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

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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.

The Birds in the Pines

Did I ever tell you about that girl from the old neighborhood?

It’s just this girl that I still think about sometimes, you know? The thing is, it’s been so long I don’t even know if she really ever existed. I mean, I don’t even remember what her name was. Maybe it’s like one of those dreams you get mixed up with a memory. But I know…I am just full of shit. It did happen. It wasn’t a dream; I just really want it to be.

I remember she had dark, brown hair and really fair skin–for a California girl anyway. Somehow we always seemed to end up at the park at the same time. We raced up and down the slides, tried to see who could swing the highest, or jump the farthest. Our favorite thing was climbing the pines that grew all around the edge of the park. But we had one in particular, the furthest tree on the left if you were looking directly east, that was ours. The trunk was wide and forgiving of young legs, and it had this branch that went over the backyard fence of an adjacent house. We used to caw like crows and make faces at the people who lived there but, to our eventual dismay, they never seemed to notice.

the pines

We spent hours up in those boughs. Day after day reaching as far as we could till there was nothing else within our tiny reach to grasp. God, she was good too. She kept up. Climbed just as high as I could, if not higher. Never complained or showed any fear, not once. Even the bugs didn’t scare her. I remember that much about her, she was brave. And she was lucky, so lucky, because no one in her life was telling her she shouldn’t be.

One day we are sitting up there in our pine and she just starts picking at the bark till it was flat and smooth, then she breaks off a small twig and starts carving into the tree. I look over at what she is doing, but she won’t let me see. She starts fidgeting, all bashful like she’s got some awful secret in her that just won’t stay down. Doing that “I-Know-Something-You-Don’t-Know” jig girls do when they think they know something you don’t know.

In between shy, nervous glances she gets coy, “It’s the name of a boy I like.”

“Who do you like?” I asked, trying to act indifferently.

In spite of her theatrical meekness, she very matter-of-factly says, “It’s you.”

I told you, she was brave.

“Oh…” I paused as looked at what she had done. There in the side of the tree was our names carved inside a misshapen heart. “You spelled my name wrong.”

That poor girl had probably been rehearsing this scene for days; inspired, no doubt, by a steady diet of Disney films. I can picture her, laying on her stomach with her feet up swinging side to side, writing my name incorrectly over and over on so many sheets of construction paper with small, broken crayons.

She quickly receded back to her embarrassment and her ears turned pink like two tiny tulips. I didn’t know what to feel or what to do. I just sat there on that branch while the crows laughed. Part of me had wanted her to say it was me, but there was something else there, something then that was much bigger than that desire that was nameless and unseen.

We didn’t speak again until it was time to go and we had climbed down from the tree. Down on the grass, she pushes down whatever blood had rushed to her face and all but skips towards me smiling, “So see you tomorrow?”

“Fuck you.”

She stopped dead in her tracks. Her face went blank, expressionless save for a slight furrow in her brow contorting in childlike confusion as she raced to make sense of what just occurred. She was too young, too innocent to know what those words meant. She only knew they were ugly, ugly, words. But me, I knew them. I had heard those words spoken many times by grown people who were supposed to be in love.

Looking right at me, she finally resigned herself to the truth. Her small lips trembled, uncertain of which words to choose, “You can’t say that….th-those are ba–”

That unseen something bubbled to the surface. “Fuck. You.”

There was no venom in that tiny voice of mine. There was nothing in it at all. It was as if I was reading lines from a script that belonged to someone else. This was me, rehearsing the lead in a violent play I had seen dozens and dozens of times from the front row seat of a dirty car window, or peering out from a crack of an assumably closed door.

Her body seemed to be gripped by an intense and sudden cold. She tries to stop the tears from coming up, slightly choking as her failure overcomes her. She doesn’t know much, but she knows this hurts. This little creature who had just moments ago carved the name of her crush into a tree, now recoiling from him like he was the goddamn Boogeyman. And she curses that very same name. Her instincts take over, and she angrily wipes those disobedient tears from off her face. She exits stage right. The curtain falls. I get the part on the spot.

I was five years old.

The bark has healed over that crooked heart, but I still think about her sometimes. Especially on days like this, I think about her, and the rest of them too. All those brave girls who carved my name somewhere close.

I am sorry.

Loose Change

The music was blaring so loud that the rooms of the house were shaken by the hands of the bass lines. Glass bottles rattled nervously along on the edges of counters while red cups trembled in the hands of young bodies swaying with the melody.

The house was filled to the brim, bodies on top of bodies heaving to and fro, a living mass of flesh twisting and writhing together in one ecstatic motion. The walls themselves had come alive and their pulse quickened with every song. Women screamed and men waited patiently or otherwise for their moment to strike. Hands began exploring the curves of neighboring frames and at times you couldn’t tell where one body began and the other ended–and so the waltz went on.

There was one who was still in spite of the motion. He sat alone, a shadow overlooked and unattended to in a forgotten corner. The poorly postured spine and accompanying body language spoke, “I would rather be anywhere but here,” and yet, there he was and there he stayed. His hair was long and dark, draped about his face like a curtain closing on a stage. His face was obscured, brought to light only when he lifted a bottle of cheap red wine that dangled precariously from his right index and middle finger, bringing it to his lips in a graceless yet fluid fashion between the passing glances at the people around him.

These people some would call his friends, though he was beginning to really wonder what the definition of that word truly meant to him now. The more he began to brood over the thought, the tighter his grasp became on the bottle (unbeknownst to him). All these people he knew, he did not know; and they did not know him. What he didn’t realize, however, was that this was (subconsciously) a defensive effort at self preservation; superficial relationships required less maintenance and left far less of a mess whenever they left, voluntarily or otherwise. This fact, accompanied by the terrifying notion of his genuine nature being discovered by someone else, left the boy–for better or worse–socially and utterly inept at developing healthy and reciprocal human relationships. Rejection, in this society, was non negotiable.

A few shared interests brought these people together on fair enough terms, but it was the treasure cove of the various rainbow colored assortments of bottles in the house and what those bottles would do to them that truly bonded them together. Their socially acceptable, government taxed drug habits allowed them all to tune in to the same communal frequency for a few hours. Dopamine and Ethanol were the true companions here tonight, and oh what a lovely pair.

His face became briefly illuminated as the wine was lifted to his lips and it was then a smile was seen–forced, sad. Defeated.

He recalled, with a greedy slosh of his drink, a bygone season of his youth, a chapter of his life that now seemed so very far away from where his story was now. So far in fact, that it may as well have been another tale entirely. He remembered how these people around him had all once sworn that their bonds would never be severed. Be it tested by the wiles of men or women, the gaps created by distance, or even by the rapacious hands of Father Time himself; their fraternity would always endure. And it was for this very reason that he had smiled that sad, sad smile…for time had indeed bested all of their promises. The years had now made strangers of them all.

He had watched–from a comfortable distance, how the years had come and gone, each one somehow quicker than the last, taking with them one person after another from his life who saw fit to grab a piece of it and oh, so many of them did. From the friends who would come in good cheer to laugh with him in the fair weather seasons, to the transients and drifters whose walks in life had collided with his own to share the road for a time. To the women whom he had shared a bed with, to the thieves who coveted pieces of his very soul—where were they all now, all these people he had touched?

Things fell apart, with or without his help, while other unseen beginnings were born from their endings. People fell in love, he noted with a secret envy, and by-in-by fell away from him. Others simply drifted away, like so many Autumn leaves shaken off of a shivering branch. He thought to himself that this was simply the way of things. This was only the reality he refused to accept in the ignorance of youth. People came and went away in seasons. Hopefully you saw them off well and could greet their returns, if any, with open arms. And if you did see them again, it would be as if there never was any distance, stolen heart, or time that had ever separated you in the first place.

Deep down in his heart, this was a greater hope; that those he chose to call his friends and his new found families would forever remain true to him. But he had come to learn there was no such thing in life as permanence and that for him, being a man who was all too aware that his tomorrows were all but infinite, forever was a dream that he simply could not afford. To him the present was all he had and all that mattered was who was present.

Everything in his life he learned was temporary. Just like his now almost empty coveted bottle would soon be nothing but garbage, an object to be cast aside. Just like this moonlit night would soon give way to another dawn that would come to steal away his dreams. Just like his life would come to a close, at a time unlikely of his own choosing. All fades away into story in the end, and he had been so many stories, hadn’t he?

It was this fact however, that ever present sense of self awareness of ones own mortality that drove him to constantly seek some semblance of substance in any and all things he sought. And therein lay the great dilemma, the cognitive dissonance that cleaved him in two; the Romantic and the Cynic. One embellished and sought love, while the other mocked it in parodies. One yearned for honest, pure affection, and the other was paralyzed at the very whisper of the word.

Though in secret fantasies and half-hearted whispers he demanded substance, the life that he had created for himself was not one of substantial merit by hardly any means. In spite of the depths that he had explored and thought existed within himself, his actual existence was one of extraordinary shallowness. His dreams told stories of forbidden passions; his waking body found him parading in the same nocturnal debaucheries the likes of which he repeated week after week, year after year. Countless mornings spent waking underneath an unfamiliar ceiling. A warm and nameless body at his side. These collisions the only bit of intimacy he could afford to spare with the loose change left in his pockets.

He was ever the victim of his own hypocrisies. Countless contradictions were brought to light by a near constant state of self deprecating examination. It was clear to him, and anyone else who really looked beyond his presented self, that he was his own worst enemy. In the space that existed behind those wild eyes, he was both warden and jailer. Completely unaware that he alone held the key to his cell, for his chains had grown far too comfortable.