It’s Not What You Think
It isn’t angels and clouds.
You don’t walk through walls,
and you don’t burn in hell.
I know. I’ve been there.
It was a bursting light
that drew me in,
to a place that has no name.
A place far beyond what is and isn’t real,
and far too strange to be called fantasy.
It is a place where colors aren’t colors,
where squares are round,
triangles are straight lines.
Heaven is black,
hell is white,
and your feet never touch the ground.
You are running and walking,
but never moving,
and this place passes you by.
I call it the waiting room to either or.
This place is your time and space,
where sound is dead, like you.
No friendly faces to greet you.
You cannot hear your thoughts,
cannot hear your screams,
cannot feel your tears,
until finally pulled back;
back through the bursting light.
You feel yourself drowning in your sweat,
your heart thunders without mercy,
and you know when you die again,
it isn’t all angels and clouds.
(This is based on a true experience I had when I died for 8 seconds, years ago.)
One moment in time did change my life.
What once was peace, now is strife.
Am I alive or am I dead?
Why do these drums beat in my head?
My mom and bro are by my side,
Telling me about my wild ride.
I did just escape from death.
For a time, I held no breath.
A bright light did guide my way,
But my Gran said I could not stay.
There was more for me down here,
And there was nothing for me to fear.
She said I would not die,
And that I should not cry.
I would return to her someday,
But that day was far away.
For now, I must return below,
Where I could learn and grow.
I know now that it is true,
The world is bigger than me and you.
From that moment, I live each day,
Knowing it could all go away.
Live each moment like it’s your last.
Enjoy your life and have a blast.
I Wonder What Happened
Sometimes I wonder what happens to the nameless, the unseen, the misunderstood; those without families who sleep on the street, under bridges, wrapped in blankets and booze. The the warmth of liquor on empty stomachs.
I wonder what happened to Henry.
I wonder what happened to Ralph.
I wonder what happened to Crow.
Old Man Dan.
And to little Miss Judy.
And I often wonder who will be next.
I wonder what happens to those, the voiceless, and if after death their voice is regained. I wonder if I were to tell you their stories, would you wonder, too?
I wonder what happens to the judged, the people that cause couples holding hands to divert their eyes, and cross the street. Rarely do I wonder about the jury, the ones that smile and carry their judgment to the bar, leaving Buffalo Wild Wings with to-go containers while waiting for their Uber next to signs that read “Hungry and Homeless,” and maybe this means that I don’t wonder about you.
Henry was a veteran and so was Ralph and they were best friends, too. They were part of the old school, damn near thirty plus years on the streets. They were gruff, unapproachable, and oftentimes smelled like piss.
I brought them some military patches that I found in an old closet of a new apartment where I had just signed a lease. I asked them if they knew what they were, which they did, so I hand sewed one on Ralph’s hat with a piece of red thread and after that, we quickly became friends.
I wonder what happened to Ralph, after he died in the hospital. Organs failing, going through detox with forty years of binge drinking under his belt, his nurse saying he was grouchy cause he was “just lonely,” while I thought, “The only family that he has is out on the street, sleeping in tents where they may die and I’ve been here a week so I just think he wants a goddamn cigarette and most definitely a beer.”
I also wonder what happened to all of the DVD’s I left for Ralph to watch, which happened to disappear as soon as he did, the next time I tried to visit his room.
After Ralph died, Henry would break down in tears every time that he saw me, asking if I still had the photo I had taken of his best friend. I told him I did. It was framed and waiting, for when he got his apartment.
Henry would often comment on the feathers in my hat, a green fedora with a fly fishing pin and feathers tucked in the brim. He would show me the little feather he had tucked in his cap. Crying, he would say his wife was Native American and had died of liver failure, the same as Ralph. He told me her name meant “Little Feather,” and so after that I also looked for little feathers to tuck in my hat, for however long, before being lost in the wind.
I wonder what happened to Henry after he froze to death in his tent. I wonder if he ever stopped crying, or if tears were left frozen to his face.
I wonder how long he laid there before somebody found him, before they patted him on the shoulder or back, or gripped his arm and felt the frigidness of death stick to their fingertips.
I wonder how things would have been different, if he had made it to his moving in date, which was just weeks after his death.
I wonder if Ralph and Henry are together, and Little Feather, too. I wonder if they’re happy or if they are drunk or if they are both, and knowing them, I’m pretty sure they are both.
I wonder if he had the choice, which choice would he make? Would he take an apartment, no friends or close family, a love lost like the feathers that fly from out of our hats?
I wonder do organs fail in the afterlife?
I wonder if Crow still plays harmonica, even though he froze to death, too.
I met him in a cubby when he had a black eye while reeking of booze. He told me he was Crow, the Harmonica Man, and how he learned to play to chase the cows back in the barnyard, as a child.
I asked if he would play something and allow me to film, and we videotaped three songs, before he was done.
I asked him if there was anything I could do, to which he replied “Can you walk me to the shelter?”
Arm in arm we walked half a mile to the homeless shelter, passing bars and apartments and cars that had to wait for our three-legged race. The concrete always wins and his bloodied face was the truth.
I kept saying “Just lean on me,” and he always replied “I feel like that’s a song.”
We walked passed this one bar with these young drunken punks who stepped out for a smoke. They scoffed and laughed at Crow in his Hawaiian shirt, dirty long beard that was supposed to be white, and he tried to stand but mostly wobbled while he said he was the best damn harmonica player they’d ever heard.
They continued to laugh, write him off as a bum, and it pissed me off so I pushed him against the wall and told him to play. He leaned against the concrete, pulled his harp out his pocket, and began to blow. And then the laughter stopped.
We left them in awe and stumbled to the mission.
I began organizing a showcase at a local music venue where and told him he could perform but Mid-Western winters in the snow-belt of Michigan can be unforgiving.
I assume he was cremated, like Ralph and Henry, and I wonder if they thaw the bodies before they started to burn.
Do cows go to heaven? Is he ushering them to the barnyard?
Old Man Dan sat on a stoop and when I say he sat on a stoop, he practically owned that stoop; a neighborhood fixture like a statue across from the liquor store. On the same stoop he sat for nearly twenty years. Dan was a wonderful old man, who never meant any harm.
He would ask for spare change, a cigarette here and there, and I don’t know how he ate or how he managed to stoop it so long. All that I know is that he once had an apartment in the building by the stoop, but it didn’t pass inspection and ever since that the only thing he had above his head was the stoop’s small awning, and God up above.
Dan was a man of simple words and simple gestures. He wasn’t allowed in the liquor store because he was always so soiled. His brain was mush from soaking in alcohol for so many years, and no public restroom within walking distance left him nearly unbearable at times, and I wonder if Jesus washed away more than his sins.
One day, I ran into Dan. He was in a fit of distress. Not the same kind of distress that he was in the night before, the night he asked me to call the ambulance, worried he was going to die.
Last night he was in distress because a woman had sat next to him, on his window still stoop, smoking a cigarette then leaving and on her way out she dropped a clear plastic bag. In that sandwich bag, her social security card, her ID, bank cards, bus card, everything.
He waved me down from across the street, and told me what happened.
“This is her business. Her ID don’t do me no good. I don’t want to get into any trouble, I just want her to get it back. I want to do what I need to do, wrong or right.”
He asked and asked, “Am I wrong or right?” and I told him he was right and doing the right thing, while a sleazy white man sat next to him and eyed the clear plastic bag with all of it’s contents, saying he could take that to the store and pick up some booze. He could sell those contents for cash, if he wanted. Which is what he did want.
Dan wouldn’t let me leave with the bag, saying she might come back for it. She would know where to find him. He couldn’t chase her down, some days he can hardly walk. He had been in the hospital two of the last three days.
But here he was, “I’m just trying to do what I gotta do, wrong or right,” he says, “Please!” he yells, “Help me! Find her so she can get it back. It’s her business. This is her identification.” He wouldn’t even open it saying “I don’t want to get into any trouble,” but I opened it and I took a photo of her bus pass ID and started walking around asking if anyone knew her.
I showed the photo of her documents to the security guard at the building where Dan once lived, and she recognized the face and the name but not how to contact her.
Two hours later her items were returned safely and Dan thanked me, saying he couldn’t have done it without me. But the truth is I couldn’t have done anything without him.
After that, I asked Dan if he would let me take his photograph and post it online, letting everyone know the deed that he had done. I was hoping people may see him, and know he’s no threat and no matter the state of his physical being, his eternal self was truer than true.
The alcoholics on the street live their life on repeat, day after day down to the same story they speak.
Every day that I saw Dan I would remind him of his deed, tell him he was right and that he should feel pride in himself, thinking it’s better to live like a record on repeat where the words that are spoken reflect not the state of his flesh, the liquor on his breath, but the eternal being that ripples and makes waves throughout the world, no matter how small or large of if they never even leave his stoop, and soon after that, Dan disappeared.
One day went by, no statue on his stoop. Two days, then three, then weeks at a time. After a few months I assumed he had died and wondered if anyone noticed, or cared, or if anyone really knew.
Months went by before suddenly he was back. He flagged me down again and I asked, “Where have you been?”
“I just got out of rehab,” he said with a smile, toothless but proud, and I couldn’t believe what he said or what he said next. “Got enough change for a beer?” and I said “Hell no, Dan! Not after that. That’s amazing and I can’t seem to bring myself to do that.”
Dan didn’t last long before he was gone again. Now it’s been years and I’ve never seen him again. I wonder where he’s at, if he’s on a stoop in the sky, or if he somehow made it to a stoop near a bed, with a roof and a door, and his own keys to the lock.
I wonder if our daily affirmation, the confirmation of his heart, by simply switching sides to his vinyl, the script to his story, played on repeat, played part in his choice. And I wonder if done sooner, would it have played a little different.
Or maybe it was nothing and I’m wondering too much, but it meant something to me and to me that’s enough.
Amber was a bum straight down to the core, and I don’t mean to be rude, but she said it herself. The day that I met her she told me she was a poet, so she wrote me a poem and read it out loud, while I filmed her in an alley, next to a dumpster and Tim.
“I’m A Bum
Wish I was Not
Never in my life
I thought I would be
So I have to think
And then hell becomes
Written by Amber Lynn Gibson
and Now I’m going to drink”
Amber went on, “I never dreamed that I would be a bum. And I used to work jobs and take care of things and now I’m down low but I’m getting on my feet now.”
“And once I do I’ll be safe.”
“My baby. This is my husband, Timothy. I love him, with all my heart. And I want to put a ring on his finger but he’ll never wear it.”
“Oh yeah I would,” Tim chimes in.
“No you wouldn’t.”
Yes, I would! I don’t mind a ring on my finger. I’d like to have one on every finger so when I sock somebody,” Tim laughs, while rolling his hand in a fist.
“No, I want to put a ring on you.”
“Titanium alloy. And I want it to be your size, and it’s a worry ring so you can go like this,” Amber says, rubbing her finger in circles.
“8.5 or 9,” Tim says.
“Go like this,” Amber says, still circling her finger, “and when you’re worried and inside it’ll get an inscription. ‘I love Tim’ but I’m not gonna say that. I’m gonna say, ‘Forever, you are mine.’”
They are silent for a moment, fingers intertwined.
“Give me my kiss,” Amber says, “Forever you are mine. That’s what it’s gonna say. And I’m gonna have the same ring of my own.”
They kiss and hold hands and our poetry video ends.
Amber tells Tim to let me document his story and he says, “No, I don’t want to cry.”
I never documented Tim’s story, but he did ask me to find his family and I did, and he talked to his father on my cell phone for the first, and last time, in very many years.
Amber died in the hospital to causes unknown, and Tim followed soon after, and I wonder if they finally got their rings and if Tim was able to leave his memories behind, the ones that made him simply want to cry.
I wonder what happened to Miss Judy when her soul left this place. A little old lady, hunched in a walker, who used to roll cigarettes and sell them on the street. She is a reminder for all that is wrong with this country, a little old lady sent out in the cold because took those in need of refuge into her own home, collecting food donations to keep their bellies full. Ran without a permit, her shelter soon closed, leaving her on the street for years till she passed away last year.
I wonder if in Heaven, a shelter needs a permit. I wonder if all those who wander are lost after death, or if people like Miss Judy give them a place to feel at home.
I wonder if all these people are together safe in Judy’s sanctuary, somewhere in the sky, and they don’t feel the pain and neglect like they did every day. In a place without judgment, free to be themselves, and I truly hope the things that cost them the most pain, that made them live the way that they did are forgotten or lost, and especially I have hope that they are free from their guilt.
Every day I wonder who will be next, the summer coming to an end, with the cold coming quick, soon to sweep in.
I wonder what will happen to Christa, and to Kali, and to all of my other friends when their time comes, and I wonder what it will take for me to begin to wonder what will happen to me, too, when my time is here.
I wonder if I will ever believe in God, or Miss Judy’s sanctuary in the sky. I wonder if thinking like this will help me sleep better at night, and I worry these stories will leave me more calloused than cleansed.
I wonder if my documentary will truly ever end, or if I even want it to truly ever end, and even if it did, I will still wonder if a person’s story truly ever ends, if someone is listening and possibly able to tell it?
#homelessness #addiction #documentary #nonfiction #division #death
Sometimes I wonder
what lies yonder-
in the afterlife,
will there be any strife?
A different community
of beings living in unity~
o, how serene-
a glorious scene!
Sometimes I wonder
what happens after death
when we take our last breath??
The body decays,
but the soul prevails~
Like an everlasting star
a part of a place that feels so far.
I do hope
That maybe there’s a rope~
which I can reach,
and use as a breach-
pull myself into a new realm
while wearing a helm,
to a place that has a grand hall
one which looks Astral.
If there is a heaven
If there is a heaven ,
Beethoven is there.
did he reach the rest
that he faild to find in life?
And with this peace,
will he have composed
who was practically a neighbor,
in their hometown,
finally find the courage
to talk to the
Would they collaborate?
Is heaven filled with newness,
or with an endless nostalgia?
If there is heaven,
Lincoln is there.
does he sit content,
in those hights,
unaware of things in the now?
or does he compose speeches ,
as he did,
with Martin Luther King,
and perhaps Gandhi,
until the time that the truth
rings out again in living ears?
Do the spirits even care,
once their load is dropped,
that we are still bleeding?
If there is a heaven,
Could you possibly meet those
that you never knew?
or are the networks
of aquiantances ,
that so restrict us in life,
still hold us back when we’ve done?
could we walk to a stranger
and shake his hand,
without fear of disgust or contempt?
Finally, lord I ask, if there is heaven,
do we learn what were your thoughts?
how you took and gave and built and flooded?
will we in heaven, know of the plan at last
so that we feel less bereived?
Aftermaths of death
I sat at my desk with my head in my hands, trying to study the laws of conservation of momentum in my physics text book. The mid-terms were on the horizon and I was barely prepared. Each time I tried to focus, my mind drifted to the sound of laughter and chatter between my mother and her boyfriend in the room next door. I was angry and disgusted at my mother’s insolence.
“How could she do this? It’s just been six months since dad left!” I thought to myself.
An array of dreadful scenarios played in my head. Does this mean she will marry him? If that happens, will Dad ever hang out with us? We will never be a family again. What if dad finds a girlfriend too? What if they move away? My teenage mind was filled with uncertainty and a heavy feeling of hopelessness.
I broke down into tears just like I’ve been doing since dad left.
“Okay back to physics!” I told myself as I wiped my face with the sleeve of my shirt. If I did not get an A+, mom would resent me even more! I rubbed my eyes and looked at the physics equations again…m1u1 +m2u2 = m1V1…My eyes lumbered to a picture of me and dad on the book shelf. It was taken last summer, the day we set up a new baby pool for my sister. I remember Dad chasing me around the inflatable pool, mom and Cindy joined in too. Thinking about our idyllic days as a family made me smile briefly then the ashen clouds of reality set in.
I grabbed my cell phone and called my dad. I had missed him so much. But he did not answer. He texted back that he was busy. I began sobbing.
My face had puffed up from the incessant crying and lack of sleep. I tottered to the bathroom in the hallway to wash my face but my mom’s medicine cabinet caught my eye.
There were all sorts of pills in there, from pain meds to antidepressants.
“What if I take these together?” I thought to myself as I felt weary of my parents’ separation and the looming exams. My life was in shreds. I was tired of the plaintive conservations with my parents and friends. It was the day after we set up the pool. I was supposed to watch my two year old baby sister but instead I hung out in my room. She wondered alone to the pool and drowned. Dad never blamed me but he began drinking. My parents fought all the time, sometimes you would even see pots and pans flying in every direction. My mother carefully covered those bruises with makeup every time she stepped out. And one day, dad just left.
Why didn’t I pay attention to my sister? Only if I did, she would still be alive and none of this would happen. I blamed myself. The anguish just made it easier to embrace death.
I poured all the pills in my hand and swallowed them. There was a painful knot in my stomach as I felt drowsy and hit the floor.
I opened my eyes to beeping sounds, tubes coming out of my nose and people in scrubs running all over the place. Mom and dad were there, sitting next to me and holding my hand. They looked scared and sad.
“I’m so sorry honey, I wish I saw what you were going through” My mom said, as she tearfully stroked my hair.
“You know you died for five whole minutes? I was so scared they couldn’t bring you back. I’m so sorry I did not answer that call Megan.” My dad said as he wiped his tears.
Mom laid her head on dad’s shoulders and began crying.
“I’m not ready to lose another one, I can’t go through this again!” she said.
Growing up, the idea of seeing heaven or hell after death fascinated me. But when I experienced it myself, I realized that there was nothing after death, just infinite darkness where your soul is suspended onto nothingness. You see nothing, feel nothing, and hear nothing. Although afterlife may not be as dramatic it surely has a dramatic effect on the people around you. After death, you may not feel pain, but your loved ones will surely do. Waking up from death brought me to a different world where my broken family was mended again, where my past was forgiven and my present treasured.
The Dance Ahead
The big band music starts and I leap to my feet...leap! My poodle skirt swings and my little white tennis shoes twist me, Jitterbugging with Ted at the soda shop. I twirl, twist and shake my torso like I'm twenty-five years old. No gnarled hands grasp Ted to prevent falling, no shuffling feet fear losing their balance, and the only reason my head is shaking is to keep the music's beat. This is who I am. This dancing, laughing, carefree barely-an-adult girl who loves life. I see this through my rheumy eyes lying in my hospital bed.
In and out of this dream-reality state I go. When I see my young self, all the worries and sadnesses that occupy my current days recede. I know the next world holds all that was beautiful in this world. When Ted was dying, the cancer took his eyesight before it took his voice. But he saw and described uplifting moments. Our children saw a father hallucinating and talking nonsensibly; I saw hope, excitement, and purpose in the eyes and words of my husband. I know now that what he saw was genuine-real people in real situations experiencing real events and being part of them in his finest form. Now, it's my turn; my kids surround my bedside, fearful of my departure, but I look forward with anticipation. Relief and excitement dance in my eighty-five-year-old bones: the next life will be an eternal environment of all that I love. Peace, joy, and contentment course through me even as arthritis, Parkinson's Disease, and clogged arteries do, too.
Death ends life on earth, but it doesn't end life. I have so many glimpses of the joy that lives beyond. Ted saw it and tried to describe it to me. I feel almost giddy when I see that young girl dancing on the floor; she intrigues me, and I want to join. I will... when it's time.
And now the first Dance
we are gathered here today to join this man
and this patch of dirt
in unwholly matrimony until afterlife, do they part.
If anyone objects
pray now or forever hold
a piece of them.
And with no power left vested, I pronounce them -
Copyright © 1986-2018
All Rights Reserved
reality of death
futile hopes of
a beautiful afterparty?
the reality of death
is that it is not real
the most important part of us,
it does not
under the dry ground.
to a new body.
to make ourselves
to make ourselves
that our soul's depth is ours,
that our heart's integrity is pure.
but our soul has built upon
our heart has strengthened over
after we die,
we are nothing.
we are everything.
The place after
Bright. Too bright.
Faces come and go. Faces he knew and did not know, faces he never remembered meeting.
He has never been blinded like this before.
The lights starts to pulse dim.
The pain starts to disappear. He feels numb. ‘Is this good?’
He cannot feel his hands or his feet.
Then the light blinks off dead.
He wakes up to daylight filtering in through the windows. ‘Did I fall asleep?’ He was at the mall. He does not remember walking back home but he looks around and recognizes the room as his own. Yet why are there toys on his nightstand? And why is a brown teddy bear right next beside him? He threw it away years ago. He is sure of that.
He props himself to a sit and breathes heavily, taking it all in. He feels so light and calm it’s all so disconcerting. He has never known such a feeling of peace.
He draws away the blanket and finds that he is still in his sweater and denim jeans he wore at the mall. ‘What really happened there?’ There is a faint chime that seems to echoe from a distance, as though it is the memory he is missing. But it sounds so inaudible he cannot discern what it is.
He walks over to his closet, wanting a change of clothes but all that his wardrobe offers him are clothes he does not use anymore. Everything is so small. He takes one out. It’s his basketball jersey from grade school. Why is it still there? He shuffles through his clothes and finds nothing could fit him anymore.
There is a nagging thought at the back of his head that he does not want to entertain. But it overwhelms him all the same and so he let himself wonder aloud, “Am I back in my childhood?”
He frantically scuttles to stand in front of the mirror. A light scrub of a beard has regrown under his chin, and the shadow of a mustache lines above his lips. He does look old. But why does his room look like how it was back in sixth grade?
He decides to step out of his room, dreading what he is about to see. The vase he broke when he was stumbling drunkenly to his room years past is holding its usual bundle of flowers, whole and without cracks. The frames studding the walls. The clean white paint. The furnishings and the small TV set. He could all remember them. A kid emerges from the bathroom, pulling his pants and zipping it up.
‘He can’t see me. Am I dead?’
“Karl!” A familiar voice calls from the kitchen.
They have the same name. He looks like him too. He does not want to admit it. But the kid is him, in sixth grade. The thought sounds straight out of fiction but it is true. And it just confuses him more.
“Will you get the pliers for me?” It is his father, attempting to fix the drain and failing.
“Sure. Where is it?” Karl says, his cracking pubescent voice making him nostalgic.
He watches as the kid version of him exit through the backdoor and come back with rusting pliers in one hand and a kitten in another.
“I brought Caesar in, it’s drizzling outside. Can I go to Mark’s today?”
“Sure, just make sure to come back for lunch.”
“Cool,” Karl exclaims, running to grab his cap from the table. The kid swings open the door but stops and looks at him - in the eyes as though the kid could see him. “You can come with me, if you want. Mark had just done putting a small table up in our treefort.”
He stares back unbelievingly. He is about to answer back when Father says, “Sorry but I still have to figure out how to put these together. Just enjoy. Ugh, dammit.”
Karl is still looking at him. “Bye.”
He follows the kid past a neighborhood that he knows had changed and only got cramped up. Yet for this morning, he revels at the smell of earth and grass, at the sweet innocence of it all.
He sees now how he had a funny girlish gait as a kid, and he feels a bit ashamed for little Karl. The light drizzle is like a downpour of small kisses of pleasure all over his exposed skin. He can live here again. He tries to remember where this day leads to but the profound peace in his heart reserves little space for bothering.
Where Karl gallops to, he follows with barely any effort at all. The kid seems to glance back at him from time to time. Whether Karl could see him is still a puzzle to him. So he speaks out, “Can you see me?”
The kid ceases prancing but just looks up to the sky that despite the light rain is a clear blue. Then he goes on down the winding street.
The treefort is built around a huge acacia that overlooks a stream. All the other boys of their small gang is already up there.
Karl climbs up the ladder with ease. “Hey, what did I miss?”
The boys are huddled around a laptop he remembers to be Greg’s. On the screen is a movie playing. Brown. Blankets. Bed. Moans. They have been watching for quite a while and they have already gotten worked up a lot. Karl joins in on the fun.
He has to swallow two big lumps that has come to form on his throat as he watches the kids watch things. He does not know what to feel. He can remember this day now.
Better things have happened on this treefort but why did he have to travel back to this particular time. Where is the laughing? The serious arguments about cartoons and animes?
“Greg what are you doing?” Little Karl says all of a sudden.
“What? I thought you liked it?”
“You’re a faggot!”
Greg stands up too. “What did you say?”
“Hey, stop it, you two!” Mark steps in between them.
They start pushing each other around. He does not notice they have reached the balcony. But one second Greg is shouting names, he is going over the rail the next. No one could reach out to pull him by the hand. All the kids could do is watch Greg drop in the air as if in slow motion. The splash is loud. He wishes the water has broken Greg’s fall but as he looks over the rail along with the kids, he sees the red of blood being carried by the shallow water. The kid has hit a rock.
Silence takes over the fort for a whole minute, as all of them try to take in what has just happened.
He steps away from them, the false peace in his chest now unmasked to be but mere forgetting. This day has made him remember all the unforgivable things he’d done.
‘I am dead but where am I?’