If I, in thought,
felt not her very sorrow,
then I, in being,
am not very much a man.
If I, in jest,
made light of her plight,
then I, in the light,
am darker than the night.
If I, in belief,
see her as less than I,
then I, in truth,
am immeasurably less than she.
If I, in verse,
did not address her horror,
then I, in truth,
must never speak again.
If I, in thought,
felt not her very sorrow,
then I, in being,
do not deserve tomorrow.
Inspired by the current scenes that I can’t unsee and those first two lines, which are from Act 4, scene 4 of Two Gentlemen of Verona. No, I won’t illustrate this piece. You know what I mean.
Lately, this same dream comes to me every night. It’s a dream in which I’m treading water in the middle of a vast ocean on a night of the new moon. I rise and fall on the swells of this inky deep that fills the great depression beneath me. I can tell I’ve been in this water a long time because my fingertips are pale prunes and my eyes sting from the tear-like waters that splash my face. Occasionally in my dream, I sense a vessel approaching, but my voice makes not a sound, my words, my cries for help lie stillborn. I am silent, invisible, mere flotsam as far as they can tell. Often, I recognize the passing craft, perhaps as if I launched it myself or I once sailed with it in my younger days of even a great grey ship of the line bearing a USS (insert some President’s name here) on its prow. And as they drift by my silent kicking and stroking that keep my head above the dark void that would consume me, they toss something over the side. I always hope perhaps it’s a life preserver or line with which to haul me free. But it inevitably turns out to be more ballast that snugly tangles around me and smugly seeks to pull me down, down, down below the surface again. Sometimes it succeeds. But I’ve always had sharp teeth and a sense of survival and place to know in which direction to swim for the surface again. Lately, though, I’ve lost my bearings and the weights have dropped upon me all at once in a tangle of knots and cables I can’t seem to chew through. And I’m going down, down, down. The interesting part of all this dream scenario is that I don’t think of the things above, below and all around me in any concrete terms or even ideas. They’re all just vague faces floating around in the darkness that consumes me. It’s all dark clouds, but not in any poetic sense. Almost literally dark clouds is all my brain can conjure. And when I finally find the emotional and intellectual wherewithal to chew on something for a moment, it just gets covered up by all the other things spinning around me. This sounds scary because to me it isn’t scary anymore. It’s nothing. I’ve become nothing along with it. I believe I’ve gone under, disappeared for good this time. I’m alone, and the dark grows darker and I’m exhausted beyond words from the fight, and just as my breath is giving out, I close my eyes and let the nightmare take me. Then, with all hope lost that this dream will ever end, I finally drift off to sleep.
I saw another one just yesterday.
Caught him staring in my window
before he could jump into my shadow
to pull me down to levels
even lower than I lie already.
They usually hide in darkness,
stealthy creatures that fill
your well of woes to overflowing
to drown your soul in their inky ichor.
Stealthy, they carry their own shadows,
that can hide comfortably within your own,
like a friend who’s faux, whose open arms
wave empty hands, yet somehow still
heap the ashes of spent heartache
in your eyes when they leave.
So you’re left blind, left groping
in the dark trying to find your way
to some bit of light in what’s become
this life overshadowed
by a cloud of spiritual death.
For a second, a stiff breeze,
like a prayer answered, blew away
the tormenting face in my window,
which really was only four leaves
situated just so. But in the reflection
left in the window, I saw the haggard face,
the downturned lips, the brows broken
over the knee of self-loathing and
the ash-filled eyes of the real demon
who’s ever plagued my life.
The car runs a straight line
from Rocky Mount to Raleigh,
or maybe the road runs beneath me.
The pines ahead are playing Chicken,
only to break left and right in a blurry zoom.
And when I exit onto the serpentine
county road, the scene changes
as if I’m breezing through a gallery
of rural landscapes, studies in contrast,
where here sits a McMansion
across from a trailer park.
A strip mall or Food Lion or gas station
breaks up the chain of tobacco field,
corn field, fallow field, pasture, tobacco field…
That’s when I wonder why am I here?
Not on this little trip to Angier,
but on this long journey from childhood
to some ultimate destination.
Perhaps the pines are actually curtains
opening on another moment of unknown to known,
the roadside gallery pages in my book of days.
I slow down for a stretch outside Asheboro
as the other cars rush by me.
I may have reached my destination,
the reason for this trip or wherever I go.
It’s for the daylilies, the bookmarks
that divide each furlong in orange and yellow.
They write each trip as the destination;
they festoon my destiny of wherever
as my somewhere.
You and I can rise after
so great a fall we
leave bookmarks in the earth
for the next chapters
in our history of falls.
Or maybe our last.
But if you gather yourself,
like you’d gather the pieces
of a pitcher knocked off
the highboy, and you hope
you have enough glue –
hell, enough pieces –
you can reassemble a vessel
that’ll hold who you are
and some of what you used to be.
There’s no chance you’ll
look exactly the same,
all those cracks and gaps
left where the pieces
lost used to fit.
Might even sag a little.
But you’ll still be you,
with a chance, and a little help,
to get set back up there
to watch, wobble, gather dust,
leak, or even fall again,
because gravity and life
stand ready to drop us,
where we can just lie there
in pieces or collect ourselves
and rise again.
Picking up the pieces, with a little help.
It is a universal truth that someone
who looks like me, talks like me,
fights sleep like me, falls in and fails
at loves like me and sits so often
alone like me can never be truly happy.
Happy is relative, something that
everyone feels they know, whether
they know definitive happiness or not.
It’s a construct where a human brain
imbibes endorphins, creating an emotional
and physical state of great comfort and pleasure.
I can’t recall of late tripping
with Terpsichore to that tipsiness.
But I do know I am least unhappy when
I’m here talking to You,
whether you know that or not.
Yes, YOU. To you. As closely as I
can get without reaching out and
touching, since warm on warm
must remain warm words, words that
I hope you might find…touching.
Perhaps they’ve made you less unhappy
as they did me while I wrote them,
whether I knew it or not.
I’m still sinking, capsized and taking on this painful emotional goo. But I seem to be able to say something, even if it’s covered in some other kind of goo, when I put you on the other side of this screen, as I am behind yours. And, in that, you (yes, YOU) make me as un-unhappy as I get these days. I hope perhaps I can help you, too.
Maybe someday we can shelter out of the heat to talk about this thing that binds people together in the way ropes might, or even transplants, like giving one kidney to another. Yeah, that thing. I can’t describe it in any way by which someone else would understand it as I do (or don’t). Some people like that proximity that comes with being tied together, immobilized yet mobile or freely captive with another, feeling their heat, shivering with their cold, sharing the showers and sunshine as if they wear the same skin. They can construe it as “being together,” I guess. Until someday, somehow they cut those cords. I have seen many people walking around still attached to their walking shadow even after he out she has left them, one way or another. Other people can subsume, with proffered permission, the object of their visceral need after searching so long to find that perfect match, one fraught with the minimum amount of rejection, yet, only with diligent aftercare, most likely to keep them alive. They can live on together even after their partner in this organic life no longer can. Yet still, there is always that spectre of rejection, loss, need. The one thing both of these experiences share is how all involved are irreversibly changed by the experience. Maybe it’s the scars they can display or conceal, maybe even from themselves. Maybe it’s the memories of their partner’s touch, both on and within their skin, a heartbeat they feel even as they lie alone at night. But I’m no expert. I’ve walked this earth carrying a platter full of bite-size pieces of my marrow-rich thirteenth rib, like some faceless butler named Adam at a grand party of the interested and disinterested. Some have idly taken one piece just to wrap it in a napkin and toss it in the potted palm. Others have taken it with thanks and thought, “that’s different,” and moved on to bacon-wrapped shrimp. And for others I’ve placed one on their plates, wrapped in wordy ribbons with which they might secure it to themselves like pins for some needy charity. A couple have actually taken them to heart, but I moved on because this is a big room and a server’s duty calls. What do I know? Maybe this is why someday we might sit somewhere, with a batch of iced libation between us. Maybe it’ll be something different that we talk about when we talk about love.
Now that’s a ponderous bit of prose poem or maybe fictional one-sided conversation, free-written around my morning shower. The inspiration was brought to me when I needed it most and I have no idea from where the results come, but I thank my muse that they did. Unless you know Raymond Carver, you won’t recognize the title, though maybe you recognized it without my coming out and saying the word until right before the final period. Perhaps one day I’ll revise this unspoken “thing” for a more concise, or expansive, dive into the phenomenon that touches and changes us all. I chose purple for this note because it is the perfect mix of blood and the blues, both of which are sluggishly coursing through me right now, so I’ve been unsuccessful in giving you something to think (or talk) about. Let’s hope my over-the-transom inspirations cut a few more drops from me soon.