a dreamer, hoping there was even a modicum of truth to the mountains of bullshit she was force-fed as a girl;
a curious juxtaposition of peace and violence, of love and hatred, of elation and melancholy, of classical and heavy metal;
but jesus christ, what else could one expect from the daughter of two wannabe hippies from philadelphia?
we all simply do the best we can with what we've got, and hope everything works out in the end, like a poignant film.
and i'm no different--i'm just plodding along, hoping these words make you feel a little bigger than your body,
if even for a few, measly, unimportant moments.
"The bruises go away, and so does how you hate, and so does the feeling that everything you receive in life is something you deserve," so "Let me live, love, and say it well in good sentences."
- Jonathan Safran Foer and Sylvia Plath
Inky black pervades the humid club
as sticky bodies, swathed in white,
dig and prod at each other,
vying for an inch or a foot or a mile.
For those few stygian seconds
the heaving throng is silent,
fervent excitement and suspense
pulsating through the sweaty mass
like a coveted contagion,
until the stage lights come up,
a blinding spectacle of whites and
violets, daring the crowd to blink,
lest we miss the anticipated entrance.
Finally, the group arrives,
a ghastly spectacle of half-naked flesh
framed with vicious horns and alien body
armor—metallic spikes, blades, and skulls.
They grab their ancient instruments,
introduce themselves as the Scumdogs of
the Universe, and unleash a torrent
of notes so loud, clashing, and violent
that my eardrums cry aloud in protest.
The notes pulsate through the bar,
a cloudburst of liquid metal that
engulfs every heaving body.
Immediately, the waxen sea erupts
into a storm, thrashing and writing
in a heated frenzy so fevered and
chaotic that an uninformed observer
might believe he was witnessing a
a mass seizure—or a barbaric orgy.
While the music assaults my chest
cavity, little circles open up amongst
the heaving mob, and people of all
shapes and sizes run in vicious circles,
limbs thrown about haphazardly,
The temperature in the club rises,
as does the stench of cheap beer
and unadulterated body odor,
but suddenly, the melody ceases.
A greasy, sleazy fellow joins the band,
and gives a self-righteous speech before
the first lambs are brought to slaughter.
Caricatures of political figures, more than
seven feet tall, stumble onto the dais—
forced into a faux boxing ring.
The throng howls like a pack
of bloodthirsty wolves as the entertainers
sever counterfeit limbs, purposefully
sending a shower of red cornstarch
over our hungry, eager faces.
In the midst of the flailing crowd
I am pushed closer to the stage,
and am bathed in this homage
to human nature, this gladiatorial
spectacle. It is a fight to the death,
and culminates in a beheading,
which unleashes a deluge of
costume blood into the congregation
with such force that I can taste
its sickly sweet satire in my mouth.
I. Amazing Grace, How Sweet The Sound
I’d pray while curled up
late at night, in my twin bed—
Thank You for my salvation.
Thank You for leaving your Father,
and enduring such cruel betrayal,
and dying such a wicked death at the
hands of Your own people on the cross—
and so on, and so forth.
Thank you for my family,
for my Mom and my Dad,
for Madelyn and Josh,
because, even though we don’t
always get along, we love each other.
And thank You for my dog, Max.
He really is the best!
This is where I’d smile,
picturing the happy, chubby Beagle,
gray fur just starting to creep in.
Thank You for our house, and our cars,
and our church, and Pastor Amsbaugh,
and my friends Ashley, Danny, Amanda,
Jonathan, Laura, Alexa, and Josh—
et cetera, et cetera.
Thank you for all of your blessings.
There are too many to count, Jesus.
I pray for Grandmom and Granddad Parrish,
please watch over their health, because they
need Your healing touch, and please,
please, please, save Granddad,
before it’s too late.
I also pray for Grandmom and Granddad Spicer—
even though they’re healthy,
they need to get saved too.
Heaven won’t be the same without them.
I ask You to help me with school,
help me to study hard and get
good grades, and to be a good student
for Mom, and to always honor You.
In Your name, Amen.
Then I would snuff the lights,
and stare at the ceiling,
sometimes for hours,
hoping my thoughts,
broke through the layers
of paint and plaster and wood,
made it all the way to Heaven,
who’d be sitting in His throne,
listening so intently,
just waiting to answer each
and every request.
II. That Saved A Wretch Like Me
The first time I got saved, I was four,
too young to understand the implications
of raising my hand and following my
Sunday school teacher’s repeat-after-me,
rinse and repeat prayer.
I lived my childhood as the good little
Christian my parents needed me to be,
following the Ten Commandments,
attending church three times a week,
even trying to enjoy the dull services,
the endless sitting and standing,
the same hymns every week—
but I was no different than that prayer
nearly a decade before,
just going through the motions.
At twelve, after an evangelist spewed
fire and brimstone for an hour,
my Mary Janes were trembling,
and I prayed again, hoping this time,
maybe, I would feel that peace
that passeth all understanding.
But still, I was lonely and searching—
my salvation was hollow, useless.
So, at fifteen, while tucked away at a
summer camp in the Appalachians
I prayed again, begging,
This is the last time, God.
I’m trying, but You’ve got to help me.
The bitterness at my abandonment
rose in my heart like the pretty balloon that
a child has grasped onto so tightly all
afternoon, but their fingers grow tired
after a long day in the heat, and
so the helium carries it up, up, up,
into the atmosphere,
into to the sun.
III. I Once Was Lost, But Now Am Found
I was seventeen, staring at my grandfather’s
lifeless body; he was clutching a decaying
photograph of my grandmother,
who had died only two years
before in this same bedroom.
He could have been in a deep sleep,
but then the old, rotted windows
would have been rattling from his snores.
I thought of the last prayer I ever said—
God, he’s dying. Just take him to Heaven. Please.
But God was never listening, was He?
Each flick of your strong forefinger
unleashes another surge—
and the explosive percussion is mirrored
by the rapid battering of your heart,
the backbeat of a silent jihad.
The air is thick with the echoing
screams of the shoppers as they
scatter between tall, unsteady racks
of clothing, hair dye and toothpaste,
hiding beneath circular tables in cafés,
sliding flat on their traitorous stomachs
to cower under dusty old cars.
The fear in this place is tangible—
You can smell it, taste it, see it all about you—
it causes your blood to sing.
You enter a market with your comrades,
and as you have done in every other store,
you fire your weapon into the air—
sure to clip the quickly dispersing mass of
people shrinking behind a dusty
cigarette display, and you are pleased
by the sight of two men hitting
the ground with a dull thud. Their
blood pools as a warning, a tribute.
Then you announce loudly, confidently
that you are only here for the non-Muslims—
the Americans and the Kenyans—
that everybody else need only be a hostage,
not a martyr for a cause that does not
concern them; children will be spared.
You disband to interrogate the fearful
and to root out the traitors,
to determine who will live and
and who is doomed to perish—
you have become a ruler of this shopping
mall, reduced to its shivering bones.
You can see the cowed lies etched into
the lines of their faithless faces,
and with another flick of your finger,
you send them to face Allah without
even the slightest hint of hesitation.
In a far corner of the market sits a
meat counter, where locals buy their
bloody flesh, both clean and unclean,
You sneak behind and discover
a woman dressed in black,
her milky face a thin veil of calm,
hands clasping those of her two young
children, a small boy and a willowy girl.
The boy’s green shirt professes
his love for New York City.
All three stare at you in petrified silence,
and for a few moments, you just gaze
straight into the woman’s wide eyes.
“You said children would not be
harmed?” the mother asks softly,
each word flowing sharply through her
accent which cannot be American,
and she stands suddenly. This action
is quite startling, you remember later—
you are already on edge, your
finger still on the trigger, and
somehow a bullet lands in her thigh.
The mother is screaming, pulling her
daughter close as the blood pours forth,
an accidental fountain, but her fingers
cannot reach the boy, who is standing,
walking over to you, so close you could
tear him to shreds, his body would
be Swiss cheese—unidentifiable.
“You are a bad man,” the boy says,
narrowing his tiny green eyes into
excruciating slivers and pointing at you,
“let us go.”
Her screams ring in your ears,
a cacophony of terror,
and your heartbeat slows to a clop
as the boy’s finger remains pointed at
your heaving chest, an honest accusation.
“Come!” you screech, waving
your rifle in the air like a toy.
At the front of the market, the mother
can barely walk, so she loads her children
into a cold, shining metal trolley.
You see an array of candies, and grab
two chocolate bars, handing one to each.
“Please forgive me,” you hear yourself
saying, “we are not monsters.”
The girl is crying, clutching her candy,
but the boy just stares through you.
“You must convert to Islam,”
you tell the desperate mother, who is
loading an injured boy into the cart.
“We are not monsters. We are not monsters.”
She does not speak, she only pushes the
trolley, limping slowly.
“You must convert to Islam. You must convert.”
You help the woman maneuver the
cart through the bodies strewn across
the pale tiles of the shopping mall,
and with every repetition of gunfire—
you reassure yourself, and the woman,
“We are not monsters. Please forgive me.”
She stops again to pick up a different child,
though this one is screaming in French
for her mother and must be forced.
“You must convert to Islam.
Please forgive me.”
As you reach tall, glass double doors,
you pause, knowing you must stay behind.
The brilliance of the sun blots their
figures out of your vision, so you simply yell,
“Please forgive me!”
The irony of having funerals
in churches with immense chapels
is that they can hold a congregation,
and the viewing line looks half a
mile or longer, perhaps to eternity.
The closer my family gets to the
polished box, surrounded with
flora and photos and an American
flag, the harder my stomach knots.
I can’t quite remember the last
time I saw your face—not including
the card I’m crushing in my hand,
and that terribly beautiful video—
and you’ll know, they’ll all know,
that I’ve forgotten its features,
the gentle curve of your jaw,
the purple puff under your eyes,
the tiny scar above your left eyebrow,
even the dusty freckles on your cheeks.
My fraudulent tears could be spotted
from space and everyone will know.
But I have this memory, it’s been
haunting me—no, you’ve been
haunting me, following me.
I was just a kid, maybe seven, so
you would have been fourteen,
and I was playing in those Fisher Price
skates that strap over your sneakers,
and we were in the church
parking lot, trying to skate faster;
I was always wanting to move
faster, faster, faster back then.
You had a new bike, and a soft
spot for the younger children,
so we found a long tree branch,
and you towed me around like
some sort of first-grade caboose,
until I lost my grip and flew
careening onto the pavement,
scraping my knee open—
a gaping mess of blood and flesh.
As we snuck in the back door of
the church, and dug through
the outdated first aid kit,
you begged me not
to tell our mothers what had
happened, and I was just trying
not to bleed on my favorite shoes,
so when, after cleaning me up, you
gave me his favorite model, a Captain
America action figure, I couldn’t
help but smile through my snotty
tears. “Don’t worry,” you said,
“You probably won’t have a scar,
and now you have an awesome toy!”
I’m turning this scene over and over
as we come up to the casket—
you had friends your own age, but
you always seemed to make time
for me and my siblings, the runts—
until, for the last time, I see your face.
It is serene and sallow, too quiet, too still;
your eyes have been closed, chin tucked
against your uniform, and I notice
the insignia on your cold shoulder—
Sergeant First Class, US Army—
and for some reason, that brings
forth a flood of tears so vicious
and relentless, I can’t control myself,
so I just stand in front of your corpse,
heaving, wracked with violent sobs.
After a few minutes
of this humiliating display,
somebody tries to push me along,
so I put on my best crazy lady face
and hiss like a cornered cat,
planted firmly, a weeping statue.
The hand is removed,
and I cry until I am
dry heaving, the chapel spinning.
I place a hand on the coffin,
hoping you don’t mind that I’m
causing such a scene,
reach into my pocket and search
until I find the figurine, placing
the old Captain America toy in
the crook of your elbow.
Our hearts beat mighty with body’s delight,
With those colorful little squares we ate,
And the colors danced on the walls all night.
The carpet glowed in gold and purple light,
The couches breathed softly under our weight,
Our hearts beat mighty with body’s delight.
The notes of the music were slim and slight,
We swayed primeval with an awkward gait,
And the colors danced on the walls all night.
The bedroom wall so pristine, so white,
Begged us to please come and to create.
Our hearts beat mighty with body’s delight.
Inspired, we drew our spirits’ insight,
So our lines swirled and dissolved into fate,
And the colors danced on the walls all night.
The images twirled into daylight,
While our frames continued to oscillate,
Our hearts beat mighty with body’s delight,
And the colors danced on the walls all night.
Like bladed birds of steel they glide and wing,
Across the ice without any dismay,
Fearing no hard body check or cold swing.
They circle the net in frozen ballet,
Flitting about like puck-handling mice,
Tenacity drips from each ounce of their play.
They dazzle with grace all over the ice,
With a jump, a spin, and a pirouette,
Always ready to pay a high price.
They give it all ‘till they’re soaked through with sweat.
We watch with joy from our perch high above.
Our yells, their chirping—it’s quite a duet!
These men change the game with the drop of a glove,
And so, bloodthirsty, we give them our love.
You were a beacon in the cloudy sky,
A little gorging, ravenous black hole.
You devoured us all until we died,
Stripping us down to our trembling souls.
Though your smile shines dazzlingly bright,
Your friendship was little more than a ruse
To bring us closer to your burning light.
Who could stand for such cold, heartless abuse?
Yet I could not bear to be separate
From such a supermassive part of me,
So I dove headfirst—it was too late.
You ate the crumbs of my love gleefully.
You danced from your perch in the glinting night,
And I hoped none else would repeat my blight.
she stands calmly in the shadows,
while the mirror, her vile enemy, scoffs
from the crowd of beautiful people.
they laugh and sing and dance together,
swaying carelessly with the summer breeze.
their sweet smiles bubble within her and
their softly whispered songs are
the aching longings of her soul.
the vivacity of their happiness only
magnifies the melancholy within her.
even those who call her friend seem
to shine more brightly than she ever will,
and the temporary relief their presence
yields only feeds the venomous snake
once their ways have parted.
her wholehearted efforts only seem to amplify
the effervescence with which they shine.
and when finally approached, her confidence
wavers and shrinks like a new cotton shirt,
and once again, she falls into the shadows.
cast no blame, for self-doubt is the
only train of thought she's ever known--
a vicious cycle that repeats and repeats,
chipping away at what little glow is left
i sit in my room, staring at the wall.
photographs of all shapes and sizes
and colors form an intricate and
irresistable road map for my eyes.
they scan and scrutinize the wall;
each picture draws a colorful and
the top of the ferris wheel at six
flags with the ernie to my bert,
sticky and hot, but so happy;
driving through the neighborhoods
while bass-pounding mirror-wriggling
music assaulted our ears and the hot
summer wind whistled through us;
that aching, all-consuming grin i
just could not erase after misha let
me sing a verse with him;
over a decade of confusion and
consternation about a god who
always seemed to be too busy to
answer the sincerest prayers of
a naive and innocent child;
the heart-startling jolt of
awakening to screams and cries
for countless miserable mornings;
the bitter tears spilled so often at the
realization that assuming the best
of others often leads to nasty scars.
the pictures are tacked to the wall,
an exotic map of my adolescence.
the items overlap and intertwine,
they are all connected and dependent.
he dances circles around you.
her body sways with the music
that always plays inside her head,
and she sees only her universe.
her actions are thoughtless, cruel,
and poignantly painful.
the words push their way out of
my mouth clumsily, not uncommon,
and i hope dearly that you cannot
see that they are merely a shell,
completely empty inside; they
offer momentary solace, the
knowledge that you are not the
first, and nor will you ever be the last,
person to feel like this way,
but they could never begin to slow
the hurricane of emotion raging
deep inside of your sad soul.
i feel your ache resonate within me
and i offer a friendly hug.
i cannot fix your pain.
i can only be the ears you need to
talk to, and the shoulder you need
to cry on, and the friend to help
you move on with your life.
the cliff seems higher than infinity,
and i stand on the edge, trembling.
my toes are supported by gravity
alone, and my face is raw with
the whipping of the ice-cold wind.
i cannot see the end of the drop
below me, which sparks my
terror and brings to it a
wild and vicious life.
the uncertainty is suffocating,
i can feel it burn my lungs.
call it foolishness, call it faith.
i step over the edge,
and plunge downward.
the worldwide battle,
drowned in the blood of
all races and stained with
the spittle of darkness,
had reached its last breath;
as the two unlikeliest of
heroes climbed into the liquid
fire, the bravest of them all
stood against the horde of
the last evil one.
after centuries, the king was
crowned, and the people
were freed, at last, from the
fear of the black land.
some of our heroes adventured
on to their green holes and
blooming forests and sparkling
caves, whole but seeing
the world anew.
but the rest were left
transformed, present in body
and flesh but wandering of mind.
those few gathered at the harbor
and left their tale at the docks,
marking the beginning of a new
age for their loyal companions,
another extraordinary story
never to be told.
in those concluding moments,
the last words printed so delicately,
i felt a part of my soul leave
from the harbor also.
the cessation of a story is sometimes
a wonderful and beautiful passage,
but my eyes wept the tears of
a bittersweet end to the first epic
that moved my heart to swelling delight.
as the perfectly sculpted vessel sailed
with poise into the golden sunset,
i felt another sunset within myself,
not gold but blue and purple.
it was the culmination of a fantastic
journey, and dusk fell upon me.
a lifetime has passed
i sat for hours on
that fetid bus
excitement knotted in
until we arrived and
nestled in the mountains
south and west
our cabin was on the fringe
just as i was, back then
i spread my bed and
made myself a home
days passed with
a giant swing
corn dogs in the
sand of the
and ice cream on
at the overlook
we hiked uphill
to find a waterfall
as utopian as
my foolish faith
and there we
basked under the
until i found my
i can still feel the
upon my skin
when i grew bored
i scaled to
the top and
they were a gift,
unwanted, the first
of their kind,
a lonely reminder.
they needed life,
water and a vase,
maybe a jug or jar.
so they sat there,
on the dresser,
wrapped in plastic,
bound in ugly rubber--
condemned, like me.
they did not rot,
not as i had hoped.
instead, the petals
browned under the
wrinkled and shriveled.
i let them fester the
way my heart does,
but, as if in spite,
they did not dry up.
they stole moisture--
though i cannot
and from their death
life in the form of
a fuzzy white fungus.
the thick september dusk is wrapped
in clouds of barbie pink, topped with a
royal crest of rich purple and swirls
of orange creamsicle, slowly fading
into a smoky gray slate.
the air is cooled, complemented by a
crisp breeze that loosens the dying leaves
from their precarious perches atop the
firm pennsylvania maples.
together, we walk through the thick of
the forest, guided only by the skeleton of
an old railroad track, bending and twisting.
our sense of adventure has led us away from
the tiny park, past the dilapidated basketball
courts, and onto the former highway of a
belching beast, forgotten and replaced by
its sleek and faster baby brother, SEPTA.
our rusty path is lined with dying weeds,
turned from lusty green to dull brown by
the creeping chill and the burning sun.
conversation passes between us, topics
that have since slipped my mind because
they are as unimportant as the napkins
we threw in the trash an hour beforehand.
at first, i am on autopilot; we discourse, but
my answers are not considered.
my eyes are glued upon the rise and fall
of my black sneakers, white laces turned
boring brown, and the dust they kick up
with each and every footstep.
moments pass as hours, when suddenly i am
compelled to stop.
when i first lift my eyeballs, the world
spins and bends and loses focus--
maybe those were not just mushrooms
on my pizza? but no, just an illusion.
when i regain my eyesight, i can view
a family of deer--the proud father on
guard and adorned with a crown of antlers,
a skittish mother watching with careful
observation, and three children, halfway
grown; when i realize how long i have
been staring and that you must be long
gone, i look up, but there you stand,
closely regarding the family as i was.
and when i follow your gaze, they
are gone, vanished.
without speaking, we both silently agree
that we must research the disappearing
deer, so we begin to climb downward.
the bank is steep, but lined with thick
branches, dying grips and stepping stones.
we make our way down and find
the river sprawling in front of us like
a lazy snake making its way home, to the
bright point slowly sinking into the horizon.
an impossibly big maple sits on the levee,
and giant roots make wonderful benches,
so we sit ourselves among the beautifully
colored ground of late fronds, and i light
a cigarette, my own slow death.
the delaware tributary gurgles around us,
and for those few minutes, we are totally
silent; i can taste the death in my mouth,
but i do not wash it away--i must remember.
after the moment has passed, we ascend the
slope and resume our trek along the pathway.
"what is that!?" you ask suddenly.
i follow your pointing finger and at first,
i only see the never-ending tail of power lines.
but i look further, and i see something odd--
a non-sequitor, a cluster of red in the trees.
"i can't tell," i reply. "it's too far."
"it's unnatural. we must investigate."
again, we let our feet carry us along, but
now we have a destination.
"i wonder what i could be," i say aloud.
"it must be a tic-tac," you answer.
my brow furrows and i question you with
amusement. "a tic-tac?"
"yes! doesn't it look like a tic-tac?"
i examine the clump, and see it is oblong.
"the shape is right," i say slowly. "maybe
it is a cinnamon tic-tac."
"exactly," you reply. "it is a giant red tic-
tac, just sitting here in the trees!"
"i wonder what it is waiting for?"
"another giant, a giant person," you
speculate. "yes," i continue, "it must
be waiting for somebody with a big enough
mouth to come along and slurp it up."
as our feet draw us closer, the clump gets larger
and larger, and its definition begins to wane.
"a giant tic-tac, right here under our noses,"
you say. "what are the odds?"
after what seems like an eternity, we are finally
close enough to examine it fully--surprise!
it is only a thicket turned red by its annual death.
it is a sultry dance we share;
your feet lead, mine follow.
your smile is charming as
always, but i cannot perceive
the words on the tip of
your tongue, nor will you
put them to flight.
you are perpetually at an
arm's length; our fingertips
seem to touch sometimes,
but you never let me close
enough for an embrace.
so i will wait in the wings,
and perhaps some day
i will be more than your
it was not much--
just a photograph
a nearly empty room
a plain white frame
a smattering of studio lights
perhaps she is leaving
packing her life into
carefully categorized boxes
or maybe she is
just beginning to let
her roots expand,
drink freedom, independence
this heart was accidental,
she said with a crooked smirk,
pointing at the wall
most hearts are,
no longer a true human being, not really
a tangled web of hurt and anger and
confusion and physical pain and
depression and fear
lost, useless, paralyzed
doped like a drunken dog
doped with careless disregard
a bundle of nerves held together with
tissue paper, tearing slowly
the pressure increases steadily daily
it squishes my brain and
squashes my heart, already close to broken
slipping hands scrape and beg for a tether
they used to be strong, steady
now they are willowy, cracked
there is no back-up; there is no safety net
just me, tearing at the seams
ready to implode
a dying star inhaling
its last breath
ready to disappear
just a small, glowing ball of matter
the remnants of my soul
i wonder what it is about you
that makes me so damn crazy?
i only wanted my sandals,
but you wouldn't let me be civil.
so i snarked, and you snapped.
i can only wish i'd never asked.
an entire lifetime, irrelevant;
the years i invested,
the patience i threw at you,
the second chances i gave,
the forgiveness i offered,
all squashed because of sandals.
i only wanted my shoes back;
you wanted to abuse me again,
you wicked little bully.
i only asked for a little understanding;
you slammed the door in my face,
you ungrateful little cunt.
six years ago,
i could not have imagined
my life without you in it.
i cannot imagine my life
without the pain you
cause me daily.
i must let it go.
now i am
spread too thin,
tearing the seam,
pulled to breaking;
i am tired.
our friendship was
just a game to you,
it is your move.
feet glued to concrete
limbs shaking wildly
pulse has tripled
i cannot move
anguish cries out
i am surrounded
the perfect storm
anger swirls menacingly
doubt trembles in fear
loathe strikes electric
i cannot focus
my eyes have blurred
was that a smile
or a bullet?
i am lost
followed only by
with evil thoughts
i am the afflicted
my emblem exposed
naked, they see me
for the child i am
their tears have dried up
just empty words remain
i am alone now
stranded with shaky hands
and too many orange bottles
the words will not come
they, too, have left me
so i sit
and i cry
but nobody hears
my salty tears slip
down my cheeks
and sizzle away