It's your fourth hour
in front of the TV,
it's your fifth beer
to wash down a bowl of stale peanuts.
It's one o'clock in the afternoon.
Your wife has given you
a list of things to do but
how irrelevant they seem,
when time glides so easily by.
Your daughter is telling you
that you can't tell her what to do
and she's right.
So you don't.
You're empty so you fill
and it's all you can think about
as you sit on the floor playing cars
with your son.
You can't kiss your wife goodnight
in case she tastes it
on your lips.
In the dark you toss
and in the day you wander
in a heavy slumber
while the world
like a shadow.
Your taste is sweet
your energy so potent it fills
me so that I can hardly sit still
instead I chase you, running laughing
so sugar-high that our fingers tremble
as we roll a cigarette to share
to kill time until morning.
You spill over,
leaving nothing behind but a sticky mess
for someone else to clean up,
and a glass half-empty.
Following Freshers’ Week
They are the echo of a scream
In the street outside the window,
A shrieking laughter and a shout
that rattles the panes.
But tonight you're not inside,
You're one of them,
And was that shriek not yours?
How pretty crunches
the mosaic of broken glass
Sparkling in yellow streetlight.
The light changes
The air changes
Hot and humid
Inside is a noise
Blue and flashing that
Moves bodies like the cogs of some gigantesque machine
That grind against each other.
Sweat and perfume drip from powdered bodies
Painted plucked and shimmering.
Something sweet slides down the throat
Warms the belly,
What a good idea it seems to dance,
To flash bright like the lights but you pause.
You never mean to but you do.
You float in fear,
for a moment and forget
What it is you are doing here.
They Are Sleeping
When I was little, she said, I used to pretend that before humans lived here, the earth was inhabited by these massive creatures. They were so big that they kept crushing all the other littler animals whenever they moved or did anything, and it made them really sad. So one day, they decided that they were doing more harm than good, and thought that they should let another race rule the world for a little while. So they lay down and went to sleep and they lay there for thousands and thousands of years, until moss grew over them, and trees, and forests, and they forgot that they were alive all together. I used to think that they had turned into mountains, and I used to look at the mountains and try to figure out what kind of animals they used to be.
See that one over there? That was a lion. Do you see its mane? The way its head is resting on its paws, with the little village in between them?
We sat in silence and tried to see animal shapes in mountains. I imagined that one day they would shake themselves awake, take one look at the world and decide to start crushing all the little creatures again.
You place nine
on your knockoff cornflakes.
On the fridge there hangs a list and it is the recipe to happiness.
It starts with blueberries and a balanced breakfast
you need a balance in your day
Careful, mindful steps towards completion
early to sleep and early to rise.
This is healthy. This is happy.
You are happy.
( But about what about that time we walked all night - )
Hush. You are happy.
( - to get to school
down the mountain through the forest and along the lake where we drank sangria and ate strawberries
and our soles were bared because our shoes were badly chosen and we were too tired to guard our words against each other
stumbling into class at 8:17 two minutes after the bell went and no one knew what we'd been through and - )
Go for a jog.
Gently, now. Push yourself but not too hard.
A drink in the evening
it's Friday after all
but one beer and avoid cigarettes darling
they're a filthy habit.
( - passing a cigarette between fumbling fingers
because it was so cold but you loved him a little
so you stayed and watched
the sun rise over the - )
Read a bestselling book
it'll give you something to talk about at parties.
( - standing in front of a public bathroom mirror
for an hour and convincing yourself that you cannot
because Descartes wasn't thorough enough and
the pragmatists are ridiculous - )
Go to bed early.
Take a pill to kill the anxiety
and to -
( - sleepless nights and tears
the kind of laughter only exists when you’re a little bit tipsy and haven’t slept in thirty six hours and you’re both profoundly miserable and elated because look look look at that sunrise.
Look at the crazy people at the mad angry broken people).
- block the bad dreams.
(You had better enjoy those nine blueberries.)
Dustmites - Excerpt
The greatest ambition of Martin Short was to be a hobo. Although he had always been quite clear in the expressing of this desire, it still came as a somewhat nasty shock to his parents when the dream began to actually take shape. As far back as Martin could remember, when adults had asked him, in that condescending way adults ask children about their futures - a manner which usually hides an entire world of jealousy - what he wanted to do when he grew up, the conversation had gone rather as follows;
"Well, there, Martin. How's school going?"
"Not so bad, Mr. Smith."
"Glad to hear it! Can't say I miss the old days of chalkboards and sums, but where would I be without them, eh? Any idea what you want to be when you grow up yet, young man?"
"I'm rather thinking I would like to be a hobo, sir."
A slap of a hat on a knee, and a chuckle, "You're a strange one, Short. Although, I believe I used to want to be an astronaut, so what can I say, really?"
These conversations began to take on quite a different tone as Martin grew older, his future nearer, and it began to seem, to Martin and his classmates, that their options were beginning to narrow into points as doors closed or opened and a single decision – what they would do after high school – began to look as though it would determine the entire course of their lives.
"Thinking about your plans for next year, yet, Martin?"
"Yes, Mr. Smith."
"What're your thoughts then? Off to college? A gap year? I hear those are getting quite popular. Or are you thinking of looking into an apprenticeship somewhere?"
"Well sir, for the moment I'm failing terrifically, which means I'm right on track for becoming a bum."
To Martin's continual amusement, the knee slap and the chuckle remained as punctuation for this response, and he was continually baffled at the human ability to render fiction anything that was not expected. Most of what came out of Martin's mouth was imagined to be some sort of hilarious fabrication, and he became known as rather a comic. Martin would meet their laughter, and what they imagined to be the continuation of a long-lasting joke between themselves and the Short boy, with a wide-mouth smile of his own, further encouraging their supposition that it was all in good fun. Even his parents seemed to think that every word out of his mouth was in jest.
"How was school today, Marty?"
"I drew a pretty sick picture of a shark," Martin replied between bites of casserole, " I mean, I've drawn some pretty decent pictures of aquatic creatures throughout my career as a failing student, but this one is something special. I might even hang it on the fridge."
A drawn-out sigh and a shake of the head. A sardonic smile, perhaps, if they were in a good mood, and, "When are we ever going to get a straight answer out of you, kid? Where did you even come from?"
Martin felt quite sure that the reason for which people never took him seriously may also have had something to do about his appearance, and there may have been a kernel of truth to this supposition. Indeed, particularly when one studied the area around his mouth, there was something pleasant there, something laughing which was neither recalcitrant nor mocking. Rather, it was a laughter that seemed directed towards Martin himself, and belonged to someone who could not quite take themselves seriously. This mouth was paired with wide brown eyes which, large and perpetually bewildered, gave their owner the appearance of utmost innocence, while the freckles on his nose and cheeks added to the effect of child-like purity. His teachers themselves, faced with a great deal of evidence pointing to the contrary, were convinced that Martin would, at the last moment, get his act together and pass. After all, they told his parents when they met with them shortly before his final exams, that's what he's done every other year.
"He's bright boy, your son, brighter than most. He just seems to have trouble applying himself. He gets easily distracted, but we all agree that he has his priorities straight."
Martin kept his gaze fixed on a tree outside the window during the entire meeting. There was a bird's nest in the top branches, and a mother bird, a scarlet-bibbed robin, had just landed near it with a bug of some sort in her beak. Straining his eyes and neck, Martin thought he could make out a little movement in the nest; tiny mewling beaks and a flutter of scruffy grey wings.
On his Maths final, Martin drew a little silhouette of a man sitting under a tree. He paused and glanced at the clock, which told him he had another twenty-five minutes to kill, then proceeded to scratch a tiny sandwich into the man's hands and opening the little jaw so that he could take a bite of it. Martin figured that it was a ham and cheese sandwich, and thought about how much he'd like one right about now. Under the drawing, Martin wrote: Tim sat under the big tree and ate his sandwich without a care in the world. Tim didn't have a care in the world because he had no responsibilities, which was largely due to the fact that he didn't exist. Martin was not entirely sure what he meant by writing this, and the professor correcting the papers would be equally puzzled. While the professor would arrive at the conclusion that Martin was trying to be smart, Martin figured he didn't mean anything by it at all. He certainly wasn't trying to be smart; Martin couldn't stand it when people tried to be smart. Either you were smart or you weren't, and if you did happen to be smart, then there was no need to spread it around like your own manure. Tim's little story meant something to Martin only insofar as that he himself was planning on extracting himself from all of his own responsibilities quite shortly, although remaining all the while very much in existence.
Perhaps once this extraction had been completed, he would make himself a ham and cheese sandwich and go find himself a big tree to sit under.
There were stars in the sky and in the lake and great, jagged chunks of the whole mess had been hacked out leaving nothing but blackness. Those were the mountains, and we could feel there shapes from here. From where we were lying in the grass by the edge of the water beneath the tree whose shadow had been gradually swallowed by the night.
We were barely seventeen and it was neat, it was fun, it was different to be in the park at four in the morning, just the two of us and a whole mob of the kind of boys we found interesting. Emma had a talent for summoning them – these kinds of boys – "stoner boys", "dirt-bag boys", "poetic artistic intelligent and brooding boys". She had discovered this superpower at the start of the summer, when there were plenty of them hanging around for the music festivals anyways; the two of us would go and sit by the lake and she would take out her guitar, and they would come flocking, with their long hair and their tobacco and their inflated opinions on subjects they knew next to nothing about.
Mostly they were interested in her, but that was okay. Sometimes they were interested in me, and that was okay, too.
Tonight I was quiet. I wasn't drunk enough to be confident, but I was being pleasantly shy and happily silent.
"So where are you from?" One of them asked me, "You're not Swiss." He was lovely to look at, with dark eyes and dark hair, so I didn't mind that he probably hadn't washed all week.
"I don’t know," I said, and I rolled onto my back so that I could see the stars through the leaves above me, as well as his slight double chin, "Nowhere. I'm not from here. I guess my parents are from America, but I'm not. I'm not from Brazil either, or from Lithuania or from Pakistan."
"Well, where, then?" Another asked. They were listening now.
"Hey, fuck you, I'm from Portugal. What the fuck is wrong with Portugal?"
"Nothing's wrong with Portugal, I'm just not from there."
"We're nowhere man from nowhere land," Emma's voice chimed in from above me. The boy next to her, this evening's chosen one with the bright green eyes and the chipped front tooth had an arm placed carefully, nervously around her shoulders. She was further gone than me, sitting cross-legged, tearing up handfuls of grass and throwing them into a growing heap in front of her.
"Stop that," the curly one grabbed her hands.
"Why?" She laughed, "I'm not hurting anything. I'm just cutting the grass. It's not hurting it. It's like hair. The hair of the earth."
A pause, followed by a burst of laughter that I thought far exceeded the comment. But they were high as kites, stoned as could be and they thought it was brilliant and clever and hilarious. Just giving the earth a trim? A close shave? Maybe wax its legs?
I stopped listening. It, all of it, everything, all seemed so trivial and empty, from the sky to the spaces between the mountains to the spaces between the people. It didn't even matter, really, that I couldn't answer a question as simple as where are you from.
What was bothering me was the girl, leaning against the other side of the tree we were under, muttering to herself. She'd been hanging around us all night, slurring her words, eyes brimming as though she were going to burst into tears at any moment; she would come and grab one of them from behind, be shoved away, and would wander off across the park, talking to the air, stumbling into trees, before spinning around and stumbling back to us. They called her the witch, la sorcière. She was maybe in her early twenties, short and squat with glistening dark skin that was stretched over a face that looked too large for it to contain. They knew her only from her constant presence in this park at this time of day, they said, and they treated her like a stray dog. She was a stray dog, very nearly. Any time she did anything they all turned to us and said "See? See why we call her the witch?" Emma nodded and smiled politely and said that yes, yes she did see, and I said I did too but I didn't.
If she were a witch, most likely she would not be hanging around a park at four in the morning hoping to get a joint or a sip of beer off of a group of strangers. She certainly wouldn't be crouched pissing in the gutter to a chorus of howls and whoops and vomiting noises. If she were a witch she could make herself disappear or maybe give herself some sort of meaning. I thought that I should have been kind to her. I should have asked her her name. I nearly did, but her popping, blood-shot eyes rolled over me and she grabbed my shoulder so suddenly that I found myself recoiling in disgust while one of them pulled her off of me and kept saying "See why she's a witch? Do you see?" And I said yes, yes I do see, and I hated myself a little bit for it because I didn't see at all.
Anthem of the Ordinary
You've done it you've made it
Look at you
you big shot, star-shooting golden girl
with your clean socks and your
You're on top of the shit-heap now
crawled your way to the tip of the dung
the crest of the crap
to peer over the stinking ledge
at the breathtakingly bleak view
of the future you'd had so much hope for.
Queen of the Cold-Hearted
and of the other pretty girls who
thought that up was the answer,
who turned down the snaggletoothed boys they loved
so that life wouldn't snaggle them
on its dull dreary planes
of flat boredom
and getting a rush out of a sale on dish soap.
Applauding the Fool
You graduated in black like you were going to a funeral
and no one told you that you were - that this is it -
this is rebirth and you're all grown up.
There are bright things ahead of you
and remembering to shake the crumbs out of the toaster
every once in a while.
No one told you life would be so dull
or that beer only tastes good in front of boys.
You can already tell where you'll get wrinkles later on
the little crinkles in your forehead
and it's becoming blindingly clear that you aren't immortal
and that you aren't quite as clever
as you always thought you were.
Maybe God is more that just an idea
because He certainly wasn't yours
and reading the Bible before bed isn't doing what you thought it would.
The drunk girl in the mirror isn't you
but it was definitely you
out on the docks
who smoked that oversweet cigarette which made you feel ill.
Maybe happy is only something that exists in retrospect.
It's spring but there's no sun
and in fact the weather is fading the world like jeans
even the little yellow flowers are pallid and wilting.
Maybe it's you that's wilting.
You're only nineteen but maybe you've lost it already
and have nothing left to give.
Maybe you've already surrendered to banality
and it's swallowing you
up up up
because your life is running very crookedly
alongside the straight bright path
you pretended it would be.
There's a place to hang a hammock
on the hill above your house.
Here we are free
and know each other to be beautiful.
It pains me to see you grow
up up and away
to see you suck in your stomach
and sit up straight under their gaze
- the boys' -
because you love it when they look at you.
And that's okay.
But don't let their eyes give you your value.
You're worth so much more.
Like when you sillywalk down the hillside
or sing loudly out of tune or when your face twists
because your mouth isn't wide enough
to let all your laughter out.
I come second to you, but I don't mind.
I've always sought out lights brighter than mine
in the hopes of illuminating something larger that I.
And so that I can hide.
But I can see where you broke,
where your spine snapped
from twisting back to please others
and the holes they left
and how you're insecure about the way
the tops of your thighs rub together.
Or the way you tiptoe around your mother.
There's a place to hang a hammock
on the hill above your house.
It's quiet here
and I hope you can see
you deserve so much better
than what they're giving you.