How To Count Fireflies

I’ll love you in your sorrow,

When cold streams through the open window,

And night sucks the dreams from your pretty head,

I’ll pick you up, and carry you outside,

Where we’ll stand amongst the fireflies,

Trying to count them, but failing,

And you can trace stories in the sky with a finger

While I whisper in your ear,

And kiss along your neck,

And touch you

From behind

In the shadows,

Where all the stories’ names elude you.

I’ll whisper the words

You imagine you forgot,

And put the dreams

Back inside you.

Then we’ll feel our way back to the bed,

Eyes wide and sparkling,

And you’ll know how to count the stars:

Just like fireflies,

All at once.

Weight & Weightlessness

And here, again my ghost follows.

I’ve run a thousand miles and still it finds me, bound to my very core. The scent of me, of my unhappiness, of my lost purpose, draws it in, and it sits now like a cloud of black lead upon my shoulders.

Friends, I’m writing now to you through tears. I’m writing now to you in torment, in agony, in pain so deep it numbs the bones, and even as the words come forward, one by one they salute the ghost, pledge their allegiances, and they are lost to me. They swear no fealty to my fingers, my heart. To my tongue, they are estranged. It is only the ghost they obey; I fear this time it will plunge me further into the pit, the wreaking lashing violent torrent, and pull at my seams until I am naught but smoke and memories.

How do you survive, at times like these?

How do you have such light?

In greyscale, shadow looks dimmed, blended, but despair is a trickster; so powerful it disguises itself in every moment’s picture––a glazed eye, a flat smile.

The page is blurred for me now; the pen trembles. I am come undone.

There is a pressure. It begins at the fingers; gnawing them to nubs does nothing to relieve the tension, the sensation of weight and weightlessness. The pressure trickles up, into the wrist, the flow, veins pulsing, drawing the heavy vacuum through the arms to the heart, where it slumbers. I fear its awakening; on that day will I too resolve to slumber? Will I resign to sleep forever?

My love, she tires of my self pity. My misery. She must, I know. My ghost tarnishes every smiling moment. “How was your day?” becomes a monotone anthem played on repeat, blaring from speakers a thousand stars away, and echoing.

Echoes. I am stillness echoing loudly.

I am a clock without hands.

It comes in waves from every side. Every short word, every hushed whisper teases, cuts. They see me now for what I really am.

Empty. I am empty.

A vessel. The ghost comes quick to fill the void. But the void will not be filled. It only draws and draws faster, quickening, until the very heartbeat within me pulls the light from every room.

Strike me now with lightning, and longing.
Strike me with hatred and hellos.

Save me, for the wretched ghost comes haunting.

I am yours to kiss, or kill. Yours to pull apart.

I am nothing at all.

And still, I love you. For whatever––however much––that is worth.

Novocaine

The first time I did drugs,
I was sitting in a car with my friend Ox

In this dusty spectral parking lot
Yawning at three in the morning,

Waiting on the hookup to show,
Flinching at every blue hint and brake light,

Drooling at the waft of fresh-baked biscuits
Creeping down the street from golden arches,

Knowing, with certainty, that the hookup
Was marked, or that he was a rat,

And at the very least we would
Spend the next fifteen up state,

Where they don’t have books,
Or cell phones, or television,

And where mom can’t send
Brownies on our birthdays.

Still we waited, music on a low hum,
Some sad fucking hymn about

Bitches crawling, sweaty testicles, skeet skeet
Sure as snot on a toddler’s lip

We were up the creek,
When this little white Honda

With neon blue trail,
Throbbing to some other sad hymn

Split rubber and asphalt
And let howl a mighty shriek in the cool night

Alarming the prowling, listening wolves,
And every tree in the Bluegrass with eyes and ears.

We swapped glances, sweating buckets,
Ready to shift and peel out at any moment,

And go screaming off into the night,
When this scrawny Jewish kid

Stepped out of the car
Holding a tattered ammunition box,

Wearing a Flogging Molly tee shirt
And a sagging Rastafarian beanie,

Grinning like a dumb shmuck at prom,
And waddled up to the driver’s window,

Knocked, and said, “Dude, let me in!”
So we did, against better judgement.

Ox introduced the boy as Royce,
And I asked him what the stuff was called,

Hoping for some celebrity name,
Like OG Kush or Purple Nurple,

Something to tell the fellas in class Monday,
But Royce didn’t understand branding.

Instead, he said, “This shit is fire, bro,
It’s like novocaine, man,

“You won’t feel a thing all night.”
And I said, “Don’t you mean lidocaine?”

And Ox said, “What’s the difference?”
And I said, “I think it depends on your HMO.”

And Royce said, “Woah, man,
What are you even saying?”

And I said, “My dad’s in insurance.”
And Ox said, “How much?”

And Royce said, “Sixty bucks.”
So Ox paid the kid, dropped three crisp bills

In that worn green box,
And Royce shook our hands.

All the while I’m aware of the photographer
Crouched in the bushes, holding a 400mm

Isometric telescopic something or other,
Planning our downfall in vivid noir detail,

All black and white, photo grainy,
A bit too blurry to make out,

But the judge would pound her gavel,
Stare down at us with frost in her veins,

And my parents would cry
As they hauled me away in a jumpsuit,

Not because I’d ruined my life,
But because I looked so pear-shaped in a onesie.

Royce exited the vehicle and disappeared
Into the wild, purple dawn,

Never to be seen or heard from again,
At least, not by me.

Ox and I went back to his parent’s house,
And sat in the basement, frantically

Trying to stuff this sticky green shit
Into broken cigarettes we bought off his cousin

Who worked nights at the gas station up the street,
All the time giggling and thrilled

With the enormity of our crimes,
The gravity of our manhoods,

Until at long last,
We lit that spliff like a clumpy white rope,

And filled the room with swirling cords of smoke,
Coughing and gagging, reeking skunk spray,

Dispelling rumors of gateway drugs,
Vowing we’d never get into the hard shit,

Just keep it mellow, you know,
And taking turns asking if the other one

Could feel anything.
No, not yet.

Fast forward.
Ten years later.

Ox is in the ground,
Marked by a cold marble slab

That says something about son and friend,
With two very close dates on it,

And silk flowers all over.
I’m sitting alone on a couch,

A thousand miles from that parking lot,
Dissolving a sugar cube on my tongue,

Waiting for the drip to start up slow,
While I crush some Molly with a hammer

To kickstart the high, thinking back
To that night in Ox’s basement,

And the promise we made,
That nervous flutter in my stomach

The first time I took a hit,
And breathed out, exhaled boyhood,

Exhaled innocence, clarity, chastity,
Completed that sacred rite of passage.

Anyway, I guess the drugs worked,
Because I didn’t feel a thing that night,

And I haven’t felt a thing
Every night since.

The 27th Verse

It’s a funny thing, creating worlds.
They exist and they don’t,
They spin and they swirl,
Gleam and glisten,
Frothing with excitement,
Mystery, danger, romance,
What have you;
But that’s what you get
When you throw a bunch of
Whacky characters
On a planet
With nothing better to do
Than fall in love,
Or pray to their creator,
Or write poems,
Or sing and dance,
Or kill each other
In the name of X,
Where is equal to
The sum of all things
You never expected
A whacky character to dream up.
At the end of the day
(if your world has days that end),
The best you can hope for
Is creating a world
Where all the things
Your characters dream up
Are half as beautiful
As the world around them.
Because if your characters
Are anything like you,
They’ll be dreaming up
Exciting new worlds of their own.
So then, it stands to reason,
That when you become a Worldbuilder 
What you’re really building
Is a mirror inside a mirror.
When you stand and look
At the thing you’ve created,
It just goes on and on;
And everywhere you look,
You can’t help but see yourself.
Maybe that’s what they meant
When they wrote the 27th verse
Of the book about the builder
Of the world we’re living in now.
Even if I don’t believe a word of that book,
I can dig it––the 27th verse, that is––
Because I see some truth in it
Now that I’ve made worlds of my own.

Seasons

Out where the corn grows tall,
The deer play hide and seek,

And mosquitos swarm like street gangs
Ready to pounce and pummel
Unsuspecting sweet-blooded fools.

In the fall, even dusk procrastinates,
Leaving faint traces of daylight’s promise,

To coax the evening crowds: come alive,
See what longing might find you.

Stars swing dance to their own tune,
A song we wouldn’t understand
Even if we could hear it.

The night chill brings bumps on the neck,
As the leaves take their reds,

But morning comes with quiet fury,
A blinding wetness in the air,
And a deceptive warmth that says,

“Maybe this winter won’t be so bad.”
But the farmers, they know better.

They’ve studied The Old Almanac,
And they’re already stockpiling cans,
Generators, bottled water, and matches.

Winter is right around the corner,
Down to a few lunar cycles and counting,

And when the first snow hits,
To topple wires and fog windows,
They’ll be ready.

The city-folk, they’ll cry on for weeks,
Salty sobs that echo over shoveled walks,

But from the farmers, expect no bellyaching:
They’ve had their harvest, and now comes
The part where Mother Nature breathes,

And for a few long months,
There’ll be no shortage of beans and hotdogs.

Until Spring draws green back to the fields,
And the deer come out to start their games,
And once more, there’s work to be done.

Guest Doodle | Two-Headed Dinosaur

$4 goes a long way these days.

Today’s doodle comes from an unknown stranger on the streets of Lexington, KY. Some of you natives may recognize her from the bar scene downtown. 

The other night, a few of my friends and I stopped by a bar called Henry Clay’s. We’re standing outside in a smoking circle when I hear this tiny voice from behind me: I turn to see what it was, and there’s this little old woman, maybe in her late fifties/early sixties (I only say old because she looked very well worn), holding a notepad looking up at me. She mumbled something.

“I’m sorry, what was that?”

“Can I draw you?”

“You want to draw me?”

“Yeah, on a two-headed dinosaur.”

Hold up.

Now, that is one hell of a sales pitch. It takes guts to walk up to someone on the street and ask to share your art. It takes cold mechanical steel behind your belly button to walk up and be like, “Hey, I’m going to create for you a mythical creature, and draw you riding it. Like a boss.”

That’s basically what she’d said.

I was intrigued.

“How much?”

“Uh, seven dollars?”

“Hmm. I have four dollars. Will you do it for four?”

“Yeah.”

Transaction completed. For the next two minutes, I stood with my arms crossed, towering over this tiny woman while she sketched quickly with a pen. My friends all started to snicker. I waved them off. Random people were staring and laughing, I just winked at them. A few people moseyed over to look at the sketch from behind her, then limped away, giggling. 

I didn’t care.

You know why? Because this woman changed my life. No one else had a two-headed dinosaur, and now I was getting my very own two-headed dinosaur. I didn’t give two unholy shits what my friends thought. This lady was damned interesting. 

She spoke with a frailness that said she might be afraid of me, and her eyes never met mine, not once. She had the shifty, itchy demeanor of a junkie—something I can spot a mile away—but there was a lost kindness in her soul, something misplaced, and beautiful, and warm, but it was alien, even to her. She didn’t recognize it anymore. No one else recognized it, either. Maybe in a very long time.

When she was done, I got out my wallet. If I’d had more than four bucks in change from the bartender, I would’ve given it. The drawing may not look like much to you, but to me, this was by far the best four bucks I ever spent.

“Thank you so much,” I said. “It’s beautiful. Can I give you a hug?”

“Shake your hand?”

“Sure, I’ll shake your hand. You be safe out there tonight.”

She started off down the sidewalk, and my friends started cracking up. I scolded them with my eyes, then smiled. 

“Oh yeah, where’s your two-headed dinosaur?”

“Dude, that is literally the worst thing I have ever seen.”

“Then you’re not looking right.”

I turned to see the old lady, but she was already gone, off to add another beautiful creature to the world somewhere else.

And in that moment, I loved her.

  

Love Letters, No. 26

I AM NIGHT and dusk is never ending.

Probe the dark and prove my worth. Step blind into oblivion, summon demons in shadow forms on the cracked walls and windowsills, and every creaking floorboard flies a phantom, taunting.

When I go, will some part of me remain, or will the memory of my feet, my sweat and fingerprints not linger like the dust that plagues this house, the grime that climbs wallpaper like trumpet vines suckering freely through a garden?

What purpose do I have, then, if not to leave a mark? If my legacy is naught, then that is all I am. That should be a question, but somehow, it isn’t.

And then, some part of me wonders still, wandering in cosmic loopholes, stumbling over the fault lines of consciousness and purpose, finding no solace in books and theories of mortal men, no resounding truth to assuage my seething doubt.

When the azalea blooms, does it ask for a purpose? Does it wonder who placed the stars? Does it think anything at all?

Do I?

Surely, that much is true. I’ve never identified much with the solipsists, but I think they’ve staggered onto safer ground than most.

Night offers no remorse, and dreams do little to stay my mind, eager for answers.

And then, there you are.

If my life is a song, you are my call-and-response. The widowed faith cowering inside me dies happy, knowing you are near, and for the time being that’s all I’ll ever need: your face, your lips, your hands, your touch, ever nearer to send your warmth through me like a drill through a drifting iceberg.

If clouds could sing, they would revel in ballads at your beauty. I try to find the words, but every lyric is poisoned by my inadequate tongue, for none can suffer or suffice the peaceful glow in your cheeks, like hay in the wind they break and fall away, fragile against the stone that is your soul, feeble as my barren dreams. In a million lifetimes on a million other worlds I could never dream a more splendid dream than you.

In loving arms you keep me safe, wrapped warm in nurture, tangled in a bliss that should never end, but must. I know it must.

It will end, one day, with you or me the first to go.

Pray it is me, for this world has not fathomed darkness til it sees me lumber at your grave, bitter in the way that a black hole seeks vengeance for the follies of life, drawing breath and light from every room like some aphotic whirl. I am torchless love lay barren, then. Watch me fold and crack like dry timothy, cinder and smoke the world free of all the smiling, singing joy that isn’t you.

Stay with me, love. Keep me to my final breath, or pity the world you leave in your wake. Pity them to suffer me alone.

You are my softness, my only light. My strength. Marvel at the tree of lightning as it arcs across the stars, pierce purple and staining vision long after it fades to night. Our love comes and goes as quick, true; may it shine long in your eyes after I leave this place. Men and cities will crumble, should you fall before me. Mark my words.

Forgive me, my love. Forgive my hollow fury, and stay the beast with life. Kiss me once and I’ll return to infancy; touch me and watch the stars come forth. I’ll shimmer if you ask it. I’ll dance if it pleases you.

Say the word, darling.

I am yours, forever.

Until light and dark have no meaning, I’ll love you.

Jailhouse Saints

Sitting with my skull
Propped against
An old window A/C unit,
I had an epiphany,
And here it is:
My forehead
Could someday be used
As a museum installation
Depicting the birth
And the inevitable fate
Of the cosmos.
Did you get that?
Let me give it to you again:
The sweat on my brow
Is the entire universe.
Just picture it.
It boils up;
Seemingly from nothing,
It appears.
Then, for what may arguably be
No reason at all,
It swirls and shimmers,
Dances and dives,
Until eventually,
Some great calamity comes
And wipes it all away.
Let me put it like this:
If cells are alive,
If they are actual living things,
Then I commit genocide
Every morning before breakfast.
We are God and Devil,
Every one of us
With a forehead
And a hand at the ready.
That being said,
It stands to reason
That the most merciful among us
Are the ones in handcuffs.

Lucky

IF YOU FOUND ME ON THE STREET and asked, “What have you done with your life?” my answer might be:

“Well, that depends on who you ask.”

Some people say I’m a murderer. Others call me a nasty nuisance. Then there are those who can’t go a day without me, and to them, I’m the only thing standing in the way of a complete mental breakdown.

I’m no hero, that’s for sure. I’m not even positive I have any control over my own fate. I am born, I grow, I change along the way, and then eventually I die. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust. The only difference between me and you is this: I BURN SLOW.

I’ll never get a proper burial. 

***

I met Doris Lynch at a Citgo in 1997. It was a good year. Gas cost $1.22 a gallon; you could go see a movie in the theater for less than five bucks, no joke. Doris Lynch picked me up after a fight with her estranged first husband. She was a little more colorful coming out of the apartment than she’d been going in. We hit it off pretty quick. I was there when she needed me.

Don’t get the wrong idea, here. I’m no homewrecker. Doris cashed in her chips long before I came around. The bags were already in the trunk of the car. The only thing she forgot was her purse––wouldn’t you know it––and she would’ve left without that if it hadn’t been for the pictures of her mother in the wallet.

Doris Lynch needed me, but I needed her just as much. I’d been in a slump myself; sitting in a gas station 18 hours a day with sweaty lottery addicts and the occasional junkie for company will do you in real quick, if you catch my drift. I was looking for a way out, and Doris just happened to come along at the right moment. It was love at first sight, if such a thing ever existed.

Doris took me places I’d never imagined. Most of all I remember her lips, the classic cherry Chapstick flavor, the way her tongue slid out to wet them from behind brittle, yellow teeth. They got more and more yellow in the years to come, I imagine.

We were standing in the parking lot, fast approaching midnight, when this guy came up to ask if Doris knew “The Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” He offered her a pamphlet. Her response was priceless: GOT A LIGHT?

“No thanks, I’m allergic.”

We were golden from then on, baby. It was the best thing, and the worst thing, and the shortest thing that ever happened all rolled into one. A brief moment of clarity; burning desire mixed just the right way with desperation, a volatile blend of agony and regret. This makes for a powerful concoction, one any down-in-the-dumps burnout would be hard-pressed to refuse, and Doris had never been a model for reasonable behavior.

She knew all the warnings. She’d read about this kind of relationship in magazines and on the sides of buses, on billboards and on TV. She’d heard politicians groaning on the radio, pressed by pundits and lobbyists to make outlandish statements, promises they would never live up to. In that moment, Doris didn’t care about all that. She went with her gut.

Her gut was telling her, “Well, I guess it can’t get any worse.”

She took the leap. Both eyes closed, lips parted, an eagerness on her tongue and an emptiness in her heart, she jumped in with both feet, and from then on, well, as they say: SMOKE ‘EM IF YOU GOT ‘EM.

The rest was history.

***

About seven years later, almost to the day, Doris Lynch came down with a cough. Nothing serious; the doctor said it was Bronchitis. She didn’t even call in to work that day. She worked the rest of the week, coughing into her fist. Then one afternoon Doris Lynch pulled her hand away, beet juice glistening in the crook of her thumb.

I heard about it through the grapevine. You know how these things go. You meet someone, you have a moment, and then the moment passes. Sometimes one leaves a mark on the other. Sometimes it just doesn’t stick.

There’s no denying I left my mark on Doris Lynch.

It’s true what they say: the small things are the most important. It was just this tiny thing growing inside Doris Lynch that did it.

She never stood a chance.

I have to say this: I didn’t feel a thing when I found out about Doris Lynch. Not a thing. No regret, no burning in my eyes, nothing. I went on about my day, laying in the crack of a sidewalk, like nothing ever happened. I’d been decomposing on the streets for years; hearing the news didn’t change anything. Life after Doris Lynch hadn’t been exactly kind on me. Apparently we had that in common.

Point is, I’ve moved on. The world has moved on. Doris Lynch rots the same as you will.

I don’t care what you think of me. You don’t have to like me. You don’t have to love me. You can outright hate me, for all I care. I’ve been around for a very, very long time, and I’m not going anywhere soon.

When you stroll over a crowded crosswalk, I’ll be there. When you settle down for a beer at the local dive bar, I’ll be there. When you walk through the hospital, any hospital, I will most certainly be there.

If you were to find me on the street and ask me, “What have you done with your life?” my answer might be:

“Nothing. Everything. Depends who you ask.”

END


I wrote Lucky for the COLOR BY WORDS | THE OL’ SWITCHEROO writing challenge, brewed in a cauldron and cast upon the world by The Mother of Bunnies herself.

I hope you enjoyed it.

If you think you know who or what the protagonist is (in other words, what perspective I’m writing from), drop a comment below and let me know. I’m curious to see how you all read it.

(Psst! I love you.)

Drinkers With Writing Problems Published My Poem!

It’s Christmas in August for this vagabond poet.

DWWPIn case you missed the giddy Tweets, earlier this week I was honored with a chance to guest-publish a poem on Drinkers With Writing Problems. Fantastic site, in case you’ve never had the pleasure. Go there. Just a heads up though, it’s BYOB.

I couldn’t be more excited for you all to read The Good Life. Special thanks goes out to Kim Nelson, keeper of the Ponytail Up blog, for getting my poem in the DWWP queue. Thanks, Kim. I’m sending you a bourbon basket.

Wait, is that even a thing? Do they actually make bourbon baskets?

If not, they really should. Someone, please steal this idea. Then promptly send me a free sample. “Free” being the operative word, since I’m broke. I would say “starving,” but fortunately I’ve stored enough blubber to keep my body functioning for many winters.

Okay, I think that’s enough self-deprecation for one blog post.

Now leave me alone to kill the rest of this Woodford Reserve in peace, dammit.

But, before you go, know this:

I love you.

P.S. Please Drink Responsibly.