Where are you at 10:00am sharp on Saturday mornings? Sleeping in? Waking up? Waiting for brunch? I’m usually grabbing a seat at Mo Joe’s Cafe for a Shut Up & Write! marathon. To make it on time, I have to wake up before 8 in sleepy San Francisco to catch a just-shy-of-9 train that whisks me away to Berkeley and a spot at Mo Joe’s. Why do I bother? That first check-in.
Listen to me read this poem in the embedded player below or on SoundCloud:
he lay there
gasping for the numb to end
his was an unfelt pain
all in his head — er, heart
that’s what these romantics swear by
their cardiovascular deity
but I took pity on him nonetheless
his red carnivore gravity
thrusting up and out
believing it could warm infinite sky
believing every spark must rhyme
and life is but a matter of
finding other halves
ignoring that some flickers fan a flame
that feeds on sympathy & naiveté — but
he bared himself regardless
hoping that girls like me
and even laying here
shattered by another blonde
he fed the earth with lyrics of his blood
the starless sky with breathless faith
melted eyes begging to not be in vain
this — is how a nonbeliever negates herself
in the presence of expiring chance
with a lipstick bandaid
to heal his hunger for affection
bred by one acid kiss
from another inspired miss
Once upon a Cold, we painted with
our Breath, drawing grand designs with Frost.
We thought the Ice would last
all season, comfort of our white Chrysalis
wrapping Crystal dreams.
pated each coming day
like a Snowflake waits
for infinite friends to follow
it’s unique descent.
We didn’t fear starry hours
or burned out sky
because even that
And one morning whispers with a
delicate palaces rush into consciousness.
new chrysalis cries
as every brick of what we built
becomes a warmer, wetter winter tear.
collapsing towers, liquid architectures dancing
deep in ear canals, all flowing castles of the fall.
Tall empires all return to sea level.
goodbye, stuck moments.
take care, cold friends.
hello, invisible breath.
now fleeing into pavement rivers,
moving as if only motion was alive,
sunlit course corrections,
shifting midstream to not die.
but I weep for our grand designs,
no solace in the warm survival of their parts,
impermanence courts chaos
in what’s left
of a pair
of frozen hearts.
From my personal journal, February 1, 2014:
Seeing Maidan in person left me in a state of mild awe. How can so many souls come from near and far, gather, organize, donate, protest, fight, break, bleed, die, and wake up to do it again and again for months? There must be something here, something about these folks with a sacrificial focus. I would not believe the sheer mass and force of this effort unless I took in every street with my own eyes, smelled the barrel fires on the winter wind, tasted the smoke of recent battles, heard the whispers of the hurt, or touched the weapons used against those who stood here, in the face of faceless oppression. Danger be damned, I regret not coming here earlier. All the parts of me that sat in that airport on the other side of the Atlantic and hesitated to board my flight melted away. I wish I went at the start of this trip instead of the very last day.
I felt things today I’ve never felt before.
I’m proud of these people. All of them. I’ve never felt sympathy or anything particularly positive about nationalism, patriotism, living in any of the dozens of places I’ve lived, or even being on any kind of team. Today, I got my first taste of what gets others so fired up about a shared idea. I felt what holds them together. Today, I stood in the middle of something vastly bigger and more important than myself, a witness to a change more important than any I’ve experienced and that will affect many more people than I can ever know. And this wasn’t an abstract political idea, or something frivolous and fleeting like a sports game, or imagined like a film or a painting or a book or a startup spreadsheet or university research project. These weren’t curated images on the news. The effects were immediate and real. I could see it in the faces of the grandmas handing out free meals, the men younger than me in half-winter, half-battle gear patrolling every barricade and the entrances of every conquered building, in the spray painted fervor on the signs and the shields and the banners and the doors masking the downtown materialism, in the crass caricatures and beautiful pieces of art being painted in front of me, steps away from where protesters died, in freezing winter temperatures, in the hands of the inspired, who refuse to leave in spirit and in body.
All of this stirred faith in the power of a commoner exercising a fundamentally defiant right to say: Enough. It’s time for change. I left Ukraine at eight-and-a-half years old and grew up with a healthy skepticism of all things Soviet and post-Soviet. I believed that the Slavic people of my birthplace were an inexcusably tough and unpleasantly cold, uncaring people. I am proud to be so gloriously wrong. I am proud to glimpse at a place I feared, that almost made me cancel this trip, and open my heart to it’s wonder and woe. I am proud to have faith that change is not only possible but inevitable, because that is the will of the wronged. Now, I am proud to share a heritage, a history, a spark, no matter how tiny or distant or morphed by Americana with these people, my people. Today, for the first time in my nomadic life, I’m proud to say: I am a Ukrainian. However brief, I stood with my people and I belonged.
This is not my fight. I realize that all this passion may be the sentimental first impressions of a naive boy lucky enough to grow up sheltered in middle class America. But whatever it may be, I had to share this day. I owe an enormous debt of gratitude to the family friend who gave me a two hour walking tour of every major place of protest. She was there every step of the way since November 22, 2013 when this started and wouldn’t let me explore alone. At the end of our time, I put every dollar in my pocket in her purse and said, “for Maidan.” What was supposed to be a thoughtless wedding gift to my sister before I learned she was marrying into wealth became the first donation of my life. It felt subpar to what I considered donating: a missed return flight and an indefinite stay in this dangerously inspiring place. Wherever this takes me, however idealistic this may all seem, I never want to forget how my heart beat differently on the Maidan as I read signs like: “The will of Ukraine or death” and “better a coward on the Maidan than a coward behind the TV.”
Some things you have to experience in person. So find the courage to take a risk. You may be stunned at how moved you are by a solemn civilian soldier with a bleeding cheek, snowflakes on his steady breath, the smell of burnt tires rising from his feet, defending his idea of tomorrow.
A couple meets for coffee on the last day of their relationship.
The only sound was the creaking of the escalator. The platform was sparsely populated for a late Monday afternoon in September. Everyone was looking for tomorrow with quiet eyes. But me. I gazed away from where the train would emerge, not caring when it would come because I couldn’t control it.
A short guy in a tattered sweater descended on the escalator. He wore old shades and looked like Christian Slater in some forgotten 90s flick in the back row of a video store. Stubble all the more pronounced in the afternoon sun squeezing through the rusty, unwashed windows. I checked my chin for a five o’clock shadow. Still clean shaven.
A voluptuous lady in a summer dress stared back at me, wondering if I was staring at her breasts. I wasn’t. Just looking for signs of life. Heart beating under dark dress shirt.
A homeless man wandered around, scanning the ground for shimmering value. Eyes skimmed my polished shoes. Nothing in my pockets that I felt like sharing. Couldn’t save him. Or vice versa.
The train came. Vomited a few souls and then swallowed ours. Dusk faded on the dancing landscape past the windows. The airport was loud, or so I imagined at the sight of planes. Ticket check. Pocket check. Weapons check. And up. And down. Arrived at my first funeral and wondered how much longer I’d be traveling.
Night is like a song that you can’t see
so you make up scenery to fill the gaps
between fluorescent highways. and forests possible.
Figments of figs twist with twigs into
nocturnal architectures of confusing beauty.
Headlights slice into your eyes and ruin
the surprise so you return to sound
of foggy rain and smoky tears,
trying to fit between the droplets
without feeling cold or found. and failing.
World exposed as just imagination but
your faith blooms, believing
makes the secrets breathe.
Traffic rolls across eyelids like
tracks of fading bright and wet tails
across the windshield. and when
you peek again you find only rubies
staring back like mute, unblinking fireflies
and you know you’re driving blind
no matter how wide your spies are open.
Listen to me read Edgemoor:
(If you don’t see anything above, listen to the track on SoundCloud.)