Mutually Assured Destruction

You spend half your life with your hands covering your mouth, muffling your screams, regretting the things you’d said

You spend the the other half kneading your knuckles into doughy temples wishing you had said the things you didn’t

We define ourselves in these moments of action or inaction and let those moments of blissful silence pass by unnoticed

We are hurricanes turned inside out, where the storm rages most on the inside and the calm is all around us within reach

Still pushed by high pressure and drawn to low, hoping the decisions we make steer the ship, but they’re ripples in slack sails

What you think is instinct is just the past echoing into the now, the eyes of a bully from school making distrust of a stranger

She spoke an uncommon and long forgotten phrase that the girl who broke your heart once used and flight wins over fight

Your favorite movie is a mystery that you can’t solve, as to why it haunts you, and it’s simply because it makes you feel at home

Your need to make sense of it all, the storm within, instead of just letting the peace inside, is your undoing

Your actions define you less in how you faced the storm and more in how you made every attempt to be the calm

This tug of war has no happy ending, as the very idea of reconciling the out with the in is a fallacy

The mighty ship you think you’re at the helm of is just a leaf set afloat by a summer rainstorm

The best you can hope for from your decisions, those ripples, that they are guided by love

That the inquisitive eyes of a newborn will see beauty in the way your leaf danced just before being sucked into a drain

Hopefully, this creates an indiscernible echo, a future instinct, where they choose love, as well

This dance isn’t self-sacrifice, it’s mutually assured destruction…between the world as you see it and the one you wish to make, but the dance is still beautiful

Of course the world continues on after the leaf enters the storm drain, but it’s changed, and the world as uniquely seen from your perspective, that world…dies with you

I mourn those losses by bringing in the calm and by dancing in the rain

Sun Bleached

Driftwood dreams washed up on foreign shores.

Sun bleached white.

Dismembered ghost limbs bobbing at oblivious heavens.

Would a corked bottle have been kinder?

Tossed is tossed though hope remains.

Acknowledge that part of me.

Jetsam.

That piece I thought you cared for, and in the caring kept it alive.

Atrophied petals drifting away in the slightest breeze.

Not dandelion seeds that dream of fertile purchase, but something destined to decay.

A mere reminder of what was once beautiful.

The red bled away and left a translucent skin…a thumbprint.

But beachcombers sift for shells and I am here in the land you left behind—hollowed.

The pieces that remain, that were always only mine, bring me no joy.

I look at the voids my decay has left and I long to be whole, or to be wholly gone.

I am left with nothing but phantom itching and sun bleached, driftwood dreams, that dance at the periphery.

If you do happen across these pieces of me, these driftwood castaways, fashion them with sinew into an effigy and burn me into ash.

Then I can ascend and serve as a beacon…a cautionary tale.

Icarus

Gifts are often more than we can bear

These connections

These sharings

These overlaps

This anchor hangs about my neck

We are now bound

And I am bound to regret it

Your honeyed breath

Your words of buoyancy

Where do I go with this

What do I owe to this

You give me a book

Now I must read, discuss and play fan

You give me a plant

Now I nurture/sustain and hide its decay

You encumber me and I feign gratitude

Gifted a hundred pictures of butterflies

And I just want to remain a caterpillar

Or if I do choose to metamorphose

I want it to be of my own volition

I want to owe no one—nothing

So when you fashion me wings

Of feathers and wax

I don’t fly high out of jubilation

I do it to gain control

I own my free fall

And I will build myself anew

From the ground up

Old

There’s a chill in my bones

That this springtime sun

Cannot reach

It’s a slowing of atoms

Approaching absolute zero

Of being 48 years old

Or whatever that means

The grass doesn’t shine

Like that from my youth

A fine layer of sediment

Has covered everything

Including myself

Something for the moss

To anchor to

Gravity is winning

As it always does

Will I rise from these ashes

Born anew

Or simply fertilize the thoughts

Of the next shift

The changing of guards

Over the hill sounds nice

Like the hard parts over

The struggle has ended

And momentum now carries me

But I must still take care

Each gravity assisted step

Could send me cartwheeling

When…how will I know that I’m enough

Take back

I step forward with right foot

Monkey brain chatter

Eyes darting to and fro

Buzzing in ears

Need to center

Calm

Replaying of conversations

What if I’d said

Now I’m 16 again

Telling my younger self

Just take the chance

Face flush

Sweat forming at hairline

The color red

Pulsing

The perceived evils I committed

Am I a bad person

Work tomorrow

Am I a fake

Will I be found out

This isn’t my dream

My son looks up to me

Am I there enough for him

Am I preparing him

Did I curse him with my psychosis

Hide the tics

Slow the stutter

Be normal

Send it out to the universe

Manifest

I’ve cocooned myself

In layers of antisocial avoidance

My metamorphosis

Will I gain wings

Where would I fly

Shut up and write

Turn off the 65” pacifier

Write the truest thing you know

Okay…I’m scared

Be that kid carving FTW into a desk

Do it for myself

Not for likes

Pink Floyd’s The Wall

My soundtrack for adolescent depression

When it’s too quiet I can still hear it

Mother, should I build the wall?

Breaking bottles

Piss into the void

Why does she always push away

Where’d that moment go

When we wanted to stay forever

Embraced under covers

Solace found in isolation

But this monkey brain

Tap the microphone

Adjust the levels

Ear piercing feedback

Echoes from missteps

Tiled hallways in cold institutions

Where is my place

My assigned seating

Switch the name card

To a seat near the window

Daydream your way out

Think of being encapsulated

Beneath the branches

Of a weeping willow

The wind shifting everything I know

Did I lock the door

Turn off the coffee pot

Did I do enough

Concentrate on breathing

Silence the chatter

Those words slipped out

Rewind the tape

Press record and do take 2

No matter what fork

The path leads here

The only thing you can take back

Is control

My mantra

Left foot steps forward

Scared

We’re all scared

Scared of not achieving

Self-actualizing

Of never being enough

For ourselves

For others

Of leaving no trace

Either now or in the future

Making a difference

Making ripples

Knocking over dominos

We bury ourselves in obligations

As a distraction

Even debt is a warm, weighted blanket

Like the commercial

Work harder to make more money

To afford more cocaine

So you can work harder

Only it’s not cocaine

It’s an anesthetic

Numbed we can march on

Into that last sunset

The only time the light seeps in

Is when you take notice of time

That you’ve been marching

Like this

For decades

And gotten nowhere

Even prosperity is a blanket

A good job that affords you things

Is still a job that wicks away the years

No matter how many trinkets

No matter how nice the trappings

They’re all just bars in the gilded cage

A cage that’s built to order

I think that the dream brings a freedom

That being a writer is a romantic vision

Having a room of one’s own

Creating worlds alone

That reaffirm my connection

To the very world I shun

That the words are seeds

Planted in the minds of the readers

That I gain existence in the sharing

That I obtain immortality

From the contrast of black letters

On white pages

I’m deathly afraid that writing

Will be nothing more than another

Obligation

A different kind of cage

Worse than that

That I’m not even good enough

For that cage

Maybe Bukowski is right

Maybe I need to go crazy

Or maybe I already am

Maybe I’m the most sane person on earth

Or is even believing in sanity

A form of mental aberration

Aberration implies a departure

From normal

What if normal, like sanity, doesn’t exist

Is knowing this the key to the cage

If the door swung open

Would we just stay perched

Afraid, because…

We’re all scared

Scared of not achieving

Self-actualizing

Of never being enough…

Roadside Memorial

You’ve seen them after the accident

Flowers, stuffed animals, solar lights

A memorial for someone taken too soon

The glitter of glass on black asphalt

As above, so below

At first these tragic displays overflow

Friends, family, coworkers

Leave crosses, notes, stuffed animals

As time passes it diminishes

Until only a dutiful loved one

Stands roadside with fresh flowers

And a new set of solar lights

The hum of the passing traffic

Raising the hairs on their necks

The precarious nature of life

The uncertainty of a vigil

So close to the very hurtling weapons

That caused the death

Creating the emptiness

Now filled with trips to Home Depot

And Hobby Lobby

Do we leave a bit of ourselves in passing

Like haunted houses

Grandma is gone

But the smell of her cooking

The lilt of her songs

The rocking of her chair

Move in and out

Like exclamation points

On moments of longing

Does this happen roadside

To those left behind

When grass sticks to shoes

When tears mix with rain

When the lights flicker on

At dusk

Headlights illuminating this tableau

Do they wonder who will carry on

When they pass

Or if someone will do the same for them

We all grieve in our own ways

I know this

I want to buy a bench and placard

At the nature trails my dad walked

Celebrate his love of wildlife

I even spread his ashes there

Maybe making the flora greener

Which is the best we can hope for

A positive change from our leaving

Every time I pass a roadside memorial

I feel myself standing there

The longing

Cursing, perhaps, the carelessness

Of the driver of the WMD

I feel the loneliness in my bones

Someday I’ll stop at a florist

Leave a bouquet

How happy that would make them

Those passed and those carrying on

When I go I hope it’s at home

Surrounded by friends and family

If it’s my weary and clogged heart

That gives out

Go ahead and lay flowers and lights

In front of the local fast food restaurants

Leave a stuffed animal

In my dent in the couch

Teach them

Children change everything

A complete shift in priorities

Someone is counting on you

Depending on you

Their very survival

Most parents take this on

With pride

With resolve

Others try to simply make it work

Like taking on another job

Another checkbox in a list

Some will reprioritize

Putting the child first in all things

But hold onto some part of the before

Drinking with the boys on Friday nights

Restoring that old car

Or getting the boat ready in the spring

But most often

This change

Kills dreams

Aspirations

How can I possibly

Who’s time am I wasting

What’s more important

These formative years

That’s right…formative

What foundations are we laying

Be a good soldier

Be a good consumer

Be a good student

Color in the lines

Fit into the cookie cutter

That dreams are transient

That they should

Should

Should

Should

Be a good dad or mom

Have their 2.3 kids

Balance their checkbook

Tuck some into a 401k

Perfect attendance

Buy the latest and greatest

Poetry is a phase and not a need

Be a creator of needs

A dutiful cog

In a widget factory

Who knows…maybe Disney

Next year

For now, practice assembling

A perfect child

Blindfolded

On a cot

You could bounce a quarter off of

Formative…

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Make them artists

Involve them in your dream

Teach them to love language

Form

Movement

Music

Teach them independence

Self-soothing

Self-entertaining

Self-reliance

Share your joy

Share your love

Of humanity

Of humanness

Trade WiFi connectivity

For soul to soul connectivity

Don’t feel bad

For spending time on expression

For asking for 5 more minutes

To finish that poem

Teach beauty is equal to duty

Maybe you’ll achieve your dream

Maybe they’ll learn to fight for theirs

Formative…

En Passant

In my youth I used to play chess

I never really took it all that seriously

Never joined a club

Didn’t think about competing

It was just a game

But it was a part of me

It was a distinction

Of mine and of that long ago era

A Queen’s Gambit resurrected it

A phantom limb I’d forgotten even existed

And now I feel a spectral itch

Where no appendage should be

This set my head on tilt

How many other limbs

Did I let atrophy along the away

How many withered from neglect

How many were purposefully elastrated

Is this pruning a part of growing up

Does getting rid of the weak ones

The distractions

Make the stronger ones even stronger

Or just give us more time to focus

On the ones that suit our faculties

Do we know the right choices were made

When drawing became difficult

When fingers ached from guitar chords

Did we opt for an easier route

One we felt we had a better chance with

Of obtaining fame and fortune

Or do they simply resonate with our souls

Maybe they worked best at catharsis

Who knows

Maybe they’re never really gone

Maybe these phantom limbs

Are nothing more than neural pathways

All laying dormant

Waiting for a spark

Which could be anything

A movie that has you feel a cigarette

Between index and middle finger

A habit you kicked years ago

A song that makes you weary

From pulling all night cramming

For a college course whose ideas faded

The sound of rain on a tent

And you look down at hands twitching

They’re twisting ropes into a clove hitch

When merit badges meant everything

But the fascinating thing of all this

Often this body memory is subconscious

And the electricity dances and fades

In a dusty area of the brain

Frog’s legs attached to electrodes

Dance a do-Sa-do and allemande

The smell of a gymnasium is faint

Like when she smiles at you

And you feel a pulse of warmth

Your body remembers being loved

And now you itch for more

Show > Tell

I could tell you I’m in pain

Or show you the nail gouges in my knees

I could say I’m happy spring is finally here

Or invite you to the exorcism

Show you despair’s shadow

As I vomit up the pitch onto cellar walls

Where it will hide in the damp coolness

Woken by the crunch of leaves underfoot

In a few month’s time

Until it envelopes my heart

For the next long, motionless winter

Control

We fool ourselves

You’re either building sandcastles

Or your shoveling snow into a snow bank

Whether for fun or drudgery

The waves, the sun—time—takes all

The most indelible mark we make

Is our non-biodegradable flotsam

The little green, plastic shovel

Buried in the sand

The cigarette pack wrapper

Tossed while taking a shoveling break

This is the void that peers back at you

That nothing endures

That the space between

Between nucleus and electron cloud

Between the you, you are

And the you, you think should be

Between the moment we are born

And the lonely moment we pass

Their value is all the same

It is everything and nothing at once

We stand at the precipice of a black hole

Our thoughts trailing into a stretched line

Thinner and thinner

Mesmerized by our own gravity

Not unlike how chickens are hypnotized

Just before their heads are lopped off

That line drawn in dirt

Giving the chicken a sense of extension

That it never feels in the day to day

What comes first?

The numbing or the day to day

Do we anesthetize to handle

The doldrums of lather, rinse and repeat?

Or do we become number

With every shampooing we perform?

Does it even matter

If the end result is the same?

That long walk into the night

That sense of loneliness buffered

With bandaid purchases

A new phone for unmet career aspirations

A big screen TV for feelings of isolation

Consumerism is self-medication

The moments that matter

Are forgotten in the haze

Of the dopamine afterglow

Like pictures never printed

Digitally stored on devices

Password protected into oblivion

More flotsam

Our only sense of immortality

But…we fool ourselves

The Dream

Why do we hold on?

Why can’t we just…let…go?

It fucking defines us

We let it define us

We LIKE that it defines us

It means there’s more

More than your 9 to 5

More than your carpool lane

More than your social media likes

More than your Netflix suggested list

That with the right amount of light

The right amount of water

The right amount of bullshit

Of believing you can

Despite the odds

That we could succeed

At something truly worthwhile

To do what you love

To love what you do

To be remembered forever

Immortality

By finally letting people in

By opening yourself up

Exposing your truth

Your psychoses

Your vulnerabilities

Your humanness

And showing other wounded

That they’re not alone

But this dream takes a toll

The biggest of which

Is self belief

And why is that so…fucking…hard?

So many of us with a story to tell

But gagging on the first syllable

Afraid that once we do speak

We’ll realize we’re alone

And always will be

Listening to those words

Echoing off cold, brick walls

That a dream never achieved

Is better than the death of that dream

Even gagging on that syllable

We are trying and possibility exists

So why do we hold on?

Because we’re through sleepwalking

Now it’s time to wake up

Time to put in the work

Even if the gagging

Brings the taste of copper

We will swallow it down

And retch out the next syllable

Together we are a chorus

Commodity

What’s standing in my way?

Me

You practice saying croissant

While I practice saying thank you

And I’m sorry

When all I want to scream is…

I take compliments

As a toddler takes a booster shot

I follow conversations

The way a boxing commentator

Describes a 10 round flight

Finesse the points or swing for the fences

Or pretend to be good neighbors

As fences often are

We all say we want truth

But all we really want is OUR truth

When confronted with another’s truth

We swallow it whole

Hoping it doesn’t scratch on the way down

And that it doesn’t change the color

Of our shit

When it is done sustaining us

But remembering you

Never feels quite as important

As you remembering me

But remembering YOU

Never feels QUITE as important

As YOU remembering…me

But vampirism grants immortality

And ripples mimic wind currents

To the point we confuse words

With actions

Sometimes words are all we have…

Holding on

Unfulfilled dreams keep me marching on

The center is love, a heart, dangling before me

I am a donkey and it is the carrot

Only I have not aged as well as the dream

It’s keeps perfect time, pressing every step

Meanwhile my heart has cocooned itself for the long gulag trek

With years of self absorbed behaviors

Of buying into the “me”

Like a tree you could count the rings of fat surrounding my heart

To determine the age of my idiocy

This marching has given me strong calves and premature ventricular contractions

If only my dream was externally motivated

Something superficial

Swinging weights and drinking wheatgrass

Happiness measured in lean body mass

Fat is where the flavor is

A shark would spit out a fairly lean person

Perhaps muscle tastes like work

Fat tastes like leisure

A blubbery seal gives the shark an idea

Of what it must be like to stop swimming

I feel like I can’t stop swimming

I feel like Ice cream tastes a porch swing

What happens if I stopped swimming?

Like the shark I’d drown

Divining inspiration from dark waters

Making oxygen passing water across gills

But I’m a donkey chasing a carrot

I just don’t know if I have what it takes

The resolve

The skill

The talent

Am I enough for the dream

Is just having a dream enough for me

Is my heart cocooned for a reason?

Is it metamorphosing from yesterday

Into the heart of tomorrow

The one hanging from a string

My well worn heels synchronized

But will tomorrow ever arrive?

Or have I already drowned?

My march the simplest of actions

A living dead seeking the reminder

Of what warm, life’s blood still tastes like

Park Bench

Where’ve you gone?

The sun’s arc

Has traced my decline

Splintered thoughts

Paint worn reveals grain

Rusting wrought iron

The tears you shed

Long evaporated

Are now replaced

With frost’s steely touch

The part of me

That still holds chin high

Is patinated with jogger sweat

But the words stand testament

People still wondering to this day

What cornerstone of a community

What deeds did you do

To be immortalized on this bench

Looking out over this lake

But you were no luminary

You didn’t found any company

You were so much more than that

You were my father

You were my friend

And someday I’ll pass on

But it’ll still be you they think of

In moments of well needed rest

Grass brushing at ankles

Dragonflies darting to and fro

In loving memory

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Would you believe me

If I told you

The song playing in the other room

Just faint enough to be imperceptible

Will color your entire day

That it’s set your head askew

It’s an overlay

The weather in the novel you’re reading

Is an outward projection

Of the main character’s inner turmoil

The howling wind

The driving rain

The rainbow that sometimes follows

Your subconscious will hum that song

As your own weather system moves in

An unwitting participant

An actor following stage directions

Every night the play is slightly different

Every day a different song plays

In the other room

Just out of earshot

Each day, unaware you hum these tunes

An ear worm

It burrows into the minds around you

They begin to weather parallel storms

Manifestation

Virus

Synaptic transference

Daisy chain

Bucket brigade

The buckets are filled with tears

Of joy

Of sorrow

Of acceptance

They taste like the song

If you want to be the change

Get up and go to that other room

Change the station

To a song that stokes your flame

Of hope

Of empathy

Of love

No amount of buckets could douse

Then go about your day

Humming

Until the whole world resonates with you

Until the ripples reach the darkest corners

Change the station and change the world

A River Runs Through It

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I always declare on forms that I’m American Indian or Alaskan Native

Now I realize, better than others, that I’m only half Mohawk. Only.

I don’t know if I do this to increase my chances of getting hired or to warn

I know I don’t look like your stereotypical idea of what an “Indian” should look like

This white guy you see, who can hold a tan through winter, is accessible with his wavy hair

The collector of the forms gets the best of both worlds…white-looking and diversity

A straight of the Rez, long-haired, stoic, traditional Native told me I was an apple

I am a product of the government’s relocation policy. Get them off the Rez.

That’ll assimilate them

So I don’t speak Mohawk, just as my mother doesn’t, but my grandparents did

No ceremony to get a traditional name, like most of my cousins have

I’ve never been to a sweat-lodge

So his remark was meant to hurt me. There are layers. On the surface it stung

It stung because I thought we were friends. So why would he intentionally hurt me?

I knew I didn’t choose where I was borne…off the reservation. Not my fault

However, I was in my mid-twenties, so I could’ve regained what was never given to me. I could’ve returned home again

But remember…the camera might add weight, but the mirror doesn’t lie

Try to fit in

Next layer…I’m ecstatic that he thinks I even look Native, as being an apple implies

I always wished I looked more Native

He tells me a couple weeks later that the guy behind the counter at the campus gym was racist towards him

He called him, “Chief.”  He looked at him with disgust. Told him there are townie gyms he would be better off at and told him TO MAKE SURE he wiped his sweat off the machines

Did this make me feel better that I pass as Caucasian? That I somehow dodged a bullet?  No.

I was a rage filled apple. I wanted to cave this ignorant lunk’s head in with a dumbbell

I was his brother, even if he didn’t think so

You see, generational pain exists in your DNA, right down to your marrow

These sublimated rivers of tears, that hollow out the ground beneath us, thrum beneath our feet

Like elephants and house pets, we feel the earthquake coming days in advance

The caverns created beneath us are filled with the stalactites and stalagmites made of our ancestor’s calcium. They’re bones.

Every step is precarious if the ground is hollow beneath you. For native Americans all ground is hollowed and hallowed

I look at my son and wonder if I should raise him to check that box, or not

Only a quarter. Try to fit in. Only.

Step carefully my son.

 

No weight

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Give no weight to these words

They are the mumblings of a madman 

I scribbled them on the padded walls of my mind

Ink drawn from the heart’s-well with pointy nail clippings 

Instead, lay your faith in that first sip of morning’s coffee

In the peals of young children’s laughter 

In how your fingertips feel at home in the small of your lover’s back

Find your home with outstretched arms digging fingers in three knuckles deep

So a hurricane couldn’t shake you loose 

I’ll be tossed about by the whimsy of your smile and faded memories 

Smirk at my chaos if it makes you feel better 

Find truth in your realism and folly in my Impressionism 

You can Rockwell while I melt into Dali-ance

Find comfort in repetition 

Find comfort in repetition 

Find comfort in repetition 

I’ll ride the adrenaline roller coaster of fractal chaos

You’ll never really feel quite as alive 

As when you don’t know where your next meal is coming from

The food tastes better and your kisses sweeter 

When each time felt as though it could’ve been the last

But here we are

You in your well worn path

My mind a wandering nomad…a vagabond 

Things seem so much simpler to you

So give no weight…to these words