The Absolute Basics

20 Apr 2020 - Stanford, CA - 23:00

trigger warning / content warning: suicidal ideation

We’re going to start with the absolute basics. This is my document.

I’m sitting alone in the car with the dreamcatcher
hanging by the windshield. June
feels too far off, detained - maybe for the better; imagine
knowing fancy dancers, shiny silk shirts held up late
on layaway, shoes never used for a show delayed
and us sitting in the stalled car, waiting together.

We’re creating a folie à deux, sharing together
collective uncertainty. It’s what we find in the dreamcatcher
that we keep by sink mirror - toothpaste in hand; delayed
deadlines, wild belladonna swirling about. June
was meant for seeking, but it feels too late
for me to steep my tea, not enough time to fully imagine.

Will the Lord give me the strength to imagine?
When I reach the end, it’s as if I never began. Together,
we that are young never seem to find the time; late
last night, we fought over the radio chatter - “dreamcatcher
in the rearview mirror - hasn’t caught a thing yet.” June
seems too near already, yet feels tried, tired, delayed.

Maybe for the better. There’s so much to know. We’re delayed,
but in time, we’ll find what we need. How I try to imagine
the same dirt roads clinging off of black June
bugged-out concrete slabs - it’s them they know, not me; together
we sing the verses. This be the verse; this be what the dreamcatcher
now tells me. I sit and wait for the August bloom arriving late.

I can’t recall my old daydream states. Slept through late
September evenings with the record player kept on, delayed
alarm ringing again and again. The needle drifted; dreamcatcher
caught a shaking about, back and forth around the same (imagine
for five full fathomed moments) hemispheres again, in sync, together
decaying as a different signal grows in tandem to a June

memory recorded long ago. “Where should we go?” says June.
“I know what I know,” whispers the almanac. The flowers’ late
lapel-worthy form show us a different form of being together.
“It was to be,” I say to myself, each time enhancing an old quote delayed
mentally by speech. June starts the car and asks me again to imagine
a place and name it, close my eyes and we’ll be there. “Yes,” nods the dreamcatcher.

So they say. Together seems too far off, a deferred June -
maybe not forever. The dreamcatcher tangles heavy hearts, late
happy dreams. Delayed, we repair what we started, and leave the others to imagine.

A sestina I wrote recently. It is a lonesome peace I seek. I am a deeply sick man. Give me your eyes - I need sunshine - give me your eyes - I need sunshine - your blood, your bones, your voice, and your ghost. I’m sitting in Ali’s house in the north Chicago suburbs, the guitar strings flickering in the nightlight. We are tousling our lungs into the open air. Ali’s parents on the staircase see me, Ali, and Ali’s sister singing, and they come and go, talking of Michelangelo, how beautiful we must seem as they walk off to their private quarters to ask themselves the questions. I look around as the singing continues. Here’s a scale, weigh it out and you’ll find more than easily more than sufficient doubt that these colors you see were picked in advance by some careful hand with an absolute concept of beauty… Chess sets and abandoned guitars and clocks winding and ignoring the rest of what we are bargaining for. So tell me, what was it for? So tell me, what was it for? I am struggling to draw breath. You OK, Young? Young Fenimore Lee, haha, it’s you after all The walls look hazier and hazier by the moment that I’m still here - so come in! I shake myself and reply. Then I turn.

The sample is Thelonious Japanese hip hop floods the room once the page of a calendar is turned, it’s no more telling myself that I could never own the house I’m subleasing, and I would probably never be able to own it in my lifetime anyway. How could I ever sleep at night? My conscience left me petrified, staring at the ceiling wide awake reliving all my worst mistakes, ’til I finally got a decent job, and I got a place I’ll never own… We’ll knock some holes into the walls to make it feel more like a home. So I knocked some holes into the walls of that house in Palo Alto with the music blasting drumbeat punctures drillbit by drillbit, track by track, questioning my own sanity as I cleaned the kitchen per my usual cohabitation duties. I am cleaning the kitchen. I am at home. Bobby’s just a friend of mine, he’s on his back I’m on his mind - He wakes me when he goes to work, his hands are cold, his breath is smoke - I’d leave him for you if you want me to, I’d leave him for you if you want me to. The oxygen is sucked out of my veins as I gasp for breath running to catch the caltrain at 1751 PST on a winter quarter weekday to head into San Francisco. The city’s been dead since you’ve been gone. I know what you’re doing - I know you, I know you, I know you, I do, I do, I tell you what…

Cue the violins and guitar strums. I can’t sing it strong enough - that kind of strength I just don’t have. I wanted to die. Only a steel man can be a lover standing on a chair in a lightshut dorm room ready to hang myself. I woke up thirsty on an island in the sea… I’m ready to die. I jumped and, somehow, in some imagined realm, changed a life that had nothing much to lose from change. It felt as if I changed it for the worse.

My grandfather escaped from North Korea. He realized the danger of staying in the village where he lived, and quietly, in the middle of the night, he dragged a boat to the water with two other young men from his town, and they alone, family-less, set away. He arrived in what would become South Korea and worked in labor camps, the typical way to survive during the post-war reconstruction. After some time, he became an important freight-forwarding business owner. I have magazines on my bookshelf with his wry, dry smile on the covers.

My father, his eldest son, wanted to play music over anything else. Before long, my grandfather found out, and tore up all of his music books. My sister recounted this event in our reconstructed family history via a simple imagined declaration: “It is not a man’s job to play music.”

My father listened to Die Meistersinger, a Wagner opera about medieval-era guild singers, in our house when we were growing up. After a little while longer, I learned about the Nazi’s love of Wagner’s music. My father listening to Die Meistersinger, Nazis burning paintings: a sort of Stockholm Syndrome tied to banning art that followed our family from Korea to Chicago.

There’s an Anselm Kiefer painting in the SFMOMA with the words “Die Meistersinger” scrawled at the top. I listened intently to “The Bad Arts” by Destroyer on repeat while looking at it, or some other song - I can’t quite remember. It’s a blue painting of a field, with the canvas covered in straw. The clumps of straw that sit atop the paint are protrusions sagging out, like herniated sacs. Straw becomes organs, spilling out of itself and gushing red paint into other parts; straw creates autonomy, crafted through bloodless flesh. Circles of red and white lie silent next to phantasmic black splotches that float out of the canvas and into the air besides the straw.

These clumps were die meistersinger. They burned in secret and sang in the tempo marking langsam und schmachtend, which, my dad explained to me once, translates to slow and languishing. They performed in theaters as, elsewhere, what my father cherished was removed, slow and languishing, from memory.

My father was der meistersinger. In one dream I have, I see the painting, my father’s face within the straw. He furrows his brows, as he always does, and 12 limbs of yellow stalk rupture from his body. He screeches, like a Francis Bacon painting, vaults towards me, and the last thing I see before awaking is blood, in the same red color as what hides behind the numbered cardboard of the painting.

I am in high school again. Passed out on the overpass, Sunday best and broken glass. But I’ll never know what it means to experience something as such, not for another five years.

Instead of doing drugs and partying, I am sending sexts via craigslist to see if sexy singles in my area are available. I am getting solicited on online dating sites by men much older than me who fetishize young asian males, desiring something as clean as shined porcelain. I am convinced that I am not worthy of being perceived as attractive except by those who wish to dehumanize me, the same demographic of people who would rather see me be trafficked into sexual slavery, who would relegate me to an object unperturbed. I talk to online profiles purporting to be women around my age only to realize who I am actually speaking to.

I am 16, 17, 18, confounded, with unlimited access to an avenue of self discovery and destruction that is just as disturbing as the next. Spirit of my silence, I can hear you, but I don’t want to be near you, and I don’t know where to begin. I am at Stanford. I am being solicited online by an older Korean couple who are looking for a third. I am being picked up at the Oval by a man who can barely hold a conversation in English. I am being told that the woman we are driving to go to, this man’s sexual partner, has no idea that I am coming - it’s a surprise, he insists that I will be a welcome unknown factor because he has complete control over her. I am the secret that must be accepted no matter what, lest some other unknown outcome come about - what if she refused? What if I refused? I have no music to associate with these tremors because I had no such music seeping into my skull.

We arrive at a shut down massage parlor, unlock the front door, and head to a room on the second floor. I’m instructed to come in when I’m told. All the lonely people - where do they all belong? I’m driving in Chicago with Isaac, Pat, Ali, and Jennie. Goddamn, manchild - you fucked me so good that I almost said, “I love you.” I’m laying in bed next to Lee in a far off suburb, wondering if I am in love with him, and wondering what to do. Perhaps for a moment, the disturbing secret of lost virginity in a bizarre, debatably consensual threesome that left some vague sense of trauma that would never become spoken of until much later flashes through my cerebrum. My mind wanders, and the memory blinks. A horse, a horse - my kingdom for a horse! Rattling on magnetic fields… Snoring through the night, what did Lee think of my memories that he sensed through the telepathy of a shared pillow? The sun shines, but I don’t - a silver rain will wash away…

You’re arriving at Seatac. You’re landing at O’Hare, at LAX, at JFK. Each flight populates a playlist history. The sun shines, but I don’t - a silver rain will wash away…

Fasten me to you. Clothes your I’s. I’m crying making a BLT in the kitchen of an apartment in Hyde Park, Chicago. I have begun seeing with my third eye. I’m screaming the lyrics at a Young Jesus show at Rickshaw Stop in San Francisco. A tale of two cities. Every time we are slow, where are we going so fast? We could bear to stay awake because the sun cannot last… I kiss Emily in a hotel room in Sunnyvale and try to conceive of the moment we will separate. I don’t eat, I don’t sleep, I let it consume me. I tell Lee I’ll be right back, and I stand outside Thalia Hall in Pilsen, Chicago apologizing profusely to Emily on the phone, trying to come up with the words to excuse clinging to her when I had already left San Francisco three months prior. Leave the rest at arm’s length, keep your naked flesh under your favorite dress. Why would I leave? Why should we have left each other? Now, we never speak, and I feel diseased and dizzy…

I see my light come shining from the west down to the east. Any day now, any day now, I shall be released. Will I die soon? Please, lord, tell me I will be released…

He says he likes my taste, but I bite his tongue - you know, just in case. Rhez, Chong An, Sarah, Livia. How to recover lost love. How to recover from heartbreak. How to eat your own heart. The smell of wood when I breathe him in, doesn’t know where I’ve been - oh, it’s on my skin…

Not a trace of guilt, not a glimpse of regret.

That’s a projection, a funny joke. Audience laughs, curtain pulls down. Audience claps, files out. A solemn rejection letter. I keep the wolf from the door, but he calls me up…

Walking the same familiar Hyde Park streets again and again, heading to work and back, eating himself alive, wondering when the familiar taste of death is to arrive. The letters begin to flood in, as the words flow out from a river into a mailbox.

“I’ll put an epigraph where a pen ought to be, and it’ll all be alright. I live in sincere genuflection, a kneel in pooling light to whirling, vortical forces just barely out of view; and such and such always manages to smooth the routine malaise of the typical reader. Take your time; make it easy; maybe sometimes.

But of my work, I’ll say nothing, for there is nothing to say; and of my work, I’ll say nothing, for there is nothing to say. What could there be? All to be found is already found. We all know it, too: the freezing mornings when lightless taxis leave you to walk home alone, the loneliness of feeling half-past dead walking into Nazareth, un chien andalusia, and une anée sans lumière. What more can there be, besides these terse quakes pushed through others’ spirits out of our own?

Nothing. And so, I stay silent. I sit on my bed, gaze up at the raucous clock, and wait for this day to end.”

I’m listening to Vampire Weekend while having sex with someone from Tinder in Philadelphia, sharing some infinite pool of common musical fascinations Do you listen to Tigran Hamasyan? laying in bed together. It feels like nothing else ever has. Walking back to the hotel, the air felt strangely still.

I left my belongings in the hotel room and took the elevator down to the lobby. I sat there for the rest of the hours of the night. Around 3am, I suffered a fatal rejection over text message. Around 5am, a tornado warning blared on most of the phones in the vicinity, so a crowd of hotel occupants came down the elevator and stood in small circles. After another half hour or so, it seemed that nothing was going to happen, and everyone left. I looked out the glass wall of the hotel facade and watched the street. The cold air, for a moment, stood silent, as if there were no winds at all.

Suddenly, the trees in front of the building began bending at a ninety degree angle as rain flooded the concrete. A six-inch deep pool formed on the streets, and the winds pulled the water over itself, creating large tides over parked cars. A small vortex seemed to form in the sky as wisps of white twisted over themselves. No one seemed to be paying attention, save for the cars driving down the street. I watched the water flow by as if seeing the ebb and flow of beach currents.

I saw the patterns pass by me for about 5 minutes before everything suddenly, just as quickly as it began, faded away. All was calm once again.

Everyone woke up for us to take our flight home. I compulsively listed out albums with my favorite tracks and my favorite memories of them. When the flight landed, I had around 30 listings written out. I didn’t send it to anyone, even though I intended to.

We drove back to school. I took a long nap, woke up, and began to weep. Something had been pulled out of myself, creating a cosmic void in of my chest cavity. There was a deep physical pain that I had, for months prior, begun to associate with my upper torso, right at my sternum.

Then, a thought passed my mind. Something felt suddenly very calming. I wrote out my social media account passwords on a sheet of paper. “EVERYTHING I HAVE GOES TO MEL.” Only a steel man can be a lover if he had hands to lend us all over - we celebrate our sense of each other; we have lot to give one another… I stood on a chair and leaned against my bedroom door.

When the belt slipped through, I tried three more times.

It felt like a cosmic failure. I weeped and gnashed my teeth. I felt unable to move. I sat in that chair again, looked over at the sheets of paper, and cried.

Then I called Mel.

“Dear mother,

I remember the day that Aunt Katherine left us to move to LA after going bankrupt. Do you remember that day? I was maybe four years old, and I still can hear her sobbing as the automatic car door shut slowly and you two said goodbye to each other.

Did I treat you wrong when dad screamed at us that night and I hugged you as we both cried? Should I have remembered that every year afterwards, or was trying to forget a disturbing mistake?

I promise to someday learn Korean. I’m sorry for the failures as a son you’ve suffered. I’m sorry…

Would you accept me if I wasn’t bi? If I wasn’t nonbinary? If I showed my love more when I was younger? What will I do when you die and I can’t recall your family names or faces anymore, or the way they make Korean rice wine, which you learned from your grandmother? What will you do when I die? Should I die before you? Will I die? Oh god, please say yes…

With love,

Young.”