life lessons from the southwest
colorado says you'll never see the
mountains at sunset the same way twice.
the days melt like snowflakes, the air so thin
it tears if you're not careful. vegas says to lean into the
headache. the skyline hurts like a broken radio.
a city so green and greedy even the graveyards
smell like a casino. california says
there's a graveyard for everything in the desert:
airplanes, wind farms, bushes drowned in
sunlight. if you're not careful,
you drive through one end and
leave your body behind.
lessons on identity
1. i still don't know how to snap or whistle or ride a bike. i've been to two weddings and one funeral, and the latter barely counts since the memory is blurry and fleeting when i can dig it up. i've lived in seven different houses and three different states. re-construction of identity is not unfamiliar to me. look around: everything we have is pulsing in the night like a beacon. like an anglerfish.
2. i am young enough that my childhood is still sore. i wince if you prod it. all my yearbooks are kept on the bottom left corner of my bookshelf, half-hidden by an unused canvas and a box of school supplies, and i still don't know how to articulate why. i glimpse an old picture of myself over my dad's shoulder, and for a second i don't recognize my own face. the brief, disconnected judgement of my own appearance, the casualty that we afford strangers but can't seem to re-direct towards ourselves. when i realize who i'm looking at, my skin crawls.
3. imagine the house you lived in when you were five. imagine that house, re-constructed, slightly to the left. it is your home. look, your shoes. your books. a family portrait on the mantel. it is not your home. the couch wasn't that stiff, you didn't choose that bedspread. did you? it is your home and it is not your home depending on what you trust. it is your home and it is not your home depending on how much you care.
4. even my most vivid memories don't feel as though they belong to me, but to a version of myself, re-constructed, standing slightly to the left. when i wake and glance at my clock, it is 3:36 AM and suddenly i can't remember if i fell asleep at all. something warped and residual is left in my head but i can't remember if it was dream or reality. i am me and i am not me depending on what i trust. i am me and i am not me depending on how much i care. at lunch, my dad tells my brother that there is no past you or future you, there is only you. and, i think, you can't remain a stranger to yourself for your whole life.
5. i stare at my hands under the fluorescent lights. sooner or later, i realize, i am going to have to wake up.
the view from the deep dark woods
I'm fed up with toppled fairy tales.
I am tired of the redeemed wicked.
Sometimes the dragon wants to devour the knight
with his mouth as hot as a dying star. Sometimes
the witch has insides made of hideous things.
So where does that put us?
In my life, the circles of people who understood me
and people who liked me never overlapped.
I don't know if that makes me a knight or a dragon.
I don't know if that makes me a little boy or a witch.
And then, of course, there’s you.
And when I think of you I think of a
dark and deep woods, with sharp teeth
like yellow torches in the shade,
with the taste of a winter mist so alive I groan,
the raw, wet heat that gathers in your eyes
when you're about to cry, etc, etc.
You were always the wolf. We both know this.
What are you doing here?
Wrong question, try again.
Is the wolf such a bad thing to be?
Closer. If you are the wolf,
who am I? Bull's-eye.
You know, we could be soulmates in a twisted way.
What's a fairy tale if not a horrified romance?
Needle and curse, temptation and
cannibalism, bloody apple and
mouth, wolf and terror. Is that me, then-
the one who is afraid of the wolf?
trick question. I know.
Everyone is afraid of the wolf,
whether you are a henchman or hero or
helper or victim or witness or even
the wolf himself. There is good and bad
and then there is the terror
hanging heavy over the whole world-
it doesn't help me.
morning in the heart of the boardwalk
the sun brushes the horizon.
the horizon shatters into sea.
a dead seagull stretches on the baked sand,
flies warring over the eye sockets,
and in mourning, the world
melts into gold.
deer sees me notice her in the woods
deer sees me notice her
in the woods and takes a step
back, her neck gentle like
a sculptor. some days i wish i had
sculptor's hands and with each stroke
of my thumb could smooth the world
into a better place for her. in town,
a few miles down the road, the sculptor
is kneading clay the way the baker
kneads bread, the way the painter
kneads canvas with color, the way
i knead words onto paper.
i watch kids at the beach sculpt sand
into castles, but they aren't castles,
of course, in the same way paints
aren't a landscape and clouds aren't hearts,
but become so when we see it.
perhaps that is the most remarkable
thing about humans- our ability to make,
even just by seeing. deer bolts to her
fawn and i wonder if she knows
we are creating a world just
by being alive.
scene from an inverted subconscious
EXT- THE PACIFIC OCEAN
YOU and ME are standing on the shore, not looking at each other, while the ocean chews on our feet. The horizon is shifting so fast we can see straight through it.
ME: So when you're here, are you still thinking about things like economic decline and how we're all gonna die one day?
YOU don't respond. I look around and notice that, like the horizon, the sky and sand are shifting and have turned translucent.
YOU: It's like we're living inside a ghost.
ME: Have you ever been to a place where it really storms? The air gets all heavy and swollen, and I used to feel so exhilarated when the sky started getting dark. They don't really have storms like that here. Some days it feels so overcast it doesn't matter if you draw the curtains or not.
ME: And do you remember last week when you said your head was on the way to the jar? It's not, and I wish you wouldn't say that.
YOU: But it's true.
ME: It's not. You're not Sylvia Plath and it doesn't have to be this way. You know, some days I skip lunch just to stay and talk you through yourself?
YOU don't respond.
SCENE CHANGE- EXT- MY BACKYARD
YOU and ME are sitting, looking at the airport lights through the fence. The world is no longer shifting, but watery and runny.
ME: I think this is worse than before. It smells like chlorine and my eyes are burning up. I know I can't blame you for who you are, or the way your head works, I just wish you did the same for me sometimes. (A long, pregnant pause.) You know, I hate having dreams. I can never remember them when I wake up but I always have this taste in my mouth, like there's something corrupted about them.
YOU: And this one?
ME: I don't think I mind this one so much.
YOU: You know who I am?
ME: There are a couple people you could be. I'm not sure what that says about me. You know, the lights really are beautiful from here. I never learned how to open my eyes underwater but I think I'm getting used to it now.
I glance at YOU, and stop talking. For a second, WE look at each other instead of the airport lights.
YOU: I'm not Sylvia Plath. But I think it does have to be this way.
down from the bottom of everything
the first type of loneliness is when i start
to see my own face in the bumps on my bedroom
it feels like i'm locked in a marriage with
my own head; i come home, say "honey,
we need to get flypaper, they're driving
me crazy, and say what's for dinner,"
she looks and doesn't answer, she loves
to look and not answer, she's an it, she's a
he, she's me, there's no pronouns for something that's alive
without a heartbeat. later she drifts into the
bedroom, sees me
try to tear down the rafters with my eyes,
says "we need to repaint this room, look how
it flakes where the walls meet." i laugh, say,
"no, like skin,"
and we both stare 'cause we can't remember
when this became our home.
and don't you know,
the sky is a mirror when you live in a monochromatic
world. she points at an airplane dropping thirty thousand feet
from the air,
says, "look, baby, there's us."
lightning spits from the mouth
of the sky, heaving in the
august heat; the horizon
growls like a dog, white
teeth snapping outside my
curtains at the heavy
black air. earth's body shudders,
tossing and turning as she waits,
sweat clinging and eyes rolling,
for the fever to break.
her back arches, veins steaming
into the atmosphere, and hot tears roll
involuntarily while we all
pretend to sleep.
love, thesaurus definition
love, thesaurus definition:
synonymous for throwing rocks at the window
of the dying house in the woods just to hear
something besides myself. to look at the
broken glass on the ground and think,
"that's me." there is a metaphor here
somewhere, but don't try to find it.
when i see my phone light up with your
name, i am a thesaurus definition of the crickets in
the meadow past your house: noise, blast, buzz,
clamor, crash, cry. you'll notice none of those words are
actually the same. what i mean is, let's go to
the grocery store and talk about every time we
ever lost our parents in the aisles. how my loneliness
is the same as the squeeze of your heart when you
ran to who you thought was your dad just to
find a stranger's face. what i mean is, let's be birds but not
the singing ones. no, not the colorful ones either. let's be
ordinary and desaturated in our nest of the world.
i love you theoretically, in the way i love
the dying house, in the way i love the dying
city, in the way i love fire- in the distance or
else when it's all falling apart. still there's the
burn on my finger. still there's the airport line. and
still, the broken glass on the ground.
aug 2019 // aug 2020
i’m a swarm, i’m static, i’m drifting awake at 3AM with
next door’s TV on and the voice of a soccer game
announcer weeping distorted through the walls. i roll
onto my side and the world groans feverish. the bedsheets
are black oil, sticking to my feather-cold skin;
the ceiling hits boiling point, melts and
tastes like plaster. i roll onto my back and the
room splinters loudly.
warm tortillas cinnamon french toast sizzling
bacon ripe avocado food that makes kaleidoscope
eyes twist with color & taxidermy shops and death
smelling soft like fresh soil & the art
museum like cavers shining a flashlight
through my insides & the way my shoes sound
hitting the tiles in an empty office supply
store & don’t you want to sing don’t you want to
run isn’t this something even if it terrifies you?
and despair grips my throat with blushing
knuckles. and we’re manically silent. and the crescent moon
wanes to dawn. and you’re home but the basement’s
reworked and everyone’s cut their hair and
who’s gonna stay up talking till midnight
anyway? lately i wake from dreams with a residual
taste in my mouth. like i forgot to press “record” on
the videotape. i turn on my bedside lamp and tell
myself: it is august. soon it will be september. then
october, then november, and then christmas and new years. it’s
meant to be comforting.
and i wake with hot glue pouring upwards
from the floor and the TV on in the next room;
haul my feet on the floor and the world flips
like a coin. i wake again in bed, facing the other
wall, silence toying the air with a question:
well, is this it yet?