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

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

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

Lean in

I’m so fucking happy

You’re not with me?

Here’s a joke to get you there

I’ll laugh the hardest

It makes it easier for you

But lean in

Listen hard

And watch my shifting eyes

I’ll laugh until I cry

I’m always envious

Of those who voice their pain

Who have no trouble bleeding

Each beat of heart

An arterial spray

But lean in

Listen hard

And watch hands limp at sides

This is just where they hide

I think—no…I know that if I start

I won’t stop until totally drained

Ready to be propped up

A formal way to hide

A much needed transfusion

Of formaldehyde

But lean in

Listen hard

Hands balled tight

I don’t even know how deep

The nails will go

I know there are limits

But is it a hardline?

Or does it shift by the moment?

Is it a mirage from heat off skin?

The glistening always moving away

With every step forward

But lean in

Listen hard

Capacity to reinvent identity

Means either all lies or nothing but truth

You can only describe the unknown

With commonplace words and terms

So I plumb this oubliette

With the span of your arms as rule

Because I could only ever trust mine

When I matched another’s tip to tip

But lean in

Listen hard

Because the mirrored fragments I steal

I give back with the only fingerprints

That truly promise identity

Lean in

Listen hard

Institutionalization

Institutionalization is the couch indent

It’s feeling so at home in our thoughts

We miss our depression when in remission

The stability of groundhogs day

The stability of groundhogs day

The stability of groundhogs day

It’s why so many of us finally give in

Just as the right medication kicks in

It’s too much too fast

It’s questioning it all from the cocoon

Then finally getting our wings

Only to fly high enough to plummet

Don’t get me wrong there are bars

But the day comes when they change

They no longer hold us in

But keep the world out

It’s that movie where prisoners are freed

Walking out into the sun they are blinded

The light actually causes physical pain

It’s more than just getting used to

It’s more like getting dependent on

We desperately need a sense of control

In this chaotic world

Whether we find it in bed in a dark room

In the bottom bunk in a 6 by 8 cell

At a mindless, unappreciative job

We know exactly what to expect

There are very few variables

We are the water that Bruce Lee speaks of

Desperately looking for a dusty cup

That’s rarely removed from the shelf

Maybe it’s all shades of grey

The varying degrees of sadness

Before we step out

Into the blinding light

We should take the trip slowly

From the depths of the pitch sea bottom

In a kind of decompression chamber

That trickles the light in, in degrees

So by the time we breathe fresh air

We won’t recoil in pain from the sun

This birthing in dimly lit room in a hot tub

Life is harsh…take it easy on yourself

And ease into it

Pulse

Cast shade upon me to give me greater depth than the tissue paper I feel I’ve become

Talk about the times when I hacked and slashed my way into the jungles of discourse

Remind me of how there is fun to be had in the mixing of mindsets and the study of emotional alchemy

I can feel myself waning so grab my hand and, if you must, teach me the sound of one hand clapping

Tether me with fishing line and barbed hooks to the things I hold closest to my heart

So, even when the vacuum comes, I’ll whip and dance like a kite in a storm but remain earthbound

When I’m pulled inward by the dance of the mind’s cinematography you must sing me the melody of dialogue

Place my hand to chest so I can feel the now of your tempo and strengthen the action over intention

Despite all of perception being funneled through the lens of mind we must move corporeally

Despite the mind triggering muscular contractions, it is more important to take journey’s first step than to just plan it

The neurotransmitter’s dance achieves potentialities that only have value in causality

The mindspark will bring about no fire without fuel or oxygen

So feed me in experiences and breathe warmth into these hollow bones

These self inflicted wounds will only heal if I think you want them to, like plants that grow healthier through conversation

Photosynthesis is the plant kingdom equivalent of synaptic transmission

But even we need the sunlight to keep our hallowed bones from crumbling

So walk me in your sunlit pastures and dig your nails into my flashy palms whenever you sense me drifting

I need now

I need you

I need you now

Charmed, I’m sure

Do you ever remember bits and pieces of books, movies or poems?

Not enough to string together an effective google search

But enough to feel the faint outlines of an emotion

Maybe it was a book you had to read in 5th grade

Something you skimmed just enough to barely pass a quiz

But had changed you in some unknown, imperceptible way

A pall you carried from a long forgotten poem

Which still shades the world a color, a tint 

One you’ve so long gotten used to, that you don’t even see it anymore

Having lived so long in a home that was licked by fire, that you no longer smell the ash

A pall you refuse to part with, because you find comfort hiding beneath it

You hold onto these pieces, like charms that once hung from a now broken bracelet 

Charms that symbolize something, a connection no longer made

A handwritten letter that references or alludes to things you know nothing of

A letter meant for the person who lived there before you, with no return address 

If you knew the sender of the letters, the purchaser of the charms

Maybe you could divine meaning from them

Like dream interpretation, but foolishly forgetting that you are all the participants in your dream

You are that book, that film, that poem…those letters. Those charms. One day I’ll have you figured out. 

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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.