I Am Santo

Fiction, poetry, music and mindscape pictures by creative artist Jason Santo

Thin Skin

The venom wasn’t fatal. Breath would be drawn after the countless strikes at a fragile ego, but whatever course had been originally settled upon shifted suddenly and irrevocably. Nothing fit afterward, as if the world was composed of incongruous shapes that bore no relation to each other and floated in unfixed points throughout each day creating a sense of constant unfamiliarity.

Time passed regardless, breaths often saddled with the additional labor of sighs laced with exhaustion and frustration. To navigate in this world was to be pulled from the comforts of a hometown and dropped into into an unknown geography filled with obtuse motives and ceaseless duty, smiles defying purpose, guards posted at every turn to enforce incarceration. It became a colorless existence, not the world itself which still seemed to radiate constant, unforgiving brilliance that stabbed while suggesting times before, but the internal spectrum, desaturated and left a lean gray ensuring every emotion bled pale; apparitions hinting at feeling.

The poison had effectively robbed joy from laughter, replacing each distinct comedy with edgeless banality drawing equally characterless, reflexive chuckles as insincere as they sounded. Tears similarly would well, but never spill. The heart had lost its capacity to beat and claim its center, and blood thrust through veins on the steady rhythm of a soulless song caught in an unending loop.

This was a permanent sentence handed down because earnestness lost to savvy, honesty suffered attack with derision and crafty fingers moved to dethrone a mogul of an artificial kingdom, seen as a tyrant when intention spoke of assistance.  Yet hanging was forfeit for a prolonged torture, robbing a disciplined monarch of the ability to transform, to take to air and paint with motion and color. Regression burned wings, melting promised talent and cell walls locked even as guillotines fell on the necks of conspirators, silencing the hiss of their resentment. Yet the order cast cripples, a hush falling over the restless ferocity of constant creation leaving behind bleary eyes fixed, unblinking on the designs of accomplished peers.

Blessed with skin thick enough to crack fangs, and equally gifted with greater thirst for the waters lying  at the arduous journey’s close, their orchestrations trace familiar strains and over time their melodies remind and awaken the quiet convict. Asleep with vulnerable eyes, a drop of pigment stains the sea of monochrome and a fresh storm threatens to crumble shackles made strong not by the judgments passed by others, but by the solemn deposed.

Under Passion’s Claim

It’s those that share the air with us that are expected to draw from our clutter of irrationality a viper filled with poisonous strikes, but it’s instead the unknown; those colors and shapes undefined in daily life that could appear potentially so magnetic that our fixed position falters and we lose our senses, falling in a spin like a compass tossed into a cavern of endless reach.

True North is the care. Respect built from trust. And when those bricks are sealed with the mortar of love, they crack and stress under the duress of unforeseen inclemency; a knowing wink or gentle brush of skin, familiar gestures physical or virtual that whip winds and hurl hailstones at this faultless edifice. And all of it will suddenly crumble, mortar dissolving to water under the heat of blind disgust for the pieces held in place, the air around all of it and the history shared. A silent cacophony, the Earth quakes without rustling a single leaf and the structure of this union collapses under the ugliness of a spidered mirror’s visage.

“You know me,” it will say, lips pulled back in a sneer revealing teeth stained on the bile of a thousand vomited aggressions. “I am you and the flip-side of everything you’d thought this would bring.”

So rose oil turns sour and the air fills with sulfur that stings at pores even as sweet scented words from which no meaning is derived are bathed in, an encyclopedia of kindness and gentle regards tossed into a blaze ignited by disbelief. For were any of it true, why the sting of the unknown? Why the answer to queries of obvious intention?

These attempts at seduction should fall on deaf ears but are heard and then sweetly handled with polite delicacy. Love knows no such courtesy, it answers suggestion with indifference, never leaving a scent to it its trail for the open hearted to follow. For this ardency is a closed affection, locked away off any known road – any tamped down path through the wilds of longing. It’s an unapproachable beast with glowing eyes mating feverishly in the dark, seen only by the foolish and touched by those too naïve to understand that they risk being torn apart by committed folly.

It’s not for them, this heated bliss and careening sense of purposeful desire, yet the teeth of a snake can poison even the most intimidating animal, bring it to quaking knees with tears brimming at the corners of blazing vision that blurs and loses focus. Ivory fangs, these others, and they sink into flesh, tearing the blood and fury out of this wonder even as nourishment is drawn uninterrupted from a well of infinite concern too far away to be tasted.

How then is the far cry of a willful heart a siren for alert? It’s merely a shout in space, a sliver of fast light in a night sky dressed permanently in the designs of ceaseless passions.

The Watcher

She was tall. Not awkwardly, but her height seemed to possess an attitude of its own accord, a complement to her bob haircut and sharp eyes which met his at several points throughout the night, holding his attention with a striking willingness he’d no experience receiving. In fact, it was a constant question throughout the evening whether it was the small amount of liquor he’d sampled or his mind alone that was painting a picture that simply wasn’t art. But he played Picasso, and when the flash of hazel studied him across a sea of busy revelers, he did not flinch as his years of insecurity had cursed him to do, but instead stood his ground, watched her, and grinned, a half-smirk that dimpled his cheek in a way that others had professed was irresistible; girls he’d bent this way and that while hunting for happiness before the sands expired signaling tomorrow’s union.

Yet they were girls, and she was a woman – her stare immediately tearing down whatever powers the watcher believed he’d developed over the course of a year during which he sampled forbidden fruit while sharing a bed with his bride-to-be. He believed he was beyond reproach, and there was little to disprove his swagger was well earned. Yet she across the way seemed too striking a vision of formidable loveliness, and though they’d gamely enjoyed this pursuit with their eyes over the span of this nightclub circuit for several hours, he’d not been within six feet of her, but was bound to her every move. And while their first several intersections were chance, by the time the watcher saw her on the dance floor alone at the final club, it was clear they were controlling fate.

It was late, and his friends had grown impatient with the crowded flesh press, all but two of the ten waiting outside, including the woman he’d share an altar with in less than twenty-four hours. Inside he’d hoped he’d see the woman, her long legs topped by a skirt that hid little and hinted at an infinity of pleasure. Finding her, his pulse quickened and the heat of attraction flushed him even as the chill of apprehension threatened to turn him around.

Now it wasn’t her eyes, her legs, the skirt or the promise that compelled him, it was her movement. Seductively lost in a constant thump of rhythm, she swayed her long thin frame as if the song were written to bring her body to life as art, perfect and impossible to deny. His trepidation overwhelmed by desire, he stepped forward onto the dancefloor just as she was joined by the man spied near her all night, a companion that looked like a friend wishing to be more.

The connection to this seductress – a tether comprised of raw allure and excitement – suddenly wavered, but as if she sensed this, she looked directly at him and smiled even as the companion moved in closer. And with that, the watcher across the floor was now hers.

The companion danced closer to her and she accepted his eagerness, yet maintained a safe distance from him, never missing a swerve or caress in the music that made her trim figure a divine movement of fierce lust. Her watcher felt her invitation, the beat guiding through the gyrating crowd and he knew how to match her rhythm and hold her attention. He moved as she did, hands by his side and music pulling the tether between them taut despite the companion’s unwillingness to yield. She held both of them in her orbit now, but the companion was losing ground, a roach released by the gravity of a sun fed by hungry attraction. She didn’t want him, she wanted her watcher, and he buried his worry and stepped closer to her until the companion was flung loose, unto the crowded undulating universe surrounding them. She grinned at his departure, eyes catching the light and sending it back to her watcher and then he was only a foot away from her as the pulse of the music slowed and with it, their bodies; reacting as if waves under calming skies, knees bending, hips swaying. She reached her arms up as if signaling for a God’s attention, and she could have had it, he believed, for she was immaculate flesh and luminance, and the spell of her seduction would have trapped omniscience because she could not be known.

His hands drifted around her, never touching but shadowing the perfect lines of body as she danced for him invitingly. Her smile – a purse of the lips with an upturned corner – drew him closer, and the space between them dissolved from a foot, to inches, to a whisper’s distance. They flowed together and his leg slid between hers, her sex hot against his thigh, his hand at the base of her back as they worked into each other, her eyes never breaking the constant gaze they now shared as if it were a view to a lose home they believed would never be found again. Everything around them fell away as if light had been erased from the rest of the world, only their bodies capable of reflecting a spectrum fashioned by their heat. She seemed flushed by him, her air lost to the vacuum of building ecstasy, and he pulled her tighter so she could feel the hardness she brought in him.

His other hand traced the length of her arm, landing on her hip and then glided up her side where he stopped at the top of her waist. The hand slid from her back and assumed a matching position on her other side. Then he brought her to him, their lips only centimeters apart, their eyes never straying.

A kiss would kill them, would ignite passions into an uncontrollable celestial fire that would consume a universe with ferocious need. They grinded into each other, panting with expectation, ready to turn the air to flame, when suddenly the music stopped. Now or never, he stared into her intently when a strong hand gripped his shoulder and his friend, a block of solid mass wearing a knowing grin, pulled the watcher away at the height of the moment. He smiled at her as he stepped away with his pal’s meaty arm slung over his neck, and she brought a hand to her blushing face, grinning at their flirt with disaster. Never exchanging a word, they parted.

He never forgot her.

The Leaving

She’d stopped listening to him, and averted her eyes so even if he tried to sway her with a practiced, knowing look, she wouldn’t see it. Her mind had finished the race and now was dormant, for she’d also stopped talking. He had, only hours before while they clung together in spent passion, known the connection that had reached across distance, probability and circumstance and collapsed their ambitions into a fledgling singularity; a rip in the fabric of their reality filled with light and heat that singed their daily lives with an indelible scar. Now it was in ruin, an open non-healing wound, a span of unstoppable will weighted below a frigid surface by expectations unrealized and wild dreams dodging capture.

The evening’s precipitation at first hung in the air, small beads trapped as if time had expired and made this moment an endless stretch of cold. They had no umbrellas, and her curled auburn hair grew slick from these exhaustive exchanges shared in the open despite the weather’s discord and their own preference for seclusion; his last words trapped as an infinite echo she couldn’t bear to acknowledge.

“But I love you,” he’d said simply, his words stripped of all cleverness and poetry, just bones served dry and brittle as the fragile truth they carried. For he did love her, and she him, but he’d loved others as had she. They were destined to love again, and that was her point. They couldn’t last in the airless vacuum of their stolen moments.

She didn’t truly react to anything he’d said leading to that final staked claim, but kept her dark eyes – eyes that held him as he drowned in her lust – downcast as more droplets died over the cracks of the brick walkway. He wondered if she would just turn now and walk away, and as he did so, she did indeed turn. His insides cracked at the center, as if his chest were hollow stone struck with steel. He winced, the pain stinging yet caustic, and he knew she had to have felt the tear of his soul as she put her back to him and slowly walked out of his life.

He wanted to shout at her. For there were things that remained unsaid among these lonely drops of rain. And he wondered aloud would there be a sound if he opened his mouth? Would anyone hear the the cries issue from his broken larynx? No. The rain would drown them in their endless rhythm. He looked down, saw his wet shadow in the streetlight and stepped away.

Gone for a lifetime now instead of a year; vanished in a wordless instance that broke time, swallowed his senses and crushed any need for hunger or reason.

The rain fell as they had: short lives engulfed in endless waters.

Black’s End

Blue, Green and Brown, they watch with a brand of attention that requires faith more than any religion, despite proof being tactile, devoted and welling up in great breaths as muscles grow tight and hearts momentarily arrest in their steady march into the next moment; time spent trading words like precious commerce for a broken heart’s value. This is a cracked center, around which affections dance to obvious rhythms unheard within, and its brittle design affords little agility to pretend at sharing music. It dies as they draw near; shedding sheets of ashen pulp upon which are written obtuse declarations of needs unable to be met, desires drying under black suns.

From two there came one, and as three the ground grew unlevel and cast youth into a drowning fall where the airless dark swallowed a tarnished heart, spit it back onto a desert trek and then retreated as if only a temporary eclipse, proof forgotten during the softening of days that rolled as grapes into press. Extracted was Black, the finest vitality; blood to nourish, sweat to intoxicate, and seed to demand primal groans from adorned wombs hungry for light laced with darkness.

And so Blue bound to Black and the spiral of their joy flushed cheeks while drawing applause from a golden flock that celebrated, talons sheathed, the ascension within their happy ranks. It could not last, and as Navy birthed Red and was left the purple of a day’s final breath, so too did the darkness retreat leaving in its wake a violet star; a mother guiding precious life stung by black, but glowing vibrantly restless like a quasar, fire at its center, red cool skin at its surface.

And the Black scorched Earth as passion with Green, crushing mountains and churning seas as if mixing every known perspective into new truths where gravity held nothing close and distance was irrelevant. In their heat, spines cracked at the heights of wet congress, teeth sinking into flesh and memory shattered as if written in sand. The Green grew a verdant emerald, wrapping crystal arms around the shadow in effort to capture and cure the poison core. The embrace found air instead.

And it was so that Black curled into Brown, a complement of suffocating light and acceptance sought to strike together as flint and stone, spraying their sparks across a dead firmament where stars would regain their luster, fed by nuclear ardor. Merged by need, their dark cried a single wail of exaltation and slipped from their clinging form to unveil the sum of all color – the pure white of final adoration.

Soft Edges

She was a million shards of glass splintered across an endless stretch of ground where no two pieces could find their mate without crossing an impossible gulf. Without a center, she’d spun off from everything as if gravity had no providence over her spirit. Floating away, lost to the stars and black, she didn’t understand how to piece herself together, never mind how to connect with another soul not cast off into the night as she had been, for there was no known glue to bring her home.

So they invented one, fabricated it out of assumption and suggestion and built a false tether back to the core of this cracked Earth where each face around her smiled easily without the needed extra pull her own lips required. And she maintained as best she could among their logical motivations and their passions which knocked around her insides as shapes with no edges. There was no pain when she drowned in an undertow of disappointment nor did it sting much when she was impaled on the careless assessments of those meant to act as her guides. For though they stumbled, it was she who shouldered the blame like an ass, lost in an unforgiving desert, would an immeasurably heavy load that threatened to crush bone and tear sinew.

Under these expectations, unmuted, she would lash out and destroy favorite gardens, color on walls, break the legs off every table and chase the dog into a dark closet with matches. Or so must have been the worry for why else would they have sent her to breathe deep under the salty surface shimmering in the eye scarring-kisses of a frozen sun? Forsaken, she bled until hands shook as if under constant trauma, skin drawn pale and eyes – rounded with unmistakable sorrow – lost their color, faded to gray and watched the indifferent days spill before her as if on a wheel spun fast by Godless hands.

Her feelings, ferns hidden amongst a dense forest of evergreens. Her tremble, real and unrelenting, a quake in fingers set to task on steady endeavor, sharp edges handled with as much delicacy as could be summoned under the cracked facade of a good daughter. Never given a chance to stand with the ground hugging at her feet in constant assurance, she floats over the rest even as she forces her steps to model those of her few friends, her shiftless lovers, and the lineage that forced her among the rolling heavens where she’s best suited not to fly away, but instead to embrace the infinite blue surrounding her and play as an angel; directing tiny tethered souls begging for guidance she never knew.

In the moment of this transformation, her heart breaks, flooding the doubtful with salty runoff and giving youth a center she’s lacked but pieces together with every smile.

In Her Orbit

The scars on the windowsills, don’t they hint at love?

The care of the tape being applied each season the trees sprout their new life and the air warms as if bathed in the sun’s breath, she blockades her home as would a frontiersman his clan. It’s a gesture expected, perhaps common were it not for a history that disobeyed such sense.

This is how she cares: through action, through protection of the people held in time to the rhythm of her pulse, a steady beat that uncomplicates the complex and strips the puzzle of its loose architecture. For she is straightforward and direct, an inflexible line where mountains demand gentle routes of a circuitous character, and she doesn’t notice or care for their desires because this is simply who she is; a rock on the path that forges on as if a glacier, unyielding to any obstruction, indifferent to any circumstance. And yet this isn’t a fire burning through days of challenge that line up as tinder hurdles on an endless track, nor is it a simple test of temerity, for the cool in the air is pleasant and soothing and the sky remains unchoked with the charred smog of common adversity.

Incendiary practice dodged, she controls the course with calm and the compliant fall in line as they should, not pushed or convinced so much as swayed as if a tide under lunar pull. And he slides into her undertow as well, despite fighting for a beach that would surely rob him of life, for he is impulse and daring, a flash of rabid charisma that knows no better of this world than the next wave ridden; the next bite at release.

Yet she holds him in orbit, her gravity maintaining for him a steady path despite his hunger to spin out into the black in search of stars swaddled in nuclear passion, the pull of the unknown thrill crossing impossible distance and beckoning him with the possibility of more. But he smiles back at her, graciously thankful for her hand and breast upon which she’s shed countless pains as saltwater spill, and she’s spoken to him in quiet tones to quell his raging heart. For she is love in action, the balance of accommodation and respect, guiding hands leading to a darkened room where expectations are sated with tenderness, and care is deftly administered in precise measure – not without smiles and sweat, but at the expense of hours seeking less ardent affection: a hand held, a task completed, a kiss shared but not pursuing breathless resolution.

His love is fire and bluster, the grand gesture played before an audience of fools, the scent of rose and iron cast into the air where others stir, striving for attention yet turned to ash in his searing artifice. And she turns, an act of simple care committed, a window sealed to stop threats to that which she holds most dear, a sonnet sung flawlessly without the dissonance of infatuation.

Stay Here

Can we glance downward for a moment? Study the firmness of the uneven surface upon which we stand with locked legs unyielding to schedules and responsibilities, but instead made still by a command not from within so much as an answer to this moment.

Can we arrest our search for the next pleasure, a quick stolen bit of reflection amid the bustle of our constant striving?

Can we just be alone here? Despite all of the traffic and clamor, it’s starlight that threatens to steal us away, even as the glimmer is faint through the choked atmosphere and reflected glow of the city night.

I don’t want them. I refuse all of it because now there is just us, standing firm on these crooked cobblestones laid down by calloused fingers decades prior – now cracked and bruised as much as those hands must have been – and I won’t speak of any of it, chasing their industry away even as I stay fixed on their labor to dissuade words that demand utterance.

Let’s just hold this moment in amber, us without the consequence of each syllable, action or shared breath that exists despite the impossibility of this vacuum; us together with our ears turned away from the constant reminder of this temporary bliss. I could kiss you, lean across the small space between us and steal the taste from lips I crave each day we pretend our lives mean anything else, countless hours, minutes and seconds that scream at me to abandon all of these precious concerns, pull up stakes and answer the call of a beckoning heart.

Let it all fall away like the clothes you hid under from me and the distance that produced us despite the logic that we were intended to be tied close for every breath. They slid off you, and you were revealed naked to me, heart and skin, imperfections of both exposed not for judgement, but for healing; holes and wounds to be filled and healed without consideration, as if I were poured into you, completing us both, the fill between these stones upon which we now stand as I call for the world to arrest its meritless procession and sing for us, a wordless melody of ethereal timbre that wraps around each one of our souls, pulls tight and collapses us into an airless instant where we, as one, share final breath with smiles; knowing we belong where the song began, outside this world and its festooned order, and instead in another made of light where our reflection is a single entity. So let’s wait out this moment, ears raised above the din of progress and focused at the very essence of this air surrounding us – this feeling – awaiting the fragile song calling us home.

I will stay silent. I will not crowd you with proclamations or conclusions. I will not reach for your hand of meet your eyes with mine because I will not say goodbye. Not now, or forever after now. Not ever.

Just listen.

A Nation

An American Flag on a clear day in Dover, NH
iPhone 5 shot

These worries swimming inside a busy mind carry no shifting weight, the fulcrum centered between burden and effort so all outwit gravity’s tendency and hold steady at each fixed point, adjustments made at center for it is not locked down – it is not threatened.

The ground underfoot is steady, even as it rolls along with the change of a collective as diverse as veins of a leaf; itself a part of a perceived whole, but upon closer scrutiny, comprised of unique flesh, colored by nature partly to destined purpose and yet allowed to bend in the sunlight, absorbing life and reach while feeding into something that is indeed bigger protecting while nourished, loving as it grows. And so it’s all balance, the red of the single heart, the bond of white lacing connecting all, the inviting blue of sea and sky bordering every moment spent living in freedom.

Purpose isn’t chance, just the method of realizing individual angles to cup light, transform air, and flood every moment with our worth. Each a digit counted, all are the sum of a grand, complex equation both inelegantly selfish and devoted to larger kindness. It can be too presumptive, the order of these priorities and the gather of strength to enforce daily practice. And even from within, thorns will wrap around errant branches struggling to catch stream and rays of their own, pulling back with a tear at hard skin and wincing as the red bleeds into white, the pair diluting blue, a gray overcoming ashen faces turned to gathering clouds; fearful and yet cognizant that with each storm comes a cleansing rain and through baptism we will restore a true center.

It is a gift to share freedom on the limb extending to the sea, to relish the quiet moments outside of toil where salt spray teases each the tongue with each breath and short bursts of prismatic color dot the white cresting the blue, the red linking all of us to that instance of appreciation. For these are the colors of safety and to deny them is to lose sight of immeasurable good fortune.

There is no perfect home, but it’s within the crowded spread of great timber where a single frond can develop into something new and, by afforded grace, transform the aim of countless brothers and sisters without attack, stolen virtue or enforced apprehension. INstead, a read streak of passion calmed by the blue of rationality and the inviting white of all light – all hope – guides many as one, putting to rest small frets in these nervous minutes by framing them in hours of solace. Balance is struck even as the heights threaten to topple, and thought the winds blow, not all rustle.

A Past Unforgotten

His hands were not spotted with the rigors of age, but drawn upon with the sinking of skin and the ink of veins carrying old blood; green tributaries of life that spread through his forearm and into the back of his hand as would a highway across a map connecting major cities. His eyes, bright cerulean against yellowing sclera, have seen change so significant that were it not for the time afforded, could have left him in a stunned state of paralytic awe.
He boasted of knowing authors lost to the march of progress, men and women whose thoughtfulness built the skeleton upon which famous scribes now surround with flesh. Holding no interest for the new, he dismissed anything later in arrival than when he’d assigned consideration, an acceptable prejudice for his smile was never forced and his eyes, when not trained on my own, would drift in consideration toward the high ceiling, a crooked finger resting over his lips.
He spoke in ragged tones measured with an air of careful deployment, shaken words sent as precious cargo. He wanted to share, to impart what he’d concluded over the span of decades, and my ear bent toward him seemed a gift rarely offered in these latter days. And yet I attempted to share my own learning, for though a teacher may know his lesson plan, there is so much more outside any practiced curriculum.
“You’re a cultured guy,” he chided me with a grin carrying sincerity in greater measure than sarcasm.
In response, I drew an oval with my index fingers in the air, the center of a crude Venn diagram. I said, “We overlap here,” and then moved my hands to the left to show him his earlier depth of knowledge. “You know all of this, sure,” I showcased with open arms.
Then I moved my hands to the right and smiled. “But I know so much here.” My arms spreading again, this time to signify my collected study.
The oval where we met at center was the egg of our friendship, never hatched, but warmed over many nights under dim illumination and cozied by the low murmur of background voices; a soundtrack providing our lengthy discussions with enough need for volume that others would drop in like cars passing on a long drive between remote exits.
We did not laugh much, but there were many smiles, and I would regard his teeth with curiosity. Were they real? Did they sit on a nightstand in a lonely room as he let go of the waking world and edged closer to final rest? Was his smile practiced over them? Or did it simply stretch as it had in youth; that time spent in darkened cinemas memorizing names, faces, facts and wishes that those days would never end; that those heroes would always be exalted.
I try to tell him yes, yes they still live, and I hope my enthusiasm plays at a convincing resurrection. His smile says yes.