by Zarina Zabrisky
I wash and scrub, I scrub hard. The soap is green and smells like apples, tangy and clean. Water pours. I will be clean. I want to be clean. I must be clean.
I put shampoo in my hair but I will not put any conditioner in—conditioner is dirt, it makes my hair greasy. I hate grease, I hate dirt. The towels at this gym are not clean. I don’t like to feel this towel on my skin.
I like it when Kelly puts the towel around me. She tosses it up in the air, she jumps on the bed and laughs, “Towel monster, towel monster!”
Kelly’s dead. She is dirt. How can something so alive, so clean, so perfect turn into something so dirty? I must stay clean. I must stay clean. I must stay clean.
My face looks so shiny and squeaky clean in the mirror. It’s red. My eyes are bloodshot from hot water, it’s hard to see, but I can see that there’s dust on the mirror. They really should clean it better.
“Daniel,” the manager in a stained YMCA t-shirt is in the shower room again. “You are only allowed two showers a day.”
I used to be Daniel. I used to sleep in the tent while camping, I used to skip showers. I loved Kelly, and her hair was dark and she smelled like flesh and sweat and the way women smell—sea, orchids and blood—we slept on the grass—with no blanket, we walked on the sand—barefoot, I swept dust off her damp forehead—with my fingers. Once I even threw yellow mud at her, and she screamed, “Daniel, stop it, Daniel!”
Then she got sick. Maybe she got sick because I threw mud at her. Her hair fell out. It got thin first. Her hair was everywhere, hairballs on the floor, on the sheets, in the bathtub like black spiders. Her skin turned to sores and scales. Then she died. They put her in a coffin, they put her in the ground, she is rotting there right now as I write, and the worms are gnawing at her. She is dead. Decomposing, decaying, dead—
“Daniel, you are only allowed two towels a day,” says the manager.
I know he looks at me, and he thinks, “Daniel, you are dirty!”
No one tells me I’m dirty. I’m clean. I’m determined to stay clean. I must stay clean. So I rush through the hallway, and I am out on the street; but the moment I step into the street things go wrong. Dandruff and dust, dog’s hair and feces, greasy newspaper; the street is filthy. I only have to walk a block, but by the time I’m back home I’m filthy again.
Now how can you write poetry if you are filthy?
I am a poet. I’m writing a poem, and once I’m done the world will be cleansed. My poetry is crystal-clear. The world is dirty. My poetry will save the world. But a real poet must be clean. A dirty poet has a dirty mouth. Dirty words come from a dirty mouth. So I need to stay clean.
I try to eat only watermelons because they are made of water, and water is clean. Food is dirt. It turns into dirt inside of me. It comes out as dirt, stinking dirt. There is no place for poetry around stinking dirt. So I take showers in the name of poetry.
I’d take showers at home, but my mother won’t let me. She is evil; she would report me to the doctor again. She hides my soap from me. She says, pay the bill. My mother is a dirty woman, with a dirty mouth. I have to escape and run to this dirty YMCA and use their shower. I must stay clean.
I stand there under the running water, and the poems are running through my head.
Absence is presence
Non-being is a part of being
Just as emptiness is to fullness
Never is to always
Never: always absent
I can’t turn off the water. As soon as I turn off the water the flow of poem is gone. Absent. Only bubbles and soap and dirty towels, and my skin hurts and cracks, turns dirty before my eyes, it is covered with blue and black patches, it rots, decays, vanishes. I turn the water on. I must stay clean.
Zarina Zabrisky started to write at six. She wrote her first novel, The Heroin Train, trafficking drugs from Ukraine to Russia. She wrote her collections of short stories travelling around the world as a street artist, fur coat model, translator, kickboxing instructor, and a hot dogs brand ambassador. Writing her last novel she moonlighted as a dominatrix in Oakland. Until now she burnt everything she wrote.