POEMS and stories
Mature Audiences Advised
Painting by Yael Wallace
Attempting suicide is the only failure that’s a victory in itself.
she sent me her suicide note as a text message
“I’m sorry I had to end it this way. I know you’ll understand.”
There was no warning, no waving red flags.
our last goodbye was her slurred “I’ll see you later”
at a dive bar two weeks ago
then she her weaved away into the dark
jingling keys like broken church bells.
she didn’t show up at work for two days
until her roommate found her face down in a bouquet of bile.
Medics pumped her stomach clean of the 28 Vicadins
and quart of jack
and strapped her up under cameras for 48 hours.
They’re not sure why she survived.
It was a miracle she didn’t pray for.
I’ve known too many girls who believe in the fairy tale ending
the sleeping beauty myth of pills chased down with a fifth
believing the opiates will flatten you out
pretty like a still life portrait
but your body can’t stomach such an easy defeat.
you wake up just long enough
to dry heave hemorrhage on your fists over the floor
your face choked sky blue, eyes shot purple veined and bulging
pills don’t let anyone die a princess
you’ll go out in a toxic mess bigger then the one you left of your life.
when it comes to suicide, men are more victorious at giving up.
we go for the action hero ending
and clinch our climax with a click clack
there’s no gamble with a gun,
all you need is an index finger and a blast radius
A paramedic can pump your stomach
but a brain can’t vomit back a bullet.
She gets one phone call, calls me with her last quarters.
She wants to hear from a mouth that’s tasted a gun barrel.
the one who’s seen the mental hospital that’s not in the movies.
I’m the only Houdini she knows
who’s talked his way out of a straitjacket.
I don’t blame her for fumbling for the off switch
Too many years I’ve looked at my wrists like books
that needed to be opened to the last chapter
Until the night I skipped to the ending
took a broken razor and tore my arms open like envelopes
and now they’re resealed
a secret I wasn’t ever supposed to read.
she said she didn’t know why she did it,
just that she wanted to go to sleep
and never wake up again
there’s a scream gnawing behind that bedtime story
but I don’t push it
not when her ribcage is still wearing a doctors fingerprints
I let the question hang in the air
a noose without a neck.
Anyone can force their way to the exit
the hard part is finding your way back.
right now escape is behind a barred window
down a hall that needs three keys to unlock
through an orderly
ready to protect your own tongue from your teeth.
the hours she didn’t want to live through
have been spent watching the clock
tick scarred arms across its numbered face.
she says in here you have to prove yourself sane
but the tranquilizers help
turn your smile into a jigsaw puzzle
make the answers come easy
to the doctors questions
to determine if you’re a short time visitor
or a long time tenant.
this is the Exit Interview, the soft interrogation
when you can go from patient to prisoner.
the doctor will click his pen against his teeth
his face a Rorschach with no meaning
while he writes down what to do with the future
you didn’t want to live through.
she wants my advice so I tell her:
remember everything you say
is about to be held against you
after you’ve taken your own life hostage
you have to be clever when you negotiate its release.
tell the doctor that night was a horrible accident
a mistake you’ve already learned from
that the police sirens and the emergency ward
put everything in x-ray clarity again
tell them answers you don’t have to believe right now
say even though you unplugged the phone
this was just a cry for help
admit you’re broken
ask for the latest fix they got in the drawer
ask for some hot-line numbers and counseling hours
ask for a pill prescription
that they’ll never give you enough to overdose on.
whatever it takes to escape
until you can sign yourself out with a shaky hand
and look at your signature
remember your kindergarten teacher
who showed you each letter that made up your name
get your wallet back
look at your flattened eyes in your drivers license picture
take back your keys to a house
that will still smell like the night you gave up.
If my advice wins you anything
you’re gonna feel like you clawed out from under the earth.
When the door shuts behind you
you’ll debate whether the sun is rising like a guillotine
or an opening curtain
be careful who you call to come get you
whoever picks you up will look at you
like a ghost doomed to haunt itself.
you were a death certificate without a will
a funeral no one was saving to afford.
they’ll tell you if you need anything
just to call
they’ll check in on rotating shifts
allow them their anger, every gunshot has a blast radius
and they’re going to debate why they were ever in range.
when you get home watch how the world never waits
watch t.v knowing these sitcoms would still play
if you weren’t here to see them
your phone’s gonna ring
know you have to answer
otherwise they’ll kick the door down again
a week later
you’ll wake up
knowing your funeral
would have been today.
It wasn’t that you failed at your final.
You just asked the wrong question.
I tell her:
I look at my scars now as an answer
that most people never live to see.
attempting suicide isn’t a mistake.
it’s your own life slapping you awake.
Hear that bird outside? You wouldn’t have.
That movie premiering next weekend? You never would have seen it.
Now you’re a sequel to yourself.
You were your own near death experience.
That night face-down on the floor is just prologue.
Keep this new beginning simple.
Light a cigarette.
Start the coffee.
Avoid looking in the mirror too long
when you brush your teeth.
it may be hard to meet your own eyes for a while
but feel lucky
the mirror still reflects you back.
REBELS WITHOUT APPLAUSE
Every Monday I teach poetry to teens on probation.
My classroom has a security officer and half the kids are on house arrest
wearing a two way sensor wrap around anklet
that tracks every one of their bounty hunted breaths.
This ain’t no T.V movie where I stand and deliver
until they lean on me for literacy,
this is a court ordered continuation school
where they call me a cocksucker to my face.
These are the kids that would stab you in the neck with their pens
These are the throwaways, the statistics,
the rebels without applause
and I’m supposed to teach them how to write
when they can’t formulate a sentence
past 25 to life.
On the first day I introduce myself by performing a short set
and the principal wants me to tell the class
how poetry has made me a success
when I’m just another crash test dummy
looking past a life of wrecks
calling his skid-marks Art,
but now my scars are my credentials,
my suicide attempts are inspirational,
I’m fresh out from the gutter
and they still let me in this school without a background check.
The principal opens the floor for question time
and there’s this 15 year old kid with facial tics three rows back,
he’s the real life offspring of the boasts of gangsta raps
who used his umbilical cord to take the first hit of crack.
at 15 he’s still struggling with the ABC’s
you’d swear he was a freestyle M.C
how he pretends to write down what he can’t read.
He sizes me up with a scowl bigger than his bicep and says,
“So Mr. poet, is this one of em deals how you come in here
and tell us we’re supposed to be snowflakes?
‘Words are weapons’ when I got tools that could blast you the fuck up?
You ain’t living my life, a’ight
so do your stupid dance but nothing you can do
to get me to write”
They don’t pay me enough to lie and he’s got a good sharpened point.
how am I gonna make a difference to the indifferent
when I can read his face like carved bathroom graffiti
talking feces acting like we ain’t the same species
when I went from an honor roll student
to an homeless speed freak in a year flat,
So I shoot back with:
I ain’t no one to try to scare you straight
when I know you gotta find out like the rest of us
that you can free fall forever, looking for a bottom to scrape.
But the truth is:
You have the future in your fingerprints
but you refuse to uncurl your fist.
kept in an continuation school stockade
where teachers are paid with pink slips
fighting over the last stick of chalk
while the students father figures
are drawn on the street in white outlines by cops.
You can add up all your teachers compassion
multiplied by the kids apathy
subtracted by every budget in the state
equals less than zeros of dead weight
Parents are still divided and wide awake
about the next school shooting
while freshman shoot tar heroin point blank
and teachers can’t pass out condoms
to girls who’ve already been raped.
Most of these kids are illiterate
otherwise they could read all of this in my face.
Listen, I’m not here to sugarcoat bullets.
I’m no victory, but I’m here to tell you,
you have a story
and no one’s gonna listen
until you learn how to tell it,
so don’t bother saving your breath cuz you’re right
this world will only give you a penny for your thoughts
but you’d rather cash it in impersonating 50 Cent
And despite what your counselors tell you,
this world doesn’t give a fuck if you survive
and when you get on the 9-5 grind,
Creativity is the first thing to die.
from the Pen to the Penitentiary,
you’re going to pick your path or pick your poison,
but don’t get it twisted homie,
cuz I ain’t here to spoonfeed you help
I’m here to listen
Because the next generation
GRIM FAIRY TALE
I tell my daughter
if a boy who’ll never be a man named Peter Pan
ever comes to your windowsill and knocks
and asks for your hand
to fly you off to Neverland
you don’t even have to leave a note
will never be better than today
Life is a grim fairy tale
and she makes me make believe
we build castles and towers
out of invisible pigs and chickens
she paints bathtub walls
like she’s the next Picasso, Dali or two eared Van Gogh
she believes mermaids swim with her
that dragons compete with airplanes for runways
that unicorns put the holes in Swiss cheese
and we hide from wolves under blankets of wool
and I make believe I can be here
that parents can stay together
that every snail you step on
has it’s own separate snail heaven
and the sorrow of angels makes rainy weather.
she dances in her red ruby slippers
and says, DADDY! THERE’S SOMEWHERE OVER THE RAINBOW!
when science tells us it’s only a prism of refracted light
I say darling don’t be afraid of the dark
because on the other side of earth
fairies wings are fluttering in the opening dawn light
the Sun will always come out tomorrow
and Barbie will always get a date
the White Rabbit will always needs a late pass
and every mirror you see is a looking glass
so hold onto your fantasies
like Frodo clutched onto his ring
because the never-ending story will end someday
and she makes me make believe
that a kiss will wake up any princess
when her mother
is a sleeping beauty I’ll never wake up next to again
that death isn’t the only happy end
so she teaches me to MAKE IT ALL UP
because no matter how many nightmares
the boogieman can give you
you can never dream enough
just turn on the night lights
eat every apple every snake offers you
with rosary red lips red as Snow White’s
dance with every Prince Charming you meet
because Cinderella never knows
when it’s gonna hit midnight
and I make believe I have all the time in the world
for this little girl
who sits and talks to her imaginary friends
who I tell her are unlike any other
cuz they last longer in the end
the rest just have coooooooties
and unless you have a force field,
you’re as good as dead
and my daughter can shoot me with a pen
and balloon dogs still need to be fed
she’s gonna make me believe in Santa Claus again
I’m gonna cook up the eggs of the Easter Bunny
knock out my front teeth
cuz if I put them under my pillow
the Tooth Fairy will hook me up
with some cash money
and Willie Wonka Golden tickets
and a map that tells me how to get to Sesame Street
and when we fly Pegasus just you and I
I’ll take you with me
but your Daddy still lives in a world of fantasy
and you’re my ivory key to the secret garden
where we have tea parties with the Mad Hatter
and if you ever fall down a rabbit hole
you don’t have to call home
unless I can follow you down
she makes me make believe
that she was a queen since birth
I as her father figure
enfold her in my arms
to defend her like cocked arms
against Mother Earth
Life may be a grim fairy tale
but she makes me make believe
to never let reality
what your imagination
usually stops me before I begin
I’ve tied off too many veins
before I have to hear their telltale heart
beating through the floorboards.
everyone gets the first part right
the slow seductive slide into starry eyes
and the last part wrong
keyed cars and shredded valentines
everclear in her contact lens case
wild turkey in your morning coffee
staring at a two face in a broken mirror
or even worse the slow growing rust
your duet going out of tune
the stench of love starting to rot.
everyone wants a Shakespeare ending
two lovers dead on a floor
a vial of poison between them
but instead we end up with the Cliff’s notes
screaming our throats ragged in some vacant parking lot.
there’s no pleasure in prophecy:
it always Ends.
we draw straws for whose funeral comes first
we sever it off at the bone
and hope time will cauterize the wound
in enough time to give us another swing.
this girl could take a piece out of me
take it home and tie it up with ribbons
and add it to her collection.
and she’s younger, so I’m wary
I’m gonna be the canvas for her first mistakes.
someone said the best way to cure a hangover
is to keep drinking
but I’ve always said
the best way to cure an ex girlfriend
is to get a new one.
I can flip more queens then a deck of cards
but mostly I’d rather play solitaire
then even when I lose,
no one’s looking.
this love of mine says she’ll be good to me
the best she’s ever been
I’m promising the same
walking the line straight as a razor
you see I know all the sharp angles
that’ll cut a chest open
I’ve got a heart that beats like a time bomb
but for her, I’ll still give hope another audition.
so come on kiddo, let’s taste the wind.
it’s high up here and I’m tired of looking down.
love has it’s own laws of gravity
but maybe this time we’ll float.
sometimes when you’re on the cliff
you can’t worry about the fall,
just how long you can keep your eyes open
before you hit.
before you were such a junkie
that you’d only stop talking
when a belt was between your teeth
I met you sober,
when you had to move from Jersey to Berkeley
to put a stake through your habits.
I was just a small town boy,
who worked the drive through at Mcdonalds,
wrote poems no one would read
and dreamed for a life bigger
than downing bottles in bags in strip malls.
were a big city sestina of sass,
the first stripper I’d ever met
in my community college writing class
where no one had the weight behind their words
but you were an escape story.
Trying to type away
the rough knuckled rapes in your subtitles
your non-fiction about call girls vanishing in chop shops
low rent hit men, and fucking on a bed of cash
in a peep show wasteland of meth labs and methadone clinics
and I’d sit at your stiletto’s and listen to your gutter glory
that sparkled like crystals on a makeup mirror.
But you thought daddy buying school
would keep you out of the corners
but you only called everyone else square
because your life
went in circles
you celebrated your first month of sobriety
with a glass of red wine
two weeks later
your nose would only lift for the perfume of strychnine.
until that sweaty summer night
you said this…is better than sex.
you only had one needle left
and you made me go first.
my belt was broken so you tied me up with a bra strap,
tapped the metronome morse code of my pulse
and sank in surgical steel deep to the hilt
until my blood curdled pink in the plunger
like melted valentines candy.
You said, this is what it is to fuck God.
You take the lord’s name
the world caught fire:
my finger-tips screaming, pupils blown out to black holes,
novels exploding in my head like shattered neon,
I clawed myself down to bitten cuticles
gouging trenches in my face hunting for phantom spiders
and spent two days hiding the voices in my shower
answering the phone to dial-tone.
I didn’t call you for a month after that.
That was before you were such a junkie
that you’d sleep with a syringe of crystal under your pillow
and mainline cold
before the sun peeled itself
off the scab of the horizon
before you were a chain-smoking wraith
with eyes holed out under mascara
arms abscessed into rosaries, a motor-mouth over menthols
tracks bruising sick shades
of a decomposing watercolor paint set
I wasn’t there the night you tried to quit meth
by switching to black tar heroin
and you OD’d and dropped sucking air
to the cigarette torched carpet
and paramedics had to break your ribcage
to pound an adrenaline shot
into that muscle I tried to win over for eight months
but your pulse went straight as a line cut with a razor
and you didn’t need a doctor to tell you:
your heart just isn’t in this anymore.
Because it did what you couldn’t, what I had to:
I never got to thank you.
Thank you for proving poison doesn’t play favorites
It takes down the best of us
even a girl so beautiful and Alive sliding down a pole
you’d swear she could bite a bullet
and make it moan.
Thank you for showing me
I don’t want to be a voyeur to my own death
that there’s no glamour in the gutter,
just trash and throwaways that no one wants
and thank you
for saving me
I just wish you didn’t have to do it