Brian Kubarycz


The first time that you loved, loved something fully, loved something whole, you were in your twenties. You were an artist, living in a wreck inside the city, almost always broken, almost always alone. But there were models. And there were neighbors there, as there are lakes and trees in the country, as there were herds of deer descending by night into the city, heard off in the country, banging horns. You would sit at your table, the window cracked, and stare out into the trees. Trees were a canopy, shielding you from the light which dribbled down, and shielding you from the winds which barely drifted through your window and filled your room with volatiles that seeped from flowers, their petals open to the blare of light blazing down from the solar rim, somewhere above the ring of nature.

To make paintings was forever to paint pain. It was to make painful love, to an injured person, a model, a cripple. Imagine painting beneath a canopy of leaves, so that the light is uneven, unflattering, even unfair to the sitter. Imagine, if light was oil, and filthy, what painting would feel like, what sitting. Imagine how light would ooze and trickle down. Imagine, too, an oily breeze. It would carry the smell of oil off elsewhere, off wherever. It would bear off, also, the rose-urine scent of turpentine. You used chemicals of kinds to bring out tears, bring up snot, draw off sweat and oil through open pores, out onto freckled pucker of the skin. Sweat trails into a painter's eyes. It beads and drips. From the tips of noses, sweat trickles to two lips. Imagine all that could go unnoticed, for the intensity of such sensations, the tastes, the tubes and minerals, the general exchange.

You could not look, not at the sun, not when it struck with such violence, sharp to your eyes as musk is oily dabbed behind the ears. You would not look, not at the models, not with such nipples, not with freckles so exposed. You longed to live at midnight, to paint by moonlight. The sunlight was protracted punishment, a verdict keeping me indoors, until it forced you to the woods where you would hike in dappled light by day, hiding from game hunters at sunup and the neighbors by dusk, and use the night to take up figure painting.

Every object felt you back, equal and opposite, it struck you. While every subject shrank back, like the softest skin your oil could capture. And your head felt so heavy, so aching to be lifted, overhead, and dropped, kicked, crushed. Everything punched you like gloves. You imagined fists wrapped in preparation for a fight. You imagined the years of training. One fighter staring into the eyes of his sworn rival. The rival watching back from the outer rim of a labyrinth of cameras, cables, terminals. Each glove punching hard into the other, punching true. Glove and glove, alike. There was a magesty in this. There was love. Gloves punching as if it was the rutting season. Animal skulls were cracking, crunching into other skulls so loudly that the forest and the mountains rang aloud with deer, with sounds of horn and skull.

You were never wholly alone. Others had taken that path, but others had panicked, like startled deer, and dashed away, the task too painful, entailing too many risks, requiring too many vices, too much violence of observation. Like reading. You would break open the book, open and open and open it. You could go days without sleeping.

Everything quivered, even the trees and stones, in response to your silence. Or so all seemed. The neighbors quaked. Lost caves reverberated. You felt a love that built to such a point of pressure that the very trees and stones would burst their bark and borders unless something was immediately done, something broken at once, someone punished. Because no love was ever innocent, and nature never played fair. Nature was born bad, and would be born again, just as wicked, no matter what. But that hardly mattered.

Painting, like love, like writing, would come to you, not as creation, but as justice. It was an answer, a retort, a ricochet. You would paint at night, or you would read, as buck would punish its equal and opposite brother, and rack the night with sound. Glove would find glove, just as boxer would find rival, each being true foe to the other, as much as doe is dear to buck. All night you felt it. All creatures did, this doom, as did all words and stories aim to strike fear into every reader, every reader always injured and reeling, already clinging to the story, to the wreaker of it, not for relief but for further judgment, further love. Your models clung to you, wanting to hear your stories, wanting you to transgress their limits, wanting to play hunted in a dangerous mating game. You felt Pleistocene.

Cadmium was an element you could ingest for years before it would kill you. Painting was a game you could play for years before it won. You would wrack your models in many ways, ways that, in the beginning, when you were still learning to feel a part of nature – which was itself a painted scene – you could never have imagined. You could not grasp this, not until after lifting pen and finding ink hardly simple to spill, no simpler than painting a cripple was simply drawing crooked sticks. There could be no model for anything. There never was and never is. Life was never still, no more than brain had ever slept. Every head dashed, everywhere and all night long. Even if dreams were all just code for something other than they seemed, even if it was all just dots and dots and dashes; even so, the dashes were still real, as were the breaks. As hard as the limbs of a body barely breathing, heavy on a frosty floor, beside its crutches, dappled by the sunlight breaking through a canopy of leaves.

Own that painting was difficult, as difficult as love. Love that painting was its own and only goal. Like writing. So few could do it, really. Figure how few could bake bread, though they owned the mits. So few could grip the fork of love, and take life on the tines. So few could pick what was not yet fruit and force a core into it, until mouth broke open as cry of exile into being. So few could poke holes with the necessary fork for now to beam forth, for here to breach, for hand to announce itself through bifurcating. But if one had done this, only once, then one had won. And you had won, at least once. Though you figured you had won several times, forced several hands, pressed gloves over them, announced them in the ring, drawn rivals into mid-canvass. There were wagers, deals, awards. There were crimes and witnesses, filth and violence.

The first time that you killed, killed something fully, something whole, you were in your thirties. You were driving, driving to a house outside the city. You had been hunting and you were almost done. First you hit it with your headlights, then with your full vehicle. You drove a truck. You were weaving as fast as tropes of speech, as quick as intuition, curving through leafless trees at midnight. You were cutting around a corner and gripping the shoulder of the road, and the doe stood there waiting to be killed, though not on impact. Your punched your horn, and then you stopped your truck, another deer strapped to its exterior. Which is to say, the doe stopped you. You saw the stricken body was alive, though still, and slowly bleeding on the roadside, beneath your headlights, its blue tongue slowly thrusting, its doe eye softly glowing, gazing back, its entrails in full view. They felt glove-like to the touch.

Next day you put down the cadmium. You broke open a carton of smokes and began to write about the models. You named them, every one. You wrote until day had become stillest night and the moon had peaked over the boles of the trees and flooded the clearing with a blue light of the hue that brings to mind the lakes and seas captured in museum pieces, the pains of childhood spent living in a land of leafless trees, trees that would not leave the heart untouched for their bleakness, for their jagged persistence as the darkest fingers ever pointed at the stars. Such light flooded from the moon, and filtered through your room, and flickered through the smoke of cigarettes quivering between your lips, as you sat writing. The models you had seen. The dapple of paint on their faces at they sat there sitting, or waiting to be paid. All the sweaty vices you discovered, all the petty crimes you perpetrated on your spread of rags, together. For they were numbered, every one of them, just as was each separate print.

You never thought that at the time. Though, surely, you always knew it, as you knew the number of fingers it would take to close a fist over something, even if that something was only your own palm, which is to say, only nothing. Yours was really only an empty rage whose promise would never fully be realized. It would never be felt in the form of bones punching real bones, glove on real hand, tooth in real cheek. Only your prints were real, and your books, real spines, really broken. Because painting beat you. You ended defeated and creeping away, forever injured, forever angry and wanting to injure back whatever had injured you by permitting you to beat it, permitted you to feel that it had loved you too.

You felt so empty, so full of smoke, so lost speeding on a back road of vague feelings, phantom pains. They were only neurons, you thought, only triggers firing in your brain, releasing chemicals and minerals within you. But feelings did violence to thinking, altered all your knowledge, until facts ceased to be the flow of inference and became clots of what hurt so badly you grasped pen and ink and struck with dots and dashes. You sat and wrote, one summer in the city, for nights and days and nights. You wrote until scabbed ink was all that you could see, until your carton was all gone and your lungs were all that you could feel inside you beating, harder than your heart. You felt as though all love, along with your love of it, had beaten you soundly, as had all painting, along with your hatred of it, which had broken your will. You wrote until something in your brain felt empty as a glove without a mate. You went walking and you found one thrown out on the roadside. It was a lone glove lying. You were a doe struck down.