New, Admittedly Bleak Poem: “This Selfish Ink”

IMG_4551

Requiem for a Bic?

A catch-up follow-up to “Advice to My Past Self on Dating” here! This time, the subject is a little more modern. As I’ve eased out of college ways of thinking and into a “real job” in the “real world,” I’ve discovered the obstacles to creative discipline and inspiration aren’t just social media FOMO and videogames–there’s also wondering whether you’re wasting time that could be better spent benefiting others.

Increasingly, as I try to downsize in life and strip away distractions, I’ve been forced to confront that my biggest writer’s block is a fear that the whole endeavor is a waste of time. Why am I trying to write this story, I’ve found myself fretting–consciously or not–when I could be at the office catching up on that one project I’m behind on, or doing research to get better at my job and help more customers? Eventually, that stress compounds with building frustration about social anxiety and professional shortcomings and… well, let’s just say my brain is not a pleasant place to be most weeknights. One evening in particular, I was so frustrated with that feeling that I decided to sic it on itself, and pounded out 90% of this stream-of-consciousness in an underused notebook with a fitting (if not apocryphal) quote from another “White” author on the cover.

This is not who I am all of the time, but it’s who I am enough of the time that I wrote this. So forgive me, but I just had to spent an hour or two jotting down…

 

This Selfish Ink

This selfish ink, these words I pen,
could help another live again;
could pass a bill or write a check;
could lend a loan—one would expect
that with the prose which I can blend,
that every letter which I spend
should go instead to someone’s cause

far better than to simply pause
before a notebook every day
and while all my youth away
in tales and logs and verses long,
a horror short or sorry song.
So many need this language more
than stories shelved behind my door:
a tenant on the streets for rent;
a fraudster who should now repent;
a client of an errant smith;
I can’t help but compare, and if

this passion and my line of work
could spar, then with a nervous jerk
the former fades into a buzz
and latter stands, and that’s because

if I have hours just to dream,
when nothing’s real or as it seems,
then those are hours that I need
to prove that I can still succeed
in what I do to earn the nights
when I can dim the city lights
and act like someone gives a damn
for what I do and who I am—
but I can’t breathe inside my head
if doubt just bloats it out instead,
and all I have between my ears
are deadlines, doubt, and flushing fears.

This selfish ink, these words I pen,
could be the marks that do me in.
Yet I would rather rot by scars
dug deep in blackened ballpoint mars
than sore of back and burnt of brain
on every nine-to-five the same.
I’d rather write nothing at all
than anything upon a wall
that then compiles, mortared brick
into a stiff yet soft and sick
imprisonment of soul and sense.
But I will never be so dense

as to presume that I’m alone
in begging life to throw a bone,
escort me to a state of grace
where I don’t ever have to face
that, as it is, I’m here on earth
just chasing sparks of quiet mirth,
while fire burns my silent nerves
and slowly chars my spring of verve.

This selfish ink will live in rhyme—
that’s all I seem to have the time
to calculate without a care:
a vowel here, a line break there,
relenting to the nursery’s pull
when otherwise my mind is full
of all the guilt that I accrue
when debt of every promise due
comes calling for its common cents,
and so my gross incompetence
is advertised for all to see.
The weight of it is crushing me—

the most that I can do to lift
is grab a page and slowly sift
through figments, puns, and rules of three.

My undertreated ADD
is running dry as an excuse.
I’m praying that I have some use
except to aim my tired eyes
at crisscross T’s and dotted i’s,
or selfish ink’s just all I’ll be
when you come take what’s left of me.

Advertisements

New Poem: “Advice to My Past Self on Dating”

advice

Of two minds… and sides of the couch.

So I fell off the wagon with regular updates again, but there’s a good reason this time, I swear: I moved in March, and, uh… I don’t have a desk at my new place. Typing at the dinner or coffee table is taxing! …Okay, still pretty weak. Well, in any case, I did get a few more poems out in the interim on my phone, on a notepad, or cobbled together from scraps thereupon–and here’s the first.

I’ve heard it said that being embarrassed by your past self is a net positive, because it means you know you’ve improved since then. If that’s the case, then I gotta admit I live a pretty positive life nowadays. Adulting can be stressful as all get-out, but while professional woes are one thing, I was in a pretty bad place personally during undergrad (as even the back archives of this site can attest). After seven-odd years, time has given me a healthier, more measured perspective on a lot of things, but dating in particular. I’ve not done much more these days than then, truth be told, but when I look back on how I approached it before, I shake my head at the desperate yet idealistic attitude which which I regarded romance, whether the subject was actual or imagined.

Hence, I thought it’d be an interesting wish-fulfillment to imagine directly discussing the matter with my past self. I even went so far as to pull lines from the all-purpose “poetry scraps” document I’ve kept on my computer for a decade, and use stray verses I’d previously drafted as topics of criticism instead of wholly earnest sentiments. It’s a trite exercise, perhaps, but a cathartic one as always. Hopefully I’ll be able to imagine an all-new exchange with the self that types these very words in, say, 2025! But, until then, all I’ve got is just some…

Advice to My Past Self on Dating

 

So, how does this work?

Well, first, don’t be a jerk,
but also don’t fall headfirst to please.
Too many white knights think they’re dark knights—
if you try to ‘win’ her, you’re already losing.
Unrequited love, isn’t.
Elliptical eye contact can’t count as conversation
you’re entitled to exchange for her
free time.

Okay, so, kinda contradictory.
But let’s just say I wait,
play it cool.
Who’s even gonna come by by graduation,
or whenever I figure it out?

Plenty.
Heather won’t last forever,
but God, you’ll learn so much.
Maggie’ll make a fool of you—
could take the one-night stand, but I advise against it.
Madi evaporated, so don’t worry about her.
Stevi isn’t even a student, but you’ll still lurk
by her office, clammy fist clenched.
You’ll think you heard her lurid timbre, but it was just
a door closing to your back.
And there’s a girl in black
with a snub nose and gamer tats
that’ll grab your heart like a rollercoaster shoulderbar
until you tell her so.
And that’s just undergrad.

Oh.
I was afraid
of that. At least I get a chance.
But in the meantime, I still just feel so
low.

Well, there you go.
Your first mistake
will be thinking a girlfriend will solve all your problems.
There’s no motherly lovers out there,
no manic pixie painkillers that’ll act
a Madame Advil and
distract you from every ill at their own sole expense.
Lovers are people, too.
Gotta give to get.

Shit. Well, fine. But it’s been a few months, and
I can’t seem to fit in
enough to make anyone notice me.
For a progressive paradise, this town
feels so damn diametric.
Who said you can’t wear a dress shirt
and also support free love and disestablishmentarianism?
Someone must’ve
whispered it into a tape recorder,
placed it as a secret track on one of those pop punk albums
I always miss because some stoner stock-boy
placed it between Jazz and New Wave
where it doesn’t belong.

Just as well. Those songs will be your downfall
if you don’t watch yourself—mere minutes
stretched into years of getting left on Read,
Fueled By Ramen’s finest amplifying your anxiety
like a mic to a speaker,
parting pleasantries ringing in your memories.
You’re better off a contradiction, kid, trust me—
That’ll attract in due time,
more than screeching along to your iPod in shotgun
while she already wonders when dinner’ll end.

What, then, I should hide
how I feel?
Maybe you’re right.
I’ve lost more friends to love than hate,
so sue me if I choose to wait
to lay it all out on the line
like linen sheets—I’ll say I’m fine.

Nice couplets, but it’s
more than just bottling or blowing up.
Don’t go full incel just to say it
makes you feel better about getting turned down,
but then don’t be the starry-eyed puppy praying for table scraps.
You of all people should understand that balance, man.

But I can’t stand this, just sitting in the middle..
It’s not like I’m ever thinking of a wedding—
No mints printed with our initials, a Tumblr’s worth of TWs.
I just want to believe
bad girls can do good
by me. That ladies like a spray-painted mansion,
elegant exiles,
can succeed under the wing of a humble geek.
Rock and roll will never die,
even if I have to perform CPR on it myself
through the mouth of a girl with safety pins for buttons

Uh, whatever you say.
God only knows
where you got that kink,
but you gotta remember the statistics
of what most likely drives
your average lacquered tomboy.
You could chase the dream, but you don’t want that
exhaustion, that whimsically privileged irresponsibility
of a genderless mistress pissed at cishets,
fishnet-swaddled, rattling on about how
heartbreak perpetuates the patriarchy.
Hold out for a more sensible individual
in clean jeans and modest brunette locks.

And you’ve got the gall to call me misogynistic.
Maybe I’ll just believe whatever helps
me get through another day of interminable midterms
and intersections like demilitarized zones
mid-route to overpriced groceries.
That they’re too good for me.
That I’m better off on my own.
That sex is like carpentry: screw too much
and you’re bound to strip.
I don’t have the luxury of courteous confidence
like you apparently do.

Oh,
dude, if only.
I know it must feel
like your heart is haunted,
a cold spot everyone steps around or screams at.
That’ll get better with age and experience,
I promise.
But the burning butterflies when the right blue eyes meet yours?
The dry tongue tasting out how best to linger
by the punch bowl to break ice?
The invisible walls you erect when you expect to encounter her,
mime-like barriers of the brain and bravado?
Those never really go away—
you just have to temper it, internally
pour cogent water on lava-hot infatuation
until it cools and coalesces
into an obsidian binary: hold or fold.
Maybe not the answer you wanted to hear,
but I’m here
to be honest, not awesome.

Ah, that’s… fine.
I don’t mind. How could I,
after everything I admitted?
Because I realize now
I’ve never been in love with anyone.
Any thing? Sure.
There’s nothing
my heart and mind can covet
like a lenticular Blu-Ray box set
or a collector’s edition Nintendo game,
nothing that captivates my wolf’s mind
and warrior’s spirit like plastic capitalism
and the promise of a shiny new tomorrow.
When you put it all like that, perhaps
I don’t deserve true companionship.

No one does. And that’s what makes it
so wonderful: Because you gotta go
out of your way to make it work.
Romance isn’t wondering and wailing, and it’s not waiting.
It’s walking out the door with your chin up, shoes clean, and eyes open,
and looking like who you want to be
when you consider the mirror between brushstrokes.
And even then, there’s no guarantees.
All the pickup artistry in the world won’t paint over
a canvas of bad timing and mismatched goals.
But opportunity arises best
when you don’t thrive on recycled air.

Fair enough.
I hope I can roll with that.
Guess I’ll see you in a few years?

Fewer than either of us
might like.
Reflection is directing a bullet into the past,
letting brutal clarity ricochet, deafening, around a chamber
of stagnant emotions.
But, it’s the least I could do.
I know you won’t remember it all,
and that’s fine.
Time makes scholars of us all, because
the only way to really learn
is to wish you already had.
Just have some fun while you’re back there, will ya?
For one.

I’ll try.

Make that for two.

New Poem: “The Poem for When I Delete Facebook”

2019-01-29 (2).png

Recycling, been.

​I haven’t regularly used Facebook since about May 2018. I don’t think I need to explain why—you can scarcely throw an online rock without hitting an op-ed or exposé about how that site is, if not directly responsible for, at least financially dependent on our modern society’s need for a steady drip-feed of targeted content that’s at once provocative and advertiser-friendly. At the same time, we’re starting to see that the service has some serious effects on people’s self-esteem and ability to earnestly interact with their “friends” over time. I was coming of age right when Facebook first hit it big, and so I was hoping the rest of my generation would come to that realization in sync with myself. For better or worse, though, most folks I know are still on there.

In ruminating on all of this, I wrote the following poem. It’s cowardly in some parts, perhaps hypocritical in others, and I still haven’t actually deleted Facebook. But, personal as it gets, I hope this’ll inspire myself and others to finally reach out to those we truly care about and quietly say “peace” to the rest.

The Poem For When I Delete Facebook

Hello, somebody.
I expect
you’re expecting some broad proclamation,
derision spit against the institution
of Big Silicon Valley—
“fuck Zuck,” or some such sendoff.

And yeah, it’s a matter of fact that
I gotta be a bit to blame
for the elections snarled, the trolls fed, the data dealt in
like binary bodies on an antebellum auction block.
I don’t take it all back—
the fandoms, the check-ins, the selfies and snack pictures
and relationship announcements.
It was fun while it lasted, yet I’ve fasted
from those blue-white wafers of dis-
content enough to see
that you can’t wear your heart on your sleeves these days
without getting some blood on your hands.

But no, wholly,
I just denounce now this social safety net,
this quantity over quality.
I admit it’s a short time coming,
what with the digital dreaming I’ve been
doing since the end of high school,
“hi,” “cool,” and other flat platitudes
plastered upon those heavenly white Walls, all
for the sake of a lil red notif, my motive
to roll over in bed in the morning,
distract from studying,
occupy my mind when a hike or holiday
strays dangerously close to self-reflection.

Now, this is not the part where I part
from anyone.
Rather, I divide
useful acquaintance from close confidante,
vague associate from meaningful member
of a family that grows more valuable with every passing year—
trade internet for interest, investing and not just saving.
I’ve got a ways to go (still need
to quit Twitter, and keeping on Instagram
is a lateral damn move), but I figure
if I can dig into my feelings,
spade sharpened by time and turmoil,
I’ll know who I need to keep hearing from,
seeing from, reaching out to touch.
And if it’s not much, such is my life.

So to Friends I expect I’ll never see again,
at the risk of kindling a bridge, I offer,
in no particular order,
the thoughts I never shared:


  1. You were the most obnoxious part of every class,
    and that’s why I unfollowed you.
    Being loud isn’t empowering or a personality.


  2. I’m not trans, but man,
    I’d wanna be a woman like you.
    That cleverness, that confidence, that coy, curled grin
    I complimented like a jackass after having blood drawn,
    and what remained rushing to my face.
    The New Yorker earned you.


  3. You remind me of my great aunt (but black),
    and it’s a shame we didn’t get a chance
    to stroll the gorge before final finals,
    just as classmates.


  4. I don’t know who you were trying to impress
    by sleeping in the school and never closing cabinets,
    but you lapped me academically, so more
    power to you.


  5. I don’t swing that way, but it’s okay—
    at least someone flirted with me.


  6. I know you didn’t mean it,
    but you were everything I was afraid to compete with,
    and yet what I was scared I’d become
    when college was said and done.


  7. You were cool, but thank you for motivating me—
    If a stoner bro like you can succeed, so can I.


  8. Your smile was all I could think about
    when we were in the same room,
    but every time I texted you
    just replied so brusque and blankly.
    Amazing how modern etiquette can dampen attraction,
    if only in my head.


  9. I took the hint when you kept shrugging me off
    at that team-building event,
    but goddamn, we got so much in common,
    and I don’t know what you saw in him.


  10. You were right to call me out
    for being distracted and unmotivated,
    and you earned outranking me.


  11. I deserved those stern, avian glares
    after what a shit job I did hitting on you
    at that first university BBQ.


  12. That blind date went okay,
    but the trashy stuff you always posted
    was why I ghosted you.


  13. I wasn’t surprised you were one of the only two
    people to PM me grief after I said that campus outrage
    was getting out of control.
    Bright though you burn, people like you are exhausting
    to the ears and soul.


  14. I guess I
    should’ve always known you were bi, because
    no straight girl could ever be that fun.
    I know I promised we’d never speak again,
    but you still look as good as you did six years ago,
    and I hope you found all the happiness I wanted to give you ever since.


Maybe I’m just projecting, protecting
myself from having to defend my intentions,
conventions, and odd hobbies
anymore without a sterile stage of emojis
to gauge the public disapproval.
So much negativity, this film:
lights-camera-action on a theater
where tragedy’s comedy plus time,
and I fear I developed no differently,
cast in irony and jade from wave after wave
of catastrophizing clickbait and commodified gossip,
sidebars of ads and apps closing on my idealist’s temples
like Indiana Jones’s making a break for the exit.
All that’s missing is the hissing
of a renaissance auditorium
when a joke falls flat or a thought’s deemed problematic.

But whether it was Cambridge Analytica
or a particularly acidic DM delivered to my inbox,
I know now that
I’d rather have three people wish me
a happy birthday because they remembered
than fifteen just ‘cause they saw it pop up on their feed.

And so to true friends, family:
I turned you into drugs, and for that
I apologize.
The bystander phenomenon writ large, charging
headlong into indirect indiscretions, in lieu
of assuming any one person would ever care.
Sincerity’s in scarcity—everyone’s
scared to seem intimate individually
when carrying a town square in your pocket is safer.
And no matter how far you scroll, there’s always more
to beat you down, burn your eyes, let flow the FOMO
before a parched identity.

But camaraderie is a game of catch, not an IV,
meant to be
more lively than copying “Merry Christmas” into multiple reminders
or emotional layaway for when I need the release of a blue
tick flittering up my screen at work.

I’ll catch up more, I mean it—
drop a line, make a date, send a pic
personally, not for a show of hands.
I’m no god or gazillionaire, and I haven’t earned
the audience to award me otherwise.
Just bless me with your patience
and politeness if I tiptoe into Messenger
one last time to say hey, we should meet up sometime,
before I turn out the lights and put a 404
where my headshot and history used to hang a shingle.
I’d rather mingle meaningfully, meaning fully
every admiration and admonition I administer,

with the goal of feeling fulfilled,
not finished.

New Poem: “She Could (The Second Thing)”

I had a bad knack for unrequited love in college. Who didn’t, right? Still, in times of uncertainty or prolonged anxiety, it’s easy for one’s mind to recline into such memories. Hindsight is 20/20, and so yesterday’s stress can feel enticing simply because reflecting on it gets us closer to a time when things seemed simpler and—for all we know—different decisions could’ve been made.

I know that’s not healthy or wise, though, and so as a kind of warning to myself—both six years past and now—I slowly wrote this over the course of several months. I had a particular individual in mind, but this advice has been generally applicable more times than I’d like to admit. Harsh though it may be, I hope people who’ve been in similar ruts can relate and find some motivation from the sentiments herein. Moving on can be as harsh as you want, so long as you keep the worst of it from hurting anyone.

painting flowers

She Could (The Second Thing)

Okay, so you know
the first thing about her.
Her looks. Her likes.
Her tics and timbre and flair
for the poetic.

But you don’t know
the second thing about her.

She could’ve gone gay, struck
upside the petite head with whatever
metaphorical brick or pixie dust bestows a change
of persuasion in this era of commodified queerness.

She could smoke, weed or Winstons.
Maybe she picked it up from the boyfriend
in the last five years,
or maybe she always did and you never smelled it,
too nasally blinded by the scent of desperate
campus coffeeshop lattes and your own futile hubris.
You don’t want the taste of cremains and skunk cabbage
when you go in for a kiss,
that leafpile crackle of a voice
and papyrus skin by middle age.

She might’ve married already,
carried a hyphenated name and kept it
low key on FB.
Or for that matter, moved out of town.
Not everybody updates ASAP,
and it’s not like you’d get invited
to the ceremony or a housewarming.

She could’ve gone far-left, political
compass frozen at Northwest,
all pink-knit pussy hats and misandrist Cosmo quizzes,
checking privileges like a metermaid at lunch hour.
Another Seattleite brought low
by good intentions and bad optics.

Maybe she gained weight—
social inaction, that Reubenesque rebellion
of modern misfits.
Or grew her hair out.
Got a scar or lost a digit.
See how far shared hobbies get you
when the infatuation isn’t
physical anymore.

Break your porcelain dolls
and walls of echoing expectations:
The songs you stopped listening to;
the porn you stopped hoarding;
the lookalike baristas by whom you stopped awkwardly loitering,
psyching up for eye contact like a flip
off the top turnbuckle.
You abandoned those antique feelings
for a reason.

Just keep her where you left her,
or vice-versa: confession crystallized
in a 2010 flipphone while you watch
a Liam Neeson movie and tell yourself that’s why
your heartbeat’s above 120 BPM.

She’s a person, not a pillow—
some sentient, nonconsensual security blanket.
Make new promises, not break old ones.
Get a grip. Take a hint. Read a headline.
Grab a big glass of water and swallow your pride,
bitter taste be damned.

Return the favor and
leave her alone.

Placeholder Poetry: “Parties Are Fun” (2016)

A good April, one and all! I mean, you wouldn’t know it here in Buffalo, where snow is still a regular occurrence. But a major recent development should remedy that soon: I’m moving back to Washington State!

The last few months were not great for my authorial drive. Being constantly stressed about finding a new job and prepping for the big move seriously cut into my free time and creative morale. But now that I’ve figured out both, I’m back on the horse with consistent writing. I also started trying to do more videos for my YouTube channel, but Adobe Premiere keeps freezing up whenever I try playing media, so that’s on the back-burner for now.

In any case, everybody still needs a day of rest, or at least a creative contingency plan for when things get busy. And if you can’t get productivity, get publicity! (relatively speaking) So I figured that, for tonight, I’d flip through my ol’ poetry folder and post an older piece that I’ve never shared before.

This is a poem I wrote after a night of ostensible partying near the end of graduate school. At the time, I was uncomfortable with how bitter and pathetic it sounded, so I kept it private. Now, however — as with my previous “delayed” poem, “Buffalone — I believe it’s gained new value as a window into my mindset circa 2016… midlife crises and all.

IMG_0460

Parties Are Fun

You can talk to people you know.
You can listen to pop songs.
You can eat scores of Oreos and s’mores-flavored beer,
pizza and Tostitos topped with salsa.
You can relax on the couch

when your shins and soles start to hurt.
Maybe the host who joins you and asks how it’s going
actually cares.
You can go to the bathroom to wash your face
and contemplate borrowing some lotion.
No one would know.
You can look in the shower real quick
and feel better about cleaning your own.

You can see who’s bullshitting about their relationship status.
You can see a lesbian french a gay guy
and still get nervous about hugging people
you don’t know well.
You can eat sliced starfruit for the first time.
You can drink a plastic cup of water.
You can hurl it at a pile of expensive coats past the snacks table.
Someone whose job it is will pick it up.

You can admire the decorations,
bouquets of pastel balloons and tight dresses.
You can complain about something
and the girl next to you will say “Right?”
But with a cadence confirming she didn’t really hear,
as if it’s a stage play and everyone else knows
which script to stick to.

You can say “I would be so good to you” to your crush’s back
as she entertains a loud crowd.
It’s hard to mishear eye-to-eye.

You can stare at the floor
and see nothing but slick and tacky darkness.
You can see a penny and not pick it up.
You can take people’s pictures and be thanked for it.
You can be in a picture
that won’t go up on Facebook.
You can watch people you meet weekly be happy to see you.
They’ve had a few.

You can actually boogie like nobody’s watching, and feel satisfied for a moment.

You can brush aside the spindly glimmer of hanging streamers.
You can talk about sleep paralysis with a guy for five minutes and try not to worry about why he didn’t come back from the kitchen.

You can practice smiling.
See if it sticks.

You can be complimented on your tie.
You can choose not to check your coat.
You can imagine throwing something small off the balcony
and if anyone would catch you,
but decide it’s not worth the risk.

You can stand in the middle of the dance floor snapping photos
and then go upstairs and scrutinize the throngs like a prince
or primatologist.

You can stay sober
and leave early.
You can realize you gained ten pounds since last Christmas
but at least you’re not as fat as some of these people.
You can smirk at the sight of drunks
with a shoulder to lean on.
You can feed your view of moral superiority.

You can close your eyes.
You can whistle better music.
You can talk to people you know.

Cornell Law School: Class of 2016

13177386_1021318617903405_1573273500435990145_n.jpg

Welcome to the Wizarding World of Trevor White.

Yep! From 2013 to 2016, that’s a wrap for me on law school in the Ivy League.
What a quick three years! But, of course, it didn’t feel like that at the time. And I must confess that for months, I was ambivalent if not outright downtrodden about how I’d spent all of that. Like I’d done little else except except study and snack. But then, with motivation from within and without, I decided a few weeks ago to look both backwards and forwards with determination for the first time in a long while. And I realized… it’s not just about what I *did*, but what I *experienced*.
 –
I met Lewis Black and Penn Jillette. I saw Henry Winkler, John Mulaney, Steven Wright, the Harlem Globetrotters, and Hannibal Burress live. And the concerts! TV on the Radio, Ke$ha, The Flaming Lips, Icona Pop, Spoon, and Gordon Lightfoot. I visited France, Norway, Iceland, Finland, and even northern Ohio.
 –
I weathered a blizzard that cleared the streets of Manhattan. I helped get my team to the semifinals of an international moot court competition. I performed live poetry of both the slam and romantic varieties. I saw a blood moon and held a tarantula, though unfortunately not at the same time. I got my first story published outside of a college compendium.
 –
I made my best Halloween costume ever. I went to my first hockey game, lacrosse game, and full-out karaoke session. I sat on the senior board for the centennial issue of Cornell Law Review, and sat in the audience for the sesquicentennial of the entire school. I built my own computer.
 –
I helped stop a bee infestation during Thanksgiving. I volunteered at a soup kitchen, packaged food for third-world children, and helped build plant beds for a public park. I stood up for the First Amendment at the National Coalition Against Censorship, researched the future of AI with the Global Catastrophic Risk Institute, helped the Iraqi Refugee Assistance Project do just that, and made sure the International Human Rights Clinic continued to deserve its title. I hung out in a replica of Seinfeld’s kitchen.
 –
I made new friends, domestic and international. I drank in a bar made of ice and saw sunsets that looked forged from fire. And yeah, I got a job at a law firm. And throughout it all, Ithaca was a beautifully rural oasis.
 –
If all the world’s a stage, I want to thank my costars and those who enjoyed my performance, or at least offered constructive criticism instead of riffing in the cheap seats. So on a theatrical note (and since I’ve always best expressed myself through music, never mind not being able to carry a tune), here’s a song about old anxieties giving way to new optimism–to close one “playlist” of life and start anew!
 –

Poem of the Week: “Cornell Scraps”

Apologies for the lack of a poem last week! I had finals… and given the topic and scope of this piece, I decided it needed to wait a touch longer anyway.

Ever since high school, I’ve habitually taken notes. On what? Well… everything. Potential story ideas. Interesting quotes, overheard or imagined. Goofy puns or jokes. Rap lyrics. Concepts for inventions, videogames, and experimental art exhibits. 90% of the time, I have no idea what if any writing I’ll use them in. But, given the fleeting fallibility of memory, I’d always rather jot/type something down and never use it than forget it and be hard up for imagery or snappy dialogue later!

When I moved to Ithaca in 2013 for law school, I started a separate dedicated document just called “Life Scraps.” Later, I renamed it “Cornell Scraps.” Now, with graduation mere days away, I decided to really reflect on these random moments and musings for the first time. In so doing, I saw the potential for a substantial poem. And so, out of what I realized had become forty-odd pages of grievances, late-night confessionals, and idiosyncratic one-offs, I selected and abridged or expanded the most striking lines to produce this.

It’s long, disjointed, and may not make much sense, even by the end. But, for better or worse, that was the last three years!

3years

Three years of Ithaca being gorge-ous.

Cornell Scraps

 

I.

 

Outside my dorm window,

something chitters—cicada or sprinkler.

A bird call like a quick firework’s chirp.

An odor—either paint or rotten apples.

The common room, humid, smells of spirits, aflitter with tiny flies—

but at least they got the best Die Hards.

Cutlery comes and goes from the communal kitchen, like artifacts

passing through some high-tuition Bermuda Triangle.

 

At the dean’s home, a broken basketball backboard

heralds our class’s arrival at the drive.

Crickets congregate about white windowed reception tents,

drooping like jeans over hand-me-down dress shoes.

 

I’d moved in with optimistic discontent but,

walking ‘cross the gorge some evening next,

I felt a great emptiness within, as if

my life were a blurry eye, a voice gone hoarse mid-song,

as clouds closed over tentative night like a flowerbud.

And on weekdays, sudden bouts of belonging

fell swift to chronically displaced dissatisfaction.

I can’t stand Greek Row, but maybe I just lament not having a veranda

and roof to climb onto.

 

Mixer time. At the club,

the floor glows crime-scene UV;

it’s an arms race of debauchery,

and our livers are the battleground.

The nightly grind, never to mind by sunrise.

And that’s just the first week.

 

Fall’s descent brings sticky heat.

Thunder stutters, God

dragging a desk across concrete clouds.

Rain wreaks streaks, plasters the parking lots.

Inside sounds nice, but at a cramped laptop

my hopes are notes on a napkin, crumpled in anticipation

until the words blur to abstraction and all I have are withered strips

with no addressee.

 

Now, not saying class bored me, but I once wondered in one

what guy piled all that bread in a truck for the “We Can’t Stop” video.

Because my soundtrack is Skrillex and Joe Hisaishi,

for a romance with Holly Golightly meets the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo,

dressed to the nine-point-fives by Hot Topic and Watson-Kennedy.

So I start to love going to sleep, because that’s the only time

I don’t dream. Rest unassured,

this head is not a pleasant place to be:

strung out on caffeine, blind ambition, and unrequited love,

my brain needs icing down.

I want to live life at the speed of verse—because of course

I would never kill myself. Not when this world still has synthpop,

Emma Watson, POG juice, butterflies,

and the tone it makes when you strike a tuning fork.

But with bedhead that’s passed “restless cop”

and “wacky high school sidekick” straight to “Goku,”

the rock-fountain trickle of my Brita refilling is a bit Sisyphean.

Life’s path feels like a backward shirt: it fits, but something’s off.

 

Winter waxes,

broken pie-crust tire treads in the snow,

and icicles dangle like fangs from parked cars.

Chinese takeout splays across the sidewalk like collapsed partygoers,

disgorging frozen neon pips.

Green signs glare down the halls: “QUIET: EXAMS IN PROGRESS.”

Still, I get to know a gal at the post office

through the letters I send and tees I test.

Granted, it didn’t last—like a bad twist ending,

she was out before a month.

But don’t worry, hon. Some day you will be in New York

and everything will be awesome.

 

Nevertheless, anger breaks in waves—a planned impulse

—and from the crest I see the smooth sailing of adolescence

giving way to rougher waters of adulthood.

Predator or prey, adaption matters, and this ecosystem is more concerned

with cardigans, judicial interns, and Friday night shots

than Spider-Man, postmodernism, and riffing on Xbox One.

And if the girls don’t have their nose up in the air, it’s down in a book.

Resistant, I might’ve cried my vice is beauty, but

after a brief reflection that turned into a soul-search,

contemplating complimenting the strikeouts with Your free time is a lucky guy,

I put passion on a pedestal so high I couldn’t even see it.

Like standing with my back to a chasm, I know

some comfort awaits, biding time in a peripheral vision,

but if I don’t turn and look then it can’t entrance me.

 

But now that backwards shirt is just outgrown,

because setting my own standards isn’t productive—

it’s a tarred-feather coat of doubtful guilt.

An apologist’s résumé: I may have a 3.49 GPA,

but I clean out the sink after I drain the pasta.

Planning exodus from the land of milk and honey

to the land of wine and awkward small talk.

Sometimes I say things just so they’ll die from exposure to air.

With every new social circle drawn, I promise

I won’t be the neurotic guy again,

but finals week makes liars of us all.

 

Body of a jock, brain of a geek, soul of a goth,

schedule of a preppie, dreams of a hippie—I got this.

In NYC, there’s a leaky halal truck towed ‘round the corner,

plastered with an ad for the Heathers musical,

and washed-out, outdated tabloids stock the sides of sidewalk kiosks.

Of my Manhattan Madame I’ve said enough, except that

I don’t mind putting things on the back burner

as long as they weren’t smoking hot.

Sharing sleep and little else, I think of stupid things

to untremble my muscles.

I think of running out of bed

and lying against the wall of the ground-floor grocery store in my boxers.

I think of punching a brick wall.

I think of riding a bike into a fence, rolling over, and playing dead.

It’s like attraction is a garage door opener: enough distance,

and the signal just stops working.

So I can’t wait to go back;

there’s nothing left for me here but one-way sexual tension and dog barks.

 

II.

 

A leaf drags down the street, as if pulled by invisible string from a car ahead.

Flow but no focus:

I still haven’t seen The Muppets Movie, I think

from the back of a reproductive rights panel.

Got a formal text tonight—better put on my dress grammar.

But first, I have to drain complacency like a wound.

All my flights of fancy are in a holding pattern, or grounded outright.

At least, I’ve lost the ability to tell

how much intimacy between my peers is tongue-in-cheek.

I tell myself I won’t live as a dependent clause,

but irony is gonna play hell on archaeologists.

I worry the Internet turns the world into a circle of paranoid, passive potheads

dreaming in dark rooms.

We are hot dog culture: gross and ground-up, but easy to digest.

I’ve got this game I play where I try to see

how many people on Facebook won’t talk to me.

It’s up in the dozens, and I feel like

earlier in life was the film, and now’s just weathering credits

‘til the reel runs out.

 

Going back to sleeping alone is like reverting to DVD from Blu-Ray.

My heart is an open offer

but my grudges have half-lives, and

there’s nothing less interesting than beautiful people complaining.

So it’s fun wondering what I’ll look back on as so simple about this,

especially when true love is like a UFO: you don’t hear about it as much

now that everyone’s got smartphones.

If only I, Inception-like, could just spontaneously be talking to someone.

Until then, I identify as Straight But Not Applying It.

 

All of my takes are double-takes;

I think I’m developing smirk lines

from parties (or, “going friend-fishing”).

I’d say I felt like an empty seat, but people sit by those.

 

Snow floats in whips and whirls, confetti in a quiet blender.

A girl argues with a guy on a porch overlooking a shore of Solo cups—

well-lit, dramatic,

a Disneyland dark-ride of campus life.

Me, moving on is Indy trying to swipe the idol: I gotta really think it over,

and if the replacement’s not the same weight, then bring on the emotional boulder.

So no, Buzzfeed, don’t tell me what my new favorite video is.

Don’t tell me who to hate.

Don’t tell me to nod politely at X times Y celebrity was more interesting than me.

This godlike technology is for education, entertainment—not building new wings

in my inferiority complex.

 

No, I want love like TV seasons.

Maybe it’s The Simpsons: on for decades, haters be damned.

Maybe it’s Firefly: a brilliant idea snuffed out in its prime.

Let’s make it a competition to see who can miss the other the most.

And hey, who do you think buys all those nightmares their daydream dresses?

At the least, someone in this subway, statistically, has to have nudes online.

 

Topside, sirens blurp like the Lord flicking water

beneath the trapezes of power lines.

I could admit I’m not confident, and you won’t mind

out loud—but the thought will still seep in, like a leaky pipe under an abandoned flat,

and I’m recycling-bound like To Current Resident.

If talk is cheap, then revenge fantasies are seashells and bottle caps,

so while I can’t act, I’m quite comfortable shouting in crowded rooms.

Trying to find the right song to unfriend old crushes to

while I move through Zeno’s Breakup:

Music for revoking any fucks previously given,

in tune with the phases of the mood.

Earbud cord peeks between my jeans and shirt like a spiritual insulin kit.

Balance doesn’t always mean staying in the middle;

it depends how heavy each side is.

 

Electric beats thumping out of a juice bar,

people staring at supercomputers,

glass skyscrapers soaring into the clouds…

Ever finally feel you’re living in the future?

Only this era, we’re building the meteor and bringing it down ourselves.

Everyone in my News Feed is closing deals, posing with koalas,

or bungee golfing in Antarctica, and I’m just taking a stroll, thinking

about how weird it is that Scooby-Doo had a laugh track.

 

My patience is the Earth’s crust: it’s thick, but crack it

and there’s nothing but ten thousand miles of fire.

I want to be a monitor, not a processor, never mind that

I once tried to avoid eye contact with a cardboard cutout.

Fluent in fantasy, my brain is a perpetual motion machine

that runs like The Hobbit: fast and distracting, but only ‘cause it’s closer to reality.

And yet my unfinished business as a ghost would probably just be watching

all the videos I bookmarked in undergrad and forgot about.

 

III.

 

The blood moon eclipse.

An aged penny if good,

a molding peach if bad.

Not even the cosmos gets me decisive.

I decided to make all the things I say worth saying

slowly, but I’m still making my goal a worst-case scenario.

 

Something went wrong, somewhere, in the past,

but it wasn’t just me.

Part me, part world, part my reaction to both.

Like short sheets trying to fit a frayed mattress:

pushing, pulling, coming off

at one corner for want of fitting another, never realizing

until I felt for its opposite and found it bare.

Or waking up to tatters beneath me, thinking it so secure the night before.

 

The rain was light yet thick, like falling mist,

suffusing streetlights with amber halos.

Another bar tab not bothered with.

They’re not even interesting assholes, they’re just boring assholes.

 

I lied when I said I’d rather die than do the same job forever,

I think. It just felt good to sound determined by choice for once,

because I need to make things—with my hands,

not my mouth and wallet.

And whether it’s an international bestseller

or the popsicle stick castle that went to shit in fourth grade,

it exists.

Substance.

Fighting back against entropy.

 

So what can you create today

that wasn’t there yesterday,

and that you’ll be proud of tomorrow?

Savoring the world is priceless like a funeral.

Good memory, bad memory—it’s still just a memory.

Not made but replayed,

and in three years,

I’ve repeated enough for a lifetime.