Table of Contents
A Guy I’ve Never Met – James O’Dea
Helicopter Parent – Amy Conger
Black Hair – Jesutofunmi Omowumi
Lullaby – Kate Doser
Lumberjack Philosophies – Nikki Hart
See You Soon – Taylor Boes
The Incredible Shrinking Man – Joe Bisicchia
No Two Heartprints are the Same but Sorrow is the Plectrum that Strikes the Same Note – Jill L. Cooper
Painted Perfection – Xavier V. Simon
Old Ordinance – Conrad Elliot
Meditations on the Self – Marissa Medley
Loupe: The Gift of Worlds – Jill L. Cooper
Moon and Sun – Stacie Scherman
Suppress – Charley Miller
The Structure of Nostalgia – Stephanie Roach
The (Pit) – Morgan Troxell
New Gods, Old Skins – Kate Doser
Love is Not Enough – Kyle Mykietiuk
Salt – Charley Miller
March Storm – Tom Montag
Shadows – Stacie Scherman
Stalling – Sam Moore
A Guy I’ve Never Met
says poetry is “obsolete, too esoteric.”
I imagine sharing a chortle with him,
or perhaps a good guffaw, as I help light
one of the clove cigarettes I envision he smokes
and ask him where he’s been all these years
I’ve spent retrograding, stabbing at darkness
with moot points, dog-whistling for help from the well
I fell in like Thales contemplating a cosmos,
a world made not of water but of words
and white space. Oh yes, and if I ever met the guy
from the title, I would make sure to ask him
what it’s like to be appreciated and loved so
broadly, to be so efficaciously up-to-date,
before slipping into his palm this poem
and whispering, “This one’s just for you.”
she tears at the air
eleven lines jagged
between her eyes
to beat eggs
because her baby bird brought home a B
hugging his hand
pats her brat’s
her blades in slow circles
what he doesn’t know
but he is feathered
There is a volcanic eruption
like a beautiful monster
budding gently on your African head.
strands, curling as a king cobra in recline
waiting to strike
the pale hands
that call you “nappy.”
Snap out of it!
Out of the nap
that has tamed your wild hair
to a false rest:
as though your hair was stressed up.
You have stayed straight for too long
so chop, chop, cho…
and let the scissors cut off the brittle strands
of your colonial fall,
so the black mounds of your toasted hair fall on the hard ground.
Then, your hair shall be reborn as a phoenix would.
to press the pressing comb till it breaks,
to mourn not the racial schism that seeks to tame your hair,
to be big, then remember again, then celebrate, then be big again.
The flaw of modernity
must not define beauty for you.
There is an explosion on your head:
rich keratin like black carbon
puffed in the hair like there’s a fire under.
Girl, there’s indeed a fire under:
under the hair your grandmother wore
under Nina Simone’s, Angela Davis’, Kathleen Cleaver’s
These your ancestors have rooted
a million fire sparks in you, so
with an Ankara fabric that bows,
with African prints that burn,
with the bold glory of an inferno that defies the quenching rain.
The heritage of your ancestry
must be bigger than the flaw of modernity.
Know this; your hair can dance
as it did in the 60, 70 disco houses
that wore bootcut pants and ‘fro-ed, to the music,
to the colorful lights that shone
on the checkered floor.
Your hair dances
so keep it ‘fro-ing
to the beat of freedom
and drums of your black nature,
to the lullaby of Awero, your mother,
and to the jazz and blues of I, your father,
on a piano in one Harlem night.
Dance. Black hair, I say dance.
your lids are dipping low.
(The world does not end when I turn
on the lamp.)
Darkness, the mutation
of objects into that which is
(shadows of initial perfection).
Don’t watch the shadows around you
I hold you, rocked in the universe-expanse
of my arms.
Your warm, moist head heavy
on my breast, your new-minted soul
I’ve always loved you in the night,
cocooned in silence in a halo
of lamplight that prevents the dark
from touching us.
and i fell for you
like a tree marked for splitting
thousands of tiny sinews screaming
for and against the power of the axe
it wasn’t logical
and it wasn’t reasonable
but still i fell,
for what tree
is allowed to reason
before it falls?
See You Soon
“You ARE still there, right? You didn’t leave?”
I rolled my eyes.
“Of course I’m still here…” My thumbs flitted across the keyboard of my cell phone, just barely keeping up with the witty comment my brain had already prepared. “No way I’m turning down a free dinner!”
The dancing ellipses appeared on my screen, and I knew Collin was trying to think of a response. I took this opportunity to set my phone down onto the concrete of the fountain ledge and admire the atmosphere around me. The sky looked beautiful. With the sun having not quite set, the air felt heavy with the shadow of the looming night. A sliver of pink began to swell over a blanket of trees that seemed to stretch on until tomorrow’s sunrise. The universe was providing Collin with the perfect time and place to initiate our first kiss, and that bastard was missing it.
The dancing dots disappeared, and started up again. He was obviously struggling, so I decided to help him out.
“You said Cafe Doux Lieu, correct?” He responded immediately, probably relieved at the thought that I might still be wandering around and, in result, buying him more time. What can I say? I’m a considerate, classy woman.
“If you’re referring to the place I’m going to give you the best first date of your life, then yes.”
What a smart-ass. My thumbs were tapping a response before I even knew what I was going to say. “And where else might I be referring to? The bustling, romantic streets of Paris itself?”
His response was as immediate as it was impressive. “Oh God no, that’s a few weeks from now where you’ll fall head over heels in love with me.”
I stared at those words until my screen timed out and I was forced to look at the big dumb grin plastered across my face. He’s so cute. It’s disgusting. “Gross,” I shot back. Could I do better? Probably. Did he deserve to win that round? Definitely.
“I’m like, 15 minutes away. I know. I’m so sorry about running this late.”
“That’s okay, I believe in second chances.” Toying with Collin is fun, if not only because he knows how to throw it right back at me. A sense of humor is important, and certainly worth the wait. After all, he must be late for a reason. Despite only knowing him for a few weeks, I did know him well enough that I half-expected some sort of surprise to be accompanying him upon his arrival.
“Meanwhile…” he continued, “to pass the time, how about you tell me more about that pretty face of yours?”
I groaned. No pictures, that’s what we agreed on once we started to get serious about meeting in person. It was his idea; he wanted to “experience the beauty of my radiant face firsthand,” or something like that. What a dork. Although, I really do admire his sincerity. Nowadays, it is so damn hard to find someone who is willing to start a relationship based on substance rather than beauty. I’ve never considered myself an overly attractive woman. I mean, not supermodel-attractive, at least. I can’t imagine anyone looking in the mirror and honestly rating themselves as a perfect “10.” There’s always that one thing… or, in the case of the average woman in her early twenties, there’s always those several things. Personally, I am not a huge fan of my thick eyebrows and I could stand to lose a few pounds.
“Hmmm… well, once you get past the baldness, missing teeth, and the triple-chin, I’d say I’m not too shabby to look at.”
“Interesting…” he retorted. “That’s exactly what I was picturing in my head.”
“Jerk. Hey, you shouldn’t be texting while driving. We can’t afford an accident, you’re the pretty one.” And from what he described to me, he certainly was. Since I met Collin on some random online chat room I signed into a few weeks ago, I’ve learned a few things about him. Among countless other things, I’ve learned that he has a pug named Dino, his favorite color is burnt orange, and he has an affinity for Shakespeare. Of his appearance, I know little. However, he has described his hair to me as “between the stages of black and the darkest brown you can think of,” and constantly looking like he has just rolled out of bed. He told me his eyes are “slate gray in color, with the occasional spark of blue.” Seriously, those were the words he used. He’s either a narcissist or a poet. Or both. But he’s been a breeze to talk to and I haven’t felt more at home with anybody else, so I wouldn’t mind overlooking a little bit of an ego.
“I’m using that voice-to-text function thing,” he replied. “Like when you speak into your phone and it records what you say so you don’t have to use your ha A dam it.”
“Sorry,” he followed up. “That yellow light was quicker than I thought. So tell me what you’re wearing so I at least know who to look for when I get there.”
“Which will be super soon, by the way.”
His last message sent my insides into a frenzy. I’m finally here, I thought. I’m finally about to meet this super great guy that I’ve been talking to online for the last six weeks. Suddenly, my eyebrows felt thicker than normal and I felt the need to pin my arms against my sides to hide the tiny, little love handles adorning my waist. I’d like to say that I’m normally pretty confident with myself, but it just occurred to me that Collin has probably spent the last few weeks creating his image of the perfect woman in his head.
I shook those negative thoughts out of my overactive mind as soon as they sprouted. I look damn good in this dress. Pink isn’t normally my color of choice, but something about tonight screamed “sundress” to me, and this is what I had to work with.
“Fine, I suppose I could give you a little preview. I’m wearing a pink sundress with thin white stripes. My hair is down, because I am either super lazy or super mysterious. I’ll leave that one for you to decide.”
No response. The sliver of pink faded behind the trees, replaced by a rich indigo. I waited in silence for maybe a minute or two, lost in my own thoughts, staring at the colors of the stones beneath my feet. The sound of car tires gliding over cobblestone snapped me out of my alternate reality, and I lifted my head to see a small silver car rolling to a stop a few yards in front of me.
I grabbed my phone and shoved it into my bra for some reason, not even thinking to throw it into my purse. The butterflies in my stomach matched only by the nervous giddiness welling up in my heart, I approached the car as a young man dressed in a blue and gray argyle sweater vest (of course) stepped out of the driver’s side. He circled the car and opened the passenger door, grandly gesturing for me to join him. “Shall we?”
I felt my face break into a smile. He wasn’t lying about those cloudy, ethereal gray eyes. “But, the Café-”
“I have a different place in mind. You’ll love it.”
Collin seemed to have picked up on my thirst for adventure during the short time we’ve gotten to know each other. To be completely honest, I was ecstatic, and for the first time in my life I felt no need to subdue my excitement. These sort of things only seemed to happen in movies, which coincidentally, is the only place where guys like Collin seemed to exist. I hopped into his car without missing a beat, and our first date was finally in motion.
A mere five minutes had passed since we took off, and Collin and I were already talking up a storm. As much fun as I was having just talking to him, I started to feel a little sleepy. I don’t know if it was the time I spent soaking in the calm night air, or the sound of his soothing voice, but I felt the need to rest my eyes. A little embarrassed, I asked Collin if I could stretch out in the backseat. There was something so pleasing about the thought of laying down in a smooth-riding car, closing my eyes, and listening to the warm tone of his voice. He laughed, quite the charming sound, and pulled over so I could transition. What a gentleman. Really. If I hadn’t liked him before (which I certainly did), then I definitely like him now (which I certainly do).
As I lay on the cool leather seats, my eyelids drooping, I noticed a light emanating from my chest. I had forgotten that I shoved my phone into my bra before getting into Collin’s car. I took it out and swiped the screen. One new message at 7:23 pm, the current time having just flickered to 7:24.
“Just parked. My eyes are peeled for a pretty girl in a pink dress. See you soon.”
The Incredible Shrinking Man
Judging by the droplet, a rivulet
down my back in sweat,
not sure what’s more terrifying—
the sight of the mounting spider,
or the sound of its footstep.
No Two Heart-Prints are the Same but Sorrow is the Plectrum that Strikes the Same Note
Jill L. Cooper
It wants to swallow you,
a metal maw, a trap. You want
to claw God’s face. He’s gone.
But your pulse goes on.
You are a chimera now,
a plural, a gardenia (heart),
of two-tone gazes, the forever mother,
the griever. You live backward
now. A person in reverse x8.
One of you wants tea and to chew a
wad of night. The other wants to
forgive everything right out from (under)
If you had been the one with the gun,
you’d shoot the question that bolts itself to
your skull: “What if?” You’d assault a
the daylight and take “Why?” point-blank.
You want what’s gone-never-gone.
You grind your palm into the night,
and mash it like a rose (mirror)
of his recursive face in your mind
of his recursive youth, of finally finding
who he was: your boy, gay, free.
You recall him, younger, doing handstands.
He is watching the furniture float
from the ceiling, elbows onto his
knees, knees with (secrets).
Making a spectacle of balance,
he blasted off in a direction
splintered: flint and gone. The
story burns like time itself is burning,
blistering tears once (drained)
can be still as the eyes in ice.
You shoulder through the news,
where blames are thrown at jihad, at
mental health, at extreme everything.
You parse what’s in (your) control,
from how you can tear into the guts
of the sun.
You consider whether or not death
isn’t home. But in chaos, life’s
big eyes see the marrow of your loss.
You will march on. You (will) stand
the floor. You will pummel the future
with your scrawling declarations.
You will demand the regulations that
will save the next boy, for his sake, and
for the mother you have (never) met,
but whose heart-print lines your face.
Xavier V. Simon
White clouds of marijuana smoke galloped like horses around my apartment. They sparkled like diamonds under the light of the sun. It shined bright through the blinds. The greatest guitarist ever, Jimi Hendrix, belted from my surround sound speakers. His melodic playing gave birth to the creative, Basquiat-inspired mural manifesting itself on my living room wall. It was perfection. We’d spent all night and all morning smoking joints and blunts. Paint stained everything. The walls, the ceiling, the carpet, and my bed were all marked. Specs of yellow paint sprung from the tips of his curly Afro. His clothes and exposed skin had spots coated with paint. My arms, white t-shirt, black jogging pants, and feet were also covered in paint. Containers of mixed fruit were slain all over the place. We, it, everything was a mess. But it was perfection.
We stood to face each other. In silence we stared deep into each other’s eyes. We exchanged everything without moving our lips. I could feel the heat of energy rushing between us. Who would make the first move? The breaths escaping his mouth grew rapid in anticipation. We were both scared. Our friendship, woven together by forces greater than ourselves, was on the brink of destruction. This act of love, this act of passion, was something felt, but deemed a line never to cross. He was straight while I, well, I was something. Yet we stood like statues trying to figure out how to break down the wall between us.
My body burned hot. My penis rose erect. My palms became sweaty. I took a deep breath and stepped closer. That small step sent energy between us spiraling. He looked away. His eyes ransacked the carpet floor in search of a way to escape the situation. When he turned back, our eyes met, and I had stepped even closer. The sounds became precise. I could hear only the beats of my heart. It pulsated as if I had run an Olympic marathon. He reached out to intertwine our hands. We trembled as shockwaves of energy belted through both of us. Until that moment we never engaged in much physical contact outside of handshakes. I never dreamed that his hands, his fingers, his skin could be so soft.
I smiled in bliss at this small exchange of love. I leaned forward gathering up every ounce of courage. I wanted to exchange one the most intimate of pleasures. A kiss. His lips, sweet like fresh strawberries plunged me into ecstasy. Our lips danced around, moving to the groove of a classic waltz. It grew intense. Soon lips were replaced with tongues, tongues with saliva, saliva with teeth, until my arms pulled him in and his swung around my waist. I moaned. He moaned. We moaned, blending noises to create musical notes within the room. In every motion, I could feel his deepest thoughts, his burning desires, his dreams transferring themselves into my body. I saw the places he wanted no one to see. I felt the emotions and all he wanted to say that remained trapped inside. I knew he could feel the same from me. His thoughts became my thoughts. My pain became his pain. His love, my love, became our love.
He pulled back. The range of emotions was fueling the look in his eyes. Confusion. Relief. Disbelief. Happiness. Anger. Acceptance. The desire to continue all laid out in his mind. The biggest thing running through me was shock. I remained motionless trying to center myself and come back to planet Earth. I stumbled forward to make my way to my bed when he grabbed my arm. The force was too great and we crashed on the bed. He laid on top of me. I wanted to roll over to collect my thoughts, but our eyes met again.
His expression had changed. His eyes held strength and tenderness. They reminded me of a look that was all too familiar. A look of a man deep in love. I guided my hand across the side of his face. He closed his eyes savoring my gentle touch. His fingers ran down my cheek, smooth across my top and bottom lips, outlining my jaw line, before settling into my beard. I smiled while he played in my goatee. Then, he leaned in to kiss me. And like the white clouds of marijuana smoke, the Jimi Hendrix music and the mural on my wall, it was perfection.
Some civility is delivered
after the clap of hammer to primer —
an explosive shock wave —
disperses the tears in nearby eyes.
but this civility is a falsity:
protected with turncoat spears and rotting shields,
aspiring for a visage
but never so
once the screaming is finally muddled
Meditations on the Self
I sit grounded like a hopeless
lady beetle, the color
of a dying sunflower,
on the shaggy carpet.
I, too, have messy insides
sheltered by eggshells,
much like a warm
gummy worm found
in the cracks
of the rusted family sedan,
something from childhood
that you wish to throw away.
Loupe: The Gift of Worlds
Jill L. Cooper
convex, at first
as if my extroverted
could win you
as if pollen were
then the soft pierce
but you ask me to
like pearls, orbits, time
you smile with
your Marcel Duchamp
you want range
radishes on prongs
straight from the farm
you want stories
reflection of heavy
by unflinching lashes
you want a treasure
that leads to where
to think reigns
you can tell who
by the way
a feather lofts
on the current
of your star-pulsed
still I offer just this bowl of sky
I offer just this golden beetle
a loupe, a dare,
& a hand-painted message on a
Moon and Sun
Husband rises while Moon is cresting its beat, still in command but preparing for shift change. Behind it will rise its tempestuous partner, Sun, moody and volatile. Moon continues on its journey to hush the singing swallows, to still the scurrying feet. Pulling its deep blue comforter, sprinkled with stars, tucking in everyone, and everything, below.
Husband moves slowly but with purpose. By now the hands know the ritual even better than the brain, giving him a chance to think, or not think. Wife rolls over, away from the light. She dreams of an oncoming train.
The birds begin to announce the arrival of their Sun. Sometimes Moon stays behind to observe the energy and activity and movement. Even the atoms vibrate faster under the gaze of Sun. Moon passes by unnoticed, eclipsed in the radiant sky. He prefers it this way.
The door closes behind Husband as Moon drops out of sight.
Wife awakens to light spilling in, leaking through spaces between blinds and seeping around corners of shades. Persistent, galaxy-centered, Sun always gets its way. Wife flips on lights, television, coffee maker, radio, leaving a trail, making her presence known.
Outside, a seemingly chaotic mass of whizzing cars, whirring machines, swarms of insects, flocks of sparrows, but all moving together in one harmonious march behind their emblazoned commander.
Sun continues its ascent, leading its orchestra in crescendo, climbing to climax in noonday force. For a moment all is revealed, shadows slip away, trees offer no shady escape. Wife emerges, laughing loudly, cell phone balanced on one shoulder, purse on the other, coffee in one hand, keys in the other, joining the orchestra.
Husband returns as Sun falls from its throne below the horizon. Only a sliver of light remains in the squinting sky, concentrated and blood orange. Wife is asleep on the couch, television turned down to a low drone. Rhythmically Husband covers her, removes the empty wine glass from her hand, turns off the television, the lights, the radio.
And sits down to read by the light and silence of Moon.
deep red lips devoid of any lipstick
nails dug a little deeper, for want of something Sapphic
hard to find purchase when the wish is for something
that’s not there, a dark feathered swan flying
up in the air, no yoke on its neck or clasp on its feet
a fat still-beating heart in its beak
so rip out the heart of that lover,
rip it out and feed–eat it for that bird
that’s always being searched for
I can’t find it in the soft curve of his tissue
The Structure of Nostalgia
An old story with an old friend
finds the two of us at the local park:
She on roller blades
Me walk walk skip walk skipping
beside her smooth glide
over pocked concrete and gum
Taken by the fluid unbroken skim
I say “You are so graceful!”
And at that moment
When I play it back in my mind, the clip rolls only frames where she is Dorothy Hamill on ice and I stand dumbstruck realizing some women have grace that can charm even gravity.
There is dancing here
even between the music,
the marrying of the instruments, for
I have always known how to write a solo and
make the sweet belle pepper bows fall to the white wayside,
the cutting board.
I have always known the steps,
the cacophony of knives, their work,
the slosh and crash of wine
like waves against rock,
a craggy coastline, a precipice.
I think of you in the kitchen now,
with my severe and deeply situated hunger (as if in my soul—the (pit) of a nectarine)
and amidst the colorful chaos of improvisation and early inspiration, a first draft.
The heat radiates from the oven, taking the place of a dash, a consequential pause,
and I’m no longer quite sure what I’m waiting for,
what I’ve been waiting for,
the impact—the solo—or
the forever giving in—the duet—
the moment when the wave knows itself?
Or the moment when it disperses into a million splinters
And becomes one with/returns to/is lost to the sea?
Only to build once—
You’re at the door.
The music scratches.
I’m unprepared for the end.
New Gods, Old Skins
New Gods, Old Skins
We are all born violent
and live to unmake:
your skin slipping seams under me
as I dismantle you, bone first,
wanting to cover myself with you
until I am so heavy in becoming
O loveliest burnt blunt fingers,
then make me again,
the game of creating ourselves—
We are all broken so beautifully here
(I break you so beautifully here)
Lay me down under the rue and honey,
painting the story of us across my broadening chest.
We use only watercolors
and tell ourselves it is mythic.
Love is Not Enough
In more or less words, this is the psychology of feeling “less than,” the philosophy of “not enough,” a literary confession to someone I love.
Flesh and bone, living and organized body; this is our gateway to the world, the harbinger of our soul. The multiplicity of our senses systematized into one congruent unity of transcendence; Deleuze’s “Body Without Organs,” Levinas’s phenomenological dialectic of the body, Sartre’s “Being-for-Others,” Heidegger’s “Being-in-the-World,” All these are essential ideas to the psychological revealings that occur when we enter into a relationship with others, in varying gradations of intimacy. Through the externality of the body, the work of corporeality – and our bodies ability to be influenced by the world, but most predominantly through the recognition and physical engagement with other bodies, or, “the Other” – we are able to uncover more about ourselves than we could if we were pure soul, or purely pneuma, for better or for worse.
There are so many things people keep hidden from themselves, so many deficiencies and little humiliations, so many failures. You get lost on an endless road, traversing the great plane of nowhere to nothing, you become accustomed to disappointment. It’s self-mutilation, it stems from your paucity of reasoning, the manifestation of all those things that just keep piling up. Alone, we would kill ourselves, we would be crushed by the weight of our own shortcomings, of that ever pervading sense of nothingness that infects all of us at some point. But then there is salvation at the perception of another corpse, alive with soul and consciousness. Through their eyes a conflict emerges, instantly we are met with strange feelings; we are alienated from our subjective consciousness, thrown into the world. We want control, the complete autonomy of our freedom, and we also want to derive meaning about ourselves from the look of the other, their piercing stare. Through this “look” the illusion falls; we are much worse than we have previously perceived ourselves to be, we are hideous. Our shortcomings, our ugliness, surges up within us, to the forefront of our thought, and true self is revealed. I have often felt this way about most personal relationships, through the medium of pain and pleasure associated with another’s body I am reduced, I am sent retreating back into that subjective hole of isolated being. It is through these relationships, the syntax of their spoken words mostly, that I am known to myself. I could confess these things only through the help of others, with the help of their hatred or their love, they are the instrument by which I know myself.
The anguishing realization in this phenomenon that we all encounter is we begin to perceive ourselves differently. We get a glimpse into another dimension of judgment, of an externality that would not be possible if we were alone in this world. This leads to new formulations about ourselves that do not necessarily coincide with the picture we’ve already painted of our being. There are many possible reactions to this discovery, but for most – and myself included – it seems to be mostly negative. We become aware of what we lack, we contrast ourselves with other individuals, physically and mentally. Suddenly, new expectations spring up within us that we are completely unprepared to meet and resolve. We begin, however unintentionally, to live purely in this new facet of judgment. We no longer see ourselves as this subjective, personalized individual living for ourselves, but as an objective characteristic of humanity as a whole, and often times we do not feel equal to this new task. It’s obvious what this does to our psychology and sense of self; we lose control of our ability for self-reflection and develop a psychological predisposition that we are strangers to this world, unworthy of the body we possess and other people. We lose the ability to judge ourselves from an inherent subjective rationality but instead judge ourselves from the “look” of the Other. Right or wrong, this is my interpretation of judgment cast down on me by someone who loves me, and I them.
The worst part about it all was I knew if she were completely unhindered from the responsibilities she had in the city, totally free and unchained and unfettered from the relationships she’d been carrying on for so long, radically free; she wouldn’t choose to stay with me. She would have realized all at once that her love was wasted. She would have tasted its staleness, it’s utter despondency when it was given over to someone like me. All at once she would know that her lust wasn’t allocated in the right places, that her raw carnal sensuality, teeming with unabashed passion, was lost in the mausoleum of my embarrassment, of my despair. My fear was that the exegesis of our love story would be interpreted differently, that I would reflect in the mirror of her mind the same way I reflected myself in mine, and she would feel disgusted. I was the charlatan of a brusque philosophy, the knight of a detached melodrama that had come to snatch her away from paradise and from heaven. She was the philanthropic lady of the flowers, the pursuer of an Epicurean life, an adventurer on the frontiers of a new happiness. This clash and juxtaposition of two conflicting ideologies bloomed into a violent and beautiful love. Our contradictions seemed to complement one another, we strengthened our Pantheons. I’d dabble in her garden and she would visit my graveyard. But when it came down to brass tax, I didn’t want her heaven, and she didn’t want my gutter, my dregs of self. Who would? I was no Mephistopheles, what could she gain from selling her soul to me; nothing. Hell with no Earthly reward is all I could offer her. I could see the line distinctly; I knew I was wrong.
She was beautiful, beyond emulation, there was no one who could compare. Sumptuous and mysteriously seductive; the royalty of aesthetics, I was a slave. She carried me away in a torrent of lust, but there was something more. She evoked more than just primal desire, she had a sort of psychological beauty; she would produce in me two states, so historically opposed to one another; a seeming impossibility of romance. The first was this, logical necessity; the second, inimitable passion – Saint Augustine’s head would have rolled. She commanded your eyes, organized your thoughts; and not in a way that could be misconstrued as some base attempt to see that passion she controlled played out, but because you felt like you had to. You had no choice, the feeling crept up that your entire life revolved around those moments when your eyes met hers, and you wanted it; time fluttered away and was replaced by the singular, infinite moment of organic expression, of true love. She always had saccharine in her eyes, so dark and bursting with the color of the void, that kind of darkness that left you empty. I would melt away. The good kind of emptiness too, the kind that would let you slip into an unnatural and irrational stupor. I would empty myself out and reassemble myself on a perfectly flat plateau. I could finally level my head when I recognized myself in those eyes. You could stare for hours into that black nirvana. That’s the way I felt at least, a strange haunting in my cavernous chest, she possessed my heart and forced it to start pumping again. Sometimes she would listen to it beating, I’m surprised she could hear anything. Her touch painted me with gentler colors. She had the ability to do that with anyone I think. She could ease the tension of my skin that was stretched too thin over my bones. I didn’t deserve treatment like that.
With her enthusiasm and her charm, she could get anyone to fall in love with her. Unbounded conquests awaited her, the Aphrodite of modernity. She had a peculiar confidence about her that she tried to conceal – it just made me frustrated, she knew of her of divine origins. Infinitely desirable, she tried to coax me into believing she wasn’t aware of the effect she had on people. The way she could bend and manipulate the landscape of my vision was intimidating, I was in over my head. If she had access and knowledge to all the potential lovers the world had to offer her, all the prying eyes that glued themselves to her, I knew that I wouldn’t make it; that she’d throw me off like an old coat, she’d shed me away like an old layer of skin. I’d pour down her skull into the recesses of her cranium and I’d become only the faint reminiscence of a dream, one in which the details were ambiguous and uncertain. She’d only be left with the dust of a strange and ambivalent feeling. That’s all that would be left of me. It made me very sad.
It was easy to do; I could find sadness in anything, it’s the teleology of temporality. So much of my sadness I just puked up all over her. I crawled to her, I must have looked like a worm whenever she saw me. I looked sickly, disheveled; she was the antidote, the only doctor who could treat my diseased temperament. I tried to contain it, to swallow it down, to not be so self-centered and hamper her with my egotistical self-pity. The double standard was I also considered it to be one of my charms – I thought it helped me to remain interesting, it took the edge off the tediousness of an otherwise colorless life, or so I thought. Secretly, though, I think it made her despise me, and if she didn’t despise me now then I was only planting and fertilizing the seeds for its potential later. All my little picayune problems she had to endure me moaning about. The trite, commonplace stuff, that’s the stuff that really ravaged me, that’s what she could look forward to hearing every night. The ebbs and flows of routine, my frustrations and miseries ran like clockwork. Eventually, she probably knew what I was suffering just based on the time of day. I do it to myself, if she grew sickened by me I would understand, there’s no saving some people.
I got angry with myself about it, it really weighed me down, encumbered me. All my worthless parables, my valueless anecdotes, why couldn’t I just keep them to myself? I loved her and I knew it was harming her, but I just couldn’t help myself. I was proud of how miserable I was; of my always teetering just on the edge of blowing my brains out, I couldn’t wait to let her know. I showed off, I never tried to conceal it, no fake smiles. Furthermore, to add to my frustration, I knew I was wasting my time, depleting my breath, pushing my lungs to their mechanical limits. There was nothing she could say that would appease me. The only words she could use were ones that would humiliate me, throw me off the narrow precipice that I was so delicately balancing myself on. She would try to console me, instill in me some sort of benign encouragement. I was a lost cause. I’d always deconstruct the tenuous arguments she put forward to me. I shouldn’t have done that, I think I was trying to compensate for something, I had to make up for my ugliness somehow. All my gripes were never analytical or researched, but I wanted her responses to be. Take all my problems and plug them into your calculus. Analyzed and calculated, that’s what I demanded of her. But it wouldn’t matter, she never did anyways; at most I think she just tried to conciliate me from becoming more upset, she used all the expected words. She was generous with her affection, I felt like a charity case, she would placate me the best she could. What more could I ask of her? She was too good to me anyways. I was, and am, a rotten soul, no good for anyone; and yet I pressed myself onto people, attached to them like a leech, sucked the lifeblood out of them until they were left high and dry. I’m a parasite.
My saving grace was the brackets hovering around both of our lives, the context in which chance lent to us and framed our lives. I was the best offer given the circumstances she found herself in, and this revelation was no consolation to me, just another knife I’ll carry with me, lodged in my chest. I’m not too high on myself, I don’t think much of my looks, the disproportionate features of my face, the sickly look that anxiety has carved through my eye sockets, the ever returning bags that weighed down the bottom of my eyelids. My mouth especially, a horrible looking thing; I had small teeth that showed through a reddish-pink and gummy smile. These nasty little teeth, they’re bound to rot out soon judging from all the vile and poison that pours out of my mouth. Life wore itself on my face, I looked lifeless, unhealthy. I always felt you could read me like a book, and that made me unapproachable. It all didn’t matter much to me, superfluous. I knew what I was, I worked it to my advantage the best I could. The only thing on top of all that mediocrity were my fever dreams, my psychotic mood swings, my preambles and incessant ramblings late at night that went nowhere and only welcomed and brought on exhaustion. I think I made her miserable, but I can’t help it. It’s my tone, the way the words convulse out of my mouth. I’ve been sad for a long time and I just can’t seem to shake the spell, the curse of melancholy.
The higher you climb, the higher you can fall. The possibility is always there; anxiety will make sure you don’t forget it. I was always worried about what happens when the dam breaks; when she finally breaks free from this confounding enchantment; when the variables change and the brackets around our lives disappear? She knew a lot of people, and I couldn’t help but get the feeling that they offered her something a little more, something a little more exciting, more lucrative, than anything I ever could. I had my limitations, I handicapped myself in strange ways, cut myself off from experiences that might have eased the pangs of my consciousness, and I did this all out of spite. More so, I was jealous of all the people she knew, all the miraculous and frightening things they were doing in their lives. I always felt like she talked about them with sparkling eyes, with such vivid and vehement admiration. It was like she was carried away from the present moment on the wings of a powerful daydream. It carried her to the exotic places she desired to be, it showed her the intricacies of a life she so desperately wanted to live. But then reality came knocking, intruding in on one of the few pleasantries that thought has to offer. As soon as she composed herself, there I was, shooting her down, scoffing at them – I wished for their deaths, I wanted them executed, reprimanded in every way. If they traveled I wanted to stay put, if they were beautiful I wanted to remain ugly, whatever those forlorn people were, I wanted to oppose it, to contradict it, to lacerate myself from the fabric of this world just so I would have nothing in common with them. Jealousy is a weakness, I was the paradigmatic case of its debilitation, it’s strangulation – someone come squash me like a bug. It’s only the distance that saved me. Those people were far away, separated by mountains and rivers, highways and miles, dollars and cents. But if she could transcend all that, decipher the code of monetary success, learn how to manage and tame the geography that separated them from her, she’d be gone. She’d leave me and I’d be alone again.
I deserved it. I sulk and wallow, I disconnect myself. But the truth was I loved her, sincerely and deeply, I couldn’t do it any other way. But that’s where you encounter all your troubles, that’s when it turns to a comedy and then spirals into a tragedy. I invested everything I am, I borrowed all my happiness from her and still didn’t have enough. I never reciprocated, she would tell me differently, though. Letting me off easy. It wasn’t for lack of trying, I just always felt imbalanced, running on fumes, dilapidated and exhausted. Whenever I had happiness I kept it to myself; every man for himself and the Earth for us all, I read that somewhere once, I don’t think I’ll ever forget it. I’m damaged goods, I chalk it up to a cruel consignment of chance, I lost the cosmic dice roll. And because I lost I have to punish other people for it too; and who wants to be the glutton of punishment for someone else’s sins?
I had one ardent longing: to be the only one; but you can’t be, there is no “only one,” it’s been mythologized, I need to just accept it. I could be a brick, but not the entire foundation, I could be a part, but not the whole. All the desires people have: for sex, for money, for affection, for control; in what way could I possibly fulfill all of them? I couldn’t alleviate all the pressures that life threw on her, I couldn’t give her all the validation she needed, I couldn’t satisfy her insatiable ego. That’s the strange thing about people that you discover along the way. It really isn’t about the act in and of itself; she could allure anyone to her bed, but that’s not important; what’s important is the knowledge that if things were different she could have them in her bed; and that knowledge, that confidence, it’s as good as any orgasm. Most people are satisfied with just the validation that given a certain state of affairs then “X” could have occurred. I can’t let it go, it’s jealousy creeping back into me, I’ve got bloodlust just thinking about it. I feel like Dr. Rieux, I felt like Roquentin; I can’t even keep track of my tenses, I’m unreliable. I felt the futility of all my actions, nausea at the realization that I was dead in the water, that I couldn’t coerce fate; that my words were meaningless, meaningless in the highest degree, meaningless to infinity – and infinity is a meaningless concept. I was scaling the citadel of communication and getting nowhere; this fortress is impenetrable. I only wanted to let her know that I was trying, but the words fell short, I sounded brutish, condescending to a certain degree. There would come a day when I would need to find the right words, when the immensity of meaning would swell up within me and I would need to express something that would keep her with me; but words fail me when I need them most, and I don’t think I could overcome myself when I come to that crossroad. The gold I was carrying in my hand would turn to sand, and I’d be left with holding nothing. It’s happened before.
Loving is hard. I romanticized about it too much, I was idealistic, I liked to flirt with transcendence, but she never took my hand. We had our own formulations, our own tried and true theories about what it encompasses, the faculties it should facilitate. Our tower of Babel rose high, we sought an objective language of love, one in which we could both understand the terminology of our affection, but we never found it. We languished under the guise of our failed construction, and that manifested itself in different ways, different approaches. I ended up just getting frustrated, what’s this all for? I want to dissociate myself from it all, this false eudemonism; I don’t want to swerve in and out of the currents of happiness anymore, I want to drown in it and be forgotten. One day she’ll say farewell and mean forever, there will come a time when she’ll say goodnight and mean goodbye, and I deserve it. She can leave me, a man’s game charges a man’s price, we’ve all got to pay up sooner or later. I’ve given a lot. All the friends I’ve lost, the lovers who betrayed me and I them, why do we consent to it all? I renounce it, for the sake of the people I love, for my enemies who despise me; I surrender. Let me retreat, confine myself to a faraway corner of this world where I can forget words, where I can leave my body forever and sever myself from this avenue to existence.
That’s all just because I’m a defeatist, a sore loser. I don’t want any of that, and the truth is you can’t believe a word I say; I’ve never really been right in the head.
I am a martyr to the temple of myself
I filled this body with packed wet sand,
and I stand on the shores of a bright eyed ocean
a little girl who knew the names of pixies and fays
now is drenched in sweat and fluid,
has hollowed out eyes swimming with visions
of being sung to and swallowed up whole
by this wet green garden, the sea
where then flesh will be eaten and soul will find meaning
A spring storm blows in,
ice and freezing rain.
The birds at the feeder
hold on for everything.
We fear we will lose
what we’ve gained.
The wind doesn’t care.
Ten minutes, fifteen seconds, fifty three thrusts. Thirteen missionary, ten from behind, thirty on top, quick like a jack rabbit. Insert “fuck me baby” at thrust twenty-four and hair-tug at forty-nine. Like counting reps at the gym. Squeeze, release. Squeeze, release. Finish hard, it’s almost over. Five, four, three, two, one. “Blast off!” (Every. Fucking. Time.) John Glenn rolls off, starts snoring like a rocket, limp shaft shiny and sticky.
Black combat boots—sexed-up with heels and faux-worn leather—black eye shadow swept to the brow, black hair glistening purple in the yellow sun. Casting dark shadows in all directions.
Streetlight below breeches the cracked window-shade. Uneven bars of light fall over the half-occupied bed. Silence in the room absorbs crickets, low drone of distant traffic. Car door slam, front door slam, bedroom door… click. Sweat and whiskey cloud follows uneven steps to the bed. Hot, sour breath. (Close your eyes and count the reps.)
Arms clasped at the elbows, black and blonde hair swing in rhythm to the synchronized bounce of each step. Disappearing into darkness before reemerging under the next streetlight. “Let’s pretend we’re movie stars!” “Let’s pretend we’re Queens!” “Let’s pretend we’re lovers.”
Invisibility is a curse brought on slowly somewhere between “Hey man what’s up” and “Next pitcher’s on me.” Testosterone strengthens with numbers and beer, lowering voices and emotional IQs. Smile and say something unoriginal, it doesn’t matter, no one’s listening.
Books strewn across the table amid crumpled paper and empty coffee cups: Joyce Carol Oats, Judith Butler, Adrienne Rich, Angela Davis. Like rumpled sheets. Purple streaks dance in the late afternoon sun while yellow hair fades into the light.
Pick up socks, count the reps. Don’t look at the stains, the way the dirt and sweat and grime grind into the soles. Five socks, six. Don’t try to scrub. The dirt of two becomes one and the stains remain forever (or until the fabric wears too thin).
Blonde hair weaves through black, wraps around entangled fingers and hips and lips. “Stay.” Desire reverberating slowly rolling through haze of hot smoke and moist breath. “Stay.” Temptation penetrates, overshadows logic drowning out everything but “Stay.”
Sweat and whiskey clouds just count the reps just count the reps. This is right this is right this is right. Keep repeating. (They would never understand.) Repeat repeat.
Arms crisscross backs, hands nestle in back pockets, purple-black hair swings freely into auburn curls. Laughter from two mouths melt into one vibration. Cross the street, not fast or far enough. Eyes lock. Shadows penetrate deep to stomach pit.
This is right. This is right. (Close your eyes and count the reps.)
You were asleep with the music on
When I got to your house.
Had to let myself in
Just like with this conversation,
Because I think I’ve known for a while
And had to bring it up.
And when I asked, “What’s on your mind?”
You said, “I don’t know,
But I could use a smoke
And I could use a drink
So why don’t we kill some time?”
Maybe that’s all we were doing
Was killing time.
And so we did.
We killed time in your kitchen
As we sat across from each other
With all our favorite songs still playing in the background,
The perfect soundtrack to ending a chapter
That we couldn’t bring ourselves to put the final punctuation in.
So why is it we saw the train but didn’t get off the tracks?
Or maybe that’s what we’re doing now.
“And now we’re just stalling, aren’t we?”
Because when this conversation is done so are we.
We can keep smoking but we’ll eventually run out of cigarettes
And they seem to be burning more quickly than usual.
All the music and alcohol and reminiscing
Can’t make a forked path unite,
Or keep this conversation from reaching its inevitable end.
“And now we’re just stalling, aren’t we?”
I’m not much of a smoker
But tonight I’ll make an exception.