by Christopher Matthias
My parents—all three of them—are from the village, the actual village, that their parents grew up in. Small and rural Southeast Michigan. Ancestral compost and incestuous as funny uncles.
Grandmothers grew up with party lines, whole blocks with one phone line between them. Transform, transform, transform into one corded phone per home, shared now with full family. Seven digits only, no need for area code unless calling long distance. And if calling long distance, mark your minutes. Say what you must say and do not linger, for the phone bill varies and the budget is thin.
The end of barn dances. The kids move away. Rush toward beauty! Run from pain! Always to a city. Maybe for school. Maybe from, or even to, a war. Maybe never to be seen again. There is a reason for homecoming football games well beyond queens and kings who are just boys and girls. To the city! To the city!
Love and fuck and negotiate and settle and rise and love and fail and fall and compromise into new families like disconnected strawberries in memories of the fields, yet older memories of different languages linger somewhere in the back of who we are and in the flavors that we prefer though not quite sure why.
In the city. Exposure. Culture clash. Questioning the past. The crumble of things that hold us together like fields and churches. Shame and Jell-O. We make something new together. We make a culture of sports and industry, monument and decay, fermentations of every kind full of life and poison. We are this new thing. Like a flat-rate cell phone flipped open after 7:00 p.m. Minutes measured in nights and weekends with a countdown clock issued one per person. Call waiting. Hold, please. It’s Dave in Michigan. I need to take this.
The city among cities. My own lily pads—St. Johns, Adrian, Boston, Seattle, Chicago, Ann Arbor, Kalamazoo, Manistee, both Portlands, both Columbuses, Los Angeles, Savannah, Tucson, those Floridian cities, I guess. Culture among cultures making one Pluribus Unum culture of many. In this culture, a disregard of culture. Hefty sense of bullshit, and we are not wrong. Love still runs throughout, but love is tattooed organs and pierced eyebrows, same as it ever was, new as it ever will be. New York, New Haven, New Orleans. Like concentric circles of dead nuns.
Nothing false can last, and nothing is true. Redline. Gentrify. Decay. Throw ’em in the Grand Canyon and stir ’em all around.
Now. At least for now. 24-hour news cycle, work from home, always on, never off, always off, never on. Borders blur. Lines disappear. There’s not so much difference all along the East Coast. My city, your city. We understand cities. Don’t stop by unannounced. Don’t just call. Text first. I don’t mean you. What is convenient is time zones. Less convenient because of math. More convenient because of math. Jason, east-coast, third-shift brewery man, ready to break out a Two-Hearted and laugh with this West Coast barred owl. Tell me what a border means. Tell me where the city ends.
Plague synched humanity’s clock more than daylight savings ever could. Henry in Detroit, nephew never held, watches my waterfalls. Leila in Chicago, non-blood nibling, my finest pen pal, turned three on New Year’s and has never been within hugging distance. Adam and Hadley, the older children, 30 minutes away by car, report unscrambled words, share leaky cauldron secrets, and ready themselves for goth Easter. Solomon, fellow Seattleite—to whom I am honored Godless father—now holdable, no more quarantine prison-visit glass between us.
There is no border between my chair and Cambodia. Julie, from my same cornfield, shares a joint with me on her Sunday morning, my Saturday night, telling me of the giggles of children with whom she shares language lessons. Speaks of the scars not two generations old, kids hiding from bombers in ocean-hollowed mountains, and the phases of Buddhist monks, nuns, and shrines. No passport required for Kyiv, just an obsessive box of watches and an eBay-WhatsApp stranger-made-friend across warzone, plain-work to victim to soldier to refugee. Andrey turns to wartime village hero in three weeks’ time. I share songs from the concerts I’ve danced at the night before to help him escape for three-minute intervals. He shares videos of his friend, the armless painter, who also offers refugee respite and photos of his mother with her cat. We forty-something left-handers wear watches on our right wrists and cry with each other for want of less pain in the world. Budmo! Let us be! Indeed, let us be.
This is the city of the mind, which is not to say imaginary, though everything is imagined. But now we co-imagine. I am the mayor. You are the mayor. All hubs. All spokes. In my city. In my city. In my city I love you. In my city I hate you. In my city is every tier of understanding, every tear of misunderstanding. Layers and layers and layers. My city across latitude and longitude worldwide, by the lake, by the ocean, on top of the mountain, in the desert, on the planes. Arid, rainy, blizzardy blue skies. Across time. Across borderless death, citizens of the mind and love and layers of ancestors known and unknown and progenies of no blood connection. Grandfather of the washer machine and VCR. Partners of my body. Partners of my mind. How many fathers and mothers can one lose count of, not across generations, but within a singular lifetime? My mother’s eighty-eight piano keys minus my seventy-eight tarot cards. What ten notes are unaccounted for? How many versions of lover and coffee? Work takes on a shape so far beyond pick and shovel that the mind and body—disconnect and reconnect—like amphibious tail, starfish reproduction, and grafted apple branches all play waste in creating life anew, anew, a new way to be citizens disembodied, finding bodies, fingers interlocking and weaving the parts of life that can’t be found in any cell’s organelles. Making meaning and losing it all and finding it bigger than global, smaller than smell. Inherited longing for something tangible with access to everything hungry, hungry. But what do we want within this void of abundance?
To be known. Be seen. To be fresh and old. To know ourselves. And to love others to the point of being okay with the smallness of eternity in which we do not matter. And the satisfaction to exist within such a large and minuscule city. The city of the mind borne of leaves resting and rotting on top of ancestral soils.
Look! The sun sets. Look! The sun rises.
Now tell me, what pain and suffering is not also beautiful?
Christopher Matthias was born and raised in Southeast Michigan where he also studied theater and creative writing. His occupations have ranged from landscaping and construction to social justice advocacy and corporate responsibility. Currently he works as a project manager for a web development company in the Seattle area.
Since April of 2017 he’s written every day with his writing partner on an impulse gone incredibly right. His work has appeared in The SUN Magazine and at christophermatthias.com.
SLAG GLASS CITY • Volume 9 • February 2023
Header image by Tatiana El-Bakri.