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In My Last Scorching Breath; Part I

PART ONE: WHERE THE BURNS BEGIN

 

“Bitterness is like cancer. It eats upon the host.

But anger is like fire. It burns it all clean.”

—Maya Angelou

 

 

            He still bore scars, livid at his fingertips, from how he had fumbled while lighting his first cigarette.

 

            It had been an accident, his first burn. The chilled air of that morning had scraped his lungs until his voice was raw, and his hands had been shaking—so violently that his fingers stumbled over each other, letting flames sear his skin.

 

            It had hurt, of course, but it had been a good sort of pain. It had blocked the memories of the night before and it had burned out all remaining feeling. It was what Will had needed then, and it was what he needed now.

 

            The thought of what he’d seen just that morning made his heart slam around in his throat. His stomach lurched and twisted and writhed inside of him, an untamed, beastly thing born of his own weakness and disease.

 

            While Will’s hands struggled with the keys to his house, his mind fought to raise walls high enough to keep ragged memories from drowning him.

 

            The accident he had seen on his way to work had been far too familiar. Twisted, misshapen wreckage and contorted figures smothered in their own blood, and the blood of other victims, dragged grimy fingertips through his memory. The images his eyes had absorbed earlier that day had brought snapshots of his accident back within his grasp, and his need for the sweet sickness of the fire had overcome him, smashing him around like a ragdoll for the remainder of the day.

 

            Will wrenched his door open, his hands falling limp to his sides as his bags plummeted to the floor.

            The memories were dark, and they consumed him, killing anything and everything else he was capable of feeling. It wouldn’t be long before he sank so far into them that he would forever be lost within their despair. He had never been able to drive them away—only the fire could do that.

 

            Only the fire—and as the flames dragged over his skin and left marks of untempered anger, Will momentarily found refuge from his monster.

 

 

            He’d been drunk—but far more intoxicated than he was now. In the present moment, things were a little bit blurred and a little bit bright, amplifying and bringing into focus the self-resentment that made his insides churn and his teeth clench. Amid the depths of that night, he had been too drunk to understand any of his own thoughts, too drunk to rationalize, too drunk to know that driving was asking—begging—for a life to be stolen.

 

            When he had woken up in the hospital, he had not known what had happened—not at first. But sluggishly, as the morphine had drained from his damaged body and his consciousness had become cloudless and lucid, he had begun to remember.

 

            A nurse had come in to give him more medication, skirting around the edge of his bed like a cat, and he had asked her, “What happened?”

 

            “You were drunk,” she’d said tersely. He could still recall the unadulterated, toxic disgust in her face. “You got into a car accident.”

 

            He remembered thinking that she would not be looking at him with such an unpolluted hatred unless someone had died.

 

            “How many?” he had croaked. His voice had sounded cracked and worn, like parchment. “Was it my fault?”

 

            The nurse had stared at him, the anger in her face creating lines and frown marks and crevices in her face. She seemed to age several decades in that moment. “Three,” she said, “And yes, it was your fault.”

 

            In the present moment, he lay sprawled on his couch, lazily flicking the lighter on and off and watching the warm glow of the flames as they licked his fingertips. It was a soothing warmth that blistered at his fingers, soft and rather bearable compared to the jarring, knife-like pain that seared through him whenever he cut.

 

            Even now, lying on the couch, he could still hear the peaked sounds of his family rushing into the hospital room he had lain in. They had known it was his fault, and they had not blamed him. He still hated them for that. Uninformed, irrationally, they had leaned over his bedside and told him it’d be okay and that they’d take care of everything, and he wouldn’t have to do any jail time.

 

            These memories weren’t as harsh as the memories of the crash, but they were no less unpleasant. They still fogged his mind, and they still turned the fire inside into a raging inferno, hell-bent on tearing him to jagged little pieces.

            And he would let him.

 

            He was determined to be destroyed by his treacherous fiend.

 

 

           “Pass me a cigarette, would you?” Her voice was astute and had a lilting sound to it, not unlike the rolling of wind off the waves. He didn’t have to pretend to like it. Her face was sharp, her eyes seemed to be dark caverns cut into her face by knife edges. She had an interesting face—not traditionally beautiful, but one that was fascinating to look at, and to explore.

 

           Wordlessly, Will handed over the second last cigarette in his pack to her. “You run out, Keahi?” he asked, drawing in a long breath of smoke.

 

            “I had my last one this morning,” she told him, lighting the cigarette with long, tanned fingers. “I won’t be able to afford any more smokes until I get paid, so I better enjoy this one.” She blinked lazily, like a cat basking in the sun, as she breathed in the smoke, and exhaled.

 

            Will was quick to notice the red, irate marks on the insides of her forearms. Nobody at work had ever dared mention them to her, but Will understood. Her weapon of choice was different than his, but the reality was that they were the same: something had gone horribly wrong, and they were to blame. 

 

            Keahi caught him looking. “What’re you staring at?” she asked, her voice sounding incensed beneath the casual tone that only just barely masked it.

 

            Will shrugged. “Your scars,” he said bluntly, and drew in another breath of smoke. “They look a little bit like mine.”

 

            Keahi arched one eyebrow. “Yours?” she inquired, her melodic voice rising and falling rhythmically in pitch.

 

            Will shrugged. “I stopped cutting a while ago. I have different methods, now.”

 

            Keahi glanced at him, and brushed a strand of dark hair from her face. She did not look at him, and it was at this moment that Will realized he had made a mistake.

 

            She had not come to terms with her own destruction, he realized. She had not accepted that she would be the beast to tear her out her own heart. She had not realized that it was she who would be her own demise. In this, she was not like him.

 

            Will knew he was going to die, someday, and likely by his own hand.

 

            It was just a matter of being ready to walk into the fires of hell and embrace the devil’s demons with open arms.

 

 

            When he arrived home, he lit some more candles and lay on the couch for a while. As the sky grew dark the candles glowed brighter, so did the clarity of his own memory. He always remembered everything at night. It seemed that darkness brought with it a hoard of new details, new sights and smells for him to agonize over, new details to remember from that night.

 

            In the dimness of his home, Will took the last cigarette from his pocket and lit it. He breathed the smoke in and out, wondering absentmindedly if dragons would feel the same burning sensation in their lungs when they reduced their victims to ashes.

 

            Slowly, he became aware of his eyes beginning to drift shut, but not aware enough of the cigarette falling from his fingers and to the carpet. 

 

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tether

*

when the winds of whim & woe 
threaten to whip and lay waste 
our weathered, winnowed vessel;

as emotional electrical storms erupt 
emitting intermittent lightning strikes, 
causing men and women alike to scurry home
to society’s cerebral shelters;

i am an anchor that tethers;

in a sea of scienter and temporal tempests
threatening to toss us to and fro at high tide,
against cragged, unforgiveable coral;

which, would we make its’ acquaintance,
would spell the end 
of all we love, hope and hold true, 
in other words - we’d die.

i plumb the depths.

rusty, crusted and stolid,
i am an anchor;

long may i anc.
*

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My best friend has fallen in love

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Things that turn me on

brown eyes, thick

lips, buzzed chest,

 

perky butts, romantic

kissing, cuddling during

 

rainstorms, intelligent

conversations, smores

 

and firepits, mystery,

playing hard to get,

 

drive, compression shorts

on treadmills and lifting

 

weights, a good pair

of jeans, tight shirts

 

smiles, white teeth

dimples, jaw lines,

 

awkward hands, scars,

briefs, muscle thighs,

 

kisses on the neck,

stomachs for pillows,

 

reading, tattoos, motorcycle

jackets, suits, and bowties

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Anthrópinos Biblio

You were the novel I had 
somewhere on my book shelf
(i never read you)  

the one I wanted my arms
to wrap around some day.
(I never held you) 

I wanted to feel the weight 
of your spine
(how heavy was your cross?) 

to let your words 
send shivers 
down mine.
(tell me how hard you fought.) 

I wanted to see how 
your sleeve 
caught the sun’s rays
(I didn't see you at all) 

in a hot-as-an-oven July,
on a warm-as-ever August day.

I wanted to crash 
into your world,
and crawl beneath its sky.
(I should have) 

Oh but how I hate spoilers,
don’t we all?

I hate them.

I hated the finding out;
(life cheats us all)  

I hated the shapes my mouth made.

Saturdays hurt now.

October smarts my tongue,
it’s too cold.

I was told 
that you were
(too cold) 

because
like oral tradition,
your 
circulation
stopped

Fuck ‘the end’ and 
all the ‘never agains’
I will always 
love y—

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Dirty Flannel Collar

I am ten years old.

It is spring.

The grass has begun its transformation

from brown to green.

I am getting out of school.

I walk six blocks home alone,

creating stories of moving away,

being asked to join a boy band,

my mother getting transferred,

my father getting a real job.

There is a box of clothes on our porch.

There is no note.

I know who left it.

I drag the box inside.

It’s the first warm day since snow,

mom won’t be home for an hour,

I want to be outside, in a tree,

living someone else’s life,

but I stay inside until mom gets home.

I follow the rules.

Jake is supposed to watch me,

Who knows where he is,

Micah drops off his book bag,

Heads to the park,

He does not invite me.

When mom gets home I tell her about the box,

Run to the park and climb my favorite tree

the one that defines the makeshift end zone.

I imagine it is my home.

I am no longer a boy,

But have mutated into a tree person.

I cook and clean our branches,

polish the leaves,

raise the seed’s,

until my tree husband comes home

and he makes love to me like a redwood,

sturdy and strong.

I hear moms whistle,

jump from the tree and race my brothers home.

The box of clothes sits in our sunroom all summer,

while I am driving from field to field

moving water so my father can grow money.

I swim every day,

My skin has turned a deep brown.

I am surprised at how white my thighs are.

Tornados break the monotony of farming.

My brothers wash the boat.

My mother packs the food.

We take the camper to the lake.

My dad skis.

I watch him fall

I build sandcastles, swim with the fish,

and run around in my life jacket.

I am happy here.

Before school starts

We make one final trip.

Mom hates school shopping.

We buy only what we need.

I am limited to one pair of shoes

that will be worn during P.E.

I will wear Jake’s P.E. shoes from last year.

Micah will wear mine.

Noah will wear Micah’s.

When we get home,

we sit down and go through

the boxes of clothing

that have accumulated in our house.

They have started to overwhelm mom.

The boxes are sorted between the four of us.

Pants we don’t have a choice;

if they fit, we wear them,

no matter the condition.

But I get to choose the shirts.

The rejects become rags on the farm.

I take the stack of clothes to my bedroom,

carefully place my new wardrobe in my dresser

like it’s a collection of hope diamonds.

I am fifteen years old.

I have held my own job for three months.

I am in Old Navy.

I purchase my first brand new t-shirt.

It is blue, I wear it til the thread

in the seams break and the sleeves fall off.

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On watching someone you love, love only your body

It will be last call when his name

appears on your phone. Your fingertips

hesitate to answer, go into the bathroom

tell him to meet at your place in half an hour.

When your friends ask who you were talking to

lie to easily, say it was your roommate

go back to your beer; fade invisible.

Slip out the front door to meet your lover.

You will run home, trying as much as possible

to sober your drunken veins just to remember

how his stubble feels against your cheek.

 

When you open the door, he will be standing,

one hand in his pocket, the other on the door frame,

you can tell he has taken one too many shots of tequila

this is the only reason he called. He will smile,

you try not to melt like a G.I. Joe under

the magnifying glass. He does not speak,

he moves effortlessly into your home;

you have forgotten his force, every pulse

is telling you to push him away, to run.

You told yourself last time was the last time

he would control you. He presses his lips

against yours, his hand glides down your spine.

You are surprised at how weak he makes you.

 

He will lead you into the bedroom,

removing your clothing without strength.

You let him take you because you want him to

you know this is the closest you will ever be.

He will lick his way down your stomach.

Do not mistake this for passion.

Remind yourself this is only fun.

Your sweat mixes with his, heat rising

from his body. You can feel his heart

beat in his fingertips.  It is fast and loud,

for a moment you think he could love you.

 

When he ejaculates on your stomach

he will hand you a towel. Clean yourself

off with deliberate force. When you slide

your shirt back on, do not look him in the eye.

Do no ask him to stay holding you until morning.

Do not tell him he is the condom you wear

on blind dates protection from letting

anyone else touch you. Do not tell him

you stay up late at night creating worlds

where the two of you build a beautiful home.

 

He will leave your apartment as easily

as he entered, without a goodbye kiss.

You are the fiddle he uses to escape

his broken life. Go back to your bed.

Hold the pillow holding his cologne.

Wrap your hands around his scent.

Press the fabric close to your face.

Fall asleep to the smell of him.

 

In the morning do not regret what you did,

retell yourself how you could have stopped it

because you could have stopped it, because

you could have stopped it. Wash the smell

of him away in the shower, block his number

again.

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What you owe

let it spill

let it fall

let it flow

 

the chest is not a dry stream

it’s Niagara letting 150,000 gallons

of love take off every second

 

it will slip

it will crack

it will split

 

the hands are worn and callused

from years of kneading to nourish

the body with the beauty of bread

 

take it back

take it back

take it back

 

you fail to receive what has been given

take what is left use it to feed yourself

you must have strength to feed others

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One sided conversations

part 1 – what you tell me

 

you tell me

all you ever wanted

is wrapped in tissue

 

you tell me

you can walk on clouds

but only when it rains

 

you tell me

everything is designed

to make something else better

 

you tell me

I am filling the empty

space he used to dance in

 

you tell me

the only way this will work

is if i gift you all of me

 

part 2 – what i tell you

 

i tell you

the sun does not rise

to shed light on your face

 

i tell you

everything i ever wanted

is wrapped inside my skin

 

i tell you

you do not fill any hole

you are an extension of my tongue

 

i tell you

the only time i feel safe

is when i’m in bed alone

 

i tell you

the only way this will work

is if i still own my muscle

 

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Running Mascara

the last time I saw her

she was standing ankle

deep in the sandy shore

watching as the waves

try to kiss the continent

continuously falling back

into the arms of a past

lover that has found a

home with someone else

she stared at the water

as if the ocean would show

her truth in the reflection

she is a beautiful mess

she is running mascara

broken stain glass windows

I never asked her name

just watched as she walked

with no expression to the

end of this country and

stared into the infinite blue

she was never seen again