The Columbia River Gorge burned down just before I moved next door.
It’s up in smoke again.
In the months between falling in love and abandoning my old home
the lush land flashed never to be the same, like traumatic discoloration
from short fused fireworks; I came for the wild flowers
but alls left to hold were ash trails running black under rain water,
and on the eve of my leaving it behind I caught wind of more
smoke moving in, my heart heavy for the uncontrolled
changing landscape, then I remembered New Hampshire.
I remembered the back roads of Massachusetts
and the smell of salt mixed with Old Orchard pine.
The woods were already mine but I ran away
for the Pacific North West like I’d never seen the color green.
I’ve wrote home the songs of the birds, I’ve spoke
of how grateful I’ve felt for every cloud, with each stretch of my smile
pulling the words a little more thin. A little more soaked in the storm
that made me forget how nice the rising sun is. Forget how necessary
a clear view of stars is, my eyes have strained in light pollution so long
I’ve started drawing the constellations in my fading freckles so not to forget them.
I’ve thought about sneaking onto a freight train for the story
before fading out over the fog of the river, like a presence cast off
by a preacher of God because it was never meant to be there so long,
that’s not to say the fire charred my state of thought from the start,
I’m just now finding a build up is blocking the gully between want
and need. It’s from the fireworks, the sulfur, and there’s this thing
so crazy in nature where the heat of a forest fire can sit in the earth
heavy and deep below layers of ice and frost all winter
then creep back up unexpected and self immolate on a dry day,
what I’ve been avoiding is going to watch the smolder
because, it’s not quite New Hampshire. The back roads of Massachusetts
and the smell of salt mixed with Old Orchard pine are pieces of me
this polluted river outside my door cannot replace no matter how beautifuly
bright the burn or subtle the months of rain. I spent time
in the fire damage, hiking a closed trail, pleading ignorance,
and mourned the nugget of a dream I’d built my life on
having flashed by so brilliant, so much faster than I’d envisioned,
it’s hard to know where to go next with the trail markers all singed.
I let all the twigs get stuck in my toes, decided
not to give up on the flowers growing back. Though I know,
there are fields of wild waiting for me back home.
A quarter past and I’m packing up again, yet again.
On the third week I changed your contact name in my phone back to normal,
it’s weird that’s how we do things now.
I figured if it’s the only way I’m going to see you,
it shouldn’t be reminiscent of old feelings,
as if this disdain were thoughtless
or a text could make me forget
the silent stares over an hour over room tempature coffee
I just kept sipping to get rid of
it’s unfortunate. My phone’s predictive text
keeps saying forgiveness with Capitol
F but you told a mutual friend all this
doesn’t matter since Nic’s moving anyways,
after I’d asked you not tell anyone yet,
so I’m rolling around at midnight
trying to decide what order the alphabet should be in
before the end of August,
if I want to try to rearrange things again
or just accept it, I was expecting
some distance yes, everybody has disagreements,
but the radio silence after the hospital and 21st
seemed like an intentionally loud message
I don’t want to interpret.
I thought I understood this book so well
only to find now it’s written in another language
under a pen name I don’t recognize.
I met up with the girl that shares my name,
and saw in her a younger version of me
that I can’t help but wonder was the reason
you were so afraid we’d be friends,
as if having more in common with her
would make your friendship less attractive
and that’s why you pit knowing you first
up against whatever it is that you never said,
and just kept asking if I wanted
to say anything else.
I just wanted to sing Smash Mouth in that awkwardness
and be silly the way we always would get
over everything from out of town adventures
to stolen bar decorations, but, I see
on social media all your latest posts,
doing well with the band and all the folks we both know, I know
you’ve talked to them about this and I imagine
the faces I see most said what you wanted me to,
and I noticed you stopped checking mine so
I turned the notifications off, too,
virtual darkness akin to the silence
I’m getting used to. Mixed letters
still suspended above my bed by 1 a.m.
like my phone refuses rest with
its quick conclusions knowing at least
you’re right about one thing,
I’m leaving soon
The ‘ol apartment is almost empty now, everything
larger than my body could handle alone, given away
and I worry if I’m making these moves too soon
much like, all the poetry I’ve been sharing
about everyone but the one moving
into my mind the rent just right
the sale closed prorated, I’ve been draining pens
over this and everyone else, to get ’em out of the way,
to open it all up and detach for the welcome-back
I’ve been daydreaming about, hoping to find there
on the other side of all these boxes
I’ve been sending off; somewhere
between what I’m keeping and what I’m leaving
behind, a life envisioned
decorated in laughter,
an open floor plan where I can sprawl
out, and fill in with all the words
I’ve been tucking into an envelope,
waiting to catch the postman
so I can hand deliver the offer
to come on over anytime,
I’d like to stick around
at least for a bit, long enough
to get to know how you find zen
or like the laundry to hang,
preferences in lighting and knickknacks,
the significant to meaningless things;
I know to rearrange a living space
can completely change your mind-
-set and in all this bubble wrap my hands
have found themselves in, I’m sealing up
the last of the art worth looking at,
I’m on the phone with the airline asking
if this ticket comes with any assurance
that sight-unseen for all these weeks
things will fall into place.
All that’s left to pack are my pens
my bed and my dreams.
A year after you first asked
how I like my mochas, you make me one,
though the moment does not go how
we thought it would. The world tends
to do that, thwart expectations
when you ante all your happiness on them,
so I don’t anymore. Truthfully,
I want my casino license back,
I want to crack open that ATM
and put everything on red, another
three thousand mile bookie call, but I don’t.
I sip the espresso slowly and swirl
the chocolate around my mouth,
practicing presence, taking note
of every sensation from the music
you put on to the warm air of the room
in the moment, truthfully,
I have shared half a dozen coffees
the way we thought we would since then but
the company never hugs me like it could be the last
still do, and I still wonder,
if I could have played my cards
any different. This fantasy of winning,
I am a moth to a clatter of neon lights
and lying Jackpot signs.
Did you know casinos don’t have clocks
specifically to throw you off your guard?
I wore a watch today
and still nearly missed my bus.
Every spring, the sun lines up
with the French doors between the back yard
and the parlor. The golden beam so perfectly
stretches like a long tired cat across the wood floors
bringing in a breeze with a sweet embrace of warmth,
past the kitchen, and over the carpets,
to my mom’s reading chair
My dad, finds this hilarious.
Every evening he takes a photo of her
illuminated, curled pretzel to dodge the light
using one hand to block, the other to turn
the page, then her posture, then her hand,
until the column becomes night.
He posts these photos online
captioning them with things like,
“my ray of sunshine”
“here comes the sun, it’s alright”
my mom, never looks amused
but stubborn, refuses to move.
Every spring my dad comes home
to my mom in the same spot, struggling
to see her phone, he uses his to take the photos
from different angles of the room
“it’s back!” he posts.
Someone comments telling him to get some shades
but in all these years in the same path of light
neither of them has wanted to dull the shine.
She calls him a jerk for taking the photo, and he sings “I’ve got sunshine…”
and they laugh until the sun settles in for the night.
I could only be so lucky
to, someday, be
A mouth full
of mnemonic words, part of
my body now.
I had that dream again,
the sudden anxiety, vulnerability,
where my mouth falls apart
and there’s nothing to say worth being heard.
All the poems, all the stories,
picked apart for consistent meaning, I know
I’m dreaming, the recurrence is so frequent.
Something missing or imperfect in
the design will catch attention
and get me back on the ground.
A mantra repeated to still the mind,
I lock a mentor’s words of advice in my jaw.
As a fortune cookie savored, sweet, crunchy,
I consume each syllable until I am full
with their assurance,
nothing I’ve written is without meaning
we know these things to mean nothing,
expecting to go unnoticed, the moment,
the artifice of feigned sincerity.
Stories like nightmares are lies.
The poetics like Latin derive from romance.
Like a mantra I repeat, the meaning
The ballerina breaks her toes to pointe,
the writer lays awake at night masticating
for hours, I stared at the wall thinking
about the dream and all the subconscious
things that could be grinding away my sleep,
I thought about the way certain words
worked to shape my world into one worth
smiling in. Even when
the twist lands sideways
or the reader is lost,
the creation of a lie is a form of processing
a truth buried in the subconscious
by blowing it up into something absurd.
If my teeth fall out, I’ll wake up
with a mouth full of anatomic words.
In the days after you were gone
I collected bar stamps
on my inner wrists and hands.
I let the door men question
how long’d been since my last shower
with a smile, the scent of our embrace
buried beneath layers of ink;
to think the process cathartic,
letting those bruises rise to the surface
with an artificial substance, solace
in ginger ale fizz and your smudging
like sage, until my touch leaves prints
where I rest the glass.
I dragged a bar of rose soap, side to side,
like an over-sized pencil eraser
pressing into my skin, letting
what’s left of you run thin.
Like a drawing erasing its own lines
I realized, the artist
doesn’t always know what shape comes next.
These little mistakes belong to the process
of a sketch in progress, my clenched fists
around your presence here,
is no healthier than trying to drink
the black and blue circling the drain.