Probity

I watched her walk away in fields of flowers
And still I had to ask myself, but why, and where, to whom now does she go?
I drank the seconds, smoked the minutes, and consumed the hours
And, even now, I fear I’ll never know

Where treading, no, she never left directions
And so I looked for symptoms like a sickness in a world that wasn’t ill
As if a hunter lost within a land of false connections
Or an addict looking for another pill

I watched her walk away but couldn’t follow
And not because I wouldn’t or I couldn’t, or I feared the trail ahead
I simply tried to fill the parts of me she left so hollow
And maps could never tell me where she led

Perhaps she flew or swam across an ocean
And left me, as so many have, and many more will likely seek to do
For even as I pen the words imbued with much emotion
I wonder just how much of it is ever really true

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Intimation

I’m blind and so I blink
I’m bored and so I drink
I’ve not a word to say
And so I write them all in ink

I’m empty so I take
I’ve naught and so I make
I’ve not forgotten much
And so myself I must forsake

I’m numb and so I feel
I’ve much and so I steal
I’m cutting into veins
So I can tell you how to heal

I’m lost and so I wait
I’m luck deciding fate
I’ve so much to destroy
And so I need you to create

I’m yearning, so I say
I’ve nothing to relay
I’m offering you wings
Because I cannot fly away

I’m breaking and it shows
I’ve sacrificed repose
I’m giving up so you
Don’t have to see how the far the darkness truly goes

 

Sonata

I rested there inside
A normal day to be mundanely tied
With all the elements of home
Complete yet skewed as if a song I knew was playing in a different tone

And suddenly, well, there you were
As clear as day and just as sure
And in a chair I’ve never seen before is where you sat
And just as casual as summer days, we chose to try to chat

The how are you and how’ve you been
The surface layer whats and whens
The gentle arc of friends who always meant to meet
The slow facade of calm when there were surely sirens screaming in the street

And soon, I lay upon my bed
Compelled to follow anywhere the conversation led
And then you rose and closer came as if at my behest
You sat beside me and upon your lap I lay my head to rest

And suddenly, our words seemed very thin
For both we had a story that we struggled to begin
So silence did we share a while, then a while more
Choosing to delay the road we hope to walk but feared to go explore

You chuckled and the silence broke
And quizzically I looked at you until you finally spoke
A fragment of a song I played
And played because it made me think of how you could have never stayed

And all I did was smile like a fool and say, “You know
I played it twice as much because the pain was softer than the letting go…”
You offered up a, “Hmmm” and so I answered with a kiss
But then I woke and you had turned to only mist

And strange, I thought it was, to dream
So far from then a now that still remembered what you mean
But all the same, I wake and choose to play
A song that still reminds me of how hard it was to finally walk away


First Dream, Second Dream, Third Dream, Fourth Dream

Aphelion

In the night I cannot see your eyes
So drunk on metaphors I wonder if I know your name at all
The stars are needles begging veins to rise
So many wordless definitions I don’t know which one I can’t recall

In the light, I cannot see your frown
So caught up writing eulogies I never got to see you live
The dawn was like a choir life had drown
So many notes submerged that there were only ever waves that I could give

In the end, I cannot see you cry
So worn out from the synonyms that never said a thing
An ocean made of wishes running dry
So many fingers broken for the right to wear another copper ring

At the start, I didn’t see you there
So busy writing elegies for what tomorrow wouldn’t hold
A truth that was afraid of every dare
So many answers given just to hide away the ones I never told

Tidings

Do you imagine there’s a world where you and I are talking still?
Where messages appear
And so we press them to an ear
And to our heart and to our feelings
Like they’re stars reflecting light upon the ceiling
And the things I never got a chance to say to you I finally did reveal?

Do you believe there’ll be a day where you and I will speak again?
Where one of will send
Like a reminder from a friend
The sentiment of, “If you’re crying,
Or you’re happy, or inside you’re slowly dying
I was there for you before and I can promise I’ll be there for you again.”

Do you imagine there’s a world where I can finally say how sorry that I am?
Where every major fault
I hadn’t hidden in a vault
And I could say what I was hiding
And believe it wouldn’t be so damn dividing
And the truth I could’ve given as a stream instead of just another dam?

Do you, I wonder, happen by and read the words I write and always will?
The ones forever tilting
From a soul forever wilting
In the absence I created?
And if so, I hope you know, I’ve always waited
And imagined we would speak again for hopeful was the way you made me feel.

Answers

No answers here and truly, none shall be here anymore
And still, I’m drinking oceans for the shells along the shore
A cheap metal detector looking for a golden score
My fingers on the residue I wish I could ignore
But at the bottom, only two versions of two and two are four

I race along the apertures I made to leave behind
Where vis-a-vis and que sera sera are intertwined
Like words that gave an answer that I hoped you wouldn’t find
And eyelids try to close so that, to truth, I could be blind
Because I spoke a million words, but never really spoke my mind

The answers fail as surely as the bottle where I sought
New answers for a problem old I never should have bought
And looking, starry-eyed, at every lesson that was taught
While hoping that in silence I could share my every thought
As if the precedence of proof was like a key I needed not

I fell beneath the light where all the amber fell to gray
Where questions I beheld, but not a word I chose to say
To eyes I never wished, for even once, to look away
But knew my every breath was always destined to betray
And so I waited til the moment past then asked if it could stay

But answers, so I see, and always have, are like a wing
Upon a fragile bird that never really learned to sing
And still, I try to pull and place the world upon a string
While knowing that the end result will obviously sting
Just know the only promise I can really make is not to promise anything

Cards

I looked over the cards – seven in total. Prime number…of course it was. I moved them around…habit, I suppose. The desire to make the inobvious less obvious.

I looked around at the other players – seven in total. All of us doing much the same in different ways. I tried to pry some truth from the situation, tried to understand what was happening and why with little glances that tried not to scream, “Is this for real?”

No one seemed inclined to voice such a question. A table of well-known strangers all acting like they weren’t mentally imploding. Each one wearing their own reusable mask of cool composure.

The one to my right looked the most out of place. A man who had clearly seen dark times and dark outcomes. He looked at his cards like a man who feared that everyone else was preparing to pry them from his hands. He seemed twitchy. His hands always moving, eyes glancing. He wore a tangled curtain of dingy, stringy hair. The odd man out. My gut told me he’d been as such for quite some time.

He took some chips from before him – odd-shaped things, seven-sided with a weird line design at the center that looked like a spiral. He seemed almost haphazard. Grab and throw. He didn’t even say anything.

I got the feeling he was a man who was used to betting recklessly. A man who had lived through enough bad bets that he just accepted that shit is what shit is. Deal with it and move on.

I looked at the others…the ones who would need to call or raise or fold before I had to do the same.

The next one to decide was clean-shaven. He had the look of a man who ordered whiskey, Black Label, neat. Maybe something more expensive. I don’t know enough about whiskey…never had the taste for it. He was like a man who aspired to be Don Draper. He looked like he might have succeeded. A man that made hard decisions. Big decisions. Used sentences like “The expected needs of shareholders” as regularly as other people talked about TV shows.

He barely looked around. Just glanced at his own cards, which rested in hands that only moved to find a glass of whiskey that should’ve been there, but wasn’t. He grabbed some chips in the right quantity while looking like it was accidental and threw them into the center of the table.

Part of me almost chuckled at the humor of the pretense. Like watching people wearing domino masks and acting like their identities were an enigma.

The next one looked like a man who had slipped his arms into the warm embrace of simple mediocrity. A man that worked a nine to five. A man that watched TV on his off time. Paid his bills. Mowed his lawn every other Saturday. A man that had an aura made of shoulder shrugs and self-resignation. He didn’t strike me as a gambling man.

He looked around the room with equal parts veiled confusion and disinterest. He looked down at his cards and then at his chips, weighing the risk and reward. He cautiously picked up some chips and held them. Looked like he might put them back down while moving his cards like he might fold. A little dance of back and forth, back and forth.

“Fuck’s sake,” the first man said, “in or out.”

His voice was even rougher than I imagined it would be. A smoker to be sure.

I remembered trying to like cigarettes. I hadn’t succeeded. Never understood how anyone else ever did.

The hesitant one finally froze in the midst of his little what-should-I waltz and cautiously put his chips in the center of the table.

While everyone at the table was different in their own way – apart in their own way – the next one seemed somehow more so. He didn’t have a red mohawk or a face full of piercings. He didn’t have a sleeve of tattoos like the man that sat just to his right. He didn’t seem like a man who drank expensive whiskey or a man who might be the Unabomber in training. And yet, he was the stranger of the strangers in this odd ring of uncomfortable familiarity.

Unlike everyone else, he wore a wedding ring.

With a brow that told as many common stories as his JC Penny attire and matching expression, he looked around the room with a look I couldn’t place. Discomfort, or apathy? Calm collection? Some neutral disposition that I’d never seen in myself and so struggled to recognize when I saw it now?

I’d looked around to play Sherlock Holmes at one point to see if there were tell-tale signs of recently missing rings on other fingers but they were all bare except his one.

I’d never been married, of course. Never even been close. Never really been close to close. I often wondered how people ended up there and why. I couldn’t help but wonder what roads I’d passed, lost, or ignored that might have ended up where I might have been a man with a similar ring.

He gave a little expression with his mouth. Not a smile. Not a grimace. One side pulled up and pursed at the corner, like his face was saying, “Hm…” without using words. He looked around at the table like…I’m not sure what. He made a little clicking sound out of the other corner of his mouth and put his cards down. He drummed his fingers on the table, gave a “Yup…that’s me…” raise of his eyebrows, stood up and walked away.

“And then there were six,” the Don Draper type said without even looking away from his cards.

“Well then,” the next one said. He looked over his cards and the chips in the center of the table. His arms were ink up to his wrists, his face shaved into a goatee that was grown down to probably his sternum. No piercings though. No rings on his fingers. No tattoos on the neck or face or scalp. He looked like the kind of guy that had driven adrenaline on highways of loud music. A man that was used to staring out at a group of strangers that would all look up at him with false visions of lovingly-crafted recognition. A man that had kicked down the door of “follow your passion” and realized that it was really all anyone had – that and the regret of never having done so.

He called with so little hesitation that it made me envious.

The next man sat quietly. That look of a man weighing everything and everyone. A mind running probabilities and wondering if any of them led anywhere other than right here and now. His hair was semi-short, leaving that always recognizable friar’s ring hair that you see in men of a certain age. He moved his cards around not unlike I’d done and had been doing. He looked around the table with a look that – in all truth – was more terrifying to me than the man to my immediate right who, I’m pretty sure, had at least one story in his arsenal of a time when he’d snorted cocaine off a dead body in an alley. It was a look of a man who didn’t really see anyone else at the table – just end results. Like a man counting up the value of collateral damage. His mind ticking by with an assessment of individual importance and coming to the same conclusion over and over again.

He cleared his throat and eyed his chips. Picked up the necessary amount and slid them forward.

Down to me then…

I glanced around the room in that way that people do. In that way that I’d always done. That way that I’d done the most when I wish I’d done it the least. That way I’d done when I used to look at Julie in my mid-teens. That way I’d done when I used to look at Sarah when she’d get a glass of water that was just close enough to my desk that I could always smell her perfume and watch her do that thing with her hair when she was mentally processing.

I never once asked what was on her mind, of course.

I didn’t want to intrude.

I wondered if the others had their own Sarahs and Julies. I suppose everyone does in their own way. I could have asked, but then none of us seemed willing to just ask the most basic question of all.

That question that existed because of that sentence I’d heard years ago. Some random thing I’d seen on the internet. One of those “What if…” type questions that makes you go, “Well, I mean…yeah…that would be kind of fucked-up…”

I tapped my chips. I tallied the numbers – likely not as well as the one to my left – hopefully, better than the one to my right. The math wasn’t lost on me. Seven players with seven cards. Forty-nine cards total. A deck has fifty-two. That leaves three in reserve. Clearly, this was not a game where there would be any new cards, only discards. You get what you have – you play it to the end or…well…you don’t play at all, I suppose.

I slid my own chips forward, driven – if I’m being truthful – as much by curiosity as I was by the drive that had driven me through so much. The drive to want to play and to want to win…even when the cost of winning was losing…and even when the only thing won was knowing that I’d done it.

The addict took a look at his cards and selected two, placed them face down. The kind of man that was used to reckless wagers. He was hard to read because he seemed the sort that didn’t know how to panic anymore. Life was a downward spiral – it only led one direction now – the rest was just window dressing.

“All in,” he said with a grin that showed a severe need for a trip to the dentist nearly two decades ago or more. He shoved his entire pile of chips into the center.

The suit seemed calm. Composed. He knew how to gamble. He did it all the time, and he did it with time and money…he did it with lives – his own and others. Life was a game of pick your poison. A game of keep-your-enemies-closer. He took two of his own cards, placed them face down and slid his own chips forward.

I doubt anyone was surprised when the man who had already seemed hesitant to play at all found his courage buckle and just put his hand down entirely. Even then, he seemed unsure about whether he should stay and watch, or get up and leave.

“Not really a voyeur kind of situation,” the one with tattoos said.

“Yeah,” the addict said, “in or out. If you’re out, then piss off.”

He got up, hesitantly and started to turn. “I…” he said, “it’s just weird, right? Like…it’s not just me, right? I mean…” he looked at the floor now, “I remember seeing this thing a long time ago and…I mean…”

“You’re out, yeah?” the suit said – more a statement than a question.

The one standing just nodded.

“Then you’re out,” the suit said coolly. “Be out.”

The man whose life must have been a long and empty raft ride through the gray waters of “why and what and who really cares?” clenched his jaw. He swallowed his words like he’d probably swallowed so many other words and outbursts in his life. He kept them inside like a man who had long ago decided that he had nothing to say that was worth saying.

“Yeah,” he said, “I’m out…” and he walked away.

The man with tattoos chuckled. Plucked two cards from his hand and set them down – chips in.

“Fuck it, right?” he said like a man who had learned to stop worrying about things he couldn’t control because he’d decided that he couldn’t control any of it, “Games a game.”

The next man didn’t say anything. He calmly pushed his cards together and set them on the table and departed.

“Guessing we all know what he was going to say,” I said – more a statement than a question. Of course, we would. Beneath the minor differences and major alterations, I could see it clearly. Under a skin marbled with tattoos or a face of calm deliberation. Under a face that was wearing twenty more years than it had any right to wear.

I saw the same ticks and quirks. I saw the things that matched that outshined the things that didn’t. A game of “find the differences” and realizing that no matter how deep they went, they were still hard to pull away completely from the parts that were the same.

“Didn’t say there’d be a group,” the addict said.

“No,” I said, “but it’s compelling all the same.”

“You plan on doing something with those chips?” the suit asked.

“You late for a meeting?” the one with tattoos jabbed.

I took two cards from my hand and set them down. “I never asked her what was on her mind,” I said. “I wish I would’ve.”

“Julie?” the suit said. He chuckled a bit at that. “You would’ve been let down by the answer.”

I pushed my chips into the center of the table and I thought about the line that had been weighing on me. The line that was probably going to keep weighing on me. The one that made me fear what would happen when the chips settled and we decided to put our hands down so we could all really see what we had.

“What if hell is when the person you became meets the person you could have been?”

The addict was right, though. No one said shit about it being a group.

“Call,” I said – driven still by curiosity as I was by the desire to win. Even if winning meant losing. Even if the prize for winning was that I knew I’d won.