Headless

Headless but not heartless.
Where do you keep your teeth?
 
Hold them in the breath between breaths,
In the home that is no longer.
And there let them gnaw
Until the shell that is left
Rings a chord so transparent
It barely makes a sound.
 
Scatter them in the tall grass
Green and alive with spring
Find them again in autumn
Bring their fruits to reap.
 
Ball them up in your fists
And there let them sink
To bite the palm of all
The hands who try to hold you.
Let every man learn
Exactly what beast you are.
 
Leave them in your neighbor’s yard
The one with whom you never speak.
Let them chew down walls and fences
And onto pavement creep.
 
Lock them in that darkest cave
The pit you call  a heart.
Leave them at your parents’ graves
Filled with bone and far apart.
 
Burn them with filthy locks
Of hair from all your lovers
Strand them in the empty space
Between you and what you are.

Bury them in your children’s names
And when they suckle:
Teach them how to bite.
 
We devour our parents.
We devour our children.
But where do we keep our teeth?

 

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Mild-Mannered Night

night shot 2

A few weeks ago, West Village penthouse

I love the mild-mannered night
Who treats me cordially, without slight.
She stoops down, so we walk together,
Like blue-brown birds of a feather.
She brushes my arm and smiles a smile
That gleams like a moon-lit mile
Of sharpened beer-bottle glass.
For in her still, Winter lingers
And its Stygian fingers
Still seek to clasp.

But Spring laughs–
Like fairy claps
A mild sound,
Full of round nouns
And dew-drop crowns
Woven of polymer-fiber dusk,
Slowly turning the sky to rust.

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When It’s Spring and the Ground is Stirring

When It’s Spring and the Ground is Stirring

I remember living sometimes, when it’s spring and the ground is stirring. I remember people—their footsteps hard against the packed earth. I remember mornings of flower blossoms and seeing girls out in their summer clothes, just slightly too soon. This is life: a fleeting progression from youth to age, just slightly too soon. It’s all we have. And yet, and yet…

It’s not that I wish for more. I abhor the slow track. Spring is the dying time in my mind. It is the heartbreaking loneliness. It is the bitterness of retreat. But that’s not true: what I’m picturing is protracted winter, instead. Like the winters when my parents left me. The ones that meandered into April and then May. Continue reading

Legacy

Dad and me

I was, apparently, a hella out of it baby who slept lots.

Dad died three years ago, this morning. 6:47 am, to be exact. I was awake for it, by some betrayal of my body, staring at my phone as the minutes counted down. The battery died before I got there, cheating me out of the most self-indulgent memorial I can fathom (besides, of course, this). I remember the exact time because I can still hear the doctor’s voice pronouncing it; somewhere, it’s still echoing in my ears. And in that place there’s a pathetic fallacy: eternal late winter without the hope of spring.

But, here and now, I know tomorrow will be warm, at least.

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Empire State

empire_state

midtown from downtown

I was out with my friend Frankie the other night. It was just the two of us after a show, which was itself after a party, so it was more-or-less the inevitable time just before you call it quits and find a cab home. We were at a bar. Some Williamsburg special with cut up playing cards festooning the tables. It wasn’t our first choice, but it was out of the cold and we could hear ourselves over the pulse of the jukebox.

“One day, I’m going to miss this,” Frankie told me. It was a thought that had come to him the night previous while walking home in Bayside, so late it was morning. It wasn’t, he explained, just a thought that struck him because he was walking home or because of the train ride before that (or the midnight movie before that); instead it was a strange awareness that passed over him, a pre-emptive nostalgia for being young and in New York. A knowledge that some day all of this will be over.

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I’m Actually Going to be Published. In a Book. That Will Actually be Bound. Like Books Are.

Something I wrote is going to be published.

It’s not a book.

But it’ll be in a book?

And it’s not the best thing I’ve ever written.

Thank goodness. I really don’t want to peak in college. That would just almost be as bad as peaking in high school, which, come to think of it: I may have actually peaked in high school.

Nah. Well…maybe. I’m way less cool in college, that’s for sure.

Mathematician John Nash was obsessed with making it before thirty: apparently a number of his contemporaries did their best work in their youth. And while Nash did do great work which eventually won him a Nobel Prize, the prize in question was for…economics. (And strictly speaking it’s not an actual Nobel Prize because it’s not in one of the original categories; it’s actually the Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel.)

Okay, as a writer/sound engineer I think I may not actually be allowed to take shots at economists. Also, my sister majored in econ. So everyone should just pretend my math major friend said it instead.

“As a writer.” Do I get to say that now? Probably not: that’s like calling myself a blogger because I keep this site. The terminology is technically accurate, but but you’ll never be able to take yourself seriously.

Anyway, just like every liberal arts-based university in the US, NYU students have to take an expository writing class in freshman year. Because I’m in Steinhardt, the red-headed stepchild of our fine university, I had to take two, but that’s beside the point. The point is that I wrote something my professor liked so much that she suggested I submit it to Mercer Street: the publication of our school’s expository writing program. Every year, around thirty essays (out of 500+ submissions…I need to make this sound as good as possible) are chosen for a new edition. And this year, one of my essays—Beyond Death: The Aesthetics of the Human Corpse—made the cut.

Warning: contains my face. But yeah, that's the letter they sent me in the mail. After they sent me an email like a month ago? I guess they're actually printed now, though.

Warning: contains my face. But yeah, that’s the letter they sent me in the mail. After they sent me an email like a month ago? I guess they’re actually printed now, though.

As you can extrapolate from the title, the essay is about art and death and dead bodies and poses the question: who do human corpses belong to, anyway? So you know, basically all the bright, positive things you expect me to write about from reading my daily ramblings.

Whatever. I get two complimentary copies and a $35 gift card for the NYU Bookstore. Obviously, I’ve made the big time.

Okay, I usually like to at least end these things on a positive note (see previous entry for a particularly poignant one) but we’re going to take the time to talk about how sad this is. On the submission form for Mercer Street it says chosen essayists will receive a $35 “honorarium.” Hey College of Arts and Sciences: just call a gift certificate a gift certificate. I’m a nerd. I guarantee you that if you’d given me actual money I would have spent it on stationery and books anyway.

Well…a book, some pens, and maybe a froyo. I’m a fat nerd.

In Which I Make a Commitment and Review The Way Way Back (Kind of)

I seem to have this trouble with commitment. Not in the hand-holding face-licking way (well, I do have a problem with face-licking in that no one seems to want to lick mine) but in the way where I need to run up against hard deadlines to write. Which is dumb. Because if I just wrote and edited a bit every day I’d have to have some sort of actually readable piece of writing right now. I don’t know what it would be, but it would be something: a fantasy novel, a travel log, a stream-of-consciousness cookbook.  An unmarketable book of sad poetry with illustrations in blood. Whatever. I want to produce something instead of just indulging in my  constant consumption of words and other stimuli.

So I’m going to make a commitment to…blogging. Yes, it sounds as stupid to me as it does to you. But I don’t have an English or writing class on my schedule next semester, so I’m going to need some way to keep building my chops. And who knows if I can actually follow through with this commitment because I’m failing Camp Nanowrimo pretty spectacularly right now. But still, I am determined to freaking write at least a hundred words on this blog every day until the end of December or I’ll…

I’ll…

Whatever. You get the idea.

“The Way Way Back” written by Nat Faxon and Jim Rash (“The Descendants”) starring Liam James as the Awkward Adolescent and Sam Rockwell as Cool But Directionless Older Guy

So day one. Yesterday I my sister took me to see The Way Way Back which, in my opinion, was a remarkable movie. It was a trope-filled, if not hackneyed, buildingsroman/coming-of-age deal and if I were seventeen again I would be posting pictures of Liam James (who played Duncan, the lead) on my wall, because if I’ve got a type it’s dark-haired, pasty, and Hollywood awkward. But neither he nor the vaguely-indie cinematography is what captured me about the film. The screenplay did. I had to keep chewing it over and over in the back of my mind. I love how it was essentially a YA novel in movie form and it did it much better than the actual movie-izations of actual YA novels.

Synopsis: “An awkward yet intelligent young boy begins to make his transition into adulthood over the course of one transformative summer in this bittersweet coming-of-age comedy-drama. Sensing that he’s drifting away from his mother Pam during a summer vacation with her, her domineering boyfriend Trent, and Trent’s daughter Steph, 14-year-old Duncan (Liam James) gets a job at a water park, and gains some much-needed self confidence under the guidance of happy-go-lucky park employee Owen, who approaches life from a fresh new perspective.”

Well, isn’t that lovely. But.

The synopsis doesn’t really do justice to the film. For one thing Duncan, our hero, isn’t really a “young boy.” That descriptor makes me think he’s seven. He’s fourteen: one of the most painful ages I can remember, and he is quite “awkward yet intelligent” I’ll give you that.

But  The Way Way Back leaves its synopsis far behind in one respect: the movie deals with its characters complexly. Of course, some would disagree. Susanna, the movie’s psuedo-love interest, treads dangerously close to manic pixie dream girl territory, for example, and Owen’s obviously complex past is never properly explained. But imagine these characters as they appear in the eyes of a fourteen-year-old boy and they start to make sense. He doesn’t see Susanna’s kindness or her motivations clearly. He sees her as an attractive, slightly older girl who pays attention to him. He wouldn’t think to delve into his mentor’s past, either: being self-absorbed is the default state of a fourteen-year-old.

That isn’t to say that our protagonist isn’t picking up on the complexities of the world around him. Duncan sees the nuances of the character relationships between the adults of the film. And to the credit of the screenwriters: all of these complicated relationships are subtly laid out far before they explode.

And explode they do. Because even though Duncan takes notice of their lives, he still doesn’t understand the maddeningly complex motivations that drive the adult characters. His mind is still straightforward, like a child’s. He doesn’t understand how his mother can’t just fix her problems. Duncan doesn’t feel her loneliness or know why she might sacrifice her son’s happiness out of fear of that loneliness. He doesn’t understand why all the grown ups regress to adolescence when they spend their summer at the beach. But throughout the movie, Duncan is learning to deal with the world complexly, and in my mind he’s learned the first lesson on the road to adulthood: grown ups aren’t infallible. Not even your parents.

That isn’t to say the film has a simplistic view of parents. For one thing, all the parents are divorced and not without their own struggles. But there is sympathy: it shows in how Susanna’s boozy, “bad” mother can still love her kids, even if she doesn’t always go about it in the right way.

For all of its hackneyed tropes, I still wouldn’t say that the movie has a traditional heroic arc, where our protagonist leaves home, slays whatever metaphorical demons he needs to, and becomes a man. For one thing there’s no underworld, no beast to slay. Well…maybe there is, but Trent drives the car and our hero still doesn’t get a chance to stab him by the end of the movie. For another, there’s no reward at the end of the film: nothing definite, anyway, other than a physically dubious trick on the slide of a water park. Instead, our protagonist is only just embarking on a journey into complexity, which is one we all take in our formative years. And while that might not be something to celebrate (Holden Caulfield spends a whole book fearing the impure adult world) our hero has made it so far without really losing his innocence. And, as implied by his overgrown boy of a mentor, our hero has many journeys yet.

But don’t fear too much for him, or the loss of innocence that awaits him: there is a moment at the end of the film that shows that, while adults make poor decisions, they sometimes make the right ones too. And through that moment the audience realizes the brilliance of The Way Way Back: almost every character changes by the end, not just Duncan. The changes are not quite noticeable at first, because we’re watching through fourteen-year-old eyes, but they’re there. And here’s the second Catcher in the Rye reference for today: the journey into complexity is not a one-way fall from innocence, and at the end of his novel J.D. Salinger uses a carousel to represent it. By doing so he shows that the journey to complexity is actually cyclical:  made ’round and ’round as we humans continually spin to and away from innocence. Duncan, our boy hero, may just be on his first trip through this cycle, but every character, adult or adolescent, is in fact on the carousel as well. None of the sympathetic characters is static. And sitting in the audience we too realize there is a ’round and ’round motion in our own lives. We’re all on that journey, that carousel,  of constant  development. Which means we’ll always look at the world ever more complexly, while still swinging back to innocence. I’m okay with that.