Five Ways of Viewing the Void

Photo by Andrew Draper on Unsplash

Five Ways of Viewing the Void

I.
I dreamt I died today,
and this was my last poem,
which isn’t a big deal;

I have died twice before,
run-through at seventeen,
undone at twenty-eight,

Respawning’s not instant;
often years overlap
some pieces remain lost,

the burn unrelenting
as pain from phantom limb
connect me to this realm.

Vast, and marvelous, we
are no more than my dream;
reality is me.

We cling to each other,
turbulent distractions,
our skin, burdened touchstones;

massaged lies, we embrace
pleasure clawed from our truth;
we’re so very alone.

Love me without knowing,
you’ll never see the seams
that bind the shame that is.

I would taste better as
ashes upon your tongue.
Love me until the void.

II.
Nothing warned me; nothing prepared me.
There was no vocabulary
for the remnants, for when the sun
turned away, withholding all of nature.

Nothing foretold the catastrophe,
nor was it immediately known, but felt
in phases; a series of cascading
calamities leaving the world dimmer
in stages as sources of nourishment
withered and fell like so many dominoes,

and soon, I found myself face-down
on momma’s couch, immobile,
unresponsive to external pleas to eat
or demands to get my shit together.

Soon, external voices no longer registered
as loud as the absence of the one who
no longer cared if I ate or starved,
and so I fell, falling behind the
dimming event horizon, leaving
only with what I entered; ending
as I began, staring into the space
between atoms as fields dissolved
and barriers melted to nothing.

III.
Perhaps in another life,
in a reality we’ll never know
I persevered against your will
shattered your absurd barriers
and married you.

I made you happy, filled your cup,
and exposed your doubts
and the specters of my many fears
as foolhardy fairy tales.

We had a girl and fought furiously
to name her; I wanted Olivia,
you demanded something African
that I couldn’t pronounce.

We compromised, choosing Nefertari
with Olivia as her middle name and
I was a good dad.

We loved each other
and lifted each other up,
instead of yielding to fear,
spite, and desperation,

but I guess if that all came to pass,
I wouldn’t really be me,
you’d be someone else,
and our daughter, a specter;
just another fantasy
of a foolish old man.

Stare into the void long enough
and the phantoms name themselves.

IV.
We all feel that lonely, empty,
meaningless pull towards twilight
of eternal nightshade where the
unknowable hell-verse beckons
as a perverse lullaby to our
seemingly incessant suffering
and so we are compelled to seek
its finite serenade towards infinity.

We hope to name it in order
to cast it back into its bottle;

we will ourselves to defy it
by defining it for ourselves, for

to chronicle it is to vanquish
its unshakable power over us.

We scrawl the void in ink and blood
and then someone labeled it poetry.

V.
In some eastern religions,
philosophies, and fiction,
heaven and hell are recast
as reincarnation and

the void; an endless chasm.

It is said that if our souls
carry too much vile darkness
at the instant of our death,
instead of our soul’s rebirth,

the last remnants of our light
are cast into the abyss,
never to feel warmth again,
left alone in an endless

chasm of despair alone
with the dreadful comfort of
all terrible emotions
imaginable to us.

At first blush, that doesn’t sound
all that bad to me; in fact,
it sounds like a fine place where
the best poetry is forged,

but never allowed to see
the light of a brand-new day.

But on second thought, perhaps
eternal life in darkness
as death’s greatest unshared poems
really is a hellish fate

to avoid at all cost.
***

Day 29: No Pets

Photo by Marek Szturc on Unsplash

No Pets

What can I say, Wolf?
I’ve never owned any pets.
Too much overhead, too much work,

oh, and also because of slavery.

Yes Wolf; I mentioned pet ownership
and slavery in the same breath,
but it’s not like you’re gonna call me on it;
you’re just a dumb dog,

one that’s been dead
for nearly thirty years.

But fine, I remember those soulful eyes,
so I’ll try to explain it.

There’s something to be said of those
unlucky in birth who persevere
against all odds
to overthrow their oppressors in triumph.

Americans especially love these
underdog stories,
as our recorded history is full of them.

But what of the other stories?

With Tubman, Douglass, and The Amistad
as outliers of four-hundred years of
mostly humdrum,
garden-variety slavery,
with all the standard rape, abuse, and
outright murdering of slaves too stupid
to mask their intelligence,

how many stories of the voiceless do we know?

It’s weird, Wolf. You were a dog – a beautiful
German Shepherd/Doberman Pinscher mix

 – but when I think of all the voiceless slaves
who were born and died in
unconscionable suffering,
I think of you.

To be honest, Wolf,
I haven’t thought of you in ages,
and that’s a shame, but

the less remembered
of your tragic life and death,
the better for me.

Or perhaps not; after all,
I’ve left your memory as it were, untamed,
but there it sits upon my return,
waiting patiently
only for me.

What if my sidestepping your legacy
is but one more injustice for you?

Our lives were intertwined for so long,
with much of the trauma descendent
directly from my ancestors in bondage.

You weren’t even my damn dog,
but I was your reluctant caretaker,
and there’s nothing poetic about
feeding you and cleaning up your shit,
but I felt your loyalty
and your agony in-kind.

Wolf, you were an idiot of a dog,
raised on ignorance and cruelty,
and yet you were still sweet and loyal.

I’d given up on hiding grandma’s tools
of discipline, as she’d just find herself
a sturdier switch to snap on ya,

but I taught you to sit using head-rubs
instead of grandma’s rubber hose;
you were always a good boy.

I wish I had told you that more.

I remember you having the audacity
to demand more head-rubs from me,
swatting at my hand with your paw
like Bunky the cat taught you,
and I happily gave them to you.

I wish I’d given you all the head-rubs.

But I’d graduated the basement
and fled to the Navy,
making the cut despite the odds.

I heard of your fate secondhand,
and I wept real tears over a freaking dog
that I didn’t even own

who lived his entire existence
chained to a waterpipe
in a half-finished basement,

life snuffed-out, most likely,
by someone well-known and trusted.

Can you imagine that?  

Anyway, yeah,
I’ve never cared for any pets.

Too much overhead,
too much work,
just too much.
***

NaPoWriMo Day 29: Today’s prompt:

And now for our daily prompt (optional, as always). Today, I challenge you to write a paean to the stalwart hero of your household: your pet. Sing high your praises and tell the tale of Kitty McFluffleface’s ascension of Mt. Couch. Let us hear how your intrepid doggo bravely answers the call to adventure whenever the leash jingles.

If you don’t have a pet, perhaps you know one or remember one who deserves to be immortalized in verse. For inspiration, I direct you to a selection from an 18th-century poem by Christopher Smart, Jubilate Agno, in which the poet’s praise for his cat ranges from “For he is docile and can learn certain things” all the way up to “For he counteracts the powers of darkness by his electrical skin and glaring eyes.” Personally, I’m lucky if my cat doesn’t just sleep the day away, but I find her pretty delightful all the same.

This was painful to write, and I nearly scrapped the whole thing. I kept trying to walk away from it, but it kept calling me back.

It’s unpolished, and I won’t be revisiting it at all, but Wolf deserves to have his story told.

Day 6: Eve’s Side-Eye

God/Jesus with Adam and Eve, Hieronymus Bosch, The Garden of Earthly Delights, c. 1480-1505, oil on panel, 220 x 390 cm (Museo del Prado)

Eve’s Side-Eye

I’m gonna take the fall for this, aren’t I?
it’s clear from the Holy One’s grip on me
His glare into the heart of man, unmoved
my wrist upturned, defenseless, submitting

Adam’s dumb gaze affixed on His judgement
obedient, naked, dense, stupid beast
bet he really thinks I come from his rib

fruitful and multiply like rabbits, eh?
guess I have no say in the matter then?

mother of original sin? how droll
mother of sciences is more like it

He may well yet bring me to my knees here
but despite my side-eye, I won’t stay there.
***

NaPoWriMo Day 6: “…write a poem from the point of view of one person/animal/thing from Hieronymus Bosch’s famous (and famously bizarre) triptych The Garden of Earthly Delights.”

I gotta be honest here; I hated this prompt. I didn’t enjoy viewing the art nor all the nightmare fuel within it (and there’s a lot going on here). Your mileage may vary, but I was pretty close to skipping this one when my eye caught the scene of God/Jesus, Adam and Eve. That scene compelled me to write this.

All Hallow’s Etiquette

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Photo by Neven Krcmarek on Unsplash

Hallow’s Etiquette

There is just nothing
remarkable about a
Hallow’s witching hour,

where absence of light and sound
pile upon one another

until the deprived
senses conjure demons, ghosts,
and apparitions of distress

manifested in the failures
of our memories, or
their perfectly successful manner

of projecting memories
of our failures back upon us
like a house of haunted mirrors.

That ghoul is not a ghoul;
it is an eye-floater
casting a shadow upon
your retina

that became entangled
with a stray set of neurons
where an unresolved
disagreement with

your long-dead beloved
continues to take up
residence; our evolved
pattern-recognition

makes us see their sunken cheeks
and disapproving glare, and
nothing more than that.

At the very least,
that is what I tell myself
to keep my heart from racing

and my unspoken words
from spilling into this dense,
uncaring,
unremarkable space
at this ungodly hour,

where no one replies
to my wailing demands for reason,
and for good reason,
as no one is here
to hear them.

But in the extremely
unlikely event
that I’m wrong about this,

all of these reasonable
observations,
which I’m mostly certain
is extremely improbable,

if they truly exist
between our realms,

my first thought would be
probably
that demons, ghosts, ghouls,
and all the like,

in addition to being
needlessly frightening,

in all these years of
ignoring my queries

they’re also extremely rude.
***

Inspired by All Hallow’s Eve and Poets United: Midweek Motif ~ A Million Years Howl When Voices Whisper Among The Trees, hosted by  Sanaa Rizvi.

Also shared at dVerse OLN: Casting a Spell, hosted by Linda Lee Lyberg.

Day 14 – On Missing the Old Nightmares

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Photo by Tran Phu on Unsplash

On Missing the Old Nightmares

The path beyond my poetry
leads rarely to poetry of
the socially dogmatic self-satire
that has sadly become reality

but here I sit on this foreign trail
somehow familiar to muscle memory,

it is a path of nonsense and
unearned self-satisfaction, littered
with unraked autumn leaves

seasoned by spring petals falling,
the ground as envisioned by
a poor Jackson Pollok imitation.

Along the path I find a snake
eating its own tail, warming itself
in the relentless midnight sun.

I say fool,
you’re only eating yourself,
you know?

He said I know,
but ain’t I delicious though?

I suspect that I’m dreaming,
and the dream may be colored
by the current political climate.

Just then, I hear horrid shrieking,
and look up to see a bald eagle
being pursued and assaulted
by an ornery seagull half its size.

That’s when I knew for sure that
my dream was influenced by politics,
but the haughty irony of the scene
filled me with an odd calm.

After all, you know
it was just one deplorable scavenger
trying to grab the pussy
of a better looking deplorable scavenger.

Business as usual.
***

Written for NaPoWriMo Day 14 prompt: “write entries for an imaginary dream dictionary.”

I took some license with the prompt because I wasn’t feeling the dream interpretation aspect of it. Sorry I’m so late to the game. Getting ready to take a road trip, and I’m a bit stressed.

Quills

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Photo by Joshua Ness on Unsplash

Quills

The hedgehog
craves closeness of warmth
and comfort
but it can’t
risk hurting those they care for
or wounding themselves

Dismissive
nature or nurture
combining
avoiding
emotions flatlined and taut
growing defective

Reflective
not seeking the gaze
transparent
apparent
apparitions, illusions
flowing refractions

Subtraction
by adding my quills
I will wound
inaction
pricking with lethal absence
living detachment

Reaction
defies all reason
yes I care
but won’t share
reason, nature can’t undo
an inert hedgehog.
** *

Written for dVerse MTB: Phantom Form — Shadorma, hosted by Gospel Isosceles. Poets have contributed to this prompt here.

*EDITED: to fix the erroneous syllable count. It’s kinda cool what two extra syllables per stanza can do to add a wee bit of spice.

My Terms

My Terms

My next funeral will be mine
ain’t strong enough to bear mankind
I saw my mama laid to rest
so you all can just bear the rest

Yup, skipped-out on dad’s last ride
both grandmas’ gone to great divide
losses felt within my breast
withdrew from the manifest

Not fearful of facing west and careening
into oblivion’s bosom
my trepidation of death’s breath, sans meaning
keeping me keen on what could come

I cannot insulate from weathered fate
as winter’s weight descends
so I capitulate with feathered gait
as I await what ends

But no more bitter-sour goodbyes.
***

The Lucky Ones

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Photo by Ian Espinosa on Unsplash

The Lucky Ones

Tina says we do it to one another, every day,

Knowing and not knowing. When it is love,

What happens feels like dumb luck. When it’s not,

We’re riddled with bullets, shot through like ducks.

 

Every day. To ourselves and one another. And what

If what it is, and what sends it, has nothing to do

With what we can’t see? Nothing whatsoever

To do with a power other than muscle, will, sheer fright?  

Tracy K. Smith, an excerpt from Life on Mars, Pulitzer Prize winning poetry collection.

 

1.

What is the nature of a single soul?

How can one measure its worth?

Do we weigh it by the hearts it formed in life,

or perhaps the void it leaves behind?

Terri Ann whispers, but I can’t quite hear.

Dad just smirks. He knows, but won’t tell.

 

2.

Put throngs of souls through hardships,

deny them dignity,

basic human comforts,

heap tragedy upon disaster

upon blight upon humiliation

upon their collective shoulders,

and I promise the plural response

won’t remind you of anything from

the Book of Job.

 

Oh, there will be outliers

of philosophers and saints

embracing quiet intangible dignity,

but the mass majority will go looking

for someone to blame.

 

Often those very same fringe

philosophers and saints

resigned to their fates

become targets.

 

Wanton cannibalism is an outrage

in civil societies,

and yet… and yet…

 

3.

After the Great Kantō earthquake

and before cyclone winds

begat fire-tornadoes,

a helpful policeman took charge

guiding four-thousand survivors

to what he thought was safety

but what inevitably became

mass immolation.

 

There was no way he could know

and nothing he could do,

their fate

inexorably twisted

among tails of fire dragons,

but in the policeman’s eyes,

he led the masses to their fate

the sum of his heroic intentions

now ashes.

 

Despondent

unable to bear the shame,

the officer committed seppuku,

increasing the countless body-count

by one soul.

 

4.

Is there something after this realm?

I can’t find the answer in math, science,

not in faith, not even in poetry.

 

If I contemplate for too long, the voids

of my departed soul-hearts cause

my body to ache like overused knee-joints

that signal pending monsoons.

 

Dad knows, but won’t tell. He always

insisted that I find things out for myself.

Terri Ann crossed over once, came back,

when her heart stopped, she just saw black.

 

That’s what she said, anyway. I suspect

that she just wasn’t paying attention then.

I’m sure she knows the answer now,

but I can’t quite hear her anymore.

 

5.

Danielle said it was too bad about

that rock-n-roll guy who died.

I nodded grimly, but said nothing more.

 

The soul of that rock-n-roll guy left us

for God knows where, assuming He does exist

and not just as some embodiment

of a salve for aching joints.

 

The rock-n-roll guy left a void for his wife,

children, family, and close friends to

contemplate, celebrate, or mourn,

depending on where they fall

on the afterlife belief spectrum.

 

Rock-n-roll guy bequeathed

to millions of us musical fans

a soundtrack cipher, unlocking

precious memories,

possibly including moments when other souls

left voids for us to contemplate,

celebrate, or mourn.

 

I hope there’s something after this for him,

and for us as well. I hope the blackness Mom

claims she saw was nothing more than a cosmic

practical joke that Dad is already in on.

 

6.

I watched it on accident.

Wincing, I looked away,

but I could still hear it

the lone automatic weapon.

 

I listened to folks in the aftermath

yelling that this shouldn’t happen

in civilized society. I also heard myself

joining this chorus,

yelling into the void.

 

I listened to opposition shush us,

as this is not the time to discuss

people dying needlessly because

those people just died needlessly.

 

So I shut up and listened

as others failed

to listen to each other,

instead they turned and

devoured each other’s message

like we did when this happened before

like they’ll do again.

 

Wanton cannibalism is an outrage

in civil societies,

and yet… and yet…

 

7.

The leader of the free world

Said we were lucky

For only fifty-nine deaths

 

It could’ve been much much worse

Rejoice in our good fortune

 

My soul hurts

***

***

Information on how to help the Las Vegas shooting victims.

Information on how to help hurricane victims in Puerto Rico.

Go here to donate to Tim Duncan’s island storm relief fund.

Go here and here to help hurricane Harvey victims

Go here and here to find out how to help hurricane Irma victims.

Shared at dVerse’s Open Link Night # 205. Go here to read other poet’s contributions. 

 

 

Vertigo Allegro in Indigo

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Photo by Pelly Benassi on Unsplash

Vertigo Allegro in Indigo

Clutched,

spun in terror,

gripped by rage,

my eyes deceive

 

Fire and grief,

I bleed, spinning, listening,

inhuman laughter splatters

 

Shattered visions falling,

screaming at the blur

unsure of perspective

 

Settling

upon my bed,

resting my head,

exchanging one dream

 

For another,

never waking

***

 

Written for dVerse Quadrille #38 – Dream, hosted by  De Jackson (Whimsy Gizmo). Go here to read other poet’s contributions.

Hatred and Meditation

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Photograph by Ian Frank, taken during the white supremacy rally in Charlottesville.

Hatred and Meditation

Do I hate?

Do I use the word correctly?

Do I respect its insurrection on rationality?

 

Do I feel the emotion expressly revealed

through introspection?

Is hate’s searing devotion the lesson that seals

our soul’s subjection?

 

I hate potato salad.

I hate country western ballads.

 

I hated sweet potato

but I ate it when grandma said so.

 

I hate vapid pop music;

I rate it invalid acoustics.

 

I hated when daddy hit momma

when they hated the trauma of hate

that made strangers out of lovers,

dispirited hate externally creating

the hate from within.

 

I hate butterscotch,

and yes, I hate pop-rocks,

and yes, I hate culture shock,

displacement while vultures flock

 

I hated bullies, and

I hate being bullied.

 

I hated bullies who bullied me.

 

I hated having to fight them

for the right to subsist.

 

I hated fighting bullies

so the fight in the next bully

would cease to exist.

 

I hated fighting

for the sake of fighting.

 

I hated lightning and thunder

of fists rendering flesh asunder,

my knuckles knuckling under

my hated fate.

 

I hate being marginalized.

I despise being patronized.

 

I surmise that I hate that surprising

ill-advised, revised

hand-waving

of genocide of the natives.

 

I hated being born fated

as a second-rated citizen

in my nation, born from hate,

fear, and superstition.

 

I hated suspension of disbelief

in reality offering no relief

in fostering only grief and suffering.

 

I hated my place in the universe.

 

I hated the racial fight

in the perverse plight

to maintain the right to exist even

as second-rated civilian.

 

I hate that I relate to privilege

from the bottom of a boot heel.

My hate in its sacrilege

is throttled by acute appeal.

 

Is it hate

that makes me try to avoid hatred?

 

There are many who hate

that makes them try to destroy

what they hated.

 

I know we don’t hate the same

or mean the same thing

when we endure hatred.

 

I want to eradicate

the lame machine of pain

screaming of pure conflated abhorrence

that makes one man crush another

for discovering differences.

 

We all suffer.

 

Do I hate?

Do I verb it correctly?

Should I select an interjection

with less lethality?

 

Can I kill an emotion that exists

to make people kill?

Can we fill a devotion that persists

as a poison pill?

 

Why do we hate?

It’s self-rot

Can I ever relate?

I hope not.

***

NOTE: If you are offended by the image above, the words in this poem, the embedded video, but feel nothing about the riots, hatred, and violence that took place yesterday in Charlottesville, then you need to do some soul-searching. I am sickened and deeply saddened by what we have become as a nation.