Last Gasp

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Photo by John Jennings on Unsplash

Last Gasp

A Traveler searching the cosmos for entities worthy of elevation to Their plain of existence, upon trillions upon trillions of millennia, countless dust-specs orbiting one insignificant glowing orb after another, upon becoming disillusioned after the last red dwarf about 7.9 light years ago yielded no intelligent life, no rocky shores, no gas giants, not even the hint of an orbital debris-disk, had reached Their lowest point when suddenly, They encountered an unremarkable main-sequence star with thriving bedazzled bodies including eight stout jewels, with the third-from-center dazzling; an aqua-marine lively thing with atmosphere, liquid, and life, including intelligent life that was taking baby-steps in exploring itself and understanding the nature of things.

The Traveler was overjoyed. But then They looked deeper, seeing that this intelligent, relatively new life was rotting from within; at war with itself, exploiting and treating those perceived as lesser with contempt, fear, and hatred, hording food, healing, and education in exchange for trinkets of no intrinsic cosmic value – all at the calamitous global expense of poisoning the very environment they needed to survive, justifying all of this with superstition, dogma, and the disingenuous type of religion that closes minds from fully grasping the nature of things.

The Traveler sighed the resigned sigh of One who has seen this particular scene far too many times in Their travels. But there was no time to contemplate this decaying world’s all-too-brief impending fate; perhaps there will be better luck at the next star over, which is actually a binary system, so perhaps not. Still, the search must go on if the Traveler is to prove that They’re not roaming Infinity alone, searching for meaning within the nature of things.

the leaf never knew
what she was when she reddened
falling from the tree

no one else saw her twirling
only I mourned her last gasp
***

Written for dVerse Haibun Monday: Murmuration, hosted by guest blogger qbit/Randall. Others contributed to this prompt here.

Rubble-Pile

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Image source: Google

Disclaimer: This is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to actual events is purely coincidental.

Warning: The language used in this poetic narrative and opinions conveyed by some of the story’s characters may be offensive to sensitive readers. Bad things are frequently said and sometimes done. Reader discretion advised.

One final word of caution: some of you might need this to wade through some of the thicker urban vernacular.

Rubble-Pile

frigid air burns lungs
breath, crystalized diamond-dust
we release our jewels

On our third time circling the block, I swallowed my nerves, looking at the rubble-pile we’d lingered at twice before. Suddenly, it became clear to me that the rubble-pile was where the old neighborhood corner store once stood. I must have been really preoccupied with my predicament to not have noticed before.

Shit was not looking good, fam. Still, I allowed my mind to wander. It helped to pass the time and relieve some stress.

“Yo Tony, what happened to the Arab store?” I asked.

“Nigga, you serious?!?” baby bro snorted from the driver’s seat. “9-11 happened, my nigga!”

Uncle John, cousin J-Rock, and Unc’s frat bro laughed.

John added, “Fools knocked down our buildings and they shit went up in flames that night, son!”

J-Rock co-signed; “These hood niggas ain’t gone let that shit slide!”

“That’s fucking stupid!” I said, incredulous. “They probably had nothing to do with 9-11!”

Probably,” said John, mocking my earnest tone. “What, you an FBI nigga and an army nigga too?”

“I’m not army, I’m navy,” I shot back. “And that’s the dumbest shit I’ve ever heard.”

“Spare us your morals, mayne,” said the nameless frat bro. I mean, he probably had a name, but fuck that guy. “Those Arabs didn’t wanna be in our hood after that. Sheeet, mayne, they prolly collected that insurance money and fucked right on off back to Saudi Arabia or Agrabah, or… or… wherever the fuck the Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe come from.”

“Narnia, you illiterate fuck,” said John with a chuckle.

“Fuck you, nigga! You know I loved college! I just wasn’t tryin’ to hear all that white-washed knowledge.”

“This muthaphucka,” I scoffed. “Oh, so you came back home to help with all the senseless riots, right?” I found it hard to believe that two hours ago, I admired that frat boy for his knowledge, confidence, and charisma. I even wanted to swag like him. But now all I wanted was to finish with their ill-advised mission so I never had to see the arrogant prick again.

Fuck. That’s right. The mission.

Even with the heater cranked up, I felt the arctic night chill in my bones.

“All that time at sea and they ain’t teach yo ass shit,” said the frat bro, shaking his head. “You must think niggas invented rioting or some shit. White folks been wilin’ out since forever, mayne. The Boston Tea-Party is a pretty cute way to describe white boys getting drunk and destroying government property cause them hillbillies don’t like the taxes, ain’t it?”

The frat bro took a leisurely drag from his half-finished square. He blew out a halo of smoke before continuing. “Fuck outta here with that mayne. Even King said that riots is the language of the unheard, and that was one turnin-the-other-cheek muthaphucka. White folks who have all the money and power call rioting unnecessary because for those elite muthaphuckas who have fuckin’ everything, rioting is literally fuckin’ unnecessary, knaamean?”

“Yeah, but those Arabs ain’t at the top of America’s power demographic!” I countered. “Y’all went too far!”

Everyone in the car laughed. “Y’all,” mocked frat boy. “Nigga, I was in school. I don’t even live around here anyway. I’m from Evanston, real-talk.”

Y’all,” mocked baby bro. “Nigga, I was at work. Nobody fuckin up my money no matter how mad I get!”

“Yo, what’s yo alibi, Unc?” J-Rock asked.

“Unc don’t need no alibi,” John said. “I’m a grown-ass man. Just know that I didn’t burn down that particular store that particular night.”

“Word,” J-Rock co-signed. “They ain’t have no high-end electronics or jewelry in that bitch. What we look like, looting for a gallon of milk and some fuckin Cheerios?!?”

The car filled with laughter as my keyed-up fam talked over one another. I stared out the window at blackness interrupted by amber-jeweled streetlights and the random light flurry that hinted at snow.

I can’t believe we’re about to do this. Please, God, let this be a dream.

Then Unc John’s face turned as somber as the moonless frigid night outside. “Yo Tony, pull over for a sec.” The hooptie moaned to a stop. Unc reached over and turned down Mobb Deep’s “Shook Ones” before turning to look at me as I shivered in the back seat.

“Desmond,” said John softly, “I know you just visiting on leave, and shit, man. You ain’t gotta be caught up in this shit. Unc understands if you wanna bail. We can get even another night.”

“Helluva time to ask,” I spat back. “Look, just do the shit and get it over with. I’m staying in the car, tho.”

The fuck am I saying? Fuck I’m weak. What a bitch I am.

“See?” baby bro Tony shouted, beaming at me. “My big bro ain’t no bitch! Let’s do this shit!”

Unc John nodded approvingly. “Aight then, fuck it. You stay in the car. We don’t want you getting your hands dirty anyway. You be getting all intellectual and up in your feelings and shit over a wack-ass nigga that deserves his reckoning.”

“Shhh! There he go!” J-Rock shout-whispered. “He getting out the black Escalade right now!”

“Wait,” said Unc, watching the man bundle his coat and hurry to the sidewalk. “Wait… wait… wait… Yeah, that’s him!” Unc paused to let the man step back inside the nightclub. “Let’s go!”
***

frosty, ashen still
night falls in jagged spaces
our joints fill with hurt

Fifteen minutes earlier, we were all in that club getting turnt! I was making googly-eyes at a cute girl across the bar. She made eyes back, but she was growing tired of waiting on me to summon the nerve to go spit game at her, even growing bold enough to make the “hurry-up” beckoning motion at me with her hand, wrist, and forearm.

I downed my shot, took a breath, and hopped off the stool, thinking of what to say to her as I slowly bridged the gap, wading through humanity writhing to the pulsating 808-beats when I heard shouting. Unc has a distinctive, booming voice, so I knew he was involved in the dustup.

I saw a well-dressed man flash his concealed piece at Unc, which I’m sure is a major breach of clubbing etiquette, as it insinuates that you’re just one sideways glance away from reaching for your Roscoe and putting two slugs between a man’s eyes for having the audacity to annoy you. Unsurprisingly, this breach of etiquette immediately enraged Unc. I don’t know what Unc studied in college, but it clearly wasn’t diplomacy. I think Unc secretly thinks he’s the Joe Pesci characters from those mob films.

“Oh, you wanna show me you strapped?” Unc boomed in peak-bravado. “I’m strapped too, nigga! My cousin and nephews strapped too! My whole crew is strapped! The fuck you wanna do, nigga?”

Technically, I was part of Unc’s crew that night.

I was not strapped.

Shit, the last time I touched a weapon was during my M-14 sentry training. I’m pretty sure the Navy don’t let twenty-four-year-olds take firearms home with them on Christmas break.

I should point out that we were only in the club on Boxing Day because I came home for Christmas, and Unc wanted to show me a good time.

I’m just saying it felt like he might’ve taken his eye off the ball for a moment.

Bouncers, security, and the owner quickly deescalated the situation, but Unc, and our whole crew – myself included – we were all 86’ed for being 80-percent strapped. Unc was still trying to flex though. “Flash! Flash! You throwing Me, out, Flash?!? I gave you seed-money, Flash! I helped you build this shitty-ass club, Flash, and this is how you treat me? Aight then, nigga! I see how you are!”

Unc was pulling that performative masculinity bullshit I’ve grown to hate, but I knew him from when we were both shorties. He’s my uncle by blood, but he’s only two years older than me, so I know when that fool is vulnerable and all up in his own feelings. If you’re around a muthaphucka your whole life, there’s just some shit you can’t hide. You can’t lie about who you are over that many Captain Crunch breakfasts and Saturday morning cartoons, fam!

Hurt people hurt people, and Unc’s eyes had a lot of hurt in them, so I knew he would try his damnedest to make Flash pay.

But I didn’t know the exact cost until about fifteen minutes later.
***

knotted, barren, ice
embracing leafless branches
they bend till broken

Flash had hopped out of his sleek, black Escalade, tightened his leather coat against the light flurries, and scuttled back into the club. I heard much later that poor Flash had left the club right after we did, hoping to smooth things over with Unc, but in a Shakespearean twist, Unc’s crew had already sped off, circling the block, plotting payback.

And I was among them, just wanting the night to be over.

Tony gunned the engine, and in an instant, we were parallel to Flash’s gleaming Escalade. Unc, J-Rock, and frat-boy jumped out at once, swarming like hornets. I could hear and feel the concussions as glass shattered and metal was punctured and bruised. Within seconds, that Escalade went from being pristine to a modern art masterpiece. Its wailing alarm went unanswered as the drive-by bricking continued unabated.

“Shit! Y’all hear that? Jake’s coming!” Tony shouted as police sirens wailed in the distance. “Let’s go!”

Everyone piled back into the hooptie except for frat-boy, who lingered, glaring at the twisted, dented, Jackson Pollock-forsaken monstrosity he helped create.

“Nigga, is you deaf?!?” Unc shouted as the sirens got louder. “Jake’s almost here! I ain’t gettin’ arrested again! Get yo ass back in the car! We out!”

Frat-boy swaggered away from our getaway vehicle, lifted the biggest boulder he could find, and sent it hurling through the wounded windshield with a terrible, calamitous sound. Then the jackass took a bow before no one before proudly hopping back in the back seat with J-Rock and me.

“Nigga, you stupid!” Unc admonished his old friend, in a glorious little “pot-meet-kettle” moment.

Tony gunned the engine and tore down Roosevelt Road at approximately Mach 2.5. Unc had to coax him into slowing to the speed-limit so as to not draw too much attention. I shook my head and glared out the window. The snow was heavier now, and it was sticking.
***

slushy asphalt plains
molded by glaciers’ past lives
stories left unheard

That’s it. That’s the story.

No moral lesson, no plot-twist, or comeuppance. To the best of my knowledge, we all got away with that shit. Nobody learned a goddamned thing that night.

No one came out the other side of the drive-by-bricking a changed man or any heavy-handed symbolic shit like that.

From beginning to end, this was just a bunch of nigga-synthesis; just a bunch of young, spiteful men getting together to commit young, spiteful vandalism because some young, spiteful jackass in a club full of beautiful people looking to have a good time didn’t like how another young, spiteful jackass was looking at him.

That’s just how quickly shit escalates in the hood.

Right after we vandalized that car – and I say we because even though I didn’t touch that Escalade, I had the chance to stop it before it happened, but I didn’t so that makes me complicit – we went out for burritos. That may not be “Goodfellas”-level mafia shit, but that was still a pretty cold piece of work.

I went back to the Navy a week later. I got my wish and never laid eyes on that Evanston fuckhead again, but I also never again saw that lovely woman who impatiently made the googly-eyes at me.

I still give Unc grief over killing my chance with a potential soul-mate, but he was all like, “Nigga, I saw y’all! It would’ve taken yo bitch-ass fore-score and seventy-five fucking years to shuffle over to her with somethin’ sensible to say! It’s the twenty-first century, my nigga! Bitches ain’t got time like that no more! And wait; wasn’t yo dumb ass married at the time? Just how many soul-mates you tryin’ ta collect at one time? Greedy ass!”

All fair points, but still.

Unc got arrested a lot – but never for wrecking Flash’s whip – and he eventually cooled off, married, had five girls, and basically became Mr. Mom, if you can believe that shit. He’s virtually unrecognizable from his wilin’ youth. He and Flash even mended their friendship, but obviously not immediately. Dude called Unc while we were waiting on our burritos, yelling threats and unfounded accusations, besmirching our good names and shit. Unc’s words, not mine.

Cousin J-Rock is still J-Rock. You’re probably wondering why I rarely mentioned him, and there’s a very good reason; J-Rock is fucking mental, and he scares the shit outta me. The lesser said, the better. I often worry about him catching wind of this story and getting offended, but it’s not like someone’s going to read it to him.

My baby brother Tony flips houses and helps homeless vets get back on their feet. Before that, he started a small business detailing cars. I know! Ironic as fuck, right?

As for me? What do I do now? I do well. I’m good. I definitely stay true to myself these days, knaamean?

I guess I lied. There might have been a moral lesson or two at play. I dunno. Fuck it.

You read the shit. Do you, mayne.

snowfall dampens sound
there is only who we are
echoes are empty
***

Written for dVerse MTB – Writing narrative poetry, hosted by Bjorn. Others contributed to this prompt here. This was supposed to be a condensed poetic story, but the freaking muse slapped me around a bit and it got away from me. Sorry about that.

Trimming the Fat: Streamlining my Social Media Presence

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Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash

Trimming the Fat: Streamlining my Social Media Presence

Lieutenant Reginald Endicott “Reg” Barclay III is a recurring fictional character from both Star Trek: The Next Generation and Star Trek: Voyager. He is socially awkward, hilariously uncomfortable in his own skin, and is initially the butt of cruel jokes among his peers. He often retreats to the comfort of his imagination, which manifests itself in acute holodeck addiction (which lands him in hot water on more than one occasion). On the upside, he also frequently mines his own imaginative thought experiments, using innovative, unconventional solutions to resolve complex problems.

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Lt. “Broccoli”. (Image source: Google)

Lieutenant Barclay has his own Wikipedia entry if you want to learn more about him. I can’t imagine why you would want to. Just know that I hated this character intensely. I don’t anymore, but in the moment, he felt like a cruel slap in the face that I took personally.

 

I hated Barclay because he reminded me of myself.

This isn’t news for anyone close to me, or who has tried to become close to me, but I am an introvert who also frequently suffers from debilitating social anxiety and depression. Oh, I can function in goal-oriented social functions like work (where the goal is solving technical problems to get PC users back to work) or team sports (where the goal is to come together to defeat opponents), but the moment the focus switches to happy-hours, wine parties, or just hanging out, I struggle greatly and must rely on a series of complex coping mechanisms to get by.

Or I just flake-out and bail, or I spaz-out and make a jackass of myself before flaking-out and bailing.

Like Barclay, I have a rich, active imagination, but as a young adult, I slowly came to realize that living inside my own head wasn’t enough. Even a social weirdo like me craves social connection of some type. Social media filled that void handily.

I first discovered social media several years after its commercially embryotic phase in something called Yahoo! Chat. I tried it for about ten minutes, and was hooked instantly (Say what? Instead of focusing on improving the tragedy which was my life, I could escape to the internet and make fun of celebrities, kings, and sinners who dare to live in the real world? What a concept!) Before I knew it, I had lost count of how many chatrooms and message boards I frequented.

It wasn’t all escapism though. Occasionally, if I found a fellow chat-head compelling enough, I would sack-up and attend a real-live meet-n-greet to see if their reality matched their online persona (which, much like my own online duality, was almost never the case). Once, I was digging this female chatter and our chemistry was intense. We agreed to meet at the birthday party of a mutually-acquainted chatter to see where things might lead. We didn’t hit it off in person, but she introduced me to her friend, and four years later, her friend and I were married. By transitive property, I owe my twelve-year marriage to social media.

As social media evolved, I came along for the ride. GeoCities, Open Diary, LiveJournal, Friendster, OkayPlayer Freestyle Forum, MySpace, Google+ for some reason… and then onward to my current dopamine connection go-to’s; Facebook (my primary social surrogate – more on this later), Blogger, WordPress (well hello there!), Tumblr (where I do most of my fanboying), and two Twitter accounts (one for my back-of-the-bus mocking of all things pop-culture, and one for my poetry, which, I guess means that if I ever become famous, I’ll have to mock myself? Not sure how that would work.)

But something has changed within the past two or three years. Interacting on Facebook use to leave me with an improved outlook, but recently, I’ve found myself angrier, sadder, and even more depressed after perusing my newsfeed. Obviously, my country’s uglier aspects and the rise of toxic nationalism, leading us to this vile new administration manifested itself in Facebook, as did the Fake News Era. We all know of the many ways that Facebook and many other social media outlets have betrayed our trust, and I won’t be getting into any of that.

I decided to take a series of breaks from Facebook to see how I felt. My absence was probably unnoticed, as I continued posting via my Twitter link to Facebook (I call it “face-twat” for short because I exist simultaneously as a high school sophomore and a dirty old man.) My last break was during the month of April as I participated in NaPoWriMo for the tenth consecutive year. In each of my breaks, including the last one, I noticed that I wasn’t as down in the dumps as I normally am.

That’s when I decided that I would permanently deactivate my Facebook account.

I have selected a target date of Labor Day to finally and completely rid myself of this oddity that has oddly become a sad, compulsory element in my life. That gives me time to ensure that I find other ways of keeping in touch with online friends dear to me; friends who make me laugh, who make me think, and who make me want to become a better person – but not necessarily friends who I wish to see every day, as I still lack the social ability to make that a comfortable experience for me.

Also, I suspect that this won’t be the only social media that I give up on. In fact, the only social apps I’m certain that I’ll keep are my WordPress site and my poetic Twitter feed that links to it. All other apps are open to further evaluation.

It may seem trivial to some who read this, and I totally get it, but seeing how Facebook was (and in a way, still is) my social surrogate for the past decade, this is a big deal for me. The fact that it should not be a big deal is one of the main reasons why I must make this change. Lieutenant Barclay was compelled to severely curtail his holodeck usage as it was impacting his ability to exist in the real world. Those peers who initially mocked his oddities made a good faith effort to accept him, and he did the same for both them and himself. It was far from perfect, but Barclay formed lasting friendships.

I’m no fictional character, but I am compelled similarly, for vaguely similar reasons. As always, thanks for putting up with me.
***

Day 28 – Postcard in Praise of My One-Time Online Secret Girlfriend

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Photo by Dan Gold on Unsplash

Postcard in Praise of My One-Time Online Secret Girlfriend

Why are you here? Why am I? Why are we? Even though we’re both evenly among our peers in our late twenties, this feels… odd. Oddly uncomfortable and weirdly familiar in keeping welcome company. You seem to be enjoying this bass-boosted noise even less than me, if that were ever a possibility. You say nothing as you gallantly support the nightclub wall with your back, your face screwed into a question mark. You’re puzzled by how different I am IRL than online. You’re with your girls and I’m with my homie, but I spot in your eyes, a symmetry. Or is it synergy? It’s a mystery, but I can see that you too wish it were just you and me. I have poor self-esteem, so I don’t take these vibes lightly when they come to be. You speak softly, drowned-out by the club cacophony, yet I feel your words settle next to me. I won’t forget how you let me hold your hand gratefully, us both grateful no one else could see.
***

Written for NaPoWriMo Day 28 prompt: “draft a prose poem in the form/style of a postcard.”

OK, so perhaps I would need two postcards.