The Last Thing I Have To Say
by Zachary Caballero
I wrote this on the way to New Orleans on New Year’s Eve, driving down IH-10, with two of my best friends. These are the last words I wrote in 2015.
I lost poems but not love. Some people broke in, others broke out. I lifted my body even when my thoughts grew heavy. I lost time, but kept moments. Happiness by the handful. I cannot count all the tortillas I put over an open flame. A greeting at the mouth. That’s what this smile is all about. I count the syllables I say, silently to myself, because I like to know how many pieces it takes to make a thing whole. Childhood dreams assume I never woke up. I no longer assume without deciding.
I have opened my eyes to all that presented itself.
I danced with my grandmother on a dance floor I remember from my childhood. I ate cake late into the night, and did not always see the moon. but when I did, I kept the bright bird that she is, flying tree to tree. Which is to say, I know how to glow and not always show it. How many times did I stop and listen to the bells bounce between buildings? All these sounds. A lot of them familiar, but many so new. I cannot say unknown; it would be too strange. The soundscape of a stranger’s skin, finally, an echo in the distance of the past.
Listening is not a series of acts. Paying attention is not exactly a play. What choice do you have in what moves through you? Sounds, like light, reach for you not at once, but come at once, crest of waves on their way to impact. Some days, I had very little sleep. The moon is blameless, forever. Each solstice of the season, I remember. Part of me, unafraid to show what is behind the whole curtain. What woman wants a man who is always half-certain? The other half, a serendipitous sap. How many trees stopped me? I wish I could tell you the root of all my hurt. The days grew easier the lighter they became. Weightless, with a promise to be bright. I perform for the sun. Even when it is gone, set, the night is a ghost with a message in a bottle. I toss it down stream. The sadness in me is an old and lost river. Upstream, I swim. Every day, I move to a beat. You should see the rhythm. Shall I begin with the wind? To myself, I mutter, that’s a nice piece of sky. When really, I speak of the whole damn thing. Every inch of its blue. The surface area of what I see is such a treat.
One early autumn Sunday, for hours, I felt my heart murmur under water. Submerged in the sea of myself, I am most safe. I stand up, dripping. All the trees, alive longer than me, longing a lot longer too, (I’m sure)— are still and unmoved. Turning to my best friend, we question God, then a gust grips the entire basin. I don’t see the stone, but I remember the ripples. I being the one thrown out and into myself. I follow what I see until not a question remains. Deeper than I’ve ever been, I dig in. Why is so much of what I want undercover? I think secretly, I can make any place a refuge. The times I open my mouth, words are the birds that come out. Together, a flock, a burst of loose feathers. I speak until the words sing. People who listen to me, then my words, they grow wings. Out of the air, a descent, a landing, a nest to rest. This talking I do, it isn’t so bad. Not sure where the urge comes from, but I spot it with ease. Much like the bluebird in my backyard, the cardinal this last spring, the albatross sleeping on the sea, the raven’s song told by the orchestral pink sky, you get to choose what leaves you.
Not every moment knows the miracle of stay.
I know that by now. Know enough to know most the things I love are up in the air. I have to say, finally, I feel less alone. As I write, and write, and write, I am not looking for love. But I cannot help but notice its unexplainable absence. I am my heart’s only detective. I think of this line in line buying a book at the Charlotte Airport. Stuck with a story. I thank the delay for departure, as the sky is too grey, I thought. I agreed with the weather pattern as if I were the subject of the prognosis. The book I bought, in which I curled around each sentence, I read, Yesterday’s poets are today’s detectives. Suddenly, I am no longer afraid of the mystery of misery. This same mystery before me. As my heart’s only detective, I inspect and collect. With a fixed eye, I learn the lesson that everything is relevant. I try not to forget. Maybe this feeling I get when I cross the bridge into the past is the piano dropping inside my chest.
Behind my house, a bayou sings for the dead. I walk the bridge onto a path. All crossings are a way of knowing, I read in a poem last night by Robert Hass. The piano drops, now. The sound of the wood splinters out I forgive, I forgive, I forgive. So I did. Unbothered, I spent so many afternoons holding hands with the breeze. Outside, I sat down to write. Sometimes, silence is half the process.
What I remember is a storm. What I remember is a flood. What I remember is broken glass. What I remember is defeat. What I remember is lost keys. What I remember? Mostly Words.
This crevice of a moment, cracked on accident. Then, meaning becomes a mountain. Plum roses in the valley. Rain from the sea. The sky with its score. I use my hands to open a letter that asks me impossible questions about love. I say what I can. The truth is a shape-shifter. Liberty is a fire whose light travels through you.
Oh, what a word can do. This Year, Survival. This Year, Resilience. This Year, Surrender. This Year, Accountability. This Year, Acceptance. This Year, Determined. This Year, Open. This Year, clue after clue, a ball of thread, rolling ahead. I remember sitting in the park on a Monday, watching the leaves rustle. Quiet hustle of my heartbeat quickened. The gratitude grew thick, a brick in the wall, the hug of fog disappearing the longer my smile stretched. Friends were there for me, when I stopped being there for myself. No one can ever tell the spells we cast against ourselves. All this unheard unworthiness we all fail to mention. If you don’t know this by now, you can overlook love’s presence by needing intention. Not all light creates a shadow.
In my kitchen, I lit a fire and went to work. I think of the tables I filled with food, and trace back the recipe of the evening, which has nothing to do with the meal. But the idea alone. The need to create. I close my eyes. A page is a plate. What I want and what I think, always a product of misalignment. Product of Fate. I kissed women, the heat of my body, an undisguised invitation, our mouths, embrace. Hardly ever, do I leave space for regret. My cravings are your cravings. Temptation is nothing more than a museum I cannot but help wander through. I look at the walls and every color calls out to me. I have confused my love before. Between ideas and people. Between the past and present.
I announce this now: I do not hesitate with language, only love. This skin I give is impossible to revise. The very idea of revision being change. This Year, my body has witnessed the Miracle of Stay, has given a place for words, has no longer gave in to the great need to leave. Looking back, joy joins my thoughts. Who is ever sure? Above a closed shop, I remember a sign I read while scouring across New York City for the first time. Outside on the sidewalk, I am nineteen and see, Everything is Subject to Change. Who am I to disagree?
In the summer, I stood in the hot salt water and felt the grains of sand trickle, smooth tickle of the shore. The waves foamed at the front, only to fall over into themselves, stumbling almost, immediately crashing forth. This is when. Nothing lasts, but goodness. This life never stopped being worthwhile. Just wait. Yesterday, two days before the New Year is at its newest, I sit at my desk. Quiet cold, outside my window. Grey light between the naked trees. The bumps on my skin multiply, strewn across—you could say star spangled, but of course, I need not lean on man-made constellations. I look out into the night sky, and all this distant light is hidden, then revealed. Without my shirt on, I write this. A few words arise: vulnerable exposed, cold, open— Yes, open. Not closed. Enter, no exit. The things we recognize inside another. Not always able to be held. Maybe I’m a stranger, unknown but searching.
The New Year awaits beneath the cliff of my dreams, recreated from places my feet have taken me. A sundial waits for a new shadow from the same body. Time is always mismatched with what I expect. The misalignment of now, always happening. Notice the tenses when I speak. I signal to you a need to go back, the steam to move forward. Under my hot breath, I ask, Am I him yet? An off-putting question, I put on my shirt. What? Don’t you know, I am familiar with definition. Meaning as a shape. Words give form. When we say give, we really mean let go. This is neither new or different. A creature of ritual. Talking to myself in the late afternoon, sleeping alone, unafraid to leave. Hearth that I am, who will see the smoke? I can’t tell you any secret you haven’t discovered on your own. Wait. See. In our knowing, we cross into each other. In our yearning, we become less alone.
What other miracle do you need?