Monday, August 19, 2019

White Straight Jacket

I was born into a white straight jacket
trying since birth to untie the twisted knots
invisible at first, unbeknownst to eyes untrained
seeing nothing but flinching every muscle straining
to be free, turning and unlearning the yearning
bestial at best, certain the cloak worn
held a dagger to my breast.

Fantasies of freedom cut away from straps buckled
tightly to my sides just out of reach untouched
teaching treading settling for a buckle here and there
loosened by persistence undaunted and galvanized
by hatred and love intermingled together tangled
like strings impenetrable to the naked eye spying
loose threads as beginnings of an ending
unseen as yet.

Saturday, August 3, 2019

And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me?

Sheltering child within, womb covered by belly, bolts of cloth sewn to exact specifications, shielding the holy in the sacred darkness of human form. Forming child growing and groaning within, knowledge of the holy only known through mother's fluid bathing and breathing and resting, hearing only the echoes of an outside world, muffled brightness sounding like light wrapped in a warm moist blanket. Holy songs sung from without to ears only beginning to form. The light is sheltered in the holiness of shadow dwelling in solitude but never alone, presence permeating every ounce of being moving breathing not yet air, swimming in the womb of mothers' love secure.

Monday, July 29, 2019

Puppets in the Laundry Basket

Hand sells propaganda festive fetid astrid dimensions
Exclamations point to destinations festooned with pliable girdles
punching monkeys till they're deaf inflicting pinching noises on their noses
wrist bands holding back the pain flailing impaling and staining the brain
followers ever standing astride glancing sideways to elide
any misanthropic misgivings

Sensing reason might barge in glamour clamors onto center stage
random iterations gather up into explainable systems zeroing in
on the ones and toos and also rans spliffing to and fro
until the system is digested and dissected into oblivion.

Emblazened jackets snatch up packets of tea and cocaine
reputable upper crust with the lip getting thinner by the day.

Gnawing moths reminders of old worn uniforms formless and void
stained with invisible blood not your own.

Thrown in the basket and hung out to dry.

Sunday, June 23, 2019

Soap and Toothbrushes

If soap and toothbrushes for children in cages aren't a part of your baseline of human needs, you've dehumanized yourself already.

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Rain Coming

The scent of the deluge is in the air and the leaves are even turned inside out.
Charged particles caress my skin as chill breezes slip through the night air.
Blending my senses into the scenery surrounding me and all those within.
Partaking in nature solitude permeating the breathing air.

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Sentenced

Prison walls dripping with tears. Cell block 1, always full. Empty but full of cacophonous screams unheard. Blame bounces like a tennis ball around and around and around. Dust gathers on immovable recriminations. Just waiting for the handcuffs. The hole is already dug. The key is in my pocket.

Monday, June 17, 2019

Freedom's Prisons

Tired and empty. Sober at least. I made two meetings last week, so that's good. Most of my dreams are still nightmares. Especially anything having to do with my family. So much anger and hatred hidden away, lurking in the shadows. So tired of this shit. It feels like it's never gonna go away.

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

When the Water Runs Out It Stops Whistling

When the water runs out it stops whistling.

That's the second most terrifying sound I can imagine. There's no one there to take the kettle off the burner. The metal is burnt black along the bottom edge. The calcified remains inside are white. The water around here is hard. All the faucets around here, at least the ones that work, keep the waste water treatment plant running constantly. The water is my friend and yet my enemy. I hate it with every ounce of my being. I guess suffocation runs in my family.

Nowadays they use the anodyne acronym ECT to describe what used to be the almost barbaric therapy of electric shock therapy. If you're lucky it scrapes away the bad parts, leaving that area tabula rasa. No moon landing, no RFK assassination, no MLK assassination, no miracle Mets. All gone, swept away, an empty vacuum. It didn't matter how many times I asked about those years, the answer was always the same. Nothing to remember. Ask others about it.

Nightmares don't happen in a vacuum. But sometimes the vacuum is the nightmare. It's kinda like Nixon's tapes. The absence is the proof of the crime. It's funny. She remembered all that. But that was after the therapy sessions were done and they relied on the drugs. They were never enough of course. Half a gallon Gallo Port was the almost daily mantra I quickly came to hate the sound of coming from her mouth to the local liquor store owner. He was always friendly to me. I hated him and never said a word to him.

The kettle is whistling again. Time to turn it off and make some tea.

Saturday, January 5, 2019

Ocean Front Dream Apocalypse

As best as I can recall the dream began with me lying in bed with pop music playing in the background and possibly a TV playing random shows across the room on mute. I was dreaming of Gwenn while lying in bed, tracing the outlines of her body with my lips and fingers, caressing every inch of her I could. I still miss her terribly even after twenty plus years. Someone else was in the bed with me, but I don't recall who she was, just a bed mate as best I can tell. In my dream within a dream I was a little bit confused as to whose skin I was caressing for a moment, but it was always Gwenn's. The other skin was incidental and accidental, but lovely nonetheless.

As I was drifting in and out of my dream-like experience within this dream, I heard heavy rain begin to pound against the windows and roof of the house I was sharing with many other friends, several of whom I recognize from seminary. It's funny who become my dream housemates. I looked out of the window and saw and heard the intense rain, but the sky was blue at first, until I got up and looked closer as I neared the window on the top floor, which is where my bedroom was located. The storm was extremely localized and was right on top of us, with massive downpours and even iceberg sized chunks of ice falling from the sky into the ocean just outside of my house window.

I dashed down stairs from my bedroom to avoid the possibility of one of those giant pieces of ice falling through the roof and killing me on the top floor, running into one of my housemates, John, as we realized that something a lot more than usual was happening to us all. Not only was it torrentially raining now, but he ocean was roiling so much that creatures were being heaved up out of the depths, including a massive alligator which was coming towards the shore at alarming speed. Me and my housemates began blockading every open point of our house so that we wouldn't be invaded by these deadly creatures, especially the ginormous alligator directly out front our porch. Apparently we had a small alligator among the animals in our house and it came too close to an opening on the porch and the ocean dwelling alligator came up and snatched it by its tail and pulled it of and killed it. There was nothing we could do. We were helpless as he was dragged away.

Just to the right I witnessed a large dog being attacked and eaten by another very large dog. Both were mastiffs I believe. It was a brutal sight to behold. He was just being torn apart before my eyes as the violent waves crashed upon our house. There were much smaller animals in our house and even outside of it which seemed to not be affected by this violent storm on multiple levels, including cats and even small kittens, some covered in blood, but amazingly enough, still surviving and not affected by these violent impulses. I brought one inside to keep her safe within the house's barriers.

Next I saw many people running along the beach outside of our house, coming from the north. At first I thought I saw Peng, but it ended up being another seminary friend and her husband, I think a Korean couple instead of Chinese. And then I saw Kim and her father, but he didn't look like her father, but instead her uncle, all of whom I went to church with back in Holland, Michigan years ago. We gathered together as we came back towards our barricaded ocean front house (I had run out from the house to meet them on the sand even though it was still dangerous outside). It was only then that the worst of the storm and the rampaging wildlife seemed to be subsiding. Things finally seemed to be approaching safe again as we came back inside the house.

Nothing like dreaming while having a fever...

Saturday, November 24, 2018

On Fear and Love

There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love. 1st John: 4:18 NRSV

Fear and anxiety run rampant in my family tree and I'm no exception. I've struggled with these dark impulses since my earliest childhood. When these impulses are turned inward they result in depression, when turned outward they usually result in violence towards others, and quite often towards those who are closest to you. It can also show up in non-physically violent ways, but emotionally and mentally/spiritually destructive passive-aggressive behaviors. I'm a black belt on that front.

Fear based decision making is always short term, but typically has long term consequences. When you're raised in a chaotic and unstable environment, whether economically or psychologically/sociologically, you constantly make decisions to help you get through the moment. You don't have the time or energy to think further than that. That's just one more luxury you can't afford. That knot in your stomach or the stress migraine in the back of your head are there for a reason. It's your body's natural and normal reaction to real life stresses and threats happening right before your eyes and ears.

In one sense of course fear is a fundamentally natural and necessary part of being alive. Without a healthy fear of real dangers we'd all die very quickly. Being entirely fearless is to be completely foolish. It'd be the same as being unable to feel pain and subsequently becoming infected and losing more and more body parts to leprosy. I certainly don't suffer from that. The scripture I quoted above deals with one aspect of fear, the punishment side, which Evangelicals and Fundamentalists are expert at. They like to joke about how Jews and Catholics are so similar because they're both so driven by religious guilt, and of course there is some truth to that. But Evangelicals and Fundamentalists are experts on fear; fear of hell, fear of heterodoxy/heresy, fear of a vengeful god holding you over the pit of hell like a loathsome spider, fear of Satan, fear of our own bodies and human desires, etc., etc.

Fear of loss runs throughout my family, myself included, and with good reason, but with terrible consequences. I've lost housing and experienced homelessness. I've lost many friends, including the love of my life Gwenn, to untimely deaths. I've even lost multiple opportunities because of a fear of loss. How ironic is that? One of the other devastating side effects of a fear of loss is hoarding. After being homeless for five months when I was 21 I always swore I was going to live as minimalist life as possible because I saw what hoarding looked like with with my depression era grandmother and my mom, neither of whom could bear to throw anything away, to the point of looking like an episode of the reality TV show Hoarders. I have an old friend who cannot stand to even accidentally catch a glimpse of that show because it's physically painful for her to watch, because she sees herself in those characters.

Hoarding as a reaction to fear of loss isn't just a physical behavior of not being able to let go of almost any object, it can and often does lead to emotional and even spiritual hoarding. The threat of loss can be as suffocating as someone trying to strangle you to death; it's that physically tangible. My mother who I loved deeply struggled with every aspect of this fear of loss. Not long after my birth my father almost strangled my mother to death, but the times being what they were, he wasn't arrested for it. Instead she ended up in a psychiatric hospital for months, getting barbaric electro-shock "therapy" to erase her memories of his brutal abuse. I can't watch the film One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest because of how close to reality it is for my family. For years after that I would ask my mother about various famous/infamous events from the late 1960's and she'd repeatedly tell me that she had no recollection of any of them because they'd all been erased from her memory. No memory of the Moon landing. No memory of the assassinations of Bobby Kennedy or Doctor King. Very few memories of even my own growing up in my earliest childhood as I went through multiple surgeries to correct my cleft lip and pallet, learned to walk and talk, attending my first days of school, etc.

It was a several year long mental black hole for my mother. And even after that period, the ECT was replaced with multiple years of brutal psychiatric drugs combined with her newly developed alcoholism. When you've been traumatized this badly, you sate your pain anyway you can. I still remember the look and smell of the psychiatric hospital we'd go to when she would attend her monthly out-patient follow-ups. Sometimes she couldn't take me when she needed in-patient care, and my older sister would look after me at home. One time I screamed so loud and kicked so hard as my mom walked away from our house that I broke my sister's toe by flinging the pair of old metal roller skates I was wearing. I understand why ECT is sometimes necessary for many folks because of how indelibly these memories are imprinted in our minds. They never really go away.

Anyone who has gone through therapy or any 12 step program (I've done both many times) knows all too well about the many different coping mechanisms we use to get through each and every day. Reactive behaviors are remarkably diverse; ranging from alcoholism, drug abuse, porn addiction, binge buying, hoarding, sexual promiscuity, over eating/starving, cutting/self-harm, suicidal ideation/attempts, emotional and physical violence towards loved ones and strangers, and the sad list goes on.

Obviously this isn't unique to me or my family. This is a massive social problem cutting across class, race, gender, ethnicity and orientation. When I worked in social work in NYC, and later on in Michigan for a short while, I saw each and every one of these behaviors among my clientele. And I would dare to say that in almost every single case these men, women, trans, children and elderly, experienced one, or typically more than one, severe trauma in their background, and the earlier it happened, the more deeply and indelibly ingrained these reactive behaviors were in all of them. The traumas are just as diverse as the reactions to them. It could be homelessness, sexual abuse including rape (the vast majority of my clientele were sexually abused when they were young, both male and female), being in war, losing loved ones to suicide or murder, and like above, this list can go on and on.

The reason I'm writing this essay today is that I'm supposed to be in NYC right now getting a lay of the land about housing and work starting the beginning of next year, but instead I'm still in my soon to be vacant apartment on campus paralyzed by fear and anxiety about driving the five plus hours to Staten Island, NY and revisiting so much difficult personal history. That, and my writing is my self therapy which has literally kept me alive over the years. My mother, to her credit, also used her poetic writing to help her get through her darkest times. It was a life saver to her too. I've definitely inherited her poetic Muse, having written several hundred poems in the course of my own life. It's truly saved my life many times over and it did the same for her and some other members of my family.

Thankfully, there are also an incredibly diverse set of options in overcoming fear and anxiety available to us. They can be writing as it is for me and many others, it can be other artistic expressions, whether painting/drawing, dancing, music, hiking/running, meditation, service to others, belonging to various groups whether religious or secular (this one's hugely important), and yes, therapy and sometimes even proper medication.

Overcoming severe anxiety and fear is never easy. It just isn't. And sometimes you can't just "pray it away" in some facile way. In fact, that advice often has the exact opposite effect on the people most in need of help, insofar as when "praying it away" doesn't work, it ends up leaving the person in much worse shape, mentally, physically, emotionally, and spiritually, because they end up blaming themselves and even God. Good Christians and other people of faith have succumbed to this despair and darkness because this leaves them feeling even more isolated and alone than when they started out. I know this fact first hand in my own life, whether my own dark impulses about myself or of many friends, near and far, some of whom have confided in me about their own struggles on this front.

And when I use the term "front" I'm being intentional. This is a war within, a war against yourself. But every war has two sides (at least), and you have within you another side to this war which sees you/me as loving and deserving of love. And there are people (and animals by the way) near and far who believe the same about you/me. Make allies with this part of yourself and with others who love you exactly as you are.

I love you and me. I need to remind myself of this deep truth. In the words of Robert DeNiro in Brazil, as the terrorist plumber, "We're all in this together." Also, this version works too.

Saturday, November 17, 2018

Escaping Town

Stuck.
It's who I am.
Standing in the mud
immobile.

Like a nightmare dream
slogging and impossibly
immobile.

You're back there
never to escape
inexplicably trapped
in the same damned place.

You keep haunting me
every single night
Haunting Me
Every Single Night.

Friday, November 16, 2018

Stinky Footed Lover

I love you more than words could ever say

Every dragon imagined I would slay

Please stay, please stay, please stay



But your feet stink in bed and I don't think

I can find it in my heart to say

My nose is something you daily slay

but do please stay anyway.



Your breath sometimes leaves something to be desired

as I desire you more than anything I've ever known before

Your dietary desires often leave me wishing

a breath mint was in your vocabulary

But don't you dare go away.



Because you will always be my stinky footed lover

Silhouetted in the darker corners of my black and white world

Leaning into embraces filled with traces of color

Emblazened with a mutual history of mistakes

Known and unknown, we see through a glass darkly

Even of ourselves.



Somehow we still manage to see each other through our blind spots

Glimmering hints of who we are to ourselves and each other

As we lie next to each other alone together

Naked and afraid through this long dark night

of love and fear, holding tight to something we both barely grasp

And yet, as I lie alongside you in this thick darkness

Please stay, please stay, please stay my stinky footed lover.

Sunday, November 4, 2018

Easter Sunday

She wore a very pretty dress, slightly revealing. The church lady commented on how it was slightly revealing in judgmental tones.
She was right of course, but that's what I love about her. Slightly revealing cleavage as she wore her skepticism out loud. She questioned her received Catholic wisdom with some trepidation.

Tonight we saw each other and knowingly glanced at each other again across the restaurant cash register. She's a registered voter now and asked about Tuesday's ballot questions. Her knowledge of the issues is incredibly sexy. And she asked me about my thoughts. I appreciated that from her. She's wise beyond her years.

She reminds me of Gwenn in so many ways.

Friday, October 19, 2018

Fragrance

Purple colors smell of your scent
Fragrant of the closeness of you
Close to me

Kneeling only slightly
Into you and me
As we lie together
alone

Skins of Animals

I wrap myself in the skins of animals
Enfolding me
Keeping me warm
In their Death Shrouds

Sacrificial Lambs
Worn and torn
Wearing thin
As the ages pass

Sheltered until the knife digs deep
Slicing away my skin
So someone else
Might feel my old warmth

Smile in your sleep
As you slumber underneath
My hide and seek hide
Sleeps

Sunday, October 14, 2018

I'm Not Famous Yet, but Tomorrow

It feels so good to walk down the street
unimpeded by adoring fans seeking
my visage and signature.
Basking in the glow of my
imagined radiance replete
and supposedly complete.

But some day soon a viral infection
reflecting lack of self reflection
will flashback to me
with a modicum of self introspection
a sectional disconnection from
any intersectionality.

The Manipulative Poor Townsman

I'm a wise man, or so they tell me. I've seen so much evil in my life. The stories I could and often do tell are legion. I try to resist evil, I really do. My personal baggage is the wisdom those around me think they see. Stories. I tell stories. Over and over and over again. In most of them I'm the good guy. It makes sense after all. You'd do the same I'm almost certain. Tales told, or as my student friends and occasional acolytes like to say, "story time with John" is about to happen. That temptation is toxic.

He arrives at the wise man's door, pleading for mercy. And he needs it. God knows he needs it. He has a story to tell the wise man about his suffering. The things that have happened to him over his lifetime are beyond belief, yet all too terribly true. True tales, terribly told to ringing ears willing to hear.

Saturday, September 8, 2018

A Lifetime of Experiences

Stories I can tell
tales of heaven and hell
None of them believable
yet all too true.

Murderers and saints
friends all

Every new semester
a new crop of
"Stories with John"
happens to the new initiates.
I learn their stories too.
And they add to mine
by being a part of my life.

Ridiculous and beautiful
every one.

Monday, September 3, 2018

Pretty Dress

I never saw you wear a pretty dress
slip slightly showing
sneakers on your feet
one shoelace still untied.

Your figure has always been
figurative
figuring you out has always been
inexhaustible.

You always knew that the jeans that you wore
with the holes were sexy as shit
destructive to my spiritual well being
for, well, you already know why
you already know why.

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Pills

Prescribed to death
sentenced to an equivalency
of perspectival self blindness.

Milligrams sold by the pound
pounding down till the sounds
are drowned away.

Inexplicable explications selaciously
selling damnable explanations.

You sell heaven, but deliver hell
smelling of sulfur all too well.

Fragrant senses sensing smells tense
smell realities all too familiar.

Prescribed realities describe this diatribe.