HIDE – 8/15/19

It’s nice to go to shows and see gray hair, and crow’s feet and smile lines.  It’s a relief to see aging punk rockers still rocking the double studded belt look coupled with their receding hairlines.  I don’t know if I was totally aware of what a toll it took on me to go to shows in a city where I would often be fifteen years older than many of the punks in attendance.  This especially in a subculture that discards and writes off its elders every generation or so. 

Speaking of the new destroying the old, each time I see HIDE perform, Heather Gabel and Seth Sher outdo themselves completely, both sonically and in stage presence and intensity. So much so, that I think back to the first time I saw them in a near empty bar in Seattle with one of my very dearest friends, and how that gig almost seems like a tame folk punk show played in a community garden in comparison to the aural horror and menace they unleashed on Brilloboxtonight.  I go to shows in my new city alone a lot, which doesn’t bother me at all.  I just hang in the back and read in between bands.  I find that the sense of being alone in a crowd helps me concentrate more than I might at home.  Tonight, I biked to the show late, with a copy of Her Body and Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado in my backpack.  At the show, I read “Inventory” from that collection of short stories while I waited for HIDE to set up.  If you haven’t read the story, I’m not going to give you spoilers, if you have, you might have an idea why that particular story felt fitting to read while waiting for HIDE to set up.  

Better writers than me have argued that the best music and art holds a mirror up to the culture at large, reflecting its ugliness back to us.  In doing so, it forces us to face our failings both subculture wise and as a species.  I know this is what drew me to the worlds of punk and goth in the first place and I know this is the argument so many of us used on our parents when they wanted to know why we insisted on listening to Dead Kennedys (or really whatever offensive band you loved as an adolescent) loud in our rooms decades ago.  “Fuck you, dad!  They’re just telling it like it really is!”.  I feel like I once saw Marilyn Manson, a far lesser artist than HIDE, and one with a much more contrived presentation and aesthetic make the same argument on Donahue or some similar television show in the 90’s, that he wasn’t telling kids what to do or think, but was just a vessel with which to expose them to the hypocrisy and contradictions of the dominant culture.  

Somewhere though, that message became compromised and watered down, and this writer felt like Marilyn Manson gave suburban kids permission to be shocking and edgy at the mall before going off to college and getting a job. HIDE is holding up a very different mirror to our culture and our collective participation in the both quiet and loud atrocities that take place across the world and at home.  When Heather Gabel opened tonight’s show repeating instances of verbal harassment experienced while simply being a woman walking through the world in the coldest and most guttural screams imaginable, you get the feeling she is not only railing against the outside world, but demanding the audience examine what parts of that world they have internalized and brought to this small, smoky room with them.  One song blended into the next and the venue fell into brief silence punctuated by the sample of a voice saying “When you depersonalize another person… it seems to make it easier to do things you shouldn’t do.” while Gabel writhed on the floor in front of the audience in mock submission.  I couldn’t help but think back to being a child in South Florida in the late 80’s, coming in from playing outside to my mother watching Ted Bundy’s final interview on the night of his execution.  I watched a few minutes of the interview with my mother, long enough to watch Ted Bundy blame place the blame for his hatred of women on pornography all while the jackass from Focus On The Family ate it up because it fit his agenda, more than examining our collective hatred of women did.  

I can think of few bands I’ve seen in recent memory that take the stage with a more driven intensity than HIDE in the past few years.  I don’t really know how to write about the mechanics of creating music, so I don’t really know how to write about it in a lot of ways. I could scarcely begin to understand how Seth Sher creates the noise onstage that he does, but he does so to astonishing effect.  I’m going to admit here, that even scarcely an hour after getting home the details of the show are a bit fuzzed out.  I spent the entire set standing up front stage left, not even dancing, just standing transfixed, aware that I was witnessing something truly powerful and cathartic, and occasionally pulling out my phone to snap a photo or take a video, more to document how the show made me feel for self-reference, than to take any sort of fancy photos.  I’m not a good photographer anyway.  

 I remember when Trump first got elected, some were moved to comment along the lines of “Well at least we will get powerful at and music out of these dark times.”.  While acknowledging the privileged nature of that statement (as in, there are a lot of people experiencing these dark times from cages, and a lot of people who might not live to see the end of them), I don’t disagree with that sentiment.  The Punk and Industrial scenes were borne of the turbulence and tension of the 70’s and 80’s.  While I feel like HIDE’s art stands powerfully on its own, regardless of whether it is being created within the confines of an ascendant fascist state or not, I cannot help but find the synchronicity HIDE’s momentum as artists coupled with the particular cultureal moment we are in to be both terrifying and comforting at once.  I just looked at my journals and photographic records and found that my aforementioned dear friend and I first saw HIDE on March 13th, 2017, just two months after Trump’s inauguration, and just a year and a half after thinking we were going to get beaten to death by Nazis together.  I distinctly remember returning home to Olympia late that night and sitting beneath a cold winter moon on the shore of the Budd Inlet, promising one another that we would continue our shared resistance to the powers that shape our world, be it through art or activism.  We had just witnessed something that powerful.  Tonight, at the conclusion of HIDE’s set, the stranger who had been standing next to me snapping photos (no doubt, better than my own!) and I simply turned and acknowledged one another with an exhausted warmth as if to say “Did you fucking see what just happened, and are you okay now?”  

I rode my bike home, exhilarated, feeling hopeful for our collective subcultural future, if nothing else.  These are vicious times, and HIDE creates art to not to provide comfort in those times, but to encourage the listener to rise up in the face of them.  On my ride home, I couldn’t help but think of two very different Industrial and Post-Industrial acts of a bygone era – Death In June, and Boyd Rice’s NON.  Both bands have created searing industrial soundscapes and both bands have been dogged by accusations (that this writer happens to agree with, and an immense amount of evidence easily found via google seemingly supports) of fascist and far-right sympathies, if not outright agendsas for much of their careers.  In defending themselves, both individuals (I cannot bring myself to refer to Douglas P as a musician) often use the same argument – that they are just utilizing fascist imagery, referencing it in song, and lastly dressing up in its trappings to hold a mirror up to the culture at large, to make the listener uncomfortable, to think.  

After watching HIDE perform tonight, I couldn’t help but think that the music of DI6 and NON could more accurately be described as the artists holding a mirror up to the culture as they wish it to be, one where the might makes right and the strong tread upon the weak, a world where white men get to speak and act with impunity – The very same world HIDE seeks to obliterate.  Where Death In June, so many of the bands they inspired provide the listener space to fantasize they are the perpetrators of atrocities (If you can make a convincing argument here that the song “Of Runes and Men” is anything other than Douglas P jerking off to the thought of being born 30 years earlier so he could have joined the SS, I will eat that “Sometimes Antisocial, Always Antifascist shirt I wear 8 days a week.*).  I couldn’t help but feel a certain sense of relief at a changing of the guard of sorts within the Industrial and dark cultures.  In the crowd tonight there was none of the fascist dog whistling sometimes present at Industrial shows of yesteryear.  No boys with dumb fashy haircuts.  No fucking pseudo SS uniforms.  No Totenkampf or Sonnerad patches..  Just a bunch of outcasts gathered together in a small room, and two uncompromising musicians, asking, no, demanding that the audience confront their collective demons and their complicity in the horrors of rape culture and misogyny.  

What are we going to do?  What are we going to create in the face of such horror?  What are we going to do to bring it all crashing down?  What are we going to build in the ruins? 

*Just kidding.  I won’t.  Douglas P is a fascist.  Period. Point blank.  Fuck that guy.  

Mediocre photographic evidence:

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HIDE – 8/15/19

A rose for every enemy, save two.

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He lies in a bed with his best friend.  The two of them drew the curtains closed tight against the South Florida Sun.  The air conditioning keeps the sweltering heat from encroaching into the room too much.  The dark adds a layer of cool blanketing their young skin.  He stares at the fan spinning on the ceiling and sighs.  His friend stole the Lita Ford/Ozzy Osbourne Close My Eyes forever cassette single from his older sister, and the two of them listen to it obsessively, flipping the cassette over almost as soon dead air fills the speakers and the sound of the spindles grinding away fills the room.  They talk about the mysteries of death in the language of children.

As trite and cliché as the lyrics might end up sounding thirty years later, they are transfixed in this moment.  Death is a door.  Death is a shock sometimes.  Death is a choice sometimes.  Death is not the end.  He hears Lita singing to them from the perspective of someone who has taken their life and come to regret it, a moldering corpse, singing from the grave:

“If I could have just one more wish, I’d wipe the cobwebs from my eyes.”

“What the hell are you two doing?  Give me my tape back!”

The sister is onto them.  The gig is up.  The boys race out of the house, onto their bikes, and they take flight, soaring through the steam rising from South Florida blacktop, out in the sun; full of life.  Out on their bikes in the park, they make the figure eight on the path over and over, watching the wild parrots jump from transmission tower to transmission tower, the static hum of civilization ever present, but enough to drown out their songs.  They halfheartedly look for ghosts.  They never see any, for the sun is still shining down on South Florida and whoever heard of a ghost appearing during the day anyway?

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The ocean is warm and gentle.  The day is already hot, and the early morning breeze feels perfect on his tanned skin.  His mother sets up her umbrella, and puts her day bag down in the sand. He is already racing for the surf with his friend when his mother warns them not to go out too far.  Those riptides can come up out of nowhere and drag you out to sea forever before you even know it, she says.

Out in the swell, he is elated and alive.  He knows he should be afraid, but he is not.  His friend tells him that his older brother told him there is a sandbar roughly a hundred yards out.  The ocean feels like a warm and loving embrace.  They reach the sandbar and sit there letting the waves lap at their bodies.  Their knees sink into the soft sand, allowing their bodies to rest.  The horizon stretching out to infinity, and the distance from the shore gives the boys an illusion of being in the middle of the sea.  His mother looks like a small dot in the expanse of alabaster.  He wants to taste the precise feeling of forever that must exist out where the sky and the sea meet in a brilliant expanse of blue.

His friend looks nervous, glancing back to the shore.  He asks if he thinks they should swim back in, just a little closer to the shore.  What about the riptides?  What about sharks?  Just a little bit longer, he implores.  They hold onto one another’s arms, bracing one another against the timeless roll of the waves, resting on the soft precipice of forever.

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He stands on a small dirt hill in a neighborhood where the all the kids all ride bikes and play flashlight tag during the summer.  He isn’t it, but he wants to hide anyway.  He feels safer in the dark, away from his friends, even though they are his friends.  He looks up at the stars flickering in the sky and has a feeling he will always be alone.  He stretches his arms to the sky and inhales, breathing the late summer in.  Something in the night makes him feel at home.

Last week, he watched unflinchingly as his friend got unceremoniously  dumped by his girlfriend at the carnival.  They were standing just in front of the tilt-a-whirl when it happened.  His friend cried all night and he feels only a little embarrassed for him when they get home and he breaks down into his tears in front of his parents.  He is genuinely confused when the parents inquire on his emotional well-being and tell him they knew he loved the girl and that there are other fish out there in the sea.  They sleep in his friend’s room later, and he can hear him stifling sobs from his makeshift bed on the floor.  Sometimes his friend starts late night wrestling matches that go on for too long and his friend inevitably ends up on his stomach, pushing himself against his crotch.

Tonight, the girlfriend has since taken his friend back, and he spent the night following her around the labyrinth of well-manicured lawns like a happy puppy.  At 8 PM, The Simpsons comes on and all the kids want to make sure to catch it, even though it’s a summer rerun.  One of the neighbors has brought a television out onto his patio.  The neighbor invites all the sweaty youth to watch with him.  There’s plenty of patio chairs, after all.  He sits away from the crowd and broods.  His friend and his girlfriend share a wicker chair with a cheap cushion beneath them.  They are all smiles and sneaking desperate kisses, holding hands in the cathode glow.

He tilts his head, and catches the two when they think no one is looking.  Something about the way their forms molding into one another makes sense to him, while feeling alien all at once.  Like he is catching a glimpse of a world he will never truly feel part of.  He can almost taste the longing at the back of his throat.

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He met her in the spring of 7th grade, and they become fast friends.  They pass notes in class during the day.  They stay on the phone late into the night.  She sneaks the calls, because she isn’t allowed on the phone after 7 PM.  He picks up on the first ring so as to not wake up his mother, who sleeps fitfully, if at all these days.  His father has been dead for six months.  His mother still sleeps in the room where his father’s heart stopped beating in the middle of the night.  She can only sleep through the night if the television is on, turned up so loudly that he can hear it through his bedroom wall.

She is the realest person he has ever known, despite her sheltered upbringing and the fact that they are children.  They flip through channels on late night television together.  “Do you like this song?”  “Do you like this show?”.  They make small talk about the details of their slow as molasses summer days.  He finds himself looking forward to the small instances during the long weeks with no school where they can see one another.  He feels himself softening into more than the couch of his mother’s living room.  Staring out the window into the waves of grain and sea of cornstalks that cover the darkened countryside, he asks if he can tell her a secret.

The words fall from his mouth before he can even stop them and all the shame and rage he held for so long is laid out there it’s like a dam breaking.  His tears fall until they stop, and they talk of other things.  That was the night he learned that there are some secrets that a soul doesn’t have to bear alone.

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All the small town freaks dance in the back of a rented church hall with one set of fluorescent lightbulbs hanging from the ceiling illuminating the room.  The band is all clumsy chords ripped jeans and waving hair.  He falls in love with the feeling of dancing the Doc Marten stomp in a circle so hard with his friends that he’s sure it might burn holes in the dirty brown carpet below them.  The words ring in his ears with the echo of feedback, and he feels like everything he knew before tonight is a lie, he’s locked into some truth that the dull-eyed masses around him will never know.

After the gig, some rednecks wait for him outside in the parking lot.  They wandered into the show.  Nobody knows why, or what they think is here for them.  They taunt him from their pickup truck, swearing they’re going to beat his ass for the unforgivable transgression of “being a faggot”.  As always, he is the smallest of his friends.  The rednecks move in, and his friends surround him.

“Sorry boys, y’all gonna have to go through the rest of us first.”

He hears the flicking of a butterfly knife unfolding behind him and he smiles.

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They were young, loyal, violent, and most all, they were in love.  They made their plans one Sunday night in spring.  Wait for Monday morning, stick the blade into the back of  the boy who did their friend wrong and fuck the consequences.  They’d go out in a blaze of outlaw teenage glory before they let this sin slip under the rug unpunished.

They see him in the morning, and he hands her his knife without a second thought, like he was passing her a cigarette, or a bottle of wine.  They follow the boy in the hall for a while, and they lose their nerve.  The rest of the day comes and goes.  All without a single small town burnout bleeding to out on a lunchroom floor.  The summer follows the same way.  He never even knew.

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They make out clumsily and say their goodbyes, too young to know how to make the other one cum.  After she leaves, he locks his door and takes off all of his clothes.  He jerks off into the empty corner of his room, right where his stereo speakers used to be.  Two nights ago, almost every single one of his friends came over and they laid waste to the house downstairs, kicking holes in the walls and spraypainting pentagrams all over the basement.  His mom cried.  What if we got a miracle, she said.  He doesn’t believe in miracles anymore.

He figures he will leave just one more parting gift encrusting the carpet for the bank when the come to take the house.

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The two of them sit on mountain overlooking the city.  He’s read about spots like this in books and seen them on movies, but has never actually been to a place like this before.  They spent the night together for the first time a few weeks ago.  Two nights in a row.  The first night they stayed up all night talking about their lives, waking up two hours later to go to school.  The second night they shared an illicit kiss.  Infatuated, he broke up with the girl he was dating the next day and never looked back.

Now it is love with wild abandon, the kind that only comes when you are young.  Before you accrue scar upon scar on your heart.  She straddles him on a rock and they kiss, while the lights of the Coors brewery twinkle below them.  His fingers trace the scar on her leg, given to her by her last boyfriend the night he got drunk and pulled a knife on her and her friend.

The secrets they share run deep and shine bright, like black wells with stars burning in the depths.  She tells him that with all the quiet atrocities endured in her short life, even with a genetic time bomb ticking in her DNA.  The one waiting to wage war on her body and brain before she turns 40, that she loves her life.

The certainty in her voice shakes him to his core.

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An older woman kisses the two of them on the cheek as they march down a pink brick South Florida Street.  They hitchhiked two thousand something miles to across five days to reach this exact point.  He can see the armored phalanx of riot police in the distance; already beginning to smash their clubs against their shields, clamoring for an asymmetrical war.   The sound terrifies him.  On the way downtown, they drove past one of the police staging points and he heard a commanding officer rallying the officers under him:

“Alright.  Everyone get ready.  Strike fast, and kick ass!  This is what we’ve been training for!  Let’s make these pussies regret ever coming to the city of Miami!”

The bark and bite in the officer’s voice reminds him of portrayals of Nazis war criminals in films and it terrifies him.

“That’s for luck.” The old woman says.  I know what you and your friends are here to do, and I know what you’re up against once we get to that wall.”

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He hears the woman standing behind him scream.  He feels the car collide with his body.  He is surprised when it doesn’t feel like anything.  It just feels like something kind of bumped into him.  He feels his body hurtling forward.  “Oh shit.  I just got hit by a car” is his last cognizant thought before blacking out.  He comes to on the street, with a woman holding a napkin to his bloody mouth and nose.  “I’m on the street.” He thinks “How did I get here?” The recollection of the car hitting his body creeps in.  He wiggles his toes inside of his boots, realizing with relief that his back is not broken.  An awareness of pain in his mouth creeps in, and he presses his tongue to the front of his mouth, where his teeth should be.

The doctors tell him later, colliding with the street face first saved his life, or at least saved him from a traumatic brain injury.

He thinks there is a victory to be found here, in not being able to win them all.

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She helps him sew together his first skirt.  They buy underwear at the store that will flatter his ass, and hide the harder parts of him.  He clumsily applies lipstick, eyeliner, mascara.  Before they go out, they share a kiss.  He has never been kissed like this before.  He asks her to please put her hands on his new body.  She spits on a finger, reaches down and slips it inside him.  He moans softly into her mouth.

Out in the sun, they nervously think about what to do with their day, and her in her fresh skin.  They settle on the bookstore and reading comic books.  She reads The Punisher Volume 5: The Slavers.  She reads Marvel Zombies, and doesn’t care for it much.  She only worries a little bit about being noticed when she goes to take a piss in the woman’s bathroom.

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The river was low that fall, right after their friend died, stabbed to death and set on fire thousands of miles away.  The sick horror of it sticks with her at night.  She wakes from restless sleep to pull swigs from a bottle of whiskey next to her bed.  She stares through the dark at the ceiling until the alcohol warms her body and numbs her spirit enough that she can fall into dreamless sleep.  Everyone around her is heartbroken, and with good reason.

The day after Halloween, three of them clamor over the rocks usually submerged beneath the rushing right and light candles.  Someone pulls tarot cards for each one of them.  She burns an effigy not of their friend’s murderer, but of the forces that motivated him.  They drink one beer each, and watch the candles lit for their dead friend burn low.  Before walk over the rocks and to the shore, she spraypaints “PATRIARCHY KILLS” in angry red letters on the pillar.  One of her friends paints “Mourn the dead and fight like hell for the living” in beautiful flowing script.  They walk up the hill in the gloom, hearts held fast against the gathering dark.

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She meets him at a party and is standoffish immediately.  “Who is this old man asking me who I am and what my story is?”, she thinks. Unaccustomed as she is to genuine interest from her elders.  Guarded by nature, she responds to his inquiries tersely.  She feels herself warming up to him despite herself.  At the end of the night when it’s time to leave the party, he simply says “I hate that y’all are leaving” in a drawl more affected by a life well-lived and filled with the deepest love for everyone around him than anything else.

The next time she sees him, it’s because the grease trap at the restaurant she works at is broken.  A struggling business, run on lofty anarchist principles, they can’t afford to fix it.  He comes in and spends hours installing the piece.  When they ask him what they owe him his response is “Not a damn thing.  I’ve had one hell of a good life, and I try and spread it around.”

She starts to get an inkling somewhere that this man is going to affect the trajectory of the rest of her life.

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She got married in an April Fool’s Day prank that got out of hand, but the story really isn’t that interesting.

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Her heart pounds in her chest thunderously, for months now.  She sees demons dance behind her eyes.  She hears the voices of the restless and angry dead when she is in a room by herself.  She sees an emaciated stranger staring back at her when she looks in the mirror.  She walks like a ghost haunting herself, eyes grown bitter by the sight of almost every single thing she thought she could rely on ripped away.

Zie is there, standing tall like a pillar made of glass, beautiful and fragile.  They don’t mean to fall in love, it just happens.  A few months ago, her horoscope told her she was going to re-learn everything she thought she knew about love.  She had hoped the lesson wouldn’t be quite this fucking hard and leave so many bruised hearts in its wake.

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She tells hir she sees hir the darkness zie walked in for much of their life, and that she is not afraid.  The words hang there between them, brave in the dark.  The moon is rising outside the window, old and red.  Zie takes the words to heart because nobody has ever said them to hir before.  A week later, zie’s lost in the crowd with everyone else.  The Nazi skins put the word out that they were roll downtown and stomp every faggot commie and Black Lives Matter motherfucker they can find.  The punks wait, all brave with their baseball bats and blades on 4th and Adams to see if the fash will actually show up.  She told hir later how she drove by the crowd on the way home to get her kid to bed, craning her neck nervously out the window to see if she could spot hir shape in the sea of black masks.  Her child asked a question:

“Momma what’s that?”

“Uh.  It’s a crowd of people who are trying to defend our city from these bad people called Nazis.”

“Momma, is hir out there?”

“Yeah baby, but zie is really smart and really strong and will be safe.  I promise.”

“Momma, does zie have hir dog with them?”

“No, baby.  I promise the dog is at home safe and asleep.”

The fash get beat back, straight out of downtown and zie goes home close to four AM when zie is sure that every one of their friends is home safe, and the streets are empty.  Zie calls her to let her know zie is finally home and will be surrendering to well earned sleep shortly.  Zie loves the sound of her voice, and won’t lie that zie wishes that zie was curling up next to her for the night.  Being so near to danger and death makes their exhausted sex the next day all the more sweet.

Hearts open, and hearts break.  Tender trespasses and broken promises.  Neither one of them will ever forgive the other.  Zie thinks what a shame to watch hard earned intimacy die and rot into nothing at all.

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They have been out hunting all night and, just became the hunted.  The van screeches to a halt in front of them.  Zie is sure at least six Nazi skinheads are going to jump out.  “This is it” Zie thinks.  “I am going to die with my friend right here on this street in a city I can’t even bring myself to love.  Or we are at least going to the hospital.”  Everything moves in slow motion, just like they say it does in moments like this.  Zie puts one hand on hir friend’s shoulder, and feels every muscle within it tense, poising to strike.  The feeling sends a shockwave through hir hand.  Zie puts hir other hand in hir pocket, and feels hir fist curl around a cold metal cylinder and waits for the moment to come crashing in, and for the world to spin right again.

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She wrote him a letter twenty years later after their youthful plot to stab to death a boy who had long since died in a car wreck over a friend who had long since moved on.  He received the letter in the small town he moved to on the other side of the country from the small town where they grew up.  It said:

“Sometimes I think that everything I ever needed to know about loyalty and being a good friend, I learned from being friends with you when we were fifteen.”

He was sitting alone at the kitchen table in his house on a dead end street, in the dry, rainless depths of a nowhere summer with the constant hum of heartache and regret ringing in his ears.  She had no idea how much he needed to hear those words at that exact moment in time.   He didn’t believe in coincidences.

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Aging lovers in a small room, they were tired.  Tired, from the past few months, the past few years.  Maybe it hit them all at once tonight.  The road that led them to one another had been at once both winding and strange, and fraught with fear.  All the same, he could see where the path will diverge in the very near future.  They weren’t the last great love of his life, but was as close as it was going to get with his giving up on love and all the headlines screaming hate and war.

Their wild Friday night date consisted of watching hurricane footage down south that filled his heart with ice and made it ache for home all the same.  On their laptop, they looked up survival gear and talked about what to order their family he’d never be a part of for the apocalypse everyone can feel building. They watched a movie and cried together at the ending, knowing the tragic hope in fiction and the improbability of happy endings for people like them.   With heavy eyelids, they slipped into one another for what ended up being the last time.  They grind, and moan, and giving into one another and then to rest.  In the morning they leave.  He smiles alone in his room, his eyes already gazing towards some other horizon, knowing this one will never burn any brighter than than this, hoping for the best, planning for the worst.

“If they take you down, I wanna mourn you.”

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He pulls the car over on the highway in the desert beneath a sprawling sea of stars.  He needs to stretch, and they want to look at the sky.  The kid has never been to the desert before.  So they sit on the hood pulled to the side of an empty country road and listen to the engine cool in the darkness and look up.  The majesty of the night sky goes on forever, and he feels safe out there, in their solitude.  The kid still winces at far off headlights, as if even the visibility their glow brings could stain their skin.   He subconsciously touches the knife on his belt as if to remind them of the safety it brings, that he made a promise, and he’d be cold in the goddamn ground before he let any harm come to them.

“What is that glow in the distance?”

“Oh shit.  Baby, that’s the moon rising.”

“Oh!  What the fuck?  I’ve never seen anything like that!”

A coyote howls and he makes a note to tell his dad who isn’t his dad how if he can be just half the elder to this kid that his dad who isn’t his dad has been to him, he will have done one thing right with his fucked up mess of a life.

A week later, he does just that.  He is sitting on the porch in the cicada swell of summer with his dad who isn’t his dad but goddamn close enough.  They are holding hands and crying when he tells him.

“Well goddamn, son.  Thanks for picking me.”

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He takes a photograph of the moment the kid’s feet meet the warm waves of the Atlantic for the very first time.  He thinks about the thousand tiny victories that surmounted to this precise moment on a spinning earth.  The sun burns down on both of them, and it is delicious.  They wade into the water and feel the waves roll.  The dog swims back and forth between the two of them, happily bobbing with the waves, making sure both of her humans are safe.  He tastes the salt crossing his lips, and remember the ocean’s worth of tears both of them cried before this immortal moment presented itself to them.  How every one of those tears, worth their weight in salt dried eventually.  Tears fall.  Tears dry, and more tears follow.  We keep living and we remember how that counts for everything.

All you can do is keep living.

Until the last beat of your heart, and even then maybe death is not the end.

A rose for every enemy, save two.

Diagram of a busted mouth.

Fig. 1

Sitting in a chair at the dentist’s office
Steel toes tap together in nervousness
Dressed in bravest black, winter 1996
Drill bits scrape the mess
Growing in my mouth for the first
(of many) times in my young life
Stare out the window
Catch a lone small town
Punk rocker on their
Way somewhere else in the snow
Footprints sunk into the white
Show where they been
But offer no hint
Of where we’re going.

Fig. 2

First dentist trip in three
And a half years
Mental illness met poverty
Long enough for fifteen cavities
To carve their way in
To a mouth well on
Its way towards rotting
Digging in for the duration
As childhood ends
Sugar coated swath cut
Through enamel and dentine and pulp
Floss and rinse and dig
And brush and drill
Scrape plaque away
With a mad desperation
But never reach the
Source of the rot.

Fig. 3

Sipping black coffee
Burning belly filled:
One part all hell
Ready to break loose at any moment
One part bag of peanut butter pretzels for breakfeast
Bought with food stamps and pocket change
Basking in the glow of
Spring’s latest lover
One morning in the sun
Spinning
Blissed out on three hours
Of sleep weighing down
Eyelids pried open
By caffeine and lovesickness
Frantic need for connection
To fill every hour with
The sweetness and agony
Of feeling it all
Feel a sickening snap
Cracking in the back of my mouth
Reach a finger still warm from last
Night’s lust in and wriggle part of a molar out
Shrug like you can’t win ‘em all
Put the blackened tooth chip
In my pocket, like a keepsake.

Fig. 4

Oh, good. You’re awake.
Do you remember where you are?
You were crossing the street
When you walked into the path of an oncoming car
The good news is your spine isn’t broken
You are bleeding internally
But your organs did not rupture
And your shoulder will heal
And even retain most of its mobility
The bad news is what’s left
Of three of your teeth
Have to come out now
The force of the pavement
Rushing up to reshape your face
Left your teeth shattered
Rammed the remaining roots
Back into your jaw
You are in shock
And heavily sedated
You probably won’t
Even remember this
Or feel it.

Fig. 5

It becomes an identity
A way to laugh at the pain
Taking a mouth full of
Broken teeth as my name
Example:
The words
“busted teeth, broken heart”
Inked forever into my skin
Or it’s a cute party trick
Like the time I decided
To spit my new set
Of fake plastic teeth
Out of a mouth, healed
But still fresh enough with phantom pains
That come when the weather changes
Into my best friend’s
Glass of wine at
A fancy restaurant
Oh sorry. You were drinking that?
I guess I’ll just finish it.

Fig. 6

The nerve pain wakes me
Up one morning in summer
Shooting through my jaw
I call out of work
And spend the day at home
Part of it on the phone
With the same best friend
Seven summers later
Holding an icepack to
The side of my head
“I’m paying the price now
For never quite taking care
For always living with
A low intensity self-loathing.”

Fig. 7

Floss and feel
The very last piece
Of my very first root canal
Come loose from its molar mooring
Spit silver and blood and mercury
Into the sink
Pick up the piece
Bury it in an
Unmarked backyard grave
“Here lies my last self-destruction”

Fig. 8

A piece of my broken tooth hurts
So I do what any person would do
Reach into my mouth
Wiggle the last shard back and forth
With a single-minded determination
And pull it out on my gums
Throw it in the trash
Without ceremony
Or reverence
Having long since
Grown used to this
Saltwater. Rinse. Repeat
The hole closes up.

Fig. 9

You used to do meth, right?
No, why?
I don’t know. I just thought you did.
Did you think I used to do meth
Because I’m missing my three front teeth?
No! I swear! I just thought you used to do meth
Like, I thought you said something about it once
Fact: I’ve never done meth.

Fig. 10

I hate it when my friends
Call me “Creepteeth”
Except maybe I bestowed
That nickname on myself
Making an identity
Out of pain again
Or as a way to make peace with a
Self-conscious smile
I can’t remember now.
I just always knew something
About standing in the shadow
Of so much beauty
I could never ever know

Fig. 11

Morning routine of brushing
Serves as a reminder
Of roads to ruin raced
I have long since
Gotten used to the taste
Sour mouth, brown spit
Washed down the sink
Followed by the reprieve
Of toothpaste and blood-spit
Swirling down the drain.

Fig. 12

A dissolute pain
As company for
The past 8 days
With yesterday spent
Entirely within the confines
Of a borrowed twin bed
This isn’t even my room
And I’m tethered to it
Anyway
Every time I move
Nausea rushes in
Making the world
Sickeningly spin and spin…

Fig. 13

Not a single shred
Of solace to seek
Beneath a gray sky
Sighing with rain
While hours crawl
Into another lost day
Shuffled through in
A nauseated narcotic daze.

Fig. 14

I write from my sickbed
Good reasons to
Just stop feeling
Anything at all
The numb warmth
Creeps through my limbs
Like crawling skin
Filling the void
Ever writhing within
This tired body
Spreading outwards
Beneath my skin
I get why people get addicted
To this shit
There is an elusive beauty
Found within numbness
And I hate it all the same
Just like I hate that
Someone somewhere out there
Learned they could line their pockets
And the pockets of their children
And their children’s children
Selling the cure for pain
Then selling the cure
For addiction
Or the punishment
For those deemed unworthy
Or unable to afford
The cure
Somewhere
Someone owns all of this
And I wonder what it would
Be like to rip his throat
(Yeah, I’m making an assumption here)
Out with my jagged teeth
But then again
The thought of strange blood
And bacteria in my mouth
Fills me with an unquiet revulsion.

Fig. 15

I write a litany to numbness
To later be forgotten
In an overpriced notebook
That I paid $20 for
Instead of stealing
Somewhere along the
Road that always led nowhere.

Fig. 16

I listen to a tinny
Clash bootleg and feel
My spirits wanting
To soar like so many songs
Long since sent into unsuspecting airwaves
I write my way down
Every road back home
And write down reasons
To convince this body
To keep breathing
And greet another day
As a blessing
On the outside
Where the beautiful
People are ugly too
I want to live long and strong
With that invincible
Heartbeat as the backdrop
Sometimes I just think
That a set of invincible teeth
Would also be just the kind
Of company I would like to keep.

Diagram of a busted mouth.

I don’t Know What To Say

I was six years old the first time I was sexually assaulted. I can recall the majority of the details with clarity and alacrity. This is a blessing and a curse, I guess because the memories have stayed strong and present with me all these for the past three decades. I have spent the majority of my adult life wrestling with them. Like many survivors, the memories often come bursting out of me with little warning, and at inopportune times. Sometimes during the summer if I am sleeping in a room with a ceiling fan, I wake up with a start thinking it is someone’s breath on the back of my neck. I have spent much of my life in and out of various states of dissociation and bottomless rage. I have spent much of my life like I still don’t know how to say no, and often find myself intimate with individuals who know just how to exploit that.

On the other side of that survivorhood, I distinctly remember being thirteen and my male friends and I figuring out that that there was a blurred line between persistence and coercion. To our young minds, the absence of physical violence somehow differentiated us from the individuals who assaulted me years earlier. Furthering that idea, when I was fifteen, a group of boys abducted one of my friends and took her to a party where they assaulted her. This crime was never reported, but served as singular turning point in the young lives of my friends and I; a reminder of sorts of the secret truth we had always known, encoded in our young bodies: The bad men were real, and they mostly got away with what they wanted. My best friend and I walked around school carrying knives secreted away in our pockets the rest of that year, swearing that we were going to stab the one perpetrator we could identify to death the first chance we got. We never did. He went on to live a normal life until dying in a car wreck on the run from the law ten years later. I was at a party when I heard, and I laughed audibly, comfortable in the certainty that my friends and I were so different from this sorry, dead asshole.

When you are a young person, especially when you grow up in punk, you define yourself by what you are and what you are not. You delineate everyone into a clear “them” and “us”. You surround yourself with other freaks and outcasts and convince yourself you somehow live outside of the unrequited-blood soaked horrorshow that is life on this planet. My friends and I naively believed we were somehow different, all the while shutting out the voices of the women and queers in our lives who have been imploring us to just fucking listen and do better. The few deeply intimate relationships with I have had with men have been with fragile boys with fragile egos, unable in varying degrees to examine hard truths about themselves, always wondering why their lives are perpetual disasters and their exes fucking hate them. Don’t worry. I am counting my relationship to myself in there too.

I wrote letters to two of the individuals who assaulted me at the beginning of my thirties, never having the nerve to send them. Two years back, I decided to send them while trying to reconcile and change my own patterns of abusive behavior towards intimate partners. I held the naïve belief that maybe these two men would hear me out and open a dialogue and that maybe we could sort out some of this mess together. One of them responded. I obviously could not hear the tone in their voice as they composed an email, but I am fairly certain it differed very little from Brett Kavanaugh’s as they berated me, simultaneously calling me a liar and weak for still feeling the effect of their actions thirty years later. They included their phone number in the email, demanding that I call them, which I never did. I have no doubt that had we spoken on the phone, they would have sounded *exactly* like Judge Kavenaugh did on television the other day.

This individual also came out to me as trans in their email. Two days later, they committed suicide. I blamed myself for the death of another trans woman, and wondered what kind of common ground we could have found had they just listened. I wondered how similar the paths we had walked really were. I spent the next week certain their ghost was in the room with me at night and slept very little. I left my room only to eat or walk my dog. I told my friends I was sure that they would be waiting for me in hell when I died. The crushing feeling of guilt stuck with me until I thought about what an utter fucking chump move it is to hurl yourself into whatever afterlife will claim you rather than take responsibility for your actions.

My heart feels ripped out of my chest this week. My heart is broken for all the people I love who are survivors (and that is almost everyone I know.). My heart is broken for all the people I love who are raising children, especially daughters in this thresher. My heart breaks for the kids who come after us, who were supposed to inherit a better world. My heart breaks for the people I love who live the duality of being both survivor and perpetrator this week, because every person I have loved the most has endured/is capable of/has inflicted some serious harm, and we have to live the lives we’ve made and pick up the pieces. My heart breaks continuously thinking about the people who I have done harm to. My heart breaks thinking about what it is to live in a culture that benefits you so intensely that your hard-learned life lessons usually come at the expense of the people you love the most, and that is treated as normal.

I am tired. We are all tired. We are all tired and heartbroken, and I have no optimism with which to end this post, only a small body filled with venom and unwavering love for my friends doing the best they can.

I don’t Know What To Say

7/25/18

’67 Airstream with the radio on
Sweaty Appalachian air thick with heat
Cicadas sing me to sleep
Out in the restless southern dark

The night called me home
With song and blood
Skin never quite shed
Right here
Where god spoke to me
For the very first time
Once upon disaster and nuclear atrocity

Outside the trailer door
You can still smell the scent of it
In the air like a thousand sleepless hours
Passed in this city before this moment

This city
Always in my heart
There was never any choice
I loved this place ever since the moment
An angry kid first set steel-toed boot
To heat-cracked pavement
In the rush of misspent youth

I love it now, still
Walking alone on tourist-choked streets
As an outsider to my former home
With aging eyes searching for familiar sights
Across this beloved skyline
I lost my heart in the shining
Concrete and glass relics
Built for a collapse yet to come

Down in the dives
My friends and I
Drink our liquid bread down
Grown like bitter weeds
Breaking through cracks in the concrete
Poisoned plants from poisoned roots
Choking on words wielded like weapons
Smoking cigarettes and talking trash
Breathing in bitterness like our lungs could last
Building lives out of sculptures of ash

7/25/18

8/28/18

I have been feeling weird and anxious all day, and unable to place exactly what lay at the source of that anxiety. I’m in the middle of packing all my things to move and struggling to get an abscess tooth taken care of adequately with my inadequate state health care. I even lost my patience with an overworked healthcare worker today, saying “I have a fucking infection in my face, and all I want to do is get it treated without losing more of my teeth. This cannot possibly be this hard”. I almost immediately apologized and told the worker that I knew they are just doing the best they can. I’m just so frustrated having been trying to get this tooth fixed for weeks now. None of this is exactly out of the ordinary though.

Then I realized what day it is. My father would have celebrated his 80th birthday today had he not been dead for 24 long years. I didn’t know my father well. He worked tirelessly and came home exhausted and checked out nightly. He would eat dinner sit in front of the television, drinking and smoking until he fell asleep, only to get back up with the sunrise and do it all over again the next day. He looked old past his years, with strangers often confusing him for my grandfather. I didn’t realize until I was well into adulthood that my father had a drinking problem, much like his father before him and the dependencies inherited by my older brother.

Tonight I am thinking about all my friends. I am thinking of all the people I don’t know who I am afraid for. I am thinking of everyone struggling to care for themselves sufficiently. I am thinking of everyone I have ever loved who struggles to live well because they have always been told they only deserve so much. I am thinking of all the people who the world has a way of knocking down anytime they find a way to stand a little too tall. I am thinking about everyone I love who I worry is literally working themselves to death. I am thinking about low intensity class warfare laying waste to all the cities I have loved, making them uninhabitable for the people who made them what they are. I am thinking about the houseles folks whom Relic and I gave some things my emotionally abusive ex sent me unprompted for my 36th birthday to last night. I hope they liked that soft gray blanket and Joy Division shirt. I am purging things to move and they had been sitting in my room long enough, reminding me of the text messages that followed their arrival in the mail two winters past. “Hopefully you like them. The blanket was expensive.” Gross. I am thinking about sitting next to one of the great loves of my life earlier this afternoon, feeling wave upon wave of exhaustion exude from them, and feeling how much the potential of loss scares me even more as we go deeper, get more vulnerable, and as we get older, as if I held them tighter death wouldn’t be as much of a certainty.

I went for a bike ride in the late summer night until my heart beat right again. My chest has physically hurt with anxiety all day today. I am so tired all the time, and the wildfire smoke surrounding the Puget Sound has made it hard to want to exercise lately. I wanted to move my body and not tread down the path laid for me by either of my parents, ignoring despair and inertia. Though I do hope my father’s ghost rode along with me for a bit. I sat on the hill beneath the water tower waiting for the moon to Rise, listening to the music I have loved for more than half of my life. I listened to early Cock Sparrer LPs. I remember my how my mother hated the music and subcultures I was joyously diving into when I was fifteen. Inexplicably, she liked Cock Sparrer. “I think your father even would have liked this” she said.

Go figure.

The moon rose, full, ancient and yellow. I remembered a night so much like this one back home in Appalachia with one of the other loves of my life. We fucked in the cemetery, sweaty and joyous and in love. When we finished the mountains stood silhouetted by the moonlight and I felt the immediate sensation of someone having touched my soul in such a way that I felt like I had been here with them before.

My remembrance was interrupted by the kiddo walking up and taking a seat on the pavement next to me. We listened to a few more records there in the dark, with the moon rising higher and the sounds of the city to our backs. Percy Sledge, Lee Moses, Maraboots, and Symarip. I can feel a shift coming. For once I’m not overwhelmed by the darkness behind and ahead. I’ve survived so many nights of going through hell in this city by keeping going. For once those nights feel like they add up to something.

Thanks dad.

Thanks lovers (Save for that aforementioned one whose gifts now grace the hands of some of Olympia’s houseless population.). Thank you friends, past and present.

Thank you moon.

8/28/18

Apocalypse Summer

A burning yellow sky summer settles into place
Like a toxic haze across a bone-dry Rain City
I wear Leather like armor for skin too thin
A wet bandanna over the face
To walk the late night streets of an apocalypse maze

The sound of my best friend’s paws on pavement
Make for the surest, sweetest company
Against the hushed highway hum rending
The burning world to the bone

The air smells of smoke and ruin
As we walk the path of ash
Empty streets paint portraits of dead time
Old photographs, too late at night, one more backward glance

Come four AM, we give in to rest
Windows shut tight, and the curtains drawn closed
Electric air filter running on overdrive
Filtering out the filth, working as hard as the night is long

Lie in bed and wish to want nothing
Here in this stuffy and darkened room
The sepia toned cinema of memory
Spins off of the reels in the golden gloom

I remember you.

You were always so gentle, my love
Or at least as gentle as your scars allowed
Before we grew to love one another
You were just another face in the crowd

Could have been anyone or anywhere
Lining the haunted avenues and alleys of this town
Living hard and cold in the land of
“I got no friends, only people I know”

Ash falls like snow, there is no way home
No reason to look over my shoulder on the way out the door
The past is a dead country
Sinking to the east, burning down to the west

In solitude
I long to set sail
Away from a burning empire in its dying days
Away from bruised hearts and industrial haze
Untouched by loneliness, longing or sorrow
Into the beauty of the possible and futures unknown

Apocalypse Summer