My Walk with Shiv — After Bruce Boone
Coco Sofia Fitterman
Words lifted from people who are better than me:
Amy Lien and Enzo Camacho, The Movement of Manananggal: Amy Lien & Enzo Camacho in conversation with Levi Easterbrooks
Bruce Boone, My Walk with Bob
Kevin Killian, Tony Greene Era
Patrick Flores, “Polytropic Philippine: Intimating the World in Pieces”
Shiv Kotecha, The Switch
Tan Lin, Seven Controlled Vocabularies
Yukio Mishima, Confessions of a Mask
Dear boy, yes, sure, let’s meet
but don’t expect much from this meeting.
—Pier Paolo Pasolini, Part of a Letter to the Codignola Boy
Turn to a friend. You’re at the beach. She’s told you she’s been looking for you for an hour, I want to die, she precludes. Thank god she found you, you think. At least this, unlike her declarative suggestion, is the actual following through of a plan, a successful day. You’ve stood, packed your stuff up, and you’re walking. You slug back the drink you bought, offer it to her. I can feel the hangover already she says, as she looks down at her bare feet. Your eyes follow, and she’s de-pebbling a stone, perhaps several, lodged in her young red foot. The beach is wild, she says, but you’ve decided to mistrust her. She's young, she's a New Yorker, you're not and neither is your lover or friend or whoever. She’s a liar. Another pebble (it's probably just sand) digs between her toes. By this time you’ve decided to make, for her, a case. The beach, of all places, is not a wilderness, Coco, that’s stupid. Look at it—it’s nothing.
Her feet are bleeding, writes Shiv about my feet, which were red but did not bleed. But, like, the sun, she says (I say), it’s constantly beating down on you and there’s no cover from it and the ground is covered in glass. Shiv’s childhood tells him that she is wrong, he looks up, ignoring her bleeding foot
which Shiv, being older, finds it easy to convince himself is not happening because of the sun or glass. He’s decided upon it and she can calm down. But in his head he continues. She hasn’t yet made herself tolerant or open enough to mild spells of discrete but ongoing pain, hasn’t learnt that the way to overcome the effects of pain is simply to replace that feeling with another similar or slightly larger feeling of pain. Just wait, Shiv thinks, saying nothing, but knowing how much pain is unrememberable.
I am meeting you at the beach, which is free but brutal.
My first indication of the brutality of the beach was when I realized my phone had no reception. Sweating, I was all the way down on the other end of the beach, past the gay part (or all of Rockaway is gay?) and I somehow knew where you were, but it would take me literally forever to get there.
I set out, running on the part of the shore where the sand meets the waves, becomes compact and hardened. I quickly lost my breath and had to walk. I walked for what seemed like hours, my skin sweating from every pore with no respite from the aggressively hot sun, my feet becoming raw from stepping on seashells and glass. It was the height of summer, and there was anger in the rays of the sun.
Finally I see you, Shiv, lying horizontally on a towel, reading some book and sipping some vodka drink in sunglasses and a sleeveless shirt, your coolness a jarring contrast to my haggard, sweating self.
“I’ve been looking for you for hours,” I say. “Isn’t that crazy.”
I de-pebble a stone or maybe several from my foot.
“Don’t you think the beach is wild,” I say as we walk on the boardwalk, you’ve given me your flip flops and some of an edible, “like a total wasteland kind of.”
You sip your drink and say, “the beach isn’t wild. It’s nothing. You can calm down.”
Shiv and I agree on a Tan Lin passage which blows both of our minds equally. This is my walk with Shiv, not Tan, but for the record, the passage is this:
What would it be like to look at a poem? It would be the most beautiful thing in the room that could stand to be looked at. It would be more beautiful than the thing itself. A beautiful poem is a poem that can be repeated over and over again. You are reading about a poem comprised of a thousand wayward looks. Look. A beautiful poem is a painting that can be repeated over and over again. Repetition is the only thing that makes something more perfect than it already is. For this reason, there is always a gaze that does not reach inside the face (I was looking at). That should be the gaze of poems that think they are paintings.
A beautiful walk is a walk that can be repeated over and over again.
We were duly impressed.
Shiv, whose long legs allow a brisk walking pace even through hot sand, forged ahead. A mood of reverie came on me and I slowed down a bit to finger shells with my toes, the texture of which reminded me of the time in my life when I was, somehow, even younger than I am now, and Shiv took me to movies and taught me everything.
I remember when we went to see Ace in the Hole and I ate too much of the edible and clutched your arm the whole time in the dark theater. Just focus on Kirk Douglas’s jawline, you said. Isn’t the beach like the movies—our eyes strained, half-blind. This will last maybe two or three more hours at most, until we drag our sandy slack bodies back into the city. What is the movies, Shiv, if not the photochemical realization of what we are feeling right now in this very moment, and what the people who came before us felt in this very moment, at this very gay beach?
Paintings to read, poems to regard, movies to swim in, an ocean to watch.
As we walk along the shore, observing topless queers and sandy bears, I feel compelled to tell you about San Marino.
In My Walk with Bob, Bruce Boone says that it’s an extravagance to spend money on beauty when you are poor. That’s why he never paid the 25¢ fee to visit the Mission Dolores which, on his walk with Bob, he realized is indeed very beautiful. The Huntington Gardens in San Marino are really expensive and indeed very beautiful.
It’s easy to get swept up in all that beauty. What are we gonna do with it?
There is a moment in the novel Noli Me Tángere, written in 1887 by Filipino national hero José Rizal, when the protagonist—a Filipino who has been studying in Europe for several years—returns to Manila. Upon his return, he gazes at the Manila Botanical Garden, but simultaneously remembers the grand hanging gardens in Europe. At this moment there is this colonial overlay, or, to use a term from artists Amy Lien and Enzo Camacho, colonial double-vision that happens. Seeing two realities at once. But that’s not all it is. In the novel, Rizal condenses this enormous feeling into the succinct phrase, “el demonio de las comparaciones.” the devil of affinities.
I’m not totally sure what I’m weaving here, Shiv. I’ll be honest. But I want to tell you about the botanical gardens in San Marino.
It is the opposite of the beach (are you still listening?)
The first garden is a facsimile of a desert. It’s called the Desert Garden. Wild knotty cactus protrusions choke plump matte succulents, etcetera. Spiky and towering pads of Nopal grow like boils or ears atop each other. A shell of a place. A movie. A walk.
Then there is the Rose Garden (Western decadence) and then the Chinese Garden leading into the Japanese Garden (problematic). A mini bonsai collection, impeccably labeled. A perfectly neat Zen Rock Garden. Slowly my walk in San Marino became my walk with Yukio Mishima, maybe my favorite writer of all time. Confessions of a Mask is my favorite book of all time. I know you’ve read it, too. This passage, estranged from its context, became like a kind of horizon for me, and I could hardly care what lay on the other side—
Tongue-tips of water lapped up waveringly as though they would lick the spot, but never quite reached it. And, whether because of a reflection or because the ray of light streamed on into the basin as well, the water beneath that spot on the brim gleamed softly, and tiny shining waves seemed to be forever bumping their heads together there. . . .
Tongue-tips of flames: whatever burns unfolded gapes free. What is life? The stage turns on this stiffness. An ocean shimmies through it. An actress brushes past an episode. She kisses and skims my broken skin, Whatever waves whatever waves whatever waves fall across.
What’s on the other side, Shiv? Do we care? Do we need to? Tongue-tips of flames. Whatever burns unfolded. Now the beach is a stage of public and private memory. A beach. A garden. A poem, Shiv—some of life’s pleasures. It is a pleasure that our walk will continue, on and off the page like this, devilishly meandering through these ruses, these pinks of illusion.
Coco Sofia Fitterman is a poet from New York. Her work has appeared in The Brooklyn Rail and Shitwonder, among other publications. She has performed at HKW, MoMA PS1, American Medium, and other venues in Berlin and NYC. Her chapbook Say It With Flowers was published by Inpatient Press in 2017, and she has recently graduated from New York University. She writes and reads on art, death and love in the age of worldwide destruction.