Drink me

I want to drink San Francisco

like a desert wanderer at an oasis,

like a college freshman shotguns a beer,

puncture it’s pressurized metal skin and feel the thick copper foam rise in my heart.

 

I want to drink San Francisco whole, to throw it back in one painfully large swallow,

to quench myself so fully it strains my larynx and unsettles my stomach,

so deeply I can feel it rearranging my insides,

and rendering me unable to consume any more, 

or to sing of my thirst any longer.

 

I want to be overwhelmed by San Francisco.

None of these dainty sips from obscure vintage glassware - 

I want to be waterboarded with San Francisco

To be given a swirly in San Francisco

To let San Francisco drip onto my forehead, one slow heavy drop at a time, until I’ve gone quite mad.

 

Hold me under, I’ve had enough air for this lifetime, 

I’ve struggled enough on terra firma,

I’m ready to surrender to the fluid chaos.

 

You’ll find me in the waters of San Francisco

In the foggy silted currents 

In the wet streets

In a metal tube speeding deep under the bay.

 

How many other poets have drowned here,

Knowing at least that they were in the right place to do so,

How many overflowing ashtrays and smoky beams of daylight on unmade beds?

How many stale rooms full of stale people struggling to gasp out a beautiful song, if they could just cough the world off their vocal cords?

How many wasted bodies and wasted minds sinking deeper and deeper into the abyss of the city, 

Drufting down deep in the sea of strangers, 

Coming to rest deep at the bottom of a trench, 

Where only the most solitary and grotesque of animals can survive?

 

Stay

"We should go to bed, get some rest," I said. The hookah on the coffee table had burned out an hour ago, but still we sat on the floor, two exhausted bodies collapsed against each other. Your hand barely touched my hair as we sat by the huge picture window, idly consuming the night.

The house hung high on a hill; outside, the moon looked down, seemingly as drowsy as us, and those westernmost streets of San Francisco marched down in neat rows to cordially greet the ocean. 

"Do we really have to get up?" you asked, "What happens if we don't ever move from this spot?"

I thought about this for a minute, listening to the whisper of the silence that was never really silence in the city.

"Well, let's see. We'd just stay right here. So first, we would watch the moon move all night. And then, slowly, the sky would get lighter, and sometime after the sun rose your roommates would do the same, and they'd ask what we were doing on the floor at that time in the morning. And we'd just sit here. And then the shadow of the city would start to get shorter, and then we would be able to see the sun moving, and we would watch that. 

"And your roommates would leave for work, and come back from work, and they'd go to bed, and wake up the next morning, and still we would be here. 

"Days would pass, and then weeks, and then months and years. The roommates would get used to us sitting here, and eventually they'd get married or change jobs or decide they can't handle living in San Francisco anymore, and they'd move out. And the new tenants would move in, and decorate us with the little memories that make up their lives, and we'd just sit here. 

"It wouldn't be too long before decades and centuries were flying by, and eventually this house and maybe this whole city would slide back into the sea from whence it came. And the earth would become hot and inhospitable and maybe humans will have escaped it to go colonize some other planet or some artificial satellite, and then the sun will slowly swell up and engulf the earth, and then shrink back down to a tiny dense mass, pulsing with white hot radiation. By that time the universe's expansion will have slowed to a crawl and then eventually reversed, and all the stars and galaxies will begin to accelerate towards each other, lazily at first but then with greater urgency, rushing in towards each other and finally all condensing into a single dimensionless point. And the universe would sit like that for a long time, maybe, or maybe it would only feel like a second, because the concept of time becomes somewhat meaningless when the entire universe has condensed to a single dimensionless point. 

"And then, suddenly and for no reason that we could discern, that dimensionless point would explode outward in a glorious hail of light and heat. And for the first 10 billion years or so after that, we’d sit and watch and think that everything was different. But then, another planet just like this one would appear. And for the next 4 billion years we’d watch that planet form and harden and cool and vegetate and animate, and then after a long time, people just like our ancestors would build a city by a bay. 

"And in that city, two people just like us would go out one day in the sun, and dance and play just like we did today. And then those two people would come back to a house that hangs high on a hill overlooking the ocean, just like this one does, and they would sit down on the floor right where we are sitting right now. And they would be so tired, that they’d never want to get up. And even though they couldn’t see us, we’d whisper softly to them in the silence of the city, and touch their hair very gently, and slowly they would begin to wonder, ‘what if we never got up and went to bed?’ 

"And we would convince them to stay, to join us in the blissful peace of never moving from this place. And they’d sit with us, and we’d watch together as the world ended and began again, over and over, on and on, and each time we would rejoin ourselves in the cashmere embrace of this very spot. And eventually we’d forget that we were ever doing anything besides sitting here together, you and I."

Trust

The righteous never slept so well

as we did

the night we were just friends.

Wrought iron ferns curled in each others arms like children,

we thought we’d figured something out. 

 

We slept deeply and truthfully, 

and woke feeling like we were brand new,

untouched plastic and glass,

like we’d just that moment had our protective film peeled back,

by some deeply satisfied omniscience...

But soon enough we’d mixed ourselves up again,

coming together in the way that had never been satisfying before;

 

I don’t know why we thought

anything different would happen this time.

I don’t know why we didn’t trust ourselves,

or the decision we’d made together.

I need a second

The weight and complexity of the world is way too much for me to handle first thing in the morning, but there it is, even before I open my eyes.

There's just so much that is awry in so many places,
so much pain that can never be taken away,
so many mistakes being made and being atoned for,
I just wish things could be perfect, for everyone, just for a second, I just wish that for a second things would make sense in the world and all the injustice and terror and uncertainty would be pulled back like a sodden synthetic comforter drenched in sweat and the world could breathe

for a second

feeling the cool night air
and being peaceful.
Just for a second. 

But that second hasn't happened yet.
Or maybe it did,
back in the Middle Ages, or sometime in 1996, I think I remember...
Maybe that second was the second I kissed my first girlfriend under a bridge,
a tiny kiss under a tiny bridge over a tiny stream for just a second, maybe that was it.
Or maybe it was the second I was conceived,
or the second when some craftsman 700 years ago was just super satisfied about making a really perfect candle, just so elegantly tapered and smooth, you wouldn't even believe how flawless this candle was.
Any of those might have been THE second,
the harmonious point where things were in balance for an instant,
and I missed it.

Or then again, like I said, maybe that second hasn't happened yet. 

All I'm saying is I need a second
before the whip crack of another chat notification,
before the daily onslaught of righteous outrage,
before the walk to work
in the rain
past the
there-but-for-the-grace-of-God-go-I-homeless with their
there-but-for-the-grace-of-God-go-I-ravings and their
there-but-for-the-grace-of-God-go-I-cravings for drugs, real drugs, and I get that.
Because there's only that one second when you're high.

And MY big secret is that there is only a thin, bloody membrane of luck and privilege that holds firm between the man who stands before you today and a disheveled maniac confined to the freedom of the streets.

But today I'll get dressed,
and walk to work,
past the men who wander the city,
the incessant chatter in their heads splashing out of their mouths onto the sidewalk like steaming coffee spilled in the rush to an early morning meeting.
I pretend like I don’t see them, mostly.
Mostly out of fear.
Not the kind of fear you get from a roller coaster, or from a home invasion.
Not fear for safety of body or security of life.
It’s the kind of fear you get from looking into a mirror on acid;
a psychedelic, existential fear.
A feeling that the world we experience, at its root,
is random,
uncaring,
and sterile. 

So yeah, I’ll get out of bed. Just gimme a second.

The city breathes with you

Lie in your bed at night, absorbing the texture of the silence. It’s never REALLY quiet in the city - you can unplug every buzzing, beeping, glowing hunk of promethean baggage that clutters your apartment and still hear a whole cacophony of sound.

 

Listen to the hush of trucks pulling away from the stoplight and imagine it's the ocean wind wrapping around the house in a forceful caress, your tiny room swaying atop the aging building, cradled in the blissful indifference of nature’s power.

 

When the sun finally creeps up from the east, step softly out onto the street, leather kissing concrete like a father, aftershave mingling with the dry, yellow leaves that swirl in the air. 

 

Look down at the scraps of paper that clutter the sidewalk, that always clutter the sidewalk, and let one catch your eye. Inspect it and leave it be. It is the infinite and the ephemeral, the sacred and the profane. 

With Compliments to the Great American Shamans of Folk Music (And Later, Rock And Roll)

It’s been a long, long wander,

Lost deep in the twilight -

My feet lost their feel for the ground.

But lately I'm thinking

It’s about time I got right;

Stopped hearing the sights,

Started seeing the sounds.

There’s fire inside me

That's constantly burning,

So I melt, fall apart at the seams.

And so, now dissembled,

I lie tossing and turning,

Trying to forget my thoughts,  

and remember my dreams. 

*

I’ve seen the temptations,

Been tortured by demons,

I’ve wandered the desert alone.

But in this same sickness,

I’ll find my salvation;

Time to gather these stories,

And carry them home 

*

I’m increasingly certain

That magic surrounds me

The universe spins like a wheel.

Whether fucking or fighting,

I’m secretly learning,

That the dark and the light

Are both part of the deal.

 

 

 

Train Song

The rattle of the tracks shakes something loose in my brain, 

and it falls to the vinyl seat and slides to the vibrating floor of the car like a ticket stub, 

punched clean through. 

 

My breath catches in my chest 

as the crimson autumn trees whip by the window, 

and another thought shakes loose, 

falling like a leaf to the forest floor. 

 

It’s been a long time since I’ve been here, 

and this coast always shakes things loose in me. 

 

The engine whips over another bridge, past another bay, 

my heart longs for a building with a roof that’s 100 years old. 

I want to be surrounded by falling rafters, floating dust, 

dry-rotted timber held together by spiderwebs. 

 

The last time I was on this train 

you were with me, and you were sick, 

and we were hauling ass across state lines 

to get to a future which never quite arrived.

 

The voice of the conductor calls out names of towns I haven’t heard in years 

(Metro Park, Metuchen, Edison), 

bells ring in my brain 

like someone is calling out the names of friends 

I used to smoke weed with in high school. 

Even when I knew them, 

they weren’t their own places, 

so much as milestones on the way to another place.

 

If I could tell you anything right now, I’d tell you I miss the aquarium in the apartment we used to share. 

 

I’d tell you about the leaves changing colors, and how the leaves hitting the ground ask if you’re OK.

 

 

 

The girl with the Pretty Eyes

"Before you start down this road again," the old man said, "remember the girl with the pretty eyes."

 

I glanced up from my phone, looking into the face of the ancient and maniacally disheveled Asian man who had paused his unsteady amble down Market street to address me as I leaned, waiting, against a bus shelter. Unnerved by the lucidity of his gaze, I removed my earbuds.

 

"Remember the trail of broken hearts, many of them your own.

 

Don't forget the carelessness with which you have treated so many. Calling it 'part of your journey' is a lie whispered to yourself.

 

Is it not enough to have lost yourself somewhere along the way? Must you lead others astray as well?

 

There is magic in you, but it's a fine line between a tear brushed away and a black eye. A hickey is just another bruise.

 

When you walk down the street, and you think you see her face, remember how her eyes remind you of another girl, thousands of miles and millions of years ago."

 

The bus was arriving at the stop, forcing him to shout over the noise of the engine. 

 

"And when you wonder to yourself if it is your destined fate to wound, remember that a hammer can destroy a home or build one. If it hurts everywhere you touch, maybe your finger is broken.

 

Remember that there is nothing but the path, and what you build along the way."

 

As he shuffled away, I realized the bus had gone. I wasn't sure if it had been mine or not. It can be difficult to navigate when you realize that all destinations are equal, but all journeys are not. 

 

 

Subtle Fiction

If I could tell you anything right now, 

I’d tell you about this city.

Wet, dirty sidewalks. High heels and bum-smell.

Fog sidles up from the sea, and stumbles over the hills into my overgrown garden.

I’d tell you about how my bicycle helmet’s chin strap scrapes against my beard and whispers in my ear, 

and about the woodshed flavor of motorcycle exhaust. 

I’d tell you how I think about ancient history.

I would ask you whether the sadness we share is a place to start, 

knowing already that the answer is “no”.

If I could tell you anything right now, 

I’d tell you a story about us,

That would arc through the skies and the ages,

Cementing our place in the history of lovers,

Knowing, as I speak the words, that they are a subtle fiction.

A Story About A Story

I have a story I want to tell you. 


 

Years ago, a man named John was digging through a dumpster, and found an old scrapbook. This scrapbook was a complete and detailed record of the life of a young woman who lived in the early 1900s, told through a stunning collection of ephemera. Pages on pages of photos, newspaper articles, letters, and poetry told the story of this brief, beautiful life; it was the type of document a mother might keep for a daughter she’s lost. John was touched by this volume, and took it with him. How could he, having rescued the story of this person’s entire life, a story likely long forgotten by any other living soul, simply throw it back in the dumpster?

John carried the scrapbook around with him for many years, occasionally showing it to acquaintances in the way you’d introduce an old friend who was in from out of town: “I have someone I’d like you to meet.” However, the burden of carrying this extra life with him eventually became too much, and he decided to throw a party at to celebrate the life of this young woman, who had died 100 years prior. He digitized the scrapbook, and at the party, he invited guests to take one of the original photos or newspaper clippings with them, exploding the book and the story it contained out into the lives of a hundred other people, a hundred years on, to become part of a hundred other stories. 

A few weekends ago, I saw a wonderful show. Jason Webley, a musician and storyteller, came out to play us some music and tell us some stories. Jason is from a town in Washington called Everett outside Seattle, the kind of place that nobody immediately admits to being from, preferring instead to claim Seattle roots. Near this town, tucked away in a stand of trees, there is a giant stone step pyramid made of black granite. It’s the type of place where teenagers go to drink beer, a strange and iconic structure, so strange and relatively ancient as to become part of the background noise of youth. Perhaps the only clue to the provenance of this artifact is the name RUCKER carved in foot-high letters across the top tier of the pyramid.

John and Jason met by chance sometime around when this scrapbook party happened, and became friends. In the course of idle conversation while walking together one day, it came up that Jason was from Everett. And John stopped dead in his tracks.

“I have something to show you.”

John showed Jason the digital scrapbook - the record of this young woman’s life - all of which had transpired in the tiny town of Everett. And sure enough, that young woman’s name was Margaret Rucker. The last page of the scrapbook was an obituary, which described her final resting place as the Rucker family mausoleum, the very pyramid which Jason had hung around as a teen.

A few weeks ago, on an otherwise ordinary Saturday night, many more people became a part of this story. Jason played for us a song he had written, with the lyrics originally penned by Margaret Rucker over 100 years ago, a poem recovered by John from the bottom of a garbage bin. And it was absolutely stunning.

 

 

______________________

 

 

I hesitate to even include this, because I dont want to detract from the story itself, but I just found out that the scrapbook is being printed in physical form and an album has been recorded including the song Jason played for us that Saturday night. For another few weeks you can preorder that album and book here: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/562632750/margaret-by-jason-webley-and-friends

I Am the Rhinoceros

 

“I am the rhinoceros… Well, that’s not strictly true, but it sure seems that way sometimes…”

 

She lifted her head away from the silk sheet that separated his heartbeat from her ear, tilting her elegant chin up and raising her eyes in a fruitless attempt to meet his gaze, which was fixed on a point some miles above the ceiling.

 

“You know that koan about the rhinoceros fan? Where the student is asked to bring his master the rhinoceros-horn fan… and when the student tells the master that the fan is broken, the master asks for the rhinoceros instead?”

 

She nodded silently, still craning to see his face; she'd heard this story before.

 

“I think I have it figured out, to the extent one figures these things out.”

 

“Oh. Really?” she moused, trying to decide whether or not she was feigning interest in an explanation.

 

“In the story, the student is dumbfounded by the question, and is only enlightened when a second acolyte writes the characters for ‘rhinoceros’ on a piece of paper and hands it to the master.”

 

She had decided she was feigning interest.

 

“It’s a lateral move, you see. The paper is a lateral solution to an intractable linear problem. It’s the weird answer from left field that not only solves the problem, but illuminates it in a fresh way.”

 

“And you’re the rhinoceros?” she asked, bringing her head back to rest on his chest.

 

“Well think of it this way - this koan thing. It’s been the rhinoceros. Like, since we broke up, things were bad for me, you know? But then I started doing those koan meditations. And then things started to turn around. I mean, you know I don’t go in for that crap. But here it is, and it works. And in the sense that there is no separation between one’s self and one’s path… that kinda makes me the rhinoceros.”

 

She let out an agreeable but noncommittal sigh, and wondered how long he’d hang around for today - she had stuff to do.

 

2 Short Poems

Losing You

I've lost sight of the forest,
your absence is the trees.
But sunlight plays in my eyes,
and with barely a rustle,
I leave.
 

Dirty Laundry


The ghost who steals socks from the dryer
has left me just one of yours.
Relishing the occasional haunt,
Unpaired, unused, worn but not darned.
A simple specter, a bare sole, an empty space.