EVERY PLANET WE REACH IS DEAD

I remember the day my parents were shot out of Earth’s orbit. My Grandma held my hand. It was cool and wrinkled. Her skin felt like paper. I knew I was supposed to feel proud. I was supposed to raise my jaw and salute and maybe cry a bit.

But I couldn’t.

I’d already cried everything out as they’d packed. They took stupid trinkets and tiny mementos to remember my sister and I by as they crated up our life to get ready to search the huge abyss of space for some semblance of life. To find the Others. To happen upon some place to make a new home.

They were giving up everything for me, for my sister, for our whole race. For humanity.

But still, I was mad. So mad.

I threw empty glass bottles at the dog in our back yard and I screamed into my pillow. I dug deep cuts into my thighs with empty pencils and I tried to curse them. I bent knives in the kitchen sink and spit on my grandmother’s pills when no one was around. I cried into hot showers and wept onto cold shower tiles.

How could they leave us? With papery Grandma and dumb Cera, my little sister, whose crusted eyes in the mornings and bawling nightmares at night made her an emotional oil spill I’d have to clean up. I wanted none of this.

On Launch Day, Grandma held my hand tightly as mom and dad’s shuttle took off. 2258 people on each and every shuttle. I could tell Grandma wanted to break down, but she didn’t. She watched as the white, smoky sky evaporated into the atmosphere and then she took two deep, heavy breaths.

“She’ll find the Others.” She said, more to herself than to us. I watched Cera’s mouth fall open and her watery eyes fill up again and couldn’t help but knock her in the head with the back of my hand as I turned.

“They’re gone,” I snarled. My limbs were lanky and shaky and I hated touching anyone. I let my hair fall over my face and turned around against the crowd and all the anger in me made me feel like my cheeks were glowing hot and then suddenly, I felt like puking.

The Seven — there were seven planets that could hold life or hold potential for us humans when Earth wasn’t an option. We were running out of time. Every week, 2258 of us from every major Port on Earth shuttled out. From 32 different command centers, previously known as the Old Guard Country Centers, adults were given their assignments and then shot deeper and deeper into space to scout The Seven out.

No one had come home. Yet.

Because, everyone said, they must have done it. They’d found it. The Utopia, the paradise we’d been promised for generations. It just took too long to relay the news via our little satellites to tell us back on Earth. They knew where to send us all along, we were told. So we trusted them and stayed on Earth. We grew, we learned, we bred and we traveled. Always looking to the Others.

Earth’s resources dwindled. Lots was underwater and too many species were dying off, and too quickly. Tides were unpredictable, and we all had to move to Continent Centers. Trade was shut off physically. There was no way to navigate the high seas and the hot rivers anymore.

The promise of A Life with the Others was the only thing we were taught. Different languages and hand motions. We studied that damn golden disk from 400 years ago… that Golden Record? We made those every week, now. We learned it all. Speech, gestures. Physics and astronomy. Some learned the Old Books. Some learned Water travel. Others learned Metals. Some learned Medical. Or even how to navigate a huge, engine-less ship, should we ever find ourselves in one and with no one to help us.

My favorite class was how to grow plants under a UV blacklight. My second favorite was how to pull teeth. How to un-train domesticated animals and how to kill a friend: these were the hardest. I always got sick during both lessons.

We were taught the Keys to Life in the galaxy’s Wild West. Our Manifest Destiny was following our parents into that honorable and fateful beyond. I hadn’t spoken in a year. I forgot how my mother smelled. I forgot the songs she sang when I was young. I couldn’t tell you how my father’s face looked. Life was a heavy blur. I almost felt relieved when they left; blasting off into that great unknown. Towards the Others, surely. They did their duty. Had two kids and left Earth to search.

I only had 2 more months in school and our teacher, Ms. Hellmuth, was more of a den-mother to us than any of our parents. She’d be with us until we needed to be shuttled out to search for the Others. Her hair hung in thick, red-gold sheets and I remember watching her thin skin crinkle around her eyes. Papery, like Grandma. Wet-eyed, like Cera.

I sat dead-eyed through lectures about finding The Keys to saving humanity. Wrote papers about how we could live on as our oceans, hot and oppressive, raised themselves inch by inch and destroyed ports and lives. I rolled my eyes and ate lunch far away from everyone. I was always a bit of a loner.

Our parents had been Heroes. We were told they were sent into the Ether and found planets and built homes and worked and worked with Extraterrestrial Life and signed treaties and probably had a little house built for us on some misty red planet far away. Did they, actually? I was mad. And so bottles still broke. And still I cut my thighs and slapped my sister when no one was looking and felt a heat rise in me that no one else could feel. No one could have felt it; not like me and not as deep. No way; no one could have felt that heat and that bottled up pain. No one saw the bleak, bright, no where distance, empty void heat, like me. No one, none.

The Seven?

I didn’t buy it. I couldn’t. I hated everyone and I never believed my parents before they left anyways. I resented my thin, old Grandma for years. I fought everyone in school. My little sister was a watery, boggy mess and I yearned to be angry and shoot things in our old yard and wanted to put my fist through every painting I’d ever seen. There weren’t many around.

Until She came into class. Only weeks before graduation. With a silken sheet of white hair and big eyes that soaked up everything like a sponge. Her skin wasn’t thick or thin. She was older, I could just tell. She lied. Her eyes were deep. She knew Things. She was crisp in ways that could make you pained. I couldn’t understand how She could be so precise. Precise in Being.

She didn’t open her mouth, or speak. She had a name badge that read “Lav”. She was small, but seemed old- maybe wise?, and She talked back to Mrs. Hellmuth. When I finally caught Her gaze, She was calm and it stung.

I have no idea why I blushed. She had lived Up There. I knew it. I felt it.

She knew more than we would have ever know from our thick, dull classrooms. From our heavy grandparents and jingoistic siblings.

She’d been Up There. Her heavy eyes knew the truth. Salvation lay in something closer. Our promises and our futures; lives and families; had all been lost in vain. I saw it right at that moment. When She moved Her hair across her shoulder, and when She caught the edge of my eye.

She was ageless. There was something cruel about her. But she was a guardian or a guide; something my family could never be. And all at once, my empathy and sentiment overwhelmed me.

“I’m Jay. You’re Lav. Hello…” And that’s when it all began.

for mom

I haven’t really been meditating.

Or changing much about my exercise.

Or journaling much at all.

But tonight I came home from work and saw my nose in the mirror.

And it looked a lot like my Mother’s.

 

My nose is something I don’t know;

Can’t describe it; its shape is a mystery to me.

I know how to pose so it looks really cute; but caught off guard, I won’t recognize me.

And I’ve always thought it’s sharklike from some angles.

 

I thought about a nose job. To maybe make it more like Mom’s –

And why? Well… I still can’t see me.

 

And then I watched some stupid shows,

And did some laundry, then Lord knows,

All I wanted was a fucking beer

And time and space; for my mind to be clear.

 

But

Lord knows;

None of that happened.

 

And then I saw my Mother in some far away place;

Romania and photos,

Lecture halls and campus walls.

Puppies in Texas and grout and tiles.

In Boston, pregnant: maybe she wondered how she got there?

I can’t assume.

 

I only know in just 5 years,

I’ll be where she was with me,

And how was she ever so ready?

 

I don’t know if she felt she was at all,

And that’s why I love her most of all,

Because she was; one hundred times and more,

And more, or more.

 

She’s finally sort of a peer;

A Mother is easy to Love and Fear,

And when you grow you see her as she really is:

 

She’s Life, and Love, and all Above

And all Below, and all the things you think you’ll never know.

 

I threw my tantrums and burned my path,

And always I’ll keep coming back,

Because she is the Strongest place,

Softest heart and her family’s face.

With a mind that’s better,

With Patience and a Temper.

 

How could I ever be mad at my Mother?

 

She saw some of the World; was it enough?

She had me; I was tough – I sucked, I’m sure, I’m difficult with some parts broken.

 

But how can, now, I not move on? from pain?

I have a Family, I have Songs – I have Vision now,

And how could I ever be mad at my Mother again?

 

There is no Mad,

There’s just, “That’s fair.”

 

That’s Fair.

And, Always: Love.

werewolves we were

Life becomes so many wooden floors.

 

Slow motion: we’re at the bowling alley

moving far too slow across lacquered lanes;

then, we pace soft, wooden floors with doggie toenails

skittering sweetly across the grain.

 

Then again – now, wooden baseboards in Malibu,

joining up with poorly-built foundations

where we thought we could build upon.

 

Our toes were always above those floors,

tracing our tracks

along the longest nights that ever existed; those nights

where love stalks ghosts

through everything boundless.

 

It was all only just yesterday,

so many years ago.

 

It’s all in the tips of the fingers you brush,

breeding worlds;

all these wooden floors, netted by night.

 

It was a cult of Us, and the witching hour only existed with you.

All was transcendental; truth was dark; everything – it never existed.

 

It was hidden and perfect; clandestine cravings never to be felt again.

Those slow nights: we would stretch them on for years.

 

We pulled them like black taffy, warmed them –

and as they grew thick and stiffer, we’d pull them –

we stretched them, wanton, between our outstretched fingers.

 

The nights have always belonged to us,

empty mouths and ravenous chests

werewolves we were

slowing the dawn and burying stars in cravings

and thick spectral desires.

chasing ghosts.

 

werewolves we were.

we tasted the other side; it won’t let us go –

it comes across in sparks and a fleeting twitch

snow on a park city path

absolute emptiness in a malibu house

cold sheets and fireworks in half-time

 

floating weightless in an empty midnight pool

haunting us in real-time

 

x-rays and empty baggies

records skip and skip and skip

 

and skip and

 

and we’re howling at a moon

at the bottom of a bottle

 

cutting it all into silvery lines and moonlit crescents

 

and we are dancing and screaming and, for once, existing:

werewolves and full and darkest, always, before the dawn.

super moon and the package

See, she felt this tug. This cosmic pull and ebb. It grew, from something sinewy in a sinus is where it began. Then it was a pin unremoved from procedure.

It rendered her almost helpless. A package under her arm and what was she here for again?

That tug, it rendered her almost weightless in that way that you disappear in a room that no one’s watching. Locked or empty, a room that no one cleans.

A pressure, almost. A fissure . She walked this street at a brisk, reasonable pace. No one would notice that chasm. But oh! It was there.

Aggressive and unashamed in its intensity. A pull, a tug. It moved to her heart.

And walking was hard now, without a purpose, it seemed. That tug. And she stumbled quite a lot. She longed to keep her limbs in line. And everyone held a string, like a marionette, or a set-piece. Always all above her and they yelled and they all knew the best routes for everything, and they all had an opinion about that package.

And Hollywood kept on its old lights, missing bulbs, all through the nights now.

20 needles stuck in the places she never thought she had.

That pull, that tug, glued itself in lapels and labels. It dug its heels into ravines of bliss and rancor. It watched from closed closets as her form shifted and shaped, adapted to door-frames, letting strangers in to rest, while her heels clicked on.

But where her rest? Tiny pins still prodded and poked. Where this pin? In perfect embroidery or distant cloth?

She walked by glossy cars; they tried so hard. They tried so hard to show you what they’d seen. And a thousand adventures and talks and tasks and accidents were all at once just one bright, artificial line that crested over windows and glass.

There would never be time for all these willing stories. No times these cars would be a character in a story. No time for those who made these stories.

There would never be enough time to make it to the post office and it was dark anyways and there would never be time for all the details and descriptions and sensations and minutiae.

Shores were never bounds, but invitations. There had to be time for people that felt that though, right?

And she hit the pavement harder and the cars had no lives again, and all the ancient dirt lay miles deep beneath her feet and to see the shore would cost you $20.

But up ahead there was a time where the days wouldn’t end suddenly and that home on her lips was an actuality. And all the attention poured like syrup over everything was more like concrete than love; it could build and it shaped and it lasted.

She walked. It was timeless and lonely. The store windows had no neon, the streets didn’t know how to hold rain. Forever she walked.

Everyone else’s nights rose in an angry clatter to dissipate into ill-fitting dreams; discordant desires that no one noticed had died months ago.

She walked. She had to. Inside she was a hundred tiny fluttering things, battering themselves against her ribs and chest.

A thousand memories, all alive, as the gum-speckled sidewalk fell beneath her.

Something tugged inside: an orchestra had played for her once and it pressed against her throat from within. But this lonely night, she walked alone.

Something waited for her, resplendent and gold, no timber and ash, perhaps nothing out of place.

The Los Angeles skyline tried to glow. It tried to light itself and breathe something of cohesiveness and purpose, somewhere hard above her head. But she?

She kept walking.

Everything she’d been promised dissolved into that hazy ether and the sprawling city around her.

And suddenly she was near the moon.

Near a place where the crowds were gentle, and you could be alone, and the glow came from all around and these little storefronts didn’t mean much after dark. And there suddenly was the moon and peace. After walking and thoughts and strange pains and worry. Suddenly there was the moon.

The package she carried, she remembered. It didn’t mean much now. All crisp paper and some one else’s purpose.

There was some joy in the fact that none of the delivery mattered, but all the tiny, sparkling pieces of trash underfoot did.

How she longed to throw the package into a long-standing gutter and feel somehow, tinily, heroic.

A bomb. It could be a bomb or a terrible manuscript or a stack of ill-timed letters.

She didn’t need those.

Creation sprung from beneath her. Into that cloaked evening where everyone around became sheets of vibrating paper. Shaking sheets of construction paper on which their light yellow marker dreams were written.

She wouldn’t deliver that package. She ran a few steps and then dropped the package afterwards, into some side street gutter, all awkwardly and obvious.

The crowd pressed around her and still she moved. Lighter.

What good is there to staying when you’ve already decided to move on?

The package would never make it to delivery. The people would press on, whirling dervishes and thick, heavy hopes spinning and pressing against one another into weak, thin nights forever.

They’d disappear into carriages and Priuses and clouds of smoke, unmade beds and bedtimes and hangovers and chords they couldn’t play or notice.

The stores around her would open and close without them seeing what they looked like from without, and their window decals and details would be forgotten or destroyed or painted over.

Mondays would come and go, but she would run because she didn’t need those people or that package.

And its recipient would never notice.

Above, jurassic leaves and supreme purpose. Something larger. Something lost.

She ran to the moon.

There are too many options in the toothpaste aisle.

I stand there for almost a minute and just stare. AIM, Crest, something called Polident…I don’t remember the last time I saw anyone use a toothbrush. Electric toothbrushes? Was that ever truly a thing? I never saw an inorganic source of electricity, as my grandparents had often mentioned. I couldn’t believe people had ever used it to do something as mundane as to clean their teeth.

I slide my tongue around inside my own mouth. I’ve got 19 remaining, and they seem fine. Around me, the aisles of the looted store are virtually empty. Plastic, empty cans, litter and empty shelves surround me. Utensils are all gone, snatched by looters who use everything, even whisks, against anyone and everyone. I can’t remember the last time I could speak out of line even in our tribe of 8. The world as I’d known it had always been desperate. I do recall running into a pair: a father and daughter who were walking along the edge of the broken highway, parched and confused. She held a small plastic spatula and he had a long pair of metal tongs from over 100 years ago. It was an easy takedown.

So many toothpastes. I try to think of a time when these sorts of needs had purpose. Trivial upkeep and tiny vanities. I cannot picture it. The long aisle, nearly untouched after all these years, speaks to how much has changed over the generations after the fallout.

Why did my great grandparents ever care about these small things? I question, running my hand over a filthy stand with a rotten rubber conveyor belt under a sign reading “self-checkout”. Abandoned now, looted and all the scanner’s copper pulled out and stolen. Frozen food? I can’t even imagine how that would have looked or tasted — there hasn’t been electricity for over two decades. What were diapers? Why did people need dog treats? Those seem to last forever.

I run my hand over the empty shelves and let my fingers dance up across the tops of strange nail polish remover bottles and sun-ruined concealer bottles. Was anyone ever that color?

Hundreds of people had flung themselves into this tiny store after the fallout. What they took spoke volumes. I always tried to remind myself of that when I snaked my way up and down through the store. There couldn’t be anything of value, now, left. I heard the stories: produce and fresh food and people taking time to read and learn and diaper their babies. To buy these very concealers that matched their pale skin.

We learn to shoot and loot and run fast. You have to distrust, be bandits, sing the songs of the elders and walk without shoes for days. Learn to identify the rabbits that would make you sick from the ones you could actually eat. There is no need for the old indulgences: those are strange snake oil products that have no bearing on us today — things like hospitals, doctors, dentists, people called acupuncturists, meter maids, cashiers, plumbers: all gentle jobs from the past, which I couldn’t say was real save a few diaries I’ve seen in abandoned houses and a few newspapers in hoarder’s houses.

I look at another section next to what was once the lip balm area. “Floss”. People once had the time to run tiny string through their teeth. A whole section devoted just to that. It’s full. No one took that while they ran.

I pick one of the floss packages up. I turn my back to face the dusty, dark front of the store. I’ve never seen the sun, but my tribe says the dust might finally clear in a few more decades. Maybe. I don’t know what to believe, but what else can I do. There are too many options in the toothpaste aisle, and I can’t imagine a world where there aren’t.

Ikea visit

Such a rainy day at IKEA. The rain coats our car in white noise. The escalators purr along ceaselessly under our feet and the carts wait patiently for our hands on their grips. No one else around. Trails of sparks sizzle out behind us, tiny fires from daily friction, matches left burning under the cap of the car to snuff them out. 200 square feet. 987 dollars. What a sweet rug. The rain beats down like a gentle chime. The grey sky rolls on forever over the blue hills outside, an ocean ofAppalachia. Inside it’s just us walking arrow to arrow at a quiet shuffle. Soft musings on bunk beds and didn’t we want them so badly as children. A tease about the bottle cap glasses. That glance, almost feline. The empty store hums beneath our pressed palms. Organic electric when our fingertips touch, an earthy calm. Four-eyes. Yes, we should get that rug. It’s so sweet.

little treats

christmas comes early
and i get a gift.

after a week, its shine still glows
in the pocket of my mind.

but like any greedy child,
my desire grows.
and now i want my gift and more,
some cake and eat it, too.

to smile inwardly,
to know all these secret pleasures,
i’m vindicated in the fullest of ways,
and yet still, tediously, not in others.

and all these sweet, personal treats,
i’d drop them in a heartbeat,
perhaps to reverse it all.

no.
no, i won’t. but at least, my fantasies do.