PEOPLE WATCHING IN PARIS

I spent the afternoon at a small café in Paris, which could hardly fit the family two tables down from me. They had a string of three children toppling off the edges of the red backed booth—two girls and a boy. The girls were older, in matching pink dresses, and the word that ran through my mind was “starbright” when I saw their smiles. The boy, on the other hand, was more stoic than a Buddhist meditating, as if had been shot with 20 CC’s of chill-the-fuck-out by his parents. He wore a red t-shirt and navy blue shorts, and had donned a matching navy blue baseball cap.

Their mother was a tall, lanky woman, with thin arms, thin legs, and a thin waist—one she clearly paid careful attention to maintain. Her daughters were the spitting image of her: tall for their age, strikingly blonde, and beautiful. But where their smiles were bright and full of happiness, their mother’s was full of anguish, as if nothing could have annoyed her more than going out with her family that day. To contrast, their father was the height of personable. He had kept the waiter around for minutes, prying the youth out of his shell until they were both cracking jokes, and before long the manager had to pull her employee back to work.

They came and went, and I sat, drinking my coffee in the sunlight. It was a cool day, where a few minute indoors could leave you chilled, but a minute outside would melt the ice right off your backside. A good day to be people watching. The beautiful maids in sundresses walked around less in a step and more in a dance, and their partners never seemed to have the same sense of rhythm about them. They looked a bit too porcelain for my taste, but lovely nonetheless. I was particularly struck by the elderly couple that passed by when I took the last few sips of my drink.

I had never seen a couple with more swagger make their way down la rue. They were both in exceedingly white clothing, bleached to the point of blindness, save for matching pairs of Aviator sunglasses, which covered their eyes entirely. Unlike most elderly couples, there was nothing feeble about how they moved—they might as well have been going to the gym to beat up on some college athletes. Their grim expression was fitting a pair that had survived a world war, and didn’t hope to survive into another. But they too came and went, and my mug was finally empty. I left a couple notes on the table, beneath my cup, grabbed my bag, and started walking home.

——

 

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THE LAST SIP

I always loved looking in the sinister whisky glasses, with two clear, fat ice cubes barely contained within the small, cylindrical walls of the cup. The satisfying pop of the stopper, pulled from an equally extravagant crystal decanter, builds the anticipation of the moment. The first splash or two of the amber-gold liquid sets the tone of the pour. If the ice is cold enough, it will crack in half with a satisfying crunch, then those shallow splashes create tiny arcs off of the ice, until they eventually settle into the base of the glass.

I always prefer the glass left half empty, especially to start the day. Any day like today is full of wonder, tranquility, and anger. Whisky will pull in a similar sense of self-hatred. Strong, powerful, and above all else, contained. The first sip always stings, which is why I swallow it along with the second and third all at once. It slinks through the throat, like magma through the canyon—burning and renewing the land in one fatal swoop.

But it’s always the last sip that always gets me. Most often, people forget the last sip. They see a fleeting ounce left in the glass, and down it quick, like an actor in an old western film. They typically follow it with a satisfied Ah, and perhaps even a quick wipe of the chin to catch any excess the slipped through their lips. It’s dignified, hearty, and full of meaning. But the last sip still clings to the sides of the glass, drifting back into the base of the glass, forgotten beneath the melting cubes inside.

The bartender will pick the glass up, throw the residue to melt away into the sink, along with all the other forgotten memories. Quite the waste of perfectly good booze. One that, after many downed glasses and agonizing headaches later, I have learned never to miss.

The last sip is watery and cold. I like to catch each ice cube in my mouth, lick it clean, then spit it back out. If they split clean apart when the glass was poured, I might even chew one down to cleanse the palate. Catch the glass in your lips, and tilt your head back. The little droplets will form together, then slide down the side as a team, like a group of fish joined to impede the approach of a predator. In excitement, you might lift the glass in the air, as if to say to the onlookers “this moment is mine.”

And the drop will dangle, afraid, or perhaps teasing you there to build anticipation, before falling for ages in those inches between the glass and your outstretched tongue. Your throat might feel dry, as though this were the last drop of water on Earth, until it coats your mouth with the strength of a thousand oceans. Then finally, your glass is empty, and you might realize you’ve become an alcoholic.

——

 

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WORDS AND IRONWORKS

I wasn’t born to be a poet.

With a name like “Smith,” one is only fit

to work over a hot fire with iron and steel,

and yet somehow the words chiseled their way

into the forge of my life.

 

The sound of my pen spattering paper

rung out like an imagined hammer,

shaping the letters of Apollo

into a work more spectacular

than those creations I’d made for Vulcan.

 

For though the glint of the ironworks

could be heard throughout the village,

it was the letters sung between drinks

that filled it with happiness

and when the time came for another pair of sons

to be whisked away on bloodied spikes

the solace of words meant more to the mothers

than the stained return of mail

to be buried with the bodies.

——

 

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THREADS (AND OTHER HAIKUS)

Threads

One thread cannot hold

the weight of a broken tree,

no matter its strength.

 

Up Late

The sun is up high

yet my eyes have just opened

in a groggy haze.

 

Dish Mountain

The pots suspended,

precarious as climbers

hanging without ropes.

 

Lying Beneath Trees

Trees look like angels

silhouetted in sunlight;

their leaves are their wings.

 

Five O’Clock

Shadows on my chin

feel like dry blades of grass

before they brittle.

——

 

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A DAY AT THE FAIR

Emerging from under the shadowy tunnel

into the blinding sunlight of the September fair

builds more child-like suspense in me

than any movie soundtrack could.

 

Suddenly, all those twenty-two years

melt back into the sevens and eights

where oceans of cotton candy and

rivers of soda pop were mine to sail through.

 

The loud hums of the stereotyped amusements,

from Mexican dancers to redneck farmers

whistle through the air like a swarm of bees,

and I hadn’t a care in the world.

 

I roamed about like that, in half a daze,

so filled with the happiness of the afternoon

that I nearly forgot the Ferris Wheel,

and anyone who knows me knows

that I’d never forget the Ferris Wheel.

 

There’s something beautiful

looking out over the plane of the world

at a point that no human was meant to see

where the air tastes fresher than spring

and the Earth seems perfectly still.

 

Even if it is just for a moment,

before the basket of humans makes another spin

and we all have to step off the ride

to go home again.

——

 

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ELEVATOR ESCAPE

They had given me tickets to Bermuda as a departing gift, after I had told them I was done. I read over them several time, to verify there was no falsity to the tickets, but they appeared real enough. When I walked out, the click of the door behind me was a reminder that this was all too good to be true. No hitman leaves the industry that easily.

As I walked through the hallway to the elevator, decorated lavishly with red furnishings, I had an eye out for the betrayal. None came. I pressed the down button, and took a step back. The doors swung open a moment later, and a small man walked by me. He was inattentive, and nearly walked right into me. When I turned to let him pass, I saw a body appear down the corridor to the left. A massive, titan of a man, nearly seven foot tall and four feet across, was pacing slowly toward me. His suit coat was loose, but the shirt underneath was tight to his chest, and made it look like he was made more of steel than flesh.

The doors to the elevator opened, and I thought, panic stricken, that he might not be able to make it to me before they closed, so I stepped through. Dead wrong. He broken into a sprint, and as the doors began to shut, he barreled through them. His shoulders smashed the edges of the elevator where I had been standing a moment before, and when he stepped away the support bar was indented. My shock had frozen me for a moment, and the ding of the doors woke me with the realization that I was probably going to die here.

Fortunately, my body was not so frozen. Acting on muscle memory, I stepped behind him, and kicked out his right knee. He toppled off balance and fell to his knees for a moment. The pause gave me the chance to get an arm around his brick of a neck, pressing my chest tight against him to give as little room for breath as possible. When I pulled tight, to squeeze the life out of him, it was like wrangling a beam to a building. It only took him a moment to regain his footing, and as he stood up I felt my feet leave the ground. His arms went to his neck, and dug into my arm as a lion digs into its prey. I thought he might break my arm with his grip alone.

Somehow, I held on. When he began getting desperate, he slammed me back into the elevator door. Or rather, through the door. I felt my whole back snap and crack as the steel doors bent. Our bodies came tumbling two floors before the bottom floor. In a heave of pain, I scrabbled to my feet. He was still bent over, coughing as he caught his breath. I scanned the room, and found the stairway, then bolted for it. I heard him stumble to his feet behind me, and then suddenly the whole building seemed to shake as he took up the chase. I swung the door open, taking the steps four at a time, using the handrail to balance myself and redirect my momentum around the turns.

Two flights of stairs later, I reached the bottom. I had gained a bit of distance between us. A man that size was unlikely to be able to move quickly through such tight quarters. When I stepped into the lobby, I tossed my black coat into the trash can beside me, and ripped a deep red one off the coat wrack, along with a pale black hat. I stepped out onto the street, and melted into the crowd just as he tore into the lobby. That was the last time I saw him.

——

 

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ROCKSLIDE (AND OTHER HAIKUS)

Sun Struck

Sun struck bricklayers

are blinded by the mundane

and don’t see good lives.

 

Fresh Water

If water is life

then I would fill my cup in

the ocean of you.

 

Rockslide

A few tough pebbles

thrown well into the quarry

can cause a rockslide.

 

Civilization

A third city built

by spilling the blood of men

and burning forests.

 

Exploring Beaches

Small hands dig seashells

out of their half buried sleep

to hear ocean songs.

——

 

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SLIPPING IN AND OUT OF DREAMS

When you start walking through walls, do you finally realize that you are in a dream? Personally, I struggle to even remember dreams, much less realize that I am in them. I’ve been trying to take stock of them when I wake up over the past couple weeks, and I’ve gotten a little better. Now I can usually remember the endings of the dreams, and if it was really vivid I can usually remember the major plot points, but I still struggle with beginnings.

Not that dreams really have beginnings. I doubt there is some voice over that says “one day our weary hero was walking through the woods, blah blah blah blah” like some cheesy 80’s movie. But let’s take, for example, a dream I had about a week ago. Somehow, I got to a point where these massive, titanic beings were chasing after me, literally bursting through buildings to get to me. The whole world knew, and the everybody was trying to help me get away from them, but I had no idea how I had gotten to that point. Was I the scientist who made them? Was I carrying some secret? Was it some other reason? I don’t know. But I am certainly curious.

The other interesting thing I’ve been trying is to slip in and out of my consciousness and dream states more quickly. Often times, I will wake up—or be woken up—before I mean to start my day. In many cases, I will have been woken up out of a dream, and will want to fall back into it. If I have to get up to do something, I’ll lose track of the dream, but if I can relax my mind into a resting state, I can often slip right back into the dream I was experiencing. Sometimes it takes a sharp turn because of this. For example, if I was dreaming about picnics, it might be that while after I wake up, the picnic leads me to a circus fair or something.

Anyways, that’s just my two cents on the topic. Do you have any recommendations for remembering dreams? Let me know!

 

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LOVE POEM #56 – WAITING FOR THE RAIN

Standing outside the cinema, waiting for the rain

is the perfect way to fall in love with someone.

 

First of all, it means there are a lot of people

trying to buy tickets for a brand new movie.

Crowds always seem to bring people closer together

and there, bundled up nice, breathing in the cool air,

is a great time to crack a few inside jokes.

 

Secondly, when the first few droplets finally land

you have the chance to offer her your jacket.

It’s such a simple gesture, but it brings warmth

in a way that walking inside doesn’t quite have.

Especially since the first few drops of water

always seem to land on the tip of her nose.

 

And then you go inside and see a movie or whatever.

 

Until the last moments of the date arrive

where you both walk out those big double doors

and see that the downpour paused just for you.

She’s talking about the movie, but you’re distracted

because you’ve never seen eyes light up like hers.

 

And then it’s time to go,

and you realize that you really don’t want to.

You wish you could tie a rope to those seconds

where the inevitable awkward pause arrives

and just stay there, tethered to it

like a buoy is tethered to an anchor

so that it doesn’t float off into the ocean all alone.

——

 

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MEMORIES TAKEN ROOT

I lived my last few days, rotting away on the inside, with a red “X” across my chest, like an aged target waiting to be struck down. When the saws finally bit into me, like wolves sinking their teeth into a rabbit, I realized that nobody would really hear me fall, despite the number of onlookers who surrounded us. They were all too busy seeing the decent of this massive tree, that they forgot to see me for what I was: me.

I wish I could have been angry; that I could have been mad at them, but they barely knew me. Most of the aged adults were fresh out of their mothers’ wombs when the rot first set in, and the younger one were but a far away twinkle, like a star in the night sky. I suppose I was more mad at their fathers’, and their fathers’ fathers’, and all the generations before them, back to when they had first set foot in my kingdom, bearing fire and chains from across the sea. Then I was but a small, thin sapling, budding with the first full-grown leaves spring had brought me.

I was one of the lucky ones then. My small size meant I was unfit for their housing requirements, and so when they cut down my brothers and sisters, they left me for the future. By the time that future came, enough houses had been built around me that I had become a meeting ground for town festivals. They strung banners across me, and the innocent children ran about at play.

With the space they had given me, my roots were able to grow far and deep, and I grew bigger than any of the other trees in the area. I was so large, it took two dozen children to make a connected circle around me. With time, the pain of my executed family faded, and I found love for the children around me. I was saddened when they grew older, and acted with the same malice as their parents.

When the buildings first started going up, the first talks of cutting me down started, to “clear the skyline for future horizons” as one man had put it. I was lucky then, that the last generation of children to line up around me were still alive. They came again as adults, without the glistening smiles, but with the same love in their hearts, to protect me.

But as more decades passed by, the air became filled with gases. The roar of trains, and cars, and buses made the children cough, and stay inside their homes. The poison in the air sunk into my bones, and the rot set in. Nearly one hundred years went by before it began to show, but the day came when one of my massive arms couldn’t take the weight anymore. It shattered, and the massive limb—a tree in its own right by many accounts—came crashing down. It killed thirty people, which to me seemed like a fair trade for all the lives they had taken from me.

From the hole it had left crept a black ooze, and as it rained down from the hundreds of feet above, the people turned their heads skyward with disdain. A day later, the “X” had appeared. This massive, bloody tattoo across my body, and within a few days the machines arrived. They sputtered for hours, tearing into me, dying, being repaired, and tearing in once again, until finally I felt the whole world sway, and came crashing down.

——

 

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