Sunday, November 17, 2013

how you look to them


Thwack.

I hear the first fistful of food hit the wall. 

The sharp report of unidentifiable porridge against plaster shudders through the wood-latticed windows. It rings all the way out to the balcony that wraps around the traditional Chinese building we're in. We're here because we've been invited to an event-closing banquet -- now, that banquet is apparently airborne. I hear the sound, but I don't really believe it until I glance inside, just in time to see the second handful of lobbed porridge smack the wall beside the first. 

Most of the BASE jumpers have evacuated the small dining room for strategic positions outside, between the windows of this once-stately wooden restaurant, but a few are still crouched in ersatz foxholes between the tables, giggling like ten-year-olds.

I whip back into the safety behind the wooden shutters and blink in wonderment. We were invited here -- wined, dined and entertained by a government welcome so gregarious as to be almost startling. The regional sports department has covered our travel, put us up in comfortable hotels, fed us every meal and provided us with the best jumpin' bridge we could possibly have hoped for. 

Why are we coating their walls with porridge?

Our Chinese hosts stand among the conscientious objectors on the balcony, smiles flickering. In their position, I'd be hustling us right back to the bus. They, however, are bravely determined that the show must go on. 

We're shuffled downstairs, onto a covered deck that observes an outdoor stage. An autumn rain has begun in earnest, drenching the stage's concrete floor. Despite the downpour, several girls in ornate traditional costumes stream out from the building. Their painted faces smile earnestly at us as we swig muttonheadedly from a sea of beer bottles. Their headdresses, glinting with a swinging fringe of tinkling metal, flash colorfully under the stage lights as they file past us.

As they make their way to the stage, one jumper I know from the Valley reaches out, laughing, and smacks the last three on the back of the head as they process down the walkway. He's grinning. He's obviously pleased with the way it makes their metal headdresses shudder and jingle.

I cringe. Mortified.

Sure, we’re in the hinterlands of China – but this isn’t a cultural misunderstanding. It’s a systemic problem. BASE jumpers seem exempt themselves from all the rules: not just from the aspects of human behavior that imply subservience to a very un-BASE-jumperly social norm, but from the rules that govern basic human decency. Those rules keep underpaid restaurant staff – who had been previously riveted by your wild-eyed jocularity and torrent of your unfamiliar language – from silently hating you as they scrub your dinner off the walls and floor. Those rules prevent you from making teenage village girls cry a little bit while they dance, in the rain, for your enjoyment.

Assholes.


Wednesday, October 09, 2013

transfixed

I wear you like an iron dress
that is so 
so 
very
beautiful on my body

I don't mind standing here,
watching the world move warily past
as I crane my neck to stare into the mirror.

So beautiful.

I'm not sure I can take you off.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

moss never grows


I was still a child.

That part still strikes me.

I was a willful, independent, self-starting, motivated, clever, manipulative, larger-than-life, talented, big-dreaming...child.

My family was living in central America at the time. I was neck-deep in dramas that my parents were gamely ignoring. I wanted to escape.

I told them I wanted to move back to the States; to stay with a friend's family on their estate in the rolling idyll of the Napa Valley. Applying to universities would be easier.

They told me: OK.

But you can never come home.

My decision, at that point, had already been made. It was only when the little plane rose above the end of the runway, my parents' house disappearing into the broccoli puffs of jungle below, that it even caused a ripple.

You can never come home.

The way we lived, moving from beige shell to beige shell at the whims of the Air Force, a place with them was the only 'childhood home' I had. Their furniture, carved into prim English roses from Phillippine jungle wood; the cats, whom I remember visiting in quarantine in Panama; my father's books, which I began to gobble up in middle-school and reread until I left. (I remember the day so many of those treasures were thrown out; I remember my father's face.) There is no building I can stand in front of and say: "here, I spent my formative years." There is no such thing as a "permanent address."

That was so many years ago. In the span of time since then, I have perfected the art of molluskhood. Onward, onward, onward to the next. No shell can hold me. There is always another. I am not a child any longer.

Now, as I enter my 30's, their rumbles get louder. They ask: when are you coming home?

Maybe you forgot what you told me. Here -- I'll remind you.

I am never coming home.

Thursday, May 09, 2013

spill


watch a child hooking fingers through the cracks in its egg
watch the wind take a dried husk


my heart's memory is strong.

i can still recall the first hand that touched my waist
five fingers
then five more
and suddenly my cheek is resting warm above a plaid pocket,
and four feet are squeaking on linoleum
under paper banners

the music lasted longer than I could
so I broke early,
sitting on the curb outside the school
trying to identify love and not-love by the shape it took against my crowded organs.

even now
ravaged by love
spilling love from so many seams sewn in haste
my edges made ragged and soft by love
my center scooped savagely empty and refilled to bubbling bursting by love
i do not quite recognize its face.

is it
the boat that floats shallowly over a teeming sea?
the juggernaut of bare-toothed determination that growls and thrashes through years of poverty; of isolation; of a death in your arms?
the breathless promise of forever between two children?

part of me is still sitting hunched on that curb,
fingers worrying the wilting flowers strapped to my wrist,
wondering what this is.

this delectable violence;
this mouth of a thousand tickling teeth.


a love letter to salty, written far far away


I. 

“It is so hard to leave—until you leave. And then it is the easiest goddamned thing in the world.” ― John Green


II.

the cerulean patchwork of salt pools stitched into the bone-white shoreline of the great salt lake, as seen from the open door of a King Air slipping up to altitude


the sweet hour of rocking, trainbound peace between my doorstep and the Ogden wind tunnel

tucking myself into a wood-paneled corner of the Brighton lodge to write after a long day on skis, snow-softened sunlight pouring across my hands on the keyboard as I wiggle my toes in the fireplace warmth


the moment when my motorbike curls around that uphill corner halfway into Little Cottonwood Canyon, where the stinging, slightly mineral smell of forest pours in to fill my helmet


standing on tiptoes at my window, fingers balanced against old brick, to watch the Wasatch blush with alpenglow

lying on the teddybear softness of the climbing-gym floor, the muscles of my forearms ratcheted tight to the bone, burning and smiling


the sussurus of a needle on my father's records


climbing up to bed on the hangboard, just because

the beautiful barista in my next-door living room, peeking her blue-eyed hellos through a thick fringe of bangs as she draws my third espresso of the day

the green canvas of a summertime Liberty Park, Pollocked with dogs and ducks and hulahoops and slacklines and tattooed flesh and dervish children and balloons and so much dancing

a city chosen mine, keeper of my only root.

Wednesday, May 01, 2013

alone


I.

I should have known that, after the initial struggle with the biological imperative to stop at the edge, BASE jumping would be relatively easy.

After all, "risking it all for nothing" is all I've ever done.


II.

Doing one's first solo BASE jump is the conclusion of a long internal conversation. Mine started months ago, as I saw myself constantly wiggling out from big-group commitments in an orgiastic summer Valley. I knew this isn't why I'm here -- to joke and flirt and gossip and goad and sticker myself forcibly to the collective memory of the sport. I'm not here to geek the camera.

I've always chafed at the group dynamics of a busy exit; always disliked the banter of a group hiking out. I stopper up my ears with headphones. I hike far ahead or far behind, never in the cluttered middle. I hide.

I thought I'd need babysitting much longer than I did. As it turns out, I found my solitude quickly and easily.


III.

I ran the boys out late that afternoon, flashing just enough tooth to move them along without being concerned by my sharpness. I waited long after they left, dawdling, until the sun started visibly fading in the sky. I wanted to be sure I'd follow through; wanted to be sure the press of darkness would send me over even if I stood there whinging.

I started my hike in a spirit of collected certainty. The calm surprised me.

When I rounded the first forested corner, a little orange fox stopped in the path in front of me, white tailtip painting wide strokes across the green as he wagged it. He dashed away almost as soon as I registered his presence. It felt like there was luck in that, as in the bighorn bullgoat I caught grazing in a little meadow a few moments later, and in the family of deer I spooked from the trail farther along. I felt the Valley encouraging me, somehow; urging me along as night began to close in.

I stepped up my pace. I started singing to myself.


IV.

I thought it would be harder at the exit. The terror I had planned for doesn't live there anymore.

As I methodically applied my gear, I thought about how little I actually wanted to stop. I thought about how delicious this was: the simplicity of this solitude, the feeling of fabric and metal in my hands, the snap of the pilot chute in the undisturbed hush of forest twilight, the warmed-butter quality of the last sunlight, dropping through the fringe of trees. I let myself down the rope to the gravel at the exit and heard, for the first time, the sound of the nearby waterfall suspended in the air.

I heard the smile in my own voice as I counted down, then my outbreath replaced by building air as the evening Valley enfolded itself, it seemed, within the wrap of my solitary, hurtling embrace.

Clarity. Exactly.

Saturday, March 09, 2013

I miss the way you occupy a chair.


I miss the way you occupy a chair.
I miss the way you fill a pair of jeans;
the movement of your breathing in my hair;
the cradle of your fingers’ inbetweens.

I miss the architecture of your stance;
The sleeping weight your arm rests on my waist;
The perspicacious thrumming of your glance;
The ocean way your lingering fingers taste.

I miss the shape you carve beneath a sheet;
the tickle of your curls against my palm;
your laugh’s arrival and its swift retreat;
the ripples of your thoughts against your calm.

I miss the sentences that you arrange;
the warming way your breath remembers tea;
your somber and your silly and your strange.
I miss the quiet way you you fit to me.



Monday, March 04, 2013

a short story about god



Once, there was a girl born with a heart so full of joy that her feet could never touch the ground. 

She spent her early childhood skimming over the world, bouncing easily on a thick cushion of jubilation, laughing heartily at everything she would see: a flower, bending in the breeze; the roll of a kicked pebble; the butcher, trimming the afternoon steaks.

When she went off to school, however, the other children began to poke cruel fun at their floating classmate. Her father, the town blacksmith, fashioned her a pair of iron shoes to help her to better fit in amongst her landlocked peers. 

Unfortunately, when the girl began to walk instead of float, pounding waves of joy surged up through her lungs. The girl began to sing -- all day and night, humming when she couldn't think of the words to fit. She sang about breakfast; her teacher's dress; the funeral director's horse; the well-bucket; the way the boys would kick each other on the schoolyard. The children at school covered their ears and wailed.

Finally, the teacher put a giant cork in the little girl's mouth, fastened on her head with a pink silk ribbon. Her parents, exasperated, did not remove it.

Plugged up and grounded, the girl began to draw. She drew, fervently, all the joyful things that she saw in the world around her. First, the girl used every sheet of paper in the house and emptied all the inkwells. After that, she commandeered her mother’s lipstick and painted all of the windows with ferris-wheels and tigers and tall men in kilts. When the teacher turned her back at recess, the little girl covered the back wall of the schoolhouse with exuberant sketches of penny-candy, riding crops, golf shoes, and birds, all lovingly rendered in rich, red mud. Infuriated, the teacher tied the little girl's hands behind her back.

So then, unreleased joy screaming though her bloodstream at thousands of miles an hour, the little girl exploded.

Two days later, the town forgot all about her.

God has hated the world ever since.


Friday, March 01, 2013

whoop


Every single time I jump is a triumph. It's my heart and mind, working together against a primordial memory of pain and loss that has been coded deep into the tissues of my body. Before I jump, I feel the muscles of my lungs wrap around that memory like an oyster works a pearl; when I land, I feel the memory pushed out in a burst of joyful noise.


Friday, February 15, 2013

escher's ballroom


I.

When I first started paragliding, I fantasized constantly about what it would be like to be able to see the wind -- to see thermals and heat signatures and ridge lift and venturis and rotors clearly defined, etched out against the landscape like a living ice sculpture, flirtatiously obvious and beckoning.

The wind tunnel has invited that same fantasy to set up residence in my musings. As I watch others fly, I imagine a ghostly watercolor of wind twisting around them.

II.

Scooting out into the middle of the tunnel for rookie head-down coaching feels a bit like offering oneself up for execution: you shuffle to the center of the glassed-in space, hands clasped to the sternum, and drop to your knees at the feet of your coach. Once there, kneeling before a crowd of eyes, you slide your hands to grasp the wires beneath you and fold into a reverent-seeming bow. The trick is to slide your head down with the quick smoothness of a practiced penitent, lest you let the wind find your chest and throw you wildly akimbo. The first few times I did it, it seemed pageantish and ridiculous. Now, it's utterly normal.

My head anchored firmly beneath me, I let the wind capture my legs and invert my body. I feel my hair licking my neck with the undulating insistence of a flame; feel my coach's hand between the very end of my gloved fingers, as though he's pulling me to the dance floor of a baroque ballroom.

I used to stay there for a while, letting myself overthink it. I would stare into my coach's chest in a wonky-legged, hovering savasana, feeling the small bones of his fingers as the wind capered kittenishly around my legs. Lately, I've been spending less and less time locked secure in that embrace, poised like one of two figures on a playing card. Instead, I let my coach's fingers slip from mine; let the wind lock me into its rippling tractor beam; let myself be forced to fly.

Most of the time, especially at the start, it was very, very hard to let those fingers go.

I'd be distracted by the engulfing sensation of the wind, its multitude of invisible ribbons wrapping my body in an ever-shifting garment, pressing teasingly into the backs of my thighs, spanking fabric against the tender skin at my waist and the insides of my arms with brutal little slaps. Every adjustment seemed to send me careening at the faces watching me from behind the windowed walls and I'd sink to the wires at the bottom of the tunnel, on my back, rolled fetal and stunned, feeling bruises bloom under my clothes.

Now, even though I struggle, there are moments of illuminating delight.

I've flown head-down by myself before, but it always seemed as though I were muscling myself bodily against a bullying foe, doomed to be quickly crumpled in the fist of my own grunting determination and thrown against the wall. Yesterday, it was not so. As I broke that tenuous connection of fingers, I felt the wind like a strong current in deep water, somber and unfightable, the subtle shifts in its pressure suddenly sweet. My spine somehow discovered where to be; my hands drifted out, quiet and questing, and I felt the wind cut in to the accustomed topsy-turvy waltz with my coach, slipping between my fingers as it danced me away. For a few long moments I stayed there, my toes feeling the edges of my little movements forwards and back, an ebullient smile pressing the apples of my cheeks into the pads of my helmet.

Even when I tumbled out, the smile stayed.

Monday, February 04, 2013

GTFO


I hate coming back to LA.

I always start strong; start tough. Start motivated.

Doesn't last.

LA dumps buckets over my fiery. LA plays a symphony of petty disappointments over the furtive footfall rhythm of the days. LA sallows my skin and empties my eyes of sparkle.

After a couple of weeks have passed here, the air starts to settle in my chest in rimy layers. I stop wanting to get up in the morning. I stop tasting food. An insidious grayness starts to wend its way up through the fist-clenched get-up-and-go I summoned when I first passed the city limits. It squeezes liquid from my eyes; it slithers out my lips in nonsense vitriol; it infects what I see when I look in the mirror; what I see in others' eyes when I'm standing in front of them. I start to feel ugly. Stupid. Slow.

It used to take weeks for the transformation to click into place. Now, it's days.

Tomorrow, I run.

Thank god.

Friday, February 01, 2013

kama mada moha



I. kama


It caught me completely off-guard.


I drew a long, sweet breath and pulled myself down into pada-hastasana. As I settled my chest against my thighs, as I have done so many hundreds of times before, I looked at my feet on the mat beneath me and was suddenly electric with the memory of your mouth around my toes. The room around me disappeared; the rivulets of sweat slinking along my spine and legs suddenly traced my topography with the exquisite tickle of your remembered fingers, and I nearly toppled to the floor.






II. mada

Your voice is always a surprise. 


So much time passes between my hearing of it; somehow, I can never recall the exact measures of its details -- how many parts bassline resonance, whisper, arch-eyebrowed tenor, silence, growl. Though your writing carries the cadence, there's a singular pleasure in the first few words you speak when we see each other, as it is only then that I can match the familiar beats of your language to the rest of the remembered instruments.





III. moha


I crave your mouth, your voice, your hair.
Silent and starving, I prowl through the streets. 

Bread does not nourish me, dawn disrupts me, 
all day I hunt for the liquid measure of your steps. 


I hunger for your sleek laugh, 
your hands the color of a savage harvest, 
hunger for the pale stones of your fingernails, 
I want to eat your skin like a whole almond. 


I want to eat the sunbeam flaring in your lovely body, 
the sovereign nose of your arrogant face, 
I want to eat the fleeting shade of your lashes, 


and I pace around hungry, sniffing the twilight, 
hunting for you, for your hot heart, 
Like a puma in the barrens of Quitratue.


― Pablo Neruda

Friday, January 25, 2013

inperspicuous



I.



My ears still muffled with the dim static sounds left there by an overloud bar band, I curl one hand around a mug of tea and the other around a bottle of ibuprofen. I deftly avoided drinking tonight, but I didn't escape a little misery. My limbs are sore and shaky again; too many aeroplanes, too many people, too much moving, too little rest. My flesh comes up in goosebumps as I shake a couple of pills into my hand and knock them back. I don't go for the thermometer; I know what it will say.



In the darkness, I peel down to knickers and ski socks and a single sheet, trying to let the small snores of the houseguests lead me down into Morpheus's kingdom before the shivers turn to sweat.



It takes ages.





II.



I'm standing in a narrow pool of light -- so narrow that, if I hold my arm in front of me, my fingers disappear into the thick ink of the darkness beyond. There is no movement of air; no sound; no indication of space or time or friendliness.



I hear footsteps.



Swift as a breath, a hand darts in and snags a thread from the bottom of the column of my long, tight dress, brushing my skin where the fabric fits closely to the calf. As soon as the hand appears, it disappears, the thread drawing a taut line between me and absolutely nothing.



The footsteps, and the thread, begin an orbit.



With inexorable slowness, the fabric dissolves into the darkness. When the line hits the softness at the back of my knee, it occurs to me to say something; not a word is returned. When my thigh is exposed to the hollow of my hip, I start to beg. Somehow, my hands can't stop the progress; somehow, my words sink as deeply and meaninglessly into the void as the thread that wends slowly away from my dignity. I whimper when I can feel the stage-lamp heat on my exposed lower back, on the contour of my waist meeting my lower ribs, on one shy nipple, then the other. When the thread breaks its final mooring at the hollow of my throat, I ask why.



My own face emerges from the darkness. My own hand slides into view and grasps my chin, not lovingly. Familiar eyes, tortoiseshell in the fierce light, hook deeply into mine.



“Too many fragments of the spirit have I scattered in these streets, and too many are the children of my longing that walk naked among these hills, and I cannot withdraw from them without a burden and an ache.”


"..."

"That you think you weren't already this vulnerable is a farce."


The figure disappears.



The shaft of light coruscates, then dies.





III.



It hurts when you rattle my hinges. 


Please rattle my hinges.


It hurts when you push every button. 


Please push every button.


It hurts when I feel your fingers in my imagination.


Please keep stirring.


Please beg the question, over and over again: what are you afraid of, that you would open doors with such rabid compulsion but leave just this one shut?


Thursday, January 10, 2013

meet your own gaze


It's 105 degrees Fahrenheit in here; 40% humidity. There are thirty other people in this room, the mirrored walls duplicating and reduplicating us into a sweat-drenched infinity. So many bodies; so much flesh, stretched over muscle, stretched over bone, stretched over our respective mats.

When we're in the room, we're decorated anatomy. We're parts, pushing and pulling and twisting. We're soaking wet. We're miserable, and we're elevated, and we're united in that straddle.

To my left, a woman's tangle of course, black hair hangs in thick vines over the razor intensity of her gaze. Her thigh levitates over her mat like a promontory of wet volcanic rock, the baby-pink sole of her foot standing in stark contrast against its inky hardness. Another woman ventures lazily into the posture, limbs noodly and noncommittal, curls piled atop her head in a winsome, if childish, knot.  She inspects her own lissome form with eyes as green and innocuous as a toy dinosaur. She finds nothing wanting. A middle-aged man, muscles trained into magazine-cover definition, struggles valiantly against the tissues he has so painstakingly wrought. His bleached teeth grab his bottom lip as he yanks wholeheartedly on one foot. His neighbor, a twenty-something fella with twinkling eyes that sweep the room at regular intervals, is just as strong but much more pliable; a slight smile barely nudges the corner of his plush auburn beard as he placidly hefts his own body through the posture. The mountainous fake breasts of the woman behind him quiver unnervingly with her labored breathing, her spindly Asian hips seeming unequal to the task of supporting both her top and bottom halves. Next to me, a spill of thick blonde hair falls over a chiseled, sunkissed shoulder. One bead of sweat emerges from her hairline and traces down the perfect center of her face, bisecting her button nose and the china-doll bow of her lips before her tongue darts out to catch it.

Then there's me, meeting my own gaze in the mirror, flushed strawberry and standing in a salty waterfall of my own making. 

There I am.

The parts of me I like and the parts of me I hate and the flint of my determination to push through ONE MORE SECOND and my aching desire to simply lie down and breathe and my galloping mind and my stone-faced quietude and absolutely everything about me, materializing in the mirror as glossy, slick body parts, stacked carefully in alignment, moving almost imperceptibly with the tide of my breath. I am not perfect, but I am here, and I am working to the very edge of my edge.

The idiosyncratic practice of Bikram yoga, among but somehow above all its other benefits, teaches you to see yourself.

It's one of the most important lessons yoga has to teach.

Saturday, January 05, 2013

wish i may


one night in thailand
we went to the river.

we struck matches
so many matches
and lit the tiny wick-hearts
of a legion of paper lanterns
sending them skywards

each one,
a wish

the sky gamely gobbled them up
the sky claimed each one
the sky never muttered a word in response

and yet

my wishes have all come true.



i am thinking of those lanterns now

and what it means
to make a wish
what it means to pray
what it means to do magick with one's words.



if i tell you

you are beautiful
you are brilliant
you are the midday sun of endless potential
that i struggle not to squint against
you have teased me open and plucked my petals from their seating
you are as compelling as myth
yet as solid as muscle and mouth
and so
very
beautiful

these are matches
struck
these are lanterns
lit

they slide up into your sky
and softly disappear.



some would say this is madness



that your silence
is not so sweet as i imagine
that your silence
is simply baffled,
and you watch my words sail by
as a target watches an arrow
zing madly into the backstop


that these tender little flames of observation
gutter in your palm
and that is why
you return them with the same silence
as a hot equatorial sky.




if this is madness,
i am mad.


i will strike these matches
and open my palms
and show you the soft insides of my wrists
as each word rises from my sharing
in this way
i will never have to roll up
light
and breathe deeply of the knowledge
that i did not tell you
in every way i can frame



the world is so much better that you're here.