Storyglossia Issue 36, October 2009.

Delilah and the Army of Xerxes

                                        for Shelley

by Joshua Ben-Noah Carlson


Every man has his batch of poems. — Saul Bellow






Here I am.

I started at the start, reading about Rexler, the Rob Rexler (I love that), and when I got to the flying organs of the train accident part I stopped and looked up, and then she was smoking.

It was distinctive. She still looked at her notebook, but one of her arms had come loose from her question-mark posture to make her more like a Gujarati letter (Sanskrit 9.0 or so); when I looked up she was exhaling. The arm holding the cigarette balanced on its elbow on the table, the hand hung while she blew out her drag. She folded her lips back and forth; the cone of smoke batted up, down, breaking against her table and arcing in front of her. Then her lips flexed and the smoke made a quick revolution of her head, some catching, circling around her wrist. It hung in front of her face and annoyed her eyebrows; the very end came out the corner of her mouth, right at me, unrolling out of the center of itself.

She took another drag, exhaled in roughly the same way, and the song started.

I don't know the singer's name. The song must be called, "Delilah," or, "Hey there, Delilah." It's terrible, and I think you'd love it.

I closed Saul and let Rexler hunch along in my mind while I listened and watched the girl. Fresh pink lungs lying on the cobbles by the train tracks in what? The 20's? They're all dead by now, anyway, Rob. And you, Shelley, parting-gifter of Herodotus: Xerxes wept that no man of his beautiful army would be alive in a hundred years. Now it's just everyone's heirs in a coffee shop playing Magic cards or jerking off looking at the girl doing homework, or sitting reading Bellow.



It was like jet lag, being back in our town, back on my parents' circadian schedule for a week. I rubbed my face, took a sip of coffee—didn't help. Young Rexler saw the lungs by the tracks, and Old Rexler walked by the river, the platinum St. Lawrence, and I remembered the wind fingering out zigzagged streaks of fresher blue under the sheetmetal surface of our St. Louis, while we stood in a room that was all windows for all of one night; we drank Bacardi Limón and coke (a liter of one, two of the other), and that whole time, did I really not touch you? Or did you not touch me? Xerxes had a river whipped when he didn't get what he wanted. I thought of that in the coffee shop, of Rexler standing and not having the strength to walk down to the water, and Xerxes with the strength of a million troops, if the footnotes are to be believed, dictating the sentence of lashes from his portable throne, and the whipped water splashing and flying.

We saw the sun go down the ceiling-to-floor glass, into the lake, and then as the booze ran low, come up again, floor-to-ceiling over the river, in that house, and I remember—I don't remember if we smoked in the house or a garage or where, but—I remember when you blew out your drags you started slow, the cone opened wider, a few feet above our faces, and you ended, pushing out that guilty last bit of smoke in the bottoms of your lungs hard, so it came out narrow and fast and punched through the tendril dome above us, and then I left with a book.



The Delilah song started, "Hey there, Delilah. What's it like in New York City? I'm a thousand miles away, but girl tonight you look so pretty." He says a thousand miles, but I pictured him sitting at Venice Beach like some jackass surfer, playing the same three songs over and over, hoping for change.

The girl's fingers were nervous, she was done smoking; I think she'd forgotten her homework and was listening to this insipid bastard sing. I could smell the dead filter in her ashtray. I was on a quit. Again, another one, always convenient to be not smoking around the holidays. "I'll pay the bills with this guitar," he sang. I snorted.

Herodotus walked. Maybe he took a donkey or a camel (planes and trains and cars, in the Delilah song) but he went everywhere and wrote it all down without editorializing too much. So: a singer wrote a love song. I suppose he means to be called Samson. Samson wrote a love song. I, and a girl, listened.

Of the two I'd rather be Xerxes. They both lost, but for Xerxes it was the Spartans and the geography of Thermopylae; for Samson, love-or-something-thusly-named. Xerxes loved the fact of his army and risked them and thought he would win; but when Samson capitulated to Delilah, after the astounding longhaired aromatically spiced fuck, he knew that that love would take him in the morning to be tortured and killed. Something thusly named.

When the song was over I went to the girl's table to bum a cigarette. I took the first drag all the way down without letting it cool in my mouth, and I smiled at the girl—she looked nothing like you—"Thanks." And I'd rather be Xerxes but I understand Samson every time I start to smoke again. What I thanked that girl for, what I'm grateful for every time, is that I get to smoke so many more before they kill me. Not just one night. So many little Delilahs, little soldiers vs. my Spartan lungs.



Here's another tidbit from later in the History: some kings, when they wanted to send a message, would tattoo it on the head of a slave, wait for his hair to grow back, and send him to the recipient's court, where he'd be beheaded and shaved and read. I like that. And when I sat down to write this for you I came upon another quote that seemed to fit. I'll leave it without attribution, in case you're still a hunter. 'There are no messages, only messengers, and that is the message, just as love is the one who loves.' That in mind, I'll send you two soldiers, runners from my silly smoky Thermopylae, where I'm on one side or the other, not sure which. Do what you will with them, behead them, shave them, read them, see if they match a half of anything you still hold.






23 million people have seen your video so far on YouTube, and the girl is nothing like me. That's fine. I know she's just an actress. But that's what my friends say, too: "There's this awesome romantic song about you, and then the girl is like that."

I laugh. I tell them I haven't talked to you since you got famous anyway.



I'm at that coffee shop by my parents' house. It's better since the smoking ban, though it still stinks a little.

And of course they just played it. Not the whole album; just the one song, on the radio. I want to complain, to whine like a little girl about how I wasn't sitting here thinking about you five minutes ago and now there's nothing in my head but you and your silly nose and those little callous-kernels on your fingertips that scraped my skin and gave me chills, and I believed you, you know. Do you? I believed you'd do it; those little rough tips of your fingers would make us millions and we could just lie there together and laugh at everyone and my body would chill and shake under your fingers like a string.

Gloves. I wish I could say I saw a glove on the ground on my way here, but I drove, and really it was just hearing the song and missing you that reminded me of the gloves in Denmark.

Did you even know I was there? I went in January two years ago and stayed six months. When I woke up from my jetlag after the first couple weeks I saw gloves, everywhere.

The town was called Birkerød. Every day I'd get off the train from Copenhagen and walk to the Centrum where there was an Italian restaurant run by a Turkish man (the only person in Birkerød more foreign than me) who served me flaming Sambuca with coffee beans floating in it. Every time he would ask me, "Dark or light,"—"Mørk eller lys?"—of course I never tried the dark.

To get to the Centrum, with the pedestrian street and all the shops and restaurants, I crossed the main road and went around the library and a nine-hundred-year-old-church. The library was down a hill, with a path cutting down from the sidewalk, through a tall, perfectly flat-topped hedge. I was standing next to the hedge when I woke up. It was cold—still January—and the wind was wet. It blew down the hill from Bistrupvej and the soccer fields and hit me around my face and ears; suddenly I was lucid. Smelling the sea salt? I rubbed my face. And then I saw a red mitten. It was on top of the hedge a few feet in from the edge. Further up the sidewalk was a black glove sticking off the end of a branch. I looked back at the mitten, then back across the road at the train station. Under the bus shelter I could see another glove on top of one of the newspaper vending machines.

Then I heard the dry hiss of bike brakes, and a typically lovely Dane stopped and stepped off his bicycle in front of me. "Er det din?" or some such Danish, he said, gesturing at the mitten. He smiled. I smelled his cologne, kind of a soft, blue-smelling citrus musk. His eyes were gray. I smiled back, trying to remember what he'd said. He wore a black pea- or trench-coat, and I saw the lapels of a dark suit-jacket, and a faintly striped shirt collar and a silk tie, pale green, just biking home from work, and I said, "Tak," as he reached for the mitten.

"Selv tak," he said, thank yourself. Then, "Vœrsgo," as he set the mitten in my hand. Here you go, there you are, the same word as when you get change at the store. Then again, "Kommer du fra USA?"

Oosa. I thought ',' then remembered and said, "Ja." He smiled again, then turned his handlebars and stepped back on. I opened my mouth, and out came, "Hvad er din navn?" which is 'what is your name,' but clumsy; I should have said, 'Hvad hedder du?,' what are you called?

"Kristian," he said. The 'K' was in the back of his mouth and the 'r' even further back, coming out of his throat. I felt it in my mouth, what it would feel like to say it, somehow it reminded me of the word 'pavane,' and not a death-dance: a poet-I-read-once's weird Milton-fish leaping through a pavane of bubbles.

Then I was shaking a hand wrapped in cold black leather and he was smiling again, little wrinkles bracketing out around his mouth. I may have said 'Encantado,' or '-a', and then he pedaled off.

I set the mitten on top of the hedge and walked around to pass the church (real history, by the way) my hand smelling of leather, and not, unfortunately, blue citrus.



You were the main event every time I masturbated from the day we met until I shook Kristian's hand. And every orgasm, just like when we made love, was that sweet melting kind: a little moan while I felt like my skin peeled off from the inside in.

But after I met Kristian I skipped my Sambuca, and walked back to the host-house where I stayed. I walked in through the smell of fish-ball soup, kept walking as Mette said, "Hvordan går det?"

"Går godt," I called, and closed my door. Then I was in my bed, socks still on. "Kristian." I said it quietly, felt the sound move back through my mouth to my throat, then, "pavane," the same feel, the same rhythm, the same end, with my tongue at the back of my teeth. I smelled the leather, and myself, on my hand, and I thought for a second that I should run out and find a leather glove on a bush somewhere, but I felt it starting to come.

The laughing started when I realized this was my first leather fantasy: not whips and chaps. Just that big Danish hand wrapped in leather, fingers spread, holding my inner thigh. Then I was coming, and the orgasm wasn't a soft peeling of my skin, it was some kind of charge that went from Kristian's hand on my leg up through my chest and throat into the top of my skull, and then I was laughing hysterically. Somehow it was so funny, coming that hard, alone in a room in Denmark at dinnertime; I couldn't stop. I rolled on my side and U-ed the pillow around my face and clamped my legs around the hand, which was just mine, doing its thing, two fingers walking and the thumb arced back, and I laughed and came until I thought I would black out.

I stayed in my room until my face felt cool again. Then I went out to eat the fishballs. The Broengs were quiet at the start of dinner. They must have thought I was having an American psychotic episode. Then after a few minutes Mette looked at me, paused, waiting for some Danish girl-to-girl signal I didn't know, and I broke out in the biggest, stupidest smile of my life thus far. I think she got it.

But the gloves! They were everywhere, and, eventually, I saw someone actually picking one up: a school kid twelve or fourteen years old. I was walking from Sambuca to fishballs, or hakkebøf or something, and I saw him leaving a little park. He picked up a gray mitten. His school bag slumped up his arm as he bent over, and he came up quick, looking around like he could still stop the owner and give it back to her. Then, regretfully, he turned and put it on top of the hedge.

I've seen plenty of gloves, and scarves and hats around here, run over fifty times and looking like dried out dead squirrels, and I've never thought it was neglect or malice. But I suddenly felt like every single one in Denmark is noticed and picked up and put on a bush or a newspaper machine or a stone wall next to the door of a Fakta or Super Brugsen food shop.

And I noticed other things. Girls wiping vomit off bums on the train and helping them get off at the right stops. And bikes; bike theft is the most common violent crime, someone said.

All of this is good, right? Seventy-year-old people bike to the grocery store. Teenagers hang out at home with their parents. I didn't masturbate again in Denmark.

You. Why am I writing this to you? About drinking and fucking in foreign lands (the fucking is coming—sorry!). I don't know. I suppose because I don't know where you've been.

I didn't masturbate again, but I can't say I didn't have another orgasm in Denmark. I had two lovers, Cai and Jes, and both were lovely and good at what they did. But, my orgasms with them were very transitive. It's hard to explain. More of the charge kind than melting, but I wasn't hysterical. Actually, every time I slept with one of them I felt less hysterical. Every time one of them fucked me exactly as a beautiful Dane should, or whenever I saw any of the other embodiments of the Danish national vibe (the fishballs or aquavit or people helping old people with the trains and everyone on a bike) I felt less hysterical and more visible. Or more glad to be invisible. They all thought I was Danish until I tried to talk. Røpd grød med flød, my ass, as you would've said.

Then I went to Spain. Barcelona is New York minus the Disney, plus a couple thousand years of history. There are walls in Barcelona that were made by the Romans, B.C. You talked about songs that would make history. A song is three minutes and it's gone. Every time it ends it disappears.

Before I got to my hostel on the first day, in the Plaza Catalunya metro stop, I saw police with machine guns and a dog with a metal cage around its face. And the men stared at my blond foreign hair while I walked and bought me drinks at bars. And one guy in the gothic district bought two dozen oysters-or-something-like-them for us to share, and on my way home I was so turned on I couldn't sit down on the vinyl seat of the train. Maybe that could have happened in Denmark.

The next day I ate a paper bag full of cherries while I walked up the huge hill from the nearest metro stop to the big Gaudí park. On the way I spit the pits on the street and walked with my sandals in the gutter-water when my feet got hot. I passed a house that had burned. Next to the dumpster in the alley was part of a book, the covers burned off, and the edges of the pages. The remnant was a black wedge. I opened it and it broke. The page on top was an illustration of a man's body in anterior/posterior cross-section, with the gastro-intestinal tract labeled in Catalan. I still have it, and it still smells like smoke.

I rented a moped and sunbathed naked at Sitges, and I drank Sangria and swam topless at Barceloneta; you came in and out of my thoughts, like always before you wrote that song. A smell, a facial expression of mine you noticed once, olives.



I swam out too far at Barceloneta. I walked my nice-but-normal body past the topless incredible Spanish women and one tall white shining beacon of oiled Nordic femininity, past naked toddlers running and playing and peeing in the sand, and I swam straight out, past the ends of the breakwaters. I thought of The Awakening, another book you haven't read. It's not hard, but it would bore you senseless. I swam past the clear sand bottom and past the weeds to the black. The swells were big and I swam along the troughs and over the low ones. Sea water is always saltier than I remember.

The lifeguard loudspeaker had been going the whole time I swam out, Catalan, Spanish, Catalan, Spanish. My Spanish was scrambled by the Danish I'd learned, and I couldn't make sense of it. I caught a change at some point and listened; I think it was French. I rode a swell to its top and there were no more surfers. The swells were bigger. The loudspeakers switched to English: "The water is no longer safe, come in to shore." Nothing happened. I lay on my back and kicked in, stupid American. At some point I caught the down slope of a swell and it pushed me until my back skidded onto sand. The roll crashed on top of me and I stood up, my eyes full of salt and the half of my suit full of sand. I was glad I wasn't wearing a top.

The next day I watched out the window of my hostel as ten or fifteen cats followed the sun across the corrugated metal roof of the next building over. And that night I sat in my room and read while an American couple sat in the lobby drinking champagne, or Cava. Their little daughter was sleeping in their room, and the wife re-pierced her own nose during their second bottle.

Now I take the loudspeaker French as a compliment. And now I'm back in St. Paul. But there's a little more.

The next day Ashley came and met me. Do you remember Ashley? She looks more like the girl in your video. She came with me to Sitges and rode on the back of the moped. We went to the Güell Village, and up to Cava. It was Ashley who said the girl in the video is nothing like me. And she recognized the train stop the girl's waiting at. I've never stood there, but Ashley says it's not far from where I lived. And she laughed, "You know, Delilah was a bitch." She said Delilah nagged Samson until he was tired of life.

Did I nag you? I know I didn't. Do I now? I hope so.

I hope I never go away. I hope every olive you eat is us sitting outside La Bodega on Lyndale and Lake and me spitting pits in the street and at the parked cars, despite your polite protestations. And bitchy girls like me who can't stand cigarette smoke, and whatever other love songs you write is me saying, "Don't play it for me, go record it. Go make history." And I hope you know I'm not melting, and I'm not hysterical. I watch the video now, or I hear the song in a coffee shop where a gang of little boys is playing cards and staring at me like grown Spanish men, and I don't melt. I just stop and hope I still nag you, that you'll never be able to lie in bed with someone else and laugh at the world and be so happy you'll stop doing what you're doing. That's what I want. Because otherwise, if you stop, all that's left for history, or whatever, posterity, my memory, is this song: a different girl at a different train stop with a different name. And then I don't exist.






It was me and Eric, going to California. It was kind of funny, him driving and me sitting sideways and playing my guitar and singing. I drove some too, but mostly him, and me teaching him my songs. He's good. I went through them a couple times and he had them. He'd drive and his head would go and he drummed on the wheel, on his legs, the dashboard and he started harmonizing and he'd stop me and back up if he wanted to try something over. I was glad the other guys bailed. By the time we left Minnesota, my whole band was erased from my brain. I wrote all our songs anyway.

Kansas City was the first night. Eric called his cousin and told him the band bailed but that he and I were still coming, and then he came back to our table in the restaurant and we drank Cosmopolitans. The bartender was from Chicago and she didn't card us. I set my ax leaning by the table and she came up and said, "What do you boys need?" Eric said, "This motherfucker's going to California to make history. He needs an historic beverage." She laughed.

She came back with two Cosmos and set them down. They looked pretty fruity, but they were good, and they did the job, for sure. We each had a few of them and when the place was closing the bartender came over with two more on the house and a big shakerful for herself.

I was leaned back against the wall and she sat down by Eric. After a while she said to me, "How ya doin' over there, rock star?" I smiled. "I'm golden." I was just leaned there with my hand on my ax case, feeling the stickers. I could run my fingers over them flat and feel the edges, and the bumpy skin of the case, or I could stand my fingers up and click the callouses over the edges to hear it more than feel it. I hadn't written a song in a week, and I felt like I had about three coming right then, but I was too drunk.

Eric and the bartender talked through those drinks and a couple more. She moved here from Chicago so she could buy a house. She just bartended and had her house and that was all she wanted. Eric was going to California to work for his cousin the producer, and I was his first discovery. He brought his hand drums in when we got to her place, but he didn't play them. He just lined them up on the table and gave them a few taps and the bartender made more drinks and I went to bed on the couch. She came over and took my shoes off me and put an afghan over me. She said my guitar would've been fine in the driveway in the car. Then she kissed me on the side of my mouth and went back to the table and I heard her and Eric laughing and their glasses clinking.



Flagstaff was the next cool place we stopped. Flag. We asked at a truckstop in Winslow how far it was and this big old lady at the counter yelled down to one of the truckers, "How far to Flag?"

In Flag we ate at a Mexican place and found a vegan punk rock coffee shop called Macy's or Marcy's and went with a girl from there up to the NAU campus. She had a huge dog, a Newfoundland, and I put my ax and my bag down by him on the grass while we hung out. I said he was my guard dog for my stuff, but the girl said he wouldn't ever bite anyone, all Newfoundlands do is swim and pull you out of the water if you're drowning.

We hackeysacked with all these kids from the college and smoked some weed right there in front of the dorms in the middle of the day. That night we went to the Flagstaff Brewing Company pub and I saw one of the best shows of my life. It was a cover band, and the singer was the ugliest person I've ever seen. I'm pretty sure it was a dude, high tenor, tight curly hair, gold sequin vest, and fucking in charge, like Nina Simone singing I put a Spell on You. They played Zeppelin and The Doors and Dylan and a bunch of others, Jeff Buckley and Peter Gabriel and the Dead, Allman Brothers, everyone they should have, The Stones. This girl played a tape for me once, I said, "Live Charlie Parker," she said, "No, this is me playing Charlie Parker live." This band was that good. Like the songs were all supposed to be played by these guys, not the original bands.

The Newfoundland girl brought a friend to the bar with her, and the next day the new girl left town with us. "Play me some songs," she said. I was in the back seat now, behind Eric. I went through a few of the songs from the show, "Melissa," "Wild Horses," then "Delia's Gone," but she didn't laugh at that one. She ashed the cigarette against the window about five times for every drag she took, and she had a hole in her tights. She was in a little Army-green skirt and black tights, and the hole was up above her knee. Her feet were on the dash.

I don't remember the name of the town where we left her, but it couldn't have been more than fifty or sixty miles, and by the time we got there she had completely torn her tights apart. Her face was fine the whole time. She smoked and talked to Eric and got her finger in the hole and twirled it around and made little plucking movements with her wrist, and the strings snapped. All the short sideways pieces, like frets, were still there, just the long strings snapped, and more and more of her skin showed and she kept smiling and nodding along with my songs and tearing apart her clothes. Her name was Erica. I remember that was funny. Eric and Erica in the front. We dropped her off before we left Arizona. And she didn't even have to ask. I'd heard her pager going off down in the bottom of her backpack all day. And every time she finished a cigarette she looked like she was going to cry. "Hey, man. Get off here. I gotta take a leak," I said. Erica took her backpack with her when she got out to use the payphone, but she didn't have to dig out the pager to check the number. She made the call and started to cry, and smoke, and she did all the usual shit, the back of her thumb on her forehead, turning her whole body and stamping one foot in the wind, then she started waving at us to drive away and leave her. And her other hand hooked up under the edge of the Army skirt and started yanking at the tights again.

"So go take your fucking leak, man."

"Shut up."



I didn't sleep with that girl. I kissed her while we walked back from the bar to whatever house we stayed at. And she slept on a mattress with me in the porch. The tights were kind of rubbery and thick, and I couldn't really feel what her legs were like inside them. I felt the upside down U-shaped seam on the back of them, like she was in a wetsuit or something. "Can I come to California with you?" she said. I laid there for a while. "Sure. Do you know anyone out there?" I slowed my hands down and kept kissing her, and we ended up falling asleep like that, piled up on the mattress and not moving.

A hangover is always a great time to play, and in the morning I sat up on the edge of the mattress and started playing while my head unfogged and I waited to see how bad the headache was, and whether this girl was going to start packing to come with me. She got up and I heard her feet go to the bathroom. Then the toilet, I hate hearing a woman pee, and the sink, and I think she used someone's toothbrush, this wasn't her house, now that I thought about it. Then her feet came back to behind me and she set something down. I looked and it was a glass of water. "Thank you," I said. I had a pick in my teeth and I strummed a few chords louder, then took the pick and started to play. I heard more stepping, thumping on the floor, then the swishing of those tights against each other. I started to turn my head, and I realized she was dancing back there. She had short curly hair. And I knew that was it. When I realized she was dancing and thought of her hair, I knew that this was a permanent moment, the amount of light in the air, my hands' positions on the guitar, the feel of the shitty flat mattress under me and the big, open, embarrassed feeling in my stomach was never going away. I kept playing and in a few minutes I heard her sit back down on the mattress. She lit a cigarette. I looked back. She had sweat like white freckles in the light around her eyes. I lay back down with the guitar across my chest. "My head fucking hurts," I said.

She had her backpack when she got out to make her phone call, but a few hours later I noticed she'd left her CD's. Mostly pussy shit. Sarah McLaughlin, Tori Amos, REM. We drove straight through to California.



We got there a day early, before Eric's cousin was expecting us, and Eric couldn't get him on the phone, so we went straight to the beach.

The sand was rougher than I expected; the grains were bigger. Eric had some buckets for us to sit on. I put my bare foot on my ax case to hold my notebook down, and Eric tossed a hat in the sand and sat with his drums around him. We'd worked up three or four songs we could do well together in the car; I had another twenty I could do off the top of my head. So hours seemed like songs. I'd play four or five on my own like a verse, then we'd do a couple together like a chorus, then me again. I'd sat down feeling like Thom Yorke feeling like Jim Morrison, but I was a lot more mellow by the middle of the day. Whenever we'd take breaks my fingers kept going; I had this little Mazzy thing going, kind of quiet, and I was humming a new melody, Erica's White Freckles, and I knew it was going to be Freddie's or Frieda's Freckles pretty soon. We were playing that one by dinnertime.

These other kids started showing up closer to dark. Some of them hackeysacked by us for a while, some sat right down. The ones that wanted, Eric gave them drums. Some sat and beat on the backs of skateboards and whatever. Eric kept saying, "No cuts!" One pretty cute girl sat by him and he kept hitting her with dollars. He'd grab money out of our hat whenever it started to look full, and he'd face the bills and stack them in his hand and swat her on the nose with them, "No cuts! No money for you fuckers!" And everyone laughed, and he'd groove. He was good. He always said he studied Tabla somewhere. I started then, picturing him in the band I was going to have out here.

Later on the cute girl, her name was Nikki, had a friend show up with some pot and stuff. We went back by the trees and I could barely see this girl's face. Her hair was huge, big snaky tubes of curls, and her eyes were black, but she didn't look black, or white, or Asian or Native or Hispanic or anything. She came and sat by me. The shit she was smoking was sticky. She had a little glass piece a couple inches long. She got it rolling then held it up to my lips. We were sitting in the sand and our arms and our shoulders touched and her hair was all around my face and neck. I sucked on the piece and it crackled. Most girl dealers that hold a piece for you like that aren't flirting; they're going to stop you when you've had their idea of enough. But she let me have a big hit. It was piney, sticky, just like back home. And I got the giggles. All these people all over smoking pot that tastes just like the trees in my yard.

A little later she started passing out E. I was glad Eric had the money. The girl started talking to me about prices and I just shook my head. "I'm blazed. You'll have to speak with my accountant over there." Eric and Nikki were making out a ways off, and I think he bought her a hit out of our hat-money, but I didn't care. The girl came back over the sand. She handed me the pill, "There you go." "Anything I should know?" She shook her head. "Pretty clean." I tossed it in my mouth. "Nooooo," she said. "There's a better way! I just helped your friend." I shook my head, working up the spit to swallow. "You coming with?" I asked her. "Yeah, I'll roll. I'm just going to do it correctly." She pointed at some bushes.

There were still a bunch of us down there, couples, and a few randoms. My ax and my notebook and Eric's drums were all still sitting in a circle. My hit had left a battery-acid taste in my mouth like blow, but hadn't welted my tongue. I walked down the sand.

I was way out in the water, only up to my knees but way out from shore, with the whole city lit up in front of me, when the Ecstasy switched on. Just like at the eye doctor, when he clicks the different lenses in front of your eyes, which is better, A or B, only B was huge doughnuts of light around all the street lights and windows, and the tall buildings were solid splintery breathing columns of light, and my spine lit up, and my toes, and I felt the ocean licking up my legs. A wave curled onto the beach. My arms were out, and the sound prickled and iced from one hand to the other, lit up my whole body, and I heard the hiss of the bubbles sliding down the sand and stopping in front of me. I was back near shore. I got down on my knees and put my hands in the bubbles. The sand felt firm and my hands rocked against it like I was trying to jiggle huge molars loose, and the next wave hit me. The water pushed around my waist and I saw all the sand slide up, then down, burying my hands and wrapping around my knees, and I thought to wonder if I was really close to shore, or father out.

Then my nose opened and I was smelling the girl, and then her hands were on my chest and she was lifting me. The touch of her made my whole body go limp, but she stood me up and I heard the water pouring off me and then I saw her. Her irises were thin black rings around her pupils that reflected the dark blue of the sky. Her hair shot out in all different directions and I thought, "Spider curls." She was saying something. "You shouldn't be all the way in the water," and I put my arms around her. She was almost as tall as me. She hugged me back, and every touch of our skin was a rushing like the waves pushing and sucking around our legs. I rubbed my cheek against hers, my eyes closed, then my forehead against her cheek, then my lips against her neck. She ran her hands up and down my back, in my hair, she ran the tips of her fingernails against my skin and it was hard to breathe, my blood was rushing so hard. I wanted to tell her about pine trees and pot, how every time she'd smoked good nuggets she'd smelled my tree fort. "I'm from Minnesota," I said. I remembered the Newfoundland dog and wanted to tell her that, too, she came out to pull me in, but her hands were up by my ears. "I'm from Eugene," she said, and she kissed me. And a kiss on E is like a castle. Our hair was all around our faces, and our hands were on each other's cheeks, and I knew we could spend a week there. Her eyes would stop my brain if I looked into them, almost switch off the buzz. I had her hundred little curves to socket my nose in and nuzzle, or slip my cheek against, or lick. And the bubbles patting back down after the waves sounded like little fish flopping, leaping out of the bubbles and flipping back down the sand, and I wondered if it was candy-flip E that would turn visual.

Then in her bed it switched off, at least for me. We had sheets wrapped all around us and she was running her hands up the insides of my arms, and then I saw the room, I felt the sheets and our weight on the mattress, and my head clear and awake. She smiled down at me, her irises still slivers around her pupils. I slid my hand up her inner thigh, across her pussy to her ass. Her pussy was dry but open, the lips hung cool against my wrist, and my middle finger pressed her anus. Her head dropped and the sounds she was making changed. "Did you really put your roll here?" I said, and I kind of laughed. She smiled a lazy smile. "I did. I have more hours. Is yours all done?" She noticed me getting hard, and even still fully rolling, her body changed, she took hold of me, and this was California, all of a sudden.

I woke up once with her still in the bed. The sheets were all over and she had an arm above her head and her hair everywhere. Springy tight curls, and I still couldn't tell if she was more black or Asian or Hispanic. I remembered thinking Spider Curls, and I saw how her hair stuck out like spider legs, sort of. One of her breasts was uncovered. The nipple was light brown, smooth, without the dots or bumps around the outside of it. I kissed it and took it in my mouth. She smiled in her sleep, a laughing smile, and rolled toward me. She put her fingers in my hair and kissed the side of my eye, my cheek, and fell back asleep like we'd been together for years. When I woke up again she was gone.

I knew as soon as I woke up this time that my stuff was gone. Maybe I'd known during that middle time when I woke up, maybe when the E switched off, before I ever fell asleep.

I figured this was the girl from Eugene's house. And I figured she could find Nikki and she would have Eric, if he hadn't wandered off with some other girl. My ax was gone. My notebook was gone. And my shirt at least was out on the beach, probably my shoes, gone or wrecked. I had some sandals in Eric's car, if he still had the keys and we could find it. I stretched my arms above my head, out to the sides. I had that feeling of being totally still, nothing left. They say it's depression, Serotonin's gone. But it's good. Like strumming "Here Comes the Sun" through a whiskey hangover, it starts from nothing and goes. My left hand was squeezing the chords to Frieda's White Freckles and I was playing with doing something with Spider Curls, from Eugene, or Newfoundland, Spider from Eugene, something would happen, and I thought, I can make a song out of anything, then, Here I am now, I'm the discovery, it's me.

Copyright©2009 Joshua Ben-Noah Carlson

Joshua Ben-Noah Carlson lives in Minnesota with his wife and daughters. He builds boats, plays piano, does yoga, and reads and writes.

Interview with Joshua Ben-Noah Carlson