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

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

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

“Hey, beautiful!”

It’s all too easy to boil it all down

To take a lifetime of experiences

And throw it away like a grocery list

Not even the items anymore

Not bread, milk and eggs

Just a piece of crumpled paper

It’s easier to throw away like that

Junkie, tweaker, or drunk

All ways of seeing a person

Seeing them as crumpled paper

Ready for the trash can

I thought this way, like many

The path of least resistance

It hurts knowing I’d been that way

That I’d given up on people in need

My moment of awakening was gentle

At first

Then it hit like a hammer to the chest

We had become foster parents

A shirttail relative in need

We’d care for her little girl

While she worked on herself

How could she?

Was the question that burned in my head

I took the human away from her

With every thought

I boiled her down

Then, when I could throw her away

This little two-and-a-half-year-old

Beautiful, cheery, little girl

Upon meeting me for the first time

She reached up

Held my face in her hands

Her tiny little hands

Moving in little circles on my cheeks

She looked me in the eyes

A smile of beautiful acceptance

Beaming from her face

And in her tiny, cooing voice

She said, “Hey, beautiful!”

She said this three times.

After the third time I’d realized

She was telling me what she’d heard

Probably every day of her life

From her mother

That’s when the hammer hit my chest

Her mother wasn’t crumpled paper

She was more than I could imagine

Most important of all things

She was…is a loving mother

With this painful realization

I came to understand

All peoples with substance use disorders

Are worthy of our kindness

Of our acceptance

Of our love

It was a painful realization because

Because I had to look myself in the mirror

I had to weigh myself

To see how I’d come up short

I’m still working on me

Trying to be better than who I was

Day by day

I smiled and walked outside

After she chanted the incantation

The third time

And I cried

Just as I cry now

In the remembering

“Hey, beautiful!”

We’re the very words I needed to hear

Whether you’re fighting battles

That no one knows about

Or you’re following the easy path

Know that you are worthy of change

And that you’re beautiful

“Hey, beautiful!”

I miss

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I miss the younger me

The weightless unencumbered me

The carefree and aimless me

I want to hide beneath the weeping willow

A nature-made fortress…of solitude 

Where, like Superman, I flew

Thin branches wound around my bone-thin forearms 

Leaping against the pull of gravity

A mind that didn’t carry sorrow 

Or guilt 

Or servitude to the almighty dollar 

A helium balloon in the clouds

Tethered to unslumped shoulders

How I soared 

I bent spoons with my mind

Slayed dragons with vorpal sticks

I worshipped the mother in this church 

Light shining through stained glass leaves 

Many moons later

Barely able to lift head from pillow

I’ve sidestepped into a different reality 

Where I no longer felt like I fit and I made sense

This alternate timeline

After 12 hours of contractions

I find myself sentenced

Now I’m a contraction at the end of a sentence 

It is what it’s 

Pendulum

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The pendulum swings

From pearl to gastrolith

I feel it’s weight with each shifting

In this damned uncomfortable chair

When it’s a pearl

It’s a story

A captivating tale that sets me apart

Sets me on the path of being

Actualization

When it’s a gastrolith

It’s still a story

A forgettable pablum not worth noting 

Securing my place of anonymity 

Forgotten 

The weight, either way, is there

It’s gravity a nagging reminder 

Often paralyzing 

There are times, though

When the bits of wire and rusted nails

Break free from the ingested magnet

Where all the world’s pain collects

These bits of detritus regurgitated 

Coming out through a torn throat

In bloody, mucosal, pyroclastic eruptions

There are times, though

The body feels warmth from the insoluble 

It gently encases it in layers of nacre

Making its expulsion more tolerable 

The vomitus a pictada fucata 

Throat stretching to accommodate 

The goose that lays a mother of pearl egg

In either case, the process is necessary 

Whether avoiding a stomach so full

I beach myself on distant, unknown shores

Having broken the elemental barrier 

Born again, but into desiccation 

Or the calcium that makes up the nacre

Is cancerous in high concentrations 

The body evicting a deadly tenant

A baby gestating too long

In either case, the process is creation

In minima

Like a young child staring in awe

The first time they make

Crying when the toilet’s flushed 

Or the first piece of art 

That makes the side of the fridge

There is value in the letting go

Not the reckless abandon of encopresis 

But the satiation of a need

The building of an edifice of confidence 

But just like the microdosing of dopamine 

It’s a bandaid for a puncture wound

True healing

A resurrection, not just a seance

A real fucking dose, not just a bump

I have to stop hiding

I have to  take the leap

But I daydream about skydiving 

And am afraid to fall

In the end, the true fear is failure

That if I cut myself open

If I dig this weight I carry out of my guts

If it’s DOA

Then I am empty, a shell, a testa

And where do I go from there?

I only have one recurring dream

And one ever-present nightmare

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

Reminder

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It had been so long that no one remembers just when it had happened. You’d think an event like this would be clearly recorded in our history, but like the wholesale slaughter of the Native Americans, it’s something those in power would rather forget—in order to feel human, that they’re part of something great. 

These little statues appeared everywhere and all at once. There were more in the areas you would expect to find them, at schools, parks, and grocery stores, but there were quite a few that must’ve formed in secret…in backyards and in bedroom windows. Rooted to the very ground upon which they stand, many were tried, unsuccessfully, to be moved, like atrocities from high school, social studies, text books, so we could go back to feeling normal.  This just wasn’t going to be the case. 

This horrific tableau. These children who were neglected and/or abused simply froze from their grief. Their little hands clenched so tight, fingernails puncturing what was soft, tender skin in their palms, leaving the burgundy dried blood on their hands and in spots on the ground below. The place where their tears had trailed down are now dried up streams, that left behind salt crystals that glitter in the sunlight. Their heads tilted completely back, as if their last action was to look to the heavens, the heavens that had clearly forgotten them, and then scream. Their mouths open as wide as their little jaws would’ve allowed, some almost appearing to open even further, like snakes that dislocate their jaws in order to swallow a much too large piece of suffering. 

If this had been the extent of it, then we might have adjusted. We would walk past them as if they were just pieces of furniture, or telephone poles, or some art installation that has been there so long…we don’t even see it anymore. But, again, this was not the case. 

We quickly became weather junkies. We’d watch every forecast. The weather man spending the majority of his segment pointing at the proximity of isobars. When those isobars were close together, this rapidly changing pressure gradient, meant wind. People would call into work on windy days more than on days of unrelenting snow fall. 

These statues, with their tilted back heads and their mouths agape, resonate when the wind blows, like blowing across the top of a plastic soda bottle. The sound that issues forth from this chorus is so soul-twistingly sad, that the strongest amongst us fall to our knees and sob uncontrollably. 

Those that had ones in their open windows, in their back yards, and on their porches…simply moved away out of shame, hoping to start fresh. 

There was a period, as the accumulated dirt across their faces, from the residue of long since removed duct tape attests, where we tried to stifle their song. But the very sight of these children, who were silenced in their suffering during their lives, standing their with taped mouths was more than anyone could handle seeing. The tape was quickly removed, but the stripe of dirt across their mouths serves as another reminder. 

As bad as all this was—as if this wasn’t enough to show us the error of our ways, we had to explain these statues to our children. Like most children their questions were never ending and built on the last, until it mounted to a crescendo, where we would finally just break down and say, “I don’t know, baby, but we’re better than that now, and it will never happen again,” tears rolling down our faces, as we hug our children tightly. Each child giving the slightest smile and tiniest of nods, as if to say that the lesson has been learned. 

Those that tried to use them falsely as a warning to misbehaving children, as if their temper tantrums would lead to this, were met with a implacable, marrow-deep knowledge that this was a lie. 

No one knew if this was a one time occurrence, or if more were to come if we stayed on the same path, but some hoped that, if we changed our ways so truly, that these children would come back to us. Even though they were generations old, we would take them in and finish healing them, and ourselves. 

We are still waiting. 

Chant

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I think that when I’m picking at self inflicted wounds, channeling the dead, dying and dishonored, feeling the full weight of the world’s apathy upon my chest, and bleeding it upon the page…that I’m at my most sane. In fact, I would say that it is during those periods when I sleepwalk through life, filling a role, swallowing back the acid at the rear of my throat with a smile, and become a living currency, an end to a means, that I’ve slipped into an oubliette of depravity. Sublimating the curses and tics of universal verity bubbling up from the magma of my bones is the original sin, that can only be abated by chanting a prayer older than any Hail Mary’s, or Nam-myoho-renge-kyo’s. I am here for but a moment. Allow me to love you, to be loved by you, and to be remembered. I am here for but a moment. Allow me to love you, to be loved by you, and to be remembered. I am here for but a moment…

Learning to fly

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They hid it at first

He was so young

Only four

They’d call him a freak

Two little nubbins 

One on each shoulder blade

Loose shirts

Windbreaker jacket

Then the first event happened 

Fucking tuna fish can

Sliced his mom’s hand right open

Oh how the red scared him

Nerve damage

Limp fingers

She was struggling to dial

Goddamn rotary phone

She felt woozy 

Then two little hands reached out 

Gently taking hold of hers

As he placed his head against her 

The nubbins stretched out

Featherless little wings

His mother was dumbfounded 

She didn’t notice the bleeding 

Had stopped

He buried his face 

Into her stomach

I love you, mama

The next day they grew

Twice in size

More difficult to hide 

Homeschooling was the answer 

A couple years slipped by

His questions became more pointed 

His need to see the world deepened 

She began taking him on outings 

Planetarium, museum, theater, petting zoo

She worried so

Then the second event happened

During a long elevator ride down

To the underground caverns 

A middle aged man collapsed

An RN performed CPR until exhaustion 

She couldn’t save him

The little boy looked up at his mother

His eyes pleading

Her face twisting

She nodded once and turned away 

She could hear the gasps

Knowing life would never be the same 

The canopy of the tent fluttered 

With the wind blowing outside 

He missed the feeling of wind and sun

The revival would be starting soon 

His wings were the size of a condor’s

The tips dragging on the ground 

His mother gripping her rosary 

Muttered about the crowd gathering 

The 2:00 show

He looked so gaunt to her

The preacher’s sermon 

Was all fire

And brimstone 

Then the lines formed

With each passing touch

Each person given a new lease

He felt himself slipping further away 

The doctors and scientists tore him apart 

In the end they determined his wings

Were a cancer

And when he couldn’t give anymore 

Of himself 

He stretched his wings

For the final time

Slipping into oblivion