This Will Be Our Drug

Across town, he lies in bed in an upstairs room in the darkness of early morning, trying to write out a poem entirely in his mind. He is anxious, sweat seeps from his bare body into the soft white sheets. The trouble is he can’t help who he is.

Sleep doesn’t come so easy. Writing helps but that, too, seems elusive these days. When your mind runs in every direction, the subject of your work is impossible to stabilize. He is always somewhere else and he is always racing to get there.

The world spins desperately slow. If only he could rush it along, get to the next thing. He doesn’t know when he lost his nerve. When he let himself off the hook for building a life of adventure, wonder.

It’s in the words, he knows that much. Every castle, every love, is in the words he is dying to write if only the shaking would stop. If only he could stop the self-abuse. The sex, the drugs, the drinking, the smokes. It all wears him down, gets him off, drowns him out.

There was a girl once but she passed away long ago. In dreams, she stands off to the side of his visions, motionless, eyes as wide as the many turning moons which orbit his head like a halo.

He can sense what she feels by the shape of her mouth. That mouth, that sensual sinister moving mouth, how it would thrust him right out of his mind.

One by one the stars burn off like so many glittering deaths. The cyclical nature of the universe is the pulse in his veins is the measure of sanity throbbing in his snuffed out brain. Night always gives way to morning. And the words do not stop not coming.

Peeling off the covers, he rises to peer out the window into the first swellings of dawn. Across the sky, a pink ribbon, faint like smoke, a shifting mist of rose water over the crystal blue horizon.

.

Photo by Shannon VanDenHeuvel

Tempt the Tides

Fire flickers in my chest, I feel its heavy heat as I look up into the bluegray sky, dark with promise, thick with secrets I keep to myself.

The wind is shaking the trees, hard and stiff they sway from the pressure. The invisible air makes a crushing sound against my window pane, pushing, pushing, roughing up the atmosphere like a shoving into and out of place.

We learn to shift. We learn to lose. We learn to surrender. We learn our flexibility and our strength. I think of lovers who have moved me, startled me, awakened me.

Wanting something else. The recklessness of that. To dare the wreckage of that. To tempt the pain. Tempt the tides. Bend the waves.

He speaks to me in silence. I come to him in the same manner, hauntingly still. Desperately eager, hungry, empty, alert. I know what I want. I know I have not found it yet.

Or no, that isn’t quite right. I have caught glimpses of it.

Felt its soft black feathers swinging in the soft flesh of my throat, my breast, my center. The words which unlock my timidity. My experience of the truth sometimes feels like begging, pleading.

I have dreams where I cannot find the way, door after door, hallway into hallway, endlessly. I hate it and I trust it. The only way is no way at all. The only way is never ending and alone.

Perhaps as poets we know only to reach out for phantom things.

Open our mouths against the words which may or may not come.

What would you die for. What does it look like. What does it feel like.

It isn’t what they told you, is it. It is never like they told you.

You cannot name it. But god, how you bleed for it, seek for it.

This exquisiteness you swear you’re made of

vanishing inside

behind the burning sun.

 

.

Photo by Pietro Tebaldi

New Spacetrash Podcast Episode: The Biden-Harris Inauguration Episode! Hope, Celebration, and Bernie Sanders’ Mittens

Your favorite cousins are back with FULL COVERAGE of all that is the historic Inauguration of President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris!

Mark and I discuss the feelings we didn’t even know we could feel after toppling a dictator, the fashion, the love, the incredible spectacle of Lady Gaga, JLo, Garth Brooks, as well as the show-stopping, breathtaking beauty and command of Amanda Gorman performing her brilliant poetry.

It is a time – brief as it may be – to celebrate how far we have come.

We talk everything from Bernie’s fantastic mittens to finally being able to get back to making art without feeling guilty that we let the world fall apart on our watch.

Relax for a bit. Let the leaders lead. We did good.

Grab a drink, listen to Spacetrash Podcast on Spotify (or wherever you listen to podcasts), and come chill with us!

 

.

Photo by Anthony Fomin

The Dawning of a New Day in America

We made it through. This is the first thing to say, because it is true and it is monumental. President Biden is in the White House safe and sound and we breathe and weep and try to take it all in. To understand what it means to feel the flutters of ecstatic joy, the rush of blessed relief, and the gut wrench of utter grief and disbelief all at once.

I, for one, am exhausted yet contented in a way I never could have predicted. Watching the majesty of the Inauguration yesterday felt like power in the way narrowly escaping the clutches of death feels like power – exhilarating but also let’s not do this again, yeah?

Let’s not let this country dissolve into such madness as it has over the last years.

In 2017 I wrote a poem titled “Regeneration” which appears in my book Luminae:

Everything will fall away.
Even the beautiful things.
This will be the beginning.

I wrote it while imagining the worst was yet to come from the administration at that time. I was right. Everything fell away. Even, and it seemed on purpose and especially, the beautiful things. Safety, health, compassion, truth, dignity, all fell away.

The nation was stripped to the bone.

We didn’t just have to see ourselves naked, we were forced to bare witness to ourselves as only skin and bone. We became skeletal. Vulnerable. We were starved intellectually, spiritually, mentally, creatively. In all the ways that mattered most, we were beaten down and threatened.

Our very existence was called into question again and again.

Yesterday we finally got the answer to that question, at least for now. American democracy is not dead, tested and tattered as it may have become.

Yesterday we rose from the ashes. We have a real chance now to reflect on how close we came to annihilation. And also ground ourselves in hope in a way we couldn’t before because we never knew how truly dire it could have been.

We pulled each other out and pulled each other through. What I like best about President Biden is his true and honest and deep compassion. What I like best about Vice President Kamala Harris is her strength and confidence and also her deep and palpable compassion.

We have leaders who know how to lead. With science, with truth, with care and with love. Love as in grit, determination, and vision for how to rise to the best in us. And they know they are there to serve us. We the people. Americans.

I am still overwhelmed by the emotions of this time. It will be a while before I stop flinching at the word “President” or dreading the daily headlines before I remember that we have integrity now, we can be proud now and not ashamed.

There is much to work through, much to heal, much to do. But we are in it together. And we made it, finally, achingly, to the third line of that poem I wrote those many years ago, from a place of deep sorrow, and deep hope:

This will be the beginning.  

 

.

Photo by Alimarel

 

Inside the American Nightmare

A few words appear, then disappear in reverse.

We say it and don’t say it. We ‘Happy New Year’ and scuttle away as fast as our fragile bones can take us to the safety of isolation once again.

What do you even say when your country is falling to hell.

The melon sky simmers the last of the winter day’s sky into smoke as I close my eyes and dream of anywhere else.

It happens like this: you are repeatedly filled simultaneously with shock and dread. As you are trying to process the horror of the most recent trauma, you are bracing yourself also for the next.

And there is always a next.

And this is repeated for years and years non-stop. The relentlessness of cruelty. The cheering on of the madness.

What is even worth saying when you are so exhausted by the end of the day your stomach hurts and your eyes ache and everything around you is cold as the icicles you saw last weekend, formed into perfect sharp daggers by frozen rushes of water plunging through the trees.

It is not enough to survive. You have to try to do it minute by minute, focus on each heart beat, each update, each revelation more gruesome than the last, you have to cling to each, like stepping stones you grab with your fists or your teeth.

The angriest parts of yourself, the saddest, they cling. they try to move you forward in spite of themselves. In spite of you.

Try to hold on. Try to hold on, it has to be over soon.

But nothing ends anymore. Not around here.

I’m sick to death of counting down to things. Dates. Elections. Deaths. Infections. Decisions. Betrayals. Disasters we should have seen coming.

We should have stopped it. It should never have come to this.

And so a deep well of disappointment, of desperation for a time gone by, opens up inside to swallow the shock and the dread and the utter, utter grief. And you realize the abyss they threw you into is threatening now the last of your sanity, your will, your equilibrium.

And if you understand what I am saying here, if you know how this feels, people will tell you not to feel it. They will try to cheer you up, make you see the good things, they will try to force your healing before it is time.

And you can tell them all to fuck off. Because I will tell you this, above everything else, feel your feelings. The true ones. If they are honest they are hurting, aching, crying, screaming.

This has been an American tragedy over and over and over for years.

We got here by denial. We laid our faith down in a bed of lies and hoped someone else would save us.

I am not sure why I write this, maybe to document my experience for fear it drifts away from me, even though I kind of wish it would.

We should be most afraid that we may forget. They want nothing more than for us to forget.

I try to catch all of it. I try to write it into history, but my mind gets heavy and my spirit falls like frigid winter rain.

It is tiresome, you know? This waiting for the end.

 

.

Photo by Mike Palmowski

She Was an American Girl

Breathing is harder than it should be.

I have to remind myself to do it.

I watch the sunset. A giant white glowing orb sinking into the veins of the dead winter trees. They aren’t in fact dead, of course, but their gnarled bare branches, snaked shadow fingers creeping toward the gray sky could fool you.

Graveyards. Concrete. Insurrection. The year that won’t seem to end hasn’t really ended, I still feel it lumped in my throat. Pricking at the back of my eyes inside my skull.

There are seasons but this one is more stubborn than the rest.

And we choke on the things we try to run from. And the sky blooms darker than it ever dared before. As we shuffle our feet and ignore the signs.

I remember to breathe but only because someone on Twitter reminds me to by accident. I shut off my phone and light up a cigarette in the quiet, watching the twilight evening descend. I haven’t been able to write a goddamn thing since I don’t know when.

Time exists on some alternate continuum which has little care for we human beings and the monsters we let grow out of control.

I don’t know how anyone does it. Keep the faith. I think about the ones who died believing in something which killed them.

I think about how he does not mourn, not anything. And the endless possibilities that leaves him in the end.

My love brings me wine and a kiss as everything we do not say falls around us like a kind of grief we aren’t sure how to hold because we don’t know if we are at the end or the beginning of the pain.

Taking a drink, I count the first few glimmering stars and swallow the fear and think about all the people out there who seem to be dealing with this so much better than I am.

For all the hype and optics and posing, dry January sure picked a hell of a month.

And somewhere out there across this land, this earth, this hellish place which is so lost and so broken and so angry and so cold, the sun is coming up.

Somewhere, as my tears won’t come and my heart won’t stop, it’s morning.

.

Photo by Can Şerefoğlu

For What It’s Worth

It’s not everyday you look back over your life and try to string the dots together to make sense of the mess but today, it seems, is such a day.

This kind of thing happens at the end of any year I suppose, the reflecting, collecting, sifting through what happened, what you did or didn’t do with the time you had.

So much waste. So much treasure. And in the end what is it all for? Where have you come from and where have you gone?

The trees in the field are soft and strong and standing naked and alone under a blank pale sky. Winter is a part of everything now. In the icy running stream, in the sharp invisible air current beneath the tiny bird who soars silently into a bush of holly for shelter.

It is possible for a year to be stolen from you, you know that now in a way you hadn’t before. The rich and powerful will use what they have to bury you alive. Annihilation of the mind. Did you not know evil was a kind of intelligence or did you just forget?

It is a strange thing to wrap what’s left of your sanity around and an even stranger thing to fold into your heart in order never to forget. We make choices, we make selections, and we watch as chunks of our former selves float off far and away.

There is a new year coming around the corner, I can smell it like a wood fire burning, burning, as I pull on my boots and step out into the cold December air. I can feel it in my bones as shivers spike down my spine.

When the snow begins to fall, I duck under my hood and turn away from the wind.

All this time I have been given crowds and bursts in my chest like a flower desperate to bloom. I bite my tongue and close my eyes just to feel my skin without the noise.

It is the middle of the holiday week and all is quiet and still inside and all around. There is a certain kind of mood that is twinkle lights switched off and dead holiday decorations scattered on front lawns. Some kind of party is over that never quite began. It is the morning after and we are clutching our breasts on the wet walk home.

But there is beauty in the wreckage in our veins. There is a flicker of warmth in wide open sky.

How full of stories we seem to be but yet who dares to tell theirs out loud? Even to the bed sheets, even to the laptop screen. Who wants to see herself up that close and if she does what does that say about her.

Neurotic or adventurer? Poet or circus freak?

How much of what you worry about ever comes true? Has it been worth it to hang on or are you ready to just cut loose, come clean, break free?

As I make my way back along a side street, the purple evening sky begins her quiet descent over the white frozen hills. I can hear the geese cry out as their thick black bodies fly together in a V over head.

How this life comes at you screaming even as it’s drifting away.

All this churning in our souls as we decide how much we’ll say.

.

Photo by Taylor Harding

The Rain Beneath Your Skin

And what is there really but fear and little breaks in the fear now and again.

In your mouth, the cold wet suburban streets calling for no one.

You trace the quiet desperation that rings itself around your week-old coffee mug and cherish the meek sadness of the rain which has gone on for decades underneath your skin.

You try to write but all the photographs are full of messages you cannot keep from weighing down your mind.

Time is always someone else’s.

Every person has a camera and each image is a waste because they are the same and never stop. The people, their hurt-filled eyes, the ignorance of their blackened words in constant.

A soft being dressed in white dances before the sun, they are setting into the sickness of green seaside.

I suppose I am afraid for all the reasons anyone would be afraid.

The deafness of silence and the way a scream fills the bathwater.

The fear which both bridges and divides one moment and the next as the evening comes but not carefully enough.

There is a moment I can feel in my chest like a song you wrote but not for me, an empty beach in December which drifts in the marrow of my bones.

You do not meet me and you are everywhere.

You are faceless without body or tongue, though all I do in these dead hours of sliding panic is imagine you exist.

A place I can lay down inside forever.

An opening in the blue.

We no longer seek for breaks of light.

We no longer hear the ticking of the clock.

The photographs and the people they capture,

continue falling like rain for ages.

 

.

Photo by Christopher Ott

My Greatest Wish for Disillusioned Artists at the End of 2020

 

When I came across this passage in my readings the other day, it stopped me in my tracks. I re-read these particular lines a few times, letting them sink in. It was the first time I read something about exactly what I have been feeling for a few years now, most especially this year:

“I have written a lot of articles and several books about Russia’s transformation under Vladimir Putin, but the experience I’ve always found hardest to describe is one of feeling as if creativity and imagination were sucked out of society after he came to power. The reason is not so much censorship or even intimidation as it is indifference. When the state took over television, for example, it wasn’t just that the news was censored: it was that the new bosses didn’t care about the quality of the visuals or the writing. The same thing happened in other media, in architecture, in filmmaking. Life in an autocracy is, among other things, dull.” – Masha Gessen, for the The New Yorker

One of the insidious cruelties of living through an attempted coup by a sadistic psychopathic wanna-be dictator and his fellow goons is one that goes unspoken but not unnoticed by the artist.

When you are made to be constantly on alert for the next crazed dangerous act against the dignity of humanity, you enter into survival mode. What to watch for? How to know when it’s “really bad”? If it is really bad, what even do you do to protect yourself, the ones you love?

You become obsessed with understanding the new hell hole you find yourself in suddenly. At some point, and you can never quite put your finger on that point, it all becomes life or death. Sink or swim. Put up or shut up.

And all the while, a numbness toward your own writing, your own art, your own creativity, seems to have permanently lodged itself within your own spirit. You feel as if access to your very soul has been hijacked.

It becomes impossible to create the way you used to because you used to be able to detach yourself from the world entirely in order to touch the freedom inside of you, the wilderness. How that wilderness would welcome you readily into her beautiful dark.

When a leader disregards all life and crushes the pursuit of liberty and freedom for all every five seconds, a cloud of hopelessness, numbness, uselessness, descends into your body little by little. And because you are so disoriented by the noise and the chaos and the shock and the anger, you do not seem to realize what is happening to you.

Until you want to create something and find exhaustion where vitality used to be.

Indifference where curiosity once thrived.

I haven’t talked about this with anyone, but this is what I have been experiencing for a long time now. I haven’t told anyone because until I read the above passage, I didn’t really even know what I was feeling.

There will be a push for us to forget, to sweep all of the brutality of the past four years under the rug and just move on. Pretend it never happened.

But if you forfeit your opportunity to name what happened, to understand the depths of the wounds you have at the hands of a lunatic with a lust for death and destruction, how will you ever recover your creativity?

There has to be a clearing, or perhaps more precisely, a clarity. A clear awareness of what you have endured, what it felt like, why it felt that way.

Because you are never going back to the way it was before. Now you have experienced the madness and the shock of the realization that blunt viciousness can also cause a dullness within. Abuse causes a dulling of the senses without your even realizing it because your nerves are too busy fraying at the edges over and over and over again.

The next twelve days are holidays for me. I’m planning to close out this terrible year with a great deal of quietude, soul searching, reading, poetry, journaling, and time in nature.

I love the winter. The solace of the silence of the snowy cold and endless white-blanketed fields.

With all my heart I hope that we artists are not buried for good, but slumbering.

That in the darkness we learn again to thaw, again to melt, again to let go.

Again to dream.

 

.

Photo by Hannah Gullixson

Writing the Ache: On Needing Poetry for Life

Writing away the ache is a real and true thing. It is, that is to say, it becomes, a lifestyle. The pressure builds and builds as with any addiction until you can no longer manipulate your mind or body away from what you most desire.

From what you must say, what must be said to keep you from exploding.

How devastating it can be, then, when you come breathless to the page and find yourself full of nothing, empty hands, a mouthful of anguish which opens to dead air.

It is as much a coping mechanism as a ‘passion.’ Makes you wonder if those who are so prolific are those who are also most troubled, most bothered, most distracted by things yet unwritten.

What must go on inside the psyche of the poet which so stirs, compels, claws, needs. The burning desire to express oneself while wrestling with the arrogance of that, the heavy need to reveal oneself and the shame which circles that very real need, stalking in the shadows, stabbing mercilessly, if futile, at the light.

“It seems to me that the desire to make art produces an ongoing experience of longing, a restlessness sometimes, but not inevitably, played out romantically, or sexually.” – Louise  Glück, Proofs & Theories, Essays on Poetry

I don’t know if it is this way for all poets, I know only that it is this way for me. That the sense of longing for my art is constant, it is sensual, and plays out not just in my mind but in my body as a romance, or a compulsion, I am not sure they are different things.

What I know in the pit of my stomach, at the center of anything inside me that could ever be considered holy, is that if there is to be life there has to be words.

There have to be words enough to bring about an end to the brutal, exquisite, relentless urge, or at least a temporary reprieve.

It is always temporary.

 

.

Photo by Kirill Palii