an excerpt from: Hangman

Wow — it’s been awhile since my last post! I apologize for the lack of uploads the past few months, senior year has been super busy with sports, college applications and schoolwork! Here’s an excerpt from a (hopeful) short story I’ve been working on titled Hangman. Enjoy!

….

Only on Thursday afternoons Ezra and I were told we could not take the main road home. The main road being through downtown. Instead we would twist around corners and unfamiliar roads, though they were now becoming common to us. This added around ten extra minutes to our walk home, Ezra once timed it with dad’s leather wristwatch. The leather was sort of worn down and the ticks didn’t tick like they used to, but it earned our easily given trust. As my mother caressed my unruly and dark hair into two braids, she continued to remind me, a soft whisper that hung onto my ear, followed by an I love you. This was the case this morning, and yesterday, and the day before and the day before that. Thursday, October the eighth, a date remained imprinted in ink on the calendar hung onto the refrigerator. It was a grey morning, the clouds were charcoal and the sky was concrete. Nothing out of the ordinary, a bleak morning in a bleak city teeming with bleak people. Our front door still had that scuff on it and still moaned a twisted creaky noise when swung open. A strange sensation  consumed the air this morning. My stomach was static. Our usual walks to school were crowded with laughter and small discussion about trivial, meaningless matters. I didn’t say much today. Neither did Ezra, but I could tell he felt it too, the static groan buried down below our throats.

Six or seven hours or however many taps on the analog clock surpassed me along with the rest of my classmates. I contemplated visiting the nurse’s office, due to that awful feeling deep down inside of me. But I didn’t. I sort of envisioned my encounter with the nurse, a grey haired woman of fifty six. She would ask me how I felt and why I stood before her and I would certainly respond with, “Nurse Terry, there’s a black and white feeling in my stomach!” But a black and white feeling wasn’t a ticket home as lice or vomit was. Instead I spent a significant remainder of the day watching Dorothy Deacon twist at the dead ends of her brown hair and Mr. Wylie mar the board with stiff pale chalk. The words and numbers etched into my paper slipped from my finger tips and shattered on impact with the floor. Time ebbs and flows in strange ways when confined by four monotonous white walls.

The iron bell echoed through our school like an iron fist, expelling children in all directions. I waited for Ezra under the apple tree next to the empty set of swings. I could spot his shaggy black hair in the sea of auburns and blondes. He walked with his hands fixed in his pockets and his eyes beamed to his dirty sneakers below him. His freckles looked troubled, they almost looked like rain drops, his shoulders weary. “What’s wrong?” I asked, my voice fluctuated from a valley to a peak in concern.

“I don’t feel good.”

“What is it?” I proceeded, Ezra answered with a slight shrug. Without any more questions I turned on my heals and we turned right as opposed to left, it being a Thursday. For the first hundred or so steps, my hands tugged at the straps on my book bag, the weight shifted on and off, this being a sign of my boredom. Surrounding us were small shops of sorts, and apartment buildings like ours. The only shop I recognized truly was the bakery called Mary’s, I went there a couple times with mother to pick up bread and muffins. Lately we had stopped going to the named bakeries and butcher shops and opted for the convenience store down the block. Brick walls were patchy, inconsistent colored blocks concealed graffiti and paintings underneath.

It was around this time of year the trees would die. There were no leaves, no colors, only bare and broken branches. The scenery was sapped and worn down, but in a beautiful way. This is what we had been taught in school and on the television and at home. I had grown to love the normality of the trees, and the roads and streets and houses. Routine was a warm hug, so was regularity. The small bony trees that dug into the ground were a fresh breath from the concrete and cement that consumed our everyday lives. Yes they were grey, and spindly and miniscule to the oaks and pines you would see in the old movies that only aired after twelve at night. But they became us. It became an antidote to that staticy feeling.

Ezra and I disappeared off of Main Street and slipped onto Baldwin Street, it was Thursday afterall. Baldwin Street resembled Canary Way, which was alike Tucker Park, which showed similarities with Main Street. The backroads and side streets had the same grey white tone, and splotchy patches in paint and consistency in the sky. The only difference was there weren’t any stores and businesses, only homes. Fifty paces down the asphalt Ezra and I met a road block. The slab of concrete rested itself sideways on the road. Spray-painted black letters scribed on the grey read: Closed for Construction. There was nobody beyond the cinder block, only a few stray plastic bags.

I turned myself towards Ezra, who offered me a puzzled look. “What do we do now?” His voice shook just as his knees did.

“I guess we head back and take Main Street,” I spoke

“But, we aren’t supposed to go there, that’s what mom always says,” Ezra was right.

“You think I don’t know that?”

I spun around and headed back up Baldwin Street, Ezra had no choice but to follow. We again watched the same homes and small trees pass by us as our legs went on. My mind raced back and forth, I was no longer able to focus my attention to the homes, only the static. In truth, we had never questioned our mother on why exactly Main Street had become so dangerous. We never asked questions. I always assumed there was construction of some sort, and that she wanted to make sure her children weren’t struck down by a fallen brick or two. I could tell solely by the tension in Ezra’s knotted up shoulders that he did not assume the same as I did. Mother always called me her little optimist and Ezra her little pessimist.

Main Street on Thursday looked like Main Street any other day, I didn’t understand. There were no construction workers. Ezra’s expression contorted to one of discomfort once more. We still encountered the same signs, the same warnings. Reminders of urban curfews projected themselves onto the grey business buildings surrounding us. This had been enforced for always, so I didn’t quite understand why we needed the constant mention. I grew up abiding by these, so did mother, and her mother and hers, so on and so forth. Along with these, the laws were also painted on a few brick walls here and there. I didn’t quite understand those either. The static feeling became stronger. As Ezra and I made our way further down Main Street, we began to realize why our mother forbode us from taking this route.

A rather large group of people circled around the street, many held signs in their cracked hands and marched. I could almost make out the words on the signs, the words were not pretty. Before the shouting began there was a strange hum that was held in the dull air. The hum hung low and brushed against my scalp. All felt still, there was no breeze like the weatherman this morning, the one with the blonde slicked back hair and plastic smile, had predicted. Then the yelling came. The voices pouring out from the mass croaked and echoed off of the grey and brick buildings which lined Main Street. Sound waves tumbled through my ear and crashed into my temple, enough impact to cause a bruise surely. I snapped my neck to look over to Ezra, frightened freckles and shaking pant legs. I took his hand in mine, the cold feeling of my palm caused him to lurch. “We can get past if we take the sidewalks,” I said to Ezra, unsure if we actually could do so. He said nothing. I spoke once more, “Look down and stay quiet,” Ezra’s grey eyes remained focused on the concrete and his chapped lips remained shut.

Speaking in friction the government was not taken lightly. A charcoal haired boy in my English class, Harvey Daniels,  his mother had been arrested for doing so. Since he had carried luggage under his eyes and didn’t always straighten out his collar. I think it’s been around two years since Mrs. Daniels was taken off. I was scared. So was Ezra. His steps were apprehensive as we approached the crowd. I under calculated the size of the group really, we would have to slip in between the cracks and crevices of bodies to get home. They didn’t seem to notice the two schoolchildren crouched and pushing beneath them. They did not seem scared either, scared of the law and it’s upholding. Many wore bandanas, black, and strung them over their face to conceal their mouths. I can’t remember who threw the first cannister that let out that awful white smell, I really can’t. Ezra told me later that he saw a man clad in a helmet and a boxy vest, a law enforcement officer, throw the compacted metal as if he were pitching a baseball on opening day.

Our limp bodies pushed back and forth. Colliding with shoulders and elbows and bones. I could taste Ezra’s freckles. I tried to root my feet into the ground, to mimic those trees I loved, to find stability. Stability had left us. Stability was beyond us. All I saw was the movement of the color black, presumably bodies. A man next to me, as tall as a pine, crumpled and hit the ground. I could feel blood spill from my nose and my forehead. I held tight to Ezra’s sleeve. The sensation of jacket seams ripping trickled up my forearm. I don’t know how long we were in there. Dad’s leather wrist watch escaped Ezra’s bony wrist and fell to the ground. Glass shatters not only on store windows but beneath combat boots.

It was then that the horde began to expel in all directions. Much like our classmates leaving the school thirty minutes prior. There was still movement, but less concentrated. I could see the concrete below us now. My eyes were drawn to the leather wrist watch, which laid defeated on the ground. Still clutching to Ezra, I used my empty hand to grope the asphalt and extract what was left of the wristband and  broken glass, burying it in my pocket. I coughed, the white invaded my lungs and made my eyes water. A hand grabbed my shoulder, dragging us out of the crowd. My shins and knees stung as they hit the pavement, tiny black rocks buried themselves inside of me. Soon there was no commotion, only the static remained. I could see bricks out of my left eye and the sky out of my right. I was able to see blood out of both.

after David Scriven Crowley’s Andrew with Faith and Reason

This poem was written as a response to David Scriven Crowley’s painting titled Andrew with Faith and Reason displayed at the Emery Art Center. Check out more of his wonderful work at http://www.davidscrivencrowley.com/#!

 

Two stallions, raise torn hooves into sky, muddy ochre and onyx

The avoidance of dirt

Where are your shoes?

Soft lilac soil sinks below

Lavender, peach pulp clouds crowd above, Zeus is watching

And he is angry, face flushed an ungodly red, bursted blood vessels

 

An unfamiliar portrait of a hero, at least you appear to be

Lit by yellow hues, a familiar flesh tone to I and to you

Holding two roped reigns, for what purpose?

Where do you look to with such fear, teeming from pupils

Is it the Gods you fear?

 

Muscles all strain and writhe, casting shadows which overlap

Mauve, plum, muted rose and mulberry, unruly manes

Looming landscapes stretch themselves along the campus, and two arms length

Two stallions, who bear the names Faith and Reason

I later learn you bear the name Andrew

About Tabitha Paine

Boy, was she pretty, and she damn near scared me, too. She wasn’t the kind of pretty they advertise in those Sears catalogs, the ones that featured those girls with all that long blonde stringy hair and porcelain skin. Tabitha Paine looked like she hadn’t slept in days and always smelt like stale smoke. I couldn’t exactly figure out why I found that so intriguing, but I did. She just about killed me.

I watched her from the back right corner, the one beside the window of Ms. Keller’s dimly lit classroom. My eyes focused, not on the movie projected onto the board about the First World War, or whatever, but on her. The way she bit at her lips and tapped her bony fingers on the wooden desktop. I liked the way her curls looked like an antique collection of old metal couch springs, and how her collar bones protruded from her chest, reaching out to grab me.

The first time we spoke was when she forgot to bring a pencil into history. Her voice was low and raspy. I always have a few spare number two pencils living in the bottom of my book bag. When I handed one to her, our skin touched just for a moment. Her palm was slightly dry, but that sure as hell didn’t matter to me. After school, on the walk home, I contemplated talking to her a second time. Just the thought of striking up a casual conversation about the way the sky looked made me shake in my penny loafers, like a skinny birch tree caught up in a windstorm. Tabitha Paine was that windstorm, but I was too yellow to talk her then.

I got my chance next on a Thursday, and Tabitha was wearing that green sweater, the one that made her skin look dull. Truthfully, she looked best in purple, but not lilac-like, a deep purple. I had been looking at her all of that day and I think she saw me. I didn’t know whether that was a good or bad thing, to tell the truth. I know it frightened the hell out of me, though. Her eyes looked more calico than they usually did–I think it was that sweater. I felt like a creep and all, spending most of history eyeing her. She had that effect on me.

At lunchtime, I saw Tabitha sitting on the concrete steps, crouched over a cigarette. It kind of bothered me, seeing her like that and all, with death teetering between her raw lips. I mean, it was in the designated smoking area, but it got to me, her sitting there smoking like that. She looked up from the ground and met my eyes. I just stood there for a minute. To tell you the truth, I froze. For seven seconds (I counted each one), we stared at each other. She spoke first. Her voice was gravel.

“Watcha lookin’ at?”

I shuffled my feet. “You know.” My voice shook like a tambourine, but I went on. “I heard that smoking isn’t all that good for you. Causes cancer and all those other crummy diseases people get.”

To tell the truth, I can’t tell why the hell I said that. It sounded like something my mother would say. Without breaking our gaze, she brought death back to her lips and inhaled the smoke.

I don’t know what goddamn thing inside of me made me walk over to her, but I found myself sitting right besides Tabitha Paine then. I didn’t say anything more, though. I just watched her, like always. Tabitha held the cigarette in her spindly fingers, making Hades himself look graceful. Boy, I envied it almost. The way she hugged it in the crevice of her fingers, her knuckles peeking out at me. They clung tight to her bones, creating pink and fleshy nebulas. She tilted her head to look at me and her chapped lips smirked.

“You want one?” The words broke from her teeth and sent electricity down my spine. My mother lectured me about this peer pressure thing all the time, and I guess I’d never experienced a situation like this before. Also, I guess my mother didn’t drill it into my head enough, because I went for it.

“Sure.”

“You ever had one before?”

“Yeah,” I lied. “All the time.”

“You don’t strike me as the type.” She squinted and smirked some more. Before I knew it I found the cigarette between my fingers, shaking like a madman when I put it up to my lips. I wanted to impress Tabitha, make her think we had something in common, and all. As soon as I inhaled, I knew she knew we had nothing in common. The smoke branched through my lungs, and clawed into my throat. I let out a cough and my eyes watered. How the hell did Tabitha Paine do this every damn minute of the day?

It has been about three weeks since that second conversation with Tabitha, and three weeks since I smoked my first cigarette. Everyday at lunch now, we sat on that tiny step. It was barely wide enough to fit the both of us, and I sat more toward the edge so she had enough room. I was just balancing there, same as usual, when Tabitha Paine told me she was gonna come see me that night. She said it in that low tone she always spoke in. She said that she had something to tell me. At first, I expected her to confess her undying love to me or something crazy like that, but it only happens that way in those damn Cukor films. She told me to meet her out by the metal stairs leading up to the balcony of the apartment building next to mine.

I got there a couple minutes early, just to make sure she didn’t have to wait around for me to show up in the cold. The waiting made my hands shake and my nose turn pink. Ten minutes felt like damn near ten hours.

When I saw her walking toward me, I couldn’t help but notice she was wearing a purple winter jacket. It was that deep purple, the one that made her look good. She always spoke first.

“How long ya been waiting for me?”

“Oh, I just got out here a minute ago, that’s all.” I always lied, it seemed, talking to her.

“I gotta tell you something.” Her eyes met mine, though I couldn’t tell what they were saying to me. The moon wasn’t too bright. “I’m goin’ away.”

“Whaddaya mean? Going on a trip?”

“No, I mean, yeah, kinda.” She reached into the deep pockets of that purple jacket and handed me a crumpled up piece of paper. I did my best unfolding it. It had a few stains on it, but I could read the scribbles.

“What’s this?”

“A map, to Florida.”

“Why the hell do you want to go to Florida? You got family there or something?” My brows furrowed. By this time, my eyes had nearly adjusted to the darkness and I saw something in her eyes.

“No, I’m not goin’ with my family. I’m goin’ by myself, for good.”

I didn’t say anything, partly because I didn’t know what to say and partly because my stomach got all knotted up.

“Can’t stand it here anymore. It’s too damn depressing and cold. They call Florida the sunshine state—did ya know that?”

I didn’t say anything this time around either. I just watched my breath whirl in the air like her cigarette smoke always did.

“I just wanna start over, that’s all.”

I tried to reason with Tabitha, but she stuck with that gut feeling of hers. In the beginning, I liked that about her. That night, though, it tore me up. I watched her walk back home, or wherever she was headed. The way her curls bounced when her sneakers kissed the pavement. I wanted to call back to her, maybe tell her how I felt about her—the way she gave me those damn butterflies and made me nervous. But I never did. I never told Tabitha Paine I cared about her.

I care about Tabitha Paine. The words bounced in my head, vibrating and ringing. Sometimes they were sharp and stung at my forehead. I couldn’t stand it. If only I could have choked out or coughed up the words onto the asphalt below us, Tabitha Paine could have stayed. She would still be wearing that purple jacket and she would still be paying the guy who sits on the corner to go into the convenient store to buy her those damn cigarettes.

***

The next time I saw Tabitha Paine’s face my stomach felt funny. Not because of those butterflies, but because I felt sick. The next time that I saw Tabitha Paine’s face it was on the television. It was an old picture, from a couple years before I’d gotten to know her. She hadn’t changed much, I saw. She’d gotten a little taller and was more bruised looking, maybe more yellow from the cigarettes, and all. The word “missing” flashed from the television screen to my memory, back and forth. She wasn’t wearing her purple jacket on the television.

It got around school. She’d written a note to her mother, telling her what she’d told me by the stairs. Her crossed “t”s were shaky and the looped “l”s quivered, covered in lead. In chemistry class I listened in on the conversations that engulfed me. Margaret Greene told her friends that the letter had more than three “I love you”s. Thomas Foster whispered back that the letter had more than three “I hate you”s. It got home, too. I heard my mother’s voice echo off the kitchen wallpaper, talking about what a shame it was—a local tragedy, and all. The thing was, not too many runaways came back, she said.

In the beginning, the search parties went to innocent places: the bowling alley, the record store, all of her favorite spots around town. Then it got dark. After a few weeks, they moved off into the swamps and ditches along the highways. They posted her image everywhere around town, especially all over the lampposts. Sometimes three of four of them stuck on a single pole, and she blew in all directions at once. About a month in, nobody thought she would come back, with all those bad people out there—except for her mother, who wanted her hunted for clear down the coastline. The story was that she tried to hitchhike her way down to the Sunshine State. That made me feel sick all over again.

***

It was Tuesday, and at lunch I sat alone on the concrete step. I still sat on the edge, leaving room for Tabitha Paine. Classmates clad in plaid and khakis, cigarettes hanging from their teeth, gathered in their small circles over ham sandwiches and milk cartons. They were talking about her in a different way now. I didn’t eat, I couldn’t eat. I still had that queasy feeling lying down in the bottom of my stomach and throat. I tapped my fingers hard onto the step, my nails crashed into the grey and the little pain there made me focus less on whatever I was feeling, and more on the little bits of blood staining the leather of my shoe.

I watched her from the back right corner, the chair beside the window, of Allen Funeral Home. I was sorta shifting in my seat, since my mother made me wear my stiff church suit. The black casket was closed, for everyone’s sake. I hoped they had dressed her in purple, not black. She wore a black turtleneck one Friday, the day in history class when we took notes on the French Revolution. Tabitha Paine had bit at the tip of her pencil (one of her bad habits), a sunny yellow number two. Small shreds of pink alighted on the black cotton.

God, what I would give to see Tabitha Paine one more time. To see her curly hair, and to hear her words dance in my ears. I would never get that chance again. I couldn’t focus on the depressing stories being told about her as a child. I just couldn’t. I tried to listen, but it was damn next to impossible. My head was only consumed in that ringing noise—the sound I wanted her to hear: I care about Tabitha Paine.

The thing I hate the most about life, is that it won’t stop moving forward. Tabitha Paine dies, and nobody bats an eyelash. The bus still comes every morning at 7:15, and I still watch the kid across from me finish his breakfast sandwich every Tuesday on that bus. In my English class, Susan Taylor still complains to Jessica Knox about how we didn’t get enough time to finish our reading assignment. And every goddamn day in history class, Ms. Keller still calls for the girl with the curly hair who sat in the third row to the left, in front of David Spinelli and behind Bailey Adams, and only then realizes that she has made a mistake.

On Poetry & Boundaries

This poem was written in eighth grade, and recently revised. I apologize for the lack of posts recently! I am currently revising my piece “About Tabitha Paine”, which will hopefully be published in an anthology by May. This is a very time consuming process, one that I’ve been putting all of myself into. Enjoy! 

 

Poetry knows no bounds

In fact, a poet knows no bounds

I will not follow a guideline

The art of restriction wraps  tightly around my shoulders

Leaving lines of purple and markings of maroon

I will color outside the lines

For I do not care if the sky will be blotted white or black or orange or lilac

I will paint a sky of my own, a sky belonging to my mechanisms

think outside of the box

I will not write using a rhyme

simile

humor

alliteration

I shall not revise my work

my poetry is raw

more raw than a sunflowers roots

a salmon extracted from the raging rapids by means of a grizzly’s jaw

Canines and incisors

my poetry is fresh

fresher than the fruits of spring

fresher than the air encircling a mountains snow spotted cap

My poetry is flesh, of my own and of others

My words personify into sinew and dead skin

I carefully construct letters and arrange them like freckles and constellations on olive stained cheeks

I write with a flow

a flow that will not be constricted by a set of rules

my poetry is a river,

yet unlike a river, it shall shatter the dam of restrictions

Poetry has no bounds

And neither will I

Something

I am searching for something

Say I am on a hunt

Something to dizzy my head

To shake my skull with a violent yet familiarly gentle force

 

Something to paint multitudes more of freckles upon my shoulder

To make me feel like sharp scuff marks that mar the beige wall

This something will shorten my breathing

In out in out in out

I can feel my ribs hugging my lungs,

White and flesh

 

Something that will crack my spine and splinter through my center

I wish to feel the corners of my mouth burn

And my cheek muscles strain

I want to feel hell, the ground ruptures and succumbs beneath the soles of my shoes

To breathe charcoal, to feel Hades’ forearm drape around me

It’s a comfortable feeling

Hell, it cannot be a place, because you cannot feel a place

A place cannot twist and tear you

And knot you up and tangle you until rendered useless

 

Something that crinkles my nose

Stiff as a leaf underneath dried and dirtied boots

You say I am on a hunt

I am searching for something

Rain Rain go Away

Rain, rain, don’t go away

For I find the strangest comfort in a foggy window and my noisy yellow rainboots

Come again, visit me on Sunday and wrap around my shoulders like a woven blanket the morning after snowfall

I like the abundance of kisses that speckle my cheeks, trying their best to imitate my freckles, leaving me behind their icy drops

And the sound, the sound fills up that empty space in my head and between my ears

In the absence of thoughts, the sound consumes me

I smile at the sight of my reflection in the divots of my driveway that are filled with puddles of all sizes and shapes

Because I find myself beautiful in this mirror

Though my hair is weighed down and sopping

Though a single drop teeters on my nose, hanging on with a weak grip and wavering hands

Until down down it falls, splashing and rippling at the ground

And the mud shifting under my weight as I saunter amongst the trees

Rain, rain don’t go away

The Color of Summer

A small poem reflecting on my favorite aspects of the summer while I’m feeling the winter blues, enjoy! 

 

the color was red

it was the red that blanketed the skies and the red of the incandescent roses

the color of summer had to be red, like fireworks on the fourth of July

and melting cherry popsicles in mid August

 

no, if i’m remembering right

the color that those brilliant three months brought us was yellow

sunflowers that stood taller than I and a cartoonish sun

yes, the golden hues of sand and my five dollar flip flops

 

again, it has occurred to me that june did offer a palette of green

grass clippings and praying mantises

it was lighter than the color of the volkswagen beetle always parked in the lot next to the cove

but certainly darker than the granny smith apples they’ve been selling at the farmers market

 

the color of summer could be blue, if you squint your eyes and tilt your head

as blue as the ocean and as blue as the sky

the same color blue I paint my toenails  

and yes, the same color blue you painted the fence last June

 

maybe violet, but maybe not

the lilacs were more reminiscent of May

and the grapes and the buttons that line my favorite jacket

but I can see purple in the night sky, swirling with the stars and coating the night

with its gentle and mauve kisses

 

looking back, the color of summer

it wasn’t a color, no feeling can be scribed as a simple hue

the color of summer was laughter pouring out of wide smiles

and the feeling of bare feet treading unfamiliar paths etched into the earth

it was dirt under your short fingernails and the freckles that scattered my cheeks

it was the love affair of the sun and the sea

of the sun and us

it was love, yes

it was love

The Question & Answer

“Why do you write?”

These words slip from my mother’s jaw

Down and down until they kiss the pavement

Scratch that, a picture of romance and beauty is not what I wish to be etched onto this canvas

Down and down until they smack the pavement, the sound capillaries splintering like birch

Those words fall out and drizzle down as if it were a cloudy and charcoal coated Monday

 

Why do these words, and letters

And quirks and thoughts trickle themselves unto parchment

Persisting in a world now blotted and stained in figures and gears and metal and calculations

The click clack of the keys aches my bones mother, knocking on my door with a heavy brass fist, and I can no longer toy with these equations that scramble in my brain like twisted knotted up yarn

 

The numbers here before you and me, they don’t add up

Fives and the sixes and the sevens

But the words, oh mother, and the letters and the quirks and the complete and strangely symbolic chaos strung up inside

They do add up mother

 

They add up more precisely and evenly and exactly than any God damned number ever could

Making sense of a senseless jaunt

The words and stories help coat my wounds

They help as if they were cool water and ointment or loosely wrapped gauze

They help mother

I swear by it