The Vagrants Inside My Head

Sour and slovenly old words
from memory ambling across
the otherwise quiet of my reveries.
I hold a grudge against a past
that changed its course
without warning. Sometimes
I still hear what was said,
designed to hurt as deeply
and permanently as possible,
and think about the bridges
they set fire to. Camouflaged
among sticks and stones
were death threats and
the death traps of intention;
I have been broken in places
deeper than bones.

The Lonely Hum at Flatline

The past that binds us
no longer exists,
or at least, all tangible proof
has been wiped off,
painted over,
carried away in pieces
when you packed into
meticulously labeled boxes
the reality that used to breathe
in the space where
our mutual betrayal
took place long ago,
although we both like
to call it by different names.

It’s all gone now,
the partitions for the cubicles
where my sense of oppression
paced like a caged animal,
that regularly polished glass case
where you showed off
your precious awards,
four of which I won for you,
those gizmos at all the doors
that registered with a beep
the exact second we left and entered
to compute each payday
how much we were owed,
all those powerful machines
with which some of the most
brilliant minds of my generation,
at your bidding,
created magic and turned
it over to you to do with
as you pleased.

All of that is no longer there.
All of them have left,
I hope, to create magic
somewhere else.
Nothing remains but an empty floor
to be rented out to someone else
at a steep price,
in a premier office building
in a city where dreams are dreamed

and sometimes spat on

that, and, I guess,
some questions that will never
be answered, filed in drawers that
are no longer where I last saw them,
and a million anecdotes and
old conversations that will
from now on be floating
in the void where
intertwined lives used to be,
scattered in the memories
of two hundred displaced employees
on their two hundred new,
different paths,
without a physical place to run to
if they ever get homesick
and wish to visit

a hole in the city
scraping at the sky.

One Child Survived the Village Purge

are all the goodbyes I never
got to say,
those that had many chances
but were always held back,
set aside for another day,
another late-night conversation
under the eaves of
a shared misery,
hanging on the glowing embers
of another drag
from the last cigarette
before we’d part ways
and catch different cabs
to where our separate
were waiting…

Always that one goodbye
left unspoken,
the repeated gamble that
there would be tomorrow
to share,
to have the same four walls,
the same artificial light
surround that festering brokenness
upon which we had built
a matchstick tower of co-dependency,
of sacrifice and selflessness,
and of growing in the knowing
of each other
even if there was never
really enough time,
and of the illusory moments
when we believed,
despite our jadedness and our
mutually exclusive agendas
that we were friends…

The goodbyes that never
got the last contact
we were entitled to,
that last drunken, defiant
“fuck you!” to the world
after which we might have
high-fived or fist-bumped
or toasted what we had
for the last time
for luck
have dried upon the cheeks
with the bitterest tears
never shed, scrawled
on a million words on paper boats
floating away down a flood
and on paper cranes swallowed
over and over by a burning sky,
where our once entangled existence
scared the Big Brothers so much
they obliterated every last word
we might have exchanged.

But it lives in my heart all this time,
and I keep these goodbyes warm
with all the soiled honor
and tamed belligerence I have left.
Call me a fool,
but maybe someday,
in another place,
I’d turn them all into a new hello
with all of you.

Pain Becomes Parable

And then, out of the pain
came beauty,

beating its majestic black wings
and bearing all the flaws
that conspired to
make it perfect and pure.

Vagabond soul
hand painted,
torn and tormented
by people who take
a twisted kind of pleasure
in being unexpectedly cruel,
the grinding gears of chance,
being at the wrong place
at the wrong time
through fate’s obscure design,
found alleys of kindness
to sleep in
on days of rough weather
and kept pieces of warmth
in her pockets
to turn into the only currency
honored by angels.

Legend has it
she hurt until
she learned
to dance with lightning,
wept enough tears to
set fire to the rain,
conquered the night
on her bare feet and
casually passed words
in a roomful of philosophers
over shot glasses of poison
and Russian roulette

and came out alive,

the science of her
inimitable survival
writing her name on the wall
and tattooing the sun.

There, now,
she sits in the solace
of her secrets
on the edge of the living sky
with the world in her hands.

Snakes and Ladders

I thought I’d never write about healing.
I thought people just—healed,
that it was a private thing
universally recognized,
that people would be brave and focused
on the closing of the wound,
shrouded in inertia, not
even in lessons learned; I thought
the lessons systematically came later,
that, meantime, they lay in wait
until there was only a scar
where torn flesh used to be.
I thought absolution was a cocoon,
a kind of break
from this giant blender of humanity.

But children have to be fed,
love has to be loved,
and a cross has to be carried
over the hill,
rain or shine.
Chances are, everyone in the street
is in some state of brokenness.
The dawn makes no excuses.
Everyone has an agenda,
and people’s agendas overlap,
and some of them will cut
across your sacred garden irreverently.
Some questions will not be asked politely.

Healing, then, is a negotiation,
a walk in the wild among moments,
both those bittersweet past
and these sullen present,
a tripping and falling
where old hurts are fair game
to draw blood from again
by a chance meeting
or the mere mention of a name,
or to build on top of
with more hurts
dealt by the different hands
of the same faces
of your own vulnerability,
of the lessons that waited too long.

Forgiveness is an ascent
to places that
only the catalysis of
pain and strength
makes possible.
You live,
you live,
most painfully so.
Sometimes wisdom is a knife
that purges as it enters.
Hold on to the kind words;
they get rarer over time.
And remember: you are still an actor
in someone else’s story, even
as you wait for the storm to pass.
Speak your lines, even
if every fiber of you is weeping.
Don’t forget to make movement.
The direction is forward,

All is Transit

More than a ceremony for goodbye,
the point of closure
is that halfway through it,
you acknowledge that there must be
an order to things, even parting,
and you can’t really let go of them
until they’ve let you,
what bond was there that
life’s tedium makes a habit
of belittling, is stronger where
strong forces force an abrupt end
to the routine that once
bound your lives together.
And after the shock of torn flesh
wears off, after the confused
tears have been wept, your pain
starts speaking in coherent sentences
and makes you realize
you don’t miss the strict mold
of days past, no matter how
accustomed to it you once were,
no matter how you used to
or tried so hard to fit;
but the hands that have touched you,
they are what’s missing.
And the bleeding that does not cease
is because they have denied you closure,
the chance to touch them one last time
and know it. All the days
you took for granted, surrounded
by their warm, beating hearts.
You suddenly miss it.
You don’t mind the cold;
you’ve been alone many times before.
But them. You need their permission
to turn your back on the part of yourself
that their presence made complete.
Just that chance.
Only then can you silence
the echoes of the gunshot, the chaos
that was you the last time they caught
a glimpse of you, before the curtain fell.
You will not be all right until
those old eyes fall again on your smile.

We all of us have been
mercilessly severed from the place
without which we probably would never
have crossed paths. But it helps
in the healing, to know that
at the end of that story
I still know your dreams,
and know that they have not changed.
The mention of all your names,
that I was once one of you,
still makes me proud.
That we knew each other
in this big aching darkness.
I just needed that day to be with you.
Where we can all raise ourselves,
face up, to show the world
the hand we’ve been dealt.
There was a little rain,
a little discomfort.
But darker tragedies have
already found us unbreakable.
Change is good as long as you remain
strong in my memory.
There are no goodbyes.