The Desert Is A Place To Die

February 8, 2019

(First published in Cage Match Vol. 4)
I

Heaven holds a place for the unfortunate
Loosed upon the fading coarse sand
Of an old, slow town:
A polyp, a benign but painful tumor
Hidden from the sun on a porch crowded with tools
He tips back hot bottles of old beer
Like a man who doesn’t want anything
His white tank top shoulder-straps curl around
The red bulbs of his shoulders, lined with pastey white
In his armpits from never raising his hand
He folds his lazy biceps to scratch at a salty chin
His forearms are tattooed with meaningless civilian tribal rings
His salty mustache only covers half his lip
He would look like an artistic child molester
But it’s abundantly clear that he doesn’t want anything.
Further down the same irradiated street
A woman or girl stretches pastey white fat hands
To reach the hose connected to her child’s sprinkler toy
The waist of her denim shorts cuts into her stomach
Her magenta cartoonish t-shirt rises above the bulge of her lower back
She’s barefoot and her pockets are empty
She’s bored
Drops the leaky sprinkler toy as though it didn’t belong to her
Looks at you, looks at the lighter and the pack of menthol cigarettes
On the cracked second step up to the porch
She looks at you, looks away
She’s pissed that you aren’t impressed
With her ability to stay so pale and pink in the middle of the desert
She’s barefoot and her pockets are empty
She’s a stay-at-home mom with two kids in school and day care and their grandmother’s house
Because where would she go that requires shoes or a wallet.
Back and forth across an intersection too hot for observers
Boxy old mufflers clang beneath their boxy old cars
The asphalt merges with the gravel that piles up near the curbs
Where skinny weeds wave in the breeze from an empty bus
Heading towards the part of the map colored beige and shaped like a groin
Labeled “Downtown” so you won’t confuse it with everything else
A cat jogs around the corner into the thin sliver of shade
Against the wall of a bankrupt Laundromat
Rolls his ribs on the shady pavement
Licks his ribs and doesn’t know he can see them
Rolls again and then books it into the brush of the empty lot next door
To find a shadier spot and something to fuck.

II

On my dreadful love of Denzel Washington:
I don’t think it’s all that bad,
This love I have for a man I feel as though I’ve met
I’ve watched him grow and inspire me
To the extent that it almost feels like a conspiracy with him
He and I are nothing alike, and yet I love him for it
I love Denzel Washington for being all of the dashing,
Bright, beautiful, and terrible things I never can be
And I love that his actual life is something I never can be
I will never be a counterterrorism expert like Denzel
I will never speak to my troops with a heartbreaking nosebleed like Denzel
And at the same exact time I will never be an actor–
The author of those brilliant roles– like Denzel.
But I love him, and I do feel like somehow we are on a first-name basis.
He would break my heart if he called me Mr. Drum.

In the middle of the desert the dust reflects the sun like the moon does
It is a thing so beautiful in its bigness as you fly over it
So terribly, achingly boring in its application to your daily life
It’s like sex, in that respect.
Human sexuality is the most animalistic thing we have
And yet it’s the light at the end of a long, dark tunnel of humanity
It’s the reason we get out of bed
It’s the reason I’m writing these words
And yet again it is the most terribly boring desert
In the spaces between successful attempts to score
The dull, perfunctory Googling that I have to perform
To find a Denzel Washington movie on my birthday–
It’s the exact same as the dull, perfunctory Googling that I have to do
To find a DTF stripper in the next town
To find a good pair of shoes that makes me look like a professional but a fun one
To find the right gym
To find a job that will pay me enough to find a nice place to have dinner
To find a clinic that will give me Astroglide without judgment
To find a clinic that will tell me I’m not dying without judgment
To converse in the only language of our lives that really matters,
And that same language that we never speak.
It’s all a different version of the desert,
The ones we fly over as well as the ones down the block.

III
I’m in the hallway now, and they’ve told me that this is the last place I’ll be allowed to live.
In the next room I enter, the only thing I’ll be allowed to do is die.
It’s an interesting thought, considering how this all started.
It was a game.
It was the same game we always played, just slightly different rules.
All I did was, I took her clothes off this time and I sat on her, and she made such strange sounds.
And then there was a lot of commotion for several years, it felt like, and now I’m here.
This hallway. It’s really odd, too, because it looks like a million hallways I’ve been in before.
Bright lights and not much furniture. Tile on the walls.
It’s like dad’s basement, but we’re actually on the second floor of a building that looks like a bus station.
I wonder what it will be like to die; it certainly seems scary.
I spoke with a man yesterday who said that they were going to “kill” me, and I couldn’t really understand that part. I’m just dying, in the same basic way I always was. It’s just that now it will be in this room at the end of the hall. But I don’t really have any more control over it than I ever did.
I don’t know why it has to be here, but it seems perfectly reasonable; it’s as good as any other place for something scary to happen. The scary part is the big deal to me, the dying; not so much the fact that it’s with all these people and machines around.
When it happens I hope I will see my dad; he’s been gone for a long time and I don’t think he will be there when we get to the end of the hall. I don’t know if that’s my fault, but I don’t know if anything was ever my fault. It all just sort of happened, and the more I think about it the further away from me it all feels, like trying to talk in a dream.
I feel like I must have been here a long time.
There are so many nights I can remember where the lights were on and I couldn’t sleep, but it’s hard to say how many of them there were because everything is so hard to keep in focus.
I think I can remember eight nights but I know that there have been so many more.
It’s a really wonderful thing to be alive; I’ve met so many interesting people.
The last time I met someone it was downstairs in the building I was in this morning.
He was so nice and asked all about my father and about our lives together.
I told him about all the games we would play and he told me he had to stop me at various points.
I think it made him sad to talk about games, but I can’t be sure. I only know that it makes me sad to talk about them, but not like he would when he would cry a lot talking about it.
It makes me sad in the same way as the morning after Christmas, when things feel like they’re getting smaller and darker. Or sometimes like it does at the end of summer before school starts, when there are all sorts of things you have to do soon and you just want to sit down for a little while or go to sleep.
It’s very quiet now and everyone is looking at me as if I’m supposed to say something.
He said he thought he knew how scared I was and what I must be going through.
I thought it was very nice of him to come and say things like that but I didn’t tell him because I’ve heard you shouldn’t say things like that so you don’t jinx them into being bad.

IV

And there was just this gut-busting, unimpeachable love for you, baby.
I re-thought my life and my plans for life
I told myself there were no deserts in the great Northeast
The cold removes it from our minds but there is a desert up there
As sure and as wet and as frantic as you came about
You died, just as easily, in the desert
We fought one another over you; there was no agreement
It was my fault; I killed you, maybe, by proxy and by argument
And your mother loved you, if you wanted to know. Both of them.
I had such a misplaced, pulsating love for both of them, and for you.
That love is as big as the bottom of the ocean is cold and dead,
As wonderful to me still as is the bizarre life I’ve managed to carve out
In spite and because of your absence.
I’d wanted you from the time I was eight years old, baby,
And here you came,
Twice,
At all the wrong times.
For me.
Your mothers blamed themselves in various colors and they were wrong for it
Your father blamed himself in varying colors and he was wrong for it.

On the front lawn of a frostbitten desert, your grandfather threw a ball high in the air.
The ball was a guess, a hopeful ploy in an effort to teach me something.
It was a red, round leather ball stuffed with white fibers like Santa’s beard.
I live some of my days here, in a room that’s as cold and filled with sadness as the desert.
The world I wanted to write to you in is filled with sunlight and dust,
And eats its young regardless of temperature.
Some of us write about it
The rest of us try to forget it and often succeed
If you’re a soul, just know that the desert is a place to die
And that it isn’t all sad
Love fills the deserted empty streams of our lives and yours,
Dry river-beds that ran out before your time and mine
There are no deserts, because everywhere is a place to die.
When I think of you it feels like an old terror
Like a pack of wolves come to to menace the village
But in today’s light it’s hard to know which side of the gate I’m on.

The laws of human chemistry and randomness destroyed you
And I loved you, unblinkingly, at age eight
And I still do, but now I blink more often
And at times, I have hated you
And I sometimes thank those laws (my God) that I’m addressing the ether.

The desert is blue and cold.
It is filled with fluorescent lights and blue foil packages of cookies.
Guns and hunger and digital television commercials for digital television.
None of us really work anymore; but we miss something that for me, is you.
You could meet us on a Sunday, perhaps.
That’s usually when you visit me
Wandering around the yard in the sun of a cold, blue sky
Pulling or pushing a lawnmower to kill all of the lawn
To make it more like the desert
Or just to get the lawn to look like everyone else’s
So I can show my face at church

My hope is to stop being so bitter about your lack of existence
My hope is to stop telling myself that it’s a good thing you never arrived or that I’ve become more useless in your absence.
My hope is to avoid death in the desert.
It’s to seek some kind of life in the service of insects and bacteria and of solace in the woods
Far closer to the green spangled country places beneath trees that make me miss you
And further from the brown, smoky, digital distractions that I use
To forget you, or to pretend that I’m glad I’ve got all this free time on my hands

But it’s hard not to think that the question is still there:
That maybe the desert is a cleaner death for a messy life.

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