to find a common place for ideas. But the purpose of a written work – especially a work like me – is not created by the work itself, but is created by the individual reading it. That was something I had to discover.
Eventually, the public grew more appreciative of me, and I ended up back in the academic literary canon. I was reluctant to return, but I thought I would try it again, for the sake of education. Even though my last encounter with academia left me jaded with their system of learning, I’m still deeply appreciative of the learning process. So I returned.
Several decades later, and it appeared as though students were beginning to expand their willingness to learn. With more flexibility in the classroom, students opened their minds and were beginning to discover things about me that I didn’t even consider. It was a very informative process, this learning thing.
They began to intently explore Thoreau’s journey into the woods, to understand why he did it, and why it was important. Why I was important. This was the most meaningful time in my life. This was my Walden Pond. I began to understand myself better than ever before.
And this is what I’ve learned: I am not inherently purposeful. My reason for existing is not concrete, it is not direct, and furthermore, I do not care whether it is or not. Truthfully, most books like myself desire purpose – a reason for existing. They are not content with just being, in the simplest way possible. That is not okay with them. They must have a higher purpose, because all words must be written for one. Some find solace in the fact that they entertain, or that they allegorically explain, or satirize life, but no matter what, they have to be aware of their purpose. However, I have found my purpose is not clear cut. It is not obvious and that is okay. Like Thoreau, I do not mind living simply, or living deliberately. Honestly, I am happy just to have been created, to exist without agenda. I am contented because I exist. I am not a story with a plot or structured characters or purposeful conflicts, but I am as solid and real as any book with a hardcover binding. I am alive.
or if she chooses not to appear at all,
because stage time is not valued
beyond fucking for the first time,
or talking quiet lies
to discover a sense of truth—
some innocent killing to garner
prime time interest on the evening news.
the only role where everyone watches,
to blur instantaneously, moments
filtering into a dimension of
lapsing time, gazing for a way
to prove clarity, insightfulness,
more than imagination,
more than a storybook ending,
more than knowing of
love and power and vengeance.
Your god is more than simply
how the stars are aligned.
My god fucks only in absolutes
and does not write poetry,
because life is too precious
to waste on words.
These are the dreams of callow men—
hoping for shooting stars to greet
their arsenal of fantasy,
to wander through perfection,
while holy Love loses her smile.
I am no greater than
are no greater than
the scent of the Earth
before it rains,
or the taste of liquor
But if my god were to stop for a moment,
and if your god found sanctity in miracles—
there would be no more hate, killing, and greed,
no need for love, anger, and madness,
no more curiosity, wonder, or happiness.
Life would be as exciting as
the last grain of sand
in the Mohave desert.
perceiving harshly mixed singles
in the way the grass grows
and how it doesn't push
in the way a mother instinctively knows
precisely the right way to kill
in order to protect her own.
Only the stars can beguile
in such a way
where answers are preludes to the questions
and light means dark
in the most figurative and direct way possible.
She cannot fathom
the art of being
only meaningless, in the true
sense of the word,
knowing that words have meaning
only if we perceive them to.
knowledge of purpose
is some Holy Grail,
providing a blanket over a fire pit
to keep warm.
There are questions for God
she can ask in individual breaths,
knowing that letters are more
than random formations of patterns
more like a crash than a light bulb.
She can fist fight for answers,
it will only take one round
to find that God is just as human.
The final pit of realization:
she climbs into a well with no bottom,
into the dark because
even though her questions are still unanswered,
she is blind and doesn't care.
there was existence
You are the same
as they are.
You are working towards
a similar goal.
All the pages they wrote
in books of history
will be as solid and present
in the next thirty years
as you are now
and this is the reason why
I am not afraid to die
musing in varied lines,
curved upstream and swimming
like open flames, bursting,
in water thick enough to walk on
but they can't.
So now they've gone and stopped.
Their arms still stretching out
over nothing, reaching
but what for?
There's nothing across the water
but more nothing.
So now they just sit,
an island of thoughts,
content in their living forever
and saying nothing.
And now I'm creating countries,
continents, worlds, galaxies.
All as vain as salvation,
as modest as God.
I can create eternity too,
in between the space of cells.
Where I am just creating more children,
all lame, pointless, and eternal.
a stone's throw away and time is gone,
but my children will still be alive,
breathing my air for me.
Walking down that long strip from when he knew what he was doing to everything is better now, Sam Palladino’s footsteps spread barely inches apart. He toddles through his front door, and lifelessly removes his already disheveled tie, blue and silk. His suitcase slams on the ground and his arms grow long, slouched uselessly like an idle primate. He reaches down slowly and picks up off of the floor a gold cylinder that looks like a bullet. Without surmising, he sets it down on a counter in his kitchen and heads to the refrigerator. Inside, he pulls out a loaf of white bread and a jar of jam. He sits down, sets the items on the table, and waits quietly for two minutes for anything to happen. When the quiet becomes unbearable, he opens the jar and begins spreading the jam on a slice of bread. Then, the phone rings.
“Hey Sam. At Bill’s. Some girls are asking about you. Heal-toe!” says a voice and hangs up.
Sam lifts himself back up and puts the bread and jam back in the refrigerator, including the bread in use, still marked with jam, unadorned. He brushes the crumbs off of the table with the bare palm of his hand, grabs a sports coat, and heads out the door, now strutting. His car sits in front of his house, dented, with a blue scrape at the rear. He thrusts the keys in the ignition emphatically and heads out, like anywhere else could make this day – this moment – seem remotely favorable.
Buzzing Bill’s Bar and Grill is located barely within the city limits of Chicago. Sam steps out of his car in the parking lot and can already smell the thick aroma of burnt tobacco and alcohol stemming from the main doors of the building. The building itself is a hopeless black box inhabited mostly by white-collar yuppies looking to drink their sorrow and shame away through a glass cup. They drink to forget, but really all that happens is they get too drunk to move, until their lives become worthless, dormant, fictional. Then they stumble home, so they can wake up the following morning with past and current problems nevertheless present, still lacking the ability to move, their heads drained like being sucked through a vacuum.
Sam is very much looking forward to partaking in this ritual, wants it more than salvation. Heading through the door, he eyes a massive suit sitting at the tail end of the bar, his ass taking up two stools that look desperately worn from trying to support the infinite weight atop, and right away he knows it’s Big Bob.
Bob works for a newly-established energy drink company, Rank Incorporated, where he is the division sales manager, spending most of his days monitoring sales and coaching others in how to make sales. Outside of work, Bob is known as a lighthearted cynic and amateur philosopher. The reason why people call him “Big Bob”: his philosophy is, the more girth you obtain, the more space you fill, the more effectively you substantiate your existence. Small people are ignored, absent, unreal, not worthy of acknowledgment. The life you live is meaningless if people can’t see you, to know that you are there, that you must be there. Big Bob’s childhood, it was rough.
Next to Bob, Sam sees Frank; “Blue Eyes”, they call him. The reason for this is because, when Frank gets drunk, he speaks only in Sinatra lyrics. And Frank consumes so much alcohol a day that he’s rarely sober. The thing is, he still has the ability to speak his emotions clearly, just not in his own words. Bob hates drinking alone with him, because he says it’s like philosophizing with a broken record. Sinatra was not known for his deep insight into human existential philosophy.
To the left of Bob, her shoulders arched high, away from the massive girth behind her, is someone Sam hadn’t met before. She’s wearing a tight denim skirt, looking passively inert, her eyes fixated on the screwdriver in her hand. She wears down the edges of the glass she’s holding by fidgeting constantly, from discomfort or dejection. Her brown hair, cut shoulder length, is resting atop her neck as she buries herself on the bar countertop, with that same hopelessness Sam felt as he returned home that night.
“So where are these girls you promised?” Sam says as he pulls up behind Bob and Frank.
“Oh, they left,” Bob says, pulling up a bar stool. “But you can sit with us.”
Sam parks it and orders a gin and tonic from the bartender. “Splash of tonic,” He says. Bob turns to face Sam, notices the crumpled up headline that is his forehead, and asks if everything is alright.
After downing about half the glass of his cocktail, Sam shuts his eyes tight, exhales, and replies, “Long day.”
“What’s up, man?” Bob asks, with the pseudo-concern of a psychiatrist who had just consumed ten straight shots of Popov. Unfortunately, it was not Sam’s intent to come to the bar and converse. His only goal, as is the goal of many, is to forget.
Taking another drink, he replies, “I got fired today. Missed two interviews, so they fired me.”
The drink emptied, he shouts, “Those sons of bitches!”
“Hey man,” Frank slurs, his entire exterior wobbly, his hand planted on Sam’s shoulder to keep from falling over. “Funny as it seems, man. That’s life.”
And Sam orders another drink.
“Some people get their kicks steppin’ on dreams.”
As Sam’s cocktail is getting re-filled, he calms down a bit and recalls the girl he saw, now positioned directly behind Bob, still facing the opposing direction. She must have gone through three or four drinks since Sam had sat down, and Sam was certain she was nowhere near her limit. She just sat and drank, like nothing more in the world gave her pleasure, like the entirety of human existence was too trivial to be perpetually conscious of it. She was silent and, to Sam, that made her beautiful.
“But I don’t let it get me down,” Frank finishes as he swigs a bottle of beer.
“Thanks, Blue Eyes,” Sam speaks, feigning honesty as he begins to stand. “I think I’m going to use the bathroom.”
“Hey man, you’ll be okay,” Bob calls out as Sam walks away. “You’ve got us. You’ll be fine.”
The bathroom is as clean as the bar. Sam walks into one of the stalls, but he doesn’t sit down. He rips off several pieces of toilet paper and begins brushing the lid, the sides of the toilet. After awhile, the paper looks foul, like a towel soaked in a sewage line. Sam opens his fly and leaks a pint of urine into the shit-brown toilet water, and he’s thinking about the girl. “With the way she was knocking back that vodka,” he thinks, “there’s not going to be enough alcohol for me to get even a little buzzed.” He’s not sure why, but, for whatever reason, this alcoholic goddess, this drunken princess, is one of the most attractive women he has ever seen.
Out of the bathroom, Sam sees Bob ordering another beer, and he’s stupid drunk already. Frank has left his side to entertain some girls sitting at Table 5, and he’s singing a cappella karaoke to them. Sam can’t hear it through the fog of voices and drunken laughter, but he knows what song it is. With Bob resting his massive head on the shit-stained counter of the bar, Sam knows his big chance to talk to her is here. He tries to approach subtly, but he can’t because he realizes that he is drunk.
“Hi,” He slurs insensibly as he stumbles onto the stool next to her. “My friends are all drunk and stupid, so I’m looking to make new ones.” He tries to straighten himself in the chair, but he stops when he realizes that the chair is leaning, and he’s beginning to fall over.
“Well if I had to guess, I would say that you are pretty drunk and stupid as well,” She responds, the intent being spite. Sam just finds her more attractive.
“What’s your name?” He asks.
She orders another drink without answering him. The screwdriver in her hand is still half-full. The bartender tells her to finish the drink she has, and she slips a twenty dollar bill into his tip jar, very deliberately.
“Make it strong,” she says.
“Do you know, Bob?” Sam asks, inquisitively.
“Unfortunately,” She responds, slowly working on her glass, sipping with her lips pursed to keep the glass wet longer.
“For someone with more alcohol in her system than blood,” Sam thinks, “she stills acts very clear-headed.”
And then out loud: “How do you know him?”
“We live together.”
“Since about an hour ago.”
Bob hadn’t mentioned any of this to Sam yet. “Are you already moved in?”
“Yes,” and she downs the rest of her drink.
“Bob hasn’t mentioned you before.”
“We just met today.”
Sam forgets that he is not drinking anything and orders another gin and tonic. The girl stops the bartender as he begins to turn and tells him to make another screwdriver. He very vehemently says no, and she says, “It’s not for me; it’s for him,” motioning to Sam.
And Sam says, “I’ll take a screwdriver then.”
Sam sits with the mystery girl for a couple more minutes of silence. When the bartender comes back with the drink, he thanks the bartender and then thanks the girl. She takes another drink and very abruptly states, “We don’t drink because of the people we hate,” she says, “we drink because of the people we love.” She tilts her head back until her skin is strapped tightly on her neck and gulps down the last half of her screwdriver. “My name is Kari, by the way.” Her first evidence of intoxication is when she stands up and involuntarily sits back down, stumbling gracelessly. Sam goes to help her up, but she pushes him back and says, “I’m fine.” Sam admires her courage. She slowly stammers back up, standing upright like a British guard, pausing to keep balance, to keep the world from spinning.
She begins to leave when she feels the ground shake from beneath her. The entire barroom floor vibrates for a short moment, and she turns around unsteadily to see what triggered it. She eyes Big Bob on the ground, like a huge blockade, centered between two fallen barstools, one of which has snapped at the leg. Kari recalls that her way home is also Bob’s way home now, and begrudgingly goes to help him up. She bends down to his shoulders and begins to lift, but Bob doesn’t budge. Kari backs away and says, “I’m not qualified for this.”
It takes four men to mount Bob into a stable position, footed on the ground. “Thanks, boys,” Bob says as he wobbles his way towards Kari. “I’ll see you all tomorrow.”
“Are you two going to be okay getting home?” Sam asks, as they head for the door.
“Yeah, don’t worry about it. Bob replies. Then, turning back around, he says, “Hey Sam, don’t worry about the job thing. I’ll recommend you for a position at Rank. They’re looking for a spokesperson or something. That’s up your alley. I think.”
“Thanks, Bob,” Sam says. “That’d be great.”
“Come on, Bob,” Kari says as she grabs him by the arm, attempting to drag him away with no luck. Bob finally submits and they head towards the door.