at christmas eve we eat caviar on cucumbers and oysters on ice, meatballs on gravy and salmon on cream. at christmas eve our faces are cast red and purple.
(frans floris, the fall of man, the best thing that ever happened)
my mother’s in spain, my father’s in france, sam is in siberia.
These posters narrated my childhood: the Mini Milks for walks with abuelita, the Frigo Pie when I was ready to risk pink melt trickling down my arm, the Calippos when I felt like sucking cardboard, the cones with hazelnuts to feel grown-up and the Super Choc when I was old enough to bite down on ice-burned chocolate without it hurting my teeth. I never touched the Fresh Limón flavor of the cones (not featured); that was my cousin’s choice, and not only did I avoid competing with her at all costs (she had a powerful smack) but I felt apprehensive about the mix of sour lemon with sweet Vanilla. Wouldn’t there be some curdling involved? Wasn’t that cheese?
In Galicia we eat cheese the shape of breasts.
trump won and our whole building smells like home fries, potato patties, tater tots; our neighbors fry away their fears and keep on blasting ariana grande like big whoop.
i think we’re about to plunge into a henry darger dystopia.
i’ve been noticing that the leaves in prospect park look more dry and less colorful than usual, maybe they’ve all been pressed in a giant toaster, or maybe it’s just that time in november where we still haven’t had a snowfall.
(the red cap by frederick sandys, 1900)
sam is going to siberia in january and the low today there was -24 farhenheit. i’m sure he’ll eat a lot of flakey fish and breakfast vodka. i’ll be in the city, looking up at lit snowflakes hanging from the avenues and rushing into delis for warmth and fruit and nut bars.
i’ve been spending more time with kids and it makes me feel really good. i read a star wars book to a boy in a bunk bed, cradled by two dozen stuffed animals; watched kung fu panda 3, boys licking popcorn butter off their fingers, eyes stunned and glazed, focused on the fight scene; glued glitter onto paper, painted a night sky.
my friends know i have a fixation with snoop, his falcon nose, his voice, his house we’d drive by in my hometown, guarded by two colossal stone pitbulls and buffered by a line of palm trees in the front and a romanesque swimming pool in the back. it was the part of town where mcmansions reined, but every other block or so there were real mansions, real, gaudy, dracula- or parthenon- or ranchero villa- or california gluttony- themed houses lining the street. i had a friend who lived in one of those when i was in elementary school. her mother was a “stay at home mommy” with a tiny, sharp nose, and her father was in the business of “nuts and bolts”. they had a room referred to as the maid’s pantry where all the gourmet snacks were stored and another one they called the artist’s cave which had more craft supplies than michael’s, my favorite store then. in high school it was just the neighborhood we went to once or twice a year: on halloween, for the extravagant drunk bonanza parties, girls teetering into bushes and masked boys handstanding on kegs, and on beautiful red-eyed days, to pay homage to snoop by driving by his house and shouting stupid lyrics.
sometimes everyone else looks like a statue and sometimes i feel like one, inert and gazing
This is the Tower of Toghrul, in Rey, Northern Iran, circa 1860s.
Since summer ended, my arms have grown weaker, I’ve eaten more pasta, and I lost my grandmother. I didn’t lose her, she left, saying “dying isn’t fun at all.” In her lucid moments she said she had to go back to dreaming her “very busy dreams.”
I took this the summer after I met Sam, in a bistro bathroom. He flew to California to meet me and my dad. On the last night of the visit we drank whiskey on the porch while picking tangerines. Sam’s good with dads.
I took this on my first visit to Oaxaca. I love this city and specifically its barbershops. Nobody is ever cutting hair.
I took this in Chengdu, a week after my dad married his third wife. I wore a cardboardy Carhartt jacket every day, often indoors, too. I’m used to the american tradition of heating and AC on demand. My toes were numb in Chengdu.
I took this during my first month in Buenos Aires, before I was familiar with the bus routes and facturas. Facturas are bakery pastries: phyllo dough, dulce de leche, powdered sugar, medialunas-half-moons-crescents-croissants, glazes, buns, custards, crusts, crackles. I ate one hundred before I left.
california was great. the best parts: backyard figs, backyard eggplant, backyard molding apricots. chlorine dips, sea breezes, dusty cracking mountaintops with shaggy wigs of sage. fry-an-egg hot sidewalks, my parents in the shade, grandma whispering her love.
birthday was great. the best parts: a nudist beach on the jersey shore, micropenises galore. cold hummus, seedy crackers, cold mango, sharp carrots. icey heinekens on a boat, salt in my hair, on my lips, on my head, views of our big, dirty, beautiful city.
i’ve been writing about gardens and lights and the things i remember about being a kid. do you have a lamp in your life you particularly remember? i remember warm light flickering from an old lamp my mother had brought from spain. it was the sort of object that was so heavy and smooth and ornate it could only be expensive, i reasoned. the base consisted of a bronze tree with a bronze woman, naked, round, with an arm extended upwards, leaning against the trunk. her nipples were like little marbles. her hair made me think gold could be brushed. above her, hanging from the tree limbs that held the bulb was the snake of eden.
i thought of her story this way: eva wanted what she wanted and she went for it, that’s why we’re all here today. eva’s fingers were terrifyingly close to the snake’s fangs.
but spain was my savior with potato chips on every table and savory sweet beers and bitter cortaditos at every plaza and viejitas saying buenas tardes and viejitos saying anda, que guapa! i did feel good there, sea in the sky and gulls on the ground, bread crumbs and sunflower seeds clotting the cobblestones. freckles abounding. during the sardine festival the fishermen made a huge fire at the beach, the size of a cottage. chairs, the tails of fish, the wooden pegs of pirates, it all went aflame. in the plaza, a dominican samba band played tunes for the people to dance to and a merry-go-round with mickey mouse look-alikes moved slowly, as slowly as a crooked wheel or a frail pigeon.
in spain you see colorful boats reflected while you feel the saline crust form on your forehead after a swim.
not so different than new york, in a way. and that’s why i’ve made my peace.
this is a poem by a poet who i had tea with. his name is jamie mckendrick. he ate all the tiny sandwiches with cream cheese and ham and cucumber and chives inside and i ate the scone in the shape of a big fatty breast, withered and joyful, bosomy, boxomy, with cream and jelly on top. “why aren’t you eating the semifreddo cheesecake?” he asked.
At my father’s I slept in Chinese silk pajamas and at my mother’s I alternated between two of her old baggy shirts. One was a loose brown shirt, nearly knee-length, with a doodle of a happy woman on it and the words above her reading “Man cannot live on chocolate alone,” and below, “but woman can.” The chocolate shirt was easily my favorite because it justified eating chocolate. Not that I needed much of an excuse; my mother encouraged splitting half a bar of dark chocolate with almonds after dinner and on more than one occasion she would look away as I made myself a chocolate milkshake with breakfast. “It has milk and calcium in it,” I’d say, scooping more ice cream into the blender. The second shirt had an illustration of a duck wearing green tweed and smoking a cigarette with the phrase “A woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle,” spelled in smoke. The shirt itself and the image of the smoking duck is what returns to me like a sober guardian angel when I am restless or unable to sleep. Get your bloody act together, the duck says to me in a highfalutin British accent, blowing a cloud of smoke in my face as I stuff a third bonbon in my mouth. You don’t need chocolate or a man. So what do I need? Then the duck, in my under or overslept mind, transforms into my mother, smoking her fifteenth cigarette of the day, placing before me a breaded piece of poultry, asking “Do you want me to cut into little pieces?” And as she does I try to spell my name in ketchup on the side of my plate but at the end it just looks like a stick figure of a fat man, blubby, bloody, both happy and alone.
(leon de smet) (edward burra)
When I was a child.
In the pool I thought of a story I heard about babies born in water, about babies swimming right after birth, about mothers with inflatable pools in their living rooms pushing and heaving and out comes a child. And that’s how life happened.
In the pool I slithered and slimed and kissed and felt all the verbs that are wet.
In the pool I thought of what old people looked like when they were young, when there weren’t veins protruding on legs and arms and tummies and feet.
In the sea I saw testicles for the first time. An old man’s: like plums wrapped in old ham. A young boy’s: puckered plums.
In the sea I made meatballs out of mud, I made chicken cutlets and breaded them with sand.
In the sea I stuffed my fingers in anemones.
In the sea I thought I could talk to dolphins and when I’d spot one in the distance I knew she was coming for me. I could never swim that far out.
In the sea I sang to myself. I never scraped my palms on rocks.
In the river, ankle deep, I thought I saw ice-cubes floating.
In the river I’d try to catch fish, and talk to them, too. Come, salmon, salmon, come, salmon, salmon. Why, salmon salmon, would you want me to catch you only to then salmon salmon you up in the air, wave you around in the oxygen, toss you up as high as I could only to watch you fall smack down, belly flop, back into your river home? So that you could see the trees and hear the woodpecker and see what a human’s brown eyes look like.
In the river I peed behind a big smooth rock.
In the lake I knew there were sea monsters.
In the lake my foot tangled with seaweed and I yelped for help, for mercy, for angels.
In the lake I realized there were a few things I was wrong about, but there were a couple things I knew that made me wise.
That’s when the rain came.
Today I looked out on the hilly cemetery surrounded by gold-tipped gate. Before it a man paused with his black terrier, the kind you see on charm bracelets. He lifted it, held it from under its front legs, and pressed the dog into a gap –just like you’d do with a tot to point out something flying or scurrying beyond the gate. The way he held it made it look like the dog had armpits. It didn’t bark or sniff, it just hung there, complacent, looking with the man. I tried to see what they saw but the only thing that stood out to me among the graves and crosses and patches of dead grass was an Easter basket full of plastic eggs. Then I realized that the black terrier was peeing, and that his owner merely wanted to watch the stream arc beyond the gate.
Today I watched a baseball field and young people with Frisbees. There was a little boy named Skylar chasing a ball, and a little girl named Summer chasing him. This time of year, the puffs blossoming on trees turn mustard yellow at sunset, right as the birds make their horniest racket. I dug my toe into dirt and I party-planned. I spend many minutes each day party-planning my evenings. I plan how I’ll roast sprouts and I plan how I’ll buy beer and I plan when to water my basil plant and whether to use my green sock for dusting or my blue one. They both have polka dots. I plan whether or not I’ll ever use the can of pumpkin puree in the pantry. We bought it in October and now it’s too late for pie. I plan what to do with the yellow guitar picks that Sam scatters in the house like he had a handful and began spinning and let them go and there they landed and there they stay, by the tissue box, snug in the couch, on the rug, by the candle, beside the toilet, where we keep old magazines. I planned to arrange them like leafs so they would look like the glowing tree the color of warmth and field dust. When I got home, though, it was already dark and the leaf clusters had turned navy, like berries.