Writing Is an Aid to Memory
Last fall, Bay Area gem Krupskaya published Stephanie Young’s third book Ursula or University, and City Lights published my first book Here Come the Warm Jets. Inspired by the good timing, Stephanie and I decided to take our books on the road, Thelma & Louise style but without all the trauma and horror. Having successfully ventured together to unruly climes before, we were confident or foolish enough to believe we could survive eight readings in ten days on the east coast. And here we are, a few months later, after planes, trains, subways, buses, and automobiles—still extant.
Stephanie and I came home exhausted and very chatty. We returned to our jobs, our routines. We experienced some separation anxiety. We made the kind of utopian plans you make after traveling—remake our lives! stop working so much! build a commune! move to Mexico! etc., etc. We mostly haven’t accomplished much in the upend-your-life department, but we did do some writing. As a record, as a testament, as a way to remember what we learned and unlearned and shared and thought and felt, we collaboratively wrote this shared diary.
We should have brought cologne. Should have left the green sweater at home. Didn’t need those blue tights, that gray skirt, the Baldwin novel, Keston’s Odes. The second pair of shoes. Where’s Waldo cap. All I need in this life of sin is what the trees did. And quilt-covered sofabeds. Substitute kittens, 4-person dance parties, Thelma and Louise jokes—these are a few of—milk thistle leaks in my pocket.
Marcy claims we made loud banging noises and dented the floor. We craft a response at the bar in Northampton and never hear from her again. Otherwise the beds fold out beautifully, Laura’s from Ikea, the air mattress in Mat’s office, Squirrel’s paw under the door at Karl and Kari’s. Pillow talk. Giggling. Chris says Mark and Douglas slept in that room too which seems impossible but I guess one of them slept on the floor. I accidentally leave my face soap in the shower, my toothbrush. I get two in return, the generosity of friends & strangers, so we go on going on being alive. The street by Jen and Chris feels a lot like Piedmont. King of Jeans. A woman kneels half naked before a shirtless man. Kate when she was in town didn’t want to get any closer to that building, it seemed haunted, or demonic, the curse about the statue and sports, the superstition of Philadelphia. Livability, brick. Train line a U dissected by a sharp perpendicular. At the right angle it looks like the horse is peeing on someone’s head. I can’t remember who. The kids are exhausted, the kids are twins. Cucumber basil cream cheese sandwich. The Mat Laporte by Brenda Whiteway. Do you want toast. It’s not Talk Talk on the radio it’s Twin Shadow. Jason’s entire person is emollient. Oysters on the east coast are maybe too big, or chewy, though I don’t mind the brine. Rose worked the kitchen for something like 70 years. The chef. Since 1912. She had a baby upstairs one day and started in the kitchen the next. It seems remarkable the men refer to Rose as chef. Why. Hooks at the bar where bags of oysters hung. Dirty curtains above the cherub. Something about the mob. White tablecloths on banquet tables. Not impressing another boy who brings up Sonbert. Laughing with Julia’s partner. Los Angeles. Workers commuting from Philadelphia to NYC. Livability quotients.
Take half of this and curl up next to the wall and call me when it’s dawn or dusk. Where you never have to go without a Verizon store. Kale is everywhere. In Washington D.C., in Buffalo. Everybody’s boyfriend now, but he was my poet first. The embassy district making a show of diplomacy. We see at least two exes and talk to one. The former almost lover. The possible future lover, the other others, those who will never be. Writing on her hand in blue ink. Writing in his notebook with a limp pen. The kiss goodbye. The last time, the first time. It’s 7th grade. It’s our 30s. We’ve only a year left. We’re already dead. We miss the train, we don’t miss the train. We learn the proper way to line up. We talk too loudly of sex in the morning, sex on the weekend. We laugh too loudly in front of the LED screen, too wildly at the bar. Does he hate us? I think he hates me? Why’d she give me that look? Is there something in my teeth? Is it all over my face? If you wear a skirt I feel like a boy. Does this outfit make me look like a clown? A wasp? A spider? Impossible to imagine the cold outside when steam spits so hot from the pipe. Stephanie loses her wallet, Stephanie doesn’t lose her wallet. Alli’s inability to read a map. The blinking blue pin, the disappearing tumblr post. We miss the news cycle on the crack-smoking mayor of the city we’re headed for.
Friends in New York are optimistic about de Blasio. We talk about de Blasio’s son. The article said “post-racial,” as if. We walk through the park and accidentally find Unnameable Books. We hide a little in the stacks and laugh. It’s a real bookstore. Advance copy of the Creeley letters for $15 I should have bought but couldn’t fit in my suitcase. Kale at the bar. Roti with the bone in. Rasta Pasta. Poutine. Pig tails before the reading. Tortellini pizza after. The jumbo slice that freaked us out. Antonio makes fritatta with fried potato slices for the crust. Espresso makers at home. Beans and Kale are not everywhere together on the road, but Brenda makes enchiladas with beans makes Alli happy. “On the road again / Like a band of gypsies we go down the highway / We're the best of friends / Insisting that the world keep turning our way / And our way / is on the road again. / Just can't wait to get on the road again. / The life I love is makin' music with my friends”
Dufferin is the busiest line we go there with suitcases at 4:00 when kids get out of school. The most friendly. Mobbing it, jovial beyond the yellow line, I’m almost holding the driver’s arm, eating tic tacs. Alli’s down in the stairwell. Ducking so he can see the mirror. Someone from Australia. People step off momentarily so we can drag luggage off the bus. No one pushes or yells.
I don’t play conversation ping pong very well at the bar for days think stupid thoughts, anxiety, worry, care, envy, what’s it called when you shrink back endlessly? In Buffalo we sit down and immediately whisper to Amanda PLEASE DON’T START WITH THE QUESTION ABOUT LOVE. In Buffalo the white man who pulled the knife on the black man wanders away, in Buffalo they cuff the black man and put him in the car. In Buffalo the wandering drunks are almost a riot. In Buffalo Divya asks about traveling together and I say there are some things I’m not comfortable saying in public. We list them then, the man in DC who told Stephanie to crystallize her message, the man in New York who told Alli her poems are good but she should get smaller glasses, the man who brushed my bangs back and told me I had a year.
I had a headache for three days then it went away. Vitamin juice in the morning. Ice massage on our eyes. We thought John was at work. Standing at the sink ice water streaming down faces. I ask does this really work because it’s torture. Falling down on the job. Early 20s lesbianism means I don’t know about eye shadow. Bad advice about dating men. “But I don’t want to go to the mall.” When you go to the special collections, they wheel out all the things you’ve made. Manila envelopes on a metal cart. “Like an FBI file.”
All along the coast, the Kill List. A pill box, a Jack in the Josef depressed the latch, not even very hard. Press down and it springs open, a clown pops out, someone saying it’s not as if rich people can’t do good things! Mostly nobody contests the rich, it’s the idea of comfort that upsets us everybody explaining their living situation, their bills, their debt, their friend’s living situation, bills, debt. We recite the provocations, the Boston Globe, family at the dinner table pounding their fists or drinking too much wine or standing in the vestibule until the managing editor comes out and says something. Asked if I’m comfortable being comfortable next to other comfortables who hold 6 figures. On the phone she says if it’s not about the global it doesn’t matter, it’s nothing, right? On the sidewalk she says she doesn’t want to give it more of something. On the sidewalk I say something about the attention economy. On the sidewalk something about the exoskeleton of response, how it comes fully loaded, builds itself, magic sea monkeys and we’re the water, explaining my living situation, bills, debt. I say social practice poet. I’m trying on these outfits. On the sidewalk. With these exoskeletons. Of response. Popped a zit.
At the Mike Kelley show there’s lumps under blankets. Pay for your pleasure. The purple walls are hot. One is not allowed to walk through a toilet stall installation but in the penultimate room forced into tunnels crawling towards a peep show, was it goonies, we refused. Couldn’t go into the basement either. So many attendants, so many rooms. Everything’s a peep show. One slumps against the wall next to the requisite donation stand for victims’ rights, stocking cap droops, pooched red lips, scary clown working the phone. Is the attendant the requisite outsider art exhibit. Outside the basement another quietly spits or coughs or slurps something wet into a napkin or handkerchief. It’s dark outside when we emerge. Lumps under blankets. “I thought California would be different” over and over again.
Return and the light in California is diffuse, or the light in California is grainy, or the light in California is abstract, like a painting by a California painter. The light in California is filtered or a different particulate tonality another hemisphere another latitude. In-flight magazines. She orders a ginger ale so I order a ginger ale. It’s the wrong thing. For the second time I take the center seat because I’m too wimpy to stand up for myself about where I’ll sit. I want her to like me. I want to help him with this tomato juice. I begin to write down my memoirs but fall almost immediately asleep. Wake up not knowing whether we’re in the air or on the ground the hum of the engine surrounds. But it’s fine. It turns out fine. Katy holds me tight after the reading I almost cried again but didn’t. It’s just what I need. She says the stars are right. She says the energy is strong. She’s like a mom from Cleveland. Making jokes about it. She’s a person in a female body at the bar I’m grateful. When I make toast Jess asks if I’ll be her mom. I don’t answer. Confused in those relations. Dance aerobics yoga and the floor is wet. We blow the amp the other speaker other machines. Maybe it’s too late to hear the non-remix version of Bandz a Make Her Dance, maybe it’s too late for un-ironic Kells to light up the afterparty. Maybe it’s too late to go to the moon. All along the coast. A triathalon. One toe in the city, another somewhere else. The dilapidated city which, in its decline, feels country. The city with its resistances to gentrification, sometimes. Sometimes its juice shops and curated bookstores. Buses trains and automobiles. How did they let us drive away with this huge hulking thing? We read the horoscopes. We believe them. Deep love for the transportation corridor. In the quiet car on the train through New Jersey, through the swamp, Robert Smithson and Nancy Holt run through my mind, through Yedda, what Yedda wrote I mean they don’t run they walk, Nancy first, falteringly, “into that clump right there, directly in, it’s ok,” reminding myself to think about it later, again, more, the swamp, the film, the filming, the reportage, the maps, going right into the clumps, the quiet car, how we forgot we were inside it.
Alli Warren was born in Los Angeles. In her poems, Warren explores themes of social, economic, and personal desire. Describing Warren’s debut collection Here Come the Warm Jets as “self-reflective, interestingly interrogative, and a lot of fun,” in a 2013 Booklist review, Mark Eleveld noted that the book “places the reader...