Stephanie Balzer


 

Excerpt from faster, faster

 

Considering all the places money goes we should put rock stars on our bills, not Presidents. Put Mick Jagger on the Jackson. But we want to think of money as clean and so we do. We want California to be a place of palm trees and to forget Warhol did a cameo on "The Love Boat." At the Warhol exhibit I thought, "Hot Dog Bean" . . . do they still make that soup? "Just write the next true thing" was Hemingway's advice so when Danny wrote, "I am blessed" on his Facebook wall I replied, "Fuck being blessed." He deleted it. Twice in the past week someone has said to me, "I can't imagine you yelling." My friends, we suffer from the misunderstanding that peacemaking is a clean business. Almost all of my language functions in the realm of meaning and suffers the burden of understanding. We suffer from an inability to imagine what it’s like not to know what we know. Maybe "suffer" is the wrong verb but when I can't remember I make forgetting a part of the text. I wrote in my notebook "I saw you standing in the rain" but who was that "you" . . .  skinny, shaken, broken open like the sky?    

 

Clouds can weigh a million pounds. Meanwhile we wait for the monsoons and in line for coffee someone says it's not raining because of la niña or el niño, he forgets which, and Jonathan is collecting blank sheets of paper from writers like Susan and David the way JFK's tape measure sold for $49,000. We believe objects possess a hidden nature the way we forgive comedies and documentaries and porn for low production value. Now Google predicts what I'm going to type so I can search even faster, and I'm predicting there's a bird in this poem—thank God hope is a thing with feathers. What if "internet" becomes the first reference for "cloud"? So everyone is pacing, anxious for the rain or to be sent by fate the opportunity of a lifetime. When I told Stevie I lasered off the hair under my arms she said "guess you can't go all Patti Smith now," but New York in the 60's seems quaint to me anyway, its overdoses and New Year's Eve church readings. I imagine even the President with a stray need to write a poem. So what if I promote luxury and consumerism in an art form that's about defaming them in a culture that's about celebrating them? Nothing really depends on white chickens and a red wheelbarrow anyway, Bill said. Yeah, I thought. Poems are cheap. 

 

In Japan astronauts were asked to fold 1,000 origami cranes to determine whether they could work under pressure; Italian business owners prioritize loyalty over performance, and all swans in England are property of the queen. Somali pirates' business model is largely based on ransoming captives alive. Jackson Pollack is considered the symbol of artistic freedom in the capitalist world and there are 15-hour traffic jams in Moscow because urban planning suggested socialism. On Saturday walking home with my latte I heard one homeless man ask another if he was saved, and later a girl busking solo on a violin playing "Stairway to Heaven." McDonald's invented the fish sandwich to sell to Catholics on Fridays. I read the Times' book review about a book on long life that said, "the trouble with immortality is endless." Indeed. Each morning I poach an egg, brew coffee, listen to the news . . . Help me! I am becoming as religious as an American, as chaste as Josh's fantasies. When Katie asked if I knew any good Bachelard quotes I thought she said Bachelorette. Beloveds, I'm trying to wrestle my way to enlightenment through language and it's the most desperate act I know, second to anticipating redemption will follow the rise and fall.    

 

Metaphors embarrass me; they are like little girls in beauty pageants. Talk about mixed metaphors someone smeared a swastika with refried beans on our state capital. When I heard this I was in a museum to see the paintings of a watercolorist who captures landscapes of the Himalayas, adding gin to pigments so they don't freeze. I thought if that were you, you'd drink your paints—blue, white, pink . . . there's so much pink in snow. I forget which museum is designed to appear fluid? We build foundations beneath buildings, as if the skin of the earth weren't malleable. We expect grief to conform to a general pattern: ours was a labyrinth. Only ants and termite's social networks parallel the complexity of our own. 

 

Such an unremarkable evening . . . I remember the gum stuck to the table and our waitress pulling the tablecloth to cover it, but only because I meant to remember, like a fly rubbing its front legs together as if scheming. It's like this—I give money to causes I don't entirely support, I may have already received the gifts that will mean the most to me in life, and I may be pursuing the wrong dream. Rosie said don't have a safety net—it'll make you soft. I'm curious about the surface tension of water that allows spiders to float on top. Rae wrote "all night, the sea coughs" and I added "up phlegm." I considered transforming the idea of "faster" into "fasting" because I was hungry and it was a thing between us, the way it's funny how words with similar sounds are entirely unrelated—the "faster" pinning her hopes on suffering's exaltation—as if we haven't collectively decided to conceal affliction until it finally disappears by itself. Truth is, faith's a wager you can't lose. It's the allure of absolute certainty, like rhyme, a sense of closure and conviction.  

 

Everyday, write more . . . it's a burden, like posing for photographs in a way to appear thinner. Leave the metaphors to Mark and puns to the experts, Morgan said. But what does that leave me? According to Hitchens, no great writers have been deaf because when we say, "finding your voice," we mean the way words on the page connect to sound. It's true I once taught a deaf girl who couldn't write at all, and we forgive Christopher for political incorrectness because he is an atheist dying of cancer, but there's no hope for me. At least, not yet. I read in the paper that kid I grew up with (a kid who in seventh grade science told me I had sexy ankles) was murdered. Stabbed, bleeding, a security guard found him abandoned in the parking lot of an apartment complex, and not even emergency room doctors could save him. He was, friends, Hispanic. We must not say so. Had the night been a blizzard he might be alive today. After all, nature is unromantic. The sky flashes but the great sea does not yearn, and even enraged people stay home in snowstorms. Do not compare any space in a poem to a womb.

 

Reality television is the television of television. We're drawn to its nostalgia—earlier generation's ideas of love and transformation. We transform ordinary people into celebrities, then watch their lives fall apart. Beloveds, sometimes we break and cannot be repaired, though I used to say anything is fixable if you want it enough. In the aquarium I learned about blooms of jellyfish—tens of thousands of translucent babies the size of nickels swarming the waters like a jackpot. "Shark Week" is so Empire, I text Morgan. "Totally. But sharks drugging it up for cameras would be post-Empire," he replied. Before he moved Matt found a fish in his freezer he couldn't toss for sentimental reasons. Yeah, I said, fish are always turning metaphor. I'll write about it but won't eat it. We discussed how falling in love with a cowboy is inconvenient, but American. I met a man from Chad who became an American citizen and renamed himself Samuel after Samuel Smith; now he's avoiding sugar to lose weight.

 

At some point geologic time becomes important because how long are we gonna analyze life and what to make of it? It's all one, long money shot—that's what the Buddha meant and Jesus, too, with his melodrama. Judd says his movies are about what gets in the way of people loving each other; nice reduction even though I watch films. Beloveds, I spent $320 on boots that could have been issued. Let's get stoned like we did before 9/11 when you flew to Denver with bags of pot taped to your legs, and I said don't call me if you get arrested, and my greatest fear was the dogs. If a rabbit is forced to climb a tree, it will. In the hospital I passed a man with a tracheotomy shuffling along in his wispy, blue gown, IV stand and two security guards in tow. Feeling generous, I gave him a smile because I had not yet noticed the detail, time in the hallway unfolding chronologically the way we absorb sentences linearly. True story, I watched a Miami detective on a crime procedural perform a trach with a ballpoint pen, and then the hotel I was sleeping in made breaking news because a prostitute had been held against her will and murdered there—stabbed, throat slit. She had five kids, two waitress jobs and at least one mug shot. "disturbing news to hear right before bed," I texted Brian. He wrote "disturbing news to hear at all."