Mirrors and Smoke

Another day slides open outside my window. The deep night sky giving way to a new navy blue dawn as little lights begin to flicker on all around the neighborhood. The smell of coffee rouses my sleepy senses and I head to the kitchen for a cup, my bare feet suddenly cold against the hard wooden floor.

In the days that come, we can expect warmer weather, or so they claim, but growing up around here you know the first few days of spring can be a tease. We once had six feet of snow in April back when I was in high school. The weather, like a life of its own, is a gamble.

I’m heavy into editing some of my older works dating back about a year and a half. It’s hard to believe I have written over five hundred pieces on this site and that some of them are even half decent. Some are about me, some are about other people, some are not about me but claim to be. When you write, you sort of walk a blurred line between truth and untruth, fiction and non-fiction. Sometimes you simply run over it altogether.

Creativity can mean bold but it can also mean disguise. You can tell a thing, and swear by it, and all the while be building a case against it at the very same time. Which is not to say that I’m not telling the truth, but rather only to say that you may or may not ever know.

This is why you should not fall in love with writers. They are impossible to understand. They are impossible to pin down, to penetrate. I once saw a woman author on Twitter completely annihilate some poor sap who claimed to have deep feelings of connection to her because he felt through her confessional writings that he understood her as intimately as he thought he understood himself.

The trouble there is that we are all strangers on the internet. We are all making this shit up to some degree all the time. We build an image, conjure up a fantasy. Love is just a word and relationships are distorted because we have constructed a world which feeds on insecurity and loneliness, and then turns them into currency.

As I write all of this to you, I can see little birds and squirrels coming alive in the early morning light. Soaring from tree top to tree top in the frigid winter air, running up and down the big thick trunks. A pink haze is blending in with the powder blue horizon, like a pastel drawing, or a painting.

There are the dreams we think we can reach out and touch if only we had the nerve. People we think we know because they seem to wear their hearts on their sleeves and bleed on the page for all the world to read. But it is so much trickier than that these days.

So often, maybe too often, what you get is not what you see.

 

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Photo by Ilona Panych

Broken In

I’m trying to meet you where you are but I keep missing the mark. I watch your eyes watching my mouth and I think it’s working. I think I’m getting better but it’s hard to tell if I can be trusted to evaluate such a fragile thing.

You see, I live so much inside my head that I get frantic when I try to step outside of the warm cocoon of my own mind. Unpredictable as my mind may be, I can always find somewhere to hide as long as I stay in here alone.

It’s the people who try to penetrate too deep too soon that I don’t trust. There’s the guy up the street who shoves his thoughts and opinions  on me without warning or regard for the fact that I keep walking faster and don’t make eye contact. He just lights up a fresh cigarette and keeps up with my long strides, although with his short idiotic legs and surely smoke-strained heart I’m not even sure how he does it.

This kind of violation has been happening to me all my life. Though it isn’t the worst kind I assure you, it’s still unnerving in the way it reminds me like a sudden jab in the ribs that I am not safe in the world because at any moment something not my own can be jammed into me like a splintered stick in the spokes of the spinning wheel of my one chance at a life less intimidating.

I don’t imagine normal people think this way. I suppose they would just tell the creeps to back the fuck off in no uncertain terms but there is some kind of defect in me. When I’m cornered, something inside shuts off and shuts down.

I’m skittish about feeling too good or too bad in the presence of others. I can’t tell where the boundaries between us are so when someone reaches toward me, I feel like I am falling away. It might be fear but knowing the feeling of fear would mean knowing the feeling of no fear, and somehow being able to sense the difference.

I’m not sure I have ever known a break in the fear.

 

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Photo by Karina Tess

Down This Lonely Road

There is beauty in the madness behind your eyes. I can taste it as if my body were made entirely of tongues.

I’m sorry I make you want bad things. I’m sorry I’m not good enough for you and I complicate even the messiest of messes. I’m at the center of the cyclone at the bottom of the bottle and I can’t feel a thing.

‘Hate’ is a strong word but you use it anyway just to see if anything at all will stick. Words like knives against the wall. Throats like broken glass.

I know I can’t write my way out of this but maybe if I can get you off, I can write you in. You tell me I’m not in control of you. I’m not in control of myself and it’s a problem. I’m always the problem.

And you. You’re never the solution even though I try so hard to make you a piece which will fit inside this heart of mine which sputters and skips along the empty roads so few ventured to follow me down over the years. But you will never fit. And the roads you want to wander down are yours and yours alone.

Time is a tricky thing, you understand. There’s the time pulsing in your hot little hands and then there’s the time measured in terrible mistakes and I’m afraid I’m running out of both.

If you leave me now I can take it, I just don’t know it yet. If you walk out that door I will lock it behind you and unhinge myself from what’s left of my mind.

But my body will remain. This fucking body which screams and screams your name.

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Photo by Brooke Cagle

Swear to God

What happens is you ask me, Truth or dare? and I say: both.

Do you believe in God?

I’m just trying to survive the day, you know what I mean. Survive the gray drizzle tapping on the slanted tin roof. Survive the night which is about to unfold in front of us for no reason other than because it has to and it has no other choice.

You didn’t answer my question.

You didn’t listen to my answer. Let me say this another way. I know there’s something out there, something toying with us from the other side, but only if you believe in ghosts. The way a child is a afraid of the dark until one night the dark sits at the edge of the bed, plays with the child’s hair until they become a kind of friends which turns into a secret which never goes away. It just sinks down lower and lower into the child’s bones, and then blooms and lives inside of her, takes on its own variation of feelings, perceptions, intuitions.

There are shadows on the ceiling standing still as they look on, eyeless. You reach out and trace a small symbol on my breast, tell me I should pray.

I don’t believe in your God but I like your fingers on my skin. I imagine going down on you just to prove my point but I’m so sick of your games I just stare off into the distance and swallow the last of my drink.

Sex is God. Whiskey is God. Art is God. Stale mouths and smoky pink skies which rise in the early dawn. And we dance and we fuck and we lie and we all fall down.

I don’t believe in your God so don’t ask. I left God a long time ago but not before he left me a million times over. It doesn’t mean I don’t believe in anything it just means I probably don’t believe in you, unless you prove you are really here and really paying attention.

As though reading my mind, you undress and dare me to do the same. It’s a little bit funny and I almost smile when I lay back and raise my arms above my head. When my eyes take in your pale skin and muscular build, the vapors in my blood begin to simmer and I think about how what we really want to worship is danger because in lives as boring as these it’s frighteningly hard to come by.

But you don’t ask me any more questions so I don’t tell you you’re the safest place I’ve ever been in God knows when.

 

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Photo by Ava Sol

 

 

Straight No Chaser

Spreading my fingers out over the keyboard, I feel certain this is where I belong even if it doesn’t come out right. I’ve cracked a window open and the air coming in smells like the slightest touch of spring. It dares me to imagine warmer weather moving closer and I almost do.

It’s that time in winter when you are desperate for even just a lick of spring. The trees are dead and the sky is cold in a way that numbs your heart and hardens your skin.

And yet something inside will not loosen its hold around the hope that we just may come through unscathed, alive.

It is, of course, too late for that. Some winters leave scars.

How do you destroy a world? First you lie about it. Then you convince everyone, including yourself, that the lie is the truth. You take reality by the hair and force her face into the dirt. You value money more than people and some people more than others.

We try to live in the space between terror and trust. Our hands tremble when we touch. We reach for a pill, we reach for a gun, but the threat is invisible and it’s found its way inside. It has already multiplied and cannot be undone.

He used to stroke my ego and I used to like it. Told me how beautiful I was, how he could gaze into my eyes for all eternity and stay inside my body forever. For a while I tucked my entire being underneath the promise of that.

But beauty fades and he faded even faster, into the nothingness that is the randomness of a brief encounter with a stranger.

We grasp at straws while praying for wings. We can’t shake the feeling that everything we ever wanted is just around the corner if only we could figure out which corner. But the whispers are only the wind. We circle the block, around and around again.

Our eyes scan the white upon frozen white of winter across the endless hills as we gnash our teeth against the indifference of the cold.

Even still, not everything we wish for is warm. Not everything that’s warm intends to bring us back to life.

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Photo by Yohann LIBOT

So Good It Hurts

The sex was so good I’m pretty sure I saw actual stars glistening all around us, shooting and exploding into the darkness. I could feel the heavenly rush of chemicals coursing through my entire body, sending me into a kind of delicious euphoric shock that was waves upon waves of pure pleasure.

Not a bad start on a rainy Sunday morning, as I crawl out from under his slumbering body, pull on my sweats and head down for coffee.

I used to tell myself I could only write under circumstances of extreme, or at least sufficient, melancholy. But ever since I discovered his talent for delivering multiple orgasms, I’ve changed my perspective on the whole situation.

They wouldn’t have you believe it but a writer can write from a place of sweet, sweet pleasure. Or at least I can, which is news to me. Eventually it will all dissipate, of course. And I’ve not told him this because it’d surely collapse his spectacular hard on, but even in my most ecstatic state there is a deep feeling of loss inside of me that just will not let me go.

Ever since I can remember, I have carried an uncanny sense of everything slipping away. It is as though my soul is a thing which dwells just below the surface all the time, and it is watching me as I crumble, minute to minute. Skin cell by skin cell, the life within me is being shed.

We fall into lust and disregard the danger of forgetting that when push comes to shove, we are on our own. This kind of thinking does not make me a hit at parties. This kind of thinking is the kind you tuck inside your tight ass jeans and wrestle with in the silence of your own solitude.

The trouble is that solitude is all there is. You are the only one inside yourself all day, all night. The difference for an artist is that we dive into that abyss instead of trying to bury it by filling it with unimportant shit. We can’t help it.

We want to get to the bottom of it because we know that that abyss is who we are. We know, too, that there is no bottom. This presents a kind of problem we desire to solve and not solve. We want to know the end and we want the end to never come.

When you crave the emptiness they think they are trying to save you from, you learn to become two different people all the time. The one who pretends to understand them, and the one who swears to god you never ever will.

The coffee has kicked in and my fingers are flying across the keys as I punch down some philosophical bullshit just to get the chaos out of my head and onto the page. The writing is the only sacred space. I don’t need self help and I don’t need yoga and I don’t need church. What I need is a life centered around the one thing that doesn’t flinch.

 

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Photo by Rachel Coyne

Swallow It Down

The pavement is as dry as my mouth inside the long hallway of my bleak emotions. I think back to a time before time meant to me what it means to me now.

Before I realized my life was in my own hands. Before I knew no one was coming to save me and there was no way out of this alive.

I’m tracing a heart into the fogged back window of our old blue Chevy. I can’t be more than twelve years old, my torn up jeans hanging from my lanky frame. My fingernails are long and painted cotton candy pink. J + A in the center of the heart shape, with an arrow piercing right through it.

You want nothing more than a kiss then. Dancing in the darkness of the musty gymnasium. Stairway to Heaven, grape soda and Skittles. Your heart throbbing in your chest, smoke, sweat, and the anticipation of something you don’t even understand yet. But you want it. You just know you want it and you want it so bad.

We learn to crave dark things. We learn there are some desires we should not speak about to anyone but our diaries. We learn to drown for years and years without making a sound.

As the rain begins to really come down, I forget my day dreaming and remember my own skin. I hear the crunch of my boots on the ground as I make my way through the long winding streets toward the life I have built on a hill in the distance.

The dark heavy storm clouds gather in close circles and I look up at the thickness of the falling globes of water. I sense the pleasure of the feeling of swirling chaos, an atmosphere alive and electric with the change of season.

All we ask is redemption from who we became before we knew it could have all been different.

I open my mouth and swallow the weather. I have been thirsty for so long.

 

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Photo by Jasmin Schreiber

Might Delete This Later

I used to have this professor back in college the other kids would call ‘tough but fair.’ You know the type. Stoic. Snide. Red slashes all over your precious prose jabbed with some kind of confusing comment in the margins like, “Allison, DESCRIPTION!”

I thought he was just an asshole but no one asked my thoughts nor did any of it matter when it came time for him to grade our papers so I guess it’s better left in the past. Suffice it to say that in general, a male teacher was ‘tough but fair’ and a female teacher was an ‘arrogant bitch’ but truth be told there was no difference between the two except probably in salary but don’t get me started.

Have you ever wanted to erase your past and simply start over fresh? Like an Instagram grid just delete, delete, delete. Maybe that’s why the young kids, whatever they call themselves or don’t, their posts only last a few seconds, a few days at most. It all just disappears. The ridiculous smiles, the bad, the sad, the wasted, along with the beautiful. Fading, fading, all into nothingness as though none of it is real. Or if it is, it’s only real in the moment and then it’s anybody’s guess, anybody’s game.

Fumbling in my cluttered bag for a cigarette, I accidentally set off my car alarm which startles only me because the parking lot is nearly empty and fully deserted. No one smokes anymore, not like they used to back in the day. As I watch a large dark cloud move in over the factory buildings, the cold wind picks up and shoves my long strawberry hair into my mouth.

There is always something pushing back against us even as we try our best to make our way in a world which would soon enough take us or leave us just the same.

But in the pit of my stomach, I know I still believe in something I cannot name. And even after all these years I can’t decide if that makes me silly or if that makes me strong.

 

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Photo by Mathilde Langevin

 

 

Dead Center

Flip a coin. Heads I win, tails you lose.

Or something like that.

At the center of each of my questions are even more questions which makes you crazy but secretly I hope it keeps you close. If I have more questions, how can you leave me unanswered?

Besides, I like your answers and the way you put so much thought into crafting them. You are arrogant, selfish, maddening. But there’s something about the way your voice simmers like an electric current vibrating across my chest that I crave with everything I’m made of.

It crackles and snaps me awake to a part of myself which for too long has lay lifeless at the bottom of a deep dark abyss. When I look into your beautiful eyes I can’t tell if I need you inside me or need you to walk away and never come back.

You like to start shit you don’t bother to finish. You talk a good game but when it’s time to put out you disappear like a mist that dissipates across the cool surface of a lake at dawn in the last rays of summer.

At the center of you there are no questions, only a myth. 

The illusion of permanence. The illusion of desire fulfilled. 

These things are not real. These things are not safe.

In your mind, you imagine me giving myself to you completely. You spit out the bones and drown in what delights you which is mostly the flesh. 

Only the flesh. 

People are savage inside, and dirty. Like animals. Affectionate, primal, hungry. But not as loyal. That’s the tricky part.

As you brush your hand against my hand but do not take it in yours, I catch your eye and my breath catches tight in my throat.

The dead cold dampness of the middle of the day hangs around me like a wet tee shirt, and makes me shiver from head to toe.

 

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Photo by Soroush Karimi

 
 
 

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