south of nowhere
Two miles south of nowhere there is a field of dying things,
silent save for the rasp of autumn grasses as they crash to the ground.
There is a girl here, too,
running a pink tongue along rusting guitar strings,
all ripped jeans and cloudy skies.
A man's name is tattooed across her clavicle,
blue ink pooling at the place her breath catches.
His name was Agony and he taught her to love,
to hold kitchen knives to heartstrings and pluck them like a symphony,
dancing barefoot on barnwood floors
until the splinters left scars.
His love was one of honey and shrapnel,
the kind of beauty that only comes with pain-
but the world is growing dimmer
and come dusk
she lies alone
in this place of dying things.
DBTBW: The House - May 10 2021
We bought a new house. It was my dad, mom, sister, and me. It had 3 bedrooms. I was the youngest. We started moving things in, but on that very day, my sister went missing. We saw her walk into the house, but she never walked out. We looked everywhere and couldn't find her.
The police were called. They looked at my parents suspiciously. I went looking around the house again, hoping I would find her. None of us thought she had run away, she had no reason to. She was a perfectly happy teen, spared from most of the drama teens experience. Her biggest problem was the occasional zit and those never lasted.
I walked around the house and felt it getting bigger. I knew how absurd that was, but I kept looking. In the hallway, I noticed that my sister's room had been blocked off. No, not by police tape. It was completely walled up. I knew it wasn't my parents. They had been with me all day and we had just gotten here and the last time we saw her, she was carrying things into her room. How was it completely walled off now? No one seemed to notice except me.
I started hearing noises coming from beyond the wall, like wailing. Suddenly, I was on the other side of the wall. It was dark and moist, there was like a fog, and where the room had been was a long hallway with a threshold on the far right. I walked down the hall up to the threshold and saw my sister's room. She was sitting, like in movies, on a chair facing the window across from the door. I heard her make a noise, but it didn't sound like her. A guttural sound between a growl and a scream began to form. I ran back the way I had come. I found myself on the other side of the wall again.
This time, there was about a 1-inch space between the floor and the wall. I could see a dim, bluish light, but I ran back into the kitchen where my parents were sitting with the police giving statements. When I had left, the police seemed to be looking at my dad more. By the time I came back, they were only minutes away from handcuffing my mom.
They did just that and took her. We all tried to calmly explain that she hadn't done anything, but the police weren't listening. I needed a private moment to tell my parents what I'd seen because the police would never believe it. They would sooner think we were all in on hurting my sister than believe that something seemingly supernatural was happening.
My dad left behind the police car to try to work something out, bail, etc. I stayed home alone, and while I tried to indicate what was going on, they didn't understand. It was almost midnight. I tried to keep myself busy, but I was too scared to go into any of the bedrooms, so I paced between the kitchen and the living room, trying not to look at the hallway that was peering at me from where my sister's bedroom door used to be. I kept my eyes firm on the floor beneath me, but the blue mist called me from the space between the wall and the floor.
I ran outside to see my father arriving. I quickly told him what was happening and he didn't seem to believe me. We walked into the kitchen. He had a blank look on his face, like he couldn't believe this was all happening and was trying to create an alternate reality in his mind. He wasn't listening to me. Just then, we heard a scream 10 times louder than what I had heard when I was alone. That snapped him out of his trance and I led him to the wall. We were a few feet away when I noticed the gap between wall and floor had grown and we could see two pale, gray, rotting feet beyond the wall.
Matthew 15:8 - Praise With The Heart (Bible Journal)
"These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me (Matthew 15:8 NLT)."
Jesus didn't hold back on calling out the Pharisees when their actions did not reflect their claims that they followed God. If Jesus were to return today, he would do the same thing to those that could be classified as modern day Pharisees. Making a spectacle of praising God by speaking, writing, and worship is fairly easy. Taking it to heart and living a God honoring life by doing the things God actually calls us to do (not commands outside of God that Pharisees claim are His commands) is a bigger challenge. I want to be known as a Christian that doesn't just talk or write about it, but does the things God really requests, ultimately truly representing what He wants. If things are done this way, we would not give modern day Pharisees any more power. Lord, thank You for the reminder to not just talk the talk, but walk the walk too. Please help me to keep writing praises to You, and to also praise You with my heart by going out and living out the words I write (or talk) about. In Jesus' name I pray, Amen.
ode to anti-poets
in this version of the story he is saying something with his hands and he is speaking to your body. in this moment you are the same as you were centuries ago. two lovers reaching for each other and seeing salvation at the other end. the paintings on the cave wall singing your praises in animal blood. in this breath you understand what the poets were writing about and realize you want no part of it. why mar the moment by contorting it into language? by pressing it into something it is not?
your hands grasp at the air and the air responds: i am art enough.
in this version of the tale you disregard an instinct. cast aside the desire to take everything you know and grasp it, trembling, drowning, until it confesses to you its poeticism.
there is glory in his heaving chest before you called it anything at all. before you knew it was a sinking ship, or the lifeboat on the other side of the ship, or the storm crashing against the walls of the ship, which is your room, which is a makeshift heaven.
your body and his body. you don’t want anything more. you don’t want the pen. you don’t want the god hiding in the ceiling guiding his hands.
tell me we’re enough. that in this moment we are the art. that in this moment we are unquantifiable and everywhere and no one can make us into a story. that i am the only one who will ever hear your song and understand.
yes, he says.
She had always known the rain was poison.
Everyone knew it.
They had gotten good at staying indoors, letting the flood subside before stepping out.
They had gotten good at hiding, turning off their lives to let the fear of something stinging skin and eyes hold them grounded in a lockdown.
They told each other horror stories.
They spread their fear as if sharing a feast.
She had always known the rain was poison, but she was beginning to wonder if she believed it.
So as she sat through thunderstorms and felt the call of wind and water pulling at her chest, as she listened to the symphony of life happening outside, without her, she began to slip away.
They were afraid for her.
They wouldn't let her forget it.
It was all they could do not her tie her down when the rain came, they were so worried she would let herself go.
They couldn't seem to understand that she would risk the holding cell of her security cracking under floodwaters that would drown her in a hissing of electrical poison pain, if it meant she could live with something more than the ache in her chest that grew and grew each time it rained.
And the rain came again.
And she opened the door.
They all screamed at her, no!
As if they cared.
But how could they claim to care as they stopped her from doing what she knew was right?
She stepped out.
The rain was cold and clear and lovely on her skin.
And for the first time, she was alive.
Open Mic, Zoom Edition
One might think an open mic comes with bongo drums and hushed whispers over a microphone. I certainly thought so last night when I joined a Zoom open mic. Maybe someone would lift up a plate of cookies, and even though not able to share, the Zoom group would understand that this should be an intimate, shared experience. One day, we can go back in person and trip over the microphone cord.
After some trouble logging in, I found myself staring into a Zoom meeting of nine other people. The majority of the people were older men, perhaps in their sixties and seventies. This surprised me. The host was a middle-aged woman who was exceptionally perky and extroverted. Let's call her Margaret.
Margaret started by reading a piece about her father on dialysis, taking place in a nursing home. When she read her piece, she read with enthusiastic fervor, and as I listened, I put together that she was making it comedy. I thought my first critical feedback without saying it out loud: this is going on for too long. It didn't make me uncomfortable, but it made me feel intelligent and seasoned as a writer to have feedback at all.
While Margaret had been speaking, the group chat in the Zoom call had blown up with comments from other writers, all simply quotes from her piece that had stood out to them. Over the course of the two hours I was at the open mic, this was what people did. When someone said something particularly profound, or something that resonated with others, they would type it out in the chat and follow it up by snapping their fingers together in solidarity. I contributed.
One young gentleman who joined later, not an older man, was an exceptionally talented poet. When it was his turn to go, he asked the other writers for three words. Three people shouted out: Salvador Dali. Orange. Clocks.
The poet, on the spot, created a poem using those three words. He tilted his head down, as if in slight prayer, or perhaps a trance. It was incredible. The group chat blew up with praise, and fingers were snapped with enthusiasm. This was art. An open mic, a true performance.
When it was my turn, I decided to read out a piece I wrote for Prose recently. It is called, "Crush". It was relatively popular on Prose, and I thought I'd share. As I spoke, I noticed the group chat was exploding with praise. One young gentleman, who had also joined late and was tuning in from the university close to where I lived, commented: "YESSS GET ON IT!!!!!" I was particularly flattered by this comment, and blushed deeply afterwards. This style continues to be my new foray into writing, and I was happy that it was so popular with strangers. It adds a new flare, being this open to real people, in real time, right in front of me - a tangible community I could make eye contact with, share with an added layer of vulnerability.
The next piece I read, after another round of everyone reading their pieces, was called "Lightning in a Bottle", which I had also written for Prose, this one months ago. While it had won the challenge on Prose, it didn't go over as well with the group - by a long shot. People just seemed depressed after I read it, and I wondered: maybe my new writing style is better. The loose prose I have dabbled in recently may be more relateable. The enthusiastic college student nodded, but did not contribute a comment to the group chat. Later, he read a piece about immigrating to the United States, and used extra flourishes with his hands. I was impressed with the way every performer put added inflections into their pieces when spoken aloud. They all, for the most part, used their hands.
When I signed off after two hours at the open mic, I was bummed about no one liking my second piece, but mostly grateful for the experience.
Zoom is an odd way to perform, but it's the new way. Perhaps I'm contributing something, touching someone. It's rewarding to see the expressions of others; I can only imagine now what they look like, merely reading what is posted to a website.
illness is finite
&even after your oblivion
after all those years of sickness
you have risen, a testament to
strengh; a fortress of self-containment
our relationship became one of missed opportunity
where I struggled to regain sanity, or
even had the capacity to cope with my anxiety
at a young age, we were so close to the proximity
of a healthier bond & a love that could have been
unconditional, but I writhed in my sick bed
in the hard days, towards a separation
&pictures on the mantel now taken down
I am ashamed to call myself your family,
as you have a heart of gold I cannot fathom
myself, a lost cause of best intentions,
dusty & poignant on that familial shelf
our relationship for now left on silent
there is something finite about
illness, an erasure of identity
but you always said
&and will say
you are not your depression
"I should have kissed you."
I scoff. As if that would have changed anything.
As if your lips, cold and unfeeling, could have ever warmed mine.
As if they could have ignited a love between us that wasn't there to begin with.
If you were to kiss me it would have been for the bragging rights.
The next night, when you're with your friends at the bar,
"We kissed, you know."
A memento to prove the shriveled heart inside of you still beats.
No, I don't want your cracked lips against mine.
Papa said you could tell a man was good by where he rested his hands when you kiss.
If he rests his hands on your face he wanted you.
If his hands traced your body he wanted what you had to offer.
You didn't want me at all.
That's alright, though.
I didn't want you either.
I called what we had "love," but such a title was manufactured.
Somewhere among the prodding of friends and pity of family I decided you were the one.
I couldn't stay single forever, could I?
So I tried harder. A puzzle piece that didn't fit with those around me.
But if I snip the edges... push just a little harder... I can make myself fit....
When I was little I wanted to be the princess.
To look at the sky from under a wedding arch, knowing I had found "the one"
Now I just want to be alone.
I suppose we never really "broke up."
We drifted, like ashes in the summer breeze.
No yelling, no fights... just that goddamn suffocating silence.
It scares me.
We used to fight because we felt like we had something worth saving.
When that stopped there was only the corpse of what could have been-
a grotesque, shriveled thing... helpless. Hopeless.
Like a butterfly within its glass case-
the one you found on the back shelf of the dollar store after forgetting my birthday.
I will not be your butterfly, limp wings pinned to dusty corkboard.
Your nets, societies vices, will not slam down upon my dreams.
I will be a flash of color in the corner of your eye.
The Monster Under My Bed
There is a monster that sits at the foot of my bed. I do not name it, because that would only serve to make it real. You tell me it’s real, you call it names and I press my hands over my ears, refusing to believe you. You wish I would get help, but I don’t. Getting help would mean admitting the existence of this beast. It is not real, I tell myself repeatedly, but words start to sound meaningless the more you say them.
My monster is a shape-changer of sorts. There are days when it is nothing more than a little black dog, when I can pull a leash over its neck and drag it along behind me, when I can tie it to the chair as I get dressed and carry it with me to work. On these days, I can almost forget that it is even there.
There are the in-between days, when my monster turns into a wolf whose head reaches my shoulder, whose growl seems to rattle my entire body, whose yellow fangs glisten beneath pink and black gums.
It takes the two of us to wrestle it to the ground. We tie chains around its legs, when we have chains; we put a muzzle over its jaws, when we have a muzzle. These are the days when I can defeat my monster. I make it past the edge of my bed, through the door, into the kitchen. Sometimes I even get to work. But I am tired, exhausted from the fight to keep the beast under control. Even when we tie it down, it sits in the corner of my vision, salivating at the idea of its next meal.
And then there are the Black days. I call it this because, when I wake up, the monster has grown so huge that it envelopes the whole room and wraps its great shadowy fingers tightly around my body, strapping me to the bed. I fight and I kick and I scream as loud as I can, but even you can’t fight off the shadows on these days. They are too thick and twisted and contorted. You say you hold my hand, but on these days, I can’t feel it. A gaping Black hole yawns inside my body, threatening to swallow me completely, to erase the world from existence and to throw me into a place so deep I will never be able to get out. There are days when I believe this will happen.
And I think it would, were I alone on these days.
But you wait patiently, arms stretching towards me, waiting and waiting and waiting while the Black chews away at my spirit. You wait until it grows weak, and then we take it on together, side by side. I am grateful I do not have to fight my monster alone.
I like to believe that one day, we will kill it. Together.
It was uncanny, the way the stranger looked and acted almost exactly the same as Jenna, and yet Garrett knew, deep in his bones, that the woman in his kitchen was not his wife. No, not at all. This woman, smiling at him over a plate of over easy eggs and crispy bacon, was someone else entirely, someone who terrified him in ways he couldn’t explain.
The woman stood calmly, like she belonged there, and she had Jenna’s blond hair swept in a slightly messy chignon, wearing Jenna’s favorite scarf that was that very specific shade of Robin egg blue. Despite the neat exterior Garrett could sense the woman was tense. A single drop of sweat was visible on her otherwise perfectly made up forehead.
"What's the matter, Garrett?" The woman who looked like Jenna asked liltingly. A tad too cheerful, like she was hiding something. "Not hungry?”
Garrett swallowed and he noticed that his pulse was racing. Something was very very wrong here. When did this horror start? Everything had felt normal up until this moment. He thought back to last night. Had Jenna been acting strange then? Had his daughter? Oh God, Emma! Garrett was suddenly filled with panic. Where was his ten year old daughter? Today was Saturday, she should be home. Shouldn't she be awake by now?
"Emma?" Garrett called, his voice breaking, his eyes never leaving the woman pretending to be Jenna. He suddenly realized he was doing this all wrong. He should be pretending like everything was normal. He could not let on that he knew something was off. That was the only way to save himself, save Emma.
The news was droning on in the background. Jenna always had the news on while she cooked breakfast. How had this woman known to do that?
‘Authorities are advising the public to stay home. It is still unclear how the virus is transmitted but it is encouraged that any persons showing any symptoms suspicious of the disease should be isolated immediately. The first signs are fever, conjunctivitis, increasingly erratic behavior, diaphoresis…’
Garrett watched Jenna wipe a drop of sweat from her eyebrow. She was nervous, Garrett surmised. Were her eyes red? He couldn’t quite tell from this distance. She did look like she had been crying. Or perhaps ill…
“Mom? Dad?” Emma’s voice from the top of stairs sounded hesitant, scared.
“In here, sweetie.” Jenna called back before Garrett could open his mouth. Her voice unnaturally high. “Why don’t you stay up there, Ems, and I’ll bring up your breakfast? A special treat just for today.”
As Jenna’s eyes flicked over at Garrett nervously, he knew he did not have time. He couldn’t play this game. It was a matter of minutes wasn’t it? What they warned about on the news. Things could go from bad to worse very very quickly. Garrett had to move fast. He took a quick glance out their bay window. The neighborhood was eerily quiet. Everybody was hunkering down because of the disease all the news outlets were talking about. Would anybody come if he called for help? Would anybody hear their screams?
The news droned on:
’Infected persons can become extremely violent quickly. They will exhibit signs of psychosis, paranoia, and increased strength… Emergency services are limited…”
“Mom, is Dad..?” Emma sounded close to tears.
It was at this moment that Jenna’s expression slipped. She was terrified, feral, like a caged animal desperate to strike. Garrett noticed for the first time that she had been holding a butcher’s knife in her right hand. She was ready to use it.
Garrett had to do something. Now. His wife was not herself. She had succumbed to the virus. She was a danger to herself, to their precious daughter. He reached for the first heavy object he could find. With strength and speed he didn’t know he had, he charged at the woman with a ferocity that was fueled by fear for his life and love for his daughter.
It was over surprisingly quick, with Garrett barely aware of what was happening, his actions purely instinctive. The sounds and smells were muted for a few minutes, like a fever dream, and Garrett felt a huge surge of relief when he knew he had done what he needed to do. Emma’s screams from the top of the stairs just barely got him out of his trance.
“It’s okay, Ems!” He called out, trying to keep his voice steady, he had to remain calm for his daughter. “It will be okay now, you’re safe. I just have to clean up for a bit here but then we can have breakfast, okay?”
Emma was not listening. She had run back to her room and Garrett thought he heard her door lock. Through the walls he could hear her sobbing.
Garrett felt a sudden crushing sadness when he realized that Emma was probably infected too. He shook his head, his relief from a few moments ago dissipating. Of course his daughter was already infected. He was foolish to think he could save her…the virus spread too fast, didn’t it? That was what the news kept saying. Come to think of it, his daughter had been acting strange all morning, like a stranger, not his daughter at all.