Famous romance novelist Nicholas Sparks once wrote,
“The emotion that can break your heart
is sometimes the very one that heals it…”
As cliche as it sounds,
I no longer believe that falling in love is going to save us,
not from ourselves and not from the inevitable storm ahead.
The clouds have been gathering over head for months now,
I chose to act like the sun was always coming back out,
The very idea that the love we share is both destroying me
and keeping me alive is hedonistic at best.
I’m no weather man but it seems to be raining red flags now,
we’ve been dancing in the streets begging for more
I gain unconscious pleasure from the pain of losing you
over and over again to the flood,
being wounded has it’s perks, after all,
I looked much the same when you found me right?
We’re just a shitty love story turned scratched vinyl record,
we can’t stop pulling the plastic back beneath our fingers
to replay the ending,
supposedly well written fantasy either
ends in happily ever after or tragedy,
and this looks more like self fulfilling prophecy.
They never mentioned fairy tales going awry at the
drop of a dime and the distressed left in the dark forest
waiting for the half slain monster,
I…I mean the prince…to swallow her whole.
I’m not convinced this model of love is worth the river running
out from under my bedroom door, worth continuing to write about,
not convinced that there will ever be an emotional payout for chasing someone who makes their living on running away.
The emotion that was made to break my heart is
the inner conflict of selfish and selfless spinning
a whirlpool depression in my chest because no one
will never be able to love you well enough to
save you from your homegrown impending doom complex.
Lead me to where this tornado begins to heal me…
It is difficult to wield my impatience silently,
analyzing the way my body detoxes you out of me
pores and ducts compiling the poisons you left
minerals inside to extract so that
I may not forget
mental stamina halted by the crucial processing
healing is cyclical and having anxiety can alter
it’s trajectory a little but this self served circle will be completed
disguising survival as self love for the sake of saving face
while i take a second tour of the stages of grief in no
particular order, reliving my traumas like movie trailers
saved them for a dreary day such as this,
seek therapy as if I still believe someone out there has
the answers, get wasted once in a while and remember
why hopelessness is dangerous,
Can only see it when I’m bruised and
buried under it.
I find myself inspired by my loneliness,
supported only by my poetry,
ugly crying when I wake up in the same bad dream
can’t let the paranoias get the best of me, I am
letting go of what used to be
in one massive energetic release,
my aching body hoarding feelings
because that is how it is used to gaining control,
not this time, I am obsessing over my delusions
trying desperately to make them real, not this time
Naivety can in fact be cured but
using another human to witness your own healing
is a manipulation with no antidote hiding inside,
the results come out incoherent anyway
You have been alive 99 days longer than I have
With that extra time I expect you to be 99 days wiser
than I am, expect you to value your time a little more
But we all work at our own pace
and I’ve seen you pace a lot of circles into the floor
there are probably more in your future
I hope they look so much like break dancing
you throw windmills to settle the score with yourself
hope you find your answers in the flow
and start asking harder questions
The things you love the most in
the world can still be hard work,
in fact maybe they should be
Someday we will both get better at
paving our own way so that the labor
feels more like playing with your best friend
Until then we keep pulling each other’s hair out
strand by strand and catching fingers in every slammed door
this love is not the safety net that we planned for
I lose my balance every other step now
We have been crawling in and out of each other for
250 days without truly ceasing, what a polluted
cesspool of love we created to keep feeding each other our lies.
Are you still hungry? I could have just one more bite.
Spoon feed me all the reasons the wounds are still open.
Give it to me straight, what is the diagnosis?
Will the PTSD control the remainder of me
that you have not claimed as marionette parts?
We have not been on the same page since you
started skipping ahead to see whats next,
and ripping out chapters at random.
What would a romance novelist do to
heal them self from the inevitable?
Are we really just waiting around
for the dawn of the next cycle,
the point where the familiar emotion
fills us up with enough smoke and
to send out another beacon of hope?
photo: Noah Buscher
I bought this postcard that reminds me of us.”
A Franz Kline, black against white
Lines spread across the canvass
Chaotic and untamed like me.
A “V” stands firm off-center.
It’s right held up by another reclining line
The black mess underneath make those two lines
look like an “A” and an upside down heart.
I miss the first night I heard your voice.
Once, we talked on the patio of a bar until 6AM
about love, Nixon, and family.
We sat between the picnic tables on astro turf
and my ass went numb.
A little after,
I got you to show me your tattoo
despite all resignation.
We drank and drank until two packs of cigarettes were gone.
I could live in that night.
I could live in you asking me to only speak Spanish to you.
I am drunk in lust for moments well past their expiration date.
If you look at the postcard closer,
the upside down heart looks like a man on his knees
reclined against a wall.
blending him into the background.
I melted under the weight of past memories.
All the bad came flooding in after I found a swastika in the elevator of our office.
I was alone and I was scared.
I choked on tears for hours unable to breathe.
Finally, I called you.
You asked all the wrong questions until you asked me what I needed.
I muttered my need.
You couldn’t hear me and asked again.
I said “sorry” and hung up.
I turned off my phone.
I don’t know how to trust.
Despite two months of closeness,
I couldn’t tell you that one time a rich man stole from me.
He wined and dined me
and I liked that he spent more money on me than what I paid in rent my Senior year of college.
I liked it until I woke up naked and bruised
all over with no memories after only 3 drinks.
I couldn’t tell you that this is what I think of with our President-elect.
I didn’t want the story to pour out of me that day.
I was scared if I’d have to hate you
if you ended up being someone who would say something stupid
like having “to know better.”
The woman on the train
said the postcard looks like structure.
She said it was beautiful
Like the black strokes beneath the “V”
were pieces to rebuild with.
She had a warm smile and kind eyes.
We hugged after Vegas.
I drove to San Diego
You called and called me with every mishap before you could get to Los Angeles
The thick of your voice kept me up on the lonesome road as I tried to forget foolish things
Like making you pinkie promise to lean on me the first night we met.
To never work against each other.
You told me to not doubt myself.
We planned to see New Orleans
This postcard reminds me of us.
In Los Angeles, when I called myself a Chicago 9 and a California 7
You corrected me and told me not to be so hard on myself
You ranked me a 9 in California.
We missed being able to smoke inside like we did in Las Vegas.
I asked you if I could stay the night
We played chess and drank whiskey
Infatuation and lust resurface.
The black lines at the top of the postcard show more focus.
The strokes uneven in pressure
Yet firm in direction.
This postcard reminds me of you.
You would not let it happen.
My lips on your shoulder and my fingers entwined in your chest hair
You said “We shouldn’t do it.”
I pressed my lips to your neck and asked, “Why?”
There was no caution there.
You did not waver.
The black strokes at the bottom of the postcard jut out in every direction.
The strokes are aimless and collide into each other
Some stop mid-thought
This postcard reminds me of me.
I could not breathe with your hands on me.
I turned away from you.
The white of the upside down heart covers some black.
It tries to cover up mistakes.
The white looks grayer on the right hand side.
This postcard is me.
We didn’t talk about what happened.
I puked two times and you told me I could find grape juice in the fridge.
We never talk about what happens.
We rode to IHOP and every bump made me more nauseous.
The firm strokes at the top are focused,
but not anymore kempt than the rest
They miss filling in spots
They change direction back before they can reach the end of the canvass.
This postcard is you
I can’t remember what we talked about in IHOP
I remember puking a third time and finally feeling like I could eat.
You said I was smiling again so it must have been a good sign.
Outside you told me the lipstick from last night was cracked into my lips and looked terrible.
The white of the canvass isn’t pristine
Shades of gray compliment the strokes
It takes up more space without imposing
The color is dull without the strokes taking up space.
You asked what you could do to be better.
I don’t have an answer for our friendship.
The postcard is brush strokes and pressure
It is hesitation and redirection.
It is structure
And it is impetuous.
I have this postcard for you.
I bought the same one for me.
-The Ghost of Esperanza
down the drain with
control freak critic freak
sag rising, flaky bitch
cancer moon, emo baby
for some tangy
twist of balance
hippie helper healer heart
crass asshole mind
overlover and undersharer
with a body that just
won’t quit quitting
addicted to pain
killing with kindness
to everyone not-me
rage fills my mouth like blood
spills over without good reason
other than overlong suppression
an invisible inevitable dam burst
when can i soften
soften (and forgive)
soften (and forgive)
when can i feel
other than this pain
Sarah grew up singing, dancing, and making stories. After a few lifetimes of creative suppression, her inner child is back with a weird little vengeance. Poetry is where Sarah’s need to make things pretty tries to dance with her need to tell ugly truths. She believes in the healing power of friendship and the memo app on her phone. Facebook. Instagram.
Photo: Ameen Hussain Fahmy
on grief. you. can’t look. at his. face. in pictures. avert. your.
eyes. quick. you wait. to teeter. over the. edge. into. oblivion.
obsession. remember. he said. it’s okay. he said. to be evil.
mirror. your old face. no. you don’t. see. his. face. except in.
dreams. blame it all. you think. on the caffeine. sconced.
lights. flicker. he tells you. no. soft. message. soft. received.
more. uh. lord. than pot. more. uh. night. than day. you
wonder. googling. medical. or medicinal. must. get. search
terms. right. gut genug. he says. good. enough. but. you
swear. you. are right. like. before. like. intrinsent. wasn’t real.
well. because. she’s not. the one. who’s dead. you say. maybe
if. you say. you read yours first. stack. on windowsill. mushu.
speaks. no. that. was someone. else. computers. you ask. try.
to remember. there must. you think. have been. computers.
latin. german. english. french. when you. came back. from
europe. you had. you say. a new. rule. you say. tens. on jacks.
a slap. ping. them. atic. sch. eme. sch. ism. sch. ool. sch. ade.
oh. no. that’s not. where it. ends. farm. cat. burn pile. field.
her. them. sand. sting. sex. on the beach. ice. in our teeth.
grasp. suck. pull. stuffed. scarecrows. suicide missions.
suicidal. king. charlemagne. trick. or treat. house. calls. car.
wrecks. ayn. fucking. rand. ponderous. tomes. wait. not that.
that letter. breasts. brushing. the food. collegiate. attire.
where. did you go. you don’t. re. ah. yes. head. member.
pounds. all that. yes. blood. her house. right. was haunted.
names. diaries. pink. brown. blue. but. you lost. you lament.
the old notebook. with. all the. poems. you say. about you.
snape. not like. you. gave. a shit. scale of. viggo. to alan.
grease. honor. lightning. you. must. have. been. in. that. pit.
Megan Heise is a writer, artist, and teacher, who lives in and is from the American rust belt. She has three plants: Lenny, a bunny ears cactus who lives in Greece; Louie, a bamboo shoot who loves to travel; and Wally, an aloe plant who is having a hard time adjusting to life “back home” after many adventures elsewhere. She curates the education and advocacy blog, Solidarity with Refugees.
Photography provided by Megan Heise as well.
Turning a crank
on the side of my head
& shooting diamonds
out of my eyes
into your face
where they explode
with little dinging sounds.
You’re in my cartoon now
when I try to understand
where someone is coming from
it feels like
doing a math problem
& coming up with an answer
the word ‘no.’
is too soon
to go downstairs
& ask my neighbor
to take down her windchimes
because the songs they make
“The world ended today,” Carl told me as he sat down to watch TV.
“Dunno.” He cracked a beer. “Everybody was talking about it after the staff meeting, but I didn’t listen too close. Didn’t seem important.”
I sat up on the couch. “How could it not be important? It’s the end of the world!”
“Well,” he said, considering, “it doesn’t seem to change anything, does it? We’re still here. Plenty of stuff happens that doesn’t affect my life. Why would I care more about this than any of that?”
“I understand,” I replied, “but particularly in view of that, how are we still here? We couldn’t be if the world ended, right? Maybe it didn’t.”
“Nah, it did. Everyone was pretty sure.” He took a drink. “I’m betting they’d know. They aren’t the sort to get that kind of thing wrong.”
So that was that, the world was gone. There was nothing else for it but to watch Will & Grace.
David S. Atkinson is the author of books such as “Roses are Red, Violets are Stealing Loose Change from my Pockets While I Sleep,” “Apocalypse All the Time,” and the Nebraska book award winning “Not Quite so Stories.” He is a Staff Reader for “Digging Through The Fat” and his writing appears in “Spelk,” “Jellyfish Review,” “Thrice Fiction,” “Literary Orphans,” and more. His writing website is http://davidsatkinsonwriting.com/.
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I was criticised by any number of people for what I did to the old piano. When my sculpture was exhibited at the gallery — all dismantled frames and twisted strings and bereft keys — I was criticised. Oh, yes. People at the Opening drew in shocked breaths and waggled their champagne glasses. The word desecration was used; also destructive and obscene. Obscene? I’ll tell you what’s obscene — having to put up with someone who is supposed to have moved on. My sculpture was large and it used most of the innards of the piano in a constructivist-style thing intended to reference a mound or hill. Like a burial mound. I even included an ironic plastic rose on the top, a dirty pink thing, to reference a wreath, but I don’t think the art lovers at the opening got that. They certainly mourned the piano, though.
“What did you have against that poor piano?” a tipsy art-type in an old-fashioned bow-tie asked me. He’d gone for whisky.
“How long have you got?” I replied, and sipped my champagne, leaving lipstick on the glass, blood red, which is ironic also, since the death of the piano was under discussion. In all truth, it wasn’t the piano itself that had earned my ire, but its former owner. I’ll tell you what happened and you can judge for yourself if I was justified in dismantling the thing.
When I moved in with Simon I kept my studio in the inner city. His place wasn’t far away but it was an upscale building, one of those new apartment blocks. They had CCTV cameras everywhere: didn’t want any undesirables, deplorables, muddying the terrazzo floors or shooting up in the shrubbery. You wouldn’t have thought that such a new build, where a year or so earlier there had been only a depthless mud-hole gouged into the land, could harbour any wraiths from the past. But my theory is — and I have reason to know — that the wraiths preserve their longevity by attaching their icy tendrils to objects, and objects can be moved around, as was this blighted piano. Simon told me that it had been a family piano for decades. In fact, it was an old wooden-framed thing, out of date and untuneable. Were you imagining an elegant baby grand with a rosewood cabinet? No, this was an old upright, scratched from many moves, barely playable. It had candle sconces screwed to its front. Candles! How long ago did people play the piano by candlelight? The dark ages?
I shouldn’t make flippant remarks about the dark. That piano and I were to share some sombre times. Simon and I had been together for about a year when I moved in with him. I was sure he was my soul-mate. I still am, and if he ever forgives me — or, as I prefer to think of it, understands me — I think we could be happy. If you notice an edge to my voice while I’m telling what happened, it’s because of Simon. When he found the piano gone, and I told him what I’d done with it, he went into a funk. He refused to come to the Opening at the gallery and so he hasn’t seen what a far, far better thing it has become. Those critics who could stomach the dismemberment have been raving about it. My agent is fielding offers. I have hopes that it’ll go to Abu Dhabi.
Simon goes away on business trips often, mostly to the US, for a week or two at a time. He packs a couple of his sharp suits into a folding suit bag and jets off to do whatever international-finance-types do. As for me, I’m a night owl and often come home late from my studio to the empty terrazzo-floored lobby of the apartment block. I rarely run across anyone from the other apartments. It’s an echoey lobby; there’s not much in it except a couple of Eames-replica chairs that I’ve never seen anyone sit on. There are security cameras with red cyclonic eyes staring down from the corners of the ceiling.
The old piano was an incongruous piece of furniture in Simon’s place, interior-decoration-wise, so naturally I asked him about it.
“It was Eliza’s,” he said, as if admitting something he’d rather I didn’t know.
Eliza was his ex. They hadn’t been married, exactly, unless you count that hybrid Buddhist-Hindu-hippy ceremony they went through in Kathmandu. Then Eliza was lost on the trail while they were hiking to Tengboche. Lost, as in never found. Almost certainly she went over the edge of a ravine into the Dudh Kosi and her body swept away downstream, though it was never recovered. Simon spent a long time hoping. That whole incident was years ago. He’d had two or three girlfriends between Eliza and me. But still he’d dragged the piano on at least two moves that I knew of. It sat against the wall of the living room, looking across at the Léger print on the opposite wall. It seemed to me to be constantly watching us as we lounged in front of the TV, or drank cocktails on the balcony, or slow-danced on the rug, listening to jazz. It appeared to me to disapprove of jazz.
Simon told me, when I pressed him, that the piano had first belonged to Eliza’s great-aunt, a spinster who’d lived in Melbourne and had gone to India as a missionary. Apparently she was revered in Eliza’s family. That was in the days when proselytizing was applauded. The great-aunt was musical. She played not only the piano but also the violin. That was all that Simon knew about this ephemeral person from the past, the musical missionary, Eliza’s relative. The piano was then bequeathed though Eliza’s relations — aunt, cousin, father — until, as each of them died, it eventually settled on her. She played, quite well. I’ve heard her. She favours eerie things, like Messiaen — at least that’s what I thought it was when I heard her. Yes, I’ve heard that piano play on many nights when I was alone in the apartment. Did I mention that we were on the thirty-fifth floor? An aerie. It was as if angels were malevolently plucking harp strings where they had no right.
All of this sounds fanciful, I know, and to start with I thought so too. The first time I heard the playing it was about 2 AM. I got up and marched out of the bedroom switching on all the lights. But the notes merely faded at my approach and so I assumed that I was imagining the whole thing. But the playing in the wee hours went on, only when Simon wasn’t there, of course. Obviously it was meant for me alone. I was targeted. I took to leaving all the lamps on in the living room but it made no difference. The music still woke me — and the lamps went out.
Naturally I told Simon what was going on. I tried to convince him to get rid of the piano, maybe pass it on to another of Eliza’s relatives. He actually said that he wanted to keep it in case Eliza came back! She has come back, I said grimly. Then he went all solicitous on me. He said I was just having some residual delusions. I wasn’t long out of rehab. When I met Simon I was doing far too much junk for my own good, and it was he, bless him, who’d got me into a program. Now I was clean, off the stuff, and my work was blossoming. I owe Simon so much. He’s the love of my life.
The night-time playing continued sporadically, always when I was alone in the apartment.
“Get rid of it, please!” I was begging him now.
“Sweetheart, it’s in your head. I can’t let it go. It’s my only reminder of Eliza.”
“Can’t you just keep her photo or something?” He laughed.
“Sure, but what if she comes back and I don’t have her piano? It was her most precious possession.”
That was the second time he’d said that about her coming back. If she came back, where would that leave me? This point didn’t seem to concern him as he stared across the room at the piano, and I saw in his gaze some past in which I had no part. My first impulse was to remind him that Eliza was pretty certainly dead, and so not coming back for her piano, but I stopped. Of course she was back, as I’d told him the first time we had this conversation. I couldn’t get through to him.
The playing went on. It was creeping me out. One night I changed tactics and tried spying unseen on the piano. I put my eye up to the gap in the bedroom door, which I’d left ajar. But when I looked the playing stopped abruptly. I thought I saw something slip out the front door. I definitely heard a click as the door closed. This wraith came in the front door? It didn’t happen like that in stories.
After the next night of ghostly playing, I went down to the security booth in the basement carpark. I knew the guys there; I often spoke to them when I parked my VW Beetle — they liked my car. I asked if we could take a look at the CCTV footage of the lobby from the night before. I told them I thought I’d heard noises around 2 AM, which was true. We had to go backwards and forwards a bit, but we found it. It was eerie to watch: a long stretch of silent emptiness, the cameras watching creepily, pointed at the lobby doors, the lift, the fire stairs. Twice, figures of other residents crossed the floor, silent footsteps, silent arrival of the lift, silent opening and closing of the lift doors. Then, finally, a figure emerged just as silently from the fire stairs door. The guys were amazed — “that thing’s alarmed,” they said. But no alarm sounded, there was just the CCTV silent soundtrack. The figure was frustratingly indistinct. I was sure it was female, but the security boys argued about that for a while.
“It’s wearing a cap.”
“That’s a skirt, for sure.”
“Or trousers — can’t tell. It’s not clear enough.”
The footage had been clear enough earlier to recognise the legitimate residents. We stopped and started it but we couldn’t get a better picture. The figure disappeared as silently as it had come. We didn’t see the lift arrive, but we could see the illuminated floor numbers marking its ascent from the lobby, then stopping at Level 35.
After that I dismantled the piano. I took out its guts and moved strings, hammers, felts surreptitiously to my car bit by bit. I prised off all its keys with pliers and took them away, keeping the lid on my work so Simon wouldn’t notice what was going on. It took a while, I can tell you. Of course the playing had to stop then. I thought about leaving the empty thing there, just a carcass with its ridiculous candle sconces. But two things changed my mind. The first was the imperative of the work — as I brought these infused and laden objects together in my studio I saw that they needed more bulk, the bulk of the piano cabinet, the wood, the structure. And more detail: the pedal, the hinges, and those sconces. The second thing that prompted me to completely dismantle the piano was the final occurrence of that eerie Messiaen, playing in the silence of 2 AM, despite the keys and strings being entwined in my studio two suburbs away.
At the Opening, an art agent came over and asked me about the piece. He was wearing a dishdasha and a keffiyeh. I smiled winningly.
“What is the piece entitled?” he asked.
“I call it ’Silence.’”
“And what is that strange smell it emits?”
Alessandra is a queer feminist writer and philosopher. She enjoys the finer things in life: chowder, dogs, hooded sweatshirts, wandering on foot for hours on end, and talking in accents. She has a BA from MSU Denver in Creative Writing and Philosophy, has been published in the Metrosphere Arts and Literary Journal, and has been featured on the Denver Orbit podcast. Find more of her work at www.greenworldwriting.com.
Photo: Zhengtao Tang
Memories act as detritus, lettertorn ice
avalanched into my cabin: I stare at the ceiling
for hours, paralyzed by my sleep meds,
by fear, or by the memory of a memory.
Atop the submarine I am rooftop dazzled
by a piercing white sun. I wince at a beauty
that can kill me. We are not seeking a white whale.
We are not seeking anything. We go out to sea,
& we sleep. I have an application around here
somewhere. It reads, Fill in the blank: I function
as a _______. You get the job if you leave it blank.
photo: Thomas Henke