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.

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Poem of the Week: Summertimes

Summer is getting close! That it’s a beautiful season (at least at my latitude) is a given; that it can be a state of mind is a cliché. Still, I combined both sentiments under the same confessional-meets-inspirational attitude I’ve approached the form with lately and produced what follows.

IMG_2719

Sunset across the Central Park Reservoir, 6/6/2015

Summertimes

If seasons are sentiments,

summer is nostalgia,

even when the memories aren’t ours.

 

Halloween heralds a dry spell,

the last vestige of sugared debauchery

and test-pattern provocation

before winterwear and wool hats

shelter spontaneity.

Not to dismiss Christmas,

but the chances we treasure were taken

outdoors.

Yet this side of the solstice,

it’s too hot to be insincere

in body or mind.

 

By morning, the smog’s a balm,

calmly salving skyscrapers

and alleyways in sleepy haze.

And, adulthood aside,

the city’s so pretty at night:

A leviathan Lite-Brite patchwork

that, tracing the seams by sidewalk or subway,

all but pushes you to take center manhole

and twirl mid-intersection,

taking in a panorama of possibilities,

unburdened by overcoats.

Karaoke. Barcades. Broadway. Stargazing.

Sweat sticks, prickles the scalp,

but anything’s ignorable when you’ve got one thing

to look forward to.

 

But one year, waking in single digits to blinding curtains,

packing week on week with tours and to-dos like a tight suitcase,

changing the bassline of every newfound tune into car horns,

verses to cursing,

the beat to forty thousand footsteps

never headed my direction,

I pined for

 

a pine forest

and cabin in foggy solitude.

The film-pitch future

a dozen Tumblrs promised us Millennials:

A little loft; bereft of box spring,

a mattress buttressed by boughs of Christmas lights

and a standing fan.

Hardback classics scatter ‘cross the shelves and hardwood

in improbable stacks.

A skylight, so glow-in-the-dark stars

can compete with the real ones.

And a throwback van, foldout couch its cargo,

to park and ponder in crystal-cool Vancouver,

the doors as wide as our minds.

 

We could swim

(of course there’s a lake adjacent),

shadows casting sky

on the water, swaying ‘round our ears like a flipped pillow

that relaxes the intermittent chitter of insects unseen

into a cool throb.

Like childhood just went on vacation

and came back with perfect clarity.

 

And, in abstract,

companionship.

A clammy collage of models and male entitlement.

I said I’d settle for a metalhead belle

with a key for a necklace, a nervous system

of mandalic tattoos, Chucks shoes,

a wardrobe full of flannel and beanies,

a septum piercing, hair down to her gauges,

and a look of withering eroticism that says

I have been around the block, boy,

and you are nothing special,

but if I offered to eat a whole pack of Air Heads and then make out,

she’d reply your favorite flavor first.

 

A closet quarter-life crisis.

Development not arrested but under surveillance,

we tell ourselves it could happen.

#LifeGoal. #RelationshipGoal. #Dream.

Pepperoni pizza and Netflix.

Soft-focus photography as a five-year plan,

if only we can finally get on that penny-farthing of conversation.

Can we go forward to the time when…

Ironic it’s the ambient heat and happiness

that out our ennui.

 

 

I writhed under deadlines,

dull stares, and thoughts of forever

at crowded post-semester pregames that left my skin singed

and tank tinged with scents of cannabis and flip-cup flecks.

Partying as pantomime.

When someone asked why I wasn’t more upbeat, I replied

I’m just a different kind of person.

 

Yet, waiting for the wind, I realized

caution can be thrown without it.

Looking back

over the fence, to that growing grass, I decided

I wasn’t buried but planted.

And now, sunglasses on, shorts at the ready,

three months can mean something

more than either amusement or acting it.

Some summers may be legendary,

others mundane,

but there’s no shade to take in desperation.

In flying to the future,

some baggage must stay at the gate.

 

So with the regrets, frets, and what-ifs left to bleach—

all things not considered—

I guess, if I could keep one memory

for when the sun is high and the sky is Kool-Aid blue,

 

It’d be the fire pits.

Campouts, as a kid.

The smells: the blackly savory taste

of a BBQ lit anew, the bellicose tang

of fallen fireworks across my grandparents’ lawn.

The give and pull of comfort,

brother and I racing around the flame to flee the breeze.

Family on mossy, knobby logs, monitoring impaled marshmallows

that’ll either alchemize to gold

or go up in the embers like the Terminator.

The greasy security of copious sunblock still intact:

Head, shoulders, shins and nose.

Two yellow jackets trying my patience in tides.

Smoke and bare knees.

Quiet. Close.

No worries except the Mario level I’m stuck on

and if I ate too many hot dogs.

 

A composite,

probably.

Selective reflection, a doctored Polaroid

in the corner of my mental mirror.

But one unhindered by trying

to right a wrong, race a clock,

or chase a secondhand fantasy.

And that’s warm enough for me.

BACK IN BLACK AND/OR PINK – Valentine’s Up-Date

Happy Valentine’s Day! In my regrettable absence (full disclosure: no real reason, I just got busy and then Christmas Break happened/was pretty great), the rest of 2014 and the start of 2015 came and went without much in the way of remarkable developments–I made it through another semester at Cornell Law School with a modest cumulative 3.4 GPA and am preparing to advance to a higher editor position on the Cornell Law Review, but progress on my novel, “There’s Something Wrong with the Neighbor’s Cat” (link goes to pretty darn outdated character profiles) has been drip feed-esque at best, and the hunt for some manner of fulfilling legal work over the summer continues. Also, I’m trying to build a PC–parts so far include the processor, monitor, about twenty new Steam games, and this reasonably baller case:

It's on like TRON.

It’s on like TRON.

So since the only thing piling up more than sparkly, Solo cup-studded snow over here in Ithaca, NY is academic obligations, I’ll be brief in circling back around to that first joyful lead-in: It’s February 14th! Short story shorter, I’m still single, but if I wanted to straight bemoan the fact I’d send you a link to my Tumblr. Instead, in a bit of a “less is more” combo, I’ve got a pair of poems produced under varying circumstances. The first is another semiautobiographical magnetic poetry quickie I assembled while in the good ol’ “waiting room” at the UW’s English Department in the recesses of Padelford Hall while back home for the holidays. I don’t really name these ones, but I guess “What Boy” is as good a title as any:

What Boy

The second poem is one I actually wrote about a year ago, not coincidentally close to this time of the month. I didn’t share it initially because, to be honest, it’s pretty dang rough, schmaltzy, and was initially typed as “prose” on a lark describing the subject to a friend in a late-night Facebook message. I gave it and the reasons behind it some time to cool off, though, and figured today that it couldn’t hurt to toss it up again in light of the season, if only as something of an emotional time capsule–in any case, it’s vague enough that I’d like to think folks with a quirky, geeky sense of romance can relate to it (and I doubt those are in short supply on the internet!) , whether in a relationship or not. So again, just think of it as bittersweet “pop poetry,” and enjoy reading about a feeling that’s…

Hard to Describe