I Walk Right Through You

I bite my lip and hold my tongue as the fog rolls in, thick, heavy, white, like a translucent apparition wrapped around the stained glass hallways of my mind. The air coming in through the bedroom window is so damp it wets the sheets I’m spread out on, they are gummy against the stickiness of my bare skin. I shouldn’t leave the window cracked open but I can’t write if I feel trapped. It wastes the a/c and causes the glass to frost over with cool mist so I can’t see the outline of trees, just a greenish blue glob of darkness beyond the droplets of sliding pale blue sky. I shouldn’t smoke indoors but I do, I shouldn’t drink so much but I’m fairly certain by now that fuck everything is a new kind of pop religion counterculture. The only logical reaction to a 24/8 nihilistic news cycle, yoni eggs, Gwyneth Paltrow, and the ridiculousness of ‘self-care’ touted on social media platforms built to sell you back to yourself over and over again for cheap. You thought maybe I could entertain you, keep you company, stand at the center of the ring underneath the pink satin lights of a candy-striped summer evening. Drink champagne with you. Dance for you. You thought maybe I would make you feel safe and seen and heard and worshiped for a while. As I stood before you naked, blank, stared off into a distance where I exist only as light, only as sound, a distance I knew you would never see because your heart is closed while your eyes are hungry, lazy, ignorant. Your mouth, warm and affectionate, twisting your hips in the hopes of opening doors. When I leave you, the discomfort is stale on my gums like the aftertaste of the last crumpled cigarette from the bottom of my bag. It will do the trick in case of emergency. In case there is no other way out, you always have me, you figure, which is good enough for now. But even as I walk the gray stone streets of this unfeeling city, heavy with chunks of glass buildings lodged in my chest, underneath the rubble I can still feel you. The pulse of your hopeful devotion keeping time with my heels on the pavement. The faintness of your tattered heart, oblivious, still quietly beating.

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Photo by Kevin Laminto

The Beautiful and the Damned

The morning is balmy and close, hot already in the early shining rays of summer sun. As I watch the buildings begin to glisten in the light, a wet fog pulls in nearly obscuring what I know to be there, angles and lines which have been there for as long as I can remember. Tracing my gaze over his face as he sleeps in perfect breathy silence, I wonder who I am sometimes and how I got here into a place both familiar and unknown. There has always been a part of me which was detached, sifting, both here and away, both touchable and untouchable. We are born into a game which has two sides and no way to win, only ways to keep kicking the can down the road. Only ways to keep flipping the coin until it all stops for good. Today, heads. Tomorrow, a tailspin, perhaps, or the same old thing underneath what you wish you could bring about but haven’t the skills nor the energy. Having little tolerance for sleeping in, I pull my ever lengthening strawberry golden waves into a knot, slide out of the warmth of our bed, and tip toe off to the kitchen for coffee. The salons have opened up again and my favorite one calls and leaves me voicemails which I ignore. Come back in, we’re open! A cheerful pleading desperation. As if by making an appointment for a haircut I’d have cured something no one yet knows how to cure; soothed a fear no one can bear to feel shocking through their hearts minute by minute; affirmed a truth we all know is fabrication. We are not okay. We have not been okay. So very little of what is happening is okay. I drove by the other day on the way to the liquor store and saw the tiny salon parking lot overflowing with cars. Ah, yes, the herds are herding, the flocks are flocking, all trimmed and tweezed, waxed and highlighted back into a perverted kind of normal which I increasingly despise.

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Photo by Daniele D’Andreti

Made to Suffer

The professor speaks to me of pain while twisting it into a kind of pleasure which is not a new sensorial experience for me, but is new to have someone attempt to explain it in such clinical terms. Intrigued, I close my mind to all other thought and listen with marked attention. There is a blurring of boundaries which takes place both inside of his mind and inside of my own as he describes the body’s natural responses to stimulus, both hurtful and enjoyable, defining each as ‘punishment’ or ‘reward.’ I watch his eyes, flashing almost imperceptibly when he uses certain terms. Like ‘administer’ and ‘the subject’ and ‘threshold.’ Taking a sip of water to quench my thirst and attempt to cool the heat beginning to simmer in my veins, I slide a wet finger across my lower lip and take a note down in my notebook. It is the separation which is the illusion. It is the labeling of a feeling such that categories may be constructed to fit inside a mind which is instinctively fearful of discomfort. How we fear and crave discomfort in the same sweaty breath which holds the heart and mind suspended above the mundane human experience, elevates us for a few heavenly moments into the divinity which expands beyond the body, only rarely accessible through it. Forcing myself to concentrate on this man’s teachings, I observe the slowness with which he crosses the room in front of me, setting a pace, a rhythm, the deliberate pattern of his steps a metronome back and forth rustling a fire beneath my blossoming curiosity.  Perhaps to suffer is a prerequisite for euphoria, not entirely apart from it, some kind of distorted abundance. A terrible excess. To suffer is to feel deeply everything except the thing you most desire to feel. As a lover suffers the undesired absence of both the pleasure and the pain inflicted by her object of affection. It is the void which is the gaping, the ache, the mystery. As a poet suffers for the word. For the ache of being made aware that the word is there, just beneath the surface of her own skin, yet cannot be touched.

What It Does to You

Stefano Zocca

You take out the trash and spin little white lies around your tongue wondering if you let them fall from your lips would they tear everything you’ve been building for so long apart in the spark of an accidental instant. Keep it together. Shake it off. Get over yourself. The tall trees are lush and green with the sweet heat of summer as they sway on the breeze, while the sky is the kind of razor sharp blue that stabs in your chest and makes you wish you could just be alone for a while to figure things out on your own. But the rush of demands is how they steal your life away, minute by minute, like a strategy, like a sport, as you chase the pain they run out the clock. Time has a way of collapsing in on itself, in on you, you can feel it in that knot right at the center of your shoulder blades. The boss and the kids and the leak in the basement and the dreams you once had all screaming so loud in your head it’s hard to find your own voice and pull it from the wreckage of the things inside you let die long ago. The days are long but they fade swiftly into oblivion with everything else and you find yourself wondering what any of it means, how many soft heartbeats line the rest of the path you’re meant to take. You carry such grand visions in your soul, there’s a secret place beaming and bursting with fire amidst the gray. There is something out there, you are sure of it, it slides through your veins like a whisper, somewhere you belong more beautiful than this. But it won’t get you rich and it won’t tuck you in and you’re not sure if the wild that once was within you is there anymore. Sometimes the dream is too big and in the vastness between your hand and your breathing the hope they fed you circles thinly down the drain. Did you know if you count the seconds from when a satellite first appears on the horizon to when it finally disappears on the other side of the sky, it takes the exact same amount of seconds for it to come back around and reappear again? Try it, I mean, if you find yourself on top of the world and have the time. The night air is stiff and cool as it comes through the open bathroom window. The face in the mirror is a barren moon with rock white eyes. Brush, rinse, spit, repeat.

But I Keep It to Myself

Jr Korpa

As you tell me a story about your messed up college days, I’m watching your full lips mouth the words you throw away. Imagining your tongue down my throat, I try my best to concentrate on the story but it really doesn’t matter to either of us so what’s the use. I know sometimes I’m too much. I know I should hold back. I know sometimes I’m too intense, I can be obsessive. I try to pass it off as artistic fire but the only place you seem to appreciate my inner animal is in the bedroom. Beneath the sheets you worship it as though it were sheer elegance, pure grace. Perhaps it is after all and you can see it better than anybody. My obscenities alchemize, become holy, become electric liquid heat. You were raised right, you were not raised with God nailed into your bones. I was raised up so high on prayer and sacrifice I was bound to come undone. God wrecked my sense of boundaries, pushed my face into the thin metal bus window frame. God put me in a dark tight box with a strange man and forced my mouth to open. God punished me and I liked it. God was humiliation, degradation, masturbation, fear. And I walked single file in skirted linen and lace straight into God’s unkind, unforgiving hands. God is dirty. God is bad. God is perverse. God is ferocious. God is pissed. The only difference is, She has no issues with any of it. Not like you think I have. When we kiss, the night sky inverts itself and pulls the air from my lungs in waves. And just when I think maybe I shouldn’t write the things I do, maybe I talk too much, you open me so deep I know it’s too late. Every word, glistening in wide constellation, is laid bare for you. I bite you for the blood not the bruising, trace the sweat along your thigh as a veil falls away between us. As every cruel ecstatic thing we do, God sees.

One Trick Pony

Kseniya Petukhova

The morning is cool and still, dimly lit underneath a light washed peach colored sky. As I sip coffee and listen to the birds singing wild and free outside my window, it occurs to me that I can’t go back to the way I was, and I sure as fuck don’t know how to move forward. The gurus would tell us to “be here now” I suppose, so perhaps I’ll start with that. My body is here now typing of course, but my mind skims over the happenings of the past few weeks. I would rather not obsess over what has transpired, but alas, such is the nature of an obsession. You can’t want the thing you want the most. It’s all a flutter, a multifaceted blur of emotion, drama, karma, clashes, fits of anger, sadness, rage, fear, lit up here and there with tiny flecks of shimmering hope. Not sure what if anything you know about me by now but I am just like everybody else. Neuroses, addictions, stupid mistakes, bad choices, dirty desires. The thing is no one is ever completely themselves on the outside, and I am no different. On the inside I am wracked with dreams, visions, ideas, heartaches, shadows, secrets. When I get it right, I can write of these internal things, I can conjure them, send them shooting up like bright flares into the dark velvet skies of night. Do you see me? Have we connected if only in the few seconds my hidden light scatters itself across your beautiful face, as you gaze up at the stars praying for the same absolution I do? In a few days I will be by the sea, this I look forward to very much. I have missed the expansive sight of the ocean, the sunlight flashing along the waves in the morning, bathing in tangerine and electric pinks at dusk. In times of extreme turmoil it seems only natural to reach for surroundings which remind us of who we really are, which ground us in the tangible, textured elements of earth, wind, fire, water. What is the story you tell about yourself to the ones you love? Do you tell it straight out or do you bend it toward who you want to be, someone better, more brave and less afraid? Toward who you wish you were, or who you wish they thought you were when they look at you? If the past is an illusion and the future anyone’s guess, perhaps all I can tell you is this: I’m here now. And in a world as mad as this one, I try very hard not to lose myself. I chart out plans, and write poetry, read the news, pack my bags, and just like you, I make my bets on what any of this might be worth.

The Patterns of the Mind

by Jacob Mejicanos

It is possible to be out of words, I know because it terrifies me as often as not, it comes and goes. I am a writer and it happens all the time but being out of words is easy, you just write some more until you can start to fit them together and make a little story. Make them into something people like to look at, look through, make their own, or project back onto you. Then again, it is possible to be so full of words you are choked by them into a crippling type of silence. They could be your own words, they could be the words of those around you, it has become harder and harder to tell. And there are so many people around you. So many, many voices. Telling you what to do and feel and think, how to act, who to believe!!! Who to believe. But you need to decide that for yourself. Through the noise, you peel back the curtain and you make your selections. You carve out a cause and you make a sign. Women and children and men in any order. So many voices around you. Perhaps they’ll tell you what to say. But it’s nothing you haven’t heard before only now it’s very loud. Only now it is louder and louder. And the ones lifting you up are the ones holding you down. But all you want is to be touched anyway so little by little there are tiny erosions in the difference. It is possible the end is near or, even worse, the beginning. It could be we are only just at the beginning of increased cruelty, well, some of us. (It’s a continuum, you see. Don’t you see?) This seems most likely, although they would prefer you don’t speak about that. “They.” Such a spooky term to use. How jarring to have it fall from my fingertips so easily. And to understand exactly what I mean so clearly, unequivocally. (Did you?) They need to pull us apart to get inside where they can do the rest of the job they came to do. There are cracks in the ceiling. My eyes trail over them back and forth as I listen to the voices. Listen. Listen. Listen. Sounds like skin. I suck the smoke through the gaps in my teeth. I swallow. I spit. I break a fingernail and chew. See if you can notice the inflections in the tone, the sarcasm and the degradation. See if you can get at your own sense of worth in spite of everything else trying to convince you otherwise. Recite the words in small phrases, small bites. Try to go fast without thinking, you know what that’s probably it: you probably just think too much. Forget it. Just select your five hundred words a day. It’s okay if this was really tough for you to put together. It’s okay if they don’t understand you right away. It’s okay. It’s okay. It’s okay.

The Whole of Who You Are

Ryan Moreno

It’s all connected. Your art. Your expression. Your fear. Your love. Your lust. Your sin. Your addiction. Your joy. Your power. Your beauty. Your friendships. Your lovers. Your interests. Your dreams. Your shame. Your needs. Your wants. Your voice. Your visions. Your escapes. What you hide. What you share. What you offer. What you deny. What you withhold. What you study. What you focus on. What you value. What you worship. What you believe. What you refuse to accept about who you are. The illusion is that you have to choose. Your soul comes not in pieces, but whole. The secret is to open your heart and mind and being to all of it. To swallow it whole, and accept and accept and accept. This is to heal. This is to recover, which can also mean to reclaim, to re-discover, to reveal, to uncover, to get back all of who you are.

Finding Myself: Reflections On Self-Transformation During Quarantine

“Getting lost was not a matter of geography so much as identity, a passionate desire, even an urgent need, to become no one and anyone, to shake off the shackles that remind you who you are, who others think you are.”
― Rebecca Solnit, A Field Guide to Getting Lost

As I move through the days, I realize more and more that I feel desperate for a world that is more thoughtful, contemplative, aware, awakened, transformed. Desperation, though, is not anything I can work with, this wishing for a different kind of world, as that is not within my control. What I can work with, however, is myself. So I am taken recently with the idea of doing inner work with myself in a way I wish society and the outer world at large would take the time to do before emerging from this gruesome pandemic. You see, I don’t want to go blindly back, I want to move forward transformed. And my fear is that too many people want the former even as I am starved for the latter. I am hungry for a transformation of some kind to take place both within and around me.

I have admired Rebecca Solnit for so many years I can’t even recall when I first was introduced to her work, save to say it was a long while ago. But I had never before read her incredibly eloquent, insightful book A Field Guide to Getting Lost. It has come into my life just a few days ago and met me exactly where I am in my -sometimes/often rattled- mind and soul. (Incidentally, the irony of a book about being lost finding me where I am in the dark right now is not. . . ahem, lost on me.)

There is a quote by Henry David Thoreau which I find quite poignant: “Not till we are lost, in other words not till we have lost the world, do we begin to find ourselves,” that resonates very deeply and profoundly with me in this present moment, some nine weeks into isolation. In a sense, I do feel I have lost the world, lost connection to it, not completely of course, but very much so in many ways. And I find it such a gift to have this extended period of time to turn inward, to take the journey into my own heart and mind and ask the big existential questions. What is most important to me in my life? What is my purpose here? What will I do with my gifts, interests, passions, ideas, thoughts, visions? What do I want to explore moving forward into a brand new phase of life, expression, creativity?

I am privileged to be able to spend time inside of myself with very little outside stress. I am safe, many are not. And I cringe every time I hear someone say “We just need to get back to normal.” I physically wince inside as though I have been struck because I am afraid of the grave mistake of going back to the old idea of normal. The idea that we need to rush to the end of a major global catastrophe and quickly forget it ever even happened. Well, I don’t want the world to forget. I don’t want to forget. And I don’t want to rush out. Not out of my house, not out of this moment in this one precious life of mine when so much is being revealed, our weaknesses exacerbated and our strengths tested at every turn. I want to sink inward and search for what I need to find, what I need to understand about what this experience is teaching me. Turn toward what is calling to me to be still and listen, to learn, to be made new. I want to be changed. Opened. I seek answers. Revelations. Insights. Discoveries. Magic. Mystery. We are all lost right now. We are surrounded by the unforeseen, the unknown, and the unknowable. Isn’t this where rich art is born? Out of uncertainty? Out of the searching for the secrets within? Out of being lost, and found, by ourselves in darkness?

In a beautifully elegant passage from A Field Guide to Getting Lost, Solnit writes:

“Edgar Allen Poe declared, ‘All experience in matters of philosophical discovery, teaches us that, in such discovery, it is the unforeseen upon which we must calculate most largely.’ Poe is consciously juxtaposing the word ‘calculate’ which implies a cold counting up of the facts or measurements, with ‘the unforeseen,’ that which cannot be measured or counted, only anticipated. How do you calculate upon the unforeseen? It seems to be an art of recognizing the role of the unforeseen, of keeping your balance amid surprises, of collaborating with chance, of recognizing there are some essential mysteries in the world and thereby a limit to calculation, to plan, to control. To calculate the unforeseen is perhaps exactly the paradoxical operation that life most requires of us.” (emphasis mine)

For me, this is the very essence of the creation of art of every kind. A collaboration with chance, with the dare, with the unknown, the unseen. An acceptance, and even a welcoming, rather than a rejection or denial of the unforeseen, the incalculable, the mysterious force with which we interact in order to transform and be transformed.

“In her novel Regeneration, Pat Barker writes of a doctor who ‘knew only too well how often the early stages of change or cure may mimic deterioration. Cut a chrysalis open, and you will find a rotting caterpillar. What you will never find is that mythical creature, half caterpillar, half butterfly, a fit emblem of the human soul, for those whose cast of mind leads them to seek such emblems. No, the process of transformation consists almost entirely of decay.” Rebecca Solnit, A Field Guide to Getting Lost (emphasis mine)

We have, in a sense, lost the world, lost contact with much of it. Lost control of much of it. Lost the illusions of a control we thought we had but in truth never did. We are experiencing grief, rupture, disintegration, decay. I don’t want to have gone through all of this mind bending upheaval and have learned nothing, to have nothing to show for it, nothing to emerge with when we see each other again. I want to find the gifts of this moment in time, brutal, surprising, breathtaking, and honest as they may be. Through all the heartache, I need to know it was worth something. That there is something in me I can still give, and a place within me which is still open to receiving.

The truth is, there is no going back, there never is. And I wouldn’t want there to be. I want to move forward, to be transformed into a new person, a new being with deeper awareness and intimate insights and renewed perspectives on everything. I want that for myself and I want it for the world. But I can only take care of myself. So I start in my own mind, my own body, my own spirit, my own soul. I read about getting lost and more and more, I am finding the deep abiding wisdom which can only be revealed in silence, in isolation. I cling to the hope of my soul’s voice, as wide as an ocean, wild, powerful, roaring, steady, ancient, shimmering in the dark.

 

Cuts of Light

My mouth is dry from cigarettes and wine and as I fumble my arm around in the dark reaching for my water glass, I knock the full thing over and listen as the liquid I desperately need down my throat now trickles down the bedside table instead. Fuck. It’s two in the morning and my veins are thundering blood through my thin body like the threat of a thousand wild horses set to stampede across my chest. I get these weird sensations once in a while. Palpitations or so they say, mostly it just feels like fluttering ruptures which are not unpleasant, just startling. I think about thinking and when I do, I do it too hard and can’t seem to make it stop. I meditate in the mornings, I think it helps but my mind wanders to places it shouldn’t and anxiety creeps into the tiny cracks where anxiety had previously let me alone, hence the wine and the cigarettes and the various attempts made at poetry or whatever else comes to creative mind. A lot of people are making those cut apart collages these days and sharing them online. We jam foreign objects together hoping to disintegrate the distance keeping us alive. We dabble and we try things and we make a mess and glue it all back together only upside down with glitter and we take pills to help us sleep all the while the rocky stars peer down, unfeeling in a cold vast place we will only ever dream about but never see up close. In times like these when time both races past and stands still as death all the same, it’s hard to tell if the ache in my bones comes from sitting too long in one place hunched over myriad books, notes, and screens or because every time I skim through social media feeds my chest contracts and my shoulders end up hung tight from my earlobes. Such a shit show, such a crying shame of a situation every which way you look at it. Staring at the dark wooden blades of the ceiling fan as they whirl in a silent circle of blackness, I can just make out the dim lines where hazy blue moon glow sharpens their rotating edges. If I hold my breath, I can hear the faintest movement of the air splitting itself to let the slats of the fan pass through. That’s what I need. Something which cuts through the noise and allows the thinness of my soul to slide on through. I move a warm hand underneath the blankets and place it on my bare stomach. My heart quickens at my own tender touch. I stroke my own skin, feel my own body. I bite my soft lip, and turn my head to take note of the time. My eyes and the dark halls of my strung out mind, still searching.