I. The Concept of a Soul
I am an empire in four parts, and I am lying in the snow on my back looking at the stars.
My east and west, though shaky, fear nothing, but
my north and south have lost contact,
the south may crumble entirely at any moment.
I am lying in the snow looking at the stars, posing them a question they will never answer.
Where is north from here?
Where do I go?
There is silence in the following moments.
I do not move.
I never planned to.
What is the last real voice I heard, and
whose was it, and
what did they say?
I would ask if I knew, but
if I knew,
I am an empire in four parts, and an ouroboros lies at my heart,
cosmic irony latent in its being and coursing through my veins.
We are one.
I will spend my nights chasing my own tail and asking unanswerable questions to deaf and distant bodies more celestial than my own. I will lay in the snow until I find answers. I will be buried here in the hopes that I find my true north. I will gather weight to carry
until I save this empire
until the south turns to dust
II. The Backpack Itemized
The world is an empty parking lot that stretches in all directions to the horizon, and just when I believe I am going to reach the end of it and find the path again,
it w i d e n s, it e x p a n d s,
it becomes more and more endless
and more and more endless
and more and more endless
and more and more endless and
I just want to find my way home.
A man in a belt that looks like a set of freckles I once had on my face stops to ask,
“What is your burden?”
I drop to my knees on the asphalt because what isn’t?
And I move my backpack from my shoulders, emptying first the largest pocket, then each of the smaller ones, from which I pull:
● A bottle of water that I realize is important for the purpose of hydration but rarely drink from.
● The feeling of tear-jerking elation when I heard Phox’s self-titled on vinyl for the first time.
● A video of Gary Bettman handing John Scott a check for a million dollars, playing on a loop.
● Several started, stopped, and saved games of Dragon Age 2. I am romancing Merrill in all of them.
● Max Bemis, perhaps the closest thing I have ever had to a rabbi.
● Claude Giroux’s missing tooth.
● Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas for both the PS2 and PS3.
● A switchblade that looks like titanium quartz, which I have used in the past to open a pack of cookies. ● Two sleeves of saltine crackers.
● Figurines of people I don’t think I’ve ever met, whose names I do not know, but who look vaguely familiar to me despite this. There is one that appears more like a ghost, or a spirit, and the name is behind my lips. I know I know it, but I don’t dare utter it.
He asks me the significance and I can
only gaze at these pieces and parts strewn
on the ground to my right and my left,
(to my east and my west),
He warns me, the parking lot isn’t stable, and he can’t help me get out, but if I want he can keep these safe?
If I trust him.
I don’t know about that just yet.
III. Clap Ovations
Adonai, who art in the small front zipper pocket
of my backpack, and tucked cleanly
into the deepest crevice at the back of my mind—are you fuckin' seein' this?
You have a good seat, the box where Lincoln himself was shot, but with more around to protect you (what with you being hidden so deep within me). Tonight I am simultaneously playing the parts of both John Wilkes Booth and Our American Cousin,
and I will either murder you or speak to you, a choice which,
is neither yours
Your eyes are both glued to me, and not, and the irony is
that from the stage I cannot make out your face,
so let's say I speak to you and do not kill you, I will have no certainty that you are even in attendance at tonight's show, but if I am to murder you, I will see you up close and personal and I will have no choice but to believe that you are real and breathing and alive, before my very eyes and doesn't that complicate things?
To see you for myself
with the sole intent to shoot and run,
to have my belief proven
thus eliminating my need
to murder you in the first place?
Which comes first, the disbelief or the breakthrough
or the cycle of the two
swirling endlessly and cosmically like a galaxy,
curtain drops, all rise, look me in my eyes,
clap for me, tell me I make you happy,
tell me I fucking mean something—
Look me in the—
Adonai! Kicking, screaming—
Adonai! Clap ovations—
Adonai! Pull the trigger—
my north, I could put an end to this tonight. My trigger finger is twitchy but it is not eager.
Either you die or I do and if I do I gain you, so it will be worth it but
I don't even know that you're truly who you say you are, if you are anything at all.
I am lying in the snow, after wandering endlessly through this parking lot with no exit, and I see these stars, but if you are there somewhere behind them, and if I am to put my trust in them, please, Adonai. Louder than the rest of the house for me.
Your clap sounded down, thunderous, deafening, and turning the ground to dust underneath me.
I believed for a second, then a minute, until an eternity left me breathing shallow at the front desk,
and I had to collect myself and get back to work before I could allow myself to be shaken.
In a moment, everything I had worked for was over.
My north located,
my south eroded,
my east and west estranged,
but safe (in the arms of the man wearing the belt) and willing to make amends.
I never looked up with hope until I heard the name Adonai, which felt more like home than the name Alexandra ever could, ever did, or ever would have.
I don’t always backpedal but when I do I find myself at Square One.
I’m sixteen and I’ve just located my roots, and I wonder
what it might feel like to believe.
But I’m sixteen so the thought is fleeting, and I move on.
My roots stay buried.
They resurface when abuses I should’ve seen coming finally reach me,
and an angel I put my hopes in and my dreams in and my fears in finally breaks me,
and I think they’re trying to keep me alive, but what should I believe?
when you go through some shit, you’ll do anything to stave off the darkness.
And sometimes you find yourself compulsively learning Hebrew to give yourself some purpose.
I’ve been watching hockey again, but games I don’t care about. I’ve been mindlessly starting playthroughs of video games just to hear voices I love speak to me. I’ve been drifting and dreaming and the dreams become nightmares at a certain point in the night. I haven’t written fiction in months.
I haven’t been focused on anything but the loss and the recovery,
and about how this might affect me in perpetuity.
But I hear you clapping through the clouds in my mind.
I hear the proof in all the things that keep me alive.
I feel my roots shake beneath the dirt.
And when I look into the sky and see the man with the belt, I feel tears form in my eyes.
when you go through some shit, you’ll do anything to stave off the darkness.
And sometimes you’re not alone.
V. Blessing Over the Wine
I hear the gentle crackling sound of a horn like it’s being played through an old radio.
I open the alef-bet book to the first page to start my self-guided journey again.
The book teaches the letters of the alef-bet as they appear in blessings.
The first letter is bet. The first letter is the second letter.
Adonai, who art in the small front zipper pocket of my backpack, and tucked cleanly into the deepest crevice at the back of my mind, you are in my blood.
You are in my acid, my bile, my sprinkle-pink bitch tears that haven't seen daylight since you-know-when. You are intrinsically a part of me,
though I was not made aware of your presence until I was nearly grown.
Quite the crisis you caused in my identity, Adonai.
When the man in a belt that looks like a set of freckles I once had on my face smiled down upon me for the first time, beaming with the light of 7 bright stars, I looked up to him, and I asked myself,
“Who is he?”
Who are you to question?
“Why does he smile?”
Why don’t you?
Someone in the world probably cares for him genuinely, and morbidly
and whimsically I wonder,
god what’s that like?
And now I feel something settle in my chest and rise in my stomach, both putting me at peace and striking awe in my deepest corners. I feel something more than recognition when I see him, something more than just, Hey, that’s me.
It’s, Hey, that’s me;
it’s, Hey, that’s mine.
Something in the universe
cares for me deeply…
Orion was the first celestial body I ever felt this connection with, so I stole his name. Adonai has been a part of me forever, but I only found him after I looked at the man in the belt and put the pieces together. I hear Adonai when I see Orion.
I feel love when I hear Adonai when I see Orion.
And though Adonai was here first, I did not learn of him until I learned of Orion.
The first letter the book teaches me is bet. The first letter I learn is the second.
VI. The Concept of a Whole
Who looks for comfort in a comatose tongue? What about me is orthodox? Why do I think I even deserve to practice? Do I want to practice? Is this the organization I’m so clearly lacking? Is my connection enough or do I have something more profound to prove?
I look at my backpack placed in front of me, the man with the belt gazing silently down, before I look inside at its contents. There, in the small front zipper pocket, are my figurines, looking more like my friends with each passing minute, and the ethereal one named Adonai smiling right on top.
I was once asked the significance and before I could only gaze at these pieces and parts strewn on the ground to my right and my left, to my east and my west, and wonder.
But I know now.
They are each a part of me.
They must be.
This is my entire person on the ground in front of me.
Adonai, my friends,
saltines, a knife,
GTA: San Andreas,
into place and
finding solid ground once again.
There is so much comfort in this comatose tongue. There is nothing orthodox about me. To practice is my choice, not my burden, and there is no “deserving” about it. The organization I need sits neatly packed in a backpack in front of me, and I will carry it with me to the ends of the earth, to the edges of this empire, north, south, east, west, unified as one and as steady underneath and atop a finally solid identity. I can think of nothing more profound than this, and of nothing so unneeding of proof.
I am an empire. I am whole.
We’re a team
and we spend a lot of time together,
these guys man, I swear...they’re like my brothers,
one never quite felt just like a brother.
One never quite felt just like another guy on the team;
we talk late nights on bus rides about….whatever.
He’s a lit major and he’s always reading these books,
making references I don’t get.
I wonder if he knows I don’t get them.
I worry it makes him think I’m stupid.
I worry my worry could mean something more
We talk late nights on bus rides about our lives
about the team and our parties because we’re cool guys and that’s the sort of thing that cool guys do.
I met this girl once at a post-game rager and I asked
her if she was familiar with the concept of gangster rap
and then, out of
nowhere, she brought up some shit like
homoerotic imagery in early 2000s rap videos,
and I didn’t fucking get what she was
trying to say
so I walked away.
And maybe I have trouble connecting to girls,
some say I have trouble just respecting a girl,
but I think maybe there’s too much expecting from girls,
like what do you honestly want me to say
I play hockey for god’s sake,
I’m in college ‘cause my father tells me it’s the only way he could ever look me in the eye
and respect me as a man, unless,
and that is a big unless,
I somehow make it in the NHL, but
he doesn’t think I’m that good of a skater.
I mean, coach says I’m a great listener and
one of the best players he’s ever worked with,
but my dad, he just...
doesn’t think I’m that good of a skater.
But me and him, we talked late one night on a bus ride
and he told me
god you look a lot like Atlas
but I didn’t get it.
Not at first.
Until we talked late one night on a bus ride about our futures.
I chirp him,
“What are you gonna do with a literature degree?”
and he’s jealous ‘cause he knows I can make it big,
but he chirps me,
maybe you’ll play for the Bruins or something?
He knows I hate the Bruins;
he elbows me in the ribs and I feel something stir
beneath them, awakening and realizing maybe for the first time
that it’s in a prison.
He knows I hate the Bruins
and he smiles at me with his missing canine.
“You gotta stop getting in fights, how many guys lose teeth at the college level, man?”
I’m your enforcer. I can’t let them get away with a dirty hit on you.
This scares me and thrills me,
knocks the wind out of me, ironically,
more than any dirty check anyone has ever hit me.
And maybe I have trouble connecting to girls,
I know I’ve never much respected a girl,
but this is one feeling I didn’t expect to unfurl...
I wish I was just bad at talking to girls.
We’re a team,
and what will the rest of the guys say?
I’m their captain, I’m the man they look up to for god’s sake,
I’m supposed to have it all together,
I’m supposed to know myself
and they’re supposed to trust me,
but how can they do that now?
We’re a team and I’m letting everyone down, starting with my father
and ending with my starters and every subsequent line
and every girl I could never connect with but
oh god! can I connect with him!
Who knows what he’ll do with that literature degree, but I would go to god-forsaken
Boston if that’s where he went, if that’s what he wanted—
but that’s not what my father wants,
no, he wants
a powerful marketing genius or a Harvard-Law-bound man,
and my trajectory fits precisely nowhere
in his clean-cut conservative venn diagram.
He fits precisely nowhere except
in the sinking pit of my chest where all the expectations
I know I will never live up to have gone to die,
and in my headspace,
and in my future, and
as the weight of these expectations bear down upon my shoulders
and a world I have chosen to support through brute strength alone
threatens to flatten me,
God you look a lot like Atlas.
God, this looks a lot like a crisis.
Oh, god, tell me how to bear this.
Dear god, tell me how to break this to my father.
We’re a team,
the two of us,
and he tells me he’s always here for me,
to remember that I’m always good in a 2-on-1,
that we’re strongest in the odd man rush.
I break the news gently.
I don’t know where to begin but my father glares at me,
stares at me,
I’m burning at the stake in this seat.
“Sir,” I say,
I choke on the word,
I know what you expect and I know what I can deliver,
but I can't fake Atlas forever,
father; some day
is gonna make me wanna shrug.
Someboy, this boy,
he makes me wanna shrug...
and I know you want a Harvard-law-bound man of your son,
but listen, I’m not a bad skater,
and I would go to Boston for him if he made me,
but he knows I hate the Bruins
and he smiles at me with his missing canine
that he lost defending me
before I ever fathomed that he could possibly love me,
before I ever fathomed I could love him back,
before the fathoms of sleepless nights wondering how you would take the news,
before he filled the fathoms deep of self-loathing in my chest and at the back of my mind,
before that night on the bus when he looked me in the eye and I was lost and found all in one,
all at once—
We’re a team,
and I’m not a bad skater,
and I won’t fake Atlas for another fucking second.
Hey, it's me. You mind if I lose my entire fucking cool for a second? Sweet.
I like to imagine that when she gave birth, all the balloons were orange. They all said "It's A Mess!" which is true now as it has ever been. But my mother had a C-section anyway.
Fears are cool, especially when looked at in relation to kinks. Like sure let the nice lady in red lipstick stab me repeatedly in the chest but catch me clutching my pearls and forgetting how to form words the precise moment I see anything slightly resembling a spider. And anyway what do they say? Irrationality is the spice of life.
I was planning on salutating with a joke, but I forgot all the ones I know.
But I am really not asking for concern because, look, I promise I got this. I am, however, asking if maybe you wanna hang out sometime?
Yeah, Thursday night works. See you then.
I've just been informed it's variety and, sure, call me wrong, but isn't what I said just a variation on an original, and aren't I just so clever, talking my way out of—no, I'm sorry, fisticuffs may lead to lost teeth. I like my smile as much as you'd like me to shut the fuck up for once.
But estoy de acuerdo and all that.
Guess who’s got two thumbs and just found out “salutating” isn’t a word!
You know that saying "that ship already sailed"? What they don't tell you is that the ship is always the Titanic. What they don't tell you is that I'm the ship. What I don't tell you is that I'm also the iceberg. Have a nice trip.
Hey. You can have both my lungs. This is the time talking. This is the poetry talking. (2:15 am)
My emotions decide their lives on their own, and half of what I feel is reactionary, and not necessarily disingenuous, but certainly unfounded in regard to its ferocity.
So what if I'd give my kidneys to kiss her? I'm just intense. Recognizing it is half the battle.
The other half is scheduling surgery.
It was you I meant, by the way. You beautiful two-thumbed force of nature.
I've just been informed that the Titanic was a steam boat, and didn't technically sail. No matter. What they don't tell you is that Christopher Columbus should have landed on the island with the cannibals. What they don't tell you is that there's a grave western misunderstanding of the purposes of cannibalism.
Anyway, tacos when you get back?