may day replay
[2 may 2010]
The expressions on these faces are usually frozen in place, mostly limited to a handful of permutations. So much that we could convey with these complex muscular interactions. The rest of my life for you in a wink and a grin, the universe through a raised eyebrow, my lips curving, a night of sin. Yet these dull faces move so predictably from one to the next, the repetition of masked mimicry. The majority of the time it is a nonexpression, most moments coagulating around eyes, noses, mouths, the opposite of both love and hate, an empty face. But once in a while, a smile slices like a blade, a blink cuts like razor, and the world between us bleeds.
I am watching the young woman rake her black-painted fingernails over the asymmetrically shaved back of her head, over and over, a slanting pattern of parallel lines shaved into the fade like claw marks swirling down toward her right shoulder. I try to read between them from behind, I try to read my future and my past in one gesture, they remind me of the New Wave 1980s and my adolescence, a time long before she was born. I can’t stop watching the movement of her hand over her hair, though, over and over. The haircut is obviously fresh and she is still adjusting to the newness, and I wonder, is moving forward and backward at once the same as being stuck in place, or is it a more effective present? The tactility involved—a swirling and blurring, a fading—I imagine it in my own palm, my own hand running softly over this fine, light brown hair, the buzzed fade and the grooved lines tickling my palm and reading my future, her neck and shoulders exposed, that part of the neck that you cup when one face meets the other in kiss.
There are moments when the cynicism shakes, tiny bubblings, quick electric cracks, but I still can’t imagine a state of mind when it is gone for good. This more than anything holds me in place. I know the right things to say. I know that I am supposed to ask a certain kind of question here. I know how to lead things in a general direction, if I want. But always I am faced with the awareness beforehand of the ultimate inadequacy of all this, and I stall. What is the desired end? What outcome do we seek? What do we take? What do we bring?
What I wish to convey to her is this strange feeling that comes these days from seeing others so clearly on their individual paths, their windup race, the paths stretching forward and backward, the aura of decisions, gestures, verbal expressions that they make surrounding laterally and vertically from a given point, the sets of circumstances, the things they do and say and do not do and do not say. A kind of phantasmic clarity emanating from each situation. A fairly solid lifetime now taking definitive shape around the density, mass, weight, of unique experience, memory, sensory interplay—
—and yet, my most common involuntary expression these days is one of surprised wonder, a kind of minor amazement that escapes unmediated just under the breath at these microscopic moments of everyday life. “Huh.” As in, well, will you look at that. As in, interesting, wow, okay. Imagine that. The moment could be filled with beauty and love, or violence and decay. Sometimes all of them one and the same.
Half my wonder at the situation. Half at the fact that I am still here to see/hear/taste.
Because meanwhile, my own ragged path, my own moments, my own set of circumstances, situations, parameters, juxtapositions—
It is a Mexican rhetorical device, I’ve recently learned, this thing of building emphasis by adding one term or phrase after another in a kind of upward spiraling reiteration, teasing out the nuances of whatever conceptual base you are working from through a piling weave. Is this an extension of the Nahua difrasismo? Not quite—those are paired, disparate terms, thrown together to point toward a third. These are more synonymic, metonymic, a form of mimetic narrative, mimetic excess.
But I suspect similar roots.
A pyramidal piling/horizontalist scatter.
The decision is one of settling or not settling.
But not in someone else, it is always about settling for less in oneself. We seek to be loved, when we must be loving. We seek to receive, when we must only give. The disenchantment of everyday life exacts a price from all of us—we pay through each compulsive interaction and exchange. We pay through absence, through all that is missing in this touch, in these words and this gaze. Everything that passes between us filtered and winnowed down through this hard sieve of void left where what was stolen used to be.
On the Gold Line train in the middle of an amazingly beautiful and sunny May Day, I witness a moment of distrustful exchange: The young brown man reads the situation correctly and responds accordingly, the young black woman is chastised and backs away, a public humiliation, her deceit exposed, the towel pulled on her game. Then the young man shifts, empathetic mode, and I watch another potential unfold. “A lot of my friends get kicked out by their parents,” he says, and she nods enthusiastically. “That’s what happened to me,” she says. “Yeah, but you’re not homeless, that’s different,” he says. “Everybody is broke these days, even the rich people are in debt,” he says. “We’re all struggling.” He tells her how to get to Venice, which bus lines to take, but of course, she is only half listening, it’s not really where she was trying to get to in the first place. They continue to spin the narrative out anyway, the story they really tell is something else, and everybody knows it. The young woman is very large, her face is beautiful and symmetrically perfect, fully made up, flawless, glowing skin, and she wears a glorious brown satin dress with gold trimming, and lots of jewelry, something that looks like a prom outfit—in fact, with her hair and makeup, it looks like that is exactly where she’s headed. The rail-thin young man, first angered when she approached him with her broken Spanish, wears standard Chicano youth revolutionary gear—black Chucks, military green cap, slogan t-shirt, a Che Guevara beard. I picture them posing together like this with a 1980s charcoal gray backdrop behind them—fake plants, shimmering satin fabric, soft lighting, her head cocked slightly, their arms at strange angles. His hands awkward on her hips, her hand, a corsage. “Some of them end up doing really bad stuff to survive,” the young man is saying, as I exit the train at the Heritage Square/Arroyo station.
I want to build the earth up into curving shelter over our heads. I want to lie at night with you on hardpacked mud, walls radiating warmth gathered and stored from the day. These are the stars we will know by heart, we will not need to see them there above to understand how they move or where they are. But we will lie there and stare at them for hours anyway. I do not regret that I will probably live to see it all collapse; I only wish that I could live several centuries more through the decay, to play with our descendants when it has long been swept away. I see them there waving, far down our paths, beckoning us forward with human grins and human gestures. The ever-present forward/backward movement, the push and pull between future and past, insistent and persistent, this lifeline stretches seven generations each direction. Beyond that, sight fails but even then we know the presence of what we cannot see. We must operate on faith. Hand over hand, face pressed to face. Here are my lips, my tongue, my teeth. Here is my offering.
Every day she paints her fingernails a different elaborate, complex pattern in which I lose myself immediately, deliriously, without fail. She shows me and my homeboy her latest, a kind of turtle shell swirl—cerulean, eggplant—and my homeboy is suddenly an expert on All Things Armenian—culture, art, history, whole Armenian language phrases even. I sit back and watch him, thinking, This motherfucker. He impresses her, of course, and makes me look even more ignorant than I really am. Outshined, chumped, confidence undermined in those key moments of initial contact. For a while, I am furious. “Oye, ¿pero que onda, 'mano? ¡No manches! ¿Así les ayudas a tus amigos, güey? This is how you help your friend?” I say. “Competition, or cooperation?” Later, he laughs and apologizes, and eventually, I can finally laugh about it, too. Yes, yes, of course I know Arshille Gorky, how could I not? Do you like the films of Atom Egoyan? He has always been one of my favorite directors. What patterns are you wearing today? Let me see, give me your hand, where are you going? what will we say?
Today is a great day to be in love, a beautiful day, a stunning, glorious, amazing day, today is the perfect day to be in love.
Which gesture? Which word? Which look will be the one?
This sky swept clean, the deepest, sharpest cerulean, denim, indigo blue, something stark and infinite, crystalline. A wind that pushes and pulls, every atom is alive, a constant, relentless vibrating, an oscillation providing us. All we’ll ever need. The propulsive force between two poles, the sun warm but swept in ragged teasing tufts across my face. A microscopic puff of cold, a warmth in you. A clatter of leaves on concrete, large and dry, brittle, this jagged chorus breeze, this push and pull. I push too quick, you pull away too soon—another May Day, another swoon, but it’s all good—
When will I see you. When will I see you.
Such a sweet, glorious decay.
image+text copyright ©2010 by Ruben R. Mendoza. All rights reserved.
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