HOW TO TALK LIKE A NEW YORKER by Lennox Raphael

HOW TO TALK LIKE A NEW YORKER ”Lend me your broken heart.There is always a story lurking in the shadow of a thought. My cat, Socrates, was missing. I walked thru the raging blizzard with a lizard on my lips. A rose blew its nose on

my spirit. I felt as tho all I had left was obeah snow and my true love burning beneath the ice. Is this the short story? Yes. Can I ask you a question? Go ahead. How long were you two together? Seven years! It could have been destiny. Love does this sort of thing to you. Shamelessness is thrown out the window, & replaced by regret. I don't understand. You will, you will. In fact, it's a long story, but I spare you the details. No, no, that's exactly what I want, the boring details. Okay; we lived in the dark estate of fate. Not so much a lonely place as it sounds. What I want to know is what did you say to him when he came out from under the bed? I was living then on …. What did you say to him – or, perhaps, you would like to tell me what he said to you. He said, I didn't mean to scare you, !really!, I just don't know how I got under the bed, I feel so strange. You ought to, I said, you have no right sneaking into my apartment & hiding under my bed – and, furthermore, how long have you been there? I don't know ... that's the thing … perhaps you can tell me … all I remember I was sinking thru the snow & rain was falling … and I thought I saw you running away … and at first I didn't make you out because there were so many snow pillows on the branches … then I looked again, and it was you … and I took the hare track & followed you out of the forest & across the stream … Manhattan was different then … God alone knows how I managed to survive. And what about you? I feel right now as an embroidered doll in a store window; and, what is worse, I keep seeing him as one of those first giving a cursory glance then stepping back for another look, into another dream beyond the responsibility of fiction. Of course, I know you hold that writing should be smothered neither with responsibility nor guilt. In some ways Ralph Ellison is in that corner. He learned to fish from reading Hemmingway, the same way he could have picked up points of titilation by staying between the lines of Bataille or Sade. Threads of embroidery have given birth to a golden cage called language. As I look back at it now, he never loved me, never cared for my imperfections and was only there for me when he could raise my skirt & explore inter-cellular galaxies of his own deceit, the destruction of an emotional edifice by hesitation & guilt. For once there, the paradox could not find any space in the box; and he had to revert to – not that he had to, – but he did revert to seeing everything as possible only after a personal intervention by – you get it – himself. What I want to know is, why are men so? That, I can't tell you; but I do think they are lost creatures in search of their destroyers. You mean, it is that bad!?! And worse! Anyhow, he forced his way into bed beside me & we ended up making all night into the morning from the sheer exhaustion of enjoying it. You did? And quite against my will. Not that I am weak, – at least, not inherently, but I hate making scenes. From what you tel me, it mustve been quite a scene, – and I wonder what people in the other apartments thought. It was some night – and when I woke up he was gone! Gone? Yes! Gone where? – this does not sound like a fairy tale. May sound so, but it wasn*t. Look, I swear you to secrecy – you're not going to write about this. Stop worrying. But I don't want you turning this into fiction. Stop it, I tell you I will not. It's a promise. Promise, my A!, writers never keep their promises. Their mind is the mouth of the sea – all tributaries flow into memory & become one, and no prisoners taken. I know you!. Did he call you after that? Now, here's the shocker. That same day I was having mustard cornbeef, scrambled eggs & toast when his sister called. Make sure ur sitting (seated), she said. I am, I said, altho I was still standing – what happened? You won't believe this,….What? Jerry was knocked down by a car in Paris … on the Champs Elysees. What? – I didn't want to believe what I was hearing. But wasn't that the same night he sidled out from under the bed? Yes. Well, I almost died! I had to sit down. Does knocked down mean he was knocked down dead? That's right. So maybe it was somebody else who slept with you that night. I don't want to think of it. I have tried to write, and, so doing, not to think of it. I take it, the cat was still missing? In some ways, the hurts have been too much, to the point where I could no longer rely on Memory to send the right memories to my assistance. You see, I was brought up to believe I was part of whoever/whatever I touch: that civilization & time were not necessarily complimentary: and that we should always write from the last paragraph coming up, the way life is, even today (for me): with time being squeezed into civilization as one would t/paste back into the tube and hope for the best of failure in a world of torture only outer space can extinguish.There are many outside elements. In my mind, there were outsiders in sentences, needing to be taken out of their misery. Maybe. I was going out of my head. Was he mental? I just don't know. And you never saw him again? Not in person, but he was always on my mind, even after months of therapy where my shrink felt I could be cured by writing memory out of existence, tearing up the pages of my life, and scattering them from atop the Statue of Liberty. In all, love on paper would mean nothing. Would I see him again: I look into every space searching for that story of how to talk like a New Yorker and still be alive in a deserted heart riding a golden pig thru the quicksand of satisfaction neutered by reality. They say the voice of a wounded parrot more closely ressembles that of a human being. I looked out the window & there was nothing there; then I found a call that reminded me of the heroic dispossedness of American literature, how time & loneliness are built too as codes that would not be broken as dreams. I just don't know whether what I was seeing or doing or whether fiction could still chew gum & walk between these pages to rescue imagination from the irony of process. I had only to look at him to return to a time when I believed in marinated inconsistencies & the burlap of style beyond fashion & the text of life. And did you two meet in New York? I was at a writing seminar at NYU where they were discussing the importance of putting it all in while, at the same time, between the lines, leaving room for ancillary imagination. So what happened afterwards? First, I must tell you of the first time we met. I was struggling then with a long short story based on actual event. I couldn't have been more than 9/10 then, and my brother was almost twenty-one, because 21 is when we were thinking of throwing a big party; and my father, a bit strict, was working hard to convince him he should be careful with girls & not go all the way & risk the possibility of getting one pregnant, as he would be saddled then with a terrible responsibility and this could ruin his chance of full higher education. Anyhow, to cut a long story short, he came home early one day, when no one was at home, and saw two hands sticking out of the toilet bowl. Out of the toilet? Yes! And …? He ran out, shut the door, and just didn't know what to do. No wonder! But curiosity did get the better of him and he he opened the door, took the hands & ….. And what? ….. started pulling, – and out came a beautiful mermaid. WoW! My brother looked at the mermaid on the brown tiles &, naturally, couldn't believe his eyes – even as he helped her into the tub of water, drew the curtain and, as he ran out to the bodega for a pack of cigarettes, wondered at the explaining he would have to do. Then my father walked into the apartment, made a beeline for the bathroom, & started passing water. He was still doing so when he heard a rustle behind the curtain, parted them with one hand, saw what he saw, & passed right out, this time falling over the mermaid in the bathtub. My brother came in just then from getting the cigs and a slice of pizza, heard the strange thud and a scream of the wounded parrot & rushed into a most unforgettable sight, hurriedly put 2&2 together whch by now was five & lifted my father unto the tiles & dragged him into the living room where my father sat up & said what in God's name you have there?, and my brother said a mermaid, and Daddy said, A MERMAID?, and my brother said let me explain; & .. !EXPLAIN!?, my father said, you just get that thing out of this house before your mother & sister get here. And what did he do? He went to the tub. The mermaid was sitting up, and singing. He kept one&a½eye on her. He flushed the toilet... He put his hand uder the arms of the mermaid & lifted her out where she was seated on the edge of the tub & he was squeezing her tail into the bowl, and held her up as they kissed and only her eyes were speaking with the fury one would exchange for the soul of nothingness, an arid semiology of displaced loneliness as he kissed & pushed & what he kept seeing for many years afterwards were her hands disappearing waving disappearing from his life as from view, and he sighed deeply, and, one more time, in order to make her passage easier, flushed, and started weeping (as tho he had lost the lover of his life). Where's the denoument? We met soon after that. I didn't believe the story, but allowed it to stay in our relationship to, in a sort of way, to prop it up to the very last, all before the accident, and having him come out from under the bed & surprise the hell out of me until I didn't know what to think. This is one hellof a story! I wasn't heaven. Tell me again! To relieve the shock then, after a page of Ishmael Reed, I went cross-country skiing in Central Park and the Manhattan sun sprayed bubbles of diamond beads on indentations left by the sky. Snow was whispering down. I ½expected to see him beside me, but my companions were merely shadows cast from building far off from the center of the park and quite beyond the lake from which the mermaid could have come thru the snowflakes; and, for a moment there, I felt the world appearing & disappearing, and, like writing, vanishing without being removed or perhaps even banished from textual innocence and, somehow, the story would come, as if, brick by brick, building a house, simply the frame of it, as when his lips glided against mine and I felt an Andalusian tickle, and my body, outside of any theater of expectations, stirred the pot of dreams, and boiled over, and I could lie in the snow & gaze at a colony of winter macaws cavorting with monarch butterflies on their way to Mexico; and so, in this ½&½ way, as tho dreaming of regret, as money from a treasury of impossibilities, so to speak, I begun to understand the meaning of ecstasy& loneliness & writing and being reduced to an animal, having a furry life in the city, and, even as reality was falling apart around me with everyone white from the fog & smoke coming from the body of the World Trade Center that September morning, the city fleeing itself, even then, or sieved thru the country & its myth of invisibility, at that very time he was last seen flying thru the air, as a bird plumeting to the abyss, waiting, watching, unable to stop, having to devour time as a shadow incapable of regret & forgiveness, pouring that last tumbler of organic milk from my navel down, and, squatted in the darkened doorway facing the window and the smoke being at peace with Socrates enjoying my benevolence, and yours truly no longer angry with him, no longer displeased, now unmindful of his sins of scratching to death the one red sofa I had ever had in my life, and enjoying, in my own way, our own way, the lap lap lapping of life, tongues of felinity reaping the fire in my house of many memories, and, if nothing, else, finding a place where pure writing & fiction & belief could be chaneled into innocence & despair and I could forget, for the time being at least, the night of ghosts where beneath the bed silent & empty as spent kisses I heard, nothing else but the sound of our breathing harder than his steering rod as the car careened out of control, as I sat bold upright in bed out of a terrible fright &, for the nth time forgot the pain of life & memory & wanting more to happen when only less was possible, and fall in love with New York again, thru language. But you did say he loved to bite and you would recognize him by his teethprints? Yes, that is true; and very much so: but I/d rather have a guy who bites than one who can scarcely open his lips to kiss, and could only do so when mine were painted yellow. Certainly, it was ultra-freaky, in a knish kind of way, which doesn't mean to say I didnt't love him with sufficient hate to last a lifetime. No, no, writing is what one does after everything is done & over with, and the secrecy I hold you to is the very one that is stir friend in the contextual body of a fiction that would have to disappear from itself to be real in your eyes as feelings amok in silence lapping up the milk of human kindness. Ok, I think I understand, but I'm not making any promises. Having told me this story, it is now mine, beyond allegiance, and I have no further say. Nevertheless, as one writer to another, I wish you luck. Thank you! One thing tho, you never did say what happened to the mermaid, or what your father said when he came home & found a strange woman in the bathtub. You will have to read the story now. I have said enough. As you well know, talking is no substitute for writing, and only in the doing is the truth evident. Truth? Yes, don't you know, all fiction is true lies put to bed. To tell you the truth, I still don't understand what happened. Me too! – but time to let go. There is no future in the past. Let's just say I felt as a seamstress with the sea knitted into threads I could follow into the tears of the parrot. And what eventually happened to the gold fish? It became Daddy's pet. You see, in pure writing there is something for everyone beyond the warmth of sadness. Just don't say I never told you a life of many things is one and makes you wonder whether anything is real; even this: where fiction seemed to resist a narrative discontent whose defeat/exultation is depth & consistency. From where I lie on the floor, love is not real anymore. All the dreams are bursting at the seams with hard2forget screams. Don't blame it on paper planes, true love seldom explains; and, no matter how I try, memories never die. I am beginning to believe.They crop up in the most uncanny of spaces and dangle from shoe laces. What am I supposed to do? Leave your breasts on the window ledge as I make one last pledge to be done with desire. I've had my fill of love-thrill. Time to empty the rack & hitheroadjack. Where am I? Where have I been all this time? Where am I going at this hour of the morning? Language kills, and so too does literature. I have nothing, and scarcely that, & nothing left in the cupboard as I empty the scabbard & swords fly like butterflies cry morose to the dose of life impaled on a knife like bread taken from lips of the dead. I haven't the time to do anything right. I have only space to auction my dreams & give away those cherished screams from where we lie on the floor hoping for more. You're saying then, love is not real anymore? Perhaps.This is how we talk fiction into giving up the ghost; and, if you don't believe me, listen more closely to the parrot: there is no rage on a blank page, only innocence.”

LENNOX RAPHAEL

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