Small

Small

I am small in public

I try to take up as little space as possible

my stiff arms are held

as close to my body 

as my muscles can make them

I do not brush up against anyone

I don’t look them in the eye

I sit were I am out of the way

I make room for others

others whose right to the air I breath

is greater than mine

I am infringing

on the need of more valuable people

to take up all the space

they deserve

I shun attention

<>

I am large in private

I dance around the room

I sprawl on chairs

spread my legs wide

take up as much space as I can

I breath

I laugh out loud

I don’t watch where I’m going

my shoulders brush the wall

I can make contact with anything

in private I am free

in public I am caged

The endless rules for Buddhist monks cover in detail nearly every aspect of their lives & many merely refine the previous one. But we humans have our own set of unwritten rules of behaviour that are more cultural conditioning than anything else. 

All of these rule poems were written pre-covid & some of them seem prescient about social distancing, masking in public – cages to control behaviour, that even as restrictions are lifted, some people are happy to maintain. I, for one, often felt that restaurant tables were mashed in too tight – so tight I sometime knocked over drinks on one table while squeezing into the next one. In some situations one can’t make themselves small enough. Don’t stand next to me, or if you, don’t breathe.

It’s also about the ‘mask’ we often wear. Being nice to people who we can’t stand, demeaning bosses, manipulative romantic partners, attention & energy vampire who count on us maintaining some mask polite behaviour that becomes approval of their actions. To speak up becomes being ‘a wet-blanket’ ‘not sense of humour’ ‘don’t be so judgemental’ or ‘like or lump it.’

Social conventions are cages to protect us from each other, I suppose, & like clothing, they hide our private thoughts from the world.


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Eye Spy

Eye Spy

what do you mean

you saw nothing

you were there

that is you in the footage

you were a witness

you were splashed with blood

yet

you saw nothing

you were looking the other way

didn’t you understand

what you saw

are you blind to the suffering

didn’t you hear the screams

the gun fire

the police sirens 

how could you not see anything

just because

you weren’t the object

because it wasn’t about you

doesn’t mean

you bear no responsibility 

you where right there 

in the middle of things

not looking up

not looking around you

not taking out your ear buds

only focused 

on what you held in your hands

January 6, 2021, Washington, DC. Endless footage of the ‘events’ that day. Patriots or insurrectionists? We have the images but hindsight filters the events to suit the viewer’s point of view. That this happened cannot be denied but eyewitness or even camera images substantiate both interpretations. Is it any wonder we often choose not to see anything.

I see news headlines, video clips about the war on the Ukraine, sandwiched between ads for strappy sandals I’ll never wear, between headlines that so & so star looks amazing at 62 in her abs revealing swimwear, incendiary bombs strike children’s hospital (what were those children wearing, I wonder). We’ve become so inured to catastrophe is it any wonder we often chose not to see anything.

In fact I think we’ve been so swamped & deadened with information overload most of us don’t even care about good news. Is that good news merely an illusion or a delusion? It’s not that we don’t care but there is so much to care about these days it’s impossible to focus on one issue without being accused of being non-supportive of another one – indifference makes one the enemy. There is no neutrality. If you don’t use gender neutral language you are transphobic.

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Dress For Success

Dress For Success 

<>

I’m looking at dresses

skirts

something for me

but it’s all too fem

I wonder

why is fem a bad thing

<>

there was a time when

nothing was too fem for a man to wear

all those portraits

of men in wild oceans 

of lace

satin

brocaded jackets

did they dress like that

hanging around their homes

what did they wear

when they weren’t posing

<>

do I want this dress

to pose in

or

do I need something practical

utilitarian

genderless

<>

I’m looking at vintage photos 

of men 

going fishing

they’re wearing shirts & ties

shirts & ties to the beach

on picnics with the family

working on the roof

I can’t remember 

the last time I wore

a shirt & tie

but I remember wearing them

owning them

I’ve never worn a dress or a skirt

<>

I don’t want to make a statement

but that is impossible

if I showed up

in acceptable formal

Henry VIII court wear

it would be a costume

how many times 

would I have to dress that way

for it to be as ordinary

as a shirt & tie

would a dress on me

ever be as ordinary

as a shirt & tie

A few years ago Billy Porter showed up at the Academy Awards in an amazing, huge, black ruffled ballgown with a tuxedo jacket top. Beautifully tailored & shockingly fashion forward. It got him more press than anyone else at the Awards that year – what year was it? Who won that year? I can’t remember but I doubt if I’ll forget that dress or who wore it.

This was followed up by some minor male pop stars in various fashion magazine spreads, modelling dresses & androgynous clothing. Gimmick stuff supposedly to aid in the cause of degenderizing  clothing. If you look back through the history of fashion there has always been a clear difference between what men wore & what women wore – at least those who could afford it & had social positions that demanded it. What the farmer’s wife & her husband wore were close to identical. 

I know that when I grew up clothing was gender by colour & practicality. Boys never had lace trim on their sweaters; pink, blue etc. Even which side you buckled your belt was a gender indicator. It wasn’t until I was an adult that I found out women’s blouses had buttons on the left (or is the right), men’s shirts on the right. 

Hair was another defining point – men/boys short – women long. When the hippie guys began growing out their hair, it was always straight down never teased into hair hopper balloons. I never knew a girl who got a brush cut for the summer. I never owned an ordinary shirt & tie.

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Clean Up

Clean Up

the service station closed

when the owners

couldn’t afford 

the environmental clean up

the profit margin was so slim

it was better to go bankrupt

than pay the fines

they couldn’t afford

for not doing 

the environmental clean up

<>

the station was abandoned

after a decade it was torn down

to build a condo

or rather start to build

the soil was too contaminated

to build on

the cost of 

the environmental clean up

added too much to the initial start up

it was abandoned once again

pre-sold units never built

buyers screwed

<>

the fenced in empty lot

became a blot

where weeds grew

everywhere

except in one bald stretch

what building was once there 

was forgotten

the stretch was smaller every year

left alone

nature did

the environmental clean up

This is a true story, or rather one pasted to gather from true facts. The service station was not far from me here in east end Toronto. near Danforth & Donald’s. It was functioning when I moved into the area then closed & seemed to be abandoned for several years. I did take some photos before was fenced in. I did see a soil testing company come in to take samples. 

It remained abandoned for another couple of years before the building was demolished, another year before the debris was hauled way & new fencing spot up. Weeds took over & the few remaining trees along the back fence line thrived. Three years ago the land was cleared again. A sign went up for a condo & then one of those prefab buildings to see units was put up. It has remained unused now for two years. 

The first two verses are pretty much what I wrote in my first draft. The third verse has been kicked into shape this week to create a sense of ending. Frequently I’ve left drafts in very rough shape expecting to come back to them eventually. I brain needs time to discover where the path in the first rush is leading to. 

I’ve seen documentaries about abandoned resorts, shopping malls, & even amusement parks around the world. It has been encouraging & a bit amazing, to see them being overgrown with trees, plants breaking through parking lot asphalt – when we stop making things worse the planet can start to repair itself. 


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Annoying Children

Annoying Children

the children had no clean clothes

they had no clean drinking water

they had no direction

they walked walked and walked

around the particle accelerator

<>

it cost millions

needed clean water to keep cool

it had direction

it had a film crew

to make a documentary

about the important work

about the progress of science

<>

these annoying

children in dirty clothes

were in the way

these selfish children 

in the way of the cameras

wanted the water

the accelerator needed

<>

even worse 

they were in the way of progress

I can’t recall if there was an actual incident that sparked this piece or if it was a response to the oil-pipe line protests. Or perhaps it was the paradox between the cost of political party advertising what they do to help the less fortunate vs using the advertising money to end child poverty. If there was no child poverty what could they use to score compassion points?

When I see documentaries about space exploration & how it is furthering our understanding of the universe & hear the cost of the exploration I wish we recognized that cost in more human terms. Today in the midst of the pandemic it is the countries that cannot afford health care that are suffering the most. Often the same countries industry counts on for cheap labour.

One of the Olympic factoids I was dismayed at was the removal of the homeless, the destruction of shack towns solely to make the location more presentable to foreign press. More money spent on that process than actually spent to improve those lives. Who wants those dirty, shoeless, children in the background of their vacation selfies?

Progress is for those who will profit from it, not for those who are used for the labour to make progress for those who will profit from it. You want better wages? Better working conditions? Health plans? Stop standing in the way of progress.


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Measuring Up

Measuring Up

I concede 

I’m not that competitive

whether you are better

isn’t that important to me

I want to be judged

on my merits alone

not on how much 

better or worse I may be

compared with anyone

better is relative

who is the winner

the one who comes in first 

or the one who finishes the race

on their own terms

<>

I grew up

in a school system

where I learned 

I would never measure up

because I wasn’t smart enough

to memorize the times table

smart enough

to regurgitate passages of text books

when I wrote exams

even when I was right

I was given no credit

because my spelling was so wrong

<>

coming out

I was never young enough

buff enough

hung enough

to be desirable 

in the eyes of those

to whom I was supposed to measure up to

<>

it’s hard to give up

trying to measure up

in a culture were getting ahead

is the measure of value

if you aren’t competitive

you’re a loser

no amount of self-confidence

will change that judgement

<>

so I concede

now leave me alone

judge someone

who deserves to measure up

This piece (finished on Dec 27, 2021) is a variation on one of my themes – cultural expectations vs nonconformity. Regardless of which fragment of our splintered culture one may fit even that splinter has it own set of expectations to measure up to. To step out of heteronormativity isn’t enough – because one ends up in one way or the other duplicating that power dynamic. Good queers ape hetero – adopting children, looking askance at non-monogamy, drag queens are now commercially viable.

The imperative to measure up starts early – prizes for best marks, best attendance from kindergarten on. It’s not a big step from beating the shit out of that kid who bullied you to prove you are manly enough to fucking the shit out that guy you pick up at bar proving you are more manly than him.

It’s not enough to be a good writer or published, you have to be profitable or you aren’t a real writer. Home cooks are inadequate until they win competitive baking shows (usually to make their children proud). Recognition becomes the point of productivity. Getting that gold star becomes the point of school not learning; a gold star to make your parents proud of you, not learning much beyond the power of approval.

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The Haunted

The Haunted

there is this theory

that unfinished business

keeps spirits on earth

but we had no unfinished business

so I don’t know why

I’m haunting him

<>

it wasn’t my intention

to haunt anybody

when death fit me like a glove

I thought

this is it

I can take it easy

let myself relax

so this new dimension

can give me whatever shape I need

I don’t have to think

of who I am

what to do

I can be nothing

<>

I welcomed the loss of self

only to discover

him

he was holding 

onto more than a memory of me

we were merely familiar 

with each other

as far as I knew

affectionate 

not emotionally invested

to the point

where I would haunt him

<>

showing up hovering

behind him

in a shower steamed mirror

gone before he could turn around

<>

I didn’t want to be there

he’s not the one

I’d pick to haunt either

it would be you

I love this piece. I love a good ghost story too. The ‘rules’ of the ghost world tie them to places, tie them the particular people (or their relatives), tie them to some sort of emotional connection. I’ve written a couple of ghost pieces where I try to find a different angle on the trope.

I’ve read stories where objects are haunted – i.e. the dead man’s shoes that give the wearer visions of his murderer. One author has written a series about the spirit of a dead detective that solves cases for the living. I have one I wrote where a guy hooks up with another guy whose dick is haunted by a deceased boyfriend.

The best ghosts are the ones the reader/viewer doesn’t realize are ghosts until the very end as in The Sixth Sense. Also enjoy ones where you are never sure if their is a ghost as in The Haunting. Was it a ghost or was it a trick of an unbalanced mind?

Ghosts always seem to want something – to warn you, revenge, completion so they can move on, your energy so they can remain on this plane. Rarely have I come across ghosts who don’t want express some sense of purpose. So this piece is about a ghost looking for a purpose.

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Protection

Protection

I didn’t feel pain

or rather

I didn’t know 

it was supposed to hurt 

I thought this is how

it’s supposed to feel

not that I enjoyed it

it wasn’t pain

it wasn’t pleasure 

it was merely

this is how I felt 

it always would be

that everyone lived in fear

this was my fear

<>

what I was supposed to hide

or be hidden from

after enough time

I became unaware 

callose

I learned to live with it

didn’t conceive of being with out it

it was like growing up

in a dark room

not knowing there was light

then one day

a window opens

<>

I see the layers of dust

protection

I’ve been cloaked in

choked in

one fear replaces another

<>

how much can I shed

and still feel safe

One of my theories is that we are taught pain – both physical & emotional – sometimes by the fuss made over us a children when we fall down. Things hurt because we get told they are supposed to hurt – like our fear of emotional pain – of making mistakes – of not being great successes. I grew up in a culture in which being uncomfortable in any way was to be avoided. So to avoid emotional pain – don’t get into relationships, to reduce the pain of failure – don’t try in the first place.

Not that I think being stoic is an ideal but taking the bumps of life personally is not helpful either. No pain no gain – which leads to staying in pain to prove how tough you are – to suffer is noble. Not to suffer is shallow. Tolerating emotional abuse becomes a badge of honour that can be flashed in the face of those who where so ‘self-consumed’ they recognized red flags they didn’t wade in. 

We seem to be in a culture in which being inconvenienced is seen as an affront to personal freedom & identity. ‘Wear mask’ – ‘you can’t tell me what to do’ ‘I don’t want the government controlling my life’. Sound familiar? Being inconvenienced vs dying in intensive care? Dying is another of those context in which we are told how to feel so that if one doesn’t feel the depths of grief they end up guilting themselves for not living up to that expectation.

I was talking with friend recently about a sense of … what is the opposite of inclusion? … exclusion? from the commercialized picture of seasonal bliss – a picture primely aimed & including only family units of one sort or another. Single persons are almost faulted & always pitied for that choice. It’s as if choosing once’s own company & avoiding the noise & clamour of the season is not authentic option but an emotional wound that needs to be healed.

Festive greetings in keeping with whatever belief system you follow with others or by yourself – lol.

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Disappointment No. 9

Disappointment No. 9

it went exactly as planned

the only one disappointed

was me

I wanted things to be better

<>

the story of my life

the right size is never right enough

a good fit isn’t adequate

<>

the praise 

adulation 

are mere stop gaps

diversions

from going beyond expectations

<>

good enough

feels like settling for less

it isn’t satisfying to measure up

it has to be unforgettable

<>

sure your good enough is fine by me

but my good enough

isn’t worth bothering with

even when I am the only disappointed

I’ve sometimes joked that I don’t want to be adored I want to be worshipped. That comes from a culture that still sees stalking as real love & that those who complain of being stalked are spoil sports who can’t accept loving attention.

We also live in a culture in which in which publicly acknowledging one is good at something is egotism – this leads creatives to be hyper-critical of their own work. We can end up being incapable of being satisfied with what we produce – not that we don’t want to be better but the striving for perfectionism turned into stagnation or worse an excuse not to do anything. If you don’t do it it’s always perfect 🙂

I’ve read of, & know, painters who have gone back to galleries to ‘fix’ a painting from twenty years ago, poets who revise old pieces before they go into a collection of selected pieces; or who preface new editions of old works with apologies for what they now see as shortcomings. One writer of my acquaintance started to revise a novel from some 30 years ago to make it gender neutral & gave up & now considers the book worthless.

I went through some of this when I unearthed poetry, short stories & even a couple of novels from the late 60’s, early 70’s. The novels, in particular, weren’t structurally sound but what the hell I was writing, that was enough. I resisted revising them beyond fixing typos & will blog them, as is, eventually. I am tempting to try rewrites to see how I would write those same stories today – & I don’t mean adding explicit sex lol.

I’ve brought pieces I felt needed work into workshop only be told ‘this is perfect as it is’ – once even being told I should bring in rough drafts not polish pieces – when I was bringing in rough drafts. I’ve performed pieces I felt weren’t fully realized only to have people single them out as the best of a good bunch. Just because I’m good doesn’t mean I don’t want to get better 🙂

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Full of It

Full of It

he tells me

I’m full of it

does than mean

full of shit

full of bullshit

full of blessings

full to the brim

spilling over

dripping down the sides

with a puddle of self

all around me

a puddle that keeps getting bigger

<>

if I’m so full of it

that I feel nothing else

why do I feel empty 

unfulfilled

is there no room

for anything else

am I so full of it

I can’t change

learn

share

<>

I get that

this accusation of being full of it

is an attempt to shame me

but I’m so full of it

there’s no room 

for your judgements

I’m not adding your shame

to the ‘it’

I already carry

at least I carry it well

no thanks to you

who aren’t full of anything

is all I hear is the hollow echo

of your empty envy

This is a variation on a list poem – a compilation of some of things one might full of besides shit. The two usual ‘full of’ are shit or yourself. Though it can also refer to a sense of unquestioned entitlement. Usually the ‘full of’ person is unaware of it & someone feels resentful enough to point that out, for the ‘full of’s betterment. I’m not sure which is worse though to be full of self or to be full of judgement? Then again we are all full of judgement.

In the recovery community, & probably outside of it too, there’s a saying ‘what you think of me is none of my business.’ It’s a reminder to not take other people’s opinions of oneself too seriously. This isn’r as easy as it sounds though – we live in a confusing culture in which self-confidence can be seen as arrogance – where saying someone is arrogant becomes you being overly sensitive & a hater. We’ve become very adept at turning critical remarks on to the other person. Critics of politicians are accused of being unpatriotic, not to like a female singer is sexist. You can get unfriended by someone who doesn’t like your friend’s opinions.

It seems no one wants to be contradicted or made uncomfortable. We’re in the midst of a language change in which gendered words are to be removed (very 1984). Some of the zoom meetings I go to have people who, when reading aloud, assiduously replace all pronouns with they or them – if you don’t do that when it is your turn you can get called out for being insensitive. I chose not read out loud rather than spend so much time fixing pronouns I miss the gist of what is being read. 

When I wrote this a few years ago I wasn’t thinking of things like gender neutrality – but over those years our culture has changed as we come to acknowledge the need for diversity, the need to included in more than a nodding way. I recently watched Fame (1980)  with its amazingly diverse cast that actually included a sympathetic gay male character. When the movie became a TV show he was cured & heterosexual. Often what we’re full of is fear & the need to compromise to worship the all mighty needs of commerce. That’s a list for Santa Clause.


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