I’ve Been Reading John Ashbery Lately
We sat on your makeshift couch in your calico brick apartment and talked awhile. I remember asking you how your bisexuality was going. “I’m in between legs at the moment,” you said. I didn’t quite understand, but then it sank in and I gave you one of my “a-ha!” laughs. You appreciated the effort. We talked and talked and talked and you smoked inside because “Fuck the police” and we got drunk on your cheap wine. Your teeth were a hideous violet. I think to tell you this but then forget until now. I twirl my hair and remember my dad always yelling at me for doing it. “You’ll pull your hair out!” I tell you this. You laughed at his stupidity, then paused and delivered: “Wait. It can’t, right?” You cackled the way you do when you’re high. It makes me laugh. Your head kicked back and cast a shadow against your juandicing wall (darkening pale maize due to your indoor habits). Your arms were crossed, your body arched back and contorted along the contours of the ha-ha wall of pillows. Your yellow teeth faded in and out with the tungsten of the room. Your cigarette still burned between your fingers, crossed like legs. I watch the ashes cascade like fallout over you.
“Relationships are toxic these days because people are too afraid to love and don’t have the time to be,” I say. I heard it on a podcast the other day, but most of the people at Sharon’s uptown party don’t know this. “If that were only half of it,” you said. You were sipping on Sharon’s expensive wine. You smoked another cigarette, different from your typical brand. You had sunglasses on. You were drunk. You weren’t high. You laid on the floor and kept inexplicably circling your two arms stating you’d been pilloried, but I think you meant to say dizzy instead. I think about my ex. I imagine sunshine, a beach, smiling, delight, pleasure, and how much better it all is without me. I look at you and your twirling propellers and giggle.
You told me about how you used to create fake sites like: http://www.itsthetruth.com or http://www.whatweusedtoknow.com and send clickbait ads to conservative hangouts with titles like: “Something Millennials Are in a RUDE Shock For” and “Seven Things MILLENNIALS Don’t Understand that Boomers Never Forgot” with images of laughing hipsters or the American flag. “Of course, what they didn’t realize,” was that they’d followed a link right to pictures of Tub Girl.
I like to run. I joke with my friends that: “It’s good for me because I like to run from my problems. The only problem is I run in circles.” I like the joke. It’s stupid, like me. Most people laugh to be kind. But in honesty, it is the only time I get to think and melt fat. I take a strange pleasure in feeling the pain from running. It reminds me of death and how incredibly terrified I am of it. So much so, I eat carrots and peanut butter five times a week for lunch and run to turn my solids into air. It’s a queer sensation, to feel this gelatinous glob of waxen and fluids moving about in sharp pains, and burning and hurting just to work off half that mini-cupcake you ate three weeks ago. All in the futile attempt to forgo the inevitable, or at the most humble: prolong the expiration. I suppose this isn’t very original, not even unique. Everyone fears it. But everyone must go through with it. What do they say? That and taxes, right? I don’t run because of taxes, though. My asphyxiating debt? Sure. My modest cash depleted by The Rentier Society? Why not? My payments and payments and work for more money, and more payments and more work, and nothing quite seems to assuage anything and there is no help in sight, and I’m feeling extra, extra smol and I want to rip off my head, but why don’t I just go for a run instead?! Yes, definitely! —– (You laughed at me for running, you know. You said I was buying into the health culture industry. “Hook, line, and sinker.” Cackle, cackle, cackle. Your burnt blonde hair ruffled. Your mucilaginous belly wiggled and winked at me. You thought non-consumption was still part of consumerism. “We’re trapped in that sense and we need to come to terms with it.” Cackle, cackle, cackle.)
You once cried on my chessboard bathroom floor. Your face was slick. You put my okay wine into the toilet and a little on the tile. I kneeled down next to your slack body and rubbed your arm. You kept going on about apocalypse and how you didn’t think you could go on. You kept shaking your head. “Vicegrip” was thrown around a lot. I think I understand. I’ve been there. I’ve read Sartre; I’ve read Beckett, Kierkegaard, well the Oxford Encyclopedia version, but I basically understand his point. Existentialism. I know you. I know what you’re going through, I’ve been there myself. It’s tough, but hey, you’re tougher. Just get back out there, just get back out there and give it all ya got! You can do this, I believe it; I believe in you! I hand you some toilet paper. You accepted and shyly, poorly cleared your nose. I stood up to give you some time and space and you looked at me the way you do when I’m making a mistake. You lit a cigarette. You smoked and laughed. “You idiot. You big, dumb idiot.”
I remember you telling me you could never respect a man who took Thomas Bernhard seriously, but you’d let it go because you also understood it was too chic to bag on him now. “And the chicest move… is to never be chic.”
Music played inside the artless room. You were laying down, near the window. I sat next to you. “I wish I had a smoke.” Your teeth were terrible. I nodded and shrugged. You turned your attention back to the music. It reminded you of another song and you started to try and tell me about it. “It’s one of those good ones I like. You know, ‘the sad ones’…” That’s what I used to call all the songs you adored about the menace of suburbia and cancer of our existence. “… I was listening to this song and it just really struck me… But… you know the problem with music I also realized is… that it doesn’t have as much revolutionary power. You know, John Berger, the other poet guy I like, was wrong… Music ain’t got it… Shit. No art does. We’re just going on and on… and we’re thinking this shit we throw out there makes any difference… Goll-ly. We’re screwed, man. This is Hell. We’ve all died and are now experiencing Hell… It’s all pointless… It’s all so embarrassing…” And then you nodded off to sleep. It was a very long day in a very long year.
I’ve been reading John Ashbery lately. I like his work. I like the way he uses imagery, his focus on the inexorable engine of time and its soft killing way, the haunted acknowledgment of death. It’s this recognition of our horrid inconvenience that makes his tributes to banality so welcoming. He makes the plain a carnival, the pointless and frustrating unique and special. And that makes me think of you. And I start to miss you again. But then I go for a run…