Broken

We see a broken world
Of dead eyes and false smiles
Every hero, every villain
Become the same at night
As they cry themselves to sleep

And don’t try to tell me
That the cries of agony
Drifting down to us from hell
Will lessen as we get older

What kind of world
Would silence the cry of a human being
Because they don’t have a penis
Dangling between their legs?

What kind of society
Tells a girl to drown her flaws in makeup
But then turns in disgust
As she carves herself away?

What kind of God
Breathes life into a human
Only to toss them into flames?

No matter what any religion tells me
There is no song in heaven beautiful enough
To drown out the screams of hell

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Crossroads

My feet stumble and catch my balance, as though I was dropped, but for what purpose could I have been dropped, and from where? Weatherless air embraces me. I stand at a street intersection, one that has grown familiar to me over these past years. Across the street from me is a selection of restaurants. To my left is a road curving out of sight. The street behind me leads to downtown Petaluma. To my right stretches the road to a cluster of buildings. One of these buildings is my family’s church, a place that holds meaning to me. It is a denotation of change, a stamp of struggle, and yet there is nothing to say of it that is written in stone. Perhaps, in the future, it may allude to a tale of decision, but for now I am shy to speak of it.

Not a soul is in sight. The street and sidewalks are devoid of cars.The landscape is depressingly parched, the trees shrunken, the grass withered, as though the absence of people deprived them of beauty and of meaning. A feeling of dread pools in my stomach, like I am late for an appointment, or I have been left behind. What’s happened? I’ve been forgotten, haven’t I?

I feel a breeze stir and blow across my skin. A single car ambles down the road. It moves slowly but approaches quickly. I did not see it before — then I wonder if I saw it but didn’t notice.

The car stops in front of me, and the figure inside reaches across to open the passenger door. “Need a ride?” calls a woman’s voice.

I don’t hesitate to step in and shut the door. She’s playing music — a song I recognize immediately as John Barrowman’s cover of ‘I Am What I Am,’ and I smile. “Where to?” she asks. I don’t know what to say. After a silence — “Where is everyone?” I ask.

“Does it matter?” she says, and I turn my head to look at her. Whatever I was prepared to say falls back down my throat and stops my breath. She is an older woman, perhaps in her late sixties or seventies, with short, wavy, graying brown hair and a pen tucked behind her ear. She has a rounded nose, thick eyebrows, smooth skin, and an aura that sends my thoughts toppling off balance. She is familiar, too familiar, someone I have known all my life and for all eternity before, and she gazes at me with the eyes of someone buried deep within me.

I cannot speak, but I feel I might cry. She gazes at me softly, and whatever I could say, she already knows. When I find my voice, I speak anyway. “You’re…”

She smiles widely, like I’ve said something to make her proud.

“But how…”

“How can you know for sure?”

I nod. She reaches her arm down by her feet, brings up a red apple, and hands it to me. A smiley face is carved into it, sparking thoughts in my head of a time traveler with floppy brown hair and a bowtie, the icon of my personality. The gesture is so subtle and clever that I can’t help but laugh. I turn away and stare through the windshield. On the dash sits a notebook, and under that sits a novel, The Land of Stories, and I know for sure that this is me. She is me.

I look back at her. “So you still listen to John Barrowman.”

“Aye,” she says, but a bit sadly, and I know why. She grips the reflective heart necklace she wears, and incredulity sweeps over me. I touch the necklace that hangs around my neck, the exact same one. “You still have that,” I breathe, and she grins and says, “It goes with every outfit.”

“Am I…? Are you still…?” I can’t seem to find enough words.

Her grin is replaced by solemnity, and she looks away. “Spoilers.”

It’s true. There are so many questions I could ask, but if she were to answer them, my life would be already decided. I mustn’t know the future. Whatever she tells me will be set in stone. I can’t ask anything, and yet I couldn’t, in any brief manner, explain why. As Aristotle wisely put it, “What then is time? If no one asks me, I know; if I want to explain it to someone, I do not know.”

I’m scared to know anyway. I don’t know what I’ll choose in life, at least not on any level deeper than writing or art. “I don’t know what to do,” I say in a quiet voice.

“Do what you have to do,” she says, and I look down and inspect my door handle. Two safety pins lay in the holder next to it. A tear rolls down my face before I realize I’m crying.

“I wish I’d been born as a kestrel,” I remark.

“Yeah,” she says.

Out of the corner of my eye, I see movement and look up. Cars are rolling in towards the intersection from every direction, and passersby have appeared on the sidewalks. The grass and trees are green again. Everything has returned to normal.

“Well,” my older counterpart says, “I’ve got places to go, things to do.”

I open the car door and get out, closing it behind me without a word of goodbye, and she starts the car and drives away.

I watch her leave long after the car has disappeared from sight.

Shoe Shopping

“So who is this friend?” Daisy keeps eyeing me skeptically with her sea green eyes, like buying shoes isn’t something she thinks I would do. Is it? I’m never sure of myself these days.

I’ve just been explaining to her that I’m buying a pair of high heels for a girl as a way of asking her to the Valentine’s Day Dance.

“A friend…” I trail off, glancing around like it’s some secret I don’t want any passersby knowing, and add, “A special friend.”

“I didn’t know you had a special friend.”

“Well, I have lots of friends you don’t know about.” I say without looking at her. “I just haven’t mentioned her before.”

“Okay,” she says. Is it just me, or is that a tinge of disappointment in her voice?  “What kind of heels are we looking for, then?”

We’re standing in front of an aisle brimming with high heels of every shape, style, or color you could possibly imagine. I breathe in. I like the smell of this shoe store: a mix of leather, rubber, and a hint of Windex. New shoes always have a fantastic scent, fresh and clean-soled and brightly colored, waiting to be worn and loved.

I like to think of myself as a fashionable guy; as much as that’s true, I usually stick with my Converse.

What do girls like in shoes? I haven’t got a clue. Shoes, shoes… I’m not one for shoes. Maybe I should just get her Converse for the dance. Is that appropriate? I’m lost.

“You don’t know what she’s gonna wear, do you?”

“What? Uh… no,”

“Well then you should get a neutral color, like black. Black goes with everything.”

“Okay.”

“I’m not gonna pick out your shoe for you. It’s your date. I’m gonna go look at Converse.” She walked off.

How could she abandon me to the wrath of the girly shoes?

I sigh. Now, let’s see, what would she like to wear…

Something not too girly, but I’m pretty sure she likes to be a bit fancy when the time is right. Not anything boring or plain. Simple, perhaps. Simple and… cute. I glance over at Daisy. She’s a few aisles down, admiring a pair of plain purple Converse. I look back at the array of shoes before me. Black, black, black… I see a pair of glittery black ones. No, too fancy. Lacy? No, too girly.

All at once I see a pair… perfect. I pick them up. They’re black with four-inch heels of medium thickness, and a bow to tie around the ankle. I take one more look at Daisy, pick them up, and walk over to her.

“These?” I ask hesitantly, holding up the heels.

“Yes!” She exclaims, grabbing them in adoration. “I would wear these! Lucky girl,” she winks at me.

I try not to smile, but my face has a different plan.

We approach the cashier, a man with a parrot sitting on his shoulder. “His name’s Rochester,” the cashier explains, noticing our interest. Rochester is repeatedly squawking the phrases “Come along, Pond,” and “Bowties are cool.”

Well, I can’t disagree with that.

I buy the shoes, say goodbye to Rochester, and Daisy and I leave. I hold open the door. She steps through, and I skip alongside her.

“Such a gentleman, as always,” she feigns a look of admiration, and I adjust an invisible bowtie. She laughs; something inside me soars at the sound.

I wish she would look happy more often.

As we walk to her house, I twitch nervously, my heartbeat racing in my ears. She doesn’t seem to notice, chattering away about parrots. She does love birds, doesn’t she?

When we get to her house, she starts to leave, but I grab her arm. “Wait…” I say. She peers at me curiously.

“Yes, Joe?”

I swallow.

What am I doing?

Before I can stop myself, I shove the shoes into her arms, shopping bag and all. “They’re for you,” I say.

She stops.

Not just stops walking, I mean it’s like she’s turned into a statue. She stands completely still, looking at me. “You mean… you want me to go…”

“To the dance.” I clear my throat. “With me.”

She suddenly has her arms around me, squeaking unintelligible sounds into my ear.

Okay.

I hug her back, and smile into her shoulder.

“I’ll take that as a yes, then.”

 

Sometimes

Sometimes I think
I should get over you

But then
I remember
How it felt
When you held my hand
For so long
While we walked

Sometimes I wonder if
You’re not worth it

But then
I remember
How you smile at me
How your smile
Blows a breeze
Of soft air
Through my heart

Sometimes I think
I’m better off without you

But then
I remember
How much warmer I am
How I can’t stop smiling
And I leak with joy
When I’m with you

Sometimes I think
You’re not right for me

But then
I remember
All the times we laugh
Until we cry
Until our stomach hurts
We’re so very odd
How can I resist

Sometimes I think
I could get over you

But then
I remember
That I don’t know how

Garden of Eden

You are too beautiful

For anyone to see

 

When the sun burns out

And the darkness comes

You’ll be the sun for me

 

And if you’d stay

You’d make me better

Than I could ever be

 

I will love you forever

I would protect you

I would always stay with you

 

And yet, with me

You’ll never be

I couldn’t dare to stay

 

You’re my Garden of Eden

The sunlight of my days

Everything is beautiful

Everything is perfect

When you’re here with me

 

But now I gotta go

I don’t deserve you

My Garden of Eden

Locked away from me