what is dust
just pieces of us
daily we come apart
nightly we come back together
what is dust
just pieces of us
daily we come apart
nightly we come back together
Learning to dream, we breathe
We bloom improbable human
Life pours colors into these cheeks
Let’s check, yes, we have what we need
We let we love and we let we love we
I see me, I love what I see
It was a lot of staring out windows. Or looking at walls and wishing they were windows.
The portrait of a swimmer lay drying. Propped on the side table probably collecting dust. Imperceptible epithelials altering color like they do in real life.
Connie Mae stretched into the square room becoming a piece of origami. Patience paper thin and folded. Hungry she walked off looking for ketchup and eggs and toast. The easy way any meal could be a fresh start: make it breakfast.
The swimmer was the seventh in a series of women in their bodies. The first had been a runner she saw in Prospect Park who wore tiny neon yellow shorts exposing a dark expanse of thighs to knees to calves to miraculous ankles. Hinge upon hinge she ran like the running was the fun part. Not athlete, just human, more woman.
Then she sketched a squatting gardener. This Tai Chi insect, always down low. Connie watched from the window of her studio. There she was bent on her fire escape looking like she might be seventy, but her knees only thirty, tending herbs with her halo of white gray hair.
The dog circled three times and settled. Uninterested in painting except to note that the wet was like the shine on skin when he licked his Connie Mae’s hand. Then her skin was fresh too. Rocco thought so.
Connie Mae salted the toast and eggs and spread the toast with salted butter. Resisted the urge to lick her fingers and wiped them on a dish towel, wiped the dish towel across the knife, twice, then tossed it (knife) into the drying rack’s utensil slot and folded the towel in four, becoming a square again.
Connie Mae’s own skin was a kind of toast buttery color this time of year. Deeper summer would bring it deeper. She loved working in skin tones because, really, the whole rainbow or prism or ROY G BIV however you remember, really, did live there.
Her friend Emily had these truly hot pink moles splattered across her chest like individual bumps dissected from platonic raspberries. And she watched Adrienne breastfeed with deep blue streaks of veins and a tiny purple green bruise on her shoulder. Sitting there like a normal friend, she stared, which, really, was what made her normal.
Connie Mae and Rocco the dog decided to take a walk. It’s a good thing to do in the afternoon. Especially after a productive morning. They had focused. She had set her alarm for early and really got up and finished the painting. It was time, her note to herself on the bathroom mirror reminded her, to give herself permission to just be.
She felt, often, the permission was more to bee. She wore her stinger and stabbed herself in the process. A good joke, right?
The part we’re getting to is the painting. This beautiful black swimmer. This woman. All skin and stretch, hair encased in a tight little tip, sleekening of our unaerodynamic (hydrodynamic) –ness, the suit a sealing in, the eyes obscured into goggle, background not the blue of water, but the lime green of a vision. It sat static.
There were other things living in Connie Mae’s studio. Like everywhere. Probiotics in the yogurt and a happily colonized tub of kim chi from the bodega. A family of spiders and a mouse who knew that the fake banana smell was a sticky trap. There were dust mites and ladybugs and some things that were more like things (too many legs and joints). It felt there may be ghosts but that was mostly Rocco trying to manifest dog thoughts into vessels for understanding by persons.
Shanté was a ladybug. She wished she had gone to art school and had a sense of color that felt instinctive. She dealt with a bad patch of health problems and her desire to express something through art felt really grounded on the other side of it. When she was a kid she thought pursuing art might be self-indulgent and/or entitled.
Shanté liked it when Connie Mae went out in the afternoon. Having the house “to herself” felt good, even though that was an absurd thought. Bruce the ladybug especially would nag her when she’d move in to get a better look at Connie Mae’s work, or move out for a panoramic vision.
“Shanté, it’s such a waste of time. You’re going to spend forty-five minutes getting to that corner and then she’ll come back and move it as soon as you get settled.”
“Hey, Shanté, why don’t you focus on your responsibilities instead of getting all in your head about this girl’s quote unquote art.”
Shanté would fume about this until she starting thinking of it as yet another example of our individual needs, motivations, and fears around expression.
Her own current semi-obsessive itch had to do with autoimmune disorders. The body fighting itself. People not being able to embrace their own lives. It was such a solid metaphor.
When Connie Mae first carried her into the studio on the hem of a cute maxi dress after a visit to the Home Depot Garden Center, Shanté has been fascinated by another shopper, a beautiful man with hands mottled (if that word had a more neutral to positive connotation) by Vitiligo.
The colors in his hand were like balance. In that Chinese medicine way, they met themselves, acknowledged the one within the other. Shanté had been transfixed.
Watching the painting, she thought of eating the paint, but then enacting her message would cause her death. That was tough for a feminist to swallow. So she decided on a dust bunny.
It was heavy and would only get heavier, paint laden. Shanté worked out pretty regularly and was still on the fence about whether she could pull it off. Scraping the nib of cotton across the damp acrylic, she hovered. In swirls and zig zags, flipping and folding, dense dust denser and brown now she brought forth a new beauty. Non-uniform, holding its own intelligence, seeming to move up from somewhere beneath itself. There she was in her new skin, this swimmer mid-stroke mid-breath representation of woman and a glorious kind of free.
It was a guerilla move. And really, if she admitted it, to totally fuck up somebody else’s art to add her own two cents couldn’t be called collaboration. Not without consent, could it? Shanté thought-hoped Connie Mae would understand. It’s what she’d wanted from the day they first met.
look what I need
is just to be Jean Caffeine
do you know what I mean
do you know why it seems
being a girl is like being a bean
being a bean is bleak
listen to Joni and tweet
“man I wish I thought to write to a coyote like that”
heavy renegade street
spring’s dirty snow bank breached
flip a world by the feet
lose steam, make dreams of Jean and Joni
call it macaroni
I look at snow all day
I think of lentils because
that is the size of you now
I am sorry to be such an angry woman
Such a sad woman
Such a neverending snowstorm upon snowstorm
calling all old snow poems
living in snow globes
sick of this stuff and i’m stuck
like a not-special snowflake
and guess what that makes me: special
especially during a blizzard, hunched walking
shoulders round, black buzzard
lashes brackish slim branches
in los angeles i
fell asleep for a while
woke up 35, and broke and drove
gone for a drive
wondered aloud, in line
if it was worth - this - pain
if this was worth putting on pants for
I remembered knowing LeRoi Jones
I used to know something
I used to know
a King MY king
Can I be humble
Can I learn to be
Can I just learn to be
I see a garden in you
Let me remember
I put my whole heart here
If maybe my whole heart
The world is loud and I’m learning
To listen better
I look up to the left when I’m thinking
Once you sat to my left
I only think of one thing
Women my age, we only think of one thing
One thing like to look at your picture
Like how when you know them twins
Look nothing alike
Like when you see the soul in somebody
See it right there on they forehead
See it and blink
Don’t bother to think