“Quarter” [25th Birthday/2016 Reflection Poem]

quarter

Money on my mind in more ways than one.

Happy New Year! Can’t be any less unhappy than the last year, some would argue… though I already made my balanced stance on that the other day. In any case, while 2016 was pretty solid for me personally, ups and downs bundling into one are a fact of life. Nowhere did that arise more prominently than with me turning 25 years old: the big quarter-century! (DOB: 11/04/1991. Only 90s kids will remember this.)

With that in mind, I promptly set about slowly reflecting–not on the past itself, but on how I was handling what that past meant for who I am and where I’m going. I’d aimed to finish this by 12/31/16, but I realized it was more about my time than the time. And as the holiday season officially waned and the workweek peeked back around the bend, I had a feeling–for better or worse–I would realize some more to say in the fresh light of 2017.

I did. What didn’t change, though, was the new perspective I’m grateful to have honed over these past couple of years in particular. Life is full of regret and want and uncertainty, sure… but we’re only human. And other humans can be here to help.

It’s making myself remember that last part–and what it means to stay confident in the face of time itself–that I hoped to capture here.

 

Quarter

1/16

One down,

three to grow.

 

A hoarder, I feel—

of lessons, stressors, and misadventures

unfit for mixed company.

Because the past is a dream come false:

Every day, we may as well be born anew,

and each second we live becomes another figment

in our children’s past.

 

So please, go easy.

This is my first time getting old,

and so I can’t help feeling like success

has an expiration date, and my hour to sour

is just around the cardboard bend.

You never know what’s the window

to when you’ll win, though.

I’d peer through, but it’s so hard to see

everything again;

to punch out the 2D screen of my memories incarnate

and beckon forth new avenues of inspiration from under the dust—

turn maybes to musts,

just decide instead of deify

my ambitions.

 

When I went home, my fear wasn’t that I didn’t belong there anymore,

it’s that I did.

And yet the posters stayed up,

pictures lingered in a padded hard drive,

and adding any new detail felt like fruitless betrayal:

The end of the world as we show it,

coming to terms with the fact that life is linear

but living hits every dimension.

I made the world

around me a story, immutable

after an arbitrary absence, as if

the repositioning of a picture, a sticker lifted, was going George Lucas—

a match dropped, to let scorch my origins for revisionist history.

 

Now, is writing the symptom or the cure?

Because I ask only that my fantasies be others’;

I want the worlds in my head not to wither,

whether they’re worth it or not—

a Wikipedia page people update, debate over

and over;

I need what I thought I was to survive

who nobody knows I am yet.

I may not be immortal, but

maybe I can be

part of forever.

 

Though, not all is lost.

I’ve improved, to be sure.

I don’t fetishize photocopies,

imprinting stencils of the hundred-and-one that got away

onto every –elle until I’m unable to feel

anything but myself.

I can’t carry a tune, but I won’t keep dragging ones behind me, either

(the kind of songs you don’t listen to

so much as use).

I see there’s a difference between what we want to hear

and what we want to know.

The perpetual emotion machine slows at last,

and I anticipate The Next:

What scents will I associate with where?

What tastes, textures, relevant where never before?

What beautiful threat will I one day want

to hide from?

Even pain can be promising if it’s a change of pace.

 

Until then, dressed to compress

my passions and predilections into the offtime

I can find, in this Art Deco ghetto—

I bide.

As soon as I wake, I check my phone

to see what’s broken

in the world.

As soon as I clock in, I’m already gone.

It’s not resignation if you never sign on.

 

1/8

In second grade,

when change meant nothing

and cheering was a bodily function,

I built a Lego spaceship:

A jagged prism of wings and plastic.

I thought it was so great, I didn’t want anyone

to take it, or break it.

So I secreted it, beneath a craft-supplies cabinet,

and went about my play.

 

I wonder, sometimes, back to it;

whenever I’m taking stock of what matters, what I’ve made.

Is it still there?

Against all odds, it’s not,

but I need that faith,

that privilege of infinity childhood provided.

That I can look back, kneel on primary tiles

in my designer slacks, and extract imagination.

Please don’t let it be just dust and rubber bands.

I’m made for more

than a pithy obituary in the local paper.

This won’t be how I go, much less how I come

to be remembered.

 

3/16

I sleepwalked, is all,

more than just after heavy dinners and big tests.

I didn’t realize it was on me to know this place

I got plopped into—not just putter through

like a Disney dark ride, every day-glo whoa

and manufactured satisfaction.

I thought it made me stable, but perhaps I can’t be any more

than the next schlub with a dream.

I just pray I’m not too late

 

to not just ask questions

but listen to the answers.

Where are my ancestors from?

What were the Fifties like?

Where did you buy that painting in the piano room,

the one that looks like Venice is burning

upon earth’s edge?

And so on, and on and on.

 

I only hope, in always pressing forward,

I didn’t become the caricature of cowardly indifference

in which I painted my past loves.

A tiny tombstone, an emoji-free text,

an oath to be taken between beats of an atrophying heart:

My world is dying, and I need someone alive

to smile when I wonder out loud.

Why won’t what passes for my soul suffice?

 

1/4

So take my hand—callous, callused,

knuckles busted from brick-wall punches

that were only mostly accidents.

Sell me on this life, on change

in the face of bills and sense.

 

I’m ready to give instead of take.

I’m ready to understand.

And to learn what to do

 

if that’s still not enough.

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Poem: “Last Night”

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Room with one heck of a view.

As a prequel of sorts to yesterday’s post, “First, World,” here’s a poem I put together the evening before the first day of my first “real job” at the end of August. I purposely didn’t post it back then because… well, I just didn’t want to sound like a total pessimist. I figured I’d keep that bittersweet moment’s frustrations to myself, head into the office the next morning with an open mind, and then return to the words with fresh eyes after some time.

And now here we are, in October! Following a review and some light linguistic/structural tweaks, I was pleased to confirm to myself that this piece was still potent as a reflection–that crystallization of thoughts and feelings in a specific time and space, for which I so treasure poetry’s power. It may not be any cheerier than my last upload, but nights inside before big life moments tend to skew nerve-wracking.

How’s work? Well, definitely demanding–and only set to get more so–but I’m pleased to report it’s not yet as dreadful as it felt…

 

Last Night

This is my last night.

Convalescent in comfort:

Ice cream, action scenes, and domino rows of daydreams.

I stand before the mirror on mental razor’s edge,

precipice between pissing around and

the 9-to-5am.

Anything is subsistence living if your standards are high

and your hopes humble.

 

Dinner sits half-dismissed by a tallboy, equally chilled.

This is the free man’s last meal

before prison, isn’t it?

The couch a coffin, the TV’s digital dim a cell door’s welcoming creak.

On the glass tabletop, I envision a prism of discontent:

to family, fractured; to friends, indifferent.

To the ladies, the lawyers? A-okay.

Take it day by day, I say

to myself.

Let no one know how many hours I bought,

least of all me.

 

Because concentration disintegrated seasons ago.

Now, it’s a task to even finish a thriller without

tapping a foot, typing a tweet, rethinking my five-year plan.

That can’t bode well for Day One on the job.

 

So, for now, let me bask in it:

the angular eggshell glow of a lone wall-lamp,

the muffled rumble of rusty Sunday traffic through thick headphones,

the blue hue of my modem, glowering in the media center’s corner

like a punished pupil.

 

If I didn’t listen before it was too late, at least I only missed my own advice.

So little time, so much to waste,

and every second must be accounted for:

what I did, or why I didn’t.

How much longer can I pretend to enjoy my colleagues’ company?

So far, so good, I once smirked,

but likeless Facebook posts speak louder than words.

 

It doesn’t matter now.

That’s how I’ll play the first morning.

Present. Able. Presentable.

Ready and dead, by necessity.

Isn’t that what independence is all about?

Always down,

but never out.

Poem of the Week: “Ennxiety”

As an introvert, I have a history of social anxiety. It’s nothing that needs medicating, thankfully–for better or worse, I’ve generally brought it upon myself. It’s hard to tell if I’ve improved over time, though–once people have known you long enough, changing their image of you is difficult without coming off as desperate. I tried to touch on some of that with this poem.

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From 2013, the year of unnecessarily long hair.

Ennxiety

Time travel is possible

on paper. Life, loose-leafed, smooth

to the touch, invites experimentation.

One can skip, flip forth and back,

or savor prose, mull over mysteries.

We, readers, grow

spoiled with fictive freedom.

 

And so society strikes me

as the poorest story: immutable

as ink, yet ever uneditable.

 

School introduces it.

Classrooms packed with cliques to pick

or corners to coopt.

Day one: glances flit ‘cross the room

like silent fastballs. Mental lists assemble:

Diehard. Tryhard. Potential network contact.

And, I’d assume, friends without ends.

So when like an orchestra warmup, eager impatience in E minor,

zippers and binders close—

people peer in pockets and watch the clock—

I have to decide who to talk to.

 

But eye contact’s a contract, and

if I mind the floor or door, I couldn’t be faulted

for breaching it.

Interaction means reaction, and—elephant-esque—

I remember every errant one I gave and got.

Like a tight helmet, the weight of faux pas past strains my brain.

 

Still, I’d type events in my calendar.

Dress well. Arrive on time.

En route, the swell and quell of motivation:

Earbuds pump optimistic late-night tunes

to diffuse the cloud of an absent Plus-One.

Standing on the fringe of a booming party’s blast radius—

dimmed, dumb—I’d clutch a Solo cup until my hamstrings stabbed

and I searched for a chair.

Token goodbyes in tow,

I’d escape to moonlight,

Fists low and heart rate high.

 

Let’s hear it for the spirit

of the staircase:

Charm, like lead vocals,

sounds so much better in your head—

theorizing all the wry things

I could’ve sprung on a glamorous diameter of acquaintances:

Workplace anecdotes. Political predictions. March Madness brackets.

 

And so discontent enters tradition, a given:

different verse, same as the fifth.

Déjà craint.

The predictability of an inability

to chameleonize.

 

I’d say it was a choice, my long-term voice.

An addict’s rationalization.

I can start any time.

Young independence means the side effects of defection

before you’ve pledged allegiance.

Kicking and screaming isn’t always visible,

 

but the dents and derision are.

Without the pop, culture was my cod liver oil,

but after enough awkward gatherings—

a virtual void of group photos,

the lack of a link to amicable hashtags—

I learned to fear the look on people’s faces when they realized I thrived

on something they couldn’t care less about,

rubbernecking at childish delights.

A babe magnet with the same polarity:

Those go-yonder eyes on a girl

when I laugh too hard, speak too high, prefer chiptunes to R&B.

After that, every casual ask is like I accosted them in an alley,

because the past plasters an invisible nametag

that can make random questions

scarier than silence.

 

First impressions are the deepest.

The social concrete dries fast,

and months later, I cemented in:

Interrupting people’s 2048 games and Duke scores for a hello,

then taking seats for a trio: my pizza and phone.

And when I approach to bore through some boredom,

it’s like my invitation to relation is an exhalation

of tobacco, and they kicked the habit.

 

Anxiety is when existence in the plural takes exertion.

It’s feeling a traffic signal redden, like a dry heave,

and taking the crossing a block away instead of being on the driver’s mind

when I enter last-minute.

It’s walking the long way ‘round campus

because repetitive respect feels like weight reps, and I’ve already maxed out

on eyebrow raises and hushed heys for familiar faces.

It’s peering over dancing crowds like a prince

or primatologist, lamenting

how I’d rather hear Van Halen wailin’

than the Bacchanalian beats boxing my eardrums.

And it’s every conversation a tennis rally:

Every yep and sure a nervous volley,

pulse rising with the count;
I got this becomes for how much longer?

Or a lungful of air underwater:

Dark and harsh, pressure mounts—muscles tense—

and it’s only

a matter of time

until

I

gasp and say something stupid.

 

I’ve wondered if there isn’t some part of me

I need to take out,

with a black belt in a back room.

Not self-destructive, but self-constructive.

Because what if we’re just monkeys with a terrible disease?

Afflicted ages ago with an urge to purge

our hurt, flash our worth, put our hopes on hold

with alcohol and skin.

A need for attention while we hide our intentions.

Kicking the can of our own inadequacies

down the road, only

to get stood up on a date with destiny.

 

If so, I guess

education is evolution,

and it’s a futile centrifuge

to try and change how others see you

without checking your own mirror.

If you want to be remembered, chase something

worth showing off, or going home to.

 

The world has no proofreader.

No word cap, no delete key

for slow scenes or broken characters.

But I need to believe there’s another chapter

just pages away.