Poetry

A Standoff in the Shop of my Employ

Yesterday, a young man on a date

approached the register and asked,

“What are these?”

and I said,

“Cookies,”

because they were cookies,

but that was only partly true.

 

“Cookie sandwiches,”

I elaborated,

“They’re gluten-free.”

I knew that because I worked there,

not because of the disease that makes me know things.

 

“Oh,

he scoffed, stepping back from the counter just a hair,

“so they’re probably terrible.”

He waved his hand over the cookies,

denouncing this title upon them.

 

“They’re actually pretty delicious,”

said I in the cookies’ defence, still smiling.

I had eaten several

over the course

of my time working there–

cream-centered

chocolate chip

cookie sandwiches,

somehow delicious while

simultaneously

free of dairy, soy, egg, peanuts, tree nuts, and GLUTEN (!),

that toxic bane!

that demon in the dough!

that kraken of the cracker

that had plagued me six years hence!

 

The standoff could have ended there,

with a recommendation for cookies,

except the man parried.

 

“But what IS gluten?”

he asked, adjusting his stance,

stepping forward again.

“Can you tell me that?”

 

He asked, “Can you tell me that?”

as though this knowledge

lay beyond the realm of human thought,

as if gluten were a sentiment

only vaguely considered

toward breadlike effects,

with no real physical existence.

 

“Can you tell me that?” he asked.

 

And I could, because of the disease that makes me know things.

 

And I did.

Flawlessly,

fatally,

without hesitation.

 

“Yeah!”

I gladly replied.

“It’s a protein found in wheat, rye, and barley!”

 

“Oh,” he said,

deflating a little,

“Damn.

I didn’t think anyone actually knew that.”

 

There are few victories won

for those

with intestinal maladies

–most of them involve staying alive,

and eating food

that tastes semi-normal.

 

But every now and then,

you can make a dude look dumb

in front of his girlfriend.

Poetry

Of Atoms and Insects

On the fifth night

of my sixth summer

at church camp,

–nestled in the bustling hub

of a 200-resident backwater town–

 

I stopped a while to wonder

at a towering copse of trees,

sprinkled in the cold, wild light of fireflies,

each of a million

blinking its independent rhythm

in a silent, elegant mania.

 

“Look!” a counselor called to her kids,

noticing too the glowing trees.

“Look at the light show God put on just for you!”

 

This statement bothered me,

and for ten years now

I’ve been trying to figure out why.

Why someone’s spiritual understanding of

Pennsylvania’s state insect

could annoy me so much.

 

It’s not that I don’t believe in God.

I do,

and I like the idea of a divine energy

somehow

coursing through these beetles’ lambent asses,

 

But I don’t want them to care about me.

 

To say every time I walk up,

“Oh, he’s here!

Quick, turn on your butts!

God told us to!”

 

I prefer nature’s soft apathy

to a cloying, needy Creator.

 

But now I’m reading about electrons,

and let me tell you about these sons of bitches.

 

Not only do they lack

singular locations

–residing instead

in uncertain “clouds”

of probable residence–

 

but their very essence

–wave or particle–

can shift

based on method of observation.

 

In other words,

how you look at electrons

doesn’t change how they appear to you,

it changes how they are to themselves.

 

Leaving me confounded

 

that lightning bugs

might glow ignorant,

but strip each beetle to its base

and you’ll find pieces

staring back.

 

Maybe I’m so unsettled

because I haven’t decided

which one God is more like:

 

The personal, pliable fragment,

or the indifferent and glorious swarm?

Poetry

While Reflecting on the Paintings at The Mill

Each canvas

displays a struggle,

a conquest

of human will over physical matter.

 

“I let the cosmos ripen,”

says the painter,

“just long enough for it

to sprout elements,

(not one eon more),

 

“When the metals bloomed

I plucked them,

seeded them,

and crushed the seeds

so small,

they would forget themselves

if introduced to oil

or bound to water.

 

“A child was born.

When I was ready

I crushed that, too.

 

“I smeared

each gooey, bleeding offspring

on the pinboard with its brothers.

Baby Frankensteins

broken,

drowned,

and dried onto canvas

by my loving hand.

Each infant of the universe

frozen in beautiful mutilation.

 

“It won’t last.

 

“Eventually,

Grandmother Entropy

will restore paint, canvas, and painter

all to the former glory of

ash,

like a phoenix in reverse.

 

“But for now my trophies hang.”

Poetry

Genre of Lack

I know from the tension in my gut,

that I just sat up from crouching

for the first time in a while.

 

When my eyes were closed,

I saw a fetus

shivering in the snow.

 

They’re open now,

and the skin around them is stiff.

So I know I’ve been crying.

 

I don’t want to put my glasses on.

I want to keep everyone around me

blurry.

So I don’t see them seeing me.

So I don’t have to wonder

if they see

the frozen embryo.

 

I’ve waited so long

for insufficiency

to disqualify me from existence.

 

But there is never any lightning,

or a mark of “final draft”.

 

I exist

despite

my

lack

of

genre.

Genre

of

lack:

my

spited

existence.

 

So this is what it is

to be born again, and again, and again.

Poetry

The Five-Second Delay

Today life is live

With a five-

second delay.

Second delay

of the day:

The coffee pot beeped at me and I just

Stared back at it

As though I expected it to say

more.

More

of a sludge than a haze,

though there have been days

when a cloud seems to

surround sound.

Surround sound,

vibrations from every direction.

But today sound takes time to arise from noise

And more time still to become words.

For words to gain meaning, more

time still.

Time still,

world keeps spinning, says report just published

today.

Today

life is live with a five-second delay.

When that happens in broadcasts,

it’s so editors can censor nipple slips or

profanity with pixels or a

Beep

Beep

at me again, coffee pot.

It will take me longer today

But beep!

Beep for your servant is listening!

Beep!

Beep you piece of

Beep!

 

 

 

Prose Fiction · scripts

Paint No Rest for the Wicked

 

[SCENE: COLLEGE DORM, DAY]

X: I think I downloaded a virus.

Y: A virus?

X: (affronted) Yeah, I mean, not on download-a-virus.com. I don’t go looking for these things.

Y: What were you looking for?

X: The old Microsoft Paint.

Y: For…

X: Nostalgia. Back in middle school I had a computer with no internet connection – for homework. So I became the master of Paint. I learned all the tricks. (beat) But this version’s too flashy.

Y: (beat) Wait, we’re talking about MS Paint?

X: Yeah, look at this new garbage. (motions to computer) See, I liked the garishness of the old Paint, the kind on Windows XP. The brush strokes didn’t fade or blend like this.

Y: (non-committal) Uh-huh.

X: So you could make these bold, solid, ugly lines. And, as long as you closed your strokes correctly, you could fill the shapes with any garish, bright color you wanted. Complete fill. No fuzz or matting on the edges.

Y: I’m not sure I…

X: Gosh, I had so much fun. Painting edits of my friends’ photos. They were so cartoony, but I loved using the eyedropper and pencil tools to blend in microscopic patches of colors, pixel by pixel sometimes. The clicking got tedious, but I was drawn to it, this idea that with enough patience I could construct the Mona Lisa. It felt like I was interacting with the smallest possible unit of art.

Y: (beat) Don’t you…have a paper to finish tonight?

X: I’m waiting for a page to load in another window.

Y: Dang. That’s a slow connection.

X: Yeah, I think it’s from the virus.

Poetry

Suspended

He slips his long arms into the black sleeves

of his machine-washed, machine-washable

Nike jacket.

 

Alerts household members of his immediate leave,

Keeping eyes down and out,

out and away.

 

A windbreaker…it’s windy, after all.

Turns the knob so the door shuts fully.

 

Once outside,

Walks in strides.

A cadence.

Long legs minimally exposed in the

Rhythmic twin gaps between his jeans

and ankle socks.

Earlier today he heard a song.

 

He looks at the moon,

Near-full.

It’s autumn.

 

The song.

Something pop, he remembers.

 

(“But what does “Panic! At the Disco” even mean?”)

He wonders.

(“Is it a warning

of some ongoing disco panic?

Or a command…

To conserve my panic

for an upcoming disco?

So that above the loud noise,

music and clamor,

And behind the bright lights

overhead and swinging, surrounding,

You can’t see or hear me.

Even, even though you’re near me

As I interlock my fingers up and around my neck

And slowly crouch down in the crowd,

My head tilted toward your leg

Chest heaving, dry eyes weeping,

With all the pain of waking life,

The still of fitful sleeping…”).

 

He stops at the overlook…

Looks over.

 

Coming down the tracks, a locomotive,

Its engine a clamorous roar.

 

And as it whistles off its steam,

He grounds his feet.

Prepares to scream.

Poetry

Mingled Down

My grandfather (a forester)

Once bet my grandma (a birdwatcher)

That “mourning dove” wasn’t spelled MORNING like dawn,

But MOURNING like someone had died.

She ended up owing him a workday in the woods.

But when these two lovers gamble,

The house rarely collects.

 

This story makes me smile,

Every time I hear a dove moan.

 

And there is a comfort in it:

That I’m not the first to sunrise or to grief.

They are, as most things, older than myself.

 

So when death’s scent

Wafts up musty from youth’s fabric,

–and I’m wearing

a dead friend’s dead friend’s

coat

to the school dance–

I will hum the dove’s song,

Make it my own as I sway.

As grass bows to the wind,

I will submit to grief only to rise again.

 

The sun will warm me,

as sorrow and love

flow mingled down.