Remembering You

A poem written for, and dedicated to, someone I dearly miss. They know who they are. Originally published in 2018, with Pathos Literary Magazine


Remembering You

. . .

I followed you, past the stone park, to the nickel arcade

Where nostalgias are made with beeps, whistles, and 1000 points

And I discovered that only quarters are accepted there now

.

The sight of that flickering, half-lighted entrance sign

Sparked benign half-memories of your nimble, toothy smiles—

Or it used to, when all the bulbs were bright and new

.

Inside I exchange green linen for hero’s-journey metal

And settled on prizes I’d buy with my paper-ticket winnings—

Oh, how we pleasured in those plastic-cheap treasures

.

But our favorite game was broken, about to be replaced,

So I paced the rows of pixel caskets, searching for another

And chose the one we one-time beat on only twenty nickels

.

The quarter chunked and rattled downward in the slot

And in a spark of thought, I decided to play as your character

So you’d be there in a kind-of way …

.

Alone, I couldn’t get the bonus points and soon I lost

But tossed another quarter down the orange-lighted grave

And noticed the high-score with your initials was erased.

Turtle and a Straw

“You feel really bad about the fuckin’ turtles with the straws, then write a poem about it; just don’t make it the same pandering fuckin’ horseshit”.

He’s right, I thought after hearing these words uttered by Tyler R. Martin of Bourbon, Cigarettes and Syllables (in the post for his poem Lonely Dog). I was—perhaps oddly—inspired by this thought to write a piece unlike anything I’d previously attempted. A poem that’s more flippant in its execution, more irreverently critical, and less like pure pandering horseshit.

The text below is the final result of that experiment; and based off of everything else I’ve written, an experiment is absolutely was. So it’s a poem?

Sure. Though I’m not against the whole thing being an ironic dramatic performance piece.

. . .

Turtle and a Straw

 

Cylindrical smooth, and neon blue

Long and slender, breakable, tender

—the worst kind of prick. 

 

Crusted foam of syrup and creamed soy,

Perhaps anthropocene clean, because—oh boy

Karen can’t cup her crimson lips betwixt 

The mouth of a 

Full Throttle!

single use 

water bottle. 

 

“Liberal thinker” *atheist iced coffee drinker* 

And a Dixie Belle whose South-Shall-Rise-Again, 

Cult-sick, but conservative with her lipstick,

Both mindlessly flick their first world trash, 

That plastic stick

right in

to the big 

blue bin. 

 

Because “fucks” are easier to get than to give. 

 

Pfft, and how wity he sits, queer little poet

Cocktail with those ity-bitty straws—they pour it

No care no pity for the tortoises who’d snort it;

More drinks, all shitty, and writes a short bit

of performance art;

An activist

doing his part:

 

A Dramatic Virtue Signal

By Queer Poet

(Stage directions)

Can I save you, young turtle, with my words?

(Wispy flick of the wrist) I am an internal democracy,

(Wring hands) Spare me the snare of my hypocrisy

Let’s care in tandem for the fair and best—yes!?

(Reach L-hand toward nothing, R-hand over chest)

How doth my liberal heart exsanguinate!

 

(Editor Note: Above stanza is dribble and shart, eliminate)

 

After 500 years of life, drowned in strife

With a straw, packed hard with snot,

Brain matter and squelching splatter

Pull that plastic from the neuro-elastics

Sticky, human-made, suffocation renegade,

From a Solo cup of lemonade

and guilt 

gently wrapped 

and thrown out

 

How tidy. (Clap clap)

 

X Iced Vanilla Latte

X Half-extra sweet

X Extra shot (blond roast)

X One pump rancid turtle meat

X Mocha-Carmel drizzle

X No cream no whip

X Bloody nostrils so abysmal 

X Chocolate biscotti to dip

 

“Blah, blah, blah. Bitch, yas I want a straw!”

Life in Metamorphosis: The Butterfly

The Butterfly is part three of three in the longer poem Life in Metamorphosis. Though all three parts make up the larger whole, each part is also its own separate poem, which can be read independent of the other parts.

 

The Butterfly

When the mummified seal of the traditions that nursed us

At last begin to break

And a wet figure emerges softly—prone to sunburn,

Colored wings, curled and weak—

Does the butterfly know its new and blooming body,

To seek the coming breeze?

Does it find itself still meek?

 

And when the blooming dawn at last

Spreads streaks of gold and blood across the sky

Can the new and conscious mind be fast

To catch the winds of knowing that pass by?

 

What is a butterfly or a candle-seeking moth

But proof that a dead life, now born anew,

Can soar without conditions of neuro-plastic sloth,

Of ancient living scripture—writ ostensibly on you

 

Massage the bent wings out of obsolescence

Flap the vigorous passion of a fervid thought

Until the sun reveals how strong, how pearlescent

Are the arms of freedom, in bittersweet exile wrought. 

 

Behind me I leave a shell and a body that inches

—The aspects I have lost—

No more to indulge in the happy crunch crunch

On leaves stacked in piles;

But what of leaves and inches, when I drink truth’s nectar

Migrate planes of wonder

And see the world in miles?

__

Photo Credits:

Cover Photo from Callaway Gardens

Closing Photo from The Weather Channel Website

Life in Metamorphosis: The Chrysalis

The Chrysalis is part two of three in the longer poem Life in Metamorphosis. Though all three parts make up the larger whole, each part is its own separate poem, and can be read independently.

 

The Chrysalis

Oh sweet succulents of exile, that forced me to know myself

 

Where mind and matter intertwined in abstractions 

Become galaxies in the helix that is doubled in my blood.

I once munched and lapped thick milk and saccharine honey,

But here dine on pages wrought from thought, and neuro-plastics;

I once sweat pious salts while underneath a woolen shawl,

But there, with wild hair, I ride the hard sex of contemplation —

Feel the neuron’s focus condense, like currents through copper,

Until it is released in the pulsing expansion of a star.

Oh burn you hydrogen thoughts, conflagrate and burn!

Like the kisses on my neck sending rushes down my spine,

Ignite that once inert core into flowing magma once more.

 

Oh sweet succulents of exile, that forced me to know myself

 

A world of words—centrifugal—strengthens my push—centripetal

Rip and pull the plastic ground-cover until the weeds breath,

Until the daisy is unchained from the remains of gold-leaf paper-cuts.

What is this plane, where the emeralds of our hearts are not sewn

Into the gaudy robes of inertia, nor mined for the glory of another,

But unearthed deftly by our own touch, or by the touch of a lover?

Settle now, and breath—absorb into my electrified wet flesh

The new, and old, and everything in this garden we call spacetime;

Where I bite and suck the juice of every vegetable and fruit

Discovering—collect and discard—the nourishing, the poisonous.

I sleep but to rest, for dreams in this place are free from the nocturnal.

 

Oh sweet succulents of exile, that forced me to know myself.

__

 

Photo Credit: University of Florida

Life in Metamorphosis: The Caterpillar

The Caterpillar is part one of three in the longer poem Life in Metamorphosis. Though all three parts make up the larger whole, each part is its own separate poem, and can be read independently.

 

The Caterpillar

I recall the holy sound from childhood: crunch, crunch, crunch

Munching my grandma’s words off stained glass plates

Until my stomach ached and eyes sought wet relief

From the ceaseless servings of christened words on gold leaf;

I drank non-sequitur stories of a fire-singed redemption,

Feasted on liver-fat perennials of mental hypertension

Around a table, where we grew morbid under jolly weight,

And gave praise and accolades to the great, junk-food god.

 

They didn’t let me keep the sharp rock that stole my foreskin,

That sin, placed like garnish in a silver tin, to be thrown out—

And the suppers, set apart, of bread and onion skin

And charcoal, which made my teeth purple-black and pretty

Like out-of-season figs struck dead by an angry soul.

I inched along the twigs, crossed in holy reverence,

Sugared with nails and scent of cedar, blood and living water,

And the yeast of Father! Father! rising up to heaven. 

 

Only in clandestine dreams did I leap and fly and hide

From the multifarious, the hideous angel eyes—

Did I escape the nebulous good achieved by lacerations,

The incantations where hemoglobin mingled with ash

Is drunk to inebriation, and used to cook the delicious junk,

The sugared, fat, salt-of-the-earth answers on which we dine.

I ate and ate, until—I came upon a succulent, sweet and plump.

Couldn’t eat it, only bite it, learned to love it all the more because: 

 

That forbidden supple succulent

Once bitten between my good-and-evil teeth

Had rewritten the line: inch along, have faith, be smitten.

 

Cover Photo Credit: Wikipedia

Embracing the Disquiet of Writing (Part 7): The Storyteller’s Torch

Diversity is the great strength of humanity. No two people look perfectly alike, or develop the same personalities, or lead identical lives. Through our diversity, we have created a world with a myriad of languages, distinct cultures, and various arts. Yet there is one aspect of humanity that we all share in common, one feature that must predate human diversity as we understand it. Should any advanced civilization of alien origin come and study humanity after we have all returned to stardust, they would likely define us primarily by that one, unifying characteristic: our love for stories. 

We humans have a compulsion to both tell and listen to stories. The historical sciences and the mythologies that have survived the millennia, show us that humanity has always been like this. Our lives, our entertainment, our religions, our philosophies, our memories and so on and on are all governed, practiced, and experienced through stories. Even our news media—whose job, in reality, is simply to convey a series of facts—cannot resist that proverbial “spin” which transforms their facts into story. On the individual level, each person, both their lives and their personality, is influenced so heavily by stories that given enough time, the individual and the stories that matter to that individual become inexorable. We are our stories.

We Are Our Stories

Most everyone has a handful of favorite television shows that positively influenced them as children. For me, the show I consider most important to my formative years—no matter how many times I go over my list of favorites—is Star Trek (S.T.) Voyager. Voyager is considered by some to be a bit messier of a series when compared to its sibling shows S.T. The Next Generation and S.T. Deep Space Nine. However, there were two integral themes which Voyager kept exploring throughout its run on television, and which I related to immensely as a child. The themes of home and, more importantly to me, identity.

I, as a gay boy growing up in an environment of religious fundamentalism, found solace in Voyager’s themes. Voyager never dealt directly with queer topics, but did deal, often, with coming to terms with one’s identity. Three characters stand out in this regard. B’lanna Torres, born half human and half Klingon, struggles to reconcile these two, seemingly divergent aspects of herself; the doctor, who begins the series as a holographic projection created by Voyager’s computer, eventually gains sentience, and grapples with whether or not he will be accepted into society, whether or not he could ever have a family, and whether or not he could even be considered alive; lastly there is the now iconic Seven of Nine, who, having grown up in a world of perfect conformity, struggles to understand what life means outside of that world, and to understand the very concept of the individual self. 

When I was a child, my identity was something confusing and potentially dangerous. These characters and their stories helped me see that self is something many people struggle with, and that acceptance and growth are possible. And though these characters were fictional, and though none of them were like me, their experiences spoke to me. This is one of the magical elements of storytelling; the story can convey meaning and messages beyond literal words being spoken, beyond the literal actions being taken by the characters. For this reason, those who wish to be storytellers must realize how the importance of stories goes beyond our enjoyment of them. To tell an effective story, a writer must come to understand and respect the importance of what stories mean to humanity. I will argue this point a step further by suggesting that, without a respect for stories, no meaningful story can be told.

Respect: Meaning Beyond Words

The full significance of storytelling is too vast to be easily absorbed into our primate brains—this was at least the case for me—meaning that learning to respect the story is usually a learned and not inherent skill. The first step of acquiring that skill is for the storyteller to practice patience and care with their own stories. I have participated in various writing groups throughout my life, and in those groups have had the opportunity to read many works with great potential. Such an experience is always exciting. However, too often I have given my feedback on the story only to discover the writer had no intention of editing the piece into its full potential. They pumped out the narrative, and then were done with it. The response to my feedback was usually “Thank you, I’ll keep that in mind for next time.” Why not this time?

To produce a flower garden, a seed must first be planted in the soil, watered, and given time to germinate. So too must the seed for a story be given the time and space to become something tangible. To ensure a healthy plant with great blooms, we must watch the plant grow and remove dead leaves as we find them, and ensure that harmful insects are kept at bay. So too must we let our stories grow, and remove the useless parts when we recognize them; a story too quickly abandoned is a story guaranteed to be weighed down by dead material. During this process, our doubts about the story must be kept at bay—lest our doubts force us to give up on a story before it has had the chance to bloom. The first and second drafts are the worst times to give up on a story. 

Giving up on a story does not always mean abandoning a story that isn’t working, or switching focus to another piece we would prefer to be writing, but can also mean stepping away from a story we know is not yet finished. How often, when writing, do we writers reread our work, only to come across a paragraph, a sentence, or even a single word that feels incorrect, out of place, or somehow broken? These are not the obvious mistakes, like a typo or poorly expressed idea, but rather those less tangible moments when we can feel the mistake rather than see it. I have been tempted—sometimes through laziness and other times through fear I cannot improve it—to pass over a broken moment in my writing, to dismiss it as “good enough.” But to allow a story to exist as only “good enough” is to express disrespect for the story; if I respect my story, I must always be working toward “as good as I can do” rather than “good enough.”

If I am unwilling to work toward the best of my abilities, why should I bother to continue practicing my craft? 

That’s not to suggest that every story must be perfectly told. A major aspect of the human experience is imperfection, thus it is unreasonable to ask our stories to be perfect. As I implied earlier, I acknowledge that Star Trek Voyager is a bit sloppier than it’s sibling shows, but the message and intent of each episode comes through; it is clear the writers cared about those stories. Regardless of a story’s shortcomings, the care and respect of the author are what makes a story great. While talent plays a role, the majority of the most celebrated authors of all time are primarily celebrated for their care in execution.

Take for example Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. The basic plot of R&J is absurd, and the action of its characters ridiculous. However, because the story is told with such precision and respect for the language and narrative, Romeo and Juliet transcends its basic elements; despite the nearly comic absurdity, it is considered one of the greatest love stories ever told. The execution, not the plot, is what makes it great. And how is great execution achieved? Editing.

From Mundane to Masterpiece: Editing

A disdain for editing has crept into the writing community. I do not mean to generalize, but too often I’ve heard writers speak of the thrill of finishing a first draft, only to imply that the mundane, tedious aspect of the writing process—revising (a.k.a. editing)—must now begin. This view of the editing process is not only misguided, but an attitude that can only be detrimental to a writer’s work. Editing is the opportunity for a writer to create and smooth out the finer details of a story, to enrich their characters with experience and life, and to transform their piece into something beyond the writer’s original expectations. There is no masterpiece of literature which is not a rewrite of an earlier draft. Any tale to the contrary is undoubtedly apocryphal—or a downright lie. 

To draft a story is to acquaint yourself with it; when the first draft is done, you’ve shook hands with the story, asked it what foods it likes and whether or not it thinks the music of Frank Sinatra is overrated. To edit a story is to know it personally and, with enough time, to know it intimately. And I do not mean to dismiss the drafting process. The drafting of a piece should be fun, and leave us with a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction; but we writers must learn to find the true thrills in the editing process. Not only this, but we must view the concept of “editing is boring / tedious” as an oxymoron. It is impossible to view the editing process as dull and simultaneously have respect for the story. However, the blame for thinking the editing process dull does not often rest on the writers themselves.

While there is certainly overlap, the editing process requires a different set of tools, and requires that the writer be in a different headspace, from that of the drafting process. However, most writers—because of a lack of focus on the importance of editing within the writing community—either view editing as an extension of the drafting process, or as the primary work of an editor (not a writer). Regardless of which view they take, their disappointment that editing is not as wild and unregulated as drafting is understandable. But discovering the thrill of editing can be done, and a great place to begin cultivating that thrill is with the famous Ernest Hemingway quote “write drunk, edit sober” (which Hemingway never said). This axiom is horrible advice when taken literally, but excellent advice if taken metaphorically. Let yourself be wild and irresponsible when drafting a piece, but let the editing be where the truly serious, the truly respectable work begins. The marriage of the wild and the respectable is the union from which great stories are born. 

And to tell a great story is to be greatly human. 

Conclusion

“It’s only a story, you say. So it is, and the rest of life with it.” 

— Jeanette Winterson

Humanity is inextricably linked with the stories we tell; to not love the experience of stories and/or storytelling is to be something other than human. That might at first seem hyperbolic, but all people seek out the experience of stories in their day to day lives—the anticipation of our favorite show’s newest season, the joy in sharing a common nostalgia with friends, the propensity to slightly embellish when telling of something ridiculous that happened to us the other day—and we writers have chosen storytelling as our lifelong ambition. When we tell our stories, we participate in the oldest and most cherished of all human traditions. In light of such a fact—to know that to tell a story is to pick up a torch first lit at the dawn of humanity—how can we desire anything other than to respect our stories to the best of our abilities.

The story as a concept is too important, too ancient, too human to ever be considered only a story.

Cover Photo Credit: Mike Beauregard

The Other Scarlet Letter

I find it strange that I never hear, from the religious, the verse of Leviticus 20:13 quoted; it is always Leviticus 18:22. The two verses are nearly identical, save for 20:13 clarifying that the penalty for this red-letter sin is surely death. This poem is meant to be in conversation with Lev. 20:13.

Wage of my sin “stone him to death”

Breath of God’s words

Affectionate—

Set.

David wept over his making

And I echo,

“Why create this

Us

If the stench of our being be

Such an offence?”

Shame your tongue with

Names,

Then spit them at the innocent,

Whose affection 

Can’t affect it.

Pray

For the wicked ones, whom You made

When you gave this

“A” to their names.

An

Affusion of words christens

Me in Your love;

Dove above head,

White

But by the blood is now stained red.

Still, green pastures

In Autumn fade;

Truth

Bleeds from the words, blurred. Frayed

Gold rimmed page

With ink still wet,

I

Marvel how your rapacious love

Would vilify

Than sanctify

I

Pause—no sagacious, gray wonder

Under tongues set

Sharp in their wrath;

I

Am not vicious! My brow is salt. 

Hear viscous words

Seep from my lips:

“God

Of Leviticus,” the eye drips,

“Whether the kiss

Fades or remains,

Hear

My heart—I’ll stay, I’ll stay, I’ll stay.”

.

Cover Image from National Geographic Photo Ark

Conversations in a Graveyard

I keep a large bowl of fresh produce on my kitchen counter; the one negative result of this is the annual colony of fruit flies that inhabit my kitchen in the warm months. One year, a spider built a web beneath the cupboard over the fruit bowl, and lived off the fruit flies; I let her stay. By the start of Autumn, her web was speckled with minute corpses—a graveyard in miniature, with the spider as the ever watchful cathedral. Eventually I moved the spider outside, and hoped she’d drunk enough life to build her nursery. 

This poem—written in the form of and ode—was composed while thinking about that spider’s little graveyard.

Elephants and eyelash mites, streams of life,

Of heritage both mighty and minute,

Existence is milky eyes in cold strife 

Or a song, when in raging sound or mute;

The song, the strife, the milky streams all end

And yet that end is chilling mystery

The wintry absence of breath

You are the dark, against which we defend

Without victory in our blind alchemy;

I’ll rest in the garden you keep, nigh Death. 

.

I’ve practiced the constructs of tradition:

Etched granite stone that lets us remember

And hides the decay of Your condition—

Pyres that lift the soul on pulsing embers,

Sweet platitudes that make our loss seem fair;

The urn, the casket, veil of shoveled earth

There to see but not to look.

Yet for our work, tradition leaves us bare:

Noting more than a blind and fragile mirth—

The hiding of a flower in a book. 

.

Yet it’s the still rocks who feed the lichen—

The old trees, when scorched, who enrich the soil

Which grows the grass of the fields we lie in,

Crafts the loam that lets the fern’s frond uncoil. 

Are our bodies the rocks, the wood aflame?

A nourishment, a balm, a new rhythm? 

Yes, You give us a new name;

From one comes many—light through a prism—

You, Death—the one who will not be sated—

Are the dust from which we are created.

.

My Room (a villanelle)

I remember a time when my world was very small, not physically, but in my own perception. The moment I realized the world (myself included) was something far more magnificent, far more special, than I’d thought is a moment I consider to be one of the greatest treasures of my life.

___

The sun illuminates my new-found pearl,

Freed from inside a cathedral of might;

What joy to see, my room is not the world

In my palm, the oil-slick streams dance and swirl

And strange reflections glitter in my sight;

The sun illuminates my new-found pearl

On the ground the shell rests, wet and unfurled

Left behind—for its corpse the seabirds fight—

What joy to see, my room is not the world

Iridescent skies colored in plural

Carry the bright hour, dawned from muscled night;

The sun illuminates my new-found pearl

Salt around my feet, the boundless waves curl

And push the fretting seabirds into flight;

What joy to see, my room is not the world

Against the cathedral-shell I quarreled

And the prize for striving—a gem of light;

The sun illuminates my new-found pearl

What joy to see, my room is not the world. 

Second Visit to the Tide Pool (a poem)

I wrote this poem as a free write, and while thinking about octopuses. After about a year of letting the poem live quietly in my writing folders, I came back to it, edited it, and decided it was ready to live out in the world. 

___

 

From the spring-night cotillion, where the wine is iced

And girls in white dresses laugh at boys with red faces,

She runs to the tidepool behind sand-nibbled boulders;

Tide pool—strange elixir of life; marbled ecosystem

Where bioluminescence miraged by split starlight

Erodes the earth she once knew by a proper name;

She watches starfish eat, gangly arms colored rust and lilac

That liquefy around mindless mussels blooming on the rocks,

Intensifying the thoughts of his smile—his hunt for bravery

That night she was lantern fuel and he was sheets of netted tulle. 

 

Pool water ripples rip away the quilled ink of octopus

While a cephalopod beak, poking through the silt, smiles

Beneath the salted refraction of the moon—quivering lines—

The octopus lip is messed with a curl of clam’s tongue.

The moon glint on the watchful window of the house

Obscures the hour hand and the metronome of the clock

And for a moment in a night familiar, it is any time at all.

Anachronistic memories that shaped red happenings 

Unseen by the timepiece standing on white carpet—

The kiss he stole while her fingers stroked the water,

The kiss between rifle powder and hyacinth flower.

 

But the dowager claps the closing ballroom tap,

Distracted by her own time in the wetness of ocean’s lick,

And by a boy wishing he could watch the starfish one sigh longer,

And by the octopus carried back into Neptunian antiquity;

For the hour of ubiquity is now one minute passed

The hour of end and beginning, morning and high night,

The eroded hour of close knit footprints in young flight—

Her salt water touches the infinite, saltwater abyss

And with two minutes nearly spent, she simply must return.

To prevent pleats, a mannequin now models the dress she wore,

And she in her pajamas whispers-out the candle light—the us

And dreams of phosphorous sparking white fabric into dust.