Poet of the Month, October 2017
I am – first and foremost – a writer. I mean that in if I had to pick “one word to describe who I am” as an icebreaker, it would and could only be writer. Writing is and has only ever been the single constant in my life. When I don’t write, I feel sore and sad and out of place in this weird little world.
So to solve that never ending existential crisis, I currently have a rough manuscript of poems completed, tentatively titled Postmortem. In this book and in all my writing, I try to speak from a place of honesty, and I explore the mundane and darkness of life. I am inspired by beautiful cinematography, snapshots of life caught as an observer and the commonality of all humans. I enjoy juxtaposing life to death and trying to make sense of death and what comes after.
I look to writers like David Sedaris, Shel Silverstein, Oscar Wilde for ways to write about the ugly with humor. I look to directors like Wes Anderson, Martin Scorsese and Tim Burton for creating physical worlds that can enrich my storytelling. Musicians like Lana Del Rey, Van Morrison and Cher have informed my writing with their creative genius. I could not write fully-realized poetry without meshing all art forms into a messy, but purposeful, jumble.
I am inspired by what’s not said in line at the grocery store, political climates, acceptance speeches, sadness in the eyes of middle-aged waitresses and deaths I haven’t experienced yet. I like to keep one foot in reality with the other dangling in fantasy and a dark humor, and I never take the good fortune of my writing ability for granted. I write like every word will be my last and I always worry it will be so.
tie me to the earth,
like weathered reins.
The only worldly possessions
I may keep.
Prose Author of the Month, October 2017
As long as I can remember, I have been told by friends, colleagues, and teachers that I am a “good writer”. I have always been willing enough to accept the praise, but I have always wondered what exactly it means to be a good writer. Whenever I write, I just write. I don’t have any special technique that I practice. I don’t fret over my word choice or my organization. I just take words from my head and put them on a paper.
However, I believe now that I am beginning to comprehend what good writing is. Good writing is subjective, to be sure, but I have noticed a common thread that I simply cannot ignore. I believe good writers write every second of every day without a pen in their hand. I am constantly making little notes in my mind. The shadow cast by a building as the sun is going down, the sound of a lazily moving creek, the smell of decaying leaves in the autumn woods. These are the simple, yet beautiful things that we are exposed to regularly, but so many people ignore these details. A good writer simply cannot. So, when it comes to writing, for me, it is not so much an exercise in creation as it is an exercise of memory. I have already written reams of material in my head, it is just about rearranging these notes in a palatable manner.
It makes me feel good to express these experiences the way I want to. I can make the rules and break them. But, what I truly want is to share my happiness with those around me, and to transfer my experience to whoever may take the time to read my rearranged thoughts.
With Great Power
I round the street corner walking as quickly as I dare, through the fog of a particularly damp Midwestern spring morning. I glance at the outdated, gold trimmed pocket watch my father gave to me. 8:16. I am about thirty seconds early, as I had planned. I unsling the leather bag from my shoulder and skillfully assemble the tool of my trade. I look through the sight and focus on my target. I press record.
“What are you doing?” says a genuinely curious female voice behind me. I do not respond verbally. I do not even look away from my target. Instead, I put a finger to my lips, then point at the railroad crossing across the street. A train is approaching, but the crossing arms are not coming down. A low rumble approaches the train tracks. Still looking through my camera, the yellow school bus full of talkative juveniles with the rust spot on the rear fender appears in frame. I know it is too late. I keep my camera steady and close my eyes. This is always the hardest part. I hear the crash and the screams and the sound of the woman running into the corner coffee shop, presumably to call 911. I move in on the scene and get all the angles I can get within the two and a half minutes before the corpulent police officer arrives and starts asking questions.
I am packing my bag when I first lay eyes on the owner of the curious voice. She is short and slender with brown hair and piercing blue eyes peering out of black horn-rimmed glasses. I pick up my bag and begin to walk away.
“You knew that was going to happen! Why didn’t you try to stop it?” I think about ignoring her, like I usually do when somebody is suspicious, but there was something about this young woman that made me feel obliged to respond.
“Even if I did know what was going to happen, what was I supposed to do? Run out in front of the bus, or the train?” My response does not appease her.
“I don’t know what you could do, but you should have done something!”
I sigh and look at the twisted, burning metal then back at her.
“I did. I got it all on camera and now at least their story will be told, and I will be able to eat for another week.” This satisfies her even less.
“How do you eat at all!?”
I smirk, turn my back to her, and head home for some R and R. After I call the networks and start the bidding war, I won’t have to follow another Hunch for a couple weeks at least. Seeing into the future can be quite a lucrative business. I hear, “Coward!” called out from behind me.
I return to my downtown studio apartment. A few phone calls and a few thousand dollars later, I allow myself to unwind. I pour myself three fingers of Wild Turkey rye whiskey with no ice and sit down in my favorite recliner. There is never any competition for this seat. I do not have a cat or a dog, let alone a wife and kids. The dreams make me a difficult roommate, as a young man found out during my first and final semester at college. When I finally manage to fall asleep, I often wake up screaming or sobbing. It has been this way since I was five years old, and yet it is nothing I can get used to. It’s something different every night and it is never good. I dream of future burglaries, homicides, suicides, the occasional rape, and pretty much every turmoil faced by humanity. I do not have to have good dreams. At this point I would be ecstatic to never dream again.
I look down at my pocket watch. It reads 1:22 pm. I am disappointed to see that my glass is nearly empty. I take the last gulp of it with a slight grimace. It is a warm afternoon and my insomnia and alcoholism have caught up to me simultaneously. I am asleep before I have the chance to fear.
I smell the familiarly bitter aroma of freshly ground coffee beans. I hear the sound of a broom whisking dryly against a tile floor. I soon hear another sound. The unmistakable click-clack of a bullet being chambered in a handgun. I have heard this sound countless times in nightmares past, and it never bodes well. This whirl of sensation becomes focused into a scene that is too clear for my comfort. The woman in the horned rimmed glasses drops her broom and throws her hands in the air. A masked man is waving the handgun around and gesturing for the woman to open the register. While the register is being emptied, I begin to hear the woman sobbing and begging the man to spare her. He remains silent. The woman puts the last of the bills into a plastic bag and slides it across the counter to the masked man. He grabs it and turns around. The store is empty and it is dark outside. He gets halfway to the door before turning again. There is a flash of fire, a solitary bang, followed by an unceremonious thud. The man unlocks the door and quickly walks out to the street. Blood runs along the pattern of the tile until it reaches the drain in the floor. The clock reads 10:56, presumably right before closing time. The last thing I see before the jackhammer in my chest overcomes my exhaustion is the black pair of horn-rimmed glasses with one shattered lens that has been spattered with warm blood.
My eyelids open and to my horror it is dark outside of my window. I desperately grasp for my pocket watch and whip it open. 10:31. I have less than 30 minutes to get across town and no time to hail a cab. I dash down the 3 flights of stairs in my building and nearly fall on the final and steepest flight. I fly out of the door and begin down the street. I stop when I get to the bike rack at the library at the end of the block. There is a lone Schwinn left at this late hour and to my surprise it is not tethered to the rack by a lock or by anything else by that matter. I normally would not condone theft, but I did not hesitate to debate the finer points of moral philosophy with myself, of all people. I hop on and begin pedaling as hard as I can.
As I pedal the cool night air blurs my vision. Instead of the sidewalk in front of me, I see the faces of all the people I have been too afraid to help. The lonely man who hung himself who was not missed badly enough to be discovered until his rent became due nearly a month later, the woman and child on their way to church who got hit by a drunk driver right in front of my apartment, the children on the bus earlier today who were so unsuspecting, and finally the two that I see every night, my mother and father.
They were stabbed in the street by a mugger after going out to dinner, as they allowed themselves to do the first Friday of every month. It was my first week of college and my folks were so very happy that I was accepted. They refused to believe my affliction and were scared that I would never be a “normal boy”, but when that letter came in the mail, my father told me he was proud of me the first time in my life. He reached into his jacket pocket and gave me his prized possession, the pocket watch that had belonged to his father. He told me that now I had no excuse to be late. I dreamed about their death a couple weeks before their date night, but I could not bear to call them and bother them with my “nonsense.” The fateful night came and I worked up the courage to call my parents. My father answered and I could not find my voice. I decided that there was nothing for me to do. They have never believed me before, and they may as well die being proud parents of a college student rather than an incompetent freak. I murmured, “I love you” and hung up the receiver. That is the night I acquired an unquenchable thirst for alcohol.
My vision returns to me and I am more physically exhausted then I have ever been in my life, but I see the dim glow from the corner coffee shop at the end of the block. It is the light house guiding my fogged mind and aching muscles. I ditch the bike and check the pocket watch. 10:55! Without giving myself the luxury of catching my breath I run up to the locked door. I see the masked man walking away from the counter, pausing then turning around. I wrap the chain of my father’s treasure around my knuckles and thrust my fist through the plate glass door. This startles the gunman and he turns his attention and his weapon to me and pulls the trigger. The woman in the horn-rimmed glasses swiftly picks up her broom and swings ferociously, cracking her would-be murderer in the back of the head, sending him sprawling unconscious before he hits the floor. She was no coward. I become aware that the adrenaline that was coursing through my veins is now coursing out of my chest and through my sweatshirt. I collapse onto my back on the sidewalk in front of the corner coffee shop. The last thing I see before drifting out of consciousness is the shattered face of my watch. 10:55. I had no excuse to be late.