12 Resolutions to a New Year
by James Pate
OR: what I did for a holiday.
WINTER SOLSTICE: snowy air through chinks in the attic roof us drinking and sleeping moon and everyone like christmas we were torn were cut and bats etched frost through clouds clouds clouds and everyone tasted of hemlock and one of us said lions and love and another told of a phone they once heard ring and another of their mother eating strawberries pacing nude through the garden and everyone tasted of their blood and that felt good felt right right right and we were sweltering like christmas we were
One evening, the two lovers decide to haunt the films of Fatty Arbuckle. They are allured by his eyes, and what his eyes urge them to commit under weeping willows after midnight.
One warm-misty evening in the empty theater, the lovers nervously hold hands, close their eyes, and let go into the screen where Fatty Arbuckle is feasting on a greasy duck. He looks up, moist lips asking, So you hope to travel through my shadows? The lovers - sweat gluing their palms tight - can only nod in answer: Yes. The black/white air strikes them as a special slant of bigband moon, and their bodies feel romantic: two roses flattened by a hefty volume. They think Fatty Arbuckle truly is the gate toward paradise.
When Fatty Arbuckle saws off the limbs of the lovers for a production entitled Fatty Arbuckle is a Butcher, they bite their tongues mute. At night, in the box where their torsos are housed, they comfort each other: not every beauty, they sing, is lovely.
Fatty Arbuckle studies them from his upstairs window while dressing in a bloodied apron. He knows they are the enemy, but he is too tender toward the couple to make them laugh. He thinks: I'm funny that way. But you need that from a shadow - to be funny that way.
By noon I was sick; drank beer, ate the roast, and tried to paint the windows cream again though my phone was ringing. Do not imagine yourself innocent, warned its voice, because rising wind tangled your hair. Do not think clouds over elms brought these last roses. You were only awakened by storms; only ate when the fall roses bloomed.
At night, asleep, Helix crawled around the dome of the city. It was larger than the moon, lit by violet stars; its slopes made Helix swoon with notions of flight and infinity. Other sleepers also crawled around on all fours. In robes, pajamas, or naked, they were like a parade of dog dreams. But there were no dogs.
On spring evenings, when the galaxy smelled of lakes and hurricanes, Helix wondered if the dome was his mother. When he pressed his palms to its surface, he almost sensed an undercurrent, and was terrified to think of what it might eat since there were not many stars around. Helix knew there were odd gravities across this dome: he had watched sane men tread from its slope into the dark between the stars. He also knew this dome performed ravenous marriages. Once, Helix gazed at a mountain of copulating bodies, one heaving side tinted by the sun, the other cooled by the moon. Even his late wives were among them, too drunk to see themselves dead.
As an aged, serene man, Helix was thankful for the dome, often kissing it with shut eyes. It had made his sleep into a cruel, exact mistress. He had seen skulls launch from its volcanoes and whistle through the air. They were not good music.
SPRING EQUINOX: trapped even when the tiger lilies were gazing at the gazebo dances clouds crooning over the moon honeysuckle round her ankle flashing below her hem trapped because I for one felt old wars beneath my skin when I could not sleep I learned how to die for another I was in love so each afternoon as we drank from tin cups after shooting practice I froze over in sun I shook thinking clover does not always hover glad tidings and everyone eating eating eating strawberries because we each were in love shooting out mirrors lamps until in dark we heard lions in the woods no we had not been liars no just a breakfast of bullets odd bloods in milk
At the beach, there were three bathers drying their hair. The fourth lay sleeping. Comets plunged through moons, and the waves painted sand with blood and rain. Seashells formed from mist, as did the sea and larks. Thunder lit gulfs through the air.
At the park, three bathers lounged in oak shade. The fourth murmured, sleeping. Artists nestled in shrubs painted afternoon across their shoulders. In crimson hotel lobbies, women grew mustaches. When tourists arrived, church bells snagged the breeze. A goat chewed children's limbs by the river.
At the fountain, three bathers sat kicking water. A fourth died, sleeping. As day slanted toward night, flies thickened into birds, vines curled around city facades. Far away, an old blind man shouted through boulevards for his daughter. Thunder extinguished into traces of breeze.
It was a pleasant thought. Girls with oily hair, sharp toenails, murmured it as they crept beneath dusky branches, hoping the idea knew where the north clouds had flown. Boys swore to it in dingy tents, pretending to be Napoleon and Paris, an actual city.
It was a kingly thought, rising battered soldiers from the fields, their totterings toward far villages clumsy; mouths ruptured with wistful squawkings. They wondered who was first to think this notion. They knew they would kiss this idealist first, to reveal respect. Then, a raised blade, to reveal the liberty the dead retain from social graces.
No one sat right with the thought. The Mystic in her shawl of woven iguana hair realized therefore its relation to Adam and Eve. The candles across her terrace lit, she smoked opium while meditating storms across the island mountains, sensing only pink flashes in marble skies could sing such stricken ideas. But instead heightened gusts flamed out the light, and The Mystic grew ancient in dim rooms, refusing to gaze out at the weather which had refused her.
In mellower seasons, we sipped the idea with our tea, and listened to sirens through the bamboo shutters. It led us to childhood again - a landscape of shimmering horizons; anxious whispers about us beyond our music. Tea darkened with night. A flute whistled through explosions and silence.
The thought was never prophetic. That's why I could never remember where it arose, or the town I was in when it struck. I recollect most things: how wood floors sting my soles as I lurch from bed; how bitter a swallow of coffee can taste before sugar; how I used to pretend I was Matisse. Yet the idea is like Fords of the thirties. You can kick the tires, spit it to shine. You might even drive it. But you suspect that that car has been to the country without you.
The Mystic left us only with a final verse which now hangs in tatters on her door: on stormy nights, the thought comforts me and I pull it to my neck. Calm nights, stars ablaze, it chokes me so I dance.
At the tattoo parlor, Fatty Arbuckle sits with blood on his Doc Martens, waiting. It is late night television, and he is feeling ragged, as if he had howled for hours in a monsoon; his orchid droops from his lapel. Is there no path toward ageless bliss? he asks Charlie Chan. Is there no way to linger through these noisy reels?
Charlie Chan scratches his whiskers. Don't ask for musicals as a last feature, he answers. No one cares for smiles and tunes before bed.
Then Chan walks toward the parrot house to contemplate murder, leaving Arbuckle wishing for a gown from his youthful glory to curl with at night.
In this opera our baroness in scarlet peruke is closing curtains on the lover she has stabbed to prove even sickly aristocrats harbor revolution when a carriage is heard in sticky noon air bringing her husband early she wonders how explain a dagger a body a scarlet peruke to a man who never enjoyed keen rituals believing mass for catholics yet she knows him not weightless has been with his mistress our queen under wine-tinged beech shade for olives for seven sexual positions she knows too his swagger merlot smirk his flowing sleeves musky from hair beneath the queen's arms but at blood he recoiled even around servants so he will faint weep bite his collar upon kissing her fingers so tragic to view one so weak when once fat and lusty he ranted arias as they rode to the opera and spoke of his childhood island of solitude and novels and november tales until it was tearing her life
SUMMER SOLSTICE: not angry at you exactly but not exactly in love either
Joel wanted a new lover.
He wanted a lover in a maroon smoking jacket with a tongue like forest fruit and hair the tone of matted straw in asylums. She should have electric teeth; tread on heels from which she has frequently sipped brandy - her nails midnight alleys.
One Sunday afternoon, while napping on the porch swing, Joel dreams of her. They are at a restaurant with glass walls by a turbulent sea; in a country where a certain kind of citizen has long cultivated a certain kind of pleasure. The sun is white and noon.
Behind their table, a patron with emerald tattoos on his face is devouring tiny flapping wings in cocktail sauce. As he leaves, he halts briefly at their table, asks them how they are managing. It is as if he has forgiven them after these many years.
There is finally nothing to hide from.
After lunch, they go outside, stand on jagged rocks which waves crash against. Spray sprinkles their bare arms. They do not tense about drowning despite the danger of it. Everything is waves; violent and lulling song, cold warbling at the back of the throat, a story told in summer.
God came to me in a dream. He asked me to create the world in his image. This would be my project for the next few years.
I woke up trembling - drank coffee, listened to trumpets on my record player, stared out windows to the river feeling like I was in Paris, or another century. Scared shitless. I went to work, letting sleep curl in a corner, and studied elephant migrations and lunar languages. But no thunderclap struck me. As weeks rolled by, my world became worn shoes, cold rain. I read, wrote, picked pockets for a scant meal. Holes burned through my stomach. My rooms became a sanctuary of empty bottles.
Then God came in a dream again; drunk, eyes all starlit. Finished yet? he asked, licking his lips.
Not even started, I answered.
He laughed, rubbing his knee with his palm. He said he'd been having the same dream about me for years. That's when we became friends, or at least not enemies...
FALL EQUINOX: from the subways of st louis the porches of buenos aires from even the air and crackled foliage arriving like the year of gothic cuisine with rusted forks arriving from an alley in toulouse through steam risen off trinidadian cobblestones like a morning crashing across trees left three dead one crowded with tales of sky and flame and heaven on the three o'clock flight with whispers of argentina in sunglasses speaking of children and their eyes from a cafe table in madrdid inside elegant lean radios in new jersey even air the crackled foliage like a month of limited warranty from imported and domestic parts tuned to satellites on mars as someone convulsed in the phone booth as another shot their answer in my brain so baby I'm spying on
myself all over again a season deemed right fruit red in contours of inner organs both sexual and blood-pounding at the tavern in the suitcase he asking which planet was fastest me shaking my head in fever as pluto froze three degrees nearer
You were gorgeous that morning: the wolf chasing you through the dew-brilliant garden, around the lake with the cranes, and you laughing even after your silk pajamas were torn from vines and claws. It was a lucid, floating day. I waved from the French doors, where I was eating melon, and you and the wolf would nod, and sometimes laugh - at my childish serenity, I guess.
After lunch, you and the wolf bathed in the patio pool, turning water crimson from your gouges. In our later years, when the world broadens with humidity and branches hide the clouds, we will remember that crimson as an emblem of honor and pray to our children buried with muzzles and silk.
An art show to begin at five in the morning. Sun rising in picture frames starting to burn walls. We moving about, drinking champagne amid comforting flames, exchanging cards, talking about wars, markets, the cathedrals our lives suggested. Our skins sloughing off, curled with steam, until we can no longer forgive the enchantments of our bones. One of us laughing. Then all of us laughing.
When the ceiling burnt away, smoke twined from our skeletons toward a bluer sky. Mammothsize burn scars were singed into walls; some of us were bone, others breathing chunks of meat. Our eyes were not windows, or mirrors, but a new organ which bled. And our noses, holes into our brain. We were excited by this art show, and the application it held for our everyday lives, so we began dancing. The tango first, then an Irish jig (it being March). Next, a girl (I think: the figure was small, had flowing hair) began arranging her bones into a tree. We smiled, said, What's home after torrential fires?
So we climbed those bones, adding our own, getting nearer the fire which had scorched and tended us...
SUMMER SOLSTICE REVISITED IN WINTER: then after every basketball game like he was shot body never found he vanished through camel filter smoke of his own genesis true it was good for us to learn amazement we considered sweat across a bench his blood over the shattered basketball board and no thinking about weather least not in local terms and on that flight from memphis as we were divorcing me in dawn clouds you sleeping three in the morning I wondered at my age if young or old or only a pulse in twentieth century skies like a commercial for hot cocoa and christmas bliss and seeing again adam's knives and suzanne's lips how none of us were ever dancers made us fairly pathetic and stranded poised before red berry trees but we could've been a story at least if only even a flute blew but I am silent new york is silent you silent suns silent as leaves skated the terrace through the moon
There are twelve stories about Fatty Arbuckle, and this might be the final one. We know how he spent (wasted, drank through, destroyed loved ones, burnt beds, to be seen in nickelodeons nodding off on junk and gorging pig-like on duck and busting heads and breaking hearts) his final decades. Because of the underground nature of his later years (basements and brothels and dank laboratories and warehouses and seashells) we can only hope certain makeshift records (napkin poems, restroom wall sketches, carvings in trunks, nails through voodoo dolls, digits sent to ex-lovers, whispers floating back off ocean breeze, legends from El Salvador, French myths, personally performed porno in blurred film stock, corpses in floor boards, postcards to cousins, a jam session on tape with Fatty on tenor) appear from the rivers of far drums. We wish ourselves luck.
He sits, old, bloated, on a park bench. Charlie Chan is old also: his hair silver, cheeks pallid sans cream. The world, old too, petals cold drops into the mangrove shade. My last reel, murmurs Arbuckle, wondering why movies are made if nothing more substantial than celluloid...
We are of the shadows, Charlie Chan muses, and yet we are frightened of the dark. Why is this so?
Arbuckle nods no wistfully. All my risks and I'll never live, he says, to be in color.
And he dies into a closing credit, fading from elements of image, sound. (Never a music man, murmurs Chan.) A reel clicks. Clicks.