i cannot look your friends in the eye.
when they become grown men,
i think i shall never speak to them again.
I wrote those words in 2012. everything was ripped open then. live wires crisscrossed the kitchen. our hallways could have eaten me. flowers at the bottom of every corner, all cut. any words spoken to me traveled across sandpaper and only the grain of them hit my ears. panels of glass layered behind my eyes like a hall of mirrors; any one of them shattering at any given moment. relearning to use my body with each new movement. normal pleasures turned to useless bargaining chips. wishful thinking, backwards thinking. eating became a foreign ritual. sleep morphed into something cruel. time slowed to a Sisyphean pace. and yet, nothing happened.
every time your best friend has a birthday he drinks through the day and night until there's a late point where he stops and stares at me, his eyes boring past me, through me entirely, and he's not there anymore, & i'm not there anymore, and i feel we are the only two people in the world who know.
he turned 22 this year.
your birthday is next week.
and for the first time, I don't know what I would get you. what would be on your list. what you would need. want. you would be becoming a man. and I don't know that You. and again, waves of loss begin to lap at my soles.
I am trying to think of you.
did you know Mom and Dad kept our baby teeth? I found a small box while visiting their things. I sat on my bedroom floor and poured a small collection of dry, tiny teeth into my palm. they had kept them all those years, and now, I can't tell whose is whose. my teeth, your teeth, Mike's teeth; they're all mixed up. they're in my drawer now.
"No absence is empty." ....I struggle with words most of all.
Karineh just looked back at me, smiled. "...no."
I wrote the poem about you.
but when asked, I answered, "I've just been thinking of my dad a lot lately."
I don't know if I'll ever be able to just talk about you.
he was born into the empty spaces
between dust specks and light rays
just past the edges of echoes
inside the dried hollow of baby teeth
he was never meant to be there
his silent sighs compound my own
an absence expanding all absence
a weight of nothing grown so great
it has broken all the chairs
and the house. and the heart.
this cupped air of Should-Be
there is no reflection
in front of which to place it.
there is so much missing
but there is already far too much
& in this mess
the greatest fear
he was never meant to be here.
I saw a boy in the Vons; he had your sweatshirt on. My feet followed him through the aisles until he stopped and I stared at him, like a silent La Llorona, peering out from behind the Tostitos stand.
there are many songs that I love deeply but cannot listen to anymore. maybe, in time. but it is a double edge: I don't want to lose the pain because that is a sign of distance. sometimes I think I want to tattoo your name all over my body. but that is lazy writing. perhaps I do fear hard work. I do fear whispers, questions tied to strings I can't bare to follow. the first and last question are always the same: why? nothing in between has enough weight to bend the string and close the loop. it remains a hollow arrow, which I repeatedly shoot straight up into the sky.
in the beginning was the flood.
I was missing everyone, and watched our favorite movie. the flood at the end, where the Goddamn Paterfamilias is overtaken by the water and watches as it carries away all of his surroundings: personal items and bits of once familiar nature swirl in the currents around him, past his face, as his eyes search for an understanding of this massive change.
everything hits you all at once.
your limbs are useless as you lose the ground and breathing becomes a struggle. your voice is one of the first things rushed away in the stream. the ersatz horizon jumbles and bobs and you tread water over everything you once knew. your fuzzy vision makes out shapes that seem familiar but are... loose. things you'd thought buried are now crudely mingling with anchors of your day-to-day. the contents of your shared lives are flushed together and away and become distorted. the water in your ears muffles any cries aimed at you. you are alone. and surrounded. there is nothing to do but surrender, or drown. perhaps a combination.
now I am walking among the heaps, the ruins, the things left behind.
the land is drying, but slowly, slowly. this is a swamp, and I am chilled as I gingerly step around the masses of once-beloved, once-comforting, once-forgotten. occasionally I stop, stoop to examine something with the sheen of familiarity, or importance. but often the thing, once the reeds are wiped away, is too changed to be kept. yet I still wander and inspect. hope is a strange and hollow thing, like an old bone.
but to speak them aloud, they fall apart
pour your sighs and silences
into the spaces between footsteps
secret and sacred
like the scent of an attic
catching the fireflies of your laugh
in a field of dying light
i could hear
my heaviest totem
a baby tooth