It is dark inside the belly of the beast
I read a news story, or perhaps someone mentioned it over dinner,
about a person who was swallowed by a whale
a real life Jonah
And this was recently.
There is air in the belly of the beast
You can breathe deeply
Lungs within lungs
And wait for the perfect moment.
A hurricane touched down the east end of my island
Some weeks ago now
And I wondered how long I could move along inside the eye of the hurricane
Traveling at the same speed as the winds
It is quiet inside the belly of the beast
And dim yellow light
Like when morning creeps and casts itself over the warm and purring body of my cat
Asleep on the foot of my bed.
I went to the London Zoo and walked along the tiger enclosure
High walls and netting.
They are so orange against the grey and grim skies of Camden
So striped and still.
Why run in a room so small?
And their bellies expand with hunger for space
And I know that in any other circumstance I am their meal, walking.
It is empty inside the belly of the beast
Pang-ed and unsatisfied, even after a five course meal and dessert.
It is the Platonic cave echoing
And the black hole that scientists are creating in a laboratory in Haifa
And the well at the edge of the Coraline woods
And the space between your bed and the wall.
It is dark inside the belly of the beast
Like a womb
Like a swamp
And some days I am the belly
And some days I am the beast.
In my softest and most precious times
I can understand how lucky I am
to sit warmly in bed, with a perfect cat clawing her way across my stomach
Nails clipping awkwardly into the duvet
Knees angled and awkward like a chicken
Strutting and yowling at 2 AM
It is no one’s fault but my own
That she believes 2 AM is the perfect time to complain
Or announce her undying love in caterwauling tones
As I was the fool who woke, one night, from woolen dreams
To pull her close and tell her she was perfect
And pet her velvet ears and let her know that I will wake up when she calls me
In my softest and most painful times
I can understand how brief and stacked the time is
We have had wonderful days of kittenhood and claws out
Of blown-eyed catnip wondering and nighttime mouse haunt stalking
And years of coming home with a backpack or a suitcase or nothing
To know that she remembers me still and will still crawl warm into my lap
And let me pet her little belly
I don’t want to lose this, I think up into the midnight
As she curls awkwardly on the floor in a pile of my clothes
Or sprawled across a cardboard box that I bought with things for me
Or meowing and nipping at my fingertips
I don’t want to lose this little life
Why did you come into my life this way?
And make yourself so perfect
And so fragile
And so wild
That even a wind could blow you far from me
And nothing but death could come between us two
My cat doesn’t care.
She sits on the floor and licks her asshole
And understand that it’s enough.
All of it, taken as one.
This soft and precious time
It is enough.
I’ve been expecting your call for years now
Both elated and deflated when it doesn’t come
I hope that I am growing into a softer and greener self,
That I have less moments of glitching one inch to the right of my skin like
Why are you this way when you know it’s not so deep
I have collated the mistakes in with the good things
And I am no longer worried about where they stack up
So at night, I sleep whenever I am tired and do not lie awake
There is the future, ahead of me
Like a road
And I don’t know where it ends or what happens on the way
But I am not afraid to walk
Can it really be that simple? I ask in the quiet moments when dread has edged away
And I can just sit in the perfect, temperate, breezy summer
And there are not too many bugs
Can it really be that simple?
When a group of lions gather together and sitting,
shake their perfect golden manes up at the sweltering sun
And melt like butter into the short rustling grasses
And the wind is not too sharp and not rushed, but trickles in a gentle way
Then it is summer - hot and full and burgeoning with the promise of fire.
They will speak in one voice, “We are here, together
Those of us who remain.
Gold and unapologetic and immovable.
Sacred and untouchable
Under this unmistakeable sky.
let’s start not at the beginning
a very bad place to start
the middle of a busy highway at rush hour
cars zipping by at 80 miles per hour in a 55 zone
with honk if you’re sexy bumper stickers and metalica blaring from rolled down windows
this is what frogger feels like, you muse
as your fringe ruffles in the hot dry breeze belching out of the exhaust pipe of a semi
as it clips past, one millimeter from your right ear and HONKS
as if you’re the problem
as if you haven’t just arrived here
as if you weren’t just hatched into this hot and sweaty speedway
with no helmet and no car seat and no one to pass you gummy snacks and fruit juice and ask if you can feel the air conditioning on your tiny baby face
my sciatica is acting up again
for real, this time
not like usually when i’m just depressed and don’t want to explain it to people
it’s fascinating how much more appropriately people respond
to pain that they find visible and “valid”
either way it gets me upstairs, under the cover, and without interruptions
so i’m happy
or well. not happy.
not the opposite of happy, either
my back hurts like a MF
and i’ve done literally nothing physically strenuous for the past week or so.
fucking stupid body
fucking precious vessel
i want to start over again
and tenderly acknowledge every inch of myself, reverently
as i hobble up the stairs, rubbing aspercreme into my ass
or whatever it’s called.
i obviously know what my ass is called.
ass ass ass.
my cat doesn’t care that my back hurts, because she is a cat
it doesn’t bother me so much that she wants the same things no matter how much pain i’m in
or if i’m horrifically grumpy
or crying my eyes out
there’s something nice in the familiarity of a paw batting my nose
and her reedy little meow (not cute)
no matter what i’m about.
i threw out my back sometime in 2017 during a dance class
and when i told the teacher about it
she patiently and meticulously explained why it was my fault
for not doing the movement right.
maybe she was on to something.
i went to the hospital then, because i was told to
and england has the NHS so i wasn’t terrified of bills.
they checked me out
and told me it was sciatica
which i thought was something old people got, or maybe something to do with your eyes
(it is not).
i took the tube back “to my flat”
but two stops before i got there, came the stop for my stupid ass drama school
and the doors opened and i felt my whole upbringing flash before my eyes
and i knew what i would do before i’d even made the decision.
and i got off the fucking train
and went back to school
because the devil works hard.
and i -
i hope you don’t mind the lateness of the hour
but sometimes i can’t sleep at night
because i am haunted
by the knowledge that this life isn’t it for me
i see my future unfolding as a series of days
and i don’t know that i’ll ever get to where i want to be
and it haunts me
i spend my days moving stacks of textbooks from one shelf to another
and i am an actor
i spend my days lifting heavy packages and sorting mail
and i am an artist
does any of this matter?
some months ago, while writing
my collaborator made mention of that story about a person walking down the beach
throwing sea stars back into the waves
it’s especially of interest to me, this story, because i was born on an island
and live on an island
and every time i sit down to make something
i imagine myself, standing at the shoreline, a delicate starfish cupped in my calloused hands
and i am the hero of that story
but it’s late and i’ve been sad all week, remembering things from the past that i did poorly
and things that it’s far far too late to go back and change
or apologize for
and i am suddenly struck by the feeling
that i’m not the person on the beach at all
but one of the starfishes, dry and gasping and waiting to be rescued, gently.
like a ghost, the knowledge of my smallness haunts me at nights
and stands over my bed, making it impossible to sleep
so i reach for my phone to text my best friend.
at this late hour, i can admit things freely
my fingers flying fast across a luminous phone screen
i’m scared that i’ll never be successful, whatever that means.
i’m scared that people are not interested in my art, my words, my thoughts.
i’m scared that i will never become the person that i want to be
i am haunted by visions of my future, and the knowledge that there are parallel universes
where my left sock is red instead of blue
and i have everything that i ever wanted at my fingertips.
my best friend is smarter than me, and better, and she always has been
so she writes back (many things)
and of all of it, i hear this:
“life matters, too.”
and so maybe it’s enough to strike that fine and flinty matchpoint balance
and swallow down one hundred disappointments
and show up: not backlit, or on the silver screen, or in a limelight
but on sidewalks and roadsides and train station platforms
and wait softly as the tide creeps ever closer.
She moved into The Lighthouse a few years ago, after seeing the ad:
For upkeep, cleaning, and minor necessities.
No prior experience necessary.
She was working at a Gilligan’s Island Themed Cabana Bar before that
and the manager had her dressing up as Mary-Ann
in a red crop top and Daisy Dukes, with her hair all in two pigtails and little red bows.
She carried trays and trays and trays of beach-themed cocktails
Sex on the Beach
East End Delight
Ocean Spray Tonic
Just What the Captain Ordered
Beach Glass Gummy Shots
and Whiskey, on the Boardwalk Rocks.
Lots and lots of beer.
Her tiny shiny new white Keds stuck and unstuck to the floor with each unsteady step
“At least I’m not in heels,” she thought up to the sky, and gripped her tray tight.
“Thank God, Thank God.”
The men at the bar all fancied themselves sailors or pirates
Ready to carouse and guzzle and plunder
And stumble their way out into the summer warm night, zig-zagging and bellowing Billy Joel at the top of their lungs, til their growls and belches rang out against the walls of the yacht club.
They owned yachts, not frigates or schooners or Brigantines or Galleons or Barques
And the length of ones boat has nothing to do with the length of ones dick.
Not that she cared.
In all of her life, she had only loved one other - a lover beautiful and strong and gentle
Who rocked her in their arms like a gentle tide swelling
And fucked her in their bed like a gale wind blowing
And was gone with the high tide, leaving only space and cold sheets and emptiness
And a locket, with their name carved in the back and nothing inside.
She wears the locked tucked into the high shoulder neckline of her tiny red crop top as she makes her way across beer sticky floors, nimbly dodging pinching fingers and wayward palms and shouts of, “Mary-anne! Marry me!”
“I can make it one more night,” She thinks up to sky, and grips her tray tight.
And thinks of her lighthouse, waiting.
“Thank God, Thank God.”
The Lighthouse is taller than she thought it would be
And looks completely alone.
She places a cautious hand against the outside, like a child in a museum
Pushing past velvet ropes to stroke the Mona Lisa’s cheek.
It’s warm, and she’s flooded by the feeling that she’s exactly where she’s meant to be.
“I’m lonely too,” She speaks aloud,
But her words are carried off by the wind and gone into the sea.
There’s no one around as she moves her things in - just two suitcases and a backpack,
But she doesn’t feel afraid.
Ghosts don’t scare her.
Silence doesn’t scare her.
The creaking of floors and the clanging of pipes doesn’t scare her.
And neither does the wind
or the raging sea, outside.
She cleans up what she can, and gets her bed made - neat.
And makes her way up, up, up to the cupola.
It is the kind of dark, chilled, and empty that speaks of years waiting.
But she is not intimidated or afraid.
She finds the right switches and knobs easily, and soon the beacon is shining.
She stands at the rail, wrapped in a blanket, clutching her portable radio in hand
and lets the wind do what it will with her red-bowed pigtails
As Leonard Cohen croons over the radio, “And she lets the rivers answer, that you’ve always been her lover, and you want to travel with her, and you want to travel blind, and you know that she will trust you, because you’ve touched her perfect body with your mind.”
And when a ship light appears on the horizon,
she clutches her gold locket in wind-chilled hands and thinks as hard as she can,
Are you there too?”
The first Neopet you ever made was a yellow Kau named Kauliflower.
And you thought that was so clever, you giggled while pressing the name button.
And for a long time,
Kauliflower was almost just like a sort of real pet.
You would feed her and clean her. And dress her up in little boots and hats.
And make money and spend money, almost like a sort of real adult.
But then you discovered the Ice Cream Machine.
And instead of taking care of Kauliflower,
Your world zoomed in
in in in in in in
to tiny scoops of ice cream:
pink scoops, and green scoops, and white with hot fudge, and white with chocolate chips, and mint with chocolate chips, and white with caramel sauce, and yellow with a cherry on, and blue scoops, and red and purple swirl, and the special scoops to make you smaller or faster or the machine slower
You began to dream in ice cream scoops.
They came at you
Slowly at first and then faster
And all the time you were dodging, dipping, diving, ducking, dodging, you found yourself
I’ve forgotten something.
Maybe...the Walkman is still spinning circles on my nightstand
Running down the juice on those double double AA batteries
Or the button on the Hit Clip is pressed against a Lisa Frank folder in my Jansport
Tinnily blaring out the same sixteen bars of
Bye Bye Bye by NSYNC
Dancing Queen by A*Teens
Who Let the Dogs Out by Baha Men
Aaron’s Party by Aaron Carter
Lucky by Britney Spears
Or my cat chews on the carefully braided hair of my Barbie Doll, half-dressed and forgotten between the dresser
Feet pressed into the permanent shape of high-heel shoes
One time I tried to brush my hair with a Barbie hairbrush
The one you got with each doll
And the prongs came off in my curls and the back of the brush ripped off and I cried
in my lonely heartbreaking
If there’s nothing missing in my life
Then why -
Do I feel like I’m missing something?
As I dodge ice cream scoops: dressed in a blue snowsuit, blue pompom-ed hat, and purple gloves.
By the time I remember that Neopets is about NeoPETS, Kau is long dead.
She has a halo, so you can assume that she went to Neopet heaven.
This is not the same as dog heaven. Or people heaven,
You gather up all your Beanie babies, and Cabbage Patch dolls
And have a funeral.
During the eulogy, Kau’s ghost hovers close above your head
And all the Tamogatchis you ever killed sing quietly in an angelic chorus:
Now life is one big party when you’re still young
And who’s gonna have your back when it’s all done
It’s all good when you’re little you have pure fun
Can’t be a fool, son, what about the long run?
It’s okay. They’ll be waiting for you.
when i was maybe 12, i used to do these music competitions
and years later i wonder why my anxiety is so bad.
i remember one year, playing in the driveway with my sister
like the child that i was
and stepping haphazard on a skateboard
and falling down
and breaking my finger
the joke is that i skinned my knees so bad
and the pain there was so sting-y
that i had no idea my finger was broken
until i sat down at the keyboard of this music competition.
all i know is: there are three events in my life that i have no memories of
despite being there at the time
and one of them was that day, at the piano.
my only memory is the very end
when the judge approached me with a tissue box
and i realized i was weeping.
and they shook my hand, squeezing tightly my broken bone
as i sobbed.
i don’t know what the conclusion to draw from this is
even these days i sit down to play piano and i weep
and when they said become an artist
i never realized that i’d one day wake up
with no knowledge of where the artist ends and i begin.