how many people here are dead?
it’s an honest question. dead inside.
yeah yeah you’re all alive, you got a heartbeat,
but in mid day on the weekend
you’re staring out at the sunshine
from your dark, listless bedroom,
staring at computer screens or paper pads
waiting for inspiration to strike.
where is it? where is it?
you’re trawling the depths of your heart,
ripping your emotional muscle fibers,
growing the thick, dense muscle
needed to support your weighty state of mind.
how many of you are dead?
head lolling along your neckline,
twisting verbiage in your mind,
waiting for that next big thing?
you read that stephen king book.
you know writing takes practice,
you know things take practice,
and months later in your dead-end job
your corner store groceries
your pale wispy skin
your permanent scowl
somehow you realize with pained regret
that you don’t want the practice,
you want the end result.
you want the writing botox.
the injection is clean and quick.
you get what you want: a facade of success,
the flat painted to look like rome
when you’re in a black box theater in boise, idaho.
you’re all dead. we’re all dead.
we’re searching for life and we’re already dead.
how many people here are dead?
you asked me what i was passionate about,
and i thought
and i thought
and i thought
and nothing bubbled up
so i said, “i don’t know”
and looked forlornly at the blank wall
of our apartment, slightly biting my bottom lip.
i tried, i plumbed the depths in search
of something to latch on to,
something bright that would light the corners of your smile
when you saw the finished product.
but there was nothing,
and it didn’t feel bad, or off, or sad, or numb.
i thought about the buddha, meditating underneath the tree.
am i doing that? i thought during brisk morning showers
shaving quickly, tying ties, draping myself in cloth.
my mind made montages of your falling face.
my mind raced with answers to a question
that i didn’t know needed answering.
how do i find what lights you up.
how do i hook you in to me?
where is satisfaction.
i watch your eyes grazing the morning newspaper,
clad in panties and socks,
softly crunching on toast with butter.
the crumbs like dark freckles on your pale breasts.
i kiss your forehead, i run my hand through tangled hair.
running out of answers.
bungee jumping, scuba diving, literature, theatre, art,
hanging out with friends, stabbing myself with swords,
anything, video games, drinking myself to oblivion,
shooting TVs like elvis, jump rope, making square pancakes,
anything, anything, i could try it all and feel no dopamine.
we fuck and that’s great
but that has passion embedded in it
and when the lights are low and red
and we are underneath the warm light
of the patio behind the bar,
the middle of winter,
your friends discussing something
my ears are not tuned
and i am thinking of …. what.
what am i thinking of.
you ask in pillow talk and i can’t answer.
i have no answer. i have all answers.
“i don’t know.”
“nothing.” but i am always.
i’m thinking of how to keep you
and show you i am worth your time.
but i don’t know how.
and i am treading water.
and i am drowning.
i’m sitting in your lap.
and i’ve got my arms wrapped around your neck
and i’m looking into your eyes
and gently tousling the hair on the back of your head.
and my body, my brain, we’re all wondering:
“this surge of energy knotting up my chest,
is this love? or is it just adrenaline coursing through,
expecting sex or connection?”
the laptop has some netflix show on.
we ate pasta, rigatoni in a robust marinara,
the kind with chunks of tomato and garlic,
mushrooms and basil, the kind that fills you up.
i can smell you, the soft scent of dinner
mixed with whatever deodorant you’re wearing,
as well as that irresistible smell of man that some men have.
i’ve been with so many men in varying degrees of “been”
that i couldn’t tell you what love is anymore,
that every time it creeps near me it wears a different mask,
sometimes catches me unawares,
sometimes wrestles me to the ground
like a luchadore.
with you i am silent, a purring kitten,
reading an old magazine while you write
platitudes to old girlfriends on your blog.
i get it; you’ve learned something from all of them.
the lurch in the pit of my stomach
is only a reaffirmation of this strange love for you
that bubbles up like alka-seltzer
dropped in a glass cup of still water.
the thing is a whimper that came with a bang
and blood the intestinal distress signal
that brought it. we linger in languid pools of fear waiting
for an inevitable answer, blanched by hospital lights,
kept awake by black lukewarm proto-coffee.
why does this always happen during the holidays?
i ponder as i wander to the edge of the land,
reeling from the lunchtime reveal,
staring out at the willamette colored by gray skies
and brown earth, remembering knee-deep snow drifts
as we collectively brought our father through the ER,
standing around him before they sliced his belly open
and fixed his blood vessels so his legs could breathe again.
and now, the healthiest one of us has a mass
mutating in his intestines, an error in coding,
a message from god: “your time is done
whether you like it or not.” and me, a state away,
destined to observe from the sidelines as usual,
crying on the trampled grass of the esplanade.
at first it felt like an earthquake
which slammed an enormous mountain into existence in front of me,
towering over my head, an epiphany of impossibilities.
but what it ended up being was more of a psychic charley horse,
a swift, stinging pain in my emotional center
followed by two years of dull aching.
i limped around my life during this point, unsure of what to do.
the only solace, to continue the metaphor, was to put pressure on it
and hobble around and wait for the cramp to ease up,
and even after it did, like i said, the ache remained,
so much so that when i tried to massage it
i was only reminded that it was there.
i went to therapy. i took some pills. they asked me how i got to that point.
i didn’t know what to say. how does anyone get to any point?
all we know is when to look back
and feel amazed or shocked at where we’ve come.
i felt nothing. the pressure kept emotions from getting out.
i didn’t even know how i got there–
two years had passed and i was the same,
maybe a dollar more per hour in my paycheck,
my friends sloughing away like dead skin,
my eyes slumped over with the weight of the dismal world i kept watching
stacked on my back, like bricks building a shit house.
kept to myself, slept soundly, counted every heartbeat.
and here i am, all these years later, still afraid to ease the pressure,
still curious as to what it is that’s made me so decrepit
and kept me from feeling content.