October 15, 2008

         The smell of tea resonates deeply within me. It reminds me of mornings when I am sick, when I have to succumb to my body and surrender all mental ability to everything that is out of my control like car accidents and who my grandparents are. Tea reminds me of beauty, of Joni Mitchell and old photographs and sleeping in my underwear.
        I hopelessly love silences and seasons and nighttime. I adore instrumental music and French literature and big trees on a city block. I love still water and being afraid and human connection. Drink up (I want to be free). Explore (I want to be boundless). I need to keep writing or else I will be stagnant.


Can you feed me?

September 21, 2008

The crayons are wet from the rain. As the paper on the crayons begin to disintegrate, a layer between Jeremy’s fingers and the melted wax fades. Riding the bus home from school, he grips the crayon tightly, drawing the man across from him in a shade of blue.

                The congested bodies, all wet from the indifferent rain, uncomfortably wait to leave the bus that smells of tobacco, sweat and disinfectant wipes. They eagerly crave their home but not Jeremy. He enjoys the bus too much, where awareness pervades him. The bus not only reminds Jeremy of all the people he walks the streets with but connects him to them. Tuning out the concrete scenery he passes, Jeremy instead draws the surrounding passengers with his jumbo crayons, and when he arrives home, he hangs the portraits on his closet wall. The after school activity has not only become a routine but an awaited moment of pleasure. Now, he can remember everyone’s sleeping faces, the bags under their eyes, the awkwardness in their bones.

                Completely unaware, his mother doesn’t know he takes the bus alone; instead, he assures her that he carpools home from school. His mother doesn’t realize the maturity in Jeremy. A single mother figuring out the world, she feels inept at life and naturally does not assume her son knows more than she. And when it comes to Jeremy, he is not rebellious. Rather, his lies are a product of fear that his mom will take away his after school voyages.

                The bus stops at Ashland, two blocks away from his two-bedroom apartment. The walk up to his house faintly washes off his portraits. The people’s faces become full of tears, and he incessantly feels closer to these figures as he watches them cry. Running to his room, he locks the door and enters his closest holding his twin bed. Adding to his collection, he hangs up the portraits and watches his isolated world grow.

                But much is missing, he says. There are no animals. There are tight knit families, divorced couples, jaded children and productive youth but the walls still needs gardens, trees, and elephants.

                Discontent, he walks into the kitchen and watches his mom boil water while on the phone with Mrs. Vreeland. He waits for the spaghetti she is making and a dull moment where he can interrupt.  “Mom,” he stammers, getting her attention. His mom stirs a pot of water with one hand, blindly looking into the pot while focusing all attention to her phone conversation. He can see her shoulder bones through her t-shirt and notices she spent too much time on her hair. She brushes his comment off, telling Jeremy to hold on while she gossips with Mrs. Vreeland.

                “So this was last week?” she questions, “When Mary took the kids on vacation. That bastard saying he needed to stay home because of work.”

                Jeremy doesn’t care about politeness anymore as he watches his mother converse about affairs everyone thinks they don’t already know about. He chimes in, “Mom, can we go to the zoo on Thursday?”’

                His pervasive voice annoys her, and she simply replies, “Jeremy, it’s gonna be raining all day.”

He stares at the empty bowl on the table.

His mother doesn’t notice his discontent, switching attention to her conversation with Mrs. Vreeland: “Do the kids know yet?”

Jeremy interrupts, “Mom, I’m hungry.”

“I’m making dinner, hold on.”

He knows that water cannot boil any faster but asks, “Mom, can you feed me?”

She drops the pot and violently turns the oven off. “If you can’t wait ten minutes then you are going to have to wait until tomorrow morning.” She leaves the room discussing affairs everyone thinks they don’t know about.

He goes back to his closet, wondering if his friends have empty stomachs as well.


August 8, 2008

Kathryn had a perpetual cough. Being an usual kid, she was never sick, never inhibited signs of a runny nose or fever, and never smoked but she coughed incessantly. At times, the coughs came from deep in her lungs. Although at other times, people could not determine how legitimate her ailment actually was.

Kathryn insisted that she met the love of her life as a child, and being too unaware of love, she accepted that her chance was forever missed. She dated guys for pleasure believing that the real thing came and went too early.

Kathryn would go to candy stores as a coping mechanism. Surrounded by naivety, she could forgive herself for letting the sensitive and boyishly handsome nine-year old love go. She could pretend she didn’t believe in regret.

One day at the candy store, she spotted a group of boys congregating by the cow tails. Eyeing the licorice across the store, they are ready to launch their attack, stuff the candy into their pockets, and then walk outside trembling as their stolen candy tasted surprisingly unsatisfying. Or worse yet, the boys will fail, and Kathryn will have to witness their tearful faces aching with apologies.

She knew one of these boys truthfully and instinctively was a rebel. All of the others will learn to be, following the radical one drinking in high school until they regress into their true and safe selves. But the rebellious one will be eyeing the candy forever. Kathryn wondered about her former love, what he exchanged for licorice: a book or a beer.        

In the midst of the orderly setting, the boys hid behind a counter as they took the candy. Their silence gave them away. The clerk began to eye the thieves when Kathryn eruptted in a coughing fit. The clerk turned to Kathryn as the boys sped out the door.

Execution was all wrong, Kathryn thought. They will never succeed at the liquor store, and it is bound to happen again.

June 13, 2008

We sit at separate tables. It is a humid day but I am at an outside cafe where I read my paper and drink my coffee , and he does also. We never speak directly or make eye contact but I am close enough to hear him without intending to eavesdrop. His name is Noah.

A big boned man dressed in red, white, and blue comes walking past on the sidewalk. He carries signs and buttons and plops them down by the cafe. “LET AMERICA PREVAIL”, he says, “A war is on the rise and we need men, or boys we can make men out of, to come join in the fight. FOR FREEDOM! FOR JUSTICE! FOR PEACE!”

Noah is unfortunate enough to be at the table next to the man. He chuckles at the statement and remarks, “For peace?”


“After I shoot a man?”

The man continues to preach to the crowd that has formed and yells, “It is evil we are defeating! This is justice, people!”

“No, this is justifying killing,” he mumbles sarcastically while continuing to read the paper.

“We need to show our country’s strength!”

“Ah, weak, weak, weak.”

The man can’t ignore Noah any longer. He turns to him and says, “Well what do you propose we do? Shall we sit back as you seem to be doing? Those men out there are the ones working towards something. They are the ones progressing rather than sitting here and talking nonsense.”

“Sitting around and fighting are the two excuses for avoiding a problem and I, sir, can say I do neither. “Noah stands. “People of America, after my cup of coffee, I will be going home to rebuild the schools that are falling apart right here in our backyard that reeks of crime and lack of unity. Now won’t that be working towards peace rather that fighting for it?”

The crowd doesn’t react. Rather, they walk to the nearest drug store or beauty salon because they hear and don’t listen. The recruiter leaves. And so does Noah before I have a chance to speak to him. A week later, I am traveling overseas with a gun in my hand and twenty pounds of ammunition on my back.


That whole week before I leave, I think of Noah. I think of him when my Dad pats me on the back and asks, “Excited, boy?” I think of him as I am on the boat floating in the Atlantic Ocean with drunken men around me yelling “FOR FREEDOM!” And I think of him while I am out on the lines for the first time. I watch as grenades blow up around me, and gun shots mute my thoughts, and little boys run across the grey strip of land forgetting everything their mothers have ever told them. They are yelling at me to shoot but my arm doesn’t have the strength to hold up the gun. The next thing I know, I am lying on the ground shouting God help me.


I open my eyes to a sterile, white room with beds aligned all across the way. A nurse hovers over me and asks how I am. I’m not well enough to answer.

“I bet you’re wondering where you are,” she says, “You got shot out there. I heard you went down pretty quickly. However, it doesn’t look too bad. Just a bullet wound.” My eyes widen.

It was in the arm. According to my nurse, that’s nothing they can’t fix. In order to retain feeling though, I have to write letters everyday for an hour. Everyday, I pick up the paper and pen and write “Dear Noah,”


Sometime later, the man in the bed next to me asks me what my name is.

“Conner Mathers. Yours?”

“Pat Halloway.”

“What happened to you?” I ask.

“I was helping you up when I got shot right in my leg.”

“You were helping me up?”

“Yeah, I watched it happen. I watched you just stand there and welcome that bullet.”

“I’m sorry; I just didn’t know how to react.”

“Oh you were holding yourself back. I saw it. And now, you are holding me back. I should be out there fighting.”

“Well not me. They asked the wrong guy. I can’t go out there. I’m too screwed up about morality. Something did hold me back the other day, and I can’t deny it.”

“So boy, what is your pride getting in the way of?”

“O fuck you. It has nothing to do with pride. This whole world is so obsessed with killing people, and yet there is still a part of me that thinks maybe peace is possible. But I don’t know how or if so, but I do know you cant fight for peace by fighting.”

“You can’t fight for peace lying cold in the grave either.”


I’ve been sleeping in long spurts with the medicine they have been giving me. One night, I awake to find Pat looking up and alert.

“Can’t sleep?” I ask.

“Never can.”


“So you’re afraid of war, huh?

“Not afraid, just against it.”

“Same thing,” he remarks, “What’s this peace you talk of?”

“I know it’s not realistic but I figure, I’d rather work towards some strange outlandish dream than live this hell. At least I’m making a conscious decision to fight for a goal where I’ll be able to sleep at night. That’s a start. Maybe peace will follow.”

“Oh leave it to humans to screw up something good. If we are given peace then we will just complain about how blue the sky is.”

“You know why you can’t sleep,” I ask frustrated, “because you are too afraid of dreaming.”

”You know why you can’t get a girl? Too full of bullshit.”

“How do you know I don’t have a girl?”

“Well do you?”



I think the medicine has been affecting my dreams also. The next night, I am sitting on an ottoman with Noah beside me while we eat toast.


“I’m sorry. Do I know you?” he says, staring at me blankly.

“No I, uh, I was there at that cafe that day with the war recruiter. He was a big guy, kinda hairy.”

“Oh yes I remember. Sorry about the scene I made.”

“Don’t be. I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it. Not even when I was carrying a machine gun toward enemy lines.”

“Ah, so you’ve been at war. How has that been?”

“I got wounded.”


“Nah, I just couldn’t bring myself to shoot.”

“Because of me?”



“I’ve wanted to talk to you. There’s so much I want to ask,” I confess.

“Well I don’t know how well I’ll be able to answer. I’m just a thirty-two-year-old from Buffalo, New York. But nevertheless, I’m here. Ask away.”

“You talked of peace.”


“Do you think its possible?”

“Possible, yes. Probable, no.”


Noah put his newspaper down and looks at me. “You ask that as if there’s an answer.”

“Well, is there?”

“A long one.”

“I would hope so,” I reply.

He takes a breath. “An end to war is an obvious step but that’s the furthest thing from peace.” He takes another breath and then continues, “I see people killed everyday. I see words beat down truly happy people. Words that, honest or not, should never be spoken. You see, being honest is the same thing as being an asshole. It’s a crappy excuse that doesn’t justify a thing. The times I inflict sadness on another, I have to walk with that guilt the rest of the day.”

He continued, “To me, I’d rather be the victim than the culprit. It’s a much easier role in life. I’d rather be hurt that be hurting someone else. Unfortunately, not enough people feel that way. So I don’t know how that will change, and I refuse lose sleep over it. I would advise you not to either.”

“Sleeping is never a problem.”

“Then maybe I’ll be seeing you around.”


For a few years after that, I fought everyday waiting for my return home. I wrote each night about my plans for America — my plans to speak and educate and rebuild and give back. I never thought that I would grow up to be a bitter man who let their values deteriorate and in turn, love the feeling of a cold gun in my hands but hey, it happened.

So do I still think peace is possible? Yes. But I sure as hell don’t care either way.


May 24, 2008

“If people bring so much courage to this world the world has to kill them to break them, so of course it kills them. The world breaks everyone and afterward many are strong at the broken places. But those that will not break it kills. It kills the very good and the very gentle and the very brave impartially. If you are none of these you can be sure it will kill you too but there will be no special hurry.” – Hemingway

May 18, 2008

Her longing eyes fear blinking. They do not want to miss any action Dan makes. We all go about our lives around the two but my heart breaks watching the stagnant mess.

Dan drops her off first then drives me home tonight. We are both blunt people, and our conversation ensues. “Break up with her, confess your love, take her virginity – do something,” I say. He sits. We are like the bees, struggling to sting because we will die in self-defense.

April 17, 2008

The Teenage Head is young and hip and hot and decisive and hot and cool. They are anti-everything including themselves and if they played guitar at least one of the strings would be broken and the other five (or 11) would certainly be out of tune. The Teenage Head makes movies not films. The Teenage Head writes stories not literature. They are from the second city (which has actually been the third city, statistically, since 1991). They stay up much too late and wake up much too late and arrive much too late to classes with old old kids and old old teachers and old old books and old old ideas. The Teenage Head is young and hip and hot and cool and hot and anti this about literature almost as much as you are.

Check out the Teenage Head for a story of mine: Thank God

Also, if you have time, the short films are worth a look. I particularly like “The People in the Middle”.

It is the cities and the mountains that I love. Either a concrete playground illuminating overpopulation or the natural areas so empty one cannot even escape themselves. However, I wake up every morning to see suburban bliss, the in-between that ignites in me no inspiration or muse. I find myself frequently visiting the city or running away in the summer to the mountains; however, in the times where I cannot escape suburbia, I seek solace in the land that literature creates. For, at my very core is my love for art.

In the last four years of my life, art was not only my retreat and my passion but also my education. In the hours of the night that were too late to even check the time, I found myself in a room filled with words. Meanwhile, I was also searching for new sentences to fall in love with. There was Bukowski and Brautigan taped to my walls. Books covered the shelves and the floor simultaneously. Articles filled binders. With every word, I had discovered something new. At the very best, I had not only learned but changed.

Although I spent nine years at a Catholic grade school, I never understood Catholiscm until reading C.S. Lewis. Even in the country’s current mess regarding immigration, it was Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath that shaped my stance on the issue. And for many years I succumbed to innate shyness but only after watching Cool Hand Luke did I really learn how to speak my mind. I confess that it is as though I need a fabricated world to help me understand and change reality.

While rummaging through an issue of Adbusters one day, I came upon a quote from Lee Henderson, in which he says, “Art is the only god you can prove exists”. Immediately, this quotation got written down and lingered in me for years since. He articulated the role that art plays for me. It is not for sheer entertainment but illumination. It is immortal. It gives me direction and meaning, a role similar to that of religion. Thus, when losing myself in a piece of music, I have found myself gaining a sense of existence.

If anything, I am a passionate person who does not wish to stop learning once the school bell rings. So give me trains, give me buses, give me a sidewalk, and I will wear out my Chuck Taylors until the rubber sole is all that is left. Give me words, give me passion, give me beauty, and I will ignite all that is inside of me. Give me life and I will try as hard as I can to live it.

March 9, 2008

age: 29

location: apartment

I completely depend on electricity, a digital screen and phone lines. My attempt to regress back into a natural habitat fails as I am surrounded by everything artificial and everything clean. I am neither. I can’t remember the last time I shaved, anywhere. I do not feel more primitive or more rooted into the animalistic self that a human truly is. I just feel like my belt will stay in its loop, and the buttons on my pants will not come undone. No one likes animals.

March 4, 2008

He makes a lot of noise, stomping and swearing, to solidify his anger. Emotion. Noise. Emotion. Noise. Not music, but a representation of words he cannot speak. His drink spills. He is unhappy. He gives up. Is it shameful that I only like him when he cries?