Malade Imaginaire (Cassie, Episode I)

There was a stale remnant of the weekend hanging on my breath, a dark and shapeless nag pestering against the flickering subway lights and dimming silver handrails. Thick and smothering between pressed buttoned shirts, noose ties and summer dresses huddled on the express Lexington avenue bound for midtown before a final stop to nowhere. My thoughts felt like strangers at a party,  huddled close to one another but no one knowing what to say.

A small-suited man bumped against my shoulder and apologized. I meant to do the same, opened my lips to speak, but they did not make a sound. I glanced up at the dead eyed glare of an Asian woman baring her teeth in what some might call a smile. A poster for a college or language learning center. Bold, black marker graffiti obscured most of it, so that the only visible parts were the slender neck of a woman and a tagline written in a worn, exciting red.

“GENERATION AFTER G NE ATION!!!” It said.

I got off the next stop, sent a vague text to my boss about feeling sick and began to wander Manhattan. Everywhere was a feint, hostile, seething unrest bubbled from the gum spotted granite sidewalks; steaming softly from the city grates like vapor. While the oak and marble fronts of restaurants, businesses and delicatessens glistened with the unnatural sheen and polish of something new and untouched. Beautiful and prosthetic.

It was all so awful.

I wanted to be drunk, or dead, or anything except that feeling lingering beneath my tongue like a razor blade. To forget myself and all my troubles, if only for a little while.

It was only 7AM but in my heart it was twenty minutes to last call; and I had all day to no longer feel human. I have to forget, otherwise I fall in a pit of something. A madness and not the poetic kind. The mad kind. The kind that roams the empty city at 5am smiling at the air. The kind that wakes up in strange apartments and motel rooms wet in somebody else’s sweat without a clue or memory of how he got there. The kind that talks and wiles like it’s all just a clever little game, but is burning alive, is howling in laughs and I-Like-Your-Hair.  The kind that’s quietly out to ruin something because a moaning in his blood compels him to, reminds him it’s all just a cosmic accident and that devils do not exist, were molded after men. And women.

Terrible for each other, and much worse for anyone else.

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Never My Intention (But Then Again What Consequences Are?)

Window with a view to fill my lungs,
wet air, dry eyes, smoke and a
heart full of bourbon, sipping
out of a styrofoam cup the way you did.
Old Grandad on deck and jazz on vinyl,
humming bluegrass. Tapping foot. Cast-iron
skillet and some cheese I don’t know the name of.

Its a ritual, reserved for the unusual
moment I feel like missing you,
a maligna of the mind I treat
the way old doctors did insanity.
Summon a memory of the body,
the carnage of love, sapphire wounds;
gilded kisses lost so long ago that glass Summer.

But I don’t like the taste of whiskey any more,
my cigarettes don’t have menthol,
and lyrics sound like people I used to know
but have nothing in common with any more.
Friends lost for no particular reason
other than growing apart as people.

Strangers I shared death with.

My Baby Takes The Morning Train, When Uber Pool Is Too Expensive (aka I’d Quit Tomorrow If Sheena Asked Me To Stay)

It was early morning, around six thirty AM I think. That un-Godly hour when men in construction work boots march soul-less towards the MTA, and a handful of office workers with long commutes start their day before the sun will. When transit is slow and sluggish, quiet besides the scuffle of winter coats and urban foliage stirring awake. Early birds and no worms.

I slouched off of the 39 Bus hungover as the moon on the horizon, dragging my feet towards Nine To Five with my body in tow. Hungry, because I’d ate too late last night. Angry at another schedule I couldn’t skip, because rent’s a bitch and cheesesteaks don’t grow on trees. Calling out was out of the question, and I didn’t have any sick days left anyway. Between the bus fares, nephews, and bottles of rum lining my recycling bin, I needed the money. But not desperately. Enough to get me out of bed when I’d rather be somewhere else.

Not a unique feeling, I noticed, as I watched a couple stop on the corner. He was about my height, not much more handsome with a handful of grays around his cobble-colored hair. She was all legs, nick-knacks dangling from her wrists, ears, neck, jacket, boots, lips; everywhere. Hands just barely held, calm and comfortable as they lazily rushed towards their obligations as the rest of us. They hit the corner and slowed, spoke some four to five words or syllables I tried my hardest to listen in on (all I could make out was ‘Don’t—this weekend—‘) and kissed each other on the cheek goodbye.

She clicked on toward the subway, he stood and stared at her go for a while. I stood there watching while he was wrestling with something. An idea maybe, words or feelings he should have shown or let shed. Or maybe he was throwing in the towel on the rat race, would have rather run down the block and take her by the hand back down where they came from. Board up the windows and lock the door at home, let the rent and bills pile up, spend all day listening to quiet comfort of her soft breathing on his chest, and the nick-knacks dangling off the dressers and coffee tables.

Then a car honked, he looked at his cell, and marched towards the 9 bus to work instead. He needed the money too, I guess, or couldn’t manage to break the habit. I looked at the 9 bus, marched towards the liquor store I knew would be open in an hour, and called The Boss on my cell.

Because I couldn’t either.

Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous: Felice (Episode III)

Felice walked into the bar looking like the kind of girl they wrote songs about, and I made it a point to not make that obvious.

“Haven’t I seen you wear that shirt before?”

“Where do you get it?” She asked. “This confidence you definitely don’t deserve.”

The air smelled like starched shirts, mistakes, and too much perfume. Sex. Such a sick validation of a grotesque existence. My heart strung on the soft tendons of her knuckles that left me wondering where the arches of her neck leads. A feminine physique, the scent of raspberries; wide hips narrowing to fine waist. They say a woman’s collar bones are the front lines of a mistake, and Felice was made of divine proportions.

“The smartest disease,” I said. “Is the kind that can disguise itself well enough to look like it’s a part of you. To fool the body into thinking it’s just another blood cell. That’s the way it is with people too. You gotta fake it til you take over their immune system.”

“You just compared yourself to cancer.” She said.

So young, beautiful, and cruel. She enriches me as a lover but ruins the writer, makes lighter all those tragedies I rattle with a beer can. Kissed by fire and freckled by 80’s rock ballads; she was terrible at the song of vice and liars. Honest to a fault with fireworks in her eyes- Felice. It means happy in Spanish and you had to smile to say her name. Hair halfway down her back and a dip between her shoulder blades. Thin fingernails and long, smooth knuckles that looked like almonds hiding under a bar of chocolate. Smokers lips and eyebrows that were either always sad or frowning.

“But I’m a Taurus.” I said. And she tried not to laugh, but failed.

We were coworkers at one point and I used to obsess over all her nuances. She was beautiful to me in fractions, not from the sum of all her parts. Each arch and nook of her frame and body seemed so unique, that I could tell the shape of her from anywhere. We remained light friends, occasional Facebook comment and el-oh-elling at a meme. An acquaintance that never quite made it as a friend, but if she ever cut ties and left, I would be a husk.

Because a cage without a bird is an empty thing.

Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous: Felice (Episode 1)

Twenty something and full of stupid, sliding into your DM’s without a shame in the world. “Wyd” texts after midnight are a 3-2 pitch with the bases loaded, and I’m watching from the bench thinking I might just steal home.

I’m the type of guy that needs to set 4 alarms to wake up on time, dressing myself up in moments that don’t mean a thing to me. But I’ve read enough Dostoevsky and Nietzche to make just about anybody think they do. Boredom is an understatement: what I suffer from is an emotional atrophy. When you can’t stand grand-standing any more and need to feel something, so the nearest dead end starts feeling like a welcome sign.

Some addictions aren’t so easy to kick – especially habits that text you back to say they miss you too.

“sure,” Her text read. “whats one drink”

“Ask Socrates.” I replied

“that was hemlock” She replied. “you fucking nerd 😓”

And I knew it would be a good night.

The Ildiot (aka Homer’s Beer Run)

Heaven is hell-bent,
misshapen sanctuary of senile.
Men make sinners out of love,
sibyls from devils and saints out of
air. The clever pray for deliverance
in a cup, Gods nectar and wheat’s bounty;
bitter-sweet ambrosia by the barrel;
His holy bottled excellence.
A nightly Immortality.

Our hero marches, his voyage soft
to the song of chirping sirens.

Dear deacon of the deli, bringer of
my bread and sacrilege. Clandestine
clerk who offers passage to His hazy
river Styx, in brown paper bags and
long side glances that confess
disbelief a 2AM pilgrimage can wait
for the sacrament of home. Two coins
short and Charon grims, no ferry waits
for those when his toll has gone unpaid.

Our hero cautions his voice to balm,
cold and hooded ears who would deny them.

Forgive me Ahmed, for I am dimmed.
Sweet Gods of Hell and mercy,
grant me light and credit
that I may learn peace and pass
this dark and grim abyss,
to far and pleasant lands
where one dreams and is awake.

Our hero fallen, his journey lost
to the oarmen’s long and awful silence.

His cleric nods, Go-Then, take it, bid farewell,
but Heaven has no room for cleverness.
This world is a loan to be repaid,
and I will you see you once again
with a stone at your back
and Hell at your heels.

Our hero sombers on, his voyage back home safe,
with bags of ambrosia, pockets full of coins,

and the hidden smile
of Sisyphus son.

Leave Her Johnny, Leave Her (aka A Broken Heart’s A Heavy Bar Tab)

Even when I’m not a vagrant there are days I get the taste of gin and cinders on my tongue again. Waking up skeletal, bare as bone, with nothing but a name. Veins poking from a sleeve, revealing what I’m made of, like wires from old headphones you get ashamed to pull out in public. Some days leave me feeling ends-less, frigid and grey as the clouds I’m blowing smoke circles at from the balcony of my house. The air feels wet, the grass shimmers just a little greener, and as I take a breath I’m thrown to somewhere that isn’t here. Smell, they say, is most directly linked to memory, so there must been a scent of the early 2000’s perspiring in the grass of Trump’s America.

I was nostalgic, I guess. Remiss of the past, the way a particular type of weather reminds you of that time in third grade when it was raining, the day you saw Samantha scrape her knee in the PS 143 playground. A gash so long you couldn’t tell where it began or ended. You can’t even remember what it looked like, just the sensation of black tar and plasma. And while some kids ran for the nurse she just sat there, no crying, not shedding a damn tear, staring into that cut the way adults look at sunsets or somebody they used love. Almost hopeful, like waiting long enough might make something jump out of all that velvet. Make it more than just colors and blood.

I think that’s when it started for us, really. Fifth grade, Ms. Turmiski’s class. She made an impact on me that day, and no matter where she sat I had my eyes on her ever since. Even if she was in another room. Feelings I denied vehemently until sexuality amplified too high to be tucked away in an Ew-Girls. Samantha had came back from Summer damn near 5’5, towered above the rest of us with her home-cut bobbed hair and thick black rimmed glasses (before that fad came in, you hacks.) The only girl in class who had a binder when all the rest of us were early-primming into drawstring Nike bags and spiral notebooks. Come junior high she started keeping a deck of cards on the sleeves, and I’d make it a point to always sit across from her on the other team when we played spade or casino. Took the usual route of juvenile affections, found it easier to make her an enemy than admit her face made me want to do things with her I didn’t understand yet. Bluffed through boyfriends like Troy, Elijah, and Anthony like a champ. Fake-It-Til-You-Can’t-Take-It was the name of the game, and I was good.

Kept it cool until that one long walk home Sophmore year, hit a slump I couldn’t manage to flash a smile and hump over. Told her what I always felt, even mentioned that thing about her knee in fifth grade, and she said “I always knew, dummy.” Kissed me on the corner of Taylor Avenue, deli lights flashing above our stupid little heads. A world on the verge of conquering us at sixteen, and a universe of intimacy opening the floodgates. Going at it like jackrabbits and a lot of arguments over silly things. I wanted to make the world laugh, and she wanted me to study and make something out of me. She had kisses made of phosphene, I still remember the way her lips against mine would make my head melt. The only girl I ever suffered the dilemma – kiss her, and feel that bliss of touch and sexuality, but miss out on all the lovely things she could have said.

“i want to see your face. send me a photo.”
Her text read at four in the morning, and so I did.
“no. a real one. something I can hold and write your name.
scribble the date and the way you make me feel on.”

Her love was comforting, the way a light from another room is when you’re trying to fall asleep but afraid of the dark. Or yourself. When I couldn’t bare to go down a street because it looked so lonely, she’d remind me what I was scared of wasn’t outside. But in. And I loved her terribly, but only in retrospect. Spent more time dreary eyed with the boys on Amsterdam when I should have been watching Samantha color code her study binders. A realization I wasn’t able to see or understand until long after it happened, and honestly, only because it was gone. Like suddenly missing a limb or finger, or admitting you were an asshole to somebody that didn’t deserve it. There’s a learning curve to gratitude and I was on the verge of overcoming the anchor line. Which is no excuse, I guess. Hindsight is 20-20 and not having regrets just means having things you haven’t thought of enough yet.

“So just like that, you’d leave New York,” I said. Unable to admit by ‘New York’ I meant me.

“It’s a scholarship. Why wouldn’t I?” She said.

And I think we could have made it work, past the slammed doors and distance. Rebuilding trust from where there was none over jokes I shouldn’t be making. Six month breaks that break easy over the holidays, and all the blood we’ve tried to draw from one another wiped clean with something as simple as an I-Miss-You text. Enough distance that makes us wonder what we were so angry about anyway, two weekends into Lets-Just-Be-Friends that ends the moment we notice its 5 am and the bar is closing. Goodbyes and lonely train rides home that turn the world into a stranger, that make us pull the breaks and reverse into each other. Is it still falling if its the fifth time in love? Why are we so surprised to be veering off the side of the road because Why-The-Fuck-Does-Everything-Have-To-Be-A-Joke-With-You? A phone call slammed, and I don’t call back, because I’m tired and her birthday is right around the corner. I’ll take six months off before I start rolling the boulder of our love up over and over again, like Sisyphus. Glossing over our past in grey, summer weather. Sitting there not shedding a damn tear, staring at the sunrise like somebody I used to love. Hopeful, like waiting long enough might make something jump out of all that rosy velvet. Make it more than just the colors and blood we shed to each other.

That kind of chemistry can become exhausting, so her walking out for good was a victory, really.

Even if it doesn’t feel like it.