Stalking Leonard Cohen
I’m having a nervous breakdown in slow motion. For years I’ve been falling apart like the American half of Niagara Falls. I’m being eaten alive by time. How do I stop the erosion? I’ve spent too much time in bars making small talk to men with big mouths, flashing their wit like jingling change in their pockets, their hands grazing your knee, the whole tattoo of social conventions toward the bed and the quick escape afterwards. I’m too old for this dance. We’re all too old. The whole country has been on the verge of total collapse for over a decade. The poor get poorer and the rich get angrier, and old maids cut their hair and let their skirts grow long.
I own a little cottage in East York with a lovely hedge. Goes right around my backyard. It’s over ten feet high. The neighborhood cats are always getting themselves tangled up in the branches. Sometimes we don’t find them until spring when the snow melts. My neighbors to the north are suing me for loss of sunlight. I once made the mistake of bringing my boss home. He wanted to play hide and seek in the hedge. Had to phone the fire department and have him cut out of the higher branches. He looked like Christ up there with his bottle of wine in one hand and the sun in the other. The next day I received a pink slip. He said his wife made him do it. I phoned up his wife and pleaded with her. I wasn’t trying to steal her husband. The next day I found out that I wasn’t getting a severance practice. I contacted a lawyer and he suggested we talk about it over dinner.
My first pimples appeared at puberty. They were my companions all through high school. I tried everything to get rid of them. Lotions, soap, creams, rays, heat. I tried changing my diet, my friends, and my school. Nothing helped. My skin kept opening up; the sap kept running. Sometimes my face looked like North Vietnam after saturation bombing. Craters everywhere. Maybe I should have tried Agent Orange. Friends and relations speculated that behind the holes was a beautiful face. I do have beautiful eyes when you can find them. I also have bladder problems. It’s hereditary. My father spent half his life looking for washrooms. There are days when I’m pouring out in every direction.
I went to a poetry reading. I met Michael. All the poetry he read was about hockey players, players in the 50’s and 60’s when it was a six-team league. I remember the poem he wrote about Maurice Richard.
in the Rocket’s eyes
made the goal posts
Everyone went to a bar afterwards. Michael had too much to drink and volunteered to take me home. We danced a tango on the subway. Michael’s life long ambition was to join the Salvation Army but couldn’t bring himself to wear one of their uniforms. When we arrived at my house I went into the kitchen to make a pot of Earl Grey. Michael followed behind me and undid my blouse.
“I love women with big tits,” he smiled slipping my bra off. “It must be my rural background. My real poetry is about women. I have drawers filled with poems about women. A woman is a man dreaming about himself.”
We ended up on the kitchen floor, red and white tiles like a checkerboard. All night Michael kept kinging me. The next morning I found him staring out my kitchen window.
“Look at that fucking hedge! What are you trying to keep out?”
I lent Michael a couple hundred dollars until he got his first royalty cheque. That was my first lesson in love. Never lend your lover money! They start mistaking you for the bank. Michael started taking pictures of me naked. He said that he needed illustrations for his work. Helps to sell publishers on your work, he told me. He had a scrapbook filled with photographs of naked girls. I took Michael to Hamilton and introduced him to an old couple I hired to act as my parents. He said mw mother threatened him with a knife in the kitchen wanting to know when we were going to he married. She wanted grandchildren. Michael fled. The knife just missed him on his way out.
I used to have two rats named Clyde and Jeremy. They seemed to get along well enough. After Michael fled I needed friends and wanted them to be company to each other and me. Often times I would catch them wrestling, tag team matches with the cheese. I thought they were lovers. One day I came home to find Jeremy on the floor, dead. Pushed off the table. Clyde was hanging from the cord of the Venetian blinds. There was a suicide note on the window ledge. IF I CAN’T HAVE HIM THEN NO ONE ELSE SHALL!
But through all my travails there was always Leonard Cohen. His bored and sad voice awakened in me a world of shadows arid espionage, spies and secrets, dark glances and cigarette stains. His world of love was captured on Polaroid snapshots in black and white. It was a world where men wore loin clothes like ancient heroes and women were spread out across the lands they conquered. It wasn’t Cohen’s vocabulary that intoxicated me but the smell of his breath on my tongue. It wasn’t his classical education but his spine twisting in the half nelson’s of love. I’d read his hooks of poetry but it was only when I saw him reading from the cross that I became fixed. I wanted to see, feel, touch, suck the world as he did. I wanted to flay, bread, fry, than eat his tongue. The onions always brought a tear to my eye. In the depths of depression, Leonard is one of the sparrows that warn of danger. Only women notice him on the shaft floor, on his back, legs spread open. Inside the black hole of our nervous breakdown, Leonard Cohen’s budgie eyes stare up at us. I played Leonard’s songs so often that eventually I had no use for my stereo. Anytime I wanted to listen to Leonard, I stuck my fingers in the damp coin slot. My brain had become a jukebox.
I wrote Leonard a letter.
“I have been a fan of yours for years. And though we have never met, Leonard, I feel as if we are friends. Your words touch my heart. Your voice resonates through my thoughts. I hope that one day we might meet and know each other as old friends. Maybe we could do lunch. My knees are praying for a miracle, for a Moses to arrive. And like the Red Sea they anxiously await to be parted. I hope you don’t think I’m coming on to you. Please respond in the enclosed self-addressed stamped envelope.”
Then one day it happened. Maybe it was too much wine, too many cigarettes, too much acne cream. Dizzy, I closed my eyes and fell back into the sofa of my thoughts and found myself in a bed, my fingers rubbing my gums like a toothbrush. I was in a stranger’s room, a room without. a closet. The sweating ceiling was suffering from a fear of heights. All the walls were painted white. The paint came off on your fingers like the blouses of tired waitresses. The sheets on the bed had lines on them with JM&J written in the top left hand corner. The pillow was made out of shaving cream. On the bedside table there was a porcelain bowl filled with warm water. Beside it was a small white towel. The Ford Hotel was embroidered in red. There were razor blades on the floor. I was not in a room. I was inside Leonard Cohen. He had wrapped his flesh around me like a cocoon. I had become one of his wet dreams.
I kept having the dream of falling inside Leonard’s body. The sounds of an empty hotel. Pipes pounding like migraines. Like ribs expanding. The bright and useless emptiness of the washroom. A groan. Someone weeping. A leaky faucet. Loneliness. The crinkle of glass hidden in a derelict rug. A heart pounding. A toilet flushing. There is no window in the room. In its place there is a picture of the Pope smiling with a crack in the glass where the laughter pours out.
Inside Leonard I can smell the perfume of his latest lover. The smell of sex in his chair. My fingers are sticky. I need a word, some word to release me from this loneliness. A string of blood twists like licorice in the bowl of warm water. There is a rusty razor blade on a white hotel towel. Leonard’s voice is in the distance. His arms are too short for the jacket he is wearing. Cigarette smoke rises up and fills his wallet. A woman bends over the window to admire the view. Leonard comes up like a lonely tourist and enters me from behind.
Sometimes when the poison is running out of my pimples at night, I feel like a forest after the rain has subsided and the leaves are dripping and the moon breaks through the clouds. I feel so relaxed inside Leonard’s body. I can lay naked, say anything on my mind and there is never an angry refrain. And the warm water is always in the basin. Always so clear, blood swimming through it like a goldfish. And the embroidered towel from the Ford Hotel is warm, smelling of the iron that has just pressed it. And Leonard fills his trousers with a cloud. And never lost for words, he has his tongue stuck up my hole.
I lost my job. My rats were dead. I took a trip to Europe. Someone told me that Holland was like a fairytale, but all the time I was away I worried about my hedge, worried that the neighbors might organize a vigilante committee and burn it down. I noticed that a lot of Dutch people have skin problems. Do you think it could be the chocolate? I stayed in a famous hotel in Amsterdam called K. Hemingway had slept there. Joyce had written there. Miller had done neither. I wondered if the hotel had once been a poet. Not much of a hotel. Nothing like Leonard. My room was spacious, dirty, cluttered and it had a view of the square outside where the junkies were playing guitars and shooting up heroin. Some of them spoke English. One said they were going to a Cohen concert. Leonard is the Elvis of European intelligentsia. They dragged me along.
I waited outside the concert hall thinking Leonard would be lonely in this country where only the junkies speak English. I waited two hours. The crowds poured out. And then came Leonard in his little suit, smoking a cigarette. There was a blonde on his arm. I rushed up, reaching in my purse reaching for a package of Gitanes. The blonde threw me on the ground. She was his bodyguard. They thought I was an assassin. She had the most marvelous skin. I began to shiver inside. She pushed her heel into my face. My body began to whistle.
“I’m his wife!” I cried and then began to leak.
Now I am back in my little cottage in East York continuing my nervous breakdown. I’ve got a new job as a cashier in a BiWay, in a plaza in Etobicoke near the airport, surrounded by air conditioners and barbeques. Everything in the store is reduced including my pay cheque. The job is boring. I’m there to keep the cash register company. To pass the time away, I slip into Leonard and lay back in the luxury of his thoughts. I feel decadent, unshaven, comfortably dressed in a dark blue suit. Sometimes he slams the door in anger and I am jolted back into the reality of Etobicoke with a customer angrily tapping the counter and I look out the window at the rain turning to sleet and the aircraft lining up on the runway looking for love.