Effing Love Poems: Spring Could Not Love You Better

I love you cold.
I love you like a river
loves the stones that
make its bed,
laughing chill as ice 
in the sunlight, cutting
deeper through the years.
I love you
as visibly as the cloud 
of December’s breath hangs
in air, and as implacably as
the north wind that tears
down the last of autumn’s leaves.
Now that the fever is gone,
now that the fire
has crept out along
the edges, leaving embers, then ashes,
and then your sure
solidity in the corners,
I love you like a coal
I can touch.
I love you
like the foundations of things.
Layers down in the dirt
below the sun-warmed
soil, down where the earth
is cool and the roots
snake out to hidden things—
I love you cold as winter,
naked as the trees.

Little Boxes, Derelict Tape

The tape will not stick to the side of the box.  I press it down, smooth it out, but it still curls over itself in a backbend, hanging down.  When the boxes are filled, when my boyfriend arrives to help move them into the truck, will the tape still stick to the bottom?

Maciej sends me boxes.  He also sends me candies— Polish chocolate marshmallow candies, Cadbury Creme Eggs out of season.  This is because he is infinitely practical, and because he won’t be there to help me move.  Chocolates are practical things, when you consider that for all our reason, we are irrational beings with things called emotions.

I keep saying that I’m not sad to be moving, but it’s not true.  But if I tell people I’m sad, my thoughts and feelings are flattened: suddenly I’m just sad, and there is only sad.  People try to cheer you up.

Chocolates aren’t addressed to cheer.  They are small edible comforts, bypassing the flat, trite explanations.  They are favorites.  They take care of something, just having them.  They are doing emotional work.  “I’m here, though I’m not.”

I am elated.  It’s a small city, Tallahassee.  I will get to explore it by bicycle.  There are pecan trees everywhere.  What does a ripe pecan look like?  I will never pay for pecans again.

I am leaving the only satisfying retail position I have ever worked.  I am leaving friends that I want to pull around me like a blanket.  I know where all the mango trees overhang the roads.  It is mango season.  There are seasons in South Florida, and this is the one for rain and mangoes.  There are mangoes ripening on my counter while everything but my knife and cutting board are in boxes.

I will be able to grow blueberries, for the first time in almost twenty years.

Maciej sends me emails.

I am fucking tired of packing.  I am tired of the tape falling off.  I am tired.  I cycle to my favorite coffee shop.  They have gotten a new espresso machine, and the shots taste just right.  They nestle just off Himmarshee Street, across from the railroad tracks where the freight trains thunder through every so often.

I open an email from Maciej.  He has typed “words on moving and nostalgia and relationships” into the subject line. 

My coffee is perfect.

“Things you should do in [Fort Lauderdale]:

-Watch trains”

I am sitting at a wooden table in the coffee shop window, waiting for a train to pass.  I have been waiting for almost an hour, but nothing has gone by, and the people in business suits meander in and out, taking steaming paper cups with them.

– Hug your coworkers if that sort of thing’s okay.


There are not enough hugs in the world, and I have hugged coworkers again and again, had dinner over at houses, felt tears pricking my eyes during conversation.  I have hugged friends I never hug, hugged friends I always hug.  I feel like I’m trying to hug the ground itself here.

Things to keep in mind:

– Boxes need to be closed on the bottom; the top can be left open.

I worry about the tape.

“- Driving through Sarasota is less than 50 miles more than driving direct.”

I miss New College.  Not New College now, but Palm Court at three in the morning in 2006 under bare feet in the fog as I creep across campus to the bay, which will never again smell of brine and pine and roses because they took out all the roses.

“- Stop and look around frequently. Landscape is nice with someone you love.”

I will stop with my boyfriend at all the spots along the way where the landscape changes; I will point out across the Everglades the grasses that make me feel smallest, the slash pines that taught me to love places other than New England.

“Other important shit:
– Moving is stressful and shitty and brings out the worst in people. The closest I ever came to breaking up with [my girlfriend] was as a result of an awful experience helping her move. You’ve done it enough to know how you’ll react to it; does HE know? (p.s. I don’t know if it’ll be stressful and awful for you, but if it is it wouldn’t be great to blindside him with it; similarly, if he’ll start FREAKING OUT it’s better to know in advance.)”

It’s true.  Moving is stressful as shit.  I feel everything, I am overflowing with everything I’m feeling, and the release lever is tears.  I think my boyfriend knows.  It’s hard to explain through the tears, but we sat patiently talking about it, the excitement and nostalgia and fear and stress and sorrow.  The joy.  I’m moving.  I’m moving!  What does a ripe pecan look like?  I already know where all the mango trees overhang the road here.

My coffee is perfect.  I will have to buy more tape.  There is a freight train finally coming.  I can feel it through my toes.

– < 3 "

Effing Love Poems: Synonyms

Strange bird, are you happy hurt?
When the sunrise tangerines over the horizon,
you’ve been small and sleeping through the sticky
predawn, done sipping whiskey,
gone for all but the noon day sun.
There are days I don’t know you,
knowing that my knowing is a fiction,
a trick of the light, all gobos and gels
casting green shadows and shapes across
the stage.  There was never a day when
I knew you.  I knew your skin,
the smell of your hair.  Others would call
that love, but I call it solidity because 
I don’t believe in love, wearing New England
like a stoic shirt of chainmail, and the only
thing I know I can love is a blank page,
blue rules on 8 1/2 x 11, and I can love it
until it’s covered, graphite grey, crosshatched
and pen scratched, love it until it’s filled,
then fickle, I find another.  But I am
content to call you friend and say “love.”  I am 
content to let other words stand in when I
mean “warmth.”  Isn’t that
what love is?

World Building: Human "Nature"

Worlds ask to be inhabited by beings that fit.  I could not imagine Pern without its native tiny dragons (writing aside, as I don’t always care for McCaffrey, but in all cases respect where it is damned well due), or an Overside lacking the complex cultures of strange bodied folk who go about their days in the most ordinary ways.  Worlds want consistency.  Belonging.  Tolkien achieved this through language.  The philological base and folkloric roots (the Prose Edda, Beowulf) of Middle-Earth give it its credibility.

Some worlds have failed in creating that credibility, perhaps by focusing on sheer invention, perhaps by changing the rules when convenient.  Others are fantastic ideas that are crippled by bad writing.  Still others have mixed success, having solid visual believability, while lacking the cultural cohesiveness that makes its inhabitants real for readers or players.
One reason for this kind of difficulty is that when you build a world for a game or a novel or a comic, you are not asking for people to consume it.  You are asking for participants.  Reading literature and dancing through sequential art require active processes that are not used the same way when viewing film (I will not ever argue that film, whether cinema or television, does not ask cognitive engagement from the viewer, because it does— however, I will argue that the processes engaged are vastly different from those required by filling in subtle panel-based implications and the mental immersion of reading… but this is the topic of another post, and require a whole hell of a lot more depth and thought than I can reasonably devote here).  Video games and tabletop RPGs require a kind of participation not seen in many other art forms, except maybe some extremes of performance art (which is likewise denigrated as lesser and masturbatory).  That kind of participation is difficult to achieve while creating an in-depth world, especially when you’re telling your participants, “Okay, go explore!”  You need to have a lot of groundwork done.  Literature and comics have the advantage of a linear narrative; though these worlds may well be just as in-depth as an obsessed DM’s thick stacks of notebooks might suggest, they have an author’s sense of story to guide the participant’s journey through that realm.  Games— even games with a major narrative arc— have the added problem of constraint vs. exploration, but on either end of that spectrum, the threads of immersion can unravel.
In a roleplaying game, one way to deal with this vastness is to create certain kinds of shorthand.  By relying on the “standard fantasy races,” games establish a fantasy context, set predictable rules, and allow other areas to be the frontiers for exploration.  I find this solution to be unsatisfying, as discussed a few weeks ago, and I find it increasingly tedious when I see it elsewhere.  It is a solution which, for certain participants and creators, no longer allows for the easy suspension of disbelief, not because “oh this isn’t fresh and new,” but because of the blunders of some world-builders in handling this strategy.
Another way to allow depth in areas of character creation and personal narrative is to change where your shorthand comes in.  Set your imaginings in a modern environment where certain things can be taken for granted, and then world-shattering anachronisms evaporate.  White Wolf successfully did this with the World of Darkness.  Using this kind of solution is setting dependent, and only works if a modern setting also works.
Still another solution is a different kind of plausible restriction.  Who says you have to be able to play these other creatures?  If your goal as a world-builder is to bring a sense of familiar newness, and to allow players to earth shattering encounters with “the other,” it can make good sense to allow them only to play a single race, and in most cases, that would be the one most like themselves: humans.  Again, there are downsides to this approach.  It would work best where elements of magic and otherness are rarer, and their appearance truly significant, which is not necessarily the goal of every campaign.  But to relate this approach to my particular problem, this one best fits.
So instead of “air-dropping halflings and orcs” on my little archipelago, I have a strong idea that the only people who live there are humans.  The other beings who exist there can then be wrapped up in an aura of the otherworldly, of threatening fae mannerisms, and of beastly visage.  Their everydayness can be cultivated by the world builder, and kept from the participants, granting the players the experience of a different kind of exploration.  So long as there are consistent cultural rules that the participants can uncover, the act of their discovery can be a rewarding aspect of the game.

Acknowledgements:  Since my post two weeks ago, I’ve put a lot of thought to the question of believability.  A great deal of this thought has come from the comments made over on /r/rpg, after a friend posted my essay there.  I couldn’t have asked for a better or more thought provoking discussion.  Many thanks also to Aaron, who’s been helping me edit this beast of a series, and untangle my auto-academic speak.

Effing Love Poems: Verdigris

Love me like copper—
malleable when new,
catching sunlight like fire.
Youth might mistake it for gold,
but we know copper’s more useful:
the old kettle heating
to rainbows, the patina
where the handle joins
the pot— signs of
the kitchen’s patterned use.
Love me like 
the fragile green 
of two pennies left
in the rain, corroded
together, fused
only roughly,
at their cores.

Minor Setbacks

I was prepared.  I had marked all the locations of the local mango trees, had memorized the route.  I had a bag for the fallen fruit, light clothing that would dry quickly, because even though it was hot, the day was shot with sun showers— prime conditions for rainbows.  There was an extra set of clothes in my waterproof backpack, just in case the rain got too heavy during my fruit gathering.

With all these things in readiness, I went out the door, turned the lock, and shut it behind me.  Cell phone: check.  Wallet: check.  Keys: oh wait.

There is only one door to my apartment.  There are two windows.  The window into my bathroom is in my neighbor’s back yard.  The other window was there next to the door.  It has two panels.  One, which I had just locked and held my entire collection of Poetry magazine on the sill, and the other which held my A/C unit.  The locked panel wouldn’t budge… but the wall banger’s panel?  It lifted right up.  Suddenly, I felt very secure.

It was a small matter then to reach over and unlatch the other panel.   Then I faced my neat row of Poetry magazine, 1979 to present, all standing elbow to elbow in a chronological progression.  The window didn’t lift that high.

Okay, then.  I clambered onto the outside sill, and assessed my entry.  My bed was just below.  One flying leap: if I dove through like a tiger through a flaming hoop, I could land on my bed without disturbing my collection.  Okay.

It was ready, steady, go!

I was on my back.  I was on my bed.  I was under a pile of books and paper, vaguely dazed from the force of Poetry to my head.  But I was inside!

Effing Love Poems: No Oaks, but Roses

I want to see your whole face.
I want dispose of expectations
like old clothes that
don’t fit anymore.
Spiraling into your curves,
neither of us goddesses,
filled instead with our everyday
mundanity—cut fingers from
our tongues and kitchen knives,
warm bruises from
long nights lain next to one another.
Let’s not be angels together,
nothing so divine
breaking all the pedestals
into marble dust that
neither of us will clean up.