An English Remix

by Lisa Tibbetts

In Tommy Nevins pub, a man saunters by
 in black pants and a button-down shirt.  
He asks my name; his British lilt sharpens
 the Ts on his tongue. 
 He asks if Lisa is short for Elizabeth.  
                  Maybe, it is.  The E just ran away with beth. 
Perhaps he likes me for my name:
Its double b and t hint at a slight British origin,
 the British love for redundant letters. 
My Dad once claimed
we were loyalists who ran away to Canada 
when the Revolution began.  
How did the Native American creep in?
We don’t really know where we came from…  
                                         I rather like Lisa, though.  
                                         L is a long, thin letter 
                                         with a right angle,
                                          as if light hit
                                         a sheet of water 
                                         before bouncing
                                         off.  If you write 
                                         it in cursive,
                                         it’s just a single 
                                         loop.  My mom 
                                         chose its 4 letters;
                                         easy to write, but 
                                         easier to mold into 
                                         anything I want; 
                                         casual yet hip and
                                         the girl I want to be,
                                         has a blonde bob 
                                         and a bold, thin 
                                         body.  Slightly curled.
                                          Perhaps, she is wander-
                                         ing down a serpentine 
                                         London Alley, or posing 
                                         by a molten 18th century 
                                         cannon with soot and
                                          gunpowder, glad her 
                                         ancestors had sense 
                                         to abscond from both
                                          the Motherland 
                                         and the bloody wars
                                         that ensured separation.
                                          It is always hard 
                                         for the child to break
                                          away from the shackles
                                         of an overbearing parent.  
                                         Perhaps, what attracts
                                         this stranger to me
                                         is my affect name: 
                                         its faint allusion to
                                         his English roots
                                         coupled with the long L,
                                         like a long pike
                                         in rebellion.
It is a complete massacre of the Queen’s
name, he declares, in his high British pomp.  
But, I like it. It packs a lot of ammunition
 into four letters.
                                         He barely moves his mouth.  
                                         In his whisper, 
                                         the s slips away
                                         into the silence,
                                         if it had ever been uttered. 
I walk along the lake 
with Geoffrey Hugh Brett Dommett,
 as the pier juts out into the moonlight.  
To him, however, it isn’t just a pier,
 but a reminder.  Its metal beams arc 
over the water like the bridge 
that he jumped off on May first
 into colder waters.   
In England, we wake up at five am on May Day—
completely skip lectures and tutoring.  
We dine on strawberries and champagne
 before donning our suits and jumping off 
a bridge into the Oxford River. Police 
barricade the bridge, but we still 
manage the feat anyways.  Ambulances
 wait for us over the side, complete with emergency lathes—
Let me clarify, the water is bloody cold.  
One chap hit his head and ended up paralyzed
 in the hospital, but we still enjoy our sport.  
Quite different than cricket or croquet.
He grabs my hand suddenly—
and drags me over 
the flourwhite sand
 towards the lake.  
I resist for a second 
and laugh; I can’t stop: 
 I tumble down onto 
the blanket of sand, 
pulling him down
 with me onto the long
 grass for the first time.
I remember
I remember falling and flailing
I remember sinking into the skeletal stone
the hard lines angling into edges that cut
a skull into the face of our boulder. 
Your face is round; long hair blows
 in the saltless breeze above the oceanless water.
I scream, afraid to face how the opal sheers 
into  a glass marble mirror.  
Graphite hyphens efface the commas
in my blind eyes.  Your lips dash against mine. 
 I feel the stars against my back, my lips my thighs,
they blink faint shadows into the faint sky;   I blink into
their lines of light.
Are these meteors?
No, they’re just bats flapping off.
Bats soar in shadows
deleting the night—
I think city lights reveal
their wrinkled hide, mouse-
heads, as they beat their wings
over us like a current lapping shore.
Bats are the graffiti of the sky—
Somehow this makes sense
on the rocks that students inscribe 
with their lies and we lie upon.
“I luv u 4ever & ever”
smoothes the rock’s  scratches,
a protest for what case?  
On what page? Your fist?
Who punched them?   Your hand?
Who carved them?  Not an alien
stranger but a hand who knows us:
you chisel:
My flesh
                                          is skin,                 not rose-wine shaded quartz that scratches, 
                                                                                                      breaks, sinks, but always hides in an armored heart.  
                                                                                                                                                     It divides, but never dies.
I don’t think it will last, but nights turn into weeks into months, 
as I stay with him. Drawers fill with miniskirts, tanks, jeans, t-shirts, 
sweaters and parkas.  Turkish delights melt on my tongue, as detergent  
melts in laundry machines; he accepts a post-doctoral position and a lease 
on his life in America.  At night, he tells me the modern myths of the world
and the conspiracies that ballasted the myths.
Do you know who the gray men are?
They killed Princess Di.
She was setting a ticking
time-bomb for England
with her whole anti-landmine campaign.
A white car flashes a light into my mind 
and the eyes of a high driver, 
as grey men drove onto Geoffrey’s chest…
if a heart actually beat inside.  At times,
he claims he’s not really human.
I’m an android.  I have no feelings.
He holds me mechanically,
telling me about the times he clutched a bottle 
instead of a calculator after lab, how quickly
the whiskey seeped into his system.
He received his doctorate in physics,
but Demetri delayed his main article
in the review process, so he never was published.
He claims that nanotechnology is a fake science.
You’d be perfect in the laboratory to help them with their proposals, their creative writing
 assignments.  There was this one chap who claimed
 his research in grapheme would build a ladder to the stars. Because grapheme is a single
 layer of cells that cannot exist in any form with or without gravity, 
it would collapse in the oxygen-deprived environment of outer space!  What a bloody loony!
With ice cream cones in hand, we collapse on
the railings and let the sun streak our bodies
on Navy Pier, where cruise ships depart 
for cocktail parties; a huge Ferris wheel
wheels above us, the spokes radiating out to little seats
where couples kiss above the city; under the rays,
I watch the ships and waves form a line
that extends in both directions without end.  
A wave forms from clumps of seaweed strung 
on fisheggs, schools of minnows, with plastic rings
 strangling their fins; the wave breaks 
off the English channel, ripping off the coast of Ireland,
and implodes against the white banister.  
You seem distant as your watch, eyes flecked tan
like soil of a distant shore.  I breathe in your ear;
you swat me away.
It wasn’t easy coming here.
I know.
Sometimes, I wonder—
Don’t we all?
But, when I came to America,
I thought I’d be free.
Then, it was the next day,
and the royal mayhem returned.
My blank stare meets his cryptic words.
It was a Monday night that I arrived at O’Hare—
of course, the plane was two hours late, and the lines through customs
 were endless.  The American accents seemed so rushed, so rude,
so devoid of any feeling—I don’t know—just not quite as meticulous
as what we’re accustomed to.  Precision, precision, precision.  That’s why
you’re a writer and not a scientists—
I punch him gently.
Anyhow, I got to my host family’s flat and collapsed. 
I was supposed to meet my thesis advisor first 
thing the next morning, but it was just too bright out.
I went downstairs, and my host mum told me 
the twin towers had just collapsed.
I said, Lovely.  I brought the IRA with me.
No one else thought it was funny, but the truth is I grew up with…
freedom fighters.
Geoffrey grew up in the 1980s, 
when the IRA was waging a war
 for independence on the streets of London. 
 His public school had been in the line 
of attack.  One day a truck bearing a six
 ton bomb advanced towards his school,
but luckily, the bomb had a defect.
Your eyes are peaceful like the water.
The United States government issues up to 65,000 H1B visas each year, allowing foreigners
in specialty occupations to be employed in America for up to three years. Excluded
from the limit are employees at university or non-profit research facilities and the 20,000 advanced degrees.  Even though the H-1B is a non-immigrant visa, it is recognized to have a dual
intent, meaning that an H1-B holder can have legal immigration intent while still holding 
the visa. In 2006, the quota was exhausted within a span of less than 2 months.  In 2007, the entire  
quota was reached before the end of the first day.  On April 8, 2008, it was announced that the entire quota for both visas was reached by the end of the first week.  A lottery was run for both visas.  
Flip a coin.  Who wants to leave their fate up to chance?
Blue swirls a typhoon in my eyes at Café Ambrosia, 
where you write application after application
 and I poem after poem.  Your upper lip curls, 
and your fingers strum the table before him
 as if you are plucking staccato. Sometimes, the void invades 
and you stare out.  Perhaps, you are imagining the wireless blackholes
 that fill with cover letters and resumes without responding.  
An alien job for an alien.   
Determined to find work in the United States, you 
attend job fair after job fair, interview after interview, 
                                           ranting about job prospects,
 first in Chicago, next in Alabama, finally in Boston.  
The interviews are identical, the same monotone voices
asking inane questions followed by the same intransigent answers.  
SCIENTIST:  Describe your thesis for me.
GEOFFREY:  To fulfill my dissertation at Northwestern
 University, I created an instrument to measure
 the electric current of graphene molecules
 and how closely they adhere to each other.
SCIENTIST:  Excellent.  A nanotechnology expert is exactly
 what we are looking for to round out 
our experimentation team.  You also went to Oxford, right?
GEOFFREY:  My masters is from Saint John’s College.
SCIENTIST:    You have a thick British accent.  What is your citizenship?
GEOFFREY:  I’ve been in the States since 2001 on a student visa.
SCIENTIST:   So, you’re a British citizen?
GEOFFREY:   I pay taxes here.
SCIENTIST:   And, you do not have dual citizenship?
GEOFFREY:   Not quite yet—
SCIENTIST:  Do you have a work visa or green card?
GEOFFREY:   All I need is the H1B.  
I have been here for five years performing cutting edge research—
SCIENTIST:    I understand.  It was so nice talking to you. 
Thank you so much for your time.
I don’t know what to say.  
You turn off all three of his computer monitors,
and drag into me like a cigarette; 
before going limp for a long time.  
I never ask about interviews after that.  
You say, “I don’t know” and stares off
into the silence that pelts us 
and causes our friction to heat up 
the space where answers once were.   
Our bodies bridge the vast distant words 
we can’t utter but both understood too well;
like an image taped to a mirror.  
This picture strips 
my soul away.  I tilt my head into the light 
without blinking; a black velvet gown clings
to my shoulders.  The standard
 blue background blurs behind me,
but for once, I don’t blend in.  
Blue-grey eyes flash back and forth
 with a glint that teases out answers 
to riddles. 
As light strikes past the breakers into the Arctic abyss,
 my eyes penetrate too deeply.   A shadow divides
 my face in two, but a smile stretches 
over it.  Dimples lengthen and criss-cross
 my jaw.  Strands of sun-streaked hair tumble 
down my shoulders, with the split
 ends landing on my graduation gown.   
My skin is so white 
it looks like it might chip.  
Over claret cheeks, Porcelain
 skin lies as translucent as ice.  
Moles are not permitted to sully
 a pale face. Freckles are airbrushed 
off my nose, which is slightly
too angular for my oval face. I’ve chiseled
my collar bone from my neck, where it juts
into my shoulder blades 
and carves into my throat.   
A pendant dangles down 
from a gold chain around
 my neck. It is emerald, 
like my birthstone, a gift from 
my grandfather on my birthday. 
Just as I meet the camera eye to eye,
 in a dare for time to pass, 
the chain breaks and slips                                                                   past the photo’s edge. 
He stares at our reflection in the mirror; eyes furrowed,  
as if he is memorizing some complex equation.
The way we fit together: as the moment slips away.  
The el pulses me awake like steam seeps into my bed sheets, beneath my stained white 
down quilt.  I awaken in the Northern Chicago black (or is it Evanston?) 
and Polaris is hiding under the blind of clouds—clumps of gray—and the stars are 
sprinkling down snow, shining like white crystals in an ice sky.  If Lake 
Michigan thickens over, will school open tomorrow?  Or will the kids slick over the 
bump between the lake and those cobblestone buildings with sleds of 
books and dining hall trays?  Where you and I slicked over the waves last summer?  By 
waves, I clarify:  demeaning ripples, droplets, kisses of fresh water.   
Then, you decided we should drill our initials into the rocks—the grass frozen with 
dandelions and red soldier ants stinging you with mosquito bites.  We 
never did that, though—just as we would never drill our initials into the marble body of 
the Washington Monument, erect in the sky like that icicle that weather 
forecasters predicted but never came to those blue skies and occasional “Indian winters”; 
those days where girls wore miniskirts and swung on swings in February 
burning sun.    I like to experiment, experience, feel the moon ring my skin with moles.  The moon’s 
craters are moles, casting a shadow like an eclipse over your bed.  My body forms a
a crater in the bed, which you fill with down-skin.  Snow frosts our limbs together, freezing white chests 
and smoke furls of golden hair.  Skyscrapers of lips rise, their lights still lit; their 
dark reflections trace the white.  Snow sculptures scraping the sun. Eyes blink like snowdrops; irises of 
ice and pupils of coal, fire frosted.
I pour the milk in before the tea swirls brown.
You slump down, in a growl of stares.
I’m leaving.
The Visa didn’t come through.
No.  I have no choice.
It’s less than a month before graduation. 
Two weeks after the H1B deadline.  
On April 8, all the visa quotas were filled. 
 Six months before the stock market crash of 2008.   
They said the stockmarket would never crash again.  
There would never be ten percent unemployment.   
They said history only repeated itself
when America succeeded.  Not when it failed.
Stay.  Everyone else here
 is an illegal, too.
This is a country for illegal immigrants.
 The Mexicans circle around 
his parking lot at night.    
Their hands grease over scrap metal 
and tote it into their pick-up trucks into the recyclery into raw steel.   
Recycling the labor; recycling metal.  It fits.  
What puts you above them, 
a pale skin, money, your elitism?  
I went to St. John’s College Oxford
 is just a vain memory that shields you
                   from reality.   You are an invisible man here. 
You may have lived in their cathedral spires,
but never achieved their height; 
now you’re plummeting towards the ground 
without anything to break the fall.  
Why can’t you recycle your science, math, and ideas?
The desire to survive in America is just as strong.   
The Atlantic breaks Europe from America, 
just as the fence does.     
If you really want something, you will live
on a friend’s couch, ship your belongings back across the ocean,
 let seven hours elapse, and call that townhouse in London.  
I’m not going back—I’ve got me some new muskets, 
bullets, a huge freaking cannonball that explodes
 like a mushroom over the sky, a freaking a-bomb,
 and I’ll extricate myself somehow from the English recession 
back into history.  I have the artillery to move forward, 
self-designed in grapheme sheets and injectors, 
and I can take the higher ground.  I can survive.  
We can survive on the wild of lakefills, samosas, 
cockroaches, and textbooks.  We can write our own history,
 a new history, a complete deviation
 ripped from the seams of the royal family tapestry.  
 You don’t admit nothing but the facts,
 spinning numbers into excuses, boxes, tape,
as your sorry excuse for a return to the motherland.  
 I scrape out of your embrace.
It’s only for a year, perhaps, until I can get a job in the States.
You expect me to go to England?
An incubus fleets by—
A knock at the door
opens to reveal a suited INS man
demanding to see your Visa, 
your right to stay in the States for five years. 
You tentatively hands it over to the clank 
of metal-on-metal as hand-cuffs slap his wrists—
We could burn your visa, 
so it wouldn’t have an expiration
 date— Then, I couldn’t go back 
and forth across the pond.
Through the rabbit hole?
I could invent a light-beam and transport
 particles across—I hate when he mimics Einstein.
We don’t stay young forever.  
The clock ticks, till
 we all get wrinkles and bald spots.
You avoid my eyes.
I don’t know.  Why am I even alive?
Silence.  Still.  I leave;
into the bedroom 
and cover myself in sheets
till I lose sight of all light.
He comes in and indents the sheets,
but my stare dares him away.
He strokes me, until I am raw;
my eyes trail him.  
If I blink, he’ll be gone
 if he were ever here.  
You have yet another scheme in mind
when you insist we go away over Memorial Day Weekend.
 In Lake Michigan, there are isle cays completely
 removed from time only reached by spurious 
ferries that shuttle in between.  Far off in the wind, 
an island comes into being,
black steeples stretching 
against the white sails 
of schooners in a harbor punctuated
 by wooden docks and skeletal 
whiteoaks just beginning to sprout leaves.  
Red buggies trot up roads of white shells, 
which match the whitewashed edifices, 
to the dun walls of a Civil War fort. 
 Automobiles were banned 
in the late nineteenth century, 
after a streetcar startled 
a horse and overturned 
the carriage.  Without motors, 
I can hear footsteps from all over,;
 every twitch of a twig jumps out at me.  
The harbor reminds me of a film set, 
where the past is recreated in copious detail.  
You set up your tripod here. 
 I pop my hip, as your camera flashes.  
Now, stand there.
 you point at a wigwam, where feathers are strung 
to the opening of the first Indian mission.  
The quiet assaults me in its eccentricity.  
You could just stay here, you know…
                  Think, realistically, Lisa.  The INS would find me.
Not here. 
I peer into the leather wigwam: 
a dirt fireplace, a woven blanket, 
a fishing rod.  That’s all he needs
 to live off the land.  
If all you need is me—
                   I need security 
and wealth, too.
A pair of Clydesdales pulls a bright yellow streetsweeper
 by the woods; its brush wipes away 
and its engine whirrs at a steady walk.  
There is a time to break with the past 
and push forwards.  I grit my teeth.
Turning my back on the camera, 
I wrap my leather coat about me.  
The moment is ruined.  
Your camera clicks shut. 
The next day we finally abandon
 our coats and head 
towards the Sleeping Bear dunes.  
As we approach, 
a mountain of shifting sand rises to the sky, 
hiding the lake behind its layers of grass and grains.   
Paths of footsteps criss-cross warm sand;  
I can’t see a solid way up. You haul us up; 
the silicon specks whistle with every step.   
I never heard whistling sand before.
The sand shifts under our feet 
as I reach the precipice.  Here,
 the horizon doesn’t have a steady line. 
 Looking out, we can see past cars
 and tar roads to cerulean lake. 
 Behind us, a skinny canal courses
 towards purple mountains blurring 
into the sky.  Ghost weeds whistle 
in variegated patches as the sunset sets in. 
 I pluck a reed and whistle through it. 
 I never knew grass could grow 
without soil.
It’s a desert up here.  You’d never
 find a place this desolate in England.
                                                     You push me, 
                                                     and I roll down
                                                      the dune, sand 
                                                     braising me.  
                                                     You follow me 
                                                     down to a beach, 
                                                     where a tidal 
                                                     pool divides
                                                     the strand of 
                                                     beach between ripples 
                                                     of freshwater.  We lie 
                                                     down, surrounded
                                                      by lake, as the light 
                                                     goes down to the sea,
                                                      and your lips taste of salt.  
                                                     When you stroke me, 
                                                     I pinch you.  
                                                     Ow.  No pinching.
                                                     I giggle.  
                                                     Your hands make manacles
                                                      around my wrists.  
                                                                                               Oh, Lisa.
                                                     You breath deep in my ear; 
                                                     I hear the basin breathe in
                                                     and out.  The water
                                                      quivers silverblue, 
                                                     as it passes over my legs 
                                                     and penetrates the sand.  
                                                     Maybe, I shouldn’t go.  
                                                     Maybe, not.  
The light breaks off suddenly in warning.
 The water is dangerously pale, as if I might forget 
myself and blend into the sky.   
                                                                              Will you?
                                                                                      Will I what?
                                                                         Will you marry—?
                                                                      I untangle myself in disgust.
Rejection turns his cheek ruddy.  
But, you’re the only 
one who loves me.
I spit.  
You’re crazy-delusional.
His eyes are black like bullets;
I blanche from their intensity.   
I don’t say:
I’m not that girl who receives her MRS degree
 before her college diploma, and I won’t let anyone own me 
and sweep me away to a country of stone circles, 
monasteries, and royal catacombs.  I look down.  
I love you, but I won’t be your visa.
                                                                         The blackness washes over us 
                                                                         like the tides slapping 
                                                                         down the surface
                                                                          until it was barely there.
The car ride home is like waking
 from a dream. 
 Geoffrey and I barely speak,
except in growls.
I love you, but—
I know.
Maybe, in a few years.
You shrug.  
The engine drowns
 out all dialogue.  
I still stay in his doomed apartment, ignoring the boxes and tape—it takes him a week 
to dismantle his life and fling the pieces into boxes 
and seal the boxes too tightly with tape.  
When you’ve finished a degree 
and realized you’ve completed a degree in complete academic pedantry, 
it really hits you.
Perhaps, he is an alien, 
as he is one in this country,  and soon, the spaceship will shuttle
 him back to the antiquity he fears.   At university,  
he taught himself to doff religion in place of ideas
and the ideas led him into a wormhole.  
Holy hell, 
I’ve actually finished this crap, 
now what the hell do we do with it?  
Nothing, nothing at all.  
Except, lie here in the dark,
just a common void without reason.  
Male shame filters in the moonlight. 
 He shuts the blinds and listens
 to the crickets contesting
 outside his window.  Nothing has a reason; 
reason has nothing but crickets that fall dead in the night.
If there is no reason beyond red lines emending, 
you see the world in black and white and red.  
As bureaucracy imbibes a life of its own,
you can scream at the pawns, but not the source,
which hides back far-far-away.  The monster evolved itself, 
and forms become a label and the shackles 
by which we bind boys to labor 
or ship them back to the prison camps 
in their former countries.  
There is no rhyme and reason; 
the bureaucrat does not take logos or pathos
 or facts or deduction, just forms, forms, forms. 
Black prints on white paper.  Red 
outlines and yellow highlighting
 draw punishment or reprieve. 
 I pronounce you guilty; 
leave the country by June 30. 
 There is no bootsole before the kick; 
just the bloodhounds trailing your trail 
out of the country.  Hear the door slam  behind you;
 the hounds bay; footsteps fade away forever.
 For ever.
You observe Chicago with cold calculation,
as if you’ve already left the city behind.  
Randolph is no longer lined with billboards 
advertising the latest shows while a million glass lights
break into the streets; rather it ends by Piccadilly Circle.  
The Second City satirically bows down to the West End, 
as you improvise: is that Big Ben in the horizon?  
No, the Sears Tower rises to heights far beyond 
what the London Tower would ever aspire.   
The Chicago canal once dyed green winds 
by the huge Ferris wheel whose spokes branch
 into eye-shaped capsules.   Bridges form across streets,
 by the Macys and the Harrods, shoppers in gray pose, 
quiet and sedated.  In a cruel exaction, you know 
tomorrow will come too soon.  Chicago slips away 
into the crowded mass of painted ladies and their gentlemen callers,
 as if it were never there.
There’s nothing to do now 
but take a seat, say your lines with poise, 
and watch, as the play unfolds. 
The curtain opens on you, the British dummy.
That night I don’t know how
to say good-bye on the sand.
I can’t believe that time is a bullet
shooting by so fast; tonight,  
gravity defies me.
Look, the waves look like maps
 when they hit the sand.  
Foam outlines broken continents 
and too wide oceans in the sandmud.  
I bury my head into your armpit, 
as the water brushes past us, 
onto us, into us.  
Your arms strain around me.  
Then, gravity breaks, 
and tears break, 
and I think I can’t control it.
 But, I do, because I must. 
 There’s no other choice.  You share tears
 when you can share little else.
 Let’s do it.  
You hold up a paper.  
It’s an H1B1 form that’s been scribbled over.  
I don’t have a match.
We don’t need one.  
You rip the papers 
in half and quarters and eighths, 
until the paper shreds in fistfuls.  
The pages drift and seep
till the weight of the water drags
 them down. My toes curl
 around the compressed slag,
 as ink bleeds into the water.  
It’s just litter on the bottom.
That’s all we are here.  
I want to scream
 stay don’t go las vegas is only a car ride away stay. 
 I don’t.  
As the light shimmers and fades
 into a sandbank, where water gently pulses, 
our bodies streamline and split.   
We sleep by the lake.  
When I wake all I see is stale water.  
Your plane took off hours ago.  
I faintly remember your leaving: 
the headlights shades the strand; 
a car horn blows; lips splay.  
                  I love you.
                  Then, don’t.
                  We could have forever and always need more time.  
                  Then, still; 
bruised waves rush past; 
the water doesn’t permit any tears. 
I imagine I see you over a crest, 
but the small waves wash you away. 
A fence seems to form in the cobalt deep
 to block out all possibilities.  
An impossibility is possible, is probable, Is. 
It is the same tide; only a fence divides it;
only a fence guards it.  How quick it is, 
I think, that one is effaced.  
I am just as invisible to him, as he is to me. 
Looking through the lake,
a speck of eyewhite visa 
slips under the water and stares back me, 
                                                                                      as if you were never here.