The Warden

“Guilty!”, screamed the Jury,
“This man turned his hands on himself!”

Then the Warden did speak
to that crying coward on his knees,
“To this lost soul I do decree;
bind his fists to the walls
that he made a cell,
and he will beg and he’ll plead
that we end his misery.
You will claim this to be cruelty
As do all who’ve yet felt mercy.
Guards, hold a mirror aloft to his face
so that he may remember this well;
I am him, and he is me–
both the Jailer and the Inmate
who holds his own key.
Yes, you shattered the hand
of the author who wrote this life sentence.
Though tis you who decrees the length of your penance–
You are always free to leave.

But to first break the chains
you have to want to see them.
You mistake these shackles for an embrace
because that steel is the warmest thing
that has ever touched your face.
The bars were not built to keep you in;
they exist to keep them out.
I hope one day, you learn to yearn again for the clouds
Until then, I leave you with this lesson;

You are the warden
of your own prison.”

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I digest the distance
my appetite incessant and insatiable
I broke the chain
severed the line
like the divide of the highway
And the asphalt prophecy
offers unto me
a vision of liberation

Highlands swell and recede again
and again
like the bosom of a hungry lover
I have only these words to offer
in exchange for this grandeur
for I am but a pauper
The evergreens wear clouds
like wedding gowns
The diamond flakes of their raiment
shake off between the steps
of this stormy waltz
and melt across my unworthy skin
The dowry offered in our union
“I do, I do, I do…”

Broken Hands

I have railed and beaten my knuckles red against these walls that hold me; forgetting the callouses that formed when I had built them. The Warden holds prisoner a heart that has screamed it’s voice hoarse. But mute tongues always find other means to speak. And I’d learn to weave every sign with longing fingers, would that these broken hands not tremble so.

– I. G A L L O W S

Meditations of Midnight

It’s always in these early hours of still nights that it hits; this creeping sensation, these pangs of nostalgia and what is this…regret? Remorse? You look back on old photographs. Who is that person wearing this face? There is a loss of words for time you deem lost. Caught somewhere between wanting to mourn this person who is no longer there and trying to learn whose words these belong to now.

You can’t sleep. Formless dreams lap at your burning eyes like the tongue of an impatient hound. The hangover still lingering on in the attic somewhere and someone left a light on. Laying in the great empty space of a mattress that feels a mile wider without another. The best of you spent in sweat, empty shot glasses, and a long gone wad of tissue paper you used to cull your loins from doing that stupid thing you do when you get lonely. Minutes melt into hours without consent and now it’s Monday and you’re not ready for whatever is coming but you’ll face it anyway cause if you don’t this roof will collapse while you sleep.

It’s 2am.
You’re already at the part where you’re asking yourself why you’re so terrifically good at being alone. You have the answers already, but the questions never stop. You run through the women until you’re out of breath and out of faces without names. Those who tried and failed and the ones you burned and the ones that scorched and it’s all ashes at the end of a cigarette after sex. You managed to finally put a value on what you offer yet you’d still sell it for free for just a piece of something you can’t ever swallow whole.

You’re pushing decades like Sisyphus pushes boulders and time is pouring out of you like the blood you spill just to stay alive. You’re friends are gone. Serving sentences in distance and responsibilities that would break the spirits of lesser angels. You’re a savior to the lost yet somehow counted among them with no words to spare for yourself. The Earth is cracking beneath us to the south and the west burns every summer and the upheaval everywhere else is broadcast now in real time and you can’t stomach the news no matter what you put in your belly. It’s all too much and you give too little. It’s all so much and you’re left with so little. The best of you spent in sweat, empty shot glasses, and tissue paper.

Cognitive Dissonance

Many summers ago…

I looked out towards the Pacific, saw the miles and miles of cultivated land and uniform buildings, hundreds of windows catching the sun and glimmering in the distance as a great fire.

We sat there, my brother and I, on the hill crowned with a solitary bench, overlooking the very land that had fostered us. Below our aching feet suburbia unfurled before us like so many uniformed soldiers. Houses stacked in neat little rows, their manicured lawns gleaming in green summer perfection. There was not a soul to be found in that display window world below. The streets were empty, the parks were lifeless, and the atmosphere eerily silent. Somewhere within me I longed to hear the sound of children’s laughter, but there was only the wind. Suddenly it felt like we were the last ones left.

How sad, I thought. How very sad.

A breeze sped west from the sea, rippling passed like so many fingers through my hair and headed towards the mountains that still burned from its summer preening; sending plumes of ashes and smoke into the valley below. In the miles and miles in front of me staring down from our little mountain lay everything we had ever known. How utterly microscopic our pristine world was.

“This is it!?” I spoke suddenly, compelled as I was to break the silence. “The culmination of all of our efforts…I don’t think we were meant for this. I think other people feel it too; I think they just don’t know how to listen. Why do you think apocalyptic fantasy is all the rage right now? Maybe, subconsciously, we long for this to come to an end.”

The words flowed out of me lucid and clear but the train of thought had no destination. It sped forward, unbound and undeterred along clear tracks of gray matter going nowhere.

“I harbor no faith in us as a species. Time and time again we have proven we do not deserve this. It’s all there, in the pages of history. I don’t think we are going to make it…Nations pursue conquest and domination every generation over dwindling resources constantly at war over invisible lands drawn in the sand.”

“We consume far more than we produce,” said my brother.

I pointed up at the blue sky, “We should all be going up there, together!” then stretched my arms out at the cities before me, “But we are too busy squandering over all of THIS! Nationalistic conditioning has blinded people to the idea of unification. We turn a blind eye to the suffering of others in other worlds. Our progression as a species has been halted in the name of capitalistic consumerism. Our governments have implemented systems to raise generations of comfortable consumers to buy, buy, buy; and all the while they are the ones who are being bought.”

“Working to feed the machine.”

I lowered my quivering arms, “The machine needs to die! All empires fall. And one day this age will end, with or without us. We were not, we were…then we won’t be.”

It had been hours since we dropped, but the LSD was still hot in our blood. Just moments ago we were running down the canyons of Laguna like half-naked Braves. Chasing what? I don’t know. It didn’t matter. I suddenly felt every muscle in me come alive and begged to burn. So I ran. Crossing small valleys in a matter of strides. My breath drowning out all other sounds. There was only me and the path and the wind billowing in my  hair. How I suddenly longed for four legs.

We stripped down to our underwear when we reached the ocean. She sparkled like some bygone Mediterranean jewel and I let those salty hues envelop me whole until I forgot to breathe. Beneath the surface the sunlight pierced the liquid veil and I looked on with burning eyes at natures dance. I was young and the world was brand new. That day the life I had been avoiding for months took me by the hand and begged me to participate. How could I refuse?

 

A hawk flew across us, moving with the breeze. I traced its trajectory, in awe of its perfect and most mechanical design. It’s plumes were brilliant, the tips of the feathers shining red beneath the sun like blood from a fresh wound.

“I see before me the futility of existence. I see life and at it’s most basic level, my consciousness deems it meaningless. Everyone wants to believe that life is this great miracle that is guided along by divine providence or some grand design. Life, in its basest terms, is the result of biological reactions between two compatible pairs of living organisms. People want to believe we are born with purpose, that every one of us was put here to accomplish something great; there are almost seven billion people on this planet and what? Everyone has a destiny they are meant to fulfill? No, we are born without purpose—”

“We have to find purpose. We can make a purpose.”

“That was my next point!” I shouted in excitement knowing he understood. “I know how pessimistic it sounds, but we are born without purpose, though I believe we can make our own. You are absolutely right. I see life, and I still see it as ‘meaningless’. There are people born that just live and die, but I can give it a meaning. I can make it mean something, what time I have here.”

“All I want is to see the world, to live and enjoy my life, and help as many people as I can. I think that would be enough…,” he said, speaking more to himself than to me.

“I think like that, about the absolutely absurdity of life, and then I think of us. You and me right now, sitting on this very bench. I think of all the steps, everything that ever happened to us that led us here, to this moment in time. I think of our Grandfathers, how Mom’s father ran away from home as a child and joined the circus and made his way to America. And I think of Dad’s father, how he landed at Normandy on D-Day and somehow, someway made his way up that beach without his rifle. Made it through that terrible war and made it home. Those men sired our parents. Our parents in all their own steps somehow made us and out of all that, here we are—sitting right here. One step in a different direction, a subtle shift in the wind and we wouldn’t be. And even us, we could have turned out very differently, you and I. But here we are, as we are. And that, that to me is amazing. That makes life beautiful to me,” I was nearly on the verge of tears. “I am torn between futility and beauty.”

“That called Cognitive Dissonance, when conflicting beliefs exist inside of a person.”

“That’s my personality…internally, I am constantly wrestling with myself. But you know, I am really beginning to like who I am. What I am becoming. And you, I am so proud of you. I like who you are, who you’ll become.”

“I like the person you are.” He said as my eyes began to well. And maybe that’s all I needed. Maybe that’s all we need, to be seen. Then he hit me, “But my pale ass is burning up! I gotta get out of the sun cause your dumb ass lost the sunscreen. Let’s go.”

“You go ahead. I want to be alone for a while.”

He took off down the path and disappeared. I made my way off the sidewalk and onto the dirt path that led up to a rocky Martian cliff. At the top, a man dressed all in white was flying a remote hobby plane. Suddenly I felt the compulsion that I had to go up there and see him. There was nothing else in the world that was more important.

I made my way up the steep rock face sure-footed and unafraid. I tried to be as silent as possible. A deep urge surfaced that pressed me forward just to see this man’s face. I walked behind him at a respectable distance, not making a sound. I caught his face for a moment from a peripheral glance. His eyes never left that plane. The drone soared silently as the hawks flew around it not quite sure what to make of the alien blue craft.

‘I bet he wishes he was that plane’, I thought. As I rounded on his right slowly moving further and further away from him I saw on his face a look I’d never quite seen on anyone before and it’s stayed with me ever since. There on his wrinkled canvas was painted an expression of pure bliss. I had never seen someone more content. So completely lost in a moment.

I smiled to myself and said, ‘I need to find my plane.’

…alas, Atlas.

She is covered head to toe in some kind of cheap paint. Her already fair skin made up to look dead and porcelain wrapped up tight in a black dress. There are tears in her eyes. I am waiting to catch them but they never fall. They lay suspended in those dark iris pools and I am drowning along with them in her confession. She reads aloud to me; her poetry flowing from a stuttering tongue still learning to articulate the dying language of a wounded heart. Even in costume and those layers of paint, she is the most naked person in the room. I sit transfixed, beholden by her bravery. I am there with her, behind that locked door we all hide behind with our eyes pressed to the looking glass.

Inside these walls the roof is caving in. The pillars of her house collapsed, the ceilings and the heavens suspended now only by her shoulders. I move to lend what strength these bones can offer–but alas, Atlas stays my willing hands. Her voice breaks, then resounds with metallic will. ‘I wanted only to show, I needed only to know–that I am not alone.’

Of Bones and Blood

Once I spoke in metallic words, but the machinery had failed me; my steel was bent by the profound and the absurd. Educated harshly by a world of constant tectonic shifts, I became as water. Pouring myself into silent containers that neither condemned nor condoned, then I became the martyr. How quickly does a crutch become a limb when constant motion is itself a medication. Pre-conditioned responses make pretty little waltzes under the vigilant veil of celebration.

Animate the inanimate to satisfy what is insatiable. Love only that which asks nothing of you. Lie, lie, lie to yourself until it becomes the gospel truth. They draw ever near, though only to unravel the sutures of your misbegotten wounds.

It’s not enough. It’s never enough. A brilliant star collapsed inside my gut and it’s a hole that since has never shut. It takes, it breaks, and it unmakes in a fever of bones and blood–and even though I know, I know, I cannot endure this storm alone.

As if pain were a tree you diligently water, for the shade of it’s branches has been all you’ve known of shelter. Fostering you from the sunlight of a life that scorched your skin so. These things that I carry, sometimes they carry me. To places I don’t want to go, but how these haunts begin to feel just like a haven home. Most days I choose to fight. I don the many masks needed to survive, and I forget which face is really mine. But on this night, I begged them to steal. I made a choice; to offer them my hand lest they grab me by the throat. Then they took my voice, ‘Oh child, it is time to heal.