Another Poem: Sonder

Sonder

Sometimes when my mind feels filled to the brim,
With unhappy thoughts, heavy enough to pull me down,
I close my eyes, let my mind wander around.

And see myself on my bed, eyes dead I zoom out,
Through the white painted walls that shield me from other muffled shouts,
These walls of concrete in which live dozens of other lives that now weep, laugh, scream, crowd around screens,
Till I zoom out.

See the buildings rise like rectangular hives and around them the trees that grow so low,
The green scabbed over with gray platelets; watch the hawks that nest near antennas,
Converting corners into homes.

See the brown feathered sparrows selected naturally by the smog.
The insects that roam under every nook and cranny,
The way patches of flowers bloom,
Drinking of the slice of sky between our two towering homes.
This urban ecology, this habitat crammed with so much complexity,
And still farther out I see the city,

7 million lives and a billion lights blinking,
Beetles thread through roads on water ships lines tracing,
And yet the green exceeds the artificial wonders we’ve seeded,
The creatures, the minds, the myriad eyes, I cannot conceive,
Out further till I’m looking at what we call a country.

From up here the greens, tans, the tones of life are all I need,
Scars of mountains, wisps of clouds, our gray marks made,
Our noises not loud enough to reach me.
And farther till the sky glows with the blue scattering nitrogen,
The life permitting oxygen that quickens in all our floundering cells:
Watch the curve of our home meet the black that shows through all the gaps we look up to.

Out and out from this pale blue dot, this azure god we all inhabit,
7 billion other lives and the countless stories all begun, the ones that died,
On that tiny receding light.
Till Sol beams plasma into the night,
Our star crushes, compresses, expels heat, heavy elements to breathe,
chains of carbon to plot out our farthest dreams.

And out till the solar system, with it’s gravitation, engraved upon the fabric invisible,
Causes planets to circle in the paths they etch, orbit, and maintain,
Out till we spy from the side- the milky way
How many more roving rocks encased with air might there remain?
How many more lives, so many tiny blinking eyes, so many flickering lives- might this beautiful mess contain?
300 billion more stars, spheres that shrink ours to motes, embers compared to roaring flames.
And out so far, so far, across the void where other stars, gather: 100 billion more galaxies rain,
Light across a gulf of space so vast we measure distance with time.
How many other beds hold souls, that dream, and love and hope so hard?
Thoughts that reach my standing frame, faster than light,
Brightens my mind,
Like candles kindled in the night.

Advertisements

A poem: Be Honest

Be Honest

Make them rhyme,
Make them dance in time,
To one another.
Let the cadences rise and fall,
As you try with words to contain it all.
Why can’t we speak directly,
Of things so complex,
Seemingly intimidated by simplicity.

Say: “you are lonely and you wish you weren’t”.

Instead with metaphors padding,
The room you exist in.
Expand your soul with similes,
Like how the dead ones did:
The ones you try to imitate.

A roadmap before cars,
Of how far profundity goes.
Poets and thinkers,
Gods and priests,
These long gone men that defined the parameters,
Of what it means to dream.

Why can’t you say it out loud?
Be proud and say: “I am in pain, please help me.”
Or :“Sometimes I still dream about you.”

Instead of the winding ways,

The words that stand, sway,
Always indirect,
You never just say:
“Please just stay.”

The Date (Part 3 of 5)

3

Everything I’ve trained for has prepared me for this moment.

I do a quick mental check before pushing open the door. I’m sure I’ve forgotten to do something. What was it? Just nerves. I push the door open, emerge into the chattering class. I tell myself to breathe. All that training has led up to this. Which is precisely the right way to think if I want to feel an immense amount of pressure. I close the door behind me. The noise subsides a little. I can’t let them smell my fear. 

I turn and survey my charges. Twenty pairs of fifteen year old eyes gaze back at me. At least they aren’t looking away, distracted. At least no one is bored, yet. I suppose I should start with my name. Then inside my jacket, which is draped across my chair, my phone starts up- playing the guitar riff at the beginning of Fortunate Son. I knew I forgot something. A chorus of laughter assaults my ears. I maintain the blank expression, despite the warmth- I must not show weakness. I saunter over to my chair, face hot. Reaching inside my jacket I take out the phone. It’s Tom. I hang up.

A boy with terrible acne says “No phones allowed in school.” His clansmen laugh. Perhaps I should dicipline them or something. Or something indeed. With my phone in hand, I ask the class, “Can anyone tell me what song that was?” These kids were three when The Matrix came out. Might not even have seen a phone with a cord before. Right in the back, a girl wearing thick, black-rimmed spectacles puts up her hand. I say to her “Yes- and what’s your name?”

“Jean.”

“Yes Jean?”

“The song, it’s Fortunate Son, by Creedence Clearwater Revival.” This one, has excellent parents, or whoever it was that implanted a bit of good taste in her.

“Most people just call them Creedence, but yes. Do you know what the song is about?”

No response. 

On the whiteboard I write “The Gulf of Tonkin Incident.” “It’s about the Vietnam War.” I say to the class. Then I spend the next hour showing the kids youtube videos of Jefferson Airplane, Bob Dylan, and The Rolling Stones. I explain the lyrics of each song, somewhat aware of how reductive I’m being. I’m do it partly to teach them about Vietnam, mostly because they need to listen to some real music. I keep trying to find a way to say something about autotuned pop songs, but it never happens. Next class then. Halfway through my phone buzzes. Message from Tom: <My seniors secreatry is fuken HAWT. Drinks later?> I ignore it. After class I text <ok>.

I’m not of a going out sort of person so I follow Tom’s directions to the right bar. Inside I realise I still haven’t gotten used to Tom’s haircut. If I didn’t know him any better I might have assumed he was a real, honest to goodness contributing citizen. After his first three beers he starts to pepper his speech liberally. “Dude!” he says. “You look good, man.” I eyee him above the lip of the glass bottle. Tom says, “So uh, I wanted you to meet someone.”

“She’s your seniors secretary you lunatic- do you want to lose your job?”

He smiles, looks wistful for a moment, shakes his head. “No, no, this ones for you my friend. She works with me, her name is Rachel. She’s hot man.” Ambushed.

I hold up my hands. An old feeling surfaces in my stomach, starts climbing towards my head. “No thanks Tom. I appreciate it really. Very grateful. But no thanks.” 

“Alright dude. Your loss. But like, you sure? Is it because of uh…Jann…”

“No.” I say, immediately, without even wondering about it. Anger waits right around the corner. He drops it, and the rest of the evening is awakward, hovering in a shadow. 

Later, at home, I search for the old picture frame. Panic when I can’t find it. After half an hour I excavate the thing from the bottom of a pile of takeaway brochures. I run my finger around the edges of the back of the frame. Eventually I turn it over. Her white dress strikes me. I let myself mutter out loud- beautiful. I like the way she’s shorter than me. Inside the picture we look like a unit. The sky in the background aches a deep blue. The frisbee poes out of my hand, in the corner, revealing half a skull. I tchh out loud. I didn’t remember that being in the frame. I should have cropped that out. 

For one moment I consider defacing the picture with a scissor, to edit out the skull. Instead I close my eyes and try to remember what flavor ice cream she had. I had chocolate chip, she had, raspberry? Lemon sorbet. Relief. I remember the rest of the date, in bits and pieces. I remember it very well. That certainty haunts me all the way to bed. In the morning the picture is on the floor, a quick examination revealing the frame isn’t cracked. Carefully I deposit it in another drawer. Close it.

In school I quickly develop a reputation amongst the kids as the rock n’ roll teacher. It felt good. What felt better was overhearing their tastes slowly change. They seemed to listen, as a whole, to less pop. For a glorious few weeks the whole year worshipped Pink Floyd. Everyday I couldn’t help but think back to when I was a kid. That felt like a taboo thing to do, as if getting too much perspective destroyed my role as overseer. I used to hate teachers. Funny how I now realise they were just as clueless and petty as I can be.

One day I thought I was busted, that my unorthodox methods were coming to an end when the head of the history department called me in. I spent a good while in the staff room psyching myself up, going for a Dead Poet’s Society state of mind. Remember not go get angry though- I do like this job.

Turned out to be something else entirely. Our head of department was what Tom would call “Hawt”. Stunning legs, low-cut tops, and this domineering approach to things that I admit I found vaguely compelling. In her office she joked about my classes, and then out of nowhere, asked me out. I was prepared for something else, and the whole angle threw me. I said “No thanks.” like she was offering me a coffee. Her voice and face might have gone a bit a rigid, as if she seemed hurt. 

I left the office feeling strangely guilty. At home I thought about her, Stephanie. I had her number, and decided to give her a call. Explained that I wasn’t quite looking for anything at the moment. I realised what I was getting at and quickly blurted out I’d like to just have a friend at the school- didn’t know any of the teachers that well. She said “call me Steph.” and we tried to be friends for awhile. 

The Date (Part 2 of 5)

 
2.

The tutoring center took me in, and for awhile, I didn’t dwell on the past. The pay wasn’t stellar but I could at least make rent. Had to sell some of my old stuff to pay back all the people I’d borrowed from, which left my apartment looking emptier than it had eight months ago. Jann crossed my mind less, I think. Though the picture still remained face down. I’d brush the dust off it’s back once a week. Then one day it all broke down.

That day the boss’s daughter, adorable, had waddled in with her Dad. I overheard their conversation, her, lilting, high-pitched, him- condescending, as he was with us. He was supposed to play Frisbee with her. That word, Frisbee, sent me back. I resisted remembering right up until I noticed how the boss ignored his daughter, taking calls instead. I witnessed the moment when the little girl stopped asking her Dad; when he levelled some anger at her. I watched her silently wait, her face slowly crumple from afar. As the little girl leaked silent tears I realised how much I hated this fucking job. Rage mixed with the word Frisbee, and I felt this urge to run. 

Striding into the boss’s office I tugged my ID off my neck and hurled it down in rage. Palms on his desk, teeth in his face I said, “Take your daughter. To the fucking park.” and left. Cleared out my desk whilst the shit head peered at me from around the corner of his office like a frightened cat. I gathered up my things carelessly, my mind filled with old memories. As they played, relentlessly, another part of me kept telling myself this was all just the final push, the last straw, nothing more or less. I tried to summon up as many excuses as I could for my actions. Holding plastic bags filled with the leavings from my desk, I walked all the way back to that park. I hadn’t been there for eight months, since the day I walked the wrong way. 

At the park I found the wide lawn. Threw down my bags on that grassy field. I let the smell take me back to that date with Jann. 

I remember feeling way too terrified about the fact that the mini-golf center had closed down. It was next on the list after ice cream. Of course I’d memorised the list, I’m not that stupid. I unthreaded my hand from hers and blabbered incoherently about mini-golf being silly anyway. In hindsight I must have been deathly afraid she would want to leave. Instead she silenced my fear by taking my hand again. “Never mind the golf, I have an idea.” and she took me to some vendor, and bought a red Frisbee with a skull on it. “Skulls fly faster.” she said, straight-faced. In the present I cover my face as I remember snorting like a pig at that. Then she dashed onto the lawn, spry as anything. 

We threw the Frisbee around. It felt like being a kid again. Perhaps that’s when I realised I liked kids. Between throws I watched children playing. It’s not so much innocence, as their honesty that I liked. I remember, I was so certain of things whilst the Frisbee traversed the space in-between us. A perfect day. Focus on the Frisbee, burst towards it, catch. Then release. Then know, on some level, that this was the whole point of life. Moments like these, like those- the rest is drudgery. Focus, track the Frisbee, catch. Aim, release. Watch how she laughed. Together we are free. I open my eyes. In the foreground of the memories of Jann a line from a play surfaces: “We give birth astride a grave.” 

I edit the memory so the sports car is there, waiting in the background, with that douchebag- no, that’s not fair- with that man, in his fucking sunglasses, with his fucking phone. I consciously imbue my past with a narrative. Then I leave it be, try to focus on the present. My dress shirt wet with grass stains. My bags sprawled around me. A family sits under a sheltering tree, on top of a pastel-checked picnic mat. They eat and smile. Unable to make out their faces I indulge in feeling resentful- as if the picture in front of me was something I was robbed of, even though it had just been one date. No one understood, no one can witness how much it hurts. Why am I doing this? I’ve avoided these thoughts, like a dark door inside my head- always I turned away. There is nothing wrong, despite what they say, with caring too much. 

So i lay back in the grass, and let it soak through to my back. I fall back into that day. Didn’t Jann say it true? She said, between breaths, as we lay next to each other, “It’s the little things.” I had nodded. 

We give birth astride a grave, or as Jann might say, life’s just too short. In the present I open my eyes and turn to the left. I gaze at the plastic bag filled with crap, crinkling softly in the breeze. The little things eh? I push myself up from the ground. Tutoring is bullshit. In my head I ask so softly, afraid that anyone who looked me in the eye could see the sentimental words- Jann, do you think I should become a teacher? 

No response. She was the one who believed in prayer and God. All I have is chaos. So I make one up. I think Jann would say “No regrets. The rest is pointless.” 

So I go home and google: becoming a teacher. 

Novelette/Novelina/Shortish Story: The Date (Part 1 of 5)

So I found a competition that did not prevent me from posting a story I recently finished. I’m entering it into a 10k words max competition, and since I don’t think I’m likely to win I may as well post it here so it gets some hawt readin’
For the next few days I’ll post a part a day. Thanks for reading all.
The Date (Part 1 of 5)

1

The phone is slick against my clammy palm. I rearrange it against my ear to keep it from slipping. Something Tom just said has jacked up my pulse. Triggered something bad. He asked, “How long did you know Jann for?” He prefaced the question with, “No offence man.” He shouldn’t have done that. If he hadn’t done that I might not have taken offence. His question has pried open a gate. A torrent of anger floods my system.
Tom says something else, I miss it. Then he says “Time heals all wounds, dude.” with the gravitas of a complete stoner.  My tongue forms words, lashes out with,
“The fuck are you, a fucking self-help book? I can’t help the fact that I fucking care. Life isn’t a goddamn Disney film!”

My careless words hit silence on the other side of the line. 

Ricochet back as guilt. I shouldn’t be so angry. Tom exhales, says other words. My anger is what ruined everything. Shame settles inside my stomach. Tom says “Dude, I understand you’re upset man, maybe you should take a walk you know? You like walks right?” Somewhere in the past Jann says,

“Yeah, I’ll see you at the park on Saturday.” Somewhere in the past I felt like a winner.

I even swore I wouldn’t get angry again, and now- lasted less than two months. “Dude?” Tom says. I’m no longer here. I’m just going through the motions. My room is an empty space. The phone is a plastic box, heavy and cold. From a distance I say “Yeah Tom.” Calm and placid like a robot free from emotions. “I’m going to go for a walk Tom.” I hang up before he can respond.

I get up from the chair, try to keep a distance from reality. I’m just director, of an actor, in a movie, about nothing important. Which is why I don’t really look at the turned down photo by my bedroom door. I grab my jacket that lies on top of unopened letters. Step around the mounting graveyard of styrofoam boxes that litter my floor. Touch the cold handle and leave my apartment.

Once out the door I feel a bit better. There’s a foundation of misery somewhere at the bottom of my head, but for the most part I’m a nice kind of empty. So I check my emails. Inside the lift I preen my inbox of all the job rejections. Fuck it- it’s a good thing. I deserve to suffer. Downstairs in the lobby, fists clenched, I tell myself to go right, towards the running track where I like to wander in pointless circles. Instead, once on the pavement my feet choose left. Towards the park. 

The gainfully employed flood against me in lunchtime numbers. It feels like I’m going back in time. I suppose I am. In a dull haze my flip-flops slap against the current. Eventually I cross the same road that led to the beginning fo that perfect date. I enter by the very same path, run my hand across the same steel railing. I trundle under and past ranks of trees till I reach the pond. There over the water I gaze at the space where the ice cream guy had been, two months ago, on a less cloudy day. I stand and stare and dive for memories.

Two months ago Jann stands with me as I gesture towards the ice-cream guy like a corny game show host. What did she say again? Close my eyes, concentrate. A silken says “Woooow, when you said let’s get ice-cream, you literally meant ice-cream!” Then she chortled in that unaffected way of hers. I remember my face getting warm, and then she touched my arm and said “Don’t be embarrassed, I love ice-cream!” And her dark eyes smiled, and I nearly dropped my cone. Why am I doing this to myself?

Gazing at my solitary reflection in the pond, I stop touching my own arm. Why do I care so much? Is it just trauma? Tom is right- we had so little time together, I shouldn’t care so damn much. What is wrong with me? Jann, though, she said something. She was different. I close my eyes, seal away my reflection. Picture the white dress she wore. What flavor did she have? I had mint chocolate chip. She had lemon sorbet. We started talking about my day, I unloaded it all on her, then apologised profusely. She didn’t care, somehow she reassured me, and then she said some things- they reverberate inside my head. Something about how everyone had a right to be bothered by the little things. Then she pointed to the other side of that coin. 

She said “No one has the right to belittle the things that make us sad, just like no can take away the things that we adore- no matter how inexplicable, it’s what makes us human. You can’t weigh the connection between two people, even if they just met. OH!” She had covered her mouth in embarrassment, as if to contain all her spontaneous wisdom. Her turn to redden. I remember laughing, and unfolding her hands. I kissed her in that one, insane moment. We had been dating for less than an hour.

I had almost forgotten she said all that. Now, the pond melds with my tears, which shake to a sudden peal of laughter, from me, throaty and cracked. I feel, I know, she knew how much we cared about each other, despite the brevity. It was real. 

The revelation escorts me home, emboldens me as I send out more job applications.