Where the Forest Meets the Stars

this fiery fever is fierce,
a shivering cold whose frosty fingers won’t let go,
the light so bright its too-sharp blades pierce everything,
no matter whether my eyes are open or closed

it’s slowly killing me;
I am liquid mercury,
trapped inside a glass maze where the unkept, curly vines overgrow through metal grates,
smothering, hovering,
like overread expressions on eyebrows I can’t escape

everywhere is too alive,
a contradictory evergreen that only seems to point to dead ends,
and I just have to keep turning back and forth,
a forced emotional mobility requiring a switching of gears too quickly,
so I end up nowhere far too often,
forcing me to ask myself:
is nowhere somewhere important?

and I can’t help but notice,
even after all this time,
I’m not able to triangulate the distance between carefree and unconscious,
there’s no formula for that,
and I’m afraid my fingers won’t find the right keys

I’m afraid,
but I also don’t want to continuously roam the same overgrown paths to the same dead ends,
so I shave the gooseflesh off my back and grit my eyes and put one foot in front of the other toward something else

I don’t know where I’m going –
I don’t know,
and maybe that’s the most honest answer anyone can ever give

I don’t know,
and even though it’s a lonely thing to have answers whose questions seem to have all died of natural causes,
I’m still searching through the maelstrom,
because my eyes are always drawn to the space between the bars,
to the place where the forest meets the stars

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Enough

we were skin to skin,
our heat a ravenous, tangible entity between us,
and I could feel myself thawing beneath it,
softening around the edges,
like the petals of a freshly-emerged flower ready for bloom

we spent hours exploring one another,
all night,
night after endless night

all I remember is white everywhere:
the white glow of moonlight creeping around the edges of the curtains,
the white-hot need bursting behind my eyelids,
the whites of his eyes staring so deeply into me,
his teeth beaming from between his lips in a grin, a growl, a pleasure-pain grimace,
his pale white skin against the soft gray sheets

I’d never known skin could be so luminous and translucent,
a network of purply-blue veins visible just beneath the surface,
like threads of color in white marble,
threads that connected us so completely,
I couldnt tell where he ended and I began

through flesh and unmetered time,
I absorbed his calm,
his vulnerability,
his joy

I said yes to things I previously would not have;
I reveled in this new person I became,
this less afraid person,
this free person he inspired me to be

we fucked all the time;
I was consumed with lust,
perpetually, urgently hungry for him,
for this coupled metamorphosis

l needed to touch him,
meld with him,
know him,
to shed all the layers of contrived bullshit –
for him to know me

I couldn’t get enough

Fifth of July

Bang, pop, whoosh. Sizzle, snap, crack. Fizz, hiss, BOOM. BOOM.

BOOM.

The phone rang, and as the foreign voice explained on the other end, there was no air, only the sinking, limb-tingling fear disguised as anger. Questions ejected themselves from between my lips in a stream, but I don’t remember any of them.

I rushed to be by his side, tunnel vision guiding me there. I couldn’t think, see, feel anything else. Nothing else registered, none of my surroundings, nothing at all. All I thought was – I need to hurry. I need to hurry. I need to hurry.

After the doctor delivered the news in person, I stood there, stunned. In my peripheral, I could see the glow of colors exploding in the sky just outside the large window next to his bed, and it registered that it was the 4th. The rumbling vibration of each detonation seemed to be coming from inside me.

BOOM. BOOM. BOOM.

Once I arrived home, though I desperately needed the sleep, there was very little. I tossed and turned, and tossed and turned. Finally giving in to it, I got up early, dressed and returned to him.

As I walked down the stark, institutional green hall, each step brought me closer to seeing with my own eyes what had been conveyed in words the day before, the weight of those words sinking like quicksand to the pit of my stomach.

I was acutely aware of the clinical smell surrounding me, the smell of sickness, the stench of sadness filling first my lungs, then permeating outward, finding an unwelcome home in my veins, thick like sludge, coursing and thumping.

I could hear the cries of sorrow in the bated breath wafting from some of the doors I passed. I could taste its metallic tang on the tip of my tongue. And as I arrived at the doorway of the room to which I needed to enter, I felt it in my bones, in my marrow. When I opened the door, I became its embodiment.

The few steps to the bed took me years:

I passed myself snuggled on his lap as he read to me for the millionth time, Put Me in the Zoo.

I watched as I sat between he and my mother on the yellow paisley couch, as they tried to explain why we would no longer be a family.

I saw the desperation on his face as he finally allowed me to call my mother, but would not yet let me go home to her, still.

I remembered tearing open the Christmas wrap to see the purple down coat I’d wanted so badly, the yolk-only egg sandwiches on Sunday mornings, and stove-popped popcorn with a rented movie on our every-other Saturday nights.

I saw his suntanned, orange-tinted left arm that was darker than the rest of him from hanging out his truck window, his splashing in the pool and volleyball in the summer, and helping my step-brother with homework at the kitchen table while he looked on drinking Pepsi from a two liter bottle.

I remembered the wishing I belonged, that I fit with them differently, more.

The coughing, I remembered the coughing that just kept getting worse, the constant handkerchiefs in his pockets and on the end table with his Winstons next to his chair, the red-faced breathlessness and the wheezing. And the fear in his eyes.

I remembered the devastating, life-altering heartbreak and the disappearing and the wondering, the worry and the doubt. The reconnecting and the doctors and the testing.

And finally, the hope. The hope which had fizzled away the night before with every sizzle and crack, hiss and bang and pop.

Standing next to the impersonal-feeling bed, I gripped the cold, stark metal of the railing with both hands, trying to take in all that I saw. The blinking and the beeping in the semi-darkness, the machine whose trepidus noise filled the room.

Suck, push, suck, push. SUCK. PUSH.

Eerily loud and unwelcome, it was reminiscent of the sounds heard outside the window the night before.

My eyes ran the length of the shiny metal pole on which the machine was mounted, down to the swiveling wheels which allowed it to be maneuvered to where it was needed. I noticed the simple black cord which extended to the wall.

How could such an ordinary-looking plug hold life in the balance?

Letting loose my grip a bit, I became deftly aware of my own breath, in and out, of my own heart beating, ga-gong, ga-gong, so loudly in my chest that it rang in my ears. Reaching out, I rested my hand on his chest, feeling the unfamiliar, robotic rise and fall. I felt the cool absence, the force of what would not be. And then I looked up, nodded my head, and closing my water-filled eyes, I felt with the lengths of my fingers, with the lifeline in the palm of my hand. With my very soul.

The robotic gave way to an arhythmic slowing:

Rise..fall….rise…..fall…….rise……..fall.

Fall.

Beneath my palm there was only stillness. In the tips of my fingers, there was only the thump of my own heartbeat, the trembling cry of my core.

BOOM.

And he was gone.

Metaphors

over nearly half a century,
time had worn her threadbare,
a tapestry of thinning, loosened threads,
mindlessly and obsessively pulled

as was necessary, sometimes her suffering was sad enough to silence the songbirds,
and other times, her joy was a melody others couldn’t help but to join

by now, she is a well-worn weather map of shared existence,
a lightening scorched scattering of scars,
a thunderous rattle of broken bones,
some not quite set right

but the seasons continue to change,
and she still manages to make leaves from nothing,
stretching her tired limbs toward the sky and offering herself bare to the thickening light

how is it, she wonders,
that I’ve become a minstrel of metaphor?
she hates metaphors

does shade have a shadow?
what else do we allow time to hide in plain sight?
why can’t something just be what it is?

if time has shown her anything,
it’s that she doesn’t need to ‘find her voice’,
she’s been forever truth-talking to herself,
and maybe, once upon a time,
she needed you to listen

now, she’s content in the simplicity of the knowing

In the Dark

the chronic crackling catches
on the lumps in my throat
with each inhale

every forced expiration
is a labored, hollow whistling
keeping me awake

tiny punctures in the fragile lining
widen with every blink,
becoming jagged fissures

until I gasp and grasp
and try desperately to grab onto anything
that will help me patch the holes

so I close my eyes
and line these bankrupt lungs
with your whispered I love you’s
in the dark

-image via Pinterest, art by Codex Anotomicus

Inside

there are inside jokes and references
words or gestures alluding
to some past shared experience
only the ones who were there
are meant to understand

they are a special kind of comradery
of understanding
a belonging to a unique, intimate collective

I think maybe I’m living an inside reality
one that is constant shadowed references
to a lonely past experience
only I seem to understand

it’s crazy –
I look around the room
and see familiar faces I almost know

they must remember
they were there, too

but, just like back then
they don’t want to acknowledge the shared experience
the inside of it all

they speak as if they know me
they make outside jokes
and talk about the past in a rose-colored highlight reel
leaving me on the inside, alone

they begin to come into uncomfortable focus

I realize –
I don’t envy that

Lies

you tell yourself what you think you need to,
rationalizations, one after the next,
constructing and threading and weaving
in order to go on

you meticulously dig and bore and bury,
you force it down, down, down,
into the sinister pit, caging it away,
resigned to doing whatever it takes to keep it there,
fear and shame fueling the defiance

and you mercilessly protect it,
clutching the lies like a shield,
believing the pain will be lesser and the humiliation slighter,
if only no one can see it

except it only grows and metastasizes,
the loathe a burning itch,
the fear always there,
just beneath the surface of your skin,
the shame a purpling, omniscient bruise,
an ache invading,
taking up more and more space,
taking over

there it is –
in your eyes that say what your mouth does not,
in the slight recoil at a simple touch,
in the humiliating burn behind your eyes that threatens to spill in revealing droplets,
in the distance you keep,
no matter how close you get

there it is,
in the silence,
a clamoring so loud,
it won’t ever allow you rest

it never stays down –
I know,
I’ve told myself the same lies

-older poem revised

Stories

I have stories I only tell my friends.
Well, stories I’d only tell my friends, if I had any.
I often compose entire conversations in my mind: dramatic pauses, emphatic inflections, animated exclamations, even slow, sheepish whispers during the most difficult parts.
I feel my face move in tandem with the words, my heart race with every tumbling emotion.
I feel your compassionate hand reach for mine.
I feel your face light up with glee, your chest ignite with laughter.
I imagine how you’d feel being trusted with my stories.
I imagine how I’d feel trusting you with them.
Sometimes I tell them out loud to the empty room, wishing you were here to listen, whoever you are.
I have stories I only tell my friends.
Well, stories I’d only tell my friends, if I had any.

Imposter

this shaky pencil scratches and claws at the persuasive paper,
a brittle, broken bird wing lifting and slapping itself against the emptiness,
line after desperately vacant line staring back, mockingly,
and I am stranded,
stuck at the end of the poor man’s queue

this lizard brain is powerless as it goes through the habitual motion of attempting to regurgitate something,
to manufacture anything,
for god’s sake

something like words make it to the page in jagged slices of shale,
crumbling at the weight of every second glance,
until finally peeling back their imposter costumes,
only to reveal soot covered vacant lines

what can I expect when,
instead of lead,
it’s only dust?

-image via Pixabay

Were Not Some Part of Her

there was once a hole in her heart where no love would grow,
a void not desolate, no,
it was an urban uproar,
expectations as tall and as sharp as city skyscrapers,
all angles and edges,
streets littered with elbows and crowded corners,
she a pedestrian on an endless,
one-way route of regret,
her yearning a suffocating smog,
a desperate redness swelling in her tired chest,
droplets of shameful acid rain
eroding roads,
rationalizations the pits and falls on the map to nowhere

were not some part of her made of steel and concrete,
her soul would have suffocated,
her lungs would have exploded against the weight

were not some part of her a cartographer,
bravely charting the void,
the child inside would never have ventured forth to find nourishment

were not some part of her a gardner,
feeding the green amongst the steel and concrete,
her heart would not now know such sustenance

were not some part of her an architect,
unafraid to draft and erase,
hope would have died long, long ago,
and her heart would not now be whole

-image via Pexels; older poem slightly revised