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.

 

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Photo by Kirill Palii

Pretend It Doesn’t Hurt Us

The snow is coming down like a beautiful crystal mess. In each intricate icy bit of frozen lace, the rigid pixels of the year falling down on hard pavement.

Melting like a suicide. Like an attempt to disappear by smoothly changing form. The texture of resistance, slipping, slipping.

There is a softness in the sharp cut of the cold that cannot be explained because it stands still in the midst of the motion.

Peace at the center of the chaos, as if it had never ceased to exist.

It’s the gray dullness of a winter afternoon just around two o’clock which is the time of day I hate the most. It’s too late and too early to decide what to do because you are sick to death of the morning dragging itself on and your bones ache for the sensual cover of evening dark.

For the life of me I cannot understand why people hate the early darkness of winter. What are they even doing in the light that is so goddamn important?

I am standing in my back garden watching the tall naked trees cling to the blanketing white, all is quiet as the heartbeat underneath the stiffened fingers of my rib cage.

Stepping into the doorway under a tiny overhang, I light up a cigarette and take a sweet deep suck, my cheeks pulling in like carved hollows. I know I shouldn’t but I love the dirty taste. I crave the clench in my tender lungs like a pathetic ragged hug.

Smoke curls up into the white swirling around me as I imagine drifting away entirely, my body only a whisper on the wind which moves the highest branches against a pillowed sky.

Before we can know what we even had we are ready to lose it all for a lick of the desire for something so much more than this. For all the beauty, there is a sadness we cling to perhaps so that we don’t lose ourselves into the madness.

Pain as sanity. Pain as anchor. Pain as real.

But when I look out across a landscape flush with fallen leaves, fallen trees, broken fences crushed against broken dreams, I wonder.

Can’t we just cover it.

Bury it, let it freeze. Pretend like the past didn’t hurt us in places we refuse to see.

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Photo by Taya Iv

Sweet Sweet Dreams

Clutching for the sky, I slide down alongside the rain as I imagine your kiss turns bittersweet, from sugar to some sort of chemical, like swallowing mercury. The crickets are still buzzing loudly in the darkness of early morning, crackling in the grass like fire. As you disappear I find myself alone again in a crumpled bed, strewn with white linen I have to kick my sticky legs free from due to the unbearable heat.

Unsure if the sweat which slicks my entire body is brought on by the thickness of the humidity which sags through the window and soaks everything damp, or night sweats brought on by either the advance of age or the increase of drink, I peel off all my clothes and lie naked at the center of the bed. The center of the universe beats at the center of my body, as though my heart were located somewhere closer to my navel than my chest.

The mind wanders in these predawn hours. I consider the lost works of Sappho, words lush with pleasure-pain, ripe, swollen with longing, even still, made haunting through their absence.  Their suggestion becomes obsession with interpretation, extrapolation, possibility. Perhaps this is the single common human desire. Our want of the wanting. Our desire for the desire. Our thirst for the neediness and greed.

Sweet-hard thoughts of masochism, sadism, wanton women, hungry men. The feral, the animal, the degrading, the way only pain can satisfy the deep psychic cravings tucked within the folds of our darkest secret pleadings. Imaginings of orgies in days long gone by, humanity, divinity, perversions of beauty and sin, lost to the ruins of time, air, salt, sea. These musings blur into the blue haze of the dewy morning glow.

As my skin cools, sleep descends all around me, slows my breathing. Each desire becomes the mist of the dream. Each dream, a white paper boat I watch set out upon the dark and unrelenting waves.

 

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Photo by Engin Akyurt

That Sweetness You’re Made Of

She tells me she warns her young son that if he masturbates his penis will fall off. Keeping my thoughts to myself, when I try to make the coffee it’s old and stale before it even starts. The sickness in my stomach makes me gag a little bit. Out the window, which is actually a floor to ceiling wall of glass towering high above the city, the bright winter sun glares obnoxiously off the windows and steel beams of the other high rise buildings across the street. What exactly do we think shame protects us from? Or do we just like the perverted humiliation, turn it into fetishes to fuel another spawning seedy industry. Doesn’t matter to me, as far as I’m concerned seedy is just another welcome escape from the real mess humanity has made. Likely imperceptible to others, something in the way the day shines while she is speaking cruel words makes me want to cringe and wretch and curl into myself until all the screaming insanity stops. People are often telling me things I don’t want to hear while other people are busy ignoring the people in their lives who matter most. Just getting through a day of regular conversation, the smiling and nodding as it all goes to hell in a plastic bag of burnt coffee grounds can drain what little life you have left sliding through your impermanent veins. The only relief is the ink and the drink. There is a poet I adore who can slay you in only a handful of words. The philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer once said that, “talent hits a target no one else can hit; genius hits a target no one else can see.” She is a genius in every poetic sense, she touches you in places you didn’t even know existed within you but which had been aching since your time on this burning planet began. Each syllable expertly selected, carved out of obscurity and offered up like a beautiful sacrificial kill. She is blood in your gums, she is sex melting on your tongue. Drifting off into the safe danger of my own mind, in the static blackness I imagine a heavenly host of pure white doves, the sky is gray and endless as the low clouds move in and cover a quiet earth laid bare in shadow. Upon the dead grass, a circle of enchanting young women, open, supple, elegant gowns slipping off shoulders as they stroke and admire each other. A painting by a crystal running brook, a kiss which stands still forever in a heart which is free, a sliver of desire captured in silk. Maidens enraptured beneath an impending storm. The nature of the woman, erotic, mysterious, eternal. Perhaps the gods had stirred the skies to excite them, draw their bodies close to be soothed and discovered. Innocence. Corruption. Penetration. Poetry. Sappho. “What cannot be said will be wept.” I want to run my tongue along your fair collarbone, take the taste of you into me deeply, that I may become honey, flowing rich and thick in heated streams. All day the world is too bright, angel, sharpening my edges. But in the dark folds of this velvet night, feathered and dim, I make myself again soft for you.

// Temptress //

This madness is crowding in on the coffee and cigarette smoke, my limbs are phantoms, my limbs are nightmares tangled in long-legged night sweats,
I moan as the thrum of your heady scent
erupts like pricks of sedation at the back of my throat.
This was twelve nights prior to the loss of God, this was yet to burn away the clouds, this was crushed poison and weather vanes coming undone.
Blush curtains, floor to ceiling,
holding speech in the folds of their wrists
collecting dust and you,
tenderloin heart in your mouth, palms wrapped tight
upon the posts of my
alabaster
bed
looking up.
Hands fold, eyes fold, blind folds,
three lush creases line the hollow face
of our disregarded love letters:
one at the neck of the fold,
two at the waist of the fold,
three at the blood fire in the folds.
You touch me anywhere. Sound becomes lace becomes bone.
Pillow feathered patterns press my milken skin
as I trace the star stained desires in your mind.
I will breathe and you will breathe
and we’ll count
seven thousand times back
from eternity.
You and I
we’ve spent heavenly mouthfuls of time
swallowing the nights like knives.
They were
strange beheaded creatures
sliding hooks along
bare walls.
Folded, too, were the love made hours
into flesh, into tear drops, into fingers, into the soft curves of
dewy breasts, cream linens, elbows, skies.
I can still feel you say it against my chest, that pleasure always bent for me
the way of a broken afternoon on sidewalk shadows,
thorough, extensive, discreet.
Your tongue thirsty at my thighs and this somber light
between us
is a hallowed illusion of peace.
All the miserable gray snow
flung fast upon the ground.
All the cruel heat in your penitent eyes
gazing down.
This madness is crowding,
is crowding us in.

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// patience //

Perhaps the darkness
will learn to give way,
in time,
to slender suggestions
of light.
In a dust blue
shadow room
somewhere across the world
the first sound is heard
by the empty air,
so very few
believe.
And in the streets below
this broken window
soul,
nothing passes
nothing flows.

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what will you do?

Hush, my angel,
in the quiet bend of the
wrist, this
is my most tender
undress;
this is the way I slip
inside the gap between the
thighs of the birth
of my resplendent heaven
through the fires of an ancient hell, this
is the way I
open up.
What will you do with
the coming true
of us?

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beautiful light, can you hear me?

Bare feet below me, thrust of chalk white sky
stalking above and I
see myself
flesh to the press of candle glow
eyes,
through the window
the rain is swallowing tears
long dry, returned.

Sorrow curls his fragile spine
inside the hands of freedom,
an ocean of ghost bodies walking
side by side forever.
There are new worlds inverted,
refracted and coming into view –
palm touches palm, cheek to sternum
they bloom, flower, and
disintegrate.

My life is a glass face:
a curious gaze without
and within.
Beautiful light, beautiful light
brave mouth opening the dark,
can you hear me?

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“The great courage is still to gaze as squarely at the light as at death.” ~ Albert Camus

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