December 8, 2016

On Gratitude (and the Cultured River Horse)

Yesterday a man told me that anxiety
and depression atrophy the brain’s
hippocampus, and now I wonder if
hippocampus could refer to those
higher learning institutions which service
the well-adjusted hippopotamus.
In any case: the surest words to
re-inflate these shriveled ridges,
the man said, are words of thanksgiving.

Today I feel gratitude coursing upward
from my tongue to brim in these
deadened fibers once more. When I
smile at someone and they smile back,
they have expanded my mind. I assemble
my smiles from threadbare fossils of
laughter, but there is some truth in the
corners of my mouth, and it is enough
to dislodge me from the world briefly.

I am not better but I am no worse, and today
I said my thanks for the trombone choir and
fruit leather and even the alarm clock.
The winter has tilted the sun low enough
to brisken these days, and I am fortunate
to have the instantaneity of walking into a
warm building infused with Christmas
lights, for it froths up inside me like the
first swallow of brandy, and my mind grows.

November 27, 2016

ctrl + T (multiple tabs)

(In my creative writing class, one of the assignments was to write a science fiction short story. What follows is the result. The essential scenario here is what would happen if we humans - with our attention spans severely diminished by the internet and other forms of technology - developed teleportation devices. However, the central character's struggles, which are perhaps more glanced at than elaborated upon, are certainly more the focus here than the technology itself. My apologies if it's super depressing.)

click

I am in her room again, by her bed, and the red-draped light oppresses my senses and casts her in shades of cherry on her mattress, and I rise to sit with her again, but she fends me off with the eyes of pity. I tell her I forgot the flour for my mother, as an excuse to withdraw for a minute or more, and she tells me I had better come back. I had better come back.

click

I pick the cheapest bag of flour, and it freights my hand with the future of a dozen unbaked loaves. The cashier smiles. I fumble through crumpled bills and curse the solitary George Washington.

click

I hand the flour to my mother, and she asks where I’m off to next. Back to Natalie’s, I say. She doesn’t want me to go; she wants me to stay and knead the dough and tend to Sadie in her high chair. But I am already raising my hand to my neck, and I press the switch no matter what she says. Don’t make me follow you, I hear her say before I go.

click

I switch straight onto Natalie’s bed to avoid the tension of sitting down, and she looks at me with those same pitying eyes that glimmer and grow in the firebrick light. I tell her about my mother. Natalie says she doesn’t think I should be here, no, I should be kneading dough and tending to Sadie. Don’t you want to finish talking? I ask. What’s there to talk about, she says.

click

I stand in my kitchen for a moment, but no, the walls are too close and Sadie’s cries are too loud, and I don’t care if I’m the man of this house now; I raise my hand to my neck before my mother can turn to bait me with her helpless gaze.

click

I try to switch into the pub, but the sensors read my age coding, as I knew they would, and I land by the curb outside. I feel sick with the weight of it all. I walk under street lamps and wonder if I should switch to San Francisco again, maybe, to walk in on my father with another woman. Or Omaha, perhaps, to ask Terry if Nebraska is healing his wrists any faster than Oregon was. Terry made the classic mistake, he cut horizontal.

click

Instead I switch to the coast, to a gusty twilight shore, and as with any other place, I don’t want to stay here longer than five minutes. The wind riles up the sand around my feet, and whirling grains of it flog my bare calves. I kneel in penance, I say my thanks for the solitude. I begin to feel awful for leaving, but I fear staying would have made me feel worse. I look out at the shaded pitching sea, and the saltwater

click

grinds gelid against me, and I regret leaving even more, I am ready to fade, I imagine floundering and sinking. I look to the shore for the crepuscular animals that might emerge from the gloom to feed on me, if I washed up with the tide. I wonder if there’s any place in this tuneless twisting world where I would want to spend more than five minutes, and I am sickened by the cold, so I switch to

click

my kitchen, where the bread smells warm in the oven. I dribble saltwater on the floor and retreat into the bathroom, where I towel myself dry and change clothes and turn on the shower. I stand outside the shower in my dry clothes and hear my mother yell, asking me to come help. I love her, I love Sadie, I do, I want to help them, but this house is so small, and the world is not. I wonder if this house is in truth much bigger than the world, but I cannot dwell on this long enough to care. I call to my mother that I am in the shower, but I am not, I am in

click

Natalie’s room again, where the crimson light is fading to dark nothing, and she is on her bed crying and crying. I am surprised she is still here. She looks up at me with futile eyes, and her eyes ask me to go. I wonder where to go. I look at the texture of the drywall above me, and I remember lying on my back with Natalie on top of me and letting that same texture impress itself upon my eyes until I felt the memory and gravity of the house swilling out the duskiness in my head and replacing it with something pure and lovely. At that moment, perhaps I could have stayed longer than five minutes, perhaps I could have stayed for lives and lives. But I had not. I hadn’t even kissed her goodbye. I regret that all the more now, and her eyes still ask me to leave, and – fuck me, I’m bleeding apart inside, so I obey.

click

The trees waver in the wind, and they will remain on this hill much longer than I will. Maybe I should wait with them; I don’t know where else to go, but I will go somewhere, I will.

click

Downtown, maybe, with the leering cars and sandstone buildings, or

click

the quarry, with its crumbled walls, or

click

anywhere I can bleed inside,

click

anywhere I can fade.

click

click

click

click

click

November 14, 2016

An Early Thanksgiving

Or: A Brief and Hopefully Not Unwelcome Respite from the Poetry to Which You Are Undoubtedly Accustomed (Unless This Counts as Poetry – Oh No!)

This past month has been one of the hardest I can remember – not for one reason, but for an ever-compounding multitude of reasons. And that’s okay. Because, hey, look at all these things.

Thank you for people who know what they’re talking about, and for the chance to become one of them.

Thank you for people. Thank you for people.

Thank you for walking past brick-circled windows at night and seeing the light on and wondering who else is living instead of sleeping.

Thank you for sleeping and for the cold autumn air from the open window and for how it can’t reach under the blankets.

Thank you that the heater is right next to my bed.

Thank you that the heater isn’t always on.

Thank you for trees that change color and trees that don’t.

Thank you for the bowl of peppermint candy on the way out of the cafeteria.

Thank you for the skill to write good essays when I try to, and good bullshit when I need to.

Thank you for stained glass windows in the practice rooms.

Thank you that when I am tired of homework and slip into a high-pitched cockney accent or some extravagant brogue, my roommate replies in equally exaggerated tones.

Thank you for when the salad bar has apple vinaigrette.

Thank you for the pizza delivery man who happened to be a mechanic.

Thank you for the emptiness of the practice fields beneath the stars, the silhouettes of the hills in the distance, the transmission towers whose lines hum invisibly behind the trees, and the watchful lamps in suburbs asleep below.

Thank you for the smell of sap after climbing pine trees.

Thank you for the old memories that flow around downtown, for the river that flows through it, and for the close-knit buildings.

Thank you for egg nog milkshakes.

Thank you for Friday afternoon Office episodes, for drinking cherry soda on Friday nights, and for generally everything about Fridays.

Thank you that I’ve never gotten soda from the cafeteria.

Thank you for music that gives me chills and warms my spirit.

Thank you for words and silence, and for how we need both of them to empathize with one another.

Thank you for the way things are right now.

Thank you that things won’t always be like this.

Thank you for everything I haven’t thanked you for.

Thank you for your love, and for trusting us with it.

November 3, 2016

A Symphony for the Hills, the Valleys, the High Places of the Earth, and the Crusher of Snake-heads

To the chief musician.

The earth collects the first of its orchestra from the harmonies of streams,
rushes and reeds accompanying one another as water cascades
cadential over ledges, accepting the blood of the lamb and
running red, turned to wine. It cascades and cadences in praise

of the power to render motionless suns, to split the seas,
to calm the crescendos of waves and wither fruitless figs.
Now others must join the number, to sing, to bow:
Trees with clapping branches rise, and branches catch,

catch one another, spruce and maple, form hollows to hold
the great chorus of marching poplars plucked like strings and
bowed by mighty rushing winds. Canyons and crevices bend
in river-cut valves and gravelly tubes, resonating with

the breath of God, the breath of storms, soothing
the rocks that spit water and the shrubs that burn unburnt.
In the sky, pillars of consuming fire confined to webs
of electric streak, making the valleys to reverberate as

the deepest drums, and the fire falls to fell the cedars, high
and lifted up no longer. From the cedars felled drips
heaven-bled rain, to heal the land and clothe the grass,
steady and soft, pattering as light-pressed keys 

in lilting arpeggios,
while all else rests:
a still small voice.

October 24, 2016

Reflection (Growth)

I change myself with untruths,
I tell lies about myself until they become
molds I can fit into, and the former truths
wither and wane

I drive alone past the lake, and the lanterns are
paralyzed fire reflected beneath the utter smooth,
the utter still. The night is the hills above the water, where
I drive alone through October and Octobers past

I pray for peace, I pray for something to break the peace, I pray
the Lord’s prayer a dozen times because it is not my words,
because I cannot trust my words, and breaths of prayer settle
on the windshield, let my breath be a conduit for the truth transcending me

I know beauty is reaching for things outside myself, it is
forgetting myself for a moment, it demands love because
it is outside self, and love is selfless. I embrace my hollowness, I say
my thanks for it, I ask not for fulfillment but for understanding

I park at the dam, I run across the ridge and see nothing but
a lone light settling on the water far below, falling and free.
I hear dogs barking in the trees, I retreat into my car and wish
I had stayed longer, run further

I let the radio soar over the contours of the road, ‘All things grow,
All things grow,’ and I grow a little more, a little older, I remember
looking into the swaying mirror with cider humming in my temples,
I remember seeing how lined and weathered I will be at fifty, at sixty

I drive at fifty, at sixty, at seventy, I slow, I slow,
I try to reconcile accepting myself and changing myself, I try
to reconcile anything I can, I wonder if all things are too unslowing
to ever justify leaving, forgetting, severing friendships

I drive into the fog, the radio swells, the strings crescendo,
the bells chime for lost time, ringing a tempo for the chorus
of all memory. The brass surges up a major scale, and I remember
my capacity for worship, how I want to make it a ritual without losing awe

I have been selfish, I decide to let go, but the joyful things fall away and the
lowest weights remain. I remember to look outside myself for everything that matters,
for everything to make me grow, but still I hold on, still I ache, and the radio
reminds, ‘He takes and he takes and he takes.’ 

October 15, 2016

The Seer's Lament

Death I know, in each of its sallow forms;
it is the clock past midnight, past all allotted time,
with its hands arcing in cycles of tarnished brass,
tarnished eons, its fingers prodding, asking to hurry please,
pointing past the countries of shadow.
Yes, it is knotted metal, warmed by flames from
gasoline that once hurled it unknotted down reeling freeways.
Yes, it is bullets sent by envious whims, it is seawater choked
amidst the swelling of storms, it is blood smeared on lockers and
spattered on foreign soil and coughed
into the bathroom sink
in the middle of the night when it is too late.
But it is also smoke blown above icing, it is
a first word, a first love, it is
training wheels coming off, and it is
weary eyes sending back all the glow of squandered days,
sending it back toward the speckled starlit chambers
where it first shone.

What is beyond death I know, I have seen it in rifts
in dusky skies where the memory of light sieves through,
the memory of all light, it is enough to devour suns,
yet instead it drenches the edges of clouds and drizzles orange upon
the crests of mountains, it gilds treetops and immerses us with
yearnings for far-off lives in far-off realms.
I have seen it in the corners of smiles, in generously tossed coins,
in naked embraces and quiet voices. I can imagine it in
the hills that ascend toward the stars at night, where
we star-watchers climb a grassy swaying stairway toward untold lands.

But what is before death I do not know;
in each thing I see an end, I see
a glimpse of foretold splendor after that.
I want to listen to the infant cries in the next room over
and sense in them not a last breath, echoing backward hushed,
nor the transcendent crescendo that comes afterward,
but the momentary vitality of the cry itself. Yet life
evades me always, or so I think, I see loss
in every gaze, I hear the roaring of time without end,
it thunders in my ears like the sea, billowing boundless,
a knell humming beneath the mortal crust, humming against it
but never quite splintering through.

To deafen my ears but once to the inescapable tide, that would be enough,
I know – if I could attend but once to the gentle laughs and gentle sighs,
the simple sounds I believe must break the silence
there.

October 8, 2016

For the Reservoir and the Summer Roads, in All Their Solitude

remembered star-beams drape these blacktop branches,
streets with the dripping light of remembrance,
streets with the coals of wishes, wished upon
in summer nights, the radio takes wing

embers settle in asphalt, draw their glow from street lamps,
drunk from the city electricity once embered
drunk from the cider in the backseat, back before
the lilting clocks chime, the cedars sing

dreams must find our eyes, must show the constellations
the truth of their pupiled reflections, long since dreamt;
the truth of their unwhispered promises, once kept
by the weight of our youth, the school bells ring

reunion in fields, on hilltops, near the reservoir hollow
where the tires yet slumber, bottle shards reunite
where the clinking toasts remembered reside, last heard
in slipping hours, the yearnings simmer and sting

here again we ask the first questions that found one voice,
our voice unanswered, again it waits, it wallows here
our voice unswallowed, God above listens silent, lets us wonder
what we must bring, what we must bring.

September 10, 2016

Silent Rivers

Or: Drifting Almost to Sleep at a Texaco Near the Banks of the Columbia

Here,
In the least likely of places,
There is a new dimension.

Its margins are the lines constructed and connected by bare nighttime freeways,
Which flare briefly beneath determined headlights
Before hurtling with relief back into shadows that the stars cannot quite touch,
Shadows which cushion the hollow lanes and their skeletal shoulders,
Which offer some comfort to the travelers,
While the stars offer their sympathy
And not much else.

This dimension begins to emerge quietly from the blackness,
Its lines webbed by the cascading of soundless, invisible rivers
That become waterfalls as they plummet off the brink of daytime
And immerse this vast new paradise,
Occasionally flooding up into riverbeds beneath lonely bridges
And beside the travelers trying not to nod off in their parked and unaccompanied cars.

There is some memory of the world before and the world around;
Some of the streetlights glimmer like the eyes of the people you love,
Muting all their passion into the orange that keeps you softly awake,
Silently dreaming.

But the cities are far, and with them their noise and obligation;
Here you can let the lines of this new dimension settle onto your skin,
Adding new creases below your eyes, upon your brow,
And perhaps,
If you are lucky,
At the corners of your mouth.

July 2, 2016

Pine Sap

It’s all a big merry-go-round
Whirling, whirling, faster, faster
The lights blur together
And, in momentarily frozen glimpses,
Reflect in the eyes of the people you love
As they smile, unaware of the whirling

Aware only of the light

Soon their faces dim, and they fade into the spinning woodwork,
Etched in the panels of memory and gradually succumbing
To the sanding palm of time, which makes shallow every groove
Carved by friendship or desire
Or the bitter lonesomeness that masquerades as mutually understood silence

If this present numbness did not spill into the past,
This sadness could be less hollow,
More complete, less of a grieving for the absence of grief

Smile a little bit
Because the lights are whirling in your eyes as only you can see them
They cannot slow, they start to dim,
The numbness is in your eyes now,
The etchings are barely there now,
So smile a little bit
Because what else can you do?

Lonely, lonely starlight
And the peace which passeth all understanding 

May 3, 2016

Purpled Links

You have declared
An unconditional surrender to the artifices of synthesized light and sound:
Waves of photons crumble the structures around your resolve,
The pixels glowing and fusing
And humming through veins like an electromagnetic amphetamine,
Smoldering in the vertex of every numbed out nerve ending
And slumbering in the desires of every paralyzed cortex,
Waiting for one more hit of propaganda-fueled buzzword wish fulfillment
Dripping with the nectar of guaranteed ad revenue,
Margined with spray-tanned flesh and the marginalized wishes to stop, to power down,
To pry your attention span back out of clickbait paradise,
Dulling the pins and needles that prickle at your legs, which no longer move,
And your eyes, which cannot be still;
As the tabs collapse, windows into the strange lives of a million strangers flicker before you,
Your consciousness ensnared in the unfamiliar and the familiar,
The eternally scrolling repetition of the same and the different,
The antique and the brand new for only $19.99,
The edifying and the crippling,
The childish and the pornographic;
Search a different engine, let the servers groan and rust,
Let the sirens outside blare and the sirens inside sing,
Interrupt the rhythm of bookmarks and purpled links throbbing against your softening skull
And your bloodshot irises and your aching temples, which you have profaned;
With rivulets of binary residue gradually dissolving from your hemispheres,
How difficult can it be to walk away?
Find somewhere with pine and arching hills and immense horizons, and
Run.

April 30, 2016

Like Lead Into the Sea

Away from selfish tongues of flame lies the sea.
Curled against one another on the deck, we watch the dark tides
From the warmth of generations-old blankets
Which smell of their years spent in the cramped safety of closets
And by the humble flicker of the fireplace.

Inside we lie by shelves full of floats and trinkets
From years of beachcombing,
Of treading down distant coasts in the wind and rain
And feeling the might of the ocean.
Some of the shells hold the echoes of screams from dying mariners,
Screams born from lungs aching for home
But consigned to drown in the fathoms below.
Some of the glass floats hold the glints of ancient lighthouses
That once blazed through the slanting raindrops of menacing storms.
Some of the bottles hold the memories of messages.
The cries of love and freedom from countries far away
Have travelled the vastness of the world
And the overpowering currents of time;
Here they stand collected.

We could walk the shadowy forests by the river,
Which promise the gateways to other kingdoms.
We could lie on the starlit dunes
To feel the earth turn beneath our backs.
Instead we linger here, in the quiet of the night,
Where the cabinets are stocked with favorite mugs
And the warmth seeps into our bones.
The night passes slowly, and we speak only simple words.
A candle twinkles on the counter;
The ocean trickles into the hollows of our conversation,
And eventually,
Into the softness of our silence.

Now we have kindled the quiet
That will saturate every pause
And cool every boiling reminiscence
For the remainder of our years.

Feeling raw, we watch our skins ripple on the tides,
Wonder for how long we must mend ourselves,
Wonder if our dimples and creases will grow back the same.

April 29, 2016

One Damn Thing the Phoenix Never Had

Perhaps now, with the constellations no longer tracing our pasts,
With our bloodlines no longer fusing the stars
And pumping memory through the dust of galaxies,
Perhaps now, in the crushing glow of suns and nebulas
And the burning force of all the universe,
In the reverence commanded by the most ancient red giants
That lie slumbering in the farthest reaches of Time, 
Perhaps now we can realize how dimly we truly burned.
Perhaps we can begin the search for fire outside ourselves,
Fire which burns hotter and purer but does not consume.

Let Prometheus slumber with the rest of them,
For we have found fire outside the peaks of Olympus;
We have climbed the hill for the last time and left our boulders behind.

Ash

A last spark, a last promise,
A twinkle of light transcending color and form,
Piercing the diamond haze that blinds us and cuts us,
Melting the cowardly hues that coat our grasping words –
A last spark,
Blistering the skin of our spirits,
Purging the thought of ourselves from ourselves,
Twisting the corners of our mouths into the silent smiles of memory,
A last spark –
And then, ash.

We have set ourselves ablaze
To feel the charring of our flesh,
And instead we have felt the charring of our souls.
We lie in the embers of ourselves and wonder:
What could burn brighter than we have burned?

March 7, 2016

Self-Immolation

While it lasted
We felt light sifting through our dreams,
Bleeding through the irises of lonesome eyes
And finding some freedom in the space between spirits,
In the quiet between the fright of misunderstanding and the fright of attachment,
While it lasted.

Now we return to the forests we knew in our separate youths,
We press our ears to gnarled trunks and listen for the rush of silence inside,
We scrape the bark for the signs we once saw there.
We collapse upon decaying roots and let the wolves lick the blood from our eyes,
We forsake the sunlit paths,
We fumble for nails to ravage our flesh over and over.
We crucify ourselves to the rusted gates of forbidden kingdoms,
Our bodies splayed limp and pierced across the beams,
Barring our entrance.
Our failure grasps at redemption.
We savor the impossibility of escape, we relish our unworthiness.

I begin to wonder if the light was light or merely a trick of light,
A cosmic sham burning with the gases of a thousand wished-upon stars,
Candles imprisoned in subconscious shrines, guttering and dimming
And hissing into smoke, the flame to dust returned
As we wrinkle and toughen beneath reeling years,
As other candles blow to mist above frost and sugar.
We burn and burn and burn no more.

February 19, 2016

Rooftop Ranges

At fifteen we sat on the rooftops of office buildings,
Buildings glowing temporarily in eternal streetlights
That signaled the nightly abandonment of the offices
By those who knew what they were for,
Leaving the rooftops for we
Who knew what rooftops were for.

We sat with suburban safety behind us.
The rows of sleeping houses,
Set apart from the empty orange industry before us,
Climbed up the hill in a progression
Of shadowy backyards for midnight wandering,
Of warm rooms full of old things and blanketed beds,
Of untold memories nailed to doorframes
And woven into carpets and couches
And written on the spines of books
And glimmering in the light above the stove.

Before us, past the empty orange industry,
Lay the colossally distant silhouettes of mountain ranges
Visible to us at night
Only because of our afternoons spent memorizing their peaks and valleys
From our decks and trees.

We sat there, he and I,
And he spoke of the freedom fighters of his imagined world,
Embroiled in the war for all things beautiful,
And he spoke of two brothers,
Who, though it was never spoken out loud,
Were perhaps us,
Who steered their train across the far-reaching rails
Of that country,
Who rode in airships and slept in highland cabins,
And bled for free and beautiful things
And the right to imagine such countries
And the right to sit on rooftops
Looking at the colossally distant loneliness of mountain ranges,
Dimly outlined below the stars,
Above the clouds.

And in those nights,
When imagined words had truer meanings,
We heard the far-off whistle of the train
Echoing in the valleys,
Between the peaks,
Closer to the stars than to us.

And in the predawn light,
Before the smell of coffee
And the dreary eyes
And the collapsing onto couches and blankets
And being thankful for Saturday,
Before all that,
We saw the outline of an airship
Sailing slowly past the highest peak;
We saw the chimney smoke of a highland cabin
Mingling with the cloud.

We searched for words
And found only silence,
In its wordlessness complete.

February 5, 2016

Diamond Thread

For a moment you thought someone else
Could see the colors you see,
Painted on imagined cathedrals
Growing from the fused limbs of the forest
North of the back of your mind.

But anyone whose eyes
Can catch that shade of light
Seems to drift away behind some golden haze
That cuts,
Cuts away,
At your ability
To try.

Your hopes feel realer as hopes.
Your dreams taste better as dreams.
You lash out for a chance at melting all the faithless gold
And then you let it go.

Your words poison the unspoken seas of truest light
That have bled through rifts in furthest cloud,
Carrying you to the sightless wonder of unsatisfied longings
For distant lives
And trying to bind longing to longing,
Spirit to spirit,
Trying, trying,
To try.

So you begin to weave,
Weave diamond thread through your lips,
Because after the dribbling and clinging blood,
After the needle tearing your skin and purging you,
You find a little solace in the quiet,
In the blood-spattered silence,
In the emptiness starting to be filled
By something painful and new.

A fleeting split in the golden haze and nothing more.
A flash of dreamt up color in someone else’s eyes.
A resignation in your own.

Alone again.
Wondering if bleeding yourself is the price of freeing yourself.
Wondering if this satisfied emptiness
Is better than unsatisfied fullness.

You could ask for an answer,
But only once you find someone
Who can cut through diamond,
Who knows how to speak
Without rupturing the silence.