90 – Never Stop

This one has some cool lines in it but I don’t feel like it came together very well. Sometimes the leaps in association I make are a little larger than other people are comfortable with and it results in me looking incoherent. That’s a great excuse for being a blithering idiot, I know; how’s it working out?

At any rate, it’s kind of about my marriage, by way of Ursula Le Guin. My wife and I disagree constantly, but not about anything important – we fight about story structure and game mechanics and language and interpretations of TV shows, but never about money, or parenting, or values, or honesty. We’re very different in our expression but very similar in our underlying structure, like when you go inside a house in a subdivision and realize it’s got the same floor plan as yours.

One of the deepest foundations we share is a sense of identity as someone who perseveres. We are both never-say-die types, a tank/damage combo that has jumped from MMO to shooter to brawler to tabletop and back, infuriating teammates with our refusal to “just surrender and let’s move on.” She’ll taunt the boss without thinking if a healer screams, even if she’s got ten percent health left herself. I’ll be your top DPS and it won’t be because my gear’s good, it’ll be because I’m the only person still shooting when everyone else is dead and the boss is charging at my face. We’ve both spent our lives getting in trouble for never knowing when to stop.

There’s a kind of safety in that, from a relationship perspective. When I’m afraid, lonely, despairing, sometimes it feels like I’m in a space like the land of the dead that Ursula Le Guin describes in the Earthsea books – a dry, barren place, infinite miles of grinding rocks and bare dust, no borders, no light, no kindness, no mercy, no way to go back. All you can do is go on, into the dark, toward the other shore… which doesn’t exist.

In that place, where all you can do is push forward, keep walking on bloody stumps… the only joy in the world is someone who keeps walking with you. Someone you never have to worry will fall behind, drop to the ground, leave you alone. To not have to do it alone means so much. To know for certain, like gravity, a fact of the universe, that neither of us will give up. We will never stop while it’s within our power to keep going. Unlike Orpheus and Eurydice, no one needs to look back in doubt. If the distance between us can be devoured by effort alone, it’s nothing, and always will be nothing.

“Soul Clap Hands,” July 2006

The river got higher;
all the fish drowned.
We hit rock bottom and started digging,
hanged the navigator from the rigging,
tested our wings in vaults underground.

There’s a low wall at the top of the hill;
most people don’t go much further than that,
give up on escaping right off the bat –
what’s another millennium to kill?

You never fail to find me in the dark.
I never fear I’ll turn around and find
me out of your sight
you out of your mind
nothing’s heavier than someone else’s heart.
I won’t go back, and somehow you don’t mind –
love, like chair legs, stands best a bit apart.

Check out the rest of the 100 Sonnets

89 – Checkbox

An ode to paperwork. I really do love filling out forms. I know it’s nonsense. I think it’s my bruised perfectionist brain – I get this little dopamine surge every time I fill in a box with the correct information. No debates, no subjectivity, no success that somehow isn’t success – just the box, labeled with what it wants, and I can put it in. It’s all right here.

The cruel ironies of my life have always boiled down to “born in the wrong time.” My traumatized brain is happiest when it’s allowed to behave like a computer. If I’d been born twenty years earlier, I’d never have wanted for work in my life. Someone who for some ungodly reason loves data entry and form-filling? They’d have stuck me in the basement of some library and I’d never have been seen again, and I would have fucking loved it.

As it is, all the useful professional skills I have are things a computer can do better. Where do they keep all the terrible old books that no computer can read? I’ll digitize those, lemme at ’em.

There’s just something about a form I like –
a series of questions, all with answers,
no confusion, nothing left to chance or
left aside, every single box a strike.

Would that life were always so straightforward,
all questions presented multiple-choice,
all change preceded by a warning voice,
all the hidden costs already factored.

Get to the end and it’s really over;
the questions you get are the ones you see.
They know nothing but what they asked of me,
none of it a demand or a favor.
Paper armor, signature livery:
raise the inky lance and charge another!

Check out the rest of the 100 Sonnets

88 – Whisper

The wife said, “Write about quiet,” which made me think of wind and tree sounds, faraway voices, the way those things become words and shapes of their own when quiet makes them indistinct – it blurs the clear lines between words and noises, and allows you to perceive the gestalt of them as a single voice. At least, for me.

Then I started thinking about the way creatures like Ents in Tolkien speak, so slowly it might take a week to say hello, a year to have a conversation. The Martians in Heinlein’s “Stranger in a Strange Land” are somewhat similar – their life cycle is so much longer than ours that it takes decades for them to debate what to do about humanity, and at first, when humans arrived on the planet, they assumed it to be uninhabited. The Martian elders no longer have bodies we can perceive.

That’s one of the possible solutions to what’s known as the Fermi paradox, the idea that our universe is so vast and so old that it’s just statistically unthinkable that we haven’t already found evidence of even one extraterrestrial civilization. One of the ideas proposed in response to this problem, by Carl Sagan among others, is that extraterrestrials could evolve to a point where we would no longer recognize them as sentient, their language as language, perhaps no longer even perceive them as life. Perhaps their perception of time might be so different from ours that no human could live long enough to hear them speak a single word.

So this is a sonnet about that, kind of – the idea of language smeared across time, voices formed by a thousand throats a thousand miles away, at this distance just a whisper… well, what did they say?

Some Halloweeny art for you today. “Samhain,” November 2005

They say dark languages rarely survive,
but then, that’s a reductive view of life
from men who write history with a knife –
wanna bet nobody questioned their wives?

In the quiet you can see the pattern –
voices from the next room run together,
in every mouth, a fragment of a letter,
words no one’s lived long enough to discern.

You can hear it in the wind and rain
but only if it rains for forty nights.
No human born – at least nobody sane –
can get through all the drivel a ghost writes.
To hear the susurrations of your veins,
you have to silence all the parasites.

Check out the rest of the 100 Sonnets

87 – The Hungry Loop

This is inspired by the name of an item in Path of Exile, but it’s otherwise entirely unrelated – just a mental image that I thought was amusing. A nasty little fable in sonnet form.

Of course I knew mother didn’t like him.
I had a sense that father wasn’t keen;
each time I brought him over they were mean,
pretended I wasn’t home to spite him.

When he proposed, I thought they’d come around.
Mother brought out the heirloom wedding rings,
asked his measurements and did the fittings,
set a date, invited the family down.

I stood at the altar, veil on my head.
My love’s vows silenced every cry and cough.
I, barely hearing what the priest had said,
took his ring from the sacramental cloth,
and then my wedding dress was splashed with red
as my love’s ring bit my love’s finger off!

Check out the rest of the 100 Sonnets

86 – Towers of You

Strictly speaking, this is some rather esoteric erotic poetry from the perspective of a woman named Irian Valcòn, who will come up in Captain’s Log eventually. But it’s informed by a lot of tender, hungry feelings toward actual people. I like when I have an opportunity to lay my hands on a person and look at them like art or architecture, observe them at length and with all my senses, run my hands over every part, appreciate every shape and sound and texture. When I’m kissing you and I close my eyes, I’m not imagining someone else or anything like that – I’m imagining your body turning into a fractal castle that throws out buttresses and breezeways each time you touch me, connecting me at every point with the evolving edifice of you.

“Loa,” October 2006

Sharp little feelings like thorns in places
To walk my fingers up the thousand steps
starting at your shoulder, climbing your neck
build civilization between our faces –

a theocracy, taking their gospel
from the whispered words between our kisses.
In your stained-glass eyes they depict wishes,
cast us both as goddess and disciple.

Light runs from your mouth, spills over your lips,
a star burning in the cup of your tongue.
My skin ignites with every molten drip,
leaving behind the ribcage harp you strung.
You pick out my fate with your fingertips.
Between us, all the sins of worlds… undone.

Check out the rest of the 100 Sonnets

85 – Son of the Sun

If you haven’t read Clive Barker’s Galilee, this one is probably a waste of your time. Go read Galilee instead, it’s amazing. I find it beautiful and disorganized and complicated, like a person. It’s one of the most person-like books I’ve ever read, how’s that for a pitch?

“Papa Legba,” October 2008

What distinguishes morning from evening?
The beach runs along the path of the sun;
Rachel can’t tell when he usually comes,
whether the shadows are shrinking or growing.

In the quiet she becomes someone else.
She almost forgets the bars of her cage,
almost forgets that she’s one-tenth his age,
discovers an infant immortal self.

Galilee the sailor swims with the sharks.
Galilee, sometime King of Charleston.
Galilee the storyteller pinches,
Galilee the lover leaves her with marks.
Galilee the prodigal, uncertain
liberates her from herself by inches.

Check out the rest of the 100 Sonnets

84 – Parthenogenesis

One of the things you hear a lot in support communities for the children of narcissists is, “Don’t go to the hardware store for milk.” It refers to the tempting tendency to continue trying to get what you deserved and needed as a child – love, support, approval, guidance – from a person, usually a parent, who has already shown themselves to be incapable of giving you that thing. You keep going to the hardware store for milk, and you know they don’t have any, never did and never will. That sucks, it’s not fair and it’s not your fault, but the third or fourth – or hundredth – time you go in there asking for milk, it starts to look like self-flagellation. Your hope is killing you.

If you didn’t get a lot of that kind of familial support as a kid, you’ll probably go looking for it in everyone you meet. If you were raised by a narcissist, or an addicted parent who required you to parent them, you were taught to be someone’s emotional crutch. You were taught that someone who needs you to manage their emotions for them constantly is… someone who loves you. You were taught that when you manage other people’s emotions for them, when you determine your value by how much you please others, that’s you showing love.

It hurts to realize that your parents are never going to turn into the parents you needed them to be. It hurts even more to realize that hoping they will is still you judging yourself by their standards. It’s still you conceding that your life needs their stamp of approval. And when you give that up, it feels like being set adrift, shorn of your identity. It feels like all you had was that battered heart they left you with. If not there, where will you live?

Creating an identity, for me, has been a process that works from the edges in, something I perceive mostly as negative space. I imagine a person-shaped void, a starfield with arms and legs, and I imagine that person doing the things I do. Then I try to describe, as objectively as I can, what that person is doing and what I would conclude about that person from their actions. This helps me somewhat sidestep my tendency to judge myself differently from how I judge others.

This person-shaped void has become very important to me. I realized that there is only one person to whom I can safely say things like, “I need you to never leave me. I need you to love me completely, to the exclusion of all other things.” Though those are feelings we deserve and need to have at some point in our lives – ideally when we’re growing – they’re not sentiments that can be safely addressed by an adult to another adult. No other person can or should be the source of all your joy, or self-worth, or drive. So if you need to be loved like that, but no adult can responsibly promise you that they will forever… can you make that promise to yourself?

I was unable to come up with a reason why I couldn’t, so I did. I’ve promised plenty of young guys and girls that I’d love them forever, never leave them, sacrifice all for them. Why should that promise be any harder or less important to make to myself, when I’m the only one in the world who literally can’t leave me?

I can’t leave me, but I can ignore and punish myself. I can fail to love myself. I can fail to sacrifice my momentary comfort and security for the long-term good of the person I’m supposed to take care of. That’s neglect when a parent does it to their child… so it’s neglect when I do it to myself.

Imagining myself as this other person, this star-filled void, makes it a little easier. I imagine vague, bright arms around my shoulders, warmth against my body. I feel the deep love and commitment I make to others and try to imagine this void, myself, feeling that way about me. I know exactly what it should feel like, right? I know I’m capable of it. So to imagine it, in this context, is to create it.

We talk about self-worth, love, belief in ourselves, like those things are rare treasures buried underground somewhere, that we could find if we were only brave, diligent, strong enough. It’s not like that. You have love, belief, esteem. You know you do. You apply them to others all the time. All you have to do is try to apply them to yourself. No matter how stupid it feels.

Turn up your favorite love song, and imagine your own face as hard as you can. Imagine singing that song to yourself, the passionate feelings you’d have if you sang it to another person, but with your actions, your life, YOU in mind. This is easy to do when you’re alone – put on headphones and let yourself mouth the words, let yourself cry if you feel like crying. It’s good for you. Do this over and over until it no longer makes you cry, no longer makes you feel silly. Then pick another song, another tender ballad or sweet jam about someone with your hair color, and do it again.

This is one of the ones I used to sing to other people… now I sing it to myself. Try it on, I dare you. If it doesn’t matter, if it’s a silly thing to do, then do the silly thing for four minutes. Won’t matter anyway, right?

I found a negative space to love me,
the space between what was and should have been.
Over the years I’ve colored that space in
with starfields I’ve never seen above me.

In its way, it’s no more illusory
than any constellation I could try
to pin my hopes on, plot my progress by –
who drew the lines between the stars but me?

I feel my own fingers inside my head;
I feel myself pressed up against my back.
I swoon and let me take myself to bed,
each kiss and touch returning what I lack.
Who else can promise, even when I’m dead
to wrap my arms around us in the black?

Check out the rest of the 100 Sonnets

83 – Changeling

I don’t know! Mythologizing, I guess. Got a head full of bad machinery here, and sometimes it spits out intense imagery that doesn’t come with an explanation. It’s like… my brain has a theater in it, with its own tiny troupe of actors who cobble together stories out of the memories and scraps they have to hand. Every time they come up with a new combination, I get excited, but all of the parts are as old as dirt – I’ve seen that dress in a thousand shows, that man appears in every story I write, that’s the same song they were playing last week only now it’s the soundtrack to a different scene. And in this metaphor, I don’t get a program – my brain kicks out some new vaudeville performance stitched together out of childhood scenes, memories, dreams, movies, video games, and it expects me to guess what all of it is supposed to mean together, divine some kind of novel insight or interesting plot from it.

So this is a Frankenstein’s monster that started with the corpse of the Mayan calendar I have hanging on my wall, a black-on-black midnight relief of a young man kneeling over a supine woman under the calendar’s grinning face. My grandma lives in Mexico and I have a lot of this kind of thing lying around as a result – little bits of touristy crap I thought was amusingly weird, and a lot of native art and toys, usually bought off a kid who threw a rope as thick as his thigh across the highway to make the cars slow down. (No joke, they’re everywhere in Quintana Roo; they’re called topes. People stand by them and sell things to the folks driving by. If they’re selling fruit or honey or bread – anything you can eat that isn’t branded – buy it, it’s fucking fantastic.)

A couple of years ago, they unearthed a hitherto unsuspected tunnel and chamber underneath Teotihuacán, a major Mayan ruin near Mexico City. This is the story I read about it at the time; it mentions that the tunnel runs underneath one of the temples for about 330 feet, and the people who built it studded the roof and walls with pyrite – fool’s gold. With a little light, it’s like standing in a starfield down there, deep under the ground. I love that image. I hope someday after they’ve finished excavating the place, I can see it. So I guess that’s this sonnet – some vaguely-sourced Mayan imagery that I had to force a dramatic fairy-tale plot onto, because of who I am as a person.

“Caliban,” June 2006

A young man bows his head beneath the earth.
He knows he’ll never see the sun again.
They’ll only find his bones and jewelry when
this tomb is broken by his daughter’s birth.

He paces up and down the midnight hall,
he counts the stars embedded in the roof,
invents constellations that give him proof
that his child will cause the sun to fall.

All the while, locked inside her chamber,
the infant sings and grows, and grows and sings.
She whispers to her father’s corpse about
the perfect world she no longer remembers,
whispers, “Try to imagine having wings…
try to imagine really getting out.”

Check out the rest of the 100 Sonnets

82 – No Reason

Okay, I’m going to quote from The Fountainhead here, but please don’t get up and leave just yet – I used to be an Objectivist, I’m not anymore, and I’m happy to get into it with you about how poorly most people (including Ayn Rand herself) execute on her philosophy, but none of that is really what I want to talk about today. So the rest of this has the following content warnings: extensive discussion of both suicide and an Ayn Rand book.

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81 – Meet Cute

I’m into mythology – I like the gods that fuck and fight and are generally more interesting than the Judeo-Christian sky daddy tends to be – and mostly I like it for how they illustrate human relationships and interaction in the most ridiculously outsized way. It’s just a big soap opera up there for most pantheons. You know, a soap opera where the patriarch keeps turning into animals to bugger young girls behind his wife’s back. So, basically “The Young and the Restless,” I guess?

(This soap opera joke brought to you by someone who has never ever watched a whole episode of any soap opera in their life, so like, someone tell me if it accidentally stumbles into funny.)

One of my favorites is Hades and Persephone. (If you haven’t already listened to Hadestown, stop reading right now and go do that; I don’t even care if you come back to read the sonnet after, it’s that great.) There’s something I like about the Beauty-and-the-Beast Stockholm syndrome romance thing, which I know indicates just how damaged I am. Some part of me doesn’t recognize love unless it bites.

I also like the idea of Hades, the most removed and among the most powerful of the gods, made completely helpless by a girl, just like any other man. I like imagining him confronting what he doesn’t know how to do, trying to learn how to interact in any way but as the Lord of Death. Small wonder he was clumsy.

Watch the flowers spring up in her footprints.
Ask yourself again if you should be here,
if you should dare to taste her atmosphere
or frighten her with your cavern-dweller squint.

Down below, they don’t think you have a heart.
Most of the time, you’re glad to think that too.
If they were here, what would they think of you?
Has Hades found a foe he can’t outsmart?

Feels like it takes you days to find the words,
and then she turns and they scatter again.
You’ve just come up with something better when
the trees nearby fill with Demeter’s birds –
just take her down below, you’ll explain then!
…first thing she ever says to you is “Bastard!”

Check out the rest of the 100 Sonnets