Ah, I know. Friendship bracelets.
Told my coworker I’ll make a list of “calmer” games for the kids to play at the refugee camp, something we can do sitting down so their energy level doesn’t get too crazy; especially since yesterday smiley little amir mohammed, with his tiny toothless grin and big sparkling eyes, chucked a fat rock against the head of two-year-old Dameer and broke the kid’s face open. I carried this bleeding, screaming child all the way across the yard of the refcamp and surely everyone’s thinking, great, this fucking American just beat up an Afghan child. Not like that’s anything new. They know NATO for dropping bombs on kids and families all the time, without much discretion. I’m just a micro of the macro. Nobody actually said anything.
Duck duck goose. The silent murderer. Telephone. Down by the banks, but not that one, because the English is too difficult. Most of them aren’t at that level yet.
So the next day we load up the van and go, and I bring a sack of embroidery thread in 8 or 9 different colors with a tiny pair of scissors. Tape would have been nice but we didn’t have any, so we tied the strings to the table or held them taught by hand.
The plan was to teach the kids to braid, if they didn’t know already, and make friendship bracelets of three different colors. They all wanted to keep the bracelets for themselves, so there wan’t a ton of friendship going on, but companionship happened anyhow. We sat at a wooden picnic table in the center of the park area outside of the camp; kids between two and five, then some older Iranian woman, and one ancient Afghan great-grandmother of Asiatic heritage, wrapped in shawls, spoke only Persian, sat methodically braiding an elaborate chain from my coworker’s hand. He seemed to be falling in love.
Chasing beauty can be one’s permanent life pursuit. Chasing money is less abstract and equally achievable. Beauty is easy to find because it lives in dirt, in sorrow, in the separation of families, in the distance between young lovers, toddlers whose mothers have been killed in an airstrike and the community which rises to raise them, tiny hands braiding bracelets, wrinkles in brown skin and handmade trousers torn from jumping a border fence. Beauty is the most difficult thing to bear because it is temporary and somehow born from some type of hardship. Beauty is pain, blooms like flowers in the gut, and can never be fully destroyed. To chase one is to suffer the other.
Toddlers playing, a paper airplane. Shrubs uncomfortably pruned. Old fella passes, rounded spine and balding head in a striped polo. A kid falls off his bike. Couple on a bench, her head in his lap. Tricycles on the pavement. Youths in matching shirts. Enthusiastic Hungarian chanting from somewhere over yonder. Older guy with long silver hair walks in strides and carries a half-sized pizza box. Wears glasses. Definitely an intellectual. Does walking in a city make a person more intellectual?
Bike kid’s gettin cocky with his stunts. Wealthier folks are probably at the gondola-lookin restaurant in the park’s center. Seated chicly in appropriate white outdoor chairs. Sipping on Cold Drinks With Ice, as Fancy People are wont to do. I hate them all.
A small broken log all alone on a patch of dirt. A german shepherd that has never been allowed to run free in its entire lifetime. The shepherd has given up on feeling bitter and simply allows itself to enjoy the freedom to eat whatever human food it begs its masters for.
Greasy-lookin hip kid eats a sandwich as he walks. Four hippies gathered in a corner. Fifty percent of them are wearing those enormous hammer pants that seem to magically sprout on hippies. Skinny man in pink shirt and khaki shorts reads the Bible on a bench with his chihuaua.
Mom took the kid’s bike away and now he’s pissed as fuck, screaminng, crocodile tears, arms folded round his chest. Still wants cuds from mama doh, even though mama is the one to blame.
A girl on the bench with long black hair. She looks like me, but clean and proper, taking in the sun. Standing, slowly meanders towards me. Kneels down, meets my eyes and licks her lips. Pushes me onto my back and undoes my shorts, pulls my leggings down, kisses me over my underwear. Nobody around us notices. I’m fine with that.
Lola, trae la pelota. Lola. Lola. Lola, trae. Trae la pelota Lola. Trae. Lola is a small, shiny black girl with floppy ears and a real perky tail. Her companion is more of a setter/street mutt mix, light brown, huntin dog size, too excited to control itself, barking like a maniac. Owner cries out Coco!
Never trust anyone who names their dog Coco.
Eric wants to know about teaching English. He has a lot of questions about his new career and can sense that am a minefield of answers. He is correct, but he is also a white boy with a ponytail and I don’t feel like educating another one of those right now.
We’re sitting on the floor of the Malaga airport, right in the way of everyone crossing Arrivals. He squats flat-footed and I’m sat atop my rucksack, chatting because I can, because my bus is a ways out, and because I must keep my mind active or risk prompt collapse from jetlag.
“This airport is evil. See the benches?” I gesture so Eric can see. “They put the bars on there to prevent sleepers. You gotta sleep underneath on the granite. I like it though, you can put your luggage there as a sort of guard wall. Block the masturbators.”
Eric is astounded that I have said “masturbators” aloud. He is from the East Coast of the United States and he moves pianos for a living. His ears are gauged, like mine. I assumed he would understand these things for some reason, a rookie mistake. “Masturbators? In the airport?”
“Oh, they’re everywhere, airports included,” I nod with affliction. “But that time I was out in the open, on the ground behind a cement column. The masturbator was facing me, sat on the bench. I woke up to him there watching me sleep. There was an airport worker down the way, saw the whole thing. Didn’t do shit though.”
“Wow,” says Aaron. “I don’t think I know any girls that’s happened to.”
“You do, dude. I promise.”
It’s possible Bators are more common in Europe where freedom is an actual thing you can feel and live, not like in the states where it’s a mythical idea like World Peace or Equal Rights. The Bator is an unfortunate by-product of the knowledge that one may do as one pleases without threat or fear of punitive consequence, paired with the painful dilemma of being a horny old fuck.
To be fair, now, there is certainly something about a good vista that just makes a person want to ejaculate. I’ve definitely rubbed a couple out on the tops of mountains before. That shit gets me hard. I’d bet money a lot of these dudes are just extreme nature enthusiasts (don’t worry, I don’t have any money.) I don’t need to hurl myself on a bench and crank it while watching a stranger sleep, but maybe it just depends on the particular stranger or whether or not I’ve taken my meds that day.
I tell Piano Guy about my full working list of Bators — the Guy On The Cliff, Shirtless Park Guy, the Guy On The Lookout Bench, the Guy Downhill Looking Up, the Lurker In The Meadow, Sleeping Bag Guy and the assorted collection of Brazen Beach Fellows. Piano Guy, having gotten exactly 0% of the information he had been hoping to extract from me, has heard enough. “Wow,” he says, “that’s terrible. I’ll keep an eye out so I can do a quick getaway if it ever happens to me.”
“Yeah, it won’t.” I get to my feet and heave my pack back on. Fucking white guys with ponytails don’t know shit about life.
chasing one little baby tick of unblackened weed around the rim of the pipe, warm in my bone-cold fingers: cold white light and me here on this dingy old velvet couch listening to the boys in AIDS’s bedroom pretending it’s a real gym. they listen to eminem a little too much, but i won’t givem shit for it.
genezareth and hannah are considering busking on a corner on weekends; seabass was turned down for a resto job due to his lack of a work visa; bethany was selling Christmas cards for a euro apiece; i was considering selling knit caps, AIDS and I have discussed becoming regional camgirls.
we are sort of brutally poor, but we do our bestish. combat creeping depression with routines and rituals: open the shutters every morning and close them up every night, go for hikes, go for runs, do pullups and pushups and abs, chat together in the sparsely-furnished kitchen all squattin on buckets and low stools on the ground. we are all in balls deep for bernie sanders.
written fall-winter 2015. entry 1 of a series.
A bus ride in Spain is just a bus ride. It’s not one of those hard throttling things barely keeping tires to the tracks through some muggy snake-infested jungle. You’re not fearing for your life every second. You know how the other worries tend to slip away when you’re afraid for your life? I find that soothing. Let’s do more of that.
Because a bus ride in Spain rolls from prim little pueblo to industrial complex-lookin little pueblo past little dump camp to same little pueblo again — and you’re panicked because you must have missed your stop and stayed on the bus all the way through its route but then you realize oh, no,
these towns are just one and the same.
The same baked brown and mucusy white like sins of the internal body smeared out on burning pavement. The whole place is a goddamn effigy in creamy neutrals, you can taste the virgin blood in the air but you musn’t speak of it. The grizzled little brown man that hangs out in the park speaks of it, y con ese no se habla.
Vaya, España: so much sun like a torch up my asshole. Searing. Such brutal and determined gazing: the blunt-eyed glare of a true and thorough Spaniard. The look of the town might once have been lovely but the dictator snuck in and graffitied the place with his budget cuts. you know what they say, no peace beneath the pomegranates.
Spain is the place the tourists come to hack off their jeans and undo their shirts another button. Spain is the last place you will ever be late. Spain is the sun when you really don’t want it though the natives are all walking round in scarves and jackets. Spain is dry sugar cane stock and agave and olive trees. The raw olives bleed red like cherries. Do not eat raw.
then the city oranges — at best those are naranjas pa’zumo, at worst they’re solid blocks of dry rancid sour mesh, thickly diseased. we no eat that. learned the hard way, as children and outsiders do.
rather eat the prickly pears. the kakis (a ripe kaki is like a swollen alien breast, savor the meat.) got lots o’ juniper, you like gin? well let’s make some. that’s why I’m here, anyway. a proper guiri is always wasted, and just look at me wasting away.
Erizo was what you might call sencillo if you were a Spaniard. He had a somewhat tormented spirit layered like sponge cake under a thick slice of calm. The calm was as real as the torment and either all of it or nothing showed in his eyes, given away in splinters of olive green or sandy yellow. The colors changed frequently, perhaps depending on his mood, perhaps on my perception. I wasn’t sure and it didn’t matter.
I loved him very easily. There was little to think about. He slipped his arm around me and it had always been there. I was safe and would have human projects to tinker with over the summer — break this wall down, extend this conviction, sharpen that ability. Train him to eat perfect pussy. Help him figure out what he wanted from life and rile him up to get it — then release him out to sea like a bottle with something inside it. Not a message (frankly a terrible method of communication) but something better. Something helpful. Something good.
Though of course the good came with the package. The good WAS the package and man, he was a package. He was a local boy. a pueblo boy. Small-town country upbringing just like mine. Everyone knew everyone, he once got to fuck the neighbor girl — just like me, the neighbor girl. He wore unpretending clothes, brandless shirts and glasses that didn’t flatter him. Went bald at 25 and had greys in his beard. His hands were not beautiful, but his arms were thick and wrought like iron and felt like the island around my shoulders (everyone knows paradise is just a good warm set of arms.)
He told me many things that made me laugh. He had a disdain and a bitterness for the destruction of his homeland and though I was little but a product of that destruction he did sometimes look at me as if I was a precious creature, like he had stumbled upon me in some grove and couldn’t believe what he was seeing. The times that he looked at me like this were not those involving nudity or sex; they were times I was dancing or giggling to myself, times I was playing with children. Perhaps he didn’t think I was beautiful, but to him i don’t believe that it mattered. That said a lot about him.
Yet something in there was unwell, something shriveled and very small. He once told me laughing that once as a child he raped a sow pinned in a crate with a pole in the ass and I cried but he said he didn’t feel anything then or now. He said there had been blood.
He said there were girls he had loved but he had lost them all, said he had regrets and a heart leathered up from repeated beatings and breaks. Said he more than once dated people who didn’t love him, stayed with them for years. Said he wasn’t attractive and meant what he said. I listened to everything because the sound of his voice made me wet and weak in the knees. I wanted him to feel better but I also just wanted his cum in my mouth. Sometimes my emotions don’t run cut and dry.
Maybe he was an event more than a person, a season walking on human legs and a nonexistent male ass. I looked at him as I looked at my surroundings because he WAS my surroundings, just like the sea and the buttery flowers and the palm bushes and the pines. I looked at him and I said to myself, “Do it right this time.” In the end I think I did. I left him and I told him that I loved him as I did so, kissed him as I shook my head and smiled. Love enough and lose enough and it becomes a skill. Do not love without ability to accept loss. Test frequently. Be prepared.
they come crawling
like clawed children
in hallways, in day – light
and night – light,
the worst ones of course
hands grasping in
from the walls and
you will love the way they feel
this place isn’t safe
for lovers or dancers
or birthers or swimmers
build an altar
get a stepstool
waist and burn
place to ashes i
to inhale you
like fiberglass dust
in my lungs all
blue and purple
dressed with flowers
venom and tea tree
i found some leaves
on the ground in
lisbon on these
steps in the
rain and the darkness
made them greener
they looked like lungs creased down the
middle so i picked one up and
held it to my chest and