tell me, how does it feel to live with your fists curled, always seeking something to fight?
how does it feel to be so rabid, so vicious, so hellbent on making a ruin out of yourself?
how does it feel to be the knife between your own ribs? darling, you are the war and the battlefield
and there is no victory or glory in bringing yourself to your knees. they have sung of your rage, see;
and none of them have known that most of it is aimed at yourself. it will always feel hollow,
somewhere, somehow, like you’re full of holes; it will always feel like you’re inadequate.
you must learn to live with it, one way or the other, before you fill the grave you’ve dug.
(you’re choking on the thoughts, half too cowardly and far too proud to end what you began;
but it’s so late, by god, too late – you’re halfway to hell, the flames licking the soles of your feet.
it’s fine, you think. you didn’t know what you wanted when you picked up the axe, anyway.)
breathing decay is surprisingly productive; flowers are still flowers, even if it’s just rot blooming on the walls.
it feels good to birth something for a change, when all you’ve ever done was turn everything to dust
as you brushed your hands over it, tracing the contours, memorizing the shape; a part of you hates it,
this gift for bringing disaster – but hey, we can’t all be the cure, can we? some have to be the poison,
and being a cancer comes in handy in a world that’s only constant in its’ tendency to go to hell and fall around you.
and it’s not that you need salvation; god knows you’re beyond it, anyway, and heroes are never fun
the way the villain is, but god, it gets so lonely, living in this castle of dust clouds, watching the world move on.
(and the truth is, sometimes you wish you were Midas instead; statues are better than wind, and although cold,
gold is something you can wrap your arms around, and in the right light the shadows it casts start to dance.
the truth is, you wish you could understand what makes them run away; is it the catastrophes, or are you lacking elsewhere?)
there’s ghosts in the attic and you can’t quite remember how to open the bone, can’t quite remember
how it feels to live with just one voice, one single throat screaming itself raw inside your mind,
making the blood sing, here, cold at the elbow, frozen in the wrists. no; you don’t remember the before,
don’t remember what it was like to take a stance without having to fight yourself over the name of your truth.
you’ve been praying for ages and the doors are still closed, the windows still shut; and the sun doesn’t shine,
not here, no, and god, good god, it’s so damn cold inside. you used to be a forest fire, you used to burn,
but now you’re all ashes and for the life of you you can’t remember how to put yourself back together.
(the sun will still be aflame when the world will go to hell; but before that, hell is here, in the now, in you, planted right
between the lungs, polluting with greedy mouths all that it can reach, staining you white, straining
the breath thin until there isn’t any left in you. hurry; put it out and clean the walls, or there’ll be nothing left, come spring.)
it’s a vicious cycle, not too different from tongues lapping hungry at the time on the face of a clock
or the way the ocean embraces the shore at high tide, whispering its’ love into the sand with the fervent ardor
only something without an omnivore’s instincts is capable of nurturing in its’ chest; it’s you on your knees
with flowers spilling out of your throat and wondering why does it always go wrong even if you know the answer:
it’s because love’s a dance and you can’t keep spinning forever, it’s because there is no equality in passion
and you are always the one who invests more, hands trembling, breaking, giving piece after piece
until you’re almost entirely hollow, because god, good god, it’s beautiful, so beautiful – the feeling, the moment.
(you’ve sold yourself so many times for the same ephemeral jewel; and that’s exactly why you want it, isn’t it?
love is such a beautiful thing, like peace and kissing heaven square on the mouth even if you know it can’t last,
because beautiful things never do – and does it matter, really, what dies first when we all meet in the grave?)
it will always taste like grief, like iron on the tongue, like tears knotting under your chin; it will always feel
like being ripped open, like being split square down the middle and having your guts put on display – it will always feel
like a thousand deaths and rebirths undergone in the span of a second. you cannot escape contempt; you will always
tell yourself it was your fault, that you were left to rot because you were mismatched, somehow incomplete,
not whole, not good enough, god, never good enough; and it will always feel like gale coming from an open door,
licking the skin of your bare back, suckling the tears off of your jaw. it will always feel like kissing a corpse,
because that’s what saying goodbye to someone who walked away is all about, isn’t it? pain – and all of it yours.
(you will always tremble at the sight of someone you love; not from the flood of the feeling as much as from the
lingering fear that they too will one day leave you, and all you’ll have will be another open door, another
kiss not cold enough to soothe the way you hurt, the way your heart is screaming, the way it mourns itself.)
there is something terribly self-righteous about the way you loathe yourself; an almost sacred lining
to the vindictive hands that cut out the heart so that it may wither, if only so the hurt ceases, if only so the bleeding
dries at the source. you weren’t taught kindness; a butcher’s knife is the only mercy you’ve known,
and I can’t help but wonder why – it’d be fine if hate was the only thing to it, but there is indifference, too.
there is something clinical, impersonal, almost, to the way you tear into yourself. some set themselves on fire
for a good cause; others, just because they can. your arson is done from reflex, almost as if you believe
that by burning you can cleanse yourself of sin, that the fire can wash away the things gone wrong.
(but your eyes are tightly shut and you’ve covered the mirrors, so you can’t see the mistakes – you can’t see what this
compulsive sacrifice has made, can’t see the price you’ve paid for naught. you’ve turned yourself into a smoking ruin,
and SACRILEGE is spelled in blood across the burning. there is no greater sin than forsaking yourself; remember that.)
and the irony is, your sin is also the greatest of your virtues; all your life you’ve clutched hands,
desperate and lonely, terrified of solitude and the silence that it brings. and so you ran:
you ran from stillness, ran from the clear night skies; ran as fast as your feet would take you,
ran and willingly got lost at the heart of the crowd, wrapping yourself in the false safety of the many.
but crowds disperse, you see; to hold them close you have to give them something, and all you had
was blood and bone and the kindness pumping in the heart within. and so you poured the sweetest wine: yourself,
and let them have their fill. alas, you cannot run forever, and it wasn’t long until the moon caught up with you.
(mirages fall together with the sun; lies turn to gold and fade, and all are bare beneath the weeping maiden.
stop trying to keep malice under lock and key; we’ve all got demons, a seed of darkness spilling shadow from the ribs.
you cannot outrun yourself. there is solace to be found in midnights; learn to love the way your ears echo, empty.)
when is a monster not a monster? when it’s past four and you stare at the ceiling, hands reaching,
touching the soft flesh underneath your eyes and tracing the lines that despair engraved there, a wretched memento
from a nightmare whose lover you’ve unwillingly been for so long, by god, too long, and you’re alone with just your thoughts.
it’s all soft, then; like velvet, like the smooth skin of your thighs, like the sun bleeding itself into being;
soft, so soft, and tender, like all the things you don’t know and like all the secrets you want hidden
but don’t have the heart to crush and empty out between your teeth. yes – a monster ceases being a monster
when you look in the mirror and realize the eyes that stare back at you are so painfully human.
(I could learn to love them, you think; not could – I will. and you do, and all that was terrible is suddenly beautiful;
enamored with the beast, you have become alienated, but god, good god, you love yourself, even when you want
to set yourself on fire. it is a dangerous kind of love, but it is still the lesser among evils, so long as you do not betray yourself.)
iridescent; that is the word that defines you. like water springing from a fountain, catching the light
because it has no color of its’ own. you can try and paint yourself, but paint is paint and masks are masks,
and when the lights go down you aren’t too sure of what you are, except for something terrible.
you’re made from fear and dreams and a fierce sort of sickness, the one that makes you think your bones
were meant to be a crutch for someone else. you are not a ghost; stop treating yourself as if you were.
the road ahead is yours and yours alone, and, like it or not, you’ll walk it alone – and when you’ll reach
the ocean at the end of the lane, all that’ll be left of the illusions will be dust, a golden pile of nothing crowning your feet.
(armageddon is coming, see; and at the end of all things, there is no meaning in virtue, no love for martyrdom.
stop making yourself a bridge over peril for others to use when you can’t even tell where to begin
with saving yourself. there’s no honor in being a pillar, just radio silence and a bad weather forecast.)
the hurt clings to you like a mother’s embrace; no matter how much cold water you let pour over the
slumped archway of your shoulders, it will never be enough to wash the past away –
you dug the graves too shallow when you tried to bury what you wanted forgotten, and so
it was only a matter of time ‘til it rose from the ground and came to haunt you. tell me;
when was the last time you got a good night’s sleep? when was the last time you snuffed the lights
without being afraid of the faces you’d see crowding in the shadows around your bed?
when was the last time the word “home” didn’t feel foreign on your tongue?
(how you wish you knew how to be happy. how you wish there had been someone to teach you, to show you the ropes;
but mother was a wisp in the wind, her presence a faint shape next to the towering shadow of your father – and oh,
how beautiful she was, and he what a monster. the only thing they had to teach was love with fists, blood in the mouth.)
the warrior, marching through the trenches under a flag with a hole burnt through at the middle, his armor smeared
with blood, engraved with scars his chest was meant to bear, eyes weeping with smoke, bile at the back of his throat.
the mother, hands soothing, knotting themselves in the hair of her children, a smile on her lips and stories
on her tongue, her kindness a lullaby that you remember vividly when it’s your turn to pay tribute to Hades.
the child, breathing life into the monsters hid by darkness in every crevice, learning to make friends with the things
that can kill you: beasts, gods, great apes standing on the edge between them, learning the names of heartbreak.
the soul, despairing, an abyss that doesn’t know what to do with itself, where to put its’ mouth to stop the bleeding.
(you, a combination of them, standing on the white precipice of an ending that seems so very final; it’s all in tatters,
hope and reason both gone under, and the things you tried to bind have disentangled and god, they’re famished,
out for blood. calm doesn’t keep storms at bay; it just makes them that much more destructive. you should’ve known.)
dear god, how terrible this is; how great the horror, and greater still the beauty. it is people like you who reach
for heaven and try to drag god down by the feet, to bind him and drown him in the ocean below,
let him taste the sorrow, let him be baptized in salt among the rocks, screaming, because he’s all a wound
just the way we are. it is people like you who swallow the sun, who wear the moon on their crown of thorns
as the centerpiece jewel. it is people like you who have glimpsed the Other, people like you who have tasted
all that is holy, all that is cursed – people like you, breathing cataclysms that do not know how to
stop themselves from happening, how to tie the leash of fate lest they spill themselves empty on the pavement.
(you do not know the meaning of “no”. for you, interdictions are challenges, walls to jump over or burn down.
no one taught you how to bottle your soul, and, heavens mine, the catastrophe you’ve inside is enough to kill us all.
and yet you won’t let any wear you as sin, will you? no; you’ll take your own head, spare us of the sight.)
- poetry for the signs: the “04:00 AM talk” edition, L. Schreiber