A Poem

I’ve never done acid. Until I did. This is the poem I guess I wrote:

she exhaled

swelled the lungs

of her breast

and unrest

the idea of open Sea

flowing tides

open eyes
on easy waves

push and pull 

she has the dreams

of horizon seams

where stars touch lives

but words defy nothing but conceptions

The Whiskey Rule

​Half full

The whiskey rule

Glass positioned just so on the window sill

The room is still

(save for the rise of her chest)

The room is quiet

(save for the enter and exit of breath in her breast)

And the very hint of a sunrise crests, stretches

Stitches along the horizon line

A divine sign fine reflecting in its own time

Through the drops on the pane I’m staring through

The gray skies hanging low

The slow cars going to God knows where

Soft splashes are

Soft whiplashes and this is a small moment

That will never last

Is slipping past and

She breathes soft

Sleeps soft

Will soon slink softly through the door into the

Overcast afternoon of the day that settles

Last night into a Fond Memory Tomb
Fear not

Frown not

I’m left with a glass half full
After all

That’s the whiskey rule

Rainy Day Romance

I like making love on rainy days
When we fog the windows and
We fill the rooms and
I don’t have to beg you to stay
Those gray afternoons that filter through
The love letters traced in the
Beads of sweat across your skin
A pale blue hue stretched languid ‘cross us
While we talk ways to start again
I like faintly brushing errant strands
Of hair behind your ear
I like the ways your legs embrace
Me and coyly draw me near

I miss those long and patient minutes
Just before you began to stir
I long for love on rainy days and
For the lovely way things were

image

Death at 22

I used to tell myself I’d kill myself at 30
But I think I killed myself at 22 because I couldn’t stop the hurting
The burning, the yearning
The twisting and turning, mind always whirring
In the same old dusty corners
In the same old clouds, darkened with doubt
In the same full rooms in which I wanted to but couldn’t shout
I just stood there, looking around
Wondering what the secret was that everyone else seemed to have found
Why do their smiles come so easy?
Why do their eyes alight?
Why does it seem that I’m the one who wakes up feeling like
He’s been in a nasty fight
And I know I’m not the only one
I know I’m not alone
I know I’m not the only person claustrophobic in their own home
But I sit here in my arm chair
Arms bare
Holding the world tight against my chest and
My silver flask and empty glass ask
“When will you pour the rest?”

“That’s the problem with drinking,” Hemingway thought, “as I poured myself another drink.”
Doesn’t that line alone give you enough pause to make you think
To put the bottle down
Or maybe don’t
Maybe continue the pour
It doesn’t change that what came before will always be “Before” and
To capture “After”, you can’t be afraid
To open some intimidating doors
But those doors seem too heavy
Too complicated
I can’t even handle them

I’m still working on walking
This one foot in front of the other rambling
Shambling from one stage to another
Dead for years without even knowing
Only drawn to the occasional candle in the window, glowing
A flicker of life offered
A reminder there’s an end to night
But then my excited breathing inevitably snuffs the light

I used to say I’d kill myself at 30
On my own terms, in my own name
But I killed myself at 22
I’m in Purgatory and everything’s the same

Rain

I like the feeling of rain on my skin
The smell of the grass it settles in
The way it runs right through me
A short circuit shock to the soul
I like the rain because it dims the fire
Clears the mind, and I find
I’ve left behind the fear that leaves me tired
Eyes turned up to a dark ceiling
Pushing to see the stars behind it
I like the rain, being in it
Under it
For each drop is a star itself
Folding my clothes around me in a cool embrace
Tousling hair and kissing my face
Cleansing and enveloping
Gone for a time but certain to return
Destined to fall so that I may catch it
It is the surest lover I have ever known

You Want Poetry?

I wrote this drunk. Don’t blame me.

You want poetry?
Fine words making fine art
A message more eloquent than
The body feels, for
To be human is to be clumsy is
To fall flat
You want poetry?
Staccato words rat-tat-tatting you
An image
A feeling
A reality, but
There ain’t no solace in art from the heart, baby, and I tell you
I’m a messy man
Loose with my feelings
Open with my words
Honey, I’m an art dealer, and my best selling commodity is
Emotion
You want poetry?
You want hurt
You want love
You want desperation because *you* are
Desperate for something
Grabbing for something
Ambitious and
These are good things but remember
Art is delicate
You want poetry?
Art, and the heart, are fluid
They are searching and angry and honest
They are bald and bare and true
Poetry isn’t roses and platitudes so much as
Viscera and attitude
You want poetry?
Baby, live and feel that pain a while
It’s the xylophone of your ribcage
The drumline at the back of your skull
Poetry is seeing that one lover driving away for the last time
The butterfly drifting across the sunset
The last two drops from the whiskey bottle
If you want poetry
You want life
That’s a bag of valentines and
Nails to step on
It’s that feeling in your gut halfway between horror and a climax
On the wildest ride at the amusement park
Good luck

In Vein

There is a saying
That writers have ink in their blood
My ink shouts and trembles on the page
My blood is fire and lightning and
The echo of a cavern
My heart, lonely engine, grinds on
Drumming in my chest
Pushing against the cage
A beat-up old shop, looking for purchase
My ink does its job
Speaking and thinking and drinking in the
Minds of those who turn eyes onto it but
My blood is what bellows and
My body’s parchment can scarce contain it

The Story Man

I can’t recall the origin of the nickname. I think I may have pompously referred to myself as such in a rum-fueled haze of confidence, high on one of my rare book sales, and a few people clung to it. It’s a decent moniker, if only in it’s accuracy: I tell stories – it’s my passion, in fact – and I am a man. I tell stories about life and death, killers and thieves, flower girls and friendships. I write poetry for women who have never existed, telling a story about a romance that will never be.

Lately, I’ve been telling a lot of stories about myself. There’s a conceit in that, an assumptive arrogance that anything about my life or me is worth reading about. It’s a promise I feel I often break, when I write a thousand circuitous words or more about my feelings or my soul-searching that usually ends the same way it begins: that I am listless in life, confused about my purpose, and generally dissatisfied with my output in virtually every way.

Yet I can’t stop. If I tried, I think I’d go mad. Well, madder.

I’ve never seen a blank piece of paper I haven’t wanted to write on. Something about the emptiness of it, the void, screams out to me to be filled, and when I do, when I write, it’s not as simple as “the ink of my blood flowing” as this bucking beast that’s been slamming against the cage in my gut finally finds itself a refuge to cavort to its heart’s content.

Of the page itself, it appears not as a canvas, not quite, but a gate. A window to a multiverse, endless possibilities to pull from and when I find the one I want (something with science and fiction, perhaps, or a poem about homesickness, or an echo of my own heart), a flash comes from behind my eyes and a dageurreotype is left in the form of words.

The page is a lover, of sorts, one whose every inch I want to explore and tease and fill to the brim with passion. Sometimes the process is more aggressive. Sometimes we argue. Sometimes I’m left on the edge of tears. The page listens, and I endeavor to explain.

I do that with anecdotes. Stories. Tales.

I remember several years ago, a six-issue comic book mini-series came out called Taleweaver. It was a story about warring factions that had the addition of a protagonist who could change reality by writing what he wanted to happen in the form of a story. It was a concept that never had much sustainability, but I thought it was cool as hell anyway. And “taleweaver”. That sounds awesome. I could be a taleweaver.

The Story Man, though? That sounds so… well, I get two visuals out of it. On one hand, it feels ominous. The Story Man feels like a character ripped straight from King or Koontz. A mysterious figure with unclear intentions. Is he a monster? The last sword of God? A being of grayness, indifferent to the concept of morality? Stephen, if you write it, I will read it.

I also see, however, the old man at the beginning of Margaret Weiss and Tracy Hickman’s Dragons of Autumn Twilight. Though he becomes a major character further on in the book, we’re introduced to him as a traveling storyteller, scraping the floor with his chair as he takes his place by the fire in a quiet tavern. It’s he that sets the group on their adventure. He puts things in motion.

Do I do that? Lord, I kind of hope not. Here’s where I tell you not to take advice from someone who fucks up as often as I do.

And here’s where you realize if you listen to me, you’ve already taken my advice. Gotcha, sucker.

You know, part of me appreciates that the mistakes I’ve made, and the rash decisions and the ill-advised traveling, all of that has led to a number of stories. While I wouldn’t mind being rich and successful and having those upbeat kinds of memories to write about, the things I’ve done and gone through have allowed me to have a deeper – if still flawed – understanding of myself and the world and some of the people in it. I get the grime, I get the shattered windows and ripped photographs and discarded shoes. I also get the solitary rose growing through the cracks, the letter from a loved one fading from repeated readings, the stuffed animal sewn back together countless times.

I try to write my stories – fiction and nonfiction – so that they’re full of imagery and emotion. I want my readers to see what I see, to feel what I feel, so that they can understand me and maybe see a part of the world that might normally be hidden from them. I don’t know if I’m successful at that, but it also serves to get it out of me, get it onto the page I love, and trap it there.

If it stays in me too long, I get to thinking too much. Case in point, last night I stumbled across a picture of someone’s text post. It was a woman talking about how she was raising her daughter alone and how she would make something up about the father who left her behind. This got me thinking about my biological father, who left, and my adopted father who was unable to take care of me due to his own addictions.

I’ve talked about this at length before, but I’m going to do so again for a second. See, I came across Danny’s Song again. My adopted dad is a huge Kenny Loggins fan, and he loved this song (and I’m Alright, but that’s neither here nor there) in particular. I like the song, and Loggins, but it makes me think about what must have been going through his head in the 80s. In love and married to my mom, ready to raise and love me as his own. The idyllic life. And I think about how that all crashed and burned. How the marriage fell apart because of substance abuse and rampant blame. How he fled the state and I didn’t see him for two years or talk to him for a year and a half. How this perfect, picturesque family lifestyle has turned into being shut away in prison in different states and cutting almost all contact from his family and all contact from me.

Of course that leads me to my biological father, who couldn’t be bothered to even pay for the paternity test, so few fucks did he give about possibly having a son.

I am grateful for the grandfather I got, the one he raised as a third son and fourth child, though I shared no blood ties to him. I will always be grateful.

Even so, for as many years pass and as often as I tell myself and others, I still wind back around at dad and abandonment issues.

It’s sort of a weird topic to bring up in an article about being The Story Man (capital t, naturally), but I’ve been doing some soul-searching lately, and I haven’t been liking some of what I’m seeing.

Am I the man my grandfather wanted me to be? The one he felt was worth raising from the age of five even though he had put in his dues? Or was John right in running away from me before he could get to know me? Am I just a broken man like Rick who is set to have his idea of a happy family wrecked by my decisions and weakness?

I think about it a lot, because that feeling of duality drives me in a lot of different directions. The bulk of my stories seem to be rooted in the complex and very intense emotions that I’m absolutely convinced came from a loving but somewhat traumatic and confusing childhood.

Of those three options, I know which one I try most to be. I try to be a good guy. I try to build up and inspire others (the only way I know how, for the most part, being through stories), but I know specters of the other two haunt my life daily. I won’t even touch Terry, who I wrote about in Santa Wears a Black Hat, and who I learned a lot from – both good and bad – but whom I also spend far less time obsessing about.

So try as I might to be someone worth raising, someone worth being around, someone worth loving, I’m not always strong enough, I feel, to pull it off. Writing those thoughts out, the pain I’m feeling, the love I feel for beautiful things, my love of love, my longing for people that make me feel alive, my desire to strengthen connections with people and my anxiety that I did something wrong or am horribly deficient when that connection seems shaky… writing it out is the only way, the only *healthy* way I can keep my knees from buckling.

Sometimes that manifests itself in imaginary worlds, hard and beautiful and varyingly interesting places I’ll never be able to see; or characters who embody different aspects of myself. Sometimes it will be in fictional love letters, poetry that struggles to capture the romance I see and feel in the currents of the wind and the flight of autumn leaves, or whatever.

Sometimes it’s just me getting shit out. Telling stories, because stories are what I’m left with. The arrows in my quiver, the sword in my sheath, the A-4 KU Skyhawk on my aircraft carrier…. this metaphor got away from me.

I arrive in Montana on Saturday. I suspect I’ll have more stories pretty soon.

“To be alive
To be alive: not just the carcass
But the spark.
That’s crudely put, but…
If we’re not supposed to dance,
Why all this music?”

-Gregory Orr

La Petite Mort

With a soft moan
The door
Opens
Like a lover and
With a breath,
The breadth of distance
Closes
She is there like warm smoke
Filling my lungs, clinging to my clothes
Bright and bare as the moon
Searing as the sun, hot to the touch
We become cartographers
Mapping trails across each other’s skin
Hands grip and knead
Unraveling knots
Caught up in the moment, we
Fall
For the moment
For the other
To the floor
Tightly wound, bound around one another
Pressed lips slip, drift
Across and down
The sounds of fire’s desire cut through the room
A knife and
Life thrums under every inch of skin
Crackles down every vein
Thunders in each chamber of the heart
We find our places, begin our paces
The walls around us become a temple
Cries to God sanctify it
Nails dig scripture into flesh and
Breath comes quick and heavy
Heavenly
Our coils twist and tighten
Senses heightened and
When release comes, it is as
A flash of light in a storm

No one ever told me a little death would taste so sweet

All I Want to Do

All I want to do is write for her
Is this how poems start?
Is that how poems end?
Time spent wondering where the time went
Pen tap-tapping the table edge
A self-kept metronome keeping a beat of unproductivity
All I want to do is write for her, but
Where are the words?
What is the order?
A thousand tiny birds grab a thousand tiny letters and
Carry them to Valhalla as the souls of the fighting dead
All those cutesy phrases and descriptive phases
Murdered before they could be said
I balk and stutter, quick catchlines turning to tongue clutter
How can anyone send a man’s mind into an explosion of color –
A tie-dyed disaster masterpiece –
While stealing the sentences behind his watchful eyes
Blank weight in a light head
Blank pages waiting for what might be written and
I’m to pluck the proper bounty from an ocean –
Oft traversed yet full of unseen secrets –
To present as an ode or a sonnet
A gift or a prayer or a testament
As a memory that lingers in a loud mind, the recesses of the ear and the edge of the lips
The tip of the tongue
I’m to take a canyon’s echo and translate it to the symphony?
I’m to take the air beneath a dove’s wing and make a gown of it?
I’m to take the universe in a woman’s body and turn that into words?
Into words?
Something. So. Simple. As. Words.
So futile a task hasn’t been known since a miller’s daughter was tasked to
Spin straw into gold, and yet
No matter how I start
No matter how it ends
All I want to do… is write for her