Like Crashing

To the chickadees and traffic each morning,
To the same frigid light,
Crashing through the same broken set of blinds—

It’s no surprise people feel trapped in a state
Of their own design: a state of perpetual
Crashing.

Those rays hit the scratched hardwood,
The imperfect linoleum, the high-piled carpet,
Crashing into slivers that slip under hungover eyelids,
Causing the black and white and brown
Mothers, brothers, fathers, and lovers
To wake.

Whether from work, or drink, or the weight of injustice,
They struggle to lift their bodies, bodies that could use fewer, or maybe more, calories,
Crashing gently into the eggshell hall to hold themselves aloft,
Thinking of a cup of tea that smells of pear,
Or coffee that they can’t smell at all anymore,
Or of a failing transmission that they can’t afford to fix.

They gain momentum,
Leaving the hall on the will of two feet, maybe not their own,
Crashing water into their scarred and tired and innocent faces,
From old sinks that need replacing,
From fixtures newly-installed,
From the river not too far from the campsite they’ve visited since childhood.

Days begin and pass, and our heroes and heroines
Try, and often fail, to do better, sometimes
Crashing.

Siren

Although I don’t study religion as much as I used to, my days in Bible study left me with an important lesson from Matthew chapter six:

Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven. So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. (NIV)

I understand that many of you might not be religious, and I must admit: I don’t consider myself a Bible-thumper either, but this idea, the one of virtue in good deeds done in secret, is not unique to Christianity. Before that, though, I want to point out a certain hypocrisy that has been eating at me for a while. Many use their religious background or lack thereof as a tool to assert their moral authority, and a common refrain is: “If someone only does good as a way to seek the approval of a God, that deed is only done selfishly.” I agree with this sentiment, of course, but many of those who use that singular piece of logic then choose to shout their heriocs from the rooftops–on social media, in everyday conversations, in posed photos. If a good deed is leveraged to gain the approval of one’s peers, how is this different from a Christian’s utilization of deeds to gain entry to Heaven? There is no difference, and so I assert that the only good deeds are the ones done quietly. The teachings of Buddhist master Xuyun (or “Empty Cloud”) touch on this as well, and while I cannot include all of his beautiful prose here, I will include a short excerpt that gets his point across. I recommend you read pages seven and eight of this document if you wish for more exposition.

Perform a good deed in silence and anonymity! Forget about rejoicing. A
good deed should have a very short life, and once dead, should be quickly buried.
Let it rest in peace. Don’t keep trying to resuscitate it. Too often, we try to turn
a good deed into a ghost that haunts people, that keeps reminding them of our
wonderful service – just in case they start to forget.

Given recent events, I have struggled with my tendency to stay silent. So deeply-rooted is my fear of virtue signaling that I have failed to speak up when maybe I should be, but at what point do I, a white ruralite teaching in a title one school, become performative in my trumpeting of good morals? At what point do I stop amplifying the voices of the people unheard and begin to sing loudly over them? It is not my place to say, and I suspect most folks, folks who are well-intentioned, as I am, have different answers for me. I have settled, for now, in continuing to work behind the scenes, chirping up with a “remember to listen to supressed voices!” when relevant, but I understand why many would see this as not enough. I agree, and I ask for forgiveness–I’m still trying to learn.

As a fairly opinionated person, I have, on many occasions, began to type something to share my thoughts on the protests, on the history of oppression that people of color face, on the intersectionality of issues of race and climate and class, but in recent weeks, I have stopped myself. My opinions don’t matter, and if you, the reader, are white, I’m afraid yours don’t either: We are not the affected group. We are not entitled to tell black folks how to best share their experiences, how to demand reform, how to protest: Ultimately, we don’t know anything. We don’t know what has been tried. We don’t know what it feels like to go unheard for generations. The male-presenting among us don’t know what it feels like to be targeted as victims of violent crime simply because of the way we look.

So, this is part of my compromise with myself: This is my way of saying “Yes, I support you.” to whoever needs supporting. Right now, that is the black community. Today I lay down my own opinions and instead choose to direct attention to the many valid voices speaking; I feel my own voice will only serve as a sweet song, luring other white folks to the waters of guiltless complacency, a tide of “I earned my allyship today.”

If this is inadequate, I apologize. Know that I will continue to do my best–you just won’t hear about it.

All lives can’t matter until black ones do.

Dogprint

I just came in from taking out the small mound of cardboard that had been accumulating in my apartment for some time. It’s a cool night, but pleasantly so–the sun has been down for a few hours, and I’m coming off of the slight buzz I got from sipping away half a bottle of Oregon wine; by all means, there’s nothing at all keeping me from enjoying the short walk down the road to the bins.

I saw this task as a chore, regardless, but I’m struggling with why. While I’d happily wipe the obligations of the home from my task list if I had the opportunity, there are few that I find truly unpleasant. In truth, I often go for walks of my own volition.

Regardless, I found myself pausing at the dumpster on the corner. I could have easily thrown the cardboard away at that point, cutting my time spent outside in half, without any retribution. I could have tossed them in, headed back inside, and continued with my evening as normal. I didn’t, though. I mentally slapped myself on the wrist and walked the extra 100 feet to the proper bins.

While I was out there, I saw some dogprints in the mud. Not the deep, satisfying mud that dirties cars, that kids like to play in, but the shallow silt washed down from the asphalt road above my apartment complex. Just two small prints, maybe made by the Yorkshire terrier I’ve seen a few times. It’s been some time since it rained, though, so they must’ve been there for days, untouched. The dog moved on, but the mark on the world remains.

I wonder if choosing those easier options are like that. I wonder if those things accumulate in the brain, layering, becoming all that you can see. I wonder how often it rains in there.

Passing Albuquerque

The car I’ve driven since high school,
The one I learned to drive stick on,
Shifts smoothly into fourth, then fifth.
I easily pass white-fingered family men, driving
New automatics with screaming children,
Dogs,
And partners, oh partners,
Insisting that they slow down,
Speed up,
Stop.

It’s day three; I’m leaving Albuquerque.
Goodbye, New Mexico. Sorry to say,
But I won’t be back soon.
Your empty desert highways,
The same ones I drove in Utah,
Make for easy podcast listening,
But also for dull drives.

The smell of greasy food from a gas station fills the cab,
Mad men and women poke at each others’ politics,
And the sun peeks over the sandstone crag.
Ten more hours of driving remain today, but just a small stretch waits
For me
Tomorrow.

The podcast ends,
The traffic falls away,
And I’m left only with a car
Skating along in fifth.

Warmth

Unclouded haze hangs heavy
Over those who have never seen hungry bears
Picking neon summer kokanee
From the glass of glacier streams.

No blankets wait in deep closets to be retrieved
By kindly hands of grandmothers,
Or quiet morning lovers,
Or my lonely father,
For shivering sleepers.

No small hands under small blankets sit,
Nor white breaths against dark afternoon skies.

Here is a different warmth:
The kind that comes from liminal promises
To coniferous homelands.

Wake

Autumn leaves,
Covered in dew,
Litter the ground by a golden pond.
There, where three grey swans sing their farewells to the sun,
A man and a woman stand.

The two interlock their white-boned fingers,
Stung by the oncoming chill of night,
And wonder how many more moments they might have shared
If things had been different,
The way they had hoped.

They stand there, facing each other,
And then the receding sun.
The wind disturbs her split-ends
And his old, frayed scarf—
The one his father gave him.

He wonders if the scarf saw
A similar scene
When his mother left his father.
He supposes it doesn’t make much of a difference;
He’s standing there, regardless, on that carpet of burnt orange.

As their fingers come apart,
She wonders if she could have been kinder,
As she knows he should have been.
He pockets his hands and walks away from that western sun,
Leaving only the mist of breath in his wake.

She, though, stays.
She watches the night glide in
Like some great bird,
Its gale waking the water,
Now shining silver.

A Short Walk Home

Arid winter air
Alights my tongue
Like sparrows on the oak branch outside my childhood window.
They sing songs of quickly snuffed sunlight
And quiet mornings with cheap coffee from a can.

I descend the stairwell with a smashed cigarette hanging from my lips
And take a step onto the earthshattered sidewalk.
The sounds of distant cars accompany me
As battered leaves and broken beer bottles
Fragment further below my feet.

I breathe in the birdsong
And exhale smoke through my nose
As I pass the place I bought a woman our first drink,
Then our last.
The shadowed rafters hang over upturned chairs; there’s nothing left here.

Fingers, trembling from cold
Or from hurt
Toss the tarred filter into the overfull dumpster outside my door,
Graffitied with names I recognize
And some I don’t.

The last two hours of sleep with her
Leave me wanting for just a few more.
Footfalls drag me back to bed,
Unclothed again,
Bed-sore.

Mapless

A fire-beaten trail is followed
Under the Northeastern Oregon sun,
Outlining the peaks and river valleys
Like your right hand on my chest.

Down your index finger,
Through the charred pines,
We switchback onto your thumb.
Up and over shaded boulders,

We reach a lake reflecting the surrounding mountains.
It’s long and clear,
With waves windpeaked and sheer,
That reflect our evening firelight.

The greengrey trees hum
With excited insects
While patient boulders sit squat
On dewy earth.

Your amber mirrors look at me,
And your tongue falls so precisely.
I stumble to you across uneven ground,
Drunk on your sober gaze.

We dance and sing with nightbirds and crickets,
Then fall asleep to windsung lullaby.
I wake and try to find your hand
My map, but only find I’m lost.

Your absence
Feels loud in moonlight.
With no hand to guide me home,
I stay up there, among the waves, and breathe in the pine air

Alone.

Indefinite

Indefinite:
Undefined.
Lasting for an undetermined amount of time — possibly forever.

These two definitions are in conflict for me. The possibility of an endless period of time is necessarily accompanied by definition; definition is the crux of equilibrium, and an unequilibrious circumstance will eventually be resolved.

Living without definition is to suspend a question in the air; like some circus performer, it must come down.

So, a question: In what manner shall it be resolved? Although it has not been explicitly given, we know the question, so what must come next is a weighing of pros and cons. If defined, would the indefinite be improved upon, or would the new definition carry weight that would, at some point, sink the ship anyway? Time ticks, so remaining in suspended is not much of an option: it may be better to cut the cords and bring things to a end in a clean moment. Like a bandaid. Or a circus performer hitting the ground. Splat. Surely they would prefer it to starvation.

But here’s the issue: We do not know the definition until it is given, and once given, we cannot shift course. If we start on the path of aerial starvation, we must allow it to play out. We’ve thrown away our scissors, so to speak. So, to define is to risk a terrifying and agonizing end for the sake of clarity.

So: Enjoy the undefined for a limited time, or risk definition– bringing about the possibility of a painful metaphorical death for the chance at finding prolonged peace?

Fugue

The door to our two-bedroom apartment was open when I got home that day. When the turn of the key wasn’t met with the resistance of the deadbolt, I was surprised at you — you had just yelled at me the night before about keeping the door locked whether we were home or not. You were afraid, you said, of someone coming in and taking what wasn’t theirs. I brushed you off, knowing that we lived in a safe neighborhood in a locked apartment building. The only people who could come in without our permission were our neighbors; both of whom you know could never have done anything like that. Jared, the single guy in 303, was too busy, too tired, and too sad. The kids in 301 were always stoned or asleep. But you told me to get up and turn the deadbolt back anyway, and I did.

I was getting ready to call you out on it — to laugh at you, to kiss and tease you, when I heard you. From behind the cracked bedroom door, you were making the same noises you did for me. You were crying out, gasping, sighing, breathing heavily.

Do you remember your first time? The way you held me? The fogging of glass? We were on that hill, just south of Union, next to the road that led up to the old water tower. We had just gone up there to see the stars; it was a clear and cold night. Every few rungs I climbed, I looked back at you to make sure you were still there. You were. You were always there when I looked for you. You laughed at the holes in my jeans; from below you could see my underwear. I pretended to be mad, but I wasn’t really. You knew that, though.

We watched the highschoolers play football for some time, sitting quiet. Only once the floodlights went dark did we lay back and look upwards; the darkness of the sky was complete, save for the speckling of stars. I found Orion, you found Ursa Major. It was too cold to lay on the metal of the tower, though, so we made the trek back down and enjoyed the heat of the car and of each other.

Isn’t that when you said you fell for me? It’s certainly when I fell for you.

To think that I would later crack open a door to see your legs around a near stranger… would I have done anything differently? I’m not sure I would have been able to; I do love you.

The door creaked open, and you fell quiet. You were there, as I knew you only the night before, but with a different body held close. A more beautiful body than my own — a woman I knew only in passing. Shandra? Cheryl? Her curves, concave rather than convex, stood in sharp contrast to my own round form. I can’t blame you for choosing as you did; she’s a looker. I’m only sorry that I lived with a liar for as long as I did, and that you had to subject yourself to a person you had no eye for.

I was confused, then. Furious, crushed, lost. A fugue state met its beginning, for both of us, and our relationship met its end. You pushed Cheryl/Shandra/whoever off of you, and chased my then-turned back. You tripped on the thrown comforter, slamming into me. I stumbled, breaking your mother’s vase, cutting my hand in the process. Sticky, ferrous blood dripped from my fingers as I got back up and continued to the door. I walked past the couch we bought together and between the canvases we painted. Blood and tears mixed on the carpet we had taken turns vacuuming. You threw yourself around my shoulders, but I shrugged you off. You thudded to the ground. You were gasping then, too. Was it out of pleasure? Relief? Grief? You looked beautiful, I’m sure. As much as I hated seeing you that way, you were always a pretty crier.

I’m sure the strawberry blonde stranger came to your side, and I’m sure you were glad to have the company.

The door closed behind me, and I turned the key in the lock. I felt the deadbolt slide into place, then. Can’t be too careful: Someone might come and take what’s yours.