My poem Riptide can be read at Poetry24. It's a response to recent events at Pass-a-Grille beach, where I go all summer long, as well as a reflection on dangers that overtake a person unawares.
And here is an excerpt from my unpublished short story, also entitled Riptide. It concerns a young woman, unnamed, who falls into dangerous reveries on her childhood when new neighbors move in and engage in screaming matches.
Home from work she lies in bed and gazes up at the ceiling. Spreads her arms and legs and becomes hypnotized by the revolving ceiling fan blades. For this is part of childhood too: dazing, letting the mind go numb. Her bedroom window opens onto the neighbors’ window, just a few feet away.
So close they were almost twins, or so it seemed to those outside the family. To her they could not have been less alike: she a blonde, her sister brunette, just the first most visible difference. They had different temperaments. Her sister fiery, impulsive, disobedient, argumentative. She a conciliator, cautious, well behaved. Yet she could take on some of her sister’s characteristics when she had her back to the wall, just as her sister could, at times, be not so much calm and behaved as strangely placid and disengaged. Her sister ran away periodically, sometimes staying away for days, sometimes brought home by police. These were disturbing times, for no one in the family was close enough to her to learn about her adventures. She would come back with an odd appearance in her eyes—staring, silent. Later she learned to recognize the look of being stoned. Sometimes she ran off with boys, some of whom were frightening, like the one with facial scars and false teeth from a motorcycle accident who was always smoking a cigar. Some thought that her sister deliberately sought out shocking partners, but in truth she was simply accepting love and friendship wherever it was offered. She never outgrew a childlike willingness to give herself totally to anyone who would accept her. A dangerous defect of character, or a sign of fragility? Was it her sister’s fault if everyone but the freaks were scared away?
She is tired. But when she tries to sleep her eyes open themselves, as if there is something she has to see. What is it? Or that she has to be open to something, receptive, ready. For what? What are you doing? the voice shrieks. What the fuck are you doing? Get the fuck out of my purse. Don’t you slam that! I’ll slam it! the other voice thunders, as the sound of a door being repeatedly slammed resounds between the two houses, echoing off a dozen surfaces. She moans and rolls out of bed. Her inactive body is sore, as if from an intense workout. She grabs the iPod from her nightstand and puts the headphones over her ears. She begins listening but after a second hits the “stop” command and pulls the headset away from her ears. The slamming has stopped but the arguing continues. She shuts her eyes tight, as if that is the best way to block out noise. But she is really just wincing, forcing herself to hear the sounds. The technique is similar to that of warding off stuck-tune-syndrome. As the tune asserts itself, begins to take hold and spin itself into the gears of consciousness, one fights back by singing the tune with vigor, by improvising on it like a jazz musician and finally distorting it and breaking it up beyond recognition. She tries to imagine thunder, a storm that will pass, that their fury will pass and they will go back to making a fuss over the dog, then run out to buy dinner. Since they slip in and out of these modes, since it is the normal pattern of their lives, can she not adapt, roll with the waves?
But these people are experts. She cannot even tell if today is particularly different or just like any other day of her life. She would like to know, would like to apply her thoughts to the question as if to a problem of mathematics. But there is no way to gain access to an outside view. She is too much in herself—that much she knows. This knowledge creates a fragment of distance, a niche of resistance. But she has fallen into a hole. She uses these exact words. A moment comes when she says to herself, “I’m in a hole. I’m in a hole and I can’t get out through my own efforts. If someone, or some word, or some thing, were thrown my way...” The best thing, it seems, is to wait. Eventually the niche will give way to the crook of a finger, and this will broaden into a handhold, or perhaps she will suddenly find herself out of the hole, with no knowledge of how the escape took place.
That morning she had looked through a magazine and read a little review of a book. The book urged people to live in the present, that the present is eternal, whereas to contemplate the past or to hope for the future leads only to anguish. The present now swims before her, all around her. It is an ocean, a cosmos of swirling molecules. She, in her hole, has become a sealed capsule, floating. Without the aid of the past, or a hope for the future, how can she penetrate the seal, make contact with the present? I know every inch of what belongs to me! If I see so much as one scratch, if one hair is disturbed on my puppies I’ll call the police! You don’t think I’m serious do you? Well you just try me motherfucker. You wanna play I’ll play. I’ll call the police on you motherfucker!
She opens her eyes, gazes about her room. A fresh cotton shirt is draped over the chair. A shaft of light projects the path of motes around around and down, down to the hard terrazzo floor. On her nightstand the iPod filled with the music that makes her feel good, right by the phone and a glass containing a small portion of water. “I should drink some water,” she thinks. “I should call the police.” She does not move. Nothing would be easier than to reach for the life-giving glass, yet she lies still. All goes black and the swirling present becomes a dizzy void, as if a trap door in the cellar of her self has tripped open. You can only fall so far into yourself, apparently, before you fall through and then, who are you? You are that which can still call out, can search for something, some bit of flotsam....
This is best played LOUD. Lou Reed's Riptide is far better than either of mine, and this is one of his finest performances on guitar. He mentions Van Gogh's Wheatfield with Crows, but when I hear the song another painting comes to mind:
Francisco Goya, Saturn Devouring His Son