December 25, 2014

Blood & Music

(This post leans more toward raw than refined, and although writing is always painful for me, this was especially painful for some reason.

Language warning, if you care about that sort of thing.)

Part One
On most nights, I don’t know what to think about anything or anyone.
And the ink feels like blood.
And I feel bad for not staunching the words,
Because I know that self-pity is just another goddamn form of pride.

Some people think of others, and they are humble.
Other people try to be humble, and they are prideful,
And often not half as great as they pretend not to be.

The days I’ve thrown away
Feel like coins I’ve tossed aside,
Not knowing their value until it’s too late to go back and pick them up.

A thousand dollar watch can’t tell you
That time is ticking fast.
The body inside your designer clothes is not designed to last.

Bored eyes looking through the windshields of carbon-copy cars.
Blind eyes looking through the window-frames of houses and houses.
Blank eyes looking at the pixels, the grotesque fusion of light and glass.

What is left on these streets,
In these eyes?

Not love, not love,
Just sleeping in the same bed
And having the same last name.
Or sometimes neither, sometimes nothing.

Not love, not love,
Just actors fucking each other with dead stares and loud voices.
Don’t look at me, look at the camera.

Alone in the car at night,
Wondering what the hell is wrong with myself,
Swearing, despairing, hoping to cry,
I can scream at myself that I don’t care,
But that is when I care the the most.

Then I look through the teardrops almost on my eyelashes
And through the raindrops on the windshield
And realize that the realest things are the things I can’t see.

Part Two
I want to find the place that was hiding behind the trees when I was young.
I want to go there.

Like that mountain in the distance,
That mountain that is impossibly distant,
That is unbearably desirable,
That is like a dare frozen into snow,
That is like a dream hammered into stone.


Remember when it felt like
We could climb the clouds
And stand on terraces of vapor and air
Lit by starlight and city glow
And a never-ending night,
An ever-promised sunrise.
We could talk forever.

All singing, all running, all with each other.

You’re a beautiful person and I hope you realize that.
The glimmer in your eyes is a reflection of light
From somewhere else entirely.

Hell, if it ended tomorrow,
I’d probably just look back sadly
And wish I could have seen the glimmer in your eyes
One last time.

There’s a little bit of cold blowing in from the northeast.
It doesn’t matter if you know where you’re walking toward.
The important thing is that you’re walking.
And that at some point other people will be walking with you.
And they won’t have to leave.
You can walk on train tracks and through forests and under stars
And across fields and over hills and next to mountains
And into the places where no one has gone.
And the breathing of the people beside you will sound like music.

September 30, 2014

A Galactic Autumn

I dreamt, and in my dream I saw a tree.

The tree stood among other trees near a river. The river was cold and slow, feeding off the nearby ocean waves. But even though the summer was past, I could see summer days remembered in the waters, and when I breathed I caught the salty taste of long days spent fishing and swimming. The river grew larger and smaller with the tides, imperceptibly creeping across the sand and rock until it touched the brush and then gradually falling back again. The sea poured itself into the river bed continuously, flowing past the beach and into the wildness of trees and cliffs and little islands.

The tree stood at the point where the forest started to take over the sand, looking down on the river as it had for as long as the waves had been washing the shore. It was tall, so ancient that I could not see where it ended. October had stripped the branches to the bone, leaving none of the crinkled leaves that had clothed the towering skeleton.

None except for one. I saw one yellow leaf that still refused to yield to the wind. Its companions had long since let themselves be carried away by the breeze, but this one still held on.

I turned my eyes to the sea. In the surf I saw a figure standing alone, looking toward the horizon, her dress fluttering in the same breeze that had taken the leaves. As her dress fluttered, the sun drowned in the watery horizon, and I saw stars falling like leaves in some kind of galactic Autumn. The constellations blew around in cosmic winds. Orion danced with Cassiopeia in the northern sky, and dying stars walked along the Milky Way toward some celestial eternity.

The night was over in what seemed a matter of moments, and I walked toward the surf. As I neared the water, the woman turned, and I knew her to be Time. I saw a summer smile on her ageless face; I saw a thousand years in her sad autumn eyes. A lone raindrop landed on her cheekbone and rolled down her face like a lone tear, falling to the sand with the tragic reluctance of a lone leaf.

And then the yellow leaf, its battle with the winds of the endless seasons lost, tumbled past my feet and surrendered itself to the tides.

Time smiled as raindrops flowed from her eyes like tears for long-past days, and I found myself walking into the surf, my eyes searching aimlessly for the leaf that had let the wind carry it into the waves.

Soon the sea had embraced me; the waves swept over my head, and I sunk. Under the water I opened my eyes to the salt and cold, the currents that I knew would be as salty and cold as the raindrop tears that were streaming down the clock face of Time herself, but all I saw was the moonlit grey of my bedroom ceiling.

Outside I could hear the night breeze as it made the leaves dance. My midnight imagination believed that perhaps the leaf I had been chasing was dancing out there in the wild and windy night. And so I wept, because I knew that even if I danced with the leaves until dawn, I would never know which one was mine.

I fell asleep to the sound of lapping waves and ticking clocks, and stars tumbled like leaves beneath my eyelids.

April 14, 2014

Ironically Speechless

I never really wanted to be one of those people who writes long sentimental goodbye notes when some segment of their life ends.

But here I am.

And here we are.

And look what I’m doing.

I did five years of speech and debate. During those five years I competed in maybe twenty-five or so tournaments, including tiny local qualifiers and huge national invitational deals. Which means I told stories to people I’d never seen before in my life, participated in numerous forty-five minute long arguments about philosophy and government, gave impromptu ramblings on modern culture, and played more characters than I can count.

And the whole speech and debate part of speech and debate, that was fun and cool and I’m glad I did it. I love telling stories. And the skills I learned were worth the effort.

But I liked the people more. The people were fantastic. I met my best friends in speech and debate. And the memories that I’m holding on to from tournaments – I don’t think a single one of them involves actually giving a speech.

So the speech thing is over. But the people are still here.

And the memories. The memories take place in classrooms and hotel rooms and crowded rooms and empty rooms and hills as far away from rooms as I could get.

And in those rooms there were wonderful people. Wonderful people talking and laughing and occasionally crying, and all I really cared about was that they were there and I was there and we were talking and laughing and occasionally crying together and possibly doing some speeches in between.

There were late nights and early mornings and sunny days and stormy afternoons. And the occasional tornado. There was much time spent in busy rooms, talking to countless people and smiling and asking "what speeches are you doing." There was even more time spent hanging out with good friends, friends who you could ask questions deeper than "what speeches are you doing." And there was time spent walking in lonely halls, asking God to, if nothing else, at least let me speak something true when it was time to speak. I was always scared I would say something I didn't believe, or shouldn't believe. 

And then there are thousands of other memories spilling over each other in some kind of stream of consciousness collage or constellation like the stars in a night sky and the seas of nameless faces and faceless names and people hugging, people running, people flirting, people winning, people just existing and being and huddling together to hide from the dark creeping in and knowing they're loved and knowing they're sheltered from shadows and demons. Beautiful eyes and broken souls and a waterfall of memories cascading down, ever down to bathe all that you've known in these years full of stupid fears and happy tears and one-clap cheers and far-off faces coming near. Maybe I'm leaving too much of my being behind but for everything lost there's something to find. We have been young and we have been free but later on we may have to bleed and hopefully these years together will help us be able to bleed as brothers in a fading world where we stand on sacred ground with mindless minds creeping around. You can pierce infinity with a whisper but all you get back is an echo and so you have to believe the ground will hold strong when all else crumbles and you have to believe what you've known all along.

I said stream-of-consciousness collage, right?

And now I realize that speech is just one part of what I'm thinking about here. It's not just speech that's ending - in a year or so I will probably be going to college, probably away from the people I've known all my life, and speech ending has made me start to experience that loss in a tangible way. Apparently these are more than just my thoughts about speech ending. I guess they're kind of my thoughts about everything. 

I do understand that if these years had lasted forever, they would not be nearly as beautiful as they were. I remember watching one of the better sunsets I've seen when I was in Colorado for a tournament. I think that the fleeting nature of a sunset is what makes it beautiful. And that’s how speech was, and how life is in general.   

And yeah, there was embarrassment and sickness and nervous sweat and disappointment. But there were always people there to get me through it.

I wanted to try to describe these people, and how endlessly fantastic and complex they are, and how we have experienced happiness and sadness and all kinds of ridiculous emotions. And how we have done stupid crazy things together, and gone to other states together, and stayed up all night talking and laughing together. And how we have all supported each other and relied on each other. I wanted to describe it.

And so I find it kind of ironic

That after spending five beautiful years doing speech,

I am at a loss for words. 

February 8, 2014

A Soul Unmasked

The stage, it was her earth
The limelight was her sun
The audience was her family
The character and she were one

She wore many masks
And all of them were real
Her face was carved in wood
Her soul was carved in steel

She sensed the people’s smiles
She felt the people’s tears
She neglected for a while
Her dark and gnawing fears

One day she donned a mask
That clove tightly to her skin
And she found it would not budge
To show her face within 

So each day became an act
In a never-ending play
Where every time she took a bow
She gave her soul away

When her hair had turned to white
And the color of her eyes
Was forgotten in some corner
Of her old and fading mind,

She was asked by a woman
With eyes filled up by youth
And a heart filled up by passion
And a mind filled up by truth,

“How are you to smile
With lips of golden pine
How are you to weep
With eyes so deep enshrined?”

And when her heart grew cold
When her lungs had ceased to breathe
They pried away the mask
And found no face beneath.

January 16, 2014

One Night

                Snowflakes swam lightly through the air as Oliver walked across the pavement. The snow had not yet settled into a layer, instead speckling the pavement with white. Soft orange light, burning inside lonely street lamps, caught the snowflakes and made them glitter. Starlight and moonlight mingled with street light, marrying the light of man with the light of heaven in a picture of night that Oliver felt immersed in. Under the glow of the lights he could feel the secrets that the darkness hid, the secrets that the light sheltered him from. He was alone, but he felt like part of the night. And so he walked slowly and let the light and darkness envelope him.
                All around Oliver were buildings: factories and offices, usually full of machinery and paperwork and poor workers and rich businessmen. But the machines were quiet, and the papers no longer shuffled, and the workers were at home in their beds, and the businessmen were at home in their beds; the workers were dreaming of what they could do, and the businessmen were dreaming of what they had already done, and neither worker nor businessman was on Oliver’s mind. The factories and offices were factories and offices in the sunlight, but in the moonlight and streetlight they were shells, left alone with their freshly oiled cogs and freshly printed documents and old stone walls. 
                To Oliver the best and worst thing about the night was its end. For a few hours, he could immerse himself in the night light and be alone. For a few hours, the moon was bright and the sky was dark and the streetlights turned the buildings into something ancient and beautiful and secretive. But soon red would seep into the sky, and the world of night would fall away. The sunrise was the fulfilling of a hope that had lasted the whole night; but the fulfilling of the hope meant that the hope was gone, that the mystery was ended, that the once young night had grown old and died. The buildings held no secrets in the sunlight.

                That same night, a woman lay wrapped in blankets on a bed in the heart of the city. In her arms she held a baby, born nearly two months before. She held it safe and comfortable in her arms, and she felt safe and comfortable in her bed. The baby was sleeping, but the city was awake: there were motors and voices and lights, but the baby was dreaming far-off dreams, dreams so sweet and innocent and full of wonder that those workers and businessmen would be incapable of comprehending them.
                Outside the room it was night, and the city was cruel. But inside the room, on the bed, the mother and child lay together in perfect safety and peace, sheltered from the night and the secrets that it hid. The mother smiled and looked down and saw that her baby had awoken. The baby did not make a sound though. He only looked up at his mother in tranquil silence and let her admire his deep green eyes. His eyes were as full of wonder as his dreams had been.

                That same night, two bicycles whizzed down a steep hill at the edge of the city. On the bicycles were two twelve-year-old boys, peddling hard enough that peddling had become useless. Gravity carried them bumpily down the dirt slope, a slope which ended in a sudden and short-lived incline. The boys and their bicycles hit the makeshift ramp at a speed that would alarm any sensible adult, and gravity sent them sailing into the snowy air.
                For a few glorious seconds they saw the snowflakes rushing past them, the ground rolling by beneath them, the frozen pond rushing rapidly toward them, and then they crashed into the frozen pond with enough force to shatter the whole of it into fragments of ice. The water was of arctic temperature, and they could feel their skin going numb, but the water was only four feet at its deepest point. So they half-swam, half-walked through it, dragging their bicycles behind them and laughing uncontrollably.
                They pulled themselves out of the pond, shivering and dazed but still lost in laughter. They laughed about what a stupid idea it was, and they tried to remember which one of them had come up with it, and they hoped their parents hadn't noticed their absence, and then they forgot about the pond and spent the rest of the night talking about girls as dry clothes and brisk walking relieved their shivering.

                That same night, outside the city, the moon shone down on a bridge that spanned a narrow river. The bridge hardly ever held traffic, because not many people bothered with the forest on the outskirts of the city. But that night the bridge held two people, young and in love. The girl’s family was moving away from the city soon, and she and the boy had decided to meet at the bridge. They sat on the edge of the bridge and watched the river flow quietly beneath them, the moon turning its ripples milky pale. The air was still, and the sky was clear, but somehow snowflakes still drifted down. The boy and the girl gazed up at the same stars that shone down on Oliver as he walked the lonely streets.
                They had not spoken a single word the whole night. They had let the moonlight shine on their backs and the city light shine on their faces, and they held each other to ward off the frosty touch of the snowflakes. They understood each other, and they loved each other, and so their embrace, as sweet and innocent as the dreams the baby was dreaming that very moment, was enough. Words would only have marred the stillness of the air.
That same night, a husband and wife ate dinner in an obscure café hidden in the recesses of the city. Their love was less childlike than that of the boy and the girl, but it was also much deeper and much older. They were in their late thirties, and the emotions of their youth had evolved into something steadier and quieter that remembered the youthful passions but did not repeat them. That night was their anniversary. They ate dinner in unexpected but comfortable silence; their children were staying elsewhere for the weekend, and the snowflakes were falling softly, and the night was young.
Soon they walked to the park and sat together to watch the snow fall. The moon was making the waters of the fountain shimmer, and the leaves of the trees were swaying in the lightest of night breezes. They placed their hands together, and the wife felt the cold silver of her husband’s ring press against her skin. The night was growing older, but they were in no rush. There were motors and voices and lights in the distance, but they felt as if they had the night all to themselves.

 That same night there was sadness. The man was old and wise and weary from decades of life. Now that life was pouring out with a stream of warm blood, a stream that became a cold pool on the pavement, staining the asphalt crimson. He was in a rough area of the city, but no one could do him any more harm now. The murderer who had started the stream of blood was long gone, running into the darkest corners of the night. He had stolen a child, dragged him away into the black alleys and deteriorating homes. But the old man had seen the murderer, seen him before he could touch the child. He had tackled the criminal, allowed the child to run free into the night, away from the alleys and toward the warm city lights.
But the criminal had left a bullet in the old man’s stomach, and now his blood, blood that had once been full of life and passion, poured onto the icy asphalt. A stranger emerged from one of the alleys. This stranger had spent his whole life stealing and lying, but when he saw the lonely old man bleeding out on the street, he could not bear to stay in the darkness. He rushed forward and cradled the man’s head in his arms, not caring that the blood was soaking into his clothes.
The stranger looked into the dying man’s deep green eyes and then clutched his hand, on which he felt the cold silver of a ring. “What’s your name?” he asked as tears rolled down his cheeks and fell into the pool of the old man’s blood at his side.
“Oliver,” the old man replied. Then he smiled faintly; his eyes were looking far past the stars.

                That night was the night Oliver would have seen if the most vital moments of his life had been blended into a single night; he would have sat on the bridge and looked onto the city and seen himself being held by his mother, being held by his wife, being held by some stranger as his blood ran onto the ground; and he would have seen his shivering walks in the forest and his lonely walks in the city light; and he would have seen all his days blurred into a collage of sad smiles and lonely tears and midnight passions; and somewhere in that haze of memories, a haze unmindful of time and nature but infused with a thousand emotions, he would have seen beautiful happiness and beautiful unity and beautiful hope.
                But I expect that if he had felt those smiles and tears and passions and hopes, all at once, unified into a single night instead of spread over a single life, he would have buckled under the crushing bittersweet weight of their beauty, the sad as potent as the happy, and just as beautiful. Such beauty was not meant for a single night, a single life, or even a single world. He could not have it, he could only glimpse it, and one night as he sat on a bridge with someone beautiful whom he loved resting in his arms, Oliver did glimpse it, and he hoped that one day he could have it.

                The last of the blood flowed onto the pavement, and soon the night and city light were washed away by the pure brightness of dawn.