Maybe the imminent and overwhelming arrival of the lunar eclipse accorded some responsibility into Nina’s bitter mood. She knew how to explain herself, her position, her sense of self as a writer, when she spoke before her readers. Her audience usually sat mesmerized or at least soothed as when she “performed” as resident poet at The Atomic Cafe, a run-down coffee joint run almost entirely from donations from locals, students, and permanent exiles from the dullness of city life and suburbia. Burlington, Vermont was a haven for those young enough to transform isolation from New England cynicism into active and optimistic sociopolitical coalitions determined to see permanent social change; for those too embittered to still believe in or hope for much of anything, Burlington served as a sort of thin shield, like fish scales, from the hostilities to which no place in America could be immune.
Nina found that she could easily move through the pauses and silences that cut short her creative desires by cutting to the quick what most people found beneficial to their egos. Nina could not cut, however, through the thick partition that separated herself from her desires, the wall of silence that froze her tongue as if in fear when she touched her last lover, who broke off with her in apparent bewilderment at her seeming lack of interest in him, his attempts at conversation, and most disturbing, his sexual needs. Nina, as if intuitively, felt him withdraw from her presence, and silently wished him quickly gone, but not for the reasons he divined.
Nina was, in brief, a woman who yearned to touch and to be touched in ways that could not be easily explained in pop psychology terms, or for that manner, Freudian terms. She spent the better part of her twenties searching for some semblance of the surge that charged her nerves at the turn of a certain phrase, look, or push through the male bodies that crash-landed on her bed. As they departed bearing the same expression of sheepish satisfaction mixed with confusion, she would look on with a visible expression of impatience and a not so visible feeling of rage and bitterness at the presence of emptiness, at the dryness she felt in her mouth and between her legs.
With a notable exception, her sexual experiences in her thirties was a far less frenzied version of the previous decade, as she settled on a twenty-seven year old attorney who initially saw her as an exotic, if not tasty experiment with the racial and class other. He had not touched the otherness that surely separated them in ways that his cock could not and would not bridge. She correctly feared his disgust of her, his fear of what he labeled as “edgy,” an “edge” that would loom in ragged and crumbly pieces over a dark, heated pit.
And so they parted, with him feeling failed as a lover, as a man, and perhaps as a conqueror of the dark other, for so clearly failing to move her to either ecstasy or tears. Some men are like that, foolishly staking their egos, their perceptions of themselves as conquerors, ignoring the moments that could unveil a more delicious opportunity and savoring the more shallow moments, when the public eye is more apt to appear, where desire is less likely to expose itself to public derision. Nina had found many of these fools in all shades and colors, but the now familiar disappointment never ceased to bring the bile to the surface of her tongue.
So it was with this overwhelming desire, combined with an awareness of an ache that would not be staved off with the strongest vibrator, that she wrote her latest poem. When she stood amid the studded and pierced women and men she noticed on the left covered with photos of poets who, like her, began and ended their careers standing and reciting in front of audiences like this one. She also noticed a vaguely familiar face staring at her.
At this sight, she closed her eyes, and after a few uncomfortable moments of silence, began reciting from memory the first stanza from her latest poem, a series of images written about a man she’d often imagined to exist in the real. When Nina’s mind began to generate the sexual fury she needed to recite her poem, she began to forget that her body was actually standing in a grimy, worn storefront that was already filled with other writers eager to draw from the sexual energy emanating from her frame. Her low, gravely voice trembled as she, eyes closed, softly swaying, spoke to complete strangers of her fantasy tryst with the man who would remain nameless, of the desire she could only refer to in Spanish when she titled it “Quiero”:
circling the cup
pressing inside soft walls
like fresh clay on a wheel
lifting layers to the top
gripping dense pottery
hardening in the cold air
an interminable movement
in fleshy ribbons of moans
like a jack-in-a-box exploding
hot grainy oily cement
in harvest heat.”
When Nina opened her eyes the first thing she saw was a man in the back of the room with a curious but intent stare. Then, as the audience began to field her with questions and suggestions, she lost focus on the man and continued her discussion. Later, during the communal vegetarian dinner feast, Nina saw him again, grazing on a steaming pile of black beans over brown rice. She waited until he swallowed whatever he was chewing, then sauntered over to a stool across from his chair near one of the gray, frosted panes of the storefront. The combined effects of the dimmed lights and the dark shadows cast by the rich, black panels and jagged masonry covering the walls, floor, and ceiling left an impression on Nina that she was walking through a cave.
In fact, Nina was so occupied with this appearance of what seemed to be physical manifestation of what she assumed to exist only in the shadowy corners of the dream world that she did not pay attention to the subtle signs of changes to the immediate environment as she sat down. Her heart stopped for five full seconds as she discovered she was no longer sitting in Atomic Cafe. She was home, and sitting on her couch. Freezing momentarily, she let out a brief shout of fright, as she believed, momentarily, that she had passed out and was dreaming yet again. It sounded less like a scream, and more like a loud “huh-a” ending with deflating tone at the tail end of her breath. Nina stumbled to her feet and looked outside through the living room window. The clear night illuminated the white snow on the front porch and the low steps of the ancient yellow house on Chittenden Street. He hovered over her, silently, watching her as she blinked in the shadowy room lit only by the street light and moonlight outside. Regaining her composure, she remembered that she had a guest in her home. She was still deep in thought as she stepped into the foray and flipped the light switch.
Drawing in the waves emanating from the light, he shimmered and swirled like a light mist before finally manifesting before her with what seemed to be a wry smile.
“Do you usually unveil yourself so completely in your work?” he asked in a low but clear volume, his rich, melodic voice carefully articulating each word as if he were speaking into a tape recorder.
“I could ask the same of you,” whispered Nina, as she looked around the room that seemed to lose its hold on her as the waking world of the real. “I no longer know which world is flesh, and which world is dream? What have you done with reality?”