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
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
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
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 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:
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.
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…
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
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.
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.
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
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
You follow me
down to a beach,
where a tidal
the strand of
beach between ripples
of freshwater. We lie
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.
Your hands make manacles
around my wrists.
You breath deep in my ear;
I hear the basin breathe in
and out. The water
as it passes over my legs
and penetrates the sand.
Maybe, I shouldn’t go.
The light breaks off suddenly in warning.
The water is dangerously pale, as if I might forget
myself and blend into the sky.
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.
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—
Maybe, in a few years.
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.
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.
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.
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.
We could have forever and always need more time.
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.