prosetry

like a shadow burned into a wall

It was a week of work, my first in over two months. Funny how you can tell what kind of day you’ll have in the first ten minutes of wakefulness. Is sensitivity something we learn? It’s hard to emulate the idiomatic and constitutional, but easy to hide behind it.

Thoughts of authenticity the other night after watching “Atlanta” connected themselves to others about lived experience, my life, and Charles Johnson, who is from the town in which I now reside and will be here again to give a talk in May. This is apparently worthy of transcription.

Self-conscious self-criticism always “kept me honest” while I sought ways to raise myself up out of the everyday, confused, predictably romanticizing “just making it” and being afraid of dependence. Writing isn’t the application of forms, it’s unfolding. I’ve made my truths, fiction et non, and still going.

Really I’m not my past, but I can get back to it like Theseus to Ariadne. Peter and the Wolf gave me a glimpse of heritage as a child and I made it my own mythology. Peter was the violin and my middle name and all was quiet, all was well.

Russian fur hats and black boots and military jackets and good-natured young boys and protective grandfathers I never knew, if I had to pluralize. Now I write prose poems because they’re somewhere between rap and short stories and because I’m from somewhere where that makes sense, working for a living and working on a novel about belonging that I might should maybe call The Clew and the Minotaur but I won’t tell you who’s who.

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poetry

twelve lines plus one

If I sit down now I’ll never get up again and then we’ll never know.

If we never know we’ll never go.

I know.

(This isn’t what I came for, this isn’t what I need.)

Well now we’re settled in.

Yes we’re settled in again.

Again.

That old woman across the way mops her bedroom floor in her nightgown each morning.

You say settled in, I say emptied out. And the clock overtakes us all.

Maybe she’s cleaning up whatever comes out of the woodwork.

Your grip is slipping again isn’t it.

We’ll never go.

I know.


Originally published a long time ago on Art & Insolence where I usually hang out. Bringing it back because it’s been on my mind lately.

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prosetry

Watch

Minutes
These finite, constant minutes of mine–
he says we have to make ours count
but I just count them down
down
down
more concerned with surviving them than living them,
with tolerating them than filling them,
watching the spokes skip around the Death Counter’s dial,
studying the friendly face of my bedside clock,
knowing that the meaning of life is that it stops,
it stops
but not soon enough for me
(too soon for most though, apparently).

*

Our love died when I lost track of time:
we thought we had so much of it.
But while I’ve been writing this
the clock stays in my eye line,
and you’ve inched a minute closer to your death,
while I’ve leapt a minute nearer to mine.
Oh, we had the time of our lives, all that time, all of the time.
(It’s really nice knowing that neither of us will make it out of this alive).

*

In the hours when I cannot bear to be alive,
I just sit and watch my watch,
watch my future decreasing, watch my past growing,
knowing that I can always find comfort
in the movement of metal hands,
in the glow of green lines shapeshifting
in the corner of the darkened bedroom,
watching you sleep away your minutes,
while I think away mine.
Every minute propels us forwards,
toward a good thing, or great things,
a tragedy, an opportunity,
and our deaths, ultimately.
(It’s only a matter of time).

*

I stand outside the jeweller’s shop
and stop
and watch
the clocks–
High Street Hypnotherapy.
I light a cigarette and press my forehead to the glass
and watch the clocks, trying to catch one out for being too slow,
or maybe all the others are fast?
But they move like,
well,
they move like fucking clockwork
and so I remain with my head against the pane,
killing time in the rain,
in pain, killing time,
literally watching time disappear.
You’d call this a waste of a time
but it’s not, it’s progress,
it’s necessary progress,
staying alive until the time comes to die.
Now that I’ve typed this
I’m three minutes closer to that time,
and now that you’ve read this
so are you
(closer to your time as well as mine).

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prosetry

Span

Maybe one day we’ll meet and neither of us will know what to say for no reason other than. It’ll sound like the weaponization of awkwardness, imagined future meeting imagined present, imagining all those incomplete sentences and overanalyzed gestures, till I go and spoil it with answers (I imagine) because I love to believe and love even more to explain—at least till I go and hate myself for it later—and you cut me off, knowing how things play out, to talk about finding words that are fuller and fewer and sharper and less noisy and I say I tried, answering, exaggerating, for this lifetime I tried, knowing you know better.

You’d roll our eyes, and I’d peculiarly change the subject, or seem to. Chapter V, “Beta, The Disappointed Lover,” I’d say, dangling it out there to speak for me less noisily. It was marked, you’d recall as if on cue, by a folded up printout of Wisława Szymborska’s Nobel address, of all things, and we’d get on about how neither of us remember doing that and about how dragging two Polish poets into this like this is like the start of a joke only Polish poets would find funny. And there I’d be, a little disappointed you didn’t have more answers than I but happy to be on the same page. 111, I think it was.

For now, as I sit in a quiet café across from the presumption of you, I distract myself from thoughts of our little rendezvous with seemingly comparable thoughts of starting a literary magazine out of the blue with a troupe of fringe-dwelling strangers called The Against because sometimes a little carnivalization is better than the silly sum-seeking rum-running of being for something before burying my nose in a worn copy of the Oxford Companion to Music that I got for a few dollars at a summer book fair at this city’s greatest bibliothèque of the humanities for no reason other than that they were there, library and book, and me, full of pent-up irony, as though it might contain answers to questions I don’t yet know I’ll want to ask.

The air outside is cold and the cold outside starts to remind me inside of all the fancy things I thought before I started sticking to the present and ceased to ruminate in caffeine-whiskey pools upon my moony captivation with the lofty side of experience like it was a new neighborhood in a new city I might move to. Laferrière said “the more I try to get close to myself, the more I’m hiding something. There is nothing more fake than real life.” I think I’ll stay here, it’s the only way to get anywhere, speaking of dualities. It’s only life. It’s only everything. I’m only me, now and then. I only stop so often because it’s so hard to begin, but beginning’s like holding an unread book, you just want to carry it around a while, inobjectively, reveling in the elementary allure of possibilities and all their exquisite contradictions.

I close the Companion and look across the small table at your empty chair. Never have I envied you, never have I even feared, only imagined a certain oneness, a wholeness of experience of the sort they say we find in sickness, in violence, in the invasive presence of others, in words.

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prosetry

Headway

Winter, and a thickness like fog, but crisp and clear. “Shroud” isn’t the word but “envelop” glances. The clothes, the layers, the coat, the hat, the scarf, the gloves, the etcetera and etcetera, add-ons and throw-aways, hyphenable. They’re in with me, though, shrouding. While the thickness envelops whole, in sickness and in peace and in violence and in health and in words.

Winter, and reading Hilton Als on art and childhood in bed wrapped in blankets made me warmer. Well, warm, and on top of blankets. No, less cold, let’s be truthful. Cold is the beginning of The Idiot, not this. I imagine that kind of cold is like talent, knowing it’s out there. Here is just passable thickness and the far-off beauty of others. The comfort in that, is that.

Winter, and the new year approaches, which means pontificate or eulogize. To fill the space, naturally, and pass the time. The clever do both, usually at once, as social imperatives, more spatial than temporal, oblivious to duality and hyphens. Oh, the things we receive.

Winter, and when the new year arrives, this year will undergo a tense shift. That could be clever but then I’d be one of them and I decided years ago I’d never. Years ago I dreamt of the nineteenth century when things were simpler and more complex. November, you were it, years ago. I’ll neither pontificate nor eulogize.

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fiction

Seasons’ Spell 4

Part 4 of 4, the end. Reminds me: “The temptation towards resolution, towards wrapping up the package, seems to me a terrible trap. Why not be more honest with the moment? The most authentic endings are the ones which are already revolving towards another beginning” (Sam Shephard). Another beginning, a new beginning, or the same beginning, like part 1. Then part 2 and part 3.


He has written a note and left it on the table. The window, now closed and locked, is doing its time-weary best to stand against a wind that creeps disregardfully through the cracks and gaps and spaces, frosting the eight frames’ edges and inadvertently softening the view of a bitter, fuliginous gray sky hanging over leafless brown-black branches, if anyone were there to see.

The oxalis is long-dead but its empty pot remains on the sill, pointless and inert. The curtains have been removed, the tablecloth is gone, and the chairs are tucked in, left behind as if to commemorate shared comforts, and also loss. The photograph is gone but a faint rectangle of long-shaded paint remains on the wall in its place, and the only sounds in the house are the occasional wintry creak and groan of tired timber and the wind’s solemn, discordant breaths. The note sits on bare maple nicked and scratched.

I love the you I’m sure you’ve become even though I’m not there to know and see, he wrote.

*

And spring returns, and the house remains. The trees, the hills, the sky, the night, the day—they all remain with time, ever changing, ever the same.

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fiction

Evidently

The waitress from Santa Cruz served me seafood on the boardwalk, in a restaurant so situated, and I sat by the window and looked down into the tides. She seemed to like me and I spotted a sea lion or two and that seemed like a big deal. The sea was more blue than green that day and the sun was sinking and I wondered why I didn’t live there, scratching idly at a small indentation in the edge of the little green table with pine-colored trim and hoping she didn’t notice my fidgets.

The floor was tiled white and I had fish and chips because that’s what I always get under such circumstances, always have. I ate and looked and watched and imagined and wondered and the waitress from Santa Cruz came by and checked on me like the guest I was, warm and hospitable and easy. We chatted passingly of life things, small things, each of us asking small safe easy questions, and I listened to her replies and responded with my own and noticed her shoes.

Somehow we got onto philosophy on one of her passes—not into it, only onto it—and she did not write her number on the bill but after I paid I walked away into the late afternoon silently wishing she had, walking out the door and onto the boardwalk and out over the more blue than green water with the sea lions in it, feeling like a tetherball on a string connected to she the pole with those shoes gliding over that white tile through the rows of small green tables with pine-colored trim and into the kitchen full of cooks and bussers who I was sure must like her and weren’t afraid to tell her so.

I walked, thinking, not thinking, out and back inland again, back past the restaurant, and when I looked in through the windows and the open kitchen door where all the cooks and bussers who surely liked her were, I did not catch that last glimpse. I remembered her name, though, and was glad it wasn’t Cinnamon or Candy or something sugary and absurd like that, and I also remembered where she said she went to school because the mother of the other university-aged boy at the table next had asked while I tried to sit in my seat and eat my food like a normal solitary person and emit the allowable amount of self as if I might be fined by the EPA if too much of the noxious stuff got through my filters, nodding and smiling in acknowledgement of good service when it was my turn to receive and also at the smoothness of our exchanges, wishing the scene would continue but also hoping for a curtain call before someone was put on the spot and the smoothness shriveled and lost its lustre like the skin of a rotting orange, a moment expired, drawn out and moldy.

She did not write her number on the bill but she did write, in the space beneath the restaurant’s name and address, the only immediacy is the moment of creation, with quotes and a double underline for “only” penned lightly in a fast and practiced hand like it just came to her and those were the kinds of things she didn’t bother to stop—that’s what gusts through my mind right now and for a moment catches me like a filthy seabird suspended mid-flight and propped up in place by springly rumbustious breezes while the world turns with its customary imperceptibility so I put down the quill and look at what I’ve scrawled in my defense.

A letter, not to her, likely to no one. It lacks both feeling and idea, you’d say, has a bland aftertaste and smells like wet cardboard, if words can be said to aromate. Words, that’s all they are, and perhaps that’s why. There are hundreds of them, it seems, swirling in no apparent order, looking shriveled and wrinkly in the light of recollection, and beside me on the desk are stacks of papers with thousands more, thousands and thousands more, a lifetime timeline string of words strung together by virtue of nothing more than placement and position and passage, nothing more.

I’m an old man now, I think, and nothing more, looking at the papers, the unsent letters, the words on the page before me, the string tethering me from then that time all those many years ago with the waitress from Santa Cruz to now, alone and scrawling in my quiet room, and no matter how many words I use I can never get back to that moment of creation when she wasn’t real and neither was I.

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