The title of this piece is borrowed from the chapbook
I Watch The Human by Laurie Weeks (New Herring Press).
WE STRONGLY FELT THE MESSAGE BROADCAST BY HER HAIR,
STUFF LIKE EVERYTHING’S DEAD I’M MONSTROUS
"Devastating Wildfire Jumps Columbia River,", quilt detail. Amy Subach, 2019
Carmen wasn’t sold on all the tropes. She was a tight rope walker always leaking over the edge. Every edge. She had no edges. Tonight she wanted a gush relationship. The phrase clicked through her mind with near-obsessive ease, though she definitely didn’t know what it meant. Early in life there had been floods. Her mother yelling across the stairwell. Her father’s endless rattling snore. The pounding, of feet, as they ran. Her clobbering skull. In the morning, she would put a piece of cheddar cheese between two slices of cold refrigerated bread. She would walk the two flights of stairs to her car, the little black Yaris, put it in reverse, swerve her way out of the garage, wait six beats as the gate opened itself, and then turn left. There would be many more lefts, and a handful of rights, much of it straight—until the brick boxes of the city got thinner and thinner, got disappeared, and all she could see was mountain. She liked the curves of this landscape. She felt her crotch tingle as the ground around her swelled. Only for a second, only a tingle. And then the land opened up, she put her foot hard on the gas pedal, she got swallowed up.
It generally took her about six hours and twenty-two minutes in that same folded position to feel really really crazy. It was a stiffness in her left leg that clued her in. The energy clog. So she pulled off at the first neon sign and combed her fingers through the candy aisle until she could find the exact melt she was looking for, tropical or mixed she never remembered. Today she went for mixed: a blue bag filled with sweetnesses: raspberry, strawberry, orange, peach. Only distinguishing between themselves via color and small shifts in rotund-ness. Outside, she’d sit in the dirt, somewhere that the dry grass wasn’t mowed, she liked how it pricked at her calves. Pinch each splash of luminous, one by one, between her two fingers, before placing them between her teeth and pressing down to chew. She liked that squeaky gelatinous almost.
Carmen was eager to understand the central metaphor of her life. When she was in her early twenties she accidentally overdrew her bank account in order to see a particularly expensive psychic who doubled as a reader of astrological birth charts. The psychic had big curly hair and a gold tooth, was younger than she had expected, was kind, though in a sharp way. With her hands roaming the air in front of her, the psychic had said you are made up of so many pipes. Her fingers were clenched and twisting from left to right, almost as if she was turning Carmen’s insides on and off. It was hard to remember what else the psychic said, other than the phrases clogged and sticky. In the grass Carmen got to feel like a prickly no-body. Like a sponge.
She pictured her brother pressing two fingers together and squishing her skull. Turning her into play dough. The memory was in 3-D, she had to bend over into the sun, no choice but to receive it:
Under the bed she had hidden all of her barbies. Today, she was a He. Samuel was home, everything was tucked in.
She wished she could dance around with Barney
and his friends, but Samuel was home—she didn’t quite understand why, but she didn’t feel safe watching Barney when he was around. He would make fun of her. He would be so
All friends hidden, she sat on the floor and pretended to be thinking. The carpet was only slightly scratchy against the parts of her ankles where her skirt didn’t reach. He was so unclean. His shorts all full of holes, so soft from all the bouncing around in the dryer. Face smeared dirty with freckles, glasses a thin gold twist around his eyes. He threw pasta in a pot, but it was brown and hard to pronounce. If he had a memoir in him, it might read something like FUCK THIS FUCKING HOUSE, THIS MONSTROUS FAMILY, MY ONLY SAVIOR IS MY LARGE BRAIN AND RESULTING ARROGANT CRUELTY. I am always displacing my memoir for his. But today it is Her turn. Today she is not merely what keeps the story from unfolding, foul and shitting. Today She is the Story.
And when we make her the story? It unfolds something like this:
Memory, passion, blur blur blur. Are we underwater? What would you like to call it?
I can call it poetry. I can be so specific.
I’m living on the second floor of a concrete house that is covered in raspberry vines. I’m trying to understand why we make things. Specific? Okay—why I make things. I’m too busy. I have too much to do and I want to do it all. That’s a toxic combination. Having and wanting, all at once. Much better to have a lot to do, to not want to do any of it, and therefore to be free. Desire’s always heralded as so great, so golden. The ugly side = wanting is ugly. There’s very little freedom in it. You’re either jumping in its step, or you’re running the opposite way—but either way, wanting owns you.
And you can’t expunge yourself of it. The want. It can’t go anywhere. It’s liquid, you’re a swimmer. Can you choose the container? Will you just let the water beat you back and back and back. You have arms. You can either turn them slick like a mermaid or you can claw your way to a different nowhere. This makes me think of froth, of lace, of a body filled by netting.
Here is one way to be a body: let yourself be hooked.
That doesn’t mean wanting to get anything out of it. That kind of want is trash. That’s a sloppy fish you’re trying to dry. Fish never dry. They’re always wet. Even decades after death, they’re always wet, always dripping in some oil or another.
Be wet with it. Feel on your body all these sharp edges.
If you asked Carmen what she looked like she would shrug. What generally mattered more was how her esophagus tasted after she ate food she wasn’t supposed to. Like onions, peppers, garlic, bananas, tomatoes, grease, hot tea, salsa of any kind, pineapples that had started to go off, yoghurt if it was too early in the morning, potato chips if it was too late at night, vegan cheeses, an assortment of vinegars, the list goes on. The flames contained inside of her, how they licked and prodded at the tubes attached to her gut. Fucking transport systems. Unkind and meticulous fingernails, they dug half-moons into that node right atop her throat.
On the table next to the window is a glass coffee-pot filled with sand. The sand was once dirt. Before that it was rock. Time has been glitching—at some point there will be the thin sprouting of a sequoia tree poking up from the textured abyss and then I’ll know I’m back in the present. Options for inquiry vibrate inside of a typewriter I used to own. It wasn’t there this morning but perhaps by now it’s returned? The valleys tell the story of a kind of sporadic mist: the gesture of the narration pixelated across layers and layers of thin neurological fibers. Perhaps you’d like to rip up the paper and instead call it a mushroom.
Jonny’s tubes shone dull in the sunlight. We were out on the back porch, pretending, as we did every lunchtime, that we could jump in the car and drive anywhere we wanted. Pretending, also, that the back porch was a back porch, and not just a hallway. We didn’t really eat at lunchtime. We just liked to sit together, outside. I would put her hands on the skin of my leg, and tap my fingertips against the hard acrylic of her press-ons. I liked the way they felt, the shininess. The pure color. I liked the fantasy that I too could go around with little talons, such geometrically specific protrusions.
Today I was dressed in my boy best because I was trying to go undercover. Jonny loooves when I go undercover. I wear a big rough sweatshirt to cover my tubes, I skate around the city. My sweatshirts with the circles cut out, so my tits show through. They’re small enough that Jonny can measure them with her long thumbnail—though, to be fair, her thumbnail is her extra longest one.
“Carmen!” I yell across the afternoon, “I’m craving that cigarette from yesterday. Or at the very least, a sparkly water.”
This makes Jonny laugh.
“A sparkly water,” she echoes, her lips pulling back to extra pronounce that kleeee.
But Carmen was hiding, probably under the floor boards. That’s where she likes to melt during most week days. She says it’s because she appreciates the multitude of hair she gets to have, down there, under the floorboards. When it’s just us, out in daylight, we’ve got heads so bald that the sun glints patterns across our scalps. Carmen always escapes to the desert, her head is bursting red. She goes there just to sit and feel at ease.
Anyways, nobody has the right eyes to see it—the hairs. With this terrible vision everyone is pulsing everything to the left or right, you’re either full or you’re empty, this or that. Carmen’s got so much nuance to her threading, none of us know how to properly mourn all that gets ignored. So we cut it. Above the floor boards, it is all cut. Everyone but Jonny finds this troublesome. That’s because Jonny’s the best of all of us at knowing how to see sparkle in a drop of rain. She fans her long fingers out like the gills of a fish as it inhales, she helps us live outside of our piping. Except for when her voice creaks.
When Samuel was home, he’d sleep through most of the day. The whole house felt like gravity around him. I think that’s why Carmen finds dreams traumatic. She says they trap you into themselves, she says she wishes she had a little more agency in this thing we share, the reality thing. She says she wishes she could have an impact on what I see when I look at her. I always tell her, Carmen I see past all the banal shit, like your face and your fidgeting hands. I see you. But it’s never enough. It’s because she’s so ashamed. Like so ashamed. When someone is so ashamed like that, there’s not much you can do other than reassure them that it’s all star dust and one day they’ll find it.
But she has it in her head that she’s somehow less than, like even less than the most lesser than. Jonny was telling me that’s how you know it’s something deep, an embroiled trauma—to feel so shitty that you have your own planet. Where none of the names are the same, where nothing can stay even for just one second, the same.
Before I leave, Jonny and I sit with our knees up in our armpits and hold hands with the sun. We keep our eyes pretty closed and try to breathe as slow as possible for twenty minutes. It gets pretty hard to do, the minutes melt or clog or stutter or suffocate, but we keep sitting, with our backs rounded, and our knees sweating into our pits. Our hands get clammy, but we both know that soon that clamminess will dry. I try to focus on sounds, but it’s mostly drowned out by the low rush of the highway. Sometimes I hear birds, or the yappy dogs that live downstairs, or voices, or car alarms, or the crashing sounds of that little boy when he plays video games and yells through walls boom boom boom haha! boom. Today sounds aren’t bringing me here, to this piece of ground, sitting next to Jonny, so I try to really feel the temperature of the air as it rushes past the skin under my nostrils. I try to extend my belly out wide and draw the air in from the center of my body. I try to fill the air with shapes, I try so hard sometimes, today in particular, that I nearly feel nauseous. When it’s over, and it is always over at some point, we turn towards each other and knock our foreheads together, like two cards making themselves into a little A-shaped bridge. We like getting to breathe each other. Jonny exhales as I inhale, and then I inhale as Jonny exhales. She smells salty—that’s how I know she’s still in her grief. I mean, I knew before the salt, I knew from the minute her fingernails turned blue and she started digging them into my arms in the middle of the night. But it’s good to feel the salt, good to know she’s letting things burst. Makes me feel like I can trust she’ll still be here when I get back from being undercover.
And then we say our favorite prayer together, our words commingling into the pores of the other’s face, may i never withdraw from life or centralize onto myself. may my heart be laid bare and open to the fire of all that is.
hannah rubin is a queer writer and interdisciplinary artist working wetly across performance, text, choreography, drawing, sculpture, image-making, and ritual. They have performed or exhibited work in Los Angeles, Oakland, San Francisco, New York, Chicago, Portland, Seattle, and Vermont; their writing has been published in Berkeley Poetry Review, F Magazine, BOAAT Magazine, Heavy Feather Review, Ghost City Review, The Bombay Gin, SF Weekly, and elsewhere. Currently, they run softblobs, a clay experiment that choreographs queer connection through elemental touch, and coordinate 20 lines a day, a durational daily writing collaboration across sixteen artists. Together with Noelle Armstrong they host mellow drama, a humidly intimate poetry radio show on KCIA.