From: F. <
to: T.
Date: February 18, 2006
Subject: sleeping through your twizzled watch

I love him.
He says he loves me.
It is as sweet as furious honey, T.W. It is good, as good as the best ever were, and I was not expecting it in the least. He told me as we walked the length of a long sideways Charleston house. He draped his arm across my piqued shoulder and I bit his palm and he said I love you low and calm in my ear. He has, in fact, a low calm. There was S., and there was you, and he is only the third I have ever loved who is smart enough for me to not bother trying to trick into my awful little church of stubborn beliefs. You know what I mean.

This town, oh this town, this wild harbor town waking up, its bells on the water, its subtropical rot. When is the last time you were on the water? I forget sometimes, that I am on the ocean, and I will wake up kicking my legs like a drowning mule, disoriented in my sleep; you know I only get that way near the sea. I love being alive, even - especially - with my photonegative bones, these days.

When the house sells, L. and I are going to travel. You should come, for a while. We are thinking about Vietnam. Oh damn damn damn. I want to get up and go. I imagine my mother standing near me, my little body on horseback, and her hand landing flat on the animal's flank: GO. Get away from this antediluvial American bloodline, the dust and silver, the rapacious bite of their class-hungry progress.

But love, love is sweet, the way he holds my head, the way we fuck four times a day, the way he talks his way into my half-waking self-sex dream. I was not cut out to be the raging nymphomaniac for which I once showed promise; I just want what I have to be gorgeous. How vulnerable - how untouchably heroic - we are when we finally break down and hum, "stay, stay, stay..."

F.

From: J.
To: F.
Date: February 12, 2006

No, but on a hill near it perhaps. And perhaps you set up your favorite chair facing the window which opens to it. Coming to you is wintry now, sitting with you--I know I am your closest neighbor, but you are turned fully away from me when I speak, looking out that awful window. I cannot fecundate you knowing that in my own place my cheek is pressed to a frosted glass too, and my eyes watering straining for firelight. You bring me little peace, me wishing with all my might that you would just breathe heavy and shove off and walk into a patch of sunlight. I am the other sort of man, not the mystical sort, the earthy, fiery, martial sort as Anais put it. I read her tonight, even though I don't love her. You said I am limited, and you are right. My limitations help me to extract myself, but you are an organ put to seed in the tundra and getting you to move requires the most complex of self-surgeries.

I would like to take on the project with you, watch you suture yourself in dim light, lick your belly-wounds. You can teach me to sharpen my art and I will let you shadow me when I paint my face and hunt in the forest until we learn the best parts of each other. I will teach you to build a calium shell around yourself that you can crawl back into when you're swooning even though you'll never use it enough. I will learn French and how to smile and I'll teach both to your children.

I mean, don't quit me. You'd be an idiot if you did.

Unconditionally,

J

From: F.
To: J.
Date: February 11, 2006

In the world's largest, deepest shadow?

From: J.
To: F.
Date: February 10, 2006

Don't be. I figured out where you live, just now, in my little book.

From: J.
To: F.
Date: February 2, 2006

May 25 2008 I am a free man again, unless drastic and dangerous measures are taken before then--who can tell?

I am in school just now, taking Psych 310 on Saturdays. When the semester ends I'll come home for twenty days or so. Would you like a visit? I think you should show me McLean. It sounds fair.

What do I need? Jesus, surely you remember. What was it specifically? Do you need to remember specifics? I need someone so almost like you, but someone with abiding faith in me. I want someone whose topography I can claim ownership over, and here is the thrust of my monogamy--the body is something I can brush against and so claims on flesh are the surest sign of love. People have known about sad flesh-claims forever, our biology speaking Puritanically, but it must be so that when we give it is with our bodies. What else have we got? I want to have something of someone given over to me, and it must be that. You said there were all these people to fuck, so fuck them, sure, but the idea of fucking different people all along the way makes me even more weary to think of it than fucking the same person. All these brief loves. Well, I'll have done with it anyway. I'll give myself over to someone, sure, finally, and then there won't be any question about anyone else for the rest of my marriage--I'd say life, but I won't clutch anyone to me lovelessly, though I'll marry for keeps. And I actually mean to sound very matter-of-fact and pointed about it--it's my way, I won't ever change under any circumstance and I don't much expect you to change either, I don't see how we could ever work again and I'll just be a little sad wondering how it might have turned out. Of your body and the rest of you, though, I would cheer you for turning around in yourself, for closing your eyes, for leaving to the solitude of your little ribs. The skin is something I can brush against, I said, and when you set a candle up next to your poet's heart I could never be allowed in there anyway. I can sleep back to back. I want honesty like I give honesty, the sort I think you may have been the inspiration for, actually. I'd like to adore and be adored, and never have to question it. I want someone not predisposed to nastiness, but someone who makes me dodge blows occasionally too. I want someone good for long trips, and for sandaled walks through the farmer's market, and for reading, and for playing in the ocean. And something that I really need is someone who will defer to my masculinity around other people, who might sink into my armpit and sip wine and smile out from the cave of my side and discuss literature and fierce politics with some other good pair of cave and cave-dweller. I want a woman who can be a woman and who takes some serious goddamn enjoyment from letting me be a man.

Written like a fucking online personal, that.

I dreamed of murdering you in the most exquisite ways that last day. I didn't, I didn't even throw you through the window behind the couch in your living room, but you were dangerously close. Is the relationship over, is that was precipitated the throw? Did you lie at the hospital, tell them you'd taken a fall or that you were clumsy at catching a baseball? Are you two in the same house still, was he apologetic? Fuck, I'd have liked to think of something better to say but my time is short again. This weekend, perhaps.

J

From: F.
To: J.
Date: January 31, 2006

Funny that your face should have been broken open. Mine was too, last night. My tooth went through my lip and my nose and teeth bled; I spattered the hallway, and a lovely shoe, and my towels with little butterflies on them. It took fifteen stitches total: eleven outside, four inside. Unless I engage in some fancy plastic surgery, I will probably have a small cleft in my lip; there is very little that can be done about the severed muscle and my smile will be fucked for always. He threw a heavy porcelain bowl at my face from across the room, putting his back into it, and knocking me over. I was sitting. I had no chance.

This is what I mean about balls, and lack thereof. Do you remember your old house, the field where someone had rigged it up to shoot deer without having to go to the least effort? I remember the look on your face, such disgust. (And then I remember standing on the door with you, like a life-raft...) There are strange but meaningful protocols to being a man, and I like them more and more the older I get.

I am intrigued, and slightly, vestigially piqued, by what you say about marriage on your terms. Tell me again. I forgot. I forgot so much. I made you leave and sat down under the rasping tree and forgot everything I'd ever learned about how to be brave and real, as if I pricked my finger on some totally tiresome spinning wheel and fell asleep for a hundred years. I probably can't give you anything, but I want to know - in fact, as I type this, I sit up straighter and lick my little stitch-whisker - I desperately want to know what you think about what you need. I don't believe I am a locked and certain way; I believe I am my age, and my age will change.

And I don't want you to sit with me. I want you to put your thumbs up under my jaw and tell me everything in that voice of yours I can't forget. I don't deserve a bit of it, not a fucking bit, especially not from Charleston to Japan: I know. But I thought I would inform you that it's something I could easily dream, this plan. Of course I would read the letters, of course I would lionize you. Of course you would wander, and send. You and all boys who tentatively, but wholly, love your fathers: you break my heart. You will be so good, all of you. And I'd be a liar if I didn't say I'd beg you to stay, or to take me with you, and away - if that is what happened, babies, with us. I merely mean I can't imagine a better man, anywhere, and that's impossible to shake: in my kicking-mule dreams, in my jetsam-riddled waking, in an hospital bed with the threads winding in my once-pretty smile...

The whorehouse, the flower, the asses. Hm. Men. Your mysteries: I read them, I can almost touch them, but I move behind the wall and count my own petals.

When will you go to school? When are you free, again? Wild word tangents are what make me like you.

F.

From: J.
To: F.
Date: January 29, 2006

Also, I don't know why the hell I said 'gerund'--I don't know what word I was thinking of--perhaps I saw you use germane and went on a wild word tangent from there.

From: J.
To: F.
Date: January 29, 2006

'We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of our exploring shall be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.' Do you know where I heard that for the first time? It's by T. S. Eliot but it was quoted by Robert fucking McNamara in an interview. And here I am repeating something so gerund, quoting dead men again because they're these little eggplants fallen perfectly safe on the side of the highway, these bibles lying whole on the asphalt after describing an arc through the windshield. So you're seeing me a little more as I wanted you to see me back then, and I'm a little more the person I wanted to be with you then, too. You can have my sperm, I give it freely. Well, almost freely. I'll sit with you when you're screaming. Who knows whether I can leave after? I won't bite your thighs, anymore, not for a very long time. I will watch you go, with my child, so long as I may always come back and bring him or her trinkets from Nigeria, volumes from Alexandria, papyrus from the fertile crescent. I'll write him/her (never 'it') great long letters from afar so it will be almost as if I am there, and you can decide to read them or not, or give them or not, but I know that you'll give them over because you would despise anyone who wouldn't. That would be the deal. You would never marry me on my terms, and if you agreed to my terms I couldn't trust you for long anyway, probably. Is there a nice way to write that? I mean it nice, not nasty. An affirmation that you are as you are and I don't mind.

I got punched in the face over the weekend, and the inside of my mouth is cut open along my tooth-line. I don't remember it happening, but I was drunk and there is a bruise on my elbow and I think the other fellow must be feeling the worse for it because if my elbow is bruised, well, a strike from the elbow hurts a lot worse. I wonder what I did, if anything. The line in my mouth is jagged and the meat is white with little strings of red, like the inside of a fish's skin when you flay it. It will be years still until I can be a good father, as foolishly as I act sometimes. God I hope it wasn't because of a woman--I can deal with a blow to the face when it's because of the way I look, as belligerent as I look, but not over a woman. I remember quick hot anger, gurgly rum passion, the lightening strike behind my eyes (I'd almost forgotten, it hurts like all hell) and the return volley. Perhaps it was ridiculous, over a pool shot or something.

I met a fellow named Naoshi who was strolling with friends and I drunkenly walked up to him with a flower behind my ear because I'd picked it on the way back from a whorehouse (I maintain that I don't go much)--he was dressed like a softened Hell's Angel and he was very kind. One of the Japanese he was with said something that sounded to me like 'booty' so Naoshi and I vogued for his camera and then took pictures of our asses together. He bought me a drink in a bar a little later and then declined to let me return the favor. How sweet is that little detail of my life? I shall have to keep our letters for a book one day, only because for the present they are fuller with happenings than my journal.

These little emails are written at work and I think 'don't leave the diaphragm under any old sweaters, pack it and take it to New York'. I lock my computer whenever I walk away from it, you know. My mother found out that I wasn't a virgin years ago when I left some opened condom packets in a video tape box in my closet. How horrid. I think of how I break the law every day of my life, how intensely close I am to great trouble, with the secrets that I keep from the Marine Corps and yet even now I write this on a government computer I know nobody ever checks on, or even can, but look how little I care, really, to be found out. I say it again, I am always looking for a reason to run. How will I escape? I don't know, but I'll take my boots with me, and I'll buy khaki pants and shirts, and I'll be days of sweat and dirt, and unshaven.

I love you too. Careful with it.
J

From: F.
To: D.
Date: January 29, 2006
Subject: ought

D.,

I thought it would interest you to know, and I do not know why, nor how to describe it. I drive further and further each time, to Ravenel, and Walterboro; there are desolate forests with strange cages at the feet of federal roads, and great piles of Mead-Westvaco tinder destined for a new life as white paper. I wake up in the middle of the night, on the nights I sleep, and drive while the moon follows me. I am monstered, in a way that makes me shy with my own smile, tucked up under the turned face. I knew the exact moment my life changed and I reverted back to my old self; I felt it like an engine turning over. I am back to who I was before I lost traction, before I was loved for the worst of me (the horsehair, the aquamarine, the linament).

My terrible boyfriend screams and tears his shirts and crawls down the hall sobbing and I stare out the window and plan my impending leave. I wore his diamonds for a while, but then I cut my hair in the bathroom and smudged my eyes with black, I drank; I sleep, some days of the week, alongside one with Hopeful Monsters on his shelf. Grief is brilliant. At twenty, when I was this way, I waltzed out drunk and heavy on myself and claimed that I grieved every day, a little, a minute of light's failure that makes us stumble with need. I regret, now, second guessing myself, for thinking that there would ever come a time when I would have to behave, behave, behave. Health was the biggest lie the world was told.

I still think of what we talked about, light and not-light, the cream in the coffee that cannot be mixed. There is no middle for me anymore; I will not allow it. There is photography, and lace, and cyclothymia, and the water in the lake we discussed: its patches warm and cold. The world streams out and keeps going by the grace of what's uneven. There is the howl and shudder, the lullabye and its end; there is nothing in between. I will not forget these. I am grateful that you, too, see.

How strange to wake up to one's own life, again, to stir and find one's self still so able to be wild, and hungry, to have the power so easily to grieve -- to hold the gorgeous side of pain in one's teeth like a diamond made for smuggling across the border into the unknown. I had not known that I missed my old self, that tough, lacy girl in dirty pigtails at the mercy of the world. I keep all my letters to everyone, and Iin comparison to others, I write to you with a calmer, more electric drone. Everything, examined hard enough, make sense.

How are you?

F.

From: F.
To: J.
Date: January 29, 2006

This is short, because I am inadequate, and not fully a woman.

I love you. I am going to find you at twenty eight, or twenty seven, and I am going to have your son or your girl and you are going to hold my pretty-but-not-pretty little fox-face (it is so much sharper now, oh, Joshua, I want you to see it, even less nice than before) in your hands while I scream. We won't have to be married. Or we can be. I can see in my mind so fucking clearly the smile on your face, the very exact one. We will live on the edge of town, or not in America, or not even together. You can love someone else. You will bite my soft thighs, or not, and I will not care what people think. I want to stand across a crowded marketplace where I don't know the language with your baby on my back and watch you stare at me until our lips sting. You are the only one who understands about the embroidery of words and madness on the stark, empty fabric of grace. I will pack up and leave. It has been years. I have learned:

about men: balls matter, figuratively. This I admit I did not know. I can't respect anything that is not brave. You have more faults than I can count; you are so difficult, I imagine pushing you away from me with my cold little feet. But you are such a fucking man, I cannot stand it, a real man, a grown man, a tough man, a man who knows all about when to leave and when to stay. If you had been there when my mother died, I know you would have wept fully and directly for me: you would have been so hurt that I could be so hurt. I looked into the eyes of the man who lives with me, who is kicking me out, and saw that he thought being a man was being strong and good to me. He cries because I don't love him, not for me, and I thought: he is not a man, not at all.

Don't reply to this specifically. Don't tell me to or not to. Or do. It's just a thought. I'm tired of trying to find people who even have the most remote inkling of what this all is, the primal world, the world where we belong to It and nothing else, where our ankles are always slipping through the crystalline skin of reality, where we are feeling along the dragon's back and shivering and then turning back to our books, our bars and coffeeshops: monstered, and changed, but alive. I want to let go and really, really be what I was meant to be, and what I said above seems germane.

There.
It is extraordinarily windy today.
F.

From: J.
To: F.
Date: January 24, 2005

Light is basic, elemental like nothing else. I know of nothing smaller than photons--there may be but I don't search for it. Light was the first thing, the thing that God figured out when God lived without it. Making light be allowed form to attain definition. Darkness and depression rest together, but I don't call either darkness or depression wrong things. Both can have great gaping maws though, and facing down the throat of a thing like that is very hard. I call myself brave when I can stand that great gaping maw for very long without breaking. I test my limits there, at that place, because those are the testing grounds where boys become men, and girls women. Joseph Conrad knew that. Milan Kundera is awful, but he knew it too, which shows that everybody does.

We spend nine months in darkness (at least there is warmth) and life is at the very beginning an exodus from total darkness, isn't it? I am a Georgia son, where the sun loves us so much it marks us wherever it touches--with Ascians the sun loves so well that there are no shadows sometimes, in the torrid zone. When you are at your worst you find a patch of light from a window to lie in, you told me. We blush with light, we press our faces to it, we call God and light the same thing. It can pass all through us at once without touching a single organ.

The best thing about warm nights in Georgia is trying to catch fireflies. What child among us can resist trying to catch light in his hand to put it in a Mason jar? A great lesson of childhood is discovering that light can't be kept there, and that it leaves, and it leaves behind a bunch of husky dead insects. Of my two Mason jar memories (the other a story of wild honey and tearing down a house--remind me later) that is my most vivid.

I am always asking what we're made of, whether of field stones or of mortar. Walls cannot be built of just mortar, they crack and fall. Neither can they be made of just stones either, of course, because they will tumble over, in time. To make a really lasting wall you must have both, that's plain and a very simple and mean thing to know. Perhaps you'll say 'wait, but things are made of just cement all the time--highway dividers and foundations for houses and the Hoover Dam!' But they are not, for cement needs gravel, and doesn't work without it. My father and I used to mix it to make walkways at the house. That driveway we pulled into (when I showed you the barn) my father and I poured in a day, one fifty-gallon drum at a time. It took all day, and my father is indefatigable.

The question is of which is more important--our particulate logic is beautiful and is probably the most human thing of which we think. God is not particulate, God can pass through organs without touching them, can leave Mason jars at will. Sand can be sieved smaller and smaller until it is a fine-grained dust, like a patina of pollen on the hood of your car, so thin it raises a cream if you add water. But you could keep it in a skillet, you could dust a firefly in it and it would stay with him when he died. Sand too made the thick-bottomed glass in the panes at Westminster, that great bridge from Texas to South Padre on which I claimed to read a whole book once (but am surely lying to myself, unless it was because of traffic), the cloverleaf in Atlanta.

It may be a very bad question, but I fixate upon it--wondering how small everything becomes before it is one or the other, particulate or not. It seems so fucking important and I'm not sure I can tell you why, only that I think of you and me as one way and the other. We're fieldstones and mortar that are good together for a time and beautiful when we've crumbled too, to say nothing of the import of fence-mending. That's why I think it's so charming that people think light is both a wave and a particle, how at the smallest and quickest moving and most essential we merge, our two ways of being. Neither way is dumb. I would stand with mud curling between my toes on a warm day and turn my face up to the sky.

What do you tell these boys about me? When conversation here turns to you as it occasionally will, when I mark time with 'yes, back before I was engaged' and people say 'YOU were engaged' I say little sentences about you--you can write beautifully, women are not made like you (these silly girls here, or most anywhere), you let me cut your hair, you try to learn to be good which is better than being good sometimes (nobody who hasn't tried to learn is anyway), you fuck animally, you used to be able to make me sick as hell, you have a knock-out swagger, you need to leave off high-heels forever because you look better sandaled or barefoot with raggedy-bottom jeans, you taught me how to forage properly, you bought me a perfect pair of sunglasses.

I meant nobody is made unable to hold anything, even love. People may become poor vessels. That's what mending was made for.

I work hard because I am told to work and because there is always work to be done. They pay me. I can talk about it--I make certain people are paid, I do legal work, and if somebody dies I do the paperwork that comes along with it. I have begun to grind my teeth from the stress of it all, and I have begun to feel like a caged thing that wants to grow out its hair. I must escape.

I am hungry and must eat now. I will talk about sensuality later.

J

From: F.
To: J.
Date: January 22, 2005

What do you mean, we can never agree that people may be made split ... do you mean that you do not think they can be forced apart? I always loved the idea of lovers who broke up and got back together 10 times in a lifetime. I want that. I want a lover where I know that if I broke from him it would be inevitable that we'd find our way back to each other, as happens in magical realism -- as happens with fated creatures, creatures above the reach of the usual gravity.

I wrote that without even thinking: "I broke up with J, and might be insinuating..." Take it as you will.

We should have never fucked around with the idea of a wedding; we should have lived together, taken the pressure off ... I'm not sorry I left, but I'm sorry I may miss out on the chance to be yours.

I've started staying out until 5 in the morning with my friends from the writing department. [...] It reminds me of you. For a long time I didn't want children, and now again I do - but certainly not W's. I want to sweat and scream and bleed and push and howl, to not be beautiful but primal and still, in the father's eyes, beautiful, his best friend, his black angel, to be held by the face and loved like that. It takes a man stronger and far apart from America's current truth to do that. It sort of obsesses me. It is one new litmus test for any potential love.

Andorra is how I think of Wadmalaw Island, and the places in Foxfire. It's enough for me that people there don't know what a Hummer is, or American Idol, or Prozac, or vaginal deodorant. There are even hollowed out places in New York City, little Andorras, where people care so little about America it's like a garden with no door in its wall. I think you would be very good at sheep, ambulances, and horseshoes. It sounds like the kind of place where you might have to do all three, or be expected to.

I want to see Alaska, too. I want to see the northern lights and feel what it feels to be warm and safe after a cold day called into question.

You love your father. Don't orphan yourself from him. Tell him the things that matter, in letters, and pictures; speak freely. Visit him when he is very old, when he needs you most. If he's around, show him your sons once or twice. Don't waste it on holidays with shitty pies and fights and the horrible tinny feeling of faked love, on tinsel and group photos. Your mother has your sister; she will survive.

I drive out on the highways and pretend I am never coming back to Charleston. I get my portfolio ready for grad school. I drink and drink and drink and do drugs all night [with people] who tell me to leave W., who listen to me talk about you. That is how I survive this town. I go crazy. I am cyclothymic, I am light and dark, and that is how I keep going and always will.

Tell me what it means if light is a wave, and what if it is a particle. Specifically.

Here is a list of the top 5 things I like to experience sensually:
1. The taste of rabbit meat
2. Being told I am someone's black angel
3. The feeling of walking away from someone and being pulled back by my purse-strap, or arm, or coat-collar
4. Cocaine
5. The fear of small animals; the tight, familiar, almost welcome fear of all little hearts, the one I feel when I am afraid

Why do they work you so hard? What do you do? - You probably cannot say. Do they pay you, at least?

F.

From: J.
To: F.
Date: January 19, 2005

You are welcome to your leaving in your own way. We can never agree that people may be made split. I am planning my great escape every day. Today I read all about Andorra, how it has no extradition or diplomatic treaties with the United States, how it is between Spain and France, how it is tiny and quiet and parliamentary and home of Europe's greatest hot spring. I may raise sheep and smoke a pipe, drive an ambulance or shoe horses. I like that Andorra doesn't speak to the U.S. Perhaps I can learn some little parochial language and people won't ask questions and I can be a man without a country as I've always wanted.

I would miss home terribly if I couldn't go back. I would miss the east. All the rest can hang. There is nothing worth seeing to the west, save Big Sur when I think of Steinbeck, etc. I've no interest in the lands of the Mestizos. I have seen the pyramids of Central America, and have thought I might enjoy the Andes. I will go to Colombia once to see Cartagena, at least.

When I consider wandering Europe I think that I must have some place that will call me a citizen and I won't have America anymore the way it is. Scratch the motorcycle, probably. I will have to see the Yukon still, and the vastness and coldness of Alaska. I want to meet an Inuit.

I mean I don't have a home anymore--if I do something really crazy with myself I'll do it so that I can't go home anyway. People should be able to choose their families every day of their lives, and choose when to be unencumbered by guilt. My greatest break with the world will be when I can do the things I want without concern for my family. I have tried to explain this to my parents. They will not understand. How free my grandfather must have been, a hermit in the mountains of El Paso. Shall I orphan myself? I miss my father less frequently now, so infrequently. I am so nearly gone anyway. I have been close already. Wandering west nearly got me quitted by my mother, and I don't care.

Embolden me.

I can't stay in one place too long. How do you, in Charleston? I wake in the middle of the night and the walls sweat and there is an imagined plea and I must walk downstairs to grass and stand with my eyes closed and my chest out so the calling thing can touch me. Perhaps I have no more staying power than you do.

I could let you kiss my face and touch my stomach and we could stay friends. I've ordered more Rilke. The greatest question of my life will be answered when we determine if light is a wave or a particle. And charmingly, people seem to think it's both. Room for you and me both in the universe, but we might have figured that out by just being, sharing a bed, generating heat, getting sticky together, repulsing one another, orbiting one another--creating energy when fused and when split.

I have to work very late today again (I've been putting in 19-hour days for the past week, and I know it's all I ever talk about) but I will write more later. I am writing dumb right now because I am at lunch, at work, where nothing good can stir in me. Write me when you can.

Likewise,
J

From: F.
To: J.
Date: January 17, 2005

I keep meaning to write back a long letter, but I keep drinking and dreaming and not getting my homework done. I am taking a beautiful advanced poetry workshop, a drawing class, a biology lab with little leaves and such, and a class about nutrition. I dreamed about you last night: my dreams are monstrous, since I found my mother's body, but sometimes I am given a reprieve like this.

You and I were in an enormous house that was a museum, and what one could do in this museum was poke around in the drawers and under the beds and such. It was a history of a big crazy family, really, that was presented. I loved it; I tried on all the shoes, I found all the old love letters. Some of my old rooms were in the house, and some of yours, and we crowed with delight. At the bottom of a dark stone stairwell with one shaft of deep yellow light, I kissed you all over your face and ears and said "Oh, your little face, your little ears." It was very tender. I'm not sure if it was sexual or not. I have always loved the idea of borderline physicality between male and female friends.

The Rilke...could not be said better. Actually, Jesus, it's fucking beautiful. The problem is, J., that it requires one find someone worth seeing whole against the sky, and someone with whom one can also live day-to-day, all those dirty cups and crumbling plaster, all those other people to fuck, all of what comes after. It's so easy to leave.

Yours,
F.

From: J.
To: F.
Date: January 16, 2005

Today I read something that sounded so like something I said to you once that it shook me.

From Rilke: Once the realization is accepted that even between the closest human beings infinite distances continue, a wonderful living side by side can grow, if they succeed in loving the distance between them which makes it possible for each to see the other whole against the sky.

You have stopped writing. Is it school, are you well, are you done? I have worked for twenty-seven hours straight and I am about to get four of sleep.

My fingertips feel as if there are little insects in them clacking their tiny feet and humming summertime exhumation songs.

Goodnight.

J

From: J.
To: F.
Date: January 8, 2005

My book is not arranged yet. It is book-length only, and so that is the reason I call it a book or a novel. It has rough chapters, but they are only named things like 'Lux's Secret' or 'Things I've got to say about the worm man'. The worm man's backyard is Eden-esque, it is better tended than his neighbors' yards, and so people will never step over from their lawns onto his. Never ever. People get to the yard, when invited, through the house and out onto the back porch and being able to walk onto the back porch is a holy experience. It is its own whispery world lit dim in the evening with low yellow lights. There is a sad little bug zapper which glows blue hanging from a rusty chain with an orange extension cord snaked through. I describe this swinging clacking shivering (commas are hated except as periods--periods are almost too final for my writing) screen door people don't think about walking through, how it quivers and slaps the jamb three times before stopping, how it was once one color and how it was then another color and how the one has worn through the other where people place hands or knock their feet against it.

I write about how he went mad and I visited him, and later his wife remarried despite the fact that he must have been holy--how may a holy man die and his wife marry again? She did, to a man who envied the worm man's yard, who was a retired chief of police, who has a last name that sounds Teutonic. I write about visiting her in this new house and how I step across a mat that reads 'Hi' rather than 'Welcome'--she saw it at some flea market and was seduced by what she called its 'cuteness' and her new house makes me sick the way new churches do. If there is a list of most-accursed-things I believe drywall should be on it.

Books I read in the past year or have in my little portable library:
--Gravity's Rainbow and Mason & Dixon -- Thomas Pynchon
--A Man without a Country -- Vonnegut
--Tropic of Cancer, Tropic of Capricorn, Black Spring -- Henry Miller
--East of Eden, The Wayward Bus, Travels with Charlie (loved it), Tortilla Flat -- Steinbeck
--Miracles -- C. S. Lewis
--Absalom, Absalom and As I Lay Dying -- Faulkner
--Americana (loved it) and White Noise (haven't finished) -- Don DeLillo
--Unbearable Lightness of Being (loathsome [...]) -- Kundera
--Empire Falls (surprisingly pretty good) -- Richard Russo
--Ulysses -- Joyce
--Incest -- Anais
--Middlesex (didn't care for it at all) -- Eugenides
--Dr. Fischer of Geneva (pointless) -- Graham Green
--The Moviegoer (so good it makes me love southern writers all over again) and Love in the Ruins -- Walker Percy
--Bonfire of the Vanities -- Tom Wolfe
--The Singularity is Near -- Ray Kurzweil
--Infinite Jest (as good as you will tell me it is) -- Wallace
--Beyond Courage (because my grandfather gets small mention in it) -- Cave
--Naked (airplane reading) -- Sedaris
--The Story of My Misfortunes -- Peter Abelard (founder of the U. of Paris)
--In Watermelon Sugar (haven't finished it yet but I'm wondering if he may have been a genius...more pages will tell) -- Richard Brautigan
--Edgar Huntley -- Charles Brockden Brown
--The Unpleasant Profession of Jonathan Hoag and Other Stories (all of those stories belong in a scrap heap) -- Robert Heinlein
--Memoirs of My Melancholy Whores (enjoyable, of course) -- Marquez
--The Namesake (probably won't finish it) -- Jhumpa Lahiri
--The Collector (quite good) -- John Fowles

There was more information than you asked. I got overzealous.

------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------ It's two days later--I got shanghaied for the weekend and spent Saturday night sitting on a street corner talking to an ancient tattooed Yakuza (with half his pinkie missing) listening to him tell broken-English stories about his great and terrible youth. I may have been wrong to discount Japan as having no cowboys. But this man authored terrible events and still glowed like a saint. He had terrific kind eyes. He had two eighteen-year-old schoolboys learning to play pool from him as he sat and stroked his beard and nursed his cane, and I let him tell me what to do for the night by only the way that he asked me these little directed hospitable questions. 'Play these schoolboys in a game, five American dollars, would you like some sake? Here, have some of my sake. You don't drink sake? Drink this sake, it's good for you. I will light your cigarette, would you like a Japanese brand? Those American cigarettes are no good, all Okinawans smoke all the time and we live longer than anyone on the planet. You smoke my cigarettes tonight'.
I won some, lost some--my pool game waxes as I get drunk and as my buzz leaves it wanes. I was only down about 10 dollars after twenty games or so, which I thought a credit to me and to my rum. Something magical happens to me when I drink and play pool--I gain focus, I can shoot masterfully. I can never get the angles right when I'm sober.

[...] Does your house belong to you? Did you buy it? Do you rent? Do you live with anyone, with your significant-whatever-he-is-to-you? If things don't pan out will you live in that great house alone? Will you sell your house and move from Charleston? So many lovers, who among them takes care of you? Nobody takes care of me anymore, but I feel solid in my unrootedness--I have that to give me strength far flung from home. But I must get something home-cooked soon.

Write me.

J.

P. S. One day when you are out from this weather, I will tell you some truths that will taste ugly. Nothing that you can't shrug off, but let's wait until much later to tell each other the bad things. I can't handle the nature of your confessions yet.

From: F.
To: J.
Date: January 5, 2006

Lucky you. I don't come any more. [...] I'm waking up inside this boring preppy hell I've made my life. I've nobody to blame but myself, at any rate, but I'm still howling.

I continue to cut off more hair, in nippy chunks. My handwritten letter to you is so badly written. There was nowhere to go where I could think; everywhere is either too quiet or too loud. But I will send it anyway, when I can manage to wake up and leave the house in time to make it to the post office. I leaned against the wood paneling in my new house (though it is an old house) and told him that I am massively hurt, massively ready for movement, and that it will probably cost us our fledgling marriage. He was calm about it. But I will stay long enough that when I leave I won't regret not having tried.

This is why I love you: you understand. I have other lovers right now who are writers and naughty and strikingly un-preppy but none of them get it the way you do. I could sit in the car and turn to you and say "When they rise up, entire kingdoms, what side are they, what color?" and you would say, clear as a diamond, "Yellow. On the left." I could say "Are you monstered?" and you would say "Yes." I could say, "What do kangaroos eat in their nightmares?" and you would say something like: "A sapphire nightmare? Or a miscarriage nightmare? All the same, they eat themselves." And we would just go on and on like that for miles. I apologized for too much with you, yes, but not the things I apologize for now: being a slut, being crazy, being unbalanced, tending a dark and creepy little world just past my pretty shoulder. The world of health and cleanliness they promised me has not turned out to be anything but a simple, brutish lie. I will regret forever the years I have given over.

Thank God that you exist, even if I never see you again; praise be, for you are fucking insane. I think of you when I am listening to the Pixies scream, lurking around the house on a pretty day, chopping off my hair with my mother's scissors and wearing nothing but ballet tights. I'm ludicrously happy that I hate my life; isn't it the only way to live? Who deserves to cross a bridge without at least briefly considering driving off of it?

{He is going to hate my hair, this short. He is also going to hate it when I replace the pumpkins by the front door with pomegranates and rodent skulls in a little tableau in the pretty blue and white china planter. I'm not entirely certain, after these things, that he will hate it if I leave.}

School starts on Monday. I hope I have time to write to you as much, but I may not. We'll see. What is the rest of your book about? How have you arranged it? What is the last good book you read? Fiction is so hard: its arrangement, its movement. I sit down to write the only story that I can think of, and I get trapped. Where to begin? Poems are better. They are allowed to swing illogically.

You, sweetheart, are fucking topographical. Remain so.
F.

From: J.
To: F.
Date: January 4, 2006

I see geodesic domes erected atop spires, and the spires have spindly legs. I see peninsula very near to the ground along the coastline, I travel along watching as a moviegoer, but the picture is sped up and with frames missing. I see rock formations that look malevolent and I see places going to desert so quickly. There is no place to hollow out in my orgasms, no place to be in, I'd live and die too quickly in there. They're a train rushing by that I push my face up to and pull my shirt away from, they're something to tie my laces double near, and tuck into my shoes--I think they're these things. I'm so tired just now that I don't know what I'm saying. [...] When you write me again don't say a pitying thing--my weariness is older than tonight anyway and sessile.

I wrote a much longer letter but deleted the rest because I fell apart a little and was preachy and wretched. Then I ended by suggesting that I'm falling apart, which is wretched too. I just need some sleep. I read Thomas Pynchon as well, so thank you for the book and for the letter. I'm coming home soon so that I can let someone take care of me for a month, and so that I can cook and sleep and sit on a porch.

From: N.
To: F.
Date: January 3, 2006

any direct reply, on paper or screen or whatever medium you receive it, in this case screen, because its an email, so even if you print out the email to read it you'll still have somewhat experienced it screenwise before leafwise, that i make to your email will seem really pompous and more certain than i'd ever want to sound. that self-consciousness in mind, here i go.

dear f., i'm not as good at capital letters, periods, commas, grammar, and spellchecking as you, but please trust me when i stress that the intent of clear expression is there nonetheless; and i have faith that a few misplaced letters here and there won't obscure my intended message any more than the words themselves would, which is to say that the only reason this email will be longer than the first few words is that i don't totally know what i'm talking about. if i did than i'd never ever talk and just smile all the time, all the fucking time, incessantly, like a clown on ecstasy. i like philip roth and saul bellow much better than i like updike. to tell you the real truth, i've only read one of updike's novels. to tell you the truth more thoroughly, i've only read part of a few of updikes novels but i usually consider the mere page quantity to be equal to that of an entire book, god, not updike, knows that the content's not worth all the pages. one glib bit from bellow that i like: "the power to do evil is sovereignty". i like this for the way that it condemns power. i like that it encourages in a sarcastic way. i like how indicative it is of bellow's understanding of the human condition as predisposed to the animal condition. humans, i love to ideally posit, surpass animals only in how thoroughly we understand how to survive. the distinction between a human and an animal is the ability to enjoy that survival, to live. living vs surviving. in the same book, herzog, bellow writes of the protagonist: "he was making a bore of himself--doing the weak thing, the corrupt thing". maybe you really think me as ingenuous as your email conveyed. maybe you really think me as wholly unnarcissistic as all that, though that unawareness is something most humans, and animals for that matter, lack. maybe you really think that sensualism is the ultimate conduit to understanding. maybe you really think that poetry and fiction convey things more purely than experience itself, whether by reason or sensation, could. i don't think so. somehow i'm arrogant enough to think that you really want me to defend myself with some modicum of perdictability. i think you really want to know me more than you know you know me. you have these colorful conjurings of complete understanding that are really mere testaments to your potential. there's my ingenuous assertion, and here it is again, look out, any second now, a few more commas and it'll be a colon, ready?, ok go: you're devastatingly afraid, full of fear, full of an understanding that you have of emotion that requires an eventual subjugation to reasoning and understanding. you're not one of kierkegaard's knights of faith who's trancelike diving obligations escape your own universal capacities. you don't get off that easy. its as though you feign understanding by presenting it so fucking perfectly. you must love to write more than oyu love anyone reading your writing -- i mean that would be the case if you really weren't a narcissist or a natural vanity case at all. insecurity and asserted certainty are products of fear. the fucking fall from innocence as the bible portrays it isn't a sinful endeavor on anyone's part, it's the result of curiosity alone. that phallic snake capitalized on that ribby bitch's capacity for curiosity such that all divinely-inspired inhibition left her for a moment's indulgence. all of a sudden NOTHING made sense. god threw everyone out and slammed the door with his fingers in his ears--adam and eve were on their own and since then its been a requirement htat man fear god because of that initial disobedieince. ok, so we'll pray a lot inf hte future. what to do in the meantime? figure it out, explain things, identify, get some spiritualists in one hemisphere, some scientists in another, and some religious killers right int he middle. get some history, get some alchemy, get attempts at understanding, attempts at identification, get some fucking intellectuals. all this with an accepted inability to attain that paradise in this carnal vessel. basically, i have nothing to say about anything i said above, just that man craves certainty almost as much as he craves curiosity. intellectuals experience themselves in other things -- that's the meaning. i'm of the nietzschean ideal, though not as extremely as he advocates it as necessary, that selfishness is the ideal. that word's got a lot of misinterpreted baggage to it (not, von Harnack: Words alone have no meaning, the personality behind them gives them their worth), so let's make one up so that i can convey something at least: self-esque. that's even got the updikean flair. ( oh yea, i odn't like updike becuase of his history. he never experienced anything outside the limits of academia, not even his divorces -- a hypocritical criticism, but criticizing any human being is ultiamtely hypocritical). i think you miss a lot of the simplicity of philosophy (not, Wittgenstein: anything that can be said can be said simply/clearly). i like intellectualism because it gives me some chance to feel like i get certain parts of life, certain parts of myself. the more impressed you are by something, the greater your capacity to understand it. i don't attempt to know everything about you, your reaction to any of hte sentences in this email, or anything having solely to do with yuo. i only claim to get some of you in relation to me. i'm as pedantically dependant as you, but with a bit more striving towards something else, i think. we both get off on the comfort that comes with natural analysis, however correct it is. that distances you from anything though. there are these unnecessary levels of consciousness that we indoctrinate as denoting superiority, but they only give us some kind of defense shield from a) getting hurt, and b) experiencing anything other than ourselves. living live vicariously through oneself. fuck all that. fuck anything that vain, anything that natural. i still laugh at eating disorders because of the kernal of truth embedded in that audacity and disconcern for anyone's feelings. the feelings there are as unreal and unconsequential as any Humean empiricist view. reason is slave to the passions? bullshit. knowledge is slave to the passions. understanding is akin to reason. the passions are too overtaking, too immediate, too ephemeral, temporal, carnal, earthly, universally brief and impingent upon other things (life, will, etc) to be the end-all of our mental evolution. BUT, that understanding that i put on high requires indulgences and experiences (this is an optimistic, orgasm-legitimizing thingggggg). that's where i like nietzsche a lot. any attempt to indoctrinate understanding misses the entire point of anything that has a goddamn fucking point. the only indoctrination worth dogmatizing is "you don't get it if you have to talk about it". then, when you do get it, you want to talk about the responsibility you feel to get others to revel in it. then everyone misses the point entirely cause they think you're the arrogant fuckhead christchild who craves that sovereignty only resulting from evil. Spinoza: man's desire to hvae others rejoice in the good in which he regoices, not to make others live according to his way of thinking -- ex ipsius ingenio. i'm losing track of myself here, as i'm sure you must have and i apologize for my lack of clarity, but i just want to get across: stop being so fucking sure of yourself-- it's worth it. it induces self-confidence. to wallow in the misery of doubt is lethargic. that unnecessary level of hyperawareness that you hvae should be fucking ELATED at tragedy and the sensations it induces. IT"S REAL. anytime you manipulate someone else for your own devices you're feiging reality by protecting every bit of yourself that you don't want others to see. the best part about falling in love as i've experienced it is being ok with the vulnerability -- and that's because i'm self-conscious as FUCK. a teacher at haverford chastized me, and it worked, with the words, "Nicholas (he got the formal intimidation thing down), cursing is a lazy man's expression". in that same vein, i see action as a lazy man's communication. Schleiermacher: ......[we can have it such that] the softest word would be understood; whereas no even the clearest expressions to not escape misinterpretation". this urgency people feel to understand things is an urgency to quell fear and unfamiliarity. why the fuck woul you want to do that. uncertainty is the only thing you can give faith to. you need these ideals so that you can get the shit kicked out of you. i'm gonna go now becuase i'm rpetty sure that my ranting has become expatiation. maybe next time i'll try and compose the letter so that it can be a nice long composed sexual experience instead of a frenetic, but worth it, ride craving of discipline. i lack everything that i gain--life isn't my chance it's my life. we need cliches and aphorisms so that we can one day misunderstand our misunderstanding of them and feel apotheosis thereby. still, orgasms are fucking fantastic----and i don't htink i want to completely understand them right now. i'd rather have at least one thing to render me totally lost and grant someone the opportunity to see me in awe of what i can understand and feel. raindrops are as amazingly simple as waterfalls. pony's and rainbows francesca, pony's and rainbows. i'll pick up that book if you pick up sabbath's theatre by Roth. then i'll try and write everything i've written more clearly. but i like saying things like: you should because you can, and, your life isn't your chance its your life. platitudes maybe, but anyone worth their druthers feels an urgent push towards experience the MOMENT they feel right about ANYTHING. application is the most sought after and most ingenuously missed natural thing we have. that gets me excited to be selfish, albeit on top of what i feel to be a justifiably developed moral backdrop. i like the idealists who speak of fear and love as the two most basic things in humanity. they sound like hegel when he says that man is born with the human and the divine in him. the human part is evil and the diving part is goodness -- man's responsibility is his purpose, to resolve the human part of him. hegel really just thinks that all men are part animal but doesn't hvae the modesty about him to make such species-trivializing likenings. i like a lot of things. ok, i know there are at least two good sentences in this whole rant. i'm gonna go play frisbee

n.

From: F.
To: J.
Date: January 2, 2006
Subject: Whores

The idea of you fucking Japanese whores makes my back stiffen and breaks my heart in the most awfully predictable way. I don't think you shouldn't fuck whores. Erendira was a whore. There's a distinct possibility that I am a whore, except I'm not jubilantly happy and I never sleep with men I don't want.

There is a book I love, and one of the main characters is said to wear her hair like a Japanese schoolgirl and smell like jasmine and bite her gloves in her hand. I cut my hair in my bathroom in the best approximation of the haircut you gave me (it is never, ever as good) and I smell like champagne and I have no gloves because instead I have diamonds and that is the biggest, saddest fucking thing I think I have ever written.

You will get this: I hid my handwritten letter to you in my mother's worn Frye boot so that it would not be found. Super clever. I bought you a Thomas Pynchon book. Don't send it back; I already have a copy. I may smear a little smear of blood on a page, or something, some kind of secret code.

I sat in a torrential rainstorm today listening to Gemma Hayes sing about a "two-way addiction" and cried without moving and thought: I want a secret life, I need a secret life...

I wanted to sleep with a Charleston boy who looks quite a bit like you - among hundreds of boys I want, their words and voices and sidelong glances keeping me alive. I ruined my shot, if I had one, and really brilliantly embarrassed myself. It's so ugly. God it is so ugly, here, now.

Do you come inside the whores? When you come inside a prostitute, what do you see behind your eyes?

F.

From: J.
To: F.
Date: January 2, 2006

Do you listen to The Microphones ever? Get the songs 'I want the wind to blow' and 'The Moon' at least. Download them and listen, whatever.

Do write. I must get to bed.

Tonight I sign:
Rum

(In respect to my unknown grandfathers and your Bourbon--be well)

From: F.
To: J.
Date: January 1, 2006

I'll write you more. I just wanted to let you know I was still here; I was in the [..] Mountains for a bit. I'm so bored, so depressed, so convinced of the douchebag nature of most of humanity that I want to lie down in a dune and just peacefully sort of disintegrate. But I know that it might be the beginning of running away, and so I'm also curious about what fool shit I'll do next when I go crazy with my goodbyes. Your letters are so, so, so good to read, right now.

From: J.
To: F.
Date: December 30, 2005
Subject: Rum

[...]

I got a 'C' in my Behavioral Psychology class this past semester. I didn't go much, and wrote my final paper in an hour. Apparently it was obvious. I did learn that hidden ovulation is an evolutionary trick women play on us men to keep us guessing, to keep us around. I actually thought of you, and had there been a council of women where such a thing was decided, I thought you'd have suggested it. You are not the sort to be that kind of mean to men, but I laughed to myself anyway.

I told a beautiful girl that I cut your hair on your porch once. She wrote me an email asking me to cut her hair by a lake, but it didn't happen--I was getting lost in drink when she gave her hair away to Locks of Love, I think it's called.

Tonight I'm rereading you, listening to a song by God Speed You Black Emperor and My Morning Jacket on repeat. It's called 'I will be there when you die', and sounds as if it's being sung to me from some close echoing room, like the bath of my little cell here. I imagine that you've been a fine tutor to virgins who will not forget your sex in their lives. Tonight I am a cloistered monk.

I'm off again, without really finishing.

J.

From: J.
To: F.
Date: December 29, 2005
Subject: Japan and Other Shit

F,

Yes, the thought of us together still seems so natural, but I was angry and you had growing to do, you say. It may be unkind of me to agree, but you do seem smarter, wiser? I mean I think that we may love our bangles and our fetishes and our pictorial moments (and it is not kitsch, don't misunderstand me) but your high heels are a lovely way to look, they are a way to see yourself as a woman, they are a picture of you which says 'come fuck me' or that you are a distinct thing in your time. A time for New England and a time to come back to New England. Perhaps you'll wrinkle your nose at all that. You came to me in your lacrosse skirt with heels, you know, and stole me from the computer easily. You feared that I might form a habit of staring into the white-wash, but you always had it right when you said that I quit college the first time because I hated fluourescent light. The truth is that high-heels look absurd climbing onto a bed and so they must be confined to hooking into one's fender or to hard surfaces, I know you know. I know that everything has its place and time and that aesthetics cannot be clung to, only returned to—otherwise we become Midwestern and uber-Christian in our own right. You on your knees, me against the wall, prelude to nakedness and a sense of rightness. Behind you with my arm across your stomach, your leg over my thigh, perhaps I never understood us more fully. And so I cannot come back to you nor you to me in the same ways we were before because I grieved back then for a lost wife and grief was not a coat to wear but was for once in my bones and in my skin and neither a new thing to make a fine sad picture. In remembrance I think 'I should have kissed her ribs more, should have touched her stomach more, should have left her to her book in the park, should have spoken more at dinner, should have let her sit alone to talk to her friends, should have made love to her in my barn.'

I loathed you so very much for writing to ex-lovers, and I feel a little guilty now that you're writing to me (but not too much), because I might have guessed you'd soon tell me it was over in your relationship. Your man needn't fear that you've a bed to fly to in me, or amnesty for the worst of the ways you are with men (I believe you love us better than any other woman I know, but not with abiding faith), but neither will I chastise you nor turn you away from a room in my house. I suspect I didn't lie the times I said I'd love you all my life. That said, we may as well move past saying love, take it for granted, ask what lies beneath the word that brings us back to this. Perhaps we shouldn't ask, come to think. Dissection rather than vivisection, wasn't it?

Of whores, I understand now why Henry Miller and Toulouse-lautrec consorted with them—they are some of the most honestly naked and generous people. It is good to be drunk and to laugh and roll with a naked woman, and they are forgiving when I am too drunk and they remain full of laughter past any necessity that money might suggest. One never need think about one's body when with a whore. A man may be really loosed. Well, I have yet to see a sad girl—if I ever do I will never go again. They see my blue eyes and my face, though, and call me the movie star. I do not go much, though, really.

There was a septuagenarian I saw once in a show who could cut bananas into equal pieces or make exact change into a jar with her vagina. She danced with Akamata snakes and let them slither down my shirt before I realized the mouths were tied with tiny filaments and she grabbed my crotch and horrified me by offering me a free blow-job, much to the delight of my buddies.

The Okinawans bury their dead above ground in mausoleums. It is impolite to take pictures of them, and they are scattered in very strange places. One might be next to a grocery store, or under an overpass, or hidden in a nook in an alley between high-rise apartments. Isn't that awesome?

I can think of nothing else pressing at me to tell—if we continue to talk I'm sure I'll remember more.

[...]

Do I want predictability? I thought that question must have been rhetorical. It made me grin. I'd be a liar saying my behaviors can't become predictable—you claimed boredom in one of the letters you wrote to some old lover as a reason for being relieved that we were through. We didn't treat each other well enough for either of us to trust running away together. We should have, occasionally. I thought we were very good alone when we were in your car, almost always. G. and I wrote a couple of lines of a song about you and me and T. at the beach 'we crashed your jeep into the fence—from whence we came the secret name went rushing to the sand you sunk your hands in...' but that was all. We got a little drunk and a little drunk on internal rhyme. And I have no talent at writing verses.

But when left to my own devices I ski strictly off-piste. I’m planning my next adventure as we speak—it’ll be one of these things, either a motorcycle ride to Alaska, or I’ll take a job in a firetower for a summer, or a search for an ancient civilization in Peru. More then later, perhaps—I’ve got to eat and consider hitting the gym. I’ve got a four day weekend to enjoy.

J.

By the way, yes it is hard to get some things here—there is no bookstore so I order books from amazon.com, but that sucks. I’d appreciate any good books you can part with for a little while, and I’d be more than happy to send them back.

The books don’t matter as much as a letter would, though. I haven’t gotten a hand-written letter in almost two years, and I’d like to get a long, ruminating, crazy one. Write me a letter if you’ve got the inclination.

From: F.
To: P.
Date: December 28, 2005
Subject: Actually, I'm sorry

I must extend my apologies, as well, a) for misspelling creedence, which should illustrate how far off my game I was knocked, to have misspelled something and b) being a bitch. It has come to my attention due to the generally hysterically boring stretch of winter in Charleston as an orphan / Stepford wife that I would rather ram my car over the edge of Ravenel bridge than continue my life under the false premise of a) being a snotty uptight dumb preppy bitch, which is what I suspect you and [a classmate] suspected I was circa September, probably still now b) having my shit together enough to keep up my flippancy and c) things with which I will not bore you further. My point is this: you don't have to call just because you feel bad about being a shit on the phone to the not-quite-as-hip-as-the-rest-of-us girl from some class you took. I'm a mean little peanut-fed farm girl, and I can get over it. I have gotten over far creepier, shittier things this year and rather gracefully, too. I'd rather you just called if you had any idea what I'm talking about.

Fuck. You have no idea what I'm talking about.

From: F.
To: J.
Date: December 28, 2005

J.

Brave people hate hearing that they are brave, so I won't say it. I cannot stand the thought of you in boot camp. I kept looking away from the computer screen, physically, while reading, the red-threaded whites of my eyes showing, I'm sure. I feel very old for twenty-four; you must feel older, too.

I do not think that walking from Georgia to Louisiana is ill-fated. I know you are horribly belligerent and always crossing your arms. It was one of the things that made you so impenetrable to me, and in a way I gave up. You have eyes that can go from long and sweet to dead flat in an instant. It shook me. I rarely knew where I stood with you - if I had pleased you, or hurt you, or (what I mostly conjectured) if I had disgusted you. When you love again, J., dammit, let her in: that's my advice.

[...]I know it's useless to bite my lip in rage at the USMC, for it all, the lack of water and the lack of voice, the lack of sleep and human contact, and the way they split your bones. It's useless to bite my lip in rage at love for doing the same things, too, I suppose.

You are very good with a gun, I have no doubt.

My history is this: I dated a boy who lived South of Broad for a while. I lived with my sister, who never has taken her G.E.D., and who spent a while finding herself with some unsavory sorts of quasi-post-punk punks. Then I dated a clever man who edits an intellectual magazine, and a professor (not at CofC - again, some scruples remain), and managed them both long distance. I did not understand that it is bliss to be able to go to the farmer's market, come home, walk the dog, and have a beer on the porch without being beholden to someone else's plans. I began to take writing courses, and was taken under the wing of the poetry professor, who has been pushing me for years now, helping me get grants, etc. Then I met my current man - W. - and let the others fade. As you know, he attracted me because he is from good old Southern blood, and did not judge me harshly for my money, my silk-and-tortiseshell habits, my boarding school accent.

But fuck it, J. In the end he's middle-class, and by middle-class I do not mean income, I mean ethos. He cares what other people think of him. He wants things that are strictly middle-of-the-road, strictly acceptable, strictly normal. I played middle-class housewife for a little under a year and mastered it. The art of the casserole, the dinner party, the fake smile, fighting the urge to beat the shit out of people who live in planned developments, the keen victory of not strangling social Republicans and uber-Christians. There's nothing wrong or evil with his family but that they are middle-class Midwesterners and make me want to pull my eyes out of the sockets with boredom and rage; but they are not the problem - his inability to tell them he is a grown man is the problem. Dear Abby. All that. This must be boring. The fact is, I'm not nice or patient enough - if he were radically different, but begged me to just put on a facade for his family once in a while to smooth the waters, I'd accept. But he's too much like them, and as my mother warned me, men like that just become more conservative as they age.

I'm over money; I'm over my past. Money isn't real. I want it there so I don't have to worry, because it would be a slap in the face to every person in the world who hasn't been able to afford a basic necessity to say otherwise. But it isn't real. The number one marker of my next love will be his disgust with middle class thinking, especially the upper middle class: their nakedness, their hygiene, their technology, their dogma, their morality, their aesthetic, their jargon.

Do you want predictability? I likely should have stayed with you. I said it. There it is. Probably it would have gone to shit: you were depressed, I was depressed, I had no idea if my life belonged to me or something else, you were angry as hell at something you couldn't or wouldn't name. But as far as what America manufactures out of raw boy material, you're what I wish I had been smart enough to know to want. I don't mean to fuck you up by saying these things, if I even have the power to do so.

I have not mastered the body beauty conundrum yet, but mixed in with days of utter scratching and loathing are days of feeling lovely. [I] am hungry and happy and can see muscle now, and every notch on my spine. I thought this morning of your arms and the way they looked pushing at my hips when I was on top of you. I am sure they are lovelier now.

Those are my boring stories. They are nothing like yours. And then you will tell me of Japan, and I will have so little to tell you about Charleston, so I'll just listen.

I love your pictures. You were made for good things.

F.

From: J.
To: F.
Date: December 28, 2005
Subject: These Two Years

F.,

I was just going to tell you how I live in Japan, since that's what you asked, but think it would be better to start with what happened between you-and-me and Japan.

I told you about my ill-fated walk. In my other email that was lost I said more about how I cross my arms as a defense--it is designed to make me look bigger the same as a cobra flairs his neck to do the same. We do this because our genes taught us to. It feels important to explain. I got a tattoo of USMC across my forearm that is only upright and easy to read when I cross my arms this way--it has something to do with putting my story on my skin rather than any love for all of this. It is a lesson I learned from John Irving's latest novel, the one good thing, because I also learned from it that I loathe John Irving. If I'm dead and can't speak for myself for some reason then there are words and pictures on me to tell about me some. I have three now, you can see them all and probably have. There is one more to get, I have been considering it for some time, a skein of geese, of course. I couldn't decide why, whether in memorial or a pledge of something undying. But a 'this is important to me because it was important to...' for certain. The stories on my skin are chaptered, so far written in reverse. There won't be another one after the geese until I do or finish SOMETHING ELSE.

[...]

Be well.

J.

From: J.
To: F.
Date: December 27, 2005
Subject: Even still love

[...]

I even still love you too--you were right though, the context is too personal. I was trying to think up or remember other instances of love or saying 'I love you' that were lost contextually (I almost wrote 'in translation') this way. Outside during lunch today I was standing next to a diesel fuel tank (even the camps here are beautiful but I happened to be standing next to an ugly thing--it's up to black and white photography to find beauty in rusty metal, mostly, save maybe for half-buried old farm tools or Hannah's Mill ); all I could remember was you talking about leaving to kayak around the sounds of New England. That word is so foreign--in Georgia, at least, nobody calls any body of water a 'sound'. I'm sure you know. Perhaps we have no sounds here in my silent south? Softly monstered, as you put it, was perfect even for my context. It must be so, I only know lakes and creeks from Georgia. Maybe they have sounds in Savannah, but Savannah feels far removed anyway. In my dream I was waiting on some pier watching you come back and I was so lost because I'd come out and decided to look very fierce and defiant, or maybe I didn't decide because it's my way, but I was uncertain because I don't know the geography of the north well enough. [...]

I was imagining the kayak with you in it, in some sort of wind-breaker for practicality rather than fashionability, though on further consideration I changed it to some sort of wool sweater. It would be heavy in make and heavy again with condensation and exertion. I think of you as hot with cold feet, but I can't remember well enough.

From: F.
To: J.
Date: December 26, 2005
Subject: I and Thee

J.

Yes, praise. There are few good ones in the world. Despite that I like you, even still love you (but God, Josh, what does that word even mean in such a personal context?) I wouldn't lie to you just to butter you up. And I would not be snide about such a thing. I have no business pretending that my scruples are all polished and intact, but I still have some important ones.

Back when, you couldn't decide which you liked better, science or art. Remember we walked around the sidewalks on in the bad part of town and you talked about the things you'd do as a scientist? It is a relief to me that you've decided otherwise. I always throw around ideas of going to law school or some shit, but I know that I'll pursue my MFA. Water finds its level.

Georgia is softly monstered for me. The morning I found my mother was hot with September's insects and the reddened hills and the drawl of the avuncular coroner. I don't hate it, though. I don't hate anything, or anyone. I still go back, every few weeks, to organize worldly possessions and prepare for sale. Georgia will always be on my mind.

You're not mutated; that's the point. There's no reason that the beauty of the proud, moldy south should not create boys like you in its barns, but you are rare by necessity. I am mutated, thanks to that rheumy grip of gentility. It can be beat. I will always carry the habits with me - and this is what I did not know when I was with you - but the habits need not inform the life. Do you know that I was terrified by your opinion of me, that I ached to be something rare and strong in your eyes, and over and over again I know I failed? I'll always move well in high heels; I will always like the civilizing feeling of a gin and tonic. I have to be the creature I am. But I want to wear high heels pumping gas on a lonely stretch of New England, and drink gin from a bowl on a dawn porch on the Puget Sound.

Partially, I wrote to you to be near something brave. At the end of this year I will have to say goodbye to a comfortable house and a comfortable relationship that expects --wants-- too little of me. I will have to go. I thought of you early this morning, drunk and thrashing in and empty bed, and how I am allowed to make whatever kind of life for myself that I wish. It has never crossed your mind not to make yourself your own life, to pack up and walk to Louisiana if you please. My mother is dead, and I loved her more than anyone; independent of that fact, I realize that I am, suddenly, unrestrained. It's big; it pushes against me while I sleep.

I know you joined the Marines to possibly die with honor. You had talked about it. Many men do. I know you're seasonally affected. You have the big hollow inside you, J., and so does everyone worth knowing, and I don't know what to tell you except that it doesn't get better and it's not supposed to. It's not to be glamorized, and it's not to be ignored. It just fucking is. I meant to give you amnesty, and I failed. I'm sorry. But I'm not oblivious to what goes on. Last night at a bar my best friend Courtney talked about her little brother, Tyler McMillan, who is in Okinawa with the Marines. Of course I thought of you, and I thought of you in boot camp, and I thought of you in uniform, and I thought of you alone in my car on State Street while I bit gently at the top of the steering wheel and cried. That's not a statement of anything besides what happened; that's all I have, anyway.

I haven't seen snow for a long time, either. Yesterday was warm enough to leave the door open and not wear a coat. It never snows in Charleston. I have forgotten about it altogether, and the thought of it almost scares me - a childhood secret come back.

There's nothing wrong with the first person. It's good for you when you are uncertain. You counted mine. What else can I say besides what I see, when I am not sure of anything? One day I will get my confidence back, perhaps, be able to point to a crocus, a fingernail, a little pile of fennel seeds and say affirmative, omniscient things about them without involving myself. Now it's too frightening.

My sister and I fought like hell living together. She was full of hollows. She's better now, very free, working at an organic coffee shop. She saves me now more often than vice versa. I am her amnesty, she is my courage.

D. got married and had a baby.

We, you and I and I and you, stood on a door behind a barn you built. I do not know shit about the world. I do, I keep accelerating on. If you want, tell me what Japan is like, how you live, there.

You seem so calm.

F.

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

What's this, praise? I have to admit that I'm most suspicious but I've GOT to try to take things at face value--I'm utterly paranoid about my writing, you know that. Praise always sounds patronizing. You're right, of course, I must go to writing school. There's much work to be done still. I feel certain you're still a writing major? English, poetry, some such facet of the lettered-world-thing as a major?

I don't mind you telling me that I'm a weird duck to come from Thomaston, GA. I love Georgia passionately now--I wish you could have seen this ancient train trestle underpassing a road I sat and watched in Greenville, Georgia. My father had come back from Afghanistan for a short visit and it was about a month after the end for you and me. The weekend after dad went back to the war I packed my backpack and headed west. I got to Louisiana before I thought I would die of dysentary on the side of a road and I had to turn back. Greenville was where the desolation angels started following me and was surely the most beautiful place I saw along the way and maybe the most beautiful to me in all the world. But I know that Georgia is mostly hick and deaf and dumb, and that I am a mutation and that Gary is too. The best writers in the entire world are mutated southern ones. You know that--you are a fine southern writer, only fewer generations removed from gentility or whatever it is.

No, I don't like to think I'm mutated. Self-made, perhaps, or just thrown-in rare ingredient...that makes me feel unique. All that for 'thank you' anyway.

Writing of screaming needs for movement, I felt it yesterday so intensely I couldn't think well and considered writing my father to tell him to buy me a little motorcycle that would make it as far as the Yukon and back. I didn't. I'll call him soon. I wish for you that you'd have more of my initiative for doing what you want, as it applies to packing and going-to-see. Of course I would tell you to be good to your fiance while out there and not keep him waiting or worrying overlong.

When my father came home from Afghanistan for leave he and I were talking about what I would do. We were next to his truck and I told him that I couldn't walk past it anymore without thinking it would be easy to run a hose into the window from the exhaust and just fall asleep forever. He said that when Vietnam happened he was trying to find a good way to kill himself too (though he hadn't told anyone until I admitted to him that I thought about killing myself)--he figured joining the Marine Corps would be a good way to get it done because he could commit suicide and still be a hero back home. That sounded so elegant to me that I decided to try the same thing-- [...] So war won't kill me, and I've little interest in letting it anymore anyway.

It's Christmas Day around 2 pm as I write this--I sitll worry about how frequently I use the word 'I' when corresponding. Here's what I did, perhaps you'll laugh--I read your email over and counted the number of times your sentences contained 'I' and then determined a rough ratio of 'I' to total number of sentences. How inane. I feel better, though, so maybe not.

Are you taking very good care of yourself? How is your sister? Are the two of you living together still, are you talking?

Take extra care of yourself. Accelerate out of the curves, etc.

J.

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