Staring Contest

I’ve been having
a staring contest
with an empty pack
of Pall Mall Reds
for months now.

It’s been bounced around
in the wind
from the gutter
to the grass.

It greets me
in the morning
and I say good evening to it
at night.

Since we’re now
such close friends
I don’t have the heart
to pick it up
and throw it out.

Apparently
it’s a very personable
pack of cigarettes
as it seems
nobody else has had the heart
to do it
either.

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Dancing Ghosts

A border town jazz band
playing old favourites
for lovers dancing
with the ghosts
of their dead spouses.

A slow lament
for slow moving feet
and outside someone tosses
a ripped up photograph
into the dirt
because he caught
his ghost
dancing with another.

Heartache still hurts
50 years after the last
heartbeat.

Someone asks,
“How come we never danced
when we were alive?”

and a reply:
“because now we have all the time
in the world
to learn the steps.”

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Airports/Notebook/Montage

The Student Light in a Car is the Low Gas Light.

A whole day in a seat.
Without a cigarette.
Sober/a warm bar downtown and me outside in the rain/so alone/feeling nothing except the rain/aftermath of sleep/concrete digging into the weak spots of my neck/ sleeping off too much.
Ferry ride/a Beautiful November day/lots of thoughts/lots of things on my mind/ aimless and apathetic sometimes/just plain tired of others/but it was good to see friends/stayed sober too/Hey! Let’s travel/only 13 hours to go/looking gaunt/feeling trashed.
How to go broke: Drink foreign and domestic.
Later:
Thank god someone wanted to go for a cup of coffee, because there’s been no human interaction for a while. As always, I have been very inside my own thoughts. Old thoughts though? Or new?
I’ll have to ask my coffee date.

Meditations

10,000 years from now, will our tweets be seen in the same light as meditations? As goals to strive for? Strange that he speaks of man being ash, and nothing standing the test of time, when I read his book in 2016, and he wrote it in 180 BC.
There is a severe lack of knowing the day/ I’m lost in time/lost in thought/lost in the days/lost in the lists/lost in the waiting/lost at night/lost.
Radio connection:
Listening to Elvis at 2 am. The sound cuts out. I tune into a radio station in Reykjavik. Elvis. Worlds away and yet still right here.
The Buddha of dissonance waiting at the door/cold in Victoria/razors for guts/eind bites lips like a wronged lover’s last kiss/lip chap/scarf/extra gloves/feeling comes back to the fingers/a meet and greet of worries: forgotten names, forgotten moves.
1 cigarette/ 2 cigarettes
Social anxiety front lines/a worry of fucking everything up/dust off those customer service skills.

A God Kneels For Once.

All of the beeps in this store sound like the heart rate monitor of a coma patient.
Nicotine head rush.
Bus ride/all full/ No lights/More leg room than on flights/transit.
Limping home/fresh slate/new goals/and my tail between my legs for Christmas Eve. A house as childproof as Dachau.
Burning servers of personal information/list of executions/a detailed list.
If the state is collapsing, then it wouldn’t be the state police doing it/military police/ ration cards/political lingo/a breeze/forceful/envelopes your body like a hug from a wolverine/pain/cold bites with jaws forged by Mother Nature’s viciousness/Mother Nature bites me/hard/cold and ethereal/her jaws of ice/her teeth javelins of hard packed snow.
Piano key notes on the high end.
An artist’s gathering discussing the new regime.
A cocktail party, people with fancy titles and degrees and trades that they don’t build factories for.
Marble steps warmed in the sun.
Search.
Scour.
Scouring.
Allow me to sleep/a great day/barbershop eyes/floor sex diversions/a target of 20 poems/ historic week/a circle jerk with too many hands.
It seems everywhere I go these days, Desire by Dylan follows me around. One of those records that really chews its way into your timeline.
At a philosophers café in hell, those around the table laugh and laugh/the two black straws of a double gin cocktail/looking like barrels of a shotgun you stuff in your own mouth/the unfurling of banners upon the buildings of the old state/a list of the dead/a fresh group of corpses/creepy and weird, like brother and sister engagement photos.

Overheard: The soft-core algorithm.

Snow on the Palms

I thought I had left this all behind me provinces ago/that bite on my cheeks/that scalding on my fingers/my frail ankles/those of an octogenarian forced to lindy hop/ every cigarette an endurance test/every trip to the grocery store a miserable forced march.
Yet among the problems and the miseries there is a joy returned that I thought I packed up along with my prairie memories: that of snowflakes in my hair.
A cup of tea by the window/as I watch snow fall on palm trees and blanket downtown/a visual out of a 50’s movie where lovers cling tight while waiting for the bus.

Eating Light Bulbs For The Illumination

Interesting conversations with a French Canadian cab driver:
Algeria
Public Radio
The Nostalgia of Quebec City
I’m trying to write positive poems. But something about air travel really fucks all that up.

Bought a fresh start for $7.09/ if only it was always that easy or that cheap to wipe the slate clean and get going all over again/an airport smoothie renewal/the kind that does nothing for your soul/nothing for the inner being/just fattens you up and gives you claims to a healthy minded falsehood/I should have stuck with a burger/full blown fatigue/cycling thoughts:
Up late. Too late. Panic and anger for breakfast. No way out discovered.

Duality

Journeys upriver/new directions/new values/yet, too much cold, dead, new wave music on the radio/Love vigilantes and Zen lunatics crowding the streets/banners of the new faith/the day after the revolution/words like a pilgrimage/travel/exploration/a decadent indulgence of the soul and the self.
The death inside flickers and glows again/like coming out of post-break-up misery/like seeing the end of your 20’s/putting the book on the shelf/and then making a cup of coffee and waiting for the sun to come up.
Victorious.
Please wait behind the blue line.
Observations of escape/follow the seasons/inhale/exhale/rebirth/life/rebirth/slow down/repeat/spring/summer/fall/winter/flip the record to Side 2/it is here that the difference emerges/different grooves/different songs/same format/same subjects/ within the same realm.
Yet different.

Left to Mentally Rot Among the Hissing of Espresso Machines

YYC.
The baggage carousel/listening to New Order/perfect music for finally being off anti-depressants/cold and clean/sub-levels of emotion restored/yet, isolation is still present/isolated in the sound/within the headphones a drum machine for a heartbeat/ feelings muted and electronic/not lifeless though/as if everything has been turned back on and rebooted/a fresh slate to things/the murk and the fog pushed aside/drowning sound and a haze of noise replaced by a cold clear beat.
Finding exiles.
Among Anarchists
Soldiers
Changing of the Guards
Poetry
Savage Detectives
Conflict Zones
Rock N’ Roll
Love Vigilantes and a Guest
A Journey Upriver
A poem on antiquated love
Strike your name from lips that no longer speak couplets or sonnets.
Lost.
Reading helps/touching pages/letting the music someone else chooses soothe me/for I can’t seem to choose the music myself/cloudy days/cloudy thoughts/grey/deadened/ with a slight chill/Where is spring? Where is spring? Where is warmth? Bloom?

Dedication

To cigarettes
To nobody
To dead poets
To misery
To my 3 AM existential crisis.
People. Look, people/try not to freak out, or rage out/or whatever it is you do when there’s people around/you’re already teetering/all it took was one racist cab driver who after 30 years of driving had no fucking ability to talk to passengers.
Fucking hell.
Easy.
Breathe.
Empire Burlesque/troops in an overrun sector/pissed off that they were stuck in a sector with such a shit record/in combat.

I’m not able to write here/staring down a host of blank word documents like I’m in a Mexican standoff/but I’ve spent all my bullets in gunfights back in Victoria/hands hovering over the keys/but dipped in stone/the piano player trying to hammer out a sonata with broken fingers/for my safety I go outside and close my eyes and listen to the birds and the cars and all the other things that are just sound and image and not material/I’m not sure yet if I like this/If this is safety or stagnation/if I’m out of the woods or lost within them and sitting on a comfortable patch of grass/I like the sound of the birds though.
Contrasts:
Happiness/Depression
Life/Death
Sunshine/Rain
Ocean/Dried up Sewage run-off ditch.

Being a Writer is Like Being Punched in the Cock By God:
Painfully Enlightening.

Phantom limb/airport longue/whole body and soul rumpled and in need of a good ironing/feeling my phone twitch/a text from you/someone reaching out to this drowning man who flails in a sea of boarding announcements and baggage checks/but the phone screen is blank/a phantom text/a felt sensation from something removed.
Help.
I put my head in my hands/ Stevie Nicks comes around like she always does/all howling scarves and robes and puts her hands on my shoulder and says what she always says: “Did she makes you cry? Make you break down? Shatter your illusions of love?”
And I have to answer in the affirmative/as I toss out the waters of my heart like someone emptying out those black plastic flowerpots at the drug store.
She listens.
Sparrows drink from a water bowl for dogs/at the airport arrivals exterior smoke pit/ making of the best of being in the wrong place/I know how they feel/but I cannot fly without going back through security.
Landing in this hangnail of a province/one I keep picking at/causing pink blood to dot my cuticles/like hangnails, I can’t seem to ignore this province/like hangnails, it seems like a necessary evil/part of being human/part of the condition/part of the scheme/I haven’t found a way to band aid them, or it, or this yet.

Yet.

Sonic Youth Washing machine/red carpet rain outside/a pack of crushed Lucky Strikes/courage to brave the outside/“He’s so vintage!” says someone at a Noodle Bar downtown/and I have no idea what that means.
Fuck this/I want something better/a hotel room with the girl three rows back and better destinations than the asshole of the world/there’s that word.

Want.

I seem to exclude me from any kind of action/exonerations from progress/never working on things until it’s too fucking late and you’re locked onto a path that you didn’t want.
To reiterate: fuck this.
Get me gone/get me off of this treadmill.
There I go: excusing myself from action all over again.
“Get me!”
He calls out his demands/even though he could reach/there’s a Dylan lyric about that.
This is me/extend your fucking grip/reach out/grab something for yourself/stop wanting/Stop hollering, “Get me!”
And start fucking getting.

“You Just Sit Around and Ask for Ashtrays, Why Can’t You Reach?”

To write a symphony on an airsickness bag.
This romance was doomed from the start/the crows circled before the carcass even hit the desert floor/I am in the ashes in the garden you keep on your balcony/snarling/my teeth gnash/both speakers blown/letters to still write/but no words/stalled on the mental turnpike with horns honking from behind/so I gnash my teeth to stubs/because my fingers won’t move/as my words die off in a traffic jam.
One.
By.
One.
How? How do you write letters to someone you don’t know how to explain something to? Tough thoughts/all so very self serving/all admitting to faults that have a direct effect on their life/coming through like a tornado/wrecking things/and now I’m trying to write a check to pay for the damages/easier to write these thoughts to myself than to write that particular dispatch.
Ordering pizza again.
Again.
I have lost control again/lost/very lost/well, not really, but it feels that way/and if it feels that way, then it is that way.

Surviving Halifax/When Jesus Comes Back He Saves Everybody But You/
A Statement in Blood

The whole city twitching/like an overheated dog in the sun/panting oil slicks/drooling radiator steam/I’ve turned away from the typewriter/too concrete in its vision/too final for this discarded series of thoughts/soggy and discarded/like a cigarette butt in the urinal/the fire knocked out/the use over, and dropped into the wrong place no less/ Sunday/the streets rolled up early/everything and everyone taking the night off and leaving the roadways as deserted as my mind/sure, I am writing this, but it’s like trying to get a full glass of water out of a leaky faucet with a broken tap.
One
thought
at
a
time.

Foreplay With a Blank Ream of Paper

Once more/back at it/back to it/into the fray/plunging back into the darkness/a new voice/yes, that should be easy/weaponized middle class/weaponized thought/thinking/ a weaponized utterance/intent to destroy/a preferred target locked in/watching a 1- 0 baseball game for nine hours/checking supplies/seeking ways forward/again/this personal best hitting another roadblock/another setback/that I try desperately to meld into victory/victory/a poisonous word dangled in front of me/a poison/a prison of the unfinished/the path not taken/the path of the chosen covered in thorns that claw and bite/lost in this wilderness/familiar, yes, but still lost/like a back alley/an offset avenue filled with prowling junkies and dead ends/doors boarded up and stores tossed open/a vacancy of thought/this empty lot of feeling with the exit not obvious.
So I wander/I wonder/reflect/feel the walls and stand on the tops of the overflowing dumpster looking for cell service.
Somebody score a goddamn run.
Anything.

Absolute Bottom and Despair in the Boarding Area of Flight 213

Ativan.
Ativan 1.
Ativan 2.
Ativan 3.
Nobody here is fuckable/but the coffee isn’t bad dad jokes overhead in euro accents and nasal spray clouds dusting the sitting area/white pants/everyone in fucking white/this goddamn city/this goddamn existence/this fucking red-light parade of misery/
Stop. Start. Stop. Start.
I am clenched with a rage. A location based rage.
Trapped in.
Bored in.
Fucked.
Fucked among the un-fuckable/but, “try to relax” or some such bullshit/I am trying to not end it all/and right now that’s a full time fucking job/Fuck, it’s hot/Fuck, it’s a loser prospect being here/Like a cell dead zone of a town.
Christ I want a cigarette.
Oh look/a proximity sexist, on top of everything/I now want to put this pen through my fucking eye/then bleed out all over him/while calmly explaining the negative connotations of his position.
Wrap your head around this.
I want to wrap my head around nothing.
Proxy:
Love by proxy
Sex by proxy
Food by proxy
Music by proxy
Sensation by proxy
What’s the point in living for yourself?

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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
tonight.

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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Feed

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
Photographed
and published
in Brasilia, Brazil

Polar bears and their reflection

1947
Stalin’s Soviet Union

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

Way of Greif/
Sorrow/
Suffering/
or simply: Painful Way

Body wash

Sugarcane fields
Nicaragua
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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