Breaststrokes Through Apathy

Sex and Brocolli

Sitting cross legged on a sweat soaked comforter,

we became lost as we delved deeper into

intimacy that exists in warm embraces

and the exchanging of bodily fluids.

We dug deeper into one another

like we were digging through the skin of our shared

naked bodies looking for versions of ourselves

that were hiding from their sins. How intimate.

An hour before, I was on top of you

and you were asking me to cum on your pussy.

/

When you asked the first time, we had been fucking

for what felt like an eternity. I was

fighting, trying not to succumb to a cramp

that was working its way from my knee to my ass.

Meanwhile, I saw the movement of your body show

impatience instead of enthusiasm.

Naked and interlocked with one another, the

well of intimacy was running dry despite

the sweat dripping off of my skin and onto

yours. It wouldn’t be much longer until there was

no intimacy left in my flailing body.

/

We put our clothes on immediately after.

It was always that way, the love making without

the love. The ending of the exploration was

always premature. A scar on your body could

be seen, touched and tasted but when the lights came on,

it was just a scar. At least, it was until it

wasn’t. Because when we peeled the wet comforter

off of the bed and sat down on the damp bed sheet,

all the secrets we tried to fuck out of each

other started to crawl out all on their own.

/

In between bites of broccoli pizza we took

turns reintroducing ourselves to each other,

holding each other in verbal embraces,

finding comfortable vulnerability.

Why did we choose broccoli? We didn’t. You did.

And that small, insignificant decision

became intimate. Memories melted away,

puddling together like sweat off our bodies.

Heads of broccoli were crushed in between your teeth

right next to my individuality.

/

The quietness that followed was one that was earned.

The symphony of lust that preceded it

was a thing of the past. It ended just like

our meal and the conversations about

why we are the way we are, dreaming of love

while counting sheep with unrequited interest.

For every creak of the metal bed frame

there was a beat, a suspension of our minds

in which we did not welcome one another.

This was our reward for intertwining.

This One is Yours

The first time I went over,

she brought out a small wooden box.

And when she opened it,

I saw it was full of little strips of paper.

We took turns unfolding them, revealing the handwritten questions in each of them.

/

What’s your worst fear?

Probably the dark because this one time at my cousins house…

/

What do you want most in life?

I just want to be happy. Last year I went through this depressive episode and…

/

What’s your favorite food?

My mom used to make this milanesa that…

/

We took turns asking questions that

should have had simple answers but instead

were answered with stories.

Every story attached itself to the slip of paper

that prompted it, and when we were done

I’d shove those pieces of paper in my pockets.

/

Pockets full of paper,

Yours, mine, ours.

Sometimes when I pull them out now,

I can’t tell which are yours and which are mine.

Pessimistic Princess

Massive, hungry, all-consuming.

A world in need of being tamed

while masquerading as untamable.

/

Pessimistic Princess,

you feel the challenge of taming the world

thrust upon you.

You suffocate,

Never realizing that

the world is big,

but you are bigger.

/

Pessimistic Princess,

The world does it’s best

to keep you from knowing this.

When you look in the mirror,

it tells you a story of inadequacy

in which you are the main character.

This story is fiction.

/

Pessimistic Princess,

you have stared into the abyss

and the abyss has stared back.

It is scared.

Scared of your potential.

Because the world,

as big as it is,

has a beginning and an end.

/

But you,

Pessimistic Princess,

are infinite.

Whispering Vulgarities

I taste blood.

I don’t know if it’s theirs or

Mine.

Maybe I bit their lip

too hard.

Maybe I need to

take it easy.

/

I make love

with a gentleness akin

to whispering the word

Cunt.

/

I fuck.

I fuck like

a maniac.

No,

I fuck like

I’m manic.

/

It’s not pleasant

for either of us.

/

She always used to tell me

how great I was doing.

but that was when we were fucking

and in love.

When we were making love.

/

This isn’t even

Her.

/

This is someone else

who fucks in the dark

because

they can’t stand the sight of me.

/

It’s probably not that.

They like me.

They don’t love me

but they like me.

/

They know I mean well,

that I’m not a

maniac or manic.

/

They know that I’m just a guy

fucking for the first time

after years of making love.

The Night Before, The Morning After

…The night before was much like the morning after, tainted in your apathy You sat on top of me and looked down while explaining exactly why you could never fall in love with me I listened intently because that was what I would tend to do Grab and hold close the details of the story I would re-tell in my head after you left The night wasn’t going the way I’d imagine anyone would plan out for themselves but I held your words regardless, because even the stories about love that are undernourished and hope starved are stories worth being told Something about my head, I swear there’s something wrong with it because those are my favorite stories So when you said

I shouldn’t have stayed here

I regret it

I clung to all 10 syllables, knowing full well they would define not just that moment, but also invade the moments of quiet loneliness in the days that followed The night before was much like the morning after because the night before was the morning after…

Articulating the End

I write in my head because I’m driving

on Ocean Ave in Santa Monica.

What a fitting end to this story;

We held each other for the first time here.

While you were sleeping,  I sat at the desk

in our room becoming a poet.

I wrote poems about bugs in your hair

that you would read off of postcards later.

But that morning, I whispered them to you;

I whispered softly, waking you gently.

That was also when I started to wake.

/

I am writing because I’m still dreaming.

/

For breakfast, I was your Huckleberry.

For lunch, we ate hamburgers in your car.

In your car, you did nothing but miss him;

In your car, I did nothing but miss her.

How did we think this was going to work?

Secret is, neither of us thought it would.

We talked, in between bites, about how our

friends weren’t going to know anything.

In some cases, people end up happy.

In some cases, people go up in smoke.

/

I am writing because I smell the smoke.

/

After that, we held hands at the swap-meet.

Strands of hair fell like ribbons on your face

that made my mind beg my eyes, look at her.

Each look at you was greedy but

we weren’t there to look at each other.

I was looking for a car radio.

You were looking for Mexican earrings.

Isle by isle, we searched together.

That night, we didn’t feel like a secret;

We didn’t feel we belonged somewhere else.

/

I am writing because I don’t belong.

/

I remember your pain, remember it

like chocolate; I always hated it.

We did our best to numb each other.

I drove for an hour, you drove for an

hour  just so we wouldn’t sleep alone.

I would fidget and keep you up all night;

You would say mean shit and keep me up too.

One morning, you woke up and made breakfast

and I wrote letters for you in my head.

This is what those letters might have looked like.

/

I am writing because I love you.

/

I am writing because every thought

before this one tried to get in the way.

I am writing because the only way

to say this is proofread and edited.

I am writing because a part of me

hopes that you’ll never have time to read it.

I am writing because you care about

the little things, even when they’re ending.

/

I am writing this to articulate that end.

I THINK I CAN OUT-RAP QUAVO

You don’t learn this in school but, when you tell a doctor that you wanted to kill yourself yesterday, that’s the same thing as telling them that you want to kill yourself today.  I didn’t know this when I walked into an urgent care one morning last October. Thinking about it now, they don’t teach you much of anything in school about wanting to kill yourself at all. What to do, where to go, who to go to or what those interactions are even supposed to look like. In my head the way the interaction was going to go that day was that I would say,

“Hey, I wanted to kill myself yesterday. I really, really wanted to do it but today, I only want to kind of do want to do it so I think the best move would be to get me on some medication.”

and the doctor would respond,

“Oh, okay, yeah. Here, let me write you a prescription.”

            And as far as what I said goes, that was pretty accurate. The doctor though, he followed a different script. What he said was,

“Yeah, I can definitely get you something that might help you out.”

Then, he walked out of the room for 5 minutes and while he was gone I thought, wow, cool, he’s going to come back with a pamphlet, maybe some samples or something. I don’t know, I don’t know how medicine works. I’ve never done this before. The possibilities are endless.  

            What did end up happening was not that. When the doctor came back in, he was accompanied by a taller doctor who introduced himself with a heavy accent. He then said something along the lines of,

“So, doctor _____ here told me you were looking for medication. But, we both decided that what you really need is a hospital.”

            I didn’t fight the suggestion. I knew that in the mindset that I was in, I didn’t have much room to argue about why or how I could know what was best for me at the time because at the time, I was failing miserably to stay afloat. Because even though I didn’t want to kill myself that morning, if I were put in a life and death situation, I would’ve done my best to fail.

            One thing led to another and 3 hours later I was sitting on a broken medical recliner in a psychiatric facility. Having been stripped of my belongings, all I had with me was a rough blanket and a flat pillow that was given to me before I was let loose into the center’s lobby area.

            The way the room was set up there was 3 medical recliners on both sides. The recliners all faced one TV that hung above the window where you’d go if you had any questions for the attending nurses. The TV was logged into a Netflix account and anyone was welcome to grab the controller and pick something to watch. I can’t remember what was on then because I was too scatterbrained to care.

            All I could do though was stare at the ceiling and feel miserable about myself. If this is what help looks like, I thought to myself, things are looking pretty grim.

I settled into my self-pity, crying at the realization that once again the world had opened and let me fall into an even deeper rock bottom than I had ever been in before. When the nurses (I say nurses but one of them was wearing jeans and a band t-shirt so who knows what his job title was) walked over to me to check my blood pressure I asked,

“Is this what the whole day is gonna be?” 

The one in the t-shirt sighed before saying,

“Yup, pretty much.”

and then they both turned around and walked away.

That was when Jeff (Or the person I’m calling Jeff for legal reasons) walked by and introduced himself. Jeff was another patient of the hospital, a skinny white guy from Washington with an orange head of hair and a beard to match.

            Jeff didn’t trust the government or the nurses in the center and made it a point to warn me about the room temperature water and red kool-aid that was left out on the counter for patients to drink from. He would say things like,

“You don’t want to drink that. They have to be putting something in it. Cause you know, mind control is real. That’s a true story. Aliens are real too, but we’ve been manipulated to think otherwise. That’s also a true story.”

            He’d go on tangents but for me they were always welcome because in the 12 hours that I was in the center, conversations I had with Jeff were the only ones that felt like genuine human interactions. In between rants he would stop and ask questions about my life and who I was. At one point he asked me if I had a girlfriend and when I told him about my recent breakup he responded,

“That sucks man. So, you’re like pretty bummed huh?”

            It was cool because from the moment I had been told to pick a recliner hours before, no one that worked for the center had stopped and asked how I was feeling or why I was even there in the first place. To Jeff, I was another human being. For the people in charge of helping me, that wasn’t really the case. I was just another patient who needed their blood pressure checked occasionally. Admittedly, I’m a little bitter.

            The highlight of my interactions with Jeff was when I got to see a little more of who he was as a person. About 6 hours into my stay at the center and late into the evening, Jeff grabbed the TV controller and started scrolling through Netflix. He played 3 episodes of the Netflix hip-hop docuseries “Hip-Hop Evolution” and as the episodes played, he would add commentary like “Suge Knight was full of shit and everybody knows it”. Along with that, he’d also add fun facts and information about rappers that were only briefly mentioned in the docuseries. To this day I haven’t fact checked anything he said but to be completely honest, I don’t feel like I have to. It became clear that this was something that Jeff was really passionate about. Clips from music videos would play and he would mouth the words and move his arms like an on-stage MC.

            And it wasn’t just listening to hip-hop that Jeff enjoyed, he’d eventually reveal that he was also a rapper who didn’t shy away from confidence. At one point, he pointed at the T.V and told me “You see that guy? The one that just talked? His name is Quavo.”

I’d heard of Quavo before but didn’t know what to say so I just shook my head in acknowledgment. Jeff continued,

“Dude, I’m not joking when I say this; I am pretty sure that I can outrap Quavo.”

            Admittedly, that statement sounds crazy. But then again, I think about my own self belief in my work and don’t know how crazy of a statement that actually is.

Like, I’ve read the book Supermarket, and I’ve never said this so boldly before but honestly, I feel like I can outwrite Logic. Not as a rapper, but as an author I feel like I can hold my weight.

            Anyways, Jeff went off. He started talking about how he would spit a freestyle, but he was worried that the nurses might think he was acting up or causing a scene. I encouraged him to do it but he never changed his mind. Eventually he just decided he’d try to get some sleep and that was that. I know Jeff more than I know anyone else at that center. I spoke to Jeff more than I spoke to anyone else at that center. And it was the conversations that I had with Jeff that kept me from staring at the ceiling the entire time that I was there.

            At that point in the night, I had been at the center for about 10 hours and no nurse had talked to me except to check my blood pressure or give me my dinner of frozen veggies and chicken strips. At around 11 p.m. I was called to the window and asked to sign some papers. I was told I was getting moved to a facility 2 hours away and when I asked if I had any say in that I was told,

            “No, you need to sign these papers.”

And so, I signed.

Two hours later, I was strapped into a gurney and loaded into an ambulance to begin the long drive to another hospital. Once again, I was being thrust into the unknown. Little did I know, this was just the beginning of a very long weekend.

OVERLOOK

Caleb walked toward his car with his sight fixed on the ground, he found it fun to follow cracks in the pavement. He hoped one would, by an off chance, run the entire length to his car. Light from the parking lot lamp went on and off, making it hard for Caleb to play his game but he persisted regardless. It was something akin to a horror movie; a lonesome man walks through a parking lot in the middle of the night when suddenly the lights begin to flicker. The killer jumps out from behind a car and with one swing leaves the man a bloody mess. Caleb was used to the walk though. He’d walked through the parking lot hundreds of times under the same circumstances. There was no serial killer in the lot, at least not that he knew of. There was the occasional homeless person on a bad trip, but even that wasn’t enough to make Caleb paranoid. Caleb had been working the night shift for a long time now. Immediately after dropping out of college, working the night shift was the most profitable thing Caleb thought he could do.

He missed school, missed studying music. To Caleb the only thing scarier than the thought of getting shanked in a dark parking lot was having to make the same walk after working the same shift every day for the rest of his life.

Caleb reached his car and swung the door open. Before Caleb could get in his car, the lamp flickered again. The lighting revealed a girl sitting on the cement slab in the parking space directly across from his. She sat with her arms bent over her knees and her eyes on Caleb. His eyes met hers but their stillness and the silence in the air made the brief moment feel like an eternity of discomfort. After opening his mouth Caleb realized he hadn’t taken the time to think of something to say. The parking lot became dark again so Caleb did the only thing he could do; he got in his car and shut the door. Caleb pressed his head into the steering wheel and kept it there until the leather cover stuck to his forehead. The parking lot was still dark when he lifted his head but that changed with a flick of Caleb’s headlight switch. She was still there. Caleb didn’t have to get any closer to see that he found her attractive. She was smiling. The kind of smile that lingers after laughter. Had he made her laugh? Was she laughing at him? The former made him want to laugh but the latter made him want to push his head against the steering wheel again. Caleb did neither. Instead, he opened the door and got out of the car. The headlights still illuminated the woman in the parking space.

“Fake I.D couldn’t get you in?” Caleb said, keeping his distance.

“For all the thought that went into that, I have to say I’m a little disappointed.” Caleb, now flustered, couldn’t think of anything to say but wouldn’t have to. Before he could open his mouth, she continued,

“It wasn’t bad though. If you want, you can get back in your car and think up another opener.” She laughed.  

“Ha ha. You missed the open mic last night, you would’ve killed.” Caleb said.

“And you would’ve bombed.” A smile stretched across her lips, “I’m Charli,” she said.

Caleb mimicked her smile and in a softer tone replied, “You can come to next week’s.”

“I won’t be here,” responded Charli. “I’m actually from the East Coast, just here visiting family. I’m only at this club because my cousin dragged me here. The loud music gave me a headache, so I came outside to get away from it. The cement slab numbing my ass just seems like the better option compared to being in there.”

“I know what you mean, I can only get through this job because I’m standing outside all night,” Caleb said.

“Can I sit?”

When he asked, Charli’s eyes looked up at his. She was glad he asked. Caleb sat and wiped his palms on his pants. H was visibly nervous. He let out a soft, nervous laugh. It was like he was scared to look at Charli now. The distance between them before had worked like a safety net. He could look at her without his body urging him to look away every 3 seconds. The cool demeanor he had shown in the brief walk from his car to Charli was now a just a memory. Charli, on the other hand, hadn’t stopped looking at him and was soaking in the awkwardness.

“You’re not gonna run back to your car are you?” Charli asked in a sympathetic tone.

“I might,” Caleb responded, “Will you go with me?” He looked at her now. There was a look of surprise on her face.

“Holy shit, that was a complete 180,” She laughed. It was a big enough laugh that she tilted head back and laughed toward the sky. Caleb didn’t know how to respond. He fidgeted with his hands and raised them to his face forming a sort of prayer clasp in front of his lips. There was a smile hidden behind his hands.

“Seriously?” Charli asked recovering from her fit of laughter.

In the sincerest way possible, Caleb said, “Yes.”

“I guess sitting outside of this club all night on my last night here would be a cruddy way to end this trip.”

“A travesty,” Caleb said. “I’ll take you somewhere that’s the complete opposite of this place. It’s where I go to clear my head.” Caleb stood up and looked down at Charli. She was also on her feet shortly after.

“I really feel like I should say no, for safety reasons.”

“That’s probably the smart thing to do.” Matching grins lit up their faces.

“I’m not going with you, Caleb.” The sound of her voice saying his name gave Caleb a warm sensation that ran through his entire body.

“That’s totally fine. I understand,” Caleb said as he took a long-exaggerated step towards his car. Charli took the same long step behind him.

“I’m not leaving this dark parking lot with a person I just met. I am not doing that.”

“And I am glad you’re not doing that, Charli.”

“Are you?” Exaggerated step followed by exaggerated step got them to opposite doors of Caleb’s car. Caleb pulled the drivers side door open. “Don’t open that door,” Caleb pleaded sarcastically.

“Shut up.” Charli responded with a smile as she pulled the door open. Before long they were both in the car staring through the front windshield.

“Are you sure about this?” Caleb asked in a more serious tone, looking at Charli. Silence. He turned to look at the now empty parking space. A man, presumably one coming out of Lights Out walked into the parking space. He was in bad shape, stumbling and reaching out for an imaginary handrail to balance himself. It wasn’t long before he was hunched over, spraying his $200 dollar tab all over the parking lot gravel. His shiny black shoes and jet-black slacks fell victim to a cocktail of vodka and bile.  But in his state, he probably wasn’t too worried about it. When he was done, he let himself sink down to the ground and crawled toward the cement block that had just been occupied by Caleb and Charli. Caleb turned to Charli, who winced after seeing the man’s display.

“I’m okay with leaving now,” said Charli.


There was something nerve-racking to Caleb about being so high up on a mountain he could gaze out onto the entire city. The view from the overlook was amazing though, and he took comfort in that. The lights radiating from the small city gave it life which was strange, given the time. It was about an hour from sunrise.

The buildings were small, little mom-and-pop businesses all over the city. You could assume that’s what they were because the desert that surrounded the city reminded people it was in the middle of nowhere.

 Caleb would be fine staring out from the overlook as long as he didn’t look directly over the edge of the mountain. A school field trip when he was younger that ended in a hiking accident had haunted him ever since his childhood. The memory made him deathly afraid of heights. But Caleb kept his distance and sat with Charli on the hood of his car. Being with Charli made him feel comfortable, as did the silence at the overlook. When it wasn’t crowded it was one of the most peaceful places in the city. The moonlight gave Charli’s face a slight glow. Caleb would look at the city then turn back to Charli, unsure what he found more beautiful. He took a second to really study her. The moonlight made her dark hair glisten. Caleb was deep in thought as he took in the moment.

He turned back toward the city with an expressionless look on his face. There was a minute of silence before Charli turned to look at Caleb. She held the same admiration that Caleb did and studied him in the same way. The moonlight illuminated the serious look on his face. What could he be thinking about?, she thought to herself as she turned back to face it. In a city so small could there be so much to learn?

“Say something profound,” Charli said. The comment seemed to take Caleb by surprise. He giggled.

“About?”

“Anything. The city…”

“It really isn’t that special. I was born in that hospital over there and-” Caleb said as he pointed out into the distance. 

“But what does it even mean to have life?” Charli said, interrupting.

“That’s deep,” Caleb responded before they both started laughing. They stared into each others eyes for what felt like an eternity. The eye contact made Caleb shrink and turn back towards the city. Charli kept focused on him however, her smile still on her face.

“I like you, Caleb,” she said.

He responded by looking into her eyes again. Her eyes were glowing green, but it was the jet black pupils that sucked him in. Who is this girl, he thought to himself. It had been a long time since anyone expressed any emotion like that toward him. He started to feel the same warmth inside of him from earlier and the corners of his lips began to raise as that warmth spread through his entire consciousness. Charli met his smile with a bigger one. She began to slide one hand toward the hand Caleb laid flat on the car hood. The night was silent, but the energy radiating off of Caleb and Charli was that of quiet riots of butterflies in stomachs and blood cells on flustered cheeks.

The moment was destroyed by the sound of a car horn interrupting the silence, beep after beep coming from a car pulling into the overlook car lot. In between beeps there were drunken yells. For a brief moment, the car held Charli and Caleb’s attention, but it wasn’t long before she looked back to Caleb and he returned the look.

“I think that’s our cue to leave,” Caleb said.

“We’ll miss the sunrise.”

“That’s okay, I think there’s one every morning.”

Charlie smiled at this. It was a half-ass smile but a smile nonetheless. She knew this obviously, but she also knew there wouldn’t be more sunrises with Caleb. She wanted to protest and stay anyway, but when she mustered enough courage to do so, she saw Caleb was already one leg into the car, no hesitation whatsoever. Charli got off the hood and joined Caleb in the car. The car pulled out of the lot as their night ended.


Caleb walked into his apartment alone. It was mostly dark with some early morning sunlight illuminating poking in through the blinds. He walked into the dimly lit kitchen alone and turned on the coffee machine. The heavy smell of coffee filled Caleb’s nostrils and almost gave him a second wind of energy. Second-hand coffee some could call it. Next, Caleb put a pan on the stove. It clinked as its metal banged against the burner.

It wasn’t long before Caleb was putting an entire breakfast on a small dining table. A clean white lace tablecloth and flowers made an effort to distinguish the dining area from the dull kitchen. This wasn’t Caleb’s doing though, he had never been much for interior decorating.  Scrambled eggs, check. Toast, check. The slightly blackened toast was nothing to brag about, but Caleb was okay with it. He placed the coffee mug on the right-hand side of the breakfast plate, turned around and walked out of the kitchen.

Feet dragging, Caleb slowly strolled down the dark hallway and entered a room at the end of it. He sat at the edge of his bed with slumped shoulders as thoughts of Charli flooded into his head. The image of her at the overlook and that specific smile she gave him right before they were interrupted refused to fade. Caleb raised his hands to his face and rested his upper body weight on his knees with his elbows. He let out a loud but muffled sigh.

“Long Day at work?” a woman’s voice asked before an arm reached out to him from the other side of the bed.

“You said you’d be home by two. I tried to wait up,” the voice continued.

“I know, I’m sorry. I ended up having to cover an entire shift instead of the half.” Caleb responded.

Caleb looked down at the hand beside him, then at the dresser next to the bed. He grabbed a wedding ring that was on the counter and slid it onto the ring finger of the hand.

“I made you breakfast; eggs and toast.” Caleb said with notable exhaustion in his voice.

There was a laugh from the other side of the bed.

“I love you,” the voice responded.

Caleb was quiet for a second before responding. He thought about Charli briefly before looking down at the hand, grabbing onto it tightly.

“I know.”   

We Need Water

Part 1 of The Sitting Series

When I walked into the 7-11 on 3rd Avenue, I nodded at the homeless man standing by the front door while thinking to myself, act normal. Preoccupied with whatever was in his trash bag though, he didn’t return the nod my way. This was fine though, because I had already done my part in pretending to be a functioning human being. When we, meaning myself, my brother Rene and our closest friend Erron walked past the register, I wanted to act as casual as possible so when I nodded at the cashier, I added a tip of the hat motion to assure him I was one of the good ones. I was not wearing a hat. and neither was he. I guess it makes sense that he didn’t tip an imaginary hat back at me but instead looked at us with confusion and growing suspicion.  He had nothing to worry about. All I had to do was remind myself that everything was under control. 

Reflecting on the time of night we walked in (around 11 P.M), and the fact that we probably looked like aliens trying to be discreet about being zonked out of our minds, I don’t blame the cashier for his suspicions. We were high on acid and by the time we got to the refrigerator with all the bottles of water in it, all we could do is stare at them and laugh. I thought to myself, Wow, that one says Poland, that one says Arrowhead, that one says Fiji and that one says it’s Icelandic. There is water from all over the world right in front of me, and we’ve somehow made it to this same 7-11 at the same exact time. 

When I opened my mouth to verbalize that though, all that came out was, 

“that’s a lot of water.” 

Erron, God bless him, responded to me like a father responds to a child’s observations by saying, 

“Yes, it is a lot of water.” 

We laughed, trying to be quiet about it but really being obnoxiously loud.

When we got to the register I stood behind Rene and Erron with the goal of keeping myself as far away from the cashier as possible. For me, it was okay if he thought Rene and Erron were out of their minds but I wanted to stand out in the group as the one that was calm and collected. 

From the background I watched Rene and Erron fiddling around in their pockets to pay for everything. It did occur to me to look in my own pockets but I decided against it, still trying to keep my cool. Thinking about it now, I was the least normal in the group, standing in the background like a statue, relentlessly staring at the cashier with saucer like pupils. 

When everything was said and done, Erron and Rene walked away from the register with everything in hand. I trailed behind and thought, I did it. I kept everything under control and acting like a perfectly normal-

“Hey! Hey!” 

It was the cashier. There was an empty bottle of water on the register and he told me to get rid of it and not leave our trash behind. He looked at me like he hated me; he talked like it too.  When I picked up the bottle, unsure of what to do, we stared at each other for a while. He stared at me with nothing but contempt and I stared at him with a look that said, I am so sorry. I  have failed you and I have failed myself. 

It really wasn’t that deep at all but in that moment, I had failed to keep control. And that was the thing about it all, not just the 10 minutes in that 7-11 but also the night that would follow it; all I wanted was to be in control. I’d find out though, that control sometimes can’t be afforded to everyone, and when it isn’t all we can do is accept that. That realization wouldn’t come for another couple hours though, and the night was just starting. When we got back to our hotel room I sat down and looked at everyone, unsure of where to go from there. 

It was at that moment that it happened; my phone vibrated. I picked it up and read the text. I read it one more time, and then another time, and another time after that. I didn’t say it out loud but I was sure at that moment in time that I had just received a text from the future…

Poems From a Broken Ferris Wheel

Just Keep Talking

Tell me something I don’t know

And then, keep talking.

Silence shared is hardly uncomfortable,

but with you,

It is always the lesser of two possibilities.  

/

You with the bugs in your hair

and a head that itches with ideas.

With opinions and an outlook that is

equally cynical and optimistic.

/

Lend me some comfort.

Let me pluck the bugs from your head

and nest them in mine.

They’ll crawl in my ears

and make the inside of my head their home.

On the first of the month,

I’ll ask them to leave.  

/

Or  

/

I’ll think to myself,

Maybe they don’t have to go.

Maybe they can stay.

Stay with me and

Tell me something I don’t know

And then, keep talking.

*

I Wrote This While You Slept

The crash of a wave rings in my eardrum.

This crash wasn’t as loud as the last,

didn’t carry with it a reminder of its crushing potential.

This wave was soft.

Pleasing.

/

It was a footnote in a conversation about

living a life full of love

while still feeling empty.

/

What if you die alone?

To some extent, everyone dies alone.

/

Like a crawfish

pulled up in a net and stuffed into a drawstring bag,

we suffocate.

/

The late-night fishermen delight in that catch.

We’ll make 25 dollars on that one!

To an outsider, it looks disappointing,

but to them,

it is enough.

Enough to spend the rest of their Friday night

staring out into the void of the sea,

hoping it gives them something in return for their time.  

*

Deep Shit

My shit is a-flutter.

Not my actual shit.

What I mean to say is,

My internal shit is a-flutter.

/

Not the internal shit that runs through my intestines.

It’s in the pit of my stomach

but its not shit.

Not that shit.

/

This shit is butterflies.

Not actual butterflies.

I didn’t eat butterflies.

I had the brisket.

There is no butterflies in my shit.

/

This shit is looking at someone

For an extra second or two,

just because.

/

This shit is watching someone sleep,

but not for too long,

because then that shit’s kind of creepy.

/

This shit is writing poetry

for the first time since that poetry class last Winter.

This shit is writing shitty poems.

/

Bad poems I mean,

not poems about shit.

I don’t write poems about shit,

at least not actual shit.

/

This is about other shit.

Sweaty palm shit.

Heart skips a beat shit.

Fairy tale shit.

Prince and princess shit.

One and only shit.

Happily ever after shit.

/

Happily ever after bullshit.

That shit is shit.

Real shit.

Smelly shit.

Intestinal shit.

Heart break shit.

/

Maybe all shit is just shit.

Even that a-flutter shit.

*

A Broken Wheel

The Ferris wheel comes to a grinding halt.

In the lowest passenger car,

two silhouetted figures

sit under a façade of comfortable sadness.

/

When one smiles,

so does the other.

They take turns pouring happiness into one another

realizing but not acknowledging

they will never be full.

/

They will not reach the top.

/

The wheel’s peak

is filled with promises.

Promises from a world

waiting to be conquered.

Promises of a world that

overflows with happiness.

/

But the problem with the machine

is that even when it isn’t halted,

the promises of its peak

are only temporary.

*

Conceived in Venice

Holding a white paper cup in one hand

and a microphone in the other,

a lonely man sings power ballads on the boardwalk.

/

That could be me.

I’m not familiar with the words of the song

but I recognize the melody of melancholy.

Heartbroken and lost,

consumed by that desperation.

Hugging a speaker like its vibrations equal life,

the piano less piano man continues

singing his song to a world that isn’t listening.

/

My mind wanders.

/

You tug my arm and pull me from the rain clouds in my head.

Let’s look at this stuff.

Rings and crystals.

/

You stop at a table and stare at a white crystal that’s shaped like a monolith.

This one is pretty,

You say.

It is,

I respond,

while looking at you.

/

An old man steps in between us and

grabs the crystal with his cracked hands.

This is quartz,

He says, lifting it to eye level.

/

I look at you.

You look at me. 

This is quartz,

He repeats while raising the crystal again.

We both nod nervously.

/

Quartz,

he says, setting it down on the table.

The admiration in his voice is not lost.

To you, the crystal is pretty.

To him, it’s something else entirely.

And even though it’s not something he can hold onto forever,

every second he holds it is a second he doesn’t want to let it go.

/

I slip into myself again as we leave.

/

Let’s walk on the sand.

The words pull me from my fogged reflection.

Your voice is soft.

So soft I can barely hear it sometimes.

So soft that when I think about it days from now,

I’ll struggle to remember anything more than a whisper.

/

We lay down on the sand.

You rest your head on my stomach.

This is nice,

You say.

I close my eyes and think for a second,

This is quartz.

*

The World Sheds its Skin

Pa que es la cuna si el niño solo quiere dormir en cama?

Duerme tan augusto, pero uno de estos días,

se va a caer y se le va a reventar la cabeza.

/

A princess,

With skin that glows in the Summer

and bones that ache in the Winter

stares out into the moonlit horizon.

Beneath her feet, the worlds surface begins to blister.

/

Ten cuidado niño,

porque con las princesas,

no es la cabeza que revienta,

pero el alma.

/

A Princess shops.

She picks up a blouse.

She unfolds it and admires its beautiful lavender tone.

Then, without folding it neatly back into place,

tosses it back on the shelf,

a crumpled mess.

/

Niño,

Regrésate a tu cuna.

Escóndete en la seguridad de sus bordes.

/

Boy meets princess.

Like the blouse,

his life is separated into

the time before her

and the time after.

/

Beneath their feet,

the world sheds its skin.

It will never be the same again.

SKIN ON SKIN: THE TRAGIC CASE OF KATARZYNA ZOWADA

January Sixth, 1999. The nameless captain of the boat named “Los” (“Elk” when translated) was sailing in the Vistula river near in Krakow, Poland. January in the town Krakow is a cold month, the coldest of the year on average. For Krakow, January boast highs of 33.8 degrees Fahrenheit and lows of 23.2 degrees. Aside from the bitter cold, there is an average of 15 days of rain in the town that bring with it dark clouds that hang over the city even when the rain stops. On average, the days of January in Krakow bring with them just 1.4 hours of sunshine.

            That day, January sixth, did not feel special. It was an average January day that the captain of the “Los” chose to venture out into the Vistula. The Vistula, Poland’s longest river, runs through the entirety of Krakow and continues on to either end of Poland. Going north, the Vistula ends in the Baltic sea and going south, it bleeds into Slovakia. The waters of the Vistula are tame, unswimmable only in areas where contamination is an issue. It made sense then, that what caused the “Los” to port on January 6th, 1999 were not rough waters, but what the captain assumed to be something stuck in the boats screw propeller.

            The captain felt the tug of the tangled screw and with the tug, he also noticed that the odor of the air’s humidity had been overpowered by something rotten. He didn’t think much of it as they ported. Again, the Vistula did have the tendency to be filthy in some areas and that could easily have been explanation for both whatever was stuck in the boats screw and whatever was giving the air that foul smell. However, nothing could have prepared the captain for what he would find stuck under his boat.

            Contrary to the belief of the captain, what had been caught in the propeller of his boat had not been trash that had been littered in the Vistula. There, now on the deck of his boat, was a form that could only exist through the sheer hands of evil. It was headless and armless.  It had a thin pale layer of skin that seemed to have been sewn together with its insides hollowed out to make space for something else, or someone else. The skin of the torso was still attached to a lower body that ran all the way down to the feet. The captain couldn’t know at the time, but what had gotten caught on the propeller of the “Los” were the scalped remains of a student from a nearby university that had gone missing only a few months before. What he also didn’t know at the time, is that it would be speculated that the students skin had been flayed then worn of the skin of her killer. Reports would call him the “The Real-Life Buffalo Bill”, a reference to the 1991 film The Silence of the Lambs.

But how could something so gruesome happen in a town like Krakow?

            Admittedly, there are some places in the world that lend themselves to acts of evil. Places like Las Vegas that dubs itself the “City of Sin” or Amsterdam with its infamous Red Light District that give them an air of modern-day Sodom or Gomorrahs. But Krakow, Poland? While researching this work I wanted to get a better sense of Krakow and what it was like so armed with google translate, I visited the webpage of a popular paper in the area, The Krakow Post. Once there, I tried to find some headlines that were untouched by global issues and focused more on the goings on of the city of Krakow. What I found were two articles from January 9th and January 10th of 2020. The first article was about a university in Krakow that was opening a new emergency room. The second article, the one I found to be more entertaining, was one of a wild boar that attacked three people (not a serious attack) at a cracovian park. The article was not focused on the actual attack however, but instead focused on informing the citizens of Krakow that the boar in question had tested negative for rabies-how reassuring. For further research, I studied a side tab of the Post’s most popular articles of which number one was an article titled “Any Idiot can find a Brother in Krakow”. I did not click this link. Seeing it trend as the website’s number one post gave me some reassurance that I was not going out on a limb in my hypothesis that Krakow was not the place people spent their days worried about a murder as horrendous as Katarzyna Zowada’s.  

            Katarzyna Zowada was a college student that had been reported missing on November 18th, 1999. That day, Katarzyna missed a doctor’s appointment she had made with her mother. After being contacted by the office concerning her absence, Katarzyna’s mother became worried. The worry became panic when she was unable to get a hold of Katarzyna. The two shared routine phone calls with one another and it was unlike Katarzyna to be so hard to find. In her maternal panic, her mother made the decision that she would go to the police and report her daughter missing. Upon arriving at police station, Katarzyna’s mother was asked to wait to file a report and so she did. Time passed she heard nothing of her missing daughter, claiming there was very little done those first months of her daughters’ disappearance and subsequent murder investigation. Because of this, she would go on to hire a private detective but even then, wasn’t able to find any answers as to the disappearance of her daughter. Then, January Sixth came, and with it, heartache along along with more questions. And again, to the dismay of Katarzyna’s mother, there was nobody with answers to those questions. All she could do was wait for a breakthrough.

*

May 1999

In the basement of a home in Brzyczyna, Poland, a town 11 miles south of Krakow, A man named only Wladyslaw W. in newspapers stood staring at a headless body hanging upside down in his cellar. Wladyslaw, unaffected was unaffected by the horror in front of him because he had been the one to put it there. The evil inside of him had manifested and made the familiar unfamiliar, the body in front of him was one he’d known his entire life, and what he wanted to do with it next is tear it apart and make it his own.

He had killed the man in his basement with a screwdriver, stabbing him 14 times before hanging and letting his blood pour out in to buckets. The body would need to be purged before he could continue with his godless fantasy. He would go on to take a shovel along with a scalpel and tear the corpses head from its body. After, he went into his bedroom with the head and a scalpel in hand; his night was far from over.

            Throughout the night, Wladyslaw worked the scalpel against the skin and try to peel it like someone would peel an orange. With precision, he pulled the mostly intact skin from the decapitated head; all he wanted was the skin. He carefully took the skin and sewed it together to make a mask, this would take him all night to complete. When he was done, he threw the skinless head out of his window. In the early hours of the morning, the head would lay in the garden waiting to be discovered. Putting the final touches to his work, Wladyslaw would tend to the mask by salting it in hopes that it would help to keep it from spoiling.

            Nobody can ever know what it must have felt like, to stand there staring at his father’s face, separated from its frame. The bulk of his father still hung from the basement ceiling and his skull still sat in the family’s garden. What a disturbing sight it must have been, a still expression on a face with no skin, lifeless but surrounded by the life of the garden. The phrase “to take a life” usually refers to the act of killing someone but it could be argued that on that day, what Wladyslaw wanted to do was take his father’s life in order to make it his. Wladyslaw walked into his father’s bedroom, searched the closet and grabbed some of his clothes. After doing this, he stuck adhesive tape to his scalp so that the mask would better mold onto his face and finally, he put the mask on and walked out the front door.

            In some unnamed, unknown park near his father’s home, Wladyslaw sat on a park bench. There was nothing noteworthy about the trip to the park, all he did was sit there in the early morning contemplating something that can only be guessed about. One must wonder how comfortable he found himself to be under his father’s skin. That morning at the park, there was no reports of a strange looking man sitting alone, no disturbances (that were reported) or any other story that could point to Wladyslaw being anything but in a state of external peace as he sat on that bench. Eventually, as easily as he had arrived, he got up and made his way back home. He kept the mask and his father’s clothes on when he got home. And after he had settled back in, there was a knock at the front door.

             Wladyslaw’s grandfather had arrived unannounced and uninvited. Under his father’s skin, Wladyslaw did his best to make small talk with his grandfather with the goal of making him feel like this was just any other day, a  day that wasn’t tainted with the morbidity of rotting corpses and rotting souls.

How are you? What about this weather? I took a stroll to the park today. It’s such a beautiful day, isn’t it, dad?

Wladyslaw grew so confident in his father’s skin that he invited his grandfather into the house for breakfast. With no reason to do otherwise, his grandfather accepted the invitation and went inside the home. He didn’t know it at the time but stepping into that home could have proved to be the most dangerous thing he’d ever done in his life.

During the meal, Wladyslaw did his best to keep up the façade. However, there was only so much he could do. Sitting only a table lengths away it was easier to notice the stitching of his face, the expressionless movement of the skin taped to his face and the coarseness of his voice as his vocal chords struggled to emulate a voice that wasn’t his. And it was that, his voice that ultimately gave him away. The air of the room shifted when Wladyslaw realized that his grandfather had finally noticed something was amiss. The room became quiet. Wladyslaw’s answers shorter and shorter to keep from giving himself away.

What was he going to do about this? What could he do? Wladyslaw could see that while his grandfather didn’t know who he was talking to, it had dawned on him that who he wasn’t talking to, was his son. Then, his grandfather stood up. When he began to make his was to the cellar where his sons decapitated corpse was hanging, Wladyslaw panicked, packed some belongings, and left the home in a hurry.

He wouldn’t go far however, he stayed within an eye’s view and watched as his grandfather fled to the neighbor’s home in a state of complete hysteria. Wladyslaw would also watch as police arrived before making his weigh to a bus stop where he would eventually be found and arrested.

*

            When news of the crime reached Krakow, it naturally made Wladyslaw the prime suspect in the murder of Katarzyna Zowada. After all, the skinning of both victims was done meticulously and with the goal of being able to wear the skin after it was completed. For two separate murders of such an evil nature to happen so close to one another felt too strange to be coincidence. The big question however, was why? Why would Wladyslaw murder Katarzyna, a shy and quiet college student that he had probably never met before? The wearing of the skin could have been linked to him as most people assumed it was Wladyslaw’s twisted obsession, but this did not explain the 14 stab wounds that would normally only be attributed to a crime of passion.

The specifics of the crime didn’t make sense nor connect outside of the skinning. Later, Wladyslaw’s grandfather would claim that the murder of his son was a crime of revenge but not other details regarding his claim could be found through research. This claim would create an even bigger rift between connection of the two murders. The murder of Wladyslaw’s father would become understood to be an isolated incident. Combined with the fact that there was no evidence to link Wladyslaw of the crime, he was later dismissed as a suspect and like before, Katarzyna’s case went cold.

  Even after the body was exhumed in 2012 and police were able to find information that could potentially point them in the direction of the person that committed the crime, they had no suspect that they thought fit the bill, or so they though. The body had sustained injuries before death that lined up with someone who knew martial arts. From the findings, criminal psychologist were able to make the assumption that the crimes were influenced by a sexual passion and we most likely committed by someone who probably harbored ill feelings towards woman while also maintaining an unhealthy and hostile fascination with them. What police failed to realize in 2012 however, was that they had suspected someone in 1999 that fit the bill but was ultimately cast aside because of a lack of evidence or motive. The thing is, crimes as heinous as this one are rarely rational, and almost always influenced by an otherworldly evil that doesn’t care for logic or reason.

Enter the man known only as Robert J. Robert J., at the time of his arrest was 52 years old. In the photo used for a variety of the newspaper articles detailing his arrest in 2017, he was handcuffed and walking in between two officers. He looked short, at least standing next to the officers, whose shoulders were almost level with the top of his head. When the photo was taken,  he was wearing grey sweatpants and a crewneck sweatshirt to match. He had a stocky build (a result of his bodybuilding hobby) and the hair on his head was cut into a sort of buzzcut, the kind that you can get by walking into a barber shop and pointing at a poster on the wall. In the arrest phote, nothing about Robert looked special, and actually, it can probably be argued that nothing about Robert was special. He was, before evidence came to light to prove otherwise, just a good Christian man who regularly attended church; he had been so since February of 1999.

  As mentioned earlier, Robert J. was a suspect early on in the case but there was nothing at the time that could connect him to Katarzyna. Robert’s parents denied his involvement and made note that Robert because of their belief that he was far too godly a man to commit such a crime. Robert, as stated before was a “religious” person and attended church services habitually. Also worth noting a second time is that this religious fervor had awakened inside of him the month after Katarzyna’s body was found in the Vistula. It was as if the murder of the student had for on reason or another, put a weight on his soul.

Perhaps, Robert had himself fallen victim. Victim to the symptoms of a tell-tale heart that he could not ignore. And although he had claimed to never know her, Robert became very interested in information on the case and tracked it with a curious intimacy. It’s likely that the same intimacy was what compelled him on multiple occasions to visit Katarzyna’s grave. Of course, none of this information came to light until 2017 when Robert was once again a suspect in the case. For 17 tears, Robert led a life where the only judgment he had to fear was God’s, but that time was soon coming to an end.

Eventually, police would find out that Robert was well trained in martial arts, something they didn’t know and wouldn’t care to know before the exhumation of the body in 2012. It was a loose association but something that linked him to what they were searching for when looking at potential suspects. Of course, a knowledge of martial arts didn’t make Robert a sadistic murderer. A look into his working record would change this though. And little by little, the police search would begin to narrow onto that born-again Christian; one that was born-again out of the fire and brimstone of murder.

Upon researching Robert’s work history, police could find that the firing of Robert J. left a huge crimson colored stain on his records. Robert had worked in a testing laboratory for some time. The work was short lived. He was fired from one day to the next because of an incident that could only be described as an ominous presage for what was to come. One day, a day that seemed to be like any other, Robert went into the laboratory for his scheduled shift. Before leaving, Robert would kill every rabbit in the laboratory. The next day, Robert was fired but even with the evil of his actions, no further attention was paid to him or his growing appetite for murder.

With the slew of new evidence, the police interviewed Robert’s parents once again. In the interview, Robert’s father made mention of an incident in 1999 where Robert tore apart the floor tiles of his apartment and replaced them. At the time, his father didn’t think much of it and because of this, didn’t share the information with police. As mentioned earlier, when Robert was first suspected, his father, along with his mother, was adamant that his son was innocent and that the suspicions of police were preposterous. It seemed that like Katarzyna’s mother and Wladyslaw’s grandfather, Robert J’s parents were also coming to the realization that the innocent child they raised was only a distant and bittersweet memory.

After finding out about Robert’s bathroom renovation, police investigated his apartment and did extensive work to pull apart and analyze the floor of the bathroom. Robert had always claimed he had no relationship with Katarzyna and that he had never even come into contact with her. The DNA results would prove this to be false and would serve as the final nail in the coffin for the case. Results confirmed that there was DNA belonging to Katarzyna Zawada in Robert’s bathroom and with that, police could finally do what they had wanted to do since January of 1999. Robert was arrested on October 12th of 2017.

*

As of September 2019, Robert J. continues to claim that he never had any interaction with Katarzyna Zowada and waits for his day in court where he can try to prove that despite the overwhelming amount of evidence against him. It has now been 21 years (at the time of writing this [2020]) since Katarzyna’s body was discovered on the Vistula river that gloomy day in Krakow. To put that into perspective, Katarzyna’s mother spent 23 years raising her daughter and then followed that by spending the next 21 years of her life trying to find justice for her killer. It has taken damn near a literal lifetime to bring some semblance of peace back into her mother’s life.

 While in prison, Robert J. has made complaints that he has been harassed and insulted by prison guards. The reports of harassment, like the court hearing, continue to allow Robert J. to tell his own story as he understands it, a privilege he stole from Katarzyna Zowada when he ended her life.

What little is know about Katarzyna is know because of her mother. She was shy but friendly, never had problems with anyone. Katarzyna’s mother remembers fodly long conversations the two shared about movies, plays and books. She refers to her as being an intellectual partner to her when she was alive and notes that she was very intelligent. A studious person that never had problems at school despite multiple changes in her field of study.

It’s quite evident that Katarzyna, in her youth was still trying to figure herself out at the time of her death. She had been exploring herself and her place in the world, trying to find out how the thick roots of herself would spread into her own fruitful life.

Another thing her mother makes known is her daughters love for nature. She loved mountains; thought they were beautiful. Every mountain has its own story, its own history with peaks and crevices as nuances that demand to be explored because that is the only way to learn those stories. No mountain tells its story but instead asks for its story to be discovered. And now the memory of Katarzyna Zowada, without the ability to tell its own story, waits to be discovered like a beautiful mountain landscape seeing sunlight for the first time in a gloomy Krakow January.  

An American Poet (Colorized)

Let me say what I have to say. Let me say what I think you haven’t heard but assumed and let me at least try to help you understand where I’m coming from. Give me a chance to ask some questions. Questions like, Where does a brown poet exist in the canon of American Poetry, or Why do I want so bad to be a part a voice within a country that metaphorically and even geographically, places me on its edges and away from its heart. Let me explain how I am both Mexican American and American Mexican, as much as that makes you purse your lips with bitterness like you just tried Limon7 for the first time. Let me tell you, about poetry.

Poetry is a collection of words. It’s lines, form, metaphor, similes and at the same time, it is none of those things. Poetry is an experience, a look inside of the soul that isn’t caged or weight down by plot points or a beginning, middle and end. Odd however, that even without these things, without a three-act structure and everything else you like to see, I can still tell you my story. Poetry is a tool for me to explain to you how I swim in your “melting pot”. Because I can flex, boast and even mock you with emulations of your great American authors to show you that I know what you know and that I, like you, can respect and aspire to be your heroes just as much as you can. And with the weight of my words and my work, I can show you that despite the color of my skin I can be like Walt Whitman and write about grass in a country where you think all I can do with grass is mow it.

Because they are not your American authors, are they? Because one thing poetry cannot be is owned by any one group of people; it can’t be enslaved, can’t be deported, can’t be put in cages and above all else, cannot be silenced. Poetry isn’t exclusive, it isn’t close minded but instead inspires growth. The growth of people, the growth of the poet, the growth of communities. Because communities are not broken down by poetry but instead, they are created and flourish because of it. Poetry exists because of these communities and not in spite of them.

Listen, I think we got off on the wrong foot. What I am not trying to do is draw a line between us and push you out of what I claim to be universal. Really, I mean it. Tell me about how beautiful Pacific Coast Highway is in the summer. I want to hear all about it. Tell me about what a nice piece of Americana it is, and how it represents the glitz and glamour of California. I promise I’ll say nice things like that’s interesting, I didn’t know that, and I guess I never really looked at it that way. Mostly because I’ve never driven down Pacific Coast Highway. But hey, that’s why there has to be more than one person that writes poetry. More than that two people should probably write it now that I think about it. Maybe three people should write, or four, or five, or actually, I think everyone should write poetry. It’s how we’ll move forward. It’s how I can begin to understand you and you can begin to understand me. And together, we can begin to make sense of current American chaos that begins with division.

Make poetry, not tweets.

Make poetry, not Facebook comments.

Because online, all people ever want to talk about is other people. They want to get angry and fight with each other and express not who they are but who they are not. So why not use poetry to fill in the blanks? How about this, how about everyone get offline for just a week, and instead of posting comments, they write a poem. Write a poem about their childhood, about the people that raised them, about their teachers, their influences, their news anchors, their hopes, their dreams and their tragedies. Too much? I’m sorry, I thought you liked John Lennon. He wasn’t “American” by the way, just looked the part.

            But at the same time, aren’t you a little curious about the people you’ve made to feel so unwelcome? Don’t you care even a little bit about how much they respect your “American Dream”? You really don’t care? About the dreamers, the disenfranchised, the murdered, the caged, the poor, the other? Poetry will make you care. Poetry will show you why you should care. Poetry will make you feel what it’s like to be the other. Poetry is a teacher. It’ll teach you like it taught me. Here I was, thinking that America’s problems were centuries ago when really, they are still just an arm’s reach away. But it will also arm you, motivate you and inspire you to bring upon change.

            Learn with me, learn that the heart of America needs ventricles of color to keep it beating. Read poems and discover that the pieces of the American puzzle that you’ve been chucking in the trash, convinced they didn’t fit, did fit, but you were looking at the puzzle all wrong. Now you can see the bigger picture. A picture that’s only going to continue to grow and expand in the face of bigotry.

            Let me invite you to Lady Liberty’s Quinceañera. The invitation says ANYONE can speak when it’s time to give a toast. Because contemporary poetry, especially in America, is going to become poetry for anyone by everyone. And if you have something to say you better say it because everyone needs to hear it. Everyone needs to hear why American Poetry doesn’t just belong to “Americans” anymore, but instead belongs to Mexican Americans, African Americans, Asian Americans and every other person that doesn’t even get a chance to exist on your government forms.

            I want so bad for these words to be true. I want poetry and publishers to less exclusive and more open and accepting. In an ideal world, I imagine Mexican poets being published without having to jump through hoops and cross their fingers to be at the right place at the right time. I hope that eventually, there are more right places and right times. I want for people like me to be able to find open doors and not doors that they have to break down just to make a living. I hope that the great American Puzzle is solved and that every piece is seen and admired for its own unique beauty and contribution.

            And that’s where we are. We want to be heard. I want to be heard. Because if you can hear us, if everyone can hear us, then all the people that look like me can hear me. Kids that write in journals but don’t think their work is worth a damn can hear me and realize that yes, it actually is worth more than they could ever realize. I hope for more poets. So, with these final words in this manifesto I plead with readers to keep on reading and for writers to keep on writing.

            I recognize that this isn’t the ideal ending for a manifesto. It might even feel slightly underwhelming. But what I will say is that much like fight to break out of the fringes and into the world of American poetry and literature, this manifesto is not an end but a beginning.

Broadstew Website Update

It’s me again. Since my last post, I’d like to say that I’ve been working hard and that my posting this is only the first of many that I’ve banked over the past weeks, months? But reality is, I haven’t done much of anything except for school work which actually will play into this update because I am going into the month of April 2020 with hopes that new ways to present my writing will make it easier for me to share it on this website.

            You know, for a while now the reason I haven’t written anything is because when I sit down to write, I set a very unrealistic expectation of myself that leaves no wiggle room for anything less than producing the best piece of writing in the world. This obviously is not going to happen. I am very much a beginner. And because of that, I urge whoever is reading this to have patience with my work until I get to a better place in my writing and as I figure out exactly who I am as a writer. So, in the meantime, back to this update.

            My goal moving forward is to provide primarily two forms of post on a weekly basis:

            1: A public journal (A la Mike Birbiglia) where I essentially just talk about things I’m thinking while trying not to sound like a pretentious douchebag or a know it all. Because another thing about these pieces, is that I want to begin to express a little bit more about my opinions (that are just opinions) but also just my viewpoints on certain things that I’ve long kept to myself mostly because I am very afraid of conflict. This of course, is constantly part of my internal struggle because while I am afraid of conflict, I sometimes really enjoy hearing myself talk. I’m not full of myself, I swear, I think. I just want to add some perspective and also encourage anybody that takes the time to read my posts to give feedback and open discussions from different viewpoints. Or you can just help me fix any grammatical errors that show up in my writing. Which brings me to the second kind of post I want to be doing moving forward…

            2: My Creative writing. Snippets of work that I am working on or trying to iron out with hopes of figuring out exactly what the stories I want to tell are. They won’t be in standard prose format though, at least I don’t think so, because in this past quarter at school I took 2 creative writing poetry classes that changed the way I look at the early stages of my writing process. I’ll write more about those classes later but for now, what I am trying to say is that my stories will be written in a poetic format with lines and stanzas with the idea that this way, each sentence is forced to stand alone and be put up to the test of whether it is or isn’t important or something along those lines. I’m trying to figure this stuff out, have patience. An example would be: Jon ran to the store. Jon didn’t make it to the store before they closed. Jon was mugged. So taking those and writing them like:

            Jon ran to the store

            Jon didn’t make it to the store before they closed.

            Jon was mugged.

And so on. I’ll try my best to number lines to make it easier to give feedback or point out errors. But anyways, that’s the update and I hope you’ll find yourself on this page again real soon. And if you don’t, and it’s my fault, I’m sorry.

See you soon!

Bookshelves / Part Two

            2019 – Two days away from graduation, I’m reflecting on the steps I have taken and why I’ve taken them. As mentioned in part one ( check that out here https://broadstew.com/2019/05/14/bookshelves-part-one/) , it was a bizarre, off-chance encounter that put me here but more on that later. There is still reflection to be done.

            2013, Sometime in December – I’ve been without a job for a while. For months I’ve been trying to find work. And when I say trying, I mean that because I’m so unqualified, I’m kind of just waiting to see what opportunities fall onto my lap. In the meantime, I’m working landscape with my dad. You ever ask your dad if he needs help with something at home and after he says yes and you start to help, he proceeds to scold you excessively for not helping him the right way? This is my day to day, and although I curse under my breath at times, working with him is something I’ll treasure forever. Because in the calmer moments, him and I will share conversations we wouldn’t share otherwise and develop a bond we didn’t have before this. My dad is the best co-worker I will ever have because he makes a job I find unbearable, bearable, even with the weird son/employee blur of disciplining that ay or may not have led to emotional trauma.

            2014, Early January – A job has fallen onto my lap. Through a mutual acquaintance at church, I have a job working with a contractor out of the Gas Company. Every day I walk door to door and put wax pads on gas pipes. I get paid a wage higher than anything I have any right getting paid, and I have a truck and a gas card that the company pays for. The only problem is, I hate outdoor work and I’m still not very good at it. I don’t realize I’m not good at it until one day, at the end of the day a co-worker will share with the group how disappointed he is in himself because he only finished 28 houses, that is, he only waxed 28 gas pipes. Until hearing that, I’m very proud of myself on this day, I pat myself on the back for waxing a whole 16 gas pipes. I am bad at my job, and not only that, I hate doing it. Also, I almost cause a pile-up at a freeway entrance ramp that lead to a woman flipping me off and calling the number on my “How am I driving sticker”. 

            2014, Mid- January – I reflect on the first half of a day’s work. I think about the man with an NRA sticker on his windshield that told me he almost shot me after heard someone creeping along the side of his house. I think about the old woman who yelled at me for shutting her gas off even though I have no idea how to do that. I think about them and them bite into the sandwich I’m eating alone in my company work truck. I spend every lunch alone, but today it just feels different. I wish my dad were here, or anyone for that matter. I really hate this job and almost have a breakdown while I eat my sandwich because of it.

            2014, Last week of January – The company doubles in workers. Six more people to do the same thing I’m doing, making the total number of workers 12 (not including 2 supervisors). I partner with one and show him the ropes. At the end of one day, I run over a cone and my boss yells “That could have been a child!”, I think he’s overreacting and think “They were cooones!” a la The Wedding Singer. Regardless of my shortcomings my bosses remain adamant that I am doing a great job.

            2014, Last day of January – It’s Friday, the last day of the month and the week that is coming up is a non-work week. I’m ecstatic about not having to work the coming week and it’s all I’m thinking about as I walk up to the last house of the day. I walk up to the homeowner who is vacuuming the inside of his van and try and get his attention. When he finally notices me, he pokes his head out of the van and shuts the vacuum off. I tell him why I’m there and he tells me to go right on ahead and do what I gotta do. I finish a short while after and as I begin to walk off, I turn around and wave at him. Instead of waving back, he shuts off the vacuum and calls me back. The conversation, at least the important parts, we have goes something like this:

(keep in mind this man is wearing a white turtleneck and waves his arms enthusiastically as he talks to me. He’s like a cartoon mad scientist that doesn’t know how to control the volume of his voice either.)

            Him: You look young kid, how old are you?

            Me: 20

            Him: Do you like this? This job that you’re doing.

            Me: It pays well.

            Him: But do you like it? Are you happy with it and doing it for the rest of your life?

            Me: I guess not.

            Him: You gotta do something you love doing kid. You’re young, you have all the time in the world, world is at your fingertips and all that nonsense.

            Me: Yeah, I guess you’re right but I’m just going to see how this plays out, I guess.

Somewhere during the conversation, he goes inside and comes back out with 2 root beers.

            Him: The only beer a kid like you should be drinking. Listen, if you’re not happy, I understand this pays well but like I said, you’re young kid, you should go to school.

            Me: …

            Him: I’m a lawyer and every day I wake up I get to help people and every day I do a job that I love doing. It’s important that you do what you love doing. Enjoy your life!

            And as I leave, he waves his arms in the air and screams

            “Disfruta la vida!”

            It’s the last thing he says, and that shout is what I’ll remember the most about this conversation. Throughout my life, I’ll replay the incident in my head because of what comes next.

            2014, Beginning of February – On my week off I get called into our office and told to come in ready to work. In the office however, I, sit quietly while more employees filter into the room. We’re told that at random, having doubled the number of employees a week before, the company has now decided to cut it in half. Six other people and I are fired, along with a supervisor who had just relocated to California for this job. I look around the room and see the people around me at a loss of words, unsure of what they’ll do next. I feel a strange sense of relief and am only worried about how I’ll get home, because I drove the work truck to the office, and I am now having to hand over the keys. The boss (who is the man from church that got me the job) gives me a ride home and on the way apologizes. He says that if they re-hire I will be the first person he calls.

            I think about the last interaction I had while I was on the job.

            Disfruta la vida!  

            I say thanks but no thanks and tell him that I’ll probably go back to school and stay away from full time jobs for a while.

            2014, Fall – I am now a student at College of the Desert. Not waiting for opportunities to fall onto my lap anymore, I choose instead to chase my goals and find something that I love doing, but this journey has only just started.

            End of Part 2. Part 3 coming soon!

Bookshelves / Part One

            1st grade; I wear a pair of soccer cleats to school one day because I lost the pair I had for school. I climb (While wearing these cleats) a bookshelf to grab a book that’s just out of reach.  I feel scared but persist regardless. I can’t remember if I fell or not. A scoundrel on a bookshelf, I’m unsure whether I want to read through the books or tear them apart.

            3rd grade; I’m given a permission slip to the Gifted and Talented Education (GATE) after-school program. I’m told it’s for high-performing students and am excited but only go to one after school session before opting out of the program. In that session I learn about the freezing of water and at what starting temperature it will freeze the fastest. I will remember the lesson well into adulthood, but will forget that I am “gifted and talented”

            5th grade; My teacher turns off his projector and tells us he’d like for everyone to sit and listen to the sound of raindrops hitting the roof of our classroom portable for a while. He says it’s peaceful. I’m just relieved we’re not doing any work. I won’t forget his appreciation but will however, forget how to appreciate the silence he treasured so dearly that day.

            8th grade; I flunk enough of my classes that my English teacher tells me that I am not going to be participating in the celebration of promotion with the rest of my class. She seems to relish the fact. I don’t blame her. I don’t care about the material and have failed most classes I’m in. In this class especially, my only victories come from making her life miserable. I wreak havoc on her silent moments and will push a bookshelf over before I climb it. And then I’ll grab a book and tear it apart.

            9th grade; I start the year strong and do surprisingly well in most of my classes. I start to slip and eventually I free fall into failure. One day, during a moment of quiet serenity in my Earth Science class, my teacher hunches over his desk (which I’m sitting right in front of) and asks “Are you okay?”. I’m confused and don’t understand the question. I meet his genuine concern with a scoff and shrug him off, telling him I’m fine. I will never forget this moment. I’m no longer gifted and talented, maybe bright but lazy. I’m not sure what I am or what I am capable of being, and I won’t realize it until years later. And when I do, I run into that teacher again at a restaurant, I thank him for seeing in me what I didn’t see in myself, and for caring. I’ll remember the incident in class, but for the rest of my time in high school, it’s importance and impact will be unknown to me.

            10th grade; My teacher is hunched over the front of the room and yelling like a caveman. He is literally yelling unintelligible words at the top of his lungs and banging on his chest. This is a lesson about prehistoric times, and I couldn’t be more enthralled. It’s the first class in a long time, if not ever, that I am eager to get to strictly because of the lessons. This class will teach me to love learning, this teacher will teach me what it means to have someone in front of you that loves what they do and in turn, makes all the students love it. This teacher will be the single most important instructor and mentor throughout my time in high school and one of the most influential people in my entire life. I will never forget him. I will sadly forget how much I love to learn and forget soon after. Although I finish this class with a grade percentage of over 100, it will be one of the only classes I’ll pass all year. 

            12th grade; I barely graduate high school. I finish with a 1.8 GPA and while my friends talk about what school they will be attending come Fall, I shudder away from the subject and re-direct conversations. Failing myself, I am convinced that it’s best I give up the idea of succeeding as a student. I have completely forgotten by now what I’m capable of. I jump one job I hate to another, until one day while at one of these jobs I have a bizarre interaction with a stranger that will motivate me to re-think my abandonment of lessons like those ideal freezing temperatures for water, Earth Science and cavemen. I’d start to pick up the bookshelves I carelessly knocked over.

End of part 1, Read Part Two here: https://broadstew.com/2019/05/22/bookshelves-part-two/