Communion

When I drove across the country,
the only place I’d ever stop was McDonald’s.
I could walk in and use the bathroom
and order some cheap decent coffee.
Sometimes I would order food to-go
and sit in my car and eat alone.
I avoided the communion inside.
Their eucharist was somehow not my eucharist;
Although I ate the same bread
and I drank the same sugary wine.

A few years before,
I worked in a resort on the coast of Maine.
My job was to drive to each of the cabins
and build ready-to-set fires for our guests,
as they ate their breakfast in the main lodge.
Each cabin was stocked with old newspapers in a wooden box.
They were mostly browned copies of the New York Times.
I tore the papers into strips,
gathered and fluffed them,
and balled them into efficient starters,
which I placed below the tepee-stacked kindling.
Sometimes I would get distracted and start reading the articles.
I realized I was taking too long.
My coworker was outside by the truck, waiting.
I’d fold articles into the back pocket of my shorts
and save it for later.
There were book reviews.
Weekend editions.
Science Tuesdays.
Op-ed’s and obituaries.
My curiosity has always pulled me into strange, lonely places.
Some of these articles were five years old.
I stacked them in a pile in the bottom drawer of my dresser.
And every evening the staff would come down
and we’d gather and eat our communal meal in the small staff kitchen.
Sometimes I would not want to eat with others,
So I’d go outside and eat on a bench,
hoping to be forgotten in my own small communion.
Sometimes I’d unfold the article I had saved from that day.
I’d start reading
and then someone else would come outside.
And they’d sit around me and talk.
And I folded my article and put it away.
Back to the stack, never to be read.

These days, I get a sandwich at work during my shift.
I go downstairs and eat, alone in the office.
I read about baseball. I almost always read about baseball.
I think about nothing.
I become a small, dour bug,
ingesting nutrition necessary for my survival.
The sandwiches are so big,
that when I started I could only eat half of one.
I’d save the rest for later.
After six months,
I was able to eat the whole thing in one sitting.
Now, I’m still hungry after I eat the sandwich.
I think I can eat two sandwiches.
I think, I have the potential
to eat an infinite number of sandwiches.
I am fairly certain that I eventually could be a roadside attraction.
The gaunt man in a cage who can eat and eat,
and I would pass the sandwiches there,
through the hole they’d cut in the computer chair
with a bucket beneath.
I could be in a cage,
reading about baseball,
thinking about nothing,
all self-awareness eradicated,
pleased and unaware of this fact,
simply ingesting.
I imagine a man in a top hat with a cane points to me,
this cage, it’s well-decorated.
It has burgundy drapes, a big splashy sign.
The man, he has a bullhorn,
and svelte women in revealing clothes stand next to the cage
presenting my salacious consumption,
while I sit inside,
the 8th wonder of the world,
the Great Trash Can of Brooklyn,
shirtless, without napkins
continually performing my private communion.

Bedtime

They were laying in bed.
She said how her dad had gotten into a fender bender,
but he was okay, and the car was fine,
and that she went swimming at the gym,
and then came home,
and waited for him to come home.
He breathed shallow,
eyes mostly closed.
He sat up and said he needed to go home.
And she laughed.
He got up and got dressed and slipped his beanie on,
and left their apartment.
Confused, she waited for him.
Twenty minutes later,
he came back, short of breath, panting.
He undressed and washed up in the bathroom.
Then came into their bedroom
He asked her how her day was, and what she did.
She repeated that her father had a minor car accident,
but he was fine.
And she went swimming at the gym.
He laid down next to her and told her,
a friend of his,
had gone swimming at the gym,
and then she got lost driving in the suburbs near her parents house
and drove mystified along yellow terraces,
making u-turn after u-turn,
until she came to Broadway.
And at the crosswalk were a parade of dwarfs,
and yellow cab duck cars,
shining happy sunshine rhythm through the trees.
And he turned and told her,
that she should meet his friend,
that they would like each other.
They have a lot of common.

Rabbit Suit

My father used to light matches with a Bic
and casually say,
that if it’s a shredded up piece of paper
then it’s probably worth something
or once was.
When our mother went to book club,
my father put on a rabbit suit.
He folded and stacked his human clothes
neatly on milk crates in the garage.
He’d get sit on the couch,
drink a bottle of vodka
and call friends from college.
He never said anything about his rabbit suit.
The memory ended up like a shredded piece of paper.
Something that meant something,
or touched something that was.

Ears

My girlfriend gave me a haircut yesterday.
She kept on telling me,
“If you keep on moving around
I’m going to cut off your ears.”
I told her to go right on ahead.
I don’t have any ears,
because I have never seen my ears.
When she was done,
she mentioned that she cut off my ears.
Later, I went to the bar,
like I always do,
and they asked me what happened to my ears
and I told them
“I don’t have any ears.”

Making Sense of the Senseless

Following the recent tragedy in Newton, Connecticut, a volume of disparate things have been said. People have condemned American culture as wholly violent. Politicians have highlighted the shooting as evidence to enact “meaningful policy” against gun control. There has been a cacophony of voices expressing outrage and sadness. People have attempted to construct some sort of meaning from this – in order to understand and so these lives weren’t taken for nothing. This a wholly natural reaction to something of this order. People are looking to make sense of this. However, regardless of the virtue or moral of whatever consequent each one of us finds, it remains that the action itself was senseless. The man killed children. There is no excuse for his actions. People, in effect, are trying to make sense out of something wholly senseless. There is no logic in these supposed gains. People want to, in a sense, capitalize on this moment so it will mean something. That or else return to their routine and pretend this never happened.

I have felt compelled to write about the tragedy for a number of reasons. What bothered me, was that I felt that I needed to write something quickly. I wondered why this was. I realized that I needed to write about this quickly because, with great sorrow, people will forget about this soon. It will become another stepping stone in a much larger path, a path that I will get into shortly. The Newton tragedy will be grouped with the tragedy in Aurora, with the tragedy in Norway, with the shooting of Gabrielle Giffords. It has already been grouped with Columbine. We like to think that this particular one will be the “tipping point”, will be the one that finally enacts real change in our policy and possibly our culture (as if the two are somehow related in a meaningful sense), and so again, that these lives will have not been taken in vain. However, this is not the end of these types of violent actions. The fact is, that there will be continue to be actions just like this one, and the scale and method of the violence will get worse.

I spent a good amount of time in college focusing on war theory, and more specifically future war. We studied patterns of contemporary violence and insurgencies. We spent a great deal analyzing fourth-generation-warfare and finished our study by contemplating what would come next. What we, and other war analysts, have dreaded is the rise of domestic terror, specifically in America. We have arrived at a new paradigm. We will not be attacked by faceless groups. We will be attacked by individuals. The reasoning goes as follows: before, we saw violence between established nation-states in the form of conventional warfare. There were relatively few rules regarding how to contain, restrain and/or destroy these nation-states. Eventually, there came the rise of entities that were not nations, such as al-Qaeda and Hezbollah. They were able to organize, arm and use violence as means of accomplishing their goals. They were not hodge-podge insurgencies, but stateless, multinational organizations. They blurred the lines between civilians and soldiers. These groups are harder to deal with – you cannot sanction them, it is hard to identify who is a member, and you cannot isolate them as they function in cells. There are fewer measures to combat their violence, the most effective being to get members to give up information and giving them a pass. The next step in large-scale violence is the rise of the very thing we saw on December 14th, and what we will continue to see; the acts of super-empowered individuals. They are lone agents acquiring weapons and accomplishing violent goals, however deranged or selfish. They have no peers dissuade irrational violence or give them up. There is no network to identify or parse them into. They are in all practicality, nearly impossible to combat, as they are difficult to identify until it is too late. Their goals and methods are non-traditional and extremely difficult to stop, as shown on Friday and shown before. They are people with greater resources and understanding on how to take advantage of technology and material within their environment, causing irreparable damage. And it would not be difficult to say that the damage caused by Adam Lanza was irreparable. The damage Timothy McVeigh caused was irreparable.

I have always felt the most important, and least understood tenet of warfare has been this – for every measure, there is a counter-measure. Violent agents have a particular goal. They have a known variety means of accomplishing that goal. When those means are taken away, new means are found. When car bombs were identified as a problem, they started searching cars that were entering likely target-areas for bombings. So, the insurgency began using bicycle bombs as they weren’t getting stopped. When measures were taken against bicycle bombs, they started using body bombs. When young men were identified as likely body-bombers, and measures were taken, they started using young women. When this was identified, they found a new means, this flowing into perpetuity, until they felt their goal was achieved and violence could stop. Implementing strict policy on gun control isn’t necessarily going to stop gun violence, although I do think that there is no explainable reason to have assault rifles by legally purchased. But just as drug users will find drugs regardless of their legality, and just as people seeking abortions will get them in unsafe environments, and subsequently endanger themselves when abortion is illegal, people who seek guns will find them. Illegality of a weapon will not act as a deterrent. We cannot simply get rid of all guns, but we can make access more difficult. We should not function under the illusion that policy will lead to changes in human behavior. In a country where guns are extremely difficult to get, on the same day that the Newton tragedy occurred, a comparable event took place in China with a knife attack.  I don’t imagine legislators in China are seeking to enact knife-control policy. And since the goals we are concerned about  involve murder and end in suicide for the individual, you cannot cater to these types of goals.

I feel if we are going to do justice for the lives that were lost in Newton, we should not be reactionary. We should not operate under the illusion that a somehow violent culture produced this type of tragedy. What produced this type of tragedy is the evolving production of large-scale violence. This country is no more violent than it was before. It is simply a new kind of violence – something we are not adjusted to, something we do not comprehend that seems maniacal and crazy, and something we need an explanation for to help us get to bed. It seems more violent because it is so incomprehensible that the news choose to highlight it. It is legitimately newsworthy, as it is new. The world is changing. This is going to continue to happen. This is what living with fifth-generation-warfare is going to be like. It is not a reason to move to a foreign country (where this will start to happen, and has been happening) or to pull your kids out of school. We have to recognize the situation for what it is. We should not become apathetic due to a false perception of our society. With the benefits of globalization, easy access to information and connecting with people anonymously there are considerable dangers. There are huge dangers with America’s terrifying rise in mental illness. And this, in all likelihood, and what I deeply fear, will actually get much worse, as eventually there will be a rise of dirty bomb detonations and chemical warfare attacks perpetuated by super-empowered-individuals. Soon, we may have to adjust from mass shootings, as incomprehensible as that seems.

This is a reality of living in our current world. That things like this will “just happen”, as comparable acts of savagery and senseless have “just happened”, time and time again throughout history.  They have always existed and they will continue to exist.  Our contemporary culture is not immoral and destructive and producing people capable of these types of actions. Anyone pushing that idea is just pushing a poorly-conceived solution to keep you insulated in a culture of fear and get you to read more of their ideas and not think for yourself. These people are simply behaving in different, and more violent methods due to the means they have been presented with. We do more of our shopping online, because it is a means of accomplishing our shopping goals we have been presented with. If we change their available means, they will find new ones, just as if we took away the internet you would start shopping more in stores again. We should not operate under the illusion that the world is falling apart. It isn’t. Our biggest cities, which have historically produced the most amount of violence have actually seen a dramatic decrease in violence.

One thing we must do for the victims of Newton is that we should try to examine our world soberly. We should try desperately to see reality for just exactly how it is. We need to understand history and patterns and try to gauge how the world around us is going to become before something clambers up behind us and surprises us yet again. So we get sent back ten paces, unable to comprehend, stuck in a cycle of our own making.

The Loop

Daniel was told by a psychiatrist
that there were past lives,
well…
the psychiatrist crossed his arms.
It’s more like a library of other lives
that one
if bored enough,
could pain themselves into seeing.

Black spaces
summoned into light with a dog whistle.
It must be pushed through a canal
or blown like air into the bottom of a flume.
Worlds within worlds,
hearts within hearts.
He imagined in this space he used to be a viking.
Or an alien.
Although in reality, he knew it didn’t work like that.
He couldn’t get the fantasies off his mind
as he stared out his apartment window
at five in the morning,
drinking coffee since two-thirty.
He looked at his neighbors window.
Watching the strip of light
beneath a bedroom door.

Daniel was told
by a stub-fingered card counter
that he met in Salinas,
that he could get there,
if he stayed up for three days
and opened all the doors and windows
and ate particular seeds.
He was not allowed to roast them.
Or drink more then one glass of water a day.
So that’s what Daniel did.
This is what he saw.
.
Green-gray sky
dirt road kicking red dust.
Lloyd’s olive work pants layered in soot and ash,
worn Atlas gloves in the back pocket.
They talked about who they used to love.
The conversation was very short.
Dawn in a white dress,
walking barefoot,
beside Lloyd back to their house.
Her thumb carried her open-toed shoes
that she slung over her shoulder.
Dawn swayed back and forth on the road.
The hills collapsed and rose near the horizon.
They were not rolling,
They inhaled and exhaled,
breathing body of Atlas,
ruddy lungs of under,
a place Daniel would say,
and did say
“you could walk all over,
or stay still,
and have the same experience.”
Lloyd pulled a cigarette from his ear
and cupped his hands as he lit a match.
The fire brightened his face.
He continued talking.
After thirty seconds,
Dawn stopped listening to Lloyd’s joke-chatter
the words Daniel could hear but not make out,
but he could tell it was nervous chatter,
based on the way Dawn looked more at the trees
and the queer tone of sky,
the lips of heaven.
She asked him to stop talking.
Because she had stopped moving.
And he had walked ahead.
And she reached for Lloyd’s wrist.
And he turned his wide body around.
She wanted to tell Lloyd a story.
It was time to match the blueprint
against something other than structured chaos,
too familiar with the way,
that someone lost in the forest
continues to make the four wrong turns,
stuck in a self-imposed circle,
damned to the loop.
The story involved choices.
Best described as a lack of choice.
And more like
“Well, shit just happens.”
The story was about no choices
in that, let us say
that a train on a lay of track
has a choice.
It can continue.
It can return,
step-by-step,
rail-by-rail
or
it can stop and rust.
A story told in the middle,
like the one Dawn (finally) tells,
as Lloyd pinches his tongue
and they walk
in the way and the waiting,
a world and a blade of grass
sitting between them.
Same thing.
A story, a device to suggest another story.
The narrow choices of the train
swallowing coal and cinder like Dimetapp.
.
“They had dated for a year but never slept together.
Well, they slept in the same bed.
But, you know.
He had…drug-store problems, I think he felt
something…small, I guess,
like in the shadow of his brother.
Ovid.
His brother’s name was Ovid.
Ricky was, like, a simpler name.
I dunno.”
Dawn laughed at herself.
“Ricky is an alright name.”
She stopped walking and softly kicked at a pebble
that limped along the space between the grass and the road.
A sad pebble.
It plopped in the ditch water,
and Lloyd,
realized there was a ditch there,
and tossed his loose smoke there,
spitting tobacco from his lips.
“It’s hard to say what happened
though none of our friends…
and then before it made sense,
she had fallen down the stairwell.
It sounded awful.
I was asleep on the couch.
It was that abode house…
you remember it, I bet.
You were there, I think.
The one on Anodyne St.”
Lloyd nodded.
Lloyd didn’t remember the house.
“The house with the really hard couch, it was like,
a wicker basket.
The stairs were hard but sort of like clay.”
There was an emphasis and her Texas twang sat up on clay.
“She made like, a soft thud.
I looked a the step later.
There was a dent.
..
But, I guess it could’ve been damaged from before.
Oz thought she was dead.
She was sprawled out,
she didn’t even react,
that girl,
she was like perfectly still.
I can’t believe I don’t remember her name.
Ricky stepped over her to get to the car.
There was a cab outside,
to take them to the airport.
They had a flight that day!
Oh my god, I remember now.
God.
He was high.
He was always…high.
It goes without saying, I guess…
those times…
I guess if he weren’t high.
He just wouldn’t be Ricky.
..
..
I don’t think he thought,
but I don’t think it would’ve been any different,
if he knew we were awake.”
Lloyd heard a frog hiccup.
He wanted to go find it and say hello,
but he could tell Ovid about it when they got back inside.
“Oz and I tried to go back to sleep.
He did.
…I couldn’t.
…She snapped clean to while I stood…
it was just like she just…
and Ricky…
I asked her if she was flying or if Ricky was just going alo…
they were both…
his cab was gone…
no waiting…
she made me promise I would
teach English in Taiwan.
She gripped my wrist
and she moved in to kiss me…
and…she nearly was gonna miss her flight…
and…I got her in a cab
and…she mouthed “Taiwan” to me as it sped off.”
..
“But you weren’t there, Lloyd, were you?
I thought you were Oz.
…a cab came back,
It was Ricky.
He was the one that missed his flight.
He had left maybe an hour before her.
He saw through security, and something happened.
Something always happened.
Or, I guess the right things just never happened.
She ended up boarding before he did.
He just laughed and said it was “bullshit,
that shit just happened.”
and
“Fuck that”.
And Ricky said he walked out of the airport.
And hailed a cab.
And as the family in his cab got out,
paying the cabby,
Ricky vomited on the child.”
.
They went inside the house.
Ovid wasn’t home, but Lloyd would remember
to talk about the frog tomorrow.
Notes in the blueprints
a ledger of a past,
here in the sequestered,
sleeping among the horses in the stable.
Their house with no doors
wind of the deflating hills
moving through the house like an outlaw.
Gin poured into plastic cups,
that neither of them drank,
silent on the elevator,
sitting out on the villa,
red clay birthing
a simple name without words.
Dreams revealing the nature of their loops.
They took their four turns
while looking at each other on the villa
and Lloyd said
that in his last life, he dreamed he was a cartographer.

Three Small Stones

Waves come running
some small, some large.
They’re inconsistent
as sample dirges from a master
sound to native ears.
The waves crash orange
along the shore of the East River.
Harold, Robert and Cassandra
play cards, chain smoke
up on the roof.
Good getting done in the old shoes.
Cassandra says it gets hotter at night.
Harold thinks of the clouds
that have hovered over the city for weeks,
lingering, nascent
a promise made that went forgotten.
Pears fall clumsy from a tree
that grew through the neighbors building.
Robert clambers on top of a tall chimney
and squats, though there’s a chair,
and he notes
that the waves are growing.

Empty amethyst of our lives
protecting us from the loose juice.
Dawn bought Oz tango lessons for Christmas
and they stayed dry and warm in the drawer.
Infinite loops leading to infinite failures.
Diagrams drawn on the back of a lager label,
one Cassandra had torn off the bottle,
detailing how a young woman can own a young man
using three sentences.
When Harold got out of the Air Force
he used his GI footing to get his masters in poetry.
He found himself using clamps to crack nuts,
more interested in drawing portraits
of a falling sky,
or looking at old photographs of strangers
than listening to an older woman
discuss the form of things
and how to count.
He received letters from Daniel,
and he wondered how Daniel got his address in Eugene,
but he didn’t wonder after he read the letters.
Some people have a way of knowing.
Here in the cold space
are Warm whispers
beside a daughter of America’s shoulder
with crossword puzzles
and bright skin
all known from a borrowed tune
listed in a podunk almanac
from the back of her hatchback
notes on being a loose-lipped survivor
sleeping in moss and mist.
Here are notes how it feels
to not fit into a suit,
or tell a tailor that you just don’t know.
Pull up your pants,
roll up your sleeves,
when there is no breeze
no jacket is really warm or cold
just an addition to a neutral feeling.
So, Harold read Camus, Dante and Milton.
He drew partial extracts from a nearby sunset,
noted the color and shape of things he could see
handed Robert a pair of 8’s on the fold out table,
stamping out a butt,
and smoke bloomed around Robert’s thick forearm
like traces through their mutual ghost.
Robert felt like the mascot
of a forgotten, trampled city.
He said this in a letter to Daniel,
which Daniel unfolded and read in his garden,
watching the Macon azaleas breathe,
a blue-breasted Kingfisher in a branch.
Daniel daydreamed of the King of America.
He hoped he had a warm place,
maybe a jacket or two,
maybe pancakes and marmalade.
Something’s we are better off not knowing.

Harold daydreamed of an empty America.
One with lilac fields and candycane branches
bricks swathed in petals
walking through a slanted desert
he imagined the peace
of the inviting quiet of a prairie.
Horses and foxes
Elephants and wolves
warm moons on envelope dreams
riding handbuilt bicycles with Daniel,
meeting in strange places,
living squadrons among caverns and stolls.
The rain a gleaned mightless drip.
Harold knows he can slow down without this,
that he honestly needs to,
too much gets lost in the noise,
and you forget what you were trying to do
so he wants trees and cliffside’s
and the voices of children
near that same ocean shore
with Lloyd
throwing a tennis ball again,
skidding gentle and rapturous
like a smooth stone on water
these splashed notes
set to a harmony
with the emotions water wrung
a heavy sweater dripping out on the clothesline.
Once the clouds dissipate,
the cloth and the shroud will shrink
the way America will.
The waves pulling back
the valves closing
the shutters and the dust swift
among the footprints
and the song of overactive eyelids.
Harold and Robert sat on rocks in Central Park.
Thinking and talking about the way things were not,
what change and growth did not bring,
no settled peace or contentment,
just another title and job.
Ten feet away a photograph was taken
of a couple standing beside a still lake.
Robert couldn’t think of the last time he was photographed.
Robert wrenched change from his key pocket
and threw three smooth small coins
against the still water.
And then huffed breath coughing phlegm and old smoke
dancing in the quiet stream,
he hacked at his lungs until it sprouted
three thousand miles away
at the railroad overpass,
where his muddy boots and her bra lay underneath,
he heard two lovers laughter.
He did not hear his voice.
Robert stayed quiet
the way survivors do
when they think about what was lost.

These two marble sons of America
making sacrifices and tolling sweat
riding trains and paying bills
drumming through duty
waiting for dignity to arrive,
losing themselves in cards and bourbon,
syntax slippers on a gallows deck
They yawn and they don’t sleep.
Cassandra draws their portraits,
without looking at the paper,
it comes out looking like cartoon captains
born on a cereal box.
And after looking at that,
and feeling a bullish knot in his stomach
Harold drunkenly climbs into his room
and removes Daniel’s letter from a box.
And Harold reads a section aloud
because he thought that it was needed

“Harold, you slow dulcimer,
pick up your borrowed name
and cold shoulders,
say what you are,
shake the drowsy feeling from your hearts,
the cold lovers of yesterday cannot hurt you.
Slack your pace, hear your rhythm,
be one with your spirit,
not your mind.
The beautiful blonde at this cafe you are looking at
will not complete your life,
though you will probably complete hers.
Why do you work so hard for someone else?
Why do you wait for them to raise their standards?
Why do you invite this pain?
Why do you strive for completion?
Why do you try to finish your life,
round it off,
before it even started?
How can you be so sure?
Harold,
get away from what you have known.
Stop loving others
and love the world first.
Do not ask yourself
if the intimacy they have shared,
that America has shared with you,
is the same intimacy,
they get from a cold cauldron on an empty night.
Follow and ask the pollute stars
for your name in a constellation.
Skip rocks as a heartbeat moves
across migrant shores,
the lapsed batty heart of America
is not lost to you,
bend your eyebrows through a thicket
tuck your good lover into a warm bed,
kiss their forehead,
carve your false thoughts into a cliffside
to announce and forget them,
get out of Eugene,
go anywhere,
stop tugging around these bricks by your ankles,
you are only strong right now,
because you are young,
and your momentum
and heavy shoulders will not keep you young.
Hold your doubt’s in a vial against the desert sun
so it will crack like it was meant to.
The waters in the center of the Pacific ocean
are brackish poison.
But we live against the shore.
With the near-silent echoes
of each others bodies.
There is nothing more than this.
There’s a balance beyond yourself to master,
after you master the balance of yourself.
Remember when Laura told you nobody cares about your feelings?
And we talked
and I told you to announce it to the soil
either as a truth or a lie,
and to keep it that way?
I gave you the seeds
to plant in my garden.
I watched your earnest loving heart,
working in the name of America
dig a flower bed with your bare hands
and kiss the back of your hand
and smooth the soil over.
Harold,
those flowers grow.”