Wolf in White Collar

 The room is dark but for the lamplight swinging overhead. There is no draft, so maybe it’s my eyes, swinging, swaying. But I’m sitting, so maybe it’s my mind, leaving, straying?

(So you can’t sleep?)

My eyes sting. My hands shake. The grains of the desk, stained red, flow like rivers, branching towards me, seeking escape. They are veins, spilling towards me, trying not to bleed. Across, a neck is sat inside a white collar, sat above a nametag, but there is no face. I see a bright light stained where features should be. I watch as hands appear and scribble before me. The nails are dull, clipped and cleaned, clinically. I think that’s what they’ll do to me.

The tearing of paper echoes through my head like muscle peeled from bone. A hand reaches towards me under shadows, changing shape as the ceiling sways and swings, swings and sways. What are they offering? Paper. I know it is meant to cut my skin. Our hands touch. They are cold. Why can’t I see their eyes? Why can’t I see their claws? I know that they’re there.

I look down at the script in my hand but the words shake and the ink doesn’t stay. The Z, the O, the P- run downwards as the scenery around me fractures: two pens become four, four certificates eight. Two hands become more. But still no eyes. Only teeth, and they part:

(So you can’t sleep?)

No, I can’t sleep. Have I said this before? Or was that in my head? Did they hear this before?

(So you can’t sleep?
          So you can’t sleep?
                      So you can’t sleep?)

The voices are booming. They fill up my ears. They fill up my head. My chair is confining and digs into my bones. I have seen their teeth. I can see their claws, no longer clipped, no longer clean. I can see the blood that they missed. It is on their nametags; it is on their hands. It is in their pens. It is the ink on my paper. It is the ink I saw run I saw run I saw RUN. I cannot stay long enough to see their eyes.

(So you can’t sleep? We’ve got something for that.)

Take one everyday and be sure to come back.

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Daybreak

It’s diurnal darkness
a silage left trailing the night
It’s a touch hard to part with
its traces sunburned by the light

It’s shadows enlightened
rays judging the sweat on our skin
It’s buttons up, tightened
Cover up so we don’t let it in

It’s conscience collected
discarded, abandoned before
It’s the day resurrected
and the twilight that promises more

The Fucked and the Fallen (3 poems)

I

All I can hear is my heart beating in my chest
and the tapping of fingers on keys
The perpetual state of my mind not at rest
in the chasm it won’t let me leave

It’s digging a hole and it it’ll never come back
but it’s fine because I’m not alone
Amongst the lost and the damned, the sinners, and shunned,
I have fallen to take my new throne.

As I rise to the top in the depths of the dirt,
as I bask in the glow of the rot,
I know that down here I will be loved and revered
and they’ll all eat whatever I’ve got

I am Queen of the fucked up, disturbed, and insane
and I know this is where I fit in
I will float in the blood, in the booze, and semen,
and I’ll sacrifice myself to sin

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II

Your head’s still on your shoulders
but only just for now
’cause soon we’ll wipe it clean
right off
and you won’t remember how

Your mind is on my matter
and your nose is on the line
You won’t regret a thing tomorrow
What’s mine is yours is yours is mine

Your heart left with my demon
yet your pulse is in your pants
So come on now, let’s take a bow
This is our great performance

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III

Tonight we’re gathered
with the dead
so take if off
remove your head

Check your coat
and check your mind
Let it away
Leave it behind

Shed off your skin
Tear off your flesh
Cut it away
’til there’s none left

There’s not one sin
we won’t accept
Listen to us
We know you best

We took your name
We’ve no plus-ones
So kill your ties
and come alone

Sell us your soul
Strip to your bones
’cause something wicked
this way comes

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I don’t have a name for these.

I

Your heart on my heart
and they’re killing time
Your beat parallels death’s
and it’s matching mine
We pull and
we hang
like we’re intertwined
Guilty like the
Gallows’ sparrows

 

II

You know you need your demon
and you know how he tastes
It’s bitter yet sweet,
you let none go to waste

As it dries on your lips
and it slides down your throat
you know you need your demon
just to keep you afloat

He grabs at your mind and
you think he might steal it
but you let it tear off
because at least
you can feel it

You know you need your demon
set behind your dead eyes
need the glint and the fire
but he won’t empathize

He knows that you need him
and he waits in the glass
He might be at the bottom
but he left you for last

You know you need your demon
and he can’t be erased
he stole all of your words
and wrote them on your face

Hindsight

I

My mind is on fire
My thoughts are aflame
The heat scatters the ashes
and licks at my brain

If you try to get close
If you think you could learn
If you think you could know me
you will only get burned

I can’t draw back the fire
I can’t heal your raw flesh
I can’t feel for your blisters
Your wounds are too fresh

You did not heed my warning
You ignored common sense
I’ll be gone in the morning
setting flame to the rest

II

Another one
another one
because it’s never enough

Not in drink
not in men
not in feeling
not in friends
The attention
the destruction
the beginnings
and ends

I need more
I want more
and I need it to live
You’ll lend some
I’ll want more
and take all you can give

Once you’re shrivelled
Once you’re empty
Once you’ve bent to my pull
then I’ll move on
then I’ll pack up
but not ’til I have
your soul

III

You feel “Flat” they called it
Not a clinical term
Just flat,
unmoving
like windows shut in dark rooms
like a misplaced note
that should have been sharp
like a smeared black canvas
that should have been art
like a minor through silence
that should have been major
like a fragmented soul
that should have found saviour
like happiness lost
and feeling misplaced
You are flat,
you’re unmoving
and the pills were just chase

Artistic liberty, or something like that (6 poems)

I

You don’t know what you’re feeling,
not most of the time
unless you loosen the hinges,
start drowning in wine
As you plead and you gasp,
try to shut it back in,
as you bargain for air and your lungs are
screaming

That’s when he’ll find you
and he’ll offer his hand
You’ll thank your kind saviour
as you head to dry land

Coerced, young, and foolish,
you believe what you’re told
As he tightens his grip you think
you’re the one in control
But tell me my child,
can you remember your name?
At some point you’ve forgotten
Now you’re part of his game

The setting grows colder
It’s fading to black
And now you’re still drowning
with fresh marks in your back

II

You came here because
you wanted to feel something
More than you wanted love
you wanted to know
that you were capable of it
And you are…
or you were
But now it’s just another
emotional notch in your bedpost
Another hole in your belt
As you grow fatter with
experience you grow
less and less satisfied

Your waistline shrinks
and your cheek bones emerge
and you know the more you feel
the more you need to feel

You’re a sensational bulimic

Couches and dead flowers
and arguments and cleaning
the bathroom
This is your life now
You’re a modern day housewife
parading around in cloaked
dissatisfaction,
coining a front of charisma
so convincing,
for a second even you
thought it could be real
Your senses are numb
but for the scent of bleach
and boredom

As you rest your head
on his chest
his heartbeat reminds you
of your own mortality
You are ageing and
you’re dying
and the longer you wait
the faster it eats away

At least in the cold
you were preserved
on ice
You kept your heart
on the rocks for two decades
and now exposed it quivers
and threatens to crack

Yet you’re sure you can live
without it

So you seek solace in the flesh
of others
digging your nails in and
feeding off their emotions
and reactions
You draw blood as quickly
as you draw a crowd
You timed this,
you planned this
like clockwork
And you pretend you’re unsure
but immorality has always
had a special place in your bones

You’re a psychological vampire

And as you emerge
with fresh claw marks
down your back
you know neither is this “it”
There has to be something more
you can feel

There has to be something more
I can feel 

III

Your eyes
unlike oceans
show the shallow depths
of swamps
and in their muddy waters
I see not blues but browns

There are teeth
that let go at no cost
There are claws
that tear
until you are raw

Reptilian,
you take and abhor
until you need another
and swim back into shore

IV

You’re like a full bladder
an empty bottle of wine
everything you say doesn’t matter
and you take up too much of my time

You talk and you push
and I wish you’d just leave
I’ll drink ’til you drown
and I’ll plan to deceive

You’ll wake up tomorrow
to clean up my mess
and that’s why I keep you:
my tired conscience 

V

If it isn’t catastrophic
If it isn’t cataclysmic
then I don’t want anything to do with it

If it doesn’t clutch at my throat
and splinter my bones
then I don’t want anything to do with it

I don’t want half-ways
or “some day”s
I don’t want forever
or always
I don’t want anything to do with it

If it doesn’t inspire
and it isn’t this instant
then I don’t want anything to do with it

If it doesn’t gratify my wants
and set fire to my needs
then I don’t want anything to do with it

I don’t want 9-5’s
and staying barely alive
I don’t want insurance or security
I don’t want routine or mundanity

I don’t want truth
or sincerity
I don’t want confession
or honesty

I want worn flesh
and chapped lips
I want high winds,
an apocalypse

I want bruised thighs
and shattered lights
I want believed lies
and ruined lives

I want matted hair
and nails across skin
I want Christ cast out
and the Devil in

I don’t want hesitation,
or useless contemplation
I want here and now
instant gratification

I don’t want soft
I don’t want gentle
I want to come apart
watch as you dismantle

I don’t want conscience
I don’t want conviction
I want reveled sin
soaked in inhibition

I don’t want subtlety 
I can’t stand euphemism
I just want you and me
lost in hedonism

VI

Looking up from the cracks
I see the dirt on your shoes
and it won’t break your back
to step over my view

The heat seeps from beneath,
The flames cased in cement
As to whether you’ll join me,
we are all in suspense

I clutch at the sediment
until my fingers turn black
I did not mean to leave you
I just fell through the cracks

Yes, the company’s fair
and the wine never stops
There are thousands down here
That Time and God forgot

But it’s lonely, you know
here at Lucifer’s side
That’s why if you look low
You might still see my eyes

Glinting up from their prison
looking up from the flames
I thought I was special
Down here we’re all the same

The next time you’re walking
take a peek down below
For the cracks that you trod on
might be someone you know

Barophobia

I don’t know how to be
completely happy in any situation
That’s why I keep running
from one life to the next,
picking them apart as I go
Blinded by nostalgia and
some distorted version of hope,
I am destined to be forever
half present in every life I live
Mentally, my bags are always open,
ready to be packed
at the first sign of uncertainty

Maybe I haven’t found the right “fit”, so to speak,
as though it’s as simple as a well-tailored suit
Or maybe I have
and my destructive internal monologue
can’t fathom the possibility

Maybe happiness is stagnant
and I have a fear of standing still

Blink

You hear about it in movies or books: that pivotal moment where suddenly your entire life changes. It seems like an exaggeration. Like you’re going to lock eyes with some one and realize they’re what your life has been missing. Or you’re going to meet some one on a train who changes your entire career path, Jagger-Richards style. But what they fail to highlight in these romanticized Hollywood moments of epiphany—which are real, by the way—is that the strongest ones, the ones that make the most impact, are the unexpected ones that change your entire life in a single fatal blow.

On Tuesday July 8, 2014 my brother, Jordan Houle, was in a near-fatal car accident. A cop car showed up in my driveway as I was about to start a workout. I opened the door, nervous and somewhat annoyed at the interruption. The officer asked to speak to my mom, who wasn’t home, so I called her on her cell phone. He paced back and forth as he spoke to her and I heard him say, “Do any of his friends drive his car? We don’t know if it’s him.” and I realized they were talking about Jordan. I waited impatiently for the officer to get off the phone, trying not to let my mind travel to its darkest assumptions. Finally he asked me if I was the sister. He told me someone driving my brother’s car had gotten into an accident and that they couldn’t be sure if it was him. I knew instantly that it was, because Jordan, who is always misplacing his wallet, had forgotten his ID on the table when he left for work that morning. I ran inside to change out of my workout clothes. I brushed my teeth and changed my shirt twice and thought, why am I changing my shirt? Why does it matter? My brother is in the hospital. I couldn’t think.

I was out of breath as I ran there, my stamina drained away by panic. I tried to convince myself it wasn’t him, that it wasn’t as bad as I was letting myself believe. I tried to remember what the last thing I said to him was and I couldn’t. I felt guilty for not remembering. I arrived at the hospital and could barely hold it together as I asked the janitor where my brother might be after getting into a car accident. He pointed in the direction and as I neared I heard my mother’s cries. I knew instantly that it was as bad as I initially thought. I don’t remember very much else, but suddenly I was beside Jordan’s hospital bed looking down at his unresponsive face, his unmoving body, and in that moment my entire life so far changed.

It’s been less than a week and already I don’t feel like the same person I was only a few days ago. I feel like a fractured, greyed version of my former self; if not distracted then crying or catatonic. In an instant my entire life has been altered. My shallow perception has been molested by grief. I no longer care about my career progression; I don’t care about working out or looking good. I don’t care about my social life or money or living in Australia. I am just thankful that he is still alive.

Jordan was flown by helicopter to intensive care in Hamilton. He is still on life support in an induced coma after going through a bifrontal bone flap removal of his skull, which saved his life. Some days are more optimistic than others, and it is a fresh debilitating pain each time I see him unconscious in his hospital bed, but every day his friends and family are here. I know now more than ever that nothing else matters, not a single person or thing. Nothing is more important to me than being here for him. Nothing is more important to me now than getting my big brother back.

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Stranger

There is something uniquely horrifying about the sensation one feels when they return to their hometown to find out that they are the only thing that has changed within the entirety of their absence. Everyone looks a little older, a little more pregnant. There are offspring running around who look vaguely familiar; the spawns of the people you went to high school with, strange echoes of your not yet passed youth. There are buildings that have been erected since your departure but you almost don’t even notice them. Because beyond the snot-nosed toddlers and recreation centers, the gas stations and old folk’s homes, the air still smells as stagnant as ever, like the faint scent of rotting flesh and discarded dreams. It is a hellhole, wherein, if you don’t get out while you’re young, you likely never will. The hair on the back of your neck rises as you realize: this is the place where people are born to die.

You stay, because you’re committed now, to seeing friends and seeing family. You sleep in your old bedroom, which, let’s be honest, is now little more than a storage room. And you listen to the incessant chatter of “is this your towel on the floor” and you’re a teenager again, getting woken up by the abysmal voice of those decaying around you. No one is happy and it’s infectious. But how could they be? They are the product and infectors of a highly transmittable disease. If you’re not careful, you’ll catch it too.

Suddenly you find yourself sleeping later than you might, if only to avoid the fact that there is nothing to do upon waking. You stay in your room longer than you have to, if only to avoid talking to anyone, to avoid the realization that this is the sound of person’s voice when they’ve lost all hope and ambition. And in your efforts to avoid the disease, you start to become one of them. Like a flu shot that maltreats the elderly, suddenly you’re getting sick too.

Your head is pounding. Your vision is blurry, distorted, misguided, like your decision to come back in the first place.Your breathing is quick and shallow, just like you. Your throat is swollen, swollen with rebuttals and monologues of regret. You’re losing weight. Because you’re sick. You’re sick. Sick. Sick.

         Self-medicate. That’s how everyone deals with their sickness in this town. Everyone has an illness. Not all are identical but the treatment is the same and it approaches you with a smile full of sharp crooked teeth. It whispers in your ear and pokes you in the ribs if you ignore it, with splintered nails and false promises.

I know what will make you feel better
Smoke. That will take the edge off.
Not your thing? Have a drink. We have something for everyone here.

This town has very little but what it does offer in plethora is the ability to numb your inability.

         If you had to count—you can’t, but if you could—think of the calories you’ve consumed since you came home. How many of them were alcoholic? Half? More? And why wouldn’t they be? The food is infected, the land is infected, the people are infected. The only thing sterile here is the alcohol. It’s excused, because you’re home and you’re young and why shouldn’t you party? It’s normal; it’s what everyone does here. But be honest. You’re not drinking just because it’s fun. It stopped being fun a few rounds ago. You’re drinking because of the town. You’re drinking because it’s the only way to never realize that while you stay, your visit is short-lived and so are you. You’re drinking because at least while you’re drowning, you can’t feel the grip that it has on your throat.

         But you’re not one of them. You’re better. You got away. You’re just visiting. You have ambition. You have a plan. You’re from here, but you never really felt at home. You out grew it. It’s like an old shoe, you tell yourself. It’s too small for you now and what you’re feeling is just the blisters. It’s just the wear and tear of your resisting soul, insistent upon discarding its unnatural, depressing enclosure. But it’s just temporary! When you take it off, when you get out, you’ll be better again. You won’t need their treatments, you tell yourself. You’ll be able to breathe again, you repeat in your head. But repeat as you may, the town is still there, holding your hand. And when you leave, it will be there, even still. You’ll think that it’s gone, but you’ll look in the mirror someday, and there it will be, smiling its cracked smile, resting its calloused hands on your shoulders and softly assuring you that you’ll be back. You’re from here. It will always be apart of you. We’ll see you soon.

You hear dogs barking, lawn mowers mowing, people yelling. But no one is going anywhere. It’s the hotel California of your nightmares, and you can’t stay any longer. This time, you have outstayed your welcome.

I think it’s time to go.

 

 

One Last Bullet PT 1

They’re talking and they’re talking and the lady next to me wonders if she left the stove on. She’s sure she did. It’s all she can think about now. And they’re talking and they’re talking and are you getting off in Toronto? When? 10:50. Yeah, 10:50. Let me check again. 10:50. We’re all getting off but no one’s ever really getting off. Because they’re just talking and don’t forget where you put itdear. And they’re talking and they’re laughing and some of them are snoring and I stand up and I shout that I have a bomb and if you all don’t shut the fuck up I will blow you all to pieces that even your family couldn’t recognize. But they keep talking and I sit back down wondering if I ever said anything at all. They’re still talking and the train keeps moving and everything stays the same.

I’m coming up to the final stop and I’m relatively calm now. All of the towering buildings around me are half built. They are mere skeletons of what they’re promised to be. But they’ve been building for years and it still looks the same. Everywhere I turn there is a sign that cautions DANGER due to construction. The foreboding signs alarm no one. We are all herded like cattle toward our next moving bullet. Danger has become commonplace. Danger means progression. Danger means makeshift fences and heavy-duty lighting. Danger means temporary floorboards. Danger means the man in front of me tripping on a wayward nail and now Danger might mean I miss my connecting train if I can’t weave around the people helping him. Danger means inconvenience, nothing more.

I make it to my second train. It sits waiting for more passengers that won’t come if they haven’t already. The man behind me keeps tapping and tapping. Why is he tapping? What is he counting? Perhaps he is counting the number of people annoyed by his tapping. He can count me twice. I watch the glass on which he taps and it’s breaking under the weight of his tap-tap-taping, splintering in a circle of lightening bolt patterns. But still he keeps tapping. The glass can’t take it anymore. Neither can I. Something has to happen. Danger: due to tapping. The glass keeps splintering; the radius of broken glass grows bigger with each tap until finally it can’t stand the incessant pressure and it shatters. Everyone on the train is screaming. The glass is in their eyes. It is in their ears. It is in their ears so they cannot hear the tap-tap-tapping. There is blood in my eyes and I wipe it away so I can see the man and he is still tapping; tapping the glass that is now in perfect condition but for the fingerprints imprinted by his tap-tap-tapping. He keeps tapping and the train starts moving. One last bullet to go.