The Terrible and Beautiful in the New Year: Small Poems, A Very Short Story, A Brief Song, Some Clouds and a Few Emails to Myself


Small Poems for the New Year


Flywheel flat cloud

sundog breaking through

timeface scatter

there’s still a debt

that’s due


If these squares

did write my life

in snow I would reside

an empty field

a blank white space

no dates, no names

to hide


On the fence

the same red bird

sits with nothing new

flight, the simplest defense

little else to do


11:46 AM (12 hours ago)

to me

He’d eat his oatmeal thin

like his grandfather

on some boat

where the only thing to eat

was boiling water

and salt-soaked oats

The valor of a meager meal

tasted like warm paste

like the idiocy of cholesterol

as the waves tip the boat

to and fro

in the early morning

It was never a proper breakfast.

It was gruel, in a white bowl with a blue ring going round it like the path of the sun.


(A Small Story)

“This bus station is a joke,” he thought, looking around. The thought came out as grumble, and his eyes cut to the side, as if speaking to someone. “Everything in here in yellow…piss light.” His hands hung off his thighs and he twitched his thumbs, moved his wrists a little.

The linoleum floor was beige. It looked yellow.

Everything that’s plastic turns yellow eventually.

“Bus 4247 arriving from Knoxville.” The woman in the little windowed office explained over the intercom, in a bored human voice.

Outside, the brakes hissed and he could hear the shuffling of a door, people mumbling and explaining, “Alright, then…here.” Bags were pulled from the belly of the bus and scraped on the sidewalk.

“This is shit,” the man thought, as he stood up to leave before any of the people on the Knoxville bus came inside.

Later, he spelled out his last name one more time, “L-E-N-N-Y…” and tried not to throw the phone against the wall.

“Lenn-Y” said the voice on the phone.


He was suddenly tired.

“And where are you traveling from, sir?”




“You are traveling from Asheville, North Carolina and you are going where, sir?”

“Los Angeles.”

He could hear his neighbor’s television through the wall. The elevator opened down the hall, closed again. Outside it was dark. It was only 5 o’clock. The city felt like something was dying, or sleeping.

He wrote down what the person told him, put a star by the line that said he could leave at 8:44am on a Tuesday.

He’d love to leave on a Tuesday. He wouldn’t ever see those people again, any of them.

He’d stopped saying hello, wouldn’t go to the restaurant anymore, wouldn’t go to the coffeeshop anymore. He just walked by, and hunched further into his coat.

The cold hurt his teeth.

He knew that, in some places, in some situations, he’d be a real catch. His teeth were no worse than others.

Besides, he was not fat.

He took all of his money out of the bank. Three thousand, five hundred and four dollars, a handful of change.

He did not buy any magazines for a solid month.

He flossed. His gums bled and he got his hair trimmed.

By the time he went to see how long it’d take him to walk to the bus stop, his hair had grown out again. He looked like an old man.

On the way home from the bus station, after the bus from Knoxville arrived and then left again, now a bus from Asheville, he realized that he could just take a cab to the bus station.

He didn’t have to walk. He was leaving town. He’d be carrying things.

He didn’t put any magazines in his duffle bag. He’d piled them into a trash bag two nights before he packed. “Garbage,” he had grimaced as he pushed the sliding stack of paper and staples into the farthest corner of the plastic, so that they pushed out in angles.

He didn’t need them anymore.

He knew what he needed. He knew where he was supposed to go.

He’d know her when he saw her.

Those women at the coffeehouse, they were spoiled.

They didn’t see that he would be, for somebody, perfect.


Emails to Myself

11:47 AM (12 hours ago)

It seems like there is some comfort to them in this doingness

this busyness

this walking around

and sweeping


11:50 AM (12 hours ago)

to me

“What it indicates, really, is a conflict between the sense of one’s internal agency and the unrelenting reliance on a belief that some mysterious and external force is going to swoop in and save the day. It’s classic, really – a transmutation of any old relationship with God. You can see clearly here the ways that it disempowers, the ways that it distorts.”


10:10 AM (8 hours ago)

to me

It probably would not have been such a big deal, if it weren’t for all the other on top of it.

—–Original Message—–

Date: Fri, 3 Jan 2014 15:05:20

I am not a hearty sort. Some people are hearty – they can rise and muster and withstand, push on and persevere.

I am not hearty.

Sitting out on the front porch, my fingers felt like they were about to break off in the cold. I didn’t like it. I wanted to go inside and put my hands in front of the fire.

“It’s colder in Mongolia.”

I wondered what my hands would feel like in Mongolia? They’d probably be wrapped up, so they wouldn’t freeze off.

I wouldn’t be typing this with my thumbs in Mongolia. I would be huddled up somewhere, trying to be hearty.

I could be hearty.

It would just take an effort.

It doesn’t come naturally.

(Something inside of me right now is split open with love. I don’t know where this is coming from. I haven’t felt it for weeks – a month. More? I think I love myself more when I write.)

I sat in front of the fire, with the back of my calves burning because my feet are propped on the stove. My chest felt like an earthquake, my eyes stung and there was a pressing on my heart. My breath was jagged.

I was holding it, letting it go.

I think I might have pneumonia.

 Maybe I am more hearty than I thought?

 It would make sense that I wouldn’t be hearty.

There are many reasons, but the first reason I can come up with is:

 Because I fell.

 Did I ever tell this story here?

I must’ve.

I know I wrote in an email to someone, though maybe not in detail.

There was a time that I knew everything I’d written here.

Now, I am trying to remember what it was like to remember everything?

I still remember everything.

Research shows that stress inhibits the human capacity to access prior knowledge, prior learning.

I have all the memories. I just can’t get to them right now.

Two weeks from now, I am supposed to go back out to California, to learn about phenomenology at the airport hotel. That is the only way I can think about it that is exciting to me.

I do not want to go to a graduate school conference. I want to go to an unwitting social experiment, with buffet dinners that taste like plasticene sheeting save for the sweetness of pie.

I wish my language weren’t so troublesomely inconsistent lately.

On the popular medical website it said that pneumonia could cause mental confusion and fatigue.

That makes sense.

It just occurred to me, sitting here by the fire, that I’d be dead if I lived two hundred years ago. I would’ve died a long time ago, from that fall or a later influenza.


Letting that sink in a little, I’m going to sift through a couple of the sub-thoughts I’ve had here:

– dementia as a form of cancer, in that it behaves somewhat like a cancer?

– oxygen to the brain

– sanitariums, up in these mountains

– I think I am writing this as I would an email to a friend, though I’m not sure who.

Did I ever tell you about the time I fell? Do you remember that?

I was six and it was Christmas Day.

My aunt – the same aunt that alarmed my mother about this collection of stories – had given my a pair of brand new Dingo cowboy boots.

They made my feet feel like hooves.

I climbed onto the leaf swing. It wasn’t cold outside.  The swing was a bag, filled with leaves, tied to branch by what seemed like the longest rope in the world.

You swung on it by clamping your feet into the bag and holding on as you swung out, pushed by an adult or by your own pulling of the rope.

Because my feet were clad in brand new Dingo cowboy boots, with soles so slick as to not be believed as they slid right off the swing on a long-reaching arc that left my arms like hapless beans on a stalk, trying to hold on to the rope as my body – seeking to remain in motion – reeled out toward the pasture.

I landed with a thud.

I couldn’t breathe.

The ground was cold.

I caught my breath and they carried me inside.

My wrist grew to the size of a balloon. I couldn’t move it.

Then, I couldn’t breathe again. I couldn’t breathe at all.

“I can’t…I can’t…” My face was terrible, I’m sure, calling to my mother.

My god, the panic. It must have been horrific.

I was just a little kid, who only wanted to be at home and who hated stiff shoes. I was rushed to a building and left there.

I knew that the adults were afraid I was going to die.

The nurse in the nighttime said, “You hush up or I’ll tell your mother to go home.”

Everything was sick and green and dark.

I don’t think I understood much then. I was just a little kid.

I’m supposed to be working right now.

I guess I should go do that.

I don’t want to do that.

Oh, well…

10:28 AM (7 hours ago)

to me

It seems to happen when I feel things. So maybe my goal as an artist ought to be to figure out how to see as many terrible and beautiful things in the world and then to write about them.

Terrible and beautiful are incredibly subjective.

Just the other day, a person said, “Then you don’t feel a thing. You see your mom getting beat up enough times, you don’t feel a thing.”

I’ve tried to meet my need to feel things about the world through all sorts of intentional and circumstantial exposure to/openness to the terrible and beautiful.

It would be nauseating of me to say that it’s all the same thing. That’s what a postmodernist would say. They’d explain that it is in the workings the terrible, the mechanisms in the extant result, that there is beauty at the heart of every terrible thing.

Or some such crap…

Maybe I just need to write more letters.

Yeah, probably…


10:02 AM (22 minutes ago)

to me

Here’s how I make songs. I pick up whatever instrument is most convenient and I play whatever I can on it. Sometimes I can make better music than other times.

Music is fickle like that with me.

I play some music, and start singing about whatever is on my mind, except I try to make it cryptic and simple, so that it will fit in a line between sounds. Sometimes it’s not cryptic and it’s not simple. Sometimes it doesn’t fit in the lines and I discover this when I go back to the instrument and try to make something a song.

Sometimes I just sing whatever is written in whatever book happens to be near me.

I’m not very good at making songs.

Making songs takes time, doesn’t it?

I thought, at one time, that I should make a song every day for a year. I should probably still do that, with it being understood that some songs will be terrible and short.

It’d be hard to make a song every day when I’m at that phenomenology at the airport hotel convergence.

Then again, maybe not…

I just had to write an email to someone about this brilliantly conceived yet poorly maintained (oh, the story of my life…) community organizing initiative. It made me tired to write that email.

I’m doing some research on what works and what doesn’t.

I have found that community organizing is difficult and that writing emails about it is not as inspiring as it was. I have also found something like a sense of responsibility in it, a refusal to give up on it until it has a life of its own, until it does not need me.

That sort of thing could take years.

All the sudden today, I thought about how the entire structure of the way we work and how we work and what works and what doesn’t probably needs to be changed, because it’s terribly dysfunctional, the current structure.

Some people cannot participate in it. The things they would be best at are not accommodated. They are immobilized in their occupation or lack thereof by the rigidity of the structures within which work is done.

I thought some about the expectations of the relationship between activity, self, and others…and about how hard it is to show up consistently as a person who is still somewhat struggle-y and as a person who has very little natural comfort in social exchanges and transactions and whose learned comfort is unreliable in its integrity, a flimsy veneer, a Potemkin village.

People can be so difficult to communicate with. It gives me stress, to be misunderstood and to feel that someone has the wrong idea about me and is upset with me or because of me.

I don’t like that.

It happens all the time.

As an artist, I’ve gotten more comfortable with misunderstanding. I’ve learned to see the beauty and folly in it, to savor the profound human loneliness that it brings and the sweetness of the occasional understanding.

It’s still fucking exhausting though.

2 thoughts on “The Terrible and Beautiful in the New Year: Small Poems, A Very Short Story, A Brief Song, Some Clouds and a Few Emails to Myself

  1. The clouds have been bright at night lately. They stand out like it’s daytime and you can measure their edges and gauge depth just like it’s noon.

    Standing out in the field, the grass broke under her feet. It was that cold. She decided that it felt good, the brittle ground. There was a shape of a squirrel crouching in the sky, with some great winged beast looming at a northern distance. Stretched between them was a chaos of arrows and ships and figures kneeling while symbols reeled above their heads.

    Her knuckles ached in the air. She wondered if anyone else noticed how many animals were in the sky?

    The boy came out from the house and she thought, “this is what it must have been like to find pictures in the sky.”

    There are real, live creatures up there.

    They come out to tell stories.

    “Hey, look it’s a wolverine!”

    The boy was a dark shape moving toward her pointing to the sky.

    She showed him the squirrel. He said it looked more like a frog.

    She explained that it had had a tail a few moments before.

    “Look, you can still see it.”

    The boy’s face was wrapped up, his voice muffled. “I got my winter clothes. Can we go in?”

    It was the first time in his life that the temperature had dropped below 5 degrees.

    She wanted to take a picture of the sky, but knew she wouldn’t. She didn’t have a camera that takes good pictures of the sky at night. Sometimes she took pictures anyway, and called the dark smears art.

    They stood still for a second and then went inside quickly, the grass squealing under them, saying, “It’s so cold! Has it ever been this cold?”

  2. Notes:

    Waveguide Filters:


    Also, this young man in NC with a schizophrenia diagnosis who got killed by police earlier this week playing drums to the song Alive in the Lights (lyrics here) by the band Memphis May Fire, who are apparently quite badass.

    I also found this exciting new post-genre metal band The Words We Use,, which is sort of an incredible name for a band.

    While I was trying to find out if they were some kind of neocore xtian band or were just amazing beyond all lines, I found this other outfit, Beartooth.

    f u c k I n g b a d a s s

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