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.
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.
I understand desire
a little better
when I sing it a capella
when I put it to my lips
like the hand of inspiration
instead of an aching emptiness
or a need that can burn
hotter than reason
so I can approach each longing
like a natural crescendo that
did not arrive unannounced
but left a lipstick stain
on the rim of each stanza
and trace the arch
of each bridge with
the same voice that speaks
when negotiating a dream
and can stand naked
without succumbing to
the cold and unchangeability
of a closed chapter,
a sealed goodbye
the swallowed craving
antipasti for the senses
in the parsing of hunger
and the elegant way it breaks
into sweet notes
next to the G-clef,
the center of my flesh
the altar where mastery
an intuitive synchronicity
and a repeating chorus:
it’s not the forbidden
that makes you a sinner
you are the melody,
you are the melody
the hands that did not
touch the keys
nor pluck the strings
the perfected lyrics
like curling smoke
against the unadorned
white walls of silence
I switch the radio off, sometimes
I switch myself off
when I hear the songs he used to
like to borrow his words from
when he’d try to say he loved me,
not because I still love him
or never did,
but something in between.
The passage of years that
took this place apart
has replaced the sacred relics
that rendered us so beautiful in our sins,
hairline cracks on sandstone and
inadvertent tarnish marks on bronze
subverting the intention of the light
and sending it elsewhere,
illuminating ordinary places
and casting in gray irrelevance
the shrines and milestones
that we had bruised with multiple
autopsies in our want of understanding
of what had gone wrong.
I’ve heard the other music,
borne of instruments suffused with
the spirit of a more benevolent
future and act of unmasking,
anointing our past with a melody
that leads us away from the cliff
instead of over it, shields us
from our proclivity to repeatedly
choose the same wrong things and
fall into recurring hurt like déjà vu
where hoping feels claustrophobic.
The corners of dawn curling
around lyrics yet unwritten,
freedom and her wild dark hair.
A newfound voice, towering
in effortless resonance,
waxing rhapsodic about how
a site of ruin
You are the touch of purple
to my blue symphony,
the drops of moonlight
dissolved in my sunset sky.
You are portents of the future
gilded in familiar warmth
and the rewriting of the impossible.
You are my reminder for believing,
for finding what’s lost
and for reaching inside of me
for things that bloom
and blaze trails that wind
around the stars.
They made a patchwork pattern
of magenta, turquoise and daffodil
rectangles, taped on the inside
of a bar’s street-side window.
The colors of paper commonly
used by photocopy centers.
I imagine there are at least
a hundred identical copies
flying all over the city.
On bus stops and lampposts,
on windshields and the loops
on wrought iron fences.
Each bearing a name
agonized over for many days
by the members of the band,
trying to round up their identity
and the message of their music
in four words or less,
printed in bold, slightly edgy letters
with maybe a creative portrait
of the aspiring musicians
in the background,
looking at you
or looking off the distance
where they are maybe dreaming
of Grammys and world tours
sold-out concert halls
and platinum discs
mounted on their walls
their hit song becoming an anthem
for an entire generation
and maybe even a spread
on Rolling Stone
because they’re pretty awesome
and they have the spark
and are willing to stand together
in a cold alley by the bar’s back door
hugging their instruments
listening to their inner cues
while waiting for their turn
to play for the Thursday night crowd
at this establishment that agreed
to give them a spot at the window
and one shot to show
the world what they got.