ao-oa: volume one
for Sam rest in peace
the poems herein were entirely written and released by ao-oa, and can also be found at: ao-oa.tumblr.com all works protected under the Creative Commons License.
I didn’t believe in ghosts, or devils until I lost you but continued to feel you.
you are like a fresh cup of warm coffee, first thing in the morning. I am tired; weary with the burden of long-closed eyes and slumber, and the prior day’s exhaustion. but if my day begins with you I know no task can challenge me.
she shed her glory, like a tree in Fall, clothes strewn across my floor -dead leaves on the lawn -and I couldn’t help but wonder, as I looked upon her twisted roots and tangled branches, how many others had seen her this way, or sought shelter in her shade, or even tried to climb.
sleeping is an interesting thing, in that it becomes an entirely different event when done with someone you love. alone, it is a routine, a mindless necessity, like using the bathroom, or starting your car. you lay there and try to get comfortable, and drift off, and eventually, you wake up and continue on with your life. but with a lover, it all is reversed. daily life becomes this void, this dull, disappointing filler between the hours in which you can lay together again, curled up in silent serenity.
you take a slow, deep breath, and gaze upon your lover’s eyelids, trying to imagine everything that could be happening behind them, until you part ways and reunite in a dream.
sometimes, when I’m driving into the city, a shadow will slide across the empty passenger seat and catch the corner of my eye, and when I look, I swear I can still see you there, at my side; your glowing face, smiling back at me, warming every inch of my soul; your sunkissed hair and freckled cheeks, just begging me to lean over and kiss you; your fragile voice echoing, resonating through me. my heartbeat rises, my body livens, and I reach eagerly to take your hand, but mine just falls upon the seat 6
and your silhouette fades away, and I turn my gaze back to the road ahead.
the girl at the light
I pulled up next to the love of my life at a red light today. she was gorgeous, and joyous, as she sang with the music that was filling her car. the light turned green, she pressed on the gas, and my love was gone for a few hundred feet -until we met again, at the next light. I fell harder the second time -there was something so adorable about the way her mouth curled around that song, and how her hair swayed as she bobbed in rhythm. the light turned green again.
we met once more. this time, she noticed me, and smiled. green. our lanes merged, and we drove together for a bit, until I turned to go to work, and she continued forward, no doubt heading home, to a better man than me.
this time of year
this season always hits hard -it was around this time of year, with the leaves all falling, and then, the snow, that I fell into you, the chill in the air wrapping me in layers of your love. I engulfed myself in you, to escape the weather’s scorn, but you soon proved to be no less cold.
though our maps all burned along with our bridges, I could still so easily chart a path to your door, and navigate your bones, and the route to your heart. I could effortlessly tread our road again with my eyes closed tight; but when I’d arrive, I know that I wouldn’t ever be able to unlock you.
trees sway in foreign breezes, across plains and beyond seas. the night falls elsewhere, as our morning is born, and unknown tongues whisper words of life and death. birds soar and sing amongst the clouds; mountains think on valleys’ depths, as do valleys, the ocean floor. for certain, this world is immense, but oh, how miniscule it may be in my contentment; a small room and a bed, and you at my side. the trees may burn and this earth may level and this night may never pass, but in your eyes lives a homelike universe, ever more vast.
vacant homes, and busy hotels; worn-in beds and worn-out hearts. bones which know no haven, and bedsheets, made for lying. the sun peeks in, to wake new lovers; strangers, but for what they share; warmth of skin and breath, and the coldness of the heart.
what I know about faith
I saw you at your lowest point; your miserable, wallowing worst, pitiful and dirty, sorrowful and shamed and I still love(d) you.
your memory is like my favorite old record; I play it often, with a supreme fondness and a sliver of hope, that I may be able to recapture the love I felt when I first experienced it; but each time I play it back, it wears and ages and fades, until it no longer sings to me. so I put another record on the turntable, but oh, it just isn’t the same. it’s not the same.
you came to me again, in my sleep, occupying my dreams so innocently. my mind is not so ambitious, to write stories of love and stories of life; but simpler tales, of our bodies, entwined, of kissing your nose and holding you tight, and though I still wake without you in sight, at least the dreams carry me through the night.
your body is a haunted house, built on burial grounds. the halls -your skin and muscle and bone -ensnare countless ghosts, trapped and damned, for debts unpaid, and deaths that came too soon.
right now, in the Tanzanian city of Dar es Salaam, business men are dressing for the day, and kissing their wives goodbye; the night crew of the construction team at work is just beginning their day’s agenda; restless kids are somewhere arranging their things for school; my neighbors are quietly crawling into bed next to each other -she has no idea he’s married, with children. I am seated alone, in a dimly lit condo, eating a late dinner, and writing about a girl whom I should have stopped loving long ago.
I counted all your freckles and offered three kisses for each, while you quantified your sorrows, and buried me beneath.
despite my love, I am no martyr; don’t make me out to be. I won’t sacrifice myself for anyone who can’t do the same for me.
“don’t turn on the light”
it was 2:30 in the morning, and there was vomit on the ground, and the door was wide open, so I let myself in -nobody would be sober enough to notice another guest, anyway. there were kids sleeping on the kitchen floor, next to a shattered vase, and I followed the noise to the living room. it was dark, and as I stepped inside, I heard clothes rustling, and a boy breathing heavily, and then a familiar voice - your voice. “don’t turn on the light.” I only wish that I had listened. 21
I am sorry; I was never good with this sort of thing -if you catch me staring, from across the room, and I jerk my gaze away -if I smile awkwardly, or not at all -if I bit the skin on my lip, and refuse to make eye contact, staring instead at the distance, or the floor -if I seem to ignore you, that’s how you’ll know. I know it seems rude, but you’re much too beautiful, and I was never good with this sort of thing.
for all the hearts you’ve claimed, it’s a shame you’ve never found one of your own.
I cannot recall yesterday’s meals, or the day I learned to drive, or the name of my 7th grade teacher; the events of my first date, or the childhood camping trips with my father, or the night I first let my sadness take control. but two days blossom in my memory, more vivid than this moment, and more vital than a breath of air; the first -when I knew I’d found love, with you -the other, when you knew you hadn’t.
vying for temporary salvation, chasing ways to waste away; making lovers of minutes and martyrs of days. poison present pleasures leave little room for growth.
I must have been lonely, because I drove two hours across the state to meet a girl I’d only known for a few weeks. we met on the internet (terrible invention, that) and spoke every day and suddenly I was at her doorstep. we curled up together and kissed, and talked, and sang along with her record collection -“you know, this album is supposed to be about Anne Frank?” and then we made love -or, she did.
and then I drove home. I can’t for the life of me remember the name of her town, or of her father, who waved goodbye, saying “see you soon” as I backed out of the driveway.
she won my heart and my body the very first night we spent together. in the morning, when I returned home, I found a note she’d hidden in my wallet -a cute little sentiment that made me sick to my stomach in the best way possible. I was a fool to buy into that. romance is dead, and the whores all use it to pull the wool over the eyes of men like me.
my demons, though quiet, are never quite silenced. calm as they may be, they wait patiently for a reason to wake, take an overdue breath, and crawl back to my ear.
on life and death
I remember the first time I saw your face, glowing in the doorway; it was like being reborn, like all my life was a map to that moment. I stared into your smile, and I knew that I could love you, and my gut was swirling and my heart was warm. I remember the last day we spent together, when you were mine, your eyes shut, dreaming amongst my bedsheets. I watched you sleeping for a while -my eyes had never known such beauty, and my gut was still swirling, and my heart was still warm.
I remember the last time I saw your face; walking shoulder-to-shoulder with he who replaced me, hand-in-hand, his heart in yours. I stared into your smile, and a weight dropped in me, and my gut was swirling, but my heart felt cold
everyone speaks of hope like a collectible, like something you might purchase at the grocery store, or rent from the neighbor, or borrow from a friend for a while, and you hold onto it until you’ve used it up, or its gone stale, and then you just have to find another source. I think it’s much more of something you’re born with, resting below your fingernails, and it’s always there, but sometimes we clip our nails too short, or go too long without tending to them, and our hope gets distorted, and fades from sight and from feeling.
it is still there, though, and as soon as you outstretch your arms to grasp your dreams, you’ll see it again, at the ends of your fingers, and it will bring you the ease to tighten your grip.
for a momemt there, I saw an ounce of promise in you, but you weren’t strong enough to follow through on that. I just hope, for your sake, that you one day find it again; that you manage to brush away the rubble in your head and find a way to love, and be loved. it’s something you’ve been without for far too long.
I fall in love regularly, with each person whom passes me in the streets, or who sits beside me on the bus. not in the romantic way; no, we hardly even speak a word to each other; but I sit, quietly observing all of their body language, and all of their expressions. their smiles, and gestures; the way they lift their coffee, or smile as they read that new text message, or count the change in their hands. I watch vigilantly, tracking the manners and movements, and appreciating all that these people are. I spend some time thinking about their families and friends, and the lives they lead. 35
I consider what they might do for work, and what they went to school for. when they woke up that morning, and how they did their hair. I study the details of these people that may otherwise go unnoticed, researching each of them, noting our similarities, and rejoicing in the beauty of human nature.
to guard a sorrow
your sadness is hidden, buried below layers of soot and shallow words, stitched tightly into the fibers of your mind. I wove myself into your skin just long enough to see what lies beneath, and I think that frightened you.
sorrow is as seasons, like the summer, brings the sun, and the light shines down and almost makes you forget about the cold of the winter, which will surely return before you know, always more harsh than you remember, from years prior. and so it goes -but wait, the warmth will always prevail; the ice will turn to water soon, and wash away, and some day, you may even learn to appreciate it -after all, what else would sunlight have to melt?
I woke late in the afternoon and listened, in the dark of my room, as the raindrops kissed the window with the same unwavering faith as my lips held for yours.
your legs draped over my shoulders, your voice, breath-filled and coy; your hands pulling me in closer, your body writhing with joy; my face buried deep between your thighs, holding me in place; my nostrils filled with your sweet scent, my tongue, dancing with your taste.
I loved her with my soul, and she loved me with her limbs, and I guess I didn’t mind, for a while, because I couldn’t tell the difference, until I saw those careless limbs wrapped and grown around the soul of another.
long before graduating, I had given up on school; nothing in those textbooks could compare to life experience. after leaving the classroom, my only plans were to walk around the country, traveling to different cities, and meeting as many people as possible -seeing the world. but then, I met you, and settled into this town, and while I haven’t stood on distant soils, I think I saw greater sights, and learned more about life and love in your bedroom than I ever could have in New York or L.A.
walking with crutches won’t allow your bones to grow strong in pressure’s weight.
2 am, sitting alone at the coffee-table, in the dark, writing and aching for you, while you are asleep in your own bed, far from here, dreaming of someone else.
a friend and I stood at work, talking, and he asked me, “do you love her yet? and I thought about our plans; our apartment in the city, and our pets, and our friends, and our schools, and our jobs, and your savings, and mine, and the way you had wanted me to propose; but I didn’t want to explain all that, or realize how silly it was, so I just sighed and shrugged and continued working.
she sat next to me, writhing in her skin and tugging at the door handle; she probably would have been crying if she had any tears left -they were all gathered at the back of her throat, and they bubbled and popped as she screamed and begged me to let her jump out of the car and end her life (and maybe I should have). I brought her home, dropped her off my shoulder onto the bed, and took a moment to look at her. she was miserable, dirty, disgraceful. her revealing sleep clothes showed a side of her I’d never seen. we argued into the morning, makeup running down her face in jet black rivers.
her hair was smoky, and her breath smelled of alcohol -not enough, though, not nearly enough. but I was weak, and eventually, I grew tired of words and of tears and I pulled her in close and made her swear that this would never happen again, and then, in grasping at my pride, I made love to her. when we finished, she looked no less pitiful, and I felt it no less, but at least I was able to sleep.
by night, I was the dew that gathered on your grass; by morn’, the frost upon your windowpane; by eve, I was the moon, returned, to glow for you, but I could never be the sunlight to your day.
your fingernails, or, what’s left of them, tell all the tales you never could, of all the love you’ve never felt for yourself, or for anyone else. a part of me is still buried beneath the shallow, empty space between the skin upon your fingertip, and your fingernails, or, what’s left of them.
I plucked out my hairs, and still they grew, cut down the grass, and it grew too; and in these acts, I feel less shame, that when you tore me down, I still grew for you.
fountain of youth
the fountain of youth is no sacred water to bathe within or drink from a chalice. it does not hide in the corners of maps, but in the corners of the heart. it is love, honest and pure, that will squeeze the value from your years, and keep your spirit young and alive.
oh devilish girl, lift your eyes from the dirt. I, too, know your pain. we are all broken homes, in our flesh and bone, abandoned in the dead of winter, by the ones we housed so warmly in our hearts. the lights die out, and once lively bedrooms now fill with void, a mirror of the recesses dug into our minds. the warmth within those walls has left, along with the inhabitants; now the pipes all creak in the blistering cold, and the framed faces of lovers lost gather frost and fade into the dark.
do not fret, though; your walls are always standing, even if they sway in the wind, and when the summer months return, you will still be beautiful, and the sunlight will shine through your windows, casting breathtaking patterns across your face, and as you smile, a new heart will find a home in you. all you must do is remain sturdy and strong, unweathered by the shivering chill.
on my knees
that sort of love wasn’t healthy -I sang her name like a hymn of worship, built statues to her visage behind my eyelids, pumped her voice through my veins, and practiced her body language like faith. on my knees at the altar, I’d filled my heart to bursting with hers, and left no room in there for myself.
I always had to pry the truth from your lips, and when I did, your slumbering tongue fought back.
I looked up to the sun, and went blind from too much light. I think that’s what happened with you, too. but the sun set and took the light with it, and I suppose you did the same.
your place in me
my mother always used to tell me that people came into our lives for either a reason, a season, or a lifetime. I think, in some ways you fit all three. you planted hope within my heart, renewed my tired love of words, and though you left with the season’s shift, you’ll always hold a place in me.
I loved a sad girl once
I loved a sad girl once, but there wasn’t much in it for me. I spoiled her rotten, gave her everything I had, and in some respect, she did the same for me -but she didn’t have much to give. she wasn’t ready to fall in love, or to show her heart to anyone, except maybe the devil. we fucked like animals, until she could no longer stand the sight of me, or the taste; but she stuck around a little longer. I never quite knew why; I think she just wanted to be saved.
what I miss most
what I miss most are not the most expensive or memorable dates, the busy days or eventful nights, the distance places traveled, or the priceless gifts purchased, but those moments that seemed so fleeting and unremarkable. lying at lengths across your bed, discussing the latest news and humming along to our favorite songs, while you chose a movie for us to watch, and I massaged your tired feet, and we decided what toppings we wanted on the pizza.
I sat and wrote, for hours on end about everything I ever have been; I talked of music, and family, and friends, and all the books I’ve ever read; of every dollar I’ve ever spent, and the moon, and stars, and the sunset; of every job I’ve ever had, and every crook who’s shared my bed. I wrote of years and the life I’ve led and all the thoughts within my head, but I found that everything I said was somehow about you, instead.
the thunder roaring in the distance begged me not to to trust you, but the storm within my soul seemed far darker than the one within your heart.
I watched the rain today; studied close, as it collided with the pavement, and dispersed, and it reminded me of the way I fell into you; helplessly, hopelessly, and in entirety, the whole of my self crashing down and becoming lost in you, while your attention was ever occupied by every other drop of water that floated so lightly down to kiss your skin. 62
some might call this a suicide mission, bound to end in a burst of flames, but I’ve been gathering all this tinder in my chest for months now, and it’s starting to bend my ribs and press tight against my heart, and it’s causing me a great deal of pain. I think it’s time I tend to it. and what else is kindling good for, anyway, beside lighting fires and burning away?
everyone is lonely, even those who aren’t alone; begging for a lover to make us feel at home. but that isn’t the problem; sorrow isn’t solitude. sadness lives inside your heart and takes its hold of you. stop searching for your joy in the hands of someone else; no amount of shared compassion can make you love yourself. happiness is yours to take; it’s born within the soul, and only when you’ve found that bliss will you feel less alone.
the drive home
You know when you’re driving in the late afternoon, and you’ve just gotten out of work, and you’re exhausted, following the same road you’ve traveled countless times before, and you sort of space out? You’re driving, but you aren’t aware of it. You fade into the music spilling from your speakers, or into your most mundane thoughts, and everything else passes by like a blur. And suddenly, it’s over, and you’re parked in the driveway, trying to recall how you got there, or when you turned, or whether you followed the speed limits. The entire journey was so simultaneously vital and routine that you didn’t even realize you were on it, until it ended, and then you’re left sitting alone in silence, scrambling to grasp any memory of the road that led you here, and how it all happened. Loving you was a lot like that.
the spreading disease
you move through bones and bodies and promises like a plague through nations, like a wildfire in the forest of love; branches left smoldering in the aftermath, as you carry on to the next. conquer every man you’ve known, infect his heart and claim it yours; manifest destiny in a godless world.
I loved you with every ounce of my self, but your eyes were too busy wandering and wondering to ever stare into mine.
silverware collides with glass, and the couple shares a kiss; newlyweds looking on at each other wiht a passion I know too well. I turn my gaze to your seat, and read those two words over again. your plate remained empty. I danced alone.
I still have your taste on my tongue, and your sweet scent still lingers on; I still can feel your touch upon my tired skin and blemished bones. exhausted lungs still breathe you in, but you’ve still got the advantage, for I still cling to a memory, but you still clutch much more of me. I feel your ghost in each of my pores, but you still hold my heart in yours.
it started as a joke, because it looked awful on me, standing like wires from out my face. I only kept it because I was in a period of recluse, and it helped to ward away women. I wanted to go unnoticed and undesired. but when the new barista handed me my coffee, all of that was a thing of the past. she was stunning, funny, and pleasant, too -I damn near proposed right then and there, but I looked a fool, and she hardly paid me any mind.
I shaved those strings from above my lip the moment I got home, and I visit the coffeeshop each day, but we’ve never met again.
I tried to write all my thoughts of you, but by the end, the page was so oversaturated with ink that you couldn’t see the white, or distinguish where one letter ended and another began. and so, I started again, writing our story a hundred times over, but never once being able to read the final product clearly. I think it’s best I burn the papers and let go.
do not dress your thoughts in expensive gowns to show and flow at first sight -instead, strip them down, let them be nude, free, unspoiled by scholarly tongues, and if they remain as beautiful, then you never needed the gown to begin with.
Laura looked old at 27; her figure was lost, and her eyes were empty, and she sighed more than she spoke. I guess that’s what this place does to you, though. it ages you. wears you down. not just your body, but your heart. it leeches on your hopes, drains your passion, and leaves you weary and woeful. most start drinking, to counteract the curst. I began writing. I’m not sure which is worse. I wonder who Laura was in high school; what she wanted to do, who she wanted to be -it surely couldn’t have been a ghost. 75
I’ve spent the past year of my life plucking strings in a basement with the only people I’ve ever been able to call my friends. and though I’ve spent every dollar I’ve had, and exhausted every resource, and burned a few bridges, there is no other place I’d rather be than right here right now singing these songs we wrote together.
I am not a good person. I don’t know you, and you don’t know me, and you don’t love me, and you don’t want to. I am not these words. I am more than black letters on a white page, or maybe I am less, but I am not a good person. you don’t know me and I don’t know you. I am a mess of skewed beliefs, and poor decisions, bound and buried in my throat, and in my hand, writing, and sometimes the words are interesting to read, but it is not interesting to love. I am not a good person. you don’t know me and I don’t know you and we do not know each other, and I like it better that way.
“look! isn’t he adorable?” “oh yes, and big!” “Jill said he was seven pounds!” their eyes turned to me. “don’t you think he’s beautiful?” he looked like all the rest, bald and wide-eyed and clueless as hell; just another fucking baby born into this shit.
her name was Patience -ironic, as she had none. she was always slow, always dragging her feet, but always in a stressful hurry, complaining about this or that, everything that was wrong in her life. someone needed to buy her a bra, and maybe a towel, because her hair always looked wet, and some chapstick, too. she walked to work every day, and although we all knew her, nobody ever stopped to pick her up, and she would sit alone at lunch, and do these crossword puzzles while listening to classical music so loud in her headphones that the whole room could hum along,
and she wouldn’t hear them at all, humming, or laughing at her, as she shouted aloud the answers to her puzzle. oh, but I envied that girl, because, as everyone at my table cringed, and joked, and pointed fingers, myself included, and even though she always seemed panicked, her eyes glowed with the music and her brain turned in gearts, to fill in the blanks on those puzzles, and she just kept working, and listening and smiling.
the voice in my throat
a lot of writers talk about voices in their heads, and you know what? that’s bullshit. they don’t have voices in their heads. I don’t have voices in my head. I have one voice, and they have one voice, and they’re too damn scared to ever use it so they keep it locked away and let it write pretty words or dangerous words, honest words, while they force a smile and make small talk with the neighbor.
I was never good with a paintbrush, or PhotoShop, or pencils, or clay, or a camera, or charcoal, or cray-pas (what in the hell is a cray-pa, anyway?) but words? they taught us those in grade school.
the wall of pens at the store was overwhelming; some were thin, some thick, some had grips, some had caps, some clicked, some were black, and some were blue, and others spanned the rainbow. some even had two tips! oh, but what purpose could that serve? they had 12-packs for $8, and 2-packs for $1, and some 4-packs were as expensive as $10 -those must have been some really nice ones.
but I leaned in and grabbed a pouch, filled with twelve basic, black, gripless, single-tipped, capped pens. the pack was 74 cents, and their ink would convey my thoughts just as well, and I’d still have money for note paper and for a coffee.
every day was doomsday
we laughed at the idea, but I think inside, we were all praying for the end. some were more invested in it than others. some just had a bad morning. others were only tired, or annoyed, or sad, and some were sick of the year; and then, there were those like me; so exhausted by the world, and everything in it, that we kept our fingers crossed while we turned the pages of the calendar, hoping we’d find the end, like the last page of a book we stopped caring for long ago, but kept reading, if only for the sake of saying we never gave up on the author.
miles away from here, strangers are singing and sweating in a crowd, before artists they’d say have saved their lives -I nearly joined them -but I’ve found greater joy around a fire, with a small audience, sharing drunken laughter, and intimate friendship.
I was waking early, and working well into the afternoon, and attending classes right after that, well into the night, and then I’d get home and try to remember something interesting that had happened during the day or the week or the month so I’d have something to write about, and I’d write until midnight, or sometimes, later, well into the morning, and I’d hardly ever sleep, and it was busy, often stressful, and it was detached, often lonesome, but by god, was it the best time of my life.
my father and I
my father and I slowly grew apart through the years -so when the day come to say goodbye, I hugged him tight and didn’t let go -(he was only leaving for nine weeks, but it was our first formal departure) decades of love came to bursting, and I think I heard him sucking back tears. we never spoke of that hug again, but I think about it every day, and I know he does the same.
the more I visited that diner, the more I began to recognize the regulars. like the middle-aged mechanic, who always sat at the end of the counter, and tried to talk up the hostess. the young couple who seemed to be in love, but who didn’t know how to express it, except through another cup of coffee. the mentally challenged family, who always walked in smiling, and joked with the waitress about holding their table for them. and the two old couples who always came together, and always ordered the rib special. I wonder who they all knew me as. 89
my mother sold houses, which eventually became homes, and my father taught yoga, which eventually strengthened bones, and my sister sat in classrooms, which buried her in loans, but I’m content to sit in this chair, quietly writing alone.
red shag rug below my feet; or is it purle? hardwood? sky? there is no rug. there is no red. there is no sky. I have no feet. I float away, inhale the sun, exhale your bedroom, digest a cloud; shake hands with photographs, and make love to a storm. scratch film from her scream, impregnate the earth, juggle the seas and swallow god. 91
you are not reading this. you are not you, are not. but I’ll think you are. I’ll think, you are. I think : you are I think.
the bones in the river
two years ago, I took an art class at the local community college. the class was full of faces I cannot remember, but for one; one student stood out -he was odd, and sad, and I didn’t care much for him, but he immediately took a liking to me. I suppose he didn’t catch my annoyance, for he would often come to me with stories from home, or inappropriate jokes -but I never paid him in any mind. last year, in the river by my house (the one with the waterfall that crashes over the rocks) the student took his life. the entire town pulsed with melancholy, and memories of his smile. I didn’t say much on the matter then.
now, they hold waterfire on that river in the Summer months, to the tune of whatever godawful local bar rock band they can afford to put on the stage. the townspeople gather and sing, and gawk at the flames, and share news of where their children are going to school, and how they’re getting remarried, or promoted, or being made grandparents. nobody ever mentions the bones buried beneath the river.
letters to former selves
7; I know you never want to grow older; don’t worry, you don’t have to. 8; you broke your arm, but not your spirit. bravo. 13; please cut your hair, grunge is dead and you look ridiculous. 16; freedom will come, when you are ready for it. relax and enjoy the ride -- oh, and don’t be so hard on your parents. 17; you ought to straighten up your act, or you’ll wind up in coffeeshops and bars, reading poems and wondering where life went wrong. 18; don’t move in with her -it’s much too soon, and young love never lasts. 95
19; told you so. 20; trust your sister’s advice, don’t fall for this girl; she’ll tear you apart. yesterday; lift your head, and don’t stress so much. tomorrow will come, as it always does.
black frames slide down the bridge of my nose, along the grease of an unwashed face, and an underdeveloped dream. I wipe the oil away, push them back up, and return my hands to the keyboard. there is work to be done.
the creative community has dwindled; the only audience left is compose of the other artists. galleries fill with painters, silently judging the work of their peers, to inflate their pride. the stools at all the poetry readings are occupied by poets, only half-listening, while reciting their lines, and waiting for their turn to read. even at the local hardcore shows, the only attendees are the other bands, critiquing and tuning, and biding their time. nobody cares for the art any more; they only want exposition. 98
I don’t think anyone plans on being a writer. it sort of just happens to you; life takes its toll, and some respond in word, and once you’ve started -once you’ve let the beast into your life -you can never free yourself of him. you need him, to survive, else you’ll go mad. it starts innocently enough -you write a poem, or a story, and you get the thought out, and you think you’re done; but then, you start to wonder about releasing other thoughts, and then, every fleeting idea you have becomes an anvil in your chest, and you cannot stand straight until you’ve written it down, and left the weight at the tip of the pen. 99
we didn’t plan on being writers. we are simply plagued by the beast. we are the delicate ones, the aching few, the bleeding few, spilling out across note pages and clinging desperately to our hearts.
sunday; the house of god fills, as men bow and worship, confess to their sins, and absolve themselves of guilt. monday; the churches stand empty. men rise from bed and dress, close their sins behind the door, and return home to their wives.
these are the hours I live for, my hair rinsed with grease, and my back, awash with the seat of a long work day, sitting now at the diner, between two empty stools, sipping coffee with my late afternoon breakfast, and scribbling my thoughts across too-white note pages, as I half-listen to the news and try to avoid the unkind glances of the older couple to my left.
when I was ashamed, people would ask, and I would answer with some ridiculous story that I always made up on the spot, because I was too stupid to ever prepare for this sort of thing. “my cat is an asshole” (I didn’t have a cat) “I was in a fight” (I’ve always been a pacifist) “I got into an accident” (I know it’s vague, I’m just praying you’ll take a hint and stop asking)
I’m not ashamed any more, but for some reason, nobody asks any more, either.
I am no one
I don’t want to know your name, and you don’t need to know mine. I do not want to join your “writers network,” or answer your interview questions, or read your poems, and I’m certainly not qualified to critique them. I don’t want to discuss your favorite bands, or mine, or either of our goals, and I can’t offer you advice, and I don’t need yours. I don’t want to be your friend -don’t get me wrong, I don’t want to be enemies, either. I just want to write and be left alone; is that too much to ask?
they played the same music at work every day, so that even if you hated those songs, you learned them and began to hum along. I think that was what they wanted -it helped to drown out your restless thoughts, of walking out of that god-awful place. I started bringing headphones to work with me. I didn’t listen to anything in them -I just wanted the music to stop, so I could hear myself think.
my writer friend
he’d message me from time to time, with news about his latest sucess -he was writing on a typewriter, now, one he’d fixed up himself, and he’d been nominated for some award that said he was good, and he might even be published -that’s how you know you’re good! he showed me a few things he’d written, and I didn’t much care for them. but what do I know? so how are things going for me?
I don’t want to be good. I like my pen and paper, and I like my anonymity -what’s left of it, anyway -and if I picked up some magazine, and saw my words inside, there would be hell to pay.
like mucus from the throat of a coughing man, these writings purge the sickness from my head.
how strange is it that we, as grief-stricken lovers and family and friends pluck lively flowers from the earth to drop their corpses before the wilted stems of our lovers and friends and family, plucked, too, but by who?
all the company I need
one by one, people began dropping out of my life, and I can’t say I was sad about it. they’d come to me with questions, like “where have you been?” or “why don’t we talk any more?” and I’d string them along with some fairy tale about how I’m sorry, and I’ve just been busy, that’s all (after all, I was a student and I had a full-time job, and a band to focus on) and they’d get angry or annoyed, and I’d pretend to be upset about it, to preserve their ego. or sometimes, I just wouldn’t answer at all, because how could I explain it to them? who would ever believe that I would rather sit alone at my desk with a pen and a notepad and a fresh cup of tea than go out and party or make friends or keep them? 111
the internet age; everyone was lonely, and talking with images of strangers on a web page, a blog, about their “sexual frustration,’ like it was something tangible, universal, like you could see it in test scores, or inherit it in your genes. we made it real because we were all too chickenshit to ever admit that we were just horny kids who spent too much time on the internet to ever develop any social skills.
I may not be good, but at least I am true
in Reno, there is a wall that asks what you want to do before you die, and people have filled in answers, and they’re all such bullshit that they may as well have left the spaces blank. things like “give free hugs” or “make someone’s day,” or my favorite, “live,” just vague enough to abandon responsibility. before I die, I’d like to make filthy, sweet love with an ex’s best friend -I mean, really fuck her cute little brains out. I’d like to put a bullet into someone’s flesh -not anyone in particular, I just want to know that feeling.
I’d like to spit in all their faces, and especially hers, and I’d like to know that you died, and I’d like to start a war, and I’d like to be left alone. I’d like to hear an uncensored answer to this question. I want you to know your dreams, your vile, disgusting dreams.
you wouldn’t hold me with such esteem, if you could only see me now, laying sideways across my reclining chair, staring at a fuzzy computer screen, and wondering where my glasses are. there’s a guitar across my chest, and a pick between my teeth, but I don’t know what to play, so my fingers are just dancing on the strings, out of rhythm, out of time my hair is a mess and I’m still in the same clothes I wore yesterday, but I’m not going anywhere, and why should I do laundry twice? I am filthy and pungent, and my desk is cluttered with empty pens and coffee cups and full note pages, but none of them say anything useful. 115
I need something new to write about.
a burning building, when viewed from the proper angle, conceals the flames just long enough to let them grow, until they’ve consumed too much to save the walls from falling.
when I was little, I loved Batman, so much so that I wanted to be him -I’d make capes out of my father’s old tanktops, and I’d run around the house, fighting imaginary villains, and solving petty crimes, like determing who ate the last bowl of cereal, or who left the toilet seat up. it was my dream job, and I was convinced I had what it took -but one day, my mother pulled me aside and asked “what if you can’t really be Batman?” the thought had never even crossed my mind. I stared at her for a moment, before answering with ease, “if I can’t be Batman, then I’d like to tell stories.”
I had this one customer who came in all the time with his wife, and their granddaughter -I don’t know what happened to her parents. some people said he hit his wife. I don’t know about that either. he always had theses ladders and tools in the back of his truck, that were collectively worth probably twice the truck itself, but I couldn’t imagine a guy like that climbing a ladder -he was big, and slow, and he wouldn’t even lift his feet when he walked - just slide them forward across the floor.
he learned my name pretty quick, even though I never told him, and he’d always shout it when he saw me, before grumbling through some boring story -his truck was in the shop, or he had oats for breakfast, or there was a sale on that milk. normall, I’d hate those stories, but they carried a different tune, coming from the space between his bushy, gray beard. it was a song of honesty -I mean, he wasn’t just making small talk. these were really the most interesting and important things to happen to him all week.
I liked that. he didn’t give you bullshit. the guy was straightforward, and real, and not too many people are, these days. he’d share his life with me, and I was happy to hear it, even if it meant neglecting my other customers. my coworkers didn’t get it. they didn’t like that guy -stood by that he was the abusive type, and a boring conversation on top of it, but I liked listening to him speak, and anyway, I never saw him beat his wife, so who was I to judge?
I miss that guy. I don’t miss the job, or the nasty rumors, but I miss that guy, and his conversation, and his wife. I hope they’re alright.
I’m a very average writer -I won’t deny it. I often stumble in trying to word my thoughts, and I’m not convinced my thoughts are even interesting enough to share. I haven’t read many of “the greats” in lit, or studied too far into their authors. I flunked almost every English course I’ve taken -I’m not even an English major, and I just didn’t get good grades overall, but especially not on papers.
plus, I hardly ever cracked the assigned readings, or the textbooks, or my notebook, for that matter. but I’m at least honest in my ink-stained ramblings, and that’s got to count for something, right?
at the ripe age of twenty, I was beginning to feel like an elderly man, but it had nothing to do with my bad knees, or a loss of memories, or the way I styled my hair, or dressed, or my appreciation for classical music and naps; it was nothing I said and nothing I did and nothing I knew and nothing I loved, and it was everything that the rest of them were not.
I imagine the company as a plump man, so fat, he can’t even walk right, and he smells horrid, and slobbers when he speaks, but he has no trouble lifting another donut to his face. or sometimes, I think it’s a lonely girl, so miserably lonely, because her parents never loved her, and her friends all left, and she’s never loved herself, so she settles for letting man after man lust at her, instead. overindulgence at its repulsive, driveling finest.
my only memory of that day
the sky was orange, and cloudy, but not with the normal white and gray clouds -no, this was a dark, thick smoke, the kind you could smell. they had let us out of school early, and I didn’t know why. it wasn’t a holiday; at least, not one anyone knew of; and it wasn’t a day of memoriam; at least, not yet. but I didn’t care. I was young, and innocent, and eager to be anywhere but at a schooldesk. I stormed through the door, shouted to my mother, “guess what! they let us out early!”
but she didn’t answer like she normally would -the house was silent, and I walked into the living room, to find her huddled around her knees on the floor, with her hand over her mouth, staring at the television through wide and watering eyes, repeating the same phrase; “oh my god.” I had never heard of the World Trade Center before that day.
after two years with the company, I’d reached my wits’ end; I was broken by routine and by discontent, and yet, I had coworkers who had been there for five or ten or even fifteen years -they had the silver nametags to prove it, and they wore them with pride, as though they enjoyed this life, while I, just two years down, was ready to cut the cord and end it -over a job! they were paying me to be there, and I was paying favor to death. but I hadn’t lost it all. not yet. my coworkers, they’d signed away everything: a lifetime of servitude, for what? I’d only lost a chunk of my youth. I just needed one compelling last straw, one final reason to walk away and never look back. I wonder when the others stopped waiting. 129
it grew in me, like a virus, a wisp of smoke in my head, thick tar built upon my soul, and the more I tried to ignore it, the greater it thrived. it boiled, festered, compounded and made me heavy, despondent, and then bore its way through my skull, fell before my eyes, and bit down on my heart, venom in my veins, until I could no longer dream of anything else, but escape.
once, while I was reading at the coffeehouse, a celebrity walked by. I recognized him instantly, as did the girls at the table behind me; he was clearly in a hurry, but they stopped him; clamored and begged for an autograph and a photo. he was exhausted, annoyed, but he stood before the camera, and played the role. as the picture was being taken, the starlit man glanced my way; I smiled at him, and nodded knowingly, and his eyes began to glow, and I saw him breath deeply, and relief washed over him, in a visible light.
he walked a little lighter out of that place, and I’d like to think that I helped.
I am sick to death of all the poets, writing all the same damn poems. there’s no heart in it -they float on delicate tongues, speak on corners of the earth that they’ll never live to see, and otherworldly phenomena that only exist in dreams. confound the simples thoughts, and skate on long-dead syntax, vocabulary, and rhythm, as though their audience be the gods themselves. but drop them from the cloud, bring them down to ground level, equalize them with the audience, and they struggle to feel in real time. life is not a fairy tale, and people are not galaxies; your reader is merely human.
speak s l o w l y and in tune with their hearts; sing their thoughts and feel their ache, aligned with yours. your task is not for the most saturated brushstroke, but the most true, touching, recognizable.
I am rarely plagued by isolation; indeed, there is a certain joy that comes of solitude -but there are times, when I am laying in my bed alone, the morning after a festive night, when this sprawling loneliness creeps its way under my ribs, and settles on my heart, coursing through my blood, and leaving me wishing there were someone at my side to soothe my pulsing head and support my tired bones.
my friends and I are huddled in a circle on the floor, glowing in dim candlelight. violent winds outside carry debris, and throw it at the walls around us. the computers are dead. the phones are dead. the hands of the clocks stopped turning, and nobody knows when they’ll move again. the room is littered with empty chip bags and plastic cups, and full ashtrays, and we haven’t got much to eat, and even less to wear, but we’ve got our body heat, and a few guitars, and we’ve got our voices, and no storm can put out that sort of power. 136
to you, who has turned these pages, I am eternally grateful
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