Which was the flower,
and which was the thorn?
among the lows, the highs
among their faces, their hands
the places their hands took me
and the noises they made
my reflections in the speckled mirror
as I triggered landmines
in the salt desert of my flesh
the prison of a blank screen
the knocks on the door that would
rudely misplace my heart
from my chest to my throat
the tears that skipped my tear ducts
jumped straight into the page
and turned into swords
which was the blue,
which was death from drowning?
which parts am I most possessive of,
now that the colors have faded,
which parts had most resembled courage
at first glance?
which parts closed the door
on everything else that follows,
the parts that tell me I’ve been tamed?
I had a sustained period of madness
a hundred cursed mornings on a string
two hundred haunted nights on a spiral
and my whole life as I knew it
on the line.
It somehow found a way to quantify
pleasure, that madness,
calculated it was worth risking everything;
somehow made an exquisite blossoming
from the gritty danger.
Some vicious cycles feel like dreams;
all addictions are dreams, I think
they follow nightmare logic
the seething edges of your own shadow
pressing on all sides like walls,
obsession and her self-destructive twin
looming, cadmium red, insidious
mistresses of deception and seamlessly
assuming the appearance of a savior,
of a love.
Some falls from grace are like dreams;
all half-successful mimics of love
are dreams, I think
and I only realized how the world
hadn’t quite lined up
until I woke up
with blood in my hands,
the blood of knowing I could never
have self-harmed that long and that deeply
but at least it’s over now
I should learn something
but between what’s real and what isn’t
which was the burning,
which was the rise from the ashes?
Tell me an important thing about you
that no one or few people know.
The most difficult and longest running struggle
of my life is choosing between something
that is good for me and something that lets me
produce my greatest work.
* * *
I want his attention
I want to spend his time
even though I am probably not worthy
even though the variables are not ripe for it
even though we cannot choose each other
even though it would create
a monster of pain
with an entourage of chaos
as large as any joy I might pull from it
I want to be his addiction
because I’m addicted to what he does to me
because he ignites me
because he awakens me
because he makes mediocrity feel
like a bed of nails
because he catalyzes in my blood
wars and constellations
invokes a new and complex radiance
I have acquired a taste for overnight
it spills like raw honey,
all over the walls of my harnessed madness,
on my breakfasts, the abstract
shapes on my vision board
it drips from my fingers
contaminating my expressions
staining the choreography of my gestures
influencing every half inch of
movement in my arabesque
inserting itself in every quarter note
of melody I dance to
even the audience in the front row
doesn’t see, like immortality
in a million imperceptible increments
then talk about the performance afterward
like it’s the most potent drug
they’ve ever gotten into
so give me his love
even though I can never handle it
give me his love because I need it
because why would I deprive the world
of the adamantine contradiction
of sin mimicking salvation
to absolute perfection
and being there to witness it
every night, every matinee
Nine thousand miles from the grasp
of hands of ash, I feel the weight
of dormant decades violently broken
pulling down on my nonexistent wings
phantom itch on lungs that haven’t
choked on that lakeside air for so long
phantom burn on skin
Is the gray of your sky
the same shade as mine?
I have reached a reluctant familiarity
with winter, though with strong
gusts of wind it still causes me grief.
It’s what’s falling from your sky
that’s foreign to me now;
I was too young to remember
the last time, though I’ve read
so many heartbreaking stories
shrouded in that color of everything
we want to forget, scratched raw
across the pages by pieces of glass
spit out from the earth’s soul
that handfuls of it materialize
inside my shoes, in between my toes
or on the flat of my tongue
at unexpected times, usually when
my self-worth is disoriented and
my faith is shaken at the foundations.
Much has been said about us
being rebellious children of
storms and saltwater; we forget
we are igneous when our troubles
and tectonics are asleep. Most of us
are too young to remember the last time;
those who have firsthand wisdom
have left us with stories. Sometimes
it terrifies me that those stories
are the heaviest anchors of my being
and everything else would rust
or be undone by the wind, some wind,
of which there are plenty.
The lake was calm when I last saw it.
The horses were wild and regal
in their beauty when I last saw them.
Now the sky is swallowing lightning,
summoning to the surface
our worst nightmares
and I’m too far from home
to feel the earth rumble.
(Sending prayers and love to the victims of the Taal Volcano eruption.
fit into a 10-ounce plastic cup
hours and ticking minutes like
a clear liquid swirling among ice cubes
filled my throat with ink
ready to be mouthed as
indelible sounds of longing
graffitied on the wall
bent my dreaming into
spatial shapes of
a city I’ve never been in
how they lay themselves down
like a plan along streets
covered in my muse’s footprints
and evolved my pursuit of her
into a pursuit of you
a casual disregarding of the rules
an indulgence in a once-
pounding in my blood
the urgency of your touch
like a ceremonial metronome
put me in the path of
a greedy black hole
devoured all progress of my heart
and lit up future nights
with bootleg copies of my own light
so much so that here I am,
weeks later, still circling back
to reach for a symbol,
a metaphor from your kisses
(I’m really just making up excuses
to play reruns of your kisses),
a potent trigger for desire
in the shade of brown
of your skin on my skin
got me drunk on what’s possible
without even a drop of alcohol
redefined what I’m allowed to want
made me a witness to that
bold erasure of the music in
the background in favor of
our darker, more visceral beat
as your existence pulled up
into my consciousness grooving
the past like a rhythm
made me forget the time
made me fall out of line
turned maps into vision boards
and every poem a proof of gravity.
I followed you through a hundred cities
I watched your eyes
I wanted to soak up your movements
through the screen, feel the smooth
easy vibe of your presence
be all electric on my skin
because I can’t forget your hands
because the night I saw you on stage
in the city that is home
to my most recent pains
breathing the air that has been
my poison of choice in recent years
has become the night to hold
my future nights against
knowing they won’t measure up
knowing the music won’t be pure
because you won’t be here
knowing the passion will be tainted
knowing the moonlight will be jealous
the stellar configuration of December
abrasive against these city streets
in the wake of that brush with fate
the threadbare silk of the tired silence
snagging every so often on the question,
did I rise to the occasion
did I bring you as close to the fire
as I could,
did I make sure there would be
echoes of me in every bottle of Jack
you would ever pour from after?
The lives, they try so hard to intertwine
on nights when they feel most acutely
the threat of unraveling.
I have a stubborn void in my heart
for people whose calling it is
to make such nights happen.
You think you’re only making music,
you call it a performance,
for us mortals you’re invoking dimensions
where freedom is the default
and sin is just shorthand for ‘you need another’.
Another song, another exhale, another chance
another shot maybe of courage
maybe of vodka.
We all wake up the morning after
scents and debris of other people’s lives
that we had pressed a little too tightly against
the previous night
in our hunger to spark something
that lasts longer than a hangover
still clinging to our clothes, our necks,
the center of our tongues.
Back to our prisons.
Back to the processed and packaged
and missing your rawness.
And you carry our most sacred parts
with you, in the next cities that
the insatiable road takes you to.
And if you could take another minute
idling in that intersection you might
actually feel under your fingers
the part of the void that has been
scratched by my reluctance to let you
drive off and belong to my past
along with your probing hunger
and the chapters in your story that
haven’t fallen into place yet, your open-
ended dreams and impeccable rhythm,
your command of passion so sharpened
it moved in that fray of gyrating bodies
with the quiet strength of a holstered gun
up until I invited you to bring it out
and show me, all that you have brought
and are taking back with you packed neatly
in your car between the polyethylene and
steel of your instruments. I gather my hair
over my right shoulder and hide the
bloodied lust caught in my nails, because
yes, I have mastered the consequent
emptiness like a damn artform and
am on speaking terms with the longing
that only needs alcohol to remind me
it exists. You wanted one more
kiss; I wanted one more drink.
They are interchangeable when
the moment requires a split-second
decision on whether to negotiate
with the night or hold nothing back
and give the performance of your life.
I was close enough to you to see only you
and the smoke from the fire neither
of us started on purpose.
As long as we could contain it, right?
As long as we kept an eye on our possessions,
right? Just one more kiss;
just one more drink.
I told you I was bad at regrets
but what I meant was I am more powerful
than the miles of ice on the side of the road
and I will name the warmth under your clothes
after my own destruction. I told you
I was bad at regrets but that was just code
for you to please don’t leave me wanting.
You are not from here and you didn’t come
to participate in a miracle. How could you
have known how potent this was,
to be standing on five streets at once,
North and Damen and Milwaukee
and the Wicker Park Blue Line
and the waxing of the moon conspiring
to strip us of direction so we could be
privy to being everything and everywhere
with nothing to do but measure up
to the intensity of that moment.
The cold, we find eventually,
is more final than the state lines and
the chances that slipped from our grasp
are so easy to hit the gas
at the changing of the light,
already thirsting for the next city,
the next iconic skyline. Except
I’m just really bad at regrets.
There aren’t enough drinks or kisses
to release me from you
or from the place you just left.
Is it black and white to you,
the silence vs. the beat?
Do you find yourself or lose yourself in it,
are you the interruption,
are you materializing something
out of nothing?
Describe to me that power.
When you take your place up on that stage
and your drumsticks out of your pocket
are you brandishing redemption
or defying it?
Does perfection sound like faithfulness
to the rhythm, or is that
more like revolution?
Are your performances shaped like intentions,
or is it your strength coming into itself
through reckless abandon?
And do you feel the weight of the music
as it moves its warm body against
the surface you have lain down,
does it feel responsorial,
the strings caressing the cadence
the cadence returning the favor
stroke for stroke?
Does it ever seem like you are carrying
a keyboard’s catalog of moans
in your arms, across the threshold,
ready to undress it?
Do you thrill at the lyrics throbbing
against your masterful fingers,
helplessly following the lead
of your strong, steady hands?
Does breaking the pauses like no one else can
feel to you like possession,
do you pin the song against the wall
to show her who’s boss?
Do any of the verses stick to your skin,
drench you in heat and longing,
that the imagery spills on
your subconscious like perfume?
What does passion look like to a drummer?
What does freedom? What does surrender?
Do you also love in patterns
of touch and trancelike timing,
do you fuck freestyle?
Would I have a better chance speaking to you
in the language of sustained intensity
or the language of muscle memory?
Has your soul ever been struck so hard
the hollowness inside you reverberated for days
and the ensuing silence felt like
a heartache and a wait?
Mine has. The words have been
hitting different ever since.