To: D.
From: Francesca
Date: July 11, 2004
Subject: we only know time by its mercy


There are a thousand reasons to recount past love. We are telling the only story that really is; we are blithe about the many ways the world presents and pricks; we are telling the only story that made us; we are telling of the blades that cut our myriad facets; we are pushing the dialogue out from the plastique blast of love's force; we are sucking the dialogue into the vacuum the bomb becomes, into us; we are asking to be assured it will happen again; we are begging to be told that what transpired was not replicable for any number of reasons; we are native - but not primitive - religions, prone to the magic of place and dying small deaths in the name of sublimation, fearful and orgiastic at a hint of labor's reincarnation.

We are saying that something either can or cannot be had; we are saying that we either did or did not realize what we were doing at the time; we are saying that we either do or do not transfigure regret, yet, because only invertebrates live without regret; we are saying that we either do or do not agree that the biggest beauty of the world is grief because grief covers it all, grief is the map and the rip down the map and the circle you draw around the shape of love you drew around everything else.

It's a really pretty story you told about the girl with the mittens. Everyone wants a story like that; everyone knows there are no proper responses, not at junctures so close to the head of the trail.

My best friend is in love with someone fine and true and of his emotional caliber for the first time; I find myself happier to know it, content with the private passions of loved ones as I wander the bazaar, sidestepping the breathing tents and holding my cold arms closer as the sand cools down. I have no intention of stopping. Old love is always coming out of hiding right before my last song, listing all manners of distress, buying me drinks we couldn't afford if we owned the Taj, coating me with inevitability and my own detachment and getting sand stuck in my secretly tear-clotted lashes afterwards. I can give, Christ, I know how to give, and damn but I can take; it's sharing, sweet Sahara, that gives me such terrible dreams.


To: Francesca
From: D.
Date: July 8, 2004
Subject: disappointed travel

Oh yeah, not only do I like the new image from that wonderful moment in the shade, I owe an explanation.

The secret behind the phenomenon you witnessed is found on smelly, wadded paper ditched under the cradle of civilization. _The Dragonflies_ is Aristophane’s early play performed only on the solstice of repeating years (444 BC, etc, sadly forgotten when they took everything to zero, sadly revived by South Carolina’s own avant-garde The Cracker’s Workshop in 1988 (1968 had come later there) (and allegory had never come at all) when the play was unbelievably misread as unionist propaganda and the entire ensemble hideously abused in an unspeakable deluge). The original is at once a parable of bad decisions and the desires that lead us astray and a comedy about redemptive flights of fancy (picked up subtly by the modern and sanitized, Fly Away Home). In it, Aristophanes mocks his fellow Athenians for wasting their chance to secure the beams of society—iron and wine—by spending their summer vacations darting and scooting about in a splurging frenzy: visiting barbaric bazaars; shopping for cheap hats and anti-Spartan t-shirts peddled up and down the Adriatic coast; picking up whores on the fly. They fly low because of their base, bottomless (dragonflies have no ass) appetites for cheap sex, midges-on-sticks, corngnats, and other treats. They have big heads owing to engorged egos. It is not until the third part of the play, when they are far, far away at Visigoth Parks and the Spartans have sacked the vacated city--attacking quietly by cornering Athenian time-shares--that the Dragonflies hear news of what their adevntures north have wrought. Only then is their pride wounded. Only then are their bigbug eyes moved to tears. They break down collectively, weeping in a harmony of homelust and the Chorus shuffles out to sing one last anthem. Moved by this contrition, Notus raises the poor dears up into his high winds and blows them back home. Trips at auch altitude are not easy but they are brave and when they finally succeed in finding truth, they re-enter their city without a fight. It has been re-vacated by the Spartans, who, irritated by the haze of flying insects left in the wake of the Dragonflies, have packed up and gone home.

(My own trip to see Iron and Wine in Chicago this weekend follows a similar path. Very Greek. Lost comrades, a Circe figure, expensive parking tickets, a menacing dog of Hades . . . and the worst part: arrive at 9:45 for an eight o’clock show, on a Friday, featuring three bands. Figure to catch the last of act two and then him. But he’s already on stage. Ok, it must have just started. Try to get away from the bar noise and find a spot among the bodies. He winds up “Southern Anthem” and then says, “thanks, this will be out last song.” Fucking hell. Two-song encore and that’s it. He’s done at 10:00pm. Nothing left to do but drink drinks I can’t afford at the Green Mill with an ex- who wants to catalog my personal shipwrecks and then sail home in the washout rains the next day. It felt like years.)

To: Francesca
From: D.
Date: July 8, 2004
Subject: what trails the tales

Dear Francesca,

Of neither the mountaintops of revelation nor the desert of questioning, because it was at the threshold that she paused, paused just long enough so that both had to pass through together, face to face on the February night of a first date. It had taken almost three years to get there. Passings, sightings, friends’ parties; past the partners and changing city crossings that kept them apart, each perhaps ghosting the other. Then one unremarkably frigid morning, each shivered in, seeking coffee from the same café, and there, with nowhere else to be, finally with noone waiting, for the first time there was time to let the talk run on, the space to give a little rein and lean forward at the shared table, hunched over the main of hands clutching cups, soaking the warmth of co-presence, and when the refills had been finished, they made their date. Thai food, two-bands they mostly missed by staying in the bar area to talk when the kids cleared out to the sound of the show, back to where he lived to listen to music together and alone. They sat on the floor instead of the couch. Slow sipped drinks and vinyl. Five songs at a time. So as to not say everything the very first night she got up to go to her home; bodies stiff and unsure shuffle around and hunt down the outer layers tossed; her purse on a chair. On the way through the door and into the deadstill morning black cold she slowed for a heart’s skip and in the time it took to lean in and touch her lips lightly she slipped off her mittens to pull herself closer and the next three years began in a different key.

It’s cold and dark on the other side of all such stories about edges.

On the sand in the long shadows of day’s end, though, the chill only touches the body like a tangent since that certain slant of light seems to last eternal. Yes, yes, yes you are right about all of it--that loss of the body to tired, to cold, to salttaste, only always affirms being. Loved it most when the day tourists left and it all belonged to you and dog and wave roar and play. Of course, there was never a deadly jellyfish; the drownings and shark attacks belonged to others and through them to the enormity of the space and feeling of awe in us, there.

And so borrowed and absorbed are the words that move thought, I think. Never dead then. Inherited. They are another’s but there to be picked up in the mind, caressed because we are rightfully susceptible to them, accepting their pleasure, musing on their muses, and with them and our un-mittened hands, warming some fragile, tentative understanding that might have otherwise gone untouched.

As to finish where you began:

So the feeling comes afterward
some of it may reach us only
long afterward when the moment
itself is beyond reckoning

beyond time beyond memory
as though it were not moving in
heaven neither burning farther
through any past event nor ever to
arrive again in time to be
when it has gone the senses wake

all through the day they wait for it
here are pictures that someone took
of what escaped us at the time
only now can we remember

(W.S. Merwin “The Comet Museum”)


From: Francesca
To: D.
Date: July 6, 2004
Subject: the one with the mittens always gets me


Three from the sea

1. Harbour Island, 1982. The former model-actress-runaway-debutante walks a straight line up from the shore, all tangled blackbird hair and aviator sunglasses. The babe is fair, almost strawberry blonde, dressed in a plaid shirt from the marriage that lasted less than a year. The dark nannies coo in native nonsense. A picture is taken. As with all photographs of her until a certain age, baby looks shocked.

2. Key Largo, 1986. She almost died, they tell her parents. A man-o-war is a tremendously large thing, a rather nasty thing, to have wrapped around one's own kindergartener. She has no recollection.

3. Cannes, 2000. Five pale blondes and two pale brunettes pretend not to look upon the swinging Gallic tits. Four blondes and two brunettes beg her to do it first, the way she speaks French as quickly and casually as possible, the way that the French speak back to her as if she were not foreign. This blonde will not admit that, later in the afternoon, she moved closer to the olive-hued woman by design, that she had been hoping that the dark elbow would in fact accidentally brush her bare peach breast, that she was certain the full, slow scrape, so much bigger and berry-stained than her own, of the stranger's briny nipples across her shoulderblades was no mistake; one blonde will stay in the ocean until it's cold, freezing the flush out of her blood, and never admit that when the natives speak back she has no idea what they mean. All her pretty words are useless.

The sea is a woman, nearly every culture agrees. Know this, though: in the end I love women, skin and water, not because I want them but because they make me want myself and want men. You owe me three from the sea, or six from the mountains, or one and three-quarters from the desert.

(Please feel at liberty to ignore this boring paragraph - you must get enough of this shit in papers). I'm back to English. It would simply take less time to finish this major than embark again with any of the others. I know the importance of crisp analysis, but sometimes at the end of the day it wrenches my little undergrad heart to see the splayed, autopsied body of a living work I once adored. I know that love at its most truthful, universal, and grand is nothing less than the incisive understanding of the complicated weave of a thing, but.... I still grapple; is good writing (or love) really amnesty, or is it redemption? What if a work, or a person, is connected enough to what's desperate and unanswerable in the world, so much that it or he is in a constant, inherent state of motion, without us, without even our sudden, primally lowing recognition of it or him as beautifully wrought? Then are we allowed to, if we deem it warranted, simply be the harbor?

Who will make something so lovely it needs not to be explored, but pardoned?

Today hundreds of dragonflies dipped and wove across the land, headed north. Swarms of them, with big proud heads, went reeling, quite close to the ground. None appeared to be crying. Please explain this exodus, even if you make it up.


From: D.
To: Francesca
Date: July 2, 2004
Subject: independence daze

"I sit at my window here and try to imagine what you are doing. I see you on the edge of your lake: perhaps a bird comes flying across; perhaps it has a message in its mouth, like the twig of a tree. What do you think that Tree of Life looked like that those people never came across in their Garden of Eden?

A young girl has come to stay. . . . She is like someone in exile from a future country. So can I tell you this? Do you remember the idea that there is no mathematical reason why messages should not exist from the future as well as from the past; it is our structuring in accordance with time that would prevent us from recognising these."

--Nicholas Mosley, Hopeful Monsters

From: D.
To: Francesca
Date:June 30, 2004
Subject: a slow education

Dear Francesca,

So what made you give up English as a non-career? Is that when you died? or began to live again? Where else do you think that rich vocabulary is going to serve, beside perhaps the law? Maybe more importantly, what made your mother give up the green utopia out the back door and thus surrender some childhood place of yours? (though it must be said that it was not the backdrop that defined the beauty; gorgeous indeed; given that, what is about the sister that separates her from you . . . in all ways?).

Do you have your own backyard for leisure reading or afternoon naps these days? Or is that lack that drives you out to vast inlets of nothing to listen to Ugly Casanova (you’d think I’d recognize the title of a much-played disc)?

In my book bag right now: “The Marconi Cottage,” “The Psychotheology of Everyday Life,” “The Origin of German Tragic Drama,” and “The Hesperides Tree.” In the disc player: new Pj Harvey. In the sink: glasses and coffee cups. New York has stories for another day. I recall a passage from Hopeful Monsters that has to do with writing the future and i wanted to quote it to you, but i can't find it just now.

Something to look forward to.

Stories of islands and sea, you owe these to me,

From: Francesca
To: Mike
Date: Mon, 29 Jun, 2004
Subject: real reply coming soon

My mom is now in Athens, Georgia, the most bohemian non-Southern enclave in the South. My faith in the universe is always restored there. Alternately, Chip lives there. I haven't been yet. I've been putting it off. It also means I have nothing to tether me to the Main Line [Pennsylvania] except What Was and What Happened and, of course, what I hold dearest, What Wasn't and Didn't.


Nick talks to me exclusively about ultimate frisbee. I think of him, oddly, as a sort of tent pitched out of his body; he always had that bony look, where you could tell that it was difficult to make space for everything necessary. You could watch something separate reading the thrilly mystery of his experience long past midnight, a spotty little extra heart that was not he himself but some curious inner gleam going weaker as darkness started to really mean it. Maybe we loved him because he was fading light.


From: Francesca
To: D.
Date: June 28, 2004
Subject: to live near such grass


My mother just moved from the grand, peering house whose lush yard we see in exhibit 2 (the prosecution's, of course). As a result, small boxes of my former possessions have been recovered; among the palm-small ballet slippers and dead dogs' collars was much music. It remembers when I died, and listening to it out on the farthest tip of Wadmalaw Island helps me remember, now, as well. Sharpen Your Teeth was one of my favorite tracks.

I would theoretically love to be in a bar-brawl, but I'd lose, and lose everything, so instead I just get better and better at holding onto violent wrists.

It's tough being a messiah, even of sorts, these days. What uncoils from diamantine serpents, though, is nothing those boys really want. I'm young enough to delight in the unexpected but immediately appropriate, and too old to fuck around with anything that thinks I've got what it needs.

What's in the bag of books? In your CD player? In your kitchen sink? In New York?

This town isn't so bad, for a little longer. I saw some local boys haul their rat-skeleton-skinny hips on stage, eighteen and nineteen years old and dripping in tattoo ink, and they were great in the most classic sense of the word. The lead put the microphone up to his pointy face and howled and some girls came up to my sister and said she was gorgeous; proximity is enough--will have to suffice--even love, even messiahs, even wandering Jews on the tundra know that.


From: D.
To: Francesca
Date: June 25, 2004
Subject: Does Iron and Wine strengthen your blood?

Along those great empty stretches, when the Texaco and I meet, I’ve found that the meth boys in their primered trucks jacked way up (and they are always there, in a skittish herd) don’t tend to look upon me as the missing piece . . . unless “Jew boy” really is a welcome-to-the-messiah exclaim I mistook for a tired and tedious threat. How many times has the redeemer been chased away by brutes? Now it's esay to imagine that if you walked in, diamond studs gleaming, sunglasses perched from when the afternoon disappeared (that second photo of you is the emblem for warm day perfection; lushly beautiful, pensive, distracted, unfocused, and ready to uncoil) then they are probably thinking that you are exactly what’s been missing from their lives and they’d been righter than they could even begin to imagine.

If they could bring themselves to stroke the hair they might be able to confess the essentials.

Closer to home, Anodyne Coffee will welcome me and my bag of books on the nature of catastrophe, so off I go to ride cross town in the crisp morning (should I mention the air is light and blue and 70 degrees or is that just cruel?) to sit and, for a little while, to dissolve into something old, alien, and true.

You've gone from spiritual songs to fang imperative, as the serpent commented to the first woman. More than metaphor? Did you get busted up in a bar-brawl? Fall off another table? Or just ready to channel venom to all who get in the way of perfection?

Be well, smile through it, hear the children,

From: Mike
To: Francesca
Date: June 23, 2004
Subject: On hope and happiness

I haven’t heard from you in awhile, but I’ve missed you. I hope all is going well. I know things with you always seem to be at least a bit chaotic, and so they should, so I always feel such wishes are well placed with you, where they might seem trite with others. I am currently in McLean, Virginia, having just listened to a rather wonderfully loud thunderstorm. I suppose my thoughts always seem to wander to you when I find myself in Virginia. Rachelle, my girlfriend, just got an apartment here and I am helping her move her things in and otherwise keeping her company. She had initially planned on working in Los Angeles for the summer, but it seems I changed her plans. So she just landed herself a job in DC and laments that I don’t go to Georgetown or George Washington, in which case I could live and commute in to DC with her. Ah, it seems so much has changed in the last few months.

Sometimes I miss the silence (and violence). I think of Zoe and wonder what debauchery she is up to at this moment. And she thinks of me, I know – call me here and there to tell me how desperately she misses me. And I believe her, now. She has reason to miss me. I’m not coming back. I guess I miss me too. I’m sitting outside now on her deck, listening to the drizzle of the departing rain. It bring back all the other decks, all the other nights, not quite so quiet, but cooler; colder. I think of all the high school parties and terrible things people would do to one another and all the different decks I would escape to: the large dark wooden deck outside Abby’s house where I would listen to Zoe, inside, flirting with Charlie; the grand stone porch of Jodie’s house, lined with huge columns, where I would sit in silence and listen to the end of high school; the smaller concrete deck of Mary’s where I would, from time to time, glance upon a pretty face with a soft look and think, feel about the endless possibilities a warm summer night might bring.

All those people I never even really knew; all the people I have been.

I met one of Rachelle’s male friend last night, who seemed immediately resentful of my presence and high possessive. He tried several times to force himself closer to her than I was, to find her affections. I am lucky that I have such a lovely girlfriend as to not have to worry about such things, in any way, but It had me thinking of the main line for a moment, and all it had taught me. Everything was a game in a way, a giant chessboard and though I resisted at first I learned to play the game pretty well by the end of it. I have Zoe to thank in large part for this, Charlie to a lesser degree and an multitude of others. Rachelle said I didn’t seem myself last night. Of course not. I sized him up in a few seconds and played him at my whim all night. It was momentarily exciting and generally sordid, but such was the main line and everything which I have taken from it. I sometimes wonder though if the rest are just clueless, if they don’t know this sort of mastery.

I wonder from time to time, when I think like this, if you have gotten over, gotten past it. I wonder if all those marks have faded, because they have not in me. It is certainly true that I don’t feel them as often, that I forget them from time to time, but I guess its nights and afternoons like these which bring it all back in such full force.

I was thinking of Nick the other day, thinking of how he became happy and disappeared from us. I tal to him here and there, but I never get anywhere. People say are given to saying things such as “I don’t even know him anymore” and while I am guilty of saying such things as well, I really feel that about him in a way which forces me to reevaluate every other time I have thought that about an individual. There is nothing of us left in him – perhaps you see the same. I worry, I guess, though, that I might have a similar fate, being quite happy myself these days. And I am, don’t let any of my doubts or pensive moments make you think otherwise. I have found her and she is truly, breathtakingly exquisite. She is kind and warm and she knows love better than anyone else I have come across. I guess you can’t ever really play with fire unless the flames reside within your eyes as well – the chase will never be meaningful unless what is sought is sought truly. In that sense this is the inevitable result of everything else, but there is something unsettling about comfort I suppose.

I wonder if you have found comfort. I wonder if I should wish that you have, or wish that you never find it. I don’t really any longer know what one should want, what one should desire. It is no longer within me though – I love in laser straight, iron-clad lines and there is no turning back for me. I suspect I shall marry her, and I will be overjoyed to, perhaps, as well.

I hope you still find time to write – not to me, but just in general. I always love reading it, as I go over everything you have ever sent or show me time and time again. Be well, I think. Be vigorous at least. I hope the thunderstorms in South Carolina are as heart-stoppingly deep as they are in northern Virginia.


From: Francesca
To: D.
Date: June 22, 2004
Subject: "please, please, please"

...and as for coffee, she said, it should have been painfully obvious that anybody besotted with the edges of things would favor a suspension of cream in the black, a child's first garden of friction.

You yourself should see, he said, that morning ahead of years back, when they ran out of sugar and you watched him over the steady course of bitter-fat-bitter-fat. The last time you needed stitches was a night like that.

When driving through the aestival dark, the proper response to another pair of headlights is a venemous 'fuck you.' It's best to stop the car and look at your own hands until the intruder has passed. It's also common knowledge that any place you stop, any trailer or Texaco or vast manse, is where you will be received as the complicated missing piece, where you will begin the whole world's new life; "I'm here," you'll say, "finally," and they will say, "at last!" and the whole remainder of time will hold the pricklyheat of music that's a beat too slow for mortals.

Today a little girl climbed in my lap, stroked my hair, and said wistfully: "I remember when I died."

Busted tooth and a smile,

From: D.
To: Francesca
Date: June 19, 2004
Subject: "I was the jerk who preferred the sea"


Here I thought you were playing one of those rare, surviving fireflies: just a flash and then you’re gone. But like them, children or no, after a dark spell, you’re back, dancing out, sparkler-like, words in light.

And they shine bright on a night like this, when summer is clearly vacationing in Canada, next to one of those always-cold lakes made by a Georgian Bay inlet. Driving along the shoreline road—dense tree-ed and dark, rich homes set back—tonight it was crisp, clean and black so that to keep the windows down to let the air wash in I had to turn the heat up and let it coat the legs. And in those moments when there were no other cars in view, well, “I travel in fear / that in this darkness I will disappear”.

Reminded me that if frantic wrestle while parked in a warmnight vineyard or orchard may feel like moving (the now into the eternal) then driving along some vast body of water during a long, long June twilight, a dawnstart day of distance already in, the happiness brimming because of the trees and sand and deepening, darkening blues and most of all because she is in the passenger seat--slack with daydream and faint freckle and her soles up off the floorboard, showing the wandering callouses and chipped toenail polish, and silently you two talk through the drive—moves, too.

Movements of another kind tomorrow: off to New York’s humid grit and haze for the weekend. Things will happen there to be certain. Why is it alluring to wish for a purer nothing?

Have no doubts you can imagine California and its certain slant of light better than most people live in it. Sounds like Charleston is suggesting a break; how long will you hold its hand?

Briefly, to answer: Tilly is the lovely, sweet, frail, old grand bitch who lives on that Bolinas hilltop and loves to shake her brittle bones along the browngrass chasing a thrown tennis ball. Coffee: sugar(coating) be damned and whatever is at hand from milk to cream, but just a few drops so the cloudiness swirls in the blackness and it stays “hot” and stark on the tongue. That is a must. It must stay coffee. Finally, a few months ago there were bandaged hands thanks to a hidden terror of a treeroot that threw me off the bike for a bellyflop landing, stripping off not only “the one love song that was in tattoo upon palm” but grinding away an old deep-v scar, achieved many, many years ago when chasing my little sister down the gravel driveway, with shoes untied.

Until the next lovely time, D.

From: Francesca
To: D.
Date: June 19, 2004
Subject: Dress your family in shagreen and velvet

It's hard to get a computer in this here town. I've been working during the spaces they let the library stay open; I got a new herd of toddlers and I had to do overtime cutting out the silhouettes of terrible bloodthirsty dinosaurs and other, now neutered, childhood images.

(No, natty religious professors are very old, which is why they're easy to love and learn from. As for Buick backseats, I think more of single indie-music-loving thirtysomethings, the kind who might break my heart at the farmers' market with the way they remember Bolinas and the fine filaments of age around their eyes when they squint to look at anything, especially me, assessing danger and possible irony therein. There are a couple in the world, probably, and there must exist the same sort of woman, no?)

Are romantic tics in of themselves just a part of a sociological order? I certainly hope not. One can't help but be interested, though, when one sees a motif emerge. Lovingly, I'd say that there's something universal in the idea of the drive-thru-screwing, and it takes a fine breed to recognize it; in my more jaded hours I would say that some people fill the space of resonance with the culturally defined so as to get it.

(We could always ask Joseph Campbell. I think I did recall something in the hero cycle about grappling with a sweaty goddess on the passenger seat. There's something in the human collective unconscious that just screams "underpants on the gearshift." John Irving had a version, too). Also: I'm teasing. I can come across as mean in print, but I'm not. Mean. Mostly.

It's hot as hell in Charleston. I miss the Northeast with a singleminded drive. The world where things happen is, in my limited and hideously biased mind, limited to Baltimore, Washington, Philadelphia, Boston, and New York. The idea of not being able to have proper conversations while red and yellow leaves fall drift down on ruddy old hockey fields haunts me; passing images do define, and beckon. Here in Charleston, we'll continue this lovely inertia right into the winter and the palm trees will go grayish and give off an offended smell and that's all. This place is so wonderful and beautiful and so dangerously boring after three years.

I think I can imagine California. There's a place I know and I've never been, and the idea of gnarled trees and steep ravines and sun slanting in from the other side through oat fields rather seals the deal. Now I'll have to go just to see if I'm right.

Not even an English major anymore (a particularly naive and boring story), I would welcome visitors to my porch with nearly disembodied ease.


P.S. If you have time, tell me other things, about the dog, and what you take in coffee, and the last time you needed (I mean really NEEDED) a Band-aid.

From: D.
To: Francesca
Date: May 25, 2004
Subject: Back into graces


sad to hear the romantic tics are part of a sociological category (though I did enjoy the Nerve piece defining the possible rubrics for the un-married thirty-something). Are "natty" religious professors the other kind drawn to Buick back seats? Has to be about all the "fear and trembling" involved and the inevitable sacrifices of what's coveted. That's a different kind of edge. Faith tested and parsed. Not lost entirely, just driven out of sight with the loose change and lint.

(Another car moment returns: did you ever see "Tulley"? Lots of beautiful Nebraska simplicity and the way they go swimming and then dry themselves on the carhood, leaning back against the warm windshield is wonderful).

Speaking of the open range west, did the ex-boyfriends have cowgirl ex-s before you met them? Or is that where they went after? Are you, pharmakon, cause or cure?

Hope you're barefoot, warm, lazy and happy, and that in the face of whatever whatnots and nonesuches if i were in walking distance of your backporch you would extend some stair space and a cup of coffee and a few stories, and stories of stories.

until, D.

From: D.
To: Francesca
Date: May 20, 2004
Subject: RE: little batfaced girls

Francesca, strange to be writing [...] notes in the mid morning, jacketless in the warm rain mist. The feel of holiday. Day dreams of moving-on to bide the time until the chores call and demand assent.

The cues are only the visuals caught in passing--the blur outside the windshield, the confusing walks through decayed places--but can see Virginia creating a far different bird than SC. Virginia, to me, is a strange mix of the Beirut feeling of V. Beach in the off-season (the F-16s coming in low and loud over the empty hotels), the colonial primness of the north, the southwestern greenness where the trees seemed to have been cannibalized by some sort of grape leaf, or an ivy of decay, reclaiming everything; Monticello and the dude with whom a strange exchange is maybe explained by his CSA belt-buckle.

On the other hand, all I can recall from SC is a stark moment in Columbia on a slate day in late winter. It was hot and cold all at once and a Sunday, so no one was visible. The wind was hard and the street lights, suspended on wires were swaying and snapping up and down. A grimey grit the color of oil snaked along the pavement. Then three or floor blocks down the street was a figure, leaning to move ahead, hands deep in pockets, the bursts of wind causing him to stagger. I honestly don't remember anything else--how we got to that point, how we left, or what we saw on the way.

Imagine that if you went north (what leads a filly to Philly?) the hardbark exterior probably came in handy. Did it, the nor'east decay and rough, rusty shards, in the end, send you ever deeper south in response?

I'm not sure where I'm being pushed, or what forces are doing the pushing. California, the northern valleys of oat hay and oak, is the origin and it is home all through. There is the soft air and just to the west smell of saltwater and eucalyptus, the play of fog, the way the natural still dominates all the attempts to strip-mall it, freeway it, subdivide it. And yes, that sun's straight gaze at darkness coming; what did you do today? it asks. And when there's a slight sunburn and sandrash and glorious tiredness and the answer is "everything and nothing," then that's pretty good. (In fact, it's too good. Back there in small doses it's like an opiate, an ecstasy so fine I can't even feel it, as if the body has lost the sensation memories).

Here now, and here things need attention.

until again, D.

From: Francesca
To: D.
Date: May 19, 2004
Subject:little batfaced girls


I find it hard to believe that dairy cows despise wisdom, but after all, you know these things better than I. Six years is a long time. This must then be the seven year itch, with you ready to bolt despite her lightning flashing over lakewater.

I am a Virginian. Women of the deep south are liquid, magnolian, serpentine. This is not so of Virginia, where our Southernness is more linear and tempered, adamantine and cold. We're dogwoods, plain and slightly bored, but with the secret velvet one could only uncover by actually eating a petal or maybe autopsying a bee with chopsticks. I also lived in Philadelphia for a spell, and I still go back sometimes. You? Oregon, California, Colorado? A slot machine in Reno?

English professors are my favorite, besides funny and natty old religious philosophy professors. I think if you come you'll have a great deal of good companionship in the department, but that's a silly thing to say because I'm still a student. Boundaries, edges, nonesuch and whatnot.

I could see you with little faith left in your first two pictures, dangling from hooks, but the third makes it difficult to imagine. I've noticed a sociological trend in which cynical men are particularly compelled by cinematic lovemaking in the backseats of cars. Stationwagon mystery cult. How does one lose faith?

The cold sounds horriffic. Sometimes when I go to little bluegrass shows in redneck shacks around here, I imagine that I could make it somewhere in Wyoming or Colorado, living in a small cold town with cramps of stars and my own big sweaters and a few wild outdoorsy children who still bathe in a large enamel tub and have bandaids where they fucked with the chickens even though I told them not to. Then I remember that those are the cowgirl ex-wives of all my ex-boyfriends and I'm extrapolating too much. But Athens, Georgia, is close enough; Neko Case would play there, maybe has. (I liked the story you told; you told it so well there's nothing for me to say). Last time I was in Athens I half-died in front of My Morning Jacket.

It's ominous, almost, for me to think of the sun coming up from behind as you swim in the morning, and levelling its gaze at you as you swim the night. It's so much more shy the lover with its Atlantic.


From: D.
To: Francesca
Date: May 19, 2004

Subject: voices that did comfort me

Francesca, back to edges. The look onto an unbroken horizon is crucial. The Pacific, the Irish Sea, the Adriatic, it doesn't matter (anxious to see more of the Atlantic, where the sun--counterintuitive for the westerner--rises out of the water). Mountains looming behind an old, western main street is wonderful, but it's not the same as the undulations of the sea. The chance for escape is right there, as a matter of steps. Clouds moving above that shifting space may be the equivalent of the child's rubbing fingers. And how is it possible to not escape into that?

As for what comforts and remains true: when Neko Case came here she played in an awkward space that left people shifty and anxious. It was a freezing February night, mid-week. Just getting out of the house saps the life out of brain and body. Thawing marrow plus too many bodies plus beer had made most surly. John Doe opened, playing the rock star, driving most folks to the bar.

Then she emerged from the cloud of her growing legend, a beautifully plain presence. She was wearing men's trousers and a mismatched sweater, her hair a glorious and tangled mess that suggested she had come home from swim practice and collapsed for a long nap. With each song she was seducing the crowd by playing it straight. After much fine playing she worked her way through Furnace Room Lullaby and the room got strangely still until, at its close, when the instruments fade out and it just her voice, that voice, ascending along up the register with pure heart-beating breath . . . and as it ended into vibrating stillness and no one moved a hand or moved at all and at the back of the pack you could hear one, lone audible "wow."


From: D.
To: Francesca
Date: May 18, 2004
Subject: notes for a fifth quartet

Francesca, it's true that Wisconsin is the land of messiahs. Wisdom wanders the dairyland, despised by cows, adult Packer fans robed in children's garments, and yes, those ubiquitous boys in stocking cap and ill-fitting t-shirt, with perpetual can of Papst to sip and spit at those who wish only to save them. Hope your friend made it out to do her good deeds. Hope I make it out.

Am a stranger in this strange land, even after six long, Siberian years (though to give it its due, the lightning over the lake last night was perfect: thunderless and erratic, with lots of water strikes and pulsing bursts and then stark, horizon-freezing smears of yellow glow. Not sure if that is at all like Egypt, but it had the kind of oracle quality to such a coming plague). And you, what cast of voice is it that speaks of spiritual taxation of the south and daily scone time, not to mention Maine? But at any rate, here's to paying that tax with the ability to validate the where, where- and whatever it may be.

[...]while the south may not make me feel particularly welcome, will gladly take it on if there are islands and fireflies and special guests seething with irony (sorry to hear he was kind of precious about his identity as indie-rock-poet; the living price for being such good company in sound) (when he sings, "when I was younger I was a cobra / in every case I wanted to be cool / now that I'm older and sub-space is colder / I just want to say something true" he must mean it. Have little faith left and am going to let that be one of the few hooks on which to hang myself).

until next time, D.

From: Francesca
To: D.
Date: May 17, 2004
Subject:but it's been painted shut

how did I overlook these things:

1. You're the only other person I know who has mentioned it, living on the edge of things. Do you think that there's something inherent in edges, not in the classic sense that they're the breakpoint of change, but that they might be more beloved by the universe? Children, for instance, fondle the edges of blankets when they are dropping off into sleep, which is why they're bound in satin (the both of them); I get the same impression from the sun at the water's edge, even in shit towns in New Jersey where all the glasses in the restaurants are brown and you find you can't move fairly frequently.

2. I think I'd be completely happy if I looked back on my life and said, yes, that could be classified as a furnace room lullabye.

From: Francesca
To: D.
Date: May 17, 2004
Subject:catfish whiskers in she hairs

I wondered when you said that you don't "give into fraudulent things," and decided that you really didn't mean for there to be a space. There's a big difference between giving in to and giving into, a difference so big that I could write a whole love-novel about it and won't. I think I much prefer a person who doesn't give into, anyway.

You like amnesty because you're thirty-seven and because you're likely intelligent. I can't express how much college-age boys want to be tried and convicted, but sometimes this goes without saying.

Berman came to talk at the college. I was there with the stomach flu...[...] I instinctively liked him despite myself, and he just seethed with hipster irony. I get it, the flipness and stab and scab and undermining, and why it was here, but at the same time I'm really ready for the authentic again. Irony isn't a dare anymore.

Along the Eastern seaboard, fireflies have been disappearing from backyards steadily over the years. Sometimes when I drive out in the rural islands around Charleston I still see them (they're amazing, worth the emotional taxation of the South alone. When it rains, little white frogs jump across the highways in scores, like it's Egypt). A dear friend of mine, the woman I think might save the world, went to Wisconsin for college, and that's all I know about that.

I could probably stand to be told a few things.

What position would you fill?


From: Sam
To: Francesca
Date: April 12, 2004 Subject: Re: normative

I think the point, and I'll come back at you with thoughts on my alleged normalcy soon, is that I crave a time when we can regularly spend time together, time to spelunk every nook of this pod and this pea plant we both inhabit. As a summer/year of FJS may be too much to ask right now, I do think a weekend of some wild rumpus or another together could be very called for. Perhaps a Motel 6 in Topeka, Kansas would serve as an ideal rendezvous (almost wanted to spell it rondevue, but you already know me too well). More soon...



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