Dear Taylor,

The apartment’s been shifting into a mild hell dimension for months now, so I’ve been leaving it more and more, finding new places to hide in. Except! Except maybe I should turn around now that there’s time. Or soon when there’s more time. I’m leaving soon for the week. I’m returning soon for the week, I guess, depending. Are you looking north or south? I’ve been looking at my phone, which is a permanent south. I read an article on celebrity sex tapes and decided it was finally time to delete all those nudes of Mary, what, a year later? It should’ve been ages ago but since they’re all iPhone pics or captured Snapchats there’s no real way to delete them in bulk and painstakingly going through each and every photo of her to delete them felt like a real special kind of torture at the time, and anyway with modern advances in memory space I was able to have enough photos after the fact that I never really had to see them. But what if someone hacks my phone? What if I go home and I’ve gained weight and no one is there except a gaggle of phone hackers and revenge porners? I’ll admit, once the work load stopped my mind hasn’t known what to do with itself and it’s going into weird places. I remember reading about an experiment where they put students in a blank room with no stimulation and nothing to do so they hallucinated pretty bad. Somewhere between that and John Cage hearing his blood in the anechoic chamber is where I’m at right now, except I’m also flipping through nudes of my ex.

Also apparently Cage wasn’t hearing his blood, it’s just that it’s impossible to make something 100% anechoic. Nothing is as poetic as I’d like it to be. Tomorrow morning I’m flying south for the spring. I’m supposed to see you while I’m there. I hope I do.

*

Dear Taylor,

What a morning! I ran into the World’s Tallest Friend in the security line, real early, both of us hoping that the bad hour would make for a shorter line, which it didn’t. Of course it was so early we had nothing to talk about, except for the relative speed of the line, its shifting length, the way I imagine all of Euclid’s friends felt when they were hanging out unexpectedly. Anyway the Hartford airport is pretty small so it didn’t matter so much. Nothing like the weird parallel mall world that DFW is. My Dad told me that DFW is the size of Israel but I think that was only true when he was a kid. It’s maybe bigger than Palestine now. Not to turn this into an anti-Zionist screed I just think DFW is a really weird place where I used to genuinely want to live before The Terminal came out and ruined the whole fantasy (like how The Ice Harvest ruined how cool a title that is) and maybe that’s how I feel about Israel too.

Right now I’m suffering from cold nerves and a hand problem. There’s more I’d like to say before I have to say it to you. Oh well.

*

Dear Taylor,

I’m so in love with the drive to Austin. So flat and empty, each overpass a horizon. You can sort of see the curvature of the earth. Big big skies. No one knows you’re there but the truckers, who are dreaming.

It’s also just such a weird stretch of world. I made a point of pulling off in Italy to get a good look at the spaceship across the street from the big truck stop that let’s you know where you are. The U.S.S. Pegasus. Right now I’m at a rest stop that advertises “I know you don’t like 35 now, but someday you will,” which makes me hopeful for the future. It’s new. I’m sitting across from what could best be described as a sort of avant-garde playground, all twisty and abstract iron shapes, some that swivel, some with chains strung across them, no children anywhere. I’ve never felt so fully inbetween places. It’s nice! You’d like it here. The bathrooms look like silos and everything. No word yet on where the shit is going.

I don’t hate trees, I just hate when they turn into walls. I suppose its our fault/New England’s fault for building roads where roads ought not be, but it’s hard not to suffocate in those little channels. When I think of the world I like to think of the sky touching the ground.

Anyway I’m about an hour away from Austin, I think. Not in any actual hurry. If we didn’t have plans (we do have plans, right?) I’d probably just spend the week here. Maybe on the way back I will.

*

Dear Taylor,

There’s usually a path, thank god. There’s a specific tea place in Austin I set my GPS to if I don’t know where I’m going, which is most of the time, even though it’s mostly a straight shot. I don’t trust myself enough to go without. At least I’m not on Map Quest print outs anymore.

There’s a specific tea shop I always end up at if I have no one to see, and since I’m not seeing you for a few days, that’s where I am. It’s a slow start, five degrees above 80 degrees, overdressed and drinking coffee from a plastic diner cup, worrying about the crowds that aren’t here yet. I’m scared that we’ll run into each other before we’re supposed to, but I figure the odds are pretty low. You’re driving all week and I have no intention of leaving this spot by the window I staked out. Anyway.

Becca called me on the way here to say she was still in Big Bend and wouldn’t be back until tomorrow, so that plan is gone. I’d take a walk but that will only end in being incredibly lost, given how much the landscape has changed since, what, three years ago? I think that’s the last time I was here. When the Daniel Johnston mural was a Baja Fresh. Before that turned into Thai, How Are You? I feel pretty gross. I thought it’d be nice to wear a t-shirt but now that I’m in one i’ve realized there are these weird patches of extra dark hair on my upper arms that I swear weren’t there before. Like they grew in the dark over the winter. Of course this shock presumes that I shower in long sleeved shirts, but that can’t be too hard to believe. I’ve showered in weirder get-ups.

Now that I’m sitting down, a quick check-list of my death symptoms:

–  Whenever I eat an especially fatty meal (much more often now that I’m back in Texas and the fast food options have simply blossomed) I get sharp pains in my chest, going up my left arm. I vaguely remember a Home Improvement episode where they said the left arm is where heart attacks start, so.

–  There’s a vein in my temple that, every so often, starts throbbing wildly, I can feel it with my fingers (stroke fear).

–  I’ve been assured that headaches aren’t supposed to last for days on end, although my distrust for that kind of medical advice has thankfully overruled my distrust of my own body.

–  I just realized I’ve been clenching my teeth for the last five days (related?).

–  The lump is still open ended enough for me to be worried. They said it’s probably benign but if it changes size at any point to call them. Cue obsessive self-groping.

I am often shocked, when I wake up hungover and feel fat rolls in my midsection that I swear weren’t there before, at all the shit I managed to get through when I was younger. Like doing an 8 ball and vomiting bile into a trash bag instead of sleeping. The kind of stuff that sounds really dramatic in retrospect but felt like a pretty minor set back at the time. Everything is a cue for death now.

I realize this is why people in my town go vegan.

*

Dear Taylor,

Same coffee shop, three hours later. Looking through the voice to text notes I took on the drive here that I thought were super poetic. In order:

– “A bright pink future in a diamond plate field”

– “I’m far away from feeling interesting”

– “There was a gas station attached to the park that made us all nervous”

–  “This book was not written” (although I remember now that that was the start of something else but Siri cut me off early)

–  “When you use color it’s a specific color”

–  “Another dead guy, remembered as dangling from a lamp” (there should be a semicolon in there somewhere)

Awful stuff! Proof of a nice idle time on the road, its own three hours of something. But not much to work with. To think, if you read this, you’d probably stop bragging about me to your parents (that’s the scene I’m picturing, I refuse to let go of it).

When I’ve been away from the program for a little bit I start to notice how ridiculous it all is. My dream of success is: earn enough cultural capital in a very small pool of people no one reads until eventually one of them deigns to kill a bunch of trees in my name, at which point I will mail little stacks of their bodies to friends and family who will never read them because they do not like poetry (even Dad, who I stole so many books from). I’d like to think that’s not the whole picture, but the whole picture is really hard to see from out here.

Every time the door opens behind me I turn around like a reflex, afraid that it’s you.

*

Dear Taylor,

Same coffee shop, 11:00 PM. My heart has unattractive problems. Not ugly; ugly is interesting. My heart wears sandals with socks because its feet are cold and it has no hands to tie laces with. One of its valves has an extra flap, and as a result I have to take a bunch of pills before I go to the dentist. Otherwise I’m fine.

It’s a slow walk from fine to here.

Oh for the boys whose acoustic guitars made their emotional dysfunctions sexy! Oh for the boys with electric basses who did the same, but with piercings! My hair is too long and I’m too scared of permanence to get down with either. Not to mention the sad white boy genre of writing, which if you ask me has gone too far the other direction, has become much too dull, probably from over-saturation. Self- awareness is annoying, double self-awareness doubly so. The longer I sit the worse it gets. One of these days I will completely eliminate the first person pronouns from my writing and maybe by then I’ll come by and say hello to you specifically, not to you from me.

I am four cups in and still don’t know where I’m sleeping tonight.

*

Dear Taylor,

Around midnight I turned around to see if it was you and instead it was Meggie; I could tell from how short she was, and her crackly voice. Thank god. I spent the night drinking beer at her place with her

boyfriend and dog, trying to calm my nerves a bit from all that intensive sitting! We sang Pavement songs at each other and reminisced about high school, the way we usually do, until they were too tired and I was alone, and then I was too tired too. I woke up with a puddle of urine around my ankles from the dog, which is the first time I realized I had left Dallas without a change of clothes. Luckily Meggie let me use her laundry machine, which puts me in the weird situation of sitting pantsless (but boxerful!) and alone in her living room while they’re at work and the dryer is finishing up, eyeing Kirby (the dog) with a sort of aggravated sympathy. Lord knows I have also done embarrassing things to guests in my day.

It’s still hot outside. Of course, you know it’s hot outside, you’re only a couple of miles away, out by UT; however, you don’t know I’m writing this, so it’s important to be specific.

The first few times I came to Austin I was hoping for something like the city in Slacker, hot and cheap and full of weird people with nothing to do, and it basically was, although everyone had nicer clothes than existed back in 1991. The last couple of times I came to Austin I was hoping for it to resemble the first few experiences, which it didn’t quite—the crowds were bigger, the beer more expensive. Now I’m sitting in someone else’s (very nice) apartment and there’s no familiarity to this city, not even the made up dream familiarity that kept me going for so long. I’m ok with that; culture moves. What it does mean is that I’m basically here for two reasons: to not be home, and to see you. Neither of those goals make much sense. When my clothes dry I’m going to put them on and walk around the block until they do.

*

Dear Taylor,

How the hell are you supposed to masturbate when you’re on vacation???

*

Dear Taylor,

New sign of death: I am tired all the time. It’s not like when I pass someone in the hallway and they say “how’s it going” and I say “tired.” It’s 4:00 PM and I can’t keep my eyes open. That plus the sun staying out much longer down here and those headaches again makes this whole thing feel like a dream, but not in a dreamy way. Like an actual dream, where nothing sticks to memory and you feel things for no reason and the lighting is exactly the same wherever you go. I went to Juan in a Million and ate a breakfast taco after leaving Meggie’s and the whole eggy brick of it is starting to slide listlessly around in my stomach. I cannot walk. I’m pulled over on the side of the road and trying to sleep, but the car shakes with every car that passes, so I don’t feel safe. At every narrow miss I applaud myself for still being alive and awake, no matter how inconvenient it feels. I hate the way the sun looks at this hour. In a perfect world it would shift from noon to dark with no median. In a perfect world I wonder if we’d stop feeling surprised.

*

Dear Taylor,

It’s been long enough that I’m already nostalgic for the times when I first started writing you. It hasn’t been that long at all.

*

Dear Taylor,

I haven’t figured out a good trick for getting out of the holes that writing these letters puts me in, nor have I figured out a cure for the compulsion that keeps me writing them. So I’m gonna change the subject.

Andrew says the best thing about The Thing is that it has no characters, it just happens. Andrew said that, past tense, when we were very drunk and sad about the situations we had volunteered for before we knew any better. Well, sad about that, and about Phife dying. I get that he’s easy to write off but all you have to do is listen to Q-Tip’s solo albums to know that without Phife no one would have fun listening to Tribe. We were watching the video to “Scenario” and thinking about how weird it was that, in the early 90’s, when it seems like everyone was miserable, you could have a video that was just about a bunch of buds having the best time ever. As seen through a Sega CD video editor. Phife is putting on wigs, Busta is dancing like his limbs are all trying to run away from each other, Q-Tip looks like he just smelled a fart. At one point Redman shows up in his own window just to eat a pizza. It’s beautiful. What I didn’t tell Andrew then, but is the truth, is that ever since I heard I’ve been watching that video when I feel sad. Vicarious joy! That should be the goal of art from now on. It’s official. And it’s that era when you

could rap about how great you are but also how great your friends are, which warms my heart. Q-Tip and Phife were so good to each other. I wish I could be that supportive of my friends, instead of being permanently jealous. I wonder what the poetic equivalent of a “feat.” is. Is it a letter?

*

Dear Taylor,

We’re meeting up this afternoon. I have no idea what we’re going to do though. I’m back at the same coffee shop I arrived at, because it’s the devil I know and I need familiar devils right now. I’m staring at a new book and pretending I don’t know what you look like. It’s hot and everyone has their own dog. Phife died and I drove to Austin. I HAVE NOTHING TO SAY AND I’M WRITING A LETTER.

I have nothing to say and that terrifies me, because what else do I have to offer? If I’m lucky I’ll be able to forget this for the next couple of hours. I wonder how many poems came from misheard lyrics.

I swear I can feel the air pressure shifting like it wants me to shut up. I won’t. I don’t know how.

*

Dear Taylor,

It’s been an hour and a half since my last missive. I haven’t seen you yet; you’re at a car wash, getting ready to make some Lyft money this week, and won’t be out for awhile, because there’s a line, I guess? You know better than I do. I’m in one of those coffee shops where none of the chairs or tables look like they belong together or were in fact ever part of a set, which now that I think of it is true for most coffee shops. I bought iced tea but instead of like, ice, they put those tiny ice pellets like the kind you get at Sonic, the ones that fill up most of the cup while the drink just exists in the cracks. It is a refreshing scam.

I’m really nervous. These letters mostly say that I don’t know how to talk to you, if they say anything. Is that dumb? Do you know how to talk to me? I always feel like we’re about to run into each other on the side walk, and we keep dodging to the same side. In preparation I’m listening to the sunniest album I have on me. It has an empty Wal-Mart parking lot on the backside. The kind of backside that says “if we aren’t happy to be here then why are we here?”

I have so many answers I don’t know where to start.

*

Dear Taylor,

I’m writing this letter in a journal and you’re watching me write it. Because it’s too loud to actually talk much. A recap, so neither of us forget the ultimately minor events that by all rights we should. Met up at the car wash. Really big hug, almost awkwardly big, I never know when those are supposed to end or

how to do so. I loosened my grip a couple of times but we kept going. Then we drove to your friend Joe’s house, because as far as I can tell everything is of equal weight in your head right now. I like Joe. His apartment has really high ceilings but he doesn’t act like it. He made us coffee and you spilled it on his white couch but he was pretty ok with that. I was afraid of coffee (by this point I’d already had and peed out so much and was shaking for a variety of indistinguishable reasons) so I poured a lot of it down the sink and he was ok with that too. I like Joe. I can’t tell if you’re trying to hook us up or not.

There’s a KVRX showcase at hole in the wall that we’re supposed to go to but we go to your house first, to drop off my car and take yours. Your front porch is all dirt and has people we don’t know in it, so we go to the back yard and smoke cigarettes. I take one when you offer it to me because at this point I have no idea how to act like myself so I’m just going with it. I can’t remember what we talked about, even though that was only an hour ago, except that you were lamenting that you had a lot of artist friends for someone who isn’t an artist. You are an artist though, you just don’t show anybody.

We finally get to the hole in the wall and I’m actually so grateful because I can have a drink and feel a little bit of the weird pressure dissipate in the crowd. Joe and I get a beer and you don’t because you don’t. We’re just in time for a terrible, terrible, terrible bunch of pretty white boys doing Bob Marley covers and basically going full 311 with them. That was thirty minutes ago. We were standing and not speaking.

Now we’re sitting at a table in the next room. This band is better, sort of a Built to Spill/Modest Mouse throwback, which is nice, I feel like that’s an era that hasn’t had much of a revival yet, and I have a lot of affection for it. I’m on beer two, so is Joe, I think. You got up to ask the bartender for a pen and I

asked you to get me one too, so you did. Now I’m writing this, you’re sketching a portrait of the lead singer (exactly the kind of scrawny, balding, bearded ball of energy you’d expect to front this sort of band, although he has a much nicer guitar than should be affordable to college students), occasionally we give each other knowing looks except I have no idea what it is that we know, and I have a feeling the night is going to end just like this, and I’ll be driving home in a fog, one day into the week, wondering what actually happened.

*

Dear Taylor,

It did.

*

Dear Taylor,

Sort of. We did go for a walk after that, touched the balls in the middle of UT, went home and ate bread in a half awkward silence. You said you really needed to work that night and felt bad for ditching me, although you shouldn’t. We walked outside, there was an awkward moment where I couldn’t tell if you were going for a kiss or not, another really tight hug that lasted longer than I thought it would, and then I got in the car. It was 10:00 at that point.

The drive home is three hours. I made it as far as the rest stop, with the silos. I slept in the car, with the windows down, thinking about the stars I’d see if there wasn’t a roof in the way. They’d be the same. Things usually are.

.

.


Max Cohen is a trans woman poet born in Texas and currently living in Chicago. Somewhere in-between she got her MFA from UMass Amherst. Her work has been featured in Ninth Letter, Sixth Finch, and alice blue, and left a range of conflicting bios in her wake. You can find her on twitter as @warsaw350125. She continues to subsist primarily on iced tea and seltzer.