the operator of my pocket calculator

This is the third time this month that I've decided to start looking like an old man.  It never lasts long, as long as any teenage phase, but always as ridiculous.  For some moments, I am aware that I'm at least seven weeks shy of looking like the hermit in the cartoons, and that gives me a drive that I never felt before.  It always ends the same way, though.  I am at my parents' house visiting, and they're watching television, and we"re not sure whether we should talk or watch tv quietly, so we do both, only halfway, and as a result, we never really get to hear what they're saying on tv, and we never really make out what we might be telling each other.  Someone with an important voice says something about someone important, and one of them takes this as good news, and says, "Things are changing."

"Then why are the police spraying students in the face with pepper spray?" I say.

And it doesn't matter what happens next, because I feel like a dick in a beard, like an old and angry version of Mike from All in the Family, and I have to go home and shave.

So it's inside a head like that where I find myself excavating the bottom of the ocean.  That's where I go when the mystery of the other world seems to be hiding, because usually it's hiding somewhere here, and I can at the very least hide out with the mermaids until the world above gets their magic together. 

Tonight, everyone leaves me alone.  I'm not unfriendly to the things on the bottom of the sea, but I just don't feel like talking. 

"Why don't you feel like talking," she says.

"It's been kind of a dark time," I say, before I even see it's her. If I'd known it was her, I would have tried saying it with a little more grit to my melancholy, because to me that's a little more flirty, although no one else ever sees it that way.  "I didn't think, or I expected I would run into you here,"  I say.

"Which one?" she says.

"Whichever one is more interesting," I say, because I'm not in the mood to make any of these decisions. 

"I'm just looking for a poem," she says. "I didn't mean to interrupt anything.  You look very busy.  And, by the way, you don't look as old as you're trying to look, you need at least seven more weeks."

She always knows how to read me, and that's why I like it when she's in my world somewhere.  I can't hide, and down here, it's not much time before I can decide that I don't really want to hide, but I need more time to think about all these things.

"What poem are you looking for?" I say.  Not that I'd know.

"That one you wrote for me," she says.  "The one you always talk about."

This needs a little explanation.  On the bottom of the sea, there are places where all the things that we write to each other and never send are waiting.  The poem she is talking about, however, is lost as far as I know.  I see places around us where there are many, many unspoken things, and places where there are only short notes with a few words, or maybe a drawing of something good that we wanted to happen.  I try not to spend too much time here, but on some nights, that's all there is.  Tonight, I came down here because there was a sinking sadness that pulled me here, and I didn't want to think it had anything to do with her.  I haven't seen her in a long time.  I came here because I was noticing for the first time that this life is very short, and there are important and beautiful things that happen that have a way of slipping away too soon, so I was looking for something like an anchor I could use later, when I was awake again, and the world was green and blue again, and the magicians were back to work after the holiday.

But she caught me.  Because this is also the place I go to write new poems, and they're not always about her, but she's always somewhere in them, because since I met her I can't put anything into the mouths of sirens that don't have some piece that reflects her.  I'm still not convinced that I came down here to think about her, but she appeared, so I have to take this as something that someone had planned.

"I didn't come down here to see you," she says.  "Don't get any ideas."

"I'm not here to see you, either," I say, because it sounds like it might sound good, even if it's petty, and especially even if by now it's no longer really true.

"You did something new to your tongue," I say.  Because it's only polite to make conversation with people around you.

"You noticed," she says, and when she opens her mouth, there are a thousand worlds that come spilling out.  They all have sounds from a thousand inner voyages, and I can see figures in there that I don't recognize, and a thousand signs of things that I don't understand. 

"It's a very pretty tongue," I say, and that's a little too much, especially considering how much time has passed, and so I start to look for the poem, because it's easier than doing anything else at the moment.  There's a space close by, the spot where we first met each other down here, and it has some of the colors and sounds of falling in love, but I don't want to step there, because if I step there with her, then she might see all my footprints, and she might know that I've spent more nights than I want to admit visiting that spot.  So we're looking. We're both looking, and it's almost nice, because it almost feels like something is happening, and when I turn over a stone, I find a stash of papers with my name written on some of them.

"I don't know who wrote this," I say.

"I wrote those," she says, "and I keep writing those.  I don't know what I'm supposed to do with them."

Tonight, the mermaids know something we don't, and have better ways of dealing with things than we can ever know, and I'm tired of the world up there, and just want to spend more time sleeping, so I can be here, where so many shadows come and go, where there is always a rumbling in the veins, and I don't know if it comes from something that happened a long time ago, or if it's something that's going to happen, and here it's just impossible to know, because the usual rules of time don't apply.  But for some reason, this is the night where I stopped missing the home I never had.  


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