Poem of the Week: “The Teenage Waste Land”

I first conceived of this poem years ago, when Honors English introduced me to T.S. Eliot’s “The Waste Land” and I got an urge to produce a modern version that’d aggressively borrow from my own favorite stirring songs and stories. It sat there until now with only a few lines (that I swiftly deleted), but the tone remains what I had in mind–albeit more worldly now for the self-awareness I’ve gained.

In the interest of treating this like an airlock for my own melancholy, I didn’t listen to any music while writing it or reflect on songs I used to listen to for “inspiration.” If “ISYMFS” was cleaning out my closet, consider this taking the bags to the curb.

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The Teenage Waste Land

This love was out of control.

Tell me, where did it go?

Cold, open—I crawl from the rubble

of bubbly optimism come crashing down

like C4 to a ceiling.

Heels to headboard, bed is a hospital ward,

recuperation indefinite. Now all I can do

is lay in my room, fall asleep, dream of you,

then wake up and do nothing about it.

Songs of ready-made restlessness

spoon-feed solidarity to a tired heart.

 

And yet…

take a number, I guess.

We all have a story to tell, so it might as well

go through a few drafts.

I still remember how I made you feel, once upon a time,

but the market for fairy tales ain’t what it used to be.

I will soon forgot the color of your eyes, but I don’t mind.

Everyone will die and lose,

so what will you do with the moments before it catches you?

Never asked, always implied,

and I am thinking it’s a sign

in the rearview, those lines I cast

before I cut loose and floated away:

Just say how to make things right, and I swear I’ll do

whatever makes you happy,

if it means a lot to you.

Put like that, I get why

guy drama is relationship strychnine.

 

So, know what?

Cast your stones, cast your judgment—

you don’t make me who I am.

I’m a patient man, as you’ve discovered,

and my passion was pen and paper all along.

Are we only damaging what little we have left,

to ever reconnect?

Hell yes.

Nature abhors empty shelves;

the stories of my generation won’t tell themselves.

Let these hazards of love nevermore trouble us.

Growing old’s a fact, but growing up is optional.

 

Yet every line I write’s a cost-benefit analysis.

Is the world better for hearing how morning light looks through my blinds,

or a childhood anecdote recounted in rhythmic alliteration?

And who would know once I do?

Quickly but surely,

circular illogic draws me back to routine:

wait and debate, try and flail,

rush and submit… shit.

One rejection:

a mental injection of barbiturates,

carte blanche to bitch about luck

and how there’s not enough time.

I guess I’ll go home now.

 

But it is plain as anyone can see, we’re simply meant to be

the person we picture when our head touches down—

that gap between dim aspiration and REM respiration.

By morning, I always find the words

when it’s too late to let them slip

and fall, for fear of my stand looking awkward.

Dreams are the only thing smothered above a pillow.

 

So a few weeks, and I’m back

on the horse—a kick, and it’ll stick!

I swear, this time I mean it.

Yet self-set deadlines feel like a vice

of virtue.

So I vow if I don’t follow through…

well, shoot.

Eh, some hell will break loose.

To penciled-in punishment, what a shock when there’s mere pages

for all the ages I’ve celebrated.

 

Maybe we were made for each other,

and maybe the world will look like this forever.

The kind of lie that stretches out hope

like a prisoner on the rack.

Still, palm to palm or ink to page,

it was believable, from a window looking on an alley.

I know I sound crazy—don’t you see what it does to me?

The chance I simply swapped rash ambitions,

the artist’s star in lieu of a lover?

Feathers to gold, the value unbudging?

The pleas for an ingénue cross to an audience:

You’d be good to me, and I’d be so good to you.

Why can’t you just be lonely?

 

This suit, this smile,

this gel-shellacked hair, this friendly Facebook exchange

is just a part I portray.

And I know exactly how it got this way:

Everybody needs some time all alone,

but if you left it up to me,

every day would be a holiday from reality:

a freestyle frenzy of riffs, rides, cliffside hikes,

artificial flavors for the screen and stomach.

It could be seventy-two degrees, zero chance of rain

—a perfect day—

and I’d still take ten thousand gigs of digital infinity.

Too much of anything is too much,

except when the alternative is failing

at the only work I ever chose.

 

I always get in my own way,

but dammit, that means I’ll hit myself on the way to the ground

and keep fighting on.

I can’t change the way I see the world,

and I can’t justify my reasons, but

 

if life is a sea,

then a living is a boat,

and hope is the shoals to which I sail:

some distant, shining semblance of fulfillment.

But it’s so far away,

and the rowing is so tiresome.

It’d be so simple to just go overboard, sink into an ocean

of promotions and prefixed expectations—

boxes to check, T’s to cross, watches to gild—

and let crash the waves of rationalization and procrastination:

action movies, YouTube, Steam, doodles and daydreams.

I need your discipline.

 Just tell me the way I ought to feel, what’s right and wrong.

 

A writer’s work is never done,

but I’m addicted to being finished,

and I need comfort like water in my lungs.

So if I ever asked anything

of the ones who’ve seen me this far,

it’s this:

 

be there, my first mates,

lifejacket at the ready

made of bright red faith.

 

Dive in when I’m down.

Save me from myself.

 

Don’t

let

me

drown.

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