Tess

Tess is a prickly maybe-writer and aspiring dumb broad who likes vampires, the way cold mornings smell, and women who play guitar. She lives and listens to "Always Be My Baby" on repeat while looking at herself in a mirror in Massachusetts. Her mom is still hoping she'll become a nurse.

These Are Not Sonnets. Or, “honey babe”

1

You, Judy Blume, Marriage Equality.
Truly,
the great comic triumph of our time.
Three days of summer,
Three days as if kicked straight from the stars
a big fat fandango, cherry lips crack ribs
stupid good stupid pretty stupid sweet,
You kissed me.
You had me, I knew you.
In the morning I went home,
and Judy Blume touched my arm.
She, who changed my life and
mind when it was barely formed and she
who taught me how to love inside a body,
(about masturbation and mothers
and best friends and blood)
she wrote my name by hand and
you were the only person I cared to tell,
and when the sun rose again, then, it
rose on a country where women could
marry women and men could
marry men in every state and every
corner by the rule of the court and my
sweet friend cried on the phone so
I was sorry amid my joy that I couldn’t
kiss his head and my clever friend said
“so, was the sex really so good it changed the nation?”
and all my thoughts that day were purple
prose and all my purple prose for you and
Three days. That was three days.
And, it’s the kiss. So I can’t breathe.
I can laugh big and hard as I’d like
and still —
now when I leave work sick to
cry in my car about how it felt
to run my finger in an s behind your ear —
it always will be.
Even thighs pressed so tight, in
work pants knock-kneed,
tripping to stay together I fear
I know that anyone
can taste the scent of me.
I know this slickness never seemed so toxic.
And I remember. Lactic acid.
Paint and flags all
in the streets
and crying, and
Judy Blume
and you.

2

Once
When it was hot
I was wearing a romper.
I provide this detail here to set the stage, please,
let none of us forget that I am prone to
abominable judgment,
that I was perfectly naked in a port-a-potty
when I had to pee, and that I was perfectly thrilled
every single second you were around me just around me
(“I feel fine anytime she’s around me now, and she’s around me now, almost all the time,” – James Taylor. You know because in the grass I told you all the songs that make me cry. I’ve wanted to dance to something in the way she moves at my wedding since I was too small to dance in any other way but atop someone’s feet and and still I had to bother formally coming out.)
had your hands around me and, all right,
the point is it was beautiful that night
I guess the point is that
I love you
More than strawberritas or snowflakes
or “Sweet Baby James.”
I guess the point is saved to my iPhone
is a picture where I can see
my own petals opening up greedy sugared swollen spring
like in the Georgia O’Keeffe paintings that I buy as six by six calendar prints to make a lazy and tasteless joke about vaginas, then hang on my wall as an ironic statement about my own overinflated, underused intellect– No, well.
I can look now and see us rising in the twilight
and all our teeth.
This is the part — you remember — where
our legs touch all the way from hip to foot while
You say that I am going to fall in love with you.
It’s near dark and I’m wearing a romper and
you don’t pause to say the words slow, you
say it like a fact. Like a threat.
You are going to fall in love with me.
it is July,
and I have known threats and
I have been hit and I have lost teeth on
ladder rungs of simple climbs and I don’t
put my hands out toward hurricanes and
I believe that it is good and smart to
close your fist and jaw and heart, and fear,
and I will not be trod on I say I
will never melt I have just the barb I
do not allow my heartbeat
to fall into perfect unison with another because
now they have just the trick to stop it just the trick
you’ll unlearn your hard-won skill for
punching on and on
and on alone brave red chambers alone,
no key, and I have never been easy and I
(I, so easy, I, made of pink play sand & peeling Elmers glue, I, all yours)
am, anyway, frantically grateful that you were right.

3

Joni Mitchell is sick.

I know this, but a gray man tells me it the way they do, when he stretches his hands out from his overcoat to pay. I know. “But, god. Blue.” This, we breathe at the same time, like a matching set of misassembled dolls, separate but the same. And in the hidden camera show of life this makes perfect sense, sharing from the stomach on a Sunday a wound that knows no demographic.

I
could drink
a
case
of you

He actually mouths it there in infinitely accidental mercy, with eyes closed. Now I don’t have to.

I iron my hair but not my clothing. A lot of that I’ve given away. A red dress from the fourth of july that made me ill to touch. I walk and walk and curl in and out of situps on the carpet until my middle screams. I shop for products to make my face look like someone else’s. Make oatmeal in the microwave with tap water then spoon it into the trash. I put the birthday card I won’t give inside a book I’ve read to breaking. I put the blazer that my mother bought me over the shirt that I am more alive under because it feels like your eyes on me, which was like the burst and fade of light from fireworks which is like bathwater set so the metal spout can burn. I put my hands in the pockets of my jacket sometimes to keep them still because even now even after even in the cold and the dark of your stepping from my locked arms my head appears suddenly bobbing above the water and I float away on the ecstatic luck of a love so vital as to sing all the same even without its partner. And then I turn on the car and drive.

But other times
I listen to Blue.

4

double-u double-u double-u  dot fragrantica dot com is a wealth of poetics, ephemera, is art for whatever that’s worth. “this smells like high school” “synthetic in a good way” “say what you want about this one, women like it” because scent is the basest sensory experience, because there are no words for the way I unfold from the center when you — or a college football player with a similar looking medicine cabinet, now, and oh, this makes me mad– walk by. The English language has not advanced that far. It won’t. But these men with lines shaved in their faces in their perfume website profile picture say they get compliments all day when they wear it, that on the streets after the gym the masses flock forward, needful, compelled, and so I breathe out jagged, sniff right back hungry, say it’s only science when I cry at Sephora.

5

Oh

But I do love boys who love Bob Dylan
And my mother loves Bob Dylan
And I love boys who love Bob Dylan who are
so much softer than they realize, who have taken sensitivity as a pose of intellect, who believe they have a handle on the way the moon moves with just their sweet pink brains, I can
I can talk to a Dylan boy at a party and feel impossible tenderness that does not sour

But we are sad
I may finally say

with my mouth wrapped on a plastic cup and my eyes on a girl across the room. Eventually, I will have to. Can’t you hear in your own voice that you are broken? Here we are, everyday, wading through. Dear one, you. Aren’t you tired, always, from pretending to win? It only happens, then happens. We can’t stop it and we chase it and I have been so happy I have holes in my teeth now. But I do love boys who love Bob Dylan who can’t see the way their own body has rebuilt itself around the cellular understanding they heard and found and held, the truth that beneath everything is the sorrow of its absence. It is always coming and so it is always there, the throb. The wet line down each bone waits to weep and this is what allows for all the rest to matter. The slow mornings painted a supernatural sleepy green. Beer soaked summer sun fat with possibility, salt tongues, barked laughs, the spectacular stupidity of human skin, alive, exploding on contact, not the last or only organ I wished I could rip forth and give. Streetlamp light through a high up window framing the mouth shapes, starts and stops, on the only face I’d ever need to see again. The fraction of a second, hanging in exalt forever, of her hand moving from the steering wheel to my leg. Always, always the goodbye hangs on the doorframe a long-limbed joker like the boys in the bright rooms who love queen jane. They don’t know, I don’t know and we are only falling. I can’t regret having been swallowed whole.

6

I spent money on heavy shoes
a navy velvet jacket
pretzel cheddar cheese combos
39 ounces of diet coke in styrofoam
tall socks cause my feet hurt
a t-shirt bearing a politically pointed joke
three kinds of chapstick
a book of mean poems
a book of kind advice
a book about Dickensian lesbian thieves
silver hoop earrings silver hoop earrings
silver
hoop earrings
professional removal of hair from my eyebrows
serum that stings so I stay young forever,
a horrifying prospect,
Taco Bell
red wine, ad nauseum
and
toilet bowl cleaner
an Adele song
new underwear with candy colored stripes to replace the pairs her dog ate

It hasn’t helped.

7

I may never see the rest of Making a Murderer
or find a use for my cold hands that I prefer to
sneaking them in against the small of her back.
I don’t imagine I’ll order steak over the telephone or
say Serendipity is stupid and mean it or
drive that stretch of highway easy,
and I’ll drive that stretch of highway daily, or
sleep to the sound of her breathing, no. That’s
too much I won’t say it,
or sleep,
or –probably– get the blood stain out of those sweatpants
(on Sunday I cried because I got a blood stain on those sweatpants)
Or think of Lizzie McGuire the same way
Or move first in my mind to my late grandmother when I crack a Miller Lite

8

It was never actually  insane, except the taste of it.

I didn’t know before and that is so funny, like, all right I’m stupid. I throat laugh I ache I can’t believe my body now when it moves through my days, I can’t. And when we laughed I knew had bones in me, but I’m not just sharpness now I am not my skin but I like what it feels like to be touched. I do! Okay okay because I can ride in the front on the highway and I know the songs. I can hold hands. I made myself a liar by all the old rules made for safety because of how I don’t even squirm. I don’t want to crawl from under my wanting, don’t even itch about it. A miracle a spectacle a flicker flame of trust that burned down an iron cage. I never want to breathe anybody else and I leave big tips when I pick up dinner. Only sometimes. Usually she pays. Paid. I am me. I am magnanimous I am crying I am the divine sickly head rush before the starting tone sounds in a swim race, leaning forward tight and waiting to give over to the chlorine burn, the man made chill, the muscles thumping, the heart that heart. I don’t really understand. I am delirious for wanting and beside myself for getting. So, the loss. The loss is already more. I am already too far. I am laughing because one night late and bare there together all wet and made more water just crying just moving through the feeling I didn’t care. I have so many small notebooks of secrets in my entrails, up my spine, in the jumping blue veins at my elbow. I am only all that ever happened to me, and everything I’ve done, and now like nothing I put my head in her lap and tell. Or I try. Or I like to. Or I want to. I’m bent. I say yes with all of me my bottom bloody belly is yes and all my breaths. Yes out my pores yes I need I want I love I can I rest I suck I hold I open my lips I yes, in out, I am, true.

Some days I can live on the ouroboros of my love alone. The whole of me, the hole in me is full with how I see you all in shades of gold, true good, true bright, I’m nodding now, I mean it. It’s okay. Some days I can feel the lining of my stomach wearing thin and wearing through. I can feel the pieces of myself you took away by accident. I can’t be sure you even wanted them; they’re gone. I search with fingertips top to bottom for nothing. Since the first, or anyway the start of the undoing,
the becoming
the woman,
there have been stretch marks on my breasts.
Quivering white tears
of tiny failure
or, alternately
the joke of the flesh that allowed me to put on
falsely like a silk gown
for dressing or shoes for dancing or a masquerade
the pose of an older woman
freed from and unfettered by
(Finally.)
the strangeness of the body
the climbing bile of shame.

It makes no sense, I told all the girls who saw them. The girls that looked at me, prodding pink. I am made from all the smallest of humilities. And mostly hollows.

Now, I know
that my girl body long ago away in years and bends
was ready for how
your presence would stretch
the machine in my chest
to breaking, to brilliance, to greater than skin
breaking
and so made scars
And marked the conquered terrain
so any new flavor I might seek
would see how I had torn

Dear, fox-faced, flint and cashmere Taylor Swift writes too many breakup songs say the bored and boring who are already dead but are paid to write about culture, and I suppose they have never known the exquisite horror that floods the days that come after a love you were so certain of keeping that it seeped into your best kidney and your sweetmeats and bedsheets and your favorite jeans becomes a love you remember but can no longer hold. Taylor Swift is enormously wealthy and famous because a pain like that is not eradicated from the body when it is named aloud but rather the words — and the cry quite unlike words for how it is too much of the body too much of the blood and throat sludge — must repeat on and on and over, a call to arms, to god, a zealot’s prayer, a mystic’s mantra, a superstition whisper-hummed against the bathroom floor where cat litter digs into your cheek pressed on the cool tile. I ache I ache I ache.

When I sleep now, we are together, euphemistically, and in the flesh from end to end, from sweat snarled nape to tattooed ankle, and all the mixed up pieces in between, mine or yours mine and yours yours on mine mine in yours, but the room begins to burn as I wake.

9

I skipped an Eileen Myles reading I had been counting down the days til so we could buy wine down the street and smoke out the window and watch an Australian children’s television show about teenage mermaids and be naked together in dark sheets so I could press my mouth to every heat source you were blessed with and shiver at the truly startling prospect that the cruel and wild universe would allow me to feel so whole, or your hair to be so soft.

I am not won’t be was never sorry and today I would choose you, too.
I am not won’t be was never sorry and today I need you, too.

I skipped an Eileen Myles reading I had been counting down the days til so I could pick the sunburn scabs from your back and I only want to write on the wall in plain block letters we will see in slow blink tandem if ever both our glances fall again on the spot where once we were in love that, whatever else, I didn’t think twice.

top five times I cried in public in 2015

  1. On Halloween I was heartsick in head to toe black and I cried until my chest heaved, then heaved until I vomited between two cars and onto one patent leather shoe because a single moment’s damp eye contact had made astonishingly clear that this pain was not mine alone and that, more than anything else, was unbearable. A little girl dressed as a princess could see me but I only thought, well, and so she should. To smile would have made it only scarier, I was certain, too funhouse mirror horrible to bear, even if I could make my face follow that command. Later I lay on the floor with Stevie Nicks spinning around me and I held my ribcage together with my hands until the salt swam me to sleep.

  2. Every single time I listened to “Fast Car” by Tracy Chapman while walking around the grocery store trying to remember what kind of food I like to eat. This happened to me more times than average, but not more than is reasonable or right for a bleeding, feeling human.

  3. I saw the movie Spotlight with my mother and when Mark Ruffalo yelled at Michael Keaton because lots of priests were sexually abusing lots of children in Boston and everywhere and in Boston and they were in Boston and Mark Ruffalo felt angry and ineffectual and he wanted to do something if printing a story in the newspaper is doing something and, well, I cried, not for more than a minute but hard and true so that for the remainder of the film and in the car afterward my body ached, and I felt really weird about it then and I feel weird about it now. I cross myself when I’m nervous but I don’t believe in god.

  4. One night I stopped at Target for tampons and moral support and while pacing in a makeup aisle a Maybelline advertisement featuring indisputable It Girl of the year Gigi Hadid caught my eye and I remembered out of nowhere a clip I had seen from a red carpet interview in which Gigi teared up while speaking about the struggles of her mother, sister, and brother with Lyme disease, and – gazing greedily into her perfect golden face, which had suffered the obligatory sullying from streaks of lip gloss and eyeshadow left behind by the dirty fingers of people testing makeup that’s not even for testing, like, christ, but sang a star spangled banner for me just the same –I teared up too.

  5. In June I walked alone to a chapel where I sat in a pew and waited for Judy Blume. Judy Blume touched my hand and smiled for a picture in which I smiled too. Judy Blume laughed because I told her I was nine years old when I read Summer Sisters and, having written Summer Sisters, Judy Blume knows it’s not for nine year olds. But you understood what you were ready for, she said. So it’s okay. You understood about friendship. About love. Judy Blume wrote, “To Tess Love, Judy Blume” on a book that I was allowed to take home with me. Outside, I sent a series of texts to a woman I had kissed for the very first time not twenty four hours prior, who I had thought about kissing for most of two years, thought rarely of anything else. I told her about Judy. I didn’t wish to be anywhere else in the world than where I was at that moment, except that I wished she was with me. For kissing, to touch my hand that had touched Judy’s hand, to be alive beside me underneath the navy blue sky that is only exactly that spectacular a couple times a summer, and only if you take the time to look. I wished that she was there to hear my fevered story in person but I knew that in the coming days she would be, and I would hear hers, that we would vibrate all our somethings into each other so that we were, neither of us, left again to feel the weight of nothingness. I knew all of this certainly, which is heavy emotional lifting for June. I had tripped headlong into love and high-fived Judy Blume on the way down, and I cried on the sidewalk licking a frozen lemonade in a paper cone because I knew in the soft middle of all my bones that I was incredibly lucky. The next day the Supreme Court ruled in favor of marriage equality.

and i will grow out of all the empty bottles in my closet

Screen Shot 2015-11-09 at 5.24.32 PM

and i will grow out of all the empty bottles in my closet : november 2015

you wouldn’t like me – tegan and sara
up the wolves – the mountain goats
violet – hole
all your favorite bands – dawes
swan dive – waxahatchee
something bad – julia nunes
atoms – nana grizol
if you’re feeling sinister – belle and sebastian
me and you again – kelsey waldon
blowin’ in the wind – bob dylan
chinatown – girlpool
fast car – tracy chapman
the sound of settling – death cab for cutie
anywhere but here – chumped
gypsy – suzanne vega
fuck was i – jenny owen youngs
running on empty – jackson browne

 

 

i have been trying to pray, as an act of comedy and desperation, which are the same. i cannot bear myself so i make my mind a telephone and all the thoughts for someone else who is listening who does not exist who does not care about me who loves my soul because it’s criminal who will deliver me (deliver me!!) who lives above my grandmother’s piano on a glossy piece of woodwork, a maudlin t between the picture frames. at mass on all saints day in black jeans i was ruined already i said, have me, anybody, any of you. take these pieces. i have been trying to pray.

 

when i think of all the girls i have tried to be i think of pink bubbled fingertips burnt on ironed hair like pretty fake five dollar fried silk disgusting on the floor and chair and bed sheets after the rain messy soft and broken smooth. i was trying. and so many dressed like boys and moved like cats and more smelled like sugar. sugar on fire and sticky prom palms. when i think of all the girls i have tried to be i see my new white sneakers stolen at the mall, from a display of sweaters, from a plastic bag. and i cried because i had known exactly what i was when i walked circles in those shoes across the speckled carpet and the loss seemed unsurmountable and the loss was an attack and i think maybe they cost forty dollars and i cried. i was nine they were nikes they were like my best friend’s. she ran faster than me. i didn’t know her anymore in middle school i let my hair grow out in middle school i found denim skirts in middle school. when i think of all the girls i have tried to be i am playing redbutt on the blacktop and it is important not to wince when the ball hits you and it is important to wish it came harder to show no tears when you turn to taller boys who understand you as a creature that should be embarrassed all the time it is important to splay your fragile fingers without fear and i put my face right on the bricks. when i think of all the girls i have tried to be i am thirteen and i put my ponytail up higher and i run and i run and i know the sound of so many pairs of purple cleats in the same dirt and i shave away the untouched weakness on my thighs so they won’t see it in the sun and we sit in spandex laps later and we smell like sweat if sugar sweat we smell sweet when we’re tired we taste like when something is ending already at the very start. the flipbook fast heartbreak of something almost like ease.

 

when i think of all the girls i have tried to be i get religious i get religion i get god from their discarded t-shirts like fallen soldiers from the sun through pink curtains part where they saw me over their shoulders saw me saw me i say the rosary and every bead is a noise of barely choked exuberance when she made a mean joke is a mangled pinky finger from a preschool break is a lie to spare my feelings that i caught and pretended not to is thick & full biotin & collagen shampoo and only blue m&ms. i see the slant of their handwriting badly imitated on my own papers and i think everyone who has ever died knows now exactly how afraid i am of living. when i think of all the girls i have tried to be i am dressed as a football player for fourth grade halloween i am abandoning soccer for field hockey and girls with glossed mouths i am buying rap music i am running until i am sick and sick and as happy as i’ve ever been there to fall over helpless take me i’m yours. when i think of all the girls i have ever tried to be i am giving back their secrets i am braiding them with my own unspoken songs i am in a small dark room somewhere forever writing each of them a book of love poems that read like an apology. all of yours that was golden turned green against my skin, i say, and i am sorry that i took it. i was trying.

 

when i think of all the girls i have tried to be i see them as their parts i feel their old jeans i smell their skin taste crooked nailbeds and fine points of fraying baby hair at the base of so many necks. smiles full of teeth a doctor fixed and purple under beige under eyes and all the soap. every scar and cruel impulse i detected i devoured and it made them only more the magic it made me lean my head in closer yes tell me you are the monster i’ve been waiting for i need someone to fear. it wasn’t like that. it’s not that way. i look inside my closet all the time still, won’t someone eat me alive? when i think of all the girls i have tried to be i’m counting up my own pieces to see what can be saved. can i salvage the new electric bodily animation of being in love? swallow the want back into me til my tired stomach lining says no more, revolts, my insides are asleep out of self-preservation. you’ve fucked us up bad. weak ankles and swollen eyes and spite like spoiled red wine i carry i keep in new costumes with new faces. if i laugh in a booth with my friends, their vibrating builds and shaking hands, if i pretend i am a person does the small death at my center feel betrayed? eating breakfast seems inconsiderate when your minor organs are at war. when i think of all the girls i have tried to be i’m naked at the grocery store waiting for a sign in warbled fingerprint writing on the frozen aisle glass. what will you be?

i like confession, keep a Mary candle at my bedside i tell her hey girl please. please. cross myself until my arms ache i pull my hair out still I’m grown. first penance is a ceremony and i wore red shoes. first penance gave permission from god to be sorry all the time and i took it i was thirsty. O my god i am sorry for having offended you and I detest all my sins. O my god because of Your just punishments. Just punishments. In choosing to do wrong and failing to do good i have sinned against you i am seven years old please strike me down so that i can be born again with ashley’s fine bones and worth loving i am sixteen years old please whip the skin he ever touched my mouth and other open spots stained with whiskey and doritos i am trying O my god. i am twenty three years old and i only believe in my horoscope and no indoor heating before thanksgiving please cleanse me of the foolish notion that i know anything of love. in choosing to do wrong and failing to do good i made my heart into a new age smoothie my god have mercy.

KSTEWSDAY #4 : A VERY SPECIAL TWILIGHT 10TH ANNIVERSARY EDITION

If I met Kristen Stewart I would want her to think I was cool and chill and fine to casually make out with, but would do nothing in service of presenting this image to her. I would breathe noisy weezes through my nose for fear of sinking into excited mouth breathing. I would ask her where she buys her jeans. If I met Kristen Stewart I would tell her that The Twilight Saga was a bizarrely but inescapably important foundational text for nearly all of the academic work I would do in the years following its release. I’d want to talk about how accidentally subversive it was for a Mormon stay-at-home-mom who thinks that teenage girls who drive big red trucks in the mid aughts would wear a skirt that is “long, khaki, still casual” to meet their boyfriend’s parents could have written a series of books literally and explicitly about a young woman who wants to have sex so badly that she is happily prepared to die for it. I’d unfurl a scroll of thoughts and feelings about Bella Swan that reaches all the way to the doorsteps of my friends in California, and I think she would get it. Kristen Stewart gets Bella. She always understood Bella, and so I would tell her that I was Feminist Bella Swan for Halloween last year, a costume replete with a “Team Bella” tanktop, scuffed Doc Martens, a blood splattered copy of Wuthering Heights.  I’d tell her, “like, obviously not to conflate sexuality and politics entirely but the original concept was… Lesbian Bella.” I would whisper this bit conspiratorially, if only for the chance to lean in close enough to know what her hair smells like so I could tell all my friends later. If I met Kristen Stewart I would make everything so weird so fast that she wouldn’t even blink when I started talking about “Flightless Bird, American Mouth.”

I’ve cried in the fetal position on the floor of a communal shower while “Naked As We Came” buzzed weakly from where I’d left my phone propped by the sinks, but that was just a weird Wednesday, and rerecording “Flightless Bird, American Mouth” especially for Breaking Dawn Pt. 1 is still the only thing Iron & Wine have ever done that matters. I love telling people that Iron & Wine rerecorded “Flightless Bird, American Mouth” especially for Breaking Dawn Pt. 1 so much that I would probably do so even if it weren’t true. It is, though. In the first Twilight film, Edward and Bella dance together at the prom while the song plays. In Breaking Dawn Pt. 1, Edward and Bella dance together at their wedding while the special “wedding version” of the song plays. America is the best, most stupid stoned idea anybody’s ever had.

The first Twilight book was published ten years ago yesterday. That’s scary. I was thirteen. Not at first, but over the next years, we read them in shared sacred circles on the field hockey team. ”You have to read it. You have to.” Everybody half embarrassed but everybody tucking the next tattered installment into their backpack anyway — huddled by the lockers in the morning in clouds of Bath and Body Works — only to pull it out again when World Religions got boring. Everybody’s book borrowed and buried in somebody else’s bed covers. Texting on a Sunday night, like, “wait… do you have eclipse??? I need it!” Twilight was its own moment and it mattered. That doesn’t shame or bother me, but it was then and remains today, funny and strange and dear to think about. These are not good books but I loved to love them when we loved them and love to love what I remember of what it was like, then, that loving, together, and all this before the movies even happened. When I moved into my first college dorm, I was mortified by and unforgiving about the huge Twilight poster my roommate had emblazoned across the wall above her bed, because in my shrewdly discerning seventeen year old eyes the moment for that sort of behavior had long past, goodbye to all that, speak of it only half drunk in whispers in booths over plates of fries, but I’m kinder now. I would be kinder now. Well, maybe. I don’t know. I mean, it was a Jacob poster. Honestly.

Now, in 2015, Stephenie Meyer, hilariously, has written and released what basically amounts to genderbent fan fiction of her own novel, which I judge as well within her rights, considering that E.L. James has made a fortune on her blatant Twilight Saga ripoff that stripped everything worthwhile from the original work and replaced it with white wine, Wrangler jeans, and a really gross misunderstanding of BDSM. A wise woman I am lucky to know pointed out that if a man rewrote his bestselling novel and released it again, the lit world would call it avant garde, and of course that’s true. An arguably even wiser woman said she can’t wait to drop everything for the sake of writing heady slash fic about the romance between Bella and Edythe, the girl version of Edward from the new book, Life and Death : Twilight Reimagined, and of course that’s beautiful. It has been quite a day; I wonder what Kristen thinks.

I would not expect Kristen Stewart to slow dance with me to “Flightless Bird, American Mouth” because slow dancing makes me anxious. When we were already a bottle and a half (red, obviously. And it would be a joke about blood, but I wouldn’t say so out loud) deep, I’d just put it on, like nothing, like anything, make eye contact, sit down. I would only smile a tiny bit, but I do admit that I imagine we would both be wearing Converse sneakers, like Bella wore to prom. She would get it, of course, and make a small laugh sound, slightly choked, but more devious than anything. She’d say, “Oh, fuck off, “ or something in that vein that I would find myself hopelessly lovestruck by, stuffed with shapeless teenage ardor all the way up past my chin, and so I would stand up. If I met Kristen Stewart, I would stand up wine drunk and stretch out my arms, swaying, play-dancing like a small Cinderella in her bedroom in overlong cartoon pajamas pretending for her prince, only I’d be the stuffy old vampire, and I’d be waiting, plainly, openly, for something else, because when I said would not expect Kristen Stewart to slow dance with me to “Flightless Bird, American Mouth,” all I really meant is that I am very tall and would not expect her to lead.

Take me anywhere, I don’t care, I don’t care, I don’t care, or, Meditations on Feeding the Meanness Whatever It Takes To Fall Asleep

I wrote a poem about waves once and of course it was only ever about feelings. I know nothing of the sea. I wrote a poem about waves once — “the high moon it moves / me immobile no / just the water yes / and that salt taste” — when the moon was someone with very dark eyes. In high school if you wear glasses at drama club meetings then you must write about bruises, and it’s exactly the same. It is all exactly the same. The coming the swelling the color that fades. I wanted at some point somewhere to write comedy, and occasionally I did, but there is a vital pouring, there is a law of life and limb, and, first, it says, it says first, that a warbling parade of concessions must be made to the low slung ecstasy of everything that happens, all of it, again and again. It’s like losing baby teeth. That gummy horror, apples and doorknob string. Blue water wall, blood moon, skinned knees, ever fading. I liked The Smiths by accident before I knew that skinny boys in bad jeans would think it was cool to and by the time I had learned this I thought that they and Morrissey could all honestly just fuck off.

The waves were all the ways to be sad. Boring, lazy writing. Cycles, yeah. Okay. The slow creep that leaves the body bone tired. A heady loneliness like sandbagged lungs on bright busy days. That hate that hate, the acrid taste of it, the ache all over. At twelve I slept under a framed Breakfast at Tiffany’s movie poster like any girl with a cat and gloom and a wish to see herself as something graceful might, and I was never embarrassed but I already knew that when I got taller and took film classes I would never mention it, or that I would — ever more obstinate with age — but only to incite a rise from anybody who quoted Orson Welles and mistook himself for smarter than me. It was Truman Capote who told me about the mean reds, then, the fear. I reread In Cold Blood at Christmas. I don’t claim to make sense. I swim now largely through clear water and without the murk I used to lounge in — performing, luxuriating to pretend you are not drowning — and I have always been strong in the water, but when I wake up any day, it could be any day, it is, with the sensation that I should run and run and run more until I’ve escaped my skin that is doomed beyond reason, and which, anyway, itches, then I know it. I know it’s the mean reds.

Holly Golightly: You know those days when you get the mean reds?

Paul Varjak: The mean reds. You mean like the blues?

Holly Golightly: No. The blues are because you’re getting fat, and maybe it’s been raining too long. You’re just sad, that’s all. The mean reds are horrible. Suddenly you’re afraid, and you don’t know what you’re afraid of. Do you ever get that feeling?

You know, The Smiths are not my angst. When the Zooey Deschanel movie happened and everybody who was never alt to begin with got all twisted up, I didn’t mind. Britney Spears knows me better. Carole King absolves my sins. There is not a band or a noise or a wall of feeling  vibrating anywhere on this Earth that I’ve cried along to more than Rilo Kiley, because Jenny Lewis’ sadness is as obsessed with vanity as mine. The Smiths lack a certain sloppiness in all the maudlin groaning which I require so as to feel forgiven if I cry on the bus. I wouldn’t want to tell Moz a single secret. I put “Fast Car” by Tracy Chapman on a CD that I made for a small sun-soaked soccer player from a small seaside state, and when she played it, sitting on her pink bedspread that may have been orange, she peeled an orange that may have been a tangerine and got the juice in her hair, pulled the strands flat, smooth and sticky, said, “so, where are you trying to go?” Lorde hadn’t happened yet; I think she was thirteen. If Lorde had happened I would have chosen “A World Alone” for somewhere in the middle meat of that tracklist. Lorde hadn’t happened yet but now that she’s here I’ve remade my thousands of lists about running away to no place in someone’s passenger seat and none of them are without – “I feel grown up with you in your car / I know it’s dumb.” I know it’s dumb. I don’t like anybody to know I love The Mountain Goats as much as I do, lest they get the idea that I’d be interested in their roommate’s diy folk project, or their feelings at all (because the hideous secret is I’m probably interested in both), but “Jenny” is the only song in the world some nights when every bit of me is screaming to move and go, to be moved somewhere at a high howling speed. When John Darnielle describes, in his half-singing, the act of leaning forward and inhaling the scent of the motorcycle driver as they speed away (“I sank my face / into your hair / and then I inhaled / as deeply as I possibly could / you were sweet and delicious / as the warm desert air”) something lurches. I purse my lips to an involuntary rosebud, flex my throat to force away a long wet breath, my wind knocked out of me all over again each time. I put “There Is A Light That Never Goes Out” on that CD for that girl and her peachy Clinique skin and I gave it to her just before the sky went dark outside and nothing in the entire world had ever been more beautiful to me than to learn that she had never heard it. The Smiths are not my angst and I don’t need them, except. Except, except take me anywhere I don’t care I don’t care I don’t caaaaare. I know.

When I remember Holly Golightly I remember some part of the performance of myself that I like to forget or pretend to. I think of Audrey Hepburn and in the face of all sense, I’m worried. It seems impossible that Audrey Hepburn was ever happy when she looked so like a deer. When all her elfin angles were doomed before she could ever have known, but, then, didn’t she, to be reproduced on the t-shirts worn of pure and precious acned misfits for the rest of all time. I watched all her movies in a week once trying to love any of more than Breakfast At Tiffany’s, for style, in my fitful girlchild moves toward an idea of becoming an aesthete, but there was, there is, always only Holly for me. Holly Golightly is too frightened to be more than selfish, bad, and mean in her black sheaths, that trench coat, in the long-lashed sleeping mask you can buy a likely shoddy replica of online. Holly Golightly is froth and bon mots bathed in luxury, and this curled all around a hard stone of anxiety at the core, a precious stone that slices and stings. She can’t name the cat or end the party. I can’t keep my hands still. The mean reds make me useless, that heart rate gone thready and wild. Dragging my knuckles along brick buildings street side, uh huh, uhhuh, uh huh. On and on til morning. Mourning. The big bad jitters, marblemouthed. I never feel the need to divorce myself from all my wanting, wanting to be, to do, to go, blinking too fast for anybody to ever think you’re neat or easy. I don’t mind the way the mouth of my heart is often frothing. I take it and give it for what it is, most days, but when I am afraid, too, then the whole dance gets desperate.

“Driving in your car / oh please don’t drop me home / because it’s not my home it’s their home / and i’m welcome no more”

To claim, to say, “to die by your side is such a heavenly way to die” is too much for me on most days, on good days, clean days. The romanticizing of death is shameful past tenth grade. I cannot abide this song in good faith. I can play it at bars for a laugh, but I would not, should not, allow it in my bedroom, in my earbuds and daydreams. But when I’ve gone edgy, it’s barely enough. The dread, it resurrects my poor taste. The fear means I could swallow all the salted soppiness of life itself, a universe swirling between my hips, and still lean and pucker and snarl for more. Take me anywhere I don’t care I don’t care I don’t care.

I am very well and when I am not I shop for thick-soled shoes I might stomp things with. Fear is gauche, really, and I don’t talk about it. I count my steps. I run on hills, lick at my own and other lips. I think so often — and when I do, I make myself put away my pens so I don’t write down anything that will embarrass me someday decades from now when the eager young academics pore over my personal effects and marginalia while at work on a hotly anticipated biography — about drivers ed. I took drivers ed when it was cold outside and, in drivers ed, a retired state trooper with a pointy white crew cut, and thick leathered skin a hundred winters couldn’t have taken the rust from, stood in a small green room across from a vegan restaurant in a warehouse near the mountains and told us to remember when a crash happens, the car stops moving, but the bodies inside continue forward at the speed it was traveling. I am allowed to drive and that’s funny because I heard nothing after this. If I stretch across the floor and listen hard to this stupid song, if I get so full of air I’m barely breathing, then there inside the silver in between I can feel like I am flying at ninety five over hot gravel while I stay perfectly still. An object in motion stays in motion. I think so often about the simple artfulness of that science, the uncomplicated beauty. Ever onward, always moving, I’m going, I’m going. There is a light and it never goes out. An object in motion stays in motion. Driving in your car, I never, never want to go home. But, of course, I always wear my seatbelt.

HOT BLOODED ALL AMERICAN GIRLS : a mix in celebration of the World Cup winning U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team.

BBYS

WE DID IT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! WE DID IT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! WE DID IT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Well, okay. They did it. The U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team has won the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup. They won. I just cried and cut the arm holes wider in tie-dye USA tanktops to allow for anxious arm swinging and drank Razberritas. I just prayed about it half in jest to my Our Lady of Guadalupe novena candle at the bedside. “Abby Wambach’s real first name is Mary,” I told her. Then they won and Abby kissed her wife with an American flag draped over her shoulders and the middle school me who saw her in passing in a parking lot once and almost lost the bones for standing out of my own soccer-tanned legs cried. I cried. I’m really happy; I’m soggy and good. They did it! They’re strong and tough and beautiful and proud and now they are champions. It’s all a lot. It’s a lot. I said that I’ve been crying, but I mean it. On and off in starts and stops, tipsy tear fits and me in my bed when it was very late, like, wow. Wow wow. We did it. There is something more intimate about my attachment to the USWNT than any other relationship I have with a sports team. I love the Red Sox but the Red Sox don’t love me. It’s complicated. I’m being crazy. Can you believe that third Carli Lloyd goal????? It was art. I’ve been thinking about 1999. I remember that whole summer, I had stars and stripes Nike shorts I wore to camp. I’ve been thinking about 1999, when I was seven and wrote Mia Hamm’s name on my face with leftover Halloween makeup, and how I felt blessed and honored and affirmed to see a group of American reign victorious in a sport that I loved, and that, although the post title ix timing of my birth means I was never made to believe there was any game a girl should not try to play, I had previously understood as something for men and boys that I could try on and have for awhile, but never keep. Even when I got old and dumb and when I didn’t play soccer anymore and I spent long days and nights letting my live-wire girl body grow up and less electric like it had to or I needed to, still, I always felt that 1999 win in my heart like a victory that belonged to me forever. The 1999 win was amazing and I am still grateful, but it didn’t keep me up all night thinking, “WE DID IT!!!!! WE DID IT!!!! WE DID IT!!!!!” That 1999 team was full of heroes who loomed over my universe golden and untouchable, but there are my girls. You know? I went to Sports Authority today to by world champion USWNT swag, even though there wouldn’t be any, and when there wasn’t any, I thought, well. That’s okay. It’s fine. This is ours anyway, mine and theirs and the little girls with paper flags stuck in their ponytails. They’re our girls. We’re lucky to have them and the crust-lipped nerd boys who would rather follow Real Madrid while sipping expensive local brews and to pretend that girls, let alone powerful, talented, accomplished female athletes, don’t exist are the one’s who miss out. My girls! These are my girls (our girls, your girls, #TheGals) and I made this playlist to celebrate their victory, twenty three songs for twenty three women who believed in and worked for a dream so hard and so long that all twenty three became World Champions last night. It gets a little messy-weird, it had a theme but then I lost it. It was all songs by women, it was all songs about America, Americana. Party songs, wedding dance floor packing jams, songs about witches that I like to wail at bars. Now, it just is. It’s just twenty three songs that make me want to throw my arms in the air, let out a wild, from-the-very-center-of-all-my-sweet-or-sour-meats-and-the-place-where-I-have-felt-the-most sound of joy, and dance with America’s finest daughter Megan Rapinoe until I’m dead, but then again that’s how I always feel.

Hashtag SHE BELIEVED hashtag I love my girls hashtag here’s the mix

“American Girl” – Bonnie McKee
“Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” – Cyndi Lauper
“Party In The U.S.A.” – Miley Cyrus
“I Wanna Dance With Somebody” – Whitney Houston
“Celebration” – Kool and the Gang
“Independent Women Part 1” – Destiny’s Child
“Walking On Sunshine” – Katrina & the Waves
“Worth It” – Fifth Harmony
“All I Wanna Do” – Sheryl Crow
“American Oxygen” – Rihanna
“We Are Family” – Sister Sledge
“Get The Party Started” – P!nk
“American” – Lana Del Rey
“Rhiannon” – Fleetwood Mac
“Little Red Wagon” – Miranda Lambert
“Yeah!” – Usher, Lil Jon, Ludacris
“You Make My Dreams Come True” – Hall & Oates
“ABC” – Jackson 5
“Silver Lining” – Rilo Kiley
“Firework” – Katy Perry
“I’m The Best” – Nicki Minaj
“Born in the U.S.A.” – Bruce Springsteen
“Run The World (Girls)” – Beyoncé

 

 

And I don’t really care if nobody else believes : Rachel Platten’s “Fight Song”

My sister was mouthing the words to this song in the car, and I noticed only because the sun was still out and, really, they’re cheesy. She wasn’t paying attention to her mouth; I’d have thought she was already a little too old for an ‘I believe in myself’ song because she got a tattoo on her birthday last week, finished high school yesterday. But that’s not fair. I do not play this kind of station when I am driving alone. “I think this was on the Pretty Little Liars Christmas special,” I said, but my sister doesn’t watch that show. Those are teenagers whose pain and whose outfits I only ever talk about with grown women.

“Fight Song” sounds like it ought to be fifteen years old. I don’t really understand how it’s not. It gains little through close-reading. It doesn’t get better when you listen to it over and over. I heard it once and I knew it belonged nowhere more than in the turning-point scene of an early aughts chick flick, the moment where the well-scrubbed female lead realizes that she has the power to solve whatever crisis has arisen in her color-by-numbers pretty world, that she can succeed in law school, or reunite her feuding friends, or save the wedding, that she can, in fact, meet that magazine deadline and win back the guy. What speaks to me about Rachel Platten’s track is a dated toothlessness. Vanessa Carlton should sing this song in boot leg jeans. Today, when adults speak to teenagers through the radio (Rachel Platten is thirty four years old, which is approximately two decades older than the target of this watermelon flavored — cherry-tasting music can’t be this sexless. this is a science. watermelon lip balm is for girls who go to the mall to buy t-shirts with sayings not to cruise the food court for offduty FYE clerks with double-pierced ears — me-against-the-world jam she’s schilling, but! but!!!) they do it with their hip more popped, wearing their bravado less like it surprises them, with a little more #game. The delicate declaration of self here, the cute comeback call, sounds like it could have been playing when Lauren Conrad got a second chance to go to Paris and didn’t fuck it up for her loser boyfriend that time. Platten’s voice dances above the piano, emphatic but candied, emphatically candied. The only moment of that goes so far as to break the spell is the odd and plucky “and I don’t really care if nobody else believes.” That line is delivered with an earnestness I almost have to take to bed about, even after I tell myself it is just little baby boxing punches aimed at nobody at all. You can’t even get something like that down your throat without a swig of adolescent disengagement from the reality where nobody is working against you, because nobody cares that much. I have a vision inside me of a girl processing this song with a pretty pink brain that doesn’t have all the pathways yet that mine does now. I don’t like to talk about teenage girls as if they are fragile, fairy-tale obsessed babies to be treasured and coddled and fed girl power anthems, because that discredits the force and intelligence and compassion of the lot of them and full-scale alienates and erases huge swaths, but I was a weird girl, too. I was a weird girl and I still had soft parts. Not every girl needs a Taylor Swift song to score their every emotion, and anybody anywhere will certainly go on fine having never heard “Fight Song,” but, I don’t know. “And I don’t care if nobody else believes,” just probably sounds really perfect sometimes on the school bus.

This nothing song, these empty platitudes we have heard a million times, the way that the movement of the whole thing, a dance that has been here done over and over so the floor has small shoes prints worn in, calls to mind a crisply edited montage of a girl in a pink sports bra galloping determinedly on an elliptical machine, toning her thighs as a symbol of the new fire in her heart, none of it has any right to work so well. But it does. It has. It always will. There is something torn open, but neater than a proper wound, in young women, that can always be filled by the kind of song that immediately conjures up the image of music video where a white girl in a fluttery tank top walks down an abandoned street, feeling deeply, even if the actual video doesn’t exist, and I am old, and I don’t know care to know better, and I am just glad it isn’t Sara Bareilles, and it doesn’t make a difference that’s it’s stupid and you’re boring to think so, and it acts as a crystalline dart straight to my wore pink on Wednesdays in eighth grade heart. And, like, I don’t really care if anybody else believes. You know? What Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants girl are you? I’m a Tibby, but I’m a Bridget. I think, a Bridget rising, I think I admire all my Lena friends the most. Are you crying a little all the time, like, I heard a version of “Feels Like Home” play at work and I almost cried. I get so sad about Brittany Murphy out of nowhere. I’m still worried for Heidi Montag but I want to respect her life choices. I have learned that Michelle Branch can be a strange salve when your muscles atrophy on a wooden floor years and years after the song you’re playing was new. A spoonful of sugar, the soundtrack to 13 Going on 30 pulled out from under the bed, still in its jewel case. That Sixpence None the Richer song when you can’t tell if you’re not dead. Elle Woods had a scented pink resume and then she spoke at graduation. “Suddenly I See” really does make every day seem like maybe it can be conquered if you listen to it when you’re walking.

BABY U A SONGGGGGGG : an essay

After graduating from college I took a hardcover copy of The Secret History — stolen by careful will, not mistake– and rode North in a passenger’s seat until all I could see was woods. The first thing I did in Vermont was drop my cell phone on the pavement outside the state visitors center, and the second was wait in line to pee. Then I slept like a little death, just a quick one. It was cooler up by the water under all the green so I didn’t even sweat in that wood paneled room like summer sleepers should, and in the morning I rode a bike a long, long way on a skinny gravel path, two feet three feet, one way, the other, and the lake, the lake. The size of it, the expansive body of this forest bathtub, this destination, not the sea, these waters for my old dog to paddle in were so large that I could go and go and go and still I could see only the shore that was behind me, where I’d started, never the one that was ahead. I am not a cyclist and I had nowhere to go. The end of college came in the least romantic way, suddenly in spite of all the time it took to reach it, and with theatrics that felt tiresome, that required much labor, much whiskey in the sun. And, the sun. It was so hot on the day it was finally over. There are prizes for the kids who trip over the last hurtle in the 200mm race and I think some articles on the Internet say that’s why everyone born after John Belushi died sucks. I went to Vermont before my diploma came in the mail and I pedaled hard enough to know I’d be sorry in the morning. I looked at the water when my back ached. When I got to what felt like it must be the middle, but wasn’t, I turned around and felt the sun on new parts of me until I rolled onto the grass again and stopped with both sneakers down.

I am getting old enough to know that I was right all along to think that Nelly is a national treasure. Do you know, did you, the boys, some of them, in my middle school that the state has taken over now, used to put a bandage on their cheeks, too? I like to talk about this but it always comes up at parties where someone played “Hot In Herre” as a joke and you cannot speak about anything to a white boy without their assuming you are talking about other white boys, more and more of them, all over. They don’t get what I mean. They won’t know how to receive what I am trying to say and I don’t trust myself to teach them so I just go and change bikinis. The Tim McGraw duet is a decade-defining classic, I say, and walk somewhere else fast. The fire in the firepit wouldn’t go which was fine because I like to watch TV. One day I drank a whole bottle of pink wine. Between two afternoons I moved through a case of mixed flavored Mike’s Hards. The best thing to be when it is hot and your are nobody, really, is half-drunk and sticky sweet. I have never been wise or vigilant about a single thing but sunblock and I get freckled anyway. Are you ever, quite frankly, sick to your stomach about the way that life has turned out so little like you imagined it would and yet almost exactly like “White Houses” by Vanessa Carlton said it would? He’s so funny in his bright red shirt we were all in love and we all got hurt. The first time (s) at least is (are) interesting (that distinctive taste of new hurt that is like rust, which is like blood, and, oh, you say, I have known this since the playground, oh), but it is disheartening how coltish your legs stay after all of it. Like, what was the point?

I like The Voice and so does my mom. I think it might be our best example of post post modern television. There came the time when the primal hunger of the public for stories to watch through the lens of themselves was not quenched by actors performing fictional roles on television anymore and so we birthed the Kardashians and they got many many millions for our trouble– as is right– and Kelly Clarkson won American Idol, and every time she has a new hit song everybody gets to feel that they picked her out and made her real. Reality TV is so weird. Somebody somewhere is writing a doctoral thesis on Bravo shows and I hope they think it is an honor. The idea of real is dumb and weird and we watched so many people win and lose, for real, for “real,” on television we don’t care anymore. I like The Voice because in a number of years and a greater number of television seasons it has not produced a single star. We like when Blake Shelton and Adam Levine touch each other and fight. It is funny to see Carson Daly and I am glad that he is well. Christina Aguilera doesn’t really like to coach these singers so much as she likes to remind them and us that she better and this warms me, it does. The ruling executives at NBC appear content to rotate the famous black man and famous blond woman seated between Blake and Adam at their leisure, sticking in whoever will agree to show up. It is so, so strange. It goes down, though, easy,  sweet tasting and comfortingly viscous, like taking somebody elses insides, like the cherry cough syrup I used to want a second capful of. We are past pretending that we care for the finding of a victor or the making of a star, a “””star”””, and I am fascinated. I thought about all of that in Vermont on a night that needed a sweatshirt when my shoulders were pink, which made me ashamed, another wrong, and at my best game. I excel at fearing the sun. Hyper-vigilant and smelling like a pool party.  I was twenty-one and finished with everything I had ever started. And, Nelly. I saw Nelly on television singing with Florida Georgia Line. Florida Georgia Line is goofy. Are goofy. It is two dudes. If I look at them too much I want, more than usual, to have all straight white men sterilized to give the world a chance, but there is every reason to go and assume they’re perfectly nice. They sing country music, kind of. When they were in high school I guess they probably liked rap and their dads did not. They had this song “Cruise” and they’ve had a bunch more since then, but, “Cruise.” “Cruise.” Cruise. And Cruuuuuise. “Cruise” has absolutely nothing to recommend it except that it feels amazing. Florida Georgia line is a band and “Cruise” is their song and it’s great, it’s great-great, it’s, like, porch beers, like nobody punching anybody in the driveway on Sunday because “I Wanna Dance With Somebody” was playing in a car that drove by, like real big ugly whole mouth kissing, gross, like the kind you didn’t dream about ever but need now, like running downhill, it’s like the opposite of an out of body experience, I can feel the way that my stomach and all the accompanying parts are shaped when this song is playing; I’m alive! “Cruise” is the right kind of lumbering, it is as much nothing as we need and not more or less,  the exact blend of nonsense at just the right pace to touch your pillow lungs and old soccer injuries and both your grown feet, like, good pop is forever, good pop songs sound like you’ve known them all along, it’s “Cruise,” it makes my brain so quiet, and when it is remixed with the Nelly verse — they don’t play that version on country radio, an epistemic violence against something of great and true beauty, against a lot of things — it is transcendent.

There are few pleasures on par with watching a dog from the suburbs learn to swim in open water. Lemon in my hair when I was little did not make it any lighter. Magazine print melts off on naked thighs in backyards. “Cruise” is a summer song. Summer song’s have to be easy because everyone is a little fussy when they’re sweating and they have to be stupid, even if that stupidity was perfectly crafted, even if it is a kind of stupid that lifts those who experience it up from the doldrums of daily life to a higher plateau, even if it is a transformative type of stupid. I love good pop music like how I love girls; easy, on instinct, a want and trust and tendency toward treasuring that’s in my build. It’s more than just how the men you loved and the ones you have never looked at still always are trying to break your surface. Like a showy guitar line and the cold bed of a truck. I listened to Exile on Main Street five hundred before I heard Exile in Guyville, but the Liz Phair song that’s gonna keep the most people alive is “Why Can’t I” and, anyway, some rock music is pop music. The distinctions are madeup so you just toe-touch your way through. Pop is less a genre than it is a sentiment, and it pours from me unprompted; it was already there. “Baby you a so[ooo]n[nnn]g[ggg] you make me wanna roll my windows down and cruise” is only one of one million ways to say you want to taste some brightness, to be in your sunlight and someone elses swirled together, breathing. “Cruise” is two men singing, and when Nelly’s there it’s three, singing more like shouting after a girl the girl you with the long tan legs. Climb on up let’s go get this thing stuck, I don’t hear them asking, only the feeling of my wanting to go. Something, like, summer songs refract light like your great aunt’s kitschy crystal ball lawn ornament, it is, it’s all, for you.

When Florida Georgia Line and Nelly performed “Cruise” on The Voice, I was on a couch in Vermont half drunk and sorry, half-sorry, a soppy kind of melancholy for the wholly hollowed out. I am built neither for high heat or for endings, and that’s why I become such a a monster in the summers. I start swallowing oceans or blue swimming pools and knocking my bare knees into everything til I know I take up too much space. I prefer the cleanliness of cold weather, and knowing each night what I will be each morning. The sweet sweat seasons aren’t that way, but they have the songs. “Cruise” isn’t “Cruise” without the 4th of July in sight. The abyss gazes back and when the humidity is high that abyss sounds like Top 40. Atlanta or Charleston told me to give it up for their boy and then Nelly was on stage, and the stage was spitting sparks. Nelly has less neck than he did when I was in middle school and it is almost better this way. He arrives to tell us country girls that head to toe we all that and he’s all arms and vigor. They cut to Usher so that we see Usher is happy. I am so happy. The Florida Georgias and Nelly are jumping up and down. It is suddenly and truly so nice to have your presence desired on an unnamed back road you won’t really go on. If I am light because I am empty at least I am light. I really do love Nelly. I am a song. Gigantic and weightless, ecstatic soaring nothing. Nodding and nudging each other, all our needful gestures when it’s over ninety out, just come. I got my windows down and the radio up get your radio up. The fake fire is raining on us all and, hysterically, America endures.

 

take a month of sundays to try and explain

sweet baby james – james taylor
the wild rover – the dubliners
let the river run – carly simon
daydream believer – the monkees
easy from now on – emmylou harris
jumpin’ jack flash – the rolling stones
night moves – bob seger
everywhere i go – caitlin rose
cherry bomb – john mellencamp
mr. tambourine man – bob dylan
famous in a small town – miranda lambert
hungry heart – bruce springsteen
landslide – fleetwood mac

*you are Here

My mother or anybody will tell you I was an easy baby. I was first and I was good. The opening twenty-five minutes of the movie of my life will show a solemn little girl who likes television and shirley temples with five cherries and two straws getting taller without making any trouble for anyone. Most mornings I was dropped off to my grammy who worked nights and we got back in bed together for hours with no fuss. Stories flatten the weird sharp shapes of memory, by necessity, and mine says I was watchful, quiet, unneedy, a little fat but pretty good at basketball, into Jane Austen by age six. A cookie-cutter oldest child who taught herself to read. The only thing is how I’d always cry when it was time for a party to end. How sometimes I still want to.

I’m a big fake. I’ve made a whole self around pouting and scratching at my neck, “I have to go.” That’s not to say I don’t mean it when I say I want to run away to anywhere, that it hurts in the marrow of my bones, and makes the simplest things hard, to know I haven’t, to feel still far from when I will. I have plans and I had plans like everyone and like most people–or maybe just some people, depending on my mood, depending on how ready I am to stroke my own cheek, you’ll be okay, kid, you’re all right– I am sad and sorry so much of the time, waiting on the beginning of a dream, surveying the futures I sketched in purple pen, self-indulgently sure they’re all half-ruined. I’ve already spun my wheels out so much without making any moves, muddied myself up with revved engines in spring. It’s not to say I don’t want to leave. The wanting is the point, which is the problem. I’ve been bracing for goodbyes like they’re a coming torture for so long that I think, I know, I hate, that I’ve started to like how it feels. You watch the videos of the dogs greeting soldiers because you like that heavy heaving ache from the crying. When I can’t take a breath around myself having a feeling, I feel good. Slick throat, full lungs, I’m so tired all the time trying to decide what to be sad about. When I tell you I’m a crybaby what I mean is: I’m greedy.

There is an experience of Place that becomes suddenly not about you at all. I am Here because of Here, I am an entity not in this place but of this place. Something stupid like that. I get to thinking I’m no different than dark green booths in corner with the cracks in the plastic duct taped shut, and I don’t mind. What I want to explain, I probably can’t. I’m good, sometimes, in a certain circular, snotty way, at remembering a moment and speaking of it so that it seems worth being remembered. I don’t know about the whole. I don’t know how to say why I hold in me a sense of debt to a place and to people that made me something I’m not even sure I like. I waiver and I’m always kinda weepy, I’m always too messy. I want to tell a story but I only have pangs in my stomach like adjectives, like I hope I’ve sussed it out in time to write a barely fictionalized novel about the town where I learned to be at least two or three people. There are bars I drink at now in new shoes where I used to make myself purple with wailing and stomping small shoes because there had been men with guitars that afternoon and parents in slumped huddles making lots of laughing noise while kids chased each other in circles all wearing same-looking sweaters and I didn’t want to leave. The particular trouble of my one soggy heart among the millions has always been the way I get sorry about the end of things before they’re over. Inconsolable on the last day of vacation even with an ice cream cone in hand. I wanted to cry each time I looked at the nicest boy to ever like me because I knew that we were playing inside numbered days, that I’d never be able to forgive his good teeth for making happy seem like nothing, like breathing. It was purely and truly a happy relief for college to end so of course I spent the final month in a heavy, morose fog. I’ll never take this bus again.

I keep every pink-cheeked memory tight to my chest in snarled fingers like anybody wants to take them away. In college, sometimes, I said, no, but you don’t understand. You don’t know what I come from, and that’s not true. Anywhere is like most somewheres I think and everyone was small in certain buildings near certain people who gave them hard candies from their pockets and said go outside. When I am on these streets I get sugary and when I am describing them I get riled up. It’s hard for me not to think the gold-hued tumblings of twenty years were special– my mother who pulls all the light in every room then reflects it back brighter, and she’s just saying hi, a hundred not quite cousins of unclear relation sharing secret beers in parking lots then twirling around into tables every time, to feel famous out of nowhere, my streets and purple sweatshirt, magic –because my taste for sentimental splendor gets stepped on any other way. The bitterness rises, rust tongue, what have I been doing? Funeral lines that wrap around the whole block are not worth the stolen lives but you remember anyway, that everyone was there.

Sorry, sorry, for how I get silly and soupy. I’ve always been melodramatic. From the first I was a poor drunk. I need it and I want it. An alley to yell in, a microphone to yell in, a mouth to yell in. I don’t approve, I only. I only. I only write a first entry in any diary because when I look back even the truth sounds like a flowery lie and I get embarrassed. I’ve always liked Scott Fitzgerald best or his flourishes and the lampshades metaphorical and not on his head as a crown for the drunken prince of poetic self-pity. Something in the prose and the man that made you feel as if the story were skating out of his mind and hands faster than he could control them, pirouetting by their own will, and only happened, incidentally, to be beautiful. I think when I was twelve, even, something there felt sort of kindred. Gross. I am grandiose in wrinkled skirts. I’ll tell you I’ll tell you I’ll tell you something, zig every zag back over the over while making sticky lipstick rings around the top of a beer bottle with the label picked clean. That’s just dancing. You do it for a few hours when the sound is still clear and then maybe you cry. I like the words but I don’t make them. I would like to become a person who tells the truth but I don’t even know what that means.

I have been trying I think in every word I ever wrote–even when I called them fiction, even when they were typed on a cell phone to someone with big hands, lies, “I think,” I know it is the case– to tell somebody what it feels like to be always afraid that everywhere you go and everything you do you are one step off from what you’re supposed to do be. I’ve always thought I was missing it. Just barely. Just it. The grand something. It’s the squirrely sort of worry that makes you cling onto everything. I hate goodbyes maybe I should not be going. I want more and new but also old. I want to open myself up so I can have everything I’ve ever seen and everyone I’ve ever spoken to living inside of me in case they might ever become part of what I want. Wild and selfish and sad is what sentimentalism is and I consider myself a sentimentalist before god or country or baseball, you know. I’m sludge with ambition. I’m saying my prayers and making crosses not because I believe but because I like the performance. It feels like something I stole from somebody else and makes me feel like I have glittering glass bones.

This was a mill town but they’re dead now. It’s funny cause we still say ‘paper city’ and in the sad romantic way about pretty hollows it’s still true. Not that it’s pretty unless you know how to look. That’s the romantic part. The buildings down past the high school are on fire some days. The canals are pretty. I got sick in the park on a too warm March Saturday when I was young with lime colored nails. I like the library because it always smells the same. It smelled that way when I was six and my dad’s Jeep was brown.  I grew up with a good golden dog and when he looks tired I start crying in both hands. I still know which street curbs took skin off my elbows and what so-called members-only social club downtown serves anybody free drinks if you order in Spanish. I will go away and take the parts that make my rib cage ache, because I have lungs and wherever I am I’ll have to breathe. I’m a liar and I love it here; at some point I decided that these songs sound like home.

“I want her long blonde hair,” but, like, jk. On Little Big Town’s “Girl Crush”

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“Girl Crush,” the most recent single off Little Big Town’s Pain Killer, is a #nohomo gag almost as compelling as when two drunk frat bros cuddle ‘cause they’re just such good buds. It’s a beautiful piece of music. Karen Fairchild’s lead vocal performance is haunting, gorgeous, delicately needful, deserving of accolades. The verse structure sounds kinda like Beyoncé’s version of “Ave Maria.”  It is tender and weird. I’m, like, convinced that the “long blonde hair” lyric overlap with reigning country queen Miranda Lambert’s latest “Little Red Wagon” is meant to signify that the song is about her, and nobody can tell me otherwise, even my own more logical inner voice. I like listening to it over and over while I practice handstands; the blood rushes to my head and the combined effect makes me feel like I’m at a super gloomy, horny church (i.e. a church). This is probably the most interesting song on country radio right now, so it’s disappointing that it’s also a bait-and-switch diddy that barely even bothers to wink about two girls who want the same dude.

I mean, it’s not that “Girl Crush” needs to be about a woman who wants to have sex with another woman. I’m not saying there should be a gun held to the members of Little Big Town, or anybody, like, “make this gayer.” That’s not the point at all. The world will go on just fine while another song about a woman who is jealous of a woman who has the man she wants is vibrating through its atmosphere. Not every maybe-baby-I-don’t-know-could-be same-sex love song can toe the line in a way that never steps bullishly outside the limits of authentic feeling like Rosanne Cash’s “The Way We Make A Broken Heart,” and that’s fine. I don’t really care that this isn’t a song about a girl longing to kiss another girl, I just wish it weren’t quite so cute about pretending to be.

Little Big Town are not entirely to blame here. Neither, in my opinion, are the song’s writing team of Lori McKenna, Liz Rose, and Hillary Lindsey. The idea was McKenna’s baby, and she’s written for Faith Hill. She wrote this Angaleena Presley song I love. She calls “Girl Crush” a new twist on the jealousy song, and that’s not technically untrue, though the woman-almost-singing-to-a-woman schtick is hardly novel, particularly in country music. This song absolutely does not prove, and I would not wish to suggest, that these women are not strong songwriters. I mean, the song is catchy. It’s good, slick and somber in the chorus with nicely lived-in verses. What it does prove is that the cultural appetite for superficial lesbian-tourism that gestures vaguely like it’s going there but never, ever, in a million years is going to has not abated in the year 2015. The term “girl crush” is embarrassing, anyway, and no less clunky and politically archaic than its fist-pounding beer can-clanking “bromance” cousin. Nobody thinks you want to bang your friend because you like her new jeans. Faux-progressive homosocial self-consciousness creates lots of room for the type of hint-hint-nah innuendo play “Girl Crush” is built on, the harmlessness of such play being, at the very least, up for debate, and if the world was so hell-bent on hashtaging their pictures of Rihanna with it over and over all across the Internet long enough, this song was bound to happen.

The bottom line is, the story that this song’s selling, I am not buying. Not even for gas points with my swipe card. I do not believe this scenario. I do not believe a narrator who says things like, “I wanna drown myself in a bottle of her perfume” and “I want her magic touch” or “Lord knows I’ve tried / I can’t get her off my mind” is doing it just because she’s after some lady’s boyfriend. I’m sorry; that’s not a thing. Fairchild sells the intensity beyond dispute, and that’s to the track’s ultimate detriment, because, no. I do not buy it. Kelly Clarkson claims to, before doing a lovely cover of the track, and more power to her, but I’m unconvinced. “I’ve totally been that girl, like ‘I’m so much cooler than her, you just don’t get it yet,” Clarkson says of her strong connection to the song, which would make sense, which I would nod my head along with, if that were at all what “Girl Crush” sounds like. “I want to taste her lips / oh cause they taste like you” is ridiculous nonsense, pretty, but acceptable only if it purports to be a description of some other species of beings on some other planet, some place where emotions and desire work in an entirely different way than what we simple humans can comprehend. I am being told that all this great and baleful wanting is only a manifestation of unrequited desire for an occupied man, and I can’t make that jump seem plausible in my mind no matter how many times I listen to the song and try. These lyrics are intended–clearly, though they don’t succeed– to add up to a portrait of a woman who is so lovesick over some guy that she is displacing her lust onto his female significant other, but that concept, a perfectly reasonable concept, actually, a kind of fascinating one, is buried amid an effort to make every single line sound as gay as possible while actually being absolutely, 100% oh, ha, see what we did there, L O L, curtseying straight. “I hate to admit it, but” this song is bullshit. I am going to take it off repeat, like, any day now.