After a lifetime of wonder and worry, it is apparent that death is not the end, but neither is it a beginning.
I frequent the old haunts, collecting dust among the cobwebs in the high corners, swaying with them in the breezes while she carries on.
She has changed. Gray has crept into once dyed, and highlighted hair, while the style has grown out. Quick, light meals have whittled away what was already a naturally small frame. She spends more time on the porch, less on the phone, more in the garden, less on the computer, more with my dog Roscoe, and less with her friends. She pauses in hallways as she moves from room to room, enchanted by outdated photos in outdated frames. She lies awake deep into the night, then rises before the dawn. The things she once teased me about she has become. She is contemplative, skeptical, aloof.
She and Roscoe are now fast friends. She even lets him into the bed at night, an abhoration just a short while back. He lays with his chin on her foot through the quiet nights and days, needing to keep her close. He was a good dog for me, and he is a good dog for her.
She is only happy when the girls come, but they do not come often. They do not like the changes. The changes in her. The changes in Roscoe. The changes in the house. The interminable silence.
They tell her the house is too big, that she can’t keep it up alone. They are right, but she will stay. She and it will fall apart together. Memories do not travel well and there are too many to pack, so she will stay, she tells them, and keep those memories company.
”But it is so sad here,” they say, “with Daddy’s things all around.”
But the things do not make her sad. They are her things, too.
Me? I am indifferent. Indifferent about the house. Indifferent about the things.
I am only eyes that hover here... watching her, and waiting.
float in space,
dance in circles,
with a child inside.
in a slick glass ship,
eyes shut tight
in sky black night.
pink placenta rocket,
pulsate, give life;
purple veiny cord,
attach, hold fast.
outerspace, inner space,
a black hole below,
little galaxy in chaos.
pressure push pull
intense crash landing.
then, bright lights,
first breath of air,
lungs screaming, fear, then
big eyes like craters,
divine face glows,
nestling place you know.
to this new planet.
being one of the last of the Carter babies,
I wish I had
breathed the devisive
but somehow unsullied
before being trapped,
into the spinningblades of
what would be
the last century.
seven years removed from you, brother,
how could mother be so selfish?
what possessed you all to think everything would just
A whole generation of the broken
does not a republic make,
or a nation
or a home.
eternity by calvin klein
I hope a 1/2 empty bottle keeps.
Yes, the one you couldn’t find that morning.
(stored, loose, inside the shave kit)
favorite nike t-shirt
(the navy blue one
the one stamped with
footprints from the hospital)
I promise I’m only packing your belongings away to be sure that everything that holds so much of your essence is well-preserved for the days ahead as your “little man” grows up.
I wish you were here
to tell me
and what only
I wish we still had
“All Apologies,” unplugged
The first thing I ever knew about Kurt Cobain was that he was dead. I was just eight years old when “Smells Like Teen Spirit” hit the airwaves, and still in elementary school when he died. But when I entered seventh grade and travelled downtown to Butler Middle School, his face was everywhere. The most popular t-shirt showed Cobain’s blond locks drifting over his eyes. There was a quote on the back: “The sun is gone, but I have the light.” I figure most of my compatriots—including many of those wearing the trendy shirt—were like me and had no idea what Cobain was in life. In death, he was a countercultural visionary, and that was the Nirvana that I began listening to. I missed the party, but I witnessed the mythmaking.
Fittingly, then, the first Nirvana album I owned (and the first CD I bought with my own money) was the posthumously released Unplugged in New York. I listened to it differently than the other albums I acquired in those early years, with which I would skip to the three or four songs I really loved, over and over. But I almost always listened to Unplugged in New York the whole way through. Its specialness came as a whole, not packed into any one track…not even Plateau, with that moment of mic feedback that I await like a friend from out of town. Almost two decades later, it’s the atmosphere, the feel of that album that I search for on some evenings. Stripped down, the songs aren’t angry and disaffected youth anthems. They’re soulful. The rebellion remains audible, but Unplugged reveals what else lies beneath the grunge.
“All Apologies” begins around the 45 minute mark, the penultimate song on the disc and the final Cobain-written one. The simple bassline (actually performed on a guitar) carries the song forward with inevitability, and the acoustic guitar picks out a carefree tune. The song seems to drift. The first sung line floats right along with the music. It’s not until the title words that we hear the first strains of angst: “What else should I be? / All apologies.” That two-word expostulation contains no trace of contrition. I am who I am, Cobain declares, and he delivers the “apology” in a voice just a step or two shy of a sneer. In these lyrics that affirm the singer’s identity, we hear passive aggression, exactly the sort a teenager gives a parent whom he can’t openly defy. He feels put upon, targeted for transgressions that he couldn’t avoid. He sings later,
Find my nest of salt
Everything’s my fault
I’ll take all the blame
Aqua seafoam shame
Feeling accused of both specific misdeeds and general wrongness, he moodily retreats to his “nest.” He’ll take all the blame that others heap upon him, as well as the shame that accompanies it. Shame has never been assigned a symbolic color, as far as I know, but “aqua seafoam” sounds as good as any.
Frustrated teenagers feel the world has them every which way at every turn, subjecting them to “sunburn” and “freezerburn” alternately, and sometimes simultaneously. Parents and peers each have their turn at oppression. The faces are all mocking, the days all painfully bland, and the choices forced upon them. Shoved into line and told to march in step, the young find rebellions both large and small irresistible. The world wins every time—even someone who strikes back successfully will probably wind up “choking on the ashes of her enemy”—but that only makes resistance more virtuous. Defiance is victory.
Cobain once wrote in a journal, “I’m not gay, although I wish I were, just to piss off homophobes.” In a world he perceived as unjust and ugly, he saw provocation as a duty. Singing “All Apologies” on Unplugged, he told everyone watching MTV, “What else should I say? / Everyone is gay.” Mission accomplished.
Defiance animates “All Apologies.” While the music continues its pleasant drift into the future, Cobain’s rough, passionate voice protests. The vocals refuse to be carried along in the song’s current. “I wish I was like you,” he sings, “Easily amused.”
The deep chords of the chorus alter the flow of the song. Cobain’s voice arcs upward to sing, “In the sun, / In the sun I feel as one.” When the bass cuts out, the forward progress ceases completely. His voice calls, “Married.” These lines evoke feelings of warmth, brightness, unity. The guitar gently plays up and down while the word “Married” optimistically hangs above it. The song cannot stay frozen in this moment, of course. Neither can life. Cobain belts out the word “Buried,” and then the drums carry us back into the current.
With Nirvana, the lyrics are often beyond the point. Once upon a time I tried to look up some song’s meaning on the internet and came across a Dave Grohl interview instead. Don’t get too hung up on lyrics, he suggested: Kurt sometimes wrote them 15 minutes before taking the stage. This, too, fits our image of the Man Who Was Cobain, a brilliant slacker whose ideas spilled out of him, raw. But even knowing how hastily written they might have been, the lyrics have too much staying power to be dismissed. Fragmented and impressionistic though they are, the words say something.
The song gradually fades out with Cobain repeatedly intoning, “All in all is all we are.” The tone is contented and accepting, the unity of the chorus now drawn out at length. The music fades out before the vocals, so that Cobain’s and Grohl’s final “All in all is all we are” suspends over empty space. In the end, there’s some peace after all.
in another universe we’re in 1940s paris the city of love a few minutes to midnight holding a bouquet of dark red roses wrapped in black parchment paper and between the flowers a card with a sonnet the punchline was your name
on the bridge paved with smooth stones where we first met dangled a lock carved with our initials its keys sunken deep like the bronze coins that held wishes tightly and secretly in the river below us the waters so calm they feel like a distant dream
the sound of midnight trespassed into this realm and your shadow appeared beyond the streetlights even barely visible i could fall for your silhouette in more lifetimes than string lights in all of france
under the night sky you were glowing like the enchanted taste of romance in the air even more beautiful than your lover could’ve ever imagined and right there right then the time had stopped as in the distance the eiffel tower became a background to your smile
the sky was a clear blue fading into darker purples hovering over the city filled with mystical wonders and sparks flying but right now the only person that mattered was the one who made everything else colorless
soft black hair with the scent of roses gentle against the creamy light pink of your wool jacket brushing against my skin as our steps intertwined walking down the streets with light reflecting off of damp asphalt pavements
the fairytale-like architectures were engraved with elaborate patterns of mysterious joy in moonlit daydreams and the gracefulness of the milk-white latte arts from the coffee shops inside the buildings
breathlessly we stood next to each other and it felt like even if we had all the time in the world it wouldn’t be enough to exist in the city of love but for once we felt like we were enough in a paris midnight after a rain we were so in love
p.s. unpopular opinion: a relationship with the love of your life is far more erotic than sex
The translation of the Lucien Yentl letters.
16th of February, 1940.
My dearest Marguerite,
It’s cold, so terribly cold, my fingers wince like an old man’s. The paper is damp. The draft from my little window – do you remember? – worsened after the landlady tried to fix it. I hear the wind whistle at night, but I gather the cat to my chest and think warm thoughts of you.
My friends spoke so highly of you after your visit. They called me mad not to run home to Rouen and make ardent love to you. Parisians love differently. Men are in love with many women, none of them their wives, and no man but me has begged for a hand in marriage. Only aristocrats rely on fathers’ blessings, though I’m told even they think it old-fashioned. These artists think me a fool. They don’t know me as a Jew, nor an orphan. I am afraid they would withhold invitations and introductions.
Some ladies, one rather great actress in particular, are said to enjoy my stories. Have I told you about the letters gentlemen give their mistresses? I’ve written three so far. I am told they were very useful. So, you see, my love, I will make my fortune and steal you away from the dairy farm. Then, you and I shall live in a castle, and you shall eat oranges every day. Who I am shan’t matter. It’ll be just you and I.
Please don’t worry about the news of Germany and Poland. I was merely repeating the gossip of market streets, which means nothing. No Frenchman wants another war. The Germans are too frightened of us, in any case. And if there is a war, I shall be sure to come back to you a hero.
Write back soon, tell me how you are. It’s all that matters.
Also found in Lucien’s belongings: Apology Letter for Monsieur de Guisson.
So many times since our last encounter I have thought of you, of the wet curls which clung to your cheek. You think I am forgetting you, but how could any man forget one such as yourself? Accuse me of a selfish, indolent and cruel nature and you shall be thrice right, but never for a moment doubt my devotion towards you.
For months, I have watched you sing at the opera. A hundred times, I have walked past the Deux Magots Café in the hopes of seeing you perched over a café crème. A thousand evenings, I have drafted an invitation, a million more dreamed of your entering the grounds of my castle, where I should hide in disguise, and surprise you from behind, and you would know me by my lips.
I’d press myself against your hips, and find a tree to lean you against. As I think of kissing your dear, sweet face, I remember your hair and neck smell of rosewater. I will carry you to bed, should you wish it, and undress you to caress every inch of your body, I’d make you moan and whimper until you trembled in my arms. I’d make love to you until you begged me to stop, and then I’d pleasure you till morning.
My dear, you ask why I’ve been quiet. Some family matters, unfortunately, but these have not for a moment stopped me from thinking of you. I’m sure you’ve heard through little birds that I am a cad, that I could have you and leave you. Do not let anyone trick you into thinking you are the sort of woman one could so easily forget. To possess you only once would never be enough.
These were found in Lucien Yentl’s briefcase. Though his landlady was forced to let all the rooms to German officers, she kept Lucien’s belongings throughout the war.
A woman, by the name of Marguerite Girot, daughter of dairy farmer Joseph Girot, retrieved them in 1951.
Marguerite Girot had not heard from Lucien since the spring of 1940, when Lucien Yentl disappeared. He is thought to have worked as a writer for the French resistance before being captured and sent to Auschwitz in 1942.
Marguerite Girot married André Martin. These letters were published by her one and only daughter, Lucienne Martin.
Paris is most beautiful at its most extraordinary; drenched in sunrise or shrouded in fog, or today, when dusted with snow that falls from the sky like powdered sugar through a sifter. From sugar-whipped clouds the flakes fall, each no bigger than the tip of a finger or the ballpoint of a pen, disappearing into the ground as individuals but coating the cobblestone in a frosting of white together.
No one is out, not when the lovers of this city of love prefer more mild weathers, served with healthy dosages of sun and warmth, but I am. I’ve made it a point to catch Paris at its most unexpected, its most vulnerable.
I’ve been here so long that I’ve glimpsed this city from most angle of its kaleidoscopic binoculars; it’s the exotic aunt, fluttering lashes behind feathered fans and then turning around to drown in liquor, it’s the quiet girl next door, subtly beautiful and charmingly quirky, it’s the deviant behind the bar, trifling coins from pockets and lighting cigars just to watch the smoke curl into the air. I’m certain there are still corners and crannies that even I have not yet found. Paris doesn’t want to be known.
And truth be told?
Neither do its occupants.