Just a poem.
A Piece of Advice
An eye for an eye
the Bible says –
just one of its vague suggestions on
how to best love
But you never listen to
what others try to tell you
(because no one listens to you either,
and when was the last time you‘ve seen
any of your neighbors, really?)
so instead of taking the knife
to cut a large X into his thorax (and then hers),
deep into the soft, warm flesh and
muscles, arteries, valves,
11 ounces: a secret maze
butchered and all the secrets shed
on the cold, tiled slaughterhouse floor.
You dig deep down into
your own chest:
nausea, lethargy, dehydration, a tremor
(11 shots of vodka or what was it again?),
a severe case.
And you, the lamb of
a god who’s never read the Bible
and hands out hamburgers and beer for communion,
lie on the cold bathroom floor,
split open like rotten fruit
dreaming of bible verses smudged against
the stark break of day, scribbles on the tiled
slaughterhouse floor: grant us peace.
I haven’t made changes to the previous two parts I posted yet – nevertheless: here comes the final one. Yes, yes – the point is still to get someone’s opinion but it occured to me (last night, right before falling asleep; best time for revelations of all sorts) that I wanted to share the entire
story draft piece with you before making any changes. And then the changes will come, big time. Or whatever. Enough rambling for a Monday morning, though. Time for some prose (okay, there’s some poetry hiding as well; sorry…not).
Part III: Count what’s left.
Emma traced each letter with her index finger as if she wrote them, once more. What she really wanted though: erase them, with the slow rub of her finger tip. Or edit them. Of all the books she’s edited in her life, this was the one she desperately needed to re-write.
She leaned back in her chair, staring at the letters in front of her: each one stiff as dead body (unchangeable). She blinked once: they twitched (maybe?). She blinked a second time: they were as motionless as ever (dead still).
She was overcome by the sudden urge to rip out every single page. She wanted to rip out page by page and crumple the paper. Or tear it to shreds. Burn everything. She pulled the secret lighter out of her secret cigarette pack. The flame went on, off. On, off, on, off. She put it back, closed the pack. She pulled it out again (on, off, on, off). This would leave her, once more, with nothing. Then again: after spending all these hours reading; hours full of words she didn’t understand. She hated them. They meant nothing. So really, she was left with nothing already. After a little while (on, off, on, off) the lighter ran out of gas: off.
She couldn’t remember the last time words hadn’t been a shelter, comfort, an escape. But now, they had let her down. His words had let her down. She’d thought they would help her. She’d thought if she’d get to know them, she’d know it all. Now, she knew them – by heart. She could recite them like poetry; poetry in a foreign language. Much like when she was little and sang along to Spanish songs (tried to): she never knew what she was singing and she mostly made up words that sounded like something she’d heard before. A faint echo no one would ever correct.
Liam wasn’t the only one with secrets in the house.
Soon after Dave was gone, Emma started smoking – although she had promised to never touch a cigarette again (she’d promised herself and she’d promised Liam and Lucy). She snuck up the stairs from time to time, hid in Dave’s office and blew cigarette smoke rings out the window, like she and Dave had done it out the bathroom window of his parents’ house when they were sixteen. She thought, like then, it went unnoticed. But, of course, it didn’t. Not then, not now.
She hid her cigarette packs where she thought Liam would never find them but he figured out all her hiding places in no time. She had always been lousy when it came to hiding things. He’d always found his and his sisters Christmas presents, long before the 25th.
After a while, he started hiding the cigarettes from her. He knew if he was serious about it, she would never find them again. And she didn’t. She never even got suspicious. She simply thought it was her – scattered and depressed, desperate; desperately trying to hide everything from her son.
And still, Liam knew. He knew about her little cigarette breaks (he knew all about her sadness).
April 5, 2012 – the last entry. He’d scribbled a few words in sloppy handwriting, she could hardly read it: I might never be able to tell you in any other place or at any other time: don’t let me go. Then (in the same, eerily sloppy handwriting) another poem:
it’s all bombs and white flags –
I’ve been on war,
as long as I can remember
it’s all bombs and white flags
I can’t remember anything else
not even how I was shot
an ache in my chest: the bullet
still moving, stretching
a butterfly’s wings within its cocoon
metal that spreads
cold and hard
against my skin
it’s all bombs and white flags –
a battle that’s
making me sick
got me a gun,
a helmet (a deadhead) –
still I know: it’s nothing but a gamble
weighing options, making the right move:
the one that finally breaks your neck
I’m on on on,
I say no no no:
I say: I quit
no more torn bodies, feelings
limp in the mud
out of the protect dig: out!
out to lie down and rest
and breathe and
rest and breathe and
Emma and Liam
She got up, stepped out in the hallway, closed the door behind her. She stood in front of his room. In front of his red door; his screaming red door.
She’s felt it staring at her the last days (or weeks? Or months? Or something that didn’t have a name yet?), screaming red, screaming his name.
(Liam. Liam. Liam. Liam). Liam. Liam. Liam. Liam. Liam. Liam. Liam. Liam.
Tiny stitches. Leaving her full of tiny pinholes.
She wasn’t able to set one foot – one toe, the tip of a toe – in the room, not since she’d found him in there.
She’d found him: a belt around his fragile neck; his body limp, his face pale, almost blue.
There was still a dark spot where she’d vomited on the wooden floor.
She swallowed hard. Her mouth was dry. It was simple after all. How do you make sure no one ever (evereverever, love) leaves you again? Beat them to it. You have to be the first to go.
She pushed the door open and entered. She could still smell him. He was everywhere. She was hurting thinking it was because she’d lost him forever.
Now, she realized that wasn’t it. It wasn’t.
As she stood in the middle of his room, it suddenly struck her: she was hurting because he would never leave (out, out, out).
He would be in his room forever, he would never get out (out, out, out).
I’ll keep it short this time – because the second part of the story is long enough to keep you busy reading for a while anyways. Just one thing:
And here it is:
Part II: Count your blessings.
A strange notion entered Emma’s thoughts; it snuck in, cat-pawed, and curled up beneath her feat. It was funny, almost: no other person had ever been closer to her (he had lived right underneath her heart) and yet, no other person was harder for her to reach now.
She smiled, burst out in giggles, and finally started laughing. She started laughing so hard, she could hardly breathe; so hard, her stomach hurt. She almost forgot about every other part of her body that was hurting, and why (because she wanted him back: back in her house, back underneath her heart; because all he’d wanted was out).
Barbara stood in the kitchen preparing dinner when she heard her daughter. It didn’t really sound like she was crying (and wasn’t she familiar with the sound by now?) – it seemed absurd to think she could be laughing. But maybe?
Emma was still laughing when she heard the knock on the door.
“Emma?” Her mother’s voice sounded worried, even muffled by the thick wooden door between them.
“The door’s open, Mom.” She wiped her eyes and rubbed her stomach.
Her mother quietly put one hand on her shoulder.
“So … “, Barbara hesitated. “What’s in the books?” She squeezed her shoulder just like Emma had squeezed Liam’s (on the first day of school, whenever he had to see the dentist, when he woke up late at night from dreams of cars crashing and the smell of hospitals).
“I don’t know, Mom” was all she said and her mother knew her well enough to leave it at that. After a while Emma noticed a dull pain in her right shoulder; without saying a word she took her mother’s hand and locked fingers with her. Still, the next morning she woke up with a bruise.
She woke up and intuitively reached over to his side of the bed. Instead of finding his hand, though, she found: nothing. She winced, half-asleep. Like a dog that dreams of chasing a rabbit (but she wasn’t the dog, if anything, she was the rabbit).
Eyes still closed, she rolled over to where he used to lie and pulled the comforter over her head. When Liam knocked on the door half an hour later, she pretended to be still asleep.
She never got really excited over her own birthday. She didn’t like to celebrate it – not because she dreaded getting older, she simply didn’t like it.
Once however, she had liked the birthday mornings, at least: when he woke her up whispering happy birthday, his nose against her ear lobe (if she didn’t react then, he even sang; she always pretended to be asleep as long as he would believe it) and just held her hand for a while before they finally got up (happy birthday, babe).
Another half-hour went by and Liam knocked a second time. Finally, she struggled out of bed, empty-handed.
Liam loved birthdays. But even more than that, he loved his little sister, Lucy. She loved, loved, loved birthdays. Especially her mom’s birthday. Because Liam helped her make cupcakes the night before and they got to wake their mom early in the morning (which felt like Christmas; no: better).
The best part for Lucy (and Liam too, although he would never admit it) had nothing to do with any of that, though. It was when Emma acted all surprised (like this wasn’t a little tradition and the best thing that’s ever happened to her; although: it certainly was one of the best things), smile and kiss each of them on the forehead. Having cupcakes for breakfast, of course, wasn’t bad, either.
All of a sudden, Liam started going to church regularly: every Wednesday after dinner and every Sunday after breakfast. Sometimes he simply skipped a meal to go a third or fourth time. Sometimes all he ate was the host at communion.
Emma never questioned his habits. He’d always been different. Special, she’d say.
Once, when he was five or six, he watched her paint her toe nails. He sat at the edge of the bathtub, his short legs dangling in the air.
“Why do you paint your toe nails, Mom?” he asked.
She smiled. “Because I think it looks nice.”
“So why doesn’t Daddy paint his toe nails?” He was good with the questions: he always had one more up his peanut butter covered sleeve.
She smiled again, imagining Dave, her 6 ft. tall, mostly unshaven husband with time square red toe nails. “I don’t know – you go ask him.”
He giggled. “Can you paint mine, Mom?”
She nodded and dropped a dab of color on his pinky toe nail: “What do you think?”
She was sure he’d crinkle his nose (the way he always did when he had to eat something he didn’t like or when he felt like the grown-ups were giving him a runaround) and tell her to remove it again.
He didn’t, though. He continued dangling his legs and said: “All of them, Mom, please.”
So she kept on painting and he walked around with time square red toe nails for a week.
When he was seven or eight, he went through a months-long phase where he wanted to work as a microbiologist by day and as archeologist by night. “As a second mainstay sort of”, he would say, pushing his black-framed glasses up his nose. “One needs to plan ahead.”
Often, he seemed to her like a shrunken version of a middle-aged man – surely, he was a shrunken version of his father.
She wondered whether that’s what he wanted to be. Sometimes she had the feeling that he was trying to fill the hole his father’s absence had torn into their lives (not quite like a gunshot that quickly drills through you, more like a constant strain that eventually makes you bend and break). He was trying to be the man in the house.
Although other times she was sure that he simply missed his Dad (worse than his sister did, she’d been too little, thankfully maybe). Emma knew how he always slept muffled up in one of Dave’s old sweaters (this random green thing with a big moose on the front – he’d gotten it on one of their many trips to Maine). Liam had grabbed it thinking she wouldn’t notice (when she finally threw out most of Dave’s belongings one day, when she finally decided he needed to stop haunting their house).
So when Liam started to attend church – with so much dedication (he still used his dad’s sweater as a blanket; lately, however, he’d also replaced his pillow: he slept with his head rested on the Bible) – she tried to tell herself, once more, it’s because he’s different (no: special).
Deep down, however, she was sure that he was only looking for his father (“Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name; Matthew 6:9–13, ESV).
First of all: A happy new year to you all! I hope your New Year’s celebrations went well and you didn’t do anything you’ll have to regret the next 12 months – or that at least you don’t remember it. If anyone cares to know: I didn’t and I remember the entire evening perfectly well because I spent it at home with a friend. So judge me. Maybe I’m boring. Maybe I’ve been sick since Christmas and just a little bit boring – all of this, however, is totally beside the point.
So the real deal: here’s the first part to a story (there’s two more, they will follow the next couple of days) I started last year, and somehow haven’t managed to finish just yet.
Not because I lack motivation, or even inspiration (wow, that’s a first!) – maybe I just want to get it right so badly (I mean, obviously, writing something, you always want to get it right – but with some pieces, you just want to get it even righter. At least that’s what this feels like to me).
I just decided to post what I have and hope for some clever posts that may possibly enlighten me! Long story short: Dearest reader, if you have a minute (or two) – feel free to read and comment. Thanks and you’re awesome!
Part I: Count your losses.
She closed the book, placed it on the table and closed her eyes, finally. It was the first time in 24 hours, more or less. That’s what it felt like anyways (although: no; it really felt like 24 days, 24 weeks, 24 of something that didn’t have a name yet).
It was early, merely dawn. The sun wasn’t up yet; it was stumbling across the sky, still half-asleep (that dizzy state right after waking up, when the mind’s still struggling through the scrub of dream and subconsciousness).
She hadn’t slept in days.
She didn’t know what time it was but she didn’t really care either. She’s spent the past hours flipping through pages; running fingers over words.
It was strange to see his words on the thin paper, so delicate, so in order: how could anything he’s left behind be still so delicate, so in order?
His handwriting has always been neat. One day he came home from kindergarten (he was four) with a piece of paper: he’d scribbled his name (Liam) with a crayon for the first time; his eyes were gleaming with excitement and pride. She’d pinned it to the refrigerator that day; it still hung between shopping lists and family pictures.
She took a final look at his diary: twelve years later, each letter still looked carefully drafted, as if it was the first (L).
March 23, 2012 it said in the upper right corner. The next line, starting on the left margin: Liam. L i a m. L I A M. L-I-A-M. L.I.A.M. L. I. am. I am. I am. I am…
Then, he’d copied a poem by one of his favorite writers (John Clarke); some bits were highlighted:
I am: yet what I am none cares or knows.
My friends forsake me like a memory lost;
I am the self-consumer of my woes,
They rise and vanish in oblivious host,
Like shades in love and death’s oblivion lost;
And yet I am! and live with shadows tost
Into the nothingness of scorn and noise,
Into the living sea of waking dreams,
Where there is neither sense of life nor joys (?),
But the vast shipwreck of my life’s esteems;
And e’en the dearest–that I loved the best–
Are strange–nay, rather stranger than the rest.
Don’t marry a musician, they’d said. He’ll break your heart, love, they’d said.
And what is it with these artists anyways? I’ll tell you (never mind she didn’t ask): they lack realism. They’re dreamers – their heads in the clouds. They never think. They feel instead (they’d said it as if it was a bad thing). Really, they do all their thinking with the heart. And what are you going to do, married to a feeler? (In Arabic, Dave would always tell her, a poet is called feeler: they use one word to express both. Or maybe they don’t make a difference at all.)
In the end, she didn’t listen. She didn’t listen and people secretly shook their heads at the wedding until Dave said something funny and they couldn’t help but laugh. She didn’t listen and now she was angry. Not because of all the things they’d said (because they were all true and she’d loved him not despite, but because of all that).
She was angry because of what they failed to say: one day, he will take the car down to the grocery store (like every other day – but not quite, love), get into an accident (maybe because he had his head in the clouds or maybe because of someone else’s head in the clouds).
Then, an hour later he’ll die in the hospital, and it will break your heart (and we’re so sorry, love).
That’s what they should have told her. Maybe then, she wouldn’t have married him. But no: of course, she would have married him; because there was no one else she could have ever married and that was really the problem (we’re so sorry, love).
… to be continued …