Flare-Up

June 30, 2016 § Leave a comment

He felt fire in his palms
as the time between the
coarse chopped onion
landing in a roiling oil
stretched on fragrantly.

It reminded him of clean slices
and olives the moment they’re pressed,
juice bursting from soft flesh and pouring,
salty, into copper casks,
until its thickness bubbles to the surface
and is removed.

Fan blades whirred over open flames,
their phoenix tongues licking seasoned cast iron,
thirsty for mineral and air.
Wind snuck carefully between their hungry mouths
and his own fingertips,
blanketing the valleys of his workman’s hands
with warm down,
like dandelion seed resting, gently, on the rigid hair
creeping up from his forearms.

It willed him
into velvety sleep
too entrancing to notice
the spark

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Cuttings

June 29, 2016 § Leave a comment

Against walls just high enough to make the room uncomfortable, my bonsai tree suffered through smallness. I had one awkward window in my off-campus apartment, beginning where red mothy carpet frayed up from grey baseboards and extended waste high.  There was no other place for green to thrive. I didn’t know why I was so adamant about keeping the tree alive; it was an ugly accompaniment to the beige gold leaf wallpaper, raising an evergreen eyebrow at the gilded taste of whoever deemed this space livable for college students. For three years, holding pruning scissors that barely fit my fingers, I relished in light pruning and shaping. I set rose quartz and obsidian at its base, taking moments to run my fingers along their rounded edges on weekly waterings. Its pot was terra cotta, rustic, and reminded me of brick oven char and sand. Posters came down, string lights burnt out, but this plant remained…until one semester in that room.

Near the end of my semester, I noticed green carpeting the tree’s base—fallen needles. As I casually brushed them away, I felt a sharp sting. Six spears dug deep into my forefinger, flushing my skin an angry rose. Startled, I ran my fingers through the tree’s limbs. Bite by bite, the needles stuck my flesh and fell gracelessly until only a brown corpse gnarled up from the rocky surface. I gripped a limb firmly and bent. It responded with a crack I heard in my stomach.  Dead.

I think that’s where the descent began. For so long I had been balancing this small precious thing, walking along a tightrope I’d long forgotten wasn’t ground. It wasn’t all I carried, but it was the first to fall and make me misstep. I know when that line snapped I’d eventually find ground. But I’m still falling.

Forgotten

June 28, 2016 § Leave a comment

The space between memories
is a static pitch.
Too often
seen as void,
a hollow echoing:
tattered voices,
crackling bones,
wet breath.

What lies forgotten
is a trade wind
silently guiding
the beads of sweat we had
held in vacant cups
our palms clasped together
could not fill.

Oceans poured through us,
salty brine rushing into
our caverns.
Whirlpools and rip tides,
waters churning sand into glass

under pressure.
Groans and splinters.
Predictable patterns.
A thin shattering
and settling.

And air,
cold and trembling,
asserting itself in spaces
it always was,
guiding away what we thought
had never been there
before.

A Moment Before the End

June 28, 2016 § Leave a comment

The sun crested through the half-opened bay window, greeting me at my dining table at its usual calling hour. Everything sat in its place neatly, near perfect, if not for silence invisibly dusting the air. It was static, like down overflowing off the formica countertops, spilling onto the floor and creeping up. First, it hugged my ankles, creeping up onto my calves as I slowly sipped my morning coffee. I guess I was attempting to relish those last moments of bitterness passing into my empty stomach, but the numbness had already settled.

I’ve read all of the middle-class white self-empowerment novels filling up the store shelves as this day approached. Everyone gleaned a crystal from the mudslide that is the end of days. I had sat with my mother on a morning like today’s when it was announced: comet “Leviathan” makes its course for Earth, expected impact in one year.  She had cried. I stayed silent. Others, I suppose, began novels.

One woman, lavishly pictured in gaudy furs and jewelry, sold her house in the Hamptons, bulldozed her lot, and surveyed spread cannabis seeds around a makeshift tent town that welcomed all. Her novel was all that was left of her and her camp; when the plants budded come August the fields were ransacked. All that was left was deflated one-person tents and broken stalks.

Another man had sold his worldly possessions, kissed his family goodbye, and hiked from his multimillion dollar home in northern California south, along the coast, to see how far he could go. According to his editor, he’d send manuscript copies scribbled on religious pamphlets and self-defense course advertisements. The novel ended before he crossed the border into South America. “This is where my journey ends,” he said, “We all must fade away.”

Fade. That was all I really had left to do. Sip my coffee and slip away into a falling sky.

Mind-reader

June 24, 2016 § Leave a comment

The voices chirped like cicada singing love songs to the crisp spring morning dew. After 26 years I had grown used to–even liked–them.  Their crackles greeted me every morning, a background noise washing by as I navigated the days. That is, until I paid attention. I often chose not to pay attention.

I was a weepy child, although I only know through hearsay. My mother “D” and father “A” strained through their years as coupled parents, and though they never fought in front of me I raged against the static silence. “Empathy,” they said, “rare for his age.” Yet my earliest conscious memories know this to be untrue.

D is a vocal woman. I remember the way she’d barrel through the door, bags and purses sagging on her soft shoulders and tearing red sashes into her flush skin, cherry hair the only piece of her body standing straight up. Though all she’d greet me with was a “Hey,” my elementary school body would be pummeled by smashed up cannonballs of words firing around her mind.

“I still need to make dinner.”

“There’s no food in the house.”

“‘A’ is such an asshole.”

“I never planned to do this alone.”

“Fuck it all.”

I could hear her electric pleas through the shuffling of work documents and clamoring of plates. There was a fire crackling behind her chocolate eyes and it singed my skin.

“Fuck it.”

“Fuck it.”

“Fuck it.”

She arranged my parts on her cutting board, sharpening her thoughts on a wetstone in preparation. Her pain diced my fingertips and sliced my palms thin, pounded out my forearms and skinned my shoulders. I was cooked under her claims against God, by the unfairness of raising four children on her own, until I was translucent. “Dinner,” she’d call, but I was already done.

It took a long time to eat myself.

A Letter to My Second Future Self

September 16, 2015 § Leave a comment

Dear Michael,

I’m sure you’re opening this speedily, sharp eyes scanning every word with balanced interest. By now, you’re finishing up your Masters. You’ve been putting yourself through with overnight jobs in medical labs, each presiding managers gleaming over your overflowing personality and skill.  The people that you surround yourself with are brimming with purpose, believe in themselves and the limitless possibilities in their world, and they love you as much as they respect you.  Life goes up for you, and even the family that had their doubts are brought up by your well-earned success.

Your finances, while humble, support an independent life. Conversation around the dinner table is about politics or the struggles of working men.  Next week you’re taking your mother into the city and treating her for dinner and a show.  You know she deserves it. You’re able to afford seeing the people that mean the world to you, that make you better, and that push you to be everything you can be.

You know when I became the me that wrote this letter.  That pit crept in on the floor of our college off-campus bedroom three years ago.  Spring crept up in a sheen of sweat.  You sat cross-legged, aimlessly flipping through Organic Chemistry flash cards.  These were your last few weeks at SUNY Geneseo, and though your mind should’ve stayed focused on those chemical reactions you couldn’t help but crumble inward.

The place you were to return to was far from support you’ve come to know. Well-intentioned as they may be, the people taking me in would come to resent my time with them. I am a burden to those around me, and the more I’ve struggled the further from that independent dream I’ve become. Failed medical school applications, botched internships, overwhelming bills, multiple unfulfilling jobs, college courses churning gears, weight gain, anxiety, shattered romances and broken trusts have all lead me so far from myself that you are foreign to me. The ideals you hold as universal have dried dull. When I look between the lines of conversations, the difference between a person’s character and my projection onto them are indiscernible. I no longer believe I can change people, let alone the world, and am well aware my moral compass may point north towards someone’s south.

In all, I doubt everything. I doubt in myself, in others, in morality, in the truths of happiness and in the wisdom I thought I’ve gained. You’ve never doubted that who you are, or what you believe in, is right. 

And I can’t say if the path you’ve led is right or wrong. All I know is if I can make it out of this, somehow, I’ll know precisely how hard rock bottom feels. That’s got to count for something.

My Declaration

August 20, 2015 § Leave a comment

I don’t know what made me really look at my bathroom mirror’s reflection this morning. Maybe it was the creak of my tired bones or the slack of heavy eyes, yet my attention stuck. I saw a mass of tossed hair scuffed atop a blotch red face, stubble growing in uneven patches. The bags beneath my eyes were sunken hollow and my eyes reflected blue like pools of standing water. My neck seemed absent beneath the heaviness above it and my soft shoulders slouched under the weight. As I turned to view my side I saw my arms thinned like burned-out matchsticks and chest flattened and undefined. It felt like I could melt into sand, if not for the heavy weight saddle bagging around my waist. In it I could see the static energy of an adolescence of obesity, four collegiate years where I felt it was finally in control, and then the years of slow decline. I scratched it, deep, and could feel the ghost lines of a time when I could look at myself with pride.

The man I saw before me was no stranger. He greeted me not as a friend, but as a father. One that comes home from his ten-hour labor shift and drinks in silence until he falls unconscious into room-temperature tv dinners. He’s the kind of man that hasn’t dreamed in so long he can’t remember how, hasn’t felt in so long he can’t remember why to bother. If it was possible, his glazed grey eyes would show understanding, but they hold only silence. The room he sits in is a nondescript dark, the smell of rotten meat on stacked dishes and dust, except for the seat reserved for me. And though that seat is empty now, I know it fills whenever I avoid my reflection. It’s full whenever I drink heavy and speak loudly.  It’s full whenever I plaster that smile on and repeat “fake it” like a piston-pumped metronome. It fills when I carve muck out of myself and chose hollow over whole.

Facing this space inside of me, this reflection in the mirror, has held me back from the voices in my fingertips. I’m scared—deep, chest crushing paralyzed—by what I’ll find when I flick on the lights. But today, I forgive myself the fear, the neglect, the lateness, the stagnation, and start digging. If I don’t, I don’t know how much longer I’ll survive.