A Block Of Now

[where is home]

There is a single beat of silence
before words come,
whenever I’m asked,
“So, where are you from?”

For other people,
it’s a quick one-two.
And I try to be ready,
From the word “So”
because I know
what’s coming next.
But nothing comes
except this momentary pause.
Until the downbeat,
when I begin my rambling reply,
half a dozen towns
and two big cities
and everything in-between.
There’s no connecting the dots,
the whole thing is a splatter, and
I see from their expression:
I’ve once again confused
with conversation.
They’re playing tennis.
I’m at the net holding X-rays
that I found on the side of the road.

And I’m realizing:
my answer may lie
in the silence
before the words come.

We’ve lived so many places,
I don’t know which one is home.
Some count more than others;
Many I am happy to forget.

If home is where you spent the most time,
our home was in-between the one we left
and then one we were going toward:
the times when we were going
to find something better.
The endless search for the center circle.
Miles and miles.
Over and over.
That where I’m from.

[the second city]

We moved to a second city,
bigger than the first,
alongside millions of people
and more every day:
compressing proximity.

There’s no talk of leaving.
I’m trying to see it
like they do:
We threw ourselves into the green,
and landed in the gold.
Center circle.

But we threw blind.
And I feel like we landed
outside the wire.

I am still standing on concrete.
Even with my eyes closed, I know
I am surrounded on all sides
by steel and marble and glass.
I can feel myself encircled in
the constancy of movement,
all around me, in every direction.
Enveloped by sound:
the collective tongue
of anonymous voices,
the harsh screams
of mechanical noise.

I am trying to reconcile all of those things
as I open my eyes, and see
I am standing in a vast, inarticulate field
that stretches out as far a I can see,
in virtual silence.
This is not the silence of things being quiet;
rather, this is the silence of things
that do not produce sound.
Where I am standing marks the exact spot
where a contradiction becomes a lie.
In this digital countryside.

I am wondering whether
I lack something necessary
to ever consider this “home.”
Something I’ve lost.
or something I do have,
that prevents it.
Something I’ve carried over
from someplace before.
Although the distinction
may be irrelevant,
because the effect is the same.
I have difficulty with distance.
Everything is immediately in front of me
and impossibly far away, simultaneously.

I go in the direction
of the first place we lived.
The first place we left.

[the first move]

And suddenly it’s quiet.
I’m standing in the driveway,
I’m watching as my parents
lock up the house
and walk toward the car.
We’re leaving the town
and the rest fo our family.

At some point we just
got good at moving:
packing our entire lives
into a wooden box
that my father made.
It’s how I’d find out
we were going to move, again:
I’d come home from school
and see the wooden box,
on top of our station wagon.
There’d be strangers in the yard,
buying whatever was too big
to bring with us.

Then many miles later,
we’d arrive somewhere else,
and the box would come down,
Revealing a regular car
like everyone else’s.
For as long as we lived
wherever we were,
we drove this version.
then, one day, the big wooden box
would go back up,
and we would leave.

Somewhere along the way,
it didn’t come down again.
We arrived and unpacked
with the box on the roof.
My father just handed things down
and we took them inside.
The next day he painted the box
the same color as the car.

Around the same time,
on a very long drive,
my sister leaned back
and told me the reason
my father made the box:
It was me.
They needed to make room
in the way-back seat,
so I could sit facing
the opposite direction,
instead of up front.
“Because you cried the whole way,”
she said.

A simple solution,
putting distance between themselves
and the problem.
Putting it behind them.
Pointing it the other way.
Their words bounced back to me,
from the front windshield,
through the length of the car:
“We’re going to find something better,”
they’d say.
While I watched everything
we had come to know
getting smaller
and disappearing
behind us.

I grew up knowing
one thing for sure:
everyone I’d ever meet
would betray me, by leaving.
Which wasn’t all bad:
I never had to work through
complicated bullshit
with anyone.
Because sooner or later,
I’d wake up one day,
and they were gone.
And that was okay.
We’d find something better.

all of it was complicated, because
all of that was bullshit, I realized.
It was me.
I am the one who left.
I remember all of their faces,
and being at their houses,
and sleepovers. Breakfast.
Football. Drawing superheroes.
Giving each other nicknames.
And swimming.

And then one day they woke up.
And I was gone.

I cannot go back
to all of those places
and I can’t pick any one of them.
I need to go farther
back, before we moved.

[the cottage]

I go directly to the cottage
my grandparents owned
in the middle of nowhere.
Finally, I arrive,
relieved to discover,
nothing much has changed.

I go inside
and close the door behind me,
feeling the rush of memories
attached to the familiar smell
of the wood-burning stove,
that warmed the main room,
where I slept with my sister
and sometimes, our cousins.
something is different
about the smell of a fire
when you need it.

The doily’s the same
on the pane of glass
in the door between where we slept,
and where the grown-ups played cards
and drank whiskey,
late in the evening.

That door remained closed
unless me or any other kids
made too much noise.
Only bad things happened
after the doorknob turned,
so we tried to be quiet.
The rules they made
were all we knew
of right and wrong.

We remained quiet enough
to hear clinking of ice cubes
dropping into empty glasses,
every so often.
I remember thinking
the ice cubes clinking
meant they didn’t know
(we were still awake.)
Standing here now,
I think it was more that
they didn’t want to know,
and less about
how quiet we were.

Suddenly I am afraid.
Something feels wrong.
Slight at first.
Growing stronger.
A funnel of dread
into the middle of me.
And I recognize it.
I should have refused it
before it got any bigger,
beause now it’s undeniable.
I stare at the edges of the doorknob.
What happens next has everything to do
with how quiet I am.
Nothing else matters.
They will want to know.
I’m too far from the door
to press the button
that locks the handle.
So I mark its position,
hoping that it does not move.

It was me.
I knew I should not come here.
This doesn’t belong to us, now.
My family sold this cottage, to
someone else, who owns it, now,
I should not be here.

One final moment
drawing in the familiar smell
of this necessary fire.
I know it’s like stealing.
I know I am trespassing.
So I go.

[thunder and lighting]

I go farther.
To the place where I lived
with my grandmother,
before my parents came back.
I am standing in the entryway,
at the storm door, looking out.
This was where I controlled
lightning and thunder,
by raising my hand in the air,
permitting the sky to light up,
then making a fist (boom)
that shook the floorboards
under our feet.
My grandma saw it happen.
She knew it was true.
But she’d have believed me
without having seen it.
No matter what anyone said.
She no longer played by their rules.
As if they were without sin.
The world is full of cats
that only bother cleaning
the easy-to-reach parts.

Grandma always paid her bills on time,
and balanced her checkbook,
to the penny.
She sifted her flour.
She followed the directions
to the letter.
She didn’t guess, or take shortcuts.
Until after the day she made a cake
for her daughter’s birthday
in the kitchen at the school
where she worked as a lunchlady.
She went in on a Saturday
with all her own ingredients,
and pots, and pans.
She mixed it all together
and she made the greatest cake
any of us ever ate.
She cleaned everything afterward,
put everything back.
Technically the only thing
she used without replacing
was the gas, that heated the stove.
But either way.
The school found out.
And they crucified her.

It was even in the newspaper,
how they fired a staff person
describing what happened;
it would’ve been better
if they had just used her name.
Because everyone looked at her,
at church that Sunday
as though the preacher
had put it in the sermon.

She asked me questions
she didn’t need answered
about me and rules
And she broke from it all.
She did and said
whatever she wanted to.
And I remember feeling
afraid and excited
as a single emotion:
thunder and lightning.
Her first raised in the air.

That’s how I remember her.
This is the last place I saw her.
Disconnected and alone.
There is nothing for either of us here.
I hope she found something better,
somewhere else.
I have no way of finding her.
I know she would not understand
the city where we live now, and
I have to admit:
I do not want to go back there.
But I can’t stay here.
And I can’t go farther back.

As I make my way to the second city
I want to find the first one, again.
On the way.

[the first city]

Life was what happened in-between
the structures surrounding us.
The sidewalks and streets were the
grooves on a vinyl record.
Under a stylus.
It was me.
My feet were the needle, reading terrain
in realtime, as I moved forward.
Vibrations flowed through me.
I projected sound
as color and shape.
a block of now,
in all directions,
as far as I could see,
terrestrial texture,
we were everywhere all at once,
and together.
I was connected to everyone,
and we saw each other
for what we were.

[the second city]

I remember the way this place looked
from a distance.
It seemed possible to share what’s
beautiful about us
without the delay and distortion
of distance.
It seemed possible to become so
But I can’t help but feeling like
we’ve never been
further apart.

Everyone is broadcasting
imaginations of themselves,
diligently crafted,
curating perceptions,
transmitting POV renderings
of ourselves, to ourself,
No one is receiving.

We’ve left behind
the names we were given.
We have chosen their own.
We’ve replaced the
structures of the city
with constructs of ourselves.
The doors are only painted on;
but nobody’s trying to get in.
Life here is what happens in-between
projected personalities.
Everybody’s reaching for the stars.
We no longer have to wait for them.
Nothing’s far away.

[life like a movie]

We are walking through our life
like it’s a movie
starring everyone who’s ever lived,
and ever will.
We’re all just rehearsing our lines
trying to find whatever is
our motivation
so we know to feel.
we’re on location, in temporary trailers,
while gruff men and women
fiddle with lights, and argue about angles.
We’re all just waiting for someone
to say “action.”

Everyone shows up knowing their lines,
because everyone’s written their own script,

We used to write in journals and diaries.
We sometimes even locked them, and hid them.
but now we write the story of our lives
on the world around us, like virtual graffiti.

I want to go back to diaries.
I want to find all the pages
everyone tore out of theirs.
That’s all that I want to read.
And the only pages worth writing.
The ones so true that you tear them out.
I’m not interested in this
journal of advertisements
everyone’s created here.
I’m not interested in the dreams
anyone wants to tell.
I’m not interested in this
ensemble line-reading
that only ends
when the second-to-last person
walks away.