ONLY SPEAK EXCLAMATION MARKS, Claire Phelan

ONLY SPEAK EXCLAMATION MARKS
by Claire Phelan

To Bruiser: Goodnight, bird. The bicycles glow in the dark.
Bruiser: Is that a symbol? Does this mean you are going to sleep?
To Bruiser: Yes, ha! Lulled by angels of imaginary steel.

Bruiser unbuttoned her shorts in the campus center and pulled them down in front of the wide-open window. She showed me the newest explosion of color and pain on her flesh – a pockmarked purple, red gashes and light lemon-lime. GBJ took a picture of it, she said. His photo assignment was something vulnerable. I also found the purple imprint of a tight fist around my ankle, she said. Your ankle? Mine. I am in this room and I am seeing lots of things. GBJ, you can touch me with your picture-making, if you need me, if you need another model of vulnerable and bruised. I am here and I am purple with wanting.

Sunboy stays beside me in the dark. Drinking me in but piously, like a martyr yearning for his name splashed across a tabloid. He is very aware of how patient he is being with the insomnia and the synesthesia and the things he does not understand so dismisses as crazy when he thinks I cannot hear down hallways.

This is okay, though. I get it.

I can feel the color of his robe in my mouth but it is nowhere near my lips. The bicycles are glowing in the dark, I said, I did not know they could do that. Some do, Sunboy said, these ones don’t. My room is full of orange lights, I am in love with neon lights and I am in love with dusk and I love the love-children of these things and I love touching things with the veins inside my hands. Am I awake?

No, says Sunboy sometimes. I do not know if he is messing with me or if I am sleeping.

I have listened to this song sixty-nine times tonight, as of now, as of hours ago, when I first started listening to this song. Sunboy says, shall I sleep in your bed to take care of you? I said, no, I know I will forget you, and I will think my bed is filled with strangers and their discontents and my heart will burst out of my chest, and maybe the blood vessels in my eyes will escape in their own yearning, and I will cry with blood on my cheeks because I can’t escape it all, I can’t escape it even though I am never like this. Don’t leave me, you now, because of this, you can, it is allowed, somewhere it is written down that mania is okay but only if you are more beautiful because of it. Mania that makes my eyes softly almond-shaped and my skin smooth like water, and see through, and if you are able to dip your hands into me like a full bath or a rushing spring, that means something that I cannot take hold of in my fingers, although even when they are not dancing over a keyboard, each and every one of them knows that they are still in love- with each other- and with the brightness of everything around me. I won’t leave, says Sunboy although right then I have already forgotten his place in all this.

Bruiser says to me, Whenever I look at white walls since you wrote me all down?

I am seeing things.

I only speak exclamation marks. Do not look at the white walls, Bruiser. I know you see those masks, twisted features of maybe faces taking shape under the paint if you look too long. You will let them take hold off your imagination until an invisible mouth, rough with fangs and skin, will be hanging in the air next to your face and when we walk through the dark later, there is no way you will not be able to connect this shivery feeling to the ghosts you know are there, Bruiser, even though you know more deeply you are alone. And it is that deeper pinprick that frightens you – knowing logic cannot override magical narcolepsy and its bag of tricks.

You shiver the way that I am shivering, then, and say, stay on the phone, stay on the phone with me, I will be here in the light, you can make the dark walk home itself.

Where are you, butterfly ears, butterfly flowers, feathers, earlobes, imagining wrapping your silk around my skin, I will look up into your eyes and see they are speaking but the sunshine makes distracting shadows and I’m lost on the trail to Narnia like late tonight, when Bruiser and I clung to each other when we saw the post come alive and flap its arms full of papers in the still night. The lampposts are alive, they are coming together and fucking and fighting in the forest. Their light pulses with each punch and thrust and we have to watch out walking around, that we do not become blind and pregnant with embedded scrap metal; also we are careful about the children of light bulbs, snuffboxes, ivory cigarette holders, and the sun, which sheds tears beneath the mountains when the moonchild rises up and raises its shaggy arms into the sky to choke down stars.

What am I saying?

I cannot force anything out of anyone’s mouth except flowers. I want Sunboy to come back into my arms and my lips will find him even if we are deep in a forest and I have been blinded by some apocalyptic explosion of color – where all color divorces from things and just sits around in air – and I cannot put my hands on anything because they have dissolved into flesh-colored pixels that seem to melt into the snow like dew. I would not be able walk because the nerves that cross in the back of my head would have disconnected, sparking like loose ends of wires pulled and run over and over and over. Even then, my lips would find him.

Anything that stood in my way, I will kill.

Claire Phelan studied creative writing and human rights at Bard College, where her advisers included poets Robert Kelly and Cole Heinowitz. Since graduating in 2011, Claire writes creatively at night and has been published in What Weekly, Danke Magazine, Keep This Bag Away from Children, Electric Cereal and theNewerYork, among others. She also edits and illustrates the zine MEAT STORIES, loves to collage and cook, and lives in Brooklyn, NYC. She blogs at NO DEATH NO SEX NO LOVE NO DRUGS NO VIOLENCE: http://everythingisruinedforever.tumblr.com/.
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