Grape Popsicles and Skim Milk

I am living just outside my life. On the edges, on the hem, on the outline, in the grout. I am quite sure I can fit myself into one of the cream tiles lining the bathroom floor. Picture it: the tile is a square dime, smaller than an inch by an inch. I could fit on the head of a pin, on the pale green shoulders of a dry lentil. I am quite certain that I am bigger than the blue in the sky, if it were to be bottled and sold on low wooden shelves at a farmer’s market. I would never sell shit at a farmer’s market. I’m not that kind of person. I’d buy it, though. I like to own things. I’d like to own the pattern of my breath. I believe I can fly. I think I can walk. I have moments when I feel not here. I cannot put my thumb on real life. It is curious. I cannot press it or mark it. It is as though my life is a flower and I am air. I’m wind. Maybe the flower is alive and a brilliant magenta and maybe it is dead and brown and powdery. It makes no difference. I’m only wind so this isn’t about symbolism, understand. It is like this. I sit in meetings and talk numbers and dates. It isn’t me in a meeting talking numbers and dates. You can’t imagine. I never show up. The furniture is out of proportion and I consider touching the person sitting beside me. To feel their outline. To know if they are as porous as I am. They’re not. They are soup sloshing in a bowl. I’m a flowered bowl holding still soup. I spend a lot of time pressing my back teeth together, like a hot iron held firmly in place on a stubborn wrinkle. I want to flap my wrists and flutter my fingers in the air beside my temples, shaking my head like a child and humming low in my throat. It is curious. I look pretty when I do this, if you have the right kind of eyes. I sit in a meeting, it is not my meeting. I drop my eyes onto a pencil on the table, a pencil gnawed by a nervous child. I am a nervous child. Teethmarks run the length of the pencil with dents, the pencil marked like an old fashioned typerwriter. It is a typewriter, dumbass. I could not confuse words if this life weren’t real. I could not have names for myself. I haven’t a clue what my name is. I don’t answer to anything. I’m confused like a glass vase holding dirty flower water. Maybe it was me who gnawed the pencil in the real life that I sit on the edge of, like a child sitting on the hem of a community pool, concrete pulling at the seat of her swimsuit, legs loose in the water like cooked spaghetti. Her thighs are hot. Her calves and feet slim once they cut through the chilly casing of the pool water. I am stuck in casing. I am going to die in here. It’s definitely probably me who gnawed the pencil. I am always gnawing at something. You haven’t any idea. I am at all times looking for something to bite, something to sink my teeth into, something to fill my mouth, something to worry at with my teeth. I am going to break my teeth doing this, crack them and grind the stubborn ones into a fine powder. I should have been a beaver. I would have been an excellent beaver. I am not an excellent human. Humans aren’t always looking to bite, to snap. Maybe the little girl is me. Maybe those are my thin legs in the water. I left myself behind so long ago, sitting on the edge of a pool and sucking on a grape popsicle. Sucking the purple from the popsicle and leaving behind ice the color of skim milk. My tongue was wrinkled. I haven’t eaten in years. I can’t stop eating. Maybe somewhere a narrow version of me is walking, thin and tall as a pencil. That bitch is probably living my real life, leaving me behind lead footed. I hate her and mark her as selfish. I cannot fit into my life. I am too big. I cannot fit, I would like to scream. Wrists flapping, fingers fluttering. I ruined my bathing suit sitting on the concrete. The seat is pulled and pilling, so I left the suit behind. I stand naked in the middle of a 7-11 on a fake street in a real town in a fake city with matchbox cars zooming across steaming black asphalt. I clench a soggy box of grape popsicles in my hand, the box is furry as it melts, and I scream at the bald cashier with a tattooed neck that I can’t fit. I am panicked because I cannot fit. He doesn’t look up, he rings up a young mother with a thick brown ponytail. I am too small, and there is too much room to fill. I get tired of thinking about it. I can’t sleep. My mouth aches. I am always tired. My tongue is pilling. I am a pale green lentil, rattling in a mason jar. I am a string of cooked spaghetti, slipping down the kitchen wall. I am syrup trying to leech back into ice. I am the blue breaking apart glass bottles, splitting the glass with sharp cracks, too big to be held. There is no place for me here. It must have been me who gnawed the pencil. There’s no other explanation.


11 thoughts on “Grape Popsicles and Skim Milk

      • I have yet to come across someone who doesn’t. There is an Urdu poet called Noon Meem Rashid (or plain N. M. Rashid) who writes very much like Elliot. Here is a translated poem by him, but it really doesn’t sounds half as beautiful as the original Urdu version:

        Scattered all over the city are
        worn out and disfigured dreams
        of which the city dwellers are oblivious!
        I roam around the city day and night
        to collect them
        Heat them in the furnace of my heart
        so that the old rust on them comes off
        Their limbs come out nice and clean
        Their lips, cheeks and heads start shimmering
        Like the desires of freshly dressed bridegrooms.
        So that once again these dreams may find a direction!
        “Dreams for sale, dreams …”
        As the morning dawns I go calling out in the streets….
        “Are these dreams real or fake?”
        They check them out as if there isn’t anyone more
        adept at judging them!
        A dream maker I’m not either
        just a face-lifter….
        But yes dreams are the source of my livelihood!
        Evening settles in
        and I call out again….
        “Free everyone, free, these dreams of gold…”
        Hearing “free”, people get even more frightened
        and slip away lip-tightened…
        “Well he says they are ‘free’
        could it be a sham?
        Some hidden deception?
        They may break on reaching home
        or just melt away, these dreams?
        Disappear with a pop somehow
        or cast upon us some spell, these dreams?
        No sir, of what use could they be?
        dreams of this hawker?
        dreams of this blind junk hawker? ”
        Night sets in
        carrying heaps of dreams over my head
        disappointed I reach home
        Mumble all night again
        “Take these dreams…
        and take from me their price as well
        Take these dreams, dreams…
        my dreams …
        dreams …. my dreams …. …
        their pr…iii…ceee as welllll…

  1. I love that. I’m going to look him up. The price of dreams is, arguably, too high sometimes. I understand how N.M. Rashid feels at the end of the poem.

    What prompts you to keep your blog? Anything in particular?

    I’m a woman. ๐Ÿ™‚

    • Well, these: are the only translated versions I’ve come across but honestly, more than 3/4ths of the original beauty leaks off somewhere unknown which, as an afterthought, does leave you with a delightful idea of it all stashed away somewhere waiting to be discovered. Hmm, adding that to impossible travel plans.

      I started the blog because there is this din of words clanking and fluttering in my head (and heart) all the time and I’ve always just noted a few on scraps, here and there. Scraps that I inevitably ended up losing. Hence, the blog. Also, I am an artist (feels a little pretentious to identify oneself as that but for the lack of an alternative) and I wanted to connect my thought and practice coherently so it had to be collected somewhere. Though, at the moment none of it is a serious attempt at anything, just is compulsive note taking. Hopefully, later with some time and patience, I will sit down to read it and maybe use it for something. Right now, it is mostly just freely written.

      Do you have a prompt for yours?

      • I look forward to reading the poems. Thanks for posting the link.

        I had scraps of paper floating around, too! In the last year or so, I decided that I want to go back to school for an MFA in creative writing. Which is a ridiculous ambition because A. I am still paying off debt on my undergrad and B. I have no formal training, or informal for that matter, in writing, and the programs are highly, highly competitive. As in, 5-10% of applicants are accepted to the programs I’m interested in. I worry incessantly that this is nothing more than a dangerous pipe dream, which would be unfortunate because it’s become quite important to me. This is why I appreciated the ‘danger of dreams’ message in Rashid’s poem. Anyway, I started the blog, and wrote every single day for several months to prove to myself that I could commit to writing, to prove that it was something I really wanted to do. Once I found my character, Mary, I discontinued the structured blog work as I was pretty confident that I had my answer: I want to write. I don’t know if I can. I don’t know that it will go anywhere. But I know I want to write, so the discipline of daily posting isn’t necessary any longer.

        Is your art posted on your blog, too? Is visual art your first love?

  2. Well, I don’t really post much of my work here. Just an occasional photograph or two. The work is informed by the writing and vice versa. And I really have no idea if visual art is my first love! Trying to figure that out. I am unable to choose between writing and visuals and cannot even divorce the two. So, I’m hoping to adapt a flexible idiom that suits both practices. It is difficult because the gallery is really a very established institution and perhaps even the only institution for Pakistani art and it’s not very flexible with its curation. It definitely doesn’t encourage the presence of readable text. And so is the case with the publication side i.e. a printed book cannot fully give you the tactile or visual experience of looking directly at art. But persevere I shall! At the moment, I’m working on my degree show as I’m about to graduate from college in Jan. I have mixed feelings about pursuing an MA too! There aren’t many prospects of one in Pakistan because most higher education institutions here cater to medical, engineering and business sectors so I will most certainly have to apply abroad, which is unbelievably expensive, not to mention riddled with visa issues and what not. I had to let go of a 38 000$ scholarship for a writing BA at The New School because I was denied a visa and I don’t think it is going to get easier for an MA. And therefore, I need to be veryyyy sure if it’s writing or a studio practice centered visual arts degree because there aren’t really many integrative programs available.

    After graduating, I hope to move to the mountains, take a non challenging job and practice in isolation for a while. But, I’m scared if I leave the city, the city will leave me and all stories will run dry. Lahore is an unbelievably intense place: It’s a love/hate relationship that cannot be matched.

    Best of luck to you! I’m almost certain you will make it, trust me it is that good and at the end of the day, you don’t even need a degree to tell you that. “I want to write. I donโ€™t know if I can.” is how it will always stay and perhaps should always stay. I’ve discovered that if doubt isn’t secretly gnawing your insides, chances are you are not being genuine with your practice. It is this doubt that allows you to form a dialogue with it. Creating something of value is always painful in a bittersweet way but you carry on because you are compelled to.

    How did you find Mary? I have feeling that if I ever find my character, it will be faintly autobiographical if not obviously. Similar concerns?

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