Conversations with Paul
Austin, Texas, 1992 and 93
I. Once There Was a Way (1970)
Summer stupefies us, a dream we can’t rise out of—bombs falling, snakes coiled, gravity growing in us until our lungs have no room left to breathe. We slog through each heat-thick day and at night we toke, buzzed and sinking, immersed in side two of Abbey Road (the bathroom window riddle, the sun king’s twisting aphorisms). The trumpet refrain will save us—eighteen bursts of brass tempered at the edges, like dark coffee sugared and creamed (I never give you my pillow; I only send you my invitation). Slow and easy, a graveled lullaby (and in the middle of the celebration, I break down). Almost too late, the trumpet unleashes a perfect G, three quick beats pulsing in the space it opens up and we are back inside ourselves again, drifting to separate rooms.
Except for one night at the lake.
Slipping out of our clothes, we shiver wading stoned. Air warm, water cool, waves glisten and darken, inner tube flickering between us suspended, wrapped in water, fading—until your thigh brushes mine, our blood beating bright (I-want, I-want, I-want). Our fluids mingled in the cool dark water.
II. Carry That Weight (1972)
You knocked at midnight, a season gone since your escape to the wind-rushing flatness of a panhandle farm, stubbled gray in February’s stingy light, two days since you walked out on a card game with your mother, driving until you found yourself in Tulsa, where you thought of me and reversed yourself, south down Interstate 35 to my door on the alley behind San Gabriel.
You looked like a Russian peasant, stubble-jawed, wild thatch of hair over deep-set snow-lost eyes—with brief moments of clarity when your gaze snagged mine. Panic flickered between us like the hiss of lightning, the moment quickly frosting over, as slick and unforgiving as black ice in a high plains winter.
You didn’t have a change of clothes. When morning came, I stripped you down and made for the laundromat. Your odor lingered at armpits, abdomen, fly. Ripe. Bitter.
Hard to imagine you nights at the bars, the Trailways bus station, urinals at Pease Park. That’s not what you wanted. You wanted me to let go, to freefall with you wherever you were falling. I turned you down.
I don’t remember the look of you leaving, the feel of you missing when you were gone. I went back to work. You went back to Amarillo and electroshock.
III. Tuesday’s on the Phone to Me (1992)
At five you watched your mother scrubbing your father’s back in a panhandle farmhouse kitchen, your eyes fixed on your father’s bare flesh. At seventeen you told me about the bath, about silent sessions with your brother that fed your hunger later. At twenty-six, you put yourself to sleep for good.
Fifteen years. I did not try to save you.
Nights I wander a maze of truck-stop restrooms where the toilets overflow, backwash rippling dusky light into the eyes of roughnecks who grab me where it hurts. They slip away as I wake.
We cannot escape ourselves. You tried to tell me. Sandpaper kisses and hairy bellies, creek-bottom memories that burned in me: I knew your hunger. It pulses in me now, a heartbeat that will not be stilled.
IV. Coda (1993)
December gray this afternoon—the kind of Texas winter day that lights and shadows everything with haze, that opens up sunless distances. I see the same bleak sky above the high plains farm you left behind, the grave they put you in when you refused the weight of breathing. I see you walking the Shoal Creek trail in this fading light, as if somehow you have survived yourself and eased into midlife, essentially but comfortably alone, rounding the last bend before the river, hands in the pockets of the coat that warms you, shoulders hunched against the wet embracing chill.
About the Author:
David Meischen has been honored by a Pushcart Prize for his autobiographical essay, “How to Shoot at Someone Who Outdrew You,” forthcoming in Pushcart Prize XLII. Recipient of the 2017 Kay Cattarulla Award for Best Short Story from the Texas Institute of Letters, Meischen has recent fiction, nonfiction, or poetry in Borderlands, Bosque, The Gettysburg Review, The Ocotillo Review, San Pedro River Review, Southern Poetry Review, Talking Writing, and elsewhere. Co-founder and Managing Editor of Dos Gatos Press, he lives in Albuquerque, NM, with his husband—also his co-publisher and co-editor—Scott Wiggerman.
(Visit David on Facebook.)
About All Accounts:
All Accounts and Mixture is an annual online feature celebrating the work of LGBTQ writers and artists. For this series, we seek work from authors who self-identify as "queer," while acknowledging that this designation is subjective and highly personal. Our goal is to provide a forum for writers whose voices might be mis- or underrepresented by the literary mainstream. Submissions open May 18th and run through June 19th. Poetry, prose, visual art, reviews and interviews will all be considered.