Sometimes the Darkness Helps

We build our temples up to the sky hoping it will save us but we don’t know why or what from until it’s too late to do anything about in any case.

As I wind my way along Main Street, my boots crunch against the snowy sidewalk and my eyes follow the structures of the mansions on either side of the narrowing road. A lot of money buys a lot of pretty real estate. What’s that saying? He who dies with the most toys? Still dies.

One of the biggest places has a bunch of flags flying from their many ornate balconies. Some shit about patriotism and conspiracy theory somehow making so such sense to them they have to fly banners and announce to the world that they mean to come fuck it all up.

So much privilege. So much angst.

Wealth is a kind of blindness. A way to see and not see. A selection, a distraction. I have met people like this. Eyes and smiles all glazed over with the palpable fear and panic which courses through their jittery veins.

I take the last drag of my cigarette and toss it into a snow bank where it glows, then burns out in a flash of frozen winter air.

Somewhere across this town and on the border of the next, a guy with a lot of problems stands on the edge of a bridge which over looks a wide rushing river, churning its icy currents down toward a massive waterfall. He stares into the whirling darkness of its bottomless depths and wonders if he will ever be free.

If freedom is a thing you have to take for yourself in the best way you know how even if it isn’t in this life. Maybe there is a next. Maybe to leap is to fly and to fly is to escape. Second chances. Second looks. Second guesses.

As a plow truck shoves dirty snow into a pile against the corner where the coffee shop hums with fragrant activity, I watch the blinking traffic lights and stare off into the distance in the direction of the white church steeple high up in the hills, covered in bare black trees and worn out gray winter snow.

So many heroes, so many saviors, so many false gods.

The atmosphere, for the rich and the poor, the young and old and somewhere lost in between, is heavy.

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Photo by Mitchell Hollander

Before You Lose It All

Gun metal gray shadows slope along the snow covered roofs of the houses standing stark against the cold blue of the winter sky.  The entirety of the years gone by curls into a clear crystal ball and slides itself down into a frozen spike of sheer thick ice, slowly dripping from the slant of an old wooden doorway hidden away off the street.

Time melting into place before suddenly breaking off and shattering into a million pieces against the pavement. A million tiny globular tears glistening like jewels in the frigid white February sun.

He hates this time of year because the bitter cold keeps him from plunging into the ocean, but we still walk this beach anyway, all bundled like two Eskimos, sipping on this or that to keep warm.

I read somewhere that the warmth you feel from alcohol is deceiving and can get you killed in extreme cold. The alcohol draws the blood into your extremities and heats them up instead of protecting the vital organs which need the heat to keep you alive. Neither here nor there at the moment I guess, but if you ever find yourself facing down a case of hypothermia, ditch the bottle is what I’m telling you they would tell you.

Life can be cruel. It can scream and chase and gnaw at you despite all your best efforts to keep the hurt at bay. Life can push you to your limits and then stomp on your neck all the same with little care for even the slightest choke of your mortal struggle.

But for now at least, there is he and I and the endless ocean tides crashing against this thunderous, deserted beach. The sand, the water, our hearts and our shadows stretching out endlessly before us.

As I look up at the too bright sky, I can see the sun and the moon suspended there together which seems eerie and strange like they shouldn’t occupy the same sky even though they always do.  It occurs to me it’s kind of sweet and kind of stupid how we spend our whole lives trying to compartmentalize the universe – past, present, future, good, bad, beginning, end, middle – when the truth is it’s all there all the time, staring back at you all at once.

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Photo by Zulmaury Saavedra

Twitch

What she saw before is gone now, replaced by gray dishes in a gray sink beneath a gray window beneath the clouded winter sky. The kind of sight which is a presence all its own, with its own weight and skin and intention.

Steady. Slow. Melancholy.

Life is for the ignorant and death is for the curious.

She has become the circumstance and the story. Her mind floating in the middle of no beginning and an uncertain ever-ebbing end.

All day she smiles and tries to blend in. Whittle away at the space she takes up.

The thought of rejection scares her to bits but the thought of solitude is her only comfort. Wanting to be alone and not alone is an exhausting mind-stretched space to inhabit so she opens a bottle to drown out the ricocheting pressure of the need to make any kind of decision one way or another.

In or out. Yes or no. Forward or back.

Truth or dare.

They tell her a hobby would help or maybe a man but she isn’t sure what help is supposed to actually mean so she picks up some arty shit at the craft place up the street and stares at it until finally shoving it all under the bed, lighting a cigarette and staring off into the gray distance.

Never minding the gray dishes in the gray sink.

She doesn’t want to draw this feeling. She doesn’t want to paint the terrible.

Writing is the only thing worth anything to her but that’s the problem right there: writing isn’t like anything else and it isn’t a hobby.

It’s everything real and sacred and true and it is the only thing that can save her because it has to.

It has to.

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Photo by Victoria Volkova

Cold White Eye

I see his face in the white wide sky as the snow falls heavy and thick all around me, big fluffy chunks of it land soft and cold on my skin, stick against my eyelashes before sliding off down my pink cheek.

Ivory snow flakes nestle in my strawberry hair as my boots crunch into the drifting layers of crystal powder on the street. Blanketing the dirt, covering the holes in the asphalt.

It is hard to write when you don’t know who you are but try to pretend.

The snowy landscape is so gorgeous it hurts all over inside. It tears into the softest parts of you that have given up trying to understand, trying to make any sense, trying to try. I want the silent solitude of each little falling flake to pile up inside me because I lost myself somewhere I can’t seem to pinpoint and I would like to be buried against that feeling.

It is a struggle to understand what anything means to me as I take in the frigid scene. I can feel the whiteness of the sky like an open eye into my own mind. There is a brightness behind my trepidation which shines like a distant orbiting sun.

A rising of the temperature. A warming which threatens to melt the beauty and force it down into the gutter where it belongs.

I have become too many people all at once. I am consumed with jitters and apprehension, and the apprehension becomes a persona I can manipulate like a child builds a man made out of snow. Charcoal eyes. Standing alone in a field.

Geese cry over head, their darkened bodies soaring through a pristine sky, and I imagine the wetness of freedom. The feathered breast of the wild we were promised but destroy.

I imagine his face inside the clouded winter, the dark circles around his heavenly eyes. The mouth is moving against the air and my blood rushes faster and faster toward it. I want to be swallowed.

It’s hard to write when you don’t know what you want from life. Your own life hanging in a closet somewhere among other things – lost, forgotten, discarded things which no longer fit. You keep what you have because it’s all you’ve gotten or ever will. What a joke. What a waste.

All around me this beauty, this terrible beauty which twists in my heart like a knife.

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Photo by Micah Hallahan

Run, Girl

Beyond the painful thoughts which stab and prick underneath my skin, there is a field of beautiful dreams which I create out of desperation or maybe because I have always believed in magic while cursing the manic grief that is the current state of affairs in a world turned bitter and diseased.

The sun glares so bright against the hills of snow I have to squint and shield my eyes for fear of going blind. Everything is covered in shimmering crystal and for a while I know that I am made of it. Clean. Prismatic. That in each ray of light which bounces off of each tiny droplet of frozen water and ice, I exist shining for all to see across the miles.

When the world has all gone to shit and the weight of it on my tiny bones is too much to take, I run off to be alone, to unhook myself from the walls they pin me to so they can take what they want and leave the rest. There are vultures and they are everywhere and they do not smile or turn their heads, but rather pierce you square in the mouth with their dead black eyes. Blood suckers. Fools. Maggots.

In the field I am alone with the sky, the grass, the earth, sun, moon, birds, animals, butterflies, flowers, trees. It is every hour of every season all at once and the ocean breathes its way through the tall stalks as I am one with all of my surroundings.

I am not the cage of my body or the fence around my mind.

I am only expansion, uncontained, unowned. Free. Beautiful. Raw. It’s the rawness that is the most beautiful. A creature dangerous in its unpredictability.

I am not who I pretend to be to get along in this world which crushes out the soul like a cigarette under its thick dirty boot.

Ever since I turned twelve, I have had this nagging little fear of going to wide open spaces alone because: murderers. It may sound insane but there is this thing that always happens to me, and I do mean always.

No matter where it is, an empty beach, an empty street, an empty classroom, hallway, deli, restaurant. Out of nowhere, a stranger will appear and he will act strangely near me, at me, to me. I have done nothing but exist alone minding my business, and the universe will sense my aloneness and send in some manner of lunatic to interrupt my solitude with their unhinged antics.

It is maddening. It stunts my life. Makes me paranoid, jumpy, distracted.

Perhaps for this reason, in my mind I run into that field of dreams to escape the world which seems to stalk me back into myself.

Perhaps we are all someone we don’t want to be. And yet perhaps we wish we were so much more of ourselves at the same time.

Because the truth is that the animal within is monumental in its power to tempt. To betray. To seduce. To see, to touch, to awaken. To dare, to jump, to leap, to fly.

To kill.

To multiply.

To say No. To say Yes.

To open and open and open endlessly, do you understand? When you show them exactly what you are, you show them exactly what they are.

But they are too terrified to see.

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Photo by Dima Kosh

Fixations

He thinks I’m morbid but the truth is this is just how I am. I need to get a grip around my feelings and I like my feelings strong, vivid, unmistakable for anyone else’s but mine.

Some may call it intensity but for me it exists as heat, sensation, a presence which calls to me and cannot be denied, from which I cannot turn away, until I am able to map it out in all of its intricate intimacy.

Truth versus reality. A harshness of tone. All of this is textured in the patterns of my mind. I don’t know how to just be in this world. There is always a gnawing, a craving, a need. I read poetry to stroke my inner longing. A masturbation of the body of emotions.

You are only and always alone in the reading of poetry. The effects of the words on you, no matter how sinister, remain unseen by the outside world.

I am stalked by a dreadful feeling that these observations of mine will disappear before I may grasp them in full. That I will one day lose them even though they are, by definition, constantly leaving, repeatedly over, and there is nothing to be done about it because the nature of life is the steady destruction of everything.

Morbid is a matter of taste and inclination, not a matter of fact.

Snow is mixing in now with the freezing rain, the frozen drops soaring sideways just beyond the glass. The cruel sound of the wind lashes against my skin all over.

It’s not the big things that trouble me.

It’s the little things, the everyday terrors that grate underneath the surface of the hours. As the ice sprays like razors against my window, the silence in the house crawls upon my shoulders, pressing them in. I hate the hour from two to three o’clock in the afternoon. It is a mean hour indeed, like a glare, like a coldness caught out of the side of the eye.

It approaches and then there is something stubborn in the way it drags itself like nails down an empty wall.

In the dimming afternoon light, I trace the shadows in the corner with my tired almond eyes, following their eerie edges and wayward curves.

There is a shape in the heart which does not resemble the animal it is fitted within. Time ages the skin and whittles the bones, but the fire inside burns just as bright as it ever has.

The child, the shaken creature transported to earth from an alternate mysterious realm knows nothing about time, only eternity. Only forever.

Perhaps it’s the slowness of the ticking of the old clock on the desk that maddens me. Perhaps the way the lines on my hands resemble the waves of my hair or the smell of cold winter in the rings around my coffee mug.

The way mornings become afternoons without so much as a whisper.

The way the night slides in with its claws and its blood and its teeth.

Eyes fixed on me.

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Photo by Malicki M Beser

Breaking Skin

My card doesn’t work and the wind cutting bitter against the skin on my hand is so fucking freezing it burns like hot pinpricks all over. Times are tough and the globe is melting into itself but at the moment I’m stuck cursing the gas pump card reader while foraging for another card to try so I can get the hell out of there before my coffee gets cold or my frostbitten digits fall off, which ever comes first.

If I had half my act together I would have filled the tank yesterday but I was tired of everything and the old familiar feeling of gloom had settled in by the time the red sun sank low into the naked nest of trees in the meadow across the street.

Wandering the back roads on the way to the office, I watch as a man emerges from the side door of his little cottage-like home with his dog on a leash wearing only pajamas and an overcoat. No, the man in the pajamas and overcoat, the dog wearing only the collar and leash and a grumbled look on its face as if it, too, thinks walking in this nasty cold is a bad idea indeed.

The man lights a cigarette, oblivious. Numb.

I shudder as I drive on by.

Listening to someone on the radio chatter on about whether or not to break off her engagement with some poor chap who spent a good portion of his meager salary to buy her a shit ring, I wince and laugh out loud as people call in to offer their advice which the girl listens to and debates as we secretly judge her and all the other strangers for having poor instincts and even less tact.

I shouldn’t judge, of course, but everybody does and I’m quite tired, in fact, of worrying about what I should and should not do or care about according to a society so completely and perfectly morally screwed up it has no business instructing anyone about anything.

Later on I’m back at home with a whiskey, re-reading Virginia Woolf’s “The Death of the Moth” and trying to warm my hollow bones. Woolf observes the helpless winged specimen as it flits and flutters erratically in her windowsill until finally it struggles its last with tiny legs wriggling against the empty air and perishes, as small and strange in fitful life as it is frozen stiff in death.

The essay was published a year after Virginia Woolf ended her own life by walking into the River Ouse at Lewes with stones in her coat pockets, weighing her down.

A deep tug of sorrow fills my heart for someone I admire but do not know.

I swallow hard and watch as a steady swath of white smoke trails from a chimney across the way, thin and pale, vanishing like a ghost.

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Photo by Michele Seghieri

Dirty Plastic Hearts

The table is grubby white plastic much like her heart, propped up in the dead of winter and sprinkled with peppery flecks of cigarette ash as the wind blows cold around the side of the house.

She is supposed to be doing whatever it is she is supposed to be doing. Folding laundry. Vacuuming the last of the dry pine needles left behind from the remnants of a holiday spent indoors with more than a little bit of booze and sadness mixed in, too.

But instead, she is sat outside in the frigid air at the corner of the patio crunched into this rickety table which wobbles because one of its cheap legs is cracked and neither she nor he has bothered to invest in a new one.

The smoke tastes like fire and burns her lungs but it feels good to feel alive and as though if there has to be pain, at least she is in control of it. At least she’s doing it to herself.

Looking out across the fenced in yard, she exhales great plumes of white smoke and watches as the snow begins to flutter down and settle on the frozen ground.

In her mind, images of years ago when she was young and ripe and could have any boy she wanted with just the wink of her eye and the flick of her long auburn hair. It’s funny how the years go by without you noticing. How you can watch the seasons turn in the palm of your hand but you can’t see much past the end of your nose.

When the sky turns purple and the stars begin to bud high above the naked winter trees, she sips her wine and tugs her old coat around her tighter. There once was a guy whose touch made her weak. Whose voice was low and commanding. He left her for someone heavier, told her she was too thin. He liked a woman’s curves he could grab a hold of, something to squeeze.

Everyone was a body inside a body back then. She’s always been a mind, a heart, a soul as wide and expansive as the sea, but who has the time for that when there is money to be spent and suits to fit into and plans to be made.

Crushing out her cigarette into the little ceramic ashtray that she got at a road side flea market a while back, she catches a glimpse of the pretty house across the street. In each of its perfect tiny windows, a red heart decoration glistens with flashy glitter and lace.

Love. You can stab it all to hell but it always attempts a come back.

 

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Photo by Tiko Giorgadze

 

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.

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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.

 

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Photo by Pietro Tebaldi