From: Francesca
To: Nick
Date: December 24, 2005
Subject: Merry

Dear Nick,

I had not known that you were your old self after so many years--shadowboxing with what's literate and your own denied-admitted-denied frame-story of narcissism; when I've spoken to you before, perhaps because of the contraints of time and perhaps because of who I am to you, you were terse and shallow. I had, in effect, given you up for intellectually lost, and so you will that the letter I sent this summer was dumbed-down. I work with the perceived audience. I admit: I was incorrect. You're not stupid, or shallow, and only play those fronts to get out of trouble. I did not attach it.

Let's laugh about this all. Please, for God's sake, can't we just shrug and say c'est la vie? By laugh, I don't mean dismiss or reduce, I mean --in a way--revel. You know I'm almost as smart as you are, perhaps smarter, if you think honesty gives intelligence an extra modicum of true thrust. You always painted me to be more serious than I was, more bitter in everything I said than I was. It's possible to be friends and revel, isn't it? After all, what I have with you is a back-story and an enormous hypothetical tension. What the fuck in this world is better than a good back-story and enormous hypothetical tension? It can't be improved upon. I would give up rational things for complicated histories and measurable tensions. Better yet, it's a messy, aesthetically tuned piece of history. It has, in my memory, an animal grace, and if I appreciate anything in the world, it's that. My so-called nymphomania is really just this appreciation of animal grace.

You have proven to me, which I give you bearing a sly, shy, vanquished smile, that four and a half years ago you were hardly the innocent one; I was. Really. I refuse to hear anything on the contrary unless you desperately mean it. Of course, at your seventeen and my hesitant twenty, sex had the erroneous mark of impurity to it. I hope you've learned by now that sex is pure and as innocent and revelatory as any other charming endeavor. I really didn't envision us as anything but really awfully clever creatures enjoying that eternal snap-and-hum of young, salty bodies in the lush green west-of-Philadelphia summer; absurdly, ironically, you made me feel dirty and not vice versa. But that's past, and in the end, I really ought to know by now how to withstand being made to feel dirty.

Sex is amazing, Nick. The sweat and tick of the fuck, the literal and abstract push-and-pull.. A man's body is friction, and friction is the basis of the universe. Sex is loamy, oceanic; sex is so amazing because it's obliterative. Whoever you are, you're nothing when you come, the ripped blast of true pleasure wiping you off your own lopsided little map. All those carefully combed nuances are flattened during real sex, focused and intense sex. Narcissism? Hardly. I felt predatory, angling at you, but I suspected that you understood. You only pretended not to understand when it suited you. I forgive you. Forgiveness comes in equal doses from very cold and very warm hearts.You say I could have taken your virginity so easily, and maybe I could have, had I thrown a leg over one of yours or rutted my sharp nose in your neck one of those times I found you walking late at night. You understood about sex; but I was destructively bored and clotted with a howling ennui that I think you were, in fact, too innocent to recognize. I felt guilty less about wanting to take your physical innocence than about pressing that dark little heart of mine into you, its boredom and cynicism.

You have grown up to be a cynic in your own right. How close they sound, cynic and cygnet. Do you remember that? Always from a distance, you would loop back and say to me I miss how you called me a cygnet or I think it would have been better if we had actually had sex or this is me, naked, in a photograph of the ocean. You love your distance and your cynical self, and I'd be a hypocrite if I said that I don't adore those things myself..You are all ephemera and deontology, and I am more, as I told you, tin and semen and tourmaline -- the physical, the talismans. Maybe I am what they mean, too, but I have not decided yet. The only place I can breathe is out on the rural islands off the coast of South Carolina, driving fast, with nothing but fields around me, tomato and strawberry. I'm not trying to be annoyingly, adorably simplistic; I hate people who do that. I think there's something there, yes, but it's only accessed by its physical root. Sometimes, when there is a boy whose head I want to fuck with, I will call him and say I will pick him up, I will drive, I will not speak, and he may choose the music and touch himself but not me. You're that kind of boy. I know you get it. It's not something I do every night; just when I need it. It's not love. It's not even close, and it's better. We are walking around the outside of truth and rutting our sharp noses against it and trying to get it; often we are more successful together than alone, but that is not love.

I'm not a narcissist, and you're not a narcissist. I'm not a nympho, and you're certainly not. Neither narcissists nor nymphomaniacs know how to love. I suspect that the deal here is that neither you nor I really knows how to BE loved. Love is having your needs met; sociologically speaking; if your needs cannot be met by one person, or three, or four, but only by a lifetime of endings where you yourself were the only constant, then perhaps this is the same as being unable to be loved. Oh, you're going to get so pissed off when you read that. You always pick a point to get pissed off and offended, to put back on your costume of innocence and hurt. I know by now that I can't hurt you, and I certainly know that you can't hurt me. Humans engineer their own hurt. I have learned to keep my delicate wiring, my keen and really unattractively sharp emotional pitch to myself and the islands; nothing can hurt me if I don't let it. I cannot tell you what it is like to walk into a house and find the violet, still-beautiful (so beautiful, still, even bloated) corpse of your mother with a broken throat in the corner of her bedroom; I don't mean the sense that you'll never understand, which, I hope, you never will. I mean I literally could not tell you. I finally became what I was, what my mother was; there was a transferrance in that moment. I am the heiress of everything my mother was, a lonely, often elegant girl, a cold eye nto herself in the big mirrors, a stark heart. I missed three days of classes, and was back. I did not cry. At the burial I bleated "mama" three times -- talismans, artifacts -- and moved on.

The word "orphan" still slices at me, but only in self-pity. My mother used to tell me that she was a narcissist, that it was easy because she has been a model and went out with royalty and was gorgeous and lush on chartered jets, in Switzerland, at Studio 54--all that late 70s excessiveness--but that my birth changed her, allowed her to love someone besides herself. What does that mean? What is my inheritance? Can we even be appreciably hurt, anymore, after such lives? Suffering is not allowable. I have written this on the big mirror in my bathroom to look at every morning and night.

There is a boy I want, dangerous because he is not the boy to whom I am engaged (but so it goes, Nick, let's be realistic). He is dangerous because he's clever, because he has long, sly-sweet eyes not unlike yours, because he does not seem to give much of a fuck what people think of him. [...]He reads the kind of books that allow me to believe he would be able to appreciate my cold inside, the dark little star on an otherwise sweet and gentle heart. He thinks the kind of things, reads the kind of novels and poetry, that kead me to believe he would be able to enjoy the story and the tension. He complimented me quickly, gracefully, once, as has been done before and come to mean nothing. I made the mistake of calling him, and the strain was noticeable. I made a bored, cynical joke and he responded with emotion and innocence. This was as recognizable to me as the smell of snow or the sight of death by now; I thought "this is Nick Haslett, all over again." By now I'm smart enough to retreat. I let it sting for a block and a half, and I will not talk to him again.

I'm always so fucked when I think that a person is able to understand things by the books he reads. I should learn by now. You think that these books, this prosody, stops short of meaning. Maybe you don't believe in metaphor. Maybe you don't believe in the sonorous footsteps of what is already done. You're not an empiricist, you say, and you certainly must not be interested in forensics. All of the best writing is in simple past-tense, is it not? I love a good examination of What Is Done: how pure, how clear, the nerve-bundle at the center of it all, its bloody spine. But I know you, and you want to dwell in the hypothetical, the philosophical. It's not a contest. Could one exist without the other? Certainly writing, the huge loom on which it makes its metaphorical web, could not exist without Meaning. But Meaning, Nick, I venture, could not be understood or made human without poetry and fiction. What is the conduit into the human being - and let's leave hearts out of it and speak of just the mind, even - how does it really arrive? It's not even a matter of saying "Oh, the average person is far too stupid to pick up some Kirkegaard and absorb it." Even the most brilliant asshole cannot absorb, consume, or transfigure raw philosophy. It means nothing to the sticky little electric nerves in our brains; to think is nothing but to sense in complicated ways, and so sensation is a part and parcel of anything that is to be understood. Tin and semen and tourmaline are not without their own weights and associations, and are independent and unbidden by philosophy; cedar and Alcenon lace and the pancreas; the itching tick of new illness and the slippery heave across the public linoleum of the Wawa and the coppered rim of your tipped bowl of gin. We live in their world, Nick, not vice versa. It is not all an illusion. Build these things up in a giant pile and take it down and in the middle there will be philosophy, there will be the Big Things you think Updike misses (which he does, but that's because he's a pervert) which you want so badly.

Updike sucks because his characters are always running away right when they could get at the Big Things, and this is very glamorous, this running away, especially in male characters, but ultimately stupid for the reader. So yes, you are correct . Even Seek My Face (which you might like, as it's full of abstract postulating on postmodernism and such) seems to miss the mark by a hair. You, little squash fiend, deep-thinker-of-everything-including-the-importance-of-racquet-sports, would love Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace. It looks intimidating, yes, but a large portion is witty footnotes. I have issue with it because of boring personal aesthetic reasons, but I think you'd like it. Please do pick it up and just give it a try. It was recommended absurdly strenuously to me by someone very much like you, a squash-playing, Ultimate Frisbee captain at an Ivy League school who is unsure how he really is going to reconcile art with his extremely well-considered and almost careworn introspection. (I did manage to take his virginity. Safe to say I have a type.) You and he interest me because you're so purely egotistical, but only in the best way--in a very animal way, actually, even though there's that tendency in you to only embrace the animalistic with a sense of half-bitter defense. But this is part of the charm. If you were purely, unthinkingly of the senses, you wouldn't be at all clever enough to be worth wanting.

Do talk back at me, because I really don't have a very clear picture of where your dissatisfaction with fiction comes from, and I'd like to know. It sounds like a very large dissatsifaction connected to other large ideas, which interests me hugely. I find good fiction exceedingly hard to write, and I read it with a sense of rebellion. I should be reading pure poetry, since this is what I write and will go to school to further learn how to write. I read other poetry more like a how-to manual, which is work I like--but less delicious than reading for, as they say, fun. Perhaps I'll even get to see you; there's a woman in Merion Square who makes all of my important dresses and I would need to go up there around this time next year to have one for my wedding made, if I stick through this engagement. The Main Line makes my chest hurt; I would need some sort of something to distract me. We could get Wawa coffee and walk around whatever silly little Main Line town in the bigger township and you could tell me that after everything has been added and subtracted I am, actually, kind to you, and worthwhile, and nearly lovely, and I could say the same for you.


From: Francesca
To: J.
Date: December 24, 2005

You write so well. Please promise me that with your tuition money from the Marines (they do give it, don't they?) you'll go to school to be a writer. I was, and still am a bit, jealous of your clear turn with prose. Make your statements about AI in a gripping novel, but Jesus, J., keep writing and go to school to write; go get your MFA at Iowa, or UMass, somewhere utterly hot shit. You've got the kind of mind that projects the biggest of pictures. How you were a product of Thomaston, Georgia, I can never know. That's not a snub, the way you'll take it. You were not groomed; you just are.

I don't know what is going to happen [...] I'm old enough to know now that I don't have to make up my mind today. I don't owe anyone my life, but I owe some people a try, and I'm not done here for a year anyway. The intensity of immediate decision is the mistake of a younger woman. My life seemed so clearly plotted out when my mother was alive. Now I have a more free edge, dropped in my lap suddenly, and cutting. Charleston is so boring, numbingly, quiet hysteric-makingly boring.

You know I barely tolerate Christmas. That was one thing we had going for us; we agreed to no yuletide fanaticism. So the holidays are no "hard" for me without my mother the way they are for other people. I am tired all the time. Grief is coming in the back, for me. I still haven't mourned, I have only been exhausted and sick with minor infections from a bludgeoned immune system.

I should have been nicer to everyone, including myself, but most clearly you. I changed myself around a great deal, trying to please you, and it never seemed to work. I was a baby.

Make them take care of you. Oh! You could have been sent to Iraq, you shit! I'm glad you're in Japan.


From: J.
To: Francesca
Date: December 22, 2005

Japan is making me tired. Perhaps I'm tired of living in one place. I haven't seen my family for a year, and I won't see them for another. I joined the Marine Corps--I didn't lie to you about it but I also didn't want to tell you. It was as a result of you, actually, or rather wanting to be different than I was at the end of our...I almost wrote 'whatever-it-was' but that would be a lie--I know what it was. Yes, as late as a year ago I was still really stung by you. I still got a little sharp pain and a whooshing-in feeling in my chest upon seeing your email today. My father assures me that it never goes away [...]

About prettiness and cleverness and all, when I tell people stories about my ex-fiance I tell people she was beautiful and brilliant with real conviction. I'm almost done with my book...actually I am done, and I'm rewriting.

I wrote about my ex-fiance: 'So F had fitted herself into a room above President Street in Charleston beside the house of an ancient and senile negress and close enough to the Citadel that I could enjoy hearing the band warming up on Friday afternoons, lying in her bed with the rain coming down all around us and waiting, always waiting for her in some fashion. I was waiting for her to finish reading when I wasn’t, or waiting for her to get into the mood when I was, or waiting for her to introduce me to friends from Foxcroft who I would feel uncomfortable around but who I would later agree with when they told her to be nicer to me, and to calm her soul, and to beg for me across the miles to come and save her from cutting herself over her grief for sending me away. I looked around that room of hers with the broken mirror and the clothes hanging on a rack across from the bed (because there was no closet) and the books haphazardly strewn around the room and a painting she’d done that she said was of a fish laying eggs but which I always thought looked like a fish cut in half and bleeding in the water and one evening when she asked me to make up an erotic story I told her one about a girl who lived in an apartment in New York who was something of a writer and who was messy and who longed for someone new to sweep in and take her in all the ways of her imaginings, a fellow who she could try on and who would finally fit, who would tie her up and who would make her feel as if she were home. '

I go on to say that she hated the story, but that I was just retelling the story of her. Well.

I considered asking if you were still marrying that fellow you were with, but I think that if you're talking to me for whatever reason it must mean that you're not. Am I wrong? There was a girl I was considering marrying but am no longer--I haven't thought about having a woman since, for longer than a night, and I'll be a bachelor until I'm forty at least. [...] is getting married, though, to a mutual friend of ours. They've been engaged for almost two years now, and they're getting married in December 2006. They're a really pleasant pair. I'll be the best man AND a bridesman, whatever that's called. What a coup.

This weekend is Christmas. Will it be very hard for you? Willl you have your sister with you? Let me know what you'll do, at least.

From: Francesca
To: J.
Date: December 19, 2005
Subject: You hate me, etc.

And can see right through me. I know. You don't have to reiterate it. You're prettier and cleverer than I; you'll remind me of this as well if I don't beat you to it. I'm exhausted by myself and trying to be a distinct self. On September 28th, I found my mother's dead body; it has slowly begun to change things by force of being worn out. I'm really glad, for unknowable reasons, that you're in Japan where you wanted to be and that you still like mean worms.


From: D.
To: Francesca
Date: October 12, 2005
Subject: gray roads

Dear Francesca,

Packing for a trip to Pittsburgh I heard Chan Marshall's voice from the other room, and in its southern, contemplative, plaintive soulfullness I heard you and with wonder write a few words that are nothing more than to say that I hear you from afar and simply wonder.

Looking forward to the drive through the wetness, the ground rich in its time of upheaval; apples soft it the grass, the colors muted as if to let the aroma rise stronger from the loam. It's the kind of season that makes me want to pack some Seamus Heaney in the bottom of the bag for a few spare moments. And he is right for a tour through an unknown city--his excited look at the old and familiar, all those Irish sensations that bring the Pacific back to the body too.

I hope so much for you that there's nothing to say about it and you know; what is, what's needed, what remains.

as always,


From: Francesca
To: D.
Date: September 25, 2005
Subject: Non Photo-Blue

I wonder about your dream. At first it struck me as charming, and I read your letter, and drifted off to my weekend. Then it caught me and grew. There is something about the fact of walking circles around someone—literally—as if caught in a maze, as if a wolf, as if a child-heroine. I had Friday off from work with the toddlers and I stretched out on the bed like a teenager, my head hanging off and looking into my new yard; there is a spiderous shed, there, some very old trees, a bluejay who always alarms me because I have always considered their markings alarming. Without warning I began to cry and I cried out into five empty rooms the way I have not for ages, throat-up, hair pooling on the floor.

I do not cry as often as I would like, but I found myself overcome with the sense that I had just been missed by something monstrous, that I have been given a reprieve. I cried the way we cry after a car crash in which nobody is hurt. It is a strange life to go living pardon-to-pardon. I can’t say what it is about the image of me walking in a circle around you, my hair half-tied back—perhaps it’s because I am a version of myself, there, that exists but is rarely shown, and is my dearest version. Someone once took a picture of me on the rocks beside a pond. I had an unmitigated, uninterrupted seriousness to my face, and it is the only version of my face that will last me from childhood to old age: angular, abrupt, foxlike, almost pretty but not quite. That is who I am alone, or underwater, or in New England.

I thought, too, of Alice, or Erendira, the illogical innocent and her circular rituals. It is so like a book, this image, this dark-haired self with her head down, just walking, and you, knowing more and not seeing that the knowing is all yours. Wonderland or the desert with winds of misfortune: of course I am a familiar to you there. My job is to make meaning out of nothing, ride words roughshod over logic, level certain high reliefs. I have not worked out from my skin, yet, the idea that younger women and older men are a beautiful thing together; but this I mean in a way both deeply tied to and totally beyond eroticism. I sense from experience that there is a certain texture to older men that is flattened by their younger lovers, and the men both love and rue this effect. There is rut and nuance to being older, hurt, repaired, a father, divorced, a male, brilliant. And there is a certain keen little heat to being younger, pure, female, heavy, heady, howling; it obliterates and melts realized nuance—creates its own invisible kind as the surface cools. It is not perfect, this kind of loving. The miscommunication is stunning. But oh, the story it writes, what new amalgams of feeling are reached: rage with regret with tenderness beyond measure. If I were smarter, or braver, I would go back to one of my old and older lovers; but my boyfriend now will one day be thirty, then forty, and that prospect keeps me with him.

(Didn’t that part of the book make you weep? Humbert loved her, in the end; despite how annoying she was, unruly and unreliable, he fucking loved her, with her sweat and zits and swollen guts, her adult face; “now I see love,” he could have sung, despite his own black mold of desire.)

You do a lot of theory. It is electric, isn’t it? I think of theory as Aldo Leopold’s description of a saw cutting diagonally through the time and issue of a tree’s rings: we do not go down, we do not go across, but sideways. In the end I can’t turn my ears too closely to the sound of it, or take more than one word like a little bone back to the cave to chew; not poetics, at least. We grow and things weave clean: it is more apparent that I am a plain, ringless Quaker with blue and ringless eyes. We do not believe in belief, per se, the fetishization of what’s abstract above what is clear and done—oh, how lovely, what is done, its echo, and so underrated. Allegiance is chief among dangers, we learn; even style, even philosophical concern. I couldn’t walk a circle around you in anything but deep, bright curiosity, a vessel of bone parsing out the other: will he float, will he not float? If I put him in water? Whatever the construct for that question, I would rather not know its name. Philosophy is the scabby opossum who grunts at my door each night; I leave her a pan of crumbs in the morning to tithe—I wouldn’t want her to starve, I need her there outside—but I cannot in good conscience let her in. She would scratch and piss on everything I have, writing about the harbor, knowing that mimesis is mostly the reeds and their latticed mat, perhaps, or the irritated stalk of a crane.

Two. In half a year, she will begin to surprise herself by her own sense of humor. At two, their heads move in shock when they first find something complex funny, as if they were momentarily possessed. In a year and a half, she will have a keen sense of irony, already: so young. In a year, she will be able to understand, if she finds a dead bird, that the part of the bird that was once happy to be alive is not gone from us—how? Oh, they know, before they are taught to not know. They have everything they need, already, all said. I see it more clearly every year. It takes my breath away. To not feel able to send what is for her, that hurts anyone who even slightly knows you; I am sorry. I so want it to go better for you, and what is real want but raw prayer—like a handful of unpolished tourmaline a young woman puts in your hand, without words, in a foreign country, nails on your palm, before she traces back that old path.

That was no circle: that was a spiral, winding in.


From: D.
To: Francesca
Date: September 21, 2005
Subject: dreamweave

Francesca, you were in my dreams last night. There was a frantic trip, a foreign city, a strange awakening, and there you were walking verbal and literal circles around me, and yet pure comfort in the new but familiar presence.

Note the new email address. Here to mark the term's return, which is again all the heavy slogging through the ugly stuff of the world. I'll take your use of such ventures as brave (and foolish) as a strengthening word, a mantle to sink into, a way of standing and retreating at the standing time.

It was the little one's birthday yesterday. She is now two. I bought her German blocks of hard wood. They're simple and will last. And a handmade stuffed bunny from Holland. It's fantastic and haunting. Some bath soap because, it seems, she loves bathtime. A small book called _It's My Birthday_, another called _Moses the Black Cat_ (Moses takes care of a litter of piglets in the barnyard), and a gorgeous edition of _Pinnochio_. I will send only the birthday book because I can't stand the idea that the other things will disappear without her touch and time and the whole world shrunk down to their span. The rest goes into the trunk of all the other things of hers I keep.

Hope the river waters are shallow and clear, rocks shining up from the bottom, nothing rapid, rabid, or blindingly deep.

Be well, D.

From: Francesca
To: C.
Date: September 16, 2004
Subject: everything done is overdone

A boy who could have been you at nineteen to my left. Natural blond--dark, skinny, silver bracelet on his wrist, bent unnaturally in the chair as if he would rather himself somewhere else. He can't be anything but an English major.

Two replies in a row. The storm, the price of gas, the way I sleep on a mattress next to the kitchen in a house I am poised to own, it's thrown me up to the surface; it is the way truth gets thrown up to the surface of a good poem, or a fish in the flux of a good, clear, stream. What's true is so tight, so clear, so cold and full of grace...Isn't that what truth is, what's close to the bone, a skinned and unfleshed spine, the sum of it all - the whole nerve bundle - exposed? Twenty four has me pitching away the extraneous. The rings I picked out for my left hand are flat, cheap, beautifully useful. But I am not not wearing them yet, out of fear, the sense of stupid animals we call horse sense...

...Same old place I always was...

I cannot do it any more, this, whatever it is: belief? I pitched and wailed and bit my boyfriend's hip and made him swear to god, swear to god and back again, that I would never be asked to drive a minivan, have more than one child, cook things on a barbecue, have cable TV, spend the summer here, live in South Carolina beyond the age of thirty, get my tattoos removed, stop writing. I made him swear to god that I could leave, take a baby to see the northern lights, lock the door, say fuck, make love to women, spend every penny on airfare, keep France to myself. How do you know HOW to know, C.? His heart is so good, so shot through to its center with the honest sort of good that resonates like a bell and doesn't cloy, doesn't simper, doesn't sneer. It smells like a new root in fresh dirt. I love it.

But what if you have a dark little star on your own heart? A dark little fucking star, a make-me-crawl-across-your-bare-pine-floor portion of your heart, a fuck-the-sexy-boys-in-your-classes heart, a meet-me-at-the-Econo-Lodge-every-five-years heart? I wish you would, in a way, be one of a handful of men I see every few years, checking up on me, telling me how to grow, forcing me to get on with this . Food, sex,breath...these are the only literal things we have, now, awash in what's too ironic to bear. The bodies of old lovers, briefly unrelinquished, acknowledge the linear, and fight it: bone by breath.

I keep driving out to the islands on gas I can't afford, and listen to the Pixies until my ears feel tinny and I can't breathe. I want to be the woman who photographs that lone gray house perched like an egret at the edge of the water, I want to be the woman someone looks at and says "she is that house." When I write, I take off all my rings because I cannot stand them, nor my fingernails, and am so pleasantly aware that I am by no means a beautiful woman that I could sing. I want to be found with my nails in my teeth and a crisp white shirt, to be horrified by love--not terrified, fuck that cliche--but horrified, to be like a plain and bleached piece of wood.

Is it possible that the only way we get everything we need is by straying? Is it possible that the only way to be full is to have one sort of love at home, and one sort of love that ends over and over somewhere else? Isn't that a beautiful song? A sad song, I'm not going to even skirt the issue, but the juxtaposition of what's low and constant with what ebbs and crashes? I can't keep going on with love that thinks it's lasting and watching it end. It's so fake from the beginning. And still, that constancy, that old tic and wound, that heavy flannel and wine-from-the-child's-cereal-bowl is so kinetic in of itself, how could anyone not need it? I have that in my future husband; I need to carefully, silently, invisibly have things that wreck me, too, and leave them. Oh what is to be done? Do people live like that? Do they get away with it - not even with their spouses, but with their own selves? Do you? Would you?

I know that some people spend every chance they get out on ridges, near water, on pebbles, away from towns, wrapped in ten thousand strings and holding very still. It's not even worth having a child, to me, if I can't do that. It's not worth getting married if I can't. I have had it with South Carolina; I want the deep plunge of the north, now. Where do you dream of so badly and brightly that it makes you kick in your bed until you could nearly cry? The only reason I want to be a teacher is to have summers off and dentists paid. It's been too long since pine, rock, creek, and lichen. Do people live like that; do they survive? There is no feeling in the world like the feeling of being back in cabin or at camp, warm again, alive, after somewhere where it was called into question; maybe love affairs are the same.

I feel like I am walking through a hall, shedding clothes, saying no, no, fuck this all, this nonspecific American tone, this flat land, and no. I feel like whatever it was you saw in me that was languid and kinetic gets more languid and more kinetic, and the tension between it is more monstrous day by day. Maybe it's just the fall, or the shittiness of all the 'Poetry' magazines I have to read. Everything done is overdone:


From: D.
To: Francesca
Date: August 28, 2005
Subject: what comes

Steady thoughts of surging seas and southern cities gone under some awful weight. Thinking of you somewhere in a still room of reeling heat and the sleepiness making words slant off the page, and there in that room you're safe from many for at least tonight, and at the very least from such annihilation. But, with your city built around water and vulnerability, I can't help but connect you with the atmosphere of the ruin.

The slow encroaching of it seems the most cruel. All those people lined up for buses, helpless, as idle as those on the highway. Or those standing like beggars for entrance into the football stadium, as if it were the Vel' d'hiv in Paris, waiting for the train to Drancy. Elsewhere, plywood seems so small a gesture for the kind of destruction described. The burial grounds will be washed through and the dead will float their way within the street streams of wreckage.

In books of nightmares and chronicles of beseiged cities the rat inevitably becomes a form of currency because they are the most steadfast. By tomorrow afternoon even they may have fled the scene, or bravely nested in rafters, and still those will probably have to swim, or drown amongst all the soiled mardi gras crap that fills every other shop window. The other kind of currency will account for the masks and magic stuff. For the people with so little to lose, I imagine this will take everything with recompense. That seems to be the defintion of gravity.

Sleep far from those kinds of upheavals. The loss is too pure.

From: D.
To: Francesca
Date: July 10, 2005
Subject: in this midnight of absolutes

Dear Francesca,

Had been thinking of you since Wednesday night, when the girlfriend brought in a senior colleague and senior colleague's mouse husband and senior colleague's baby for dinner, and here today I found a stray Sycamore Review just there, and in it [your professor] writing about lighthouses and tentative futures, as well as an essay by a woman I used to know, who I stopped knowing abruptly one day a long time ago, and who writes, continually it seems, about disappointment and pain.

Hope those last two are foreign words for you these days, but imagine that is not exactly the case in the heat and steam and restless summer drunks and the riding of Crazyhorse. A little forgetting then, a lot of thriving any way possible. And there are a lot of possibles (I think we both find the ways to show that, a lot).

So the senior colleague had much to say. Prideful of being blunt. So many words saying nothing, and not like a drone that just makes noise that is nonsense. This was instead layer after layer of some self on display, every tale, comment, comparison, or analysis meaning to show her self at the center of what counted as real. It all failed and as I sat there getting deeply drunk and while listening with care to the display I thought of how you and I have exchanged so many letters that try and strike at the heart of some immaculate sphere. And there are many splinters of childhood arranged and presented, but it's in the trying to get the words to mean something, to conjure something in each other that might be a delicious fiction, never seen or heard or felt before, but still, after, remembered. Nothing so obvious. Nothing so simple. No declarations with ready-made categories and glib throwaways. Your images of sea edges, a sore chest, and a dusty mansion. Caring about words and what they strain to say. Working to say something about the idea of or experience of crushing love. Writing about a blush.

Senior colleague explained how she entered "left politics" and "organized." That was her favorite verb and most esteemed action and it was meant to stand in for a million stories one might tell about people met and struggles against shit policies and maybe about making things marginally better for people in fucked circumstances and then appreciating the fact that for folks like her and me there were choices to be made about where one lives and how they live since those others, the ones who needed to be "organized," didn't have any options. She had come from UCLA. Northern California, it was explained to me, was a sad joke of fake open lands and ridiculous nature whereas LA was where things with "grit" happened, and where it seems, the poor people were "organized." What made them "real," though was the violence and a low-rider shop on the block. I suppose I could see the attraction to an old, water's edge intergated, gunfire neighborhood since her father was a large animal vet. in Colorado dairy country who could tell the vintage of wine by tasting it. Later, perhaps having forgotten that story, she became a poor girl growing up lower middle class. She was almost a Rhodes Scholar. Organizing was superior to Oxford.

Turns out, to everyone's surprise, she also knew my girlfriend's first love; a boy named Hunter; my girl's first lover, one of those from fifteen to twenty-somethings across many distances and break-ups. His was a class tale in reverse, one that took hours of the two of them piecing together degrees of his past through interrogation and query and comparison; all of it made bearable only by the fact that everyone had slacked into the wine and taken to eating whatever scraps of pork and biscuit and cookie could be found with careless fingers. They both loved him dearly; it was obvious and it became a parry game to claim a devoted but distanced appraisal of the single-mommed lad who struggled and fought to fit into Shaker Heights' society and only when he had succeed in becoming the only thing that mattered, a charming Hockey god, left Cleveland for a boarding school and then U. Colorado, where he studied Latin and tried, like the senior colleague, to be a Rhodes Scholar.

They both called him a fake and analyzed his duplicitous secrecy, his love of meek, mousey girls, and his ridiculous poses; they were enthralled at the same time. Senior Colleague called him a sell-out for going to law school (as if that public advocacy work were cosmetic surgery). But maybe's she's right. Maybe his cases are just a kind of performance. A chance to be simple and pure and righteous. Like her organizing. Not born into the right markers, he sounds like someone trying to make his own version of superiority ever since. Born into the stark, hard beauty of open spaces and cattle rhythms, senior colleague claims the grit of someone else's misery.

I sat with ice cream and small choc. chip cookies and wine dregs and watched them all struggle to find what they needed to find and listened and withdrew into flashes of old letters. Thanks.


From: D.
To: Francesca
Date: May 1, 2005
Subject: cold dark drafts in emptied spaces

Dear Francesca,

It is something like the witching hour. The twilight is flat light, post rain, but there is the promise of more storm. Brief bursts, like our letters that appear without rhythm. Gray clouds and dim yellow sunslits still cut the sky and give backdrop to the radio towers flashing, but as everything grows darker and still on a Sunday, the shops closing, the streets emptying, some grim beauty is nonetheless coming. It will be here and healing when the white houses glisten with rain and catch the streetlights, glowing, and the clear sound of a windchime from a porch is there. I'm at the desk, watching people go in and out of the Walgreen's drugstore, so small. It is haunting up here, in this window, in this state. Maybe Wisconsin is like the attic space in one of those mansions you prowled when young. Cold, dark, inhuman, yet, holding a crucial isolation when on the search for the magic of the world, the way a girl's imagination takes off at the ways figures can be traced into velvet fingered against the grain.

So as it gets darker song by song, set the grading down. Feel some healing words come to the fingers of an adult who can trace figures of a different sort, and cast them all the way down to South Carolina to that well known stranger who an hour ago no doubt noticed the sea skies shift somehow, sliding into some sort of darkness, and in some way and who almost certainly was wrestling with a phrase of some kind, an editor's squint and a writer's daydream and maybe winces at breathes taken the wrong way--

o queen of graces
at length, when the last sacraments are over
and you go down to moulder in dark places

--and there is the chance that as she wove together the associations and memory tastes and the feeling of words like bones under flesh, she thought, almost out loud, "do you see what I mean?" There is some earthly, deep comfort taken in the act and the hope of reception and conception when yes is spoken in return.

California gave much and took much and the senses of homecoming, home-haunting, were unexpected. Many of the ghosts have let loose their hold, finally. Standing on the old soil made me sad but not so nostalgic. It was a burial and an acknowledgement of the blessings that were there once upon. So many of the landscapes refused to give that needed burst, and driving through the rain, trying to find some familiar joy, and unable to do it, I heard that awful, potent "no." But it wasn't tragic. It was release. Life was somewhere else. Beside me she was loving and lovely and at each stage i can see how we are broken in the same places and strong the same and our freckles align, perfectly. So together we had not my past but there were the green and oak hills and the tacos in central valley lunch stands and all that lovely field culture and there were the family embraces, finally, it feels, without all the years of poison and the friends who took us in with ease and not a hint of performance and poured us bottle after bottle and talked us late after the kids had gone down. There was love in that way, and it is so foreign to feel it as a thing present instead of something ached for, and that is luck and as such it has undone too much this spring.

It's a hard adjustment to let things be and bring health and joy and there isn't much grace during too many days. It's cold, afterall. The warmth is coming. I will see my little darling girl again in the next season. It's only May Day. Some Maine Day. A beautiful picture standing for so much promise.


From: Francesca
To: D.
Date: April 7, 2005
Subject: Little Cranberry Isle

It has been a long time. Sometimes I forget the need for men like you, or rather, I forget my own need. What a blur this semester is becoming. Poetry and fiction writing and American literature courses, all of it centered the way we make writing center around us when we are lost, around my own age-old problems of what kind of woman, what brand of sadomasochism, I want my pretty little life with my little horse's-head face to be. I won a grant to help edit Crazyhorse - two parts of my life, the crazy and horse, the poetics and the neat nip back into the reality of my life--a finger worming behind my teeth where a bit would go. The two factions each want a piece, and I give to each, in private.

I think, D.L., that if you saw me you would pass me off as one of those girls, the kind who don't know how to fuck or listen or let go. I think of women with choppy haircuts or hair uncut at all, their black clothes, their thrift style, their ironic references, their tattoos and smudgy eyes; or their linen clothes, their cool California breeze, their amber earrings. I think of the hundred thousand ways women (I love women) have come to be, have come to slide a hand through the air on a cool wrist and fuck the past and the detractors, fuck the martingale, run away unhurt and unwhored. I am not them.

I am blue eyed and chocolate-haired in my tortiseshell headband and navy blue skirt. I am pearls on the beach. I am the backbite, backbitten bile of a thousand years of pale WASP skin, I am brighter now by night. I can't run away because I would be nobody and nothing without the dusty understatement--vast, vast understatement--of small Episcopal churches and barns where horses get wrapped in strong linament. I grew up in houses old and huge, rotting with mildew in the corners, so big we could not afford to heat them and we closed down parts and covered the furniture, the oil portraits that museums have asked us for, in burlap, and ate off the silver our ancestors buried to hide from Yankee soldiers. They write books, I am learning now, about crazy families in the South, genes and psyches pale and delicate as mothwings. I am the one they always call on to explain Henry James.

I crossed the grass at a boarding school with girls like myself. To not mince words, we are overbred, a narrow tree, and our faces are sharp and our teeth are bad, and we are pretty like boats in white silk on a green sea in a picture you know they must have adored a hundred years ago. My bones are little and my voice is high. I have pleurisy this year. Who gets pleurisy anymore? Overbred girls in the wrong century do. I put on my tweeds and my big pink hat and watch horse's race and wonder which came first, the mechanics or the adoration.

It's not enough. I could not live another way, and it hasn't got to do with money but with the way my head gets jerked back. But it's not enough. I wish and do not wish that I could believe in the dream of California, the opposite of the crumbing East. Look at your farms, your beautiful people. I think people making love in California or Colorado or Montana must be the most beautiful people making love. Living sensations you say, yes, yes; I won't let go of those, Daniel, and I won't let go of the sensation of mildew and dust that is my green-and-white life. A dark little star will always prick my heart, and how much more gorgeous it will be in the midst of that static fall across the ancient stone hills of Virginia where hooves leap and we all behave, behave, behave.

How lovely to no longer be desperate in deciding. How lovely to listen to the crickets and stretch out my long, pale legs and know that for all my wishing I may and may not ever wrap them around the back of another man, a poet or a professor or priest. How lovely to know now why they say that a woman has a box between her legs; she does, a neat little square. Here you are, and nowhere else, love says. The boy whom I loved most intensely and can never have reminded me: We will see each other again, afoot at the lives we knew we had to choose. I will be the way I always was and he the same. We will scream into doorframes and bathwater and steering wheels with the wanting, knowing that we wouldn't ever leave what's behind us for each other. That, too, is a living sensation for a hard little diamond-hearted girl like me. I choose to make him a pot that never boils over. And if it did boil over, wouldn't once be enough, give you enough tears and mineral matter to render a universe in entirety?

A lover, crawling across the floor, begging: couldn't even the word "no" make her come? Do you see what I mean?

My friend in Wisconsin says the winter never ends, with which I wish you much luck. And your love, too - you are the kind of person who can have real love (so lucky! I could be that way, but I can't at the same time, and so it's up to people like you) and love needs luck and spring and clear running water.

Babies do too. My friends just had their baby, Lucy. They are the first people my age I know to have one - not even my cousins have begun their reproductions yet. I cannot believe what they have made. I know how it all works but it makes me woozy, still. I am always looking for what is fierce, and little girls are fierce. Many more baby girls outlive baby boys. The parent parade: that will suit you, I think. Your own situation can be hell, but you did it, you made it, you have the soft grandeur of babyskin on your own age-crissed-cross neck. That matters. Who knows why; it's hard, it's hardwired, it's wire-walking. How does it all get so complete without our consent?

God, how sexy to be alive, D.L. I am sorry that classes are bad. One time, maybe decades away, instead of California once you should go to Maine and watch the slick cool summer tremble through the little bay-waves. Over a sticky red and white tablecloth you can suck lobster-water from your fingers and feel the deep chill of everything that's already sonorous and dead. Our mountains are soft, in the East. I would take you on a ferry that looks like white enamel to Little Cranberry Isle and I would be wearing the same aquamarine (prettier than diamonds--they are the most beautiful gem) earrings and plain brown hair and white wool sweater I'm wearing tonight. I would take you to where they let you pick up a rabbit to hold to see if you wanted to buy it, out of a bunch of fat lovely rabbits, and if you held it by the ears I would know the answer (maybe all the answers) and let you watch me cry and take anything you didn't want or wanted.


From: D.
To: Francesca
Date: March 17, 2005
Subject: promises of thaw


in a few hours am off to California, for something more proximate to living sensations, something far from this late-winter lack of fragrance and the omnipresent marrowed chill. Will find the solace of close-sitting friends, the bar disappearing from our idle talk and comaraderie of noise; the drive up highway one, the world fading in and out of the fog; visits to the land where I grew up, however wholly and sadly unregonizable it is now that it has been overgrown with houses and pavement and stupid, shallow lives--but standing there I will remember lost things--the enormous pump on the wooden sled that had to be hauled by a giant Cat. tractor so we could drag surplus frehouses from it at the creek edge up the hill to the sprawl of irrigated vegetable patchs; the rooster that would fly in your face so that you had to whack it with a broom; the bamboo forest by the workshop; the magnolia blossoms in the dusty heat.

Only held tentatively in the mind, to get closer to their place, will heal. Teaching is a chore. The good classes are excited and you can feel them pull in ideas and mush them about and that is exciting, but the bad ones are like the smell of vomit. Toxic and choking. I think they make me stupid. I keep trying to read my way to a cure but often the words wash around the page. No depth perception.

The grind of employment and bills and all the stuff of living this way--in the states we're in--takes its toll on what was once thought of as love. It is there, in ways unexpected or hoped for, and yet it isn't what was ever possible. It doesn't know itself yet. We're both in our heads a lot and words aren't the most trusted things (though they must be) and silences can prick. It's feeling its way through the fright and fights; we don't know each other at all, and of course, we often slip into each other like there is absolutely nothing else that matters and have dug in and find the being side-by-side so good as to be all. Still, I feel and don't feel, and feel myself not feeling, as if the emotional responses are getting worn out and frayed at the contact points. Maybe it's just the winter and the workload. But maybe it is the slow age, everything taking on a different register. I'm trying to understand it .

. . after the loss of control and deep plunge of the excessive spells, those that give too much feeling. "We are constantly on trial / it is a way to be free" the song says.

Of the wee she in red, who reads, no report or word. Nothing is shared. Some resolutions are coming I trust. After she is two she will be coming to stay with me, hopefully for long stretches. On my morning walks to campus I see the parent parade walking their bundles of coats and flopping arms to school. That's real and that matters.

How are you doing with eyes cast to the future? Or will you stay? Or do you care? I hope there are the things that feed you and none of the distress that comes with having to wrestle with the banal and tedious and unlivng aspects the world seems intent to pile upon our feet till they go numb.

Be well, and tell me what you're reading when there is a chance,


From: D.
To: Francesca
Date: Janurary 25, 2005
Subject: travel traces


the term begins after all the movement and escape and healing retreat into reading and wander: Cleveland, Philadelphia, Chicago, New York to see the wee one in her red dress and love of books. Now it's just the grind of teaching too much and trying to secure the sanctuary moments.

Some of the Philadelphia traces for you. Hope you're well.

Best, D.

To: Francesca
Date: November 29, 2004
Subject: ghosts of the future

Francesca, have returned after the days on the road: roaming the icewhite highways across the midwest blank, the populace on Chicago's white-lighted Michigan Ave., an unknown family's thanksgiving practices. And in those passages, the moments that burst through are those of being before a dying fire in the after-midnight still of a strange house; the last of the whisky in a single glass passed from her hands to my lips and back; whispered laughs and eased lust and want, and wanting it only to last on and on, morning forever defered. And there is your truth. Yes, there is leaving, fading, dying all around, especially in November. But where those woundings are the future comes and comes and comes until there is no need for the past. Choosing the solitary Thanksgiving, already is the haunting hunger for what will be, for what will not disappear, but cycle through the days; tree rings and the ways the land evolves deep under the surface of the seasonal shifts.

I told too many stories of my past to her this weekend. She has mostly kept her old forms of recklessness quiet, which is right, for those past destructions mean nothing to our now. They are like thunderclaps, the shock-effect coming long after the damage has dissipated into so much nothingness. My stories built drifts of trajectory like the snow crystals that accumulate and make the roads trecherous and weary the travel; I can feel her, listening and unmoving, ease off the speed; breath-held and coasting through fearful thought. I hope she can measure it for the phantom-pile the past become under her touch. Think that will be. Building the pyre for it all bit by bit.

Better make your mind up quick, (the song sings), so your instincts guided you well.


From: Francesca
To: D.
Date: November 23, 2004
Subject: flowing, and flown
Thanksgiving: I am supposed to be on an airplane as I write this, to spend the week with the senior editor of [a magazine], who loves me and calls to tell me he loves me, hysterical (no, he cannot be hysterical - tarassical?) I cancelled the tickets this morning. Take the hit: it's only money. All that emotional work, the redemption of it, the poetry of it, gone in the face of my brilliant twenty-three year old stubbornness and sudden proclivities.

What got in the way? Only twenty-four years old; we met in a bar election night, he a Democrat,white teeth, Kentucky. I won't pretend this will last; we are in the hormone stage, the slam-you-up-against-the fence phase, the torn lace undergarment stage. He watches me while I grade my peers' poems in archaic borading-school handwriting and tells me I have a tight beauty. Which is truth, D.? The flush of the bloom or the hard-frost work of the farmhand? The wise maxims about love are evenly divided: half say go with the bud, half stay stick with the plough. I want it to last - in my mercury-glass heart I hold a secret picture of a house and battered ring and dogs; he will leave me. He bought a bar of antiperspirant with purple beads to leave especially at my house; I licked cocaine off his arrogant young lips on the fourth floor of an historical Charleston house; he buried his face in my belly on the Custom House stairs in the rain; he will leave me, he will leave me, he will leave me. It is likely a matter of weeks.

Sometimes I feel as if I am not built for anything. But I take the hit, because it's only time, and in the end, we're all leaving. Cambodians, Rwandans, Americans, lovers: oh well, they were leaving, anyway. Your blank students: they are leaving, without you. My plane, like Bishop's knowledge, id flowing (flying?) and flown. It too: leaving, and without me.

Thanksgiving; you?

From: D.
To: Francesca
Date: November 22, 2004
Subject: punts, grunts, and the failing grade*

What to do with the kids who refuse to learn? They simply shed lessons like those savants of the open field run: ducking, dodging, stiff arms, lowered shoulders and surprising power before hitting full speed again in a matter of strides. I have the cleat marks of their resistance all over my face.

Which reminds me to ask of the little ones who sit at your feet and see a platypus. When you write next tell me of sweetness and light--their open eyes and wonder or squinted glee and body laughter.

The prose shards of sullen teens are bringing me down.

*Sounds like an Arab Strap album doesn't it?


From: Francesca
To: D.
Date: November 21, 2004
Subject: Re: quarantine

It did not make it through. Perhaps it has rabies, or scabies, or a terrible cough.

From: D.
To: Francesca
Date: November 19, 2004
Subject: watch the waves and move the fader

Dear Francesca,

just out of a film, sparsely attended on a slatefog night. Anyone at there at all a miracle, of course, for who would see something about a Khmer Rouge detention center, a kind of concentration camp communist style, which is to say, a killing machine? Some students of mine were there, looking for extra credit. One brought her boyfriend who professed an interest in films. Not sure he was ready for Cambodian confessions. Tough, tight-framed encounters between one of the few (two? seven?) survivors of this former high school used to extract "enemies'" confessions before they being killed and the men--back then boys--who did the killing. The facts of their acts are well known and even I knew most of it, but there was something impossible in the words. That the words had a voice that spoke them with ownership, that pointed to the spots of mass graves, that enacted some of the commands, was impossible to hear. The words were coming from something human. Or the all too human, maybe. Which, I suppose, is why I went. I find so many of my days too hard. The disasters are mine. No perspective cures them. But how for fuck's sake do these men live with, and then speak about, what they have done or with and of what has been done to them?

To my students I can't rely on any foundational imperative to sustain a "why" regarding their watching such things. Part of it is true: meaning at the extremes is most easily seen in the ways it is made. But I don't fake that there is any moral lesson in it. Whatever we discuss when it gets to that level of history remains: it happened. It really happened. People did such things. Still, for a few of these kids the defenses are thick and hard. Some, the braver ones, had completed the last section with an analysis of Rwandan images. I showed the rest a film about what went on there. Pedagogic reasons, of course, but they remain that--a tin word that never wears well. What transpires in the room when the film rolls exhausts me as much as what is on the screen. It's like lake stones in my gut. Some of them simply refuse to be made susceptible. I can see it in their eyes. Nice kids, but they won't yield to anything so unsettling, or "gross." It will not exist to them. End the story now, please, they say.

The ones who were at the film tonight said, as they left, "have a nice weekend" in a way that suggested they don't think I'm capable of anything "nice." As if I were going to sit cross legged and pained, fingering a skull for the time of quiet, morbid reflection.

The job hunt has me self-conscious, anyway. So much promising of what I do and will do and want to do. Don't think parsing one's reflective verbs so carefully makes for a strong sense of self.

Good then to be riding home in the dark, tree shadow and the quick pace of lamp light, the streets quiet and slick. Here to home, to the solitude of better promises. The promises are changing these days. There is a woman in Chicago who has taken to me and I to her and it is like a strange and surreal waking, the slow evolution of sensations brought out. There are reverberations again . . . and as we said, they are rare; it is so unfamiliar that the feelings slip from trust almost at once, whatever the pleasure and peace. But they don't flutter away. They are not like the date flirtations and skin attractions I have lived in for the past few years. They stay there, here, like some deep soul scraping, the kind approached only by these wonderous letters and penned positions of our mutual reading, absolute confessions of mortality and the thrill of being somehow present, even if voiceless:

Oh, to bring back the shyness of clairvoyant fingers,
Recognition's rounded happiness!
I am so afraid of the sobbing of the Muses,
Of mist, of bells, of brokenness.

They who were going to die can love and see,
Even sound can pour into their fingers,
But I have forgotten what I wanted to say
And a thought without flesh flies back to its palace of shadows.

The transparent one keeps on repeating the wrong thing:
Always *swallow, my love, Antigone . . . *
And on my lips the black ice burns
The recollection of Stygian bells. (Osip Mandelshtam)

Speaking of origins and destinations, to Athens for Thanksgiving? More assertive plans? Write, please, when you can; with sketches and thoughts and fragments. They will sustain if I stay here alone and solitary. So you can snack on the details: I do get up early when I can, and love the sun's slow come (often, it is the bleary oversleep from the morning hour stretch). I keep the desk pretty well aligned with its lamps and stacks of books; towers of babel; need to see the photos propped--Eve crawling in the grass, a blindsquinted old man reading a newspaper in a Vienna cafe. I crave the method and yet leave a mess of it. I let my cups gather, making tiny star bursts of curdled cream in their night sky black. I carved a pumpkin on the fourth, attempting, probably, to pretend the election had never happened (did not cut myself and would never sulk about anything short of an entire jack-o-collapse; besides, after, there was a fire in the fireplace and smores made and martinis to wash them down and the best five o'clock nap on cool parquet wood floor).



From: Francesca
To: D.
Date: November 4, 2004
Subject: blue states, indeed

The glibly smug: I understand that. My generation sold itself down the river, only ten percent of those eighteen to twenty-four deciding to vote. In two years, at most, Bush will say that Iran has nuclear (pardon me, nuculur) weapons. He will say that they are enemies of democracy, and fundamentalists. A republican congress will declare war. The draft - for which the defense department has already started recruiting local board members - will be blatantly necessary. And then far more than ten percent of those eighteen to twenty-four, and twenty-five, and twenty-six, women and college students too, will be summarily killed fighting a culture and a people that have been around for some time and aren't, in fact, going anywhere. I will have to go to jail, or chop off my foot, or stay pregnant for two years. It is no wonder that when flirted with by boys my age, apathetic or conservative or - perhaps worst - misinformed knee-jerk liberal, I dream of picking out graying hairs on the back of a man's neck while he's still sleeping the morning light sleep of the slightly wiser.

I hear that some GOP vans got their tires slashed in Milwaukee. There's hope yet. In a bar on Broad Street I watched CNN all night, and when they said Wisconsin went blue, I thought of you.


From: D.
To: Francesca
Date: November 2, 2004
Subject: re: intertextuality: a postscript

Dear Francesca,

wish there were more to give at this hour of this week. Drained by the grading of their struggling thought and half-thought, and shit-thought, the fears for the tomorrows, the penury pressures, the wants of my little girl, the fragile hopes of a milion might be's, the desire for what is far off. It is quiet and calm and black-shine on rainslicked streets tonight and it is easy to sit here with windows open to it, holding on against the drowse.

I didn't think that. I imagined the lip's swell in a flush of reaction and recognition, read the imperatives of art in the force of their uttered strength: "their sensuality, the breath, the gutterals, the fleshiness of lips, a whole presence of the human muzzle" (R.B.)

A raised glass of something to be savored in honor of your new home, however little and wrong-sided; yours still, Daniel

From: D.
To: Francesca
Date: November 2, 2004
Subject: re: intertextuality: a postscript

Last night and this morning have left me decidedly lonely and despairing. Afraid to go outside. Afraid to face my students, some of them who will be glibly smug. In this barely blue state every other person is an enemy of the heart, and in the metropolitan area, it's less than that . . . can't imagine what it feels like down there. Stay away from the menace.

And pass that cafe bowl of a gimlet pie, please.

In solidarity with the humane,

F From: Francesca
To: D.
Date: November 2, 2004
Subject: intertextuality: a postscript

By the way: God, I am so wrong, about everything, so full of shit, so sharp-hooved against theory. It's hard to be both the gilt-edged piece and the curator at the same time; it's hard to decide which way to lock leg and force through. I wouldn't be surprised if you thought my previous note was drivel. If only there were more time to sit in the chair or the bed or the kitchen counter with a cafe au lait bowl full of key lime juice and gin and look out the window and think abstract things about style and the horror of winter and one's terrible fucking boarding-school-girl self unable to get past the rose garden and intertextuality and the corpus that Roland Barthes is always writing about. If only I weren't the nasty kind of poet who writes in the gerund without thinking: the spider is doing this, the spider is doing that, the spider is aware that she's made of meat and my lover's children are screaming at me to let them see. If only it would snow, here or inside the globe, and give us a day off to really seethe. When I say "pins and needles" what I really mean is a woman begging to be made love to so hard she's pinned down, classified, a specimen of herself.

I rented a little house on the bad side of the highway. It has one room into which I will cram everything, and a bathroom, and a kitchen without an oven - lucky that, for the dark-haired girls. It is set back and bizarrely hidden. It has its own overgrown yard with actual yellow bowers. I still won't drink Pabst. The house is next to a place called Rutledge Coffee & Cream, in a falling-down powder blue building. All I care for is coffee with scalded milk, or juxtaposed drops of cream, or burned coffee, black. Maybe better - by better I mean scarier, more like the static of a station you never reached - times will come there, where I can be alone. I'm such a baby; I wish I was anything but so easy to see.

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