#tbt Poem: “Buffalone”

Buffalone

In the Dark Times, before the media shelves went up.

So as of today-ish, I’ve officially been living in Buffalo, New York for one year! It’s been 365 days of amazing ups (passing the bar exam, killer local punk-rock shows, farmers’ markets), distressing downs (studying for the bar exam, brutal snowstorms, the occasional house centipede), and cool, even valleys of well-earned Netflix/gaming binges.

Still, rewind to June 2016, and — as the brain is wont to do when faced with change — I fretted deeply on the daily. What would my first “real” job and most independent living to date mean for my future? Stuck in a private, bittersweet rapture at the sight of my new surroundings, I wrote the following poem and… just kind of left it there. I was self-conscious about how, well, self-conscious it made me sound, and thought I should wait until I could establish some distance between two versions of myself before sharing it.

Now? I can say upon reflection that things have gone pretty solid overall. I have a well-paying job that I’m getting better at every day, plenty of free time in the evenings (so far), and — most critically — one heck of an apartment. Not a day goes by that I don’t reflect on what a privilege all of this is, and I pray to never take it for granted. Am I perpetually happy? And do I know for certain what any of this still means for my future? Of course not. But I feel more centered amidst the world’s noise and haste, and that counts for something.

Still, it’s hard to not occasionally look back on a time when I felt more…

Buffalone

 

So, this is it.

The new apartment.

 

An expanse of wood,

slats creaking ‘round curious nails,

greets me on entry.

Brazilian vents slither beneath

vertigo inverted: a ceiling high and white,

dissected by track lights and slender pipes.

Hints of cracks scatter the plaster,

crow’s feet to corners.

Windows, triplets, stand up and stretch

for a view of City Hall, the corner mall, the convention center

(For summer, my electric bill will be thankful).

One bathroom. Two bedrooms. Laundry on-site.

 

And unfurnished.

So first in line: Interior design.

And it’s then I find

the necessity of choice—

a theme of shades and shapes

to impress is an adulthood to-do.

 

In the lavish labyrinth of Raymour & Flanigan’s, I nod and bob

on aching legs as Dad and I shop.

Too cheap. Too expensive.

Too fancy. Too brown.

Too Stepford Wives-y.

Twin lamps. Table. Desk. Chest of drawers.

The haul, four-thousand-odd bucks in all,

I’ll pay back by year’s end

with the new firm job, fingers crossed.

 

Chrome and monochrome works,

I guess.

Converted factory aesthetic, and all that.

What do I know?

I’ve never run real estate,

and the most I ever decorated was a Halloween party

(and plastic bats and cotton cobwebs don’t dazzle partners).

 

The movers arrive a few days later.

Tearing tape, peeling plastic, and crackling cardboard peal across the room.

Styrofoam dandruff salts the floor, swept in static whorls,

one with the dust. I

set up, set out. Sit down,

and think

 

surely this is all I ever wanted

in a postgrad pad: glass and glimmer,

a kitchen with an echo.

A bowlful of fat apples to spruce up the tabletop.

Golden sheets, a Midas touch of class

for a brick headboard.

An Instagram preview, and the Likes rise,

a bubbling brook of Hearts and Thumbs-Up.

So I must be doing something right.

 

And yet it feels conditioned, controlled by permission.

Ex post fashion, rationalized style

from father to son.

A painting, ribbed strokes imitating Paris by twilight,

leans beneath the thermostat,

as I wait to hear if I can even hang it—

spruce first, ask questions later.

An area rug will come, no idea what kind.

But That’s What You Do when you’ll make a hundred K a year.

 

Maybe it’ll grow on me.

This fixer-upper metropolis,

this iron and stone sieve between glitz and ghetto.

Maybe the construction noise and concert clamor

will fade to white with the rest of the world, come December.

Until then, cigarette butts caulk the blocks

of piss-scented bus stops and paper tumbleweeds

under the Liberty Building’s warm shadow.

Destitute droves roam parallel to the metro line,

homeless or hopeless.

Gleaming domes and Christian spires paint a postcard-ready skyline

but, just blocks out, knee-length weeds occupy sidewalks

and wooden barriers shield alleys from driving eyes.

My hometown’s grass seems greener already.

 

In a moment of brutal dishonesty, I said

I’d take poverty and popularity

over opulent obscurity;

live on beans and black-and-white TV

for a chance at a fan letter.

So, solo, now’s my chance

to call my bluff,

in this bastion of a town past its prime,

grimy, beaten by the northern winds and the Great Recession.

My first impression is depression, but that always happens

when you push too hard.

So until I can ease up, I’ll keep my mind open

as those windows, and let the light in

until the sun sets

or the blinds break.

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.

Poem of the Week: “Home Less”

I went back home to Washington State for Spring Break, and… it didn’t feel like it used to. I’m still not sure if that’s a good or bad thing, but I thought I should “write it out.”

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Home Less

People speak of haunted houses,

but never the reverse.

 

We mistake it at first, home,

for the cabinets, countertops, and plastic toys.

That’s, after all, as far as our goals go,

as far as nimble legs can carry us:

to the playground,

TV room,

town bar.

Postcards, plaques, and photographs

hold fast the roof we sleep beneath—

hoarded mortar to the bricks.

All the world’s a game, and

you must be this tall to exit.

 

But over years,

under fees, degrees, double-digit birthday cakes,

expectations asphyxiate—comparisons oppress.

The mind moves but loops, running

not a marathon but a track:

Even if you notice a new patch of grass,

it’s still a circle.

 

And one day, returning turns nothing at all.

Through the front door,

and the past piles on, quarterback-like:

Memories of memories, of thoughtless acts

and thoughts never acted on.

The gravel avenue, the green, greener grass

remain unchanged,

yet the mailbox peels, the Jeep rusts,

and the dusty halls shine quieter.

Mirthful or mournful,

you can’t go back.

 

Every room is an interrogation room,

wrecked by recollections, recursion of diversions.

The bed’s a confessional,

coaxing midnight doubts and dreams

from uncanny comfort.

Bookshelves elevate what once mattered:

Piggy banks, cracked glasses, collector’s editions uncashed.

Half-sketches, bookmarks bisecting paperbacks,

beg questions:

When does a to-do become a once-was?

When does an ambition become an anecdote?

Branch out enough, and the limb will snap

at the base.

 

So it scares me, like a trust fall in transit,

that with so much behind, I don’t know where I’m headed.

Not depressed but compressed, lifted up

and weighed down at once

by the prospect of prospects.

 

Sure, stability is a privilege,

with a cap on laments.

Still, it’s unrelenting, this discontent

when the contents of my mind

mirror the zip code of my former universe.

A false sense of insecurity must come from somewhere.

 

 

When the beginning of your world starts feeling like its end,

the lucid dream becomes sleep paralysis—

a vacation becomes tourism through history.

There’s no cure for maturity,

but there is a placebo.

Just know

 

home is not a place

but a space, a radius

orbiting wherever we go—

satellites of plans, passions, and aspirations.

Home is not a building

filled with odds and ends and quiet blind spots.

It is building:

A life, a wife, a gig, something big,

or at least bigger than you were

the day before.

 

And until I lay those bricks—

wrap those drafts, earn that office,

let a ring follow a call for once—

there’s no place to rest.

But I’m fine being home less.