The Vargas-Vargas Affairby Joe Pan
Another hiccup-inducing sunrise! my hangover loves
it. This Elvis pen I carry turned upside down reveals,
aquatically, a bottom’s-up defrocking of an impersonator—
a curvy starlet I’d like to believe, as John Cage suggested,
agreed to drop her drawers at the lascivious photographer’s
studio (for pens!) only after flipping a silver half-dollar &
consulting the I-Ching. I flip it back upright & redress her.
I’m hyper-caffeinated & mired in downloading pirated
software & songs to the Engineer’s home laptop, hoping
some law enforcement agency will notice. His browser
cache is a brood of right-wing-nut blogsites & android
anime porn. Guilt, rocky crag of our hearts’ conundrums,
will find no sloop to sink or migrant cutter drown along
the barren coast of this dude’s fetishisms. O, & check out
these racy snapshots of his latest (& nearly embryonic) Eve—
nudes that have inspired Everests, I’m sure. O how cute,
it’s none other than the pen model! Of course it is, & each
illicit pic, I’m sure, has been uploaded to various adult sites
sans permission. Eve’s early emails to the Engineer read
like lawsuits targeting some foreign spyware conglomerate—
self-assured & steeled against his undermining nature
& unpredictability, his unwarranted advances capped
with vicious hypotheticals involving her then-boyfriend:
O wait, that’s me! It seems both time & adulterous liaisons
spurred by financial interests erase all significant bonds.
Future correspondences embrace the decadent, & I savor
each sentence, the words unnerving as dumplings stirring
in a pot of starlings. I like to imagine her working happy
hour at the trivia bar, how her earrings hoop low like lobing
satellites; her necklace pure steampunk: a rusty deadbolt
slung bustily about this coy & necky albatross whose sly
cleft of chin reminds one of Rasputin, de-bearded of course,
& upturned in a perfect pout; her ass two clear bays curving
asymptotically along a peninsular thong of subtropical beach;
& hopelessly harmless: she of the vacant stare of a bed
bug who’s unwittingly inhaled a chemically soporific fog.
How can I make her mine again? If man is but the dropped
handkerchief of interstellar motion, a brash indicator
of some ill-defined significance or sequence, then love
is a rarer inkling still of the dramatic forces that first twisted
in metabolic measures our twin helixes. It mocks the mind.
To have her back would be my end’s beginning—alphabet
to O my god. The Engineer would be forced, of course,
to hunt me down. But what fluids torque the body now
will wash the bedrock someday, right? So I figure, why
not? I’ll steal my lady back & write a song called I Stole
My Baby Back & have a singer record it & send it annually
to the Engineer to mark the anniversary. But any plan
conceived in ambitions lusty as a light rain cloud hovering
a forest fire must be deliberate & subtle, an itch on a bruise
for the Engineer. It would take time to discover the ways
& means by which to tax his jealousy; or perhaps ignite
the accretive fuse of his own joy bomb—but then where
might I obtain a hentai robot sex doll, balled & gagged?
No, this bit of subterfuge must resist the easy for the intimate.
Must sabotage his water works with a low-key, black ops affair.
To commit atrocities you must first convince your patsy
to believe absurdities, so I’ll need a plot that stinks of truth
but savors possibilities—e.g., a Cartier wristwatch with links
that could only clasp behemoths, dangling from a dresser;
or blocked-number texts with suggestive, blurry pics; a grape
left rising in bottled water, but no guest; her new haircut;
a forged STD test; a map of diamond claims in Swaziland;
homepage changed to Al Jazeera; ferry stubs from Panama;
a bra hand-sewn in Bangladesh; a canceled cashiers cheque
drawn from a bank near Quantico; a slew of listing alerts
from a forum on meth addiction; the cannabis magazines;
the cat o’ nine tails returned by FedEx; how Eve smiles now;
how her eyebrows arc; how the gait, so girly once—vanished!
All but the haircut, my friends, shall alone appear in time
without my coercion. From a future voicemail arrives
a slew of midge-minded lambasts, like: “You fucking suck.
What dick takes chicks away from friends?” Exactly! Exactly!
& we’re not friends, you folklorist. We’re arch frenemies
with shared parents, one of us being a clear redundancy,
a fetal squatter plucked from the same vitreous ooze
where I for a few glorious microseconds incubated solo,
with a bubbling itch. You were a minor cramp expunged,
& nothing more. The fact you breathed first a complication
of digestion, my legs caught in a knot of a love that would
not let me go, & thus that switcheroo—you cried first &
shaped our fate, seen & thus remembered as the first born,
leaving me behind, a battered rear-view signifying otherness,
having to be delivered from an abdomen that later puckered
& scarred our mother with a grimace. But you with a poor
heartbeat, a whistling thistle of a lung, & so like a milk jug
left out in spring’s petulant weather succeeded in culling
the birdy nurses to lap attentively at your swollen lips,
a theater of survival, while in my own unadorned crib
I remained a serialized episode of Survivor 2, a checkpoint
for ER docs post-cigarette break. Back home in bed Mom
& Dad formed an O about you with their bodies. Across
the room, meshed in darkness, I must have found their
whispered disembodied lullabies absolutely chilling,
a fantod’s clarion call, & hugged my lonesome little self
in a soul’s grip of fear. Growing up, with buckled knees
& caved ribs, you arose in Dad’s letters to colleagues
a sickly presidential star, a genuine mathematical delight,
a genius even, with an aptitude for the banjo & picking
ponies, a core distrust of unions & banks, & at age twelve
the youngest recipient of the C. P. Snow Crossover Award
for Inquisitiveness in the Industrial Arts. Might our father
have mentioned to friends my softball ERA (tickling zero)
or the deflective device I invented to house fishing boat
propellers, thus saving manatees? No letters I’ve ever read,
though later correspondences were lost in the office fire
that also claimed his life. Mom, in the role of perfect object,
gave herself over to lying as perfectly still & contemplative
as the couch on which she slept, TV on at all hours. I helped
her sort food stamps by smell—denomination, she claimed,
being a sacrilegious word unutterable by true Baptists.
The check from the insurance company was set-aside for
college tuitions. She smiled once more, I recall, the day you
began work at the corn dog stand in the Merritt Island mall,
a sixteen-year-old bootstrapper, while I stayed behind
& cleaned house, hid the Hendricks gin, bought groceries,
ran errands, stuffed dirty laundry into the whirling evil eye
that shit marbleized rocks of detergent and hiccupped
half-digested socks, trimmed the line of scrub palmettos
wrestling with the back fence, re-shingled the roof,
broom-swooshed the attic bats, re-filled the ice trays,
& mopped the brow of a woman who daily prayed into
my eyes right through me to relieve her of this misery,
always adding a curt addendum—my promise to keep
you safe. The world is whatever, & whatever is the case.
A lethal dose of Oxycontin forever put to rest the religious
questions Mom obsessed over, a once proud life reduced
to pills & ending in a panoramic kitchen shot of negligee
spread upon a cracked tiled floor, from which I dragged
her dolphin body back into a pool of supple bed covers.
If only you had been there! With your Scout merit badges,
pounding away on her chest, & a filmic cry into the aether!
I filled my lungs & hers with wishful thinking, the only
CPR I knew returning from TV & films from junior high.
But soon her stretched pale face grew slack & I gave up.
Yet in those final moments, I was confronted by a vestige
of the community theater actor she once had been, a Sunday
matinee Ophelia undone by child rearing, a husband’s
sudden death, & forced equanimity. A master performer
reduced to drab has-been, crafted for slow & chronic wilting.
When you arrived home, I said she’d slipped & hit her head.
But, & so. I kept my promise. For those months afterwards
our kitchen table was a sea of college applications; you had
the grades & financial-aid-baiting extracurricular activities,
the essay on Rimbaud gun-running in Ethiopia, & employed
a swagger only J. Wayne or a gangly teen in orthopedic splints
(à la Gump) could convincingly muster for the admissions
video we shot of you sharing mulberries with runaways
(aka, the neighbor’s kids) before launching into a particularly
inscrutable rant on the Poincaré Conjecture & the spatial art
of urban topologies, promising to address & expound upon
certain salient technical issues at your forthcoming TED talk.
Do you remember us deliciously feeding the leftover berries
to the robins at the gate? Or sleeping that night in the fort
Dad made for us out of 2×4’s & plywood set between pines,
when I slipped you into the chrysalis of a sleeping bag & fed
you Fig Newtons & told you every mighty thing to ever live
witnessed its own birth & demise, but that a brother’s love
was unaccountable to history, a secret blood amalgamation
of myth & the divine? I actually said it was the very stuff
that powers stars. It embarrasses me to think of it, or what
you probably thought. What a crock of shit, right? One month
later & a cab rolled up pre-dawn & stole you to the airport.
Somehow my alarm cord came unplugged as I slept, dreaming
of us back-to-back battling Atari asteroids. Apparently an Ivy
called up a week before with a scholarship & you decided not
to tell me. How could I not accept your invitation to privacy?
So I convalesced into my own rigmarole & work habits; debts
& bills I blindly countered with bold ignorance & blended
scotch. Without my “special” brother, I was viewed a loner;
daily tormenting from bullies turned our barnyard of a school
into a slaughterhouse. I quit it cold & took up Wild Turkey.
I took a day job in processing. Got promoted to re-processing.
Quit six months later to do a stint in wallowing. I worked hard
to suffer something untranslatable, unspeakable, & mine alone.
Solitude is an eye turned back on itself, permeating all aspects
of one’s daily existence; it undermines certain fickle notions
of responsibility with lazy self-absorption & pain, dropping
a nihilistic bomb on any lightly sheltered belief of intrinsic
good or confidence in manhood or logic or fairness or fun.
One day out of the blue I woke up angry, & found my link
to you a cold, insufferable string-theory, a bond theoretically
necessary if the world as I envisioned it was working as it
should. We are bound & yet divergent (axis ex-, why) & yet
I easily envision a future encounter, a merging: two waves
attacking their shared shore of origin. & for the first time,
I didn’t care if I ever saw you again. I blamed you, & rightly so.
This didn’t last long. I grew heartsick. Occasionally I’d receive
a postcard from you, stamp upside down like Peter the Apostle,
I fantasized. No name, but always a polynomial equation or two
explaining what I have no clue, but which I assumed expressed
either regret or subterfuge. I rubber-banded & burned them
in exorcism. That fall, I garnered a GED, sold Mother’s house
for a loss in a downward market, & enrolled in classes at UNC,
freshman to your junior. Soon I was co-editing the undergrad
creative writing journal & won a prized fellowship for a lyric
essay on the bicameral mind as Cain & Abel. Since your emails
began bouncing back, my sole means of tracking you was via
the online joint bank account first opened following Dad’s
passing, which I double-stuffed with the new house funds.
I savored the vicarious monetary check-ins of a life I’d been
shut out from, though you must have sensed my snooping,
as your purchases changed from debit card to cash. Only after
the house captain of my college dorm slipped an envelope
under my door containing a bounced check & a statement
tallying unpaid expenses did I realize you’d gone & emptied
our checking. With no email, & your phone long disconnected,
I had to smoke you out online—& found a greater mystery.
A Google’d childhood pseudonym revealed a YouTube clip
detailing scenes of a debauched Vegas trip. Other searches
yielded videos of you spelunking in Cancun, a Jacuzzi
wrestling match, a party where you duct-taped malted 40’s
onto the hands of geriatrics, & an expressionistic nightmare
of a short film (assumedly narcotic-fueled) set it seems
on a Greek isle notable mainly for malfunctioning bikinis
& beachside IEDs. From there I searched out images, clues,
finding not the sullen, misshapen boy I recalled but a varsity
tri-athlete, replete with hotties tucked securely beneath
developed biceps. It was as if the O our parents formed about
you had unwittingly served as some sort of Freudian vise,
a slow (nurture ≠ ethics) squeeze that disjoined consequence
from desire, breeding instead this sociopathic Übermensch
who I saw snort lines of MDMA off an MIT TA’s T’s & later A.
My dorm-mate, a total bore from Minnesota (egregiously
eccentric & fragile, infantilized by doting), kept by his bed
a plastic flat-screen ant farm, which seemed in my current
state of duress a constantly renovating brain, a Borgesian
maze for trapped psyches hungering for a counterpart.
In the intricacy of the ant’s reticular tunnels I lost a week
pondering how I might have failed you, or somehow forced
you into corners where your only realistic fighting stance
was fetal ball. You must have early on beat a mad dash inward
to a place where lying about your (I’m assuming) perfectly
fine physical abilities was easier than facing life with us.
What was it like to lie in wait those years, camped aboard
some psychic patrol boat sent upriver in the erebusian dark,
before you discovered & severed those ties forestalling you
from true happiness & a freedom unobtainable? Was our love
that Kurtz? But why? Weren’t you well fostered? Weren’t you
pruned by sensitive hands? Was the attentiveness & devotion,
our desire to help, so suffocating? The misguided intentions
of monks glorifying an excavated splinter as the True Cross?
Was it that you felt we needed you more than you needed us?
These were my thoughts as ants circled in & out of view,
tending their dirt gardens & dying & being born & gutting out
homes for each other. Two weeks passed with classes skipped
& papers due. Two weeks of Civil War by Burns on repeat. Two
terrible weeks & then a box pops up on my computer screen:
“A friend can be a brother no longer a brother,” it read.
I responded to the message several times, but not a peep.
A few fidgety hours later, this little bit: “Mom was a pornstar,”
with a hyperlink. I could not bring myself not to click it,
& there, hair teased to improbable heights, I found a young
woman lazing on a divan, unloosing for the viewer a twee
expression of seductive boredom—& then surrounded—
dropped into a pit of human punji stakes. I clicked the window
closed. A few minutes later: “Dad was once outed by Interpol
for defrauding real estate investors in the Lesser Antilles.”
& so the forwarded documents alleged. My father’s mug shot,
about my age or thereabouts, beset with wide-set lamb chops
meticulously sculpted, staring off into a wavering worldview
& some calamity approaching fast. I’ve seen this very look
in rearviews, while shaving, from stools in ill-lit barrooms.
The next message was a repeat: “A friend can be a brother
no longer a brother.” “Fuck you,” I replied, satisfied, & waited.
“I’d like to be your friend. But doing so means we must sever
ourselves from the past,” to which I responded, “That money
was all we had left of them.” “Exactly! So I put it all in a bag
& gave it to a young kid outside an Army recruitment center.
He freaked! But listen, what we thought we thought we knew
was bullshit. Now we can start over!” I left my desk & walked
outside into the raw Augustan light, bewildered & so upset
that when any rational thought crept up, I extinguished it
at once. I settled myself. My brother The Engineer was either
(a) hopelessly protective of me, given the secret illegalities &
indiscretions of our parents, & fiscally romantic in his myopic
handling of our funds, or (b) a bald-faced liar who’d presented
more evidence of a debilitating psychosis, & just made me poor.
I hustled quickly to the CompSci building. My roommate, Loci,
was at his post, buried in code. “Here’s your chance,” I huffed,
out of breath, “to pay me back for bailing you out of County.”
(Long story. He’d made a website pitting pics of co-eds’ pets
against each other by accessing Facebook accounts illegally.)
But he was borderline Asperger’s & a hacker, & his wiz skills
were necessary to meet my ends. (This here, this moment,
crowded by computers, the air thick with acne cream & spent
semen & cheese puffs, was where our war began. The first bit
of data transfer, a crack unlocking your computer, giving me
access to your passwords & accounts. & in a search that took
maybe ten minutes, he located our money, wire-transferred
to the Caymans, & returned it back to me. Your initial threats
of retaliation arrived adorably in more or less Moriarty fashion.
What fun! O, & what a lovely year we spent one-upping each
other’s finest efforts of subversion, cloak & dagger, debasing
ourselves further with each strike. O, the liquidations! O, how
my lovers learned of each other by untraceable text messages!
OMG, how I catalogued on Twitter in illicit detail the positions
you planned to exercise on your friend’s girlfriend! O, shower
glue shampoo! O catnapping! O putrefied pound of rindfleisch!
O, O!—the endangered iguana oatmeal! & O, my Eve, poor Eve,
whom I met in September at a Black Keys show in Carrboro,
who moved in with me not a month after. How monstrously
hilarious she found it all at first, two megalomaniacs sparring
over the right to feel most hurt by the other! But she didn’t
understand, not until the false biopsy. Until the securities fraud
charge & raid on your business. The court documents indicating
a statutory rape pregnancy for which I had to proffer my fluids.
The cut gas line. The other cut gas line. & finally, the false truce.
& how you stole her from me, & why I sit here in your mansion
(my god the Biz has made you wealthy!), scheming how to win
her back, because you are a wicked man, & no such man should
have & hold—
Dude, I’m going to cut you off here and just say—ridiculous. This is fucking ridiculous. I read the whole thing, and what a load of total bullshit. I knew you had a penchant for stretching the truth, but wow. Just, wow. Michelle left you, first of all, because you stopped paying her any attention and because you fucked one of her good friends during your ‘separation trial period,’ or whatever. And just because she models occasionally, for clothes, toothpaste ads, and yes, even pens that one time, that doesn’t make her a slut, it makes her a person trying to make a living. Get over it. And get over yourself. Talk about putting someone up on a pedestal. Eve? Really? And sure, I freaked after I discovered Dad had a rap sheet & Mom had a pervy ex-boyfriend (this does not make her a porn star—she just put her trust in the wrong person, which we’ve all done at some point). They were not perfect people, by any stretch, but they were kind and good-natured and tried to raise us as best they could, given how monumentally screwed up their own parents were and how difficult to manage their lives had become, even if they were responsible for their fair share of that difficulty. They weren’t saints and at times irresponsible and even sometimes childish in their behavior, but, hey, they put us through school, fed us, make sure we didn’t end up homeless or dead in the streets, so maybe they deserve to be cut a little slack, don’t you think? And yes, maybe it was out of order for me to screw with our joint back account but I needed to get your attention because YOU WERE NOT RETURNING MY PHONE CALLS OR ANSWERING MY EMAILS! Getting your creepy roommate with the dog-molestation-fetish (your words) to cancel all my credit cards, etc, and DDOS my business website, etc, and make my life shit for two solid weeks was a clear overreaction on your part. But you know what? Fine. Maybe I deserved it. But this shit about me never contacting you is historical revisionism. And I have to ask myself, if this “poem” was really meant for me, why lie about this stuff? I mean, I know the truth. I’ve lived it. So I don’t understand why you’d go and make all this up. It’s baffling. I’d have to be suffering from early onset Alzheimer’s or have had my temporal lobes scraped out not to remember all the weird shit you’ve done over the years, which for some reason you’ve chosen to display here in some tragicomic escalating filial revenge scenario. This is so weird. I want to believe it’s a joke but it’s just so not funny, in any way. And the part about not understanding why I left home—we’ve talked about this! I left because I wanted to go to school. Aside from that, you were much more strict than any parent I’d ever met. You gave me this crazy 7 PM curfew, you smothered me like Dad (I know this sounds all poor-me, but you did, and it sucked), you didn’t let me watch any TV or listen to any contemporary music, so although I was well-versed in classical music and opera and well-read for my age (which made me semi-popular among the drunk crowd at The Charleston’s Tuesday Night Trivia, for a short period), I was known as a stuttering conversationalist and overall social pariah, awkward to the point of embarrassment, and all around just a feeble-looking spaz reeking of doubt and self-pity, so much so that I—and my therapists can all confirm this—that I unconsciously over-articulated my physical appearance to fit a predetermined psychological state of savage savant firmly established and rewarded by my environment (ie, you, Mom and Dad). You encouraged my sickliness. Mom could cuddle me, Dad could dote, and you could rebel against all the attention it brought me. What you couldn’t see, or wouldn’t allow yourself to see, was that my self-esteem was normal divided by zero. And if I moved a hair’s breadth out of that circle, everyone acted like something was wrong and off to the physician or psychologist I’d go. But you know this. I’ve told you this. Why can’t you just drop it already? You wanna know why I left? To see what life would be like as someone else. I was a teenager who spoke like some coin-operated animatronic Zoltar, prognosticating the shitty near-future of anyone forced to listen to me speak for a minute or so in an uninteresting, tepid manner that readily assured maximum discomfort for the poor son of a bitch who made the mistake of asking me for directions. My words held no inflection, had no life. I had no life. A girl in my first undergraduate English class nicknamed me the human air conditioner, because I ate breath mints like they were peanuts and tended to drone on incessantly over the minutia I’d packed away those summers spent reading Dad’s encyclopedias. Once, that first semester, I actually got up the nerve to go to a bar by myself. You’ll like this, it’s hilarious. During which time my first roommate, a state-champion wrestler, made me sleep in the closet of our dorm so he didn’t have to look at me. So in an effort to develop myself, I wander out to the bar across from campus, and the first thing I do is I walk straight over to the first cute girl I see. A redhead, sitting alone, and there’s a football game on TV she seems vaguely interested in, but she’s looking around and I can tell she’s bored. My first words? I complement her on her smile. And you know what she did? She smiled! She wasn’t even smiling before I made the complement, and somehow I willed her smile into existence So then what did I do? I complement her on her bosom. Her bosom! What kind of maniac…? Just the use of the anachronism tells you a lot… Her brief assault (thankfully open-handed) initiated a high-pitched screaming fit (my own). Unfortunately it did not end there. The ruckus I was causing instantly notified a few knuckle-dragging primates nearby that violence was in the air, and each of them, anxious to communicate their sexual compatibility with the smoking hottie I’d just verbally upset, proceeded to drag me outside and run my face into a car door, after which they took turns kicking me in the ribs. All this because I exuded the social suavity of an amateur pornographer. And yes, that is partly your fault, but you know what? It’s over, it’s past. I’ve moved on. I suggest you do the same. And by the same I mean cease sending me these ever-lengthening portions of this insipid little poem of yours. (The form remains elusive to me. An accentual heptameter? Perhaps a doubling of Gramp’s old favorite, the Redondilha maior?) And pardon me, but your choice of Evil Twin trope told via a kind of Kenneth Koch slash Marvell monologue with creepy, murderous resentfulness and metaphysico-erotic undertones strikes me as R U Fer Realz, Son? Get over yourself, you sanctimonious shitball, if I may be so blunt. You wanna know why I never once retaliated against any of your childish theatrics? Because I’m an adult. Do you really believe these things you’ve written? First of all, I never stole your cat. Or faked some biopsy, or put a chopped-up iguana in your cereal (WTF, man?), but if what you write is true, and it seems this is the case, given how what you say corresponds to certain events in my life, you did some really, really terribly fucking things that I should be upset about, and which warrant possible arrest. Dealing with the SEC/IRS that time was fun for me, actually, because I enjoy pissing away money and spending quality time with my lawyers. But you know what? You’re my brother and you’re a weirdo piece of shit and sometimes that’s the lot we draw in life. And guess what…I forgive you. I do. I don’t care if that irks you. If it does, then you need help, if not constant supervision. I wonder what good it would do me or you to have you in prison. Would you get the care you need? Doubtful. Not like the care you’re getting now. (No, I didn’t hire a private detective or anything so scandalous and noir. Your therapist called that time you were rushed to the hospital to have your stomach pumped. For some reason, you continue to list me as your ICE contact.) I honestly think our mental situations—mine: neurosis, yours: carnivorous—might be genetic; a protein deficiency, or damaged receptor sites. I know you’re not a bad person, but sometimes your imagination—you let it get the best of you. And then you go do something destructive, and it calms you down for a while. But you never stay calm! At some point you have got to let go of these distractions, these old resentments, and get on with your life! It was immature for me to send you that note saying we should strip Mom and Dad from our minds, and forego brotherhood for friendship, etc, but I was hurt, and feeling vulnerable, and more than slightly misinformed. I lashed out. I’ve since forgiven them. I’ve even forgiven you for lying about Mom’s suicide, because I realized that you were only trying to protect me. I was trying to do the same to you by sending along all that info I dug up about them. But really, why are you holding on to all this? How does this affect our lives now? How have you not moved on? I mean, if this is somehow all about Michelle…well hell, buddy, she’s back on the market, why don’t you give her a ring? On second thought, you should just leave her alone. Buy a dog. Move to Maui. Do something with yourself. Jesus, and stop with the poetry writing. It’s like some cyclical sort of psychosis, as if writing a thing made it real, or true, or worth reading. It’s not real. It’s you fine-tuning a narrative based on half-truths and undigested thoughts moved more by the music it makes than the sense it makes. I’m actually starting to believe you believe this shit. Anyhow, whatever, /rant, you’re still my brother. The past is whatever. I’m trying to focus on living each day in the Now. My life is kind of in the dumps, as you may know, but I’m working on some things I hope might turn it around. Maybe in small ways at first, but you know, that’s how shit gets done. You do the hard work, put in the effort. Even the small steps seem insurmountable sometimes, but they’re not. Zeno’s arrow, halving the distance and all that, it’s bullshit. You just go from point A to point B and there you are at point B. You know what I’m talking about. It’s not money. People in this town just hand you money for doing nothing at all. It’s crazy. This house, the girlfriends, the minor popularity I’ve enjoyed, sure, but it’s all fleeting. I’m lonely. You know this. Maybe I deserve to be lonely, but no I don’t, no, it’s just one of those cyclical things, how bad thoughts groove a channel in your brain and run over the same path again and again out of terrible habit. This house is too big for me. I hear things. The other day I was in the rose garden and I felt this panic sweep over me, and for a brief moment I believed I was surrounded by people I couldn’t see. The roses were overgrown, like a briar patch. Remember when you told me what it’s like for you? Do you remember this? Like you’re in the ocean, underwater and thrashing about, and you can see the sunlight breaking across the surface from below, and you’re holding your breath and trying your damndest to get up there and but there’s this casting net, this fishing net, that you’re caught in, and it’s dragging you down, and everyday you thrash towards the surface and it’s always tiring but you know if you stop you’ll drown. You’ll just drown. Maybe you don’t remember this. But that feeling to me it’s similar, but I want the opposite. To me I’d rather drown, I think. Just let go and drift. But somehow, and I’m not even looking for it, I’m always happening upon some small buoyancy (I’m not sure what metaphor to use: expunged sea bubbles? naturally escaping natural gas? life-saving porpoises?) that lifts me back up to the top. I’m not even looking for it but it happens and there I am, bobbing about, just lost in this vast ocean. I don’t think we are meant to suffer in these ways. Maybe we should just do each other some small final favor. I don’t know. Anyhow. Any-how. Stop being a dick and sending me these bizarre messages. If you want to contact me, call me. Maybe we can grab a beer or something. Or one of those pour-over Brazilian coffees, if that’s still your thing. They show every baseball game at a bar around the corner. Do you still like baseball? I remember you being a fan of the National League. You said at some point the batter must pitch, and the pitcher must bat, and there’s fairness in that. The American League, it’s less fair but more humanistic, given the helpful inclusion of the designated hitter—a player who bats in place of the pitcher—a supportive type, while the National is much more human, each player responsible for his own survival, and so truer to life’s experience, our baseline proclivities. It’s funny, the difference—one being an ideal we strive toward, the other being a rational look at how the world operates. I think personally I’ve always preferred any help I could get. But perhaps there’s less of a difference than what I’m stating here. The world doesn’t operate according to dichotomies, does it? Not really. In my mind I can already hear you already, preaching about zeros and ones, the bifurcated brain of operating systems, binaries as a source of religious purpose. Which I suppose they are. How you love to tend your eithers, these others, your precious ors.
I am available to you. This is what I wanted to say.
[Service: 11:45 AM – Take Sunset Blvd, left on Stone Canyon to the address below. If you pass the Hotel Bel-Air, you’ve gone too far.]
*Since these were the last words my brother wrote,
I will leave them as they were transmitted via email.
It represents, we realize, more evidence of his persistent
attempts to bend the real world to his way of wishing,
a brash & tragic Steve Jobs sort of Syndrome. It hurts
& is disheartening to rediscover here his unwillingness
to fess up to misdeeds, or ask our forgiveness. However,
we must not blame the carrier of a disease for its effects;
his more mendacious tendencies were attributable
to a malignancy of mind so sophisticated & predatory
in its ability to accept the illusory as fact, to entertain
conspiracies both histrionic & imaginary, that I honestly
believe, at times, he thought he never did the things
that we all know he did. It’s as if he were an amalgam
of what he wanted to be & what was pressed upon him,
lacking any real substantial core. Some of you might
think this harsh, but let me remind you, no less than fifty
people were BCC’d on this email, meaning it wasn’t just
meant for me, but in preparation for some larger scheme.
Some have said it was an accident, that another email
he’d been composing was open & he confused the two.
This is the kind of allowance people have always made
for his behavior. He thrived on our uncertainties, our
hopes for second chances. But believe me, my brother
always acted with a clarity of purpose. I read the email now
because it best sums up the troubling fog of an enigmatic life.
From what I gather, he never held a proper job beyond
that corndog stand, & was known here in LA as a con man
made wealthy by action films & real estate. To me he’ll
always be the Engineer, in that he engineered many things.
(Even his own ending.) There’s not much more I’d like to add,
except again to thank the LAPD for their swift evaluation,
which froze the water in the rumor mill & put it all to rest.
I wish there was time to read the poem in its entirety,
but for those interested, the chapbook is due out next year,
in the fall, & also I’ve included an email subscriber sheet
over by the coffin. Which I’m now being told was moved [<--just a sec, let me
to the back, near the flowers. In any case, I feel the need type this part in.
to read the ending, because one version of it, as you Everything must
can see, has already been settled by the Engineer. have its accounting.]
By my brother. So often things finish themselves in ways
you don’t expect. Also of note: the woman who appears
in this late section has—is no longer—well, is gone.
As capable as apple butter in smoothing a hot thing cold,
& yet as disconcerting as a scarecrow’s codpiece stirring
with crickets—obnoxious, cocky, offensive…brotherman,
you’ve earned the urn of my ire, but I will let you live.
I got the girl, the gun, this gumdrop, dewdrop world.
& you get the prison an author makes of the ingratiating
fool, the pernicious, all-knowing but ill-respected imp,
servant of flask & foulness & the fleeting. You’re a shade,
a neuroses, a dumbed-down dream parade I’ve danced
alongside along this Bourbon St. of anti-cathartic moments;
but no longer. No longer are you my cathexis. No longer
the first thought of my waking. No longer will I be a frequenter
of backwater nostalgias. No, you will not be dead, but only
dead in me.
So I’m off to Belize, to swim with less surreptitious
sharks—nurses even—for my health. Their booze is a rum
like butter. 200 varieties of mango, island beaches, monkeys,
a deep blue hole in the sea like an iris blanking God’s own
stare. In the hills is a second-growth forest that sprouted up
after the first was razed by Mayans. In the forest is a cave
where natives prayed to some Rain God that abandoned them
once the trees were gone. In the cave are the ossified bones
of newborns, each strangled as a sacrifice. Beyond them, about
a quarter mile back, up a wall of rock, lies the crystalized body
of a young woman, maybe eighteen. They choked her & left
her naked body supine in stifling air as payment for their sins.
It makes one wonder if she gave herself up freely, was coerced
or drugged, or simply snatched away. Did she undress for them?
Did they dress her in their finest elvish filigrees? Not that it matters.
Nor if their god was real or not, external or internal, female
or male or animalistic, or some hybrid chimera. The only thing
that matters to one who desires rain is rain. & what wouldn’t
one do to ensure rain arrives, spilling through your windows,
washing over you, this placating placenta & warm reminder
of the earth’s will to keep the strongest of her children fed,
while one’s audience—those who had faith in you, or didn’t,
who laughed off the peculiar rituals, or believed—stand witness
to your magical faculties? Will they know truth when they see it?
What is truth, & what power does it hold, if the rain comes?
JOE PAN is the author of two collections of poetry, Hiccups (2015) and Autobiomythography & Gallery (2007). He is the editor-in-chief and publisher of Brooklyn Arts Press, serves as the poetry editor for the arts magazine Hyperallergic and as the small press editor for Boog City, and is the founder of the services-oriented activist group Brooklyn Artists Helping. His piece “Ode to the MQ-9 Reaper,” a long hybrid work about drones, was praised in The New York Times. He has held residencies at Mount Tremper Arts and the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council’s Process Space. He also lives in Brooklyn.