2019 June after such a long year of struggle, the months leading up so much so. I was tired, she was tired and having been a part of her dying for weeks by that time- I knew it would be the next day. I called all her grandsons, her other granddaughter- each who loved her more than the next, to come and sit and be with her before she took her last breath.
We sat with her and talked of the past, the stories she most liked to hear. She could not communicate much, but I could tell she could not see death... so weak and tired she was- but what was not there, was fear.
After a few hours the room became too hot, the night became too late, and stories from joyful reminders of the past to realizations of a future that would give us no more stories. Everyone said goodnight.
Through the quiet hours of dark the oxygen machine and I sang to her. I read her Romans, Psalms, and promises of God. I anointed her with oils, filed her nails, rubbed her feet, washed her face over and over until almost 24 hours after our gathering with the four generations she created. I gave her what I knew would be her last dose of medication- and she knew she got eye drops twice a day so I followed the schedule I know her brain was still aware should be. The next hour, I held her hand and closed the door to tell her everything I wanted to say. Her children came in for a few moments and said a few sentences of their own. They went to the kitchen to call and let the nurse know our Betty was shaking quiet disturbingly, I knew what was coming so I wrapped my arms around this woman who loved me the longest- trusted me the most- and as her body died I sang to her... Oh how I love Jesus, weeping out the words; sad for myself but admittedly happy for her. I knew where she was going, but not where I would be without her- and she was one second there with me and in the next, gone.
Necessarily awkward time went by as her family came in.
I changed her into her favorite pajamas while the funeral home staff was on the way, put her fluffy sock on her feet, and I do remember holding her hand, I do remember looking closely at her and wishing so much she looked anyway more like life. The most wonderful gift I have ever received from a stranger was how beautiful and alive and herself the funeral director made her look for that last time we would see her- several people whispered how alive she looked, how significantly more human she seemed. I took a photo from my seat in the front row, it looked like she was napping.
2020 June cleaning out my desk- their lay my old phone untouched for almost a year, I plugged it in and immediately went to the photos. There was my Betty- in that sweater she loved, her hair the perfect shape, rosey cheeks- surrounded by flowers and satin and I felt love.
then I swiped the screen with my finger
the very next 3 frames were of an old, bald looking, grey, slouched faced, pajama covered body... not a person. medical waste. I do not remember taking the picture seeing death- I remember taking the picture thinking how lovely I had gotten her before she would be taken away from us. but death is what i saw there on that screen not my gram, not my Betty, just death in a photograph- and the only time I ever pitied her was as I deleted what I should not have tried to keep.
Of his rage
In his eyes
For his cage
Larger than life
Rang more true
A random teen
In a twist of fate
Her final moment
In a remarkably timed
Their recent photos
They remembered the faces
From the news
And sent the photo
To the police
For less than an hour
There were three deaths
In that photograph
The woman's -
The man's -
The teen's -
Forget Me Not
I wish I could forget the forgotten:
Those who died in righteous conflicts. Those who lived good lives, but for whom no one attended their funerals. Those who died alone, without all the ones who should have been there absent in the end. Those mothers who do and over-do for their children, from slicing off the crust of sandwich bread to working an extra job for their education. Those fathers who teach their sons about the sacredness of daughters and teach their daughters about equality. Those siblings who beat and tickle their brothers and sisters one moment but would die for them the next. Those children who persevere through abuse and immature parents. Those doctors and nurses and others who do little things that aren't their job to make sure those in their care benefit from the maximum. Those in the legal profession who champion the truth over their careers. Those politicians who put freedom over national interests and national interests over party interests. Those children who grow up to raise children right.
All the things we take for granted that are otherwise ignored, by-passed, and so very important, even if posterity doesn't think so.
The words, her words, echoed in my head,
every day for the last six years.
Of all of the ideas she had,
all of the songs she sang,
and all of the blessings she gave,
it was only these words I could not distance myself from.
I should have told her the truth and I should have told her the instant I knew.
I wanted to shield her from the impact it would have on us.
If she knew, it would destroy all she ever worked for.
If she knew I knew, it would destroy her.
She would become a shell of her past.
That person you remember fondly until you remember why you are remembering.
It always ends poorly for such people.
She was now such people.
I hear it.
I see it.
I can even taste it.
Her words resonate and permeate my senses.
Her words drive me toward a resolution, six years too late, but better late than never.
I can’t save her.
That ship has sailed.
I can’t save myself.
I will never be the man she wanted.
Sometimes I believe that ship was never meant to sail.
But I help those that don’t even realize they need my help.
These people I target dangle on the precipice of ruin, only inches from despair.
From their POV, they see only their past, maybe my past.
From my POV, I see their one possible future if they are to have any future.
I am an idiot.
But, for today at least,
I can prevent another from joining my club.
I wonder often about presence. We feel much more than we see.
The way you hover over my shoulder. Guardian angel legions, looming; undisguised demons, lurking. A physical sensation tempered by something invisible. No matter what I am doing. Suddenly, you are near. Checking in on me. And I'd like to know, what that looks like viewed from the side.
So many moments pass us by...
That's what it's like.
In a photograph-- not taken.
Two-dimensional beings hanging on dripping sheets from a length of string across my safelight room. The glow of red means stop, but the alchemy continues. Shadowy wraiths come to life, from the gossamer dead to better living through chemistry. There they are. Real people summarized and put in planar constraints for the tertiary beings who bring them out.
All of them hang there, lifeless. All dead from the last generation. Dripping with solvents. Emulsion sublimating silver iodide where zombies claw themselves out to join the living.
They survive until they come out into the light. Then they fade away, back into the word-of-mouth tales told at weddings and funerals and bar mitzvahs. A whole generation who could otherwise fit in an 8x10-inch album of faux leather and acetate sleeves on the shelf. Making way for the next generation of homuncular redux into one dimension.
One of pixels and data.
I Was Never a Fly
You are my fickle friend:
The one I can’t help but offend.
Meanwhile, your lips drip nothing but
You, who perpetually dances
in rubble and wreckage
Of your own design,
Are more fragile of heart
Than a wayward hummingbird
On collision course with my
And that’s all you leave me with, isn’t it?
You lured me in
Glittering in a varnish
of newborn royalty,
To feed the hunger of an
Us versus Them narrative.
And when I was a mere breath from you,
Drunk on your poisonous fumes,
You shoved me back,
Saying I’m too cruel.
But, oh, were you caught unawares?
When you spun me up in your cocoon of lies,
Did you think I was only a fly?
You pitiful little spider,
My venom drips with self-righteous anger.
My web all the stickier with mucosal truth.
My threats do not ring of hallow vacancy.
You infantile arachnid,
dreaming of being so high
on the taste of bitterness,
You forgot to check under your bed
for the real monster.
You’ve seen me now,
For all that I am,
and seek to free yourself from me,
But so entangled you’ve become,
You only hiss and sputter on the line.
Do I have your attention now,
You counterfeit queen?
Hold still, don’t struggle,
Mother will teach you the truth about venom:
It will always come back to bite you.
The only real way to become
queen of the ashes,
Is to burn first.
Gazelles and Lions
"It's Mina," she says with a slow, sly smile. She holds her drink in both hands, sipping through the cocktail straw. Her eyes lock on his.
"Steve," he extends his hand. She shakes it gingerly, her smile never wavering. She returns to the two-handed grip on her beverage.
"Can I get you another...?" He gestures questioningly.
"Bloody Mary. Yes, please."
"Bold choice for a hotel bar," he jokes, stepping away to get them both another round. A few minutes later, he returns to the hightop in the corner where he spotted her drinking alone. "Here you are, Mina," he practically sparkles with charm.
"What do you mean?" She asks, discarding the skewered olives. They lie in a heap atop jagged pieces of broken and melted ice in the finished glass.
"I thought half the fun of one of those was that it was also a snack. Like a dirty martini, but brunchier." He chuckles, sipping his Jack and Coke.
"I'm more of a carnivore, I suppose. But I am still curious what you mean."
"Oh, no, it's nothing, really. I mean, I go to a place like this, I keep the drinks simple, you know? This isn't exactly a spot for craft cocktails, and the food in this place is so blah."
"Oh, I don't know. I think the food here is fine. The crowd is definitely more like a watering hole in the wild, I get that. But my drink, it's just a premix and vodka, yes?"
"I mean, sure, but there's the stuff in it, too. Obviously, drink what you want, it's not like the opinion of strangers is of much interest, right?"
"True. Speaking of interest, I'm not interested in...most things...in this place." She delivers this line like a seductress in an old Bogart film, breaking eye contact just long enough to glance around the room, then back. Her eyes move south to north, taking him in, returning to and lingering on the south before returning to his gaze. She sips, he swallows. "I'm interested in you, though."
She releases a throaty, rich, incubus laugh that fills the room and makes Steve's heart race and voice thicken when he can finally speak.
"Been drinking long, Steve?" She teases.
"Apparently I'm new to it. You?" He takes a napkin from the table, wipes the Coke from his chin, scoffing at himself.
"Longer than you'd expect, I think." She's grinning again.
"Well. It's impolite to ask a lady her age."
"Is that what you think I am?"
"Wait. Is this a trick? A trans-type thing?"
"Not at all. It's an honest question."
"I hope not."
"You hope it's not an honest question, or is that your answer?"
It's his turn to grin slyly at her. "I hope you're not a lady."
"So you want me to have a dick?"
He chokes on his drink again, sputtering. "Oh, god, no, that's not what I meant, I---"
She laughs again, interrupting him. "I know, Steve. Relax. I'm only teasing. Trust me, there's no dick here."
"Well, if there were, I wouldn't judge."
"But you wouldn't want to fuck me."
"Jesus, Mina, wow, you're just gonna put it out there like that?" He blushes.
"What? Say it like that?"
"No. Would you fuck me? If I had a dick, I mean."
"Holy shit, what, you're getting into this on the first date?"
"Is this a date? I'm just a girl in a bar. You're just a boy trying to make me end up with a dick one way or another, or have I misread this?" That grin never fades.
"Maybe I need another drink."
"Oh, poor lion in the savanna finds out he's really the gazelle. Careful. I hear whiskey can impact performance. I think we have plans."
His eyes bulge, but he decides to roll with it. "Okay, well, I do have a room here."
"I don't. Take me home. I'd be more relaxed at my house."
"I've been drinking."
"Oh, I see. I'm not worth the risk. Well, thanks for the drink, Steve." She stands, moving to head towards a booth occupied by a pair of what look to be men in town on business, just like Steve. He reaches out, catches her by the wrist.
She stops, looks down at his grip and back up to him. Her grin becomes a toothy thing, and she leans in to whisper in his ear. "You're a big, strong boy aren't you?" Her tongue flicks his lobe, and he shivers. "Maybe there is some lion in there."
"I'll drive you home. Just let me have a word with my friend at the bar, so he knows I'm leaving." He lets go of her arm, and it's her turn to catch his hand. Her fingers intertwine with his.
"Don't be long," she almost moans, and releases him.
Steve smiles dumbly and approaches the bar. His sales partner has been watching the whole time from across the room, and he greets Steve with a handshake. "Congratulations, man."
Steve can't help but feel like he's won the lottery. Mina is an absolute knockout, if a bit strange. "We're going to her house."
"Out-damn-standing my man."
"Do me a favor. Take a pic of us when I get back over there. I need this for posterity. She's too goddamn hot to not remember with a photo and if I do it it's just weird and creepy."
"If I do it, it's completely normal behavior from a stranger sitting at the bar? You serious?"
"Get after it, man. And text it to me. I can't believe she wants me to carry her home and fuck. She basically said so, can you believe it?"
"You're a lucky man, Stevey."
With that, Steve goes back to the high top in the corner. He stands so that his buddy can capture Mina and he together. Behind her back, Steve gives a lascivious grin and a thumbs-up to Abe at the bar. So lost in lust is Steve that he doesn't notice the perplexed looks Abraham gives his phone.
Later, when the police are investigating, Abe gladly shows the photographs and texts to the detectives; Steve never checks those text messages, because he has his hands full.
Soon after arriving at her house, Mina and her sister Lucy have their hands full of Steve, too.
If those texts had been checked, Steve would have seen a series of question marks both preceding and following photos from the bar.
Three pictures, taken seconds apart while Abe stares at his phone in disbelief, each show Steve with his arm around empty air, giving a goofy grin and thumbs up.
Mina was at the table, but not in the photographs.
No one ever noticed that she cast no reflection in the mirror behind the hotel bar, either.
People aren't supposed to disappear without a trace, but the investigation never moves from missing person to homicide.
When I was born, my ears busted,
I listened to music as loud as it can go,
My ears could not take the sound, so they just bust.
I do not have to worry about that anymore,
I am deaf, I cannot hear the combustion
But I can feel it in my heart and soul.
The heat of the spontaneous combustion,
Burning flames that spread and increase,
The sparks of the deafening explosions,
Creating a chaotic scene.
I feel the heat of the fire,
I can feel it in my veins,
The soundless combustion,
Making me numb with pain.
I try to block it out,
But it still lingers on,
The silent combustion,
That will never be gone.
I may not be able to hear it,
But I can feel its power,
The silent combustion,
That will forever tower.
Three winters ago he was shy,
His heart shyly beating, so close to mine.
Two winters ago, we started dating,
My heart soaring, our love delighting.
But last winter he turned into a monster,
His heart hardened, his love fizzling out.
He became something he hated the most,
His father, his spirit now so dark and cold.
Before he was sweet like a doe,
His love swamping me, bringing me joy.
Now he is a wolf, going to eat me,
My heart breaking, my spirit so low.