Thanks Tom

When I left high school, I had no idea what I was doing. Most don’t, but I was truly lost. To top it all off, I started my post-high school life by moving with my parents to a city 1000 km away from where I grew up. No friends, no job, nothing going on, and my whole life in front of me. Yet instead of looking at that as some kind of positive, I instead felt stared down by it, and I was doing nothing but blinking and shuddering in front of its gaze.

I missed my friends, and I missed my old life, because I couldn’t think of a way to start a new one; probably because I was 18, and late blooming to the extreme.

At some point in the early stages of this time period, I bought a 2 CD collection of hits by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers titled Through the Years. This group of 34 songs, most of which I had never heard before, was a true watershed moment. This was before I had even begun to think about being a writer, but what these songs did was tap into the emotions that I would later use to write anything at all: hope, love, rebellion, pain, alienation, wanderlust, knowledge that even the losers get lucky sometimes, and a deep appreciation of Stevie Nicks.

From the slow burn of Breakdown, to the angst of I Need to Know, to the late career stuff off Full Moon Fever, these were great songs, and I listened to both disks endlessly. I would listen to certain songs over and over again, in the way that only young people can, where it feels like what you’re listening to is teaching you something, and you want to know what it is so bad that you study every tiny sound and echo on every song that lights up your head.

Within a few months, I managed to somehow cobble together a frail plan to move out of my parent’s place and back to where we had moved all that way from. I would be arriving in the dead of an Alberta winter, and things were going to be far from easy. I was going to be out on my own for the first time in my life, and I think Tom Petty had something to do with the push to do it. Of course, he can’t be blamed for it not working out later on when I had to limp back to the parental fold. Regardless, in that time alone I put rubber to the road on a life of my own, with first loves of my own, with everything up to me, and the whole world balking a little in our ongoing staring contest.

All while Tom Petty played on in my headphones.

Of course, as life moves on, your tastes move on too, and you forget those formative bands a little bit. Today, with the terrible news about Tom’s health, the radio station here in town played nothing but his music for hours, and it was while listening to all of these old songs and sounds, that the old feelings came back: memories of youth starting to turn into something else.

The verdict isn’t in yet, and Tom Petty is still on this mortal coil for now, but the situation looks as dire as can be. However, in as clichéd of phrasing as I can muster, I can truly say that Tom Petty isn’t going anywhere, because he’s left enough behind to live forever.

Thanks Tom, I needed the push.

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Nothing for the Page

I have nothing for this page tonight
I have nothing to give
and nothing to say.

Nothing decent anyway.

I wrote letters today
just to put words on the page
but I wrote them with a perfunctory sense of duty
like I was punching a clock
like IU was working a shift
and now I have nothing for the page

I would say that I’m blocked
but that insinuates something being held back
and this isn’t that
this is barren lands
this is a desert
a literary salt flat
that stretches for miles.

I am standing in the middle
I look north
I look south
I look east and west
for something I could swear was
right in my hands
just seconds ago.

But it’s gone
and I won’t find it tonight.

So I bite my fingernails
and write this explanation
in the way of an excuse
and wait for something to appear
on the horizon of these literary salt falls
and hope that when it shows
that it’s not a mirage.

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You’re never too old to rescue an animal in need

At a dog café

Dockside at the lake
wet paw-prints
footprints looking like dance steps

The golden rule made into advertisement

A slow moving turtle on a log

A lake in Ontario at daybreak
with the fog rolling in

A Def Leppard baseball cap in low lighting

Suggestions for you

Three figures melting into swathes of colours
faces twisted
cherubs shooting needles
through the mess of movement
A coffee cup

Motivational slogans

Fireworks and firecrackers

Tin foil

Reykjavik from above
green trees
neighbourhoods around the church

The US Open through a NY Times lens

movie spoof posters

Record label takeover information
noise rock
“face-melting music makers”

Clash of the Titans

Steinbeck and Capa behind the wall
and into the Eastern Bloc
to report on the real issues

Vulture awareness day
blood covered beaks
reptilian eyes peering out of a scaled face
Nat Geo: 212,990 likes

Strangers become family

Meeting men who claim to be
the messiah returned
and published
in Brasilia, Brazil

Polar bears and their reflection

Stalin’s Soviet Union

Colourful fish removing dead skin from a manta ray
a helping hand
on a slow swimming canvas

Way of Greif/
or simply: Painful Way

Body wash

Sugarcane fields
25 years on
Kidney disease

A blank canvas
chipped sides
dried paint bunched up around the shape
of the old frame
and a question of, “what next?”

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Chicago, and The Harbinger of Death

Since I’ve been here, I’ve grown to fear hearing the song You’re the Inspiration by the band Chicago. “Here” is a kind of purgatory: It always begins on June 4th:I live my everyday life, I go for walks in the park, I listen to music, I drink coffee, I work on the writing, the weather is sunny and crisp, and I sleep well at night. However, at some point in this existence, an end is brought on that sends me back to waking up on the morning of June 4th.

On a random day in this purgatory cycle, I’ll be out living my life and trying to get something done, and out of nowhere, as if played out of a stereo in the sky, comes the huge opening notes of that song, sounding like it’s being played on a piano the size of a football field. I’m not wearing headphones, and there is no stereo playing, and yet the song is still as loud as if a wall of amplifiers had been dropped into my ears. When that happens, I know two things are about to occur; I’m about to see her, and I’m about to die.

The first time it happened was a few days after the fourth. I was sitting on a short brick wall downtown, drinking an Americano and wishing I remembered my sunglasses so that I didn’t have to squint at everything like an idiot. Another sip of the Americano burned my tongue, and I felt like it would be one of those mornings when the world seems stuck in the “inconvenience” setting. Then came the music. I described the feeling above, but I’m not sure anything could capture how truly strange it is to hear music as if you are in some kind of movie. However, before I could come to grips with the sound in my ears, even before I heard the second line of lyrics, I saw her.

She was carrying a full French press of coffee, and the sun caught her hair in one of those ways that you read about in terrible romance novels. The second I laid eyes on her, it was like the whole world went into slow motion, and I knew what love was, truly knew was it was, and that this was the woman that I was meant to share that love with. All bullshit aside, I knew from the second that I laid eyes on her, that we were meant to be together, and the song that played made it seem like this was to be a perfect moment ordained by the entirety of the universe.

Then a fucking dump truck hit me. It jumped the curb. I woke up and it was June 4th again.

Sometimes I’m alive for a week, sometimes it’s a month, and sometimes it’s only a few days. Regardless of the length of time, I inevitably, I hear You’re the Inspiration by Chicago, I see her and her full French press of coffee, and then I am killed. The method of my death differs: once it was a load of bricks dropped from a crane, it’s usually fucking dump trucks, once it was a seaplane crashing into me, once a bus full of elementary school kids, and in one odd instance a moped ramped up off an angled truck trailer and took my head off.

I don’t remember the death that got me into this state of purgatory. I remember all the ones since I’ve been here. Every time it happens, I still forget that death is coming until a second before my lights are put out. Because I know when I hear that song that I get to see her, and when I see her, I forget about impending death. That feeling of warmth that comes from seeing her is enough to make me forget about getting my head taken off by a moped.

Death isn’t painful, not when you know it means nothing. However, because I have her taken away from me again before I get to say a single word to her, I have come to hate the band Chicago. Chicago heralds the end. Chicago heralds pain and misery. Chicago heralds loss of her all over again.

I never even get to the second minute of the song. I don’t even remember what comes after the first chorus. I know the opening piano lines and those few opening lines better than I once knew my parents, or what the back of my hand looks like. If this has happened hundreds of times that means that I have heard that song hundreds of times, and I’ve come to detest it’s big bouncy chords. Once, there was a moment when someone played it on a radio in a coffee shop I was sitting in, and just the first few bars of it, even in a form that wasn’t the all powerful world ending version, sent me running into the street like a scared animal. The slow motion, epic, girl-of-dreams parts of the experience didn’t happen, and as I stood outside the coffee shop waiting to get hit by a crate dropped out of a plane, or a stampede of runaway horses, or a chef riding a motorcycle, on his way to work, who loses his grip on his knife bag right at my head level, I thought that if I ever break out of this purgatory, heaven will be a place where I never need to hear that fucking song again, and hell will be a place where I need to hear it forever.

And on and on it went. I would like to hear her voice. Sometimes I would spend afternoons imagining what she would sound like, that unknown tone and cadence rolling over her lips. I question what she would say. Would she know my name? Would she tell me hers? Would she ask if I wanted any of that coffee that she was carrying? What kind of coffee is it?

I reach the end of these late afternoon thinking sessions always a little let down with the realization that I probably will never discover what the answer to those questions. I thought about keeping a journal about each and every time I see her, but when I get sent back to the start, there would be nothing written, and the pages I had filled would be empty again.

Stuck in a loop of live, see her, die, and then repeat.

Part of me wondered if it’s me that somehow triggers her appearance. As if I conjure her up with some small action of my own. If I reach a certain unknown point that then dooms me to begin the cycle all over again. Is it when I hit a certain page of the book I’m reading? When I move my body a certain way? When I hit a certain weight? Or when I hit a certain amount of hours of sleep? I used to think that it was the amount of days that had passed, but I ruled that out after the amount of days between incidents jumped between two and twenty and fifty-two. It was an unknown quantity that I didn’t think I’d be able to decipher.

The loop continued on.

Sure, there’s a bit of a cynical humour to be found in the whole thing. When I return to the start of the cycle, the song that wakes me up on the morning of the first day is Who Wants to Live Forever? by Queen. It comes on the radio I use for an alarm clock at 8:30 in the morning on the first day. The broadcast is the same. It is a few minutes into the song. Apparently I am living forever. You’d think that I’d use that to my advantage, and use this shared memory between similar lives to learn how to play the piano, or paint a picture, or watch every movie I’ve ever wanted to see, or rent a car and drive away as far as I could foreseeably go. I just never get around to it though, because it seems like the wrong way to do things, and the motivation just isn’t there. I think it’s something about the idea of being sent back to the start all the time. I could be the smartest person in the world, having read 1000 books, having learned everything I could have possibly learned.

None of it would tell me what her voice sounded like though, and knowing the truth of that statement came with an apathy I couldn’t seem to overcome with my endless lives.

In an attempt to get this information down I have typed the phrase, “Since I’ve been here, I’ve grown to fear hearing the song You’re the Inspiration by the band Chicago.” so many times I have lost count. It’s a kind of way to rehash the situation when I start over. I have to retype it at the beginning of every new cycle, but I find it helps. Gives me something to do to give this whole thing some continuity. Someone would think typing the same few thousand words over and over again would be a waste of time, but I have nothing but time. Sure, each and every version of this document will be different each time, but that’s not the point, the point is having some kind of continuity, a physical manifest of memory, even if it is retyped and rebuilt every time.

Remember, retype, restart, and repeat. In this document, I hypothesize a future that I don’t know will ever come, and a disjointed and repeating past that defies logic.

Then there is one Thursday where the whole narrative changes. I am sitting in a large park drinking a cup of coffee and reading a book. Flipping yellowing pages of an old novel and listening to the sounds of the birds chirping and thinking that this is a moment that I could relive over and over again without much of a problem. Sitting against a large oak tree, with the feeling of the blades of summer grass under my fingers.

“Hey, that’s a great book you’re reading,” says a woman’s voice above me.

I look up and it’s her. I heard her voice. I did not hear music. I didn’t hear Chicago playing over anything. I heard her voice and it sounded like milk and honey. It sounded like waves crashing over the beach when you skipped work to go there. For a moment I was stunned, I couldn’t say anything. I looked around for a truck, or an airliner careening out of the sky, or ten junkies with baseball bats and a picture of me with the words, “this man has all the free heroin you want.” scrawled underneath. There was nothing like that though, just me sitting reading my book, and her standing above me with a French press full of coffee, talking to me.

I stupidly looked at my book. Probably to remind myself what I was reading. I tried to say something. I couldn’t say anything. Part of me instantly thought that saying something would cause instant death. My heart would explode. My brain would melt down like a candle in the blast of a flamethrower. If I didn’t say anything though, she’d walk away, and if she walks away then what happens? Do I never see her again? Does she disappear into the ether of time forever? I was in new, uncharted territory, and it seemed like every tick of my heartbeat was different, and therefore dangerous.

“It’s…a book,” is what I finally managed to say. Profound. Stunning. Enlightening. I turned the book over in my hands like it was a foreign object that I didn’t understand, or that I had forgotten what I was reading. The woman of my dreams had spoken to me, and I had responded in a way that meant she would never speak to me again.

“Would you like some coffee?” she asked, as she sat down across from me and pulled out two mugs from the bag she had slung across her shoulder.

“I would love some.”

It seemed a simple start to a conversation with the harbinger of death.
The coffee is hot. We both take it black. It tastes delicious, and I sip it anxiously while she looks around the park at the birds. We have a conversation. Something simple and mundane, yet it was an astounding event, and every sentence she spoke seemed like beautiful couplets strung together by perfect strands of string. Just hearing her voice dance over the words lit chambers of my heart I thought had been caked with layers of lost hope. The fear of death faded as we spoke. I no longer looked for a bus full of cinder blocks; instead I just looked at her.

“So, do you just walk around with a French press of coffee, offering it to strangers?” I asked her at one point; curious as to why she always seemed to have something you’d normally never see outside of a kitchen. It hadn’t mattered where I had seen her, she would still always have a French press of coffee.

“I always seem to leave my house with it. When me and my ex broke up, he took all of the travel mugs, and now this is the only thing I can bring with me when I leave the house to keep the coffee hot.”

“and the offering it to strangers part?”

She hesitated for a moment. Took a sip of her coffee and seemed to collect her thoughts by tilting her head skyward and looking at the branches of the tree we were sat under.

“Do you ever get the feeling you’re living the same life over and over?”

“All the time.”

“I feel like I’ve seen you thousands of times, and then something happens, and then I’m back to the start, like I’m forever asleep in a repeating dream.”

“I know exactly what you mean.”
“So when I saw you and recognized you, I felt this tug, of something significant, like I had seen you so many times before, and needed to approach you.”

“Well, I’m glad you did.”

We parted ways after a few cups of coffee. She gave me her phone number and told me to send her a message if I ever wanted to grab another cup of coffee. I smiled the whole way home. It was when I fell into bed that night, aglow and elated, that a crippling fear came over me, a fear prodded along by questions. Was I still in purgatory? If I died now would I actually be dead? Had things changed? Was the cycle at all broken?

I woke up the next day and sent her a text message. She responded, we talked back and forth and it was light and easy. We agreed to go and get a cup of coffee downtown. From the second I tossed my phone down onto my desk, it felt as if my spinal fluid had been switched out for ice water. I had never known such fear.

Since I’ve been here, I’ve grown to fear hearing the song You’re the Inspiration by the band Chicago. “Here” was a kind of purgatory: It always began on June 4th. Now, I’ve lived my everyday life, I’ve gone for walks in the park, I’ve listened to music, I’ve drank coffee, I’ve worked on the writing, the weather is still sunny and crisp, but I no longer sleep well at night. However, at some point in this existence, I now live in fear of an encounter, an end that will send me back to waking up on the morning of June 4th.
Or I wake up somewhere worse, or nowhere and all. Yet when I think about how her voice sounds, and how good it is to sit and talk to her, I think the fear is worth it.

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Dropped Phone Blues

And in that one swift moment
cement met Chinese child labour results
and power fled the hallowed halls of circuits.

Upon replacement of the displaced battery
the once laser like movements
were sluggish and deadened
like a quadriplegic playing starting line at a football game
and Siri now slurred her words
like a drunk in a dive bar.

Operator fingers move fast
but the machine can’t keep up
and lags behind
like a one legged dance partner.

The way forward
because googling it now takes
five fucking minutes.

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Waiting For 5 AM

There’s a loneliness to the 4 am grind. You step outside your apartment for some fresh air, and to escape that oppressive heat that seems to seep from the old walls of old buildings in the summer. It’s like you’re the last person on earth, with the busy street outside devoid of noise, devoid of traffic, and devoid of movement. You could walk out into the middle of the street and be in no danger. You feel it, that lack of presence of life, except for the sounds of your own heartbeat, and the caw of the seagulls that never seem to sleep either.

I should be sleeping. I’ve been staying up too late, too often. Now, when I get up before the afternoon, it feels as if the sun is in the wrong place in the sky, and that something about the composition of the day is different now that I have replaced morning with late afternoon.

Someone in the building across from mine is awake. I can see the light through their blinds. Yet they are unreachable, an outpost I can never make my way to. I think it would be nice to have someone else out here in all this haze, someone to have a cup of coffee with, to talk to, to be present, so that I would feel less like the last person on earth.

I go back inside and listen to the refrigerator hum, and the fan turn in the corner of the room. Maybe there’s too much to think about. Maybe the seagulls are keeping me up. I turn on the radio, and tune into a talk station, just to hear voices. The sun will be up soon, and when the buses start to run is usually when I finally fall into a dreamless dozing, sprawled out like a base jumper on a bed with the sheets and pillows kicked to the floor.

I think I sleep then, because I know I’m not alone anymore, that the world is out and alive again, and I have made it alone through the night.

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Hyperbolic Pretentiousness

If I was dying in an alley, and all I had was a piece of paper and a ballpoint pen to record my last thoughts, I would leave them unwritten, because I loathe ballpoint pens.

If I was locked in a cell, with one hour to go before I had to face down a firing squad, and the guard outside the room slid a piece of paper under the door, and pulled a ballpoint pen out of his fatigues and passed it to me, saying “give your last words, and I’ll get them out to your loved ones,” I would request that he give me a different pen.

It’s just the wrong tool. It’s like trying to take out a screw with the wrong kind of screwdriver. There’s no writing to it. There’s no grace in the movement of the pen. It is a device that should only be used to put a note on the back of a business card to remind you to buy more eggs. It shouldn’t come anywhere near anything to do with thought, or anything to do with emotion. The ballpoint pen has no place in these arenas. It belongs with multiples of its brethren, a harem of useless writing utensils, in a coffee cup on your desk.

That coffee cup should be labeled, “Use only in case of supreme dire emergency, and even then, probably don’t use these pens. Why did you buy so many of these fucking things?”

Hopefully you can fit that all on a piece of duct tape.

I know this is an extreme view. This is not something to get worked up about. This is not something to really spend any time thinking about. However, when it comes to stepping into the literary gladiator pits, it helps to be well-equipped. Having a typewriter is being well-equipped, because it’s an object you can hit and punch and use to get the stress out at the same time as all the words. Also, you could drop it off an overpass and literally stop a truck. Pencils have the feeling of the rough thought, of a still beating idea, of a dream not yet fully remembered, and that cast off idea still breathes under each scratch, before you drag its corpse out for display in a concrete final version. A decent pen makes every word you write into a small work of art, there’s a swoop and a movement to each stroke, like steps in a dance, the ink on the page as the twirl of a dress and a quick step to the left or the right.

And computers? Well, it helps to be modern sometimes.

The ballpoint pen is none of these things. It sucks. I loathe to even write my name with one. It turns every sentence into something off of a government survey, a card for a liquor store contest draw, or a job application form for work you don’t want.

Yet, I still have 22 of them on my desk.

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