Burial Ground

How penetrating are the ends of days in autumn! Oh! Penetrating to the point of grief! For there are certain delicious sensations whose vagueness does not exclude intensity; and no point is sharper than that of the Infinite.   

-Charles Baudelaire, “The Confiteor of the Artist”

Eliza and I stepped out of the oblong metal box and into an expansive gray wasteland. Construction material littered the ground between pillars where walls should have been. The upper floors were supposed to be living spaces for humans, but when the recession hit the owner stopped paying for the building’s manufacture. We were standing on top of a tiny skyscraper looking over Rittenhouse Square. She was more than just my roommate and co-worker, but I didn’t know what I was to her.

While I was on break at work we had snuck into the maintenance area from the basement and took the freight elevator straight up. I was biting my nails inside the rickety machine. She giggled quietly at my nervousness and looked up at me with her bright ice blue eyes and freckles that matched her curly deep burgundy hair. My responses were bashful at best. At that time Eliza was twenty four and I was twenty one and wholly intimidated by her, even though she was almost half my size. We listened to the pulleys scream. Each floor took half a minute to reach, and because it was mostly out of service the machine would stall at every other number. By the time we found the roof access door I was craving fresh air, which while opening I realized was an insatiable desire in Philadelphia’s polluted atmosphere. At least the outdoors weren’t so closely filled with carcinogens and dust.

The late September sky was also gray and it didn’t smell like autumn yet at all. Actually, it never smells like fall on Walnut Street, although some of the trees were starting to change. So was Eliza. Her oven had become third-trimester-huge. As I turned to look at her admiring the skyline I felt guilt for worrying about my breathing when Eliza’s lungs had to work for two. You need to stop feeling so responsible for her, I thought.

“What the hell are you doing?” I yelled, after coming to from gazing off at the park below. She was leaning over the ledge, looking down a twelve story drop. Her belly was tucked under the short wall, but her torso was precariously bent over the almost abyss. Eliza laughed while I gently yet firmly grabbed her.

 “Relax John. I’m okay, really.”

I pulled her back anyway and lingered for an instant while holding her hips. The baby inside her wasn’t mine, although I put my hand on her stomach as if it, she, was, and smiled back at her belatedly. My girlfriend Selena had introduced us when I used to sell weed. Selena was fiercely jealous of my friendship with Eliza.

“Why are you looking at me like that you creep,” she said, teasing.

I told her I was sorry in a sarcastic tone. We stared at the specks of people. It was then that she told me about all the horses buried under Rittenhouse Square.

“Do their ghosts trot through the park?” I laughed as I asked, but she was serious for once.

“It’s just horrible that there’s no memorial for them,” she said.

“Their corpses must be why the trees are so big,” I replied.

She seemed sad, and I wondered if her baby felt emotions in tandem with her, then I smelled her hair while she wouldn’t notice. It was beautiful. There were memories in the ether. The various branches swayed in the distance below. We didn’t matter, although all meaning was within us. Gusts of wind kept picking up, so I ended up lying on the hard roof, mostly out of fear, but also because I wanted to experience the world in a different way. Each building was a different color even though they were all generally made of the same kind of glass, steel, and stone. I checked my cellphone for the time.

“We gotta’ get going,” I said.

Our way back down was easier than the way up. Eliza got done work early. After taking orders from greedy childish adults for several more hours, a slight exhaustion set in, but I still didn’t want to go straight home so I walked across the street to the park. Eliza and her boyfriend, Ricardo, were sitting on a bench at the northeast corner. Ricardo looked agitated, and didn’t say hello.

 “Hey, we’ve been waiting around for you after shopping. Look what I got for the baby.” She showed me the clothes and whatever else that was in her bags. I feigned interest. She asked if I was heading home, and if I wanted to walk with them.

“I appreciate the offer, but I’ve got some things to do,” I said.

She looked at me strangely, then they were gone. I could tell that Ricardo didn’t want me around. He was tired from working so much, saving up money for the coming child. Eliza knew that I had no cash nor subway tokens left, and felt bad that I had a long walk alone ahead of me. There was something about that evening though, a foreboding feeling and I needed to be by myself. Selena had texted me multiple times, so I turned my phone off then went to sit on the public lawn. Not just the sky but the air itself was orange. It looked like everything was combustible.

With legs crossed sitting in the wet grass I pulled out my small crimson sketchbook from my back pocket and tried drawing what was in the present, without any contextual interference. Leaves were changing with the atmosphere. Bark falling onto the broken, dirty soil. Most of the environment had been overtaken by the artificial. I imagined all of the invisible energy pulsing through my body, all of the radiation soaking everything. Humans began to look monster-like in appearance. I saw flesh falling off the many homeless people in the park. Walking skeletons crept behind bushes, smoking and coughing incessantly. Rotting teeth fell out of casually passing pedestrians’ mouths. Before then I felt alone, but the lack of nature made me realize how clustered we all were. I was one with the crowd. Eliza was bringing another human into this claustrophobic world.

My fingers gripped the pencil, but I couldn’t draw anything substantial. Just lines, twigs and leaves overlapping one another until they looked like wires tangled, like something so unnatural. The animal corpses underneath me did nothing but nurture the roots of those trees; their bones were barely left. Life had sucked death dry. Inanimate languages fell upon deaf ears. I looked around for their spirits and found none. Having lost my duel with creative expression, I put away the pencil and paper, and just sat there, breathing in nothingness.

Getting home was long and boring. We lived in North Philly, a far walk, but usually not too bad while drunk. I was looking forward to drinking whatever booze left in the fridge at the house, if Ricardo and his friends hadn’t drank it all already. I’d hoped not. The neon lights of Chinatown pierced through my skull. Chewing nicotine gum didn’t help either. My teeth were yellow and practically rotting. Sewage ran along the sides of the streets because of flooding from weeks of almost non-stop rain. Selena is going to be pissed, I thought.

On the southern corner of Seventh and Spring Garden I waited for the light to turn green then realized that there wasn’t any traffic anyway, so I just walked right through until coming upon a black metal fence on the other side. A nineteenth century red brick building loomed in front of me. I couldn’t figure out why I hadn’t really paid attention to it until then, when I lived only a few blocks away. It’s a national historic landmark. What struck me was the woman in white tending the garden. Her dress was more like a gown, and I could have sworn there was no dirt on it, though nighttime had settled in, and the streetlights were dimly flickering. She would lean over with a spade and strike the earth, then crouch down to plant seeds.

“Why the hell is she doing that in autumn?” I whispered to my still self.

I took the cellphone out of my pocket and turned it on. When I looked back up she had appeared several feet closer and was facing me, but bent forward. My heart fluttered. The screen said “LOW BATTERY” so I put it back. A gurgling sound came from the sodden soil. Vegetables and plants crawled about in the dirt before me. She altered as my face was pressed against cold iron. Her skeleton reverberated as she wheezed and hacked up phlegm all over the stems and flowers. That only made them grow faster. My hands searched around for pencil and paper to no avail.

“Swallow me,” I said, without reason.

I just wanted to be inside of her, but I couldn’t get past the fence, so I pulled the sketchbook out of my pants then opened to a clean page and began to draw verdure the likes I’d never done before, although as I looked up she was gone, and all of the vegetation along with her. Cars sped down Spring Garden with radios blasting unfamiliar music. A foreign heart beat heavy in my chest.

Getting in the house took a minute with my dull and rusted key. Once I got through the threshold Selena was ready with fists clenched. All I saw was a blur, then my temple throbbed. I put my hands over my face. Her jet black wavy hair was everywhere. She looked sexy, all done up, but for a reason, because she was furious to the point of breaking.

“Where were you?”

I just looked at her, and felt sad.

“You know what, it’s not working out.”

Just like that she was gone, so I stumbled to the fridge but there was no beer. My head was killing me. I walked back to the living room and landed on the couch, not wanting to move a muscle. I turned the television on with the remote, but all I could see and hear was white noise. I sighed. The antenna was broken. That dressed-up woman in the garden wouldn’t leave my mind.

The couch consumed me. There was even more commotion upstairs. Ricardo and Eliza were fighting now. He sounded awful. The static continued in the foreground. Ricardo was getting violent and throwing things. Eliza’s screams gave me goose bumps. It must be really bad, better go up there, I thought, although I didn’t. I was immobilized, but not out of anything physical. She came down the stairs while crying silently.

“Is everything all right?” I asked.

She didn’t answer. The television set hummed in abeyance. Eliza slammed the front door shut. I finally got up and looked out the window, but I couldn’t see where she went. Instead there were sanguine lit windows across the street, and shadows of figures embracing, which gave me newfound strength. Suddenly I was filled with anger, so I went upstairs to confront Ricardo, but once I made it to their room I found that he was passed out completely drunk and or high. Down the street I could hear a car honking.

Outside was dark, but I ran along Seventh Street nonstop while panting and sweating until catching up with Eliza. She was sitting on brick steps with her tummy sticking out and her head in her hands. I sat next to her.

“You know who lived here, right?”

I knew the answer, though I couldn’t speak just yet. It was such a simple, calm question; it took me off guard. I looked around.

“You see that statue over there, of the raven?”

I answered that time, “I see it.” She looked up at me with her drying cheeks.

Our bodies melded, and I felt warmth all over. In the distance the woman rose. Her pale face was all I could see, that faceless face I never saw.

“You don’t have to deal with that anymore,” I said.

“I know,” she said, “nevermore.”

We laughed together.

Burial Ground- Alexis Cabrera

Existence Seems so Fast

Above small birds chirp and big ones squawk

though they can’t make the “s” sound.

Little blue ones and massive gray ones.

So instead it’s a din of guttural but how does

their gut, their collective stomach,

of shrunken former monstrosities sing in varied unison?

A cardinal is perched on a wire

where there may or may not be current running

calling to no one in particular and everyone:

“I’m here! Hello?” Tomorrow will be new

and the bird will decide not to seek for mates

nor seeds, he will leave behind his trappings

of normalcy and become a prophet.

Not sitting on an artificial line but diving

upwards while screeching into the air

so that he can rain back down in particles

of nonsense, but perhaps he’ll reach

far enough off this earth and sleep early

and never wake up again and become nothing

which is closest to joy he doesn’t think because he can’t.

Inanimate

as you leak long and slow

worrying about rupture

all hunched over wincing

drunk off pain

you take a break from monotony

it’s raining outside right now

but that doesn’t matter what matters

is pain staring back at you thru a mirror

the absence of soul and meaning

knowing that if you could see forever

that there would be an infinite number of you

although artificial

as the cold fluid supposedly water touches

your fingers suddenly stopping somehow automatically

when you should stop feeling

if only you’d stop feeling

projects projecting

sitting on a metal bench with hands clenched
without anything inside on the speeding SEPTA
train Broad street line traveling north destination
Dauphin Susquehanna Station there’s something about the old pale man
shaking his cane across from me mumbling about the weather
reciting incantations in order to halt the impending snowstorm
my stomach is an empty shell
my head a cauldron
my chest deflated
“this journey can only end badly” I think
the disembodied female voice names my stop
I get out and even the station is falling apart puddles of rusty water
decaying walls slowly dying trudging humans inanimate death
everywhere and above ground
is no better I’m not used to this land
I walk up Broad two blocks while chewing gum and looking back
trying to find the skyline it’s not the same
I’m in a different world North Philly I’m fine with being
the only white person around got nothing to hide not even my skin
once I get to Cumberland I make a right and pass the auto body shop
filled with broken cars and only two men fixing them they look at me vacantly
most are abandoned get ready for everything abandoned
razor-wire on all fences dark red row-houses not homes
dark red decaying spaces
the corner of 13th street is oppressive w/ 4 story toppling warehouses empty
like everything else
a man walks toward me diagonally with a trash bag
now I’m afraid I’m not used to human contact
he stares and somehow sees me thru the wasteland
a man picking up bottles there are too many to pick up
too many punctured mattresses and plastic bags in vacant lots
piles and mounds of trash where does it come from there are so little humans
only trash
I only look back for so long now I’m underneath an overpass it’s dark and the hill is ominous
the bridge is green and I can’t hear any traffic there’s ice and black snow from weeks ago
all around and it’s nowhere else in the city only here with all the trash
how long is this gray wall
more abandoned lots and vacant buildings why am I here I should turn back I will turn back I’m lost
no I can only go ahead
tall boarded up buildings but now in different colors it’s beautiful a cat leaps down
the steep front stoop and stairs and comes toward me it’s pure white and it’s an omen it disappears underneath
another block I look down the street it’s taped off
there is a big dark stain in the asphalt only 20 feet away
nothing else
I walk faster a parked car there’s parked cars around now I walk and now I hear people
I’m happy to hear people but when I look
they see me as something else and I don’t want to intrude I’m sorry
I’ll just keep my head down
I see the high rises many stories tall brown and uniform there are two of them
parallel buildings I know exactly what they are at first sight
the projects projecting oppression
looming over me now but also over everyone else living here on every other day
I’m afraid but I don’t show it
I wish I could peer into this desolate landscape

but I can feel the stares

I want to hide my skin so I just keep walking eyes down seeing broken

pavement all of a sudden out of my peripheral there are children speaking violently with pre-pubescent and adolescent voices

they’re saying that they’re strapped are they talking to me I keep my pace

I feel the bullet pierce my back in microseconds
don’t look

am I dead it’s only imaginary why is it imaginary am I imaginary why
I don’t belong here no one does

Incarcerated

place a crystal

in the pocket

of your pants

 

do you feel

a hundred miles

away from yourself?

 

if you’re a witch

then I’m a piece of shit

my perception changes

as my blood thickens

 

gone sane for some reason

you’re comfortable financially

but hungry anyway

 

(by choice?)

we’re misery incarnate

an idiosyncrasy of the failed plan