What is “white static”?

White static refers to the random noise and black-and-white fuzz that appears when your grandmother turns on the television but forgets how to turn on the cable box. For those of you who saw Poltergeist growing up, it probably gives you a serious case of what is, in medical jargon, the heebie-jeebies. Also, 1% of it is made up of background radiation from the Big Bang 13.8 billion years ago. Pretty cool.

However, it’s also a phase from one of my favorite free-form poems, written by a Los Angeles poet who died of AIDS a few decades ago, Gil Cuadros. It’s from an out-of-print poetry book of Los Angeles writers, “Gypsy Passion.” He once wrote, “I feel I have wasted my life.” I beg to differ.

by Gil Cuadros

At first I think it must be the fires and the winds, miniscule ash floating through the air and into my eyes. Or the dry Santa Ana’s pushing down the hillsides, raising the temperature till moisture vanishes, the edges of my eyes blood red. On the freeway, driving to my doctor, I see clouds of black smoke billowing off the mountains, strange aerial formations of crows and seagulls, twisting and turning like a swath of fabric falling in air. These are the signs, clues written in some ancient script, and I want to know what it all means. The doctor looks at me, her hair pulled back away from her face, as if she were asking, “Can’t you read this language?” She is obviously frustrated, her fingers snap against each other, disbelief in their sounds. I must look ridiculous, sitting there, a smile across my mouth. She pulls out a model of a large eye the size of a bowling ball. She begins to disassemble the eye, the cornea, the retina, the optical nerve.

I push the parts away from me; I can see that everything, everyone in her office has a glow around their bodies, some with colors more distinct, others thin and wavering. Even more unsettling, some people leave trails of light, a residue that takes a long time to dissipate. Occasionally a trail will curl upward, a large snake the color of ochre, poised as if ready to attack any nearby person. The doctor wants me to understand, says without this medication there is no hope; without this medication you are sure to lose all the sight that you have; the small discomfort you’ll experience will be worth it compared to the alternative; what is one more drug to you? She is telling the truth, I can see it being said in the gold light that temporarily covers her body, can taste it under my tongue like a hazelnut liqueur. I tell her, “No, thank you.” That is all I have to say and she starts shaking her head. The bones in her neck pop; she tells me I am foolish.

By the time I near home, the drive has become more dangerous. My peripheral vision diminishes, the crest of my forehead, the crown of my head seems to ignite. My other senses revel in new-found power, guiding me through a maze of streets, using the scent of jacarandas and freshly cut, large-leaf philodendrons, the feel of bumps on the road, the dampness along my arm that means I’ve come into my underground parking space. People seem entranced with me as I step into the lobby of my apartment building, there is a vague recognition but no recall of my name. I hear a few whisper, “Who?” They look at me as one would a religious painting, a lamentation. I am temporarily blinded by the various colors spewing out from their bodies, can see one man is covered with nothing more than white static, while another woman has tendrils of bluish light connected to everyone she’s near.

For a moment the inside of my chest seems hollow. I smile briefly, by now I am used to people not recognizing me because of weight loss, the waste of my muscles, but this is different. An elderly woman holds the elevator for me, her arm braced against the closing door. A warm tingle runs down my throat, informs me that she is not well, some perceived similarity with myself. I face her and smell lavender, old wool, sweat like eucalyptus oil. Her hair is white, I know, but I see tumors instead, the stench of black rotted fruit, dappling her brain. Her heart is erratic and I feel as if it is my own and that I am the one who will fall soon. I want to touch her. I sense the elevator aching to lift us up. She is saying something to herself, I hear her say the word “God” with the warm buzz of bees and wooden flutes in her mouth. I feel my palm near her shoulder and her body begins to change, slippery as mercury. Now I can see an amber light emanating from her stomach, her head. She is unsure of why she feels better, but she takes it like a gift of inestimable worth.

In my room I lie back, close and open my eyes and all is darkness. My ears hum, and the woolen blanket beneath my fingers seems unbearably rough. For a second I think I have fallen asleep, and now it is late, the street lights are turned off. Somewhere in the house, my roommate watches TV. Miles away I can sense my folks readying themselves for sleep, the rustle of their bedsheets, the sounds they make using the bathroom. My brother far away in another state begins to open a can of beer; I hear him spray the fluid across his hand. It used to make me sick, the thought of my family, but now I see it as a legacy I will not understand till much later. Through the window, a man watches me: he is white, bright as if a hundred candles were burning inside him. He sees that I am ready, calls more of his people to the window. At first I pretend not to know what he offers, can taste meat in my mouth, blood on my lips. There is no judgment on whatever I do; he is just there for me.

Before I go, I want to tell my roommate what he needs to take to stay alive, the astragalus I have in my closet, this new experimental treatment out of Korea. I want to call my ex-lover and explain that I really understand why he had to leave me, his heart battered like bronze from all the other deaths in his life. I want my mother to know, I know where all her anger comes from, and if I could just touch a certain spot on her body, near her breast bone, it would all be released, she would always be warm after that. But I have come to the end, thoughts of the world seem woven of thread, thinly disguised, a veil. I let the angels consume me, each one biting into my body, until nothing is left, nothing but a small glow.

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