Little Empty Houses

Birdhouses and mailboxes and bedframes and double doors. Heavy wooden portal stoppers leaned up against racks of plywood. Medium density fiberboard with a watch-face sized hole drilled in front, a short cylindrical nose pegged under that gaping cycloptic opening. Sixteen slats glued together, screwed to two belts of black metal bent in gentle bows. Hypothetically, everything in a workshop is hypothetical. Growing dust. Doors off hinges. Overflown housing. Mailboxes with no fixed address. Potential piles up. Scullery doors in the corner. Solid oak end tables crushing castor wheels.

Space. Who builds space. Not the carpenter. Not the writer. The politician. The doctor. Not the builder. Emptiness. Pure, layered, reinforced racking potential. Who prints blank books. Fills pens instead of emptying them. Who makes the makings. Doesn’t care whether or not birds ever come. Who builds little boxes that resemble houses. Who makes doors who isn’t trapped by door frames. Leaned in aisleways, stacked in back of showrooms with cardboard sandwiched between. Custom doors stacked, piled, pre-divorced from their future portals.

There are so many ways to pray, but none come close to creating space. Full pens. Empty books. Empty frames. Doors with no deadbolts drilled in them. Miniature houses, no birds. The rigid rectangles that clutch the soft shapes we sleep on. We don’t know.

We don’t know where birds will nest.
We don’t know what we’re building.
We don’t need to. It’s better that way.

Let the birds decide.
Until then, build little empty boxes.

The Key

Do you type your poems. Tapping like a red headed woodpecker up and down a dying dogwood. Big bold bluejay looking your way. Do you keep your cat indoors. Fat squirrels upside down on red oaks that smell rotten on the inside say you do. The field rats digging tunnels into the chicken coop do too. Do you use the backspace key the way you wish you could. Do you delete lines from your poems. Do you highlight some words and hold down Ctrl and B to embolden them. Do you cut and paste your memory the way you would a page? 

A lot of moss. A lot of mushrooms as soon as it turns warm. A lot of rebel-headed, nonconforming grass: a mosh-pit sort of lawn. Been having these insatiably royal dawns: a bright, military blue, a misty, someone paid dearly for this hue. It’s death stew. One day the main course will be you. So eat up. 

Bricks that didn’t make the cut line the sidewalk, terrace the beds, raise the gardens. Block rats from eating chicken dinner. Prop up pallets and weighed down tarps and sometimes just sat, piled, and waited, freed up and unfixed in a way house bricks will never be again. Susceptible. Changeable. Ever stalked by that flashing cursor, and living feral and terrified beneath the eternally unforgivable backspace key. Locked in placelessness. 

Amphibians croak up out of the mud. Crack the earth’s crust like the eggshells they all broke. Can’t rake the leaves for the salamanders curled up underneath. Do you type poems. Do you step lightly in nature, and stomp hard on city streets. Do you rake your yard like you’re supposed to. Save your mistakes. Keep a place to keep alive all the poems you wrote you hate.

What is memory, to you. Do you still pretend it’s up to you?

The Same Thing

I write a word. You think two or three that define it for you. I’ve written another word by that time. You’ve got at least six in mind to make those two mean anything. It’s a really simply chemical equation: language. Just tedious. Time consuming, yet always under the scrutinizing expectation of punctuality. Let’s work through this. What language is. What it does. 

Have you ever crossed your ears, and let someone’s words blur, and listened to the sound of language. Not translating in a hurry. Not hearing. Like baby’s babbling, or dog’s yapping, or cliche cicadas winging sonnets in doomed early spring. We’ve all worked and been worked so hard to never do the thing I’m asking if you’ve done. We want to understand. We’re bark-moaning when we speak. Manipulating our vocal cords and using our tongues like corks to close what one day we plan to open. That’s the first point I need to make. Language is only as flimsy as the vessel it travels in, and at the end of the day, these are sounds. Even what I’m currently typing down, of course I am saying it to myself, trying to imagine how you will hear it. Every message is coded, by nature. It’s just when we really get to know the code, we stop hearing it the way it sounds when we didn’t comprehend. Which can be of equal importance. Neverending excuses exist for sound distortions. So first off, language is dependent on performance, even more so than syntax or the speaker’s intentions. You can, and will, and have, communicated ideas to others you yourself have never known. Mishearing. Misspeaking. Misunderstanding. You could go on forever with these misshaped words. Mistake. Mistook. 

Now here’s the rub. 

If you cash out early on the free chips you were given and you never buy in, not to the awards, the costumes, the trophies and decorations society is chomping at the bit to place against you, essentially, if you don’t mind from time to time sounding stupid, you can manipulate language, words, sounds turned stringed cheese cylinders of high sodium meaning, basically, if you give up on being right, you can be a poet. And a poet, to the academic, is a willing participant in a doomed to be endless experiment. An idiot, to not mince words. 

But more than what you say, people will hear you pause, your questions will reverberate their memories like you held a microphone up to your mouth for those. They’ll feel validated, graduated, because you asked. You showed interest. Your mistakes, your misgivings, will grace their chemical laden insides like compliments, they’ll be delighted you’re not one of those pretentious, know it all, get it rights. I’m describing language as a form of heavy, dentable but unbreakable armor. Clunky. Burdensome. But next to flesh, there’s no comparison. 

Language. Language is the arrow we launched at the target.
But the target. The target was communication.

And I’ll leave you with a question, a key to help unlock the universe of what people really mean. How often are language and communication the same thing?

YCDB

I can imagine thunder.
Batting my eyes makes lightning.
Yawning earthquakes into existence.
Clearing clouds from my throat.

Raining germs. Puddled teeth.
I don’t read. The fossils that I found.
The washout from the ground.
Where it all got given away.

But I can imagine gravity.
I can still feel kisses on my scars.
Storming out. Desert Inn.
There it is. The wilderness.

Anything I have done.
You can do better.

Yes. Today.

I’ve chased down a thousand things I called time to get where I am right now.
The front room of my grandma’s house wearing a winter parka over my pajamas.
I’ve chased a little boy I call baby because I am afraid for what I love to grow beyond me.
I wake up at four in the morning with no alarm set like an old man, like a grandfather
feeling chill crept in from corners and up from the window sills because the fire is low.
Coals grown cold compared to what they were when I first laid down and closed my eyes
like a young man, tired, forget that, exhausted, like a young father, indebted to the castle
he funded by the credit of his youth.

In a few years knees won’t work and back will refuse.
There had better be a roof over gray hair and a stout hearth propping up bloodless heels.

I’ve chased a thousand things I called after by tomorrow and promise and please.
I used my ideals like a carrot on a string to avoid being caught up to by so many things:
today, acceptance, settling.

There is a woman across the hall doing her damnedest to put up with me.
Whatever I have ever picked up, I have also let down.
Apology has become like a second language to me.
I have learned the differences between sorrow and sorry
are more difficult than ow or why. One is seated, settled, done, erasing.
And the other is chasing, searching, anything to keep from facing.

Truth.

I have learned, the hard way, the least productive use of the word yes
is yesterday.

From the Minds of Children

I imagine the very first writers as scavengers. Hikers. Walking village to village, collecting what noises each individual, isolated collection of humans have thrown at rocks, hills, rivers, trees, seeing what sticks, forgiving what doesn’t as nothing more than babble. The idea that one great thinker sat down to put down language is absurd. That is not the way the human mind works. It is far more likely language was discovered by children. Babies even. Probably the first of us to erupt into laughter, and then, call it a giggle just after. I’d be amazed if an adult ever invented a single good word. Grown ups just name things after what they heard, the sound they make. Bark. I give that to an old person. Scrape. Cough. But not grass, not oak, not maple or throw. Little children safely insulated inside their villages gave title its title. And the rarest of humankind, the poet, made a career out of restlessness. Searching out the particular phenotype of a phrase as it evolved up and down the Euphrates. Moving on and contaminating the next group with how their neighbors call after their dogs, how they describe the blood red hearted logs that stink like shit. Red oak and red cedar and straight as an arrow Tulip poplar.

Poplar, staring into startling coals, dodging embers as they explode. Poplar. I’m sure that was popular. Right off the bat. Bat. A simple mind came up with that. But it took a genius to collect it and put it beside strings of others and carry it just as if it were as important as hard crusted bread or zucchini seeds or dried meat. Lion. Easy. Giraffe, not so much. Cat. Lizard. Leopard. Sherpa. Sauna. Stain the plate orange lasagna.

Every word is a moving target. A symptom of evolution, a flower off a creeping vine. A changing thing. Which explains all of relativity. A cold hand in less cold water does not equal the word warm. Because cold, and water, and warm, are just words. Just noises. Sounds that bubbled up from our throats and just so happened to get stuck against some unwitting, innocent object, also evolving, moving, changing.

All the quirks in existence can be explained by the little sentence printed along the base of side view mirrors on cars. Objects will appear larger in the construct of language than they ever are in the construct of reality. Because they were made that way. Like a microscope. What does it show. Truth. Indelibly. Definitely. Yes. But no. Not at all. In no way whatsoever, also. Does that make sense? That some truth can only be made clear via distortion, manipulation. The world around us must be twisted like a sopping dishrag in order to find out what it’s made of, emptied, when articulated fully. Through a little bent glass a microcosm of bacteria, cellular structure, viral culture materializes. The invisible can be made visible if you close one eye and squint the other one just right with the right amount of light aimed up through an empty space below a downturned, concentrated, scrunched up face. Point that same bulb of clear melted sand up at the stars and you’ll reach a far different conclusion. Darkness. Blankness. The dankness of empty, far off, lonely and desperate outer space. Is that true? Of course it isn’t. To see what isn’t out there more clearly a distortion of a totally different type is required, perhaps a couple bulbous lenses and a linear tube and no light at all whatsoever, and you’ll actually begin to peer into the past. Planets zoom past. Stars already dead and gone still filtering into wide open curious minds. And is that the truth, through a telescope, the other worlds that can be seen with one eye pressed into a cylinder, stared into well placed mirrors, seeing almost every single thing to forsake one’s self. Yes. And no. It is a trick and a truth. And yet, if we discounted the view, how much of our universe would we lose. The galactic framework of our marvelous blue green white marbled planet.

Language. Literature. Words. How much they have in common with low light, bent glass and mirrors. More than we would ever be comfortable with. Which is how we got ourselves into this mess. Trusting the noises that erupt up out of us more than the cavernous realms that gobble up and regurgitate them back at us.

If the words do not exist to articulate, or describe any section of this, it’s not there, it doesn’t exist. We haven’t really figured out the methods or status of the divine, so it isn’t there, we’re all atheists. Believers are worse about it than outright disbelievers. The word belief says it all. By not being the word known. Why would we not back up and readjust the microscope. How could a self respecting scientist peer down, give the knob a little twist, and not resist the conclusion they desire. The easy one. Nothing. It seems pessimistic, but nothing is the thing people hope for more than any other gift of life.

We don’t go back to the drawing board, pack the hiking pack, travel the world, asking children how they call the air we breathe, how they articulate the depth of the sea, or the fullness of space. We call it invisible. We invent words like empty. Void. Lonely. Where children paint pirate ships and abandoned train cars and alien worlds.

I like to imagine those first poets wandering the countryside, scavenging for noises, grunts, moans, taps and clicks and pounding fists and the futile, barbaric yawp of men and women and non-binary minds alike. I like to hear them unifying a thousand different sounds all around the same little bent growing trees, itchy vines, purple flowers. The same exact thing. With an entire spectrum of half names and partial titles and God’s honest gut impulsed recitals. Wheat. Corn. Cabbage. Turtles. Titans. Continents. Mountains. Clouds. Ponds. Wells. Swells. Sand dunes and rock slides and full on white death avalanches chasing what they hope to carry and are soon to bury. The strong survive to sing about it. Track down a poet, and share with them umph for umph the story of it.

Oh, to be a writer in those days prior to words. An author of sounds and noises and explosive bodily functions and the shushing of waves and how the wind sounds like rain and the scream of a bee sting and the gentle sugary buzz off honey. To have lived and walked and traveled before there were enough maps for there to be a thing called lost. Life its self was purely a prize before the invention of the word cost. Surely made up by a grown up. The word responsibility. Probably ripped off from some child running full speed and leaping across their sleeping parents screaming the word ability. Life, dripping from the lips of babes like honey, stingers still in the tips of their fingers, and an old person coming up from behind and to chastise them by putting the word be in front of it. Shape up. Be life. Belief. In endless things we ought to know.

What I wouldn’t give to be a poet back before poets. Before farmers. Before politicians. Before lawyers, and office managers, and kings. When no one had anything. What choice was there but to grow. To scavenge. To walk the countryside and listen to water babble, worse than children about making up words and schemes. Back when sleep was the same as dreams. Birds flew in clouds and stars were dancing bears and shifting soldiers and long handled cups with cracks in the bottom leaking rain. When poets wandered like water the path of least resistance, and filled their bellies every night by telling stories and filling minds. When a single word held in it an epic tale. Chasing after dogs and cats, their epic tails. Recounting every noise of every tribe as they try to describe the exact same blade of auburn colored cattail headed grass. Talk about an epic tell. The boom off the tree that fell. The infinity of a field and how that feels when it has blistered your heel and decides to hold on to your foot print, and let everyone know the way you went.

I like to think how we didn’t start telling stories until long after the world decided to keep us in its story. Story. How many blades of grass, how many different species of trees, how many you’s and me’s, are in that word, alone. How many poets did it take to settle on that word, story. And to this very day, no matter where you are, you’ll find a different definition. We’re still fast at work on a new edition, every single writer ever, wants a crack at a new expression.

But they haven’t heard. They haven’t listened. Too obsessed with ancient religion.
To remember, the best words have always been born from the minds of children.

Breakfast

Pull up sliding and gingerly crunch into the same tire tracks.
Snow, five inches of new, ten inches of old.
I’m blinded by the absence of headlights.
I’m walking now on memory alone.

Slick and hardened ice where the big trucks drove.
To a giant red paneled barn door officially frozen closed.
With a shovel from the shop, the door is unlocked.
Welcomed by blacker than night.

The blackness inside a barn before dawn.
Noses shovel pine chips in the wings. Muzzled throats
rattle and a great fuzz feathered floppy bird croaks
like an old man lifting up off a couch.

At the end of three hundred blind feet I grip
the splintered lip of yet another door. Slide it
heavily from existence. Eager eastern newborn
light bursts past and two hundred pupils shrink back.

Morning has come.
With breakfast.

The Stage – New Paint

Each scuff on the stage is some poor character’s misstep.
Clunky unfamiliar shoes. Heavy heeled.
Scarred the thick black matte some poor soul was paid to paint.
So many scuffs in the same space seem to create a scar.
A gouge. A place gone bare.
Where now the plywood can be seen.
Winking.
Like a relative.
Like a minister of some kind closing only one eye with a headnod.

A family made up solely of the unfamiliar.
Strangers. Who share blood. When we squeeze the egg.
Globs of it left out glistening on the floor.

So many scars and you start to see real damage.
Splintered fibrous tissue torn up through the paint.
Same missteps.
Sudden stops.
Wide eyed wonder and anchor jawed acknowledgment.
Brakes struck down through the boots now officially digging into the structure.
The lumber-boned and lead-skinned body of our theater. Footsteps.
Stumbles. Outright tumbles. Foot falls. Close calls.

Memory.

So many misdirected footsteps wearing unfamiliar shoes.

Then new paint.

What is new paint put up against the past.
Scuffed. Broken. Peeled up.

But if we didn’t paint it every year
there’d be no stage left.

Little Red Tractor

Chiggers infest my shoulders. Poison ivy bumps lie dormant like volcanoes
threatening to burst-break open lava fields of radiant rash. Bruise-dents
in knuckles from slipping off wrenches. Been putting work in.

And like writing. My hands show it.

Callused fingers grip lovingly around a sharp liquid filled pen.
Cage of blue bars with letters hooked like fingers
through the chain-link notebook of time.
Yellowed paper. Burping up banana and water and beer.
Acrid washed pallet.
Me breathing through my nose.

We turned locked bolts I disbelieved would budge.
Stretched taught rubber bands beyond the point of breaking
against thin grooved rust red tracts fit centered
on the seven spoked PTO pulley wheel.

Mowed paths all over one hundred and thirty dirty overgrown acres.
Offered up this heavy blade spinning prayer. And saw it answered.

A baby cottontail bounded headlong terrified just in front of tri-grooved
fourteen inch diameter unpowered steering thin black tires. There was a time

I didn’t thank God for cutting things down

like they were made for it.
Smiled over it.
Like I had somehow reclaimed it.
Or made it clean.

I didn’t. I just cut it short. Laid it down.

Edited it.

Marked up land with a little red tractor
like a professor
tears into a paper with a red ink pen.

Like you’re used to

Lost is still on the map.

Lost is not suddenly some other earth.

You are still found, when you are lost.

Just not without help like you’re used to.

Love is still on a map.

In the mountains of Virginia.

I believe.

Love is not suddenly some other earth.

Our feet are still on the ground even when

we are high on love.

Just not stuck without choice otherwise

like before.

Like we’re used to.