Penstroke

“You can stroke people with words.” – F. Scott Fitzgerald

Yours is the sort of hypnotic fancy I’d have liked to put my heart in, as I huddled in an empty terminal at 3:27 am with my trenchcoat and notebook rumpled on my knees, sleepless and wrecked by nocturnal solitude. That endless florescent night, I prayed to unapproachable gods (one more time) that I, composed of letter and sound, could transcend the treacherous black cartography; that I could swim languorously through the unfathomable span of waves and graze his cheek with dexterous pen and ink; that someone could subsist on breath and water alone while each bounty of epicurean sensuality languished in the shadow of language’s luminosity. To have graphite hands and fingerprints of written impress, to reach him with every word and thrush of hope, limbs folded as an envelope and my mouth as the cool corner stamp: a delirious half-dream as I waited to be carried off by the great white wing. 

Meanwhile, someplace I could no longer reach, he held my paper essence in his hand and placed my lettered soul upon the highest shelf, perhaps believing for an instant your blithe fantasy of living word and voices rendered corporeal. And like you, I used to believe that this body was withered transience, decaying conduit for an undefinable holy something, that the real substance was whatever I could fathom in the boundless amorphism of an aberrant headspace. These days, the shatter of grief and absence dismantles my chest in the same measure that it wracks the strange, virescent landscape. These days, I remember the unified duality of self as he asked in one breath for my body and the cowering soul inside, the tender brush of heartstrings moving through my skin. These days, there’s no defining phrase or definite hope to cleave to, but still the poetry spills over, and I shake my head at its dismal perseverance.

These days I am no longer so sure of anything, except perhaps the bleak insufficience of paltry verse and love that you read but cannot sense. Maybe some scribe more masterful and wise could manage that fantastic penstroke, that miracle of language I can’t pretend to possess. But please do not speak to me of dreams impossible, of soft touches fashioned from distant lips, of caresses gleaned from typewriters and keyboards. Here is my discourse and here is my heart, but the former cannot fathom anything that will suffice as limbs moving through worn white sheets, a hand outstretched and taken in the dark.

Dreamscapes (I-V.)

I.
Undefinable,
though you will ask for some
careful and cogent precision
regardless.

Should I tell you
through the odd tilt of hours and pixel,
or incise the leather and pulp
with some new miracle of acumen?

When you are no longer
flattened to a laughing hologram
frigid to touch and sad to hold,

or the moment when we need
to hear and say it most?

II.
A girl on a fishing dock
looks east and whispers
to the bodies sleeping underwater.
Schools of silver flick
and twirl in cavernous skulls
masked in feathered green,
in the white cages dissolved
of any lasting substance.

Do you see them too ? she asks,
looking to the mob of tooth and claw
slinking along the foothills.
Call out to them, hold out
your palm and whistle soft.
They can’t hurt you anymore.

I like to picture her in white,
a modern Emily Dickinson with
a pocket of scrap and petal
sewn above her thigh.

III.
A thousand origami hearts
hung from heaven by thread
and twine, celestial ramparts
athrum with the creased thud
of our boundless epicenter.

Yours is quiver and sigh,
weak tremor of
ventricle and pulse.

I cannot snare the rhythm,
though I claimed to know it well.

IV.
When I was a child I often drew
the optical illusion of two faces
fading as a vase as twin
silhouettes as a black candlestick,
an hourglass, and so on.

A sly indentation, and there
a nose, ornate
metalwork, a bulge of lip
or porcelain, it always
depends on what you want to see.

V.
You, in the cold western
valley, slumped at your
writing desk while I read
to your dreams endless
verses, poetry and the stars:

here is my formal redress,
left where I believe you’ll find it.

Work poem

It is such that I can only
think of them in small
gasps of glimpse
and blink

a scent I catch
on a stranger’s
black collar, the
instance of bitter
sweet respite

as I lean against
the kitchen sink
with my head
in calloused hands,

flickers of voice and light
slipping down
the drain.

Fight or flight (we’re running out of options)

What did you think?
That distance and
inward difference
would drive out
the inexorable,
obfuscate the clarity
of ghastly recollection,
dull the rusted tip
of memory’s unspeakable knife?

You’re in the center
of interminable winter,
the stark white faces
of immortal demons
bearing scarlet teeth
and singing for the offering
that quivers under your skin.

Delusional to dream
that the landscape
would morph
over the course of
casual vagrancy,
that the sinister terminus
of winding blacktops
would diminish in its
abominable potence.

Don’t think we don’t see how you choke-
your throat closes with every voyage
into the caliginous domain of insidious horrors,
headspace reeling and amygdala aflame as
the technicolor film plays out in every corner;
you’re bleeding out the strength you sought and won,
seething with unshakeable panic and pleading
for some goddamn reprieve from these black inundations,
shrieking in your sleep when unconsciousness
can’t vanquish the monsters that slithered
through your ear and
into every dream.

This is fight or flight honey,
and you’ve already tried
the latter.

So for the sake of
salvageable sanity
and those who redeem
this noxious wasteland
into something livable,
find a means to subsist,
a way to exist with dignity

in the midst of the devil’s
playground.