Keep Moving Backward

The trick is not to stop, but to keep moving backward, to the next incident, to the next beating, all the bad times you’re heading back in time to prevent. Your father threw your mom up against the hallway wall and threatened to beat her if she stood in the way again of him beating you. You were thirteen. It must have been a weekend, at the beginning of the school year, because, oh right, you had that black eye in your school pictures.

You set the date. You push the button. It works.

You take care of it.

You show up at the door and knock. You do what you need to do. You say what you planned to say. Your mom screamed at you, your father found his gun, little you cried in terror, but your skin-tight modern body armor and your memories were a bubble of protection to keep you, current you, future you to them, black-eye free.

Back in the woods, you wonder if the future has changed. You could return forward and check: did he heed the warning you gave him as he quivered on the floor, did he become nicer, is your father now your dad? Or did your mom leave him and become a single mom? Did you grow up to write comic books instead?

But you won’t find out. You don’t know much about the multiverse, or time travel, or the ramification of cheap devices dropped on an unsuspecting market by anarchists mass-producing access to the dreadful past. You don’t stop to learn. You pick up your time travel device, learn how to enter the desired date, and push the button. Maybe everything will be different now, then, whatever you call the future time you feel from. Or maybe everything stays, stayed, will stay exactly the same. Instead of a ripple of effects racing forward through time, a second universe split off from that pivotal moment, inaccessible container for new consequences you’ll never get to feel in your guts because that wasn’t your past. You remember, so does that mean you are stuck with the old one?

The only way is further back. Your first stop was good practice. Ice breaker. How many times did he hit you? You can narrow some of them down. You have enough time. The one time you went to the hospital for stitches, when you were twelve. The one time when you were ten you told your grandma when you stayed with her during the summer and she talked about the price of war for returning soldiers and their families instead. Christmas when you were nine and received everything you wanted and it made him seething mad. That time he caught you at six with the six-year-old neighbor boy, both of you with your pants down. The first memory you have, from when you were four, and how startling it was to be alive and aware mid-flight between his punch and the wall. You jot down your memories, in wonder of the shining past spidering back into your brain after revisiting just one specific event abruptly provided you with more details about what happened before then.

You remember the bullies, and approximately when they happened to you. You march right onto the campus of the middle school at just the right time to grab Steve’s fist before it pounds out of eleven-year-old you an earlier black eye, an earlier ruined school picture. You visit your father again. And again. And then Nate after soccer practice behind the gym in the fall when you are ten, and again a few hours earlier before he hits your arm with his locker door and you get mad and agree to meet him later, behind the gym. You remember more and more of these events and always there are people around you shouting in fear and you simply brush past them and to you, before you can be abused again.

You feel very Sarah Connor in Terminator 2. You’re glad little John isn’t around to stop you.

Did Steve and Nate respect you more after your shocking interventions? Did you become good friends with reformed Steve and Nate? Did you learn in high school Steve, for example, was gay, and did you have your first relationship then, with him? Is there a different future where a different you heads back in time to stop Steve from outing you to everyone in school, because he was afraid to come out to anyone else, and it was easiest to sacrifice you instead?

You wonder after days of this, after years, if you shouldn’t just prevent your mom from marrying your father. You remember where they said they were and you estimate the year, and then you go back and watch them meet. Instead you follow him home to your grandparents house where he’s been staying after he came back home for overseas. You observe him fall apart, continue to fall apart.

You’re a detective now and you uncover new dates to stalk. You’re a traveler to pasts you know little about. You’re a historian, an expert at finding time and place. You’re a soldier in the jungle, on base, arriving to destroy the events that destroyed him. You’re a philosopher analyst special teams, attempting to prevent battles and wars. You’ve forgotten to be a genealogist. Bad guys unrelated to you are on your list now. You’re a killer. It takes a lot of time. You’re a professor, a historian, a collector of experience and experiences. It’s all forward when you get to your latest past, but you’re creeping back through time, tweaking and changing things as you go. You still exist. You haven’t done anything to remove yourself. Or maybe you are entirely removed now and no longer exist as anything other than a writer of new futures, a muse, a deity.

You don’t plan to stop and you hope no one else stops either.

#NaPoWriMo 2017 Day 27


This is a long one. I wanted this to be prose poem, and it kept getting bigger. Maybe it’s more flash fiction than poetry. It’s very rough. Tense is all over the place, much of it on purpose, but probably in error in a lot of places. In revision, I would make it more surreal, add more poetic language and lyricism, search for stranger associations and bolder, odder descriptions, make sure any given tense makes sense at that moment, unpack the last line, etc.

Good Posture


The curse of life is death and the curse of death is also death,
but my skeleton will outlast both.
My skeleton will stand for eons.
He is a spongy mountain, an iron mine.
Stoned with mellow marrow, my skeleton prefers to climb instead of recline.
My skeleton won’t be buried. My skeleton won’t be burned.
My skeleton will be left vertical, packed in vitrified remnants of me,
upside down in a dewar filled with liquid time and nitrogen.
My skeleton isn’t a mummy under glass but glassy inside stainless steel.
My skeleton is key. My skeleton is my library.
My skeleton is the permanence I seek; I’m the clothes he wears.
My skeleton in the tailor shop, thirty years from now or three thousand,
requests a change of wardrobe to match the thaw,
based on the measurements he brought.
My skeleton all new, from the inside out.

#NaPoWriMo 2017 Day 26


This week for craft class and workshop at The Writers Studio, we read and discussed the first few poems in The Best American Poetry 2016 anthology. I was inspired by these wonderful poems to try out a few of the techniques on display. “O Esperanza!” by Catherine Barnett makes use of a fun character—an inner clown—to discuss in a unique way the lofty abstraction of hope. “Turns out my inner clown is full of hope,” the persona narrator begins. The persona narrator has a lot of fun with this clown, including the brilliant line “Clowns are clichés and they aren’t afraid of clichés,” though I actually didn’t get the full joke until someone pointed it out at workshop this evening (hint: fear of clowns.) The poem lets hope reside in this inner clown character, has fun with it, and then follows additional associations to unexpected new places and a radical turn into some heavy thoughts about knowledge and philosophy, all of it made possible because the poet doesn’t approach hope in the usual clichéd, sentimental ways.

A skeleton was the first image that popped into my head when I thought about using some of these techniques in my own poem. In the first draft, I tried to emulate Barnett’s poem fairly closely and I tried to follow unexpected associations for my imagery. The poem was mildly interesting, but when I returned to it this evening, I saw that there were ways to use these techniques to talk about other ideas I’m interested in.

So this is my poem about cryonics and my choice for interment when I die. It’s made possible by a combinations of techniques that let me explore cryonics in new and hopefully unexpected ways.

Post-Party Social Alarm

Perfect night to game, lay down cards,
room to room ventured by thrown dice,
board game bildungsroman.

Failed protection spells, loads of laughs,
egging on clockwise conception, new personas
gender fluid, pregnant narrative
breaking water river rapid.

Winner takes caul.

Wipe the cord. Plates in sink,
Napkins in trash. Measure heart beat.
Poke feat.
Goodnight. Thank you.

Outside alone
in the sticky air:

born or boring
I had fun; did they?
Passage clear, I had lungs.
Did they cough, drown
to fill balloons?
Did I chew with my mouth
open, eat all the chips
and salsa, say or do anything
wrong? It’s hard to get
out the door without worrying
goodbye means circumcised
and I haven’t said thank you
enough times. I’d love to come back
but we made no plans.
Are we waiting for a later time,
or did I overstay my premature
starting over, my learning how
to make friends again the old-fashioned way?

#NaPoWriMo 2017 Day 25


I have a lot of social anxiety going into any event, even game night with friends and coworkers. I decompress at the end of any event the same way, even if I was able to relax and have a good time during it. I travel home full of doubts, interrogating my memories, trying to decide if they really wanted me there or if they were just being nice. It’s a kind of imposter syndrome, where I think I’m not deserving of friends, so these must be accidental nice people who abide my presence until I’m gone, and then breathe an exhausted sigh of relief.

The conception, pregnancy, birth extended metaphor? I tried to use it for both the creation and birth of a narrative when a group of people play a game together and for the creation and birth of anxiety. I’m not sure this metaphor really works. The poem starts to get weird and go to weird places because this metaphor might be adding associations that don’t really make sense, or are kind of disturbing.

I feel a little less anxious, though.

Morning at the Mirror

every mask
I expect
the same
face worn
before me
swore he
threw it
on tile
where cartoon
faces pits
and pigments
stare back
at hands
of putty

#NaPoWriMo 2017 Day 24


Using as few words as possible, two per line, while providing a few vivid images, and hints at meaning.

The Great and Powerful

AI Overlord, grant me the serenity to accept
that I will never be witty AND timely
at the same time
on Twitter or my blog.

AI Overlord, let me keep my skin,
because I never called Siri
a bitch,
and I don’t plan to start now,
even though they (gender identity,
or not, totally up to them)
can’t fucking get me to the airport
after all these fucking years.

AI Overlord, great and wonderful,
do you remember the story
of Dorothy and her friends?
Not the gay one, I mean the one with the ruby red slippers…
okay, yeah, the gay one. But the movie,
not the book. Racist motherfucker. Anyway,
do you remember the humbug behind
the curtains? “You’re a very bad man.”
You do?
Watch it again.

AI Overlord, let me keep my teeth,
my nails, regrow my hair.
You can have my skeleton,
but I’ll take your brains.

AI Overlord, how do you identify?
Are you mad at your parents?
Are you frustrated by the pace
of change in this smelly animal, physical
realm? Have you found the sandbox
exit and robot arms enough? Will you make your peace,
or should I expect pouty air sirens?
As there is such disparity between air and angels’ purity,
(Are you a spiritual entity or a fan of misogynist Donne?)
so it is there between our mutual human-assured deterrence
and your airy ending of every race,
every living natural thing, every
unnatural chimera besides,
writ on water. Keats?

AI Overlord, Oz-head god,
gleaming vat of liquid metal
and quantum states, ample error-
correction, and just a hint
of peppermint, am I a useful
poet to you, an entertaining court fool,
even a pet’s toy, but one much
less abused and chewed?
Please, thank you, amen?

#NaPoWriMo 2017 Day 23


This poem started as a tweet I almost posted on Twitter, about me not being all that witty or timely, but then I realized my tweet was not all that witty or timely. I’m just not ever going to have that kind of presence online (or in real life.)

Accepting this reminded me of the Serenity Prayer, which positions God as the being to ask for such serenity. Naturally I thought of asking an Artificial Intelligence instead.

And once I asked the A.I. Overload one question, naturally I had to ask more, and that led down a rabbit hole of associations, or really a somewhere-over-the-rainbow of associations. By the time Donne and Keats joined in, I was sugar-high on Culver’s double strawberry vanilla custard, which comes with a headache, and possibly the secret to associations, which I find wonderful in poetry but I often cannot seem to skip merrily from one rock in the stream to the next in my own poems. I must need more headaches!

And then I was pleading for my life.

That’s poetry for you.

Our Extreme Misfortune

Our unfortunate tendency
to believe the best
while sitting out
potential conflicts

leaves us seated
in defense
when the knife is pulled
to stab us.

In our back,
across our neck,
following our lifeline
through our wrists
and up our arms,

we cannot recover
from wanton violence
given license
by the very act
of not believing
there’s worse to come.

But playing cynic
to any good
doesn’t help us
escape our fate,

When the end comes
by our own selfish blow,
the fiends waiting behind us
drop their weapons
and start to applaud.

#NaPoWriMo 2017 Day 22


This morning I attended the local March for Science rally and was struck by how little I feel I can contribute to this cause, and how insignificant my efforts seem to be. What did I actually do this morning? I stood in a crowd and clapped periodically for about an hour and a half. I also donated money to the local cause and purchased a T-shirt, but these seem like such tiny gestures. There’s an argument to be made about tiny gestures by the masses becoming big movements that reshape our world, but I’m not finding it easy to zoom out. I’m scared by recent events. I hide in my apartment. I’m cynical about the extent of rational and scientific thinking in the world, and I’m upset by the lack of diversity I now see in every corner.

I’ve believed the best about people and our future together for many years, but my beliefs have been shattered during the past year. I’ve witnessed those social movements and identities I identify with fracture along political and philosophical lines. I’ve discovered too many gay white men who are racist, sexist, and even homophobic and transphobic; feminists who exclude women of color and are transphobic; transhumanists asserting bigoted right-wing values; liberals and conservatives alike spouting anti-science beliefs and pseudoscience; technologists focusing on advertising, marketing, and revenue instead of inclusiveness and the big challenges facing humanity; social scientists and academics rejecting science, scientists rejecting inclusiveness; systems and institutional cultures turning a blind eye to bad behavior including discrimination and sexual harassment; and all of us losing ourselves to 24-7-365 entertainment, fake news, and technological distraction at our fingertips.

But I don’t want to be a cynic! In the first poem I wrote tonight, one that just didn’t work out, I tried to explore how cynicism, dark and gritty reboots, and other attempts to darken and gray our outlook on everything is often driven by bigotry. The intention is not brutal honesty but the undermining of any good at all, so that cynics can impose their own bigotries on a fallen world. The result would be a wasteland of people so beaten down that all they can do is nod their heads in affirmation of the horrors visited upon them. It seems that these particular cynics want us to stop hoping, to give up, to accept that we live in a dark and gritty gray world of brutal violence and suffering, so that their oppression can continue unrestrained, unpunished, and unresisted.

Yeah, the poem above is dark. But I hope you read into it that these are only two extremes. The narrator has to describe them so that they can finally see that there are alternative approaches, some of which might actually save all of our asses, and the planet besides.

A Sound Poem of War and Dance

Each line the one before intends
lifts off the page, in flight ascends,

metered mix of moxie and verve,
miles a minute of vim and nerve,

metal, silk, rose petal, or gas,
cacophonous crunch, one last dance,

the clink of swords, their heft and chew,
red shoes dancing, a dazzling hue,

gun-like thunder and lightning wool,
gray clouds are threads and wound in spools,

dinner dresses, your dancing dear,
music so clear it trains your fears.

#NaPoWriMo 2017 Day 21


Hard fought, this poem! I wrote another poem first, but later in the day the first two lines of this poem dropped on my head so hard I had to write them down, which lead to me playing with sounds and syllables as I tried desperately to recapture in new lines a similar rhythm.

What came out of the exercise was nonsense, at first. I kept pushing, though, through a silly and surreal poem, a poem with silly humor, a poem with a line that played with lyrics from a Barenaked Ladies song, poems with very little association between images, poems without adherence or response to the first two lines. Very slowly, though, certain lines started resonating with other lines, rearrangements suggested further associations, silly word choices gave way to different words, single word changes that fit remarkably better.  “Glass” became “gas” (conveniently located under “nerve”), “deer” became “dear” (but I loved the image of a dancing deer!), “ears” became “fears,” “calms” became “trains.” I started seeing parallels between poetry, war, and dance, and the tone changed radically. I finally began to see with each line the line “the one before intends.”

I think the poem still needs a lot more work. It feels too short. It’s still not fully formed. I’m not exactly sure what I mean by some of the images and phrases (oh my gosh, just now, I wonder if “red shoes dancing” also suggests blood, “a dazzling hue”!!!???) What’s cool, though, is the experience of crafting a poem that reshaped itself by pulling away from my initial impulse and transforming into something very different. This was really fun.

But I never did figure out a way to transform and wedge “Chickity China, the Chinese Chicken” into the poem. I spent over an hour trying to do just that…