Monrovia

Walking through Sinkor in twilight, I hesitate to say it is a Magic Hour, but the throbbing fade of dusk takes some of the edge off, the cracks in the tarmac are not as desperate.  The palm trees become silhouettes, and people start to blend in with the facades of the houses, protected by shadow.  You can see the sweat drying on the brow of the boy with the wheelbarrow full of coconuts.  Circles of conversation on the corners become more muted, people look at the ground instead of at each other; eyes become eyelids when you look at them, like people in a jazz mural.  I can hear the keys on my belt clinking just underneath the roar of traffic from the distant boulevard.

Water is off again, but there is no dark stain on the bedsheet that matches my body, so I know that I have showered at least in the past few days.  Feet turned to hamburger by insect bites, forearms scored and pitted by the sun, but I know that most of the time I can cleanse the pollution in the evening.

Invisible enemies and friends you can’t touch, the darkness sometimes feels persistent.

My mind sort of twists when I speak Liberian English, I can feel my brain sort of tilting sideways (that’s what it sounds like, American English at a 45 degree angle).  I think I am getting it to where I can be understood, but speaking it requires my linguistic capacity to lean against the wind a bit.

This nurse…seeing her in the ocean is like watching leaves floating on the wind.  I want to dive into the thick wet ruby curtain of her hair and only come up when I need air.  In the kitchen, feeling the crackling static electricity of her skin close to mine, daring myself to lean in and touch my lips to her neck and shoulders.  She smells like soapberries and her hair is scented with apple blossoms, like the sharp spring air in a lakeside orchard.  She invades the senses, both tangibly and by the deep nature of her soul, to the point where I forget what to say next when I lightly put my hands on her hips.  In the dance of her movements I see indigo and violet, I imagine chiaroscuro nights in Meknes, reflections in the basmalesque fountains of Damascus, moss-covered cliffs under plump gray clouds in Svalbard, translucent sunlight crossed with the tree roots.  The soft pink lines of her lips, the gentle pomegranate-shape of her hips, her shoulders that have strained to sustain life and bring healing.  The way she laughs like a jungle waterfall.

The way she laughs like a jungle waterfall, and brushes an unruly strand of strawberry hair from her cheek while she bakes.  She talks as she stirs the batter, and then looks up at me with those big green eyes, like limpid emerald pools.   Her shoulder brushes against mine, I can feel my heartbeat jump.  I imagine walking with her at twilight somewhere near Grand Marais, barefoot in warm earth, among gnarled trees and circling nighthawks.  In the fading orange haze, her eyes are luminous and bright, her freckles barely visible on her decorous nose.  She rests her fingertips on my chest, I touch my fingers to her chin and gently tilt it up until her lips meet mine under the rosebud tree.  Her eyelashes brush against mine, and the stars begin to emerge over our heads.

So, anyway, that kind of completes what I wrote the other night.  It is Christmas Eve, and I can hear the traffic from the boulevard keeping time with the loud music.  One of our suppliers sent us a Christmas basket that included a bottle of Johnny Walker Red and Gordon’s Gin, which I intend to send to Fish Town so they can celebrate New Year’s Eve in style.

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Mid-Century Modern

There was perhaps another time before this, when we both found ourselves stuck in a small town on a lake, the Studebaker overheated and broken down until down.  We were on our way to Carlisle, Pennsylvania, for a wedding, but now found ourselves delayed in a place that barely deserved a name.  The roadside motel we lodged in advertised a television in every room, but the Admiral set in ours remained switched off as we laid out suitcases on one bed and studied the faux wood paneling on the wall.  The room felt too small after long hours driving down the highway, so we head down the street to the 24 hour diner (Plato’s).  It is surprisingly busy at this late hour, the waitress craning her head towards the back to see if a booth is open.  The rotund Greek behind the counter in the paper hat, presumably the owner, resembles Pan a bit, with a little sleepy Hades mixed in for dark effect.  Nonetheless, the black and white tile floor is clean, the seabreeze green Formica table of the booth is sparkling, the tableside jukebox is shiny and polished.

The day was spent driving through cacti-pocked desert that turned into alfalfa fields, so we feel ready for a chocolate shake and a cherry phosphate.  You pick out some Eddie Cochrane on the jukebox, and we hold hands while we debate how to make up the lost time tomorrow.  I look out the window and study the cars in the gravel lot: a few old Ford pickups, a Thunderbird, and a Galaxy.  It is a Ford town, I mumble.  You shake your ponytail to the beat of the song, and it ends right when our refreshing confections arrive.

Hmmm, meatloaf sandwich? I inquire, looking at the menu.

Nope, you respond after a slurp of your chocolate shake.

We linger for a bit, then wander back to the motel to shower and turn out the lights.  Headlights illuminate the drapes throughout the night.

The next morning, I walk to the garage next door and recover the Studebaker.  We load up the suitcases in the trunk, grab a cup of coffee from Plato’s, and drive out of town past the lake.

We get to Carlisle just before the rehearsal dinner, but manage to climb into our semi-formal attire beforehand and arrive with fresh smiles on our faces.  It is good to see old friends, the ballroom where the reception is held is coral pink, the band’s tuxedos are blindingly white.

However, it still feels good when we roll home a few days later, unpack the suitcases, and collapse into bed.  We wake up late the next day.  Fortunately, it is a Saturday, with warm ocean breezes through the open bedroom window.

Tiki bar or bowling alley?  you inquire.

Why not both? I respond, and then roll out of bed for a shower and a shave.

However, before all of that cosmic amusement, we need to climb on the bicycles and ride for the hills. I close the garage door as you fix your sunglasses on your face, and we roll down the asphalt until we get to the Las Cruces Mountain Trail.  The pine wrens fly above our heads as we sweat and pedal our way to the top of the hill, your polka-dot scarf holding up your hair, your thighs in denim shorts glistening with sweat.  At the top of the hill, we behold the Pacific Ocean and the winding ribbon of highway below, a solitary black Lincoln nosing through the curves

Race you to the bottom? I inquire.

Nope, you respond with a shake of your head.

I set out down the hill, working my brakes as I round the corners and brush past the dogwood branches.  Halfway to the bottom, I hear a rushing sound, turn my head, and see a blurred figure in denim shorts rush past me.

WOOOOOO, I WIN! you shout, your fine rear end racing away from me.

Once I get to the bottom, you are inspecting a grease stain on your cheek, just below your eye, using your pocket compact mirror.

I’m better than you, you snicker.

I respond with a rockabilly growl, and we coast back home on the asphalt, laughing.

Once home, we drink iced tea with lemon and read paperbacks on the patio, the sweat drying in the breeze.  Your paperback is called THE BEEKEEPER’S DAUGHTER, mine is titled LAST STAND ON NEPTUNE.  You rest your feet on my legs, and I gently massage your thighs between turning pages.  The pitcher of tea finished, we go inside for a steamy shower.  You get in first, and I decide I don’t feel like waiting.  I open the frosted glass door to behold your figure like a shot of tequila with lime.

May I join you? I inquire.

Yup, you respond.

After the shower, we have to pick out which tiki bar to go to (Tiki Atomic or Natalie Zea’s) and which bowling alley to lace up at (Airport Bowl or Laguna Lanes).  However, for now, we have a moment where we can find each other in this little cabin of steam, speaking in the poetry of touches and kisses, finding the center of the universe in your body and mine.

Zanzibar 1870

Can you recall that day in 1870? It was in the Zanzibar Archipelago, in a small harbor on the southern island.

There were three dhows in the harbor, three cases of dysentery in the infirmary. I could see your eyes peeking through the jalousie of the big stone house by the knife sharpener’s market. I saw your eyes lined with kohl, your head covered in silk; wisps of your hair fluttered in the humid heat from the Indian Ocean. Your hands were covered in henna as you pushed the wooden slats of the jalousie aside, letting in the moist afternoon sunlight. Jewelry of jade, onyx, and moonstones hung from your ears, around your neck.

The Hajia brushes past me, then turns to point a gnarled finger in my face, shouting in Somalian Arabic. The miniature coins sewn onto her violet shawl jingle with every jabbing motion she makes. One of the coins is a Grecian antiquity, taken from a shallow shipwreck by her pearldiving son, the third of six. She admonishes me for staring at you, the same kind of admonishment that she bestows on all of her sons, especially the graceful pearldiving one with eyes like an antelope, the third of six. Slung around her arm is a woven basket brimming with maracuja. After finishing her admonishment, she turns to continue on her way, and I turn my head back to look at you through the second story window of the stone house. The bougainvillea creeping up the walls casts shadows under the blistering sun.

A procession of Omani musicians clatters by, cymbals and castanets and brass coronets. Several men run past bearing ivory tusks, some nearly 2 meters long. The air smells of cardamom tea, camel dung, and fried octopus fritters so popular down by the beach. One of the dhows has just unloaded; a trio of Gujarati sailors, bare-chested and burned by the sun, belly up to a seaside stall where a miniscule Swahili woman fries up the chewy octopus just caught from the ocean. The sailors talk loudly; after a month of monotony aboard the dhow, going from Bombay to Muscat and then down to Zanzibar, they are dazzled by the sights, sounds, and smells of the town full of stone houses, winding streets, and looping markets.

In the market beside your stone house, there are burlap bags thrown open, filling the air with the scent of strong chili powder and curry. A man sells pieces of chalk he claims have healing powers when brewed into a tea with sycamore leaves. I wander through the market, I see the back of your head, recognize your veil. The shadows grow deeper, it is now late afternoon; the heady mixture of myrrh, roasted coriander, and spiced fish is making my head swim. I wonder if you are indeed a vision, this temptress in the gauzy black shawl with eyes like black pearls, form like an alabaster tear jar (“record my lament, list my tears on your scroll,” writes Daoud), smile like the flashing sunset over Ratnakara. Yemeni carpets strung out on a laundry line roll lasciviously in the hum and moan of the breeze. Black clouds are hovering over the ocean in the distance, harbingers of an early evening storm. You stop by a house with a red door, and you look back at me. I murmur my desires to you, and your eyes are beckoning me in that mysterious language I will never be able to understand, in the centuries before and since. A cloud of swallows dashes overhead, an old wrinkled man bearing a tinker’s kit trudges by, his eyes never leaving the dust in front of his feet. You push open the red door and enter, your eyes never leaving mine. I see you disappear inside, the last thing I see are your ankles vanishing in the shadows. Do I follow? Is it an invitation? What lies beyond the red door, what do we discover once I slip off your veil, slip my hands underneath your garments, touch my lips to your neck?

Anouk Aimée

I crave darkness and simplicity once again, I crave an obscure café where I can sit and sip on something and watch you twist and turn, watch the folds of your skirt and hear the scratching of your heels on the floor.  The wood is pitted and scored, the air is slightly hazy, the laughter and music blend together.  Lots of colored bottles line the wall, the man behind the bar wears a vest and bowtie, the woman behind the bar wears a shift dress and go-go boots.

The bandoneón player wears a beret and is thinking about a girl in Andalusia named Eva.  He sits on a stool in the corner with the fiddle player and a one-eyed woman who plays the clarinet and flute.  The one-eyed woman wears a Carlos Gardel fedora at a jaunty angle; she is constantly raking her remaining eye across the room and occasionally gives a mystical smile and a giggle.  The fiddle player is wearing a black t-shirt that has the word HOLLYWOOD emblazoned in bold white letters across it; he has long hair and a beard that obscures his face, since he is wanted for a string of burglaries in New Jersey.

The male bartender brings a couple of tall cosmos out to a table, then says something to the female bartender as he slips back behind the bar.  Her face explodes in a wide shark-grin, with one eyebrow raised.  I turn my eyes back you you, in that slim teal dress that clings to your hips, as you twist and turn in the arms of a particularly nimble, silver-haired Czech septuagenarian.  Of course, nobody in this dim café besides him speaks Czech, and so no one understands a word he says, but he is fervently swearing to the Blessed Virgin that you are the most beautiful woman he has ever met, and he is giving you, step by step, a recipe for his grandmother’s knedliky, which has remained a secret in his family for generations.  He also wishes that this bar served Becherovka Lemond, but alas, they don’t.  I take another sip of my drink, a perfectly-blended sazerac, and let the golden browns and dark emerald greens smear and bleed into each other.