New Poem: “Character Study”

A life in pages.

As I lay in bed last night, I started writing something to help me deal with my frustration over the difficulty of creating fleshed-out characters for the various novels I’m outlining.  Somehow, within two lines, it became a poem!

Character Study

 

I am a character.

 

I exist in sentences, breathe between fragments of symbols

laid out upon polished parchment.

My ambitions are tentative, my past abstract,

until you take this next clause and consonants

to explain my who, what, when, where, why, and how.

 

This is not ideal.

 

I would prefer to be absolute, to be able to look

around every corner of life’s labyrinth

and know how the bends curve to end.

As it stands, I walk by a torch

waved at your whim, vim lent through a passive void

blessed with meaning and being on a case-by-case basis.

A closed cover could conclude me at any

moment.

A picture, once rendered, could cast me

as an iconic beauty

or deformed doodle.

 

This world is not kind to the fictional, see.

You abuse us, prop us up

to promote your ends and means.

We vague infinity, the people who could be, should be, may have been,

are the scarecrows in your field of dreams,

pocketing promises like rocks as ballast

for whatever sale you set.

 

But page-wise, perhaps I can transcend. Already,

you feel obligated to keep writing,

keep reading.

Already you have fixed some image of who I am,

face and intonation pasted

from some old encounter like papier-mâché over a withered balloon:

A brother, a lover, a stalker, an ex-professor.

 

It’s said that people are only ideas

incarcerated in calcium and calories.

Yet I roam free, by virtue

of ink and imagination.

You think yourself the powerful one, but

 

after every book you took your words from,

every film you filched your inflections from,

every game that trained your reflexes,

and every song from which you stole your emotions,

motivation woven into heartstrings, tell me:

 

Who created who?

“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.

2016: A Year in Stuff

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Forget 2017, already–let’s party like it’s 1986!

It has been, by all accounts, a year of unmitigated death and depravity. If it weren’t for finally getting out of college and having super-awesome friends and family who’ve been with me for some amazing moments, 2016 would’ve been a total loss. Still, as an unrepentant pop culture geek, I feel a duty to briefly roll up my sleeves and dig deep for a silver lining in the media ephemera of the last 365 days. Onto the TOP STUFF LIST!
 –
–Best TV–
(1) Stranger Things: A fantastic homage to the idealized 80s in all its rad glory, this at once nailbiting and heartwarming supernatural tale can’t hit season two soon enough.
(2) Black Mirror (Season 3): Chillingly plausible story hooks and a diverse cast of characters made the return of this peerless techno-satire essential viewing.
(3) Westworld: Obtuse yet epic, it managed the impossible task of having me enjoy cowboy shootouts one second and ponder the depths of consciousness and free will the next.
(4) Channel Zero: Its reimagining of one of the most famous creepypastas in “Candle Cove” struggled with pacing and direction at times, but was still a cracking good start to anthology horror for a new generation.
(5) The X-Files: An “E” for effort, admittedly (it was never going to be *fantastic* after over a decade), but Mulder & Scully’s chemistry still shines, the paranoia still pops, and the middle ep is a series classic.
–Best Movies–
(1) 10 Cloverfield Lane: Mixing a claustrophobic setting with big-name actors, this slow-burn scifi flick provided more thrills on $15 million than most studios do with five times that budget.
(2) Hardcore Henry: The dictionary definition of an R-rating, this Russian rampage through knifings, shootouts, decapitations, and motorcycle chases is first-person adrenaline in a Blu-Ray.
(3) Arrival: Adapted from a story by the underrated Ted Chiang, Dennis Villeneuve’s taut, moody stylings lent a mindbending yet emotional air to an alien invasion.
(4) Captain America – Civil War: It’s more like Avengers 2.5, but who cares? Seeing all these insane characters duke it out on-screen after almost a decade of buildup is as close to a rollercoaster as theater gets.
(5) The VVitch – A New-England Folktale: Despite a Sundance screening in ’15, this humble horror movie really made waves with a wider release this February–and for good reason. With a painstaking attention to period dress and dialogue, it depicts the ultimate nightmare of 17th-century Puritans with spectacular subtlety and unrelenting dread.
–Best Games–
(1) Uncharted 4 – A Thief’s End: The adventure game, perfected. While it may lack the instantly iconic setpieces of its predecessors, this end to Nathan Drake’s saga packs a gripping plot, heart-pounding action sequences, and some of the best graphics I’ve ever seen into one disc.
(2) DOOM: Third time’s the charm with the latest reboot of the granddaddy of gory FPSes. The place: a demon-infested Mars. The mission: If it moves, kill it. On a busy schedule, that’s a goal I can get behind.
(3) INSIDE: The long-awaited sophomore release from dark Danish devs Playdead, INSIDE follows the eerie mystery of its predecessor LIMBO with a world of mind-control, parasites, and scientists dead-set on discovering… something.
(4) Layers of Fear: Naysayers call it a bunch of cheap jump scares designed for PewDiePie and his ilk–but for me, this was possibly the most terrifying game I’ve ever played. Like Jacob’s Ladder meets The Haunted Mansion, time, space, and object permanence mean nothing as you journey through the home of an insane painter desperate to finish his greatest work… even if it kills him.
(5) Pokemon Go: Need I say more? Sure, the hype only lasted a few weeks, but for that glorious midsummer time, 90s nostalgia and cutting edge AR tech joined forces to turn a good chunk of the urban populace into the pocket-monster hunters we always wanted to be. Just do not trespass while playing.
(Honorable Mentions): Hyper Light Drifter and The Last Guardian: I haven’t finished these yet, but the former is a gorgeous love-letter to SNES-era labyrinthine fantasy action games, and the latter is a legendarily delayed tale of a boy and his enormous killer furry pet (but really, it’s finally out!!).
–Best Albums–
(1) David Bowie, Blackstar: Perhaps it’s the freshness of the wound from his premature passing talking, but the choice was obvious. Prophetically or deliberately, Bowie portrays a stirring vulnerability across these seven jazz-tinged tracks like never before.
(2) Dance with the Dead, The Shape: It takes a lot to stand out among 80s-electronica throwback acts these days–anybody with a synthesizer and neon on their cover can ape John Carpenter. How does DwtD earn its stripes? By bringing dance-floor-ready beats and goosebump-inducing chants and guitar solos into the mix.
(3) Radiohead, A Moon-Shaped Pool: Cool, creeping, and cerebral as ever, Thom Yorke and company reassert their the radio-unfriendly art rock cred with monochrome majesty.
(4) Yeasayer, Amen and Goodbye: From mandolins to child choirs to funky beats, you never know what you’ll get with Yeasayer, but it’s sure to get stuck in your head. Underrated!
(5) Panic! at the Disco, Death of a Bachelor: Frontman Brendon Urie never met an abrupt genre change he didn’t like, but this mashup of glam-rock and swing is still unmistakably P!atD: Raucous, cocky, and Hot-Topical.
–Best Other Songs–
(1) “Light Tunnels,” Macklemore & Ryan Lewis feat. Mike Slap: Selling genuine awe and being starstruck is hard when you’ve already topped the Billboard charts, but somehow Macklemore manages it on this breathless opening track.
(2) “Famous,” Kanye West feat. Rihanna and Swizz Beatz: I just wanted you to know.
(3) “Tiimmy Turner,” Desiigner: Straight, unintelligible fire.
(4) “Campaign Speech,” Eminem: Shady goes a capella–but anything but apolitical–and doesn’t let off the gas for eight minutes. If this is any indication of what his next album will be like, both Marshall Mathers LPs have some serious competition coming down the pipe
(5) “Exist,” Avenged Sevenfold: What else can you ask for in a prog-metal song but a Neil deGrasse Tyson cameo outro?
(6) “Starboy,” The Weeknd feat. Daft Punk: The inimitable hairdo may be gone, but electro-R&B’s golden boy goes for the triple and then some with this infectious title track.
–Best Books–
Embarrassingly, I can only recall one book published in 2016 that I read for pleasure this year: Atlas Obscura. But for anybody into world travel, pick up a (hefty) copy and start marking your maps for the most bizarre and/or fascinating sights the seven continents have to offer!
 –
And that’s about it! Best wishes for a bright(er) 2017. We can have no illusions of it being sunshine and roses, but neither should we resign ourselves to things just getting progressively worse. Every era has its own phase where folks think “it’s all downhill from here,” but self-fulfilling prophecies are the hardest ones to heed. Make the changes you want to see in the world in your own life, and let that conscience motivate you. Let it drive you pursue your goals, whether you want them taken care later today or in ten years.
And remember: this world can still make sense, if you don’t force it to.

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.

 

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.

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.

IMG_1229

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.

The Weekly Poem: “ISYMFS”

This is a poem ragging on someone I used to be.

Lifting Music

ISYMFS

Self-pity is exhausting.

Setting up. Dressing down.

Hitting the bench and feeling the burn

of bridges and bones,

red-browed, tearing up.

 

No shuffle mode. Workout routine is key.

Purposeful discontent.

Warm-up: five reps of Radiohead,

creeping through the fake plastic trees.

But we’re just getting started.

 

Ed Sheeran works the chest,

an Iron-Man core of sweat as you power through

the half-hics, clicks of exes’ Facebooks

and photo albums unmodified for years.

Upper back: Motion City Soundtrack,

shrugging at exaggerated inadequacy.

Rack it. Congrats.

Selective rejection sets a beat

to push through pain.

 

Take a break in-between exercises

and stare down the ceiling.

Plead and need and

listen enough, and Achievement Unlocked:

Everything You Deserve.

(At least, that’s the plan.)

 

Legs day takes determination,

bipolar but still the same bar.

Brow furrowed, striding uphill, across town,

head light from wistful intents and retroactive rebellion.

Make it a day to remember—

keep your hopes up high and your head down low.

 

Arms are Snow Patrol:

Balled fists at kisses missed

and arm tensed, “V” for vowing

it’ll never be as good as it was back then.

Crunches: hunching over the PC,

a knuckle-gut feeling as you surveil

the blips and tickers, traffic-like,

for a flirty PM or Verified retweet

suggesting there’s still a chance.

It takes a lot of activity

to be inactive.

 

And Coldplay? Creatine, the chaser

to an evening well-undone.

Don’t forget to stretch

with some neutral Top 40 tune.

It’s okay to go tired to bed,

just not breathless.

 

 

 

 

But, you know what?

 

The gains never come

and the wait never lightens.

Personal trainers are costly,

and spotters hard to come by.

 

So, I’m thinking,

if you try to raise your spirits and it breaks your back,

take some plates off already.

It’s less muscles to smile than frown,

goes the cliché, so hey—

why strain something?

 

Yeah, things not working out is a workout,

but it doesn’t have to be a burnout.

Motivation goes both ways, and so it’s high time

you scaled back—slowed up—

eased down the dumb bells

and said “what the hell,”

 

It’s still your set,

and I know you can lift less.