Spiders in the Sky, Spiders in the Mouth
I’m eating lunch with Sami and watching the season’s first storm. Sami fled Syria seven years ago. His son, Victor attends school with Wil. Sometimes, Victor dresses like Charlie Chaplin. After lunch, I dress like Lear. All day the moody air. My friend, Chris, is directing the play next year and he asked that I provide him with a poet’s perspective. I stand opposite Hannah, who’s playing Goneril. Two crowns on the table. I choose Goneril’s. Fine, Chris says, but read Lear’s lines. I look Goneril in the eye. Hark, nature, hear: Dear goddess…Into her womb convey sterility. Dry up in her the organs of increase. If she must teem create her child of spleen. Goneril winces. Or is it Hannah? A living father’s living daughter. Chris asks me how I feel. Sad, I say. Sad for Goneril. Sad for Hannah. And sad for Lear for going insane inside patriarchy. For not hearing Cordelia. For his inability to receive. Blindfolded, I’m led downstage. Extemporize on the word vision, Chris says. I talk about Edgar’s imagination nurturing Gloucester’s imagination, till Gloucester finally sees beyond his false fall over the cliffs of Dover. When Chris removes the blindfold my eyes squint into a spotlight’s glare. Is nudity standing on a stage pretending to be someone else, or standing on a stage pretending to be yourself? Walking home, lightning strobes the neighborhood. Expecting to find Kisha in bed, her face lit by the glow of her laptop, I open our bedroom door to a room so dark is it even a room? From that emptiness, Kisha says, I’m watching the storm. Later that night I listen to Lou Reed’s Walk on the Wild Side. When I tell Kisha I’m only now realizing Reed’s brilliance she shows me an article in which Reed admits his jealousy over Kanye’s ability to turn an album (Yeezus) into a “novel.” Why, I ask Kisha, am I so behind the times? You were raised in Banks, she says. Banks is a one stoplight town surrounded by strawberry fields and forests. For fun, my friends leaned out the passenger window of a car and smashed mailboxes with baseball bats. Our mascot was the Braves. Baseball fans pretended their arms were tomahawks while chanting what they imagined were Native American battle cries. We listened to popular radio: Spice Girls, Smashing Pumpkins, Nirvana. Friends and I stood by our lockers staring at Nevermind’s album cover, the underwater baby reaching for a dollar bill. The baby is Spencer Elden, now a California artist whose penis might be more famous than Ron Jeremy’s or Michelangelo’s David’s. When I Google the most famous penises in history. Number six is Lili Elbe, an early 20th century Parisian whose wife dressed him as a woman to model for a portrait, triggering a long struggle between Elbe’s public, male persona and emergent female self. Eventually, Elbe underwent a series of operations in which his penis was removed. It’s rumored that as a teenager Lou Reed’s parents approved electroshock therapy to relieve him of homosexual tendencies. The next morning I’m in the grocery store parking-lot when a hot air balloon passes overhead, its basket skimming the building’s roof. All week, pilots from across the country fly balloons over the valley in the annual balloon stampede. I walk faster. The balloon’s burner is pulsing bursts of flame. The basket grazes a powerline before landing in the parking lot of the Elks Lodge where a yard sign supports the 2016 Republican presidential nominee. That evening Kisha says, Your hands look idle, then lays her feet in my lap. I press my thumb into the sole of her foot and tell her that Wil worries Trump is going to send Victor’s family back to Syria. I walk to the kid’s room. They’re asleep. I lie down on the floor and breathe against layers of shame. Growing up, my sister and I battled for control of the TV. Fingernails dug into my arm. When I kicked her in the groin she collapsed to the floor. Boy body. Girl body. Breathing sleep, they sound the same. I’m in the kitchen the next morning making eggs when Wil points out the window at a hot-air balloon shaped like a giant clock. We step outside. Scan the sky. Between us and the balloon, a strand of gossamer floats near the roofline. Then another. And another. Hundreds of barely visible spinnerets drift through the air. Every fall, baby spiders climb to a high point, position their abdomen to the sky, then release fine silk spinnerets until the slightest breeze carries them away. The spiders travel a few feet, or a thousand miles; even ships at sea have recorded spider landings. The migration is called ballooning. Mortality is high. Once, in a high school baseball game, from the pitcher’s mound I watched a killdeer run hysteric over the infield grass. Someone said it was pretending to be wounded, that it might draw our attention away from its nest filled with eggs camouflaged in the chalk line beyond first base. Further beyond, behind the outfield fence, I saw a boy on his knees. For a moment, I thought he was praying, but he was planting flowers around the base of the flagpole marking the distance between me, and the disaster of ignoring intuition. One thing I love about Kisha is that she never stops me from staring at men I hope see in me what I see in them.
Lindy shits her pants again. Little herring, let’s bathe, you and me. I’ll tell you a ghost story. Housesitting for Joshua For Emma Forever Ago on repeat for hours sleeping on the couch I felt hovering a ghost. Go find Brandon, I said. Place your ice fingers around his shingle ribs. In the morning, I emptied a bottle of Garnier Fructis fortifying shampoo. Is Joshua’s hair curlier than mine? Must be. He’s your standard tropical bird type; books arranged by subject on tables in every room. I wrote to Joshua: “I love your apartment, its friendly ghosts” is the story I tell Lindy. After cleaning the shit off her back, we’re naked on the bed. What poet hasn’t wished at least once in her life that poetry was dead? Some of us walk into fear, give it the finger; poem’s future zero according to Brandon who occupies disproportionate space in my heart compared to the time I’m with him. Wil says he fears the people he hears elongating vowels like Aaaaaand, we’re done here. In the CVS where I get the flu shot, neon touches Wil and me pretending to be strangers, fun for a while, like narcotics, then you prefer ye olde perception. Gold stars to that tagger transforming hydrants into R2-D2 when no is watching the lightning downgrade from Habanero to Hot Paper Lantern Kisha grinds to powder for soup for our neighbor cross-stitching “My teen has meth-face” into a pillow she’ll hang on a nail the western wind stuck in her door before the streeeeeets welcome her daughter forever. If your eye is the first circle, horizon is the second, I say to Wil. If only I could stand on my head between mirrors, trace one hand with the other, the horror of it, like an animal, or worse, an animal I know. I subdue the overwhelming sublime by writing poetry between mirrors developing blemishes made worse my imperfect mouth Kisha promises to kiss when I offer it. In the kitchen, cutting meat require my undivided attention. When I say, The best artists are assholes, Kisha says, Mind the fucking ham hock. Forgive me for staring but your waist is so, so Victorian. After reading Ruskin we make love in shirts whose arms we know for less control. In my anxiety dream I pitch a no-no to the soundtrack Not Everyone Long for God is Medieval. In the morning, it’s like angels really are and not merely bell episodes against dying. In the Spanish cloister of this apartments near zero boundary between me and strangers fucking, Kisha’s reading “A Kentucky of Mothers,” Medela Pump emptying the side Lindy fell asleep on. In the bathroom, I rinse something red from my hair. Wil enters with spiders a nightmare left in his mouth. I blame the fable about a wife cutting her husband’s sparrow’s tongues in half. My eyes grow to see you, Wil says. I hate his knowing so much before reason intervenes. I feel better after reading “Poets are ludicrous. And the best people I know,” in Callie’s poem. Wil draws a sea animal that will die soon, because a bat has it and a Jedi has the bat. Dad, I don’t think you know this. There are 100 moons because there are 100 worlds like the Brooklyn and the North Pole. Wil’s sea animal stares at me, till I change. Eye affirming cracks in walls baby rats enter in this part of the city officials call Electric. On the phone with his grandfather, Wil describes his day. I look for myself in every word. I never want to exist outside his thinking. My knowledge of the architecture reveals I know a little despair, but not the source of the sea smell guiding me, ushering me out into the night air giving me something to do in this privilege I’ve so long tried to ignore, happy to pass the time with friends and even alone on the sidewalk where I toss a paper airplane over the street, watch its flight into a passing car’s open window, awfully deserving, I think, of a little applause, so I’m clapping when couples exit the bar, pause to register my position, then continue walking against sirens, seldom and mixed through a landscape divided and mostly out of focus. Passing by is that me in the future tense? All these screens emitting light I’d like to turn away from. The shrugging effect seasons have when days begin the same, or nearly the same in gestures, seconds feelings take to change. Congratulations on that sweater, I think hear someone say, or the other anxieties different from these, till the question becomes whether or not the good spells might persist into areas dark and dangerous that almost belong to me when the humming of my thoughts leave small marks on paper as I sit between mirrors when Lindy’s not sleeping against the clang love is the beginning of a life poetry makes immense.
Rob Schlegel is the author of The Lesser Fields (Center for Literary Publishing) and January Machine (Four Way Books), which won the 2014 Grub Street National Book Prize. His work has appeared in Boston Review, The Iowa Review, Poetry, and elsewhere. With Rawaan Alkhatib and Daniel Poppick, he co-edits The Catenary Press.