Considering the message board as installation piece––or as altar to a mysterious deity.
From time to time, when I am looking for material, I look for anonymous inspiration on various message boards. It feels like being at a museum installation where a thousand notes are penned on backs of cardboard boxes and gas station receipts: some in pen, some in green marker, others in something that could be ketchup. I like to imagine that I am a time traveler from the Bronze Age, puzzling over this strange shrine, with these messages from the mysterious god, Anon.
Today, it seems that Anon is concerned about the people who do not follow through when they inquire about the availability of motorcycles, and is also very disappointed with this heat pump. They want certain things known, these are enthusiastic points, and want it known that they are praying.
They would like whoever was driving the busted black four-door to stay off the freeway, especially in early morning hours, and wants you to be forewarned that if you have your baby at St. Mary’s, you may be waiting awhile to take it home.
Anon is happy to help, but not if it enables those who take advantage, like a co-worker who never– Not once!– offers gas money. Anon would like an explanation, if not for themselves then for the children, as to some recent decisions. Plus, they would very much like the woman who wore a red dress into Hobby Lobby to know that an encounter by the check stand was much appreciated.
Also, it is written: they are still looking for a few things: an old flame, old classmates, Mr. Thursday, surf girl, the guy in the sidecar in Hillcrest, some help, a missing Siamese, a new home for this bearded dragon, and a phone call from whomever is awake, also looking.
If survival depended on passing, I could hold my tongue and hold on.
I didn’t hear the phrase The world is not my home until Tom Waits sang it to me, and I was well into my twenties by then. The track was “Come on Up to the House” on Mule Variations and I repeated it endlessly. It felt like having my deepest fears and most urgent longings sung back to me in a dream. Since the age of consciousness, I had approached the prospect of living here like I imagined an alien would do. The word had seared like a branding iron the first time I felt it, but later, I could not say with confidence that it was misapplied.
If survival depended on passing, I could hold my tongue and hold on. So, this is what I did. Most days I was preoccupied with fantasies of release.
Is it time? How about now?
Meanwhile, I followed directions, set alarms, ran miles, earned credits, aimed at pleasing men, but there must have been some innate alien nature shining through. Too bad, I thought then, when I was still hoping to accumulate enough proof of being of this world that I would be absolved, somehow, of the obligation to hang on. I kept at it constantly because it seemed like a very short slide from stagnation to oblivion.
I dreamed of blinding interruptions, of being stopped by someone who knew how to look, who would stop me and say, There. You are already there. And so I would be, Here.
What hurts the most, the ones you can list or the thousands you can’t name?
Mondays are hard, with all these losses piled up against all these lingering expectations, and the sleep still in the eyes. Something is missing. Check the listings.
Why does it matter to name it? Will that bring it back? All you can do with a name is add it to a list.
That is something. Look here. Someone has arrived at their location in Lakeside with their boat still attached to the trailer, only to discover that somewhere along the way, the sail has flown out.
Meanwhile, just across town, a shepherd has fled the yard on the same day that Dozer, a best friend without a collar or a chip was taken from the motel parking lot. This near midnight, Friday night.
There are at least three new orange tabbies out there today. Plus, two huskies and a fifteen-year-old pug.
No, that’s not it. Something else. Look somewhere else.
Shall I tell you about the massacre of children, the holy war, the thousands dead or homeless? Or would you like to hear about what’s happening with the weather? The fires have––
Stop, no. I can’t.
On this day in 1960, a man dropped from a balloon over New Mexico, and during his fall achieved the highest speed by a human without an aircraft.
What sort of challenge is this? Who falls fastest? People will make anything into a contest.
What hurts the most, the ones you can list or the thousands you can’t name?
Let’s take a break from this line of thought. Tell me about a birth.
On this day in 1920, Charles Bukowski was born. Check this out. He wrote, “We are here to laugh at the odds and live our lives so well that death will tremble to take us.”
The hope is exquisite here. As if to indicate that the act of cherishing was an antidote to loss.
It is, in a way. Because at least you are holding it well. At least there is something there, until the moment when the floor gives out, or the hurricane strikes, or the top blows off the mountain that gave us shade in the late afternoon, raining ash on our city of light.
Here’s something else. I think you may like this one, another thing Bukowski said.
All the impossible losses, accumulating over all our cities of light, all these missing best friends and the sails gone to our boats, what is a body to do?
No, listen. I think you will like this.
He said this, too. “Sometimes you climb out of bed in the morning, and you think, I’m not going to make it, but you laugh inside, remembering all the times you felt that way.”
I’m seeing these lost parts everywhere. In the mirror and on everyone I pass.
*I’m working with new constraints this week, aiming to limit these posts to being conceived and done in an hour or less, with means writing no more than 15-30 minutes, to allow time for finding ideas, posting, images, etc. One of my go-to places to look for ideas is the lost and found section on Craigslist. I’ve done this before in an earlier post. Today’s exercise was infused with some thoughts I’ve been having lately, about what happens to unshed grief.
I have forgotten the names of the titles to these books I once read, and do you know this feeling? In one, a botanist befriends a chosen savior, rides a horse out of town, and finds a special door, which makes a sound like a gong. In the other, there’s a woman in a hospital bed who suddenly develops special powers.
I used to have some of these, too, where I could will a thing to happen with my mind. I’d think, ice cream, ice cream, ice cream––all day, sometimes two, three, four days in a row––and then, out of nowhere, I’d hear it, the sound of the Good Humor truck! It was magic. I coveted the Chipwich, but the firecracker popsicle would do.
The dog is gone again, also the cat. But now I have this chameleon. I hope someone will claim it, as it will not eat standard pet food. I am tired of buying crickets, but I am not sure if it is any good at hunting and don’t want it starving on my watch. I don’t know where it is now, BTW.
I found a wedding ring, a kayak paddle, a Dora the Explorer backpack full of syringes, and a small sandal, sized for a toddler’s foot––all on the bike path near the railroad tracks. There was an open suitcase near the offramp by Broadway and Main, clothes scattered everywhere, my eye was drawn to the colors: blouses in fuchsia, teal, pomegranate, and the display of women’s underthings.
I lost the number I meant to call. Remember we met on the beach? And the name of that movie I told you about? It was my favorite that year, but after I returned it, I never saw it anywhere else.
I’m seeing these lost parts everywhere. In the mirror and on everyone I pass. They’re hanging off of us all the time. Sometimes we look like ragged snakes, trying to shed old skins, other times like ragged soldiers in torn battledress, other times just like children who have just left their favorite toys in the park. You can tell, sometimes, when someone’s about to drop their courage. The sight of joi de vivre melting off a face is so particular. When someone stumbles upon their lost sense of humor, it’s infectious, leaking out of their pores.
Then there’s all those things you don’t keep and you don’t hold, that pile of griefs accumulated somehow, stuffed or tossed one by one, in the backs of closets, under the bed, dropped into the abyss of an oversized purse, in the catchall drawer with all the takeout menus and spare hardware––but eventually, you’re not losing and you’re not finding, exactly; they’re just there. And then there are these moments in the produce aisle of the grocery store where you’re suddenly floating over the citrus display, then landing near the parsley and cilantro, eyes suddenly wet, because it was only a moment, but you saw it, how people clutched their carts and baskets to themselves, or out in front, like shields, filling and emptying, an endless stream, searching eyes glazed under fluorescent lights.
I meant to list some more things I was finding, but my hands are tired, knuckles white.
Funny how you can lose the will to hold a thing, even when you thought you could––if you saved up, if you built muscles strong enough, if you never looked down. I’ll come back tomorrow, I’ll open this catchall drawer, I’ll look. While I’m at it, I’ll check these ads again, see if anyone’s missing a chameleon. Then I’ll see about finding the chameleon. But now, I need to find some silence, and a pillow.
Before I do, do you know that the osprey have built a nest in those lights across the field? Do you remember? That song we used to sing back and forth when life was the thing we would keep, between us, if only we held tight enough. I can’t remember the words now. Can you help?
You announced, Play a game, and you returned me––back to what I’d learned how to renounce.
BIG I held you in my arms and breathed against the silence. Then, when you were speaking, you announced, Play a game, and you returned me––back to what I’d learned how to renounce.
When you were speaking you announced, Tell me a riddle! and I held you high above me toward the stars. Here is how to croon what I am learning to announce, of wonder: here is Venus, now Orion; there a satellite, now Mars.
And everything we shared came out in singsong, and every note within it came out true. Teach me spaghetti by the moonlight, drink a spring song. Everything contained a season; it was you, in this loving cup, now brimming, lands the chorus of a soul; long bent on new receiving, long past dying in its hole. Would you wait and listen for the riddle I would tell, beyond the point of speaking past this silence of this well?
Where I have fallen will you find me, if I give you certain clues; will you listen if I play now, every verse of these late blues?
I’m finding now a riddle, and I’d sing it if I could; but I’m out of rhymes, so share here: once, man living, cut for wood.
What’s tall when young, short when old, and can die in a single breath?
This is the end of the time when we rhyme. But wait! Consider these words. Another puzzle goes like this. I kept it for you: Consider a fork in the road.
A stranger in a strange land arrives at an intersection: East or West? One will take you to your destination, the other to hopeless despair. At the fork, two men. Each knows the way, but one always lies. What to do?
LITTLE Remember how we used to play the guessing game?
Animal, vegetable, mineral: over time, like this: whenever the seahorse, during the age of the narwhal, from time to time, the tortoise––sooner or later, a ferret.
From time to time, a gem squash as long as an English cucumber. In the meantime, this heirloom tomato, and all of a sudden- Rutabaga!
At this instant, taste the snap-peas, until zucchini, okra, chives, until adamantine and agate, since granite, garnet, jacobsite.
Before, until now. Ever after, return. Again!
BIG Back to the crossroads question, and the two men. Remember this: ask either, “What direction would the other say?” Whatever you hear, do the opposite, and you will be on the right path.
Whatever you hear, take my hand, in this silence, where I’ve fallen, show me: Laugh!
The trick was to remember the state of dreaming. Then I had to flap really hard.
The dreams are gone again. Memory is full of holes. Mind the gap!
Do you know whose memory is the least contaminated? A baby’s?
Maybe, but not what I was thinking. ?
A patient with amnesia. ?
They can’t contaminate by remembering. It just comes. And goes.
Right, a free flow. Did you hear about the artist with face blindness?
To lose one face is enough. Imagine losing them all. She made interesting self-portraits. She did them in the dark, feeling her face, adding paint to canvas; feeling again. Art as an act of looking, free of the presumption of sight.
Do goldfish really have only eight seconds of it? Memory?
Yes, or is this just a myth told to children who would otherwise be very sad about the creature in the bowl, in the plastic bag from the fair, doomed to this constant back and forth? Borges called it a pile of broken mirrors.
The fishbowl? Memory.
He died on this day, in 1986. That was the year I forgot how to fly in my dreams.
How? The trick was to remember the state of dreaming. Then I had to flap really hard. My arms, because that’s all I had, no wings or feathers.
Yeah, but how did you forget? Whoever knows, but that year my dreams or something started taking me too hard and fast, I could not remember until it was too late.
Borges said there are no images at the end, only words. Remember 1986?
There were bombs everywhere in the news. I didn’t see them up close, but I worried. They were waiting under parked cars, in office buildings, churches, synagogues, planes.
It was my first Communion year. I remember waiting to be suffused in light. The Challenger exploded. I remember the plumes of flame and smoke on the screen. My second-grade teacher had wheeled the television into the classroom so we could see it live, the techno-miracle of space travel.
Chernobyl, too. After that, radioactive deposits were found in every country in the northern hemisphere.
There was a human chain that year, five million links long from New York to Long Beach. As a reminder, right?
Yes, of hunger. Homelessness. Easily forgotten by the housed and fed. They were flooding the streets.
This was Reagan’s America. It was popular to cite an epidemic of laziness, compounded by drugs, as the reason. Just say No, but the hands did something else.
Said yes? No, they answered another question. A better one. The question of the body before you.
Answer like an open hand. Right. Like, “Here.”
Do you remember Borges’ Book of Imaginary Beings? He observed that there are dragons in every part of the world.
Yeah, he said we don’t know what they mean, only that they are always there. What memories do they hold; what future projections?
I love his face, Borges. How it would light up when he smiled. He must have been something in person.
Like a baby. Or a person who has forgotten everything and sees only–– Light?
The play of light and shadow. An uninterrupted flow.
I love watching babies before their vision develops. Their faces, do you mean?
Yeah, how they light up and start laughing at something in the ceiling. And you watch them, and you wonder what are they seeing?
* A story about artist known as Carlotta appears in the BBC News, and the documentary about her journey, “Lost in Face” appeared in a BBC News article by Vibeke Venema, “Prosopagnosia: The Artist in Search of Her Face,” published August 16, 2020. BBC World Service.
What if we walked around like we do in these ads, wearing our missing on our chests, like billboards for our losses?
Once I lost my iPhone my wallet, my keys. This on multiple occasions, several each. Once I found a box turtle! It was in the middle of the street, by the water tower.
Then I lost my wedding ring, my bike, my surfboard. But listen! Hear this: single mom needs help, getting a car for cheap. Nothing fancy! Please let me know! Thank you.
Missing animal pet? Lost cats, Siamese and tabby, both fixed, please return, no questions asked, I beg you. I’d lost you anyway, listening to vintage sad songs, seventy to be exact.
Lost parakeet near Sea World, but he could be anywhere. He is friendly, but shy. Lost briefcase, too. What if we walked around like we do in these ads, wearing our missing on our chests, like billboards for our losses?
Lost childhood friends. I disappeared for a decade, lost all contacts. Do you remember the playground on Euclid with the green monkey bars, near the school? I kept your scent on me as long as I could make it last.
You would know when you met me, that I am also missing childhood friends and lost cats, at at least a dozen sets of keys, not to mention those years when who knows what we were thinking, live and learn, not to mention that season when someone left the cage door open overnight and self-respect got out, and I can’t remember why; not to mention, have you seen these memories? Not to mention, have you ever wondered if they really happened?
Not to mention the way that––– –––that thing that –––I meant to tell you –––was more real than anything I have ever witnessed –––and there I go, losing the words again.
I lost that one paper I was supposed to deal with. I thought I put it in the special pile with the other Very Important Documents, but it’s not there, and all that is in the pile are a bunch of receipts for things I don’t even own anymore. And where did the time go?
Don’t even start. Have you seen my mojo?
Girl, it’s right there, check it out. Now turn! [Turn, turn, sashay, turn]
I see you! That’s it, right there. There you are!
* This is why I love Craigslist, for the poetry of “Lost and Found” and “Missed Connections”