By Teddy Hempstead
The big sea, since you ask,
is the thing being so loud behind me.
I am coming up towards you darling,
this is all there is, this sea, and you,
the sand and the distant promise of sea bream
and your beam and smile and grin, and beam.
I am in love with you good and bigly, yes,
not on purpose, a little accident, a Bad Thing
made manifest in flesh and pepper, pepper and salt.
Blonde, the breaking bay, the red white lights
warning me away in my jet plane turbo home.
This is a turbo world, a turbo universe, a vibration.
You know as well as I do that I am I.
Stars are real, which is incredible to me.
Walking is an activity performed effortlessly
by bipeds. Mercenary big lights gleam,
still ever-present in your beam, I love you,
little planet, little slice of New York cheesecake.
Have you considered how big the big sea is?
I have considered it and been terrified by the depths,
the blue is in every poem ever written,
the blue grey, and I remember the endless happiness
of engines, wings, no sleep, just love, desire,
the sense of holding onto a very high balloon.
You are named New York but I will call you Nancy,
you are curvy and big and huge and large.
You border the winking giant lights, the train lines,
the twenty-hour hour beautiful Metro, Queen Metro O’Riley,
immense satisfying noise, sound, art galleries
bordered by parks and parks and parks and trees.
Are you a masterpiece, Nancy, you’ve not
seen how well I mesh into these streets, or perhaps
you have, one shoe at a time, a brown boot, Thai soup.
Endless coffee houses, clingfilm’d peanut butter jelly.
The froth on top of the whip. Big sex,
lovely warm embrace, sleeping, not alone or scared.
I imagine I am Donald Barthelme, who died in 1989,
the title of a song by Mindless Self Indulgence,
a New York band, a New York movement, rhythm,
still haunted by images of Jimmy Urine in Times Square
when the clock struck year two thousand and you were out there
in your pool, with your mother, who was not divorced.
Your mother is divorced, as you know, as you care, greatly.
I am sorry about it, I would never have done that
to you because I loved you more than anyone is capable
of love, of being loved, but you were not capable of that,
of bearing it, like Jesus Christ, but Christ, try a little harder,
you can see morning from the plane, but reach out your hand
and we can stop it. You didn’t though, just bloomed,
looking so lovely in sun and shade and at breakfast.
Summers and breakfasts were our lives, it kills me to
read those words again, alive horribly on the page,
glaring at me, the conquerer. It’s too horrible! Too much
to bear. Your skin, mottled, but your breasts so big and ripe.
Nancy is in love with you. You slot, well oiled,
in this big gorgeous city, this place I should have lived.
You know you have changed my life. I could never
live here and there isn’t a question, from me or anyone,
that without you, there was no way I could have lived anywhere else.
Which are your favourite Wikipedia wolf attacks? Just wondering.
Nick Cave sung the Higgs Boson Blues and you didn’t like it
so I pretended not to, and we drank so much iced tea. I am in love
with you. A single bed is so big when you fit inside me,
slot like a knife into a handkerchief, a berry into a fruit bowl.
It is funny to remember how long you searched for whiskey.
How relieved I was to see you come soberly and near tears.
I hope nobody is under the misapprehension that I am not
a borderline alcoholic wholly because of your American voice,
your American body. Manhattan isn’t real, they can’t prove
any of it. I stood next to you, and kissed you, and looked
at pastel coloured flats, and millionaires, and flats of millionaires.
You were a millionaire. Still are.
Several curs and man-fanciers have alleged money was your draw.
You were the draw. You know this, they don’t know
anything about me. You were the draw, small American.
You thought you were taller than me until we proved you wrong
conclusively. You are not taller than me but you are older.
I want to go first, I don’t want to live in your world without
you, which is just as well, as I probably will. Less rich than you,
less humble, less intelligent, and less real. You grew up with a pool.
I love you humbly, wholly, intelligently, probably. I do.
The love of my life is alive with an attractive boyfriend in Dublin.
What a joke life. I am John Self, she is Martina, and it does
mean something Jack, you bastard, how could you say it didn’t.
Imagine a plane. There are ten people on it. There is no
pilot, it drives itself, this plane of mine. She isn’t on the plane.
She avoids trouble effortlessly, like wind. She has flown over
sixty times in her life, she tells me – I have known her two months.
But imagine a plane. There are ten people on it. They are
all thinking about her, they all love her, these people, on the plane.
Zoom! I board it, a nomad with a glass heart,
fascinated by the tiny Coke cans, fascinated by you,
but not hurt, at all, because everything is a mystery,
and regret only a chemical, definitely not divine,
not Godmade, certainly not. We will definitely not be
reunited in Heaven I say, out loud, weeping.
Gosh! I am your mother, I am so sorry, for being
clinically insane, I know it has made your life very
hard but I love you. I am so fractured and you used
to be so frightened for me but when I last
called you barely seemed to care or hear me because you
don’t live in LA anymore, you don’t live and love in here anymore.
I am still your mother, I wanted so badly to be alive and
well, I gave up smoking, I gave up God, I quit my
seven figure salary to play with you in the pool and
coach you to side with me in the upcoming divorce and
now I live in a cupboard, in a secret house, in a film,
or at least it sounds like a film. I worry I am in a film.
Honk! I am your step-mother. I am so tall and silver,
you are a child to me, you know, even though you are
a very competent adult. A man asked me to give you a message.
He said: Why did you give that talk on David to Jonathan
Franzen, when I was the one who loved, loves, David?
Where are you going, it’s only a message. Oh! I have died.
Vile! I am the ex-boyfriend, California hulk, possibly abusive,
lover of beer, who stole two years of your life. I would like
to twist doorknobs into your knucklehead heart,
you knucklehead. Two years, and I got one. I wish I was you,
I wish I could wrap my hands round your chest
and wonder if you think of her like I do, or as often.
Turbo! I am a terrorist, a good big noble terrorist,
with terrorist thoughts, and a terrorist mind, and a terrorist
heart, laughing about bombs, learning to race jet planes
through unlit nighttime war zones, the urban centres of moral
depravity. I am a terrorist, not thinking about you, because I am
actually very busy, surveying architectural blueprints.
Oh! I am the grey haired man, leaning on the hotel promenade.
I have thought about you so often. Pulled off
my big grey cock to you thousands of times in grey
little hotel rooms. Why were you with that idiot man
in the turtleneck? Smoke rumbles out of my pinched pale face.
I look beautiful in the morning, sunlight grabs me and I lean back.
Zap! I am the sea, and the sun, and the moon, and the
cold and the night on the way back from the theatre. Shivering,
I remember New York shivering, and also blazing heat. Giving
a banana to a homeless man. That was the extent of your redistribution
of wealth. I am the homeless man, holding your banana, staring at your
retreating back, in love and afraid. You are wearing a scarf.
Woof! I am the dog, trapped under a car, otherwise unhurt
except by the screaming of erasable schoolgirls, and the distant
rage of that man in the long coat with the beautiful millionaire.
The taxi driver is blameless, I ran into the road, but they
will blame him, because I am a dog, a beautiful golden citizen
of Manhattan. Your girlfriend is very beautiful, I bark from the concrete.
Hmm? I am Donald Barthelme, as predicted, wondering why
I was not your chosen fictional obituary. Because, no doubt,
you loved Franzen and wanted to be near him. I have inflated a balloon
for you, full of air, as is traditional. The plane will have to take
a highly modified route to go around my monstrous balloon. I do not
mind, it signifies my love; strong, unyielding, fresh ripe and crisp.
Lastly! I am the taxi driver, in my yellow automobile,
pretending I am in the movie ‘Taxi Driver,’ pretending this dog
was a big sinner. I did not see you defending me but I loved you for it,
and I followed you to breakfast, where you ate extensively, and poured
your own waffles. I sobbed for never having had a love like you, and went home
to my wife, who I do love, but less, and beat her, for not being you.
This plane ride is my magnum opus. There are only ten seats, just
enough, but you have sat in all of them before. Your smell, sense,
remains, and is beloved by every sit-er-down-er in this titanium ghost.
Oh ghost! Carry us into the sky, we don’t care if we die, we just
want to look down at Manhattan again, at beautiful Nancy, Rudy
Giuliani’s city, which is glowing with intention and the promise of biscuits.
When they come to save
your life, they don’t
care if you are black
or white. They
To save you.
The plane has been taken over by a hostile entity, a terrorist,
intent on fire and brimstone, intent on chaos and nonsense.
He claims, in between thumping buttons, that he does not
miss you, that he doesn’t even remember your name, and
that we are doomed, and would we please stop bringing you up.
The nomad with his glass heart eats hot penne and sighs,
plasters on a sleeping mask and sees you in the dark, lifting
your shift, your gorgeous breasts tumbling onto your chest.
There is no God, the nomad says, to push us back together,
or to answer my prayers telling me you are inevitable, and real,
and that you are coming back. I have no reason to think you are
coming back. Is there a church on this plane, he asks, but there
is not, and he is destitute, that poor nomad man. There is more than
curiosity in him, there is real love, pure memory. He eats penne
but he thinks of Thai soup. Of plane rides coming to you directly.
You waiting by the barrier, smiling at me, holding out your hands.
Oh my god! I will break, I will rip apart from the pain of you.
Me: wearing a burgundy sweater. You: a jumper, and beautiful eyes.
Throwing my arms round you in customs, my jumping lips,
your beautiful body tight to mine, knowing I was yours and you
were mine, forever, no question. The post-it note says ‘One promise
for forever’. Together forever, no question. Just have to get over the
hump (the hump is forever, and ending, just mentioning). Eight fifteen.
Trailing you out of the airport into the street, you insist we should
go to the Metro but I wait and stop and walk awhile, shout horribly
into the money ghetto, I am in America, on a street with yellow cabs,
a terrible street but I am the milky white moon and the look in your
eyes is so in love and those terrible great big eyes imploring me
back into the Metro and I kiss you and hold your slim waist ardently.
The plane is flying towards you skilfully, the terrorist trained to spot you
from the sky. You are back in New York, look at you, face pressed against
the glass panel of the World Trade Centre where your father worked. Is
there a pull towards these fabricated people? Step-mother, mother, dog,
ex-lover, taxi-driver, Donald, nomad, homeless banana, promenade-leaning
grey haired cloud cover. We all love you, and so do I, a God riding the wings
of the plane, navigation terror. New York looks good and big from a
fearsome turbo jet. New York looks resplendent and gorgeous from a
wild turbo jet. World Trade Centre looms, you framed in the window,
a picture of fright and resignation, of OCD and chanting. Our eyes lock
I assume, you know me and I you, is this the meaning of terrorism? The plane
falters, loses fuel, spins in the air, and misses the WTC with sickening nearness.
Crash into the ground, wild grit flaming out, all lost except for me,
crouching in the wreckage, a golem, clothes gone in numerous explosions.
You, a rushing figure, me, a survivor, clutch me deeply, let me inhale
this familiar musk, the smoke and smog cannot drown out ritual
perfumes, and look at that tower, so big, so strong, so undamaged by
our plane, our unsuccessful mercy mission against your sad silhouette.
I have recurring nightmares like this, laying in the twisted metal, the yellow
cabs blown to smithereens, or atoms (which they were already), you
bending over me, asking how I got here, how I had impossibly survived.
The broken bodies of our associates lay strewn about, your eyes glaze
over the image of your shattered mother, who you have not called in
several months. Do you remember the hotel? Because I remember
the hotel. I imagined Nick Cave was across the hall, another memory
mixed in with the rest, incendiary remembering, I am Mark Kozelek walking
into the hallway with you on my back, and Nick Cave and Arthur stand
waiting to ask me who I am, but I am, of course, Mark Kozelek, and tell
them so, and Arthur points to you on my back and says ‘who is that’ and
I tell him your name, I say to him, ‘Arthur, her name is’ but a plane explodes.
This is real, not a poem or a dream. The ten bodies lay in the street, you
survey them all, the explosions continue, jet fuel melts steel beams.
‘George Bush’, you say, ‘did 9/11’, and then, with the velvety sensation
of a theist you cup my cheek and say ‘why are you crying, there’s no need,
I’ll be there soon, alive and well, knocking on your door, holding all the
instruments you need to resurrect your life, and me’. Then you die.
Now what? New York is still beautiful but night glistens on every surface,
you lay with your mother in the husk of a beautiful plane, I go back to
your hotel room twenty three thousand miles away and lay down restlessly,
arms tired from the swim, near to the sea, which grins, glows and tosses.
We have moved from memory to dream, a world unlived, a marriage unfulfilled,
when we broke up I had not had sex with you for half a year, or longer (that
part is true). I fear the coming of the rust, your face which springs up,
ironic distance dissipating in your smile (which I miss desperately by the way), monumentally exploding champagne all over, a tower of brioche rolls
falling into the aisles, the nomad’s penne, which I finish, leave aside on a
dresser. No woman can compare, least of all any of mine, with you and
doughnuts and coffee and a bagel and your warm fabric hug and my constant
sobbing, because I knew that it must end. That night spent in the middle
of London, drinking soup, you were ill, we kissed and talked quietly, and I
knew what it felt like to be alive, not faking pleasure but enmeshed in it,
really there, living, breathing, swallowing, looking into your face which
stared and talked at me with recognition, quiet gossip, the suburbia of white
tiling, your lovely lips jutting out towards me, finishing a joke, sparkling.
I went home to bed not in a plane, or on a train, but rather in a taxi cab,
thinking all the while of your disappearing form, the familiar lobby, your doorman
who I joked with often and knew me as your boyfriend. Talking to your father
on the telephone, who laughed at my jokes, and I at his. I nearly drift off in
the cab, briefly certain it would, could, last forever, that the fear was unnecessary,
just my paranoia, no basis in it, just a worry I could bat away – dismiss, easily,
knowing as I knew, and know, that we loved, and love, each other, ardently,
that in dying you will be there, and that if you are not, I am not dying. Who
would I call if I were terminal? It would be you. Only the promise of death
would entreat me to send another flaming email. Lob the old molotov into
our shed and then walk into the shed and sit down in the shed and browse
the contents of the shed as the flames tickle the jet fuel canisters, in the shed.
Sorry for misbehaving in the theatre – but I have apologised enough for that.
We are in a relationship, the soup is eaten, and I am laying down my head
for sleep. I dream instantly, dear Narcissus, staring into the blue of the sea,
my beautiful strange face vibrating in the shining waves. There is a hand
on my shoulder, pulling me away, but the face is too captivating, both eyebrows
mine, both eyes recognisable as my own. Another face joins me, looming
over my shoulder, white white head, your lovely face, smiling, laughing at me,
the hand increases its pressure and I turn, break the spell, the gaze, I in
the ocean vanishing, crying out but sucked under, drowning, water in my
lungs as I watch with glassy eyes you kiss that girl. A hand around the nape of
your neck, your lips grazing the side of my face, kind eyes – incredibly kind,
and quick to apologise. We are surrounded by trees, green foliage, the most
beautiful evergreens in the middle of winter. ‘I love you’, I say, truthfully,
as you nod and smile, laugh and nestle into my warm hands. ‘I love you more
than anyone and everyone in the world’ she says, truthfully. A plane cruises
overhead, invisible from the seaside dream, and I imagine this love is
still salvageable, still as real now as ever, still big and beautiful and bright.
‘Rachel’, I say, which is your name, and you kiss me vibrantly, your brain
thumping in your head, inches from mine, eyes closed, imploring me not to wake up.