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

Prescribed

Shaking hands and
earthquake eyes
they close and slip
as pills collide
The blue ones
the blue ones
The white and
the red
These will make you better
all better, they said

They hand me
prescriptions
for whatever I ask
It’s been four weeks
and four weeks
When did we see you last?

Written by cold hands
and eyes that pass through
they hand you their scribbles
just to get rid of you
You’re a number
and you number
count the whites and
the reds
But the doses move slowly
when it’s all in your head

The white shirts
prescribed you
looking up not at all
but when they come ringing
you will answer
their call

So you can’t sleep?
No I can’t sleep
We’ve got something for that
Take one every day
and be sure to
come back

You return under harsh lights
and it’s always the same
checking over your file
to remember your name
So you take pills
then you take pills
’til you’ve filled
every gap
These are great pills
Increase the mills

When did we see you last?

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

Blind

Last night I drank my eyes away
They sank to the bottom of my glass
Before I saw you, I heard you say
“You don’t need to see, you just need to feel”
So I left them there that way

You knew enough for both of us
I think I made you up that day
And as sunset turned to darkness
you asked me to press play
The record spun and nothing moved
Except the liquor through our veins
Still I could not see
but I could touch and taste
and you asked me if I’d stay

So I spent the night and I asked the price
You said there is no fee to pay
And you re-introduced me to every sense
as the sun came up where we lay

I left you there, not sleeping
but in my head you know you’ll stay
in the space once reserved for seeing,
the night I drank my eyes away

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

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.

7AM

Sitting on the windowsill of a fourteenth floor apartment, hearing the sound of tired cars and tired souls beneath me, I notice the people below aren’t yet so distant that they look like ants to my eye. From here, I can still see a distorted aerial view of their figures. I can see what they’re wearing, if they’re hurried or if they appear to have no place in the world they need to be. But for all this, they’re still small enough to be vague and insignificant.
            Sometimes I romanticize them; based on everything I’m observing, I try to fathom their stories. Maybe I imagine that I’ll meet one of them some day soon. They’ll be that person we’ve all been conditioned to wait for, the one that will change me. They’ll alter the entire course of my life and I won’t be stuck sitting on a fourteenth floor apartment’s windowsill in the early morning.

Or….

Or instead I imagine myself leaning forward, only slightly, but enough to fall. And in this way, I’d be the one making an impact on not just the concrete, but their lives. While I can’t speak from experience, I imagine that witnessing a person expire so violently might do more to a commuter than just put them off their egg and bacon roll.

 Alas, in all of my affinity for the imagination, it has rendered me an uncanny ability to play any role but the active. So instead of getting in the elevator and going down fourteen floors and possibly meeting one of those distant, not-quite-ants people, instead of making an omelet of my insides before a handful of the city’s most monotonous early birds, I think I’ll go to bed. It’s 7am and the sunlight feels as though it’s staining my eyes. 

The Blank Page

The empty page: it’s a mixture of both the most beautiful opportunity and the most tiresome, bothersome reminder that you’ve. got. nothing. Eventually, given enough frustrated dedication, it may simply become the arbitrator of procrastination, the humiliating advocate of “turn off the computer and go to bed.” When your only profound realization is that you have no profound realizations, the blank page becomes more like sitting in church on a Sunday morning with a hangover, reeking of cheap beer and creeping inhibition. Though your vision is muddled, you see through its stain-glassed façade, discard all of its supposed possibilities and potential, and as you look down at your shoe and wonder if the stain on your toe is blood, booze or semen, it hits you: Jesus Christ, what the fuck am I doing here?

So give up. Accept that you’re, in this moment, a failure. Jesus is not coming and he doesn’t have any brilliant ideas for you to expand upon. No one is going to hold your hand and guide your fingers to your next astounding literary achievement. You decided you wanted to be a writer but you’re not writing. So, what’s your alternative? A drinker. You can drink, and you will, in the vain hope that this next glass is going to loosen the hinges on the floodgates of brilliance that lie within the depths of your prematurely shriveled mind.

But it doesn’t. All that it loosens is your idea of responsibility, and maybe your ability to keep anything in your stomach. You forgot to eat again and as such, find yourself sitting hunched over the toilet bowl, staring into the dark remnants of drink number god-knows-which. As you watch the acidic mixture float in the stagnant water before you, you wonder: is this my great masterpiece?

If you’re lucky, diligent and have any sort of notable talent, it is possible for this archaic process to be punctuated by eventual success. You can only drink your way to stupidity so many times before you eventually and accidentally stumble over a naked and vulnerable creature of inspiration—a fetal reflection of your lost potential. It is then your job to nurture and build this aborted mutation before near-sobriety jealously casts it away from your clutches. It is imperative that you not tell yourself “I’ll remember this in the morning,” because you will not.  Know that there is no greater deterrent of brilliance than a throbbing headache and the humiliating illumination of the rising sun. So go ahead, write it down. 

Suddenly, you’ll find, you’re no longer staring at a blank page.