I was electric; everything had a sudden and unassailable meaning, like the ingredients on bottled water. Sunlight scattered across the hills like children let loose from church, who ran free like the wind at thirteen. My lips held the subtle taste of eternity and raspberry lip gloss. Eyes sick with wonder. Everything sang. Sweat ran down my back in tiny track heats, leaving trails of rambling manifestos. Even the sound of my footsteps on the concrete metered verses in secret; vague haikus about pineapples at the corner market (a sly metaphor on Keynesian economics).
Don’t even get me started
on honeydew melon,
my feet tapped out. Careful not to step on sidewalk cracks. I was a living prophet, there was no use pretending anymore. Squirrels in the trees looked upon me with reverence. Birds changed their songs when I approached. Puer dragonflies buzzed my head. Mosquitoes swarmed like paparazzi. Homeless dogs lay before me like gentle lions. Most people, however, saw nothing more than a sweaty man in rhinestone sunglasses and a leather bomber jacket, stumbling around just south of downtown on a hot summer day.
“You’ve lost that loving feeling, just a song, song, song, whoa oh whoa.”
I sang in bars for bottle caps and cigarette filters. On a good night I’d take home a koozie and a half-bottle of grenadine and make love to the stars behind the old bicycle arcade. My performances were notoriously unknown. I rapped Huey Lewis and the News over south Indian progressive house, and recited the great poet Hafiz in his native Persian, wearing a crown of belladonna and a full length stonewashed denim robe. In those moments I was known only as Quinoa. A local reviewer said that I was “surprisingly nutritious yet bland.” I touched the doorknob three times and spit on a tree.
“Memories…like the coroner of my mind,”
I sang as an encore to the wolves, the crickets, and night fishes, near the banks of the forgotten river. The wilderness was deaf to my dissertation; I had nothing to speak for ever again. All my efforts felt futile in that tender moment. Even my breath was misunderstood by Earth’s splintered lungs. I closed my eyes to a world bereft of fire, every word an affront to our subtle nature. I endured no threat from the Gods, only regret. I watched as forests overtook our heavy industry like some wild, blooming proletariat; whole civilizations lost to the gravity of ignorance, swallowed up by the slow churning of the ocean floor, run by some invisible motor deep inside the earth, fueled by the single-pointed intention that whispers, in the shallow channels of the sea: When everything is destroyed, everything becomes new.
What emptiness inside. I toyed with the abyss like a delinquent with matches and kerosene. I let the darkness burn like dead leaves arranged in circles all around me. I felt the hunger that transformed matter into energy, and compost into explosives. It begged me to be lit. I saw entire cities consumed in riot fire hot into the night, leaving crowds of burned-out concrete shells huddled in the morning light, orphans in the city they raised. Clouds of black smoke rose from their crests like darkness was escaping the earth. I closed my eyes and ran my fingers through the sky. I wanted to know what they knew. I wanted to disappear into the air, to feel with my own skin the lightness of it, to fade into that other side.
I taped my socks to my jeans and entered the broken tower. I took an elevator to the basement, and finding no second elevator among the Architect’s great blueprints, I set off on foot, down to the center of the earth, past the treasures of antiquity, past the old foundations, past miles of fossils, underground currents, and rock. I discovered hidden tunnel systems, immense and far-reaching, spanning in every direction. I went deeper inside. I found dangerous equations held in secret by subterranean cults. I met their Gods, all fallen angels. I made no bargains with them. I took with me the seeds of young life, and saw them wasted upon the soil wherever I scattered them. Even sunlight fell into the earth with a dull thud, quickly swallowed by the churning pools of bacterial shadows. My feet got heavy; my eyes adjusted to the pitch. I ventured so far into the darkness that I came back through.
I awoke on the concrete not far from Congress Avenue where the food trucks once stood. The cracked, golden yolk of the sun sizzled on the concrete like heroin. The bright truth bubbled over. My eyes glimmered like a bent spoon in God’s trembling hands, the entire cosmos hopelessly addicted to that impenetrable source of light behind the sun behind the sun behind the sun; that immediate formlessness captured in the guttural chants of Siberian shamans, and struck across the brazen lips of Tibetan singing bowls, or glimpsed through the clouds at dawn. I’d accepted chaos and now I was given light. I sat with it like an old man feeding pigeons. Over time I sensed a slow convulsion; a steady, infinite breath coming from everywhere and nowhere at the same time. With each inhale the universe expanded into frenzied chaos. With every exhale I was washed in waves of cool, impersonal divine order.
Electricity ran up my spine like a caterpillar on a live wire. I jumped back, again struck by the sudden meaning behind everything around me. Not a new meaning, but a stronger meaning. A meaning forged in spirit fire and stripped of all the dregs of its naiveté. With outstretched fingers I swept the fabric of the divine and felt its intricate knit; digits upon digits. I saw numbers everywhere: on license plates and addresses, bus stops, telephone numbers, and clock faces. They spun around me like drunken Sufis, a holy wobble within a wobble. I felt them enter inside me like a sickness, each one with a special place and meaning meant only for me:
4563213312.31987984731321.0514891130.456541.1561.3053.15.1513212020200.0.232323231564156401156010018878789255557135413254132146965498412131869749841651320.131.246841651312.1351.31.1515694866543217834351434531245123213133310 65465143541351353 3354 165465434535
Of course! It was time for something new. Time to put my fresh perspective into practice. But where? And how? I let out an enormous breath into the skyline. On a 102 degree day it hung in the air like Russian winter.
I drank water from new and interesting places. My lips recoiled at the novelty, my body sunk into its own weight. A dull sense of peace soaked through my skin, and I began to feel my dreams, like a mild analgesic, in my waking life. Birds of paradise nestled in my songs, and I gave them all names, spoken in half-pidgin glossolalia. My feet sunk into mysterious textiles on virgin sands once washed away from imaginary islands inhabited by our great ancestors, and carried across the sea, grain by grain, seed by seed, until it reached me. My nights were spent beneath neon palm trees and silver-dollar moons, with my cap gun and ukulele, swaying gently in the open-throated wind, all my cares stashed away like a Casino matchbook for exactly the right occasion.
I danced on the couch in a shower curtain, the plastic rings stacked on my wrists like some cheap Caribbean drag queen. Luke, my favorite Bronzing Technician from the tanning salon, sat on the floor playing video games underneath the black light. Over the course of the night he’d used up all of my asthma medication and ate most of my remaining carbs: two packs of tortillas, a sourdough baguette, and some saffron rice. He had also invited over a kangaroo that was making quick work of my hanging philodendron.
I felt the urge to go to confession, but having no sin marked across my brow, and no bloodline to protect, I sat beneath the window and let God confess to me. Without warning the curtains flew open and I was caught directly beneath God’s shadow. I threw my keys across the room and ceremoniously put on a blindfold, sitting at attention as if I were an initiate in some esoteric secret society. “What am I looking for?” I shook my hands like a preacher at an old time revival. “What do I need right now in my life?”
Luke opened a bag of corn puffs and smacked his lips loudly. “Easy, a girlfriend.” I plugged my ears, indignant at his heresy. He tore the blindfold off my face and responded in pseudo-sign language, grabbing crudely at his crotch and gyrating like a braggadocio Brazilian dancer. I did a Hail Mary, eight jumping jacks, and boxed the kangaroo. He connected on a left hook and knocked me into the kitchen, where I lay unconscious on the cracked linoleum floor until day broke.
It was 6:49 AM, numerologically-speaking a fortunate time to light some candles and cry. I, however, had a
TO DO LIST:
MUST FIND LOVE
and I did not want to disappoint the serious faces that loomed behind the white lined paper like congregants at a Quaker wedding. I pressed stop on the microwave seventeen times and ate my breakfast.
Once my eyes opened to the possibility of a special companion, women became visible again. I no longer walked down half-empty grocery aisles; apparently, they’d always been full of attractive young females, fondling grapefruit and checking ingredient labels on cans of low-fat soup. Streets and swimming pools became populated with possibility: beautiful women in short shorts and summer dresses, black leggings and bikini bottoms. Skinny ones, curvy ones, light ones, dark ones; there was so much, I didn’t even know where to begin. The clock read 7:52. Patience, I told myself.
I wanted to search for something less vital, less prone to the tides of my poor judgement, but in some sense still important, and so I went to the mall to look at socks. I walked mindfully through the winding department store aisles, a fringe Buddhist monk in a silk bathrobe and fuzzy slippers. I stopped occasionally to squint my eyes and rub my chin thoughtfully. There were black ones, white ones, fitted, lo-pro, no show, polka dot, striped, athletic; what exactly did I want? Maybe I didn’t want any of it. I was halfway between the argyles and the paisley prints when I heard a plush clamor. I turned to see a young woman in high-waisted cut-offs struggling with an armful of generic white tube socks, softly tipping like a stylized tsunami.
She fell right into my arms, a tiny yet profound movement in God’s great choreography. Skin like Spanish cream, I saw myself in two dark eyes exploding like sunken stars on either side of a flat nose dotted with delicate Asian acne, her face young with the sudden wisdom of Tibetan thunder. I had no idea what race she was, or if she were even human. Her raven hair was absinthe. Calves like jackhammers. Shoulders jutting from her torso with abject determination. And yet she walked with the quiet strength of a dancer, fragile in her fortress like a rare desert ice flower locked away in the empty hallways of a science & field museum.
“Where did you come from?” I asked, breathlessly.
“Housewares. Second floor.”
I scanned the escalators curiously. “What was it like growing up there?”
“Cool at night. But we never went hungry.”
I felt the words spring from my lips as if the Goddess herself were writing some banal romantic comedy. “You hungry now?”
Finding nothing of any remote nutritional value in the food court, we escaped out the service entrance and ended up in my backyard, caught in an ecstatic state of grace, our lower skeletons cross-legged and arms akimbo. We sacrificed heads of lettuce to the Gods, and ears of corn, in some vegan Santeria. Our bellies full with the tender flesh of sacred papaya, we made love to the earth, and then each other. The sex was archaic— almost violent— harkening back thousands of years to our time in caves, draped in animal skins and blood, two sweaty bodies lost in that simple, one-minded consciousness that betrays our greater intellect, huddled and humping on the damp rock, more grunts than moans.
Afterward, we sat beside each other like cornerstones, full of memento and circumstance. I told her I’d been married before. “Back when I was still almost young. I was smoking a lot of DMT at the time.”
“What happened?” she asked, sketching her name in my arm with a bent wire hanger.
“First my kisses lost their sweetness, and then her lips lost their fire.”
“Only the way she rewrote our history.” I pulled out two large leather-bound books from beneath my bed and held them flat on my hands to indicate their heaviness.
“History’s just journalism,” she replied.
My body pulsed with tiny bursts of inner fireworks.
“Joseph Campbell,” I remarked, like a spoiled child opening an expensive Christmas gift. She flashed a half-smile that tore straight through me in five different places like the magic bullet that killed Kennedy. My stomach panged in excitement, and then dread. I pulled nervously at my collar. I swear if she quotes Rumi I’m just going to jump out this damn window right now, I told myself, quickly spiraling into a panic.
I told her to wait on the balcony. I ripped out my heart and threw it in the chair in front of me. It writhed like a fish out of water in slow, contorted pumps. “What do you think of Della?” I asked him, with the cold stare of a sadistic interrogator in a make-shift prison camp.
“We like her,” the heart replied. “We like her a lot.” I believed he was telling the truth, but I tortured him anyway. The son of a bitch never quit. And so I let Della back inside and quietly cleared out my dresser for her things.
“You’ve found that loving feeling, been so long, long, long, whoa oh whoa.”
I sang in meadows for mosquito bites and lanky Texas wildflowers. I sang for the first time in my native tongue; I sang without reservation. The words were coming from all directions. Enlightenment was inescapable. Destiny stretched out before me like tarot cards from some lost arcana, and yet at once everything was still possible. My heart beat with the very center of the earth. It was not darkness after all, but light. Not some mindless motor, but a beating heart, pumping love and etheric blood into every living being without exception or prejudice. In that moment my frame of reference encompassed the entire universe, and I felt love for love’s sake. A couple hiked by and saw me rolling around on the ground singing, “LALALALALALALA,” and quickly called the police.
Della found me three days later in a halfway home in Nagadoches. I was wearing a polyester muu-muu and flip-flops with socks, pantyhose, and a white curly wig. Strange scrapes adorned my forehead. My elbows and knees were skinned, my shoulders disheveled, my patchy beard had grown in unevenly, and to top it all off I had stapled my heart into my chest backwards and upside down.
I looked at her with all the sadness of my misbelonging. “I can’t pretend with you.”
“Sure you can.” She pulled a black cap out of her purse, and a gray mustache. “It appears I am your driver today, Madam President,” she said in a Southern drawl. I wasn’t quite sure who was she was supposed to be, and the plot, which seemed to be a cross between “Driving Miss Daisy” and “Independence Day,” was already more ludicrous than a porno film, but still she pulled it off well. Girl had so much truth stuck between her teeth she could sell just about anything. She might even one day get me to believe in science again.
A nearby spaceship landing (Chevy Tahoe) had her in the backseat, hands sliding up my muu-muu. “I just want you to feel safe,” she said, the façade of her drawl cracking beneath the weight of her emotion. We made love in a neighborhood nearby, parked in a suburban neighborhood not dissimilar from where I grew up. “My body was born for you,” Della exclaimed at the peak of orgasm, her fingers trembling like tender little roasting chickens.
“Don’t tell the First Gentleman about this,” I pleaded, grabbing pieces of loose hair that had fallen from her cap, and drawing her close to me. She bit my face and I came. Neighborhood kids looked on in horror.
Feet against the front seat, she smoked a cigarette. I was carefully inspecting her toes, unable to find even the slightest flaw. Even the mistakes seemed compulsory, more divine improvisation than mutation. I saw for the first time how God walked through her; how she carried the story of God’s journey with her in every faded scar, calloused toe, and chipped nail. I realized just how much her shoulders were holding up. Though incomplete, I knew that weight to be God.
“Sing me a song,” she said in her fake southern drawl, nestling her driver’s cap into my chest. “Something God-fearing.”
“It’s your lucky day: I majored in Spirituals at the university. Four years.” And so I did my throat exercises, gargled some water, and honked the horn twenty-three times.
“You’ve lost that loving feeling, now it’s God, God, God, woah oh woah,”
I sang, like a mantra, for three and a half hours, followed by a “Kumbaya” / “Who Let the Dogs Out?” mash-up which met with only moderate success. I smashed my guitar on the sidewalk and wrote ecstatic poetry with chalk all the way down the street. Mothers shielded their children from looking at my golden sunflower stalk penis glistening in the sun. I wore beaded necklaces and a headband, and felt a sort of mythic, underlying strength flow through me, and all of the responsibility that comes with that. I did thirty-seven encores with sixteen breakdowns, two dance-offs, seven drum solos, and a reprise complete with a volunteer marching band and Balkan children’s choir.
When I finished I found that Della was gone. My heart wrenched in regret. Why couldn’t I have shared that with her?
all the poems in the world
don’t mean a thing,
like strawberries in the sink
I tapped out as I walked all the way home. It was roughly 913 miles and took me six and a half years. Everything was different when I got back. I heard Della had been married and divorced twice, and ran a flash mob out of the local laundromat. Word was she kept her beauty but lost her will. If there was anyone who could revive her it was me. I was an itinerant mercenary of love, like Rambo, or Rimbaud. But was I a stranger, or was this a strange land? My petals were lost in endless tangles of baby’s breath and wrapped in green saran like cheap grocery store flowers. And yet there was something strangely complementary about the way I fit in, some semisextile synchronicity I could not ignore. My vacant speech had become slang. My catchphrases were all cliché. I’d been gone so long my clothes were actually in style.
I set up camp in a local park. The slide was sticky with popsicle drippings, and modern playgrounds sorely lack imagination, but it was fine by me. I did daily calisthenics on the pirate’s bridge, and washed my laundry in the baby swing. At night I slept in the top of the tunnel slide. I kept a strict no masturbation policy to avoid being crucified. Squirrels, though not nearly as optimistic as they once were, still showed kindness and respect, often letting me sleep in until 7:30. The ducks were pretty much jerks about everything, but ducks are tremendously insecure and I simply can’t waste my thought time thinking about them.
I mostly thought about what Della was thinking. I still hadn’t visited her at the laundromat, nor tried stopping by her apartment. I had, however, frequented the confederate coffeehouse trailer with the chicken and waffles she liked, hoping she would find me. Even when I hid right out in the open I was never found. After all the waiting I just wanted to give up. Night after night I burned her photographs in a trashcan fire for warmth. Every morning the album was full again. She was an inexhaustible resource, more brilliant than a thousand oil fires in the deserts of Dubai. More enduring than Roman silver in Tennessee. More spectacular than phosphenes beneath the eyelids of Las Vegas. It was clear that she was my masterpiece, my only peace, my longest lullaby. And yet she was also my last wilderness.
I stalked the night like a panther walking through the darkness of love, lost in its noir geometry like Orpheus, or Isosceles. I played with the edges of linear consciousness, transfixed upon its points, yet all sides were of equal length. What did it matter? Stumbling around the equation of some advanced alien mathematics, the linguistics of forbidden tongue, reverse archeology, prediluvian genealogy, revisionist graphology; all the dim scholarship that fills the cloudy chalkboards of our lives, symbol after ancient symbol, and each time we forget to carry the one.
Just one. I nibbled on lonely vegetation. Bitter grasses and wild dinosaur ferns, I pushed forward, peeling off the perimeter, moving toward the center of things, finding my way among the parasites and predators that sleep with one eye open, walking gently, feeling like I had slipped beyond God’s care, or maybe I had wandered off in my own solar recklessness—that far-reaching orbit. Yet I could not deny that the light inside my chest had grown so bright that some nights it would rival the constellations, and I would be a part of it, a stop on the galactic map, just two right turns beneath the heel of the archer.
There are so many good reasons for everything. And there’s only one good reason for that, but I’m not going to come right out and say it. Even in America, some things just have to be earned. I will say that when I fell asleep at night with Della’s name upon my chest, slow and achy with regret, a stern German voice would counter from its quiet depths, “Why long for something that’s already here?” Beyond the perceived boredom of my days I sensed a connection; an immaculate latticework, a once and future tether, a psychic telephone with tin can and string. I drew a handset with my finger and dialed every number in the book of life, like a child on an elevator with no destination. There was nothing academic about it.
And yet I could not trust my thirst. In the desert I dreamed of water, in the oceans I longed for sand. In the winter water lost its wetness. Every summer I was a child again. I sat with everything still unsolved, moving backwards, filling in the empty spaces, somewhere beyond the conditioned response. I took strange calls from above, chasing deva realms down endless halls, past blue apple apparitions on chapel walls, finding my heart the greatest mystery of all. Walking the arterial inner courtyards, wondering why these feelings hung around like so many damn birds. Was it sickness or sanity? Delusion or destiny? It was something I could leave only up to fate. I flipped a coin—heads I’ll run far, far away and never see her again. Tails I’ll call her right now. The coin spun in the sky like a tin grasshopper and fell into the dirt. It came up heads, but I called her anyway, because it was a Tuesday afternoon, I had washed my dishes, bought my groceries, and there was nothing left to do.
-Del Fidelity 12/2015