The sky has been trying to rain for days, but there’s no water left up there. The air is sitting so thick and brown it seems like the glass of a fish tank ready to crack. Like you could just reach out and prick it and the whole thing will pop, and water will rush from an invisible hole in the sky and fill the mouths of all the sagging flowers and panting animals beneath. I am sitting in my room where I am trying to finish a book.
I have English blood. The rain is always welcomed. It is the sun that makes me sad. When I am in Love I feel differently. I need the sun to share a blanket on the beach. I want to sit in grass and read literature I wouldn’t even consider literature and laugh with the girl who lights my cigarette. But now I want rain. I want to feel the trees shake and listen to the chorus of the life that’s born with it. All of nature is against me now. The moon hangs further away, too. There are no walks home to illuminate.
I thought I would sleep better last night but I didn’t. There is a bird that sits outside my window all night and doesn’t let me sleep. I leave him there, though. This isn’t my house either. I don’t have any right to claim it more than him. This morning I woke up early. I drank the same last night but it didn’t fix my sleep. I left the shore and walked down a train yard back to my car. There was an irony buried deep under the rust of the old rails. These tracks were put down to bring life to places that life couldn’t live before. With them came water and love and history. The desolate reaches of a state and country became an extension of one beating organ. And then progress happened. Now, these rail yards are a complex for weeds and snakes and pill bugs — to live in its isolation. Life found its way again. But it doesn’t make me feel better.
I leave my room and head into the woods. There is a fox family sometimes and they run when they see me and I stand outside of their burrow and apologize. But I haven’t seen a sign of them since the rain stopped. I haven’t slept in so long the air doesn’t even feel warm. It’s just oppressive. It keeps me on edge like two villains together in a cell, waiting for the ceasefire to break. I’m an animal, and I’m afraid. Everything is exacting on the senses. Broken sticks have become warped and bent as the last drop of moisture was removed from their bark. They look like they are breeding. The earth looks like a snake pit.
I have lost the will and I know why. She told me once “Libras always break” and I told her I already knew that. But I didn’t know yet that in those days I was still safe. I was bent from childhood and religion and dreams but I was resolute. It took another person to drag the saw. She broke me. And since then I have lived in stark contrast to a world I’d never really trusted and now, will never forgive. I learned guitar when I was young, but my hair grew long over my ears, and now, even if I can listen for the notes and get the strings tuned, my hand hits the chords too hard and they never stay in tune long. There is a poison in my ears and in my eyes and in my lungs. I’m drinking time too fast and I’m doing something I swore criminal in my youth — I’m drinking it alone. Why didn’t I just walk into the highway this morning? Why didn’t I ride the train out west?
But I know why and it hasn’t changed since I told her. The West, the East, the shore, the woods — the walls change but the interior never does. I’ll drink there. I’ll smoke there. I’ll piss and I’ll find a bar and the book will sit on the desk and the ashtrays will fill around it but the pages won’t. And somehow I’ll finish a bottle and say “Tomorrow. Tomorrow. Tomorrow.” But tomorrow I’ll feel fear. I’ll remember what it was like to laugh when I was a child and I’ll remember what it was like to cry as a Catholic. I’ll remember how good it felt to quit baseball and pick up a guitar. I’ll remember girls and I’ll hate my friends. I’ll drink and I’ll call my friends. I’ll remember when I first tasted beer and didn’t understand how anyone could drink it. And I’ll remember love and I’ll cry asking “how does anyone survive losing it?” And the fear will put the pen back in my hand.
I won’t take the train out West because I don’t deserve reconciliation. And it’s no fun anyway. Penance is where artists live. The gamble. The freedom. The dirt and the twilight. The lust for night. To smoke cigarettes and lay down in beds and share secrets with boys and queens you didn’t sleep with the night before. This is the life that chooses us. There is no moment when you major in “Artist.” Anyone can be an artist. But not everyone can be normal. When the aliens come down they will study our music makers, our writers and painters and ask “where does this come from?” And where does it come from? What is the process of a creature that stays up all night looking at a canvas and asking “what could this be?” And by morning it is a mess or a masterpiece. But, it’s something that came from nothing. How can something come from nothing?
This is the penance. It’s not the booze. It’s not the stars. It’s the lawn mower ride down the path that takes too long and breaks down too frequently. How can you observe truth without loitering too long? They will tell you your life is passing you by because they don’t understand the necessity of appreciation. And that takes time. There is madness in constant circulation yet they complain that they are bored. There is New York City and they say they are happy in suburbs. There is Paris and they say romance is dead. But it’s you that wakes up in the afternoon. Who stares right into the black eyes of a hangover and goes out and does it again. With no money you walk between the Elms and Oaks of Central Park. You are riding that train West every day, even if you never leave your room.
It is the acceptance of what you are and are never going to be. You can’t be free until then. There are people who write rules — good for them. Let them follow their rules. The samaritans own the daylight, that’s never going to change. But the night is yours. No council can control your mind once the bars of the sun have been lifted. The journalists keep themselves alive by convincing everyone they are the gatekeepers of a free society. And those that walk on sidewalks and advert their eyes from graffiti will believe this. But the artist is the true journalist. He is the librarian of our existence. And the caves and museums and the concert halls all stand as a testament of our time, a catalogue for the future — to give those who don’t understand their importance a hug, and show them what decent progress they’ve made. You can be the ingénue or you can be the protagonist. And you can understand that those smiling statues stand hollow for a reason. No one who put on sunscreen or drove with two hands on the wheel ever went down in a history book. At least one that anybody would want to read.
So, the sky might turn to stone. The foxes might stay underground. But you won’t always be stupid and curious. Eventually you’ll just be dead. All the anger will turn back to energy. The tears will get stolen back up to the clouds. And maybe, if you etched the words deep enough or used a dark enough ink, some kid might find them someday, and maybe he’ll think that he’s alright after all.