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Darin Ciccotelli 

Like Teenagers

 

 

The ratatat of birds.  The high algorithm of the birds that is

like a whistle, that is like an inhalation.

I am moving my hands on you.  I do not yet know if this is an invitation

or slow safety—

   a way of not asking.                       

 

Red ribbon on the birds’ eyes.  The ratatat of birds because

the birds are blind to it.  Plump, disorderly flames

in the trees.  I am gentle now with talk, and no matter how gentle the talk

the birds turn in on themselves, the nervous ampersands, suddenly, distractedly

craning their necks under their

wings, pecking at them, blind,

 

confused.  And later, when we go walking next to the freeway—when we are walking

on the high pass so that we are even and same with the billboards, the billboards

will say Good morning! and the clouds will have eyelashes, and the

billboards will say Good morning! as long and as slow as we ask them to.  Congenial,

the clouds have eyelashes.

      Behind the billboards, birds frantic as hands.

 

 

 

Passionate Characters

 

 

They had winebottles holstered in their coats.  Private talk, bickering fell away.

Last gossip, as if underwater, warbled incomprehensively then was

gone. They flattened their lapels, cupped their individual breaths.

Night deepened beside the eaves.  Night banded around the honeysuckle.

All at once, hellos sloped like an alarm.  They laid coats on the bed, addressed           

the room or no one.  It had not been suggested, yet they intuitively sat in

cross-pollination of the spousal order.   Polite acknowledgements of jobs, children,

hardships—all of it callisthenic.  Whatever conversations there were to be had

were had slowly, like shadows ekeing around Doric columns.

 

Wine.  It was not long before they turned bold, monstrous.  Like the

overinflation of a tire.  Tchaikovsky was only married a few days, they said.

He was a genius, they said.  That they ached for youth didn’t matter.

They masqueraded as if youth’s enemy, griping about hemlines,

noise.  How grateful they were for suntanned children—grateful for the

chance of happening upon them. Yet they spoke of the sex children

flippantly, then with rancor.  Gym equipment has ruined adolescence, they said.

 

They slandered their acquaintances, the trophy husbands

lying prostrate on the lawn, excessive, beautiful.  Like fire engines glistening

in the sun.  Tchaikovsky’s patroness sent him letters for thirteen years,

they said.  Yet she refused to meet him, they said.  I don’t know whether to

laugh or cry, they said.  Laugh, they said.  Couples huddled around the names

of unhappier couples, invigorated by the whiff of scandal.  They misconstrued

babysitters, lawn boys.  Laughter—their heads roaring back like

fire, their slot machine eyes.  No power to transform the body

or the phantom bodies they imagined as their own.

Barbaric, spiced mussels were served.  In early drunkenness they were brave.

Looking—the shirt clinging to her breasts, to his forearms.  Briefly they teased out

hypothetical versions of one another’s lives so that they could envy

those lives, fantasizing how some were in bed, how they fought, how they breakfasted

on the weekend, how often they slept late and if sleeping late was some sort

of soul’s paralysis—blindfolded, the hive of the lover’s skull droning beside them,

 

narcissistic.  They scanned the room, eyes like headlamps shining on a mountain pass.  Had all love become vulgar? Had it been turned vulgar by comparison?

Sometimes my cell phone rings and it says Scott, they said.  Only when I answer

it’s not Scott, they said.  It’s this howling wind, they said.  I assume it’s his pocket—

you know, some button accidentally getting pushed.  But then I think maybe

it’s an emergency, they said.  Maybe he’s trapped under his car, they said.

Maybe his larynx is crushed, they said.  Without intending to, all their thoughts

digressed from that pain and toward the fledgling rehearsal of their own selves.

I am writing a fairy tale about cell phone mishaps, they said.  The Nokia and the Princess, they said.  They were the earth’s children—

 

children of advanced degrees, Whole Foods, and of trash television that they

not-so-secretly loved.  And then, night obliterated the dinner.

The lamps flickered—only a second, just long enough to think the word flickered

then gone.  Some made hoots of arousal.  With small groping, the hosts found their way

to an emergency kit.  I wanted the catfish blackened, they said.  Suddenly,

a lenticular cloud sat over each candle.  Light was zoned—

over the coffee table, near the kitchen.  They each gathered inappropriately

to speak about inappropriate things.

 

One of the wives confessed her dream about a wild ape, which dismembered her,

which ate her shih tzu’s brains.  In blunt, hysterical sentences she told them

the dream.  All the while they thought but could not say that her husband was

apelike in his complexion, or that he was apelike in the way he held wine,

apelike in giftgiving, in argument.  The husbands would know him years later,

after the middle son had died in Afghanistan—would see him in a parked car, weeping, would know that he wept for the living, for himself, wept for how

withdrawn he had become and would become.  We’re Greek gods, they said.

Powerful and bored, they said.  Their voices turned to flutes of a high drunkenness.

Wives, husbands cravenly evaluating one another’s husbands, wives—arranging

the first few set pieces of later sexual fantasy:  If I followed him into the kitchen.

 

Or, If I followed her onto the bed, the jackets.  Or, If I stole away with him

to some closet.  In and out of light they disbanded, recombined.

The dinner eaten, forgotten—or maybe it was never eaten at all. 

Some draped their arms around their inquisitors.  Some made of laughter

an excuse to caress shoulders, the back.  And what of it? 

All the indiscretions would be relished after the fact, the hand misplaced,

the graze—they were too far down in the canyon of their own lives,

far from the night, the myriad stars, the names of wildflowers.  On a magazine cover, celebrities—beauty having withered them down to a simple

line, an idea.  And above them, a sky drizzled with Greek likenesses.

 

I saw Vonnegut give a lecture once, they said.  He plotted fairy tales

on an x- and y-axis, they said.  All of them ended with the line going up to

infinity, they said.  I was always bad at algebra, they said.

You were always good at divorce, they said.  Drunkenness like wet, gold sand

had collected in their heads.  They shook it off, or they tried to.

They needed a clean, honest attention—the object of the attention didn’t matter.

What began conversationally ended in dares.  Four of them knew origami,

and they threw themselves into a contest.  Small notes, receipts,

lame frogs, limp swans.  As they couldn’t fold the crumpled papers,

they took to the bookshelves, plundering the books.

(The hosts didn’t notice, of course.  Or didn’t care—audacity worth more than

the books themselves.)  In their minds, sexual contact ran amok.

After final gestures, after withholding the jokes they could have

told, sitting upright, running the fins of their hands over themselves,

eventually they would start to leave.  Future plans would be suggested.

Future plans would be sketched out in some congenial, tentative way.

And when they left—

 

this, this is the miracle—

a few of them would regain some small confidence in love.

They would ridicule those they sat with.  They would rehash what was hours

old.  (The husbands were flying receipts into the ground, the fuselages

jagged after impact.)  Some would leave miserable, but some wouldn’t.

Some would gallop into bed, as if revenging against their friends.  Or

to cleanse themselves, or to apologize for what they thought but never said.

Maybe they were just grateful to novelty, knowing that in some future

they would reminisce on that fucking after the dinner at so-and-so’s, how they

had stolen something.  (What are you doing, they said.

 

We are writing the novel about nothing, they said.

It needs more, they said.  Some of the husbands flew airplanes and swans,

all of which arced downward, falling rudely.  Paper swans don’t recover,

they said.)  In the street, some would fumble their keys, would use

the rodent nicknames they had given each another long ago, smiling grotesquely,

smiling to the grit.  They would have coyness, flirtation again.

(Some of the husbands flew swans, airplanes.)  When the lights came on, morose jazz

played in the background, but no one could remember who had chosen it or why.

(Literary swans don’t recover, they said.  Real ones do, they said.)

 

 

Suddenly

 

 

This is the declaration, which is what

I have wanted to say for a long time, and is what

you have wanted to hear

for a long time.  It smears an

indescribable color of calm

across our minds.

In a city plaza, a hundred black birds break

at its sound.

 

My feet are made of bronze.  I am able

to look at my defects in a way that is less ugly,

to look at them like the defects I always

wanted them to be.  There is a man

whose belly is like a warhead, or like a helmet

when the navel

goes pith.  I am suddenly that man.

Scars like sweetbriar on my body.  If you run

a finger across them today they make

the music of wineglasses.

I am suddenly that man.

 

Listen to these thousand bedrooms divulging

their swollen oh.  Up every hidden corner

the building has.  Up all the corners

where gossip cannot go.  Crooking

the throat, the thighs—

singing everyone else that is

not you.  Instead of being ashamed,

I am able to say that I would do it

and not do it.

 

Let them say this is bad art and not

original.  If that is what they will say, let them say it now.

This is not going to end in self-deprecation.

This is not going to end in a whip-retort

or a trapdoor simile.  (Wind, like a man

in a gray bathrobe, I could say.)  (A yawn, like a gray

rainbow, I could say.)  For this statement,

I am going to end where I began,

sure-footed, making whatever profound

errors I make.  To be

committed—to be the thing that I always aspired

to be.  This is not going to end in irony.

Socrates will not dominate my hand or let

slip some pithy clover.

This is not going to end in indignation.  I fall

to my knees and take in deep

inhalations from the tiny wildflower

of his navel.  I drink in the hem of his robe,

which smells white, but has a color

and disposition toward leisure.

I am making the statement.  This is not

going to end.

 

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