60s Thai Funk Radio
I wake up here and I want to die. My mom says don’t leave the AC on. My mom says eat breakfast before school. The TV says there’s a war going on. My mom says pull your pants up and stand up straight. Maybe I don’t want to die, just to disappear.
I’m failing Algebra but I have my own pair of headphones and I can wake up early without an alarm. My mom says I am lazy and she sits at the table smoking and reading her horoscope. The newspaper says Libra will get lucky this week, a large amount of money could be headed your way - just make sure to keep your eyes open. The TV says there’s a war going on, so I put my headphones on and turn the radio to 98.9 FM, 60s Thai Funk Radio.
The girl who sits in front of me in English class wears her hair up in a ponytail every day, so tight I can imagine that little piece of elastic pulling her hair out of her skull and her brains falling out all over the desk. My English teacher says wake up and please stand for the pledge of allegiance, but I don’t feel like standing up so maybe my mom is right about me being lazy. My mom says if you’re going to stand around stand up straight. My mom says look me in the eye when you talk to me.
I skate down the sidewalk after the sun goes down and I don’t think about dying. My mom hates the desert, says her skin has been dry since ’77 but she won’t move. Says she’s stuck. I’ve never been further than the county line so I learn to love it, I put my headphones on, turn on the radio. My mom says don’t go further than the old barn. My mom says don’t skate after sunset and I do it anyway. I skate down the sidewalk and I imagine the sand eating the sky.
I go to sleep here. My mom falls asleep in her recliner with the TV on. The TV says the earth is going to burn. I leave the AC on.
Four Pieces -
Phone Call With the Mystics
In the first corner, challenger number one: standing as tall as the ceiling and covered in a thin layer of earth, there is only a distant howl. In the next corner, challenger number two: sitting with his legs crossed and a cigarette dangling from his mouth, holding a worn paperback and smiling slyly as the smoke circles his head and envelops him whole. In another corner, challenger number three: sitting cross-legged on the floor, shirtless with eyes painted all over his torso and candles burning by his feet, smelling so strongly of incense and regret that I can barely breathe. In the final corner, challenger number four: body covered in snakes, unearthly glow surrounding his hair, which is the same transparent shade as his skin. I pull all my rings from my fingers and they clatter to the floor in a cascade of metal. I hang up the phone and turn my back to them, disappearing into the dark.
She left early on a Friday morning in late June, with her two year old daughter in the backseat of her 1998 Toyota Camry and a small suitcase in the trunk. CD’s were scattered across the front passenger seat of the car, and before they pulled out of the driveway she fumbled her hand through the piles of plastic cases trying to pick the best one for the beginning of an unplanned road trip. The sky was a light pink as they drove their way through town, passing the trailer park, the electric sign of the supermarket, and the park with the rusted swing set and broken water fountains. As they left the valley, the mountains seemed to part from the road, and the sky became wider, like a gaping, blue mouth. About an hour after they had begun driving, she pulled over onto a dusty dirt road in between two cornfields. She opened the backdoor and unbuckled her daughter from her car seat, holding her for a moment and then placing her on the ground but warning her to stay close by. Her daughter wandered over to the blackberry bushes that were growing around a fence between the fields and the road, and she crouched down to sit upon the dusty earth. Her daughter came back a few minutes later, purple smudged around her mouth, and opened her small hand to offer her mother something. She opened her hand in return, and in it her daughter placed three crushed and bleeding blackberries.
We Had Finally Found Each Other In the Universe
Imagine me, in your basement, spinning softly through the cocoon of your blankets, never staying still. Or in the closet you lived in a year later, where there was no room for your drumkit and you had to keep it in the living room where that one roommate would always leave his sweatshirts and coats on it. I could slip quietly in there, as well as quietly out, and you would stay fast asleep – your face molded into your pillow and the air from the fan blowing through your hair. I liked to put my face next to yours, not facing each other, but close enough that our cheeks were pressed together like pieces of warm bread and close enough that I could feel your heartbeat coming up through them. I imagined that someday we would stick like that, and slowly melt into one soft, imperceptible being, just emotions and flesh. These days I drive my car around town at night, I see the lights change to green, leaving a violent red ghost behind, and the world bends around me until I could swear that I’m going to be swallowed into a black hole. I was never good with empty spaces.
I had realized that there was a woman with antlers living in the forest behind my house, so I began to keep track of my sightings. When I saw her frail body slip between the trees, I made a mark in the notebook I kept specifically for this purpose. I tried leaving food for her on my back porch – simple things, like a handful of almonds or some left over lettuce – but it just sat there, untouched. My wife grew annoyed with my fascination, annoyed with the missing food and my missing of our son’s soccer games, but I couldn’t help myself. I would sit by the window at night with a candle lit, hoping that the woman would notice the distant light and be drawn in, drawn towards me. What I would have done if she had actually appeared at my door I don’t know, but night after night I continued to light that candle, continued to examine the marks that filled my notebook as if they held the answers to my questions.
The Shadow and the Glow
I lay on the raised bed, needles in my hands and feet. My mom had encouraged me to get acupuncture while I was home for Christmas. It was dark outside, so the room was dark too. In the past, I had fallen asleep during acupuncture appointments, but that night I didn’t feel tired. There was a fountain in the corner of the room that provided a steady and calming background noise, and a blue glow emanated from the stereo system on the desk. If I turned to my right, I faced a blank white wall bathed in blue light. I stared at it, mesmerized. After a while, I began making shadow puppets on the wall with my hands. These creatures conversed with each other against the backdrop of blue light, wolves and foxes traversing through a forest of hazy color. I felt surprisingly at peace in my small, softly lit world. For a moment in time I was a child again, amazed by the shapes my hands could make against the blue lit wall.
Curious about the history of handmade shadow puppets, I come across an article entitled “Kids These Days Have Probably Never Heard of Hand Shadow Puppets”. Whether they have heard of them or not, I wonder, is creating shapes with the shadows made by one’s hands against a wall not more or less a human instinct? When alone in a movie theater who hasn’t felt the desire to stand in front of the blinding light of the projector, seeing the outline of your existence on the big screen. Technically not a shadow puppet, but still a part of the uniquely human need to interact with our own shadow.
I am no expert at hand shadow puppets, I realize, while looking through google images. With the correct dexterity, one could make all types of animals: rabbits, butterflies, ducks, bears, a deer with giant antlers, even a human head. Nevertheless, I am satisfied with the shadows my body creates.
Musician Phil Elverum, who previously created music as The Microphones, has an eleven minute track entitled “The Glow” on his album It Was Hot, We Stayed in the Water, released in the year 2000. In 2001, he released what was to become his most known and beloved album entitled The Glow Pt. 2. When a fan enquired on the inspiration for the record, because it was, as they noted, “somewhat strange to write an album length sequel to a song”, Elverum replied simply “I had a lot more to say on the subject of ‘the glow’”.
- The fields, farms and forests of the rural pacific northwest know not just of the shadows, but also of the glow. My favorite type of light to be found in the woods at night is the light from a giant bonfire - growing up, we would have them every Christmas. I felt small next to the glow of the bonfire, it’s awesome size, the crackle, smoke, burn. I called the sparks that escaped from the top of the fire ‘forest fire fairies’, little messengers of destruction escaping into the starry night sky.
Maybe a part of me has always loved the glow of fire. In one of my earliest memories, my dad is holding a lighter in front of my face, the small flame dancing over the metal cap. I remember reaching out, mesmerized, and burning my finger on the flame.
In the present, there is a glow.
I am small, but steady
I can’t replicate the memories of my childhood
They will be nothing more than imitations, shapes made by shadows against a wall
The glow was here, if only for a moment.
I am far away from these places now, farther than I have ever been before. Shadows are different in a place where the sky is this wide - I almost don’t recognize the shape of my body as it appears on the dry ground in front of me. My shadow bends and twists like the mountains that fill the sky behind me. My lips are perpetually chapped, my fingers almost always cold. I have become intimately familiar with the red glow of the button that turns on the heat in my car. Holding my hands in front of the vents in a prayer for warmth.
I have never lived somewhere where it snows this frequently, I can see the individual flakes falling under the light of the streetlamp. Snow makes the whole world quiet. Snow makes the whole sky glow.