It’s funny, really.
How we stare from our balconies at the ants scurrying below. How we pass them on the streets—the wanting eyes, the starving mouths, the empty hands. Hair stiff as wire, clothing an amalgam of layered coats and scarves, mismatched socks, worn-out sandals.
We pass them, and we think.
That could never be me.
Look at here. Look at now. In this moment, I’m all set. We get so acclimated to small comforts that our minds can’t even meet them halfway down. We can’t see ourselves in their shoes. Our imaginations just aren’t that big.
I used to think like that. Before the divorce and the alimony, before the recession, before the unemployment and fire and the insurance company refusing to compensate because I didn’t insure every blade of grass in my yard or knick-knack in my study.
I downsized to a trailer. But welfare cut my benefits again five months ago, and just like that I was another ghost at the panhandle. It all happened so slow. It all happened so fast.
And time don’t wait. They say it moves quicker as you get older. All I know is, as a starry-eyed grad student, I never pictured it would end up like this. I never pictured myself as a middle-aged loner sleeping with the rats under blankets of corrugated tin. This isn’t the life I went three-hundred-grand in the hole to build.
But where did I go wrong?
One minute, everything was falling into place. The next it was falling to pieces, and as hard as I tried to preserve it, the decay was just too persistent. It spread too fast, and overtook my future.
Everything’s decayed now.
Even my memories are starting to rust.
There’s a lady out here I used to pass by on my way to work, every day. I used to avert my gaze, never locking with her hungry, pothole eyes. Her chessboard teeth. Her gnarled, swollen hands and yellowed, untrimmed nails. They would reach. And I would walk. And she would call. And I would walk. And she would say “God bless you” anyway. And smile.
And I would walk.
Silent. Distracted. Too consumed by dizzying fantasies of the trophy wife who left me. Our future children that we never had. A bigger house, twice the size of the meager three-bedroom apartment we shared. I always wanted bigger, I guess. Now I have nothing. Now I’d settle for what we wanted to leave behind in a heartbeat.
I met that lady again just the other day. Apparently she’d found a shelter uptown a few months back and they’d helped her get her life in order. She got on as a dishwasher at this little diner. She looked a lot cleaner. Not fancy, by far. But she looked...ever-so-slightly like I used to. It was a sobering reversal, watching her hands.
They reached. And I couldn’t walk anymore. And she called, and from my teary eyes I could make out that her hands were no longer empty. They didn’t ask; they offered.
At the end of the day, I never had the heart to take her money.
But I learned her name.
It was Lila. Lila McPherson.
She had a name.
They all did.
Oh, and one more little bit of information I left out. The last doctor visit I could afford didn’t go so good. Not that it mattered. At this point I’d give anything just to get out.
Another year at most I’ve got to rot in this place.
I could look for the shelter that rehabilitated Lila. But why? I’d be getting polished up just to die. Anything from hereon out is an exercise in futility.
So now all I can do is find my reflection in passing. Wait for a bus window or puddle or mirror. Find myself, and try to recognize. Find myself, and try to remember. Still, it seems every newest version of myself I find, he’s so far removed from the man I knew. And there’s no strength left to change him.
All I can do is remind him, reassure him.
He has a name too.
#fiction, #prose, #challenge, #homeless, #depression
Depression Doesn’t Care Where You Live
They said my life ended
when I was forced onto the streets.
They said my life deflated like a balloon
when the pressure was too high.
They said it was a shame
that a girl with so much potential
was now throwing life away like trash,
(favouring drugs over a “steady life”).
But my life was trash
before I wound up on the streets.
(I was crying myself to sleep
and letting red streaks
stain my sheets.)
I was homeless even before I had no house:
I’ve always been alone
(a solo soul stuck in a hell).
I’ve always been a drifter
(a ghost abandoned to look upon a “good life”).
I’ve always felt this coldness clinging close to my skin
(no one has ever been there to hug it away).
I was dead before I touched this icy ground:
I’ve always held an endless galaxy of falling stars.
I’ve always felt this unknown pain that runs throughout my veins.
I’ve always had these internal wounds that bleed
(never able to be bandaged).
They said my life ended
when I was forced onto the streets.
But my life has always been over:
I’ve always felt numb,
I’ve always felt lost,
I’ve always felt dead.
The difference is,
is that now
you finally see
just how broken I really I am.
(Why did it have to get to this point?)
One sip, one look, one taste, one shot,
Then all I had was suddenly not,
I had everything, but didn't know,
Now here I lay, frostbitten in snow,
Wanting more at first inspired,
Left me successful, little to be desired,
Provider of my own family,
A home to which I held the key,
But then enough was not enough,
Advertised happiness actually handcuffs,
Holding me captive, leading me away,
While I smiled and paid bits more each day,
Family warned me, but I didn't listen,
New friends gripped, diamonds glisten,
Wallet stayed out, wallet lost weight,
No need to tempt me, no need for bait,
Spouse and children left, days later I discovered,
Bought a playmate to replace them, easily recovered,
I truly had more now, though not all good,
Troubles, debts, STD's, paranoid attitude,
Dreaded day came, no money to pay,
Shakes of heads, new "friends" scurried away,
Sold all belongings to get one last hit,
Needed so desperately just a little bit,
Don't recall the day I lost the house,
Laid drunken in streets, christened a louse,
No home to return to, a craving to fix,
I headed downtown, for people to trick,
Moments in between, no money to spare,
Sobering up, wondering why I was there,
I'd been happy, comfortable even,
Kids, a spouse to whom I should have cleaven,
My head fills with screaming, I realize it's my own,
Desperate to move, but I'm chilled to the bone,
This moment of clarity comes all too late,
Tears freeze in my eyes, I've accepted my fate,
As I've given up, a light shines through the haze,
An angel has come to save me from my ways,
The light draws closer, shines orange and warm,
I can just make out a figure through the battering storm,
A smile appears, but not one that seems kind,
Chills colder than the temperature run down my spine,
The glow I thought divine to get out of my rut,
Was merely the burn of a cigarette butt,
Hands grab my jacket, tattered and tore,
"You once possessed wealth, but I've always been poor"
He says with a sneer, greed shines in his eye,
"I may as well take this, for soon you'll die."
Too weak to fight, too stiff to clutch,
The lowest reason I owe them this much,
I laugh as he walks away, drifting to dream,
Jokes on him as I see light, a shimmer, a gleam.
The ink drowned us both in the end...
The librarian squinted at me through the screen barrier and her dramatic cat-eye frames. It seemed as if she was looking through me rather than at me. I didn’t have a problem though. They say that anyone who smells like the bottle depot is invisible to the naked eye, but if we are looked at closely under a microscope, the beer belly would be seen before the cardboard sign asking for change.
This woman saw the beer belly too, “You know, that the McDonalds across the street is looking for some people.”
I flipped the page.
“Minimum wage is a start,” she pressed. “Maybe you could replace that old jacket of yours.” She paused. “The non-fiction section has a lot about work experience, may that will help you instead of-”
I shut the book. Fantasies aren’t for the homeless. Then again, nothing is.
Though there were moments of beauty, it felt as if something fell off a bookshelf inside me that I didn’t know how to put back in place. I tried to lift it, holding the spine with my dirt-encrusted hands, but the weathered pages tore off willingly and floated away like those pressing memories that can’t seem to be contained.
Who knew that remembering them only left paper cuts behind.
Back then, I drew with pens.
They were the gel ones that would dispel of ink like a waterfall onto the page, and would sometimes seep through if the paper couldn’t handle its weight. My chubby fingers would hold these pens professionally, like Father at work, and I would calculate important values to add to the company’s profit just like he did. When he would come home, I would proudly show him our gross income, and he would respond with, “Wow, kid! That is a cool stick man!” My heart would swell inside my chest, and I would run to my room full of stuffed toys and tell every one of them that Father approved of the profit margin. They would clap and clap, and I felt like I had just been promoted to CEO right there.
My father was a man made of concrete and tar. He would sit in his office, and watch buildings being made with the money that he financed explode out of the soil. All the people knew him as the man of the market, well-known for his intelligence and crudeness with money. What he said was absolute, and no one could find faults in his work.
He would address everyone with a solid, crushing handshake, almost as hard as the stone centerpieces lining the shelves of his office. Father always knew who everyone was, and never kept a phonebook or contacts list. He would manually type up their numbers every time, and use their full name in conversation. His journals seemed as if someone printed out final drafts, rather than rough sketches.
But after a while, I would open his journals, and find puddles of black in between the lines. I saw pauses and scribbles etched out in the chaotic form in between the dollar signs and bold “bankrupt’s”. I saw circles, going round and round around figures with a strange subtraction sign in front of them. I saw the coffee-stained yellow pages drying and tearing right off.
Then, I saw pencils over my Father’s ear, rather than pens in his shirt pocket.
But my Father and I loved pencils because they didn’t leave mistakes to be seen. I would draw houses, and make measurements with these pencils. I enjoyed the ash of graphite splayed across the blank page. Father and I refused to use the black because it reminded us of our foolish past of pen. We found it unnerving that pen could never disappear, needing a layer of white-out to cover it. The page would then be littered with rectangular blotches of white, like bandaids over past mistakes. Whiteout made the past stand out, rather than disappear.
Father’s favorite was the erasers, “You can make the biggest mistake ever, and the eraser will swiftly make your mistakes disappear. A kind of reinvention, one might say.” Then he would go on and say the same thing that I have heard since birth. “One day, you will look out the window, and see the top of my building reaching for the stars. One day, when you are old enough, you will walk along avenues in the dark, and see a building with glass doors and gold inside. I yearn for the day that you will be with your friends in the city, and be able to say, ‘My father made that happen’.”
I always believed every word he told me, but I began to look at his plans, closer. I saw giant drawings of skyscrapers and measurements on our fridge door, but there was always a shadow behind the lines, of an eraser at work. I saw dollar signs scattered over the materials, but a small tear in the paper where the eraser had run numerous times. I saw his dream soon to be accomplished, but failure right behind it.
That was when my father came home with nothing but the dull smell of aftershave.
I would look out the window, and see his flat briefcase, and faded leather-bound journals, and my heart watched, forgetting about all the pens and pencils he used to bring home. My soul angered at the hostile emptiness I felt seeing our driveway without a slick car in front of it. He would then indifferently open the door, every day, and run into the attic, closed off from the rest of the family. He couldn’t embrace me anymore, so the greyscale of the streets did instead.
I stopped drawing for a long time after that. My heart yearned to touch a pen again, to calculate profit margins and measurements of the building soon to be made. But my grief mirrored my fathers, and settled into our DNA, and remained a part of us.
Every time I would pass under the attic during my visits, I could smell the must and mold of my father’s dreams. They were up there in the attic rotting with him, aching to be dusted off and used again. They sang like sopranos in a house of deafening silence. The melodies were so intense that I had no choice but to go up there and see them for myself.
That was the day I learned that my father a man made of clay and water.
Peeking into the room, I saw a mound of clay moving up and down in motion in between my father’s hands. They were smooth and flowing as his thumb pressed in and pushed masses towards the top. They were firm when he dug his nail into the structure and pulled out a defining line. They were unsure, as the shaking of his palm distorted some of the sides. His strange hands went on and on, and it was as if all the movements when they were together had no conclusion.
In the shape, I could see the building of his dreams. I could see the mistakes he’s made, that he covered up by watering the entire thing down and rebuilding it from the top. I could see him smoothing the cracks by rubbing them down as if he wanted to cover up is initial flaws, by drowning them over with the movements of his present.
My father longed to bury the past by reinventing his future. He threw away concrete and tar for the green embrace of mud.
My father never ended up financing the actual building, but the desire to was in the voices screaming out of the windows of his clay masterpieces. He would make tall towers, and said that my dolls could live and play inside. My dolls would explore his house and come out of his clay doors and whisper to me about all of the different rooms inside of the space, how each floor was full of offices with bustling people.
For a moment I believed it was true.
But then I looked around the attic and saw the cobwebs between the planks. I saw the flimsy stars, littered with cigar ash, and memorabilia. I saw the dusty trunk full of real plans and his past life. My soul leaned towards it and pulled my body right behind. I took my sweaty hand and slid it across to remove a streak of dust. The latch was rusty and broke in my hands when I tried to unlock it. It creaked as I opened the lid, and I realized it was the soprano voices that I heard so many times downstairs, while my father was locked up here.
My father’s yellow pages of dreams were messily scattered inside the box. I saw, the absolute of the pen, the security of the pencil and the haunting of the eraser’s ghost. The hope was still there among the rubble, and if my father wanted to, he could return to his former self. My imagination ran wild and intensely, as I ached for this thought. The desire rattled in its cage, and my father had the power to unlock it and set it free.
But I know better though, don’t I? The past has a clarity that I can no longer see in the present. My father’s dream is more dead than alive, more empty than fulfilled, more illusion than reality, yet my longing is as absolute as the pens I drew with not long ago.
After all these years of dried-out sharpies and foul cardboard from the meat shop, the pristine pages of my past are too far away to be of any comfort anymore.
I pop open a beer. I drink. I forget. I remember. I cry. I sleep. I wish. I starve. I drink.
All that is left is paper cuts.
This time, I drowned in the blood.
Diction Of The Dying
Concrete beds wrote tales of stone
Frigid air waked flesh and bone
Breaking bread, humbled, alone
I blessed each day the sun still shone
Crying skies lent ballad’s blues,
Gratefulness for leather shoes
And sanctuary’s wooden pews
Kept confession’s tears from view
Tiny blossoms sprang with hope
Pen to paper’s how I’d cope
Haikus carved in cardboard coats
Cleansing me though sans of soap
Summer sun’s gold elements
Tempered my discouragement
In villanelles, weeping laments
I found my heart’s encouragement
Leaves decayed on brittle grass
Shortened days, gold never lasts
As naked trees stood, unabashed
I held my head high, this shall pass
Winter never broke my will
The passion raged inside me, still
Frostbit fingers gripping quills
“Homeless” only honed my skills
Until today, with fire waned
This finale verse drips from my veins
Graphite scratches, lead leaves stains
Of dying words, I pray remain
A cup of change from skipping meals
Sharing what no streets can steal
I signed my obit., stamped and sealed
Expressing death and how it feels
“Precious stones capture our gaze
But, only flint yields fire’s blaze
Growing cold in worlds of gray
Without my voice, I died today”
children of a lesser god
i dream of nothingness—
visceral tongues pressing into my skin
they say the streets are mean
a bag of green, a bag of bones
a world infested with
intravenous sleep and pocket change
i have made love to diseases
camping in my chest
overstaying their welcome in
this pigsty of rats
they say we live in godless times
filth encasing pretty pavements
perhaps i like my crispy crystals
far too much
they kiss the enamel of my teeth
the caverns of my nose
the blood of my streams
exhaustion settles in my bones
weary, weary me
all that glistens is my needle
in this haystack of degenerate limbs
there is no heaven in these ugly skies
no heaven for sinners like us
we, the children of a lesser god
#poetry #poems #poem #poet #drugs #addiction #homelessness #streets #drugaddiction #depression #substanceabuse #abuse
Bulbous fingers made me hungry
Hunger is for suckers. Crying is for losers and I’d rather drown in the Allegheny River never to be seen again then stand upon an Achilles heel. If I open my eyes it makes no difference, so I let my lids rest. The black dark blinds me and is as soft as the moist moss beginning to grow on top of his grave where I lay each night since they lowered the box a million miles deep under my bent heart. No one will find me here; my family may be looking for me, maybe not because I was never convinced by any of them that I was not invisible and that love was not an albatross; love was a constant drip drip drip between contempt, impatience and avoidance splashed in stained cups and drank without sugar.
Brad was so deserving of his posthumous Purple Heart, but was I deserving when he called me Precious with so much love it boiled? Imagine? Me? Precious? If a soul has a mate, he was mine, until a bomb dropped on us in the form of a tiny blue plastic calculating capsule representing systematic slaughter, all in the name of democracy; as if a rifle placed in the hands of a disengaged 18 year old had something to do with freedom.
Anticipation crawled up our spines delivering ice cubes while we sat side by side preferring to run an infinite marathon to anywhere else other than our own skin while we watched the Vietnam War draft lottery on a 13 inch Sony Triniton. The word HAPPY was erased from it’s cousin, BIRTHDAY when the number 5 was pulled and written next to Brad’s birth date, October 18th. Morbidly freezing my bare broken eyes, the inside of a grotesque morgue grew inside my brain; raw body parts severed by muddled bludgeoning hands hung in the room like veal.
“Why?” I didn’t ask because there could be no explanation. “Why couldn’t those bulbous fingers at the end of the dark suit sleeve reaching into the poisonous drum have picked the capsule to the right instead, pulling up a number like 333?” Neither of us bothered to flinch at the news, comfortably turning into igneous rock, because a dog knows when to let his pack walk on ahead without him when it’s time to lay down and die, so Brad did nothing other than slowly move his right hand up to his neck to straighten his collar, clearing his throat of dreams. Surrendering, unable to touch for a minute too long, unwilling to speak of the dirty word spelled out on the hazy black and white screen in blood;
V I E T N A M, the seven loathsome letters handed us both the inescapable warrant for our arrest.
On the day of the funeral, not one of them standing there sniveling saw me. Although I’m sure their emotions were personally heartfelt, they were too busy weeping like fools into their hankies to notice me. All of them congregated acceptingly over the mocking folded American flag caressing the wood as they lowered the casket. When the ceremony was over, I watched one and all of the able bodies walk away from his death on two legs, returning to a warm house where they stuffed tuna casserole and overcooked lasagna into their eager mouths, intermittently wiping their eyes, eventually drifting off to sleep, waking to an alarm, heading back to school, to work, to living with facts.
There is no evening security guard for the cemetery where I sleep on top of Brad and I almost wish that there was, because from time to time taunting teenagers hunting for the ghosts that don’t want to give them the time of night jump the fence, trying to rabble-rouse the dead that would tell them if they could, “Get a life.” I can always hear them in the distance when they are approaching and I hide like a ninja warrior princess behind a tree or a mausoleum escaping discovery and their lofty notions each and every time, until they quickly surrender, spooked without evidence, chilled to the bone; they exit and I return comfortably to where I belong, where I want to be instead of 16 feet under the rushing water over my dead body.
A fisherman on the Allegheny thought he saw my spirit when it lifted up past his boat heading towards the cemetery and he wasn’t mistaken. Convincing himself I was only a dropped cloud, he went right back to fishing and caught a 40 inch Pennsylvania musky, which dominated his evening story, as fish tales always do, at the corner tavern over a frosty mug of beer, forgetting all about me, the dropped cloud, which is so much easier to explain than seeing the spirit of one sad dead girlfriend.
The living can’t explain after death rules, so there was no heads up for me about where we go when we die. When I strapped the weights around my waist and walked into the water the same day I got the news confirming Brad’s death, I know now I took a chance.
“Where are you Brad? I’m tired of sleeping dead on your grave without you. Come out come out wherever you are so we can get this show on the road. Are you still down there or is there something I don’t know about cowards and heroes needing to be kept segregated after death? Wouldn’t that just be our luck? Much to my chagrin, I must admit that whole number 5 luck of the draw thing is haunting me, making me hunger for you, but don’t worry, I won’t cry.”
Change my friends
I love it here
alone with my fears, people talk less
Although the street light comforts me
the breeze at midnight won't agree
My castle walls are made with paper
I assemble it when sleep comes over
He comes so late and leaves too early
sometimes it feels like he won't be visiting
when he does, we forget the streetlight and people walking
My two best friends never meet
not long after sleep awakens
hunger eats most hours with me
I weather through his aches
He sings for my embrace
His toxic love weary me
not as much as a bed and a hot meal
proper shade, filled with cotton and wood
To say I love it here
is to hope I loose my friends
not sleep, I want him near
hunger visits once or twice a year
A star was lifting me up.
I was seeing a new world.
God was looking at me.
He was also helping the star.
One group doing social work,
is lifting me and giving shelter
to me at a monastery.
I am feeling blessed.
Future looked like hundred
moons going around me.
All moons were giving light.
It's August, East End, eighteen eighty-eight
and chilling sheets of midnight rain await,
for thrice today I squandered doss on gin
and Willmott's tosses me with vicious haste.
Now down Buck's Row I stagger 'gainst the wind
to prostitute this worn and weary skin
amid the pungent scent of human waste
that no amount of alcohol can dim.
The sky glows red with light'ning interlaced,
a welcome omen- permanent escape-
whose visage weaves through curtains of damp fog,
straight into my impoverished embrace.
Steel fingers wrap around my neck and lock;
they squeeze until I'm limp with breathless shock,
then gently lower me onto the street
before a Liston slashes through my frock.
Two swift flicks through my dainty neck complete,
the suff'ring flows and pools 'til I'm deceased;
he gently lifts my skirts up to my stays,
but never does he once seek to mistreat.
One rip into my belly, his eyes blaze
while mine stare straight ahead, their dimness grave;
released, my specter lifts to meet his gaze-
I thank Jack, then float off so he can play.