But back to Close to the Knives. Ned and I start the second chapter, and I notice the sound of the refrigerator in the other room, which I haven’t heard before. I look up at the chandelier, and the way the light goes in all directions. I think about my breathing, is it shallow or deep?
And then Ned clears his throat, and I look at his face, familiar and yet so far away. And he says: I think I’d like to start with the other one.
He means Memories That Smell Like Gasoline. He saw it in my room. I actually have two copies because I used to give them out to people in San Francisco, new friends, anyone I wanted to get to know. No, wait, that’s what I did with Close to the Knives. Or, I guess both. Because I remember lending Memories That Smell Like Gasoline to that boy who was visiting one of my roommates, she wanted me to make him radical and I guess I tried because he was so cute. Even gave him a Xanax so that he would relax and then we slept together and does that count is getting someone high so they’ll have sex with you? Probably.
Okay, I say to Ned, although I’m pretty sure he doesn’t know what he’s getting himself into. I go upstairs to get Memories That Smell Like Gasoline. This was actually the first book by David Wojnarowicz that I discovered, after I read about him in an obituary, or maybe it wasn’t an obituary but a review published shortly after his death, a review that felt like an obituary, and then I went over to Modern Times and looked at it but somehow the images scared me, what was it exactly? I thought they were gross. Childlike. This wasn’t art.
Back downstairs with Ned and I hand him the book, his copy. He opens up to the table of contents and says would it be okay if we read one chapter at a time, and discuss each one afterwards? Sure, I say.
Before I was angry, disgusted that Ned couldn’t handle it, couldn’t even handle it in writing. But now I’m excited because I haven’t read Memories That Smell like Gasoline in a while — and, it’s so short that I’ve never thought of reading it in more than one sitting.
So I sit at the table and study the cover, the blurred headlights of a truck on the highway in a soft teal blue, what do they call it when a photo is blue and white instead of black and white? I can never remember, but I always love that look. Cyanotype, right?
And then the title in yellow, David’s name in black, black and white stripes on the side that lead to the spine and onto the back cover, which otherwise is orange. I never thought of this before, but maybe the stripes are supposed to represent a prison jumpsuit? A piano. A hospital.
And then you open it up and on the inside cover there’s some of David’s handwriting, enlarged so you just see a few words and phrases like “8th Avenue,” or wait, what does it say altogether — “8th Avenue and hands and” and then a word I can’t recognize, plus some words that are just pieces of words and then “wouldn’t sucking him he come in the curtains.” Oh, I love that.
And then the next page, just a small snake on a white background before the title page, and what does that mean exactly. Oh — it’s just the logo for the publisher. Onto the first page, which means the first image, a watercolor of three guys having sex. Or, I guess on the back it calls it an ink painting. I think it was something about these images that scared me that first time, and even though I’m not looking at Ned I can hear his breath quickening and I know that means he’s looking at it in a different way.
I see three guys jerking off. Or, one guy on his knees, and two guys cut off just above the waist, framing the guy on his knees with a cock on each side of his mouth. It’s kind of funny, because all three are holding their dicks in the same way, hands like wrenches, and I wonder if that’s on purpose or if it’s just due to the limitations of David’s drawing ability. They all have the same body, loosely muscular — and the same cock, actually, large but not ridiculously large, two with foreskin and the other without.
What’s spooky about this picture is the look on that guy’s face — it’s like he’s grinding his teeth and furrowing his brow, looking down or deep inside and not at either of the cocks in front of him. The only desire is the way his left arm wraps around one of the guys’ calves, hand disappearing into the floor. I mean there’s no hand, just an arm that goes away.
I never noticed any of this before — or I must have noticed the feeling, but I didn’t take time to experience it. You can see the way darkness frames light in the brushstrokes that almost look like fingerprints, gray and black and then white: the white is what makes it look like the flash has just gone off.
And then, just when I feel like I’m reading too much into the expression in that one guy’s face, is it pain or emptiness or hopelessness or yearning? Then there’s the first line of text: “Sometimes it gets dark in here behind these eyes I feel like the physical equivalent of a scream.” And I look at Ned; he’s looking down.
I remember when I wanted to scream so much, throwing glass bottles out of windows to hear them shatter. Now I just go in the bathroom to do another bump and what does that mean about this shattering?