“Pocketknife”

Pocketknife

Sunday afternoon –
a grandmother removes
a tiny green package
from her bedside table
and drops it gently
into his eager hands.

The boy rubs the inside
of his short index finger
along the glossy green paper
and leans his young frame
against her marigold dress,
while he slips his finger
under the crease
to loosen the tape.
In respect for
this unexpected gift
he does not tear the paper,
but slides the battered case
out of its tight wrapping.

He opens it wordlessly,
his grandmother looking away,
and into his hands falls
a rusty pocketknife
with a handle of worn wood,
delicately carved by
the blade of another,
deeproot stained by years of use,
and scratched onto one side –
the initials of her father,
whom he had never met
but had always known.

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“Insomnia”

When I was twelve I had insomnia –
a crippling sense of anticipation
for something that would never come.

Every night,
the cautious evening crept into the house
and the water in the pipes would settle,
and the air conditioner would choke itself
in an aluminum rattle –
the vents exhaling their last cool breath
the dust sinking silver against the windows.
I would lie in the dark
restless as the moonlight,
and strangled by the hands of patience.

Sometimes at 2 a.m.
my father, still awake in his tiny office,
would hear my pacing,
slip wordless into my room
and put “Blood on the Tracks” on the old stereo –
Bob Dylan crooning soft and desperate
about losing his wife.
I didn’t understand the words,
but I think I always understood the sound,
the inexorable fear of emptiness.

Now, sitting at the desk,
breathless,
I realize
sometimes the empty spaces
weigh as much as the movements.

We Sought Out Weakness With Our Fists

We Sought Out Weakness With Our Fists

I was a little boy
bright blue shorts and bony knees 
for the first time away from my mother —
a week at summer camp.
Every morning I wrote her long, detailed letters
hiding the fact that I was a severed heart, an anxious bird,
and in my head I ceaselessly counted the days until the week would end.

Monday. Tuesday. Four more nights. Now halfway there.

That boy singled me out on the first night
as if he heard my secret countdown
above the uncontrollable murmur of assembly.
His yellow tank top and thrift store shoes betrayed him
and he was old enough to know
that we saw him in trailer-width rooms,
learning to ride his bike on gravel driveways,
playing with the toys we had discarded.
And he saw me for what I was —
a boy who stood back from doorways, never made fists,
a choir boy, her lipstick perpetually on my cheek.

Wednesday. The day after the day after tomorrow. Thursday. One more day and last assembly.

In that final night we gathered in the gymnasium for a farewell dance where
he found me in the dark, slid up from behind and grabbed my collar,
and twisted my lanyard like a noose around my slender neck,
my stomach knotted like the nylon cord as he corked it tighter.
And he laughed at me:
a long loud rattling presentation
and his eyes scanned the room for those who would laugh along.

And as his pupils raced I balled my fingers into a tight fist,
my palms sweaty, my bitten crags of fingernails
buzzing against flesh
and I went for his mouth
a frustrated flailing of my right arm towards his lip
and my knuckles connected with the sinews of his jaw,
the sound louder than I expected,
the force of my swing passing through his teeth and gums and tongue
and into the twist of his neck and out into nothing, throwing my my feet off balance
his eyes jarred and shuttered out of instinct, and he reached for me
jaw hanging open
breath sucked tight behind his crooked teeth
cracked lips shiny with crimson spit
he clutched my shoulder to steady me
and his hands were fists familiar and practiced
forced three times into my stomach
just below my ribs,
the breath thrust from my lungs
and I fell to the gym floor gasping for air,
gasping for forgiveness from the counselors
who were now running towards him,
were wrapping their hands around the tension in his wrists.

We were spilling with possibility —
me down there genuflecting for breath, balling my fists,
and he up there being pulled away,
his heart like a knife
looking for something small and fearful and easy to cut open,
for real weakness to expose, for real blood to draw forth
and carry him into the arms of those other kids
whether out of fear, or respect, or honor.

I opened my throat
and let the stale gymnasium soak my lungs —
my knuckles still tingled with the memory of his jaw,
my frustration seeped steadily into pride.

Tomorrow, just tomorrow. Just wait until tomorrow.

Rediscovering Old Work

Going back through some old work today for a point of reference on some new writing I’m doing. I’m stumbling across things I have little to no recollection of writing.

In late 2003, Avenues were working on what would eventually become our EP, These Years Come To Rest. I had a very vivid idea of what I wanted our next recorded work to be about, and this came from a very real and personal place, but I struggled more than I would have liked in the actual writing of that concept. I’ve got pages upon pages of freewriting– hours spent blankly scrawling whatever came to mind. Looking back today, I’m surprised to see how effective this practice was — even writing “nonsense” with no self-editing, in retrospect, was laying all the concepts out on the table. I had more than enough material here to seam together a complete narrative.

The piece below is the most surprising to me — it’s almost structured enough that I’d consider it a finished work, and a pretty succinct summary of exactly what was going on in my head in those days immediately after graduating college. It’s a bit stream of consciousness (typically not my thing), but I guess that’s kind of the point here.

*******

November Eighteenth Two Thousand Three. A Crisis of Beliefs.

I looked back. everything was close to me. interstate lines and hotel rooms. a morning met too soon. I set things down, couldn’t keep them in. a flood that sweeps from within. There’s light in a window miles away. you are there, I think. shifting light without me. I knew the first day. things would end this way. salt and sea. we’d drift apart. I believed. the bus stop. your last request. words secular and sweet seeping from my breath. my fingers trace. every word refers to you.

this might have been what I wanted. a hundred nights. a river wide. a parting scene. parked cars and gasoline. I waited for something to come, something to stalk up from behind and take me. something to mean. anything to believe. something that gives. a silent ending to relive. a year to regret.

I looked back. I didn’t breathe. you still hold a part of me. you still hold a part of me. you still hold a part of me. a hotel room, a night or two. eleven hundred days full of you.