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, mother
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 singing
For every mouth to be fed
Holy forgiveness
And every war’s end

Desmond Dekker

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For My Mother and Desmond Dekker

Untitled

12:42 AM
Drunk, but not too drunk
Just marveling at
The taste of alcohol on my tongue
After five years of
World crushing panic
Every time I tipped a bottle back

Lying in bed
With candles lit
My last great love’s
Scent lingers on the pillow
Long after the echo
Of their laughter
Exited the room

Lingering on
Like cigarette smoke
Permeating hair
Painfully aware
Of toil dragging a body down
Taste the weight of age
Gravity gripping my face
Fear the grave
Lick my lips
Taste a long kiss goodnight
With all the beauty and bitterness
Of mortality on my lips, still

Untitled

On Island Road

Cooper City Florida, 1987
Voorhees and Krueger Come
To gruesome life on a suburban television
Screaming children run
Across a flickering screen
Fleeing bloodslick blades gripped
In the hands of fictional horrors unrelenting

The credits roll
The Screen goes blank
The groan and hum of the cassette
Rewinding breaks the brief silence
As the screams of so many murdered
Teenagers fade into the recesses
Of my young mind.
“What did you think of that?”
The words slide
From his tongue with cold eagerness
“Uh. A lot of people died.”

I am six years old
Spread on the floor
While parents wrestle with oblivion
Behind closed doors
He says ghosts live
In the corner of
Every room, watching
This scares me more than the movies
For some reason

His mother’s apron
Hangs limp from a hook in the kitchen
I imagine now, every corner filled
With aprons, suits, dresses
Suspended
Haunted
Lifeless

The cathode ray glow
Filled with cheap horror
Keeps my restless ghosts
At bay until the morning

Less than a block away
My parents sleep
Ashtrays on their night tables
Who smokes in the house around
A first grader with asthma anyway?

Late night cable
Takes a turn for the worse
Filled with wet mouths
And hungry curves
Speaking a language
I have yet to learn

He unzips his pants

There are power lines outside
Humming static against the
Thick night sky
The heat is oppressive

I know I should feel something more.

Right here
In this town
Sneaking around
Feet pound
Late night blacktop
Still clinging to the sun’s last heat
In this house
On this street

I feel nothing.

Do you know how
To give into hate?
I now know how to give in
To hate.

IMG_2073 (1)
Photo credit unknown
On Island Road

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

Goodbye To A Bedroom

Sit alone and content in a room
On a quiet evening just at summer’s end
Give thanks to these four walls sheltering my soul
For just under 1,000 nights
Breathe slow in the darkness before dawn
Think of the four nights left to go

I spent my very first night behind these walls
Just as the sun cracked summer wide open
Heartbroken, restless, and all alone
Pacing in front of the window
Glancing down at my phone
Waiting for calls
That would never come

I spent days that followed
Settling for a companion culled from
The worst in humanity that I have ever known
(Yeah, yeah, you know who you are)
Just as you know your
Actions ensured no force on earth
Would ever call me home
To your door with flowers
Or any remnants of love
As you run the race alone
In delusion, dishonor and sickness
From bottle to the bottom of the grave

Three nights in August
Spent in spinning sorrow
Faced with the lonely death
And the haunted by the ghost
Of my very first nemesis
For three nights
Her spirit crawled from my childhood nightmares
To stand spectral watch over my bed
Staring hate from eyeless sockets
Into my sleeping back
Goring war into my soul

I fell in love in this room too
Despite those first nights
Painting portraits of a void-filled heart
Writing love letters to nothing at all
Feel myself change shape the beautiful glittering dark
Cold winter moon, streetlight glow in the window
Warm nights wrapped in your arms
Your fucking smirk
Giving way to one of my favorite grins
(Yeah, yeah, you know I’m talking about you)
Giving thanks for all the times we cried
Finding the deepest strength I’ve ever known
In the afterglow of vulnerability

Leaving behind every single night
Spent in this room worn down
Burnt out and breathless
Certain that the day had come
And I saw my very last sunset
To my demons
To my enemies
To every lost hour
Spent within the confines
Of these walls

I thank you for the opportunity
To rising above
And destroying you.

Goodbye To A Bedroom

8/17/18

Angelic Upstarts on the stereo
Steel toe boots all laced up and ready to go
Thirty-seven years old standing in the shadow
Of the last twenty-odd years
Stomping to the beat
Of leveling monuments built to misery
With the songs that taught us to spit blood
In the face of defeat
Ringing like thunder in our skulls

Watch your tears fall like rain
I swear I have lived this moment before
Raised the dawn through so many nights like this one
Wrapped up warm and safe with the sound
Breathing in the solace of the stereo
Bound as we are, always
“By six strings to this world”
Next to every single person
I ever loved

The stories we tell matched in their horror
Similar in scope
Touched as we are by the darkness
The people who raised us named love
We learned well to wear our scars

Rebel sounds on the stereo
Soundtrack to the world crashing down
Songs for all the inferno hearts
Caught in the conflagration
Buried in wreckage wrought by industry

I have learned the painful truth
There are vicious constants in this life
Cycles of history, repeating motifs, old ghosts
Wash, rinse, repeat, but never quite feel clean
Clean, like the breaks we always wanted

From the poisoned hands that
Shaped years weighed down by ruins
Are you angry?
Let’s get fucking angry
Just like we were when you
Were 14, 22, 37
The anger that comes with losing years
Locked away in dark rooms
Losing the battle with getting out of bed
Mourning every lost future
You never got to live

I want it all:
Unrepentant and violent
As I have ever been

I want to give myself
To fugitive time
I want to lose myself
To blood spilt nights
And a knife slipped
Between the ribs
Of every enemy
A boot stomping on the face
of every bad memory

I want the crashing noise
Distortion drenched and damaged
Freaks dancing in the night
Hanging on to one another
For life

Screaming out the sorrow
Rage bellowing forth
Life a river of ash
Coughed back up from
Lungs that breathe once again
Bodies rejecting the poison
Mended wings taking flight
From every house fire
We could never fight

(Sometimes you just gotta watch it burn)

I want you to heal
Like you mean it
Like your life depends on it
(Because it fucking does)
I want to watch you walk tall
So tall
Twelve feet tall
And drunk on the blood
Of everyone who ever meant you harm
Staggering through streets
Like they are yours to walk upon

I want to watch you thrive
I want to watch you grow
Old, sturdy, and wise
Stronger for every
Single scar you were
Ever made to wear

8/17/18