Heartbreak Summer: Compounded

I watched my best friend’s legs wobble
Struggling to stand against
The shimmering haze of summer heat
Carry her up the stairs
And into the bedroom
With the air conditioner on
With the curtains open over the alley.

90 degrees today
With a seven percent chance of rain
The swelling thunderheads gathering
In the distance, gray and pregnant with rain
Seem impossibly far away
I know, baby girl, I know
Breathing through this industrial haze
Is hard on anyone
Especially you, making your way
So fearlessly to the end of the road.

Sit at my desk
Stare at a blank screen
Shuffle papers around
Try to will the words
That will make sense of so much loss
From my brain onto the page.

Every few minutes
A nervous sideways glance
To the pile of pillows and blankets
On which your tired body rests
To nervously check for the labored
Rise and fall of your weary chest.

Six years ago, this week
You were sick
Tired and wheezing
At ten years old
I cried my eyes dry
Begged whoever might be listening above
For just a few more years
Of coming home
To the side of the best friend
I have ever known.

You and me, girl.
Wherever we were,
As long as we were together
We were home
Not everyone gets to be that lucky
In life and in love
I know that now.

Every single night
I tuck you in
Ache wrecks my whisper
As it makes its way to your ears
I tell you that when you are ready to go
To just let me know
I won’t keep you here, in pain
Not for my sake.

If these long years together have taught us anything
They taught us everything we ever needed to know
About a little thing called strength
I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again:
The day you leaped into my arms
Pressed your face against mine for the first time
That was the closest I have ever come
To believing in love at first sight
The rumble of your paws
Romping across a forest floor
As you grew into them and made this ruin of a world your own
Rattled the dust of despair from my bones.

You, more than anything else
Washed a decade long death wish stare
From my eyes.

You braved sixteen years of this mess
To offer an unshakable love
I whisper to you;
After sixteen years of a love as unshakable as this one
I am strong enough
To brave the emptiness of a world
Forever without you.

Even though
I am uncertain
Which one of us
I am trying to convince.

Heartbreak Summer//Heartbreak City

It’s summer in the city
That I love
But could never love enough
Or half as much
As you love it
I sketch the skyline
To memory behind my eyes
Remember the first time
I watched your eyes light up
The night you talked about
How grateful you were for the ways this place
Too root in your bones
And never let go.

There’s a metaphor here, baby
Just below the surface
For sure.

The concrete and the pavement
Soak up the burning sun like a sponge
All that stone laid by hard working men
Absorbs the heat
Reflecting it back
Like an opaque mirror
Drinking every last drop
Of moisture from my skin

I’m all tears and sweat and a heaving chest
Sitting on the Highland Park steps
Doing my best to remember
How to take a breath
Talk my lungs backwards
To the days when inhalations
Came with ease
Without the weight
Of heartache pressing
Down on my chest

I cried (tough) every day
For a week straight
Then I cried for another week after that
Ran every toll between Pittsburgh and Philly
With barely a bite of food in my stomach
Listened to sad songs on repeat
Wondered if leaving wasn’t a mistake
Or some bad dream

The kind I would wake from
Turn over in bed to tell you about
Before dragging myself downstairs
To make your morning coffee
And brew my green tea
Just like any other morning
Lived in this hellish year without end
Except it wasn’t
This last year of dread ran us both ragged
Turning on each other all the way
To the end of the road

I know it was never time wasted
As much as it was time hard spent
With the days so fucking long
And so slow, slow as the despair that encroached
Like dust gathered in the corners and crevices of the room
So much
We could scrub and scrub
Never wipe the grime away
Enough make a clean break
To make the years last
As long as we’d hoped

It’s summer in my new city
Transitory as my time
Doc Marten stomping my way
Through the aching haze of heartache
On these dirty streets may be
We all know my story ends in the mountains, anyway.

The way people drive in Philly…
Relentlessly reckless
I know you would hate it
Someone said:
“It’s like every person on the road
Just smoked meth
And now they have to take a shit”
Two near collisions this week
And I’m already looking
In some quieter direction.

It’s summer in this city
The first one I feel in love with
I’ve been missing you terribly
Save for those quiet moments
Now and forever my own
Where solitude comes as a relief
In my tiny room
With the air conditioner turned low

I wonder what you’re doing
Are eating enough
Drinking enough water
Getting plenty of rest
How do you sleep
Alone, with the windows open
These nights when summer swells
The nighttime air in our room
(I guess it’s your room now)
Around you like a sweating soup

How are you filling the empty
Spaces in the house
That I used to inhabit
Throughout the home we tried
Our noble best to build
Together

I’m lucky I guess
Not having to contend
With vacant rooms in the house
Where tomorrow once lived
I find myself alone, in another city
Thankful for the books stacked
On the pillow next to me
(I still think of them as your pillows)
Like I did
At my bachelor best
Before you came along.

Lonely bedroom bullshit, again.
I can live with it.

It hurts the most at night
Lie awake in bed
Replay our last hours together
After we accepted the end
All that staggering stagnancy
Heartache and bitterness
Finally falling away
Cutting words, quiet now
The unkindness that sundered us
Finally softened
To reveal the bittersweet tragedy
Of missed chances
A story of almost making it.

On the street the next day
A kiss goodbye
Cup your face in my hands
“I love you I love you I love you”
Like a wish
A hope
That those three words could suture the wounds
Left without meaning to
I never meant to hurt you, you know
Just like I know you never meant to hurt me
Hearts so tender taken for granted
On this fucking burning planet
Inattention to detail is one kind of failure
Barbed words rising to be heard are another.

At night I sleep
I pray for an absence of dreams
Or if the universe cannot meet that small mercy
May rest at least off us a path back ruins undone
To hearts beating strong and unbroken.

I hope you
Are remembering to stay hydrated
And that your dinners are always
As delicious as they are filling
That your worries wane with the warming days
Anxiety is a conniving, heartless motherfucker
That you never deserved
Anymore than one of us
Asked for time that forgot how to be gentle.

I hope your dog never gets sick
I hope your time together is as long as it is tender
That the two of you are as blessed
As Hope and I have been
I hope he learns how to play fetch
Please give him a scratch behind the ears for me
If you happen to read this

I hope all the dust and the clutter and depression
clear
I hope you keep loving yourself
And that every job you get pays you well
I’m sorry that I lost myself
Somewhere in the noise of could have beens
Most of all
I wish you well
I wish you the very best.

For My Mother and Desmond Dekker

Sixteen years old
Doing my chores
On a summer afternoon
With the window opened
Out over the rolling hills
Of Southern York County
Desmond Dekker sings to me
On the stereo for company
I can hear the world waiting
In the soundwaves
Making their way down the street
Reaching escape velocity
On their way out out
Of my lonely little town
I will make it out one day too

Scrape the dried Elmer’s glue
Off the sink with a smile
Check the stiffness of my hair
In the mirror for the tenth time
Spiked towards the sky
Like a middle finger aimed at every sideways eye

My mother sticks her head in the door
“Oh! I like this song!
I remember when it was on the radio”
Back when I was young
She hums along
With a rare smile
Cracking across her face
Remembering a life
Thirty years gone

All the sudden
My mother is no longer
The narcissistic monster
Living as a prisoner
To her suffering
Tethered to this decrepit house
Raising a selfish afterbirth
Already racing for a world
With no room for her in it

I see you as you were, momma
Young and full of hope once
Summer of ’68 in the desert
With the radio on
A glint of moonlight
Catching in your smile
Your broken home caught
In the reflection of
A rearview mirror
With good things on the road
Ahead of you

Raised ducking for cover
Seeking shelter from gathering clouds
And the chill winds
Blowing ill from a cold war
Summer of ’68
With power’s proxies catching a spark
From fires lit before you were ever born
Your older brothers
Jump from from iron birds
And into the firestorm
With not a reason why
But to do and stay alive
One took a bullet
To the thigh
And never quite got right
The other made it home
And never talked about
The War Again in his life

You grew.

Into the mother
I once knew
Tiny and sometimes cruel, filling the world
Smart and sharp
With a quick wit
And the bitterness lingering
Below the surface to match it

You taught me well
How to stand up for myself
To everyone save
For you
You taught me to lock
All the doors at night
Hide my heart
Hide my light

I see you there sometimes
Out there in the shadows
Lonely and uncertain
Where I am sixteen years old, steel-toes
Stomping up the stairs
To the sound of Desmond on the Stereo
Singing for every mouth to be fed
And waiting for the war’s end
Where all our noble failures born
From the best of intentions are forgiven

I see you now, in the lateness of the hour
The mother who
Did the best she could
With the mess and neglect
And violence
She was given
Spent a life running
Looking for the calm
After the storm
Looking for her son
Without seeing the one she bore

I will meet you there
When sun finally breaks through the thunderheads
Where Desmond Dekker is always singing
For every mouth to be fed
Holy forgiveness
And every war’s end

Desmond Dekker