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Selfishness

How long have I been unhappy?
You were happy just the other day.
Using the body with friends in the sunshine
But something's been wrong for a while now
Something undiagnosable by a doctor.
A sense of life no longer being able to penetrate skin or soul
Bad circulation from smoking, cold lizard skin now
The soul seemingly closed for business
Like an old radio with the antenna broken off
I don't receive the messages anymore
Panting from leg to leg like a dog
Lunches, cigarettes, new smells
None of it affects me anymore
Dreams just continuations of the anxieties of the day
No messages, myths, allegories, advice
Even the dead no longer want to visit me there
Whine, bitch, moan, complain
Gasp awake with a bad back
Feel pained to get off the futon
Look at Instagram and deal with the night's messages
Before the pilgrimage for cigarettes and coffee
Like a dog's treat and walk
The only thing that gives me a pepper of excitement
The rest?
How many adventures (and troubles) can you make
before Scenery is just Scenery
An airplane flight is just time killed over time zones
Wait for them to come by with the coffee
Take no pleasure anymore

Dying Poets

On his deathbed in his apartment
Surrounded by priceless antiquities that nobody wanted to buy
The ailing "radical poet" had me over
for afternoon tea
"And you are familiar with my work?”
“Yes sir,” I lied
flattering him as best I could

"I knew all the right people
Now I’m so lonely.
All my friends were famous
now all my friends have passed away"

"Nobody will buy my prints
…you know I was very important
My work was very beautiful.
But now I’m dying
I want to know why I wasn’t more famous?"

"Do you think you could do something for me, journalist boy?
I’d like to get some posthumous recognition at least
Could you be the one
That makes me famous after I’m gone
Ask me about anything and everything
I’ll do my best to answer
As you can tell by looking at me I’m a great man."

To be honest, it disgusted me
I couldn’t stand to see it
At least the unbearable, egocentric old punk types
have the dignity to die forgotten and unknown
I excused myself from his apartment
Repulsed by his hot death desperation
Is there anything as pitiful
as the "radical" "underground" "mimeographed zine"-type 
who secretly wants to be famous

Work

I used to dream about work
What is work?
How do people work?
How is it done?
I knew nothing back then
I used to dream about it
And I just kept working and dreaming
And now I’ve stopped dreaming
And I’m still working

Greensboro

The past is dead
The people from that time gone
The glowy nostalgia irrecoverable
Having failed to seize the moment
The only option I have is to slowly rebuild
An inward spiral

Again, the people
Are gone
Moved to different states
No longer the same people
I don’t even like to spend time with them anymore
Just my truck and my family and the long and lonesome walk
That I’ve made a million times before
Dawns and sunsets that I still don’t understand
Still unable to capture
The significance and meaning in the streetlamps buzz
And to go back
After having missed the angelic trumpet moment
(the one true moment when it was right to return)

I am left with a feeling
of having crested the wave
of having missed the opportunity to act
the desire for a room and silence and time
is all I want now
a place to savor and remember
to bear witness
to save a little something from oblivion
a sliver of what has forever departed.

Mothballed

Flying through the mist down on a damp Highway 17 to Myrtle Beach
Head throbbing from snorting too much Aderall the night before
Eating a Biggie fry and a McFlurry from McDonald’s
Laughing bitterly at myself for sinning and giving in to the sensual
Formerly once vegan

Wondering what the people from the past would say if they saw me now
Having given up completely

Hear something on the radio
The 13th Anniversary of the War in Afghanistan
It feels as if I’ve been Rip-Van-Winkled
Can it really have been thirteen years?
Since I stood up and walked out of my English classroom
Telling the professor that we couldn’t talk about Chaucer while the events of our time were transpiring?
That it had been 12 years since I had marched with 40 people wearing skull masks around Greensboro?
And that we used to walk down Market Street in packs, roving bands
To check our e-mail at the College Library
The world I knew is gone

How Could You?

How can anyone say
“What’s a year?”
A year
Can be everything
Or nothing
Time compresses and expands like an accordion
Joyful or empty and forgetful
Never blaspheme
A single year
unstoppable juggernaut
hidden world
The mystery of passing time
And its silent companion
memory.

Searching for God

The world is a different place in the darktime
After replacing light bulbs in the empty house
I walked through the scrub bushes and dunes out onto the big empty
The sky roiling with clouds, a stain of black spreading to reveal the stars
Having sinned so much and now carrying ghosts on my back
All of them revealed themselves in the night sea
I lit a cigarette and tried to stare down the black roaring shapes
But then felt frightened and had to look away

Human heads lolling in the surf
The disappointed face of God
Black masts on the horizon of others coming
Dark water, the fizzing cauldron of life, rushing up against me
The stars revealed themselves in crosses and shapes behind a certain cloud
Flashlights bobbed down the way across the sheeny night mirror of wet sand
I walked briskly down the beach thinking often of turning around and going back to the car
The car, which contained the iPhone, and all my friends and connection to the world
Instead I walked on telling myself I was searching for God
Festina lente, festina lente
No willpower to do anything anymore
But flit restlessly from task to task accomplishing none of them
Unable to do complete anything except a power walk through the darkness
Seeing shapes like upright driftwood in the distance
Scared to realize that they were people fishing in the dark
My rotten restless mind never leaving me
Thinking not of God or stars or letting the rhythm of the clouds and surf and the daunting
black beach houses pass over me
But of all that I told myself I would die if I didn’t accomplish
That I hadn’t accomplished
And of all the people I liked and didn’t like and wanted to see and what
I would say to them when I saw them, the wandering unstable, unrelenting mind
Thinking of the walk back to the car before I had gotten to the end of the beach
What would I eat when I got home and what would I eat for breakfast and what would my next
four months look like, would I spend it alone

I walked to the end
To where the brackish water met the Atlantic
And looked up at the stars and pledged to learn more about Astronomy
And then turned around and walked back down the beach
My shirt drenched in sweat, feeling like an egg cracked open
Though I hadn’t found or spoken to God
I had thought I heard my dead father say “take care of your mother”
When I trudged through the sand back up off the beach
And across the asphalt road to where the car was parked
I got in the car and tried to wait a moment—discipline—before
Picking up my phone
And finding that all the people I had thought about had texted or called

Hard to believe that there was a time
When a massive two story building in a strip mall
Functioned as a youth pleasure dome
I can no longer feel the kind of excitement
The endorphin rush, anticipation followed by total fulfillment
The belief that all desires could be fulfilled
By a day spent in a vast maze of netting, plastic orbs and ball pits
The most advanced hologram video games (we clustered around in awe)
Virtual reality helmets and gloves, four of us
Cooperating to beat Teenage mutant ninja turtles
And the artificial day-glo jungle of the lazer tag arena
Misted in fog, our Platoon, Dien Bien Phu
Swarming with youth running
Past the rows of games
Pizza parties and birthday cake
Like the hidden foot clan warehouse full of half-pipes in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
We went there as often as we could
Being an all-you-can-eat-buffet
The entrance fee was steep
We got older but continued to go there even in high school
Then us good boys, who had once found fun in RPGS, magic the gathering, movies and Exhilarama
Crawled into a wormhole of illicit pleasures
One night, years later, we climbed up the precipitous ladder by the dumpsters
And drank beer and looked at the moon and expanding pine tree line and skyscrapers of Raleigh
across the wood line off in the distance
Having discovered danger and risk diluted the wholesome magic of games
We stopped paying to go to places like that
The next time I went past the building and looked up nostalgically
To watch the kids running in to fulfill their dreams
The light-up sign outside was gone and the doors were locked and the big plate glass windows showed a gutted and emptied warehouse
An independent business built on gamer dreams was perhaps financially unsustainable
It had packed up and disappeared one day like a mirage
Like that disappearing magic store that sold dragon eggs in some bygone YA novel

The Tracks (2012)

I used to take long walks
Now I just try to finish reading long books
I used to plow deep into the woods
And emerge in a clearing with the sunlight on my face
Now I just peruse the 10 cent shelves
Looking for the rare, ragged Dwight McDonalds,
Histories of ancient mariners, histories of the PSUC-CNT-FAI conflicts in ‘37
I aimed to take an autumn walk down the tracks
The tracks I’ve been walking down for 13 years
That have never let me down
That have always been the bedrock of my life
Repository of all known memories and feelings
But I find I can’t do it this time
I don’t want to take any of my long walks to secret beautiful places
Hidden between the highways and the malls
I’ve walked them all too many times
All symbols of indulgence and indolence now
And indecision

I wanted to be the last to say this
But I think I know this place too well now
It just reminds me of a graveyard of memory
I want to walk somewhere strange and different where
I feel no feeling, no attachment or homesickness
A blank canvas far from every memory I have gathered thus far
Preferably somewhere warm
A place away from the bad habits and patterns that no longer serve me
The indulgence, indolence, and indecision
The thinking too much about it
Feeling the same feelings I’ve felt every time for all time
Tired of myself and no longer receptive to my own foibles

A harsh headmaster emerges
Who no longer wants to tolerate the behavior of this listless youth
Wandering on and on
Living in dead memory
Photographs from not too long ago

Travis, Pt. 1

When I think about the MFAs
I think about my dead friend Travis
An old friend from the old guard
Who had been through the wars and went back to school in his later years
Some smarmy pig-head running the MFA program
Someone probably accustomed to shaping younger writers in his image
Had the nerve to read his stuff and ask 
if he had considered doing something else with his life
That is
Stop writing

I try (as hard as it is) to see the best in people and their intentions
He probably said that in passing
Probably just preoccupied with his own shit and having a bad day
Trapped in the maw of his own grind
"I'm too good to be running this MFA program”
"It really should have been me that got the Man Booker"

Everyone is quietly thinking
I’m too good for this
And they see someone who’s their own age
But who’s the Pupil
Who hasn’t climbed all the ladders and kissed the right asses
Who’s been touring in bands like Reactionary 3 that no one remembers now
And making an obscure zine that people are too hurt to read anymore
And working in a library helping Salvadoran teenagers with their GED prep

Pupils
Ha, ha
Travis loved that damn record
And everything by old Dan Whatshisname
the Lungfish guy

These little literary fiefdom-chiefs just can't handle it
It actually pains them that they run such-and-such MFA program
Such-and-such university-funded literary journal
And they're not Zola or Proust
or running the goddamn Paris Review (we must never forget who funded that one)

They're also grateful because we’re all grateful for a good job that mostly lets us be ourselves
But they thought they would end up like Junot Diaz or Colm Toibyn
Didn’t work out
Maybe for the best, they're thinking to themselves now
Didn't want it bad enough I guess, they think to themselves

Professors don’t really want old students
Or students their own age who have seen a bit too much
It’s unsettling
Their very presence exposes their big lie

The con they’ve pulled that they have the taste and cultural authority
The con of having attained a position of power they didn’t need or deserve

As the Mountain Goats sang
When you punish a person for dreaming his dream
Don't expect him to thank or forgive you

I don't know that MFA guy or care
But I do know he helped send Travis Fristoe down the river of oblivion
It was a million little things and decisions and sleights that did
Many of them self-inflicted
As is the way of the world

I associate him totally with Florida
With the neon record cover of ye olden 2002 band 
“The Night Life, the Tight Style”

Pulling into the sand Greyhound parking lot
In the shining ever spring morning light
I miss his little pointy beard
And his beady eyes
And his high voice and how much he nodded

He clearly sought approval from the world
He had been raised Southern
Smile when you're with company
If you don't have something nice to say, don't say anything at all
Was better at all that than I am
Concealed a lot of things he thought and felt
That shit builds up
Creates a perforation in the personality
He compartmentalized

And I think
That made it harder to say some important certain things
That create a perforation in personality

Wolfpack

There is a certain vibe and look to the town I came from. It’s changed over the years but it also stays the same. Its based around the town of Raleigh, North Carolina and the college N.C. State, an engineering and big ag school that has had moderate fame with college basketball and the charismatic coach Jimmy V, who famously got up on stage with his late-stage cancer said, “I’m up here with tumors all over my body, and they think I care about that timer they’re flashing in my face." My high school was on Jimmy Valvano Drive. When I got older and started listening to punk, it brought tears to my eyes when the DIY punk band Underground Railroad to Candyland sampled Jimmy V on one of their records—"Don’t give up, don’t ever give up.” He was so loved. I grew up in the suburbs about 10 minutes from Raleigh, and when I was a kid my dad took me to NC State to see the Wolfpack play. It was a small little arena deep in NC State campus, inside the rickety old wooden bleachers went almost vertical up the sides—there weren’t many people that showed up to these games—and the perfection of the polyurethaned court is seared on my memory. We lived in Raleigh, we were NC State people not Duke people or Chapel Hill people—a different kind of people entirely, and still today that’s a fact. I go to Durham, I go to Chapel Hill, I feel foreign.

The Wolfpack is the team, the Wolf is the mascot. The colors are red, the vibe is red and white. NC State is a brick school that looks like a former factory. At the center of NC State is a wide open space called the Brickyard. Everything is red and everything is brick, and the town and the university are both cut in half by the railroad tracks surrounded on either side by mighty pine trees. Pine trees, railroad tracks, brick, shopping centers, woods. There is a certain feeling to our bars and restaurants, at least those of the old vintage, to our people—even the Italian restaurants and pizzerias have this Wolfpack-y vibe. It is brick inside all the bars, brick and wood, there are pennants and stuff on the walls, and TVs—the people here don’t look country but they don’t look sophisticated either, they wear white or red hats and not so flattering clothes, their facial hair isn’t perfectly manicured, the women look tough, but not truly country tough like they look in Clayton and Johnson County and Cumberland County, they still look a bit urbane. Just a touch. Old men wear red hats, they have little trimmed beards. People are friendly, but they are not country friendly.

I lived my life in these brick houses set back in woods near the railroad tracks and I’ve always heard the train horn in the distance in the morning and in the middle of the night, in Raleigh, in Cary, in Apex, in Fuquay. This is Piedmont. In the mid-2000s there was a short-lived electro-clash band called Piedmont Charisma, and I still think about the lithe singer (who was kind of trying to channel the Make-Up) singing “Apex, Cary, Fuquay-Varina…Bunkey’s Car Wash,” something like that. I think about it all the time even though the Piedmont Charisma CD-R I had has long oxidized.

I think about the feeling when my dad took me to downtown Raleigh to go to his “office” or a bank or something—he worked at home, so I’m not sure where we were—but he took me to a big tall gray building in downtown Raleigh, it had an escalator going up to it, it had an elevator, people in suits, it was so exciting! But even then, I could sense that the “downtown” of Raleigh with its little smattering of tall buildings, the Wells Fargo building, was somehow a put-on, it wasn’t real urbanity no matter how much the people dressed up, the endless ever-dark forests were pressing in on it from all directions. The view from the top of any parking garage or the NC State Bobst library, it’s just pine forests in every direction. I’ve spent my life walking these piney tarry railroad tracks around Raleigh in every direction.

The bars around here, they have no character. There is a dart board. There is a TV. Even bars in the Rust Belt have a “Rust Belt” character. The central North Carolina is a blank palette on which others are writing their history, even our accent is a blankening palette, the twang is disappearing.

It’s strange, the bars around here fill me with a dread, horror vacui. For a while in the suburbs there was an Irish pub with dark wood booths and books and a fireplace, I loved it, I spent as much time as I could there. Now it’s gone and all thats left is a kind of empty room with chairs and flatscreen TVs that they call “bar” but repels personality, is anti-character.

I know everything about this place deeply, by feeling. After high school, my friends went back to the strange woods that punctuate NC State campus, the strange woods that I noticed when I was 10 and my dad was taking me to see the Wolfpack, and back in those little splotches of woods between the parking lot and the train tracks, there was a manhole with light coming from it. We opened in the manhole and inside was a network of steam tunnels. It was like a sauna down there. The nazis had graffitied it. We went so many times, following the claustrophobic little tunnels through campus, popping up in some building here or there, a janitors closet.

I know the vibe and taxonomy of Raleigh people. There are the basic Raleigh dudes with the white hats and the trucks, there are the hipster Raleigh dudes who have beards and bellies who are protective of whatever little indie rock or metal fiefdom they’ve built in a corner. I understand the Raleigh straight-edger, whether they came to it through Christianity, whether they’re headed towards pseudo-fascism, or they’re headed towards drinking and drugs. I understand the Northern transplant who came to the Triangle and their motivations for getting away from the Tri-State area, the immigrant, whether white collar or blue collar, and the reasons they came to the area (ease, a bigger house, a middle-class life).

And I’m carrying all this around and I’m not sure what to think about it—it’s familiar but I still feel like an outsider, I still don’t like setting foot into a Raleigh/Apex bar, I still feel like the stranger even though I have deeper roots here than others in that bar, and neither do I feel at ease in a Carrboro environment or a Durham environment, which are often built by and for transplants to re-create the worlds they came from.

I feel the multi-colored brick and the swaying pines and the late night empty 440 Beltline with the big moon.