in the nightmare world

Alea iacta est.

"it should not have come to this," 
they say, as though great oracles: 
he settles in his damp hotel, 
and hears the sounds of distant shouts 
that seem to find him guilty still -- 
the sudden flash, the sweep of light -- 
and once again, the world is nil 
and he has no, and can't be 


In my dream, I’m traveling above the clouds, but on foot.

I realize it’s a strange juxtaposition, but, you know, dreams. At any rate, the pathway is rickety, and slippery, and even though none of it makes any sense, the general sense of terror seems real.

Is real.

I suppose, upon waking, that this is my mind’s way of symbolizing where I am in life; yet I find myself wishing fervently that my brain was a little less creative as regards symbolism, because it is a long way down.

But then, it usually is, isn’t it? From almost any place you are, there is still a long way down. Some of us deliberately explore those depths; these can be years lost to haze or sharp with the pains of going where you know the pains are.

The dream wasn’t content to be a one-night thing; it comes over, and over again, like episodes of “Bluey” when you live with an infant or toddler.

I will almost certainly have the same dream later tonight.

I don’t, though, I have a dream — or rather a memory — of a woman I saw in a hospital waiting room about five years ago. There was something about the phony, antiseptic surroundings and the shattering reality of her grief and fear that struck me forcefully at the time. “This is your, and everyone’s fate — this is where we all end up. But her grief is the only one in the world right now, and it’s right here, and there is nowhere for her to escape to.”

a loss so real 
that it was having that seems empty: 
a weight so pressing 
that there's no movement in any direction.

As I child, I dreamed of being Superman; being in the sky then was a matter of freedom, and power — the power to do good. I still love the character of Superman: the ultimate outsider, determined to give everything he has to helping others, and being decent.

The thing about being Superman, however, is that you never really get to be happy. It isn’t quite as bad as being Spider-Man (who is typically miserable), but it isn’t great, either. One of the reasons why there are people who identify with the villains rather than the heroes in superhero stories is that the villains appear to be having more fun.

I’m not a good villain, though; I’m more like a disappointing superhero. One who can walk in the clouds, but falls a lot.

So I dreamed I was back in Florida as a kid, walking around a nearby lake on an Autumn morning:

In my dream, even though I am maybe eight years old, I realize that both of my parents are dead, as they are now. My brother and sister have moved out, and I am to head back to our old house, where I now live alone.

Do I believe, or do I not? 
In what is good and true and right 
And that the day combats the night 
Or am I locked in webs of fate 
That keep me here: 
Too lost, 
Too late

I cannot fly, nor walk in clouds: I can try to help the grieving, and ease the pains of the sorrowful.

Maybe I can manage the responsibilities I’ve been given; maybe not. But, as my father was wont to say, those two phrases are actually the same thing — it just depends on which we choose to focus.

Memento vivere.

A Painted Memory

Mornings in the lonely field, and I 
Would love the way you taught me to: 
Matching up my wobbly strength against 
What clime and time and space can do -- 

Gathering a bit of air inside 
The lungs that knew the breath of you -- 
Traveling the lonely field, and lost 
In what you didn't make it 


I am six years old, and we are entering a restaurant that looks like an unpainted barn. It is even newer than I am.

The ceiling is high and sloped, and all along the walls are gigantic paintings, all beautifully painted, of horses, cowboys, and buffalo. One of them is a painting of a cowboy lighting a cigarette next to a horse in a stable on a winter night. Light from the the match is shining on their faces.

We lived in Florida, so, I had never seen snow. It was another six years before my first glimpse of it for real. I had seen horses, but never very closely; my older sister took lessons. I could immediately “feel” that painting: I felt the cold, smelled the match, smelled the horse. I still remember.

The restaurant itself had a line we moved through: we picked up drinks and salads on trays, and ordered the rest of the food that was later to be brought out to us. The place was called the “Ponderosa Steak Barn”, and was unrelated to the restaurant chain that came out a few years later with a similar name.

We ate at the restaurant countless times when I was growing up; it eventually closed. Years later, as an adult, I was back in that town working, and the building had been converted to a Chinese Palace theme. Several of us from work went to eat there for lunch. I went back to use the restroom, and in the back hall were all the old paintings — including that one.

Leaned up against a wall, in a poorly lit hallway, were paintings almost as tall as I was — twelve of them. And there was that cowboy, and that horse, and that match lighting his cigarette. And for that brief second, I felt the cold, and remembered what it was like to step into a new restaurant with my family at six years old.

It was kind of like stepping back into a different world, and even more like stepping back into a different me. Six year old me appreciated art — and food — like I never quite have, since.

My mom used to say, “you never feel things as keenly as you did when you were young.” As a kid I head this, and thought nothing. As a teen and twenty-something, I interpreted it to mean she was now numb from life. Over time, it came more and more to be an observation about the nature of things: neither sad, nor hopeful, just… factual.

There was a second winter painting of the twelve in total (the rest were warm weather paintings) that I saw all those years later in that hallway: it was of a deer standing by a tree in the snow. The photo, above, was the closest thing I could find to it online; the original painting had mountains in the background, and the edge of a nearby forest. It was, my dad remarked, one of only two of the paintings to not have a human being in it.

I thought my dad was wrong, because, clearly, WE were in it, or we couldn’t have seen it, right?

Isn’t that how empathy works?

(Nano Poblano. It stretches us to the very limits of our limit-hood, but has been worth it nonetheless.)


today we celebrate en masse 
and gather in array; 
today in gratitude we march 
or sing, or shout, or play -- 

or gather in more quiet homes 
a meal or less to share; 
today's the annual parade -- 
maybe I'll see you there

Gratitude is healthy, but only when sincerely felt. Feigned gratitude tastes terrible, one of those foods we ingest because manners dictate that we do so. It is no coincidence, then, that we attempt to celebrate the expression of gratitude by eating things we (presumably) love. It makes any residue of fake gratitude go down easier.

Before the meal, usually, is the parade. Parades are busy, and colorful, and loud, and musical, and exciting — some of us like all of these things, and most of us like at least one of these things. Colors would be the one I like the most. I could do without most of the other parts. I love bright colors, though.

When my parents would take me to a parade as a child, or watch one on television, I could tell that parades had meant more to them than they did to me. They had grown up in a radio age, and only saw what they directly experienced. I grew up in a television age, where images were far more plentiful. People in the Internet age experience connectedness in different ways still, and in greater visual and auditory abundance.

It’s a common-yet-strange disconnect when things that mean a lot to people don’t mean much to their children. Thanksgiving itself, as celebrated here, seems to still mean lot to the young ones, although observably differently depending on the child. Some love the crowd, the excitement, the noise, and others don’t. We are all very different from day one, even before circumstance begins to shape us like weather.

If you happen to watch a parade today, or anytime, remember this: nothing says “celebration” like getting dressed up and going for a long walk, while people cheer. Except maybe watching it.

(More from the other Cheer Peppers here.)

When You Think You’re the Only One, You Are

“… people I thought were family, who somehow make my grief about them…”

For every birthday, there is a deathday: 
 a day marked on secret calendars, 
 calendars written in indigo-Coptic, 
 grand, terrible, and wonderful, but unreadable. 
  And we're the only ones who have it. 

For every story, there is a central thread: 
 a meaning, and a delineation, 
 clear only after seeing the whole, 
 tying everything together, ineffably. 
  We cannot speak what speaks so loudly to us. 

Living within walls we did not build, 
 but which, rather built us; 
 understanding none of it, other than that 
 we are inside the walls, and all others, outside. 

When you think you're the only one, you are; 
 when you do not think you are, you are not. 

Bereavement is both 
 the ultimate reality, and 
 the strongest illusion; 
 and both parts of this paradox 
 are true

It was the one-year anniversary of someone I knew’s passing two days ago. Her roommate, who had taken tireless, personal care of her friend through the final rough years of her life, reached out with a card to her late friend’s son. HIs response was lengthy and angry, and included the quote at the top of this piece.

We all have our ways of dealing with grief, and I’m no expert. I’m not quite sure what a grief expert looks like, now that I think of it. Someone who has been through a lot of it? Someone who has seen a lot of people go through it? Someone who has read studies about people who go through it?

None of those seem like enough to be an expert, and who would want to be, anyway?

Reading his response, it evidently never occurred to him that his mother’s roommate might also be grieving; from his perspective, all the grief was his, literally by birthright. He never saw the raw, daily manifestation of his mother’s illness, and what it took for her roommate to take care of her, and his mother certainly never told him. So I could sort of understand.

Many of us hesitate to say much of anything to the grieving besides a few mumbled cliches, because we know grieving people can get as angry as they want at anyone, and many will. There really is no “moral high ground” when it comes to grief, because there is no high ground at all.

When we feel like we are the only one suffering a loss, we really are alone, for nothing anyone else could feel, or say, or do, has any meaning to us. When we feel like others share a form of our grief, however different their experience was, we are not alone, even if we don’t get to talk to them about it. It is a paradox, but as I said in the poem above, it appears to be true, no matter how paradoxical it is.

Have you experienced the anger of the grieving? Was it yours, or theirs? Does any of this make sense to you?

“…things no one else can see.”

The effort made, the distance spanned 
In hope of giving some relief: 
  We cannot wear another's grief, 
  Nor hold their times within our hand. 

Though selfishness be rightly banned, 
And our tales placed within a sheaf, 
  We cannot wear another's grief, 
  Nor hold their times within our hand. 

That love was once, and ever is, 
Like Autumn falls upon the mind 
That struggles deaf, and dumb, and blind  
To where we find what never is -- 

It isn't good or great or grand, 
A touch like chill and wind-blown leaf: 
  We cannot wear another's grief, 
  Nor hold their times within our hand. 

Starting out, we are gaining in powers, and we come to feel ownership: of the world, of life, of ourselves.

The rest of our years are spent learning to let go of all of that.

Our significance comes from our goodness, not our greatness. It does not matter that our names our not known by millions, if our good deeds, or good hearts, are known to a few. If our names were known by millions, it wouldn’t meant that we were. Known, that is.

Grief and sorrow are inevitable, because we are born with an innate sense of permanence, a that is a thing this life does not offer. There are many types of loss, and some of those go beyond any place words can travel.

When someone we love is gone, we suddenly realize just how stark the limits of imagination are. Reminiscing can recreate feelings, but it cannot recreate actual people.

I accompanied the two of them to the cemetery: a dark-haired young mother and her fair-haired four-year old son. They stood by her late husband’s grave almost perfectly still, the only motion being the light wind moving their hair.

I was standing off at a distance.

I was struck by the boy, who is a classmate of my granddaughter’s. I’ve seen him a handful of times this school year, and never known him to be still, even for a second. But his every movement on this occasion mirrored those of his mother.

His mother, who is hairdressing client of my daughter’s, held her son’s hand and seemed to be seeing something there I could not see.

Grief is always composed of things no one else can see.

(Other posts from this month’s community blog posting group.)

Where Does Love Go

“Where does love go when it’s gone?”

‘Wherever it came from.”

A message sent from Florida 
Where you and I were once... you know... 
I guess your reminiscing, since 
It seems that time, and wine, have flowed 

Into the veins you call your life. 
I say I hope I find you well, 
Then slowly you unfold a tale  
Of loss and choice, of ebb and swell -- 
And I see years long past remain 
Within each of us, differently. 
I seek to understand, because 
However things have come to be 

I do not, could not, wish you ill. 
You were my lover, are my friend, 
And I wish you the happiness 
Far fewer know than now pretend. 

For each of us, and all of us, 
There's nothing simple, now or then: 
There's myriads within each heart, 
Both what we are and what we've been.

When a person writes in the volume that I’ve written, it’s easy to see patterns. That’s a nice way of saying I write the same things over and over.

When I started writing poetry here, I spent much of the first few years reliving old relationships. Part of it was to better understand myself, but an equally important part of it was trying to understand better the women I had been involved with, something I don’t think I’d done a very good job of at the time.

Of course, I realized the obvious things, looking back. As a younger man, I may have been overly focused on the physical aspects of the relationship, for instance, or at least, focused to such a degree that I let other parts of relationships flounder. I also realized that being selfish comes pretty natural to me: I never had to read an article or watch a YouTube video to learn how to do it.

In addition, there was this: girls often find early that boys don’t always treat girls like, well, human beings. This tendency in us guys is very pronounced, and it is not always as ill-intentioned and baneful as it can be. I was interested in working through why I struggled to see women as just other people, then using that knowledge to better understand the actual women I had dated.

Eventually, life strips away the pretense and the fantasy in any relationship that is carried on long enough; all too frequently, then, people come to resent the other person for not being what they never were. Love is less about embracing fantasies than respecting and valuing realities.

When my ex girlfriend in the poem above messaged me, it was to talk about a breakup she had recently been through. The reasons she had broken up with him were perfectly understandable, at least to me, but I could see her struggling with the notion that it had in some way been unrealistic perfectionism on her part that had ended the relationship.

All I could think to say was, if regret could be converted to energy, it would be the ultimate renewable energy source.

“Where does love go when it’s gone?” she asked me.

“Wherever it came from,” I said. “Or to wherever it is going next.”

Wood and Wire

I ask the music, for a time, 
To carry me to somewhere else; 
Another time, some kind of place 
Where troubles stop, and tension melts -- 

But it's a lot to ask, I guess. 
Creating island and lagoon 
From wood and wire, dust and string, 
When it too's tired, and 

Out of tune

It’s 3:30 in the morning as I type this and yesterday was not a great day.

I am sixty years old, but still feel shocked, saddened, and naive when confronted with the ugly realities of everyday life. I know it shouldn’t surprise me, but, it does. Over and over again.

Since I was born with a limited capacity to process and absorb reality, I have long used the arts as a place I could call… if not “home”, maybe like “an affordable hotel”. The piano has been the primary place for this, but it could be writing, or reading, or coloring, or… you get the picture. Or maybe you don’t, so here is some examples of pictures I recently colored using the Color Therapy app:

Reality is overrated, anyway. I mean, sure, that’s where you find all the food and stuff, but, it’s also where things like “assault” live.

Whether fortunate, or unfortunate, I have to spend most of my hours firmly within reality. On days like yesterday (which was not a great day) I feel pretty much like the piano pictured at the top of this post: chipped, dusty, and scantly able to perform my original purpose, which I’ve largely forgotten, anyway.

The best escape from reality isn’t always by way of fantasy, but into other people’s realities. That’s one of the beauties of “Nano Poblano”: reading other people’s blogs and seeing what their lives, loves, and struggles might be like.

Yesterday was not a great day. But maybe today will be.

At the Corner of Anxiety and Disrespect

This age is one with an abundance of anxiety and a shortage of respect.

Much of our anxiety comes from having more choices available to us than humans are wired to be able to handle. Our lack of respect seems to then come from how we narrow the choices available to us through willfully ignoring (or misunderstanding) others.

The library was that first place 
That I could find most anything: 
At age eleven, eyes gone wide, 
At what new wonders it would bring -- 

We could but only take (of course)  
A few things out on any day; 
Although it seemed to hold the world, 
To get it piece-wise was the way 

That we could get it. Slowly, then, 
The pictures would develop, as 
We read, imagined, learned, and grew. 
Like when I wanted to hear jazz: 

The headphones on, one at a time, 
I heard the songs I read about 
And felt the imperfections of 
The medium, but had no doubt 

That what I heard was real, and true. 
Connected then to history 
By all the work it took to hear 
Those things available to me 

But gradually, laborious. 
Right now, I could hear any song 
That's ever been recorded, but 
I listen less, and not for long, 

For we're not limited to what 
We've paid for, or we can check out: 
The songs are all there for our ears 
But where to start, or where about  

Is overwhelming. We employ 
Then social markers, to denote 
The things we will consume instead: 
The same way that we think, and vote. 

There is an 'us', there is a 'them' -- 
This reasserts the borders that 
We long to have; and so we live 
An inch deep and a mile 


Falling, In Love

[Originally posted May, 2018. 30 days of prose, day 10. – Owen]

Falling in love is like stepping off of a flying airplane; them loving you back would be the parachute. But that parachute doesn’t always open.


Love in relationships always comes with risk. We can’t know what others are really thinking, and we can’t know how years or circumstances might change them. But we step out anyway.

And sometimes, we crash.

Hearts, however, are usually stronger than bodies, kind of like the flight recorder on a airplane.* They are usually ready shortly for service on another flight. The decision to step off a plane again, though, gets much harder.

Before I met my wife, I had lots and lots of practice at falling in love. Many of these were more like falling of a curb than an airplane: short fall, easy landing, right back up, no problem. But others were harder: awkward falls off of bicycles, and diving boards, and even a roof or two.

Finally, I stepped off a plane for real, and man did it feel good. Scenery rushing by, blue skies, green pastures, and another person there with me. It was such a rush.

Then I hit ground, hard, in a fenced off area called “divorce”. As I lay there, wounded, I saw her (my ex) bounce immediately up and get on another plane.

One person’s crash is another person’s escape, I guess.

So why do we do it? Why do we try again?

I can’t answer for you, but I can answer for myself. I loved the feeling that came with stepping off of that airplane, and I wanted to feel it again. In addition, I wasn’t going to let one person stand in for any other person I might love for the rest of my life. For that next person might be my parachute, and I might be hers.

The other reason I had for trying again came from an observation I’d made, which was: planes can crash whether we ever get off them or not. Isolating myself hadn’t prevented crashes in the past, but it had prevented joy.

In the end, we love because we’re made to love, and because the choices of others do not determine who we are.

But it sure feels like they do those times we hit ground.

* I innocently asked my dad when I was a kid why they didn’t make planes out of the same material as flight recorders so that people would survive the crash. I got a long explanation on the aerodynamics of heavier metals.