While sitting on a park bench by a river, Jonathan tells me about sexual face. It’s that expressionless moment right before you kiss someone, he says, when your mouth slackens and your eyes go dark as an animalistic urge takes over. Let me try, I say. I concentrate, release all my facial muscles, blur my vision, then freeze and look at Jonathan. He tells me that isn’t sexual face. I realize I need an object, something or someone to imagine kissing, so I pick the river. I look out at the opaque brown water absorbing the afternoon light and picture the river entering my mouth, my nostrils, my throat, my lungs, but mostly I feel like I’m drowning. I forget about my face entirely. Yes, that’s it, he tells me.
The Calm and Pointless Water
During a trip to Paris, I dreamt my therapist texted me a YouTube clip of a goat lost on a bridge. It was standing on an open grate over calm and pointless water, confused, no food in sight. You are the goat, she wrote me, next to three laugh-cry emojis. I woke up feeling sad and validated. “Am I really the goat?” I asked Anna as we crossed the Boulevard St. Germain, and she winced at the relentless beauty of the buildings. “Of course you are,” she said impassively while looking for a gap in the traffic. The night before, I’d slept with Guillaume, a fashion photographer I met on Grindr, in his attic apartment. His mustache was made of two tiny triangles, like the kind in the mosaic puzzles I used to assemble as a kid. I loved the satisfaction when all the angles fit together. We drank lemonade out of mugs and petted his cat, Dexter, and when a Smiths song came on he told me it reminded him of me, which I chose to believe meant we were in love, just for a second. He shoved together two twin-sized futon mattresses so we could cuddle while we slept. That night I dreamt I was being held by an anonymous man whose face kept changing, like a revolving door: my ex, my father, Mitch, my old poetry teacher, Guillaume. He kept one hand at the base of my navel, the other on my chest. I woke in the gap between mattresses, tried to shimmy them back together, but couldn’t. My therapist once told me we are everything we dream. So I am the goat, the bridge, the calm and pointless water, the laugh-cry emojis, the anonymous man, the changing face, the steady hands. I told this to Anna once we were safely on the other side of the street. “Nope, I think you’re just the goat,” she told me. I didn’t tell her I agreed.
Once I bought a car from a woman named Edythe who told me her husband died in their back yard, happy, because he was finally going to see Home Alone. Her house was filled with porcelain dolls, smiling at nothing. When we transferred the title, she told me to forge his signature. I did, making an extra flourish with the R because he seemed like that kind of guy. How lucky to die in anticipation, I thought, before the previews even begin. I broke up with Blake, the alcoholic, on a Sunday. He pulled his knees against his chest, ashed his cigarette, and told me I was making a huge fucking mistake. A V of geese screamed overhead, fleeing one season in favor of another. That night I dreamt I was a magician who knew only one trick: how to cut men in half and put them together again. As a kid, I used to slice worms in two and watch each half writhe on the sidewalk, thinking I had done them a favor, giving them a friend to play with. After her bad date with an engineer who DJs on weekends, Anna tells me she is trying to fill her uncertainty with hope instead of despair. I tell her to stop trying to fill it at all. I tell her about Edythe’s husband, his groundless happiness, about her dolls, their comfortless grins. I ask her if Blake was right.
Patrick Dundon is the author of the chapbook The Conspirators of Pleasure (forthcoming from Sixth Finch Books). He’s a graduate of the MFA program at Syracuse University where he served as Editor-in-Chief for Salt Hill Journal. His work has appeared in The Adroit Journal, BOAAT, Cosmonauts Avenue, Hobart, Sixth Finch, The Journal, DIAGRAM, Vinyl, and elsewhere. He lives in Portland, OR where he teaches poetry at the Attic Institute and the Independent Publishing Resource Center.