“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: “First, World”

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So, little over a month to the day since my last post! Couple of factors there: getting a sense of a good work/life balance with the new job, taking a breather from story-writing to just study the craft (finally finished Joseph Cambell’s The Hero with a Thousand Faces!), and… well, who am I kidding, that Netflix queue isn’t going to empty itself.

With poems in particular, though, I realized that–for better or worse–I’d hit a dry spell of personal ponderings to get off my chest. On one hand, I wanted to keep to the “Poem of the Week” goal I’d set in the Spring, but on the other hand, I didn’t want to sit around wondering and worrying just so I’d have something meaningful to write about on schedule. But when fresh doubts, deliberations, and stirring turns of phrase arise naturally over time? Well, I’d certainly rather serve them than let them stew.

It’s in that initial mindset of wanting to take a break and figure things out (how and what, exactly, is always the question) that I slowly composed this poem. I’m feeling better than when I wrote my last handful, personally and professionally. But, am I feeling content? Well…

 

First, World

I need a breather, a lever

to clearly crank between work and play.

Extra time in space.

The news is tightening, see:

word spreads like wine stains

of longer hours, shorter deadlines, higher expectations.

Dark, aged anxieties redden White naiveté.

 

So I need a scene

that stays in the director’s cut, unbundled.

Scifi conventions by weekend.

Mangled, NSFW memes in my phone’s feeds.

Dark, droning ambient music to massage the ears

over dishwashing and staring down a hollow closet.

Secretly, I’d like having part of me that makes my colleagues uncomfortable,

an edge to sand by day and sharpen by night.

I mean, the moral turpentine of eye contact and shaky small talk

can burn as well as cleanse,

and the scars aren’t far from madness, in a vacuum.

 
And I need a reason to pay attention

on schedule, with minimum interest.

Like a kid to cod liver oil, I to others’ identities.

It’s humorous and horrifying to see

how high I can climb without knowing

or caring who’s right

alongside me.

But my fear of looking stupid is a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Just once, I want two-way understanding in a conversation

instead of this tin-can-and-string bonding

between flitted grins and the absence of a face-to-face disgrace

(If something was wrong, they’d tell me).

Responsibility respawns ability

to be concerned, concerted, and make aces out of jokers—

when the fact is I can’t tell poker from solitaire.

 

Because my default is deprecation:

self-, else-, just for the sake of it—

an optimist’s façade, casting over

what luck! the shadow of oh fuck.

If doubt is universal, then mine’s infinitely expanding:

A demanding unhanding of double-edged words

from the same fist that clutches, unbudging,

every off-the-cuff criticism or compliment.

Damn wrist, trembling—figurative caffeine from within,

and I’ve blinked maybe five times today.

I need weaning off the sense of winning

when I intend to succeed and do.

That’s baseline, basically.

 

And so I need the curvature of my life,

a hidden horizon—a point past which no sight goes.

Certain uncertainty.

With every year, another throughline grows:

pallid strands, like taut dental floss, stretch into the yon,

today to tombstone.

I need that chance, that could-still-be and there’s-hope-yet,

to pat my back like an autumn sunbeam, assuaging

ailing ambitions in thinning air.

Because either way—a 401k and vacant trophy case

or canned beans over Hollywood contracts—

the captain goes down with the shit

he keeps onboard, and mine’s not hitting port any time soon.

A hoard of hoary motivations and vague concepts, outlines

sketched in the cobwebbed corners of a mind palace

long since repo’d by the state?

Not inaccurate,

but also not positive.

I’d say I didn’t come this far by being a downer,

but then I never pulled out a history book

for rulers to measure the distance.

 

Maybe it’s privilege

to shelve a dream and still smile at night,

to keep a whole ‘nother life on the back burner.

It can wait, most days. It’ll have to.

 

But first, world, I need the hours

to know what’s ours and what’s just mine—

how to tell when time’s running out

or just getting its second wind to lap back ‘round.

Everything I do, it’s to check off a list

that exists half in my heart and half on a Word doc.

‘Cause otherwise, with pen in breast pocket,

timesheet in tow,

and notepad gathering coffee stains,

we’ll just have to wait and see

which gets deleted first.

 

The Weekly Poem: “Vigils”

[Happy Daylight Saving Time! With it, I announce my new goal: A submission a day, a poem a week, a story a month, a book a year. Let’s do this thing already!]

vigils

Vigils

Vigils are interesting.

Why always at night?

To be sadder, more dramatic?

People can mourn in the morning,

die during the day,

get introspective anywhere.

The candles wouldn’t even need to be lit

if the sun was up.

 

It struck me as

an inelegant elegy, a premature retrospective.

The funeral frontloaded and publicized.

A pat aftermath of fundraisers and belated favors.

 

Not insensitive, just intrigued.

Numb to the inevitable.

Always staring more than sharing

in a loss.

 

So when I did attend one,

the college President having passed to cancer a weekend prior,

I wanted to care—and did.

Still, a sense of intrusion loomed over me

as I marched to the plaza—

no tale to tell, no anecdote to impart.

As if spectating carried a scent

and out I’d be found.

 

But it didn’t matter.

It wasn’t cresting the hill

and seeing the place packed with solemn students.

Or the emcee’s invocation,

to thank us all for coming

and just wanting to say a few words before we all began.

Nor the moment of silence.

 

No, it’s the motions and emotions

only presence can capture.

Not the photographer’s exhibit of a tear-hardened cheek

or the paper’s front-page summary,

relegated to rusty coffee shop news-racks.

Sadness spreads,

and who we keep in our thoughts could fill a whole shelter,

but there’s no honor by proxy, no tristesse à deux.

 

It’s the prone canvas of handwritten hopes, thanks, and well-wishes

on a foldout table to the side—

the eulogy democratized, a technicolor tombstone.

It’s the tremble of a dozen hands as they pen condolences,

and the shades chosen:

Black (traditional),

orange for vitality, pink for love, blue for hope.

It’s a tall Tupperware subbing as a donation box,

aflow with crisp and crumpled bills alike.

To attend is free, but everyone will contribute.

It’s how a man speaks about What She Meant to Me,

 

and, candle in hand, my pedantry melts in kind.

The weeping wax is a quick pinch

of the thumb en route to concrete,

and I should have known

 

we sleepwalk through work, play, and three square meals,

only to truly wake in the lonesome, cold, and eerie hours.

Death is a tide that stains instead of cleanses,

and the waves crash by dark

yet recede by day.

We can’t stop the storms, but we can build each-other lighthouses.

One wick to another, pale palms raised

to signal shore:

Faith. Thankfulness. Perspective.

 

The band lilts, coaxing notes

to lay a hand on bucking shoulders.

A sheet of music draped over the coffin to come.

There are minds and souls here, but no body,

and nobody is leaving just yet.

 

We are one wonder less,

wonderless the world still turns.

Better to learn it together,

to feel around emptiness and still take something out of it,

because memory is not a spectator sport.

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