Not a racist

When they called the dead poet a racist

I suppose I’m selfish
because my grief makes me so,
turning your death into an excuse
for me to need something more
than even your presence could offer,
I say I’m sad, so comfort me,
make me feel anything
other than this emptiness,
this loose coat of flesh
dropped to the floor
like a fresh gutted fish
because it slipped
from the butcher’s hand
before he reached the brown paper,
and god damn it,
I just want to keep finding myself
reflected in the eyes of your words,
they gave me courage
to emulate your fearlessness,
your playfulness, the way criticism
seemed to bead from your skin
like water on a newly waxed car,
labels sliding off you
as easy as eggs from a pan
onto plates you just kept serving
to hungry customers
who kept standing in line
no matter what the protestors
shouted from outside
on their sidewalks, their lips curled
with rage, their mouths
all flying spittle and clouds
of cold breath, how could you,
how could you continue
without apology, without explanation,
smiling beneath your veil
of hot tar and goose feathers,
your teeth so white,
your skin so pale,
your poems so good
you insisted they do all your talking.

Poem contemplating life and death

Epiphany of the lemming

There’s a lightbulb cooking dust
in my troubled mind,
something so akin to meaning
I can practically taste the alkaline.

It’s worrisome, this notion of age,
that I’ve lived long enough
I’m now imprisoned by breath
that heaves as I’m forced
to watch my idols die.

Maybe it’s imaginary,
this vision of mine,
that everyone I love
suddenly takes on the stilted posture
of a marionette, string-guided
and trance-like in single-file rows
toward the edge of a cliff
that separates the light from the dark.

Daily the news comes,
be it phone call or text,
news headline or tweet,
that another great influence
of my life has taken the dive
into that unquestionable void,
and each disappearance
causes more of a stir in my gut,
more of a dread-set panic
that blooms like an electrical burn,

because I’m here too you see,
I’ve woken up trapped
inside a body of wood
and cheap metal joints,
my eyes fixed forward
as if they’re a painted stare
watching the bobbing rows
of shiny black heads
careening like floating ducks
on a river without rapids,
and only I seem to understand
it’s a trap

there’s a waterfall waiting,
and it’s impossible to hear
the deafening roar of the cascade
until it’s swept you away,
out and into the ether
far from the crowd that remains
and wonders absently where you’ve gone.

I want to scream,

My heart a piston out of control,
turning my insides red,
but I can’t open my mouth,
my lips now just a pen-drawn line
curved at the corners
into a concrete smile of catatonic glee
watching more members
of this cursed conga line
vanish from my sight,
their scents still left like chalk plumes
in the absence of their bodies,
dissipating seed clouds that glow dim
and swirl like coffee creamer
between the ignorant passers-by.

There’s no way back from here
that doesn’t sever the world from me,
and I’m suddenly haunted
by a repeated phrase, a recurring dream,
ask not for whom the bell tolls,
it tolls for thee,

and every shaking step
carries you closer
to the source of the noise.

Poem for Tony Hoagland, RIP

Fuck Cancer
~for Tony Hoagland

I could say fuck cancer
but cancer never seems
to get fucked,
and all these repeated incantations
reverberating in kitchens
and hospital walls
like backwards Hail Marys
or curses of wind
expelled when stubbing your toe
on the dark corner
of the coffee table,
in the end, they’re just words,
creature comforts like chocolate cake
or favorite characters in a sitcom,
and it’ll never stop,
despite the stadiums filled
with pink scarves, pink socks,
pink shoelaces and gloves,
the pink will disappear from the faces
of the ones you love,
they’ll slowly turn an ashy gray,
waxy synthetic, almost mannequin-like,
only their eyes will remain
glossy and wet, quarters in a creek bed,
shining up at you on the bank,
someone so stupid,
you believed sometimes
coins carried wishes,
and even if they don’t,
people keep throwing them in,
so many coins, so many scattered prayers,
the stream shimmers like a disco ball,
and even if you died right now
there’s something beautiful
about that, something disorienting,
a virtual vertigo of the senses
spinning in a captive body,
when death’s black jaw yawns
so close to the ear
its breath raises the fine hair,
that whisper of finality
like trickled drips down an IV line,
a sound not unlike a fountain
found in a Buddhist shrine,
so hard to discern the difference
from the echocardiogram
and the scribble of a poet’s pen,
perhaps why it was once a custom
to place coins over the eyes of the dead.

Some thoughts on Identity

The Rise of Identity and the Downfall of Free Thought

There is a culture war being fought right now in America and across the globe that remains mostly hidden because it is happening primarily online, but it has found a pervasive presence in politics and in the poetry community. I am speaking about the war of identity.

In my mind, the identity war built itself on the roots of social media and how this form of online networking worked its way into a staple of average everyday life. Social media has become such a presence in popular culture at this point it seems impossible to imagine life without it. What began as a novel way to connect with people all over the world who shared common interests and to keep in touch with friends and family who live miles to states to countries away, became a way to build networks of entrepreneurship, became a way to broadcast daily lives and build what we perceive as individual audiences we try to hold enraptured by our own personal brand. The larger the number of “friends, followers, subscribers” the larger the perceived audience, and I believe this is what has driven people to feel like their purpose in life is to share opinions on every subject imaginable, no matter the level of education on any given subject, and to develop the perception that every opinion about such subjects holds some kind of relevance to larger society. This has in the end only served to create divides among people and to create bubbles of self-confirmation, and has driven people to seek out new ways to differentiate themselves from the crowd. In effect, I believe our brains are being rewired in a such a way that the dopamine addiction one develops using social media becomes intrinsically connected to attention-seeking behavior.

When a person is seeking ways to get the most attention possible for themselves, of course they will seek to replicate whatever method they have seen work for someone else. It’s a basic concept that happens over and over again in every field imaginable, because the end goal of the individual is achieved perception of personal success and of course monetary gain in a capitalist society. This is why in entertainment industries, if one thing becomes insanely popular, all competitors will try to mimic the concept that achieved the popularity and the original creator will try to duplicate the previous success as well, until the market becomes over-saturated and eventually the public loses interest or a backlash happens. Companies and people see something that works, and they flood the market with what works until it doesn’t work any more. Basic supply and demand stuff. To take this a step further, once the market becomes over-saturated and creators are forced to pull back or find something else that works, if they successfully integrated a large enough supply into the public for a product, eventually what will happen is they can bring that back again several years later for a resurgence of interest due to nostalgia. It becomes a cycle that they can manipulate for a stream of perpetual revenue. This is why film companies build movie franchises, and why music companies build catalogues of similar sounding musicians, and why art goes through community movements, and publishing companies produce swaths of books in the same genres, etc. It’s no coincidence that so many bands came out in recent years trying to sound like Nirvana and then later Nickelback, that so many rap artists have their sounds distilled from the successes of Dre and Tupac, that movie studios today have their entire infrastructure bases around Star Wars and Marvel films. The companies are pushing what works until they reach the backlash stage.

How does this relate to identity? Well, in the age of social media, the individual comes to view themselves as the product that is for sale. And in many ways, that is what the CEOs of companies like Facebook and Twitter are counting on, because to them, yes, you are for sale. You are what generates their income. Some might even say, the users of social media act as free labor for these companies, and have been successfully duped into being voluntary slaves. Everyone willingly participates, or maybe at this point not even willingly, because society is so entangled with social media to try and extricate ones self from this web of voluntary publicity is to become an outcast, a perceived luddite, someone who is “not connected.” The public has sacrificed any illusion of personal privacy for their shot at becoming the next viral hit that gets millions of clicks and earns them a brief or maybe somewhat sustainable moment of celebrity status, depending on how inventive the person at the helm of the viral success can be. How this relates to identity involves an extremely complex narrative build-up of events over time that cannot be seemingly dialed down to one root-cause. It comes from a casual evolution of thought, through repetitive positive reinforcement of what generates the most response from a stimulus. Throughout the brief but total dependency social media has manufactured for itself in its short history, humans are being taught, and teaching themselves that their singular identity matters more than the collective identity of humanity. This manipulation of thought was deceptively easy to conjure in humans, because humans apparently have primitive and innate narcissistic cores in their thought processes. The more positive attention one gets from a stimulus, the more they desire to seek out that stimulus, resulting in a feedback loop, resulting in an addiction to chemicals produced in the brain from that feedback loop, an addiction that becomes harder and harder to break free from. More and more time gets devoted to seeking out the positive reinforcement, and the brain gets hardwired to need that reinforcement, otherwise, like any addiction, it creates an incessant and overpowering urge to come back to it. It’s like any drug really that causes chemical dependency in that sense. What happens next is the brain ceases to be able to function in a normal capacity without the chemical it constantly needs. Critical thought becomes more difficult to manage. Concentration starts to suffer and attention span gets shorter and shorter. In effect, the brain is damaged, unable to do its job at its previous levels of quality, because the neurons have all been recoded and redirected for a streamlined path of pleasurable interactions. We become, basically, hamsters in wheels being fed dope directly to our brains every time we press a button. And we are happy in this version of hell.

Again I went on a tangent, but bringing it back to identity, somewhere along the line, in the public fervor to find more inventive ways to create more unique personal brands in which to create the most attention possible for the self, there has developed a trend to define the self in more constantly varying levels of degree from the previous standards, and then to make everything about the self defined in that perceived value of uniqueness. In order to differentiate one’s self from the massive and mostly homogenous population, the self seeks to find an identity from which it can feel more powerful, more singular in existence, more of a diamond in the rough, from which more attention will become focused from the crowd onto the shiny object refracting light in the dark sea of sameness. Much like companies and organizations mimic and attempt to duplicate the successes of other products, in social media where the person sees themselves as the product, the person tries to mimic the successes of what has worked for others. So, it’s easy to deduce that persons have learned through experience that altering aspects of the individual identity create more attention for that identity, be it through sympathy, or through creating perception of difference, or through genuine achievement, which is the hardest of all to actually duplicate, and thus people will naturally congregate around the easiest tactics to replicate success, while also trying to gain a genuine achievement for themselves at the same time.

What becomes divisive in this quest to build up the personal identity, is that in order to sustain and drive the success of this identity, you have to do two things: you have to create the perception that everything about the self revolves around this created identity, and second, you have to push back against things or ideas that work against this perception, which requires pushing back against everything that is not this version of identity, because identities unlike the identity you create for yourself must be enemies of that identity. This is a reinforcement of primitive tribalism. The groups trying to replicate success of other identities form tribes against the previously held notions of standard identities. This goes on until the new versions become accepted as standards, forcing deviations from the standard to foster a furthered need for separation of the self from the growing crowd of people taking on the versions created before. Take the way fashion trends work. A person finds a way to change their outward appearance, perhaps they decide to wear a shirt with one sleeve when most people are wearing shirts with two sleeves. There’s the initial response of wow, that is different, but some people see it and find the value in it, and so they start wearing shirts with one sleeve. Then, before you know it, most people are wearing shirts with one sleeve, and so the person who started the trend doesn’t stand out any more, and then they find another way to do that, or they disappear into obscurity. The difference on social media and the internet is everything is based on perception of reality rather than physical reality, and so a person can create whatever identity they wish, meaning the limits of what can be changed about the self lie strictly in the realms of imagination. Everything online is simply a sharing of information, and we have seen that information can readily be altered and manipulated to the needs of whoever does the sharing. Boiled down to basics, the internet is an illusion, a shared mass delusion when the information being shared is completely dependent upon perception, and if misinformation is shared widely enough and accepted enough, it can become a perception of the truth, in such a way that the internet has become the ultimate medium of propaganda and allowed for the greatest deception of the public in human history.

These battles of identity have manifested themselves in varying forms, most prominently in politics, with larger and larger degrees of the public aligning themselves in either liberal or conservative camps, and a very complicated fracturing of these camps into more and more fanatical subsets, each fighting over the most preferable version of the truth to their own perception of their identity. This becomes more and more volatile and divisive when factoring in elements of self-affirmation about deeply held concepts of religious belief, race and gender, proliferation of misinformation, and a disconnect from perception with reality, allowing things to happen in the actual world that under normal circumstance would never get off the ground. It is this disconnect with reality that has brought us the Trump presidency and gravely endangered democracy in America because of how far the public is willing to go to push back against perceived threats to their identities. A combination of cognitive dissonance and allowance of confirmation bias through living reality in an information bubble has caused mass-delusion in avoidance of factual information for the couch-comforts of being told what one wants to hear that reinforces preconceived notions and protects the self. In the age of social media, the self has risen to purest manifestation of ego, and proven that humanity loses appreciation for the bigger picture the more the self is nurtured and convinced of its own assured success.

This battle has also reached its fever pitch in the land of independent publishing, and the poetry scene, which is just a symptom of the entire cultural obsession social media has helped produce in mainstream society. The cultivated importance of identity has generated such a tipped scale of relevance to the identity of the writer rather than the content produced, that if one wishes to achieve any sort of wider audience, they have to conform to this notion or be ignored. The groups of identity-centered writers ruthlessly self-promote and self-congratulate those who appeal to this self-aggrandized cult of individuality that is merely conformist thought-policing in disguise. In order to be a member of the club now, you have to identify in some fashion as marginal or have been victimized by the status quo, which is to say, not be a cishet white male. Any casual glance through the popular ranks of current poetry writers and the glut of online independent magazines and journals and prizes reveals that this trend has taken a firm hold on this artistic community. It’s such a widespread phenomenon it is almost impossible to break it down and understand the how and why it has worked itself into the fabric of the arts. From what I have observed personally, the trend established itself through simply an incessant wave of outrage and outright attacks on anyone daring to try and ignore the identity movement. Writers have been attacked and shamed, editors have been attacked and shamed, accused of things ranging from being as tepid as socially awkward, sexually inappropriate (by as little as commenting on a person’s appearance to more serious accusations), cultural appropriation, racism, etc, and these accusations result in instant assumptions of guilt and excommunication, to the point that any writer found to have violated the unwritten rules of the identity movement has had their works scrubbed from online publication and their names routinely blacklisted from future publishing. This is because of one of the main precepts of the identity movement, which is to protect itself at all cost. To protect the notion of identity, any challenges to identity have to be destroyed. In the land of social media, this destruction is applied unapologetically through the means of public shaming, and results in an environment of conformity to ideals out of fear of being the next target, because there is no court of appeals on public opinion or groupthink.

In large, this movement has only taken hold over the past decade. And it will ultimately be unsustainable, due to the transient nature of internet culture and the fickle human attention span coupled with the exhausting struggle of keeping up a facade. An illusion that requires pretense to maintain cannot be maintained on a permanent scale without succumbing to its own inherent weaknesses and fallacies. Application of the ideals of the identity movement will prove themselves irrational in their own biases and self-serving interests in who they choose to praise or ignore, who they choose to shame or applaud, who they choose to critique or award, even when faced with similar scenarios of circumstance. The only thing a rational person can do is choose to wait, to let this movement burn itself out, even as it tries to burn everything else down around it. These outrages flare like candle flames and flicker out, forgotten and easily replaced by the next candle being lit, something political strategists now use so well to serve their interests they practically play the public like a well-tuned piano. In the grand scheme of human history this will be but a small footnote, a brief blip of conflict during which humanity tried erroneously yet again to redefine itself and failed to be capable of elevating beyond its physical form, bound wholly by the gravity of the real world, where these things invented on the internet are merely just a grand illusion of self-nurturing falsehoods. The internet had such potential to bring the world together under a common umbrella of the shared wealth of knowledge, but perhaps we were better off without it. Perhaps this hell by means of good intentions revealed the tragic flaw of the human condition, that we are individually ourselves but candle flames hoping to burn the brightest in a world made from straw.

The Whisper Network

The Unreliability of the Whisper Network

Having been a victim of the Twitter Shame Mob and knowing what it is like to be chased across the virtual landscape of the internet by an outraged group of crazies hefting their pitchforks and torches, I wanted to touch on what I believe to be the main and inherent flaw of this form of internet activism, and that is how it’s based on a grievous and perilous perversion of the truth. The people involved in these gang-shaming activities do not rely on factual information. Instead they rely on what they refer to as their “whisper network.” This is information that is shared between individuals on a secretive basis, and then networked out between them through private dialogues that no one else gets access to. They say they do this to protect the original sources of the information, but what ends up happening is the accusations become more and more exaggerated, and the original subtext or context gets lost in transition, until all that remains is outlandish and scandalous accusations that spread like wildfire through the Twittersphere and elsewhere.

Anyone who has ever played the game Telephone as a child knows exactly what I am talking about. You don’t even have to have played the game to know the basic concept of it, and how it works. Someone whispers something in another person’s ear and tells them to pass it on. It could be something as simple as, “Billy thinks Susie is cute.” But by the time it has been passed on by twenty to forty people, the message that is spread by the fortieth person is completely different, having morphed into something that could be as outlandish as, “Billy put his tongue in Susie’s butt.” As a game played by children this is funny, but when rumors and gossip or serious conversations are spread this way by adults, the results are quite unnerving. And this is why the Whisper Network fails and should not be trusted.

I have personally witnessed the horrific effect this type of information sharing has had on others and have witnessed its effects on a personal level. Having differences of opinion on hot-button discussions quickly had me labeled “asshole,” and then “troll,” and then “misogynist, sexist, racist,” and then “serial harasser.” All of course bullshit, but on the internet people use these labels in an effort to delegitimize their perceived opponents and to silence them. The heavy-handedness and weight these labels carry make them nearly impossible to combat, because they are loaded with such vitriol and disgust, a person finds themselves immediately trying to disprove the label placed on them, rather than being able to stay on the original topic. As such, throwing one of these labels at someone is the ultimate distraction from a contested topic, especially if it is a topic of debate that is un-winnable.

This was most recently apparent in glaring fashion with another internet outrage fallout that took place over an acquaintance of mine, Rachel Custer, having the Twitter Shame Mob go after her and get her work removed from two separate journals. When I defended her, this time, the editor of one of these journals went so far as to call me “Everyone’s favorite rapist.” This was clearly a distraction tactic, and it worked to a degree, because I was so incensed over being called a rapist, that I focused on trying to get that accusation taken down from facebook/twitter for several days after it happened. And despite this outlandish term being hoisted upon my name, not one of the proponents of the Twitter Mob and protectors of the “Literary Safe Spaces” stepped in to condemn the editor for their obvious misstep by slandering me with such a falsehood, despite none of these people ever setting foot in the same room with me, having no knowledge of me whatsoever other than a petty literary feud and some occasional mudslinging. The excuse I got from one Mob Member on this was, “Well, I don’t know you aren’t one.” This is another extension of how the Whisper Network version of Telephone works to distort perception. Since the editor making the statement, Topaz Winters, was an 18 year old POC, I was supposed to just not say anything about it, and to demand an apology and a retraction from her was somehow supposed to be bullying, despite the extreme nature of the slanderous term she attached to my name.

This is all a game to these people. And why not? No one gives a fuck about poetry except poets.

What had I done this time to deserve their vitriol? I had defended another writer. Rachel Custer is another writer who has been wrongly vilified by the Twitter Mob, in much the same fashion as I have. It’s the same group of people who repeatedly go after writers such as her every time their work gets published somewhere. It’s like a group of mad ravens that start dancing and cawing every time a worm pops its way out of the ground for a peek at the sunlight, and they all start fighting over which bird is going to gobble up the worm until it decides to go back into hiding and leave them back at their starvation unto cannibalism ritual. As far as I can tell, Rachel has done nothing to any of these people that deserves such hatred. Much like me, her encounters with this group of indie publishing Nazi hacks have all occurred online, in much the same fashion. She friended fellow writers on facebook. She had arguments with writers over issues like politics, police brutality, immigration, the presidential election, etc. Her beliefs are different from a lot of poets in that she is an evangelical Christian and a conservative. So naturally, her ideas about some topics like, abortion, healthcare, feminism, they are going to be leaning in a slightly to more moderately different direction, and this caused conflict. Her ideas about police brutality for instance, which was a hot button issue after the Ferguson riots and other similar situations at the time, had her defending the police force while everyone else was saying “fuck the police.” I remember clearly that many folks were calling her a racist for her views. And it got so old to her she started sarcastically replying, “So what,” or “I’m not even arguing with you about this, you want me to be a racist, fine, I’m racist.” This was clearly her way of trying to point out that calling someone a racist over a difference of opinion about a complicated topic was a copout, a way of getting frustrated and ending the argument, taking the ball and running away from the game instead of trying to finish it. It’s simply self-defeating and polarizing rather than working toward any kind of common ground.

The other BIG problem people have with Rachel Custer is that she supports Donald Trump. I can’t defend that stance because I don’t understand it at all, but politics is a complicated arena and people have many different reasons for supporting the candidate they choose to support. Not everyone is a single issue voter, though many people are. Personally, I don’t see how anyone can still support Trump given everything that has happened since he took office, but there is a lot of misinformation spread, and many people buy into it rather than try and own up to the truth. At any rate, Rachel wrote a poem that got published in Rattle that supported Trump, and basically the internet mob lost their fucking shit over it. It was like the culmination of three big taboos in one atomic bomb explosion of an event. You had Rattle, already hated. Rachel, already hated. Trump, very hated. A perfect storm of social outrage. An unprecedented VIOLATION of the literary safe space! It was unconscionable. It was an OUTRAGE. The Twitter Mob has never forgiven it.

There was also the big blow up around this time of Rachel getting kicked out of the secret Facebook group, the Binders of Women and Nonbinary Poets. See how complicated all this is? It’s like layer upon layer of high school cafeteria cliques, a metaphysical onion of seedy gossip and nepotism and self-righteous corruption. It just goes and goes and goes.

I don’t want to go to much into the Binders of Women and Nonbinary Poets, but it is the source of the Literary Gestapo’s power. It’s a facebook group of something like 20,000 women where they have networked and share opportunities and spread these stories of gossip and outrage so that it only takes a few hours for one of these posts about an event that they disagree with to go viral and have a veritable mob of angry keyboard warriors rioting to take down the poet who dared infringe upon anyone’s perception of safety. The admins of this group are E. Kristin Anderson and Kenzie Allen, and they have strict policies in place about keeping their work and their discussions in this group secret. No screen shots. No taking anything said in the comments of the posts or the posts themselves public. The only time any of this abuse of power was ever tried to be taken public was when the editor of Thank You For Swallowing, Cat Conway, started an anonymous Twitter page called @problematicpubs. On this page she had a list of everyone she considered to be problematic for whatever reason. I was on the list. As was Rachel. As was several other people and magazines like Rattle and B O D Y. Also on the list were actual people accused of actual sexual assault. There seemed to be no real metrics by which one was considered to be problematic. The violations ranged from being accused of being an actual rapist, to simply being an argumentative troll in facebook threads. The list had no real legitimacy, but people in the Binders believed it and added all the people to their personal “do not publish” lists for their magazines that they ran, and they told other people not to publish the perpetrators on the list. Eventually there was conflict over this Twitter feed, because obviously it promoted censorship, and it attacked people who had not really done anything wrong. The page was eventually taken down, but now you have Cat Conway once again posting threads of lists of “problematic” people and publications on Twitter, and you have things like Vida forcing publications to take their “Safer Lit Pledge” much like they force their vision of diversity through the publications of their pie charts every year.

And now, all this feels like it is reaching a point of peak hysteria. Luckily, amid all this insanity, one of the journals who removed Rachel’s work apologized to her and had it reinstated to their online archive. That journal was from OSU, and being a publicly funded university, it actually has to abide by federal discrimination law, so it could not just remove someone’s work due to their political beliefs, unlike the other journal being run by an 18 year old child. So, where does this all end exactly? I feel like we must be coming to a fork in the road where important decisions about the future of the literary landscape will need to be made. Either writers and poets will need to take a stand for TRUE FREEDOM of expression, or they will decide to do nothing and succumb to the will of a few very outspoken bullies, preaching from their pulpits of conformity. If we do nothing, I wonder just how far we can slide down this slippery slope of fascist thought-policing in art. The political landscape has certainly shown us how easy it is to let things slide past points of no return. Much like our politics, if we keep allowing the bullies to decide the rules of the game, it won’t be long until the game is rigged for just the bullies to keep winning time after time, and freedom of expression in the arts starts disappearing from even our memories, as surely the canon and any offensive work made by any problematic human will be stricken from the history books and the collective human consciousness, leaving us with only what is approved for consumption, what is safe, what is sterile, what is trigger-free, where nothing hurts and everyone is happy, or at least convinced they are in their emotionless world. Ask yourself if that’s the future you want to live to see.

Poem for Anthony Bourdain

Parts Unknown, for Anthony

This poem almost writes itself,
except it doesn’t.
I had to be here to write it,
as you had to be here to read it,
except the person I’m writing it for
slipped out the back door
without saying goodbye,
leaving us wanting more
of his infectious light.

There’s a darkness I find myself in,
a cold place, damp as a cellar
with leaky soiled walls
and a chilled breath that shudders
free of its body, an odor
like fresh mulch mingled with spilled wine,
the kind that stains clothes and skin
the color of a bruise,
and every reflective surface
is a doorway
saying go ahead, step inside.

Even the extraordinary
holds something back,
eyes like keyholes
whispering a hollow wind
only heard between smiles
and casual affectations
when the mask slips.

We see each other
and nod, across that precipice.
We press our hands together
through that pane of glass.
We see ourselves
and feel so alone,
surrounded by those
who’d embrace us and take us home
if we only knew how to ask.

A Dumpster Fire Speaks

Trash fire
for VIDA

“You can have it all,
my empire of dirt.
I will let you down,
I will make you hurt.” ~ Trent Reznor

I used to be fierce, but now I am afraid.
I’m afraid I’ve lost my ability
to tell the truth, to know
what it is I stand for.

Everything I sought I saw stripped away
when it was just out of my grasp,
like some award I felt entitled to
or the keys to a new car
car of my dreams
with its paint so shiny
and reflective
it almost seemed liquid,
or the girl at the basketball game
with the supermodel body
and the pornstar fuck-me eyes
who dared me to approach her
with her lips wet and slow
sucking a Blow-Pop and staring me down
like she wished it was my cock,
who when I finally worked up the nerve
to walk over and say hello,
just curled like a leaf
into the shoulder of her guy friend
laughing, her and her friends laughing
at how stupid I was
for thinking someone like her
would ever be interested in someone like me,

and I felt myself slip
just a bit closer to the edge
of a cliff I’d stared off of many nights alone,
down into a darkness that seemed to have no bottom,
I felt another filament of light spark out
inside myself and this time I wasn’t sure
if I’d find another bulb to replace it,
but of course I did,
and somehow I added another layer
to my person suit, zipped it up
over my previous self like a fresh baby skin,
and I managed to move on,
to find small measures of happiness
over the years, people who loved me
and then stopped loving me
only to be replaced by someone else,
and that’s how it goes
if you don’t manage to fuck everything up
beyond your scope
of seeing a way to rebuild it.

This poem isn’t even my own voice.
I should know better than to write
after reading someone else’s books,
but sometimes that’s when I’m most inspired,
I see the genius of others
and my mind starts trying to duplicate it,
to find in myself
what I found so captivating
while living in another writer’s mind.

And by now, you’re thinking I’ve lost the thread.
Wasn’t this supposed to be a poem about Truth,
you’re probably thinking to yourself.
Truth, that comically noble notion—
hold your horses, lady or gent, I’m coming back to it.
You see, when I first started writing,
I had a rabid desire to protect
the sacrosanct freedom
that I saw coming under attack:
nobody poets telling other nobody poets
what they should or should not be writing,
what was offensive and infringing on the safe spaces
of literature, what was appropriating other cultures
through the oppression of colonialist patriarchy,
what was objectifying women
treating them as totems or victims
of a fetishized male gaze,
misogyny, sexism, violence, homophobia,
transphobia, racism, ablism, Islamophobia,
agism, all these things signaled a problematic author,
someone entrenched in an outdated worldview,
someone who was probably a trash fire
and didn’t deserve to be read or even to be alive,
even if they didn’t believe what they wrote,
even if they just considered these elements
to be part of a complex reality
that needed to be seen in order to be critiqued,
they were to be shamed and shunned,
driven from literature like lepers
forced to live in caves
on the outskirts of civilization.

Fuck Bukowski. Fuck Hemingway.
Fuck Browning, fuck Carver, fuck Lowell,
fuck Ginsberg, fuck Stafford, fuck Collins.
Fuck David Foster Wallace and Brian Easton Ellis.
Fuck Chuck Palahniuk and John Updike.
Fuck Junot Diaz, Sherman Alexie, Joseph Massey.
Fuck Kenneth Goldsmith and fuck you if you like him.
Fuck William Shakespeare.
Fuck Whitman, Thoreau, and Emerson.
Men are cancelled.
Fuck the Canon. Fuck the Patriarchy.

I started writing poems specifically aimed
at pissing these people off.
They demand Trigger Warnings?
I’ll write the most triggering poem I can imagine,
and I’ll mock trigger warnings in the process.
Fuck your trigger warnings.
They say you can’t write about rape?
Challenge accepted.
Fuck your coddled victimhood mentality.
Don’t use racial slurs in poems.
Watch me.
Fuck your book-banning stereotypes.
Don’t mock the Prophet Muhammad.
We’ll see about that.
Fuck your precious religion.
Accuse me of appropriating someone’s abuse?
I’ll put my accusers names as titles
of the most offensive poems of all time.
Fuck you.

And this is how I lost the truth,
by fighting a battle that wasn’t mine,
in which I ended up defending myself
more than I defended the cause,
by becoming the villain
of a story that has too many villains,
attacking my attackers,
becoming a scapegoat
for what’s wrong
with white male writers,
someone no one would defend
for risk of their own credibility,
someone even a good friend
couldn’t or wouldn’t stand beside
any more
without putting their own neck
in the path of the guillotine.

Welcome to the world of internet poetry,
where years of work
building a name
can vanish over the course of three days,
where it has become commonplace
for gangs to demand
publications to remove the poems
that dared to cross imaginary lines,
and then for that poet’s work
to be scrubbed from the archives
as if they never existed
or ever wrote poems at all.

I often wonder how many of these poets
whose books I have purchased over the years,
and who I reached out to in email
or through social media chats
to express what their work meant to me,
ever bothered to buy one of my books,
or to even read the books I mailed to them
just to show my appreciation,
how many of my books
have never even been cracked open,
were just moved from padded envelopes
directly to dusty bookshelves
to begin collecting their own sheens
of shed skin, the sloughed off cells
of the poets coating the covers
of the work of a friend or a peer
they never respected enough to begin with
to give their work even the fleeting chance
of a few precious minutes
of their own attention.

In the end, it doesn’t matter,
everyone thinks they’re burning down the world,
but they’re just dancing
in their own fires,
and once the flames have all burnt out
there’ll be no one left
who cares enough
to sweep up the ashes.

Swan Song

Out now, on Amazon, is the final collection of poetry from Jay Sizemore. This collection I have been working on for most the past two years, with a big chunk of the work written and revised during the month of April. The collection focuses on guns and gun violence, with poems responding directly and indirectly to shootings and their correlating politics. There is also the theme of nature running through the book, as a way of contrasting the violence of the human condition. In total, the book runs 136 pages, and is priced extremely low for a collection of this size, at just 10 dollars. Please consider picking one up.

Primal sonnet

Primal urges sonnet

Rhythm was found in a makeshift drum banging
two sticks against an open rock face
or perhaps the hollow of tree long before
violence was born from necessity,
before stone was sharpened and woven
onto the ends of clubs, there was dancing,
a primal stomp and chant around crackling flame.
Then, came the rival clans and the instinct
to protect the water and the camp,
and war became another kind of music,
banging these crude instruments like breath
out of the skulls and bones of the enemy.
All these centuries learning the best ways to kill,
to dance, to chant mine mine, to make the drum bang.

Right to bear arms: NaPoWriMo #24

A right to bear arms

It’s my right to feel powerful,
to protect what’s mine,
my family, my home,

come into my cave uninvited,
come near my children
and face the consequences,

these claws I’ve sharpened
on the trunks of so many trees,
these teeth that have gnawed

marrow from bones,
I am not hibernating.
When I stand, I’m ten feet tall,

my arms are strong enough
to break bodies like promises
of a peaceful night’s rest

during hunting season
when animals disguise their scents
beneath their bright orange vests

and their hands still stinking
of lavender and axe,
of oil and steel folded and honed

into things alien of the Earth,
but their arms are not my arms,
and their deaths are my self-defense.