Jay Ponteri
9 Lobes

I don't arrive on time. I hate ice breakers. The committee structure is mysterious to me. The ice cubes in my soft drink melt. I miss a woman I once loved. Menacing owl is absent, somber owl present. I don't knit or take classes in ceramics. I clean toilet bowls. Driving my Honda on the highway, I imagine I'm riding the subway in Madrid. I like to pretend I'm in Spain. My hands shake. I'm having chest pains again. I have coffee breath. I feel like I have to do something different than others and yet I need those others to see me. I don't attend church or sporting events. I don't play golf, only Putt-Putt. I walk slower than the guy in front of me. In my thoughts I sock it to you. I wear colored denim. I wear my hair mussed. I mate with apes. I nuzzle the muzzles of pugs. I drive the subway train through flooded tunnels. I listen to the music of Lisa Germano. At the pep rallies I was the kid in the last row, mocking the jocks and cheerleaders. For good reason. How dare I betray my wedding vows. I brood. I like to feel unique, I want you to think I'm special, illusions keeping me from reaching out to and being touched by others, from feeling less alone in the world. Into what locked cage have I walked? Don't we all live in space? We stare through space in front of our eyes open. I feel more relaxed once I remove my eyeglasses and the world appears blurry, unresolved. I'm necessary, replaceable too. How is it that I learned to conceal so many things from others? It's easy to forget I'm moving through space-time, my body is in decay, easy to forget I will die as others continue to walk on this earth. I feel nervous. I feel stuck. Look at all the shit flying in the air, Tony. I remember my first girlfriend riding on the back of my Schwinn 10-speed, her freckled arms wrapped around my skinny torso, me not wanting this ride to end even though I knew it would end. All of the women I have ever loved I miss.

I feel terribly uncertain about things. I'm OK with that. I've made my peace with Starbucks. I've made my peace with fatherhood. My son dreams of hurricanes, tornadoes, and tsunamis. Last night I dreamt I cheated on a test and then wept. I don't drink Big Gulps or Slurpees. I had to look up the word "Slurpee" to make sure I was spelling it correctly. I won't correct your speech. Good conversations are rare. What works for me today might not work for me tomorrow. People look tired and sad. The boat departs at 3 pm but you can board at any time. One never knows when a sentence might end. Pink tiara. Punctuate better. Flabbergast. I cannot figure out what my connection to whale blubber is. I struggle to remember people's birthdays. Twice I have forgotten dad's birthday. I should remember to touch myself. Even after I stopped asking for it, it kept coming. The first time I was distracted by the extra-marital affair I was having. The illusion of invisibility, of other worldliness. Remember the TV movie in the '80’s about an airline pilot who keeps separate families in separate cities, each one secret to the other? Why put my trust in you? Why do swifts fuck in flight? Why reach for that which destroys? Despair, the feeling of desperation, can give rise to a paralysis of behavior or to rash, impulsive behavior. The need you feel is distorted in its urgency, in its bottled reach. Sorrow combines despair with self-loathing, like you feel a hopeless sorrow, you are sorry for everything you do and think and nothing can ever convince you otherwise. I don't drink herbal tea. I can't get no satisfaction. I don't know how to dive and I refuse to learn. Consider yourself harmed.

I jaywalk whenever I can. I often drive faster than posted speed limits. I dwell on disappointment I cause others. I divide the self. I no longer own a cassette player. When my son asks for my permission, I say, yes or no. I'm an uninformed boater. I eat more food than my body needs. I don't watch movies. Dialogue feels artificial to me, which further removes me from what matters the most and what matters the most is you. I will never again live in the state of Indiana. I should wear socks more often. I never shop for clothes. My wife calls me Grandpa. I hang out in the lobby of a hotel of which I'm not a guest. I could live in a hotel. I cuddle a pug nightly. Even though I do not engage in criminal activity, I feel as if it's only a matter of time before I have to go to prison. I mock my wife too often. I refuse to send back to the kitchen bad or tepid food. I refuse to park my Honda in my son's school's parking lot because I don't want to wait in a line of cars driven by other parents. I don't like to acknowledge I have things in common with others. I refuse to wear Khaki pants. I refuse to wear baseball hats. I refuse the body and blood of Christ. I let others talk me into things I don't want to do. I hold strong opinions I do not share. I tell people I lived in Prague for six months but I only lived there for less than two. I listen to the Violent Femmes. Using the phrase "less than two" seems disingenuous. I can meet you more than halfway. I like a clean surface. I like to touch my wife's breasts. I like a tidy bathroom and kitchen. I like doing deep cleans. I will fold your laundry. I'd make a great personal secretary. I would be the greatest personal secretary in our modern history of personal secretaries. I'm pretty solid with spreadsheets. I mean I'm the one being disingenuous here. If it looks like I'm paying close attention to you, I'm not. Leave me alone. I need a lot of me time. I don't believe I'm a good man. In high school I played JV all the way, baby. I like second-hand smoke. I wish I didn't recall the cheer, We got spirit, yes we do, we got spirit, how about you?

Do not solicit me for political causes, at my home or on the city street. I'm such a softy. I do not negotiate for lower prices. I overtip. Offer me something for free and I'll pay you for it. I'm not good at keeping secrets from others. I'm an impatient person. I'm terribly nervous in moments of calmness and acutely steady amidst crisis. I like John Cusack. I hesitate to call my siblings. It's as if we live on separate planes of experience. I have no idea what to say. I'm a runner. I'm not a homebody. During the day I don't like to spend much time at home but after 6 pm I prefer not to leave unless I'm going someplace by myself. I never fit it all in. I have therapy tomorrow. I wish I didn't have therapy tomorrow. All of my therapists, four in total, have been "mother creatures" to me. "Mother creature" is a phrase my second (and favorite) therapist coined. I feel lonely today. When I say, I feel lonely, what lies beneath this feeling is the sense my wife isn't getting me or some other person (my parents, siblings, another woman) is not reaching for me, but the truth is I'm not reaching for my wife or for other people. My wife and I argue over "schedules." My wife and I argue over compost-bin aesthetics. My wife and I argue over finances. My wife and I argue over the way we split parenting duties. My wife and I argue about making plans on the weekends and on the weeknights. My wife and I argue over whites versus lights. My wife and I argue together. Self-awareness or awareness of others doesn't always help matters. I'm an angry man. I try not to lash out at others. I can smash your dentures. You just stepped in dogshit, pal. Florida can go fuck itself.

I prefer the heavier, sadder songs. I'm way too deep inside myself. Dear Stephen Malkimus, I miss you. I don't purchase "climbing gear" or "yoga clothes." I'm not your neighbor. I'm not sure if I can climb out. Most of the people I know I rarely see. I listen on repeat. I wonder if other people struggle in the ways I struggle. Do others feel so divided betwixt the things they think they want and what they presently hold? You don't hold a fucking thing, pal. Do others think, I say I want this, but don't I really want that, or is that simply the thing I can never have? Do others feel separate from the actual people surrounding them? A very very very tall man just walked into the cafe. I have never seen a man taller than this man. Do others think one thing and do another? This very very very tall man's mother thinks of him as her baby boy. Do others hold chicken eggs in their clenched fists? Do others feel the things they do, say, and think are the wrong things to do, say, and think? Thinking is not restful. I remember driving around Cruces—and feeling remote. I remember liking that feeling a lot, that separateness from all I once knew. I remember not liking that feeling at all, like I had to return to the center, no, not in the center but around the edges. Not remote, just an outlier. I remember watching my older brothers turning away from me towards each other. The thing I can never have, the impossible, the unattainable, always sits at the next table. Mom would make them play with me. A coarse landscape, mostly brown dirt speckled with mute green flora, broken up by low adobe buildings. Outside and inside buildings, people in motion, people at rest, and dead bodies awaiting burial or cremation or dissection. Do others think, I'm not a good father? Do others think, Instead of playing with my son I'm thinking about how I'm not playing with my son? Posted highway speed limits of ninety but people driving closer to a hundred. Shame sends excessively false messages to the self about the nature of the self's divided-ness. One message is This Is Your Problem and Nobody Else's. Another message is You Should Be Able To Control Your Feelings and The Behavior Arising From Your Feelings. Pouring freely. Princess Sparkle falls in love with Captain Oats. Clean close shave. This very very very tall man will not outlive his mother. His mother will bury her own baby boy. Condos will be erected, new bike lanes painted. Not the table at which I sit. Another message is YOU ARE WEAK, But You Shouldn't Be. The truth I speak is hurtful to the ones to whom I speak. Perhaps I need to speak to different people. Perhaps I need to speak only to myself. I'm weak and I should be.

I often rant then act as if everything's OK. I only play board games with my son. I fidget. I pretend not to see you. It seemed to be headed in one direction but was really going in the opposite direction. My red Schwinn ten-speed bicycle still hanging on hooks from the ceiling in mom's garage. I'd like to come and see you. I have a massive hair cowlick above my forehead. I wash my face, then my armpits, then my genitals, then my feet, then my chest and back and NEVER do I deviate from that order. I don't know much about flora and fauna. Ask me about grammar and mechanics, ask me who wrote what and when, ask me to closely describe my emotional state, but do not—I repeat—do not ask me when the forsythia shall bloom or about my 401K or what set they're in or how to stop the toilet from running or what plug goes where or where The Velvet Underground played their first show or about prime numbers or the best way to cook morels or how to market the product you're selling and don't ask me to get up on a ladder and clean the gutters clogged with wet decaying leaves or to furnish your apartment or care about the real estate trends or stock prices or your fucking dumbass gun rights or how many deductions we should claim or which plants get shade and which ones get light or how to fix a broken soul or what size batteries our flashlight takes or how to forgive myself for betraying my wife and do you remember, dear Brandon, walking down to the lakefront around three am, talking about everything and talking about nothing and smoking cigarette after cigarette till we reached the shore and watched the earth drop within view of our Sun, which is really just a massive fire burning itself out like you start fucking and it's great but you know it's going to end when one or both of you come and that knowledge of the end is a cataract forming, clouding the lens of the eye, your eye, my eye, the eye of the calm obliterated by my insecurity for weakness, our unwillingness to admit I fail in this life, I try to do better—say it with me, I fail in this life, I try to do better. I do not read lightly. I guess you pick up some things along the way. Ask me why we do things we know are bad for us. Golf clubs and skis and ski poles leaning against the cement wall of mom's basement. Because we can. And it only gets worse.

Hello, jelly eye. I didn't write the constitution. Nobody accused me of being a heretic. I think I would be a great European. I think I would be the very best European. I'd sit at the dinner table for hours. I'd speak fluently all of the romantic languages, including Portuguese. I'd drink even more espresso than I already do. I'd even let myself, on occasion, drink a pint of beer for breakfast. Of course I'd pick smoking back up. I'd meet Julie Delpy for a late afternoon aperitif at the Patisserie Lili. Of course unfiltered. I'd scoff with the best of them. His bike fell as he walked away, and I watched. That's very European of me. We don't meddle. My Joy Division Pandora Station no longer plays Joy Division. I remember, then forget. Twist to the right, then to the left. I remember wondering what my grandmother did all day at her house while I was at school. As if she didn't leave her own house. Europeans know death in a way we Americans don't and I envy that. I remember imagining my grandmother sitting at the dining room table covered in wiped oil cloth, eating lunch by herself. As if she only existed to be my grandmother, as if she waited for me to visit her. I remember imagining her filling the sink with hot soapy water and then washing her dishes and pans, then letting the dogs out in the backyard. We all must bear our solitude (Rilke). I remember Christmas midnight mass at my grandmother's church and the smell of incense and the colorful banners hanging from the ceiling. I'd imagine a game in which every parishioner could vote for their favorite banner—my favorite showed doves lifting in flight above the word Peace. I'd imagine my banner winning and me receiving the blue ribbon on the banner's behalf. Where is the Queen of Peace when we really need her? How can we live in a world in which mothers die? I'd imagine a giant sleepover in which everybody slept in the pews, aisles, or the floors below the pews, and then in the morning a breakfast of spaghetti omelets. I remember admiring the girls in their fancy lace dresses and silk hair ribbons. I remember my grandmother crying at my grandfather's funeral. I have nothing to do for the next two hours of my life. She wanted me to kiss her. Fifteen years ago, it was fanny packs, now yoga mats. I fucked that up too. The tone one takes upon walking into a dinner party. Hunched over in the emergency room. Forced cheerfulness mixed with tapered dread, which is another way to say Anger In Gestation. The Supreme Chancellor drops his robe. Fulfilling others' perceptions of yourself, which are really your perceptions of their perceptions shaped by your distorted sense of your Weak Shameful Self. I always look at other people and think, They aren't lonely. In America public restrooms aplenty. Cheerleading camp begins next week.

I spend too much time doing things that matter very little. In 1989 I wore my hair in the style of a mullet. The closest I've come to dying (that I know of) was at birth when I was born two months too soon, weighing two-and-a-half pounds. I have one son and no interest in having a second child. I don't want to lose any free time parenting a second child would take. I want for my son to receive a very concentrated blast of love. I want for my son to live more happily than I seem to be doing. I want for my son to be deeply loved by another man or woman aside from his parents. I want for my son to live passionately. Merwin said Berryman said, Passion was genius. Ruefle said Cecilia Vicuña said Words have a love for each other, a desire that culminates in poetry. Ruefle said Heraclitus said Being inclines intrinsically to self-concealment. Calasso said Jules Renard said Baudelaire said There's a smell of destruction. I say Ruefle said It must have been like a butterfly delivering its own empty cocoon. I ask myself if I feel more like Ground Control or Major Tom? I have two pugs and could see getting a third. Last night I dreamt I fucked a young woman. I used my mouth in ways my wife doesn't want me to, I made this woman come and then I came and my very real orgasm woke me from this dream to my wife already showered, getting dressed for work. How long do I have left to live on this earth? I would be OK if my parents outlived me but then I wouldn't want them to have to live through hearing the news of my death just as I could NOT endure the news of my son's death. I felt very uncomfortable writing the phrase my son's death. May I never type that phrase again, may that phrase stay in the realm of the unspoken. May everybody I love or could love die peacefully. Is it possible to die peacefully? I don't wear hats. Today I feel more like Major Tom than Ground Control. Merwin said Berryman said The great presence / that permitted everything and transmuted it / in poetry was passion. Thinking about death so much makes me want to fuck but instead I will finish this paragraph and then go to the bookstore. I wonder how many women I have fantasy-fucked. From age 14 to 41, I have fantasy-fucked 300-plus women. I'm like the Wilt Chamberlin of fantasy-fucking. (Rough count here.) I wish I had a bright pink T-shirt to wear. I have actually fucked six women. I want to hear your counts. I say Ruefle said It concentrates on the inside in an attempt to reverse the situation; to turn it inside out. I say Ruefle said The Heart is a small closed space, a symbol or souvenir of the inner life, the secret life, the silent life. Merwin said Berryman said If you have to be sure don't write.

I say the word "fuck" a lot. I use the word "fuck" over the phrases "make love" or "have sex." I like a little dirty talk. I think about my ex-girlfriends. I think about them thinking about me. I prefer cities to suburbs. I prefer small towns to suburbs. I dream of owning and operating a motorcycle, but not on a highway or interstate, only on city streets. I drive an '89 Honda Accord, manual shift, with subwoofer in the trunk. My brother-in-law recently taught me how to check the oil. Before that I'd add a quart or two of oil when I perceived the car making a funny sound. I wish my grandparents were still alive. I don't want my parents to die. I don't want my wife or son to die. I don't want my brothers or sister to die. I don't want Alice Munro, Lydia Davis, or Mary Ruefle to die. I don't want to die. I resist referring to the woman publishing one of my manuscripts as "my editor" or "my publisher." It feels as if I'm saying to my interlocutor I possess this woman. Writers do not own their own books (Rilke). Writers are not more important than the work they make. The awards writers win are not more important than the work they make. The work they are making is more important than the work they have made. Literary agents can fuck right off. I don't enjoy talking to strangers. Couples who've been together for a long time should try a little harder not to dress so much alike. In the next 24 hours I could die. The possibility of death does not make me appreciate life more. The possibility of life does. I define the possibility of life as slowly passing through my day expressing my passionate self. I'm a pacifist. I think I'd be a good mediator. I think I'd be a good therapist. I believe our planet would be a more peaceful place if more women were Presidents or Prime Ministers or Dictators. I think men often are ineffectual. Guessing it's because we have to spend so much time tamping down our desires to fuck every woman to whom we're attracted. I don't watch Big Ten football. At my funeral, don't talk about me—just blast my ten favorite songs, then disperse. I'll leave you the play list under your pillow. Let my son push the play button.

Jay Ponteri's memoir, Wedlocked, was recently published by Hawthorne Books, April 2013. He directs the undergraduate creative writing program at Marylhurst University and show:tell, The Workshop for Teen Writers & Artists. He is the founding editor of both the online literary magazine M Review and HABIT Books, a publisher of prose and poetry chapbooks. His chapbook of short prose, Darkmouth Strikes Again, is being published by Future Tense Books, summer 2014. His essay "Listen to this" was mentioned as a Notable Essay in Best American Essays 2010. He has published prose in Del Sol Review, Seattle Review, Salamander, Cimarron Review, Puerto Del Sol, and Forklift, Ohio, among others. Most recently he published an essay on a Robert Walser sentence in Tinhouse.com's "Art of the Sentence" series.