carbondate

a.e. hart's sketchpad

Category: poetry

gerry and martha, a love story

when you were alive, gerry
i took you to my white kitchen
in america,  as seen on tv

i didn’t have the tools at the time
to chronically apologize
for my sisters averted gaze
or my mothers indifference

you, of course, saw the whole scene
as an opportunity
to dance out your stereotype

there should have been a brick wall behind you
but no one knew you were joking
no one but me

you set yourself up in the white corner
i had to stop you from leaving your guitar case
open on the floor

you stopped trying to speak to them
my family, who had quickly become a carnival around us
you tipped your hat to one side
and smiled a half drunk smile

i went mad with you that night
but we never discussed it

instead, over ice cream and pie
when the kitchen was empty
and the white noise of the football game
flooded in from the den

you pulled down a Martha Stewart cookbook
and said
ive got it all figured out. ill be Martha’s pet. wouldn’t it be perfect? i’ll build sculptures next to my bed out back. ill weld napkin rings and crockery. it’ll be perfect, me and martha.

when you were still alive, gerry
we laughed until they came back down stairs
the most obvious interjection
white on white  noise

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rumour

rumor had it that there was a burned out asylum just through the woods
until the year i arrived, students would go there to drink
or to take haunting photographs

not like my home town, where even the crazy were rich
with their designer pills, and michael jackson dropping in

rumor had it that eso collected her gas masks there
which ended up in a spacious new york loft
and eventually, in the desert

long after the fires, we would watch the ghosts on the horizon
those hills seemed like a better place than our university
with its riot proof stairs

apple flag

i forgive you. for raising a parade from a single flag. for needing the moon to be a light switch. for the stars becoming portals. i forgive you for sitting next to me, on a linoleum table top in the doctors office waiting room, and taking me fishing there. for manifesting the sea and the solitude. for making the world disappear. i forgive you for your power. for changing your name again and again. i forgive you. for breaking my heart, every day of my life. i forgive you for all of it.

2011.

on the phone yesterday, it was hard to bring to mind the brave 19 year old who lead our little doom parade. now nearly 33, you are rambling quietly about the girl who has moved into your apartment with her children.  about how she calls you old when you receive your disability checks. about how she wont allow you to leave your house.  i am biting my tongue, trying to teach you boundaries that should be as simple as tying shoes. the word “no” is unfamiliar to you. it tastes acid somehow. wrong.  because of this your homes have always filled with stray animals, stray families, stray lives.  she is taking advantage of you, i suggest firmly. she says i have to marry her! you whisper back.

there is a reason we haven’t spoken for the past 10 years, but i cant explain that to you. when i try, you say “i thought you hated me… you don’t hate me? i was talking to shannon and told her you wouldn’t talk to me. but i don’t remember. when did we talk. when was the last time i heard your voice?”

“did you read my letter”, i ask, and you say

“yes. but i didnt know about any of that, what you talked about. what was wrong. those years in arizona were great. they were my favorite. were they bad? what was wrong”?

1999.

you found the flag on the side of the road. it had apples on it, in a basket. someone’s discarded autumn lawn decoration. you are marching, lifting your knees impossibly high and smiling so wildly that the whole world dims.  that smile is my only real reason for living these days.  i march behind you, dutifully creating the parade you imagine us into.  we march all afternoon, in the cool mountain air.  by sunset we will be tucked inside with our vodka and our crayons.  this is a perfect day.

but there were bad days too, more often than not.

“ i am in love with you”, i would say,

you would turn to the sky and say something abstract, wander to sit at a blue table. blue, the color of friendship. i would offer you candy then, and you would pull out every sugar coated blue piece and pass it to me.

” i don’t like the way blue tastes”, you would say. and i would spend the evening in recovery, drawing elaborate blue hearts and slipping them under your door.

2003.

when you asked me to be your friend again, i started to say yes. i have recovered, in part, from the dimensional shift we lived through in arizona. i know that you are ill, and that you may never recover. i have carried your memory in art, in writing and in songs. i have never let you go, not for a second. it seems only fitting that i let you back in now, when i am strong, and close to sane.  when i open my mouth to speak, the phone starts making an unbelievable sound. like an alarm going off. it repeats in bursts, and i cant get a word in edgewise. this is divine intervention. i tell you i will call you back in a minute.

i call an advisor, tell her what is going on. show her the shape of the door i am propping open, lightly, freely. she asks me questions. i respond. in moments i remember that there is nothing more dangerous to me than the spectacular fragility of your mind and your life.

when i call you  back, i lightly close the door.  when we get off the phone, i lock it.

starting the next evening you call me every 15 minutes. this continues for 36 hours. you get drunker and drunker, and the messages on my machine get more abstract and alien. the case of beer in your system wears away the effect of your psych meds until you are screaming into the phone, crying.

“i made a mistake. you have to talk to me. they will be mad at me. i am a messenger. you are a prophet. i have to get this message to you.”

confidant now, brokenhearted and defeated, i answer the phone.
“give me your address” i say, and then i hang up.

the letter i write you then silences you.  there is nothing more to say.
i flip through photographs in a filing box. some are sewn together, bound in feather and wire. protection spells.  then there you are in all of your glory, in white petticoats and black cotton.  you are holding a flag you found on the side of the road, and lifting your knees impossibly high.

and i miss my friend.

redline

there was a crow, observing the clatter of business through the dimly lit window of a tavern. the tavern stood near the edge of a clearing in a town full of strangers. after what felt like hours, the bird beat her body against the windows and the doors, only to watch the slow crowd rouse itself to a mystery.

the crow wanted to see if anyone was there

the barkeep muttered “damn birds”
and a farmer from the hills said “s’not ordinary behavior”
the crow was about to turn and go, when a small girl turned her eye to the bird and laughed.

the girl was told she belonged to the barkeep, but she felt more that she belonged to the barkeep’s wife, or even possibly the crow, or the wildness of her own laugher. she was too small to reach the bar, and the strangers often set cherries down to her reaching hands, which she collected in a mason jar

on her notice of the crow, she began crushing cherries in her palms
drawing out juice and seeds
staining her hands sticky and bright

the crow watched as the lines in her palms unfolded like maps
wishing they were close enough to read
she then dug a small hole in the barroom floor
and placed the seeds there

from this moment, none of the strangers could see her
and the barkeep, and his wife, stared blankly through a high pane of glass
as if there was something they had forgotten

the moon that night was so exceptionally bright
that the sight of two crows admiring their own shadows
cast a stillness
cast a spell
and the strangers wept

From Scrap to Story in 500-800 Words

death can subsist
in a thought

you are folding the laundry
fear over fear

each towel soft
and in its place

You have to be careful not to slip into the spaces. Between your own words. Between your own hands. I am lifting things, shifting them in space and time. These objects are soft and pliable. This appears trivial, but tonight I know better. Every step is deliberate. I am walking the tightrope between worlds.

Folding the laundry, checking the budget, keeping the body away from dreams.  This is my purpose now. I know myself at least this well.  The fade of your cackle, your well worn hands, and the increasing distance between your breath and a song, is a precipice I must navigate deftly.  If I slow, if I move too slowly, I will be paralyzed with fear.  If I move too quickly, I will shatter.  Mercury rolling and hiding beneath the floorboards. A grief turned poisonous. 

I don’t even know that you are dying. Not yet. The clockwork of my life has grown ancient and the wood pulls and groans. You are one seam. The last seam. I call you every three weeks asking the same questions. Where are you? Will you please say hello? What happened in December?  You don’t answer, and I don’t expect you to, despite my best efforts, I can feel the strain there. You are slipping out of the story, and like it or not, until now, it was still our story. Still our time. Never mine. Never my own. I had an accomplice.

I recognize now, the fatal flaw in our work. You kept tossing me in the air, into the depths, the ether. From here we soared, could touch sky and sea, feed and teach the stumbling center. When I fell, back to our tunnels, back to cold coffee and callouses, you kept the landing hard enough to keep me. To keep me. I was yours.  A fatal flaw.

Tonight, however, the mechanism must strain. This is still your orchestration. The wood will sing and buckle. I am enamoured of these moments. Things Fall Apart… wasn’t that a book? A song? A ritual? I should be reading Frannie and Zooey.  I should be talking to the dial tone.

In lieu of this, I am holding my lover, or the laundry, or an instrument.  She is breaking too, this love, her body betraying her until she is barely a child. I keep her from running headlong into walls. She laughs and hands me her shoes.  She sips water and demands more. She is always demanding more.  This is not her fault. This weather comes through her and I am transformed in an instant. From lover to mother, from mother to nurse, from nurse to clinician. When she returns to me I ask her what we are going to do, and she asks “about what?” 

Soon she slips away from me again, and I am left with these simple tasks. I do not dial the telephone. I do not have an accomplice. I have a tightrope now, and things must fall away. You cannot carry much.

death can subsist
in a thought

you are folding the laundry
fear over fear

each towel soft
and in its place

psa

the pace at which i walk
changes every three and one half minutes;
radio friendly.

easy.

im satisfied that when all of this is over, i will have two strong arms, and the courage to lift my voice again. i squander a gift every time i open my mouth. there are lines to cross, and i have crossed all of them.

as we are forgetful, i will tie your mysteries to this flag. a flag of war. a flag of war on war. and you will sew your backwards alphabet into my misgivings. here we go again. a ghost and a martyr. a satyr and a movie set.

i wanted you to know better. how frequently we are disappointed.  i am watching from the audience now, and i am impotent. everyday power pools in my back, and these days i can barely move at all. it will become a sickness.

i have a barrage of excuses. a litany of distractions.  i should have quit so long ago.  i should lie and steal to make the space for it.  but i bound myself in moral law, and you carbonated the moon.

it wont be long now. its june again and my heart is broken. you will stain the paper, and i will finally explode. a surge of sweetness, of purpose. and then i will rest. so satisfied. so easy.

dry

i quit writing, and started painting
so now im always waiting for things to dry

in particular
since you stumbled into a puddle
and are drying your shoes
somewhere alone

i am reconstructing my home
and my heart
in case you dont come back

i took the pictures off the wall
in the kitchen
took them out of their frames
and cut my own artwork into
a series of simple shapes
painted the frames
red and yellow and blue
these are building blocks
now the glue is wet
and im back to this state
i cant seem to avoid

if there were more space
in this apartment
i would move on to another project
but the space i gave over to you
was more than i had room for
metaphorically
and besides
there are jewels to collect
here in the settled oxygen

tap.

underground.
thats where ive been since you passed away
i hate that phrase
passed away. died. as if you just dissolved somehow.
i wouldnt know. i wasnt there

you were more to me, maybe, than i could ever be to you
i will say that i was suprised
sitting on the bottom bunk
at an ashram
knitting you an unbelievably long scarf
to discover that i loved you

it was the endlessness of the object
that made me query
look into the engine
that kept my hands so busy

i cried then, knowing that i seldom loved anyone
that i wasn’t fucking. or hadn’t fucked, or wouldnt.

this is what we had

the cold cackle of our voices against concrete walls
with you i was angry for hours
sustained in the most haunted melodies
my admiration of your hands, which at times bordered on intimacy
the sound of your breathing at night
which never let me sleep
always those gaps in your breath

i was afraid then, that you wouldnt wake

maybe my heart does have a crystal ball
the worst kind of poison
when you see heartbreak in every heartbeat
how can you ever trust this life

but i digress
i havent written a word since you died
not really
not willingly
i wrote two term papers
and i gave a eulogy
to an audience of future pastors
who didnt know you

i have been watching veronica mars reruns
the gilmore girls
the usual drugs
but they are not working
every so often my left shoulder seizes up in unspeakable pain
and i have decided it is time to go back to therapy

i am writing this down now, because if i dont
i will turn on the television

losing you rests closer to the heartbreak of losing my father than any heartbreak i have known since
you win, asshole.  you made me love you
the way i loved the sound of my fathers voice
the songs that kept me breathing as a child

this is not poetry
its processing
its vomit
my stomach is so close to turning these days
that tonight a puking scene in a comedy
made me vomit quietly into my empty soda cup
you would have found this hysterical

no one noticed, but the way
and i magically had tea tree oil toothpicks in my pocket
rinsed my mouth in the bathroom
and cleaned my teeth

the rest of the night i kept chewing on those damn things
until my lips felt dry and raw
and i sat in an aa meeting
clutching a candle, a gift from the eccentric man sitting next to me
who also brought me a paper towel
when i fell apart
after speaking the words
“my best friend died last month”

a best friend

its different you know
not like kate with our ups and downs and our depths
or molly with her steady love and support

you were to me, what my godfather was to my dad
you were my partner in crime
my headache
my sense of humor

and even though you pushed me away
even though you hadnt been around
the love was as big and old and angry as family

so there.
tonight i wanted to go outside and scream
the way i did when dad died
and justin was still alive
he just let me scream
didnt tell me to worry about the neighbors
didnt tell me to calm down
or try to hold me
when i was wild

he just stood by and watched
and handed me a beer

we could get away with a lot back then
drinking
tonight i didnt know how
to lift my feet
to walk out into the city air
so i sat there
with my feet glued to the floor
and stifled my rage
let it form tears
walked around with my face red and swollen

you would have bought me coffee
made me sing
i guess
to be honest, i dont remember
if youve ever seen me cry

but now
well

the other night i was sitting at the old piano
after hours
when there is no one at school, i have that room to myself
my very own chapel

you were there, your arms somehow solid
and your fingers weighted with mine on the keys
you even edited my writing
added some flourish i could only call yours

there you are. a fucking ghost.

and it doesnt make sense
because you were too young
and because we hadnt spoken
in a year

a year of silences
of sadnesses
of me not letting go

jessica says you got my texts in the end
i hope thats true
i hope i said

“i love you”
enough

to get it through your thick skull

theres no way to end this
because its not over
i have novels full of grief to write
and for now they are disorganized
and i want to be happy
maybe just for a minute
maybe for a day
i will kiss my lover
when i can
and read my books
i will try to trust in some new and growing life
and remember to write to my godparents
every so often
call my sister sometimes just to talk
i will read poetry again, instead of the news
and go for walks
eat something green

i remember the last time i saw you
you slipped in the door of Living Room Lounge
and hid in a shadow

you had not come one of my solo shows
in years
and my feelings were sore from it

i was in the middle of a song
and considered inviting you on stage
but felt it was unprofessional
and that maybe, i just needed to stand on my own two feet
for that one night

and there it was
i took back my power
my art
my voice
and you

just disappeared

prescription

i follow the follower, and kneel before her wandering footprints
any altar can exalt what is unified (la ‘ilaha ‘illallah)
the worn boot of a mad lover
kicking the moon from a stargazers perch
the best medicine is love
and i recommend this work
if you wish to return
to where you are