“I stared up at the ebbing quarter moon and the stars scattered like a handful of salt across the faraway sky…” – Billy Collins
I love them, the astrophysicists,
with their multiverse theories and galactic models
and ways of explaining the stars.
I love to sit at their feet – a reverent toddler
in a room of buzzing adult conversation –
listening to them go on
in words I don’t understand
about black holes and dark matter,
the mechanics of space and time.
I of course have my own theories –
a vague belief that stars have hearts like ours
that swell as they exhale their hydrogen
in a small, sad sigh.
Because of course it would be sad, burning out
after ten billion years of watching time unfold.
Of course it would feel a bit like turning the TV off
in the middle of your favorite program.
I look out my window and see a flurry
of broken hearts poking holes in the sky –
hearts that have long stopped
beating in ancient chests.
I too have impressive abstract ideas.
A true observer of the universe, I’ve studied and
catalogued recurring behavior in a dream notebook.
Infinity, for example, likes to crouch hidden behind a nightstand
upon which rests a single book of poetry.
Love-struck, it plants a passing kiss on the hand of the girl
who reaches out in the dead of night
for one last conversation with Billy Collins.
The poetry section of the local library grows ever smaller.
I return day after day to stand under the flickering lights,
watching the deterioration of the shelves
as they starve and shrink and finally collapse into a heap on the floor.
I assume it is the work of a thief, coming and going in the night,
his arms cradling the volumes, the anthologies, the collections
that no one will ever read again.
Today Shel Silverstein is missing.
I blow a kiss to the empty space as a final salute
before returning to my car, defeated.
Every night a new set of words is hauled away,
carried out like a sack of dirty laundry to clear space for
dusty memoirs and eight copies of Knitting for Dummies.
Today, near closing time, I caught the thief
tiptoeing by, casually slipping T.S. Eliot
into the pocket of his oversized trench coat.
I followed him home, waited for him to
retire to bed before sneaking down to his basement
where those lost books huddled together like kidnapped children.
With all the compassion I could summon, I touched my hands
to their trembling spines and whispered low:
There are still people in this town who need you.
What does it mean to have vision?
Like, REAL VISION?
You clutch my wrists like I have answers
And you can shake them out of me.
I’m afraid “vision” means a lifetime of
Staring the world in its ugly face.
I should warn you that the world never blinks.
It hurts to see,
I say, as I pass a pair of surgical scissors
From my hands into yours.
It hurts to cut your lids off and
Live with open eyes forever.
It’s not about dropping words like stones down wells,
Listening to the clanks and clunks ricochet off the walls
As you hover near the edge, pleased with your senseless noise-making.
It’s about dropping yourself down the well.
It’s about human skin against stone –
That warm slap that wakens the blood
And can be heard for miles.
It’s about getting inside, you know?
Crawling into the English language
Like a wounded animal and
Curling up beside its pounding heart.
That’s the music.
The steady thump, thump of it going on
In its endless monologue.
You sync your words with the swelling of its lungs
And hope they sound like keys of an accordion
Breathing in dust and bellowing out clouds.
The beast at the bottom of the well
Has never bared its teeth at me.
At night I bury myself in its fur and
We move as one – a slow,
Steady intake of breath.
In the dark, when it’s hardest to tell
Poet from beast,
I can almost convince myself
We’re of the same body.
“Because the world is so full of death and horror, I try again and again to console my heart and pick the flowers that grow in the midst of hell.” ― Hermann Hesse
I follow him into the midst of hell,
For he leads me not into the fire,
But into the gardens –
To pick Satan’s most wild flower
From right under his nose.
My rebellion, my love –
I wear it in my hair always.
You can’t sit in an empty room
breathing your own stale air
for a lifetime
and call it art.
You roll the world around in your hands like clay,
giving it new forms, considering it in different ways.
I don’t know what you have in mind to build,
but I watch your fingers work,
holding my breath.
I am inspired to play with words like toys –
to tinker with them, to press their buttons,
and, ultimately, to pass them on
to the kid sitting next to me.
“We’ve all got both light and dark inside us.
What matters is the part we choose to act on.
That’s who we really are.”
No, sorry, that’s a Harry Potter quote.
I hope you won’t mind me sending vibrations down
The literary crossing of threads.
I want to meet your parallel universe self –
You know, the one that didn’t exchange his soul for eternal youth.
He might look like my great-grandfather,
The one who spent his life carving clocks,
Filling his house with hundreds of them,
A chorus of bombs
Ticking away the seconds of his life.
He might hold one in his shrinking, wrinkling hands
And smile like he’s been given a gift.
But that’s not the person Wilde wrote,
And that’s not the person I’m writing to.
You made Time your enemy –
Locking it away in the attic
Instead of spreading it out
On your walls.
I know you recognize yourself in me
Like the father that can see his own face
Along the curves of his daughter’s –
Watching himself repeat in time.
And yes, I have been afraid of death.
I’ve stayed up all night
Contemplating my bedroom ceiling
Sick to my stomach with the thought
That I might not wake up to it again.
Those were the times I put pen to sandpaper
And scratched my psyche away.
I’m not so naïve as to deny
The raw materials are there.
All it would take is a Lord Henry
To come along and sculpt them
Into a monster-looking thing
Of clay, and hair, and dry skin –
One with jagged teeth and
A wicked grin.
Because the essence of monster
Is in both of us.
I think the difference between you and I
Is that I cracked my monster –
Wrote it poetry to chew on
And broke its teeth.
You gave yours legs and
Taught it to walk.
To be an artist
- the seer of life in a decaying world -
is to be
a single eyeball swiveling
in an otherwise empty skull.
I prefer to peer at humanity
From behind my mother’s back –
Behind a veil of protection,
A window that looks out onto rain
While shielding me from it.
I walk through the long hall of history
With my eyes fixed on its pictures.
I stumble through a sea of trash
To touch my hand to the painting
Of a long-dead artist,
To clutch at it like my last connection
To the race I come from.
Tell me I’m not alone.
Tell me there’s someone else
Who loved the sun, the moon, the stars
And that they laid them out on canvas
For me to find again.
Show me humanity created something
Worth looking at.
“He who jumps into the void owes no explanation to those who stand and watch.” – Jean Luc Godard
Why did I pitch myself
Headfirst off the diving board
Into the kiddie pool,
Why did I ignore the words at my feet:
When the bottom is one-dimensional
I convince myself I can peel back
Its husk and hit another layer.
I stare into blank concrete
There has to be more to this.
I clutch a phone
And shout over its static
I think it’s trying to tell me something.
There are beginnings
At the end
I go in search of them.
Wait for me.
Because I’ll tell you what it looks like.
Let me be your window to Armageddon.
The blood from my recent diving accident
Has seeped through the floor
Into a ceiling beneath
And Jesus God, it’s coloring
*Update: I’ll be gone for a trip this upcoming week but will return January 2nd. Have a Happy New Year, everyone!
Life is a rotating assembly line of eyeballs
And trying on each pair until one fits.
They are a bit like shoes, I suppose –
Getting worn down and bent out of place
With the traversing of roads and time.
That’s life, too.
You trip on your way out the door
And the heel of your shoe snaps.
You open another door
To find your lover in bed with your best friend
And there’s a hazy cloud in your line of sight
That was not there before.
At what point did you outgrow your vision?
Or when did you shrink inside of it,
The curve of your pupils shying away
From all you wanted to avoid seeing?
So here we are at the eyeball fitting factory.
Choose your color and size.
Customize your cornea – determine exactly
How much light to let into your head.
The trick is to pick your eyes
Like you’d pick your shoes.
Pick the eyes that make you feel
Like you can outrun the world.
Yesterday’s dosage of hope
Left a ring of rust
On its trip down
The kitchen sink.
I believe tomorrow will be cold
And that I’ve already forgotten
My gloves at home.
*Title Credit: Harlem by Langston Hughes
This is what works:
Lure your poems out of the shadows
With breadcrumbs, cooing softly
At them like some lost baby bird.
Don’t circle them wielding a knife.
Don’t try death threats
Refusing to be held hostage,
Gnawing through bars
And raking themselves over barbed wire,
Poems would rather be bloodied and broken
Than trapped down in your cellar.
Don’t try scaring them.
Don’t wave flashlights in their faces
And try to blind them
Into running into your arms –
They’ll grow new eyes
And always colder ones.
Don’t try death and resurrection.
Poems lay limp when you shove
Stakes through their hearts,
Never alive long enough to utter
Insightful dying words.
This is what I’ve learned:
Collect the wood when you find it.
Stand where the sun shines fiercest.
And if – if you can rub stones just the right way,
Then wait to see if any come out of the dark
To huddle around you for warmth.
She holds her life out
Like a candle
As each man in line
Stoops down and tries
To snuff it out with his breath.
Happy birthday to no one.
Stop forcing your wishes on us.
You come along like Daylight Savings Time
And strip her of her sun.
Unwanted, unasked for.
Go flick your own light switch
If you so desperately seek darkness.
I know life.
How it goes limp,
Half-hearted, stumbling alongside me
Until I’m dragging it by the arm
Like a drunk friend I promised I’d get home safe tonight.
I rattle off each reason
Why it’s a sinking ship
And I don’t mind being on board.
Sometimes it leans on my shoulder
And smacks its lips
Until the sound rings in my ears
Like loose static
Shaken from the nearest television set.
Sometimes it chases me up trees
And keeps me there until the wolves go home.
You should know my eyelids are drooping
With the weight it takes to write this.
Sleep wants to carry me from these words
Like a stranger at the market trying to grab my hand
And lead me away from mommy.
You should know life has
Still got me by the shirt collar.
Tripping over itself, half hallucination,
It raises its face to mine
And with breath reeking of alcohol
Says, “Take me as I am.”
And I do.
I take it by the hand
And lead it to the bathtub,
Wash the smudged mascara from its eyes
And the dried vomit from its hair.
I lead it to the bed
And pull the covers over its waist
Like we will forget this tomorrow
But we will not.
Because I can see it clearly now.
The parts of its skin starting to sag in,
Where its teeth have gone yellow,
How its cheeks have deflated
Like popped balloons
And I’m holding the needle.
I look life in the eyes,
Those slow somber orbs
Spinning on some axis I can’t see,
And I tell it the only thing I can:
I tell it I will see it
In the morning.
This is me taking a feeling and running with it.
This is me tripping down every stair on my way to the bottom,
This is the feeling tumbling out of my arms
With a catlike shriek, this is the bang before the universe.
This is me, unable to write words as naked as Vonnegut’s
Who promised everything was beautiful and nothing hurt
And this is me not believing, this is me waiting for death
because I have the perfect epitaph:
“She tried to say everything but her mouth wouldn’t open wide enough.”
You can’t take me out to see the stars tonight,
Not when my breath flares up like light pollution
And I have to trace the constellations from memory.
This is me when the sky’s gone dead.
This is me, poverty-stricken, this is me with a poem in my fist
After weeks of dumpster-diving.
This is me the scavenger.
This is me taking a feeling and running with it,
This is me tripping over my own feet
And crying over my broken legs
This is the feeling growing its own
And walking on without me.
Words are the world
and poetry is taking that world
and building a universe
You think everyone is as good as you are,
that’s the problem.
You stand with your arms outstretched,
waiting to catch whatever angel falls from the sky,
so sweet you’re stupid,
and your gasp of suprise
as they hammer in the first nail
fills the whole world.