Four Ways of Commiserating with Indifference

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Four Ways of Commiserating with Indifference

1.
She confessed,
I’m just really lonely now,
you know?

I know, I replied,
having been lonely for
as long as I could recall.

I’m afraid, she said.

I know, I replied,
adding with certainty,
but you’ll survive this.

I know, she said,
it’s just scary with
all this uncertainty.

I didn’t reply, knowing
uncertainty is the
only certainty.

2.
How are you holding up?
is what he asked.

As well as can be expected,
was my reply, adding,
And you?

I feel the desire to go
do something, he said.

I’m not quite there yet,
I replied,
but I get it.

Just don’t like being told
what to do, he said.

I didn’t reply,
having spent much of my life
doing what I was told.

After a moment, he said,
I feel like you’ve been
preparing for this moment
your entire life.

Not this specific moment,
I said, but yeah,
I’m good, for now.

3.
How are you holding up?
I asked her.

I’m ready for all this
to be over, she replied.

Me too, I lied.

I know we have it
better than most, she added,
so I try not to complain.

I know what you mean,
I agreed with her
sincerely this time.

4.
She asked me,
how can anyone
observe the death, suffering,

the financial and emotional
hardships of our
brothers and sisters,
and feel nothing for them?

How can anyone
continue their selfish ways
in the face of this calamity?

I don’t know,
I replied with a shrug,
and I didn’t.
***

interlocked

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Photo by Darren Halstead on Unsplash

interlocked

this is who we’ve always been

since the very first link
interlocked with the first shackle

since the first othering
stillbirthed dehumanization
clinical rationalizing
reducing lives to fractions

since the first dividing for dividends
simplifying sturdy ones kept
from weakened, diseased stock

since the first grim reapings
of distant kin, then called savages
fearful souls denied empathy
by economy of the soulless

since the first casual cruelties
live bodies tossed overboard
to certain death, preserving assets

since then, we’re now civilized
rulers of the photon, electron
and enlightened electoral process

since then, we’ve shackled technology
harnessed the atom, the fossil,
the solar, and the wind

since then, we’re repeatedly shocked
by recordings of otherings
state-sanctioned slayings of our kin
in our own neighborhoods
as if the chain can’t be seen
winding back through relics
of collective suffering

since then, we’re now stunned into
soul-searching and handwringing
after electing the toxin from our past
to lead us back into the dark dystopia
from which we had never escaped

having never acknowledged
the forging of the first link

none of this is surprising
this is who we’ve always been
***

Raising no Girl

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Photo by John Noonan on Unsplash

Raising no Girl

I saw it, plainly;

Just after his ill-advised drunken roughening
of his eldest child; a traditional, time-tested
tempering of adolescent ebony male steel
for a blackened, heartless, aggressive, manly world,
as was the loving intent lovingly lent to me
from him, a scruff-grabbing, face-slapping heirloom
passed down through generations of blunted mentorship.

I spied it briefly,

but it was there behind the noxious bravado,
deeper than dreaded defiance compelling him
to press his preteen into a flinty real man,
despite whimpering protests from soft, weak women;
yielding aunts, sisters, mothers wielding empathy
like mewling wussified consolation prizes
world-weary women who ironically knew well-
enough real pain to know better without having
to see it; who could blame them; they’re only women.

They don’t know what it’s like for a modern black man
to be crushed by callous strangers in a hard world;
only the intimacy of a bone-rattling
thump in the chest by a trusted father-figure
can prepare a young black boy for a crapsack world;
accept this gift in stoic silence, pay if forward,
and you best not shed a fuckin’ tear, young-blood, ya hear?

Yeah, I heard the words, and my chest burned, and
my face stung with blood flowing to the cheek-
capillaries of the light palm-strike, and the
lump in my throat sought exit in a sob
I denied, but in bracing to breathe, see,

there; I caught a glimpse.

“See? He ain’t hurt!” crowed dad, like a boss.
“That’s my boy! I know my fuckin’ son!
He ain’t no bitch! Ain’t that right, lil’ nigga?”

But when he asked for my co-sign, that’s when I saw it.
I saw it for the first time firsthand; buried within
the recesses of his whiskey-soaked eyes were hints
of its depths; similar scenes like this played, replayed
countless times over generations, his mentors
daring him not to cry after betraying him
with brutality-as-brotherly-love, calloused
hands hardening him for a world of hatred and
intolerance, his mentors’ elder brothers, uncles
delivering the same painful, loving lesson,
perhaps extending back to the days of shackles,
whips, toiling under another man’s burden
who saw us as less than three-fifths of a person.

Within that instant, that fraction of a second,
I saw in father’s eyes, a gaping, festering
generational wound not soothed by gulping whiskey;
my father’s pain leered at me across decades,
bloodshot and vile, that tough-love message twisted and
mangled, much like our very ancestry.

“Don’t cry.
Do not cry.
Not here, not now,
not ever.”

“If you cry,
I’ll give you something
to really cry about.”

“Don’t you dare fuckin’ cry, boy.”

“A real man don’t cry.”

“Bury your pain like a man.”

“You better not cry, boy.
The women are watching.”

Please don’t cry, boy.
If you do, shit,
I might cry too.”

“If you cry right now,
I’ll cry because you’re in pain,
because I caused it.”

“If I cry because I’m the cause of your pain,
then the cause of what I’ve done to you
will amount to absolutely nothing.”

“If you cry and then I cry,
then that can only mean
the way we’ve been told to live our lives
is just a bunch of bullshit.”

“If we cry right here, right now, together,
then that would mean compassion should’ve been
our strength, that yielding was the key the whole time,
that the words ‘behaving like a woman’
should never had been wielded as an insult,
and every man I know and respect
completely missed the fucking mark.”

“Please don’t cry now, son;
don’t give the world the satisfaction.
Let’s save face together.”

I blinked back tears, willing them not to fall,
and painted a defiant smirk on my face.

“Naw I ain’t hurt, dad!
You know you ain’t raising no girl!”

Father playfully tussled my hair,
knowing our secret shame was safe,
brittle spirits hidden in plain sight,
now hardened for an unyielding world.

But yeah, I saw it.
***

Steal Away

Steal Away

Clutching
her words
to my vest;

dropping
her dreams
into cloth bundle,
cinched tightly,
secured;

stuffing
my pockets
with her selfless acts
of kindness;

smuggling
her tenderness
to safety
undetected, strapped
to inner thigh;

like a bandit,
I steal away
with memories
of her.
***

Ruin

Ruin

I don’t want to hear of rebirth
blooming buds make it hard to breathe
and I don’t want the snow to fall
and I won’t fall for you again

I don’t want to stir in the night
bleak echoes ring hollow and dull
I don’t want to dream about you
and I hate sleep that never comes

‘till birdsongs vibrate the morning
and I don’t want the sun to rise
it will shine again without you
that’s fine, for your laugh rankles me

I can’t stand the smile on your face
summer warmth burns more than it soothes
I don’t want to inhale autumn
the fall winds part us from our bough

and all the miracles
phenomenal matters
the air passing through you

perfumed within your pores
enrapturing me then
are now tedious things

I don’t miss you at all
nor our modern wonders
smartphones for guileless fools

I refresh texts daily
remaining unrefreshed
rueful plea unanswered

and I won’t fall for you again
I don’t want to dream about you
I can’t stand the smile on your face
and I’m not waiting for your call

the world keeps turning without you
I’m not fixated on your scent
our paths don’t need to cross again
and I pray that you keep us here

because one more vile smile from you
one more goosebump-inducing laugh
one more text, touch, slip of your tongue
your cruel tenderness undoes me

I’d rather be resentful alone
than bereft among your promises
grant me this mercy of bitterness
for the hope of you is my ruin
***

Cosmic Shrug

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Photo by Emre Öztürk on Unsplash

Cosmic Shrug

I really can’t say,
but I feel it.

You too, right?

I feel it deep
within my truth,

where the luminous soul
attaches itself to
unremarkable marrow.

Can you do it?
Can you speak power to truth?

Or would you rather
claw at the vision until
your eyes bleed the lies
in rivers and streams in which
you flee to for quick comfort?

There’s no poem for it.
Not till now, anyway.

No pill or salve either,
unless you count
the ones that nullify it,

or the weed and brown liquor
that helps you forget

or briefly removes
the weight of remembering.

I want it as I want all things
eternally unobtainable;

end of the rainbow;
golden horizon;
promise of tomorrow;

comfort of being seen
and embraced by more than this.

I’ve mastered hide-n-seek
in ways where few bother
searching anymore,

though I’d still lie
and tell them I’m fine
had they not already
given up on asking.

But never you mind;
this is just another
melodramatic poem,

not an overwrought
cryptic cry for help.

I really am fine.
***

Proper Care and Cleaning (of Voice)

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Photo by Timon Klauser on Unsplash

Proper Care and Cleaning (of Voice)

What if I unglossed our painting before it dried?

What if my tears smeared our indigo finish?

What if I painted midnight horizons into pastels?

What if each correction lightened and undefined?

What if each stroke unburdened texture of weight?

What if ink flowed from canvas to brush?

What if I dabbed brush into pigment to clean it?

What if our cleaner lines were gobbled-up by my pen?

What if I sketched our imperfect borders into nothing?

What if I created perfection; a blank slate?

What if I swallowed the wrong words instead?

What if I said the right thing and you stayed?
***

My final poem of the year, written for the final Real Toads prompt ever: PLAY IT AGAIN! with REAL TOADS, hosted by  Kerry O’Connor. I chose to write to Kerry’s LET’S FIND OUR POETIC VOICE prompt and then – as a tip of the hat – to erase, clean, or “un-write my voice”, as many of the wonderful prompts here directly contributed to my poetic voice growing and stretching in ways I never imagined possible.

Thank you to everyone at Real Toads – both the hosts and the contributors – for all of your efforts, encouragement, and support. I know this isn’t goodbye, so I’ll see you all out there next year.

Pure Intimacy

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Image by aalmeidah from Pixabay

Pure Intimacy

“True intimacy is a state in which nothing exists between two people; no space, no inhibitions and no lies.” – Ranata Suzuki

Have you ever had pure intimacy?
Not to be confused with lingering,
humid summer passion,
it is timid, pallid winter sun
kissing ice crystals with fleeting beauty,
arriving at low angles on high latitudes,
vulnerable, rarely intense enough
to accompany morning tea,
breaking fast after breakfast as lovers
franticly throw open south-facing curtains
capturing as much tenuous warmth
as time and nature allows.

Ever leaned into a winter sunset?
It ignites frosty edges of clouds,
embracing with fiery shadows,
but then it is barely there,
gone in a ghostly cirrus whisper,
leaving Mercury in retrograde as lovers
shrouded in twilight wonder
if it ever existed at all.
***

Inspired by Mindlovemisery’s Menagerie Sunday Writing Prompt “Intimacy”. Other poets contributed to this prompt here.

 

Tension: A Line Drawn Taught

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Photo by ian dooley on Unsplash

Tension: A Line Drawn Taught

I am a tyrant.
I yielded her harvest so decent.

I play at decent.
I gorge on her harvest like a tyrant.

I am engorged; a tyrannical decency.
I yield to her harvest.

A yielding tyrant who harvests what she gorges –
Her decency.

Harvesting her “play at decent”,
yields her as a tyrant.

Decency of a tyrant!
Do I yield? Does she harvest?

Tyrannical decency! I gorge.
I gorge upon her.

I yielded, gorging her harvest so decent.
Do I play at tyrant?
***

Inspired by Real Toads Weekend Mini Challenge: The Uncertainty of the Poet, hosted by Kim M. Russell. As depicted, I opted to go with a familiar tension of sorts.

I’m kind of bummed that Real Toads is so close to ending their amazing run, so I’m trying to contribute more to their remaining prompts. It’s bittersweet, but as with most finite things within our cosmos, nothing lasts forever.

Also shared at Pantry of Poetry and Prose #7 hosted by Magaly Guerrero.