Body of Experience

A Compilation on the Arbitrary Nature of Language — December 2017
“While writing these poems, I was keeping in mind the numerous functions of language, primarily the idea that language is arbitrary in nature. As a writer, thinking of language as something that only functions because we allow it to, is not an easy route to take. Half of me wants to put all my hope into language, while the other half keeps being dragged into the philosophy behind language. Merging those two together, I wanted to hunt for the balance within poems—find out what it means to write when your words will be taken out of context, or not understood at all.
What at first seemed difficult and incoherent ended up being a cathartic release of emotion with nothing attached. Removing meaning from words somehow helped to lighten the pressure of writing. It allowed me to get inside my own head and empty my thoughts without having to wonder if the words sounded right. The words, in theory, no longer mattered. The content no longer mattered. All that mattered at the end was the release of my own thoughts, the emotion behind them and nothing more.”

I am:
Georgia peaches off I95
Southern Thunderstorms—green skies hollow
Mountain ridges over the Hudson
Woodstove back draft
Bonfires and beers
Rest stops down the East Coast
Sleeping in cars—backseat blanket babies
Bookshelves overflowing thoughts
Empty stomach and full minds
Back roads at dawn
Music load cracking speakers
Poems that never end
Miles of separation
Nicotine nails and coffee chatter
Broken bones never broken
Open fields
Starry skies
Anxious limbs rocking depressed memories:
I am words
And words
and words
full of meaning
devoid of meaning
empty as air
heavy as lead.

I’m afraid of how many of my words you’re latched to—
How I can’t read my own work, unwilling to picture your face,
Unwilling to hear your voice echoing through the past.

Wasn’t it just a poem ago you loved me?
On the back of a receipt I kept crumpled in my pocket
Written by a dumpster behind our favorite bar
On the pack of cigarettes I finished in your absence—
Were you there?
In the crowd of faces all avoiding mine
Because they know,
Know what you did,
Know I’m still waiting for you to show.

And wasn’t it just a poem ago
You were at my door at 3am with apologies—
Or was that a dream,
No that really happened—
Apologies so sweet and artificial my teeth
Began to hurt.
I kissed you anyway, didn’t I,
And forgave you, didn’t I—
Or was that forgiveness in a poem I haven’t written yet,
The one where I tell you it’s okay,
That I hold nothing against you and we can try again—
Written in my car in a parking lot
While it rains heavy to match my tears—
No, wait, that actually happened.
Did you hear it,
When I told you no matter what you do I’ll be here?

I hear you,
Every time I click my pen,
Or open my notebooks,
Every time I order my coffee or beer or wine or whiskey
Every time a song plays that you let me sing along to
Every time I sit in silence trying to drown you out:
Yet you remain still
In the words I write in a voice I have not found,
Closed within lines where you’re easy to avoid.

It’s been speculated often
that words are arbitrary,
that below the surface
they are simply symbols
of objects or emotions—
We are taught
actions speak louder
than words
because maybe
cannot speak at all—

So, excuse me
if when you tell me
you love me
I flinch—
For the movements
of your being
act separate
from your speech
and ‘love’
is not conveyed
in pain—

I worry
the tongues you talk in
have set aside action
for easier signs,
falling heavy on
an alphabet to get us
from A
to Z—
but your feet
stay stagnant
and we remain
distant and removed—
caught in the haze of
a language we never learned.

We sat and talked for a while
One night under a silent sky,
Spoke no words
Yet understood the meaning
Behind every sigh
Every hand raised nervously
To a cheek etched with goosebumps .
He could hear my depression ignite
As my match struck its box
As I balanced another cigarette between lips
Too shaky to smile.
His guilt clung to his skin like fog
His movements slow and measured
Eyes diverted to the ground
As if the puddles at our feet
Could give him the pathway to atonement.
I placed a hand on his knee
And stared up at the sky
Lined with stars
That have led men to land
That sways seas
Yet have extinguished many years prior
To ever being seen.

The me I see is not the me you see:
it’s all a conception—
every inch of us is
for everyone else
so what does that leave us?
Rootless trees desperately
grabbing for something
to connect us to a world
that never asked for us:
or maybe it did but it was lost
in airwaves clogged with thoughts,
or it didn’t but we weren’t
listening closely enough
and missed the vowel that pleaded
Now here we stand
tipsy and unfocused
creating a history to prove
our existence
and maybe it’ll look good
in the eyes of others
after us.
Isn’t that all we want:
to exist when we’re gone?
Take it for what it is,
perspective gives you the world.

I’ve been waking up hungover
From nights spent trying to
Drunk call you—
Confidence melting like ice
In room temperature whiskey
Tongue bone dry to match the bottle—
How do I reach you
When I have nothing to say?
Decades of lacking words
Uncertain of what to call you—
Father symbolizes more
Than five years
And family signifies more
Than blood—
so what then
Do I call you
When there’s no word
to depict the pain
The confusion of your absence
Through eyes too young
to see it coming
Yet too old
to let tears fall—
What do I call you
When the only symbol
You’re connected to
Is a last name I didn’t ask for?

if i can’t find the words
to admit i’m depressed
then maybe
i’ll starve myself
show the world how empty
i still am
or maybe
i’ll walk barefoot
over sheets of ice
to show I’m unstable
or rather I will
cut nicks in my fingertips
to show I’m out of touch
unable to feel
void of vocabulary
depression is just a word
so how do i convey
the hollow weight
inside my bones?

Poetry is dangerous:
just when you start to think
Words are illogical,
the ink jumps up
and shakes you
Unsettling your idea of protection,
Airing your dirty laundry,
Dancing with the skeletons in your closet—
Is there too much meaning
in language
Or not enough?
Do we glue our lips shut
to speak volumes
or loosen our lungs
like floodgates ?
If I speak
will I shatter the silence
Or build mountains?
Tuck my secrets somewhere safe,
take my words and burn them
so no one will know
I once tried to convey love
in six lines or less.
Don’t let them read my poems aloud
in case they fudge the tones
and change the definitions—
Language is impressionable that way—
and don’t let them read them alone
like lullabies they never tried to be.
Press the ink back into place between bindings
and let the laundry sit piled in the corner;
Hang the skeletons back up to collect dust
and pretend the words you read
meant nothing.

I’m still smoking American Spirits
all those pages ago
when I was young and anxious
scribbling lines with hopes of publication
still feeling still dreaming:
now I’m just anxious
dangling Camels between nails too long
wondering when my own words
started lacking meaning
when I started writing less for myself
and more out of routine.
Adulthood is where dreams
go to die,
isn’t it?
But I ask myself often
if all these notebooks
filled with words are
or someone else’s?
Did I make her up—
the sixteen-year-old reading Vonnegut
“So it goes,”
mentality keeping her alive—
the eighteen-year-old driving aimlessly
to avoid a relationship
she didn’t know she didn’t need—
or the twenty-year-old drinking whiskey
one hundred and five pounds
unable and unwilling to eat—
or the twenty-three-year-old
sitting here now
wondering if
any of it
any of this
meant anything more than
some slanted words
in a notebook.

If everything I write
is about you,
then maybe I’ll write your name on the tops of the pages
and pay tribute to you as author
because these words came from your mouth.
I distorted them a bit
and you never did say that
but in my memory you did,
didn’t you know I was going to take what you said
as what I wanted to hear?
You mean to say you remember it
that can’t be,
it’s all written right here,
why yes that’s my handwriting but I wouldn’t have written that
if you never said it—
listen, I understand you’re confused
I am too,
because I thought we agreed
on the perception.
Did I make that up too?
Slow down, you’re talking too fast
I’m only hearing
every other word
you had to know this would happen
when you opened your mouth,
didn’t you?

My face flushes when you walk in a room
ears hot lips curling
I wonder if anyone notices
how you escalate my heart rate
and make it hard for me to speak:
Don’t make me tell you what I mean
because I know you know already
when my arm is leaning on yours
a lingering static like just washed sheets
or the balloons that used to wind me;
now it’s you making my lungs deflate.
There are words to describe this feeling
words I don’t find heavy enough
to depict what I mean
but I know you know already,
so why do we speak at all?
With your hand strategically on my waist
there’s little room for conversation—
save the small talk
please, it’ll only crush this moment
where nothing else seems to occur
and all we have is the steady motions
of our breathing and my heart thudding heavy
loud enough for your ears to hear its meaning—
we really don’t need to say it,
words only blur the line
and anyway I’d much rather feel this
than speak this,
don’t you agree?
We have enough here
to mold an empire,
we can save the décor for later,
so please believe my bones
that shake giddy when you’re near
and believe my eyes
wide and willing
to watch you forever—
I learned to speak body language
before fiction,
so ignore what I can’t say
and focus on what I can.

She claps slow and drinks fast, eyes burning into the performer upon the stage. Another whiskey neat lands on the table unordered—“From the gentleman playing,” the waiter whispers with a smile. She nods back, slipping a dollar into his hand and focuses once more on the man’s creased forehead and callused hands. So he noticed.
She sips slowly for this one, does not clap, knowing well he’ll be finishing soon—she has seen this set too many times to try to remember. He gestures for another round as she sits still, unmoving—silent. “Well,” he struggles, unsure of where to begin after two decades of absence. She stares at him through his own empty eyes, waiting for him to continue. “How did you find me?”
His voice is more worn, coarser, than she remembered, his face more sad and alone. She shrugs: “Wasn’t hard. I’ve seen you here a few times before. Surprised you finally noticed.” He nods steadily, hunting for words that won’t hurt either of them: “It has been a while, you do look a bit different.” They drink long, filling the silence the way he had taught her to, long before she could drink and long before he could handle too. She studies his features long and hard, searching for memories that may be hiding in the creases. None come forward. Time has a funny way of erasing the past; or at least tucking it away somewhere deep.
Her calf nervously dances upon her knee, the words she had practiced now unwilling to form on her tongue. He smiles weakly, understanding the quiet: “I’m sorry, kiddo.” Still, her lips remain fixed together, her eyes penetrating his as if attempting to read his thoughts. “I shouldn’t have left you the way I did. I should have called, written, anything. But,” his thought trails off with recollections.
“But you didn’t. You didn’t care. I’m glad all these new faces around don’t know you that way. Honestly, I’m glad it’s behind you; I didn’t come here to tell you I hate you.”
He laughs low: “Yes you did. And you have every right to. You’re the reason I’m where I am now, though; the reason I sought help.” She lowers her eyes to the table, where her shaky hands form waves within her glass.
“So why didn’t you come back?” It falls out so choked by pride he almost doesn’t hear her.
“I was scared. I was ashamed.”
Emotions well up within her eyes as she stands to leave, and as he follows her action, he knows that asking her to stay won’t help. Unexpected to them both, she sinks her head into his chest as tears race down her cheeks, hugging him as she did so many years prior. “I still love you, daddy. I always have and I always will.” His voice breaks as she releases him, “I love you too, angel;” but it gets lost in translation, years of dust leaving the words intangible.
She turns and exits, leaving him there alone with the past.

ice water

We’re raised in ice water,

our hearts freezing up at a young age—
mom working two minimum wage
still they turn off the water,
the heat,
like the child support:
always being promised
They ask us why we’re
why we’re
question our motives for
protests, boycotts,
why we demand the truth,
watch parents gather coins
to pay for inadequate schooling,
watch siblings deal drugs
to help pay for the housing
that keeps us two to a bed,
one on the couch.
They tell us we’re
for accepting welfare,
that we need a
not a check—
as if we’re not working
two legally,
and one illegally,
as if minimum wage
could ever afford
the inflated prices
they keep rising,
competition an ideal
since they own it all.
And they say
go to college,
to become someone,
then hand us a loan
we can never repay,
jobs a rarity,
a staple,
as if the struggle of living
hasn’t been experience enough,
as if a degree
means nothing,
and it doesn’t
mean a thing
if you don’t have money.
Because you’re address
is always printed
above your GPA
and no one wants to
pay poverty—
poverty pays too well.
And they ask
why we’re so
why we’re so
as if they don’t
keep us growing up
In ice water.