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 Trails of Sweet Purple Haze

              If you sit long enough in the dark, you can see your past begin to paint itself in vibrant colors against the once peaceful backdrop of your reflective solitude. It doesn’t matter how much time has passed. It doesn’t matter how far away the dream has been allowed to drift or how high your watchtower is. There is no way out once you’ve been caught in that tower of stagnant reminiscence, watching the world outside your keep slowly drain of its once present, imaginative verve. There is no way to erase the stain of a spell of endless waking reverie cast by some bewitching barefooted woman onto the insides of your now heavily creased eyelids.

And if you try to explain this to the man across the table who is demanding his rent for the dingy, dank apartment he owns because he inherited it when his father passed, he would sneer at the sentiment. He only speaks in cold silver clinks and shuffling lifeless president greens. I know he looks at my withered, frail, beaten limbs and the greasy, grimy, ochre dishpan apron still hanging around my neck and he knows I’m going nowhere. He knows I am no longer anyone’s prince. He knows this because all I have is that empty watch tower apartment and a stale grass joint long burnt out and no money to give him just my subtle silence as my records play soothingly in the background.

Then, this young man, this dangerously efficient businessman, this wolfish landlord, would see in my eyes something he doesn’t understand. He would contemplate for a long moment, taking in my time abused gnarled knot of a body slumped over and notice the stains of faded youthful hope now seeped in kitchen boy grease. He’d see the past glimmering through my eyelids as I blinked at him. Some odd mixture of somber, confused happiness he couldn’t quite fathom. He’d play the role of the joker and smile a shallow, predatory grin and ask me what it was, seared into my eyes. And I, I were to play his thief, would not to speak falsely of the searing sweetness whose utter mark he could see still glowing in my eyes even after half a century. But that smile warned my lips to remain silent.

He would stand and straighten his black suit jacket and say indifferently, “You have until tomorrow night to get out.” He would shut the door to get out of there. He would leave me in the dark, to watch the past play on the back of my eyelids, all in my brain, a waking reverie, hazy sweet pain.




She was a dancer on her toes, a foreigner who made her home in the flowers of my tumultuous American culture for one single summer. For that summer, she was my honeyed, creamy vatrushka, my chocolate mallow whipped ptichie moloko, my cool Sugar Baby coke-a-cola float. She was a goddess, my goddess of milky Russian skin. She hailed from the motherland with her family that summer and the first night I tasted her skin she had been warm, and it was warm, and she just melted sickeningly sweet into my tongue. She had chocolate Slavic eyes that shone golden summer-sun hues and that were shaded with a velvety russet depth that one peered into to lose their baring on reality. The first night I had looked into those eyes, I had gotten lost in her reality. Her slender body had been enveloped in the afghan my grandmother had knit for me to remind me of my more conservative childhood when I wore black and white starched suits and Barker’s full leather shoes. She had looked like she belonged here, in my bomb shelter of an apartment, in the montage of hookahs and fringe and aluminum peace signs. That apartment, this apartment, once grounded and earthly, looked like I had brought in the gardens of colored baubles and fabrics that ornamented streets of Haight-Ashbury district and just threw them on the walls and floors so I could swim in its life giving ardor. It once looked like the music and vibrancy of the People’s movement, and her striking Russian lifeblood reflected and shimmered with it.

She was the picture of the absolute rebellious lust I bore in independent young adulthood, and yet still all the innocence I came to cherish. She was the color of fire, brown and orange and amber yellow all wrapped up in that knit blanket, slightly damp, shimmering with her sweat and my own. Petite like a child, but filled like a lover, she was in heat, right next to me, her hair curled wildly around her head in a halo of ethnic oddities. She spoke constantly about a tradition of passion and force and staunch honor. She doted on her mother’s perseverance and discipline, and somberly tell of her father’s passing and how his coal miner’s cough could only be soothed by her steady Mother and their home made vatruska. I would watch her lips move and her finger twirl in the kinks of her hair as she taught me of the deep red territory she had come from. And I listened in enrapture, to learn and to love her. I still don’t know if she understood what she did to me in her dichotomous existence of bold, holy traditions and whimsical, exploratory American radicalism.

I didn’t want to let go of her soft womanly body for a moment after tasting her that first time, half a century ago. She was all mine, every inch of her, no longer foreign, but claimed as my own sweet Russian flower, the first thing I ever truly wanted to possess. In return, I had wanted to share my own nonconformist form of peace with her, show her something new she had never had before. So, I rolled over under the covers, my rough fingers never leaving her side. I sat up and handed her the joint, a little of the freshly dried bits tumbling out onto the blankets by her naked body still draped in the woven, worn yarn. The grass smelled soothingly sweet, but not like her. She was vanilla and hazelnut and spicy gingerbread, like the kvass she fermented in our kitchen and the dough she mixed from scratch on the counter. Like the world she had come from and opened to me.

She smiled and the cinnamon freckles by the corners of her eyes disappeared into mysterious joyful lines. She plucked the neatly crimped smoke from my fingers after I inhaled its soothing soulful color. Her laugh at my settling smile cascaded like a luscious waterfall across my back running down to base of my spine, sinfully warm. I returned to her side and nestled my face into the crook of her neck. She took my lighter and lit up, and the smoke rose around our heads, violet lilac, wispy and smooth.

Her voice was deep and accented as she took in a steep drag. She sounded of her native language, all mystery and myrrh:  “Aye-ya, MIlaya moyA.”

She touched my face with her delicate fingers, playing across the brow of my blunt nose, moving my grungy, unkempt hair from my eyes. I could hear the youth in her voice as she said innocently : “It is summer. It is warm. And I love you, my sweet.”


              Though the color and sound is so vibrant against the black emptiness, I wonder every time I dream if she knew that even though she had called me her sweet, I would have been her anything and I could have been her everything.


               It was always easy, just being together. It was natural and right. I could do nothing but marvel at how she walked, barely touching the spackled pavement. She carried her diminutive daintily curved frame about on her the tips of her toes, floating without effort. Her people had such a reputation for being heavy, immovable, threatening, but I think we forgot what art came from Petersburg: the Tsarist palaces, the heavenly Kirov dance school. It wasn’t all pitchforks and sickles and blood and ice and Stalinists and their purges. She was proof, a dancer who put to shame all other Broadway pretenders. She hailed from the birthplace of ballet, and it was infused in every fiber that ran through her elegant limbs.

We walked down the streets together, her in a little ruby red dress that came to just below her pelvis. It had snow birds playing across it in streaming patterns. Her long legs were covered in fishnet and her were feet clad in white dingo boots that came up to her knees. She ate light rosette colored ice-cream that tasted like strawberries looked. I had tried to grow fresh strawberries for a while in the apartment to give to her to bake with or make jellies with, or whatever she wanted to do, but it was so expensive I gave up. I didn’t mind the dirt and the damp earthen smell in the apartment. Plants brought even more color, even more life, but I just couldn’t keep up with all this organic farming. So, instead, I bought her a cone of the sweet stuff every Sunday on our walks through the Upper Haight while we checked out who was new to town. She would hold my hand while she licked the pale pink scoop sitting atop the cone with utter indulgent enjoyment. We would pass other couples holding hands, dressed in rainbow and silvery suede mini jackets. We would pass vendors with their little street shops of hanging hemp weave and dream catchers. We would stop to listen to the barefooted monks with sitars vibing to their own rhythms.

She would hum to me, “Lucy in the Sky” or “ I wanna Hold your hand” or “Strawberry Fields.” I thought that stuff was fluff, or at least, a bit too much Britpop for me. But she was a girl. She was allowed to like their trippy sentiment. I was more of a Jimi man. I think the only song we ever really agreed on was the melodic riff “California Dreamin’”.


            Now is when the spell becomes too real. The vindictive past bleeds through in bald stark images, shouts and screams of protest. But it just is. There is no need to get excited because the time has come and gone, and she has come and gone. And in the dark, while I sit, hurting in my watch tower, the spell continues to rip through. It burns my eyes, my skull, molten and dull down my throat and into my chest, it blossoms. It is a quiet burn you learn to let ache as the memory plays.


         I knew that summer, the same as I know now, that she and I wouldn’t be able to stay. I knew it from the first time I saw Mother Baba Yaga come barreling across the sidewalk, dressed in a broad black dress and hooded babushka, coming to fetch her wandering daughter. I knew it from the first time I’d watched her mother’s eyebrows knit together, bushels of hatred and fear that her daughter was falling from her clutches. She’d screeched at her daughter:

“ Moya! Come!”

I felt a jolt of pain as the witch clasped with vicious fingers at her daughter’s thin arms. I could feel all the weight and power of the Mother in her wide girth as she swung the frail thing around. “ We are late for exercise, moya.”

She stormed off, towing my little Natalya behind her, a wilted flower being beaten by the storms of the Mother Russia. I could hear the sharp, menacing rasp that Natalya’s mother murmured to her with urgent vehemence. It was venomous to me, but my Natalya was so attentive. The words that leaked over pierced my heart and signaled to me something forebodingly inevitable: ” That boy is such a bad influence.” And little Moya became smaller, less bright. Tight lipped and obedient like a child, she nodded to the Mother who’d brought her here.

As a young man, I had realized that was the end. I was as much a foreigner in her world as she was in mine, and her mother saw me as that voodoo child come to steal her innocent baby girl into an illegitimate, criminally colored American culture.

I saw Natalya a few times after that. We tried to see each other at least, but Baba Yaga would always find us. The smell of yeast and gingered cream got fainter and fainter as my sweet Natalya began to wane and morph into some sort of polished silvery creature that couldn’t pick up a wooden spoon or mix the deep brown chocolate-malt chocolate swirl she used to. She couldn’t even spare time or energy to knead the flowered dough against the table for me to clumsily shape and fill with her slowly simmered special homemade vanilla crème. The straw that broke the witch’s broom, completing the awful process of little Moya’s transformation to Russian doll was when the witch herself burst into my apartment and saw her daughter and me actually together. Natalya had shrieked in a stunned way that made me angry at the offender. Then Natalya was torn from my fingers. And I could do nothing, but watch my sweet vanish into the dark, icy night. California dream lost in the gray sky. Maybe we would have been safe in L.A.


              The dark reverie now becomes bitter sweet, as the spell relieves me into the softer miseries of the end, when the colors begin to fade, and emotions dull.

I sat in the balcony in the uppity part of town that night because I found her, my Natalya. I had entered the theatre because I had followed her and her mother down past the ghettos and free wandering spirits into the towering palisades of the Orpheum Theatre. They were practicing in the old theatre made of golden statues and majestic silhouettes. I obviously wasn’t allowed in here, but I had snuck into the upper wings in the balcony seats. I sat in the dark, so no one saw me, way up in the back on their consecrated, sacred seats, a hard metal bulge in my back pocket, pressed up against my thigh. It was vibrating, excited for the angry spark that might trigger a lethal metallic discharge of reclamation and retribution. It wanted me to be loud and heard and angry. I could hear Jimi echoing in my mind: “Hey Joe,” he asked me, where you goin?” I’d answer, “ To get her back.”.


The Mother was in the very front with the teacher. The teacher clapped a steady beat that echoed across the broad ceiling. The lights shone down, harsh onto the small figure on stage. Her wild hair was pinned back into a tight, slick bun, shining and pristine. Her body was constructed and constrained with caged, metallic shimmers of silver that were stacked around her waist and pinching her torso. I could not see her creamy breasts, just the tin corset covered in mechanical glacial tears. I could not see the girl who made me velvety smooth vatruska and sat next to me, crudely crimped roach in hand, singing. All I saw was a doll, strung up and straight and rigidly lifted in the corset. She formed these perfect, unnatural lines that pulled her form into an emaciated shape. The metal against my thigh burned and bit coldly. My stomach churned.

The teacher spoke in an even tone, pulling the strings on the doll’s limbs with her command: ” Now… we begin. Maestro: the music.”

And the violinist started.



            Natalya twirled, her toes trailing the floor. The violin hissed and whined. I couldn’t hear the earth. It wasn’t like the musician, the sitar man on the sidewalk. It should have been beautiful. But it wasn’t.

I blinked and realized in that moment: Joe had nothing. He was running now. Joe killed his woman, but it fixed nothing, and now he was just running. The murderous weapon in the back pocket of my jeans quieted because it understood: Joe wasn’t my name.

Natalya moved vacantly down on the stage, pulling all my anger through the floor to be replaced by a numb hollow, barren sorrow. My breath heaved in the loss. I pulled out my joint and lit it up quietly and let the smoke envelope my head. I watched the dim red glow against the musty vapors that surrounded me. I got dizzy.

Natalya spun, her toes artfully tracing out circles of crimson, flowers of red outlined on the floor.

Stop. I wanted to say. She’s dying. My milaya.

But the puppet masters stood in front of her, dark black shadows of disapproval, so calm and confident. The phantoms, Baba Yagas, Stalinist witches both of them. They had enchanted my Natalya and drawn her back to be their little Moya, their milaya.

And the red trailed, draining from Natalya’s body in thin artistic lines onto the floor; the life, the essence, the syrup and deep cream and gingered milk.

She was getting paler. Bluer. A refined ice cerulean body drawn up into unnaturally straight lines. She was floating and draining and drawing on the floor with her Russian Ruby life blood. Her saccharine sacrifice to her kinfolk’s tradition.

She was being drawn up and away from me in my passionate, humanly crude and coarse, vulgar, bawdy seats.

She was floating up into the white angel light, back to perceived virtuous discipline and purity.

I took a puff. Trails of wispy, delicate haze dense around my head, all in my brain.

I was dizzy.

She was gone.

I inhaled deeply. My last drag for tonight.

No more vatruska. No more “Strawberry Fields” and warm reds and chocolate.

I hear: Is it tomorrow or just the end of time?


          I am back in the dark, in the watch tower. If I sit down again, it’ll just start again. I look around at the grays and blacks and pale whites. I walk out of the apartment, the spell still seared into my eyelids, seeping into my brain. Misery. Play it again maestro. I’m going to L.A.



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