31 July 2016
UPDATE: This poem was selected for publication! Please see the details below…
11 July 2k15
Greetings, Dear Reader. It seems my earlier optimism regarding signal reacquisition was…a bit hasty. Nevertheless, I am still writing; still nurturing that sacred ember of creative flame which came so perilously close to dying in a cruel wind. And with that thought, I offer you a new poem. This one I dedicate to everyone…for each of us deals with our own measure of misery. And comparing them does a disservice to us all.
It is in the empathy we bring to the suffering of other living beings which is the true measure of our own humanity.
Little mottled lizard in the yard
has become permanently entangled
in a gnarled chunk of six-pack plastic;
and like a tree grown around a nail
it is now an inherent part of him.
His left hind leg has become hobbled,
but he frenetically scoots around still,
flicking his tongue past a rotten knot
of the stuff that has grown monstrous
into the right side of his throat, and down to stomach.
Clearly, he has bitten off more than he can chew.
Leaving little doubt the little lizard’s days are numbered too.
For at bugs, he is too slow to catch more than a few,
Of the lady lizard, he will certainly never woo.
I want to catch him and pickpeel the plastic,
so like a tumorous growth, from his invaded body.
My fingers itch to tweeze the brittle, no-morsel of it from his throat.
However, he is still much faster than the fumbling likes of me.
surprising itchy pain, then instant fresh-skin relief
as a child. When a doctor once scrape-pulled
a knuckle of brownish, lumpy wax
right out of my ear, like a magician’s trick.
Of course, I did not even know it was there;
but once the awful waxy scab had gone,
that liberated patch of skin was all I could feel.
For days, that tactile memory
of its dislodging stayed with me,
at once delicious
yet shudderingly abhorrent.
And that Yard Lizard, scratch skittering
his burden across the savanna of grass,
he haunts my dreams.
…I can never catch him,
nor fix what has gone so badly astray.
Please go to:
Cirque: A Literary Journal of Alaska and the Pacific Northwest to find this poem in full glory.
13 February 2015
Welcome back, Dear Reader, I know it’s been many moons since you’ve heard a word from me. However, it was not for a lack of desire, nor exhaustive attempts on my part, I assure you. It’s hard to get to the point when that point has been stuck in your back for so long it’s getting hard to remember what life was like before the assault. When you are at aphelion, the furthest point from your sun, for so long that ice builds in your beard, pizza delivery is impossible, and makes a lost television remote a really big deal. But I’m getting ahead of myself. The point is that for the last year or so I’ve had Writer’s Block.
“Holy crap!” I can hear you right now, Gentle Reader, “A Year!?! What the hell’s wrong with you, man? What’s the matter with your head? You wrote nothing worthy in a whole year? You must be full of hyperbole, or something else, right?”
To which I reply, in all seriousness, that it was like dancing on a gallows.
I implore you to consider what would happen if you were denied that which fulfills you the most in life…if the magic that drags you out of bed every damn morning suddenly up and poof! disappeared. What would happen if the sweet water of the Rock of Your Life just dried up one day? And left you forever searching for what you knew, rather than for what’s to come. It renders you incomplete.
After enough time something in you breaks. And once broken, whether or not you heal is entirely up to you. No doctor can offer a prognosis, and no treatment exists to cure it. It is a pitiless crucible that must be endured, then patiently recovered from. Yes, yes, very dramatic. But how did it occur?
That’s the question. What could happen that would result in being Blocked that long? The truth requires a candor that remains uncomfortable to share—yet necessary for you to understand—the genesis of the Scourge evolved years ago, along with a nasty case of what my head-doctors call Major Depressive Disorder. And let me tell you, that can fuck you up bad. I nearly committed suicide a number of times, and inevitably wound up in the revolving door of our local version of Arkham Asylum. Called API colloquially, the Alaska Psychiatric Institute is a conundrum of good intention and awful application. I wouldn’t wish that Pest House on my worst enemy. With mandatory stops at a Psych ward in the local hospital a few times for good measure, I’ve slunked my way along the back alleys of Alaska’s burgeoning Insanity Market.
But that’s another story.
Overcoming Writer’s Block is the subject of this, my first post in many years. Most authors vie with the Scourge at least once. Many have written on the subject far more eloquently than I ever will. For instance, Phillip Sidney, author of Astrophel and Stella among other works, wrote,
“Biting my truant pen, beating myself for spite:
‘Fool!’, said my Muse to me,
‘Look in thy heart and Write.”
A bit of brilliance I’ve never forgotten, even when I write nothing but hopeless shite. David Carr, the Titan of Journalism who recently passed away, was once asked his favorite cure for writer’s block, to which he replied, “Typing”. Hah!
He later elaborated that to, “Keep typing until it turns into writing.”
Which is actually pretty good advice, I have to admit. But nobody ever talks about the grueling work that involves. The aching back, the bleary eyes, and inexorable headaches in my case. The isolation from humanity, endless late nights and ignored phone calls. The malnutrition, and tendency to mainline coffee and various other complicated molecules.
Not to mention the Scourge lurking in wait over by my refrigerator…just waiting for me to give up and try to rest. It waits until I’m wallowing in my failure, then it pounces and with abominably-strong insectile arms, it shakes all the Words right back out of me. Before scuttling away to watch me scream hysterically and sob on the floor. Then miserably start to pull my shit together…again.
So, what was it like living a year with the Scourge? Many friends, of whom a fair number are also writers, have asked with various mixtures of genuine concern, naked curiosity, honest empathy, and even the occasional schadenfreude. Time and again I’ve tried in despair to answer that question without sounding utterly inane, or worse like a condescending prick; and each time I’ve gotten desperately lost attempting to find my way back from that merciless Purgatory. And so it was, three nights ago and later than usual; my epic celebration of the End of the Scourge was still firing on full-auto, catapulting pianos out into the moonlight, as the ceiling kept threatening to come crashing down around my head. It was in the midst of that chaos that I decided to write you a fable, Gentle Reader, the history of an epoch in the life of a poet with writer’s block. As you read a few things will become apparent: This is more than an emotional analogy, it’s also an intimate fête of language, a personal journey back into beloved wordscapes. And a barely edited, first-draft expedition which I am honored you have elected to join me on. Many of you with knowledge of science will notice that I’m playing hideously fast and loose with astrophysics; cooking a sort of galactic gumbo to fit my narrative. I apologize if anyone feels irked, yet I remain unashamed. This is, after all, science-fiction. I suggest you buckle up and enjoy the ride. For this isn’t really an essay, Dear Reader, or even a short story. This is a love note to you, wrapped in a fairy tale. And it really does begin in a galaxy far, far away…
The Lacrimosa of Leonard by DC McKenzie
“We work in the dark, we do what we can, we give what we have. Our doubt is our passion and our passion is our task. The rest is the madness of art.” ~Henry James
I. On the fear inherent in a five-pound sledgehammer—
Seven billion, thirteen million, four hundred seventy thousand years ago a star of the type we refer to as a supergiant faced a personal crisis such as it had never experienced. Indeed, it had never even suspected that such a thing was possible. The star, whose name was Leonard, had been dwelling peacefully in one of the more fashionable neighborhoods near its galactic center; for billions of years it spun, merrily munching Hydrogen and engaging in its one true calling. You see, Leonard was a poet. I understand your confusion. All stellar bodies are quite shy around such fragile beings as mammals, so it’s not widely known, or accepted, that nearly all stars and their various cousins are artists of one kind or another. And for them it’s a deadly serious vocation, there are no dilettante stellar artists; they literally live for their art. For reasons understood only to them, most stars prefer sculpture. Except for an astral clique including quasars, pulsars and magnetars, who tend toward fabulously intricate music and eclectic performance art. Earth-bound sculptors make do with marble, bronze, car fenders, and other assorted mediums; but that’s only because they’ve never gotten the opportunity to work with thermonuclear plasma. Leonard marched to its own tune however. Poetry and fusion were its only real interests. Of course, being a star, it was heavily into astronomy and astrophysics too. But that’s like saying breakfast cereal is really into milk. For uncounted eons Leonard burned glorious, composing poems of such radical and penetrating pulchritude, of such emotional delicacy that entire galaxies subtly altered their trajectory just to absorb the hissing signals of radiation that make up the stellar language.
Then came the crisis. A rouge planet spun into the vast boundary of the star’s heliosphere. Frozen nearly to its core, the orphan planet nevertheless radiated intense waves and exotic particles of such exquisiteness that Leonard’s imagination immediately fired a series of coronal mass ejections in its equivalent of delighted laughter. It settled into the half-meditative state where it composed drafts of poems.
But something new occurred. Which in itself was cause for immediate, total attention, as new things very rarely happen to stellar bodies…and when something new does occur, it’s seldom for the best. This anomaly was deeply troubling, and sent ripples of agitation billowing across the many thousands of kilometers which comprised the star’s seething photosphere. The fluid, frictionless organic mechanism that had for so long allowed it to weave word-symbols now stuttered and shook. It heaved, then boomed nauseatingly, as if behemoth gears had skewed off of their capstans and now broke teeth, grinding stumps as the ancient apparatus of art came to a lurching halt. This was quickly followed by an entirely new emotion that took a while to sort out; a suffocating feeling which it was astonished to identify as sheer, utter panic. This was expressed in the form of rising storms of arcing loops of magnetic plasma, each many thousands of kilometers high, across the breadth of the star. While below the storm, tendrils of real fear stole over Leonard as it felt the disturbance dig its way deep into the star’s chromosphere. These were emotions that it had never known, not once in its multitudinous millennia of life. Yet, Leonard was not some newly ignited star wobbling in its first orbit. It had been tempered in a legendary conflagration of creation and survived. Struggling fiercely for emotional balance, and control of its rapidly rising rate of hydrogen fusion, a single thought crystalized, Leonard had writer’s block.
Invariably, writers of every stripe can tell horror stories about that dreadful limbo ominously labeled as ‘Writer’s Block’. A more apt name would be Word Purgatory. In its most extreme forms it has driven authors insane, has even spurred some to suicide. In other cases it rams a chisel of havoc into a writer’s life, cleaving from our minds the thumbs of our art. Scattering these precious tools like so much useless, splintered bone and tissue. It erodes the intricate clockwork of creativity, oxidizing meticulous synapse-transistors that take decades of dedication and toil to connect. Writer’s Block is the mental equivalent of having a sociopath break into your house one night with a five-pound sledgehammer who yanks you out of bed and nails your feet to the floor with railroad spikes.
II. The Electron Mutiny— Every Celestial Being dreams. Dreaming is, after all, the Realm of Artists. Although all creatures inhabit the dreaming as a vital part of that state we call being alive, be it a human, a dolphin or a quasar. Regardless of discipline or medium, Dreaming is a second home to any artist. Since the crisis, Leonard invariably dreamt of Words—vivid dreams of the euphoria so similar to fusion, when each word fits effortlessly among the rest; often feeling as if a deity guided it in creation. Yet each time upon waking the ghastly numbness remained. Dreaming became a torture.
Orbit by orbit, forty-seven million years and some change ticked by. Existence becoming more unbearable with each torturous circumgyration, Leonard had gradually spun into an alarmingly erratic trajectory. Concurrently, the star had methodically, and occasionally frantically, fought to reassemble its atomic essence into a semblance of stability; although the thermonuclear reactor which was its secret core had been savaged by the experience. The grueling process of pulling its shit together had metaphorically ripped its fingernails to ragged stumps. But the star at last achieved a measure of its natural harmony once again. Not without serious damage however, for it recognized signs that it was in deep shock.
Leonard found it could not stop unceasingly seeking the familiar flow of word-symbols it had for millennia spun like arcane spells. Though it was utter futility. Exhaustion and a profound loneliness had stolen over Leonard in that millennia, so insidiously that eventually the disease of Depression felt normal, as if life had always been this way.
The epoch passed, a torturous trickle of time, while magnetic storms raged over its agonized photosphere, sending pressure waves into the depths. Unconcerned with its health, Leonard grieved inconsolably at the loss of the Words. Unbeknownst to it, neighboring galaxies sent frantic signals back and forth, enormously concerned at their sibling’s anguish. Yet, the Celestial Congress reluctantly respected Leonard’s desire for solitude. Although its home galaxy in the Virgo Supercluster quietly began collecting the poet’s seven billion year oeuvre; afraid to question their own motives for such an act but doing so anyway. Reaching out to individual stars, solemn pulsars, maniacal quasars, the surly magnetars, even the usually reticent, lonely blackholes, each unique living creation in the vast supercluster was polled. They even took to beseeching far-flung constellations—appealing to the courts of Dark Star monarchs, the super blackholes reigning from the event-horizons of their sovereign galaxies. Finally they sang out to the light-years wide familial stellar nursery where Leonard was ignited so long ago. Lovingly, the librarians scoured the Void for Leonard’s poems. The Supergiant star’s neighbors, however, were engaged in a wholly different ritual. A ceremony we might relate to as a funeral, a mass funeral at that. But we would be woefully off the mark. For this was the most ancient rite in their society. The first of their great Covenant, the primordial Sacrament of Transcendence. As every sentient astral body anywhere near Leonard solemnly, yet paradoxically with an ardent, volatile joy, prepared for the Metamorphosis.
Meanwhile, from pole to pole the constant expansion created in its imminent peril hurled angry waves of plasma out into the universe. Driving inward tornados of unstable mass thousands of kilometers down through the radiation zone into the convection zone. Scattering a sea of photons who had been arduously walking their random way for thousands of years up from infernal depths to swarming skin. During this cycle of expansion and contraction, its first two inner planets were engulfed. A third briefly became a planetary cinder before exploding, the ashes driven out on the raving solar wind. Leonard tried anew to push away the smothering panic which had thus far proven irresistible, making decisions arduous to hang on to. Groping for clarity, it found only confusion. Even as the upheaval continued, sending swelling shockwaves throughout the massive body of the star, the gyres of excited gasses widened, and expanded exponentially as the rate of fusion all through the star surged phenomenally. Oxygen and carbon joined the riot, along with magnesium and neons. Sub-atomic particles flashed into being, and decayed just as fast, wholly surprised by the turn of events. In the ensuing alarm and wretched misery, Leonard’s mind attempted to render reality as it had always known it, receiving instead surreal visions, and hallucinations of torment. Death signals swarmed through the enormous, sentient sphere. Gravity, long its friend and ally, viciously stabbed the star in the back; a betrayal of such disaster that even a Shakespearean play couldn’t properly portray it. In truth, nothing less than a goddamned Greek tragedy could even approach the boundaries of such treachery. A finely-tuned force capable of balancing creation on the head of a quark, gravity now became a brutish troll; radically compressing gases and molecules, steadily squeezing the life out of Leonard like a midnight strangler. Abruptly halting the star’s massive expansion in a thunderclap of energy that blasted away from the star in a furious ring of magnetically charged plasma, moving at a frightening fraction of the speed of the light it had just created.
From the torrential photosphere down to the furnace of Leonard’s core, gravitational collapse rocketed the temperature within the star to lethal limits. The first new iron molecules fused…flowing molten death into its hysterical heart. The virtually instantaneous absorption of energy initiated a rapid collapse, which reheated and restarted the awful process. Atoms continued energetically ejecting electrons. Protons and electrons fused into neutrons…huge masses of neutrinos began their volatile journey across the cosmos. As ever more iron fused into the core, Death cackled like lightning through the fusion reactor of Leonard’s heart.
III. Après moi, le Feu… Time did a strange thing, strange even to a being who is billions of years old. Or rather Leonard noticed that time had been doing this strange thing for, well…that’s the thing about time, isn’t it? The frantic star had no way of knowing just how long time had been crawling along at a fraction of its normal pace. But it was. In its current perspective, it was a fraction of a fraction in observable space/time. Consequently, each and every minuscule reaction, right up to the sum aggregate of catastrophic change that was occurring in the revolution of mass was an intimate part of Leonard’s awareness. It felt each atom disastrously disassembled; and each new one created tear itself into reality. Immense, ballooning dread slithered through Leonard, instinctual, centered in the foundations of its very Self. A mind-gobbling terror that defied description yet begged for one; simply in an attempt to encompass the arrant enormity of what it was experiencing. Had it known, Leonard would have recognized that it was similar to the terror that grips Terran animals frozen before the headlights of a few tons of rocketing Detroit Steel with the unfortunate word Dodge emblazoned on the front of it. An irony which is, if truth be told, not lost on most animals thus doomed; as much as we tell ourselves otherwise. So too, poor Leonard was transfixed; gripped in that pure, primal horror. All the while a lethal internal chain reaction cycled furiously up into a monstrous machine in molecular mockery of the elegant engine the star had been hitherto. Yet, though devoured by fear, a crack of clarity allowed a lightning-strike thought to penetrate the pandemonium: More than Poet, Leonard had been created for this very reason.
It had been inevitable. From the initial collapse of gases that had ignited the star, its Moment of Coalescence, this had been its Fate. What was about to occur had been written into its protons when this Universe banged itself to life. The spreading mutiny of electron exchange was in full-tilt boogie now, and every star is born knowing the outcome of such a calamity. Plagued still by the Word Purgatory that had been the catalyst for this destiny, Leonard profoundly regretted that it would not be able to compose a final poem. Until, from the cloud of its misery and dismay, an epiphany surfaced out of the turmoil: the star understood that this metamorphosis would indeed be its greatest poem ever. The overwhelming fear and panic subsided.
In Extremis, Leonard was able to glimpse a far flung future waiting uncounted billions of orbits from its own place in space/time. It beheld that some of the cosmic particles created in its own metamorphosis would one day be a ghostly part of a fragile, DNA-based life form. A tragic being, but no less beautiful for it, one of teeming millions who would itself be a poet. This poet was doomed to face a similar emotional typhoon at the Loss of Words. A primeval wellspring hidden within the particles of this delicate being would be Leonard’s influence—its eons of experience in the fires of creation would help save the poor creature. Though this being would never know that it was Leonard that had saved it. This knowledge, gained in the agony of implosion, gave such ineffable hope to Leonard that it gladly surrendered. And was immediately engulfed in a euphoric peace.
The now deadly core of iron fused the last remnants of fuel from its wracked body, grown critically dense. It took only a millisecond for the final transmutation—a supernova was born. Leonard was cataclysmically shredded, down to the last atom. As were Leonard’s eleven remaining planets, and their accompanying forty-seven moons. Including one majestic gas giant that died rather impressively, even compared to the devastation happening around it. Every. Thing. Burned. Every comet, asteroid, and planetismal chunk of icy rock hauling ass through space near the fury of Leonard’s undoing. Every molecule, every sub-atomic particle in a staggeringly large amount of surrounding space disintegrated in hideous agony; or was ferociously reforged into the inimitable New. The metamorphosis was brighter than ten billion stars. Light and other exuberant particles expanded in a colossal detonation traveling so savagely that it disrupted space for parsecs. Leonard’s neighbors had braced for it, but many were badly burned and mauled by the supernova. That did little, however, to silence the grand Celestial Choir that erupted throughout the Virgo Supercluster and beyond, as each new voice touched by the fire added to the joy being sung at Leonard’s Transcendence. A grandeur visible to all that dared gaze upon it for millions upon millions of light-years in Space/Time.
Try to imagine sitting on your couch, reading a book quietly, eating a hotdog, shouting at the television, writing that novel, whatever…when suddenly, with just enough warning to paralyze you with nauseating, pant-shitting terror, a smattering of seconds to smell the burning fuse, you transform into an exploding stick of fleshy, human dynamite. Your entire being become the howling rage of high-explosives fulfilling their reason for being. Now imagine your own innumerable atoms, right down to the nuclei, violently ripping themselves apart. Each becoming something fantastically divergent, as the brain-powered meatsack that was you is quite suddenly a cloud of astonished sub-atomic mass, hurtling through space/time; taking along your house and everything in it, including your ex-girlfriend’s rather nonplussed cat, your neighborhood, your city…actually, a better part of the Tectonic Plate you were sitting on mere seconds ago. You and all of that, nothing but a tsunami of exotic radiation careening into eternal Void. This sadly deficient analogy hardly begins to describe the atrocity it was for Leonard’s body; once a star abiding peacefully, now an unspeakable inferno changing all that it touched. Its spirit, however, had discovered a tranquility which it had never known in all of its long millennia. Amidst the galactic conflagration, Time elastically snapped back into its normal, even flow. Leonard, weeping in its first real taste of peace, tumbled out of our universe and knew no more.
I mentioned that this is unedited. Having just immersed yourself in a poet’s daydream, I’d be willing to bet you noticed that it does run on, and on…I even wrote an epilogue. And that’s why I haven’t signed off. What say you? Would you like to try the epilogue on for fun? Or shall we leave Leonard at peace with the Void? In sharing this rough-hewn labor of love I hope to open a dialog with you about how Writer’s Block may have effected you, now or in the past? Please feel free to share to your heart’s content. As William Carlos Williams wrote in Tract, “…Or do you think you can shut grief in? What—from us? We who have perhaps nothing to lose? Share with us Share with us—it will be money in your pockets. Go now I think you are ready.”
…Finally, I offer my sincere thanks to you, Dear Reader. This odd, little corner of the interwebs would be a desert were it not for the oasis of you.
DC McKenzie 13 February 2015
SETI is pleased to announce the confirmed Reacquisition of the DRA Signal on 30 January 2015, at 09:10:11 GMT. While signal strength is not optimal at this time, the Signal has apparently resumed transmitting just as mysteriously as it began.
Inside sources report that transmissions from the enigmatic, and often incomprehensible, Signal dubbed, Dawn Runs Amok also known as DC0268z would likely resume with regularity. “Currently,” said a high-placed source on conditions on anonymity, “the first signal is being deciphered, although work has been slowed as some passages require a copy of the Necronimicon. However, the decoded message will be posted as soon as transcription is complete.”
21 April 2k10
Tonight my friend is in the hospital. He is dying. Yet, lingering in a vegetative state, many would say he is already gone. His heart beats, a machine fills his lungs like a bellows, another machine regulates his medication, and monitors his vital signs, however his mind is…disconnected. He is dying. It was an accident, one that could have been avoided, except that he was drunk, which is suspected of being a contributing factor. In truth it could happen to any of us: while walking home, he slipped on a treacherous remnant of winter ice and fell on his head. In happens in the blink of an eye: One moment my friend was making his way through this life, the next moment he was clinging to that life.
And though this is terrible in itself, the truth of this is far more tragic. The truth is that we knew he was in crisis. We, his few friends, knew he was struggling with depression and alcoholism. Of course, we tried to help, some more than others. Still, we all tried. But he can be difficult to communicate with, brilliant and troubled, often recalcitrant. and…and…and…bullshit, all of it.
The truth is that I had my own problems, my disability, my own acute depression, and when he did reach out to me I avoided his calls. And eventually, my friend stopped calling.
Given that we were both fighting depression, and suicidal ideation, I thought of my friend often. I knew that, like me, he was isolating. That he was breaking beneath the weight of pain and loneliness. I knew that he was self-medicating with alcohol. Nevertheless, I didn’t call him.
For me, alcohol is an issue, mainly because many years ago I also drank…before the brain surgery, before the onset of ‘major depressive disorder’. And back when I drank I invariably turned into an asshole. It took a while for me to wise up, I lost friends, I lost girlfriends, I lost self-respect from my actions while drunk. Seven years ago I quit drinking. I stopped because I finally realized that I did not like the person I was when I drank, that it brought out the worst in me. Luckily, I quit before I became a full-blown alcoholic.
Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for my friend. He was suffering, and like so many countless souls he self-medicated to dull the pain, and the unspeakable emptiness that depression creates in us. I feel that because of this he became a chronic alcoholic. And I should make it extremely clear that he did not become an asshole when drunk; he was always a good man, even when he was in misery. Still, despite however nice people are, I admit I still have real difficulty dealing with a drunk person. In truth? Perhaps I can’t stand to see what used to be me.
This went on for a few years as he deteriorated. We worried. We all tried to help him, but he wouldn’t have it. He kept slowly self-destructing and it was so painful to see that many of us looked away. To my shame, that is exactly what I did.
The last time he called me, I didn’t answer the phone. I know he was reaching out for help because no one calls that late without a serious reason. I stared at the phone and rationalized that I would call him back the next day, when I was better able to deal with his pain, better able to help him…after all I could barely help myself at the time. So, I didn’t answer the phone. He never called again. And tonight he is dying.
My friend spent day after day living with the belief that he could not escape the wretched cycle. This is what depression does to you. It whispers that you are alone in your despair, that there can be no escape. It is a cancer of the soul.
As he lies alone in the hospital I am drinking, something far worse than alcohol. Tonight, I drink the cup of regret. It tastes of the bitter guilt of trading my own peace of mind for having empathy for a friend who needed help. As I drink this cup, I beg you: learn from my mistake. If there is someone you care for who is suffering do not let them pull away, regardless of how hard they try. Do not give in to the corrosion that eats away at love and empathy. As frightening as confronting depression can be, if you see signs of someone who is in crisis do not be afraid to talk with them, it could save their life. Sometimes people are screaming for help on the inside and yet it’s still so very hard to hear.
He is dying. Don’t wait until it’s too late. Don’t put it off until you find yourself like me, sitting in front of a screen futilely searching for a way to say, “I’m sorry.”
Close Cover Before Striking
My friend Tom walks and talks—
He slouches through the day
the noxious TNT distillate of Depression,
the cloying soulsap rendered from rage:
He has made a bomb of his heart.
The Tombomb works his job and wonders why—
He has built an Anti-Tom device,
it is hidden under an oilcloth against the walls of his chest.
He is surprised every time he finds it
ticktickticking sinister beside the fleshbricks of his ribcage.
Much like finding a landmine in a plate of mashed potatoes,
he is not sure what to do.
The Tombomb loves (screams) and does not remember—
He rocks but does not roll.
Waking to a new day, he finds the old one wired into his heart.
He stands in the bathroom and will not look in the broken mirror.
He shuffles to table, and staring into coffee, toys with the fuse.
She wants to take cover, yet every morning she diffuses him
…red wire…green wire…blue wire…green wire…red wire…
only to find fresh solder sweating from his heart by night.
The Tombomb wishes Things Were Different—
He has seized himself for a hostage.
He sits in the driveway and says, ‘No…No, nothing’s wrong.’
But I can see in his arms that he is holding the Bomb.
His pleas for lightning go unheeded,
as I back slowly away, with
Fumes bleed into the air, which shimmers around him
like a desert mirage, distorting all that he can see.
The Tombomb has a fuse but he cannot find a match.
16 January 2k11
This poem is for all of us who have been raked over the coals by the Universe. This one is for the down-hearted, the down-trodden, the down-on-their-luck, and the down-for-the-count. This is for those forever alone. This is for the outcast and for the untouchables. This is for those who endlessly toil that others may eat and be warm. This is for we who have been tempered in the fire of pain, depression, and trauma only to rise stronger for it.
When Death comes for you, when fighting and fleeing are futile,
remember the Blacklight Rat, and decide how you shall greet the Reaper.
For mortal though we be, our souls are eternal and free…
Parable of the Blacklight Rat
As a teenrager, infected with
an acute outbreak of angst,
there hung above my bed
a blacklight poster portraying
in vivid-violet hues
the last great act
of defiance by a doomed Rat:
Standing lonely on a bleak cliff,
bathed in moonlight, is Rat.
Meanwhile, plummeting down upon him
from its cold aerie of starlit stone,
comes the feather-swoop of a hunter deadly—
Eagle plunging out of the indigo night.
Ill-fated, foreseeing no salvation
other than to go out with his boots on.
Rat elects to spend his last moment
standing defiant in the face of Death,
by flipping his executioner the finger.
Undaunted by the Scourge of Small Things:
cool grimness seen in a slight sneer
wrinkling his whiskered mug;
that steely-eyed little Rat
gave the bird the bird.
Such insolence, such obstinate
disdain for the Reaper’s raptor,
an ornithologically ordained
messenger of Winged Death itself…
well, surely this audacious outrage
shall echo to the very end of time.
Such six-gun-man-with-no-name bravura,
such contemptuous courage,
such nobility noir,
forever warms the darkest corners
of my own rodent heart.
14 May 2k9
4 West pt ii. ~Invisible
Just a few sentences from crazy
that’s all any of us are
Working in a modern madhouse
she would know
about creeping crazy
about how the bogeyman gets inside,
tied down at night
become shadows unknown
hidden away from our sight
where they are vulnerable to any bully
to take a piece of them
You could be insane and not know
so many of us are
Crazy is as crazy does as crazy is
she shudders slackly,
they say it’s not contagious
but hang around long enough
to get some good
some mental manacles tight,
to ease your plight
and then you’ll see the truth
there is no safe place
to scream, or to whisper even
in the darkness,
a few unguarded words
12 May 2k9
4 West pt. i
We are the Hallway People—
Shuffling aimless…discordant, dissonant
Flinching at the slightest touch of any stranger.
In vain, we try to decide whether
Our rooms are a sanctuary or cell:
A less than empty space
Too quiet not to be lonely
Inhabited by souls too burdened
Not to be somewhat mad…
We are the Hallway People—
Saying little, yet broadcasting much
Into air thick already with fear
And a smog of illness, but tinged with twilight hope.
When confronted, our gaze retreats,
Or lashes in sudden, defensive vehemence.
We are manimals, trapped in a fetid braincage,
Haunted by the knowledge that we squirm
In the cage by the working of our own minds:
Castles in the darkness we build
Of despair, a fortress high
Of joyous mania, spires twinkling bright…
We are the Hallway People—
Who sing a lament of the fractured mind.
Arias to love lost, and relentless, tock-ticking time;
The broken life…once so safe, so secure,
Become now a webwork of cracks and missing pieces:
A wisp of spider silk tangled in a branch
A child’s toy tossed aside…
We are the Hallway People—
Who have grown into riddles of ourselves.
We are puzzles without defined borders;
With no more than sharp edges to cling to,
Nor similitudes to find solace within.