Sunday, August 16, 2015

Poetries #1

What's this?  A new series, a new number one?  A re-branding, as it were?  A gritty re-boot?

With twenty posts entitled "Poetry Jam", and beginning to type out the twenty first (that's this one here), I started thinking about the name.  And as anyone who knows me knows, I'm generally terrible at naming things.  Or at least, they know that I think I am.  And truth be told, I've been thinking that "Poetry Jam" is a silly thing to call these posts for a while now.  When I email poems to my friends for comment, however, I usually write "Poetries" in the subject line.  Frankly, I feel like that's a better title, one that is more unique to my sensibilities.  So that's what I'm calling these posts now, though I won't be going back to change the previous twenty.  Hence, the re-numbering of the series.

These poems date from March to May of 2015, apart from the last one, Twice, which is from January.  I held it back from the last post because I felt it was a little too explicitly erotic.  But as I've grown more comfortable in that realm, I found myself less embarrassed by it, so I decided I may as well include it here now.  Be warned though, it's fairly graphic.  The rest are not especially shocking, but they do get intensely personal, and in a couple of cases political.  I was still feeling quite depressed in these months, though there are a few signs of optimism to be found.


Investigation of the Well

There isn't much to tell -
the poor, misguided boys
went swimming in the well.

Their parents thought they fell,
surprised by some sharp noise.
But as far as I can tell,

the boys themselves were yelling
from the simple joys
of swimming in the well.

They missed the warning bells
and never heard their noise
or what they had to tell;

the river drowned the dell
and didn't spare the boys.
There isn't much to tell,
their feet stuck in the well.


Paintings of Saints

That's the man up on the wall,
looking down with eyes of paint
and a genial shadow of a smile;
he's the one they call a saint.

Money has it he'll be hanging
in the family room for years
beyond our living memory -
maybe this is what he fears?

If I were him, I'd like to forget
my indiscretions, slights and stinks
that don't get better in the light
(maybe this is why he drinks?)

But he's the man who paid their mortgage,
helped the family sort their books,
and brought the iron hammer of justice
on the heads of real crooks.

You see, he's earned his portrait here,
he bought that halo in his hair
with kindness, endless charity -
the sort of thing a saint should wear.

But every time I waste my breath
when he lies wasted on a cot,
and when he laughs at my success
without a hint of care or thought,

I long to tear that painting down
and suffocate that impish grin
with charcoal from a fire pit
and several pints of flaming gin.

I'd hate to hurt the real man,
who felt as well as dealt me pain -
but I would do such violence
to the passive image of a saint.


Free Range Vision

She has eyes like animals,
and no one knows what makes them move:
an independent consciousness?
An automatic vital force?
A sudden noise?
A plan,
a choice?

She cannot explain the way
her eyes can move about the room,
for even when she’s sitting still
they never stop their soft patrol.

They pad across the carpet, slowly
picking through the coarsest fibers,
singling out the choicest patterns.

They climb the curtains,
feel the honey comforts of the fabric,
warm in the sun.

She can’t say how, but still her eyes
can open windows and escape
into the whispering forest.

They don’t,
but it doesn’t change the fact that they can.

She can’t explain their loyalty,
but puppies guard their mistress’s bed
and eyes return to heads
at last;
her eyes return like animals
to curl in their dens
at last,
they hibernate until the morning.

She can’t explain what makes them move,
but she can always live with that.


Escape

Half of you go out the door –
help me up and out the window.
Someone’s coming through the back,
because I wasn’t sly enough
to cover my distinguished tracks.
As few of you that stayed behind,
I’ll need you all to keep me going:
one step, two steps, faster than
my never tiring persecution,
closing faster as I run,
repeating every step of mine,
pulsing with this life of mine
that ought to be inside my chest.
Help me down into the streets,
I have to move, to keep escaping,
grasping at the present breath
before my life arrives as death.


Sending to

I carry an artifact here, in my pocket,
a powerful object engraved with your name
and a message: it ticks when I wind it, it breaks
if I drop it, it snaps like a heart in its frame.

If it’s sending to me, I appreciate that,
but I’m losing the message (I guess) and the absence
is digging this hole.  As it empties, it seems
like I'm destined to send in a negative balance.


Baltimore

Why are people so surprised
when history reveals its weights?
Don't they know
we live in the United States?

Can you remember when this land
was free for people who are brown?
I'm not surprised
that cops are gunning women down.

I know you think Jim Crow has died,
could swear you've seen the graven dates,
but don't you know
we live in the United States?

You might have closed your eyes
if you don't happen to be black,
and never seen
a brother take one in the back.

Your government was built to keep
these grieved, unhappy folk at bay;
did you forget
we're living in the USA?


She and She

She and she
were soldiers in the wind-blown fields,
wore blades amongst their foes
that cut like summer grass.

She and she
stood breathless in a glade of life
with flowers on their breasts,
and proudly bore the thorns.

She and she
were hard as heart and smooth as sap,
were fixtures of the land
and permanent as dirt.

She and she
leapt up like painted canvasses,
a potent source of fuel
combusting at their feet.


It's Not About Conscience

The Generalissimo's son
wept bitterly
at his father's trial.
As the charges were cited,
"assault and conspiracy,
murders in first and second degree",
the Generalissimo's son
was stunned
that such manly guidance,
fatherly, wise, benevolent care
could be so badly misrepresented -
hadn't the nation suffered, and
hadn't their leader offered them hope?
The Generalissimo's son
felt proud
on the day his father
had the dissidents strangled -
as proud as the day he wore
his first miniature pair
of epaulettes.


Do You Have Any Floss?

I want to start this interview by noting,
yes, there's something stuck between my teeth:
a poppy seed.  I found it in the mirror,
popping out as I was driving over,
black from what I do insist is white.
I used my tongue, I tried my fingernails
at every stop between my house and here,
and nothing worked, I couldn't knock it loose.
I thought I'd bring it up before you noticed,
wouldn't want to make you think I was
that kind of slob, who wouldn't even notice
when his teeth offended decency.


Spring Fling

Birds of every size
are circling.
High and low, they circle
with the bees.

The hawks beneath the blue,
the hummingbirds
about their nectar vessels
with the bees.

They've somehow stopped their humming,
settled down
on tiny plastic perches
with the bees.


Taste

Swell,
I know this smell
means things are going well,
my fingers can tell.

Blind,
I stumble, wind
the steps below, and find
the bottle in mind.

Tough,
relax enough
to slowly, gently slough
the skin from the rough.

Clasp,
my fingers grasp
the edge, our voices rasp
the bottomless gasp.

Sigh,
the end is nigh,
I never know whose thigh
is dangling high.


You May Not Know Who You Are, But You Know Me

I have to make my peace with this -
I know that I cannot possess you,
yet I look at you with pain.

Every footstep kills:
the way you wear your skirt is
fatal to my brain.

You are like
a billion others -
glimpsed in vain.

And if I cannot meditate
away these feelings any longer,
how could I survive the strain?

I am like
a billion others,
quite insane.


We Are All Of Us Birds

O beautiful creatures,
how are you so despised?
Why aren't you given
praise and eternal love,
in light of the brave and
delicate way you fly?
Who labeled you filthy?
Who could have seen those wings
caressing the air, and
told such a heartless lie?


On the Eve of First Dates

Wish me luck, boys -
she's beautiful,
she's got degrees,
she's giving me the time of day;
I'd even bet
she's got a good heart,
but now's the time to test it out.
I'm sentimental,
won't deny it:
something feels right
about her name.


Twice

Eyes on me, your hands on me, your fingers
tight, your breath, your voice, your words excite;
the wine of music, touch of honey lingers
still, the stillness holds us to your pillow.

Kisses on your neck, and little breezes
puff, but they don’t cool us down enough
to stop.  By pleasure anything you please is
meant: my seed is sown, it isn’t spent.

Without retreating, disengaging, losing
hold, we start again: you feel so bold
to ask, you needn’t ask, if I am choosing
bliss: of course I have no choice in this.

It’s easier, your legs so high, the lantern
lit, a deeper pathway, smoother fit;
in luminescent velvet glow, the caverns
burn, while underneath you grasp and churn.

The morning's hot, and hungry, nothing's missing
yet, and if I have the strength you'll get
your fill of me, you'll shake, you'll steam like hissing
ice, exhausted, pressed together twice.
____________________

I am not a hundred per cent satisfied with how Investigation of the Well turned out.  The basic story I wanted to tell comes through pretty clearly, though I can't really remember why I wanted to tell a story about a group of boys drowning in a goddamn well.  Villanelles are always tricky because they require so many rhymes on the same sounds, and I am sensitive to awkwardness in my writing when it comes to rhymes.  A thought occurs that I did not specify how many boys died in this particular well.  I pictured it as three?

Paintings of Saints, even more than Twice, is the poem I struggled the most with in deciding whether to include here.  I think it's a damn good poem, but it is intensely personal.  In fact, it was written as part of a therapy assignment, and I don't think it takes a lot of analytical skill to tease out the issues I was considering.

Free Range Vision is kind of horrifying.  I can't quite figure out what I was going for in terms of the meter/structure, and honestly that's just as well.  I like when my work is a little mysterious to me, it helps me enjoy it better.  Ever think about what your eyes do when you're asleep?  Hopefully they aren't ambulatory.

Escape is a good poem about my depression, I think.  Or rather, my chronic depressive tendencies, and my irrational belief that I am always being stalked by the end of my life.

Sending to is is about more of my ex-girlfriend feelings.  Three years ago she brought me back a piece of art from her vacation with the words "Sending to" written across the bottom; one our one year anniversary, she bought me a pocket watch with those words engraved on it.  I still wear it in the left breast pocket of my jacket, though I don't always remember to wind it.  The second stanza, I feel, is a little awkward.  But it's an important poem to me.

Baltimore is, appropriately enough, a poem about the Baltimore Uprising of 2015.  It is a poem in opposition to white supremacy and in support of the Black Lives Matter movement, as well as all the other groups of people (such as Native Americans and Latinos) who suffer from police brutality.  Its main idea is that racism is a central feature of American political culture, and pretending that we can ignore that when we live in a country with such a history is foolish.

On that theme, It's Not About Conscience is also about police brutality, though it's expressed less directly to be more about the politics of force and authoritarianism.  In conversations and debate's I've had, it's often struck me how hard it is to impress upon people the problems with police as an institution when they have close relationships with police officers, whether they are friends or family members.  Somehow it made me think of people like Augusto Pinochet; I have no idea if Pinochet had a son, but I know he has die-hard admirers, no matter how many people he murdered.  All dictatorships justify their blood lust with patriarchal crap about strength and discipline, and I saw a parallel with how people justified police brutality.  Think of the "Generalissimo" in the poem as a police chief, and the son as wide eyed fascist in training, raised on apple pie and swaddled in the American flag.

She and She is not nearly so political, no.  It's a poem about nature and female spirits, and I think it came out lovely, with a very mythological quality.  It's one of my favorites in this group, at least one I like to read more than some of the others

I wrote Do you Have Any Floss? while sitting in the waiting room of my therapist's office and it's basically autobiographical.  When I was finished I saw my therapist, and he reminded me that my appointment was not actually for another two hours, I had the time wrong.  So I went home and cleaned my teeth.  As a side note, any time I do blank verse monologue-style poems you can be sure I'm thinking about My Last Duchess by Robert Browning the entire time.  One of those little tics from high school, I guess.  I tried to make Floss relate to the negative thinking that characterizes my depression, but it's also weirdly hilarious to me.

Spring Fling is a dumb title for this particular poem, but whatever, that's just its title and that's just how it's going to be.  The poem itself I like a lot.  It was written in my aunt and uncle's back yard in Escondido, drawn from natural observations all around me.  It's a relaxed, natural kind of thing, very pretty if you ask me.

Taste and You May Not Know Who You Are, But You Know Me are both poems about my continuing sexual frustration.  Sorry, but that's what I'm feeling these days.  The first one has some cute rhyme work, which I like, and is somewhat sensual, tracing the arc of the erotic act in a sort of vague way.  The second poem is more... despairing, I guess?  I honestly don't even remember who I had in mind when I wrote it, but it was definitely someone I won't be getting with in this universe.  How to come to terms with impulsive desire, that's the theme here.

We Are All Of Us Birds is a sentimental little thing about some crows I saw in a parking lot.  I thought about how a lot of people don't like crows, and I've always found that to be upsetting.  I guess I identify with them, for better or for worse.  Crows (and all birds, for that matter) are beautiful creatures and and they have a lot to teach us, especially those of us with depression.

I had a date with a real live human woman back in June, just after I returned to Eugene.  I'd met her online, just like I'd met my ex, and although things ultimately did not work out, I had pretty high hopes going in.  Thus the optimistic spirit of On the Eve of First Dates, which I wrote just before I drove back to Oregon.  I will try to bring that spirit to future romances.

Lastly, there's TwiceTwice is a sex poem, pure and simple, and while I don't think it's "crude" it is definitely explicit.  Writing about sex in a totally graceful way is basically impossible, and anyone who writes "caverns" when he clearly means "vagina" has clearly not managed to square that circle.  But personally, I see tenderness in this poem, and I like the rhyme scheme quite a bit.  Maybe I'm just too shy to ever be fully comfortable sharing this kind of thing, but I'm sure there are people who would agree this one has merit.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Adventures in No Internet

Actually, it would be a little difficult to make this blog post if I had absolutely "no internet".  In fact, the more I think about it, it would be quite difficult in this modern age to be without any kind of internet access to the web, at least for a person of my socio-economic class.

I am of course not considering the potential impact of a catastrophic natural disaster or nuclear attack devastating our digital infrastructure.  Who has time to think about things like that?

But given all the other facts of my life, I am as without internet as I can be.  About a week ago, the connection in our apartment suddenly failed.  Though I struggled mightily with customer service and technical support to restore the connection, it appeared that nothing could be done in the time being.  It probably won't be fixed until sometime this weekend.

What does this mean for me?  Well, in the short run, it meant I could not complete a project for an online class that was due that afternoon.  In a desperate lunge, I managed to finish the assignment at the local library, and participate in the final class session via phone connection.  But given all the time I wasted trying to solve an insoluble problem, it was still a stressful and harrowing experience.

In the medium run?  Well, I spend a hell of a lot less time on Tumblr.  My epic streak on Duolingo has been interrupted, and I can already feel the Irish slipping away from me.  I have more time to dedicate to reading books, which is good because I have to read one for my last online course (an independent study, not something I need an active connection for presently).  On top of all my other daily routines, I now take a little walk to Starbucks every day, and spend a half hour or so enjoying tea and donuts.  I use my Galaxy tablet tap into their wifi and update Goodreads (with all these books I'm reading), talk to my cousin on Facebook, check my email, and briefly make sure the world hasn't ended.  Then I go home and waste my life on video games.  But that's all very normal.

In the long run, there's no effect.  None.  In a week, the connection will be restored and I will be back to my old tricks.  Unless it isn't, in which case, I don't know?  Maybe I'll just move into the Starbucks.  I see a comfortable nook over by the counter.

Anyway, it's been much less unpleasant to be cut off from modern civilization than I expected.  I'm not in an enormous rush to get it turned back on.  There are worse things to be without, as we all know. 

Monday, July 13, 2015

Very Old Video Game Review: Earthbound

I think that Super Smash Bros., the classic Nintendo 64 fighter from 1999, was one of the most brilliant releases that Nintendo ever made.  Not because of its own merits (which are many), but for the way it effectively transformed Nintendo's relationship with its fan base.  For me personally, it marked an awareness that there was more to the company's catalog than my own experience had revealed, and sparked an intense interest in lost classics and future developments in the company's franchises.

When I first played Smash Bros., it was full of surprises.  Most observers would have been familiar with the likes of Mario and Donkey Kong, and the rest of the cast was hardly obscure to many gamers.  But this game was my first introduction to the characters of Samus Aran and Captain Falcon, the stars of the Metroid and F-Zero franchises, respectively.  Perhaps the deepest cut of all was a weird-looking kid named Ness, who packed his own baseball bat and had a "third jump" move that was frankly baffling.  I don't think he was ever the favorite character for any of my friends, but he did prompt a lot of curious questions about just what sort of game this little goofball with the psycho-kinetic powers came from.

Sixteen years later, I've finally finished my first play-through of Earthbound, a 1994 role-playing game for the Super Nintendo.  And what sort of game is Earthbound after all?  Perhaps the platonic ideal of the "cult classic" in video games, it defies conventions of genre at every turn, putting its faith in weirdness and good humor to bring to life an odd little tale about four kids and an alien invasion.  It's a JRPG with a decidedly Nintendo bent, emphasizing fun over conventionality.

Chosen hero Ness and his three companions travel from town to town to visit mystical landmarks and gain the power to stop an invader known as Giygas, whose malevolent psychic influence has turned the relatively peaceful country of Eagleland into a very dangerous place.  Ramblin' Evil Mushrooms roam the fields, brainwashed cultists are painting the world blue, and a runaway capitalist squeezes the metropolis of Fourside.  Some kid named Pokey is giving pretty much everybody a headache.  A gloomy little town is besieged by zombies, and malicious works of modern art terrorizes a city's nightmares.  But despite these troubles, Eagleland is vibrant and (mostly) cheerful.  There's good food to eat, a happening music scene, and at least some of the aliens you meet (like the bizarre creatures collectively known as Mr. Saturn) aren't bent on the world's destruction.

In the realm of gameplay, Earthbound makes some significant departures from the norm for RPGs of its era.  Battles are turn-based, but damage from attacks proceeds at a steady rate while the action continues: this allows quick fingered players to heal a character who has received a mortal blow before they are knocked out of action.  This makes battles more interesting and dynamic, though not less difficult (there are plenty of frustrating sequences).  Players are not forced to grind enemies for currency, as Ness can use his ATM card to make withdrawals from a generous fund continually resupplied by his father.  While other classic RPGs often treat towns and villages like way stations on the way to the more interesting dungeons and temples, in Earthbound the exploration of towns is paramount and the vast majority of the action takes place in urban and suburban areas.

This shift in settings makes Earthbound much more people-oriented than traditional, high-fantasy role playing games, and the people of Eagleland are a delightful bunch.  They are at turns silly, serious, and often a little more self-aware than you might expect, and it's well worth talking to everyone you meet for more than just plot-advancing information.  One of the most endearing aspects of Earthbound is how consistently funny it is, and not in the accidental, bad translation "Engrish" sort of way that characterizes the glorious messiness of other games of that era.  Earthbound's English script is actually quite fluent and natural: the humor comes from its satirical perspective on RPG tropes and its recognition of its own silliness.  There is something very refreshing about a game that tries to be funny, and actually succeeds.  Call it a Nintendo specialty. 

Noted for its simple, colorful, and childlike graphical style, Earthbound actually has a fairly complex visual approach.  A psychedelic undercurrent runs through everything, most obviously in the undulating backgrounds of every battle screen, and in the party's not-infrequent sojourns to alternate dimensions and realms of the mind.  Nothing is quite what it looks like on the surface, and there is real depth in this two-dimensional world that can't be accounted for by its deliberately flat appearance.

The soundtrack is also a treasure, noted for its frequent allusions to classic rock and jazz pieces as well as its own startling originality.  Nothing else in the Nintendo canon really sounds like it - composers Keiichi Suzuki and Hirokazu Tanaka take the ear to some very strange places.  The creative concord between music, graphics, and story is a big reason for Earthbound's timeless appeal: the whole is more than the sum of even its most exceptional parts.


Earthbound bears obvious similarities in tone and setting to Pokemon, another Nintendo-developed RPG that achieved unprecedented and phenomenal success while Earthbound lingered long in obscurity.  Why is this so?  Pokemon's obsessive collection element is a big part of its success, obviously.  It's also less aggressively weird, focusing more on its gotta-catch-'em-all ethos than on the odd details of its world.  There's certainly nothing in Earthbound with the sheer marketing potential of Pikachu and the scores of other pocket monsters in that game.  But anyone who's logged the hours training in the Pokemon gyms of Kanto will recognize a familiar spirit in Earthbound.  It might never have been a mega-hit, but under better circumstances it might have gotten more of the recognition it deserves.

Two decades after its original release, Earthbound is as much a delightful throwback as it is progressive and experimental.  Even those of us who missed it the first time around can't help but be caught up in the whimsy and nostalgia, and Earthbound actively cultivates those feelings.  It's not easy to look forward and backward at the same time: that's what makes this a classic.

One last note: in a saddening coincidence, Nintendo President Satoru Iwata died of cancer this weekend, a fact which I learned shortly after putting down my controller from this adventure.  Mr. Iwata was a producer and programmer for Earthbound, to say nothing of his numerous other contributions to Nintendo's art and legacy.  People like him made Nintendo the beloved institution it is today, and he will be missed. 

Friday, July 10, 2015

Poetry Jam #20

Good Lord, there's twenty of them now.  And what do I have to show for it?

Well, I have a body of poems, some of which I can be really proud of on a technical level, and all of which form a sort of emotional autobiography for me.  The story of my adult life is in my poems, and if they're not quite good enough to light the world on fire (or if I'm just too timid to promote them), then at least they'll always be mine.

This entry contains some of my most brazenly erotic poems, which were written while I tried to come to terms with the end of my relationship.   I've exercised some editorial discretion in including which of the many heart-sick yearnings I've included here, as not everything I scribbled down when I was feeling desperately lonely was either aesthetically sound or in good taste.  But there is definitely lust, double entendre, and other erotic trappings aplenty. 

The poems in this post all date from January to March of 2015.  I'm rather fond of them, even though the subject matter tends to make my heart hurt.  But that's just how it goes.  As usual, I will comment them to death at the end.


False Choice

Will you be my Cinderella,
wear these shoes I’ve made for her?
Crystal glass, so I can see you
head to toe as I prefer,
stunning heels to keep you standing
in the spot I'd have you stay –
sparkling shards to slice your toes off
should you try to slip away.

No more sitting in a pumpkin
coach in hiding from your peers,
and certainly no midnight rushing
out, to waste advancing years
serving thankless relatives with
feet in filthy rags and thongs.
Try the slipper, Cinderella,
see if I have pegged you wrong.


Dorothy's Text

A telegraph, they used to call this page;
why use a single syllable when three
evoke the present era's empty rage?
An instant text by Western Union, free
of inconvenient waiting, less of pain -
a last resort, perhaps a feeble choice
to make, a refuge from this awful strain
when I can't bear to look you in the voice.
But how to tell you anything of worth,
when seeing you across the telephone
would strike me dead and stick me in the Earth,
where I would bear this open wound alone?
I owe this much, to you I give my vow:
I cannot speak, but you must hear me now.


Memories of Touch

Now my heart is beating on your breasts,
and I can feel it shaking them, the way
they shudder softly, and my heart requests
another vision of your lingerie
(the skin it shows and what it can’t conceal),
another taste of spirits on my tongue
(with all the trouble spirits may reveal).
There is no secret whence my joy is sprung:
we came together, and I’ll never leave
to chase another, never leave your bed
if you would give me such a sweet reprieve
from life, from quiet death, from lonely dread.
The touch of you rejuvenates my heart
with loyal beats, so steady from the start.


one two three four

One is getting started right,
beginning with a gentle glow
that spreads like warm desire through
the vessels of a sacred bough.

Two is how I missed you so:
at stunning speeds we flew
together, as we were endowed
with passions fierce and light.

Three is a surprise for you,
a marathon for me: allow
your breath to catch, I think we might
have unexpected miles to go.

Four is setting records now,
and I cannot explain tonight’s
explosive love, but it may flow
like holy water, blessed dew.


Wedding Guests

If you'd wear green again,
I know I'd smile.
Green on you is like a furnace,
inexhaustible:
nothing could resist your sex appeal
when you are wearing green,
and nothing green could burn
like I could burn
when you are wearing green.

Even naked
and locked together in the water,
kicking;
my shoulders sting in the summer sun,
and the sky is blue, the sun is white
and you'll be wearing green tomorrow,
I can see it.
I have seen it,
I can see you, inches
from my face, against the wall
and weightless,
graceful.

I can see you wearing green
without an effort,
an enveloping light.
I can see you wear it
like it's nothing,
feel the water boil with the fire
when you're wearing green again,
feel the warmth
inside you, in the swimming pool:
I swim in this embrace.


A Chronicle of the Origins of the Great Quake

With a decade,
I could chronicle an hour
of this joy,
the sweet association
of our bodies
and our quaking hearts.

Would anybody read this book?
And could it shake them from their seats
with every wave
that rippled through the city?

Just a page,
a fraction of a second -
I swear if I have done my job,
the shock will move them all to tears.

I swear to you,
I swear I'll make them weep
like I have wept,
in memory of what
had stood before the fault line slipped,
a love that sank beneath the sand dunes.


You Were So Good to Me

It glowed like an aurora,
and you wore it well.
You walked, and you would shimmer:
every footstep fell
so slyly, like a secret
you would burst to tell.

And when you told!  I tumbled
off the balcony,
I flailed, but you wouldn't
let me fall.  To be
so blessed is like an endless
kiss of agony.


My Star, My Sky

Perhaps it's just the sky -
I got too used to seeing it in black,
and black became a comfort to me.
Even with the stars
to dress the night in ancient dignity,
the night would overpower all
displays of glinting beauty.
It came to me when I was out today:
how could I forget the sky
was such a vital blue?
It almost stings, the way this daylight rain
is sprinkled dryly in my eyes.
The sun may burn my face
the way the stars may heat their distant worlds -
my hair could simply burst in flames
beneath the parting clouds,
and I will always love the constellations,
but I remember life again.
Perhaps it's just the sky,
but I remember pain and joy together
paint the colors of the dawn.


I Know It When I See It

If every time were like tonight,
the two of us so damned attracted
we'd be crashing through the dark,
[the present line has been redacted].

Breathing in your scented hair,
the gliding motion reenacted
with the rhythm in our hips
[the present line has been redacted].

We'd need to get the details right,
so careful not to be distracted
by the way my fingers tease
[the present line has been redacted].

When you're purring, so content
your vicious claws have been retracted,
I will put you on your toes
with sweet surprises in [redacted].


Panic at the Grocery Store

I would know those shoulders anywhere,
they have a certain shape and color;
but maybe this is better,
if you never turn your head around.

You go about your shopping, casual,
and glance to check your list for purchase,
while I make the decision
not to call attention to my face.

Maybe, in a better circumstance,
I might have raised my voice to call you,
to capture your attention
for three minutes of awkward catching up.

Another wasted opportunity
I reckon, either way it goes:
if I come across too friendly,
or miss any chance to make my point.

Anyway, I had to chicken out,
for you were coming, I was going;
but maybe, if I'd turned
a second sooner, I wouldn't have regrets.


Tea Fancy

I will not assume a smile means
you want my number, or you long to feel
my hands around your waist, or that your jeans
were picked with me in mind, my heart to steal -
I know you're on the clock, you'd like to go,
and in the end I'm only passing through
your tea shop for a moment.  If I may throw
this out, I'm glad to share this smile with you:
it isn't every day you'll find such pleasure
from a glow across a radiant face
at perfect points, and I like the way you measure
tea with such affection, natural grace.
On days like these it isn't hard to slip,
so I believe you've earned an extra tip.


Pâtissier

We’ve wasted all this wheat,
                and now one of us is burdened
with a sterile list of stanzas
                as stiff as an old loaf.
And right now, I would rather
                be writing fresh croissants,
or perhaps another helping
                of high-end cakes,
than try so hard to turn
                this tasteless mound of dough
into something more savory,
                soft enough for reading.
You’ve left me here with less
                to lead with than before,
barely enough to bring
                a baker to his feet,
and melancholy should make
                 for more than a broken
cradle of crumbs
                across the oven.
But sweets are for the satisfied,
                and sweethearts keep them:
frankly, if I had found
                a favored recipe
I think I would have thrown it out,
                thankless and unpublished.


Shark Eyes

"Shark Eyes,"
you used to call me that
when I was hungry,
and yes, I took it well.

Brown eyes
rimmed around the black:
I never noticed,
I was too distracted by

your eyes
(and all the rest of you),
warm and wet
like the world ocean's curve.

"Shark Eyes"
sounded predatory -
but depredation
wasn't my intention.

Brown eyes
reflected in my own
arouse a sweet,
primeval appetite, my

"Shark Eyes"
slicing through the water,
always circling,
desperate not to drown.


Eidolon

She was Goddess,
and no one could agree
how big around her thighs were,
how wide apart her teeth
or visible her stretch marks,
whether she'd had work done
or whether she could shave her upper lip
if she wanted,
or even if in all
the generations
anyone had ever
even seen her
with their waking eyes -
but everyone agreed
that she was perfect.


Gasp

If I could sing, I wouldn't stop
for anybody -

at least as long as I was singing,
I could breathe.

To hit the notes I need, I wouldn't
have a choice -

my chest would have to open wide
enough to hold

that precious air between my lungs,
enrich my blood.

I wouldn't mind the burning throat
or sleepless nights,

if I were sure I wouldn't choke
from lack of effort,

staring at the ceiling, counting
silent steps.
____________________

All that drama about my loneliness aside, False Choice actually has nothing to do with my situation.  It came about from a feminist article I was reading on Tumblr, though I can't say I remember exactly what it was about.  It's very much about the patriarchy, and the twisted deal it offers women for a place in society.  The "prince" of the poem is, naturally, an enormous creep.

Dorothy's Text is more about my feelings, but it was also inspired heavily by something I saw on Tumblr: an old telegram from the forties.  The language in that telegram was very affecting to me.  It's a sonnet, a form I went to surprisingly often at this time.

Memories of Touch, one two three four, and Wedding Guests are all sexual poems, and these ones specifically commemorate specific erotic memories from my relationship.  At the time I felt it was important to hold onto those moments by writing them down.  Memories is another sonnet, and perhaps they all should have been, given their nature.  But on the other hand, I think their actual forms are suitable, Wedding Guests being one of my favorite free-verse attempts.  There's no need to describe the memories they stand for in full, I think they speak for themselves.

A Chronicle of the Origins of the Great Quake is about loss and defiance in the face of despair.  It was originally a "catalog" instead, but "chronicle" is a much better sounding word for this sort of thing.

You Were So Good to Me is another favorite, with some kind of weird rhyme thing going on.  I suppose it's also erotic, in its way, though it's not about sex but rather beauty.  I really like the visual element of this one.

I wrote My Star, My Sky in a moment of clarity, sort of.  I was trying to deal with my burgeoning depression in my own way, put an optimistic spin on things.  Believe me, "putting an optimistic spin on things" is not a cure for depression.  But in its own way, it helps.

Working in a law office, I saw a lot of redaction.  And since I was still preoccupied with sex, it was probably inevitable that I'd write something as silly as I Know It When I See It.  This one is not based on any particular memory of mine, just generic sexy actions with an implied naughty part concealed by obnoxious censorship.  I don't know why, but I get a kick out of the fact that the stanzas only rhyme because of the "censorship".  I am easily amused.

I visited Eugene at the end of February, mainly to see my friends and celebrate my birthday.  The next two poems came out of that trip.  Panic at the Grocery Store was written in response to a sighting of one of my ex's friends.  Going up to her and saying hello seemed like a bad idea, so I decided to leave instead.  Tea Fancy was written sort of as a response to a friend of mine, who was teasing me after I happened to mention seeing a cute girl behind the counter at a tea shop.  It's another sonnet in a kind of conversational tone, and it turned out cuter than I expected.

A Pâtissier makes pastries, you see.  And pastries, they are a metaphor for...love?  This poem is in alliterative meter, as I am occasionally tempted to try, and I think this one works out well.  Maybe the whole thing is a little misbegotten, though.

My ex used to call me Shark Eyes when I used to look at her in that certain way.  I always got a thrill out of that, and I wanted to write something pretty about the phrase.  I think this is kind of pretty.

Eidolon is a body-positivity poem, basically.  Not really related to my situation: I think I just read something about the shaming women go through regarding their bodies, and I wanted to write something nice for them.  Apparently, I wrote this one and Shark Eyes on the same day.

Lastly, Gasp is related to an idea from a poem in my last poetry post, Iron.  In form it's a little interesting, but not particularly so.  Still, I find this to be among the most heartbreaking in this whole set.  There were times when I really had to force myself to breathe.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Fictions!?

Now it's starting to look like the WFJ of old!  You know, the one that produced literary content sometimes.  Not only that, but I even managed to update all the inventory pages.  Not that it was hard, but you know...so lazy.  I'll do my level best to keep them updated as new content appears.

A word now on The Secret Egg, yesterday's first new short story post in like...eighty years?  Seems that long.  It's also the first one that I've broken into parts for a long time, I think since I did The Wolf of Albright.  I could check, obviously.  But I won't.

I got the idea and started working on The Secret Egg in early 2014, while I was living in South Korea.  Not having my own computer during that time, and being otherwise busy wrangling children and dealing with grown-ups, I did not work on it very much.  Up to the other day I had only written about two thirds of what exists of the story as of now.  Life got in the way, including the mighty depressive spell I entered into.  But when I started blogging on here again last month, getting to work on The Secret Egg was a high priority.  This story is very meaningful to me, even as it is still undergoing evolution.

I am not sure how many parts the story will consist of, but right now I anticipate four, with the option of going to five.  In an attempt to be realistic, I will try to release a new installment once a month, and thereby be done with the project in relatively short order, without burning myself out or neglecting my other responsibilities.

Now, some notes on myself.  I remain depressed, no need to go over all the reasons why.  But today I feel good, and I'll tell you why.  I am starting to feel some of the effects of exercize, as my daily running has yielded new insights about the capabilities of my body.  I feel stronger and fitter than I did a few weeks ago.  Most importantly, running around the trail has offered me a few moments of peace that I found difficult to create through seated meditation.  Focusing on the state of my body, analyzing and controlling my breath, and being entirely in the present moment, are so much easier when the body is in motion over a long distance and the lungs have to work hard. 

There are other promising developments in my life.  For example, I have begun taking an anti-depressant: Sertraline, a generic Zoloft.  The little blue pills scared the crap out of me when I first brought them home a week ago, but I've been taking them for a week now and have not experienced any major side effects.  I understand it will take a few more weeks before I begin to feel any significant mood improvement.  Right now, the fact that they haven't robbed me of my sex drive or sent my other bodily functions haywire has made me warm up to the pills quite a bit.

But as I said, I am still depressed.  I still have problems with motivation, and I am often troubled by invasive thoughts that make me sad, and some that make me very frightened and distressed.  But today is a good day.  I'm working on it. 

Part of coming to terms with all that is making peace with the idea that nobody cares about my blogging activities but me.  Nobody!  On a bad day, that seems like a dreadful loneliness, that not one word I've written has moved anyone one way or another.  Even on Tumblr, I hardly get any kind of reader response for my poetry or other original posts.  But right now, it feels liberating.  I can say whatever I want, write what pleases me, and be entirely for myself.  This blog is my space, and anyone can come and look at it if they like, but it's not for them.  I don't even have to be any good!  I'd like to be good, but I don't have to be.

Some of you may object "David, I totally read you blog.  I even like what you do sometimes".  And that's really sweet of you.  But for the sake of my sanity, it's easier to think of your numbers as 0, even as I acknowledge what support I do get.  

So that's the state of myself these days.  Doing OK.  Hopefully, doing better later.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

The Secret Egg - Part One

When Jenna asked Trey to help sort through her grandfather's belongings, he had not complained.  His usual affectation of chivalry, coupled with a professed enthusiasm at the prospect of exploring a basement of private antiques, made the idea seem positively romantic.  Jenna appreciated his efforts to spice the mundane with flavor.  On a really good day, she could even call them endearing.  But more than anything, she appreciated when he wasn't complaining.

And it did not last.  There had been a few treasures at first glance: a wax-sealed scroll of real parchment, a tall vase of delicate crystal, even a brass-handled cavalry sword from the Civil War.  But Jenna's grandfather had not been old enough to fight in the Civil War, of course; all the evidence at hand suggested he'd spent his seventy years on Earth in the accumulation of paper.  Before Trey could finish checking the contents of a single filing drawer, he was hopelessly bored, and taking it out on Jenna.

"We could be literally anywhere else than this old basement."

"I'm sorry, I just need to find a few documents."

He sniffed in the musty air.  "Don't we do enough of that in school?"

Maybe we do, she thought.  Maybe you do.  She did not balk at her mother's suggestion to dig for anything worth keeping for the family, before the county came to dispose of it.  Searching for things of significance was just the sort of thing a historian did, a kind of short-range, personalized archaeology.  It seemed glamorous; or maybe it was just that sort of thinking that got her into boring all-night situations at the library.  She still sort of enjoyed them.

"I just think it would be good to find some vital records," she said, flipping softly through what appeared to be bank statements.  They were more than forty years old, with a name she didn't recognize.  It wouldn't surprise her to learn the bank had been closed since before she was born.  "Maybe some genealogies, a little family history.  Old family lore, something like that."

"What makes you think he's got any lore tucked in here?"  Trey was running his fingers along the planks of a dusty old bookshelf, perhaps the only interesting thing left unexplored.  But the books were all of the old type, nondescript covers with rough textures and nothing to catch the eye by way of intriguing fonts or pictures.  Nothing to interest a guy like Trey.

"Well, nothing I guess."  She would have sulked, if she thought he'd notice.  "But old things can be surprising.  Is there anything interesting on that bookshelf?"

Trey pulled a slim volume from the center of a shelf and read the cover.  "How to Win Friends and Influence People," he groaned pathetically, "a real old man's classic.  My great uncle had this on his shelf when I visited him, years ago.  I always thought the idea behind the title was a little creepy."  He opened the book and scanned a few pages.  "Looks like your grandpa wrote a bunch of notes in the margins."  He squinted.  "I think he wrote them in Latin."  He pronounced that last word as if it were the most mystifying thing he could possibly imagine, and handed the book to Jenna.

"Well you see?  There's something interesting.  I never knew my grandfather spoke Latin."  She did her best to sound fascinated.  It really was interesting, but she knew Trey wouldn't think so without some encouragement.  Peering at the scribbles, though, she had doubts.  The words did resemble Latin words she knew, but she found that, try as she might, she couldn't read any of them.  "Maybe it's some kind of code?  I can't really make out what any of it says."

"I think the old man just has really bad handwriting," he sighed, bored with the mystery already.  "Where do you think he got that sword, anyway?"

"I don't know," she murmured, half-studying her grandfather's peculiar annotations before placing the book in the putative "save" pile.  "Maybe it's an heirloom.  Somebody in his family might have fought in the war."

"Don't you know?  It seems like the sort of thing that would get mentioned, at Christmas or whenever."

"My grandpa never really talked about those kinds of things," she said.  "Not to me, anyway.  I don't think he talked to my mom much, either.  Or like, at all."  Jenna looked down at the sword resting on the old desk, and wondered why she'd never seen it before.  There was nothing special about it, at least not the sort of cliches one expects from famous swords: no gems on the hilt, no family mottos etched skillfully in the steel.  Just brass and blade, but still she found it beautiful.  "Maybe one of my ancestors was a cavalry officer."

Trey looked at the sword as well, his face more passive.  "Do you think they even let black people fight in the Civil War?"

She bristled, not wanting to fight about this, but not wanting to let it go.  "About two hundred thousand of them," she replied, tersely.  "They fought in segregated units.  White people don't like to admit we had a hand in freeing ourselves, but we did."

Trey stepped back, and for all his blushing he never looked more pale.  "Sorry, Jenna.  That's your field, remember?  I'm just a medievalist, I'm no war buff.  The nineteenth century's all yours."

She let it go, but she still didn't want to.  "I just wish I had more time to look through all of these papers.  There's just so much I don't know about him.  I can't really believe I got this far in life without knowing any basic family history"

"Maybe there's something in this?"  He handed her the scroll, as if to say he really was sorry, not just trying to get out of an uncomfortable situation.  "It might be a statement of ownership or something.  Or maybe a family tree."

She considered the parchment for a moment.  He could be right, she thought; but she also felt uncomfortable breaking the seal.  An odd glyph was pressed into the green wax, an eye-like shape within a six-pointed star.  Something about the symbol seemed to speak out loud, even though she could not recognize it.  Opening it felt like a transgression, trespassing on a memory.  "I was thinking I'd show it to my mother first.  It seems like something we should see together."

Trey laughed.  "You know what they say about curiosity: you can't expect a cat to defy its nature."  Nobody ever said that; Trey was absolutely the worst at these sorts of arguments.  But he wanted to see what was on the parchment, and she didn't want to fight about it.  Gingerly, she pealed the wax off, trying not to deface the glyph.

The scroll unfurled, and they were both surprised to find that it was mostly blank space, but for a few lines, written in thick, grainy ink letters with a determined legibility:

Congratulations, you found the secret egg!
Your destiny awaits.
It is round and beautiful and it is alive. It will not hatch unless you love it.
Please take the secret egg and deposit it in the nearest furnace. What lives within is not of this Earth. 
It can only perish in flames.
Do not attempt to smash the secret egg. It will not work.
Do not attempt to hide the secret egg. In time, you will grow to love it.
Do not forget about the secret egg.
For a minute, she said nothing.  Neither did Trey, who badly looked like he wanted to.  He'd learned enough in the past few minutes to let her have a say first.

"A poem?  I never knew my grandfather wrote poetry."

Trey smiled, awkward and eager to move on.  "I guess there is something to learn in a place like this."

"Yeah, but I didn't find any other poetry in the rest of these papers."  Carefully, she placed the scroll and seal in the crystal vase.  "No other scrolls like this.  I think I'll hold onto it."

_______________

Two weeks later, Jenna's apartment had assumed the role of storage space for a fair collection of her grandfather's antiquities, as well as a dozen boxes of documents she judged to be relevant to his estate. Efficiently organized and marked off from her own possessions, it still managed to interfere with her studies.  Cataloging her finds was becoming a full-time job, one she hadn't expected or wanted, yet one she could not comfortably abandon.  She lost sleep over his enigmatic filing system, to say nothing of his bizarre handwriting, but the more she saw of it, the more it dominated her thoughts.

Many things were changing in her life.  She didn't really know it yet, but her relationship with Trey would be over in less than a month.  Her survey of census records in post-war South Carolina was leading her in a different direction than her initial research had suggested.  Intellectually, she acknowledged the work she'd have to put into modifying her thesis.  But in her heart, it barely seemed to matter.

It worried her that she found these old documents so interesting.  Most were forms and statements: useful for tracking an old man's finances, perhaps, but hardly illuminating as to his character.  It had never been a special interest for her, but she found herself restless without her grandfather's papers on her desk.  When she came across any writing in his own inscrutable hand, her heart would pound with excitement, even as she failed to derive any meaning from it.  Messages or doodles, she delighted at the sight of them, as though she were touched by the presence of his mind.  And one evening, while hunting through the papers for spots of spilled ink, she thought again about the Secret Egg.

That, she presumed, was the name of the cryptic writing she'd discovered in the basement.  Poetry was all she could make of it, but she never had an ear for anything that didn't rhyme.  Resting in the vase on her kitchen table, the parchment scroll hadn't been opened since the night Jenna discovered it.  When she thought of its contents, she yearned suddenly to read them again, thinking lightly that they might serve as a Rosetta stone for the rest of the notes the old man had left behind.  That, at least, was one good reason to reach into the vase once more.

Jenna found it difficult to explain why, upon touching the vase's bottom, she had not noticed the egg before. She pulled it out, along with the mysterious poem, and stood bemused by its presence.  It was beautiful and smooth, carved from pale wood - not the sort of thing that hatches, no matter how you feel about it, she might have said.  But she did admire it, as much for its mystery as for the spidery black lines that painted strange symbols all around its surface.  The same glyph that appeared on the wax seal of the parchment appeared on the surface of the egg, noticeable yet not prominent among the other unknown signs.

For a time, the parchment was forgotten; she carried the egg back to her room, lost in wonder as it passed through varying levels of light.  It was large, maybe twice the size of a chicken's egg, but remarkably light.  She found that especially compelling, as it did not

Could she love such a thing?  Did she?  What was the connection between the egg, and the enigmatic lines of the poem?  In point of fact, Jenna had begun to doubt that the words on the parchment were a poem, though she still could not account for their meaning.  The presence of the egg cast everything into doubt, and dominated her consideration of every aspect of her grandfather: his life, his effects, his entire history, and it was not until she heard the phone ringing that it struck her how very, very bizarre that was.

As the call echoed through the hall, Jenna clutched the egg to her chest, as though someone might try to take it from her.  She did not know why, but she had a sudden impulse to hide the egg, and placed it in a drawer with her seldom-worn winter clothes.  She hurried down the hall to answer her cell phone.  It was her mother on the line.
_______________

"I hope I'm not disturbing you and your schoolwork", said Maya to her daughter, "but we haven't talked in so long, I just wanted to make sure you were alright".

"Oh yeah, I'm fine", Jenna replied, glancing down the hall again to catch a glimpse of her dresser drawer.  "I've just been busy, I haven't really thought to call anyone for a couple weeks now".

"Are you eating OK?"

"I'm fine, mama", Jenna sighed.  "I'm sorry I haven't called.  I've been so, so busy, with my paper, and with all of grandpa's things..."

A silence buzzed over the line for a few seconds, before Maya took up the conversation again.  "I probably shouldn't have asked you to go through his things.  Not now, anyway, with your thesis deadline coming up".

"No, it's alright, really..." she started, and felt the wildest impulse to hang up the phone and remove the battery.  But she didn't, because why would she ever do such a thing to her own mother?  "I'm glad you did.  I think I wanted to do this all along, even before you asked me.  I feel like I'm learning so much about him that I never knew before".

Jenna regretted saying it in those terms.  It was not a secret in the family that her grandfather had been estranged from his only daughter: it could never have been, because it was obvious without any words.  Though he dutifully made appearances at Christmas and Thanksgiving (rarely both in the same year) to deliver quaint presents to his grandchild, his visits were defined by quiet and pointed reserve.  Jenna's chief memories of those times were of a small-ish, dire looking man, with greying hair and dark brown skin that over the years seemed to be greying to match.  Yet he had a pair of stunning blue eyes, which never did seem to fade from the bright hue that Jenna saw as a little girl.

Maya did not react poorly, as far as her daughter could tell.  She was too concerned as a mother.  "You know, your father and I will be down in a few weeks to help you out.  I wouldn't want you to get too distracted from something as important as your thesis."

Jenna looked mournfully at the boxes piled by her desk, wondering if she could ever get through them all to her satisfaction in two months, much less two weeks.  "Thanks, mama.  I'm sure I'll have everything finished by then.  But, it will be great to see you guys again!  I can't... I can't wait to show you everything I've found!"

Maya laughed, and sighed.  "I guess there was a reason I asked you to do this after all, dear.  You've got this sort of thing in your blood.  You're a detective!"

Jenna smiled.  "I'm not as cool as all that.  Just some kind of nerd."

"Well, I can't think of anyone more suited to figuring out what was going on in your grandpa's head all those years.  You're a miracle, child".

"I'll do my best.  Hey, mama", Jenna said, glancing back to her room once more, feeling tempted to let her mother in on her strange, secret discovery, "listen, did you ever know that grandpa wrote poetry?"

The reply did not come right away.  When it did, there was a strange quality to it: a cold pain.  Jenna might have failed to understand it, but it came in loud and clear, because it was more or less what she expected: "honey, there is so much I never knew about your grandfather.  So very, very much".

For a moment Jenna's courage failed, but her instincts were strong, and she rallied.  "Would you like me to read you some of it?  It's a little abstract".

"I think that can wait for another time, Jenna".

So it waited.  Jenna went to sleep that night, exhausted from hours of unproductive work, and the last thing she saw before she closed her eyes was the dresser across the room, holding the drawer of winter clothes where the secret egg was hidden.  She was not yet satisfied that it was safe.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Poetry Jam #19

I wasn't lying before when I said I was near the end of my backlog of poetry.  But then I kept writing poetry for months, without keeping up the pace on this blog.  So, there's a backlog again.  But that's not really so bad, right?

The first poem is something I recently found buried on my phone, back from the Sangnok days of early 2014.  But the other fourteen date from October to December of that year.  Needless to say, it was a very emotional time for me.  Putting this post together, I found myself quite proud of many of these new poems despite their bittersweet associations, so I hope you enjoy them.

A Blaze of Something

Window shopping
for a way to go,
the most expedient,
least expensive,
bang-for-buckiest
path to immortality
(in the strictly
metaphorical sense)
that won't burn down
the talent show.


The Last Human Beings

The month was June, and he was breathing
easy in the field of grass
as she was dancing through the flowers,
sunlight falling on her knees;
an orange glow of sun surrounded
them, a gentle hum of bees.

The blue above his eyes was swirling
like a painted sheet of glass;
his slender limbs could be mistaken
for the bodies of the trees,
their freckled branches growing slowly
from a central freckled mass.

The dappled green across her sundress
fluttered in the seasoned breeze,
the way the pollen of the poppies
turns to honey, the finest class
of sweets; and each revealing candy
scent was perfume to the lass.

 And she was laughing like a spirit,
dazzling the peonies
while he was captive to the moment,
threading roots beneath the grass
and thinking less about tomorrow
than the business of the bees.

Their never-ending summer morning
drifted from the alpine pass
as rivers flow from skies to oceans;
she as fluid as the seas
and he a slumbering willow trunk,
enchanted by her naked knees.


It Takes a Lot

Perhaps it takes a second,
all it takes to pass
the threshold, all it takes
to close the gap: it takes
my breath, it takes your breath,
it takes some getting used to,
then it takes control.


Wandering Hands

A hand in the dark, it reaches for
another hand, it finds its mate,
it gives itself a lusty squeeze,
it shudders on a sweet release:
the lights are flashing.  On and off
they flash, like crosses thrust from the hills
in the storm of the century.  Lightning strikes
and fingers burn, and hands are twitching
through themselves beneath the covers.
A fingernail hits the spot.


Three Hours

The moon was never brighter than the night
the sky was almost blue; a blinding white
face was casting shadows on the mist
and wreathing tombstones in a pale twist
of spider webs and fey October light,
raising up a ghostly autumn's tryst.

A tardy summer night
was closing up its fist:
the brilliant satellite
that flickered like a kite
at sea could not resist,
the ocean must insist.

We kissed,
and missed
the sprite's
eclipse,
the sleight
of night.


Mad Republic

This mad republic on the sea
is damaged public property.
It drifts between the oceans blue
like wreckage from a ship of freight,
bobbing up and down with waves
and sea foam soaking through the crates.

 This mad republic on a hill,
its beacon shines abroad at will,
its lights and shadows much more brusque
than lovely, crooked skyline stark
against the hopeful sun, a dusky
star of shame above the Earth.

This mad republic in the sky,
an eagle's fortress on the fly
where Earthlings tumble from the ledge
without a social safety net;
their steam punk fashion rules the air
before they meet the planet's edge.

This mad republic in your house
has spilled some lager on your blouse -
they tell you to go change your clothes,
they hoot and watch you take it off.
These party-goers hack and cough
like mobsters in a smoke-filled bar.

This mad republic's on a slide
and getting blisters from the ride.
The water's dead, the sun is dim,
the air is thick with clouded heads
and every word's subliminal,
the parties all political.


Bringing Home the Bacon

Behind the bunker with my little bell,
I softly click my way across the morning,
making noise to keep the office calm,
my eyes aside to give sufficient warning.

A secret message for my sweetie, stashed
beneath the stone to keep its contents covered
and my cover sound: my heart's own work,
a fine respite from being slowly smothered.

My thoughts divided by the task at hand,
the touch of skin, these distant, abstract players,
memories of fingers soft as gloves,
and plastic keys arrayed in offset layers.

Now something must come out of me, like rhyme
or sex or reasoned work, a stain on papers,
thin electric squiggles on the screen,
sincere attempts to clear my head of vapors.

I help myself to something, chocolate squares
more bitter than I'd like, not half as tasty
as a proper sweet should be, and vow
that I can bear it, I shall not be hasty.

To watch the minutes counting slowly down
from zero to infinity, the dripping
drip drip drip of honey on my mind
is almost pleasure, flower fields and skipping

through a summer day in any month;
no matter if I'm stuck above the higher
floors today, I'll simply make the time
to contact you across the signal wire.


Wug_

This is a Wug.
There is no other Wug,
and that is a pity.

Only one Wug,
no plural form exists:
no cause for existence

carries the Wug,
and nothing can be learned
by such example.

This is a Wug.
This one is always blue,
and so is every Wug.


Six Years Later

We never got to live like heroes,
never got to see the walls come down
and hear the trumpets bray
a satisfying
blast.

We didn't find ourselves delivered
when the final outcomes were announced,
or glimpse the promised shore
beyond the splintered
mast.

We swore we did, but we were lying:
to ourselves, to mitigate the pain,
to steel our tender nerves
for when these votes were
cast.

We thought the future wouldn't matter
if the present felt so pure and good.
The present disappointed
when the moment
passed.


How Adults Speak to Each Other

"Happy Labor Day", September,
"Happy Veteran's Day", November;

in between, the daggers stab
and blood is drawn, the fingers jabbing

accusations of betrayal,
threats of murder through the mail.

Torrents of obscene abuses
strip the paint from shallow truces,

but let's get the kids together
for this fine October weather,

push our daughters on the swings
and make a show of wholesome things.

We're back in court on Monday noon,
our talons bared, and none too soon.


Missing

I'm afraid of all this missing mass:
the hiding places multiplying fast,
the sinking feeling filling up my gut.
Yes, I think my body's in a rut.

Yes, I know I said I'd take a ride
to find myself with nothing else inside,
to empty all this garbage in the street:
I'm avoiding all this missing meat.


What's the Word on the Street?

It's a new sign of the times
they've painted on the wall:
it's warning "keep out lefty,
streets are private property".

It's a bill for all the wrongs
they're serving instead of rights:
"Bruises are a privilege
and the tear gas costs extra".

It's a letter to the girls
who didn't make it safely
past a row of billy clubs:
it says "you had it coming".

It's a fairy tale they tell
the boys who walk too proudly:
the moral of the story
is "you sure had it coming".

It's a lie they told to get
elected, one of many:
"we can keep your children safe,
you know that you can trust us".

It's the motto on his badge,
like laughter in a dying
face, a steep humiliation:
"we are to protect and serve".

It's an angry eulogy
delivered, years to early:
"the child didn't have to die,
and we won't take this again".


Wishful Thinking

Sometimes I feel short of breath:
I'm choking down the stale spit
and I forget to stop and breathe.
The puzzle piece will never fit

if someone tries to force it in,
so why am I so adamant?
 I swear I'm gonna twist my spine
from underneath this elephant

that on my sloping shoulders sits
before this lonely month is through.
I've seen some very welcome sights,
but no relief as sweet as you.

I've slept in perfect summer nights
a thousand dreams and more with you.

I'll never lose the smallest bit
as long as I can comfort you.


Iron

With iron in your heart
you might explore the seas
at depths so fearful, none
would dare to follow you.
You'll sink beneath the waves,
your blood will pump a heavy
burden through your veins,
and wonders you could never
have predicted will
delight your fragile senses -
overwhelm your heart
and work the fragile thing
to death.
                And though you gasp
for oxygen, the divers
who will find your corpse
will not discover much
but iron in your heart.

The things you saw, descending
past the cities lost
and monsters inky black
that sliced through crystal beams
of sun and sparkly fish,
and all the wisdom sunk
beneath the bottom sand
in ships of pitch and gold,
will not avail a heart
so compromised, will not
redeem the long descent,
refund the drowning gasps,
restore you to the sky
with iron in your heart.


A Heroine Storming the Gate of the Gods

A girl with eyes like hour glasses
guards the wall with fierce alarms.
A boy with hair like burning grass is
holding out his steely arms -
between the two of them, they wield
seven blades in hands and teeth.

Before my last approach, they yield
not an inch: no sword in sheath,
no friendly words of welcome, nor a
warning of their cruel intent.

Afar I saw their weapons bore a
trace of murder.  Letters, bent
across the curving of the metal,
spelled the names of victims loved
and lovers crushed to death like petals
finely pampered, rudely shoved
between the leaves that formed the steel.

Eyes of doom survey the state
for blood to lubricate the wheel
holding shut the iron gate.

They see my face, they know the reason
I must breach their sacred wall,
and hungrily they meet my treason
with a holy, savage fall.

The battle, fierce and wild, splits
my armor; lying in the dirt
in pieces, as my target flits
about the scene, this mail shirt
cannot deflect her flensing knives
nor counteract his cleaving sword.

But blessings from a thousand lives
empower me; my wounds ignored,
I hold my ground, I keep my feet.

And though I bleed, a careful strike
with mighty arm and fingers fleet
can shatter guards and gods alike.

Her face is sundered on a slate
and I do not adore the sight:
his blood has wet the iron gate,
the witness to his final fight,
and all their blessed blades are broken.

Innocent they seem, a pair
of handsome lovers softly spoken,
but their guilt pollutes the air
that flows beneath this carnage hill,
as hate corrupts an honest tear.

I pay the price, the gods I kill,
the gate is raised, the way is clear,
I cast aside my tainted glove
and reach across a sea of flowers -
now I may embrace my love
again, enshrined with higher powers.

____________________

How about some commentary?

As I mentioned above, I found a picture of A Blaze of Something written on a white board while looking through my phone the other day.  I had completely forgotten about it, but as I recall we were putting on an actual talent show at the time.  So, call it idle scribbling.

The Last Human Beings is something I wrote shortly after coming back to America, inspired by the climate and weather of the great state of Oregon.  I like it for the rhymes, and of course for the dreamy imagery.   I was going for a Tolkien-esque vibe, something recalling both animate trees and the Beren/Lúthien legend, because I am an incredibly nerdy person.

It Takes a Lot and Wandering Hands are both poems about sexual longing from afar.  The latter is also colored by a scene from the book The Haunting of Hill House, which I had just read.  Is it weird to mix those things up?  I think it might be a little weird.  I wrote other sexual poems around the same time, but they are either badly unfinished or creepy or just, well, bad.

Three Hours was written on the night of a total lunar eclipse that was visible in Oregon last fall.  I think the rhymes are neat, and of course the poem's structure is evocative of an eclipse.  Isn't it?  It's supposed to be, anyway.

I wrote Mad Republic shortly before the midterm elections of 2014.  You know the one, where our country committed itself to at least two years of even-more-regressive bullshit than usual?  Like most people, of course, I saw it coming.  I like some of the stanzas of this poem less than others, but I think they add up to something good on the whole.  It expresses my feelings about more than just that one election of course: partly, I think it was some of that reverse-culture shock people get when they return from living abroad.

Six Years Later is more directly about the election, and more melancholy than angry.  It's something any person of any political orientation can relate to after a bad election night, I think.  But it was written more for people who agree with me... so, hands off, other side.

Bringing Home the Bacon just makes me sad now, as it is basically what the words describe it as: a secret message to my sweetheart, back when I still had a sweetheart.  Then it got filed away into the poetry pile, and I never got a chance to share it with her.

Wug_ is a very silly poem that (I hope) is funny to people who know a bit about linguistics.  If you don't know so much, just google "wug test" to find out what exactly a "wug" has to do with plurals.  The last stanza also has a little joke based on the fact that I wrote it next to a drawing of a wug on blue paper.  That, obviously, has not been reproduced here.

I was working in my dad's law firm at this time, and I had the opportunity to read some correspondence between people involved in one of our cases.  The level of pettiness I encountered in those emails was the inspiration for How Adults Speak to Each Other.

Missing is an uncomfortable poem for me, having been written shortly after Thanksgiving while I was feeling anxious about gaining back the weight I'd lost in Korea.  You know when you've made something, and you're not really sure if you should have?  I feel that way about Missing.

What's the Word on the Street? was written in the midst of the Ferguson protests, when the grand jury refused to indict Darren Wilson for the murder of Michael Brown.  Its perspective, obviously, is in solidarity with the growing movement demanding justice for the lives of black people killed by police brutality, a perennial threat that shows no sign of abating on its own.  I like some of the metrical stuff I did here, but I want the focus to be on the content.

In early December, my ex told me she wanted to go on a break, and to be frank it fucked me up pretty bad.  Wishful Thinking and Iron were early attempts to express my feelings through my poetry.  Of the two, Iron is superior by far, at least in my estimation.  It might even be my favorite poem of this bunch, although it hurts me somewhat to read it over again.

And finally, we come to my mini-epic, A Heroine Storming the Gate of the Gods.  By far the longest poem I've ever written (52 lines!) and on of my more successful narratives.  At least, that's what I think.  Maybe it sucks and nobody else will like it.  I wrote most of it on Christmas, and I'm not sure when exactly I finished it.  Just a little something to keep the yuletide blues away.  Originally it was written without any breaks between stanzas, in that authentic heroic verse sort of way, but I inserted breaks between each sentence just to make it more readable.  The one thing that really bothers me is the last word of line 46, "tear".  It rhymes with line 48, "clear", but it comes just after the rhyming lines of 42 and 44, "pair" and "air".  The fact that 48 is in the next stanza just makes this confusion worse.  I am so, so sorry for this.