You Are Jeff - Richard Siken
There are two twins on motorbikes but one is farther up the road, beyond the hairpin turn, or just before it, depending on which twin you are in love with at the time. Do not choose sides yet. It is still to your advantage to remain impartial. Both motorbikes are shiny red and both boys have perfect teeth, dark hair, soft hands. The one in the front will want to take you apart, and slowly. His deft and stubby fingers searching every shank and lock for weaknesses. You could love this boy with all your heart. The other brother only wants to stitch you back together. The sun shines down. It is a beautiful day. Consider the hairpin turn. Do not choose sides yet.
There are two twins on motorbikes but one is farther up the road. Let’s call them Jeff. And because the first Jeff is in the front we’ll consider him the older, and therefore responsible for lending money and the occasional punch in the shoulder. World-wise, world-weary, and not his mother’s favorite, this Jeff will always win when it all comes down to fisticuffs. Unfortunately for him, it doesn’t always all come down to fisticuffs. Jeff is thinking about his brother down the winding road behind him. He is thinking that only if he could cut him open and peel him back and crawl inside this second skin, then he could relive that last mile again: reborn, wild-eyed, free.
There are two twins on motorbikes but one is farther up the road, beyond the hairpin turn, or just before it, depending on which Jeff you are. It could have been so beautiful—you scout out the road ahead and I will watch your back, how it was and how it will be, memory and fantasy—but each Jeff wants to be the other one. My name is Jeff and I’m tired of looking at the back of your head. My name is Jeff and I’m tired of seeing my hand me down clothes. Look, Jeff, I’m telling you, for the last time, I mean it, etcetera. They are the same and they are not the same. They are the same and they hate each other for it.
Your name is Jeff and somewhere up ahead of you your brother has pulled to the side of the road and he is waiting for you with a lug wrench clutched in his greasy fist. O how he loves you, darling boy. O how, like always, he invents the monsters underneath the bed to get you to sleep next to him, chest to chest or chest to back, the covers drawn around you in an act of faith against the night. When he throws the wrench into the air it will catch the light as it spins toward you. Look—it looks like a star. You had expected something else, anything else, but the wrench never reaches you. It hangs in the air like that, spinning in the air like that. It’s beautiful.
Let’s say God in his High Heaven is hungry and has decided to make himself some tuna fish sandwiches. He’s already finished making two of them, on sourdough, before he realizes the fish is bad. What is he going to do with these sandwiches? They’re already made, but he doesn’t want to eat them.
Let’s say the Devil is played by two men. We’ll call them Jeff. Dark hair, green eyes, white teeth, pink tongues—they’re twins. The one on the left has gone bad in the middle, and the other one on the left is about to. As they wrestle, you can tell they have forgotten about God, and they are very hungry.
You are playing cards with three men named Jeff. Two of the Jeffs seem somewhat familiar, but the Jeff across from you keeps staring at your hands, your mouth, and you’re certain that you’ve never seen this Jeff before. But he’s on your team, and you’re ahead, you’re winning big, and yet the other Jeffs keep smiling at you like there’s no tomorrow. They all have perfect teeth: white, square, clean, even. And, for some reason, the lighting in the room makes their teeth seem closer than they should be, as if each mouth was a place, a living room with pink carpet and the window’s open. Come back from the window, Jefferson. Take off those wet clothes and come over here, by the fire.
You are playing cards with three Jeffs. One is your father, one is your brother, and the other is your current boyfriend. All of them have seen you naked and heard you talking in your sleep. Your boyfriend Jeff gets up to answer the phone. To them he is a mirror, but to you he is a room. Phone’s for you, Jeff says. Hey! It’s Uncle Jeff, who isn’t really your uncle, but you can’t talk right now, one of the Jeffs has put his tongue in your mouth. Please let it be the right one.
Two brothers are fighting by the side of the road. Two motorbikes have fallen over on the shoulder, leaking oil into the dirt, while the inter-locking brothers grapple and swing. You see them through the backseat window as you and your parents drive past. You are twelve years old. You do not have a brother. You have never experienced anything this ferocious or intentional with another person. Your mother is pretending that she hasn’t seen anything. Your father is fiddling with the knobs of the radio. There is an empty space next to you in the backseat of the station wagon. Make it the shape of everything you need. Now say hello.
You are in an ordinary suburban bedroom with bunk beds, a bookshelf, two wooden desks and chairs. You are lying on your back, on the top bunk, very close to the textured ceiling, staring straight at it in fact, and the room is still dark except for a wedge of powdery light that spills in from the adjoining bathroom. The bathroom is covered in mint green tile and someone is in there, singing very softly. Is he singing to you? For you? Black cherries in chocolate, the ring around the moon, a beetle underneath a glass—you cannot make out all the words, but you’re sure he knows you’re in there, and he’s singing to you, even though you don’t know who he is.
You see it as a room, a tabernacle, a dark hotel. You’re in the hallway again, and you open the door, and if you’re ready you’ll see it, but maybe one part of your mind decides that the other parts aren’t ready, and then you don’t remember where you’ve been, and you find yourself down the hall again, the lights gone dim as the left hand sings the right hand back to sleep. It’s a puzzle: each piece, each room, each time you put your hand to the knob, your mouth to the hand, your ear to the wound that whispers.
You’re in the hallway again. The radio is playing your favorite song. You’re in the hallway. Open the door again. Open the door.
Suppose for a moment that the heart has two heads, that the heart has been chained and dunked in a glass booth filled with river water. The heart is monologing about hesitation and fulfillment while behind the red brocade the heart is drowning. Can the heart escape? Does love even care? Snow falls as we dump the booth in the bay.
Suppose for a moment we are crowded around a pier, waiting for something to ripple the water. We believe in you. There is no danger. It is not getting dark, we want to say.
Consider the hairpin turn. It is waiting for you like a red door or the broken leg of a dog. The sun is shining, O how the sun shines down! Your speedometer and your handgrips and the feel of the road below you, how it knows you, the black ribbon spread out on the greens between those lines that suddenly don’t reach the horizon. It is waiting, like a broken door, like the red dog that chases its tail and eats your rosebushes and then must be forgiven. Who do you love, Jeff? Who do you love? You were driving toward something and then, well, then you found yourself driving the other way. The dog is asleep. The road is behind you. O how the sun shines down.
This time everyone has the best intentions. You have cancer. Let’s say you have cancer. Let’s say you’ve swallowed a bad thing and now it’s got its hands inside you. This is the essence of love and failure. You see what I mean but you’re happy anyway, and that’s okay, it’s a love story after all, a lasting love, a wonderful adventure with lots and lots of action, where the mirror says mirror and the hand says hand and the front door never says Sorry Charlie. So the doctor says you need more stitches and the bruise cream isn’t working. So much for the facts. Let’s say you’re still completely in the dark but we love you anyway. We love you. We really do.
After work you go to the grocery store to get some milk and a carton of cigarettes. Where did you get those bruises? You don’t remember. Work was boring. You find a jar of bruise cream and a can of stewed tomatoes. Maybe a salad? Spinach, walnuts, blue cheese, apples, and you can’t decide between the Extra Large or Jumbo black olives. Which is bigger anyway? Extra Large has a blue label, Jumbo has a purple label. Both cans cost $1.29. While you’re deciding, the afternoon light is streaming through the windows behind the bank of the checkout counters. Take the light inside you like a blessing, like a knee in the chest, holding onto it and not letting go. Now let go.
Like sandpaper, the light, or a blessing, or a bruise. Blood everywhere, he said, the red light hemorrhaging from everywhere at once. The train station blue, your lips blue, hands cold and the blue wind. Or a horse, your favorite horse now raised up again out of the mud and galloping galloping always towards you. In your ruined shirt, on the last day, while the bruise won’t heal, and the stain stays put, the red light streaming in from everywhere at once. Your broken ribs, the back of your head, your hand to mouth or hand to now, right now, like you mean it, like it’s splitting you in two. Now look at the lights, the lights.
You and your lover are making out in the corner booth of a seedy bar. The booths are plush and the drinks are cheap and in this dim and smoky light you can barely tell whose hands are whose. Someone raises their glass for a toast. Is that the Hand of Judgment or the Hand of Mercy? The bartender smiles, running a rag over the burnished wood of the bar. The drink in front of you has already been paid for. Drink it, the bartender says. It’s yours, you deserve it. It’s already been paid for. Somebody’s paid for it, already. There’s no mistake, he says. It’s your drink, the one you asked for, just the way you like it. How can you refuse? Hands of fire, hands of air, hands of water, hands of dirt. Someone’s doing all the talking but no one’s lips move. Consider the hairpin turn.
The motorbikes are neck and neck but where’s the checkered flag we all expected, waving in the distance, telling you you’re home again, home? He’s next to you, right next to you in fact, so close, or … he isn’t. Imagine a room. Yes, imagine a room: two chairs facing the window but nobody moves. Don’t move. Keep staring straight into my eyes. It feels like you’re not moving, the way when, dancing, the room will suddenly fall away. You’re dancing: you’re neck and neck or check to cheek, he’s there or he isn’t, the open road. Imagine a room. Imagine you’re dancing. Imagine the room now falling away. Don’t move.
Two brothers: one of them wants to take you apart. Two brothers: one of them wants to put you back together. It’s time to choose sides now. The stitches or the devouring mouth? You want an alibi? You don’t get an alibi, you get two brothers. Here are two Jeffs. Pick one. This is how you make the meaning, you take two things and try to define the space between them. Jeff or Jeff? Who do you want to be? You just wanted to play in your own backyard, but you don’t know where your own yard is, exactly. You just wanted to prove there was one safe place, just one safe place where you could love him. You have not found that place yet. You have not made that place yet. You are here. You are here. You’re still right here.
Here are your names and here is the list and here are the things you left behind. The mark on the floor from pushing your chair back, your underwear, one half brick of cheese, the kind I don’t like, wrapped up, and poorly, and abandoned on the second shelf next to the poppyseed dressing, which is also yours. Here’s the champagne on the floor, and here are your house keys, and here are the curtains that your cat peed on. And here is your cat, who keeps eating grass and vomiting in the hallway. Here is the list with all of your names, Jeff. They’re not the same name, Jeff. They’re not the same at all.
There are two twins on motorbikes but they are not on motorbikes, they’re in a garden where the flowers are as big as thumbs. Imagine you are in a field of daisies. What are you doing in a field of daisies? Get up! Let’s say you’re not in the field anymore. Let’s say they’re not brothers anymore. That’s right, they’re not brothers, they’re just one guy, and he knows you, and he’s talking to you, but you’re in pain and you cannot understand him. What are you still doing in this field? Get out of the field! You should be in the hotel room! You should, at least, be trying to get back into the hotel room. Ah! Now the field is empty.
Hold onto your voice. Hold onto your breath. Don’t make a noise, don’t leave the room until I come back from the dead for you. I will come back from the dead for you. This could be a city. This could be a graveyard. This could be the basket of a big balloon. Leave the lights on. Leave a trail of letters like those little knots of bread we used to dream about. We used to do a lot of things. Put your hand to the knob, your mouth to the hand, pick up the bread and devour it. I’m in the hallway again, I’m in the hallway. The radio’s playing my favorite song. Leave the lights on. Keep talking. I’ll keep walking toward the sound of your voice.
Someone had a party while you were sleeping but you weren’t really sleeping, you were sick, and parts of you were burning, and you couldn’t move. Perhaps the party was in your honor. You can’t remember. It seems the phone was ringing in the dream you were having but there’s no proof. A dish in the sink that might be yours, some clothes on the floor that might belong to someone else. When was the last time you found yourself looking out of this window. Hey! This is a beautiful window! This is a beautiful view! Those trees lined up like that, and the way the stars are spinning over them like that, spinning in the air like that, like wrenches.
Let’s say that God is the space between two men and the Devil is the space between two men. Here: I’ll be all of them—Jeff and Jeff and Jeff and Jeff are standing on the shoulder of the highway, four motorbikes knocked over, two wrenches spinning in the ordinary air. Two of these Jeffs are windows, and two of these Jeffs are doors, and all of these Jeffs are trying to tell you something. Come closer. We’ll whisper it in your ear. It’s like seeing your face in a bowl of soup, cream of potato, and the eyes shining like spoons. If we wanted to tell you everything, we would leave more footprints in the snow or kiss you harder. One thing. Come closer. Listen …
You’re in a car with a beautiful boy, and he won’t tell you that he loves you, but he loves you. And you feel like you’ve done something terrible, like robbed a liquor store, or swallowed pills, or shoveled yourself a grave in the dirt, and you’re tired. You’re in a car with a beautiful boy, and you’re trying not to tell him that you love him, and you’re trying to choke down the feeling, and you’re trembling, but he reaches over and he touches you, like a prayer for which no words exist, and you feel your heart taking root in your body, like you’ve discovered something you didn’t even have a name for.